It’s Always Mr. Smith

There are three subject matters that have consumed most of my time. The matters are, in order of interest, woo-woo, religion and politics. What they have in common is that they are the greatest fields of inquiry where you get to see human beings acting short of reason for the sake of the magical. They’re the only fields of human activity that operate more on wishes and wants than actualities. And for that reason, I can’t see spending my days doing anything else but being fascinated by these topics.

Woo-woo and religion remain my favorite topics. I’m really surprised when I hear someone isn’t interested in UFOs or ghosts or gods or cryptids or Atlantis claims or ancient Egypt and the nonsense that’s gone into that long gone civilization. What else have you been doing with your time? This is so much fun. Even though everyone starts (where I did) with awe and wonder of these mysteries, many of us end up at a point of realizing there simply are no ghosts, no bigfeets, no gods, no Atlantis, and no silly pyramid powers. (There are, however, UFOs. If something crosses the sky and you don’t know what it is, by definition, it’s a UFO. Flying saucers, however, well, that’s different story. Spoiler: No proof they exist either). Despite this, claims of such things don’t go away. People continue to “ghost hunt”, people continue to mistake settling homes for spirits, people continue to chalk up coincidence with being saved by an angel, people continue to make claims of alien abduction, and people still fill the pews in churches every Sunday. Some of us remain in the game and investigate cases because while we no longer expect to find ghosts and goblins, every case is a chance to teach a bit of science and logical reasoning. It’s a payoff even if the extraordinary is never found. And so I never expect to not be interested in these things.

Mr. Smith with his assorted henchmen was always behind every case Scooby Doo and the gang investigated but they kept at it. People needed mysteries solved and those pesky kids and their dog did the job. And somehow Fred was able to keep that shirt sparkling white despite how dirty the job is.

The third subject consuming matter of my time has given me less of a payoff. That is politics. While it is rather easy to show someone the ghost in the room is really the wind through a wall crack behind the curtain, it’s not always easy to show the Wizard of Oz behind the functions of government. But before I start to think there is no hope, I remind myself that I’m using the same tool kit I use when examining the latest psychic prediction: Skepticism, reason, science, and facts. Every government program that fails to deliver is a chance for us Libertarians to examine and point it out. Like skeptics in the ghost hunting business, if it’s all just wind through cracks in the walls moving the curtains, we get to say so. It’s just air, people.

But let’s be just as honest about our ability to make headway. We won’t make any more progress than ghost skeptics convincing people ghosts don’t exist as long as people want to believe ghosts exist.

Right now, I’m convinced the American public are somewhat institutionalized into thinking we need a cradle to grave government in place to make the world go around. Every election that I’ve been a part of has been the Most Important Election of My Lifetime. Every. One. It’s because we put so much faith into the myth of needing someone else to get things right for us. Going to the voting booth is akin to sitting in church every Sunday. Intercessory prayer doesn’t work. And neither does an appeal to a higher power of human run government. But it persists. People keep voting for saviors to fix healthcare, to fix the roads, to fix the scary immigrants sitch-ee-a-shun.

Nothing better demonstrates this than our current president, what he’s gotten away with and how his most ardent apologists respond.

Donald Trump has said so many false things it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them. These past seventy-two hours consumed more of my time than I’d like regarding the real reason he fired FBI Director, James Comey. And this is one issue out of the uncountable. The man has even lied about the number of floors in Trump Towers. It’s something that can easily be checked with your own eyes and he says differently. This president lives in a world he manufactures and wants everyone to put on the same glasses. And there are a lot of supporters who have invested so much into him, it’s turning into They Live out there.

So people will, if they’ve invested deeply into something, whether it is ghosts, goblins or a political figure, stick to it and let cognitive dissonance do its magic. That really makes it harder for skeptics to pull back the curtains. But nevertheless, we persist.

So why do I consider politics less of a pay off? Well because unlike the fun of flying saucers and ghosts, the failure to recognize poor government programming and everything that comes with it has real world consequences. * Every day it runs amuck is another day of excessive taxation. Another day Obamacare or its mutation remains in place is another day of skyrocketing medical costs. Every day of foreign meddling and failing government schools is another day I have to pick up the pieces. Every day the president lies and makes false claims is another day weeding through the false information in my caseload of false information that’s already too big for the briefcase I already carry.

Discouragement is always around the corner because nonsense is a Hydra of never ending heads. But I’m reminded that Batman still suits up and tries his damnedest to get those jokers back in the Arkham Insane Asylum even though every villain seems to escape so easily.

Each case of bullshit is a lesson to pass on to a waiting audience on how to dispel bullshit. I suppose it’s why I continue to dispel ghosts even though I know the next ghost story is minutes away. Likewise, every person I reach to show that government actors and programming are facades, the more people I give the tools to so they don’t fall for the next failed government program. And with each new field agent for liberty, we’re that much closer to the goal of pulling off the disguise for the big reveal that behind the mask, why it’s just old Mr. Smith and his henchmen again.

     And again.

          And again.

               And again. It’s always Mr. Smith and yet, the Mystery Van continues its mission.

