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Thanksgiving and Thanks

As one of the top complainers on the internet, I figured it’d be a good change of pace today to come up with some things I am thankful for.  I have every expectation this will be an easy exercise.

First, I am thankful I was lucky enough to be raised by Jim and Gwen Toner.  It all kind of starts there, right?  Our parents are our main influences, and without them, we wouldn’t be the people we are today.  I could list 100 things about them both that I am thankful for, but I’ll just mention the one that has stayed with me the longest over time.  They both understood that raising children involved making personal sacrifices.  Because of their understanding of this, I know I’m in a better place than many.  We didn’t have a lot of money.  We never owned a boat or fancy cars.  I don’t recall a vacation that wasn’t either camping or climbing into the car for a long drive.  If anything, the family had quite a bit of medical related debt most of the time, but we had each other and a vision about the type of person they were trying to mold us into — work ethic, attitude and moral compass were always high on the list — with room to be yourself as well.   Mom’s example taught me that all you really need in life is a good group of friends and deck of cards.  Dad taught me that the harder I try, the luckier I get.   The educational experience I was exposed to taught me that wealth is a relative thing.  Even with an uphill battle ahead of us to get ahead, compared to 2/3 of the rest of the world, The Toner family — all 6 of us living on a middle school teacher’s income most of the time, were born on 3rd base.   I’m reminded of that often.

I am also thankful for my loving wife Donna who gets me at the deepest level and accepts me for who I am at all times.  We are very different individuals.  In many cases polar opposites.  Yet I am so enriched by her presence and lucky to have found her that I try to never take that for granted.   I wish everyone could be this lucky.   The last 9 years have been an amazing journey.  In our vows we both acknowledged that life will bring us headwinds, and to be sure it has.  But at the core, if you’re with someone who has the head and the heart to deal with adversity, you have nothing to worry about.  That’s why when I proposed, and said those vows, I didn’t think twice about it and have been living a charmed life ever since.  Grow old with your best friend is a beautiful thing.

Since last Thanksgiving I have two new daughter-in-laws that I’m very thankful for.  Ari and Emily are enriching Rob and Dan in much the same way Donna enriches me.  This was a New Year’s wish of mine a few years ago … that my son’s meet a nice girl, and it came to be.  I am thankful for the boys finding their soul mates and carving out paths for themselves and being independent men who think for themselves always.

I am thankful the Gilpin family who has makes me proud every day in the way they raise our 2 grandchildren, Kaden and Karter.  These are going to be two fine young men.  I’ll bet the farm on it.

I am grateful for my sisters who are all wonderful human beings in every way.  The competition continues this day with Words with Friends and after going 0-fer the 1960’s against them in every game imaginable, I’m finally getting some satisfaction out of game playing with them.  I’m not sure if they let me win once in a while or not, but it sure feels good when I do.  Thank goodness for the word “strength meter” or else I’d lose every time.   That tool levels the playing field a bit.

I am thankful for my extended Fritts family who, despite my wearing Duck gear, invite me to join at their Thanksgiving feast every year.  This year had some challenges and adversity in having to deal with a death in the family and moving mom.   It was awesome to witness the incredible teamwork in the face of all of this.  I’m sure that the 5 kids are just as thankful for Janet and Dorence as I am of Jim and Gwen for much the same reasons.  When the chips are down, the family hangs together.

I’m very thankful for my friends.  In recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s good to go for quality over quantity.  Well, duh, that should have been obvious, but some of us are slow learners.   It’s not easy being my friend sometimes, especially if you’re a Republican.  So thanks for hanging in there Karla and Mike!   Mom’s example of the deck of cards and good group of friends often crosses my mind these days.

I am thankful for my health.  It’s not been stellar of late – some minor bumps in the road, but once again I’m reminded of the relative nature of this.  Compared to the rest of the world, my health is on 3rd base.   As we encounter friends and family who also battle health issues, it’s a constant reminder to live in the moment.  Ever the planner, that’s a concept that has taken a while to register with me, but I’m getting there.

I’m thankful that through nothing more than chance, I was born in one of the most awesome areas in the world, the Pacific Northwest, which, after visiting other parts of the country, man it’s nice to step back onto that one of a kind carpet at PDX and get to call this place home.

Last but not least, I’m thankful that I live in a country where we have the first amendment (which I freely exercise on Twitter daily).  The struggles of the past year that are tearing at the very fabric of this country and sure to be temporary.   Sometimes the pendulum swings pretty far in one direction but it always corrects itself.  I’m confident in that we’ll be okay.  We might have to go through some pain in the short-term, but we’ll get through it.  I believe the goodness of the human spirit will prevail in the long run.  My approach has been to be a part of the resistance movement, which feels right to me.  I’m thankful everyone who joins in the resistance movement in whatever way they are able to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Political Jesus

I mentioned in a previous post that I had signed up for a 2 day seminar on The Political Jesus, which was held November 10th and 11th.  An article in The Times piqued my interest and after checking it out a little bit, I figured it might be an interesting endeavor.

