Susan's Musings

This section of my web site is for unstructured self-expression. Sort of a blog. Your comments are appreciated. In any case, I get to vent. Essays, monographs, poems, book reviews, and comments.

Please visit my separate economics blog.

Prior years: 2107 2106 2105 2104 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
The search for other worlds
Continues this week with the launch of the satellite TESS by NASA and Space X.

Why do we as a nation spend money on such a project while we continue to trash our environment? We cannot find money to fund federal clean-up projects nor enforce environmental protection laws. This is truly a bizarre behavior. It seems clear to me that sending satellites into space is really just a subsidy to aerospace corporations. We've got the money, but our values are skewed. (4-18-2018)

Syrian air strikes labeled a success less than 24 hours later
We've been down this road before. Premature judgment. In 2003 it was Bush who declared success one month after deploying troops in Iraq, an action whose repercussions are still in play. In the UK, the vote for Brexit was declared a failure before the votes were all counted, the actual efforts to accomplish Brexit are still in progress.

How long did Trump practice his announcement? Was he modeling himself on the North Korean leader? Look Ma, complete sentences!

American actions abroad are usually based on incomplete and inadequate information. That does not deter us. Membership in the UN does not deter us. No, we boldly go where no sane person would.

What if some foreign nation were to judge America as behaving in a dangerous way against its own people? (4-14-2018)

Ride the train!
I returned late last night from a train trip through 7 states in the southwest. Here is the advice of the Amtrak employees:
Friends don't let friends fly.
I understand these to be a monetary reward by a customer to a restaurant employee for exceptional service. Pooling tips converts a reward to an individual into a bonus for many. This is dishonest! Restaurant workers should be paid a living wage! If you are still supportive of pooling tips, then allow it to be voluntary by the customer — and tell the customer how many employees compose the pool. (4-13-2018)
National Parks entrance fee increase: Zinke proves he is a marketer, not a steward
National Parks entrance fee increases are planned to be limited to $5 in response to public outcry. Secretary Zinke's speech announcing this increase is peppered with marketing references, and is revolting and alarming.
Zinke said ". . . we are carrying out our commitment to ensure national parks remain world class destinations that provide an excellent value for families from all income levels."
Entrance fees for citizens are a "value"? We citizens already own the parks! Their value cannot be measured in dollars. And as for "world class destinations", that too is a marketing expression that has no place in America's parks. Zinke should go to work for Disney. (4-13-2018)
What is the role of a president in a democracy?
Americans ask themselves this these days, surprised to find themselves at this point. During the swearing-in ceremony the president-elect promises to uphold the Constitution. And yet, at many points, Mr. Trump seems to snub the Constitution and the democratic process that got him to the presidency.

A read of the Constitution finds no mention of attitude and the ever-so-illusive leadership. Mr. Trump is clearly going his own way on this. Of the many things that disappoint me, the one that worries me most is his continued disregard of democracy. He acts as if he is the sole person in the government, that all government actions must originate in him. He is NOT a team member, which is how I thought the Presidency should be. He is equally not inclined to philosophy, hence no tiresome discussion of the unitary executive, with which a previous president plagued us.

So, I long for a president who exhibits benevolent leadership, team spirit, speaks well, and inspires us. That will never be Trump. (4-1-2018)

Facebook explained (partially)
Ethan Zuckerman's March 23rd article in The Atlantic, "This Is So Much Bigger Than Facebook" explains the difference between bad actors and known bugs. As in the misuse of customer data by Cambridge Analytica (the bad actor) is really not the basic problem, it is that the availability of the data is a "known bug."

Mr. Zuckerman has missed the real problem: the availability of the data is a "feature." It is baked into the whole of the Facebook app. It could be argued (by a brave soul) that it is the raison d'être of Facebook. (3-25-2018)

Confederate monuments
I read with interest an article by Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, "What I learned from my fight to remove Confederate monuments" in The Guardian. He observes that "The statues were not honoring history, or heroes. They were created as political weapons, part of an effort to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of not just of history, but of humanity." He came to view the monuments as a form of institutionalized racism. He describes his efforts to find a crane to remove the monuments, an effort blocked at every turn. He did prevail.

