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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring 2013

The first day of spring, the vernal equinox, March 20th, 2013, all around I note, and take pleasure in, the signs of spring. The birds flocking to the bird feeder, the squirrels mustering at the bird feeder, the dog shedding in the house, and one of my favorite avian friends, the Hummingbird, all complete with a temperate pleasant breeze. The surest sign of spring, a jet ski, blast pass my boat dock with the reckless abandonment only a teenager will dare.
The weather still oscillates between warm and cool over a week. In Houston we can have an 80 plus degree day, followed by a 60 degree day. Most days the windows are open, allowing the winter musk to air out of the house naturally. Spring and fall, hands down the best parts of the year. Now, here, I enjoy the coming of spring. The calamities of life temporarily banished by the joy of life, this is the time to live in the present, the complexity of a modern civilization contrasting with the simplicity of nature.
Our deep time ancestors found nature far from simple, lighting was the anger of Gods, there be dragons in the deep sea, wood nymphs rule the dark forest, and gold was made from water plus sunlight. We have discovered the scientific principle and replaced silly superstition with fatuous stupid. We comfort ourselves with erudite explanations and enlightened rationalizations. The violence of a hurricane explained in detail, killer volcanoes the result of plate tectonics and the cruelty of disease is simply germ theory. Yes, I feel much better now, thank you Mr. Galileo.
None the less, our deep time ancestors found spring as delightful as we do. They had survived the brutality of winter, the planting season had started and wild game plentiful. The young men strong and the young women fertile, but best of all, grand ma had survived the winter, so they still had a trusted free babysitter. The rebirth of the world, the renewal of hope, the awakening of winter dreams, the longer days with shorter nights, all had a song for the night’s camp fire.
Today we get spring break, Easter eggs and tax day for our spring enjoyment. These markers of civilization pale compared to the natural acts of Mother Earth. The time of fresh strawberries, honeysuckles, and mints, my recommendation, after the kids find all the plastic Wal-Mart Easter eggs, take a stroll around the park and a deep breath of fresh air.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The political argument defined

I spent 5 years employed in Sales & Marketing at a high tech cutting edge company. The company’s product was so advanced that the sales people needed to travel with engineers. I was one of those engineers. My job was to stay connected to the technology, first working with the engineering design staff, then traveling as an adjunct to the sales person. I would answer technical questions from customers. In this role, I learned the importance of the seating arrangement at a meeting, the importance of understanding the relationships between the customer’s managers, the importance of presentation, the importance of personal follow-up and image. I learned the difference between a factual argument and a sales argument.
My work with the engineering staff required the use of hard data, physical laws, repeatable results and mathematical predictions. These were factual arguments. My work with the sales persons required emotional appeal, attention to personal grooming, use of selective facts, and purposeful manipulation. These were sales arguments. I had excellent teachers and with practice became quite good at my Sales & Marketing assignment.
Our product started at a quarter million dollars, I was very proud of having sold Prototyping machines and services to every corporate member of the industrial DOW thirty. In the sales process, we would meet with a customer team containing professional buyers, in-house technical experts and a few hard nose senior managers. As the sales engineer I had to maintain absolute creditability, I could never make a factually false statement, the in-house technical expert would have called me out and the entire sales effort would have collapsed. This fit well with my personality and I learned that with a good product, the truth never hurt. We were dealing with professionals that knew the difference between a factual argument and a sales argument.
The sales argument is the same as a political argument or a legal argument, fact and truth are malleable. This is an emotional appeal from someone with flawless personal grooming. A large percentage of adults often fail to distinguish between a political argument and a factual argument. I know adults that scuff at a used car salesman, and then repeat some political talking point as factual. I watched a debate about climate warming between a scientist and a lawyer. The scientist never had a chance. The factual argument will lose to the political argument almost every time, for many will buy that used car. The lawyer making a political argument can use straw men, personal attack, false hoods, and junk science, while simultaneously accusing their opponent of these same tactics.
Fortunately, most adults can distinguish between a factual argument and a political argument, if they think about it. Like oil and water, they will always seperate out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Fall of Rome and maybe America

