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Sunday, October 26, 2014

How I Downsized and Simplified

      My wife insisted that we needed to simplify and downsize. I had protested. I had complained. I had resisted. I had even openly rebelled, locking myself in the garage and refusing to come out (That didn’t work out as well as I hoped). I had no interest in my wife’s sales pitch to simplify and downsize. Eventually I lost the argument. I was beat into submission by the most cruel of tyrants, reality. Maintaining the lawn and plumbing and roof and the endless never ending demands of a large 2 story lakeside house finally wore me down. It was time for my adventure in simplifying and downsizing. We would sale the homestead and move into a condo 1/3 the size. No garage, no space for my lifelong collection of tools. This was going to be painful. Real men don’t show emotions, yeah right, take his claw hammer away and watch his response.

      My first exploration of downsizing was to minimize my large, over stuffed walk-in closet. Unclassified surplus had been shuffled into my closet and then forgotten. I found things I hadn’t cared about 10 years ago and had saved anyways. There were other items with some emotional attachment, a hard-hat and steel toed work boots from 30 years ago, some 1970s polyester pants, and a Bush – Quayle ‘88 campaign T-shirt. I felt this was easily $10,000 worth of collectables, Goodwill granted me less than a $100. All my memories going to Goodwill for a small tax deduction and redistribution to the needy.

      Driving the empty SUV home from Goodwill I experienced relief and the glimmer of a hopeful future. Unloading useless baggage had a cleansing effect. Less junk in my life.

      Next up for my downsizing and simplifying adventure, the home office.  As a senior manager the home office was my weekend connection to the day job. After retirement the home office became a lonely and empty room, rarely visited and seldom used. Downsizing here was easy, get a trash can and throw stuff into it. Employee reviews, gone. Ancient bank statements, gone. Half-finished business plans, gone. The home office had become a storage area for things vaguely office like, old electronics, and blank CDs. Years of stolen office supplies, pens I’ll never use, legal size manila folders and boxes of paper clips. I was starting to enjoy this.

      I was now ready for my true nemesis, the garage. Polyester pants may go out of style, but a crescent wrench is forever. A life time of tool collection had to go. The emotions ran deep in the dark recesses of the garage. Nooks and crannies filled with memories and dreams. I put out the word, free tools for all, I prepared for herds of males to rush my garage and fight over every screw driver. No one showed up. I was crushed, my belief that tools defined the man no longer applied. Somewhere between generations things had changed. Eventually three 30 something males showed up and offered me $450 for several million dollars of high-end personal tools. It was the only offer made and I accepted.

      Clearing the garage sealed the internal deal with myself, the final act of downsizing and simplifying. This was a clear acknowledgement that I would never again rebuild a car engine, or repair an A/C compressor. That had made me sad, but other implications made me glad. No more yard work, I would never again change out a hot water heater, my days of rebuilding automotive transmissions were over, all jobs I had come to hate. It was as if a great weight had lifted off my shoulders. I had truly retired.

      Now I live in a two bedroom condo, from the third floor balcony I can overlook the lake and watch my empty boat dock. The biggest benefit? When something breaks, I make a phone call and then return to my easy chair. The second biggest benefit? I can easily afford to live here, I have more cash for other things. Heck, I can afford to fill that empty boat dock. The biggest draw back? Taking out the trash now involves three flights of stairs, a hike across the parking lot and a heave ho into our industrial size trash container.

      What I had dreaded became liberating. Plus, somewhere in Texas, there is a Honduran illegal wearing a Bush – Quayle ‘88 campaign T-shirt.

BIG 2 story house: SOLD to downsize
New two bedroom condo

View from new downsized lake condo

Monday, October 6, 2014

Can we trust the news?

      A News Room Maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads”. The most starling and improbable event is sensationalized, and then hyped into a whopper. With zero indigenous American Ebola cases the news reports on the Ebola Plague, News Anchors speculate about the Ebola virus evolving into a super virus like that in Stephen King’s “The Stand”. I’m “just saying” that science fiction could be real, right? Back in two minutes with the next impossible claim, be sure and buy the sponsors products before your grandchildren die.

      Cable news ask, “Can we trust the government?” I ask “Can we trust the news?”

      Wolf! They cry, over, and over, Wolf! Ebola! Wolf! ISIS! Wolf! Enterovirus D68! Wolf! Khorasan!

      Let us not forget some of the classics.

      Wolf! Bird Flu! Wolf! Y2K! Wolf! Swine Flu! Wolf! Wolf!

      The only part of “The News” that I watch is the weather report and occasionally, the sports report. No weather report, no sports segment, I’m not tuning in. The amassing result of my viewing practice seems to be that I am better informed than the committed cable news viewers. My Twitter account is more informative than Fox News, a sad but true claim. Reading “The Demon in the Freezer”, by Richard Preston, maybe six hours of my time, and I am better prepared to discuss Ebola than someone who spent 10 times more hours glued to the “News”.