But the question remains: just because the monuments refer to an historical event that is now politically and socially incorrect, is it really appropriate to remove the statues? How denuded our knowledge of history would be if the statues of the ancient world, likely honoring people and events no longer in vogue, had been removed! Can we not find a way to acknowledge: that was then, this is now, we've moved on? Or, at least, some of us are trying to move on? Like the turtle with its shell, how can we move on with our history intact?

Might we, instead of removing Confederate statues, place a plaque in front of them: "This man heroically served the Confederate States of America during its war with the United States of America. His nation went to war to preserve its right to enslave human beings, Africans in particular. Eight months after the end of that war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, was ratified." (3-24-2018)

Trump still in the media — so boring
The media noise about Trump has shifted from ridiculing his speech patterns to referring to "minders" to, once again, impeachment. Trump continues to refuse to be a traditional president, in step with established DC insiders and playing his role. This is what he promised voters to do, why is it surprising? Well, those same DC insiders do not enjoy having their established processes ignored.

Meanwhile the media do not ask the truly relevant questions: What is the Constitutional basis for Trump being able to declare war? Why does Congress approve his appointments that the media then disparage so endlessly? What are the constraints on political appointees?

With major "liberal" media so devoted to complaints about Trump, they fail to report on the many things that are happening in DC, the country, and the world. We could be using this moment to better understand the workings of our government. But we are not.

After nearly 14 months of bitching about Trump, I am tired of it all and ready for something else. (3-24-2018)

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Allow me to remind you of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA is intended to amend the Constitution by adding: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Constitutional amendments must be (1) passed by a 2/3rds majority in both the House and Senate and (2) ratified by 3/4ths of the states.

History: The ERA was introduced in 1923, three years after women won the right to vote. It was passed by Congress in 1972. Only 35 states ratified the amendment, three short of the number needed to add it to the Constitution. It has been ignored ever since.

Don't you think the ERA is needed more than ever? (3-21-2018)

Insecure voting systems
The Los Angeles Times today carried an article titled "U.S. election systems need stronger defenses against cyberattacks, senators warn." Isn't it 2018? Where have these senators been hiding? How have they missed the statements by computer security experts that it impossible to completely prevent "cyberattacks"? There is a solution: replace electronic voting with paper-based voting. Good for jobs. Really good for data security. (3-20-2018)
The problem is
The Guardian published an essay "Southern Californians know: climate change is real, it is deadly and it is here" by Nora Gallagher. You can read that essay here.

The comments following the account of the fires and mudslides in Santa Barbara, California became a predictable mix of:
a) the people who doubt climate change being attacked for their beliefs
b) criticism of the government and Donald Trump in particular
c) development has been in areas that have been traditionally subject to fire and flood, which is why they still are
d) forest fire mitigation techniques are wrong or insufficient
e) Humpty Dumpty woes — irreparably broken
f) Chicken Little — the sky is falling in
g) hand wringing

None of the suggested causes include population growth.

Readers are either overwhelmed by predictions or focusing on small details with which they want to tinker.

We still have a shoot-the-messenger attitude. Climate change is taken as a given, doubters are abused.

None of this is helpful. Few are willing to change their way of life, and those that are willing are sanctimonious about it. Many want someone else to do something.

What we are being treated to is a front row seat at a show of interdependence. So many things in Nature are interdependent. And so many things in the lives of modern Californians are interdependent. For example: as the climate is getting warmer, our heating bills may go down. As less rain falls over a year, less water will be available for consumption by humans, animals, and plants. As fires increase, so too will the toxicity of the air we breathe. At some point we may be faced by the option of spending our drinking water supplies on firefighting.

Why now? Because the demands of an increasing human population have exceeded the capacity of the land we occupy.

The engineering efforts of the last century were focused on preventing or controlling floods and impounding water for human needs behind dams. As a result, much less rain is able to sink through the soil and into the water table. Our lifestyles evolved to take advantage of relatively inexpensive resources like drinking water, electricity, natural gas, gasoline. As the supply of these resources has dwindled, and the costs risen, we have resisted a new vision of how to live within our means. We feel entitled. If something has to change, let it be someone else.