Motivation

Since on a good day, this blog has about 3 followers, and I’d guess over half my Facebook friends are pretty sick of my political posts and have me on ignore, one might wonder why I bother.  Well, sometimes I do too.  But I think the answer is, it’s really for me, not you.  I do this for myself because it’s a part of who I am.  Given my knowledge in this area (hint: about as dumb as it gets) I do not seek to preach about anything.  Far from it.  I simply find it interesting.  I have an innate curiosity.  If you do as well, feel free to read on.  If not, by all means go do something else.

There’s a fair amount of evidence in this blog and on Facebook that suggest I may have an ax to grind with Republicans.  Okay, I’ll own that one.  The same is not true of Christians however.  I have no ax to grind with anyone’s faith practice.  We may differ on what works for us as that’s a very personal, individual, and experiential thing.   But I like to think I’m open-minded enough to not scoff at they way in which people practice a faith.  As far as I’m concerned, knock yourself out.  There might be one exception to this.  I’ll admit to frustration with those who are quick to espouse strong opinions combined with being not very well-informed.  I’ve run into a few people like that, but the majority of people I know and love are intelligent people doing what feels right for them, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

It’s necessary to point this out as this particular seminar combines the two things you’re not supposed to bring up at a dinner party: politics and religion.

Influences

I think everyone runs into a few people in their life who are highly influential.  Impact players is how I think of them.  Sometimes I make a list of the top 5 people who have influenced my life in one way or another.  It’s an interesting exercise.  The same can be true of authors/books.  Sometimes you read something that gives you that aha moment that lasts.  Two of mine are David Aldrich – author of www.snohomishobserver.com, and Karen Armstrong – author of “A History of God

It was hard not to be in awe of just how brilliant Dave was.  We used to have a weekly breakfast with a group of guys for the sole purpose of discussing the things you’re not supposed to talk about in a social settings: religion and politics.  Absolutely fascinating.

Dave was a modern-day social justice warrior in every sense of the word.  He led protests, blogged in favor of the little guy, and questioned authority at every turn.  He paid a pretty steep price at times for living by his ideals.  He had been at times, very successful in business, but more often than not, his insistence in standing by his principles cost him in the private sector.   At a young age he was ousted from Pemco for attempting to organize a union.  He believed it was the right thing to do and did until his dying day.  But he didn’t care about being rich.  He cared about doing the right thing.  He was a rare breed.

A History of God gave me an appreciation of highly educated people who have done deep dives on the subject of religion in attempts to tie it all together.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a common denominator – each faith traces its roots back to Abraham.

Admittedly, much of what Armstrong writes is over my head.  I concluded her target audience must be mostly other well-educated historians.  But I definitely had some useful takeaways.

As an example, when everything is put into the context of a timeline, it’s interesting to find out that as a people, we humans transitioned back and forth a few times between the notion of God in the plural form to monotheism up until about 680 CE.  I grew up thinking that pretty much monotheism was settled matter except for maybe during the time of cavemen.

Additionally Armstrong challenges us to go through the exercise of reconciling our religious and political beliefs.  Trust me, this is not an easy exercise, but it’s a worthy one.

Speaking of timelines, one other thing I hadn’t considered until reading Armstrong – the books of the bible were written by a collection of authors between 800 BC and 110 CE.  That’s 910 years.  So there are numerous books that make up what people refer to as “the infallible word of God” written by dozens of authors with vastly different perspectives and agendas.  I’ve always felt that explains a lot.  I’m 57 years old and the world is a lot different now that it was in 1960.  910 years is an incredibly long time.   It then becomes incumbent upon me to put this little factoid into perspective as I move ahead with everything else I learn.

The Presenters

Reading the bios of the presenters intrigued me as I had already discovered that as a self-professed dumb person, it’s interesting to hang out with intelligent people when you can.

The detailed bios of Arthur J. Dewey and Celine Little can be seen here.

Just having a Ph.D. doesn’t make you always right.  I get that.  One has to be careful about the sources of information we choose to learn from.  It’s a good idea to try to sniff out any underlying motivation someone might have for the particular message they are sending.  Is it financial?  Is it to try to recruit?  Is it to espouse conspiracy theories and gain followers?  Why are you here anyway?

I was pretty happy with the end result in that the whole time I felt like both presenters were in the education business.  Both had written books and yes, they were for sale but less than $20.

Admittedly there were times when I was a little lost just because I’m not familiar enough with the players in history to keep up with the story.  But you gotta start somewhere.

Context is Important

We spent Friday night learning about the social and economic context of the early followers of Jesus from the first century.   Enter: The Roman Empire.

