Gap

February 04, 2021

I came across an article on my NYT newsfeed which asked whether the economy has fared better under Democratic presidents or Republican presidents over the past century?  They started saying the sensible answer might seem to be it is probably similar.  After all, presidents have only limited control over the economy.  Most of the millions of decisions every day are from consumers and business executives that shape economic growth, jobs, incomes, and stock prices.  With the changing economics of a century, it seems logical that the economy would have performed similarly under Democrats and Republicans.  What they found is that it has not.  The economy has fared far better under Democrats and this gap is “startlingly large” (over 2% increase in growth). 

Researchers have struggle to explain why there is a marked improvement under Democrats.  The study did not even include Herbert Hoover who presided over the economic downturn of the Depression.  Some suggest that while Republican presidents focus on tax cuts and incentives for the rich, Democrats instead focus on social programs and community infrastructure.  While it is clear incentives for the rich do not trickle down to the poor, it is unclear whether incentives for the poor make any long-term difference in economic equality.  While mere coincidence does play some role, it is highly unlikely to account for the entire gap, especially given its size, breadth, and duration.  

The authors, Yaryna and Leonhardt, explored three plausible explanations.  First, Republican presidents have been slow to respond to recessions and other crises.  Second, Democratic presidents have been more pragmatic and willing to listen to the evidence about when the economy would benefit from deficit reduction and when it needs government support for infrastructure, scientific research, and education.  Third, Republican presidents over the past 40 years have pursued one primary economic policy, tax cuts skewed toward the affluent that do not produce economic growth.  Even with these possible explanations the research report ultimately concluded, “it appears to be a matter of luck.”

Thoughts:  I am always amazed how the nations short-term economic gains seem to deflate over the long haul.  The Gap we are experiencing is widening between the top 1% (earning over $531,000 per household per year) and the 40 million in poverty, or the 13.5 million unemployed.  Some of the 1% have chosen to give large amounts of their wealth to world health and social causes.  This comes as a gesture of hope and of concern.  It reminds me of the movie, “Brewster’s Millions”, where a man found out how hard it was to spend $30 million in 30 days.  Giving away a billion dollars might seem easier when it only leaves you with the other $120 billion.  Economic inequality has been a recipe for disaster in other nations.  Perhaps it is time for us to wake up.  We need to pay attention to health.  We need to follow the science.  We need to do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Blue-necks

February 03, 2021

We got the call Monday that the parts had arrived for our furnace install and workers would be out to install the new units on Tuesday.  They asked us to prepare the space so they would have the room necessary to work.  I moved the items we usually stored below the elevated furnace door to allow access.  When they texted saying they were on their way Melissa moved our vehicles to provide room for them to bring the unit into the garage.  We are a three-car family.  My Wrangler is the main traveling car while Melissa’s Outback is her work car and our secondary vehicle.   We also have our fun car, the SLK convertible.  This is an older vehicle but still great to drive on sunny days.  Melissa moved two of the cars onto the street but parked the SLK on the front lawn.

I found two explanations online for why people park or keep cars on their lawns.  The first concerned people who found an old car at a “heck of a deal,” bought it, put it up on blocks, and have not yet (if ever?) finished the project.  This happens more in rural areas as more space is available to park.  Suburban lawns have another phenomenon where there is not enough parking space on the street for all the family’s cars.  This seems especially true when you own several large trucks, as is the case in our neighborhood.  Trucks are easier to maneuver on unpaved surfaces and seem to end up on the lawn.  I joked with Melissa that now we were finally fitting into the neighborhood.

It was exactly one week ago that our furnace decided to quit.  As luck would have it, this week also marked the coldest stretch of temperature this winter.  We really cannot complain.  We bundled up and allowed the house’s insulation to protect us from much of the cold.  After we contracted to have a new furnace and heat pump installed the company brought out two space heaters for us to use.  Melissa has been working from her chair in the living room and I join her after I am done in my office.  That meant we were able to concentrate the heater (or both) in one room during the evening when the drop in temperature was most acute.  I have been humbled thinking about our lack of heat and knowing there are great numbers of people in our country who live this way daily.  They have no hope for an impending furnace.

