Shake’n Bake Politics

When I was a kid, I was hypnotized by those Shake’n Bake commercials. I remember hounding my mom to get us some. It was like watching a magic show to a kid. She never bought in to my demands, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine that I gave in very easily. I don’t know if I was convinced that you didn’t have to cook it or what. The commercials just make it all look so easy; you just put the ingredients in the bag, then the meat, shake it up and voila – fried pork chops.

It’s funny to me that the human brain is wired to assist things into mental completion. We complete each other’s sentences, we answer questions not fully asked, and we assume we know things we’ve been told, even when the things we’re told aren’t true at all. All one must do in order to get most of us to believe something is to provide a subtle hint as to a logical conclusion and allow our brains to make the connection. It’s like finishing a sentence when there’s no sentence – just superfluous information. That’s what television advertising is great at doing.

We’re in the middle of a local election here in Shelbyville, Tennessee and of course there’s lots of tension and drama concerning the prospect that a very popular Mayor could be usurped by a lesser known candidate. In fact, there are four people running for that job. Our current Mayor suffered a fall a few months back and damaged his knee. His rehabilitation has been slow but very steady. He’s back doing the job of Mayor and we’re blessed he didn’t suffer any permanent damage.

That perceived weakness, though, has opened the door for a few others to try their hand at getting that job. Being human, we sometimes seize opportunities to further our own interests at the expense of another person’s weakness. It is a very human thing to do. In so doing, our personal agendas can make so much more sense to people when you provide a logical rationale, a potential conspiracy, and a solution – especially when you allow the person you’re telling to make his or own conclusion as to real truth. The kicker is that the game rules were first established by the story teller.

It’s Shake’n Bake. I give you a bag with magic powder in it. The magic powder that will solve all your problems. I then give you a free piece of meat. We put the meat in the bag and I allow you to do the shaking up. When we’re done, a transformation has taken place. The raw meat now looks like a fried pork chop. The problem? You can’t eat it. It’s not what you thought it was.

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Eugene Ray is an African American living in a small county of about 50,000 people. He represents one man of an approximate 10% demographic. Yet, he was elected and served as a county commissioner for twenty years and has been overwhelmingly elected, re-elected and supported by the good people of this county for three terms. In the previous election, he won every single voting precinct in Bedford County. He didn’t win the overwhelming confidence of the people of this county by conspiracy. He won our trust because he’s the best man I’ve ever known and likely the best man you’ve ever known too.

The biggest rumor going around is that Eugene wants to win the election then immediately step down and appoint me as his surrogate. This is completely false and is not even legal in this state. Whomever created this lie did so because they want to play into your natural suspiciousness to government. They want you to believe that you can no longer trust your government. They used my name because everyone knows that I am personally close to him and that I am a department head with whom he has trusted with several important projects. It makes sense right?

So, let’s just put this rumor into proper perspective so that you can know how crazy it would be. First, Tennessee Code Annotated tells us what the law is with respect to an elected official stepping down during a term. A perfect example can be found right here when our state Senator, Jim Tracy, stepped down from his office last year. When that happens, the Legislative Body of the County (County Commission) is the only entity who can appoint an interim Mayor. Not the Mayor himself.

If that would happen, the chance that myself or any other department head would step up to ask for the Commission to appointment them is nearly zero. I say nearly only because there might be someone who’s close to retirement age who might actually try, but I’m only 53 so that would not be me. The biggest reason it would not be me is because I would have to quit the security of a decent job for an opportunity to serve a few months interim then run in the next general election for an opportunity to win and finish out what’s left of that term.

I would have to quit my job and spend tons of money gambling for a small chance of keeping my new job. Why would I or anyone do something like that? No one in my or any similar position has prepared or raised money for an election campaign, we’ve not been campaigning or getting our name out or gotten to know the electorate, bought expensive signs, or in any way positioned ourselves to compete in any election. It would be completely absurd to think that any of us would do that and its dismissive of our integrity to automatically assume we’d even want to become politicians.