A full discussion on the Roman Empire in the early centuries CE is both out of scope for a blog post and also, beyond my ability to articulate anything insightful because I honestly don’t know anything insightful.  It’s not been a strong area of study for me at any point in my academic career.  But I can share a few takeaways.  Here’s what I learned:

  • The Roman Empire was a brutal regime
    • If you’ve seen Gladiator or The Borgias, which would have been several centuries later, you would have an understanding of how brutal the Emperors were in constructing the Roman Empire.
  • The Jewish-Roman War of 66 – 70 CE was particularly brutal
    • Over 1M people killed.  100,000 enslaved.
    • To the victors belong the spoils.
      • The Roman Colosseum was one artifact built with the spoils 70 – 80 CE
    • Public humiliation was a big part of it, even after the war was over
      • Coins that depicted Romans as the masters and Jews as the slaves
  • These facts are important for centuries later to give context to the intense anger between the Romans and the Jews

Dyadics and the Social Pyramid

In the graphic below, the top-tier of Senators and Administrators represents 5% of the population.  The Nobles, Patricians and wealthy Plebeians represent 10%.  The remaining 85% of the population are what Dewey referred to as the Dyadic’s – lesser human beings in more of a servitude role.  A simpler way to think of it is, the top 15% considered themselves worthy of the gifts they received.  The bottom 85% were there to serve the top 15% – or else.

ancient-rome-hierarchy-3-638

Additionally the Dyadic’s in general had the following characteristics

  • My identity is found in others’ eyes
  • My social group defines me
  • Change requires going beyond my means
  • If one does attempt to change out of this group, they are labeled
  • To venture out of the Dyadic group with your thought process is rebellion

Lastly, for the pyramid scheme to hold, the bottom 85% needed to believe they belonged there.  The upper echelon addressed this issue though (in large part), fear.

There are artifacts that when closely studied by historians depict the notion that the culture of the Roman Empire was such that the closer you were to the top of the social pyramid, the closer you were to God.   If you were a slave, by definition you were out of favor with God.  This is important for later when the subject of resistance comes into play.

Early Resistance

Now that we have a little bit of context around the timeline and the relationship between the Romans and the Jews, it’ll make more sense to discuss the life of Jesus, the agitator in chief.

First of all, as we all know from history, Jesus was a Jew.  Right off the bat he’s not in good standing with the Roman Empire.

There are many examples of Jesus’ controversial teachings throughout the many books of the Bible that illustrate why he might be out of favor with Rome, so I won’t reiterate what you probably already know.  The short version is, the message that there was a greater kingdom than Rome, and that God would provide for its poorest members (which was completely counter to the thought process espoused by the Roman Empire), were offenses that were by themselves punishable by death.  To top it off, his disciples made the claim that he was the son of God.  This was the final straw that put the issue on the table for Pilot to have to deal with.   Nothing will threaten the existence of the Roman Empire, period.

The teachings of Jesus by themselves were the earliest form of Christian resistance.  Much of what he did were subtle attempts to stick it to the Empire in one way or another.  The important part is, he did it by messing with peoples’ heads.  Teaching the Dyadics to reach outside their comfort zone and think in completely different terms.

The Crucifixion

As mentioned earlier, the Roman Empire dealt with its threats through intimidation and fear.  They were not the original inventors of crucifixion (the Persians and Macedonians practiced it before the Romans did), yet they perfected it.

Tens of thousands of people were crucified by the Roman Empire.  Dewey described it as “the ultimate act of being shamed into oblivion.”  An important piece of this message is that not only were you subject to a horrific death – sometimes it took multiple days for death to actually occur – you were also subject to being forgotten.  This was part of the deal.  It was also punishable by the empire to talk about or otherwise make martyrs of anyone who was crucified.  This is important later on when the narrative is around resistance by Christians of the late first, and early second centuries.

Also worth noting with respect to being forgotten into oblivion, Dewey mentioned that there are only 2 known artifacts in history that depict the crucifixion before 400 CE.  That’s a full 370 years after the death of Jesus.

That seems incredibly odd to me and suggests that the fear tactics of the Romans to obliterate the existence of those crucified out of the memories of everyone were in part successful.

In the mean time, the books of the New Testament were written as well as many others, so obviously he was not forgotten.

Controversial Assertion

One problem with going back over 2,000 years in time is that there’s not a lot of hard evidence to support some of the assertions that were made.

According to Dewey, it’s not clear that Jesus ever predicted his own death.  This claim is asserted in the gospel of Mark (approx. 70 CE, or about 40 years after Jesus’ death).

The Next Wave of Resistance

As mentioned earlier, the Jewish-Roman War from 66 – 70 CE was particularly brutal.  Putting this time period into perspective, it was about 40 years after the death of Jesus.  If my limited understanding is correct, the last books included in the canonical Bible were completed around 110 CE.

The writers of the Gospels and other New Testament books followed in Jesus’ path of resistance in that they were committed to a storyline that was in absolute defiance of the Roman Empire.