Thoughts:  Jeff Foxworthy has based his career telling stories about what he calls his “red-neck family.”   His on-liner goes, “You might be a red-neck if . . .”  Living in small towns and rural areas in the Midwest I have appreciated his humor as I resonate with many of his observations.  Since we parked the Mercedes rather than the pickup on the lawn, I wondered if this meant we were instead blue-necks.  One aspect clearly delineated by the pandemic is the growing divide between different economic groups.  Many of our essential workers lost jobs, health insurance, and have struggle to put food on the table.  At the other end of the spectrum there has been an increase in income and overall wealth.  My week without heat forced me to be empathetic to (or at least acknowledge) the ravages of economic inequality.  We all need to learn these lessons.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Attention

February 02, 2021

I decided to take a different road home from up north yesterday and got caught not paying attention.  I usually take the Interstate and the speed limit is now 75 mph.  As the road changes and goes over the river the speed drops to 65 mph.  I drive this road twice a week and have the route etched into my psyche.  One of the reasons I changed my way home was to get off the Interstate.  While I have seen several hawks perched on the wires or in the trees, I am generally going too fast and am by them before I am able to stop and take a picture.  That was again true yesterday as I whizzed past a new hawk I had not yet recorded.  I took the side road hoping to get a good picture.

I have mentioned before how careful I try to be when driving.  I let the cruise control gauge my speed, so I do not worry about how fast I go.  I avoid using my phone unless it is hooked up “hands free” to the car and generally ignore texts.  When I do pay attention, I have pulled over to avoid becoming a distracted driver.  That is even more important now.  It is not only dangerous, but a finable offence.  It continues to amaze me how many times Melissa and I approach an erratic driver and as we pass (or at least get close and they decide to speed up) we find they are on their phone despite the law.  I also know this stretch of road is next to the district office of the State Police and we frequently pass them stopped along the road.  I figure it is better to be safe than sorry.

After getting off on the side road I went through town and started across the bridge over the river.  I was paying more attention to finding birds than driving.  I let my internal cruise control kick in and became the distracted driver I try to avoid.   My speed increased as I looked for birds and came off the bridge.  That was where the trooper I should have suspected was sitting.  He was parked next to a sign that said the speed limit was 40 mph.  That was not the speed I was going.  He followed for a bit as usual, then followed as I pulled into a parking lot.  He pulled up behind me with his lights on.  I had obviously not been paying attention.

Thoughts:  I found it ironic that earlier in the day we had been discussing how we should not brag about what we do.  As I sat in the vehicle waiting for a ticket, I thought about my post several months ago where I had talked (bragged?) about how careful I am.  It seems I am not always as careful as I thought.  When the trooper returned, he noted how I had no violations or warnings on my record, and he was giving me a warning.  While I appreciated the acknowledgement of my attention in the past, I was painfully aware of my current lack of attention.  Consistently paying attention seems to be a problem facing our country.   We need to pay attention to the thoughts and feeling s of others.  We need to pay attention to their health.  We need to follow the science.  We need to do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

1-A

February 01, 2021

One of my favorite scenes from the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” finds mean old Mr. Potter as the chair of the draft board.  As he reviews the possible draftees, he glances at their information and says, “1-A . . . 1-A . . . 1-A . . .”  Being classified as 1-A meant “available for military service.”  Potter had no plan for any of the people he was reviewing, except to say regardless of your situation you are eligible to be drafted.  When I checked online, I found that draftees fall into one of five different classes, and each class includes a variety of different levels of availability.  The jab the movie poked at Potter was his demeanor resulted in everyone being eligible for the draft.

