Monday, August 26, 2013

Thoughts on Labor and My Dad

Labor Day Weekend thoughts

My dad ran his own manufacturing business for decades. At its peak, he employed somewhere between 75 and 100 people. He was very old school, and consequently he was very anti-union. Now I want to make this perfectly clear--my dad was a very good employer. To this day, I run into people on the street who ask me if I am Dick Lane's son. When I say yes, they tell me that they used to work for Dad, and then they regale me with stories of how he was the best boss they ever had. Still, he disliked unions, and he felt them counterproductive to his business.

I'm pretty sure that the reason is that he always treated his employees fairly, so he saw no need to go through what he considered a third party to negotiate. He, like many small businessmen in small towns, know they have to live with these people, and his human empathy would not permit him to screw anyone out of a decent living.

However, the time came when I was working here in town for company attached to the banking industry, and it was running me and all the other employees ragged. I was making so little at that time that Dolores and I couldn't afford our own place, and we were living at home with him and my mom. At this time, I was honestly working 70 hrs a week, and I was on the road three to five days at a time. Dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table one night, and I was telling him about my job. I wasn't whining or complaining because he would have told me to suck it up if I did. I was just laying out my workweek to him.

When I finished, he got silent for a few minutes. He looked down at the plate in front of him, and I don't think he met my eyes when he said what he said next.

"Rich, you ought to look into starting a union there."

I was a young punk in my early twenties at the time, so it didn't really hit me how momentous that statement was. I've only felt it's full impact in the last twenty years or so. It was at that moment that he realized that not all employers are like him. Many don't give a rat's ass about the lives of those who work for them. He realized that unions *hadn't* outlived their necessity. I think the reason he wouldn't meet my eyes was that he was embarrassed that he had to go back on statements he had made to me over the years. I, of course, didn't even register that fact at the time.

All businesses are not alike. Some employers genuinely care about their employees because the management has true empathy for the plight of those in a less advantageous economic caste. To them, I doff my Panama hat. I always loved my dad, but my respect for him has grown even in the years after he died because I keep finding out what an amazing person he really was. But keep in mind that even if you work for or ARE one of those employers, there are hundreds and thousands out there who aren't.

That's why unions are still crucial.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Perhaps as a lifelong nerd, I have an uncommon perspective on gay marriage. I've always been on the fringe. When I was in high school, being into science fiction, fantasy, and comic books was a sure fire way to be on the outskirts of the "cool" group. When I went to college, I didn't hide who I was, but there were enough other people who felt the same way that I didn't feel anywhere near as alone as I did is high school. Now my predilections are mainstream, and those of my kids who follow the same path don't have nearly the same obstacles to acceptance that i had.

In some (not all) ways, being gay is the same. It's achieved a modicum of acceptance thanks to the internet and the ability for like-minded people to connect, but it still hasn't reached the goal of mainstream acceptance.

It'll get there.

And one of the reasons is because there are many of us who in some SMALL way understand their plight and don't want others to have to go through what we did in ANY way.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What is Love? (Baby, Don't Hurt Me)

If you are friends with me on Facebook (and if you aren't, why not?), you probably know I like to debate.  Sometimes the questions are good enough that I should probably post them here for my own reference if nothing else.  Here's the first of this series.

A friend of a friend asked me this when I told him that I require evidence to believe anything.
So do you believe that love exists? Can it be proved matching the criteria outlined above? If not, then what is it that exists between a parent and a child, spouses, best friends, etc?

My response:

The problem is that "love" is an abstract concept. It's a term we use to describe a set of feelings and actions, not a thing unto itself. With that in mind, no, I cannot prove love exists. I can describe how I determine what love is and what criteria I require to meet it. You may not agree with what my criteria is, and I may not agree with yours.

I feel my wife loves me, and I love her in return because of two things. The first is the biological imperative that has evolved in humans and most other mammalian species to mate and develop family units to survive. We are driven to mate, and chemical reactions in our brains make it pleasing to stay that way (this also conflicts with male imperative to impregnate as many females as possible. One of a number of reason I don't believe in intelligent design. Evolution didn't design us very intelligently).

The second is that we selected each other because of mutual interests beyond initial physical attraction. These and other personality traits helped us develop a bond and empathetic concern for each other that, coupled with trust built up over the course of our initial interactions, I consider love. Your criteria may different, and if so, then that doesn't make yours less correct than mine.

Friendships are similarly built, minus the imperative to mate (probably).

Love for your children is by far the most evidently an evolutionary trait for survival of the species. It's the one that's the least rational. Anyone who has ever had a teenager will attest that there are times it makes absolutely no sense to continue to love them, yet we still do. If we're lucky, we also develop bonds of mutual interests with our kids, but sadly that's not always the case. Of course, there is a school of thought that conjectures that is also an evolutionary trait as it spurs offspring to leave the nest and continue to help the species proliferate.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Even sincere promises are not enough, sometimes

So in the end Obama signed the new defense bill allowing American citizens to be detained indefinitely, but he attempts to console the public by pledging that it will not be used by his administration against our own people.

You want to know why I'm not in the least bit consoled?

In the very best case scenario where we take him at his word and he's as good as he pledges, we've got four years at best to enjoy the respite.  It's possible we've only got one if he doesn't get re-elected.