Just the act of remembering someone who was crucified was a poke in the eye. The New Testament authors, some of them martyrs for having taken the ultimate risk in tweaking the beak of the Roman Empire to support the narrative of this incredible man whom they were determined would NOT be forgotten in history, was the ultimate form of resistance.

  • The poor shall inherit the earth.
  • There is a kingdom greater than the Roman Empire
  • Paul even preached an apocalyptic message in his alternative vision

There are many other examples, but these suffice to tell the story of the risks that were taken to keep his memory alive.

The Narrative

Here’s where it gets interesting.  In my mind, 100 years is a long time to evolve a storyline.  As I mentioned earlier, spread that out amongst several different authors with competing agendas and perspectives, and you have to question whether the stories were written as ‘factual documentation’ or a storyline in support of a narrative the authors wanted to achieve.

I had felt as early as the 3rd grade that many of the stories in the Bible should not be taken literally, but rather, the purpose was to illustrate a point. Jonah and the whale comes to mind.

Dewey confirmed this notion with examples of verses that were provably false as actual historical events, yet served a useful purpose of the authors to get their message across.  This tactic of resistance was to get inside the heads of those who held power.  Creating a narrative that threatened that power was effective, and given the inability to put forth any kind of physical fight against the Empire, about the only tool they had.

There are numerous examples of this, but the ones we talked about were the story of the Good Samaritan, and the example of how it would be easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to get into the kingdom of heaven (I’m probably misquoting that a bit).  The Good Samaritan example is better because it follows the recognizable pattern of Goldilocks and the 3 bears where the 3rd bowl of porridge was just right.  This pattern of storytelling dates back centuries BC.

Did they make it all up?  No, I don’t think so.  Did they invent a great deal of it?  Probably.

Yet another Controversial Assertion

According to Dewey, “the narrative around the crucifixion is predominantly fiction.”  Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  It just means that much of the storyline was invented by the writers to give meaning to the story and rebel against the Roman Empire.  This one will take some chewing on.

Constantine the Great

(Here’s where out of ignorance I have to hand-wave and fast forward a couple of centuries).

It’s called the turning point of Christianity because after literally centuries of persecution of the early Christians, all of a sudden a Roman Empire decides to adopt the religion as the official religion of the Empire.  (Not a lot unlike how the Republicans stole God from the Democrats and courted the Evangelical voters).

In 313 CE, Constantine decriminalized Christian worship.  This is right out of the John Kerry playbook of “I was for the war in Iraq before I was against it.”

In any case, the irony here is off the charts.  The very empire that did everything they could to wipe Jesus off the map is now in charge of the religion.  They stole it.

There’s a ton written about Constantine the Great here.  I won’t bore you with any more of it, other than to point out the historical timeline.

Resistance Today

The question came up, as often does, about Faith vs. Works.  Dewey didn’t waste much time in answering that question.  In short, his answer was the early Christians stressed the importance of “They will know us by our deeds.”   That was what I was hoping to hear.  I get the faith part, but I’ve always felt the actions are more powerful than words or prayers for that matter.

This topic of discussion always reminds me of the various “profiles” of modern-day churches that seem to have more emphasis on one or the other.  Sometimes (and I’d say the Catholic church is a prime example of this, based on my own experience), there’s mass (no pun intended) confusion about which is more important.  You’ll see lay people, priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals… who have made social justice their main focus through works.  Under the same roof, we have the Bill Donohue’s of the world who seem to have an obsession with the 10 commandments and Catholic doctrine.  I’ve always felt screw doctrine, feed the poor.  That’s an oversimplification, but it illustrates the point.  Additionally, Catholicism includes in its roster Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewiitt, and Bill O’Reilly.  I’d really be interested to know which schools they attended because wherever it was, the entire teaching staff should be terminated.

I have nothing against the message of personal responsibility.  Just ask my kids.  They got the message.  What I have a problem with is the Darwinian approach of survival of the fittest with zero emphasis on compassion.  Exacerbated by the fact that many of the people who lack compassion were born on third base.

I also believe that Faith alone lends itself to the “Frozen Chosen” moniker that is well deserved by many.  I guess I am preaching here a bit.  I should stop.

In any case, I felt somewhat validated in my own practice of exercising resistance to the Trump Empire — and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what it is.  I also feel like my priorities are in line with action preferred over piousness.  Far from perfect.  But at least I was able to validate my thought pattern isn’t too screwed up.

React v. Respond

So here’s the nut.  Here’s my biggest take away from the 2 day event.  Resistance is good.  Keep doing it.  Shine a light on the Empire, but maybe with a little less reckless abandon. Think things through a little bit before responding and attacking.

A lot of times, my intentions are no different from the early followers.  In a not so subtle way sometimes, I’m ‘trying to get in the heads of the upper echelon, as well as the modern-day dyadics who have drunk the cool-aid so-to-speak.  Remember, for the pyramid of the Empire to work, the lower 85% has to believe in the system.  My mission is to help a few people dis-believe in the Empire.