*  Woo-woo does have real world consequences like the demise of the cult of Heaven’s Gate and other people being taken financially on a daily basis by psychic frauds. But nothing on the scale of harm a government program can do which affects all the people, not just those who voluntarily participate in woo-woo subjects.

The Case for Listening Ears

Today I watched several fellow writers complain that the Trump Health Care Act (is that the official title?) is going to do severe damage to them as writers. In other words, they won’t have as good of health care under it as they perceive under Obamacare. I am confused by this. How do they know? How does anyone know the impact? Has anyone read it? We know no one doing the voting read it before voting on it. The GOP has picked up what Nancy Pelosi laid down the time they passed Obamacare. They had to pass it to see what’s in it.

So my first thought was to jump in and give a “well, what gives you the right to have chosen a risky career to now demand your neighbors fill in your gaps?” I was tempted to tweet, tweety-eet, “You chose the path of a writer. Why should any of us be forced to subsidize your hobby?”

Let’s face it. It takes a lot. A whole lot to call writing a career. Most of us do it because we like to, it’s a hobby. Or we write but in a professional capacity, such as, text books, paid journalism or legal or whatever. We do this while we work on that play, novel and essay. And this is the rub: They were complaining they can’t afford health care due to their choice of how they spend their day (or night). They screamed, “I wanna stay at home or in a coffee shop and tell a story! And I might get sick while doing it and…”

Wait, let’s back up…

Let’s say you churn out several paintings a month. And let’s say you attend several art shows to display and sell them. And let’s say you sell one for two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. That’s your salary for the month Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. That was your choice. What else did you do with your time? What other ways did you attempt to market yourself to feed yourself and family, provide shelter, necessities or life and otherwise? If all you did was paint, you earned what you got.

Okay, enough of that. Really, although all that is true, it doesn’t get anyone to come to the free market side of health care. So I didn’t tweet tweety-eet any of that…although it’s true.

The point of this post is that telling people they did this to themselves does not sell them on any idea. In fact, pointing blame and saying deal with it, pushes people away from you no matter how right you may be. The best approach is to spend today and the next few weeks, quite frankly, listening to and reading those having a hard time securing health care. Find out what their main fear is. Then address that very specific fear. Show them how taking government out of health care will give them a better chance of achieving what they want. (I’m defending a free market health care option here, not TrumpCare. I have no idea what that is. I haven’t read it. Neither have you).

Here’s a better way of selling free market health care. It involves sympathy and understanding everyone wants the same thing: quality, affordable health care.

I say, “I have a condition too. I have this and that. I’m hoping my kids can find adequate care at affordable prices as well. Yeah, I hear you. That heart valve defect is awful. And you know what? I have an idea on how to fix all this without a government program and get us both good care and deals. Wanna hear about it?

If they don’t, move on to the next subject. Stop there. Go on to sports or Dancing With the Stars or anything else. You won’t reach everyone. What you’re looking for is the fence sitters. The fence sitters will wanna hear about it.

And say, “I can’t wait until I can negotiate a price for the medicines and services from doctors just like I do for just about everything else in life. I can’t wait until I have a selection of medical services, just like a selection of grocery stores and otherwise, that do their best to offer me the best at the lowest cost. We can get there but we have to get government out.”

If they’re still with you, you may proceed with good arguments for a free market health care system.

Sometimes you won’t even have to give a speech like my quotes above. Sometimes just being a listening ear is enough for someone to open the door to your ideas. Maybe letting them vent and letting them breath out and then you replying, “I hear ya, want another beer?” and never offering a solution until the next time is enough for them to welcome a next time. Maybe it will take months or years to convert. But you can be that pry bar in the door. That’s your only job for starters. Until then, listen.

What is the most likely reason a politician get votes? Is it because they have great ideas? Nope. I could write a doctoral thesis on how politics are made over feelz vs realz. You usually can’t reason someone into a position they didn’t use reason to get into. So, nope. Politicians don’t have to have great ideas. In fact, listen to them campaign. Never any solutions, only memes and slogans that sound great. No meat at all.

They get elected because they’re likable. Child development studies show that a child will want to be like her parents if she likes her parents. And studies show that if you’re likable, even if your peer group disagrees with your ideas, they’ll stick around. And you may rub off on them. The last thing you want to ever do is be right and be a prick. So be right and be kind. Don’t compromise your belief. But don’t be a jackass about it. Especially on the subject of health care where we could really be talking about life or death. All anyone wants is to ensure themselves and their kids and loved one’s survival. Listen more than talking. And you’ll be surprised how a closed mouth will pay off more than a yakity-yak. And speaking of that, it’s time for me to shut my trap.

Normalizing Through Self Credit

This morning I awoke to a question from a member of a biblical study group I’m involved in. The person asked if any of us wrote books on biblical criticism, no matter how light-hearted, and if those of us who did, felt the need to use a pseudonym or used our real name. The person was concerned that no matter what she had to say on the subject, biblical studies has the potential to bleed into family, friends and career. Say the wrong thing, and you risk losing any of these things. So should you use your real identity? Or a pseudonym?

