El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Post María Calm

I approached the counter at the DMV smiling and said, “Good morning!” Well, actually, “Muy buenos días.” or VERY good morning. I asked the clerk how she was. Did she have electricity? Water? No, no electricity, only water. “Gracias a Dios,” I said. At least. That makes me happy. I told her that I hoped she’d get electricity soon. I was still smiling. I explained why I was there, what I had, and what I needed.

I have to be aware how I come across. I am impossibly physically large for Puerto Rico. I look like a big white American gringo federal agent, and that can immediately put people off for their assumptions of how I will act based on how I look. I don’t want to traumatize anyone. Yes I speak Spanish, no you don’t have to go find someone who does.

I slouched to make myself smaller, fumbled with my papers, and dropped the pen. I filled in the wrong field and then made a self deprecating remark about not being good at following instructions. She chuckled, and told me not to worry about it. When she finished with the computer, she passed me my activated RFID sticker, and I paid the small fee. I thanked her profusely for her time and wished the people in line a good morning as I made my way to the parking garage. I waved at the parking attendant and thanked the cashier for taking my parking fee, paying with exact change.

I queued up a gentle string quartet on the car stereo, nudged the car out onto the street, and waited at the non-functioning traffic light to let some cars pass. They were in a hurry. I wondered what their lives were like, how they were, what they were feeling, what they were going through. No aggressive moves. There is no hurry for me, just go with the flow, be in the moment. Let others go first.

Puerto Rico is a nation in crisis. We are a people in crisis. Every individual is in crisis. We are all aware of how delicate our state is, and there seems to be some sort of tacit understanding that we must treat each other delicately, because we could lose it at any time. We are all broken, held together by a revisited gentility post María.

But we know we may crack and shatter at any moment for the loss of our livelihood, a loved one, the care for elderly relatives, for living without electricity, and worrying about the future. In the dark after the sun goes down and the hum of generators drowns out the night creatures we find ourselves alone. What about our hopes and dreams, our utility, our self? Where will I go? What will I do?

Maybe tomorrow, when the sun comes up, it won’t seem so grave. Things will seem brighter, more hopeful. Muy buenos días. ¿Cómo se encuentra? Very good morning to you. In what condition may you find yourself? or How are you?

Perhaps we can hold each other gently enough and for long enough that we may not fall to pieces.

Okay, I Get it. Small Government is Best. The Constitution Never Made Provisions for Social Welfare…

…but can we stop fetishizing the “founding fathers?” Please?

I do get “it,” though. The nearly religious beliefs of the right are that the founding fathers were enlightened individuals endowed with some sort of special insight into what it takes to govern. They had the prescience to foresee all the basic needs of humanity going forwards hundreds of years. They were brilliant and made the US Constitution so specific and at the same time so general as to make it universally applicable. Bravo. Clap clap. Here’s a gem from the Declaration of Independence:

All men are created equal.

All men?

Well not African men, or African women or children for that matter.

What about white women?

Are they men?

No.

Then not them.

You see how this is starting to sound like the Monty Python Cheese shoppe skit, right?

These are the same guys who didn’t see the acute moral problem of slavery? Oh, but it was the times, you say. Times were different. Sensibilities were different. They did the best with what they had. I could agree with you, yes. But then you want to eat all that delicious slave cake too when you ascribe to them some sort of mystical transcendental infallibility. They knew exactly what our modern diverse society needed but had no clue about their own time? Remember, for as long as there has been slavery there have been abolitionists. Don’t give me that, “they didn’t know better” crock. Lots of people knew it was wrong. How come our super smart humanist Enlightenment thinker guys didn’t get that “little” detail right too?

Bah! Stop fetishizing the past, the Constitution, and the founding fathers. I do not want to be shackled by them (for many it would be literal) to a history replete with genocide, injustice, inequality, slavery, no collective bargaining, where half the population had no vote, where the monied and the landed had all the power, where the rich made laws that benefited them and exploited the masses. Wait! Hold up, I’m starting to think this sounds vaguely like the present. Maybe the founding fathers had it right all along, and this outcome is exactly what they intended.

My prediction. The Republican tax cut bill will increase inequality in the U.S. The rich will get richer. The poor will find their ranks swelling. Maybe if we wish hard enough we can go back to the way things were in 1788 and make America great again.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

I’ll be offline probably for a couple of weeks if past hurricanes and storms are any indication. Maria looks to be heading directly for us like a freight train, and I don’t think we’re gonna be able to slip this one. We will probably have no water or electricity for a while.