Twitter will be my biggest challenge.  As Dewey pointed out, Twitter is a contest to see who can get the most re-tweets by coming up with the snarkiest comment. This one will be hard for me because, well, I’m pretty adept at coming up with snark.  I’ve gotten a lot of practice over the years.  My challenge will be to slow it down a bit and think through those responses so that they are not reactionary.

Closing

The point of attending was to learn something from smart people and I feel like I accomplished that, so it was time well spent.  Writing it up helps reinforce the learning as well.  It’s not so much for anyone who might read this as it is a gift to myself.

I don’t feel like I practice enough “works” to be able call myself a social justice warrior, but it would be nice to have time to get to that point some day.  Maybe in retirement.  This job is a challenge.  In any case, whether it’s seemingly pointless tweets or blog posts or Facebook posts, I see benefit in continuing to rail against the Empire.  There’s just so much fundamentally wrong with it, it feels like being passive is not an option.  At least for me.

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The Smothers Brothers

smothers

“mom always liked you best” was an LP that influenced me a great deal growing up. I listened to it over a 100 times I’m sure. It’s hard to believe that these guys were the “rebels” of prime time TV in the late 60’s for having the audacity to partake in satire on racism, The President, and The Vietnam War.

smothered_main

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a great combination of music and comedy but the brothers had a particular talent for discovering other talent and giving them a chance on their show.  Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Mason Williams to name a few.

From Wikipedia: other guests included  George Harrison, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Cass Elliot, Harry Belafonte, Cream, Donovan, The Doors, Glen Campbell, Janis Ian, Jefferson Airplane, The Happenings, Peter, Paul and Mary, Spanky and Our Gang, Ringo Starr, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies, The Who and even Pete Seeger were showcased on the show, despite the advertiser-sensitive nature of their music.

David Bianculli wrote a book called Dangerously Funny that is a pretty good account of the struggles between Tom, Dick, and CBS over show content.  CBS had to try to balance the brothers’ loyal followers with letters from angry fans who wanted the show censored, and even reported pressure from the White House.  Eventually the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had to be taped 10 days ahead of time so CBS could review/edit (sensor) content and not long after that the show was cancelled.

Donna and I randomly met a local gal at a party of a friend in Tualatin who dated Tommy Smothers in the late 1960’s. Their first date?  Tommy was a presenter at the 1968 Grammy Awards show.  She got a back-stage pass to the Grammys as a first date.  As the story goes, the relationship didn’t last because old Tom liked to indulge in the hooch a little too much for her tastes.

A few years ago we made a trip to the Chinook Winds casino in Lincoln City to see the Smothers Brothers, well past their prime, but still pretty funny.

 

 

 

 

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Points of agreement with Trump’s speech in Missouri

I had the news on this afternoon and Trump was stumping from Missouri. I had to think long and hard if I even wanted to listen but I decided to. Shockingly, I found myself agreeing in principle with a few of his points. Hard to believe, I know.

The general points of agreement were:

His views on NAFTA

Incentives for companies to keep jobs in the US

Tax Reform that benefits the Middle Class

Infrastructure Investment

Point by point:

  • NAFTA

NAFTA was a response to globalization which in large part was unavoidable. The US had to do something with our trading partners to level the playing field or else we weren’t going to have any trading partners. That was just reality. Trump calls it a raw deal for Americans. Indeed we have seen the “Giant sucking sound” of jobs heading overseas that Ross Perot warned us about in 1992. Most of it was probably unavoidable. That being said, I have no issue with a review of any trade deal that’s been made to see if it can be improved. Just because we have NAFTA in place now doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. I don’t agree with Trump’s use of threats to “throw the deal out” if he doesn’t get the concessions he’s after, but I think a review of it is a perfectly acceptable thing to consider.

  • Incentives for Companies to keep jobs in the US

US companies large and small benefit from shipping jobs overseas because of lower tax rates. The US has never been able to address this with any kind of worldwide taxation plan that eliminates the incentive. The fallout of this policy has been bad for the American worker. I agree it would be a good thing to review it and see what we can come up as a better solution to put incentives in the right places that benefit workers and not just corporations.

  • Tax reform that benefits the middle class

This one is a real head-scratcher because if you contrast what he talks about in his speeches with what is in his actual tax proposal, it doesn’t make any sense. In just listening to him talk about how the middle class needs some tax relief and how this would be beneficial, I find it hard to argue with that point. The devil is in the details and unfortunately, the details benefit the top 1%.

Elimination of the Estate tax benefits the super wealthy

Fewer tax brackets (7 to 3) by itself does not help or simplify the tax code which is 73,954 pages long

Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15% benefits corporations, not people

I will concede that a 35% corporate tax rate is high on a global scale and makes it difficult for US Corporations to be competitive, though there appear to be enough loop-holes such that the vast majority of corporations don’t pay anywhere near 35%. It’s a worthy discussion. Obama had some plausible ideas on the subject. A 19% bottom rate no matter where the income is earned. That idea didn’t get anywhere ostensibly because well, it came from Obama and McConnell was hell-bent on making him a one-term president.

