Hello 2017

I don’t have 1500 odd words on a single topic. I have a storm cloud of random thoughts buzzing around like knats on meth. So, this post will be a little (a lot) scattered. Your normally crazy-making, pugnacious blog posts will resume soon enough.

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We have been told for a century that we have no agency, we can’t do it ourselves, we must keep taking what pittance Pimp Daddy US deigns to grant us and praise him for his benevolence. We don’t need to burn down D.C. or anything that dramatic. Just move our commerce into the black market. Yes, some of us will get arrested for failing to pay taxes and such. That’s the cost of doing business in an authoritarian, socialist republic. Pimp Daddy US has never been able to completely shut down the extant black market so I don’t see him able to do so anytime soon. Self-reliance, the thing of 2017.

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These are the current cabinet departments under the Executive Branch: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health & Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Education, Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security. 15 huge bureaucracies that have an enlightened self-interest in continued existence. In addition, there is the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trade Representative, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. 7 more bureaucracies that are treated like Cabinet level offices in the Executive Branch which also want to continue to get funding.

Congress has its own administrative organization feeding from the trough of Pimp Daddy US. You have to also add in the lobbyists, who are a hidden fifth element of the federal government. Much of the sausage making of governing this empire happens inside the offices of law firms lobbying on behalf of their clients. They provide the staff needed to write the laws, provide congress with the digests of the legislation written, advocate for the laws desired by their clients and provide cover for congressmen and senators who want to claim that the junket to the Turks and Caicos was a working one. We won’t be able to do much with the licentious relations happening on K-Street. Free speech, etc. There are things we can do, though.

We are a multi-trillion dollar economy. We are one of the wealthiest and largest empires in history. It takes a government of a certain size to run this massive empire we have made. That said, we have built an unwieldy and ineffective bureaucracy in the Executive Branch that has become a tail eating serpent. It no longer exists to serve the President or us. It exists to serve itself and to grow. We will not fix our present malaise unless we cut this cancer on the republic down to size. So, if I were king (no danger of that), I’d do several things. First, day one,shut the government down for a hundred days. Essential services like Defense and Homeland Security would stay in operation. Everything else, though, would be shuttered. All Executive orders would be suspended pending review. Next, these cabinet offices would be kept: State, Treasury, Defense, Attorney General, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, White House Chief of Staff, Office of Management and Budget. The others would be shut down over two years. The work they do would be turned over to private, non-profit entities with supporting law and/or regulation through the Attorney General to ensure they behave themselves. These entities would not receive federal funding.

Dumpf campaigned on “Drain the Swamp”. The first president to take a serious whack at the bloated fourth branch of the government will get crucified by the press and those with a vested interest in sustaining it. The opposition will unleash all the political dirty tricks they have. It will be a fight for power unlike anything we have seen since the Civil War. If that president survives the fight and manages to eliminate the Cabinet departments I’d like to see gone it will have the effect of taking money out of Congress’ hands and out of the kitty of any following President, maybe. Anything done on an Executive Order can be reversed by succeeding Presidents. Part of the victory will be to tie the hands of any successors so that putting back the eliminated Cabinet Departments will be too politically expensive. Swamp drained. Power in Washington reduced. Both good things.

I am not so naive as to believe that shrinking the Executive Branch will make the government less corrupt. Wealth and power are like water. They find their own level. In the absence of power vacated by the Executive Branch something will step up to fill the void. We’ve had our century of feeding on Pimp Daddy US’s benevolence. Government is already corrupt. I’d like to try allowing that corruption to go somewhere else. Gone out of the White House maybe we can find a better battlefield on which to fight it to the death.

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I am reading James O. Hannay’s, “The Wisdom of the Desert”. Holy Crap! We are a bunch of glutinous wussies. I keep talking about living on less, devoting a whole blog post (Money) to it recently. I haven’t changed my habits. I still fuss over finding an afternoon at Starbucks on one cup of coffee to be too expensive. Will I follow through in 2017? The new year is 2 days old. We have 363 more days to see if I do.

