When Did Optimism Become Uncool?

Credit Matt Chase Photo by: Matt Chase

I know, I hate to refer to (let alone link to) The New York Times, but sometimes they almost make sense. This piece, for example, he says several risible things in making his point, but he does have one, and he’s right.

What really is so bad? Yes, it could (and should) all be better, if we’d had better policies and perhaps better people. The economy, is firing on about 5 cylinders, and that makes a V8 run rather badly, but it’s running. Washington intrudes far too much, but we’re still better than anybody I can think of, and freer than most, mostly by our own hand.

GIVEN Donald J. Trump’s virtual lock on the Republican presidential nomination, you’d think he’d be a bit more upbeat. Instead, his campaign began last summer with “our country is going to hell,” then declared, “we’re becoming a third world country,” and by this month had progressed to the United States “losing all the time.”

This election season, the impending apocalypse has been issue No. 1 for presidential aspirants on both sides. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he was running “because the world is falling apart.” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, declared the United States “near an abyss.” On the left, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says the economy has been “destroyed” for all but the wealthy few.

Presidential contenders are hardly alone in such bleak views. An April Gallup poll found that only 26 percent of Americans call themselves “satisfied” with “the way things are going” in the United States. It’s been this way for a while: January 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, was the last time a majority told Gallup they felt good about the nation’s course.

Yet a glance out the window shows blue sky. There are troubling issues, including the horror of mass shootings, but most American social indicators have been positive at least for years, in many cases for decades. The country is, on the whole, in the best shape it’s ever been in. So what explains all the bad vibes?

Social media and cable news, which highlight scare stories and overstate anger, bear part of the blame. So does the long-running decline in respect for the clergy, the news media, the courts and other institutions. The Republican Party’s strange insistence on disparaging the United States doesn’t help, either.

But the core reason for the disconnect between the nation’s pretty-good condition and the gloomy conventional wisdom is that optimism itself has stopped being respectable. Pessimism is now the mainstream, with optimists viewed as Pollyannas. If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation!

via When Did Optimism Become Uncool? – The New York Times

I think that is the key here, as well, it has simply become fashionable to be a pessimist, many of us have become defeatist, whether its politics, religion, education, or the generation(s) behind us, it’s all doom and gloom, all the time.

Time for a reality check, I see the same problems as you do, but I ain’t defeated. It’s a challenge, folks, how are we going to solve them? Remember it was about 42 months between Pearl Harbor, and Tokyo Bay, only a couple years between Apollo 1 and landing on the moon.

Whingeing never solved anything, and if we do our best to fix our local problems the big national ones will mostly disappear.

And I’m not overly interested in who you think is preventing from doing whatever, either, my experience says that 99% of the time, it’s an excuse, to sit around and have a beer.

And besides, it’s fun solving your own problems, so let get to it.

Americans to Americans

A very important day, and a very important gesture, that we all should remember.

Practically Historical

Robert E. Lee chose General John B. Gordon… to officially surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union on April 12, 1865.  Gordon was an amateur soldier who proved to be the consummate warrior.  Through the course of the conflict Gordon was badly wounded seven times, with five minnie balls hitting him at the battle of Antietam in 1862.  Lee often praised Gordon’s actions in battle,  “characterized by splendid audacity.”

True citizen soldier

US Grant selected General Joshua L. Chamberlain… to accept the Confederate surrender.  Chamberlain was a college professor (of rhetoric) who enlisted in the 20th Maine Vols. He served with distinction from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, winning the Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top during the Gettysburg campaign.  Chamberlain was wounded six times (nearly dying at Petersburg in 1864)  and cited for bravery four times during his service.

Soul of a Lion

As Gordon led…

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And, so

Like you all, I face situations in real life, nearly every day that test my beliefs, and my morals. Increasingly, as I get older, I do better. Learning more all the time, and being perhaps more rational, maybe, I don’t really know. But, a few situations have faced me lately in which I am very disappointed in my responses.

And so, I’m going to take some time and re-evaluate how I managed to screw up so badly something I cared so much about.

The two snippets below will be all the explanation I’m willing to give. First from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding.