Mayor Eugene Ray is well-known to be a man of the highest integrity and of the utmost moral character. He is never going to challenge the rumor mill because he doesn’t believe in kicking turds around – giving credence to rumors that undermine the fabric of everything he’s proven himself to be – time and time again. Eugene doesn’t need a magic powder and a mixing bag to produce anything. He’s a man of action – not shake’n bake politics.

Eugene Ray has not only been transformative for our county government but also the people of Bedford County. People love Eugene Ray and I love Eugene Ray. That said, there are still people out there who have never supported him and never will.

What I do know is that he really wants to serve us once again. If we’re fortunate enough to have this amazing man be willing to serve us once more, we’d be fools to not take him up on the offer. I am asking you, if you live in Bedford County, to please come out to support and vote for Eugene Ray one more time. He has earned our loyalty and our trust without trick nor treat.

While other candidates can debate each other over who’s the most qualified among their group, and there are some that I really like as individuals, you and I already know that the highest rated among them could never come close to measuring up to our Eugene Ray – I honestly don’t know another man who could. That is not a fault to any of the other candidates, that’s just reality. Lets do this! Shake’n Bake!

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When the Levee Breaks

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I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.

Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

Good Bad Times

People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

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One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

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In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

Stairway to heaven

If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

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Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

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What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

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All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

Mom, I Turned Out Awesome!

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From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.

I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life happened to him. Soon maybe.

I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized.

Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I do what I can do.

For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. Said differently, the way I speak bores some people. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall.

Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, waiting to finally be recognized.

mom sayshi

I’m finally doing mom. I finally decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which is inspiring me.

I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not.

I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.

I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.

mom baby

Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.

I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.

Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.

momThe_Battle_of_Culloden

I think that the reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.

When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.

But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.

My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.

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I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences.

Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.

Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind.

Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.

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As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.

But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.

The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me a context and texture of her character and of her superior intellect.

For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working until she was 70 years old.

The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.

In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.

It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 75 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind.

I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.

What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is.

While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.

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The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.

I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

You Say Baath; I Say Bath.

ex·pec·ta·tion: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

A persons expectations can be the key to enjoyment or the riposte to disappointment. If you project your ideas too low then no one gets interested; if you tout too high, no one ever feels quite appeased. It could be said then that managing people’s expectations is one of the principle secrets to success.

You might surmise then that McDonalds has done a great job of it. They’ve demonstrated expertise at branding their burger chain as being the best deal in town, not necessarily the best burger. This despite the fact that their entire identity is built around hamburgers.

What does all this have to do with traveling to Bath, England you say? For starters, I’m writing to you about my personal observations of Bath; Bath through the eyes of Chris. I’m hoping to help you discover things about Bath that go well beyond the scope of what you might expect to find in Bath. So, while others may focus on its most obvious attributes such as the Roman Baths, I wanted to better illuminate Bath’s more obscure but interesting facts, history and architectural features.

The Roman baths are indeed amazingly well-preserved and definitely worthy of explanation; so, I will do my best to describe them for you in as descriptively visual terms as I’m capable. But, when I drove away from that uniquely singular place, my first thoughts were of how challenging it may be, given my limited writing skills, to convince vacationing travelers to look more deeply at Bath, to peel back the layers, and to venture outside the city center to discover its other gems.

A gem in and of itself is the scenic drive into Bath. Bath sits at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills and valleys designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The limestone quarried from there is particularly unique and has this creamy honey golden color. The stone is known world-wide as Bath Stone. Every house, cottage, mansion or castle in the vicinity is constructed from this beautifully rich and distinctive stone. While there, I learned that one of the zoning restrictions for all new construction inside the city of Bath requires builders to use this same stone on the façade to ensure that modern buildings pay homage to the city’s 18th century heritage.

Bath has long been an ancient borough with high status. First, with its close proximity to Stonehenge and its Neolithic/early Celtic Briton inhabitants. Afterwards, its Roman occupants constructed spa’s and baths around the first century AD where it became a well-known Roman vacation destination. After the fall of the Roman Empire it remained as a rare gem for the Kingdom of Mercia until the year 878 when it became a royal borough of Alfred the Great when it was ceded to the Kingdom of Wessex. If you’re a King Arthur fan, it is believed that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Badon (c 500 AD) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons.