I started thinking that this also applies to politics. While less damaging than criticizing religion, you surely can lose in the realm of friends, family or career if your writings/conclusions differ from others. Especially if those others are not welcome to something they hold sacred that you just took apart.

Well here is how I answer this. Here is why I think you should use your real identity when writing about any topic, especially hot button issues.

1) I put in the work. I want the credit. I’m proud of my work and want it attached to me. Should anyone (my kids) upon my death decide they want to compile an anthology of my essays or otherwise, why make it difficult for them.

2) Using my own identity encourages others to do so too, especially when they see the sky hasn’t fallen for me for doing so.

3) Using false identities grants some subjects (biblical studies, politics) a privileged status they doesn’t deserve. No idea is above scrutiny. Physicist don’t do this. Medical doctors don’t do this. Astronomers, biologists, Roman historians, etc don’t do this. Using your real identity will help normalize hot button issues and lessen stigmatization for future researchers and commentators.

4) If you’re telling the truth, even if in the future you’re honestly mistaken, you should never be hiding from what others may not like about it. You cheat yourself and your own conscience if you do.

5) When I read opinions and essays from a pseudonym, I’m immediately suspicious. What is this person hiding? They have nothing to lose if they are spreading false information. Using a real ID forces investment for the author and offers a chance for proper rebuttals.

Engaging in hot issues means you probably will lose some friends and family along the way. As Jon Ronson said in a round about way, the way to survive on the Internet is to be bland and just talk about ice cream and cats. Well I’m not interested in being bland. I say, without any apologies, as long as I’ve stayed truthful and honest and not mean spirited, then good riddance. If the information is factual and someone chooses to disengage and I mean, like check out of my life, then we probably had a lot less in common than previously thought. And, quite frankly, that opens up doors for others who can be more open to discussing such topics. Why trap yourself in with friends if you have to hide from them? And why bother with family members who only want to harass you? You’re born into it, you don’t have to live with it.

Now, despite what I said, I understand food needs to go on the table. So if you’re truly in danger of losing your job or means of support, then you have to do what you gotta do. Also, it could cost you more than relationships. For instance, a Muslim in some places in the Middle East risks actual death for criticising her religion, I can understand in such circles staying hidden. But that just means for me, relatively safe in the West, it’s best to be as open as possible if only to show it’s possible and give hope to those who cannot. Yet.

So unless you’re risking foreclosure and death, I say, use your own identity. Give yourself the credit. It forces you to be as honest as possible because your credibility is on the line. It’s a self-checking mechanism.

Go forth. Talk about the hot stuff. Normalize it. No idea is sacred. Everything is up for debate. And the more you do it, the less the idea will be untouchable. Think Galileo. Be like Galileo.

The Black Blood of Modernity

About ten years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about climate change. (I think we called it global warming at that time). I concluded that if warming was happening by natural causes, there was nothing we could do about it. So humans would have to adapt through artificial means. If warming was man-made, there’s also nothing we can do about it because the world runs on fossil fuels. And the world’s infrastructure is set up for them and them alone. So again, humans would have to adapt through artificial means. In other words, there is no plan of attack regardless of the cause so why worry about it. Why even investigate it. It’s coming, so just deal with it. And so I never bothered to figure it out.

But then the term “Peak Oil” was brought to my attention and I was forced to realize that even if man was causing global warming and had a magic solution to stop it, we still had a bigger problem coming.

People usually think of fossil fuels in terms of energy and emissions. Our fossil fuel infrastructure is more than transportation. It’s cooking, lighting, heating, cooling, communications. It’s also plastics. Without oil, there are no plastics. Or synthetic rubber. Or asphalt. Or medicine. Or some fabrics and foods. There’s no pesticides in some cases too. No solar, wind or tidal power will replace that.

Talking just in terms of energy/fuel, it takes decades, maybe fifty-plus years for energy infrastructures to become large enough to make the switch from one energy source to another. From railroad to diesel/gasoline vehicles to the future, change is slow. So even if we had the technology in renewables that gave us the same bang for our buck as fossil fuels do, we simply have no established grid or delivery system.

But energy/fuel aside, nothing can replace what oil gives us in the non-energy/fuel items listed above. So even if we started the major social and tech commitment to change from one energy source to another, we’d still need oil for everything else. Even if we had affordable electric cars, oil still makes up the seats, dashboards and panelling, tires, lubricants, and more. Even if we had solar powered homes, our televisions, computers, radios, foods, medicine, furniture…all oil dependant.

Oil drives just about everything we do. And by all accounts, the easy to get at reserves are either gone or just about gone ∗. Even if there was no climate change or global warmingness, the looming loss of easy oil is coming and the cost of everything is going to escalate as we approach it. Harder to get at oil means more costly means to get at it and the costs get passed down. And oil is a finite resource. Unlike wind and solar, when a well drys up, it’s gone. So some day, I have no idea when, but some day, the human race will have to learn to live without oil. And considering what we’ve just covered above, that is going to be real hard.