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Ray RobertaBob’s rules to live by:

  1. Lidera con compasión y misericordia. Solamente después de que su encuentro con alguien desafíe su opción para comenzar con la compasión usted encuentra maneras de limitar creativamente su misericordia hacia ellos. Incluso entonces, considere a los monjes y su voluntad de sufrir más allá de lo que la mayoría de la gente consideraría sana.
  2. El perdón te hace libre.
  3. Constantemente pregunte si sus elecciones actuales le acercan a su deidad o interfieren con su relación con su deidad. Todo lo que te aleje de una relación sana con tu deidad debe dejar tu vida.
  4. Un poco de miseria es bueno para el alma. Algunos de lo que quieres sólo pueden venir a través de la lucha.
  5. El rey no es tu papá de azúcar ni tu amigo. Deja de esperar que él te cuide.
  6. La sabiduría comienza con parientes y amigos. Amad a vuestros parientes, amigos y enemigos por igual.
  7. La forma en que usted califica para ser servido es servir a otra persona.

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That’s pretty much it. I joined my local YMCA as 2016 neared an end. I’ve done 3 workouts so far. I’ve been on diabetes meds long enough to be addicted and overly tolerant of their effects. Bringing my disease under control will mean more addictive/damaging/powerful meds or a much more impactful change in habits. If you want to pray for something, pray that I’ll get it in gear and eat better/exercise more. I’ve said enough about my money dysfunction. It’s not a matter of more knowledge or more words. New Year’s Resolutions are slow-news-day filler. I am a writer. Talking about doing something isn’t the hard thing. It’s the follow through. Stay tuned. This story will play itself out over the next few years. Keep reading the blog to find out how it ends.

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Does this evangelism tract make me look fat?

First Posted 06-Jul-2014

At church today we started our conversation on missions to our neighbors. It was the same old same old. Lots of brainstorming around our strengths, how to make ourselves more attractive to our neighbors–like some dejected debutante who is freaked out days before the cotillion because no one has invited her. We talked about stuff we’d done in the past and I got kind of annoyed at all of it.

watchtower-magazineThe big problem is that we go into our own neighborhood with the wrong attitude. We want them to come to us, to be part of our church and don’t pay much mind to who they are, what their strengths are, their hopes & dreams or whether they are already part of a church. It’s an altered version of the Jehovah’s Witness door-knock bit. We go through the neighborhood, knocking on doors, wondering if we chose the right dress, if our hair looks good, if we picked the right perfume, nervous about what to say . . . all about us.

We’ve been a church at this location for 75 years. The neighborhood knows who we are and they don’t like us. By now, we are that bible toting old bitty in the ill-fitting blonde wig and crooked lipstick who accosts each neighbor she encounters with, “are you saved?” We park outside their homes instead of across the street in front of our own building or in our own parking lot. We make noise at times when they wished we were quiet. We don’t bother asking if they are Episcipalian. No, we hire expensive, outside consulting firms to compile census data and tell us the demographics of our neighbors. We think we are great and wonder why our neighbors don’t agree. We really haven’t changed, in some respects, in 75 years. We are still annoying.

What’s the answer, then? We are pretty enough, or were at one time. The attitude we fail with is the assumption that we are there to meet needs that remain hidden behind locked doors so that more folk will fill the pews on Sunday morning. We are not. We are there to identify strengths to be enhanced and ways in which our needs can embolden our neighbors to take care of themselves[Lupton, 2012]. We are there to help them help themselves.

It doesn’t matter that all of our best dresses are in the cleaners and we can’t afford to get them out. That we haven’t had our hair done in a month because pesky things like the mortgage and the car payment, the Internet and light bill, got paid first. They don’t care that our French manicure is two months old for similar reasons. What matters is what we can help them do for themselves. Regardless of the holes in our jeans and the rips in our flip-flops, we can still provide knowledge and resources. Also, I’d bet, behind those doors are strained relationships no less intense than what we might find in “ghettos”. Upper-middle class life comes with its own traps and chains. The only reason we don’t see addiction, abuse, abandonment or adultery is because this crowd can afford to hide it better. It’s there and through seeking to serve them, to build on their strengths, the needs will reveal themselves.