Despite the city name and its historical changing of landlords, Bath continued to be an important place. The Roman baths and impressive stone infrastructures continued to serve whomever claimed it. By the 18th century, Bath evolved into a posh village for Britain’s elite. Its hot mineral baths were advertised as having curative properties so people migrated from far away to find respite for whatever ailments they suffered. If you had any sort of illness from leprosy to acne, and also had money, you were definitely moving to Bath. It all sounds great until you find yourself in a hot bath tub with a leper. But despite my negative thinking, Bath is now one of the best preserved 18th century cities in the world; designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In fact, the famous 18th century author/novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for many years. You might have read a few of her famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. If you read them deeply, you will find traces of Bath scattered throughout her writings. An example would be Bath’s Holburne Museum of Art – The impressive creamy gold Bath Stone façade mansion housing today’s museum. The manor and its grounds were a favorite walk for Jane Austen while she lived in Bath, she thus set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” across from the Holburne Mansion.

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Today, the impressive manor home houses the late Sir William Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Some of the artists represented inside will include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The manor home has also been used for filming numerous movies such as Persuasion (1994), The Duchess (2008) staring Keira Knightley, Vanity Fair (2004) with Reese Witherspoon, as well as numerous other foreign films.

By far, one of the most impressive things I visited in Bath was the Royal Crescent. The Crescent is a 500-foot-long row of Georgian styled terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed by the famed architect John Wood-the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom. It boasts over one hundred Ionic columns on its first floors with an entablature in a Palladian style above.

Architect John Wood-the Elder, father of the Crescent’s architecthad earlier designed the Bath Circus in 1754 which is also regarded as a preeminent example of Georgian architecture. The name comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ which means a ring, oval or circle. The Circus is essentially an incredibly fancy roundabout divided into three segments of equal length with a lawn in the center and Georgian styled buildings at its perimeters. Each of the three building segments faces one of the three entrances to the roundabout, ensuring a classical façade is always presented straight ahead. After my left-handed, standard shift, two-day drive in Wales, I decided that I don’t particularly like roundabouts anymore, but this one is very special.

The senior Wood, as its architect, was convinced that Bath was historically the principle center of Druid activity in Britain so he studied nearby Stonehenge to ensure that his Circus design would pay homage to what most people believed to be an ancient Druid ceremonial ground (There are some different ideas about Stonehenge today). Three classical orders (Doric, Roman/Composite, and Corinthian) are used, one above the other, in the elegant curved facades. The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with altering triglyphs and pictorial emblems. One very interesting fact is that when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street, form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol found frequently in many of Wood’s other building designs.

My wife and I particularly enjoy visiting impressive cathedrals and abbey’s when traveling and Bath Abbey was one of those sites on my bucket list. Particularly because of its unique vaulted ceiling. Founded in the 7th century, reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West. It’s most unique feature, in my opinion, is its notable fan vaulting. We actually know that brothers Robert and William Vertue, architects and stone masons for King Henry VII, were the designers and builders of this particular fan vault. They not only built Bath Abbey’s fan vault, they also built the vaulted ceilings inside the Tower of London, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster.

Our hotel in Bath, the Hilton Bath City, was located just a block from the extraordinary Pulteney Bridge. This interesting bridge crossing the river Avon, is reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge we saw while traveling in Florence, Italy. I say this essentially because it is a bridge with shops built across its full span on both sides. The bridge was built in 1774 in the Palladian style by Robert Adam. My wife, my sister and I not only walked along the bridge visiting the shops but we also found a stone path and stairway that led us to the river’s edge so that we could snap a few glamor shots of the bridge from below.

Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that I had accidently forgotten my razor when packing for the trip. That led to the obvious annoyances to both Emily and I, but alas, my stroll to the Pulteney Bridge allowed me to discover a cool little barber shop along the way called New Saville Row. I made the proper arrangements with the gentleman who told me that although they were about to close, that I could return in 30 minutes and he’d give me a shave. Thirty minutes later I was comfortably laid back in an old style barber chair with a hot towel on my face about to embark on my very first professional straight razor shave. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. These guys were unbelievably courteous to stay open for me and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Barber Shop Bath

Jane Austen wrote, in her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” Bath is certainly much more than it was when Jane Austen lived there. Although it is now a very modern city with both a professional Rugby team and Football club, two universities and nearly one hundred-thousand people, it is still very much still trapped in the wrinkled skin of its 18th century past. In my book, its a hard act to follow, even for a very cool and mostly intact two thousand year old Roman bath.

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I can’t say for sure what my expectations actually were when I arrived in Bath but what I can say without any pause is that Bath exceeded, no a better word might be trounced, any notion of what I had first imagined it to be. The name is Bath and of course there are Roman baths there so I guess that was where my mind was initially. But Bath is far more than just its namesake. If you decide to be one of the three million annual visitors of Bath in the near future, and I hope you are, don’t just tour the baths and the abbey and leave. Bath is far more than that. If you stay long enough, you might even start pronouncing it Baath.

News Makes You Fat

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In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 


Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.


News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

Income Inequality and Kim Jong-un

Have you been hearing the new catch phrases Income Inequality and Wealth Inequality lately? I have, entirely too much, and to be honest it really pisses me off when I hear it. There, I said it. Y’all know how much I loathe to write about political subjects but I just had to get this one off my chest because my poor wife just can’t take much more of all my long-winded soliloquies about socialism when I hear these idiotic phrases being repeated on radio and television. This national election on the radar with an admitted socialist party member among its candidates has ignited all sorts of latent communist credo’s that the extreme left normally suppress. But don’t kid yourself, those ideologies are always present.

Political speech really gets me fired up and I guess it has that same effect on most everyone else too which is why I typically avoid that/this kind of blog. Blog’s like this one are always going to have supporters and detractors and you end up making people mad instead of entertaining them. I like people to like and enjoy the things I write, it’s a sick kind of flattery I guess, and political speech brings out all the wacko’s (people who disagree with me) who like to trash your site with unintelligible hate speech. But in the end, I guess I need to decide who it is that I think I’m entertaining; you or me? I pick me, not because I like myself any more than you do; but, because I need the entertainment and you’re probably not going to be all that entertained anyway.

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First, the very term “income inequality” is an obnoxiously expressed phrase that presupposes that we are all supposed to be earning the same amounts of income and that something is wrong in the cosmos if we aren’t. It is a hint that we’re supposed to be living in a socialistic sphere and that such a system has actual merit as an alternative to modern capitalism. Sadly, nobody reading this blog gives me any credibility whatsoever anymore in this capitalism versus socialism argument because I’m now a farmer so I apply for and receive a few farm subsidies.

It’s like I’m on welfare except instead of investing in Meth with my welfare check I’m growing beef that people can eat and I’m using eco-responsible grazing and watering methods to improve the eco-systems downstream from us. I’m sounding kinda like Trump explaining all his bankruptcies, “I’m just working within a system that I didn’t design, just like everyone else.”

To address this first issue, we need to agree right now to do ourselves a favor and stop calling it income inequality.  Income is not the culprit and there’s nothing “quality” about my income.  As Americans, we should have no negative associations with the word wealth or income in the context of people having it.  Poverty and social dysfunction are what really plague us; those things cannot be fixed by taking from the haves to give to the have-nots.  To really improve the situation, the have-nots must eventually recognize the value of doing something. OMG; I just lost half my readers.

Not only that, it also assumes that American’s are not already giving significant portions of their income to the bottom earners. In recent decades Congress has chosen to funnel significant amounts of our taxpayer contributions as benefits for lower-income and non-earners through the income tax rather than just writing them a check. Some of these benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Credit for education, actually do make direct cash payments to people who don’t owe income tax. That’s why the lowest earners on pretty much every pie chart show a negative contribution to taxes rather than a zero. They don’t just get a free pass on income tax, we actually pay them to not earn much.

income quintile

For people who don’t have ambition, the system encourages people to stay right where they are rather than just be there for tough times. I’ve had them myself. When the building bubble burst, I was laid off and didn’t work for nearly a year. Instead of getting drunk every day or contemplating cutting my wrists, I simply went back to school during that idle time and incubated a developing business model which had some early success then failed but evolved into a fairly decent side business for me.

