Saved 20 Million Lives!

The Economist reports that the Vaccines for Covid-19 probably saved more than twenty million lives worldwide. That’s quite wonderful.

But I’m prompted to wonder how many more might have been saved if there had not been so much doubt and fear generated by the anti-vax people. The right to express one’s own opinion carries responsibility for the consequences of others trusting that opinion and relying upon it to make a life or death decision. It’s a moral obligation, and maybe it should carry consequences for the purveyors of fear. It looks to me like many of the anti-vax leaders are in it for the attention and money it gets them.

Covid-19 still kills about 400 a day in the US despite vaccines. Vaccinated people with other health issues can still become gravely ill, and unvaccinated people are still something like ten times as likely to have a bad outcome from infection. If you are old or frail you need to continue precautions even though most people are lowering their guard.

Believe in Free enterprise?

I’m a capitalist. I believe in free enterprise, and I respect entrepreneurs who risk everything, confident they can build a thriving business because they believe they have something valuable to offer the rest of us.

But, I think that a person should always be willing to reassess how their beliefs serve them. My belief in free enterprise is no exception. Too much that’s going wrong in the world is driven by narrow business interests that conflict with the common good and public welfare.

Jim Hightower thinks so too. He attacks Monopoly Power in his October pamphlet The Hightower Lowdown.

Continue reading Believe in Free enterprise?

The GOP’s Moment of Truth

Sometimes things have to go very wrong before they come back right. I hope we have reached the moment when rational Republicans decide to sink the extremist wing of their party instead of riding it to power and scuttling the democracy they have sworn to serve virtually every time they were installed in an official position.

Heather Cox Richardson gives an excellent summary of what is now going public about GOP loyalists having a moment of truth, an opportunity to change course and purge their party of its cancerous extremism.

October-11-2021-by-Heather-Cox-Richardson-Letters-from-an-American

HCR’s article has links to other current articles. If you have strong feelings about democracy, now would be an excellent time to make them clear to the Republican elected officials in your district.

And vote your conscience at this and every election going forward.

Benefits of Community

Today I received a remarkable fundraising letter. It came from Holy Cross Monastery, a community of Episcopal Benedictine monks that Marguerite and I have been close to for more than 40 years.

The letter is remarkable for its intimacy and for the splendid way it captures the essence of the enlightenment members of the community have found together. Guests get it when they visit by experiencing the energy of those who live there in community with one another.

Read it for yourself here:

HCM-on-Community

Organized religion and the practice of communal faith are on the wane in the United States. Spirituality in the form of individual practices like meditation is very popular. Still, individual spirituality doesn’t confer the benefits of a community of seekers with a lively mutual interest in spiritual and personal growth.

Covid-19 forced us into isolation. Many of the ordinary ways we experienced community were put on hold. Brother Robert alludes to this in his opening paragraph and shares how the monks gathered for their annual meeting spent time in small groups to recapture what was lost for three years. As in a marriage, living in an intimate community is work. He observes, “The soul proceeds by expansion and inclusion.” One’s spirit is diminished by isolation.

There is much wisdom packed into these seven paragraphs. I’m prompted to ask, “How do the communities that I participate in feed my soul and nurture my well-being?” And how do I reciprocate?

What Women Want …

Storyteller Susan Klein tells a wonderful fairytale in which the prince must guess what all women most earnestly desire. It continues for some time, and she keeps you guessing to the very end. (Spoiler alert: to make my point here, I will need to reveal the secret — but not just yet.)

The guesses that male listeners make are usually far off the mark, and some are transparently egotistical when they venture into romantic fantasies. Men have “implicit bias” that blinds them, me included. They can’t see what’s missing that is so much to be desired from a woman’s point of view because they do not experience such a lack as men.

Yet when the reveal in the story comes, it’s a forehead slapper. Listeners say, “Of course!” and “Why couldn’t I see that?” The wonderful art of Susan’s telling of the story leaves a lasting impression, and possibly an awakening.

