Technology is not always our friend

Old Lady
Even sweet old ladies can be driven over the edge by tech frrustration.

I stopped to get gas today, and pulled up to the pump behind an old lady who seemed to be having some trouble.  As I was parking I witnessed her jam her card in the pump, then whack the pump selector button somewhat indelicately. This was followed by a repeated two-handed thrust of the pump nozzle into her car, into the pump, and then back again… and again, as if she was the center attraction in some weird mechanical ménage à trois.

What stuck me was not the rage against the machine, but that this sweet little woman would have looked right at home at a church social, undoubtedly uttered the phase, “Well aren’t you a dear,” several times a day, and couldn’t have weighed 100 pounds soaking wet and carrying a bowling ball.

Stepping out of my truck I called forward, “Would you like some help?” She turned toward me, muttering something about the kid inside the store not doing his job.  She then returned to her jamming, whacking, and thrusting.

I set my pump up to run and she was still at it—a relentless geriatric machine.  I called forward again, trying to be helpful. “Did you answer all the questions on the screen?”  Her head pivoted my way again.  She stopped momentarily, considering my words.  She glanced back at the pump, then flung open her car door to retrieve her glasses.  You could feel the tension in the air as she squinted at the pump.

“Why the hell do they need me to answer questions? They have my damned card!”  And undeterred, she jammed, whacked, and thrusted again.

I finally decided to intervene anyway, and approached her.  “Here, let me try,” I offered, and I pressed the cancel button on the pump thinking we’d start over.  But before the pump had a chance to reset… you guessed it… jam, whack, thrust.

“I don’t know why it’s got to be so damned complicated,” she said with exasperation.

“Let’s just start over,” I said a bit more firmly while taking the nozzle from her hand.  I reset the pump with an eye out this time for any flailing hands, asked her to put her card in again, then asked if she wanted a receipt.  Once the pump was operating I told her I thought she was all set and returned to finish filling my own vehicle.

As I was walking back I could hear her mutter, “That’s the last damn time I let him tell me to stop for gas. It’s not my job!”

I’m sure she was grateful in her own way… and I do not envy her husband when she gets back home.  This is one sweet old lady you do not want to piss off.


America needs a 12-step program

12-step Program
The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Politicians have made it a habit to invoke American exceptionalism at every opportunity.  President Obama has been repeatedly reviled by his detractors for not aggressively asserting that the rest of the world should bow to our obvious superiority.  Meanwhile, pundit Sean Hannity is now famous for frequently uttering his catch phrase, “America is the single greatest nation that God ever gave man on this earth.”

That’s not to say that America doesn’t have a reason to be proud, but a little humility might help us to realize that in some ways we are quite a bit less than we imagine.

Compared to a group of our peers, the 20 most affluent countries in the world, we are number 1 in some embarrassing categories:

  • The highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
  • The greatest inequality of incomes;
  • The lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged;
  • The lowest number of paid holiday, annual and maternity leaves;
  • The lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
  • The worst score on the UN’s gender inequality index;
  • The lowest social mobility;
  • The highest public and private expenditure on health care as a portion of GDP;
  • The highest percentage of our population in jail;
  • The highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita;
  • The highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements;
  • The lowest spending on international development and humanitarian 
assistance as a percentage of GDP;
  • The highest military spending as a portion of GDP;
  • The largest international arms sales;
  • The lowest scores for student performance in math (except for Portugal and Italy) (and far down from the top in both science and reading);
  • The highest high school drop out rate (except for Spain);

These are not problems that have just come about in the last few years.  We have been building our dysfunction in these areas for decades.  Problems like these are at the core of our decline, not deficits.  And problems like these will not be solved with budgetary adjustments or minor policy changes. These are fundamental behavioral issues.

As with any person or organization exhibiting self-destructive behavioral problems, the first step is admitting we actually have a problem.  This does not require that we declare ourselves worthless and unworthy.  On the contrary, a sense of self-worth is required such that we believe ourselves worth saving. But we desperately need to embrace the notion that we could be better, much better, than we are now, and further that this transformation requires dedication and sacrifice.  Until we’re ready to own up to that, nothing will change.


      Gingrich fears an atheist country dominated by radical Islamists

      On Sunday, former House Speaker and presumptive 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was addressing Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, led by the Rev. John Hagee, an influential leader among American evangelicals.  It was there he expressed his worry that the United States could become “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.”  There were no reports of his head exploding from the apparent contradiction.  In fact, the line was met with cheers and applause from the group.

      Newt Gingrich
      Newt spreads fear to a receptive audience

      One has to wonder if Newt somehow managed to actually envision a secular theocracy bent on opening up a big can of Jihad on God himself. I strongly suspect he stayed up all night on Saturday trying to figure out how to include gay pacifist baby killers into the speech as well.