I think we’ll be okay, though. The island will be mostly okay too. That is, the people are resilient and of good humor. When confronted with human need, I think most people rise to the occasion. The people of Puerto Rico seem to excel at having a generous spirit. Maybe it comes from not having a lot. I don’t know, exactly, but sometimes it’s the people with the least that are the most generous. I think it’s a learned thing.

Most everyone here has concrete houses and the topology is rather mountainous. We don’t get deep storm surge like in Florida or the Gulf Coast. It’s still super deadly near the water though, and tons of small businesses, mom and pop diners, stores, gas stations, hardware and furniture stores and assortments of small offices will probably go under. The crushing poverty in oppressed communities will get worse. The struggling owners of a small business that were probably just making do, will now throw in the towel, leaving their boarded up locale to collect mosquitos and rats.

But us personally? We’ll be okay, and I’ll check in again when things are less hectic.

For the Love of It

Asier: Daddy, what should I do with my Pokemon cards?

Me: I dunno, Asier. We should play…

I trailed off a bit, because I knew where this was going. Asier has been fascinated with Pokemon this past year, but his interest has begun to wain. We hadn’t been playing the card game with him. I’ve put him off. His brothers have put him off. So he’s been a little down about his whole Pokemon phase coming to an end as he begins to outgrow it.

Asier: Yeah, but I haven’t asked… it’s because I want you to play for the love of it.

Me: Asier, you are the dearest sweetest self-aware little boy in the world. I want to play, because I love you!

Denormalization

I’ve been ruminating on this public catfight between the left and right for quite some time, trying to wrap my head around the subject, the debate, and the issues. Is it really a debate of equal sides of the same coin? Am I deluded? Are they deluded? Is there a way to peer through the veil and find something resembling an absolute truth of the matter? Who is right? Are both right, but different?

Some have said, that the difference is one of evidence vs emotion. That is, the “right” thing is what you feel in your gut. You don’t really know “why” in the sense of logic, but you say, “of course” we shouldn’t just let people immigrate to our country, and of course, tax cuts fuel the economy, and of course, the poor should just work harder if they want to get ahead. It’s their values that are to blame for their poverty.

Are there studies pro or con that elucidate these concepts? Ayn Rand doesn’t count as an authoritative source, by the way.

On the left, perhaps you might have the same effect working against you. One might think that their assumptions are just as emotional and just as possibly spurious as the ones on the right. Is the left’s “evidence” just as biased as the right’s?

I worry about this. Could I be confirming my own biases by consuming news, opinion, and research that just reinforces a particular left-leaning worldview?

I think it boils down to one’s normalized experiences and a lack of opportunity to break from them. You can make your own opportunities, but I think we need to be better as a society to promote a difference of perspective.

When a person is normalized to a particular upbringing and experience, it causes them to view the world and to perceive what is normal based on those patterns. If you are a white person, living in the white upper Midwest in a middle class suburb, with white middle class neighbors, then what is “normal” for you is what you experience every day. The police are friendly and helpful. The schools are fine and dandy. You pay your taxes and the potholes get fixed in a timely manner. Sure, there are challenges, like Tammy the gossip at work, or the fact that you’ve got too many bills to pay and not enough to pay them with. You wish you had more, but the new car will have to wait until you get get the much needed repairs to your vinyl siding. Your worries for your children in high school consist of keeping them on the straight and narrow. Don’t get pregnant, and don’t impregnate anyone, you exhort. Don’t be having sex, and you monitor them and make sure that you’re aware. Sure, they could get into trouble, but you’re present and try to do your best. Some of the kids are drinking and smoking marijuana. Say no, kids. Then they study, take their SATs and get into a decent college you can afford (albeit with some financial aid).

Whew, we did it. We worked hard, put food on the table, raised smart kids that are now studying and doing what they are supposed to be doing. We deserve these successes because we earned them.

You suddenly hear about Black Lives Matter. What are these people complaining about? They’re just rabble-rousers. They’re ingrates, uppity. Don’t they know that they need to have good values and make better choices in order to achieve what they want? They just want to take from what little you think you have. Let them earn and merit the same things you have. Nobody gave you anything. And you believe that the so-called reality that these people espouse just isn’t true, because it conflicts with your own truths.