But most studies show that those bottom earners who pay zero taxes actually receive as much as fifty thousand ($50,000.00) a year in cash and benefits for things such as housing, food, and health insurance. If this particular demographic had to actually report those non-taxable earnings on their tax returns then no one would qualify to be on the poverty tables anymore because it would reveal that our American poor receive more income as benefits than most of the so-called non-poverty low-income earners in the United States – specifically our working young who are graduating high school and college. How many of your kids just graduating college are making $50k a year?

The second big problem I have with so-called income inequality alarmists can be summed up as them having a general contempt for capitalism and an ignorant fascination with socialism.  Let’s get something straight once and for all.  Socialism is not only to be feared, it is to be summarily avoided at all opportunities.  Socialism is economic absurdity.  There is no more sufficient way to describe it.  Even if we were to tolerate the idiocy of wealth redistribution, for instance through taxation and welfare transfer payments, this is merely the least offensive socialist idea and one that we’ve as a country have moderately embraced now for 83 years.

True socialism necessitates nationalization, the government management of all means of production and resources.  The state is the main employer and therefore the main benefactor.  People are reliant on the whims of leaders and technocrats to determine a fair compensation for their labor and creativity.  Because the state sets prices arbitrarily, rationing inevitably follows.  Black markets become a necessity.  Socialism is an economic system that requires a shadow economy to operate.  It is at every level inefficient and global history has more than proven this by now. You don’t just have to accept this blog as empirical evidence, read about world history and look at this great big world around you and study those who once felt that same “Bern” you may be feeling.

Perhaps a better way is to look at a satellite image of the Korean peninsula at night.  North Korea is pitch black.  The rest of the world glows while they dwell in darkness.  Who could wish that on anyone?  We shouldn’t be quick to praise seemingly less totalitarian socialist nations either.  As many noted after the death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela may have lifted up its poor through oil subsidies, but it is one of the most violent countries in Latin America and has one of the highest inflation rates in the world.  As for the socialism-lite of Europe, that’s not to be admired either.  They are facing a very serious crisis.  Spain and Greece have unemployment rates above 25%.  In Greece, poverty and the lack of opportunity are giving rise to neo-Nazis all over again. Just try to see a doctor in any European country for any illness without waiting for 4 weeks. How sick are you four weeks later…uh – dead?

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This is not surprising.  Socialism is not a democratic system.  There’s a reason it has always been accompanied by autocracy—it cannot work any other way.  In order for the state to be able to set prices, wages, and benefits, in order for it to manage all of these resources that the market otherwise would, it has to be centralized.  It may seem to raise up the impoverished, but socialism most certainly does not give these disadvantaged classes a voice.  Instead, socialism silences everyone.  It strips them of the liberty to buy, sell, work, and live how they would see fit.  Anyone who promotes socialism as a way to empower the masses in America should be shamed out of the public sphere completely. The Bern should go down in flames.

In order for an economy to work, someone has to create; someone must invest. In order for a society to advance, someone must invent; someone must produce. HEY YOU GUYS – step back into the Dark Ages. What happened to create a Renaissance period? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was art and architecture and production and the cessation of the church and state killing smart and artistic peoples in order to control the flow of knowledge. If you and your fellow citizens lose the motivation to create and better themselves then nothing happens. Socialism, in every instance of its existence in society, has never done anything but to rob every individual inside it of all motivation to do anything except fight their way out of it.

Fine, you’re a millennial and you’re proud of being flexible. Don’t screw it up for yourself and undermine the one thing that makes it possible for you to continue longer in the undetermined stages of life. Stable societies that empower people to be free and productive offer people the ability to prosper. No other known form of government does that. It was never a guarantee that every single person would prosper because not everyone has the same abilities and not everyone has the same motivations. Capitalism is simply the conduit for wealth-building that can be used by people who give a rat’s ass. Redistribution of a static supply of resources accomplishes nothing and makes no one richer.