The problem is that it almost seems that this constitutional scholar doesn't understand the reasons for having a constitution very well.  It's a document that when it is actually enforced protects us not only from the excesses of those in power at the moment, but those in power in the years to come.  I do believe Obama is a decent man, and I will take him at his word for the nonce, but his word does not bind the hands of his successors.  He has given permission for Presidents from this day forward to "disappear" anyone who they find troublesome.

The sad part is that I've recognized this flaw in even benevolent dictatorships for decades, and it was due to yet another comic book.  In the early 80s, Marvel produced Squadron Supreme, a story in which a team of heroes decide that the best way to save the world is to rule it.  They set themselves up as the final arbiters of all that is just and begin a program of disarming America and brainwashing criminals to prevent them from ever committing another crime.  They are opposed by Nighthawk, a former member who sees what they are doing as wrong and puts together a counter-team of heroes to defend traditional freedoms.  The twelve issue series culminates with a battle between the two, and toward the end of the fight Nighthawk has the opportunity to express his concerns to the temporarily incapacitated leader of the Squadron, Hyperion:
From Squadron Supreme # 12 by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan, 1986.  

Why is it so hard for our leaders to understand this very simple truth of governing?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Penn Jillette's God, No! is hit and miss

I wasn't expecting the pure reason of Richard Dawkins or the elegant, staggeringly beautiful prose of Christopher Hitchens when I picked up this book. That was kind of the initial attraction, actually. I was hoping for a discussion of atheism and religion that was a bit more earthy and geared toward the layman than either of those two gentlemen are known for, and Penn Jillette seemed to fit the bill. God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales is not an imposing book as it comes in at a modest 230 pages, so I figured it for some fluff reading. If it wasn't great, no big deal.

Yep, it was no big deal.

The first half of the book is okay. Jillette rambles from anecdote to anecdote, many of which either only touch marginally on religion or not at all. Though being pedaled directly toward that atheist and skeptically curious crowd, the subtitle does say it also contains "Other Magical Tales," so the case for bait-and-switch would be difficult to pin on him. My biggest complaint is how the back half of the book is so loaded with his libertarian drivel. Now, anyone who knows enough about Jillette to want to pick up a book by him will also know he's a rabid libertarian, and I would have had to be stupid to have assumed he'd be able to make it through the book without it cropping up in a number of places. I was prepared for his incessant use of the phrase "The Free Market of Ideas" throughout, so I breezed right by them, and some of his comments made me laugh out loud (He states "Now, I love Ayn Rand as much as the next guy..." and I snorted as I thought that if the "next guy" is me, I can guarantee he loves her a HELL of a lot more), but I guess I was naive enough to think he might be able to get through the book without dedicating good chunks or the entirety of chapters to espousing his hatred of government, public schooling, and liberals in general. He uses some choice profanities to describe the Far Right as well, but his contempt for the left is far more lovingly nurtured here.

Even that I could breeze through if it weren't for the fact he is so terrible inconsistent in his view, even is the sparse 230 pages of the book. In the first part of the book, he gives an anecdote on how he proudly lied to his parents to get them to take money from him so they wouldn't have to go to a nursing home. He supposedly threatened a nurse with physical violence if she didn't tell his parents that they were allowed to stay in their home because of state moneys. They accepted this because they were too proud to take money from their rich son.

Wait, doesn't Penn say throughout the book that he got his rigid self-reliant attitude from his folks? Yet, they'll take tax dollars to stay at home rather than from him?

And he's cool with that?

Later in the book he states that the ends never justify the means. Never. How does he reconcile both the lie and the threat to the nurse?

Even when I agree with him on an initial point, he takes it over the line to a place I just can't follow. I agree with him that security at airports is a joke, and the inconvenience it causes is pointless because no one is made more secure. I agree that it is a serious infringement on civil rights.

We're good to that point.

But the solutions he comes up with range from being just as infringing to being simple, outright lunacy. One might argue that he's a comedian, and he's simply trying to be funny is manner of Jonathan Swift. If so, he fails utterly. Swift brought a white hot focus on the problems he was mocking with his words. He could take an existing concern and stretch and enlarge it until its flaws are evident from outer space. Penn simply comes up with alternatives that sound like they were thought up by two stoners in the back of a van. Nothing in this book even approaches what I would call satire. It's just dumb if he only wants it to be thought of as funny, and if wants it in any way to be taken seriously, it's just plain insane.

There are points that I really, really enjoyed in the book. Penn comes across as a completely honest asshole, and I think he'd be happy to read me use that description. He's a snake and a cheat, but only when he feels the rules allow it. He cheats fairly. He's also crass, rude, and fairly disgusting, but he comes across as possessing a child's joy of life in his vulgarity. Others may disagree and I'd completely understand, but I find his repulsiveness kind of life affirming.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the book is his story of the Orthodox Jew who'd become an atheist in part because of Penn's influence and came to Vegas to ask him to witness his first bacon cheeseburger. There's a couple more really good stories in here, a lot of filler, and some frothing at the mouth bat-shittery. Whittled down, this would make for a very entertaining booklet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The absolutely most powerful indictment of Scientology yet

You can give data and statistics that show how Scientology is a scam, but you won't find a more powerful, personal illustration of the dishonest, corrupt, and venomous nature of the religion and the man who founded it than to listen to his great grandson.