But until then, the world will continue to burn fossil fuels as if that time isn’t approaching. The globe will continue to suffer from the pollution that comes with it and things will get more costly. There’s nothing anyone is going to do to stop it. I’m sorry to tell you this. But no government policy, programming, marching, protesting, conferences, tweeting or otherwise is going to change the world’s need and use of oil (and other fossil fuels). And even if the United States government had the magic policy, that only goes for my country. It doesn’t apply to China or India, two of the world’s fastest developers and consumers of natural resources. One country’s policies do not apply to anyone else. This is a world issue, not a country issue. Pollution of fossil fuels will continue and costs of maintaining our civilization from the wonders of oil will rise.

The only change you can make is one for yourself.

This brings me full circle to the top of this essay: Nothing is going to change about our need for oil and other fossil fuels so it’s time to adapt. Here’s some recommendations regarding adaptation.

Unless I have to drive a car, I walk where I need to go. Or I bike. In good weather, longer trips are easier. I also started gardening about ten years ago. Learning how food grows and how to prepare it is a great skill. I also fish. Teach others to do so, it’s good for them. I also spend more time reading and writing than having electronics on (although music is usually playing in some corner somewhere). And instead of the obligatory hotel on vacations, my wife and I have used camp grounds on several occasions. Nothing like learning to put up a tent, make a fire, and all that comes with it. And for god’s sake, learn to use a firearm if you can. It’s a tool, a good tool that can be used for defense as well as hunting for food. I recommend doing as much local as possible. Not only are you supporting people in your own community, you’re learning to live with what is around you.

I’m not talking about living off the grid in a cave somewhere although you’re welcome to do that. I’m simply talking about adding any and all self-reliant tools to your life-skill tool belt. I’m talking about having skills for times when modernity is not available. Practice now what your descendants will need later.

We live in a “just in time” community. That means, the grocery store shelves are stocked just in time. The gas stations are replenished, just in time. In August 2003, we got something of a test run on what would happen if we lost power on a wide scale for a lengthy time. The electrical grid went down from New York to Michigan. It lasted several days. What if it lasted several weeks? The stores and gas stations would be empty. What would you do if you had no supplies or means to travel? Having some of the skills mentioned above would come in handy.

But what if it turns out the center of the Earth is a creamy, gooey gob of infinite oil and the planet wasn’t warming? So what, you’re not wasting your time by doing anything that makes you more self-reliant. You’d at least be ready come temporary energy outages. What else are you going to do, watch more reality tv? Reality is passing by while you watch that garbage. Go out and live your own reality.

∗ The study of oil reserves and when we will start drying up (sometimes called Peak Oil) has a nice summary here.

 

 

Islam: The Third and Troubling Child

It’s no secret, I think all religion, being a practice on faith rather than reason, is a poor life style. However, current events demonstrate there is only one deserving special attention if not out right combat for hearts and minds. That is Islam.

I’ve addressed my concerns herehere and here. And here. This short piece is a reminder in light of current events that it’s still a generational battle. The question is, why does this seem to only come from Islam and not its older siblings of Judeo-Christianity?

Let’s spell some things out.

Judaism, as told in the Tanakh, justified through mythological origins a piece of land known as Israel for the Hebrews. No more, no less. Despite the tales of conquest of the land by Moses, Joshua, etc, these are not historical. Therefore, unlike Islam, there never was a time of conquering armies for the Jewish people. At most, they’ve been the most oppressed. And all Israel wants today is Israel. Not the world.

Christianity did one better. The first Christians did their best to separate from society. Their secrecy is what got them into trouble with Rome. Romans 13 tells them to not interfere with existing government. And in the very first gospel the other three copied from, Mark 12:17 has Jesus saying, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” So Christianity started as non-combative, non-interfering in the lives of others, despite what happened centuries later. They didn’t even want land. Their souls and bodies were enough.

Islam, however, began as a political philosophy that Muhammad could not convince people to follow. And therefore, started forcing it at the point of the sword from Saudi Arabia all the way to Spain. Read the damn Qur’an already. It’s impossible to miss the orders to kill any non-Muslim, conquer the lands of others, etc. Until you understand what Islam is, you’re doomed to be its victim.

So while it is worthwhile to draw attention to the lack of logic in religion in general, Islam is the one that needs our most attention today.

ISIS isn’t a deviation. ISIS is it.

Read the damn Qur’an to understand what the civilized world is up against.

Smells Like Wean Spirit

Somewhere around the age of thirty-five, I realized I didn’t know what was good in current music. I was, and continue to play, all the stuff that defined my niche as an eighties’ kid. My preference was for what was then labeled, Alternative. But that definition didn’t say much at all. Because all it really meant was alternative to whatever was popular. It meant anything other than White Snake or Prince. Some of my bands got heavy rotation like REM or U2 but most were unknown if all you did was listen to the radio or watch MTV. My favorites like the Smiths, the Clash, the Cure, Bauhaus, other than maybe one hit or two that got some attention, their catalog was relatively unknown outside their fan base. I found about these bands and more from my peers. The other thing I did was take chances every Friday afternoon in record stores, buying based on sometimes cover art alone.