“Those that cannot remember the pass are condemned to repeat it”, (George Santayana 1863 to 1952), “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot”, (Mark Twain), two of the many quotes honoring historic recurrence, one of my favorite’s is, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, (Commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but wholly lacking any proof). Most often I hear these astute observations from self identified sages, or the somewhat less than wise politicians defending a flawed ideology. Who can argue with the wisdom of a dead great man or the evocative oratory of a living great man? Especially if the quote fits within the 120 character limit or the 6 second sound bite, all meant to prove that my side is smart while your side is stupid.
Paying homage to the theory of historic recurrence, many ask me if America is repeating the decline of the Roman Empire, or are we traveling the same bunny trail of the British Empire. The short answer is, No, for a better answer, read some history books and decide for yourself.
History repeats because, as near as I can discern, we have not changed since the start of writing and most likely much longer. The major vices of humanity were identified millennia past, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Our demonic dark side battles with our self-sacrificing angelic civilized tendency, more often the dark side wins. The leader ruled by the vices is common. The leader ruled by virtue is rare. In this sense, yes, we are repeating the mistakes of ancient Rome. What we are repeating is abominable leadership guided by vice, with a population following short term self interest for personal gain.
This is the view of the cynic, a cynic currently enjoying the vice of sloth. I have almost perfected the art of procrastination and the practice of doing nothing. Enough bragging, back to the subject of historic recurrence, which is really the subject of human repetition in like circumstance.
History is written about the great, I have read of Caesar, Charlemagne, Kemal Ataturk and Abe Lincoln, little is written about the millions that suffered and died in their time. The story of Jane Doe working and raising her children will not make the best seller list. Without a million Roman Jane Does’, Caesar would have never been. No Roman Jane Doe, no Roman Caesar. This insight by Caesar is what allowed a truly great leader to be truly great, this is the difference between the virtuosity of Caesar and the vileness of Nero, the Roman Emperor that lived the vices of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony doomed the Roman Empire. Generations of parasitic leaders slowly bleed Rome. Eventually Rome fell to the relentless invading Germanic barbarian because of rule by morally corrupt Roman barbarians.
Do not think of only one leader, in America we have currently chosen about a half million elected political leaders. Emperor Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but he had thousands of accomplices. Do not listen to the morally bankrupt Congressperson telling you it is the other politician, all must choose between virtue and vice. Empty political theater is easy, governing is hard. Good governing is very hard, and only possible with personal virtue. It is not what they say, it is what they do. We have a crop of politicians that claim they were elected to not govern. They must stop others from governing. These are misguided individuals that have surrendered to their vices. It is easy to destroy, it is hard to restore.

The grand current of history is the cultural evolution of civilization, and the slow development of better government. We are in a battle between our human vices and our human virtues. Our weapon in this battle is civilization. We police ourselves with moral rules, with the moral rules learned from tragic results. The desperate lives and horrific deaths of billions slowly taught us the rules for civilization. The increasing rapidity of technological discovery has allowed 7 billion living souls to cover the earth, it also allows us to commit species suicide, the difference will be determined in our age old struggle between vice and virtue.
Will America fall like the Roman Empire? Without virtuous leaders, yes it will. Do we have virtuous leaders? Ask Jane Doe.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Life at the beach, no plan needed

 Walking the beach in solitude, me and the dog and the surf, a hundred yards to my front is an older couple, walking the beach in solitude. A few hundred yards behind me a guy is jogging with his dog, shortly he’ll pass me, we’ll wave, maybe trade some pleasant saying and he’ll jog on in solitude. I have no plan, no need for a plan. I do have an objective, to walk at least an hour, but no plan, no destination, no great purpose. The temperature is pleasant, the sea breeze clam, I entertain myself by trying to discern whether the tide is rising or falling.
Going to the beach house is escapism, full escape is no longer possible, with the ever present internet, the world insists on crowding my life. Many find comfort in this connectivity. I find it a manacle of control, shackled to command. My first Beeper was assigned to me by my employer. It was passed around among a small group of employees that had to maintain 24/7 availability. I had to remain sober at Saturday night parties. I had to be ready to get up and go to work at 2 in the morning. This left me with a bad impression from the start of connectivity. Technology advanced and the connectivity became an unbreakable tether, eventually I experienced the boss calling me at 10 Sunday morning, after a half hour talk I had an assignment due at start of business Monday morning. My laptop had access to the corporate data base and I would spend Sunday afternoon digging through data. I was well paid and the boss would allow comp time, but I still felt chained to a command structure, with no possibility of escape.
I no longer have the required corporate connectivity, now my manacles are voluntary, self imposed with a monthly fee. When I walk the beach I leave the cell phone at the beach house, if the world really needs me, it will have to leave a message and wait.
There was a time when hiking the Rocky Mountains, or going to a Gulf coast beach, allowed for real escapism from the minutia of useless information. Once I returned to civilization it was quickly realized that nothing was lost, I was no less informed. Instead I was relaxed and ready for the relentless barrage of triviality, this short escape was much like a mental reboot.
When I return to the beach house I will look up information about the local tide to check if I got it right. I will look up the time of moon rise, if any meteor showers are predicted, and check the weather report. I will not be reading current events, no political news, nor will I check the stock market, I will maintain a blissful ignorance with my soul free of the latest Big-Important-News. I will not watch CNN or Fox News; I will be reading on the sun deck.
I do not have a plan. Planning can wait till I return home.