      This is a blatant and egregious example of the fear selling I wrote about yesterday. Guys like this have given up on even the pretense of rationality.  This is simply stringing together buzzwords that don’t even form coherent sentences.

      Look out!  Terrorist, homosexual, Nazi, socialist, intellectual elite, sprout eating, flag burning, tree hugging, liberals are coming to steal your money and murder your children! Oh, and I have a bridge to sell you too. Friggin’ idjits.


      Fear Sells

      America has entered an age where we are almost entirely slaves to fear. I don’t just mean fear of the local nuclear plant melting down or fear of terrorists, but also fear of unemployment, fear of not having the thinnest iPad, and fear of being caught in last season’s fashions.

      The Music Man
      Professor Hill understood the power of fear

      Marketing has always been about fear.  When Professor Harold Hill rolled in to River City, he used fear of trouble (with a capital “T”, no less) to manipulate the innocents into buying his wares and services.  Over the years, advertising has gotten progressively more sophisticated, but at its core it’s still about frightening you into action.

      Somewhere along the way though, advertising and marketing techniques slid out of the commercial world into other venues.  Today, politicians are packaged and sold with all the deft and flair of a new sports car or a light beer.  Even news organizations, once heralded in this country as unbiased and objective, compete for eyeballs by hyping sensational stories to lure you in.

      The Trouble is (with a capital “T”), fear is not rational.  That is not to say it’s never justified, but it is an emotional response. It’s a knee jerk to a perceived threat. It is only after the fear passes that one has the peace of mind to actually analyze and evaluate the situation in order to decide a rational plan forward. But the people using fear to manipulate you cannot afford to lend you that time to reflect. It might expose their plans. Fortunately for them, there is a never ending litany of fear mongering at every turn.

      Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” But I don’t think what he meant was for us to embrace the fear—to wallow in it, seeking the next reason to run screaming into the night. Rather, I think he was trying to motivate us towards courage by acting rationally in the face of fear.

      Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Most of what you fear is irrational.  You are far more likely to be killed by heart disease, homicide, or an auto accident than by terrorists, a nuclear accident, or a government death panel.  Yet chances are you’re still going to munch on the bacon-cheeseburger while driving to the polls to vote down the new power plant and vote for strip searches at the bus station.

      There are people of all ideologies saying the country is falling to ruins. To some degree, that’s unarguably the case, but this is not something that’s happened since the last election, or even just in the last decade.  We’ve been on this path for a long time.  And it will be a long time until we hit bottom.  Very little is as urgent as the fear mongers would have you believe.

      Professor Hill had one thing right.  He advocated “The Think System.” We need to start using that instead of the feel system we’ve been relying on.  If you’re watching or reading the news and you start to have an emotional reaction, step back.  If a politician makes you angry or scared, walk away.  Do your own research. Reach your own conclusions. Reason through the long term broad implications of the policies and politicians for whom you’re voting.

      Don’t react out of fear… think.  The danger the country faces is not from liberals or conservatives nor unions or corporations. The danger is voters who are giving in to fear rather than having the courage to resist and master that fear. We have the power to take our country back… it’s between our ears.


      Pole Dancing for Jesus

      Pole Dancing For Jesus
      Tiffany Booth says the pole is her temple.

      Church-going women are spinning and slithering around poles in the quaint turn-of-the-century Houston suburb called Old Town Spring. While pole dancing fitness classes are gaining in popularity nationwide, the women in this group claim the stripper poles bring them closer to God.

      Not surprisingly, the Christian gift shop owners next door and the community in general are a bit less open minded. Dee Bovati, who owns the Lord and Nature gift shop says, “We have to watch those boundaries that we cross over and not allow the enemy to take it in another direction.” After all, Satan is long and lean, and apparently made of brass.

      Meanwhile, pole dancing instructor Crystal Dean says, “God gives us these bodies and they are suppose to be our temples and we are suppose to take care of them and that’s what we are doing.”

      By all accounts, pole dancing is great exercise, and there’s nothing sacrilegious about keeping your body toned and healthy.  But it does take a fair bit of rationalization for dancers like Tiffany Booth to claim that pole dancing, even when set to Christian music, creates a spiritual connection to the Lord and makes her feel closer to God.  Although, maybe it’s God who is long and lean, and made of brass.

      Clearly some force is flowing through those poles. After all, the Best Shape of your Life studio only holds Pole Fitness for Jesus classes on the second Sunday of each month. And if attending a fitness class once a month keeps you in shape, that’s clearly an indication of divine intervention.  So God’s hand is in this somewhere.