So, yeah, do events, wear last year’s dress and ask that pimply, near-sighted, scruffy guy if he’ll go to the cotillion with you; find ways to engage in conversations with our neighbors. But, in the talking, remember that we are not selling timeshares in the Bahamas or indulgences assuring entrance to Heaven. We might discover, by listening, that the pimply guy put out a Kickstarter proposal for an animated watchband that was a $50,00.00 ask and raised 5 million. That pimply guy, cleaned up, ain’t half bad. That the sudden windfall of wealth has created unintended problems you can help with. We should be humbly seeking ways to serve through identifying the strengths of our neighbors and ways in which we can build on these strengths.

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The Big Score

First Posted 26-Feb-2015

This one is as nuts as some of my recent posts, maybe more. A friend of mine, who did a long bit in prison, still wants to hit the big score and dump a bunch of cash into his neighborhood. His idea is that if the score was big enough he could buy off all the poor people and in one fell swoop, fix the problems in his neighborhood. People would love him, he’d get his (new) Cadillac, young women would want to be with him, and so on. It’s a fantasy that only works on TV or in Hollywood. In Real Life, it’s a non-starter.

diamond_dollarThese ideas come up. It’s a popular fantasy that you could dump enough cash into one locality to end poverty there. Let’s play with it for a bit. To make the score big enough we are talking $32.1 billion or so. There are roughly 26,000 people in this guy’s neighborhood. It’s a nice mix, with the median income being about $28,000.00/year. To make the math easy, we’ll say the median income is $30,000.00/year. Median age is 38. So, we are talking about $30,000/year for almost 40 years for 26,000 people. $31,200,000,000 to create enough cash that all 26,000 could spend $30,000.00/year for 40 years and not be broke. Show me a single crime that can pay off 31.2 billion in once score. IMHO, doesn’t exist. So, the size of the score is one problem.

The other concern is 26,000 instant millionaires who may not have the life skills necessary to be disciplined with $1,200,000.00. The feeding frenzy potential here is pretty intense. 26,000 to 1 that everyone would behave with their 1.5 million is lottery odds. If 1,300 (5%) misbehave that’s still $1,560,000,000.00 worth of cash dumped into the grey & black market economies. The possibilities are scary.

that’s the number in play if we are going to give everyone in his neighborhood enough money to retire comfortably. It is that much money. Enough that the size of the wad of cash starts twinkling in the eyes of the politicians and the one holding that bankroll suddenly has friends in high places he didn’t have before. It is a big impact on the social and political scene in which it appears.

That’s enough cash dumped into one zip code that it would change the character of the neighborhood. Before the money Highland Park is perceived as a a ghetto. It isn’t, actually. The medium income is decent and the majority of the folk in the area work. It’s only a small number of bad actors that get the attention and drive the news narrative about this zip code. After dumping $31.2 billion into it and just the cash makes it a desirable place to be. Suddenly lots of folks want to buy the 19th century homes in the area, driving property values and initiating the sort of gentrification that would permanently alter the character of Highland Park.

It would mean my friend could not live there and pay the same rent he currently pays. I reckon he includes himself in the group of folk who would collect their $1.2 million so maybe this doesn’t matter. My friend, in his naiveté, believes that he could do this and it would come out the way he wanted it to. People would behave, invest the money wisely, and be able to afford a reasonable income for the rest of their lives. I disagree.