Fast forward to when I was thirty-five years old. In the year 2005, two things happened. First, I became eligible to control your life, if only you’d elect me. And second, the governor of my state (Michigan) was about two years into her “Cool Cities Initiative”. And when government has a program with a name like that, well, it’s like when your dad hands you a record and tells you this is really cool.

The Cool Cities Initiative was an attempt to keep young people from getting their college education in Michigan and then leaving the state to seek employment elsewhere. Money mainly went into sprucing up parts of Michigan, beautifying places, increasing in the arts. Basically, the government tried to make Michigan a place where people want to live.

Did it work? Eh, some people liked it. The people who’s community benefited from it. Let’s leave alone the fact that government made some choices to benefit some communities at the expense of others. They basically took some of my income tax and, instead of letting me keep it to invest in my own neighborhood, they took it to invest in someone else’s neighborhood. The fact is, “cool” isn’t something you make. It’s something that is created and then usually in hindsight, it’s either cool or not.

An old saying of mine goes that when Ronald McDonald has something in his commercials, it’s no longer cool. When McDonald rapped for the first time, I knew rap was over. Is it any coincidence that a year after McDonald rapped we got MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”? Rap, like Punk, was a movement that lasted until the early nineteen-nineties.

For me, I saw the end come with the popularity of Nirvana’s, “Nevermind” in 1991. Right there, I predicted two things: 1) Record labels would flood the market with anything and everything that sounded like Nirvana. 2) Those who weren’t familiar with the punk culture would start showing up to our shows and ruin it. Both things happened.

Due to record labels signing tons of Nirvana-like acts, we got grudge. And as for the “others” showing up at our shows, well, I knew the scene was over when I got clocked in the face and shoved nearly to the floor by someone way too excited to learn the Pogo at his first Dead Milkmen concert.

When corporations or government tell you something is cool, it isn’t. You can’t make cool. It just happens. It’s spontaneous. It’s a beautiful order out of chaos. Even if the order looks like a mosh pit of teenagers letting off steam.

I see a lot of writers fall into this trap. Same goes for movie makers. What’s selling hot today? How can I imitate it? And by the time they’re done, it’s passed them up and the money is on the next trend.

What happened in 1977 after Star Wars? We got flooded with crappy space epics. But we did get Battlestar Galactica too. What happened after the success of the Twilight books? We got flooded with vampires. And Walking Dead is spawning zombie stuff.

Ask a thousand authors how they got published and they’ll tell you a thousand different things. Ask the same of musicians or actors. Ask any artist or successful business person how they did it. You’ll get tons of different answers. But the two answers they’ll all agree on and share is that they never gave up and they didn’t follow any particular formula. There is no formula to be a great author, actor or business person. If there was, we’d all be doing it.

In a 2010 interview with Vinyl Mag, Keith “Monkey” Warren was asked how they managed to be the longest running punk band with original members. How did they do it? He answered, “Find guys you can live and work with, and be prepared for an argument or two.”

This is probably the most basic way of answering how to do anything properly. Find like minded people and do what you love. There are more options today to make and find new music than when I was roaming the aisles of the record stores in the eighties. Are record stores even a thing anymore? The Internet has opened up your ability to reach just about anyone in the world. I love Twitter for this very reason. Seems as if everyone has an account. I’ve managed to chat with a lot of smart people and reach out to many in the fields of my interest I respect and admire. In fact, a guy I know nothing about other than a chance follow on Twitter, wrote the blog piece that encouraged me to publish my first novel.

My point in all this babble is that order forms out of chaos. Cool can not be designed. How did this or that trend happen? Beats me, there’s no magic. No formula. How the hell did Fifty Shades of Gray happen? That started as Twilight fan-fiction. But it wasn’t until E.L. James made it her own with her own characters that she got anywhere.

No government program ever met expectations. No corporate commercial is truly honest. The only difference is that whereas you’re usually forced to be in government programs, you aren’t with corporate ones. The best things get done by people, either solo or in voluntary communion, doing things. And, most importantly, getting their creation out there and into the hands of voluntary consumers.

It’s this line of thinking I’m beginning to concentrate on. Not so much on electing the right person to get the right things done but how to get things done despite the wrong people in your life.

It’s clear the new Republican president and congress are not going to get us liberty seeking people what we want. That avenue is out despite some initial promises and hopes (isn’t that how the GOP works?). And the Libertarian Party has been stuck in one percent land forever. We had our chance in the 2016 election and instead of choosing really good candidates, we settled for mediocre. So we really have to start asking if it’s worth spending any more time electing the right people? Because let’s remember, even if we get it, it’s temporary. The next clown can come in and undo everything you got. So elections are not a permanent solution. I have to ask, is it time to accept the grid and go off of it?

By “off” I don’t mean minimalist living (although for some, that may be a good option). I don’t mean leaving civilization. I mean learning to live within it with all it’s constraints and at the same time, seeking out all the opportunities. I mean learning to wean away from systems that have failed us in favor of newer models that work better for us.

For instance, in keeping with all the art talk above, if you have a novel or album of music and the current publishing market isn’t taking your work, how do you get it out there despite the odds? In a more serious venture, if you can’t afford health care as it exists today, how do you find a quality doctor that will work with you?

