Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Scheisshaus Economics III - The Social Costs

Change Happens.

It is an inevitable part of existence.  The passing of time is marked by change, some big, some small,  but changes all...

We, as human beings adopt well - almost terrifyingly well - to change. In fact, I don't imagine it is too much of a stretch to say that we are here because we can adapt so well to change.  We would have died out as a species millenia ago otherwise.

But just as economically speaking there are costs to changes, socially there are costs as well.  There are (to borrow from economics) Micro costs and Macro costs.  The micro costs we are all very familiar with, all it takes is to watch the news to see them.  The sad casualties of the tumult.  Lost homes, broken families, broken lives in so many ways.  Of course, all the economic despair leads to a lot of personal despair as well, just google "opioid crisis" and you can read thousands of tales of the endless hopelessness.

All it takes is a little imagination, a car, and a couple tankfuls of gas to appreciate this. The procedure is simple.  If you fill up the car, fire it up and drive through the countryside of this once great nation, and avoid most of the Interstate highways, you'll see it almost immediately.  Keep driving from town to town until you are about on empty, then fill up the tank, and make your way back home. In that trip you'll pass through cities and towns big and small, filled with so many hulks of dead and dying businesses, each of which was the livelihood of people - real, actual people with lives and hopes and dreams and aspirations.  True, their lives were different than the typical upscale urban millennial, as were some of their dreams and aspirations, but they were there and they were real.  The key is to try to imagine those lives and think about how their whole existence - their whole reason for being - was ripped out from under them.  Not in a slow gradual fashion either, but in a generation.  When you live through a situation like that, the micro and the macro merge to become one complete hell-hole of a life. The only way to survive is to escape, and that is what happened.  The best and brightest - and most connected -  escaped physically to a different town and a different life, far from the despair.  That left the others - unable to physically escape - to effect their escape in the only ways they had left available. The lucky ones to subsistence living and digital distraction, the less strong to the only other option - the bottle, or the needle, or pipe, or bowl.  Any chemically induced haze to dim the reality of their emptiness and dull the pain that comes from facing the fact that they have no chance - none.

The question is: How could a a huge part of a society go through such a complete foundational collapse and have it go largely unnoticed by popular culture?  The Micro costs are inevitably tied to the Macro costs, period, but the relationship is not rigid at all.  It is, as economists would say, an elastic relationship.  This delay allows one to continue to enjoy the benefits of certain things long after the overt presence of those things fades away.  In other words, if you have been lucky enough to have some economic wherewithal (meager though it may be), you can continue to live a good life even though the productive basis for that life no longer exists.

The de-industrialization of our culture has done just that.  It has allowed the development of a hollowed-out economy, and a hollowed out culture.  The fact that the upscale coastal set has not figured that out is simply because they are insulated from the reality of it - remember Friends

But those on the receiving end of the destruction teventually become open to thinking outside the box, and look for something or someone to see things from their perspective.  That is how we wound up with President Donald J Trump.  He told those people that he knew their lives had become shit and he told them that it didn't have to be that way, and that it could change for the better.   They knew that change happens, because they lived it, but this time, they've bet that it can be good change for a change.  About two years into it, and it looks like they're going to clean up on that bet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Musical Time Travel

Time and technology marches on, but there are things about how are mind works that seem to be universal.  One of these things which has fascinated me for years is that there are certain songs from the past which bring back memories of certain times and experiences when I hear them.  Of course, I know that this phenomenon is not unique to me at all.  In fact, Clint Black had a hit song based on on it!  I have dozens on those in my mental filing system, and each one brings back a memory of some time or event. When I hear them I smile, or frown, or whatever.

The phenomenon I am talking about here goes beyond simple memory recall.  What I mean is, there are a few - very few - songs which bring back not only a memory, but bring back a whole complete set of emotions and attitudes.  I not only remember the song from it's time, but I am psychologically transported to the mind-state of the point in my life the song represents.  For instance, when I hear this I suddenly find I am 15 again.  It's like all of the psychological changes of the past 4 decades are not only forgotten, but cease to exist entirely, like they never happened.  It of course brings back vignettes - maybe screen caps is a better term - of my life at that time, but the overwhelming sensation is that of, well, being 15.  With all the freedom from worry and optimism that entails.

There are two or three others, and every time I hear them it is always the same.  And every time I hear them and experience the sensations I find myself wondering about it, why it works the way it does, and why just with those songs.  Or why this song transports me to (in a sense remember) an age before I can even remember. I was only 5 when it was popular, but it causes that same kind of thing, only without any "screen caps" to go along with it.  No memories, no real associations, just the sensation.

The old commercial tagline was "A mind is a terrible thing to waste", and it as true today as it was then. (probably needs to be said more today than then, but that is for another post!)  But things like the above phenomenon reminds us that, even though we know how valuable our minds are, and thus would never want them wasted, we understand them - really understand them - very little indeed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Understanding The Donald

I have been a political animal for my whole life - thanks Dad.  I have seen a lot, and while I make no claim to being a genius, I am amazed that people in the media who should know (or be able to know) why Donald Trump has hit such a chord with the American public have so badly missed it.