Lately I have been thinking that something similar is going on with Trumpists and the rest of us. What is it that Trump’s followers most earnestly desire? What can’t we get about them?

I’m not thinking about political opportunists, those who exploit that earnest desire. I’m thinking about the rank-and-file follower. The men and women who buy into conspiracy theories, whose outrage is always just under the surface, who are angry and see Trump as a tarnished knight, a tough guy who speaks their mind.

In Susan’s tale, what women most earnestly desire is “agency.” They want to make their own choices and not be owned or told. Women have long been identified as “the weaker sex” and subordinated to men. They fought for two generations to get the vote and continue to fight for equality and justice in civic, employment, and domestic life.

Could Trumpists be fearful of losing their agency? Do they believe they have already lost some precious agency to the “elite” liberal class, to overreaching government, to rising minorities, immigrants, coastal progressives, the deep state, and Antifa? That’s certainly what the manipulators are plugging. Is Trumpism about the loss of agency?

How do we assure Trumpists that their agency isn’t diminished if others gail agency. How did most men come to recognize that a woman’s newly won agency does not diminish their own? On the contrary, both men and women benefit.

Blackout Averted

Imagine! People act in service of one another to avert a disastrous problem. Californians did just that.

Blackout

California deftly avoided rolling blackouts this week amid an energy surge through a novel innovation in the green energy space that researchers are calling “text everyone in the state and ask them to cool it.” It worked phenomenally well. At 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday, power demand hit a new record of 50.6K megawatts, and at 5:50 p.m. the state sent a text message alert mentioning that heat is straining the energy grid, and that there might be outages unless people turn off nonessential power until 9 p.m., please. It worked pretty much instantly. Power demand dropped 1.2 gigawatts within five minutes, immediately mitigating the issues, and by around 8 p.m. the emergency level was cancelled without a blackout. Wow, it’s almost as if slight collective action can have a meaningful impact addressing the ramifications of climate change if a state is willing to intervene; who could have possibly seen this coming.

Dan Murtaugh and Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

One of the advantages of digital networking is the possibility of instant notification. Since the 1950s, the US has had a nationally coordinated system for sending emergency communications to radio, TV, cable, and other FCC-regulated public media. It started as Conelrad during the cold war and morphed into the Federal Communications Commission’s EAS (Emergency Alert System). That raucous buzz you hear on your radio, TV, and cellphone just before a weather warning is the digital data burst that allows such messages to propagate from a single source to virtually all electronic public media in mere seconds.

Now, with mass text messaging to mobile phones, written alerts can be communicated to private and public networks with even greater speed.

It’s heartening to see California’s example of large numbers of people taking the trouble to cut their energy use so that there would be enough for all with nobody left out. Perhaps there is a moral lesson here.

“The GOP is sick” — Milbank

Dana Milbank documents the decline of ethics and morality that characterizes the Republican party and now threatens democracy itself.

The essay echoes a theme in my observations of political leadership on the right. There is a long tradition of political scheming and distortion of the public’s perception of reality. Lee Atwater said “Perception is reality,” and he actively employed that principle to create negative political memes. Manifort, Stone, Gingrich, Rove, and many other GOP political operatives have risen to power and influence manipulating perception without concern for fairness or truth. They seek to win by any means.

Servant Leaders

Lately, I have been thinking about being a follower. It’s a natural human trait to both follow and lead, depending on circumstances.  And it says a lot about my personal spiritual growth when I examine how I do both. In family matters, business, and politics we reveal who we are by how we lead or who follow.

Here is my column as published today in the Bucks Courier Times.

Seeking Truth?

We all should be seeking truth, but we don’t. Truth is frequently disturbing, and we go into self-deception. Instead of seeking the truth, we seek out others who bolster our self-deception. Today, Sr. Eileen White, who coordinates the panel of From a Faith Perspective writers I serve with, published an excellent Christian perspective on self-deception about January 6th coverage.

If you or someone you know refuses to watch the hearings and avoids the news summaries, this brief article gives a gentle nudge toward seeking the truth.

