Monday, October 16, 2017

A Conversation, But Not Much Communication

So who is worse off: The president disconnected from reality or the protester tripping on LSD?

The answer is C: The country. The country is worse off.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

History Lessons

It’s fitting, I think, to look for contemporary application for the things we read in history. I know that’s not a news flash – because those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it and other clich├ęs.

But this stood out in a contemporary sense in Joseph E. Persico’s “Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial.”

The racial clashes bothered Gustav Gilbert [one of a handful of psychologists working the German war crimes suspects] as he tried to piece together his analysis of sanctioned mass murder. He had already concluded that, beyond an obedient people, the next requirement for this kind of crime was a belief in the inferiority of one’s victims. He had had a discussion on this point recently with Goring. Goring had asked him about the black officers occasionally seen in the visitors’ gallery. Gould they command troops in combat? Goring wanted to know. Could they ride in the same buses as whites? Gilbert had just spent three days in court watching Robert Jackson prosecute Goring for crimes against humanity, specifically for issuing anti-Semitic edicts. Jim Crow and the Nuremberg Laws – was it not just a difference of degree?

There’s also this:

Rudolf Hoess [Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp] was “outwardly normal, but lacked something essential to normality, the quality of empathy, the capacity to feel with our fellow man,” [wrote Gilbert]. Hoess had described the millions at Auschwitz not as people, but as “shadows passing before me.” Combine unthinking obedience, racism, and a disconnection from the kinship of mankind, and you could produce an Auschwitz commandant.

His arriving at a solution that satisfied the mind served only to depress Gilbert’s spirits. Every society had its authority-ridden personalities. Bigots exist all over. And schizoids, dead to normal feelings, walk the streets every day. The latent ingredients could be found everywhere. The distinction in Nazi Germany had been that these people had not functioned on the margins of society. They had run it.

We’re not there yet. But as I watch, we stand on the slope. We walk on the edge of a knife, as was said at another pivotal (yet fictional) time.

Hope remains when the company is true.
Do not fear. Be true.

Girls in the Boy Scouts? I'm All for It.

I know I will hear lots of arguments against the Boy Scouts of America’s Oct. 11 decision allowing girls to join Cub Scouting and, eventually, earn the Eagle Scout award via traditional Scouting organizations beginning in 2019.

I’m going to offer one argument in favor of the decision: My daughter.

This past summer, she worked as a counselor-in-training at Treasure Mountain Scout Camp, part of the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Grand Teton Council. She worked alongside her older brother, who worked as a counselor in the commissary, and their mother, commissary director. There too was our youngest son, a CIT in all but name. Where was I? I was at home, working full-time and volunteering as Scoutmaster for our chartered organization.

We’re a Scouting family. So it’s families like us the BSA talks about when they say things like this:

“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

We’re not alone in this.

I can think of at least two other families served by our chartered org that are also “Scouting families,” where everyone is involved in one way or the other – even the girls.
I’ve seen girls at pack meetings participating in games and activities with gusto, right alongside their brothers.

And I’ve seen their disappointment when the time for awards comes around, and only the boys get them.

I was thrilled when our daughter went to Cedar Badge – along with two good girlfriends – and then joined an all-female Venturing crew. I’ve seen – from Cub Scouts through Boy Scouts to things like summer camp and Wood Badge and Cedar Badge the great advantages families can garner when everyone who wants to is participating, and being recognized.

Our kids participate in many such activities. Two are dancers. All three are musicians. But it’s in Scouting where we get to see them function together, as a team (and I should say that’s at Scout camp). I love what I see.

And none of what I see detracts from the core of the Boy Scouts of America. Not even the “Boy” part.

Boys and girls get to work together, whether it’s building a fire or hiking to a mountain lake. They learn to respect each others’ differences, each others’ talents. And they all have to cook and wash the dishes.

Robert Baden-Powell saw the impact Scouting could have on girls, and founded the Girl Guides in 1910. Yes, it was and is a separate organization – expected in society at the time. But Baden-Powell worked hard to advise both Scouting and Girl Guiding organizations until he retired in 1937. He saw the importance and value of offering such a program to girls.

This is all the BSA is doing – mirroring an impactful program the Baden-Powell would not find alien even in his own time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mental Ward

It's been more than a month since Mom passed away. I'm finally getting around to putting away "the stuff" I collected from her home the night we all went over to talk and begin cleaning things out.

Right now, only one thing feels like it has a home -- the cheap joke "Mental Ward" sign we had hanging in our green family room for years, then got moved to the new house to hang over the entrance to the front room there. I put it in the basement, over the closet that houses our books. I think it likes it there.

Another has gone up -- a pen-and-ink drawing I brought home form my mission for Mom and Dad. It took the place of a painting that I vaguely knew had a family connection, but I didn't know what. Found out through the miracle of Facebook that it was painted by one of my cousins' aunts, who also recently passed away. It's back in their family now.