When I was in High School during the Viet Nam War, I received my draft lottery number (257) in January of my Senior year.  I assumed I would be drafted, but no one ever contacted me.  What I did not realize was that I was initially classified as Class I –S, or a “Student deferred by law until graduation from high school or attainment of age 20, or until end of his academic year at a college or university.”  On January 27, 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird announced the creation of an all-volunteer armed forces, negating the need for the military draft.  The seventh and final lottery drawing was held on March 12, 1975 for men born in 1956.  There were no new draft orders issued after 1972.  As it turned out, I never rolled into 1-A status and missed the draft.

Since there was no federal oversight of the vaunted Warp-Speed rollout of the vaccine the states were left to make their own plans for distribution.  Arkansas issued a three-phase plan for eligibility to receive the vaccine.  Just like the draft, each phase seems to have several parts built into them.  Phase 1-A (health-care workers, long-term residents and staff, and first responders) and Phase 1-B, part 1 (70 years or older, teachers and school staff, child-care, and higher-education) are both currently active.  We have been told that Phase 1-B, part 2 (Food and agricultural workers, firefighters and police not in 1-A, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, childcare workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, and essential government workers) is set for implementation in February.  Melissa and I both have the same classification (different reasons) as Phase 1-C (age 65-69, people age 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing, finance, IT and communications, energy, media, public safety, and public health workers).  This is not scheduled until March.  With the current scarcity of the vaccine, I might miss this as well.

Thoughts:  The number of doses of vaccine each state receives is based on population.  While we were told the procurement of vaccines and shipment to the states were being implemented at warp-speed, that was not the case.  The administration did not have a plan for how to get the doses to the states (at least one that worked) and the states plans were so convoluted shots were not being delivered to the scheduled people.  We should have known putting ex-military supply personnel in charge of the rollout was questionable.  There is a reason why so many military units rely on scroungers to get what they need when they need it.  We need to preform a reboot and provide a national approach to delivery.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Bernie

January 30, 2021

Not lost among the pictures taken during last week’s Biden inauguration was the shot of US Senator Bernie Sanders huddled alone in the cold trying to keep warm.  The picture has become the trending meme on social media for his iconic look.  When asked for a response, Sanders said he was “just sitting there trying to keep warm.”  It seems his mittens are what made the picture go viral on social media.  The mittens were made by a teacher in Vermont and have been in high demand since the ceremony.  This is not the first time Sanders has gone viral on social media.  The politician is also famous for another meme in which he wore his coat during the 2020 Presidential Election.  That clip had him saying, “I’m once again asking….”  People went wild and made the image a fill-in-the-blank meme.  Time Magazine said was one of the most impactful memes of 2020.

When I looked online, I found an Internet meme is “a type of idea, behavior, or style that is spread via the Internet through social media for humorous purposes.”  Memes can spread from person to person or through a variety of social networks.  These memes are often modified to become spoofs of the actual image or event.  The hallmark of all memes is the appropriation of a part of the broader culture.  Appropriation comes across by intentionally misspelling words or phrases or using incorrect grammar.  With this Bernie meme, it is by putting him next to other famous people.  Many memes use popular culture and can lead to issues with copyright.  It appears from his response Bernie is okay with all the attention he is getting.  So far, so is the photographer.

With all the attention memes are getting I was not surprised when I also found Meme Generator.  This is a free online image maker that allows you to customize both text and images.  The site stated most people just added captions, but you can also add images and create your own templates.  This is available from your computer or mobile device.  The meme created does have a watermark on the meme as it “helps other people find where the meme was created, so they can make memes too!”  If you buy the upgraded package you can “remove ads and supercharge your image creation abilities.”  Once more, the hidden cost of free.