First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.”
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.

And then from the Book of Sirach, Chapter 13

13 He that toucheth pitch, shall be defiled with it: and he that hath fellowship with the proud, shall put on pride.

He shall take a burden upon him that hath fellowship with one more honourable than himself. And have no fellowship with one that is richer than thyself.

What agreement shall the earthen pot have with the kettle? for if they knock one against the other, it shall be broken.

The rich man hath done wrong, and yet he will fume: but the poor is wronged and must hold his peace.

If thou give, he will make use of thee: and if thou have nothing, he will forsake thee.

If thou have any thing, he will live with thee, and will make thee bare, and he will not be sorry for thee.

If he have need of thee he will deceive thee, and smiling upon thee will put thee in hope; he will speak thee fair, and will say: What wantest thou?

And he will shame thee by his meats, till he have drawn thee dry twice or thrice, and at last he will laugh at thee: and afterward when he seeth thee, he will forsake thee, and shake his head at thee.

Humble thyself to God, and wait for his hands.

10 Beware that thou be not deceived Into folly, and be humbled.

11 Be not lowly in thy wisdom, lest being humbled thou be deceived into folly.

12 If thou be invited by one that is mightier, withdraw thyself: for so he will invite thee the more.

13 Be not troublesome to him, lest thou be put back: and keep not far from him, lest thou be forgotten.

14 Affect not to speak with him as an equal: and believe not his many words: for by much talk he will sift thee, and smiling will examine thee concerning thy secrets.

15 His cruel mind will lay up thy words: and he will not spare to do thee hurt, and to cast thee into prison.

16 Take heed to thyself, and attend diligently to what thou hearest: for thou walkest in danger of thy ruin.

17 When thou hearest those things, see as it were in sleep, and thou shalt awake.

18 Love God all thy life, and call upon him for thy salvation.

19 Every beast loveth its like: so also every man him that is nearest to himself.

20 All flesh shall consort with the like to itself, and every man shall associate himself to his like.

21 If the wolf shall at any time have fellowship with the lamb, so the sinner with the just.

22 What fellowship hath a holy man with a dog, or what part hath the rich with the poor?

23 The wild ass is the lion’s prey in the desert: so also the poor are devoured by the rich.

24 And as humility is an abomination to the proud: so also the rich man abhorreth the poor.

25 When a rich man is shaken, he is kept up by his friends: but when a poor man is fallen down, he is thrust away even by his acquaintance.

26 When a rich man hath been deceived, he hath many helpers: he hath spoken proud things, and they have justified him.

27 The poor man was deceived, and he is rebuked also: he hath spoken wisely, and could have no place.

28 The rich man spoke, and all held their peace, and what he said they extol even to the clouds.

29 The poor man spoke, and they say: Who is this? and if he stumble, they will overthrow him.

30 Riches are good to him that hath no sin in his conscience: and poverty is very wicked in the mouth of the ungodly.

31 The heart of a man changeth his countenance, either for good, or for evil.

32 The token of a good heart, and a good countenance thou shalt hardly find, and with labour.

I need some concentrated thought and study, if my words going forward are to have any value. See you all soon.

 

Nebraska Repeals Strict Licensing Laws for Hair Braiders

160318_NebraskaHairBraiding_Johnson-1250x650Better late than never, I suppose.

A cosmetology license, required for hair braiding? Really?

Here: from the Daily Signal.

Just two weeks ago, Nebraskans who wanted to make money braiding hair had to undergo 2,100 hours of training to obtain a cosmetology license, which state officials say dedicates little time to natural hair braiding techniques.

But now Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, has signed legislation into law that will lift arduous occupational licensing requirements on the state’s hair braiders. […]

She said the government is often “too intrusive” and enacts restrictions that prevent people from earning an honest living. She hopes her bill, which Ricketts signed into law March 9, will empower female professionals to take risks, which she said will help build self-esteem.

“It’s the pursuing of the American Dream,” Fox said. “I think when you start taking risks and accomplishing things, it kind of makes you, the entrepreneur, set the bar higher and try to accomplish more.”