Have you studied the findings and conclusions of Drawdown? (3-3-2018)

Neanderthals in Spain
Recently it was reported that scientists have dated three cave paintings in Spain to 65,000 years ago. And that meant they were created by . . . Homo neanderthalensis.
What a shock wave that has sent, disturbing myths of human (Homo sapien) supremacy on the basis of our mental capacity and pushing back the time that the Neanderthals occupied Europe. Raising the possibility that we and they did co-exist and interbreed for more than a few years (although the discovery of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans has been interpreted as proof that there was some co-existence).

Might we interpret the absence of Neanderthals today as evidence that they were killed off by Homo sapiens? Maybe our school shootings are a reliving of the old myths.

This also renews the question: were Neanderthals their own species or a subspecies of modern humans? A project led by SUNY decided in 2014 that Neanderthals were their own species within the genus Homo. (2-25-2018)

Dear Parkland, Florida students,
I am so sorry for your loss. You have experienced a terrific jolt to your expectations and life path. An opportunity to accomplish significant good has opened to you. I salute your strength and determination that — this time — things must change to protect other students from similar fates.

I have a few words of caution. It's good to present an emotional face to the nation, but that will not be enough. Americans are used to tears, and can easily turn away. What you need most now is strategy and understanding the forces that oppose you. Things are rarely simple. The young people of the 1960s (my generation) thought sit ins and marches would do the job, but they failed. A Christian minister and a president were assassinated by the FBI. I admit this is an unproven and likely unprovable explanation, I offer it as an example of hidden agendas.

Read your Machiavelli. Read Howard Zinn's history of America, if only that from 1940 on. Watch what Congress actually does every day. Read the NRAs history of itself on its website, understand why they use the threat of gun confiscation to alarm their membership and arouse it to act in the NRA's favor. Talk with your state politicians and officials to learn their values and agendas.

This will likely (unless miracles happen) be a long project for you. Find ways to sustain yourself. Be good members of your families and of your community, and good friends with each other. Start college if that was your intent last month. Ask for prayers.

My prayers are with you. (2-25-2018)

Non-profit lobbyists threaten democracy
The NRA is a legal non-profit organization, and has been since its incorporation in 1944. It has additionally a tax-exempt status with the IRS. The NRA is required to submit a Form 990 every year to the IRS; these can be viewed online.

NRA has a tremendous influence over Congress. While they do pay Congress people, it is their 5 million members who can be directed to vote uncooperative politicians out of office that carries the most influence. In this case the NRA is a non-Constitutional arm of the legislature. Their presence in this position is a direct and present danger to our democracy.

Perhaps we need to rethink lobbying and the non-profit/tax-exempt status of corporations. Perhaps there should be a limit to membership numbers.

Say we limit lobbying organizations to 1000 members. What's to stop multiple such organizations from partnering with each other? The effect could be the same as if there was only one organization with millions of members. So, that's no solution.

Cancelling their tax-exempt status will just cause them to reduce their expenses, by lowering executive compensation and conducting fewer public programs. The NRA will continue its lobbying.

I feel the only alternative that can truly preserve our democracy is to disallow all lobbying. And to make the acceptance of money and other valuable gifts from wannabe lobbyists illegal. Payola was always corrupt.

Our Congress should take steps to prove they are not vulnerable to outside influence (outside their own constituency). Certainly, they can solicit background information from experts, but this information should be submitted in writing and made available to all Congress folk and citizens alike. (2-23-2018)

Gun control
I offer my own proposal for gun control that reflects the basic issues of individual rights and public safety.

It is clear that the worship of violence in our culture has influenced mass shooters, and will continue to inspire some men to appoint themselves as executioners. We cannot wait for cultural changes to stop these mass shootings that so plague us today. We are unable to effect the mind control needed to prevent anyone from shooting another except in self defense. So we are left with limiting the guns in private ownership. (2-21-2018)

Food poisoning returns, and now you know why
Once upon a time public outcry resulted in government regulations about food safety at meat plants. Recently a man campaigned for the presidency on promises to shrink the government and reduce unnecessary and costly regulations. Voila! Foodborne illness returned. What a surprise!