So, folks, here it is, in simple terms that the folks who live both outside the top 1% income bracket and outside the northeast corridor can understand, but which the media apparently cannot.

People are tired of being pissed on and told that it's raining.

They have been pissed on by NAFTA, by GATT, by Open Borders, and by every third-world country with the presence of mind to grease the right political palms in Washington, DC and get a deal for themselves to maximize both their own growth and the political war chests of those who do their bidding.  All of that crap served one purpose and one purpose only - to maximize the wealth of the very top level of society at the expense of the rest.  I mean, how many abandoned factories does one have to see to realize that this has happened??? Of course, the media rarely ventures out into the hinterlands to actually see any factories - abandoned or otherwise.

No hard feelings against those countries, and those immigrants.  They saw an opportunity to better their situation and they took it.  Those hard feelings (maybe hatred is a better word) are now being manifested against The Bushes, The Clintons, and everyone else of that ilk.  Those hard feelings include their sycophants in the media, BTW.  Those being, of course, the same sycophants who can's see why the masses haven't fallen in love with Jeb Bush, or Hillary Clinton.

P.S.  This post is written about Donald Trump, but the same reasoning applies to Bernie Sanders,  the Democratic equivalent of Trump, who is striking the same chord on the other side of the aisle.

How Did We Get Here

Some time ago, I went out to take The Dog on her nightly walk around the neighborhood. It was late September, and a perfect, warm, clear North Carolina evening. I rounded the corner, and headed up the street. A few steps later my ears were treated to the most pleasant sound - back-door neighbor, sitting on his screened in porch in the dark, softly strumming his guitar. The chords made a nice tune - though not one I could recognize - so I walked quietly and slowly, stopping to let The Dog sniff the ground profusely. It was all so perfectly pleasant that I began to think about it and reflect on the difference between hearing Honest-To-God music, played live by a human being, and hearing a recording thereof. All that reflection got me to thinking....


How did we get to the point where we were willing to accept a cheap, mass produced reproduction of music instead of the real thing?  I could see the utility of recordings in some circumstances.  For example, were it not for that technology vast numbers of people would never get the chance to be exposed to Beethoven.  Recorded music (on any medium) allows us to experience a breadth of music few could ever even come close to experiencing live.  But how did it get so far afield of that?  Why were we ever willing to abandon the pleasure of a few friends or family playing (on guitar, mandolin, piano, accordion, concertina, saxophone or fiddle just to name some instruments from my personal, very limited, experience) and/or singing a tune?  Was it just easier?  Or was it that the professionals we heard on the radio or recordings were so much better technically that they made our home-grown music seem inadequate?

Whatever the reason, we are here now.  But the game is not over yet.  We, as a culture, having made the  jump from listening to real music to listening to a recording of real music (important semantic distinction between music as it is being played and a recording thereof), we now seem to be ready to accept LIVE music which is so post-processed that it is essentially a digital construct and not a human product in any realistic sense - think autotune.

Now I recognize that there are those who actually appreciate and prefer the synthetic version of music (and other things as well) to the real, human-made live honest-to-God version, and, if that is a well informed decision, i.e. they have been well exposed to both versions and have chosen one over the other, then I have to respect that.  Truth be known, I like Velveeta more than Cheddar.  But I am saddened that so many people willing accept "post-processed" entertainment.  Saddened, that is, but not surprised at all because that is all they have ever had the opportunity to hear and learn to love.

I have always had a certain distaste for the term "developing a taste for", as it carries with it a certain level of condescension, but in this case I think it to be exactly the right term - no condescension intended.  I cannot condescend without condescending upon myself (if that is a real term), for I have been there, and learned from my own prejudices.  You see, once upon a time I hated - h a t e d - old time Country & Western music.  I was a lifelong hatred that I held until one day, out of the blue, my friend invited me to a Nanci Griffith concert.  I had never even heard of Nanci Griffith, but, upon seeing her live, I fell in love with her music - hard.  Within a day or two, my friend had "burned" me a couple of cassettes, and I could not listen to them enough.  Hell, I still listen to them (though Cassette players are hard to find nowadays), along with other CD's and MP3's I have purchased over the years. Nanci's country sound was the gateway drug to classic country, bluegrass, old time music, etc.  I still love it and still listen to this day.  I am notoriously bad at having to learn the same lesson over and over again, but that one lesson I took to heart.

Writ Large...

Music was, however, only the inspiration for this diatribe, not the sole expression of the phenomenon being addressed.  The phenomenon, though focused mainly in the entertainment industry, exists in many facets of our society, and is in fact nothing new.  In earlier times (damn that makes me sound old) they were the exception to the rule though.  For instance, I remember occasionally eating TV Dinners, but home cooked - often home grown - food was the rule.  Now it seems most everything is synthetic, from clothing to foodstuffs to music to relationships.  How many films are produced that are not CGI'ed to death?  How many images are not polished and spiffed up by photoshop or some other such package? What is real?

The argument could be made that it is all real, but is it?  Does it not warp our sense of reality when a beautiful woman - more beautiful than any human has a right to be - is still not good enough for a magazine cover?  Does it not warp our sense of how the world works when it's not good enough to show a car being driven at (or beyond) the limit in a film, but rather to have she big screen insanity which we are fed of late?