People often talk about income as if it’s this fixed thing. “Those people over there are the 1 percent.” “These over here live in poverty.” “That other group is the people in the top 20 percent.” That’s not the way it is folks. Lots of people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their lives which denotes that there are other important catch phrases that never get near as much attention – one such phrase might be something I would call Economic Mobility.

Why is there so much movement in income? There are no real surprises here. Raises, promotions, experience, new careers, hair-brained ideas, inheritance, retirement, and a spouse entering or leaving the workforce can all create large fluctuations in household income. That top 1% you see on the charts evolves and changes fluidly. Similarly, many people in that bottom 90% and even in the bottom 10% will quickly climb into higher and higher income brackets over their lives. That happened to me when the economy tanked in ’08. I will probably never earn as much money as I was making just prior to the recession and never any lower than I was during it. That’s life though. That in no way means I will stop trying; no, I keep finding more and more things to aggravate my wife over.

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The percentiles you see in income charts are living, breathing and evolving. That’s not wealth in the hands of a titled and inaccessible aristocracy as some foolishly intimate.  It belongs to a free class of people that continuously shifts and grows. If America had this much-illusioned situation of an elite oligarchy that controls all the money and opportunity then Forbes would no longer produce its annual list of the top 400 richest people in America. It publishes that magazine annually because the list changes every year. And because reality television keeps exposing us to these crazy-talented unknowns: #OmarosaActuallyWroteABook.

Income and wealth inequality is only a problem if the goal is for everyone to be equal. What we have in this country is opportunity.  The entirety of our globe is in a far better place today with medicines, technology, innovations and science because of this crazy American experience. Technology and the advancement of science grew at a snail’s pace in the scheme of things historically before the existence of capitalism and the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. We did this! Capitalism did this! Be excited about it, don’t be suckered into feeling guilty because you’ve benefited by it more than some other person. We all get what we give in life.

Those in our bottom 80% and our elderly wouldn’t have anywhere near the quality of life they now have it weren’t for that top 20%. The top 20% of wage earners pay 82% of income taxes, but the vast majority of government spending goes to the bottom 80%. Federal and state governments spend a trillion dollars a year just on welfare programs, which does not include Social Security and Medicare. That is more than we spend on national defense. It adds up to roughly $17,000 per person in poverty, over $50,000 for a poor family of three. If you’ve ever had a job, you helped do that. I’m sorry if those people don’t feel thankful for what the rest of us are doing for them just because they can’t have all the same things you or I have. If they want those things, they can have them too without having the government wrestle more of it out of my pockets or by stealing them from someone else. They can actually work and create and invent and save for it just like the rest of us have to do.

The Census Bureau estimates that our current welfare spending totals four times what would be necessary just to give all of the poor the cash to bring them up to the poverty line, eliminating all poverty in America. One of the biggest problems with social programs is the enormous bureaucracies we have to create that are necessary in order to give free money away. It costs governments more money to give money away than the money that they are giving away. America has the means to do way more than it is doing without taking more from its doers. Money that we could use to create more; more opportunity for others to earn, more technology to make life easier for everyone, and more ideas that flourish exponentially into even more of everything because I have it to use or invest instead of the government having it to sustain. If we can find ways to lean up bureaucracies then it would be like instantly finding another Fort Knox that we didn’t even know we had.

Another issue that is important to note is that the term household income pretty much means nothing. First of all, why is it always measured based on household? It makes it really difficult to compare one’s income to others in their industry or area or even to the U.S. overall. It also skews the overall perception of wealth– for example, looking at the charts you’re like, “wow that many people make over $100K per year?” But no, that’s mostly *two* people making $55K/year. Secondly income isn’t a very good indicator of wealth. Sure, it’s a major factor. But taken alone it doesn’t tell you much of anything.