In Puerto Rico, we say, “El ladrón juzga por su propia condición.” The criminal judges by his own condition, that is, if you lie, you expect that everybody lies. If you steal you comport yourself as if everyone steals. The flip side of this is that if you are a generally good, honest, hard-working person, you expect that everyone else is like this as well. Police mistreatment of the poor just doesn’t jibe with your experiences. You’ve always seen them as friendly, conscious, devoted public servants. I mean they came to your neighborhood watch meeting and were always so helpful whenever you called them. You don’t see yourself as privileged or particularly special. You have always treated others with courtesy and deference, and you received it in kind, thinking that you merited it because of your behavior. Based on your normalized experiences you just can’t conceive that others are not treated the same way.

There must be something wrong with them.

I get that. I get how good, God-fearing, white Americans who are not particularly wealthy can come to the conclusion that the world is just, and that fair treatment begets fair treatment, and that those who fail generation after generation must be doing something wrong. It can’t be the system, because it’s the same system in which you’ve succeeded.

I can only come to the conclusion that it is through one’s own cultural normalization that these myths of fairness continue to perpetuate, that the false ideas of bootstrapping, of just say no, of family values, of poverty, that the world is fair, and that racism and xenophobia are dead continue to exist just inside the purview of a normalized and mostly white experience.

What can we do? Well, for one thing, I think that there should be a return to the professed Christian mandate to seek justice. Don’t make them come to you. Go to them. Find them. Listen to them. Believe them. Challenge your own normalization through a process of cultural and historical indoctrination. Accept the possibility that your assumptions about society and the “proper” way to do things may be wrong. They don’t have to be wrong, but allow for the possibility that they may be.

In short, don’t say, “I know.” Say, “I want to find out.”

Throwing Away Gold, I Tells Ya, Yer Throwing Away Gold!

“It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it, and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command.” – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

We all know that Adam Smith is the little darling of the fundamentalist right and their form of free market extreme capitalism, but isn’t it interesting that he sees people as the very embodiment of wealth.

When immigrants come to America’s shores, they do not belittle its stature, they raise it, magnify it, enrich it. It’s simple supply and demand, folks. You want a rich nation, you need people. They (the countries of the world) are practically giving them away at bargain basement prices. Snap them up while you can!

Nice!

President Trump thinks that the Federal Government is too intrusive, that big projects can’t be done cheaply and rapidly in our modern era. He cited today, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Hoover Dam, and The Empire State Building as models for his new era of rapid, quality, and unencumbered by permits type of construction.

The Golden Gate Bridge – 11 fatalities in construction on an unknown quantity of workers – the rule of thumb in the 1930s was to expect 1 fatality for every $1 million spent.

The Hoover Dam – 96 fatalities in construction 3000+ workers for a rate of  3200/100,000 workers

Empire State Building – 6 fatalities in construction with 3000+ workers for a rate of 200/100,000 workers

By contrast in 2015 the industry average for construction was, 12.5 per 100,000.

But yeah, sure, let’s go back to the 1930s where we could throw up an environmental disaster like the Hoover Dam, pay poor wages to workers who risked life and limb and were killed at a rate of around 136x of what we enjoy with modern OSHA standards.

En Exercise in Civil Dialog and Rational Thinking

Let’s try an exercise. In this exercise, you are forbidden from engaging in a discussion with someone from an oppositional political viewpoint unless you can effectively make their argument using their logic (or better if you’re feeling generous).

I’ll start.

Headlines from today’s news cycle:

The majority of Americans think Trump fired Comey to slow the Russia investigation

This is a commonly use logical fallacy that makes an appeal to the people (argumentum ad populum), and has no bearing upon what the truth is. This headline would be made effective if it actually showed proof that Trump fired Comey because of an investigation. Until you have such proof, why don’t you shut your idiot mouth? The news media knows that this headline will whip people up and offers exactly zero substance. If you want to be the party of science, of rational thought, why don’t you lead with your actions? Shame on you, liberals.

How did I do? Okay next.

Comey Is Said to Have Become Unsettled by Interactions With Trump

Innuendo. Where is your proof? In the absence of proof, you are resorting to an implication without actually providing a definitive statement. Are you giving yourself wiggle-room for later denial? “Comey is said to have…” By whom? Some aide? Who is this aide? Credible source? If it’s a credible source, then say, “Credible source Provides Evidence of Improper Behavior by Trump.” As a detail, you can also provide evidence of Comey’s discomfort. Video of him avoiding eye contact? The awkward hug/handshake. haha.

I can’t believe the New York Times let’s its reporters get away with such a lazy piece.  And I’m just attacking the method, not actually trying to articulate the worldview of a Trump supporter or “scandal denier.” I think it comes from the same place as climate denial, so let me lay it out and see if I get some of it right.