Let’s explore this. Let’s work on ways that despite government intrusions, we can still squeeze out as much liberty as we can. Let’s work to get your work done despite some stumbling blocks in the market. Let’s look at ways to forge relationships with people of mutual interests to get things done that are important to you. Let’s look under rocks, in the bushes, out of the boxes for ways to succeed in life no matter what the odds in whatever field you’re playing on. This, essentially is, the free market in action. Our goal is to get as much of it despite forces opposed to it.

I think the best route to go from here on out is to take the words of an old punk rock Monkey, look for ways to get a few people you can live and work with together and make the most of your life despite the odds. And, as he said, “be prepared for an argument or two.”

The Great Drug War Wall

On January 25, 2017, President Trump issued the executive order that authorized the construction of the Great Wall of America. Expected to run about the length of one-thousand-three-hundred miles, costing anywhere from sixteen to twenty-six billion dollars to build, seven-hundred-fifty-million a year to maintain and taking four or twenty years to build, * it looks like he’s sure keeping his biggest promise: To keep out the worst of the Mexicans, those drug traffickers and gangs. He’s also pretty much included the people who come here to do the jobs Americans won’t do but, his biggest concern and broken record speech is mainly centered on drug traffickers and gangs.

We could examine the effectiveness of the Wall by comparing it to the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, etc. But the fact is, we only need look at the six-hundred-fifty feet of already existing wall and fencing to see it does not work. People wanting to cross borders will find a way. In fact, recently someone pointed me to the use of good old fashion trebuchets to send drug packages over existing fencing.

A Wall is thousands-year old technology going against the ever clever human being. It’s like never upgrading the mouse trap beyond a cup and string; yet mice have evolved into the space age. Although, you don’t even need to be that sophisticated. Just using thousand-year old tech can defeat a wall. Exhibit back to the use of trebuchets. Oh and a ladder.

There’s a better solution to keep out drug traffickers and the gangs that roll with them:

End the Drug War.

We learned from 1920 to 1933 what happens when you take a perfectly legal product and make it illegal. The War on Alcohol gave us Al Capone, gunfights in the streets (with assault weapons, oh my!), police and judge corruption if only to partake in a little brandy from time to time. We got premarture deaths and injuries from poisonous bathtub gin. It was such a failure that by 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st.

But unlike the prohibition of alcohol which was conducted through amending the Constitution, the War on Drugs has been all legislation. The first big one was the Harrison Narcotics Tax of 1914 which regulated opiates and coca. And the noose just got tighter ever since, including more substances and offering tougher penalities for not only trafficking but use.

So it’s been over one-hundred years for this drug war and we haven’t learned the lesson that we should have with just thirteen-years of alcohol prohibition.

Because alcohol is legal, we no longer see gangs causing violence in the streets for sales and territory. When was the last time you saw Labatts and Budweiser have a tommy gun shoot out in your neighborhood?

If we end the prohibition of drugs currently listed as illegal, we will take the profits out of the illegal drug trade. Drugs wouldn’t be cut with “filler”, making them more dangerous t user’s health like bathtub gin once did. All drugs could be treated as we treat alcohol today.

And that means no need for Trump’s Wall to keep out drug traffickers who no longer exist. I mean, really, when is the last time a group of smugglers were caught crossing into Arizona with a case of Corona and arrested? Maybe 1925 when it rolled out for the first time?

We have to ask ourselves, do we want to treat drugs as a health issue? Or criminal? The years of treating it criminally have failed, made enemies with neighbors, caused injuries and death, corrupted law enforcement and so on. Ending the War on Drugs will not only find us Americans no longer needing a Wall, but maybe on better terms with Mexico in the long run.

* Figures bounce dramatically depending on what source you review. One thing I’m certain of, however, is that with any government project, not only won’t it work. But it will cost millions/billions more than projected.

Take the Outsider Test

Through the Obama years, Democrats had no problem with his pen and phone approach. If he couldn’t get it his way with GOP support, he was determined to go it alone. And while he was doing this, there was zero opposition from members of his team. But now that Trump is in power and the GOP hold most of the cards in Congress, the Democrats are going nuts over Trump’s pen and phone approach. What gives?  He’s doing the same thing Obama was doing. It’s been real interesting seeing Democrats (and socialists alike) suddenly in favor of state’s rights and limited government.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Republicans made Hillary Clinton’s private email server the issue to go after her on. Commercials and talks about how she put American security at risk dwarfed just about everything else bad about Clinton. And the Democrats, in fact Clinton’s biggest rival, Bernie Sanders, declared they were done hearing about her damn emails. But now Trump is in office. And Trump has a lot of smoke related to ties with Russia, both financially and politically. And the GOP has decided it doesn’t care to hear anymore about Trump’s damn ties while the Democrats are now up in arms about security. Again, what gives?

In both cases we have the same problems. In our first discussion, we have authoritarian power. In our second, we have American security. And what we find is that the party of the guilty looks the other way as long as they’re of the same party. Only the opposition complains. So it’s not about authoritarianism or security. It’s about who has the ball.