Thoughts:  Between the unrest of the summer, the lies and turmoil of a stolen election, and the insurrection at the Capitol, our country is desperate for something to make us laugh.  Over the year I have seen a variety of animal pet memes that a few will find humorous and pass along.  What made Bernie different was that it captured the isolation most of us feel and gave it a humous twist.  Whether we are a provocative Senator or a casually followed blogger, we have been forced to embrace the separation of the past year.  I find it refreshing that with the Bernie meme we have found a way to come together that does not belittle or degrade another.  Perhaps this is a sign of hope.  (btw:  the caption attached to Bernie and Patrick was, “Hey Bernie, can I borrow your gloves for the big game?”).  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Ready

January 29, 2021

Between the outside temperatures and post-holiday rise of the virus we have been trying to stay home as much as we can.  I have computer work to do in my office to get ready for the weekend that keeps me busy most days and Melissa works from home, so it is not much of a change.  When the furnace went out, we had no space heaters, and the chill began to set in by the afternoon (we have them now!).  I had finished up for the day and began to get antsy.  I also found that my hands were going numb.  I finally made an excuse of getting more pop for Melissa and took off for the store.  What I really wanted was to get out and to feel the warmth of the vehicle’s heater.  The heater made the drive worthwhile.

I have mentioned how I now take my camera with me wherever I go.  This has been added to the fishing poles I constantly keep in the back of the vehicle.  You never know when you will be suddenly overcome with the urge to fish.  Now I have added, you never know when you will spot a new bird.  That means you need to always be ready.  Earlier in the day I had been reviewing and classifying the birds I had captured on camera the previous day.  The YouTube video I watched suggested to never delete pictures on the camera.  You never know how they can look after you edit them.  My old computer has a flash drive, so I can pull the card and review and edit the pictures easily.  That was what I had done.

When I arrived at the market, I noticed a small hawk (not yet photographed) perched on a light pole near the entrance.  I slowly pulled my car into position to let me get a good shot.  I readied the camera, extended the telephoto to maximum, and took the picture.  Nothing happened.  I fiddled with the settings and tried again.  Nothing.  Usually when this happens it is because I have not turned the camera on or removed the lens cap.  Not today.  I adjusted the camera for a third time to take the picture, but with the same result.  That was when I realized the problem.  I had taken the flash drive out of the camera and had forgotten to put it back.  In the good ol’ days, I would have just run out of film.

Thoughts:  While the problem was not having the scandisk in the camera, it came because of the settings I had chosen.  The same video which helped me set the camera up suggested that I disable the camera if there was not a disk present.  The presenter said, “Why would you want to be able to take pictures when there was no way to record what you had seen?”  That had made sense at the time.  Even if I had been able to take the photo it would not have saved to anything.  At least with the camera turned off I knew I had a problem.  I am trying to be ready with both my camera and my fishing poles.  Amid the rapid changes of the pandemic, we also need to be ready.  That means we need to take a proactive approach.  Following the advice of the experts (masks, distance, hands, and gatherings) is a start.  Getting the vaccine when available is another step.  We now need to be ready to decide how to live life as a world together, rather than divide and conquer.  Follow the science.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Cold

January 29, 2021

Luckily, we had our furnace serviced earlier this month to make sure it was ready for the winter.  When we got up it seemed colder than usual in the house, but I thought nothing of it.  We have been keeping the thermostat at 65F for Melissa’s succulents and I am usually cold when I first get up.  I usually put on a sweatshirt and start moving around and the cold goes away.  This time it did not happen.  I thought that was curious and checked the thermostat and saw that it was cold.  The temperature was set for 65F, but the gauge read 63F and the fan had been turned off.  Melissa had been up for a while, so I asked her about the temperature.  She explained the vents were only blowing cold air, and the heater was making the house colder.  She had turned it off. 

I continued to mess with the thermostat and the furnace for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon.   I finally decided this was above my paygrade (I know, hard for a male to do), and called the heating company who had serviced the unit earlier.  They apologized and said they could not get a repair person out until after four.  I agreed because basically, I had no choice.  When the person arrived, he checked the blower and the ignition unit.  After about 30 minutes he said he knew what the problem was.  The blower motor had gone out and that set off the safety switch that turned off the unit every time he tried to start it up.  It was no wonder the fan blew cold.