The Guardian reports today on "Shocking hygiene failings discovered in US pig and chicken plants." (2-21-2018)

Vaccination in the news
There's an article in today's The Guardian reporting Robert F. Kennedy's announcement that the Trump administration has had no further contact with him after authorizing him over a year ago to investigate connections between vaccines and autism.

Kennedy's announcement is news, and I was glad to learn about it. I was also put off by some Guardian attitude in the opening paragraphs. I drafted the next three paragraphs hoping to put them in a comment, but The Guardian is not accepting comments on this article. So I will share with you.

"Spurious theories"? In the caption of the lead photo?
Please keep your skepticism to yourself. We love to point fingers at people with whom we disagree, and then we label them conspiracy theorists to deepen the insult. I am beginning to realize that your "newspaper" relies on this behavior for much of your articles — I'm having difficulty recalling true neutrality in your reporting. I am a bit tired of your judgment. I can make my own judgments, but I do need straight facts.

The problem you, or any other "news" organization, face with regards to "news" related to vaccination, is that the subject is fraught with justified fears, industry pressure, legal rights, health dangers, etc. Best to avoid that swamp. People have written worthy books about the dangers of vaccination, you cannot address that in a few paragraphs. And to dismiss or ignore the wider discussion is not good of you.

And on a slightly different note, have you noticed the great number of photos in newspapers, yours and others, that show a needle pressed to skin? Why is it okay when addressing infectious disease but not "recreational" drugs? (2-21-2018)

Are mass shootings inevitable in America?
Oh God, I hope not. Matt Taibbi has an interesting take in his column at the Rolling Stone: If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too". (2-18-2018)
Selling public assets
This never ends well. Some public entity decides the way to save money by avoiding paying for maintenance, administration, and/or management of some public-owned asset (like a hospital or airport) is to sell it. The buyers suck out all the cash and provide substandard maintenance, administration, and/or management (so much so that the quality of the asset deteriorates). How is that an improvement? Oddly, public contracts with the private companies that take over public assets fail to include legal clauses for oversight and performance standards. One consequence of this is that employees lose benefits and protections, and occasionally their income. (2-12-2018)
Gerber kitchen knives
I have three kitchen knives made by Gerber Legendary Blades of Portland, Oregon. Recently I wanted to learn more about them and how to sharpen them. That proved to be an unexpected project. My report is "Gerber — A Knife and a Family". (2-11-2018)
How much is enough?
We ask each other this question, a bit rhetorically when few of us are truly rich. But here's how the richest man and first ever American billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, replied: "Just a little bit more."

I am sure American society has classes. I am also sure that it is divided by wealth into the haves and have nots. The haves are now known as the 1%. They have different values and interests than the 99%. There is no point in our applying our values and arguments to them. Better to look for ways to make common cause. (2-11-2018)

Develop wild land?
Should public lands be developed? Do you value wilderness for its own sake? Do you think whatever money developers earn from public lands that is actually paid to the federal government make it worthwhile? Do you think it better that the owners of the developers make a profit? Do you see such a profit as wealth being tugged from your pocket? If not, why not? Might you see the existence of public lands as an artifact of paying it forward? If so, then what makes it worthwhile to cash in? Today's Guardian has an article whose title prompted these remarks: "War on the wildest places: US bill may open pristine lands to development". (2-9-2018)
Where to and how?
The two forces that continue to ravage our society are politics and capitalism. What we need is a marriage of authentic democracy and an economic system that are together capable of producing a society benefitting the majority. (1-26-2018)
Protectionist tariffs
This week President Trump announced the imposition of protectionist tariffs on Chinese solar panels and Korean washing machines citing that America would not tolerate "massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive, state-led economic planning." We know Trump can hold mutually exclusive ideas at once, but . . . if America is in such great economic shape that Trump brags to the attendees at Davos, how is it that our growing economy cannot withstand foreign subsidies and state-led economic planning? (1-26-2018)
The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil
Two brothers born in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois to a coal-mining-turned-singing family who grew up learning to sing close harmony and play steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Throughout their lives they contended they were hillbillies and that Kentucky was their emotional home. In 1956, at ages 21 and 19, they signed a recording contract as a duo with Cadence Records in Nashville, Tennessee. In early 1957 they released a recording "Bye Bye Love" that quickly became a million-seller and reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts, No. 1 on the country, and No. 5 on the R&B charts. It was the first in a long series of internationally popular hits.