Let’s assume Trump is a blowhard. We know he is. He comes from the tough New York real estate and construction world. Stuff gets done because you push, sometimes aggressively for your interests and your project at hand. Trump seems to have proven himself somewhat adept at this. By all accounts he is rich, and has built and developed some high end properties. He’s had some ups. He’s had some downs. But he keeps trying, and he’s come back from some pretty heavy blows.

America loves a tenacious scrapper who gets back up.

You voted for him because you perceived him as a tough guy who could get things done. You didn’t necessarily like him nor would you leave him alone with your daughter, but you thought he was YOUR tough guy and he would advocate for you and correct the perceived slouch of America toward being a global also ran.

People on the right, are you with me so far?

Now, Trump is in the White House, and there’s a guy Michael Flynn who is being investigated for some money ties to Russia. Yeah, Trump knew going in that this could be a problem, but he liked Flynn’s moxie. Here was a guy who also talked and acted tough and knew how to deal with the Russians. Let’s go forward. There is this holdover director of the FBI James Comey who is mucking about. You know the truth, and you don’t see the problem with Flynn’s ties to Russia. It’s not like he was a traitor or something. For Pete’s sake he was a lieutenant general (three stars, count ’em) in the U.S. Army. He didn’t get to that level for being a traitor. His resume is unimpeachable. He’s got the best interests of the U.S. at stake, and wouldn’t it be nice to deal effectively with the Russians? Trump thinks he’s a safe pick.

Obama didn’t like him? Even better.

Trump knows the facts, but the FBI director is still “investigating.” We’ve all seen how he “investigates” with leak after leak after innuendo all the while eroding confidence. Trump keeps him around to see if he shapes up, but he’s keeping watch. Comey did it to Hillary, and he will do it to Trump, because he’s only loyal to himself. He’s a grandstander, a showboater. Trump knows he’s done no wrong, so he assumes the “investigation” is only there to get him.

Let me ask you, those of you on the left, if you were being “investigated” or attacked for something you know you didn’t do, wouldn’t you shut it down if you could? If you knew the person doing the investigating was actively trying to undermine you, your cabinet, the American Government, and acting in all other ways in bad faith, wouldn’t you want to do something about it? From Trump’s point of view, he’s an innocent victim. Flynn too. Comey’s the enemy of the law and order, the very thing he pledged to uphold.

Now, those of you on the right, do you feel fairly represented by my take on your positions? I could tear it all down if I wanted, but I’d rather have you make the left’s case for why Trump is bad for America.

Only conservatives need reply.

 

 

 

Who Pays for Healthcare?

Jimmy Kimmel is getting some flack from Republicans for his tearful plea to leave the Affordable Care Act alone. Here’s a choice quote. I’m not making this up:

Do supposedly smart people know how the healthcare system worked/works in this country? Forget that. Do these people know how insurance works?

You all pay into a pot and then when somebody gets sick you draw from the pot. Everybody puts in a little, and that goes to pay for OTHER PEOPLE’S care. For God’s sake, folks, it’s not that hard. You don’t pay for your own healthcare – you never did – under the old system, under new system. NEVER. You think your little monthly employee/employer health insurance deduction covers your cancer? Try doing the math. You’re not paying into your own personal fund.

Why would it better to pool our risk at the Federal Government level instead of with private companies? Well, now that’s a decent question. The best answer I can come up with is that profit has a tendency to distort the market for certain demand locked (inelastic) markets. Bottom line, you need some ER treatment, you can’t price shop. You need it when you need it, and with certain exceptions (like waiting until you’re critical to go to the hospital), you don’t really have much choice over where you go, how much you pay, and what care you get. Everybody wants the best. Everybody wants it now. It’s your life. If you let a private corporation enter into the equation with a profit motive, they have an incentive to reduce supply of quality healthcare and increase price. They try cheaper treatments before more effective ones. They limit what they cover (preexisting conditions), they raise prices and co-pays so that you will not select that treatment or perhaps not even go to the doctor.

That sounds like a bureaucracy run amok or even better, it sounds like a death panel – a private, monopolistic, beholden to no one except their shareholders death panel.

If, however, healthcare is run as a public service with the profit motive removed, we can at least see how it might reduce costs while still providing effective services.

And as a side benefit, do you have any idea how much of the healthcare industry is dedicated to billing? Let doctors and nurses do their work – the work they were trained to do, the work they like to do, and leave the billing, chasing invoices, collections, and dealing with insurance companies behind.

At the end of the day though, you have always been paying for other people’s healthcare. Wouldn’t you like to pay less?

 

I said it first

Pope Francis: better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic

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