Is there hope that somehow someday things will be appreciated for what they are in the purest natural sense, and not as synthetics?  Thank God it is happening in other areas of life, witnessed by everything from local beers to local fresh food.  On a personal note, I took my daughter to a live Shakespeare performance and she was floored. Loved every minute of it, and can't wait to go again.  Sure it was The Bard, but it was the live theater performance with real people that was the real selling point.  I figure if a tween who lives on a steady diet of pop music and anime can fall in love with The Real Thing, then pretty much anyone can.  If the horse is thirsty, and you lead him to water, you don't need to make him drink - he'll drink on his own.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Looking Forward

Throughout my life, I have noticed the phenomenon wherein people who are deeply involved in something personally or professionally begin to lose perspecitve on their pursuit, ant take things in an extreme direction to the point where outside observers - even interested sympathetic ones - are puzzxled or disgusted at the behaviors of the "true believers".  I have seen this phenomenon in ever field from animal breeding to zoning and development ordinance writing, and being the type of person who has little compunction about pointing out the emperors lack of clothes have oft found myself recieving the wrath of those "true believers".  It turns out that Aesop was only partially right in his fable.  In real life, when someone points out the emperor's lack of clothing, the naked one doesn't get embarrased - he lashes out at the one who had the temerity speak the truth.

Watching the ongoing, intemittent, saga of the attempted reconciliation of the Society of Saint Pius the Tenth  (SSPX) and the rest of the Catholic Church one can see that phenomenon coming to light on both parties to the process.

On the side of "The Vatican" there is a sincere and concerted attempt by the Holy Father to move things forward.  Witness by His Holiness in the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum wherein he said "Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity".  Yet there are also, within the curia, a lot of those "true believers" I mentioned above.  In this case the object of their obsession is their irrational love and  dedication to Vatican II - or rather their own personal interpretation of what Vatican II meant.  To this group, any mention or even slight implication that anything related to or attributed to "Their Council" was less than perfect, right, and God's Will will bring upon the offendor scorn, critcism, banishment, imprisonment, excommunication, artillery fire, aerial bombardment, and whatever else they can conjure up.  To one for whom The Church was "born" in 1964 and the previous 19 centuries were merely some sort of ecclesiatical gestation period any suggestion that anything significant happened "in utero" is an anethema.  To this batch of "true believers" the SSPX is the embodiment of all they deplore.

On the side of the SSPX, things are not quite as bad.  Not because of the strength of the beliefs but because the focus of that belief - certain aspects of Vatican II - are relatively small and discrete items.  By and large the SSPX loves The Church completely.  They have certain problems with the happenings - many of the happenings - of the last 50 years, but they love The Church.  The problem the SSPX faces is that there is a core of "true believers" who seem to let their focus on the problems of the last 50 years spill over into their assessment of everything that has happened in those same years. Their logic is as follows: Vatican II was in some way diabolical.  Everything that happened after Vatican II is tainted in some way by it. Therefore, everything that came after Vatican II is in some way diabolical.  Having lived through the turmoil of the past 5 decades I know that it has been terrible for The Church in so many ways, but at the same time throughout it all there have been legions of good, holy priests trying to keep the faith in a situation where it isn't easy to do.  To this group even the most positive statements by the most faithful orthodox Bishop are subjected to a fusillade of snark and disdain - as seen in some of the comments here.  I know there is a difference between the comments of a random person on a blog and the comments of someone in the curia, but that is beside the point.  Be they an outsider, pewsitter, priest, bishop, or cardinal the attitude is the same.

Unless and until the people in charge of how things proceed sit down together and cast aside all of the extra junk which has been layered unnecessarily on top of the few - but important - real differences, this reconciliation will never be consummated and will remain bogged down in the mire which has been heaped upon the core of the problem over the past 50 years.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thinking About the Unthinkable

As the days pass, I am finding myself increasingly distraught over the prospects for the political future of our nation, and the absolute irrationality and irresponsibility of those both sides of the arguments over dept, taxes, spending, etc. I read this column this morning and it is so far the only intelligent thing I have read which offers some prospect - even an unpleasant one - of addressing the core issues at hand.

Thinking About the Unthinkable

I was livid in 2011 when the "debt deal" was struck because I saw it for what it was - a highly political maneuver to avoid responsibility.  The fact is - and every rational adult knows this - that we either need to shrink the government drastically to meet our tax revenues, or raise revenues drastically to fund the level of government we have.  The argument can be made for either course - though I much prefer the former. There is, however, no rational or intellectually honest case to be made for the status quo of taxing like the former and spending like the latter.

So, I believe that the time has come for the Republicans in Congress to go "all in" and just say no. No more borrowing - not one dime - until the core issues are addressed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Requiescat In Pacem, Vincenzo

He was a Good, kind man. 

He was as loving as he was brilliant and funny.

He was tough as steel when he needed to be, but understanding and kind when I needed him to be.

He Was My Dad.

And I miss him more than I ever knew I could miss anything or anyone.

Arrivaderci, My Friend.