We were told the company could send out an estimator on Friday to let us know how much it would be to replace the furnace.  When they had checked our A/C last summer they had let us know we needed to replace that as well (17 years old and freon based).  We were preparing for the A/C, but the furnace was a surprise.  The one good thing was they were having a winter sale.  If you replaced your A/C they would throw in the furnace for free.  Even though it was not planned, I suppose this turned out to be a good thing.  Like so many things over that last year, “good” has been relative.

Thoughts:  After the tech left the temperature started to drop outside.  That meant without a furnace the temperature dropped inside as well.  I was happy the house is well insulated, as the temps dropped into the low 20’s but the house only fell into the high 50’s.  Still, I was surprised what a difference 5F degrees of cold make.  I was told I should be happy the unit died in the winter rather than the summer.  As Melissa said, you can always bundle up but there is only so far you can take things off (not to mention the sale!).  Just like the insulation in our house protects us from the cold, our country has insulated itself from the systemic racism that was part of our founding.  Our furnace worked, but it only blew cold air because something was not right.  Our society worked, but it only masked the underlying flaw that led to the Civil War and the unrest of the last half century.  While good may be relative, the flaw needs to be fixed.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Sustainability

January 27, 2021

NBC News reported that President Biden is set to deliver remarks Wednesday on his plan to tackle climate change and sign related executive actions to further this key part of his agenda.  Wednesday’s executive orders “will focus on elevating climate change to a national security priority, directing the federal government to conserve about 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030 and suspending new leases for natural gas and oil development on federal lands and waters.”  These orders will create a climate commission focused on environmental justice and green jobs.  Many of Biden’s orders are designed to undo the orders signed and policies of our last administration.  The focus has shifted from making money to making a sustainable world.

When I attended my undergraduate college, the hot degree was ecology.  I was a science buff and had dreams of entering the field (sadly, 15 credits of chemistry killed my plans) that is now central to Sustainability.   After two years of coursework, I was enthralled by the thought of studying the gray wolves who followed the caribou in norther Canada.  It was over a decade later before another researcher finally fulfilled my dream.  I watched a Nature documentary in the 1990’s in fascination as a researcher filmed the habits and hunting techniques of pack behavior.  As research has grown, we have confirmed gray wolves rarely attack humans.  Their intimidating howls and pack behavior have still been written into the storylines of numerous movies.  Today’s wolf research is on reintroduction of wolves (Yellowstone) and making populations sustainable.

Sustainability is the new buss word for large corporations and the hot new degree in the environmental and business fields.  When I looked these degrees up online, I found that over 400 colleges in the US offer bachelor’s degrees, over 460 offer master’s degrees, over 100 offer doctor’s degrees, and more than 130 offer a certificate in Sustainability.  Sustainability combines economics, business, social/human environment, and environmental science.  The goal is to find a balanced approach that minimizes risks to these areas to maintain or enhance the quality of life in the future.  This is an attempt to minimize and mitigate the environmental impact caused by humans.  

Thoughts:  When the government abandoned climate research and discounted racial injustice, corporate America countered with its own call to create sustainability.  Amazon is just one example with a pledge to produce a net zero carbon footprint across the business by 2040.  This is ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement that the current President re-entered.  While some decry the loss of carbon industry jobs, others are excited by the possibility of new green jobs and infrastructure.  Retraining and repositioning workers has been a hallmark of human evolution.  I do not hear many still denouncing the loss of flintknapper jobs as the metal ages occurred.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Audubon

January 26, 2021

I mentioned how last year I generally took a wait and see attitude toward my birding.  That meant while I was always on the lookout for birds, I was not purposeful and did not go out of my way to find them.  This year I have taken a different approach and have taken two specific trips to finds birds (one successful and one not so much).  While I recorded 26 species last year, I have already recorded 29 species this year, and that does not include six species where I have shots of both male and female birds that look appreciably different than each other.  Once more, being purposeful seems to make a big difference.