If I made $100K per year but say I went to law school to be able to earn that and have $800 per month student loan payments for 20 years, that $100K doesn’t exactly say much about how much money I actually have. Also, you could work in an industry that includes a lot of highly skilled blue-collar jobs where it’s not uncommon to earn that kind of wage but those people have NO college loan debt, so that level of income means a lot more.

This modern socialistic style of health care is also making it difficult for physicians to earn high wages too. These guys have student loan debt that may require them to make monthly payments as high as $2,500.00 a month. The reason people choose the medical field is so that they can earn big money knowing that they will be relatively poor until their debt is paid. Poor people don’t understand all that because paying debt off is a complete oxymoron. If you pay it, it’s not debt anymore…right?  If we cannot figure out a way for doctors to continue to be rich, guess what? Fewer people will be willing to make that investment with so little return – that means fewer doctors.

Another problem is that someone could live in Boston, San Francisco or NYC and make $80,000 a year and be a virtual pauper but if they lived in Tulsa Oklahoma, Billings Montana, or Shelbyville, Tennessee that same salary/income would afford them a more than adequate lifestyle. The landscape of incomes/lifestyles is very different depending on where one lives.

Unfortunately, I’m concerned with the futures for our younger generation. They don’t necessarily mind work but they definitely lack ambition. I think that our bottom numbers are growing because this generation of young men and women have been given too much to the extent that they can’t imagine themselves without a safety net. They don’t dream and they don’t stress over their futures like the generation before it did. The good news, fewer heart attacks. The bad news, a lesser ability to eat wonderful things that increase the risk of heart attacks.

When my parents were young, they had empty pockets, cabbage sandwiches and Friday night delousing with kerosene and broken combs. Kids back then didn’t have a whole lot. Their parents were still recovering from the depression and even if they’d found a way out of poverty, they were too paranoid to spend money out of fear that the economy would collapse again. Annual de-wormings were not just for livestock. These days, the new school year means y’all kids get a new Xbox game; my parents got their one annual pair of school shoes along with an enema cocktail that killed ringworm and cured tuberculosis.

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But this group of youngsters today seem to be the most unambitious group of people to ever walk the face of this earth. They don’t strive for anything at all; because, they’ve been given everything. Ambition to them means they might have to work extra hours to pay for their own car, iPad, or anyexcuseforapalooza tickets. Kids today graduate high school then take a year off to vacation in Europe. Take a year off from what? Kids graduating high school in the 40’s went to Europe to die fighting Nazi’s – not to sample the hashish menu at the mellow yellow coffee shop in Amsterdam.

The problem with poverty is not only that stereotypical demographic that we are used to seeing: people living with perpetual public assistance, people selling drugs and committing crime to get by. The problem is also being exacerbated by a generation of unambitious non-producers. You cannot grow your own skills or achieve anything by sitting on your ass waiting for an opportunity to come toward you or by spending valuable time complaining about the lack thereof. When one closely examines this every increasing gap between the non-earners and the rich, the bottom number doesn’t necessarily expand at all. The middle earners are growing and the rich are growing too.

You cannot assume that there is only a certain amount of money on the table to be made and the rich are getting more than their fair share while the poor are getting less. That’s the kind of idiocy that is being talked about. No, the amount of income that Americans can figure out how to make can actually grow, just like our debt can grow. How can the poor get poorer if they already had nothing to begin with? It’s not like that. The middle class is growing and the rich are growing and that is a great thing. In 1920 our Gross National Product (GNP) was $78 Billion dollars. In 2016 it’s expected to be One Trillion Six Thousand Six Hundred Thirty One Billion dollars. The stack gets bigger and bigger people.

We also must accept that there are among us people, brothers, sisters, and parents who do not have, and in some cases never had, the capacity to create. Age is a fact of life; physical handicaps, injuries, mental disorders, and mental simplicity all present challenges that cannot be overcome by simple solutions or at all. That is where the rest of us step up and step in. By the way, laziness, and the lack of ambition are not YET listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But, our system of caring for those who cannot do for themselves could and should be improved.