      How do the Ebola and ISIS threats compare to the danger of driving. 40,000 Americans will die in automotive accidents this year, two and a half million will be injured in automotive accidents. Countless passengers beheaded when the car runs under a semi-trailer. In Dallas mothers keep their children home to protect them from the Ebola threat, then they put them in the auto’s back seat as them run their daily errands. Were the children safer in school or the backseat of the family car? Do the “News Anchors” report on the death plague of auto accidents? If an entire family is wiped out in a single automotive accident, well, that will get a short spot.

      “All we have to fear, is fear itself”. FDR’s stirring 1933 speech would be attacked today, it would be characterized as government incompetence, as Presidential weakness, and misdirection by the ruling elites to cover some other scandal. We would hear news panels, composed of other news commentators without a single expert, drone on and on about their personal views. The dearth of experts on any panel discussion is a red flag, a sign that facts and rational discussion and considered information is not market tested. The marketing department has decreed experts boring, they do not build viewership. Enhancing-shareholder-value trumps an informed public. An “informed public”, that is so 1960s, we are much more profitable now.

      The 1933 FDR speech to our nation, addressing the economic crises.

      “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

      Imagine a political leader trying this speech today. Fox News would be giddy to tear this apart, weeks’ worth of “Can we trust Government?” programming.

      One more time, can we trust the news?

      Right now, I have to get back to Monday Night Football. Later, folks.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Democracy and Demagogues

      Given good information, individuals will make good decisions. I have talked with many people that have one year personal plans, some even have five year plans. These are plans for personal health, or plans for financial retirement decades into the future. Signing a thirty year mortgage is a very long term decision. We all make solid rational decisions based on good information, usually pondered over a long time period. This individual behavior can dominate group decisions. The general population can reach a good rational decision when enough people have good, factual information.

      We are proud of our democratic heritage, we point to the ancient Greeks as the founders of the democratic tradition. The Battle of Thermopylae, the famous story of the 300 Spartans holding off the Persians. This was followed by the Battle of Marathon when the Greeks saved western civilization from almost certain Persian rule. These battles proved that Democracy could outperform tyrannical government on the battle field. This same point was proven again in World War 2, then reinforced by the long, slow Cold War struggle.

      Democracy cannot be killed by any direct external force, a successful adversary will have to induce suicide. Our political parties are willing advocates of the suicide plan, and our politicians are the front line practitioners of the American suicide pact.

      The Greeks foresaw this problem, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all hostile to democracy. Their basic objection to popular rule was they felt it was unstable and worst of all, it could fall prey to demagogues. The unscrupulous individual who gains power by appealing to the emotions and prejudices of the mob.

      Abraham Lincoln also understood this, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

      The problem is demagogues are committed to irrational decisions, and implementing self-destructive polices. Demagogues gaining power by the emotional manipulation of prejudices, demagogues using false data and lies to win the popular election. Emotional appeals that can win elections and sale news print, the media has a financial incentive to repeat the lies and misinformation.

      The thoughtful and best educated members of the media and our political institutions are aware of all this, but they are trapped by their need to win elections and sell newspapers. They have convinced themselves that Democracy is too strong to die by its own hand.

      In our immigration “debate”, we hear of ISIS terrorist flooding our border along with MS13 gangs, drugs cartels and Ebola diseased children. There is little, or no, reporting of actual facts, no discussion of the real economic impact from immigration, no review of the historical results from immigration. Instead the “debate” is entirely dominated by emotional appeals and prejudices.

      Demagoguery wins elections. Demagoguery wins reelection. Demagoguery is a successful business model for talking heads, some make $20 million per year. Demagoguery delivers short term personal advantage at the cost of long term national success.

      How do we bring factual data and rational debate back to our elections? The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the first amendment finds that political speech is free from the constraints placed on used car salesmen. Lies are legal. Lying is a constitutionally protected free speech. So we don’t have any legal route to truth.

      The system is not capable of fixing itself. The system is focused on short term results only, long term concerns are not on the table.

      The only hope is that I fix this mess. It is up to you and me. We must demand civility in public discourse, we must demand honesty from political advertisement, and we must call out the demagogues. With fact based information we will reach good decisions, we will develop sane policies and return America to first place.

      I just watched President Obama present his case for our military intervention in the Middle East. It is thoughtful, rational and fact based. The right went nuts and the left yawned. Being rational, fact based and thoughtful is boring. Off with their heads! That is the message I want to hear. I want video of little girls being murdered, then respond with “bomb em’ back to the Stone Age”. We will look for sanity over a stack of dead bodies!