One of the downloads I now have for my phone is an identification guide from the Audubon Society.  While I find it a little difficult to use (you need to have an idea what the bird is to look it up), It is another tool in my birding arsenal.  Alexander Wilson is credited as the Father of American birding and he produced the 9-volume work American Ornithology between 1808 and 1814.  Wilson was closely followed by John James Audubon whose work, Birds of America, was published between 1827 and 1838.  This was long held as the most comprehensive study of American birds and the artwork is still considered exceptional.  After Audubon died George Grinnell became fascinated with birds in the 1860’s, and was mentored by Audubon’s wife, Lucy.  After she died in 1874 Grinnell continued to be a birder and founded the Audubon Society in 1886 in honor of Lucy and her husband John.

As my birding has increased so have the offers to help received from family and friends.  Melissa has found short day trips here in Arkansas where I can find different varieties of birds (I have yet to go).  Some of these trips involve migratory birds that are only in the state during the winter, so time is getting short to check them out.  My mom also gave me a 24-lesson course on birding as part of my birthday.  This is one of the Great Courses series and is put out by National Geographic.  I began watching the first lessons and have already learned a lot.  It is never surprising when we listen to the experts how much we can learn.

Thoughts:  When Grinnell became fascinated with birds, he sought out one the premier experts on American birds, Lucy Audubon.  He knew while he could become accomplished at recognizing birds on his own, it was much easier if he was tutored by an expert.  While I do not have a person who tutors me, I have found ways to find virtual experts who can help me identify the various birds I see.  Virtual experts seem appropriate amid all the virtual classes, meetings, and socials we have become accustomed to.  This year’s success has reemphasized how using the right tools and being purposeful allow me to obtain my goals.  So does following the advice of experts.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Ninjas

January 25, 2021

One of the adjustments parents have been forced to make over the last year is to participate in schooling their children.  Parental engagement has always been a critical aspect to student achievement, as much as class size, curriculum, and teacher quality.  That is especially true over the last year as parents have been pressed into service by the sporadic nature of school openings and closings.  Many schools and students have been able to continue to attend class virtually, but this has not been as seamless as it might have been.   Our country is plagued by uneven band widths and differential levels of technology.  This is especially true in rural areas and among the poor.  These are also the students who often require extra help.

When I looked online, I read about the schools created for the Ninja (or Shinobi) in medieval Japan.  These students were the specialized assassins, saboteurs, and secret agents of the country.  Warriors were highly trained proponents of the martial arts, especially what later became known as ninjutsu or ‘the art of the ninja’.  This included special schools for training in disguise, deception, and assaulting enemy positions and strongholds.  Their missions usually took place at night and were augmented by their traditional dark clothing.  Ninjas have been employed since the 15th century CE onwards.  The secret of the ninjas was their lengthy secret training in specialized schools and mysterious anonymity.  This has led to an exaggerated reputation for fantastic feats and weapons play.  This makes them the perfect characters for comic books and computer games.

With many teachers relegated to computer screens, parents have taken on the role of teacher’s aide, hall monitor, counselor, and cafeteria worker.  These roles are often added to preforming their own jobs at the same time.  This has created extraordinary stress for students and parents alike.  Essential workers (read, the poor and most vulnerable) are often in the toughest spot, especially if they are away from home during school hours.  These leaves a single parent, or no one at all, at home when students need them most.  Once more our essential workers face untenable choices.

Thoughts:  I saw an Instagram post about our granddaughter yesterday that gave me hope.  She (5 years old) and her brother (3 years old) were drawing Ninjas for their daily project with mom.  Each of their Ninjas’ had a special power.  Lauren’s Ninja power was “Love.”  The Ninja had a club in one hand (with hearts on top) and a large heart in the other.  One of the things she knew was that the most powerful thing on earth is the love we have for others, and this love is what is needed right now.  This is a realization that can escape us as adults.  Perhaps we need to quit trying to rationalize and to blame each other and instead look at the world through the eyes of a child.  We could all use the special power of love.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.