Yes, yes it does. That’s exactly what it does. The opportunity to accomplish something on your own. If you don’t know this 2100 hours is about 52 weeks at 40 hours per week, what we call full time, by the way, all that for hair braiding.

Furth said Nebraska’s legislature should continue to deregulate work in the state, where there is “no serious, proven risk” to public safety.

“One easy way to deregulate is to accept other states’ licenses: If you’re good enough to be a dentist in Iowa, you’re good enough to be a dentist in Nebraska,” he said. “That’s an easy way for a state to attract more skilled workers without being accused of risking public safety.”

via Nebraska Repeals Strict Licensing Laws for Hair Braiders

That I don’t completely agree with. While she’s right, as far as she goes, but she doesn’t go nearly far enough. As most of you know, I’m an electrician, and yes, I’m a pretty good one. And yes, bad electrical work can kill you, and do it quick, by electrocution, by fire, and by other things. But you know what, Nebraska’s licensing system, isn’t really about safety, maybe it was at one time, but now it functions as simply a medieval guild. It exists to prevent other equally good electricians from competing with the ones that have a license. If memory serves, neither Pennsylvania or Indiana have state licenses, although they likely have some sort of inspection regimen. By the way, here you need a state permit to change an outlet, which costs about $50 additional. Yeah, I know!

I’ve written about this before, here, and here, and this too is relevant. Yes, a lot of that has to do with codes, and inspections and such, but it’s still very relevant to the discussion.

Short form is this, having a bloody piece of paper, and having pushed a broom for four years, and having passed a test I could have passed when I was 14 just does not make you a competent electrician, neither does mandated continuing education, which requires that half of the courses you take each biennial period duplicate over and over again. Electrical theory hasn’t changed much in the last fifty years, but what has changed is the material we work with. I spent most of my time in the last few years with single board computers, programmable logic controllers, variable frequency drives, computer networks and sensors, and other things that didn’t exist in 1980. I did not learn that in bogus seminars for licensing requirements, I learned that mostly in the field, by reading, and by taking real seminars that allowed me to do the job.

The code has changed, it’s purpose now is, as near as I can tell to keep an unattended two year child, or a stupid drug addict safe, and like I said in one of the linked articles, it forces us to refuse to work on really hazardous installations, unless the client can afford the tariff.

Are there solutions? Sure, but we’re not looking for them, because the manufacturers want to sell higher priced material, and the authority having jurisdiction, who by the way, is not your local inspector, have a need to, at all costs, protect their jobs, for which, frankly, I don’t blame them at all.

And yes, all of this has much to do with why I retired or was that got too tired to deal with it.

Surviving the storm

MissionAccomplished0067

Here is the Western world there is a palpable sense that things aren’t right – really aren’t right. Here in Europe we are seeing great waves of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa – millions of poor people fleeing their war-shattered homes and looking for safety. Sure, there are some among them who have other motives, but what group of people contained only the good and the ugly but not the bad? It’s easy to demonise refugees, but I doubt any of them had anything to do with launching the Iraq war which destabilised the region and created the conditions which have led us here; I doubt any of them had anything to do with the running of British or American foreign policy over the last couple of decades. A ‘war on terrorism’ President Bush said – how’s that working out? Over here in Europe we’ve a lot more of it now than we had then. If this is how we fight a war we may need to rethink.

Interesting that it should be Putin, who gets a (deserved) bad press in the West, who seems to have helped put Assad in a position to retake Palmyra. I never noticed any flowers or hashtags or marches of solidarity – just military hardware and violence in the old fashioned ‘blood and iron’ way. Seems as though ISIS can stand any number of marches and flowers, but not so much real air strikes; makes you wonder what we’ve been doing? Maybe we can’t do this any more? Public opinion wouldn’t like it; Putin doesn’t worry about public opinion, but his public do like it. Have we reached the stage that our own values have hobbled us? I’d hate to think that, but if you compare Putin’s record against ISIS with ours, it’s hard to say we’ve been very effective.