  • Infrastructure Investment

This idea is long overdue. One would have thought that after the great recession of 2008, we’d have some new roads and bridges to brag about but alas the vast majority of the bailout money went to banks that were “too big to fail” and infrastructure investment took a back seat. Frankly I was surprised we didn’t implement the New Deal II and put people back to work in 2008 with infrastructure projects all around. It’s not like there’s a shortage of things that needs fixing.

Once again the idea is solid, but the details of Trump’s particular plan leave you grasping at how these particular bullet items have anything to do with improving our infrastructure. Case in point – the first item I saw used as a talking point on TV was that Trump was pursing “Privatization of the Air Traffic Control System” as an infrastructure project. Huh?

That’s a horrible idea on any scale.

  • Why it won’t work: It isn’t WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG – What you see is what you get.

The promises for example, on the ACA. These are direct quotes from the campaign trail:

Healthcare for everyone

Not cuts in Medicare

No one will lose their coverage

Nobody will be worse off financially

Everybody’s going to get taken care of

More promises on Tax Reform:

His plan would not increase the deficit

It would primarily benefit the middle class

The wealthy wouldn’t get much of a tax break

  • Why isn’t it WSYWIG?

The reason the average Trump voter isn’t going to get anything near what he promised on the campaign trail is because Trump delegated. He entrusted his colleague Paul Ryan and his co-horts with the details that, in the end, looked nothing like what he promised on the campaign trail.

The truth came out. 20 Million lose coverage. Huge cuts in Medicare. Huge increases in premiums for the elderly, in some cases 8x. No, everybody would not have been taken care of in this big, beautiful healthcare bill as he liked to call it. In the end there was no way to polish Ryan and McConnell’s turd. It was a tax cut for the the wealthy disguised as a healthcare replacement bill. Thank God for John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins.

What he failed to see was that he needed to set hard parameters for the crafters of the bill and say without hesitation that he would not sign it unless it met the parameters he outlined on the campaign trail. He didn’t do that. He entrusted Paul Ryan who said “I got this”.

That’s kind of like if your store is suffering from too many shoplifters, so you delegate the fix to John Gotti.

There’s a difference between what he says and what he does.

If we’re talking about what he says, I might be able to get on board with about 10% of the talk. If we’re talking about what he does, less than 1%.

So many abhorrent policies and behaviors for this Administration. Let me count the ways:

The Wall

Remove all undocumented immigrants

Deregulation

Muslim ban. Later rebranded as extreme vetting

Climate denial

Increasing military spending

Tarifs

Repeal of the ACA

Violations of the emoluments clause

Defund Planned Parenthood

Tax cuts for the top 1% – Ryan’s plan, not his own

Equivocating “both sides” of civil discourse when one of the sides was clearly white supremacists. The videos don’t lie.

LGBT rights

The blatant lies. All day, everyday

I’m about as far from a Trump supporter as you can get. But I should get some credit for keeping an open mind.

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Resistance and Patriotism

Given the snarky nature of my FaceBook and blog posts, I often get taken to task for ‘Rooting against America.’ I can see how some might interpret the words I’ve chosen as unpatriotic. The fact is though, there’s a method to the madness.

Good sportsmanship was high on the list of lessons my parents tried to teach. I seriously doubt that anyone who has played a board game or an athletic game with me since about 1970 would comment that I’m a poor sport. My hope is just the opposite. This is what makes it challenging to be an unapologetic part of the #resistance to the GOP agenda led by the most unethical President in the history of this great country. I write and say things that sound like sour grapes — like I’m a sore loser or something. If that’s the perception by a few, then I can live with that. I’d add that there’s more to what meets the eye though.

Few people have provided Americans with more inspiring quotes than Robert Kennedy. The one that rings true for me the most right now is:

The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country. –Robert Kennedy

At this point, I’ve given up on the ‘railing against the machine’ approach. Given the players in the clown-car and the predictability of the outcome, more often than not I simply share the enjoyment I receive watching the dysfunctional soap opera coming from the West Wing of the White House. Admittedly, I’ve been the recipient of an extremely high entertainment factor since November 8th.

Am I anti-patriotic for sitting back and enjoying the shit-show? On the contrary. The main reason is that the criticism is absolutely warranted and justified. One cannot be a champion for social justice by being complicit in today’s world events. Silence is acceptance.

Have you ever had to deal with someone who is struggling, wanted help, but you didn’t quite have their attention yet so your words fell on deaf ears? That’s how I feel about the state of the union today. We haven’t reached rock bottom yet and until we do, we won’t have the attention of the hard line GOPers who are still pedaling the myth of trickle down economics. I firmly believe it’ll take another financial crisis similar to 2008 or the great depression of the 1930s or — God forbid, an attack on the homeland before we have the attention of the GOP faithful.