This starts a dark road into tribalism where facts and decency don’t matter. So before we get there (even if we probably already are), it’s time for everyone to take the Outsider Test.

John W. Loftus, once a practicing ordained minister and student of none other than William C. Craig, is now an atheist, challenging others once like him to examine the Christian faith. In March 2013, his book, “The Outsider Test For Faith” was published. The subtitle is, “How to Know Which Religion is True.” The premise of the book goes back to David Hume as Hume used the same kind of argument against Islam and Catholicism. But it’s Loftus who wraps up the test perfectly.

The test is simple: Critique your religion as if you were not part of it. Then see if it holds up. You should ponder on your beliefs and consider what someone outside your religion thinks of them.

The Outsider Test doesn’t have to be with just religion. I believe both major political parties in the United States need to take the Outsider Test.

What if during the presidential campaign, the roles of Trump were reversed with Clinton. What if it was Clinton who was encouraging more leaks from the GOP and encouraging Russia to hack Trump’s email? What if it was Clinton who fawned over Putin? What if Clinton refused to release her tax returns? What if Clinton’s choice of National Security Advisor quickly resigned over contacts with Russia during the campaign?

I can tell you exactly what would happen. The reverse of what is happening today. It would be the GOP going after her, calling for an investigation and the Democrats would be ignoring it. How do I know? Because the GOP went after Clinton on her emails, calling out FBI Director Comey for claiming she engaged in no wilful crime, for Clinton’s husband meeting on the tarmac with Attorney General, Loretta Lynch shortly before Comey said there was nothing to see here.

Both parties, all parties, all peoples of these parties are descending into tribalism. And might I add, when their own side engages in what they’d hate from the other side, there’s been a lot of special pleading going on. The best approach is to be as consistent as possible.

Ask yourself, would you be okay if the other side was doing such and such? If you answer “yes”, then sit back, relax, you’re being consistent. But if you say “no”, it’s time to take the Outsider Test.

A few years ago, here and here, I called on members of my own political leanings to point out some areas needing improvement. It is more important to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help others. I think this very simple test does the trick. The question is, are you good enough to accept the results?

Executive Disorder

First things first, read the entire Executive Order. Then come back. I’ll wait.

Done? No you’re not. Read it first please.

* Flips through Cabela’s catalog, looks for fly-fishing classes *

* Gets diverted to the muskets. Always wanted a musket *

Done? You sure? Okay, here we go:

The Executive Order PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES justifies itself three times on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And yet, the seven countries it puts a ninety-day stop on had nothing to do with that attack.

The seven countries affected by the Executive Order are Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. And yet, the nineteen hijackers on September 11, 2001 came from Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and primarily from Saudi Arabia. So I’m confused here. It’s like 2002 all over again. Members from al-Qaeda strike us from orders out of Afghanistan, we strike Afghanistan but then the Bush Administration goes after Iraq.

The only reason I can think of why the four countries with nationals who were part of the September 11, 2001 attacks were left off the list is because oil and business and more business. If I am correct, then this Executive Order is not about protecting America at all. It’s about…something else.

Before we speculate that, let’s look at the primary reason for the protests and uproar.

Paragraph three under Section 1 reads: In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. (emphasis added).

This is referring to tenets of Islam some Muslims engage in. Here, the Order is clearly talking about Muslims, not Jains, Mormons, Buddhists, etc. (As my partner here, Alan J. Sanders, at Freedom Cocktail noted while reviewing a draft of this essay, the use of the word “should” does not mean “must” or “shall”. Being a legal document, without any more information, we can’t be entirely sure if the should is a shall). In any case, the listed “acts of bigotry” appear to be applying to Muslims, especially since no other religion practices honor killings. We now proceed on to Sec 5 (b) for clarification that this is, indeed, an executive order primarily lodged against Muslims.

Section 5 (b) reads: Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. (emphasis added) Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

Islam is the majority in the countries identified. So when they say, religious minorities, they’re talking about Christian and otherwise. But the fact is, it is Muslims who primarily become victims from other Muslims. Finally, this may go against the Establishment Clause. Lawyers can work on this.

The third section that was bringing people to protest at airports was the following:

Section 3 (c) reads: (c) To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas). (emphasis added).

Immigrants (which include Green Card holders, legal permanent residents) are included in the ninety-day stay. This means legal residents who were out of the country when the Order went into effect couldn’t return to the United States for at least three months and then jump through whatever other hurdles were imposed. Just to get back home legally!

The preference for non-Muslims and docking legal residents (immigrants) are the major problem with this executive order. Besides my reading of the document, Donald Trump said the intent of this was to prioritize Christian refugees. Have a look. He does note that many people of all types have been harmed. But he puts more victimhood on Christians.

Is it a Muslim ban? Remarks by Rudy Giuliani seem to say so. In an interview on January 29, 2017, he noted that Trump approached him to put together a Muslim Ban and to do so legally. Those are Giuliani’s words. Sure, he did later say in the same interview that the ban wasn’t based on religion but “danger”. Okay, fair enough, but now we’re back to asking why Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and especially Saudi Arabia are not included?