From over here, it looks as though this is what happens when the USA decides to teach the world to sing rather than police it. I can’t speak, obviously for the US, but over here people are worried, and the recent attacks in Brussels are not helping. It’s easy to stir up hate when there is fear. It’s easy to say ‘not our problem’, but Christians have a duty to help the poor and the dispossessed – it isn’t our job to ask whether this is a ‘deserving’ poor person before we give to charity. But how do we combine that duty with one of care and security for all of those already in the country? That’s the hard one for us. It would be easy to call for firm action, but when we look what the firm action in response to 9/11 got us we have, surely to ask questions about just how intelligent our intelligence services are?

As I write, Assad’s men are in Palmyra. These were the forces our leaders wished to destroy two years ago before the Commons and Congress forced them to back down. It’s hard to see what else would have achieved this result. If the US won’t be the world’s policeman, and the world doesn’t want to learn to sing in perfect harmony, perhaps better leave it to Putin and those who are not afraid to use force when it counts?

Quiet men and quiet lives?

John_Wayne_Maureen_O'Hara_from_lobby_card_3

Neo has, as my last post (and one of his comments) suggested, begun to weary of the political round. It could all get technically interesting at Convention time, but Clinton versus Trump looks a bit like LBJ versus Goldwater – but who can tell? In the meantime, we either go to ground and contemplate our navels (I’m quite happy with mine, how about you?) or we find other games to play.

As some of you know, I love what, to my generation, are old films. In particular, I love John Wayne – not least because he reminds me of my Daddy (I know, that’s my complex – what’s yours?). One of the other reasons I like him, and his films, is that you know where you are. I don’t know about you, but I go to the movies (when I do) for escapism. It no doubt makes me a shallow girl, but there’s plenty in my real life to make me think in shades of grey (can you even use that one any more after the dreadful film?) and I watch films to come away feeling better from the experience. I never came away from a John Wayne film without that feeling. I like clear lines, so, in the Quiet Man, John Wayne’s character, Sean Thornton, comes back to the home of his parents, plunging from the hurly-burly of the steel mills of Pittsburgh, to the most idyllic image of rural Ireland ever filmed (no wonder it won the Oscar for best cinematography), and he falls for Maureen O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher, a red-haired fiery beauty – who falls for him. But the course of true love never runs smooth, and although they are to be married, it falls apart when her brother, ‘Red Will’, played by the incomparable Victor McLaglen, refuses to release her dowry. As an American, Thornton can’t see why the money matters, but to Mary Kate it represents her rights and her independence, and his refusal to fight for it disgusts her. She does not know that Thornton is former champion boxer who killed a man in the ring. In the end, he does, indeed, fight for her and wins – and the whole film is an utter delight.

Why though? At one level it could be read as a very simple love story with some pretty obvious plotting devices. Part of the answer are the performances, it is not just that O’Hara and Wayne have real chemistry and are on top form, but the supporting cast is also wonderful – McLaglen is his usual great value, and Barry Fitzgerald almost steals it playing the matchmaker Michaeleen Oge Flynn. It works because the great John Ford conjures up the things which matter in real life including greed, pride and ambition – and he makes a good story out of them. We can identify with Sean as the outsider with a secret – and a heart as big as a city, and we can sympathise with his ignorance of the local customs. But we also see a humility there too – a willingness to try to learn and to fit in – without losing his integrity. Mary Kate is almost a Bronte heroine – fiercely proud and independent, but trapped by her sex and times into a place where the option open to her seems to have narrowed to being a house-keeper to her bullying brother – to whom she gives almost as good as she gets. But there’s a sense of life being wasted and yet, heavily as she falls for Sean Thornton, she, too, will not do so at the price of her integrity.

That word, integrity, seems to me at the heart of so many of Ford’s films. Men, and women. make choices, and often the rewards for a loss of integrity seem greater than those for retaining it – but Ford gets what we want from him – that his characters choose what is right. His worlds are complex reflections of reality, but he never loses us in relativism; men are men if they make the sacrifices necessary to sustain that identity, and Ford shows us them in many dimensions.

Yes, sure, it’s escapism, but into a dimension which feeds us and has us coming out of the film thinking the world’s a better place.

 

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