So in the spirit of wanting what’s good for America, I’m rooting for us to reach rock bottom as soon as possible so that it can be turned around for good. At that point, the debates about Trickle Down, throwing people off HealthCare, increasing our obscene military budget, treating immigrants like terrorists, building walls, defunding public education, and ignoring ethics in the federal branch of government can come to an end. Once and for all. Rush won’t be able to peddle that crap. Hannity won’t get away with it, nor will Tucker Carlson. The debate will have ended and I see that as a necessary thing to have happen.

Call me unpatriotic if you want, sometimes things have to reach rock bottom before things can get better.
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Letting go of the Sauce

Today is July 8th, 2017 and I have made what I think will be a life changing decision for myself for the better.

This might come as a surprise to many, or maybe not. Maybe you could see it coming better than I could. I would not classify myself as an alcoholic, but I have progressed from light social drinker to heavy drinker in the past 5 years or so. I’ve decided it’s time to give it up.

I don’t expect much difficulty moving forward with this decision. I’m not someone who is tied to the sauce to the point where I would need to enter a rehab facility to get dry or anything like that. I’m just someone who has finally realized that it’s not in the best interests of my health to continue. There is a family history of addiction in my family, and I’ve noticed that in myself there are just some things that are difficult for me to moderate.

Diet soda was one for example. I haven’t consumed a diet soda in about 4 years, but when I did drink diet soda, I was an over the top consumer of it. I could easily go through a 12 pack of cans a day, or an 8 pack of the 20 oz. Pepsi bottles. Every day. I knew it was getting bad when I practically had to carry around a 2 liter container with me everywhere I went. I’d had this issue since childhood. When I became an adult and was responsible for buying my own groceries, there were just no limits. I was pretty conscious of my weight back then and I saw it as a way to try to stay full with zero calorie beverages and manage weight that way. Ironically what everyone eventually learns is that it stimulates cravings for sugar, which is the root problem anyway. So it makes it harder to manage weight, not easier. Having stressful jobs along the way doesn’t help either. The caffeine becomes necessary to work the hours required. Pretty soon you depend on it. I had given up diet soda probably 20? 30? times in my adult life and failed every single time, complete with massive headaches during the come-down phase where I became lethargic and pretty much useless for 2 days before my body adjusted. But eventually I prevailed in 2014 – knock on wood.

Wine/Beer is different. For the vast majority of the time I drank, I never felt the need to get drunk. That would usually happen if I was somewhere and having a good time and not thinking about the choices I was making and then all of the sudden it would catch up to me, but overall, pretty rare. I was usually good with a couple of beers or, a couple of classes of wine and that’s it. But lately, it’s been a half a bottle of wine per day. Or like last night, 4 beers because I was having a good time. I rarely woke up hungover. It did cause me to get sleepy early however, and I think it messes with my sleeping patterns, which is never helpful to one’s health.

After a pretty fun-filled week with a good combination of social events, and physical events (a challenging hike and a few really long walks), I began to feel like I’d overdone it. My clothes were getting tighter than usual. That’s usually a signal to me that something major is going to need to change pretty soon because that’s not sustainable. I was feeling uncomfortable from the moment I got out of bed and for the rest of the day. In the morning I read an article on CNN about how alcohol is the worst contributor to belly fat because it’s just all empty calories. It has no health benefit whatsoever and sure, if I could moderate a few drinks a week and work out more, I probably would not be writing this. But that’s not how it’s been working for me. A few drinks per week has turned into a few drinks per day. Not all the time, but more often than I should.

The CNN article was not news to me. I, like a lot of people had read that many times. I just conveniently forget about these things until some other factor comes into play and then it’s like, oh, right. Not such a good idea.

With 2 days of vacation left and feeling like I’d had a little too much fun for the week, I’d made the decision my Saturday was going to include a longer walk of about 5 miles or so. When walking long distances by myself, I get in my head as my wife likes to say, and thoughts start running deeper than normal. Having read the article on CNN just before I left, some what-if scenarios started going through my mind.

What if wine/beer is just like diet soda to me and I’ll never be able to moderate it? What if I just quit altogether — what would that look like? I started thinking of all the positive benefits that would result and the list started to get pretty long. After a short while, the answer just seemed pretty obvious. Do it. You’re 57. Your quality of life will improve noticeably if you take this step, based on the benefits that just came to mind.

These included things like weight loss — I’m positive it will result in some but it isn’t the only contributor to the extra flab, but certainly managing weight will become much, much simpler. Sleep patterns will improve. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to get up at 3am to go to the bathroom and then not be able to get back to sleep. I’d frequently lose 1, 2, even 3 hours of sleep because of this interruption (admittedly, my affection for Twitter doesn’t help in getting back to sleep either). More energy overall, and with that more likely that I’ll feel like getting some exercise and pursuing the hobbies I supposedly love, but haven’t felt like doing lately. Will look better and feel better. Not that I got completely drunk very often but never having to experience a hangover again is a definite plus. Not having to ever worry about a DUI is also something I’ve thought about. It will probably increase my life-span. I’m almost positive of it. I’ll save a ton of money. At this point I can’t think of a reason not to do it.