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Sr. White urges us to question our beliefs. What’s real and true can stand scrutiny. Lies and deception can’t. Receiving information and seeing things that are discordant with our beliefs takes strength. Discernment takes work. Being cynical and saying, “what is truth?” is a dodge that perpetuates self-deception.

Integrity

“I spent 40 years as a litigator and trial lawyer. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the investigation and presentation by the Committee. It is telling a multi-layered, complicated story in an understandable, accessible manner. That is no mean feat. The Committee has achieved that result through discipline and hard work. Kudos to the Committee,” says Robert B. Hubbel in his blog remarks about the January 6th Committee.

“Once again, as it did last Thursday, the committee relied entirely on senior Republican officials and on members of Trump’s own inner circle to tell the story of how Trump tried to overthrow our government. This undercuts accusations that the committee is engaging in a ‘partisan witch hunt.’ Notably, the committee itself is measured, polite, and serious, demonstrating to viewers what hearings used to be before they became ways to produce sound bites for right-wing media,” says Heather Cox Richardson.

Everything about the presentation of the findings speaks of an intention to present their findings with clarity and with fact-based credibility. The assertions about Donald Trump and his enablers are direct and bold, and they are backed by live and recorded testimony by people with direct knowledge of the facts.

It’s telling that Fox is not doing live coverage and that Trump’s social media channel is blocking users who post about the hearings. What is being revealed can’t be dismissed as political theater, or a witch hunt when so much of the sworn testimony is by GOP operatives who are reporting what they saw and did.

Great Quote

“It is a story of the greatest political crime ever attempted by an American President.”

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D Md.) is a determined methodical fact-finder, a man of integrity, and a member of the January 6th Committee. He’s not a grandstander. He’s not charismatic. He is respected by his colleagues for sincerity and hard work. The quote is not hyperbole. I’m confident the committee will make the case that supports his statement.

Much of the for-profit media is framing the January 6th hearings as a political contest between Dems and the GOP. Regrettably, it may be in their self-interest to avoid framing for what it really is: a criminal indictment where the general public is the grand jury. Based upon the evidence presented, Americans and the world will decide whether Trump and his supporters are guilty of attempting a political coup.

The committee seeks to reveal a pattern of facts and circumstances that lead to the conclusion that Donald Trump and his followers attempted to seize power using a series of ploys culminating in an elaborate and violent ruse aimed at derailing the 2020 Presidential Election. As justification for what was to follow, they began with the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen. But that was propaganda to cover a very real and determined effort to steal the election by GOP operatives.

My Republican friends want to dismiss the proceedings without examining the evidence. They see it as political gamesmanship. They liken these hearings to the Benghazi hearings, which yielded much rhetoric but no crimes or causes for congressional action. This in itself is a tacit admission that their party’s motivation was political and not a sincere attempt to uncover wrongdoing or inform future legislation.

We can understand the commercial media’s reluctance to frame their reporting as Raskin does: the story of a crime by Trump and the GOP. They earn revenue in proportion to the audience they deliver to advertisers. Telling 40% of their audience that they are being led by an authoritarian crook, even though evidence is forthcoming, will drive away people whose attention they need.

So we get why they frame it as a political game, a contest, a sparring match. It’s in their economic best interest. But that does not serve America and journalistic integrity.

Democracy, government by consent of those governed, is hard-won and hard to sustain. We are witnessing an ongoing brash attempt to subvert Democracy by the leader of the GOP. Trump is an unabashedly authoritarian and vengeful leader, who rules his party by fear and whose excesses are tolerated because of his extremist followers — it is a classic cult of personality.