This is so much cash that it would take on a life of its own. The challenge of mastering it rather than becoming a slave to it is daunting. With this much money in play could he live a disciplined life? He could totally, stupidly indulge every one of the seven deadly sins and have plenty of money left over for his philanthropic largess. Right now, he’s living on Social Security Disability. There isn’t enough money in his life for him to get into much trouble. $31.2 billion, though, is a lot of potential mischief. It’d take a remarkable person not to be drawn into at least a little excessive behavior. He’s not that remarkable. He’d do something and depending on what he did, make a mess of it, maybe a irrecoverable mess. This too, $1,560,000,000.00 given to the drug & crime lords in his neighborhood from a guy whose expressed purpose is to eliminate economic misery and the monetary motivation to commit crime. Somehow, having 1,560,000,000.00 loose in the black market doesn’t seem like a crime reduction plan. It seems like a cash fueled bacchanal that would spike crime and have the opposite result from what is intended. Then, the cash would be gone at some point and what then?

That 5% that fueled the bacchanal would have to deal with a community hangover of prodigious size. The money is gone so the lifestyle it supported would collapse. The support systems that existed before the windfall may have been pushed aside by all that cash and thus, wouldn’t be there when the hangover began. It would be an epic economic crash, an epic community hangover. You can poke around to find stories of lottery winners or others that had a sudden windfall of cash and instead of it solving problems, it creates them. I don’t see any difference here. Even if 95% of the folk who got their $1.5 million dollar gift from my bank robber friend did behave, the other 5% that didn’t would still have a big effect on the community. 2,000 people in a small geographic area who are suddenly rich and then suddenly facing Sunday morning, hungry, broke, hung-over and in trouble. Bad news, I’d say. I made much of Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“ and Dambisa Moyo’s, “Dead Aid“ last year. These two writers talk about the damage that can be done by ignorant resource dumps of the sort that my friend imagines as the answer. More money isn’t the answer. Intelligent engagement with the community and a long term plan for micro-investment to promote economic development is a better answer than $32,100,000,000.00 dropped into the ghetto he lives in. One last thing. Alongside this wish for the one big score is a core belief that he doesn’t want to do more time. If he did pull off a $32,100,000,000.00 job, he’d be prime beef for the FBI. He’s already done 30 years in prison. He’s in his 60’s. If he did this, he’d die in prison. There is no way they’d let him get away with it. So, the two don’t go together. He can’t have his big score without doing big time. The whole thing is nuts.

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I Want to be a Redneck

First Posted 18-Feb-2015

I’m not from Richmond, VA. I’m from Turnersville, NJ in Whitman Square. I grew up with a lot of Eastern European and Italian families who didn’t seem to need a day job. There were a lot of Cadillac’s and nice German sedans in the driveways of my neighbors. My Dad was a bit of an oddball, with his job designing power supplies for main-frame computers, his love of Mexican food, and his fondness for the Beach Boys. His beloved Chevy II station wagon was a bit low-brow for our neighborhood. His adopted home didn’t quite get his fashion choices—the turtleneck sweater and pocket protector—very cool for Berkeley, CA in the ‘50’s but out of place in Whitman Square.

redneck-womanI am not an expert on what makes a redneck. Even my Scots/Irish heritage doesn’t help, complicated as it is by marriage to the daughter of a Russian Jew and an old money Yankee. But, lately, certain politicians have taken to battering rednecks as no account, stupid Luddites who cling to their guns & religion. I just posted an anti-racism rant that should bring warm fuzzies to my Peepulz Demokratik Republik of Bezerkeley friends. It is one of those pieces of orthodoxy you have to plant your flag on to be included as one of the good guys in that clique. A laughing mockery of rednecks as backward racist hicks who stupidly stick to outdated tradition is another tick-mark on the checklist. If being a redneck means:

  • Honoring Tradition.
  • Honoring Thy Father & Mother
  • Honoring God and Country
  • Owning, and properly using weapons for self-protection and hunting. Yes, weapon. Any of our soldiers will tell you that your genitalia is your gun. The AR-15 you have in your hands is a weapon, not a gun. Get it straight. Gun control means controlling where you put that genitalia–a good idea.
  • Owning and caring for land that provides for my family
  • Delighting in good music and dance
  • Enjoying arts & crafts as a natural part of daily life
  • Telling great stories, old and new
  • Making Moon-shine
  • Being suspicious of needless government