I did consider the downside of it. It will make some social situations a little more awkward. Right now a big part of our social life is centered around food, drink, and friends. But I think this change is manageable there. I probably won’t get invited to do any wine tours and those opportunities come up once in awhile living in the middle of wine country. Or if I do go, I’m not sure how I’ll contribute to the conversation much. Last but not least, I think it will be a bit of an adjustment for my wife Donna, but I’m hoping she’ll understand the upside and get behind the new me.

Another factor I almost forgot to mention is the overall ‘path to better health’ I have been supposedly been on since my stroke in 2014. Because it was determined that I had extremely high cholesterol, I/we have made some food changes for the better. We consume a lot of fish and chicken and a I don’t eat red meat. I try to stay away from dairy, especially cheese and eggs. I was a heavy consumer of dairy for a while there. You’d think such fundamental changes would result in a healthier Bill, but if you combine a set of positive changes with a big negative change – like an increase in alcohol intake, then you’ve just negated that hard word. And that’s exactly what I was doing. My path to better health includes some weight loss and more exercise. Weight loss is extremely difficult to accomplish if you consume as many empty calories as I was doing. It’s nearly impossible. Exercise is also more difficult if you’re a heavy drinker because the number of hours a day at your disposal for exercise is decreased. After 2-3 glasses of wine in the evening there’s no way I’m working out on the weights or getting some aerobic exercise. My day ends before I get the chance. And it’s not just the exercise. It’s the hobbies as well. Music, writing, building stuff. All things I really enjoy doing but I think alcohol is getting in the way of me doing more of these.

So I’ve made a pretty major decision today. It feels right. This isn’t one of those things you proclaim “okay, I’m going to try it for a while and see how it goes.” I think you have to either be all-in or else forget it. At least it’s that way for me. I’m not particularly good at moderating and probably never will be. It’s just part of my DNA that I have to accept. It sucks that I can’t handle it like other people can, but that’s life in the big city.

So here we go. I appreciate everyone’s understanding and support! It’s not an easy decision to come to, but there it is.

-Bill

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Patronizing Local Businesses

One of the things I struggle with in the modern world is who to patronize with the measly amount of dollars that I float back into the economy. I know, it’s not enough money to lose any sleep over, it’s the principle of the thing. I’m a recent subscriber to Amazon Prime and while I love the convenience of home delivery, it bothers me that I’m making the Amazon executives richer with every purchase. I’d really rather patronize a local business and help a family in my neighborhood, but sometimes the convenience of it all is just too tempting to pass up.

One of the things that I appreciate about my parents (both deceased now) is the example they set in this regard. We belonged to a local Parish in SE Portland, which in and of itself is a community of people who are like minded in certain ways. Mostly in religious beliefs, but also in things like child rearing, education, morality, and work ethic. Not 100% aligned, but to a large degree.

My parents patronized their fellow parishioners to a fault. They didn’t have a ton of money to follow this ideology. Dad was a teacher. Mom was a part time nurse. With 4 kids, there was, as Dad used to say, “A little extra month at the end of the money.” Nevertheless, they were extremely faithful at patronizing their fellow parishioners who owned local businesses. The gas was almost always gassed up at Pliska mobile on Division street. The weekly grocery shopping trip was always to Hebers, a very small privately owned grocery store on Stark — which also had a hardware store adjacent to it. The two stores were owned by brothers Ed and Fred which was a family business for decades until the larger chains forced them to sell. Make no mistake about it, the prices at Hebers were not favorable to what they could have purchased down the street at Fred Meyers. But they went there anyway.

When we needed a fence built, or something fixed in the basement, the local carpenter from the parish Chuck Higgins got the call. Every single time. Cost wasn’t every a primary consideration. It was the principle of the thing.

This thought process crossed into my consciousness this evening as we tried a new local pub for happy hour called Stickmen Brewing. We loved it! There are a few places around that are locally owned. Ancestry Brewing is one. Haydens Lakefront Grill is another. Anything but Applebees or Olive Garden please.

Donna and I typically give this issue some thought before we decide on where to spread our limited cash around and we try, but it’s getting harder. The big chain grocery stores like Safeway, Winco, Fred Meyers and New Seasons have pretty much obliterated businesses like Hebers. People call Geek Squad for technical help. I challenge you to find a TV repair shop. I found one in SE Portland a year or so ago and the crook still has my broken TV. We had a falling out over his atrocious communication skills.

This just makes me think of two things. First, I appreciate the example my parents set for me, though I was to blind to see it at the time. Second, I think it’ll be a sad world in front of us if all we are able to do is rotate between Costco, IKEA, Winco, Target and Wallmart for our personal shopping needs. We need to look out a little bit for each other.

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