Other GOP efforts to subvert democracy include:

  • Widespread partisan gerrymandering so that representation does not reflect the will of the majority of voters. (e.g.: Operation Red Map)
  • Partisan judge appointments so that the courts favor the aims of the GOP.
  • Vote suppression measures designed to make it inconvenient and difficult for urban (often Democratic) voters to vote (hours, locations, adequate numbers of voting stations, etc.)
  • Disenfranchisement measures. Unnecessarily rigorous voter ID requirements, intimidating registration processes, etc. “Suppression efforts range from the seemingly unobstructive, like strict voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. These measures disproportionately impact people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities,” according to the ACLU.
  • Disinformation. Political “dirty tricks” aimed at biasing perception against the opposition candidate. Roger Stone has characterized himself as an expert in this. Lee Atwater is credited with the phrase, “perception is reality,” in creating negative memes for opposing candidates. Other Republican political operatives Paul Manifort, New Gingrich, and Carl Rove also practice the craft of manipulating public opinion for personal gain. Kellyanne Conway famously referred to “alternate facts” when defending false statements of the Trump Whitehouse. (The alternative to a fact is, by definition, a falsehood-not factual.)

Democrats can’t claim to be totally innocent of using any of these tactics, but the scale and gravity of their offenses in trivial by comparison. Usually, when we hear examples cited it is done in an attempt to distract attention from the pervasive reliance the GOP currently places on these corrupt measures.

Trump’s attempt to derail the legitimate transfer of power is only surprising in its boldness and violence. The failure of the GOP to support accountability and corrective measures reveals the extreme lack of honor and utter contempt for the rule of law that pervades the GOP’s lust for the power to govern as a minority party.

Automation and Good Jobs

If you search back to 2015, seven years ago, you will find a post that notes the introduction of a new line of tabletop robotic arms, a development that I then anticipated heralded a new era of manufacturing. Previously the auto industry and the electronics industries were the only large-scale users of robotics. This week I saw this:

Robots

In 2021, there were 16,755 orders for industrial robots in the North American automotive sector and 22,953 orders for industrial robots from everywhere else, several thousand more than any other year on record. The $1.6 billion in orders was up 22 percent year over year. Demand is only rising: In the first quarter of 2022, orders for workplace robots were up 40 percent compared to the same quarter of 2021. The automobile business was responsible for 71 percent of robot orders in 2016, but the rest of the industrial economy has caught on to the appeal of robots, and now that share is down to 42 percent last year.

Bob Tita, The Wall Street Journal via NumLock

Assembly lines with people are vanishing. Factories that employed hundreds now employ a few engineers and technicians. Those skilled jobs require education and the ability to understand new technology. The people who do them are far more autonomous than yesterday’s factory workers. They are not trained on the job to operate a workstation, they are educated to program the machine to perform each new operation perfectly. In electronics, they program the computer that in turn programs the assembly line robots.

An electronics hobbyist today can design his new gadget using SPICE, an electronic drafting program that will simulate how it will perform in a virtual prototype. He or she can experimentally change or “tweak” component values until the design is optimized without ever buying a component or soldering. Once satisfied, the simulator will design a printed circuit board, finding the most efficient placement of parts and routing of connecting wires. That design, containing all the necessary manufacturing drawings and specifications, is a small computer file–one that can be emailed to vendors for quotes. In a matter of days, UPS will deliver an elegantly crafted, fully assembled device that will probably work without further tinkering. The only human that touched it was the hobbyist when he opened the package.

As if that weren’t remarkable enough, the moment has already arrived where humans are not capable of working with the tiny electronic components. The newest and smallest component parts do not lend themselves to hand assembly. Only a robotic system has the precision. Only a laboratory process can solder the connections. Soon enough the very expression “hand assembled” will seem dated.

Consider the printing press. Ben Franklin assembled individual characters taken from a type case, locked them into a frame, applied ink, and imprinted individual pages one at a time. Today, type cases are used to decorate walls and hold bric-a-brac. Print media are disappearing. You are reading this from an image on a screen. Ink and paper are not necessary or desirable for most communications like this humble essay. And there are computers now that can write better essays than this on any topic you choose, in any style you prefer, with or without footnotes.

Don’t look over your shoulder. Something out there wants your job.

One's identity is far more than one's profession.