Here, I’ll say it in French so the folk in Berkeley will think it’s cool: “Si je suis à étiqueter, un redneck racistes stupides pour les attributs ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Si je perds lecteurs et sont rejetés pour les 10 qualités ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Je ne gagne rien en essayant de tenir dans une foule qui prétend être de la diversité et pourtant me fuit parce que je ne rentre pas leur modèle superficielle du prolétariat. Si je fuyais et étiqueté un redneck parce que je ne pas génuflexion devant une statue de Mao cinq fois par jour alors je veux être un plouc..” I read the FoxFire magazines as a kid. I loved them. I loved it that there were folk who didn’t need everything we had in our Whitman Square home to have a good life. I still do. I wasn’t born a redneck. A lot of what characterizes a redneck are qualities I admire and try to embody. I’d like that to mean that I can deemed to be a redneck. Even if it means being shunned (again) by my PDRB friends.

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Define Poor

As I sit in the office I set up in the spare bedroom in my house without a job, with less than $40.00 of accessible cash, it’s easy to label myself as poor. If I don’t figure out how to pay my cable TV bill soon I’ll be stuck watching Netflix and will miss the new Season of Mythbusters. Horrible, right?

wretched_man-213x300This still sticks in my head like a stray cocaine addled ex-girlfriend who won’t leave. When we say we want to end poverty, what do we mean? Half of the world lives on less than $2.50/day. I feel impoverished because after I buy my cup of coffee from Starbucks I’ll only have 23¢. Who is really poor? Am I poor because I don’t have enough cash to buy my usual list from our local supermarket? Those people who live on $2.50 a day, are we saying those are the poor folk?

Let’s just make that claim. That for things to be fair everybody has to live on more than $2.50/day. Thus the answer is to dump cash into their country so that everybody can have oh, maybe $10.00/day to live on. We’ll make some sort of UN resolution that imposes sanctions or whatever on nations that we consider wealthy and force them to give their wealth to our designated poor countries so that everyone can have their daily Alexander Hamilton. Good plan, no?

Best Laid Plans

No. The places in the world where we in the first world have diagnosed the problem as a lack of cash and thus the solution is to empty the coffers of the first world into the third are cesspools. The sudden influx of cash breeds crime & corruption. The well meaning, utopian ngo’s & government officials responsible for administering the flood of cash are too easily corrupted. Something like 90% of the money sent is swallowed up in costs and corruption. I know, a rapid fire paragraph of seeming glittering generalities. Don’t believe I’m factual? Check out Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid”. Go read the old news articles on the Symbionese Liberation Army and their food drop. Ask a local soup kitchen how many of those in line for a meal are regulars the staff suspects are not as down in the mouth as they claim. Redistributing assets to make things fair too often escalates the unfairness.

Lists seem to be a fad among bloggers. They show up well on the little 4.3″ screens of everybody’s iPhones. I am a bit mobile unfriendly on this site. I tend to write long, at least 1,000 words or so. You have to scroll down (so fustrating) to read all of one of my posts. +1 way in which this blog is a pain in the ass. Before I finish this I have a list below for you:

Things Alan Owns
# Item Days to Earn @ $2.50/day
1 1 Can Bustello Coffee 1.5
2 Oscar Meyer Beef Franks 2.0
3 ½ gallon Soy Milk 2.0
4 Whole Chicken 4.0
5 Melita Drip Coffee Maker 5.0
6 Peet’s Coffee Whole Bean Major Dickenson’s Blend 5.2
7 TFal Pot & Pan set 50.0
8 Microwave Oven 36.0
9 Convection Oven 37.0
10 Vacuum Cleaner 40.0

These are just a few small things. I also own a laptop (600 days), a smart phone (160 days) and live in a single family home (240 days for one month’s rent). I drive an old car that by the standards of my friends, is a hoopty. At $2.50/day it would take 14 years to earn enough money to replace it. One mechanic offered to fix everything broken for 2 years wages. I have friends paying a mortgage on $250,000.00 homes. For 80% of the world 100,000 days (274 years, 14 generations) would pass before they could pay that off.