The brothers set many records that have yet to be surpassed; their music occupied the top of the charts for decades. Their musical style combined rhythm-and-blues and country, and forged an early and enduring strain of rock and roll. "Everything we call country rock comes from the Everlys." [Bill Flanagan] Their voices were beautiful and their harmonies remain unmatched. Neil Young inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, with an introduction in which he described his efforts to reproduce the brothers' harmonies — with no success.

They never claimed to be singer songwriters, and while most of their recorded material was written by others, they wrote a considerable repertoire.

Phil Everly, the younger brother, died in January 2014. Don continues singing, at a slower pace. The Brothers are recognized as having significantly influenced music groups, especially English groups like the Beatles (whom Dick Clark once dismissed as being "Everly Brothers imitators"), and the endless groups that attempted vocal harmonies, perhaps foremost being Simon & Garfunkel.

In 2013 Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) and Alison Krauss (a solo bluegrass-country singer) released a cover of the Everly's "Gone Gone Gone" Here is an Everly recording from 1964.

Perfect Harmony, a UK radio program about the Everly Brothers from March 23, 2014 (after Phil's death), is a wonderful compilation of their music!

I think the Everlys exhibited two significant skills:
First, at a young age they had developed their own musical voice. It was composed of the sounds they made with their guitars, their individual voices, and their harmonies. It was also composed of phrasing and tempo. They could make a song their own by transforming it with their musical voice. (A good example of this is "Claudette", a song written by Ray Orbison. Once I heard the Everly's version, I found Orbison's recording to be lackluster and boring. The Everly's version is vibrant.)
Second, they had a refined sense of timing and progression. Near the beginning of their career, they had a highly successful sequence of songs that was followed by a dirth of suitable material for the next song. Instead of taking what was offered and making the best of it, they stood back and wrote their own song. Their recording of that song, "Cathy's Clown", went to the top of the charts, with no complaints about how long music lovers had to wait for it.

Why did I write about the Everly Brothers? And why now? Late yesterday afternoon I ate breakfast in a local café that caters to retired people with simple, affordable food and oldies music — music from the 50s and 60s. I listened to Buddy Holly sing "Rave On" with pleasure, glad to remember his name and the lyrics. And then a faint memory assailed me, the Everly Brothers. I came home and typed their name into Google and spent the rest of the evening reading and listening and falling in love with their music all over again. I hadn't known anything of their lives and work since about 1970, if not 1963. I wrote this ode to remind me. If this is your introduction to the Everlys, I am glad to have been of service. (1-10-2018)

Oprah for President?
She gave a stirring speech at the Golden Globes. Now the news folk are suggesting she might be a candidate for president. Why? Because she is an authentic billionaire and a TV star.

Have we learned nothing?

We cannot articulate how an ideal president behaves. What political goals they advocate and pursue.

We are easily conned. We do not demand political experience, nor evidence of sincerity in a candidate's stated goals and values.

We like, perhaps a bit desperately, a knight on a white horse to ride in, take over, and make America right again — all without our having to do anything, even vote.

More of this attitude is going to destroy our personal lives and our democracy. And yet we seem addicted to it. (1-9-2018)

Beware food additives
A new study finds: A sugar additive called Trehalose, commonly added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before. That bacterium is infamous for causing severe diarrhea and death. It is one of the most prevalent hospital-acquired infections. (1-4-2018)
Rising sea levels
It's no theory that sea levels are rising, at least in some places — it's fact. And we are constantly told this is a phenomenon of "global warming," that ugly stepchild of industrial pollution. What catches my attention is that when archeologists discover the underwater ruins of ancient Greek or Roman buildings, buildings that must have been built on dry land, rising sea level is never mentioned. (1-4-2018)
Legalizing pot
California makes the headlines on New Year's Day because this is the day that pot became legal. Well, sort of. The limitations are endless. In reality, legalized pot is a jobs program for folks who want to get in on the ground floor of a new industry. At best it might keep us from ingesting herbicides in our smoke, remember paraquat? (1-1-2018)

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Revision: 1-1-2018.