Let’s also not forget that Trump ran his campaign on a platform for a year calling for a “complete ban” on Muslim entering the country. Is this just a watered down order?

This Executive Order is, indeed, saying at least, if you’re a Muslim from these particular seven countries, you’ll have to sit at the back of the bus.

But back to the four Muslim countries with nationals involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks not being included. Nor were the many other Muslim majority countries. So what gives?

Maybe the answer is in Trump’s tax returns? Maybe it’s oil? Maybe tourism? Maybe anything? I don’t know. Possible combination?

What about Pakistan? Members of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, have been known to be al-Qaeda sympathizers. That country has been a wobbly ally since the Soviet Union / Afghanistan war.

Maybe being a United States ally is a reason?

In any case, I can’t take this Executive Order seriously as a means of protection for Americans when zero acts of terrorism have come from the listed seven but not the four that actually spawned September 11, 2001 terrorists. And, since it’s primarily aimed at making it more difficult for Muslims that come from countries that have no strong business ties to Trump and/or the United States, it’s terribly insulting to this American to try to claim otherwise.

I suggest more reading on the subject. Here, the Atlantic declared it was a Muslim Ban. It’s a fine analysis.

  • I was considering commenting on Trump’s claim that Obama did a similar thing in 2011 but have chosen not to. First, we cannot change history. Secondly and most importantly, just because your predecessor does it doesn’t mean it’s right. And finally, if you want, here’s an article that says more than I could about it.

Let’s Talk Health Care

Let’s talk about health care. First, some things I won’t do. First, I will not invoke the Constitution. Second, I won’t debate whether it’s a Right or not. These two items alone have caused more weeds in the discussion than results. I won’t do any of these things because regardless of where you fall using these methods, they don’t solve the problem. The problem is that health care is expensive and everyone wants to be able to afford it. So instead of fighting for making it a Right or defending whether or not it’s Constitutional, what we should be doing is discussing how to make health care affordable. So that’s what we’re going to do.

So let’s talk about health care. It’s a hot topic and rightly should be. Everyone wants to be free from illness and the stress that comes with it. According to this Gallup Poll, it’s the second biggest thing in terms of importance. Sure said poll is over a decade old but I’m going to make an educated guess it would be the same today. At any rate, it rightly should be at the top of everyone’s list on most important matters in life. So why isn’t it?

According to this report from Marketwatch, Americans are spending more on eating out, getting new cars and entertainment than health care. In fact, more than double. I’m sure these numbers fluctuate over time but let’s understand something. If Americans spent less time being entertained, more time cooking at home and maybe scaled down on the need for new cars, I’m betting that money alone would pay for a health care insurance plan.

I noted in a previous post (which I’d encourage reading again even though it was posted before the Affordable Care Act became law) I noted first, that government was responsible for the high costs of health care. Second, I noted that many people, even those considered “poor”, have cell phones and cable television. Even a basic cable plan and an iPhone with a data plan totals today about $150.00 or more. Do you need cable television? Nope (I don’t have it). Do you need an iPhone? Nope. It’s nice to have these things and you can have a smart phone. Just scale down the unnecessary big channel and data plans. I’m betting all that data is being blown on social media, YouTube, Netflix…in essence, entertainment.

Now what else are Americans spending money on? America gets teased because it’s a consumer nation. We want big toys. A friend of mine once remarked, “America. We want big cars, big houses. Big boats and big plates with lots of food. We want big televisions and computers. We want big everything. Except for our bodies.” But it’s precisely because of our consumer nation that we have big bodies. And what do big bodies get? That’s right, health problems. Being over weight brings health problems and more needs for doctor visits and medications and…

Here’s my point. Americans have the money. They’re just putting it into things that are not important and quite frankly, causing health problems. America, you could afford health insurance before the ACA, you were and continue to spend your money on unnecessary things.

I’m convinced we could reduce the cost of health care if we got government completely out of health care. Everything I noted above that Americans afford are for the most part, not regulated to death by the government (except cars). Certainly no where near how the health care industry is regulated.

Let’s concentrate a moment on cell phones to see how to solve this.

Even the cheapest of today’s smart phones have more computing power than all the computers that sent man to the moon in 1969. And yet, when I wanted one, my cell phone company pretty much gave it to me in exchange for a monthly service plan. I had a choice of services to add or remove from the plan. I had/have choices. I only pay for what I want. Why doesn’t the health care system work like cell phone companies?

What if you could walk into a doctor’s office or hospital and say, “I’d like a health care plan.” And then someone comes out with a catalog of things you could buy. And on a monthly basis, you would pay for them. It could work something like car insurance. You buy based on your risk assessment.

Of course, the question always arises. What if you plan poorly and you get hit with something you did not foresee? Well, maybe the hospitals could have an “Act of God” option. Pay an extra $10 a month for it.

I don’t have all the answers. And maybe my suggestion would suck. Could it be any worse than what we have now? Couldn’t we try it and if it doesn’t work, we just go back. Right?

Let’s massage this out. Let’s keep looking for more ideas and less “But the Guberment gotta do something.” Let’s be more creative. Continue the discussion in the comments section or on social media.