Color Blind Privilege

That’s one aspect of this. What I feel as poverty is wealth by a large percentage of the world’s population. This happens every once in a while and makes the news. Someone from a remote corner of the world where they hunt & gather is flown to a place like New York City and they have a meltdown. Something as simple as a small corner grocery is such an abundance of food at such extraordinary prices that they cannot believe what they are seeing. For most of their lives if they don’t go hunt something today they don’t eat today. And here they are among millions of people staring at the shelves of a small grocer with enough food to feed their village for a long time. And it’s just one small store. Walmart? OMG! Walmart makes them run in tears from the store. Walmart makes their head explode.

Yet these people have lived in hunter gatherer cultures for thousands of years. They are doing something right. Something else to consider–UN Relief and other foreign aid efforts have sent several trillion dollars to African nations over the last half-century or so. You would think that by now everybody there could be assured of their daily Hamilton and four times the amount of money they live on. Yet, over 50 years the cash has fostered incredible corruption and violence as the money is stolen by those who are able. Those for whom it was intended for absorb yet another sandpaper dildo shoved up their dignity. Go read Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid” if you want to hear more about this. I met someone from Uganda who giggled that when we send cash and food they just eat it and leave us good hearted folk with nothing to show for our well intentioned generosity.

I hope none of what I write here is news. If you want to know why I don’t give to UNICEF or respond to those heartbreaking TV ads for various NGO’s feeding the poor it is because mercy is one more thing that scales badly. Once governments get involved and there is substantial cash in play it’s hard for the establishment to be humble and do the right thing. To often their SumYung HotTea wants a fur coat and gets it for an equivalent price of 20 years salary for a lot of the world. Instead I’ve advocated working small, in our own neighborhoods, seeking to foster the gifts of my neighbors. Yes, yes, this does come from Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“. I like the book.

As we sit in our local café and bemoan the miseries of the third world it is easy to take another sip of our doppio-half-caf-soy-hazelnut cappuccino (2 days wages) and accuse the rich of our first world of having too much. I have a suggestion I make frequently. Grab somebody sitting next to you in that café and ask them to hold your table. Go outside and give $20.00 (8 days wages) to somebody who looks like they need it. Each time you feel the urge to shake your fist at the evil rich, do a small act of kindness with great love. Then do another and keep doing them.

Rome was an empire for 1400 years. For the first millennium it was an invincible force. Then a no account bastard Nazarene son of a carpenter was born in Bethlehem. At about age 30 he was crucified by the Romans at the request of the boy’s church leadership after being accused of blasphemy. Followers of this no-account boy were tormented, murdered, brutalized in the most vicious means imaginable. What could not be done by any in a thousand years was done by a few who sacrificed themselves over 4 centuries. His Way leached its way into the heart of Constantine.

Rome was sacked repeatedly until it fell for the last time around 440AD. You will hear that followers of Jesus of Nazareth were not the ones who brought down the great Empire. It was the Visigoths. Maybe so. Four centuries of speaking to the hearts of those in power, four centuries of asking them to follow the way of a ragamuffin boy from Nazareth, had its effect. The kingdom of Jesus lives in the hearts of billions of followers. Rome is a ruined city tourists visit to eat pizza and stare at fallen sports arenas. I think that carpenter’s boy won.

That’s my answer to those smoking Galious cigarettes, sipping that organic, fair trade latte and eyeing the “kill the 1%” protest sign proudly hung on the café wall above the flyer for river tours of the Douro. Christianity won against Rome by invading its heart. We won by small acts of kindness and uncommon grace.

You can be part of this revolution. No flags or riots needed. You know the drill. No, that old six word prayer is only a small part of it. I care more about these simple things: Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. Love friends, family and enemies alike. Forgive first, beyond 70 times 7. Wash feet. If you don’t understand what I mean by washing feet, ask one of us who follow Jesus. We invaded Rome’s heart and live in it rent free. I’ll take that as a win you can be part of for less than a day’s wages.

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