We can do that by adding simplicity to the way we provide assistance. The reason why there are so many rules and so much bureaucracy with providing public assistance is because of the historical abuses and fraud in that system. The government has been forced to react to the problems of fraud instead of being able to thoughtfully come up with rational and sensible solutions. The advancement of technology should offer us ever increasing capabilities of providing higher amounts of government benefits without breaking the bank.

While it is disturbing to contemplate the living situations of people stuck in the bottom income percentiles in the United States, the possibility of such wealth at the top should be thrilling to all of us.  It should not depress us; it should inspire us.  It should not incite jealousy; it should kindle ambition.  People should look at that astronomical green bar and think: How do I get there?  What can I make?  How can I create something of worth?

We know that it takes lots of work and sometimes many tries and failed attempts before an idea takes off. So please try. Who knows, maybe your efforts to be the next big porn star will fail but in the process you discover a cure for premature ejaculation. #HellaBank! – am I right?

That’s what wealth is. Capitalism is not the enemy.  Not for a free people who have prospered because of it. Capitalism has done more to save and enrich lives in Western civilization than we can possibly enumerate.  Perhaps that’s the problem – most Americans don’t know any other way of life.  They don’t understand how miserable, sick, and poor we’d be without the creative power of a free market. More accurately, they fail to recognize what it cost the rest of us to provide them with shitty free housing and all the cheese and baby formula they can eat. Yes, it’s shitty…but it’s free dumbass and it allows you the free time you need to pursue your dream of becoming the next reality television star.

People simply do not grasp how disturbing socialism has been in actual practice.  In the 1930s, in the larger cities of the Soviet Union, abortions outnumbered births.  People had no incentive even to carry life on into the next generation.  People need incentives.  They need to believe that their children will thrive and prosper.  The only system to successfully and consistently instill that kind of confidence is capitalism.  So, yes, socialism is justly to be dreaded and the returns of capitalism are not to be viewed with contempt.

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The real issue that should ignite anger, fear, and sadness is poverty.  We need to concentrate on that and finally forget our misguided and pessimistic inclinations to pillage the wealthiest among us.  Why should we hate them, they’re paying our way – paying more than 80% of this country’s income tax burden?  We should want to be them.  To achieve that, we must unleash our creative forces. We should be concentrating on teaching everyone who enters our public school system the value of capitalism instead of padding our public schools with leftist, pinko-commie, bed wetting teachers who indoctrinate our kids with ignorance and utter intolerance of anyone with a conservative ideology.

We all have to recognize that God put and maintains equal numbers of men and women on this planet and he also put and maintains equal numbers of liberals and conservatives on this planet. Not to fight each other over who’s ideologies are right or wrong, but to influence, balance, and temper the other’s views with empath and observance of the other’s needs. Without that, nothing exists but chaos and extremist somethings – extremist right wing, extremist left wing, or extremist no wings.

An example of this would be ISIS. As a matter of ideology, they neither accept the views of women who are viewed as inferior nor will they accept any other idea which challenges their strict interpretation of the Quran. Any attempt at compromise or an offer of alternative interpretation is summarily followed by a beheading.

It’s a little like our Congress except instead of beheading people we just distort their words and ideas then unleash our “incredibly unbiased” media on them, making smart people everywhere regret ever thinking about serving the rest of us. Who’s left to serve? You got it; dumb people who idolize North Korea, dishonest and pompously fake bureaucrats wearing pant-suits, and self-important narcissists who don’t care that you think they’re stupid because, “look at how hot my wife is!”

The opposite of income inequality is income equality. Income equality, as Churchill said, is the “equal sharing of misery”. He said this because of his experience in observing all other socialist countries where all the wealth is centered in government and all the people are equally poor, equally hungry, equally denied of rights and opportunities, equally frightened of the government, equally distrustful of their friends and neighbors because they may tell the government about your radical ideas, equally cultivated into becoming machines for the benefit of government, equally denied of ideas and information and culture and art or anything that would allow you an opportunity to know. Income equality is death. We shouldn’t even recognize it as a legitimate phrase much less a cause. It is a term created by a hungry but dying mass-media, embraced by the jealous, and propagated by an exploitative political machine for its own growth.