To make room for the stuff, we either have to shuffle and store other stuff. Or get rid of stuff.

I'm glad that painting became a memory -- a person -- rather than more stuff stored in the garage.

I helped our daughter clean her room today. She, like the rest of us, has a lot of "stuff." I look at it and think she can't possibly need any more stuff. I don't need any more stuff either. Because I can look at the vast majority of stuff that I have, and know that it's just that -- stuff. If it were lost in a fire or flood, I'd go out and replace it. But for 99.9% of it, it's just stuff. Much of it is useful stuff, don't get me wrong. But it would only take money to replace it if it were lost.

Only a few things hold memories, and while the stuff that holds those memories is there in the memory itself, the palimpset that is the greater memory shows me the people I was with when those memories were made.

Memories are people. Sometimes memories are triggered by things. But memories are people.

Maybe that's what the scriptures mean it's easier to lead a camel through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pretty Good Beards

I'm going to talk about beards for a moment.
I hate mine.
I've been cursed with my Grandpa Spiers' wispy beard which, when covered with shaving foam and scraped at with a razor, just happily slops around without actually getting cut. I've shaved three times tonight and the best I've been able to achieve is the look of Radiation Victim.
This is how shaving works for me:
Round One: The weakest members -- namely any of those which are my original hair color -- fall first.
Round Two: I can succeed in getting most of the hair off the upper portion of my face, leaving a horrendous-looking neck beard white as the drifted snow.
Round Three: With a new disposable razor, I begin the scraping of the remnants.
Sink is clogged with fallen hair. Neck still looks like a neckbeard meme waiting to happen.
Round Four usually succeeds, but I have to shower first so the hairs on my neck know the gig is up and surrender.
Then it Immediately. Grows. Back.
The only utility it serves is:
1. It reminds me why dogs constantly scratch themselves
2. The mustache does an admirable job of hiding the most offensive nose hairs
3. I go from looking like Commander Riker's fat stepbrother to looking like Commander Riker's fat out-of-work bum uncle.
There's no point to this episode, except to announce that at Round Five I'm typically ready to try desperate measures, like a flamethrower or Nair.
Thanks for listening.

Now, I'll sing: "Buu buh, bu-pa bu-pa bu-pa bu-pa, BUH BUH BUH!"

Monday, September 25, 2017

Taffy Stretching

Explain something to me:

Business A should do business with Person X because even though Person X espouses a view that the owners of Business A don’t support, Person X has the right and obligation to be served by Business A and the owners of Business A are terrible, terrible people for refusing to do business with Person X.

Business B, however, should NOT do business with Group Y because Group Y espouses views that may not necessarily jibe with the culture of Business B, but Business B regards a larger part of its culture as obligating it to do business with Group Y which clearly has a right to be served no matter what they believe. But because Group Z opposes what Group Y espouses, Business B is a terrible, terrible business for refusing NOT to do business with Group Y.

It’s happening here, folks.

This is the question I want answered: Should business be blind to the political and social proclivities of potential customers, or should businesses be allowed to pick and choose whom they serve based on those proclivities?

Also, I'm pretty sure Figure B has fallen asleep.

"Do I Still Get Paid?"

You, kind sir or madam, could be making money while reading this.

Not from me, obviously. You can’t really expect to earn money from people who don’t have any to begin with. But Google, which owns Blogspot, could indeed be paying you money – and maybe even me money – even though I’m technically not a big revenue generator and you’re reading all of this for free.

Luke Dormehl, writing at, seems to think so.

I have no idea who he is, or what his expertise on the subject might be. He could indeed be a writing robot, soon to doom dorks like me into unpaid oblivion for providing free content for Google’s search-bots to . . . nevermind. That’s where I’m at already.

But Google (and I keep saying Google, but it's ANYBODY out there on the Internet: Facebook, blah blah and all) is getting something out of both of us. I’m providing content, marginally valuable as it is. And you, by reading said contact, clicking on said links, are providing some kind of data that Google somehow can alchemically convert into revenue.

So why don’t we get a micro-slice of that, Dormehl argues.

To answer: I dunno.

To answer in a longer way: We’re not Google or whoever is busily scraping that data away, so neener neener to us.

If data is the new oil, what grade are we?

As a content producer, I’m probably in the OPEC grade, though I’m staggeringly behind in producing the quantity needed to fully consider myself such a producer.

As a consumer, it’s a wildcatter’s guess as to where I fall on the grade level. Same for you. But since consumers far outnumber producers, it’s fair game Google and others are still making money selling whatever miniscule bits of data we provide, simply because we’re in a wide, deep pool of data producers.

What kind of a micropayment – and by micropayment, you have to imagine pennies cut to the atomic level is my assumption – are we worth? I don’t know.

There are people making some pretty good educated guesses, though.

So if you’re sick and looking to buy a car, you’re probably worth something. But you ain’t gonna find that kind of advice on this blog. So shoo. If you’re surrendering your data, may as well get something for it.