28 September 2019

What Kind Of Church Is "The Pearl Church" in Denver?

In my neighborhood in Denver there is a church currently known as "The Pearl Church" at 200 South University. When I first moved to the neighborhood in the year 2000, and for many years thereafter, it was "Calvary Temple". 

Over the last several years, however, at least the name of the church, and presumably, its larger brand and identity, has turned over two or three times. For a while it was the "Citypoint" and fairly recently, probably within the last year, it has become "The Pearl Church". It isn't clear to me as an outsider how much of the Calvary Temple or Citypoint congregations carried over to the Pearl Church. The old Citypoint website (and also this directory listing) suggests that Citypoint was basically just a rebranding of Calvary Temple that retained much of the same leadership and just shed an outdated name, while the switch to the Pearl Church brand involved a major change in top leadership and some more subtle doctrinal and day to day practice changes, which may or may not have involved a significant change in the congregation's membership or secondary leaders. During its brief existence a yelp review of Citypoint church stated that "the worship is contemporary . . . .This is a charismatic and polished that preached the healing and the prosperity gospel." Calvary Temple may have been affiliated with the Four Square Baptist Church denomination. There was also a religious group known as "Upper Room Denver" that described their meeting place as "The Pearl at Citypoint Church" presumably in a transitional period, it isn't clear if they were (or still are) co-occupants for that congregation of the same building, if they are a subdivision of "The Pearl" or if that is no longer the case.

If I were forced to, I would guess that the effort to rebrand Calvary Temple to Citypoint was not sufficiently transformative to meet the objectives of the people in the congregation who had pushed for it. So, they invited in the Pearl Church ministers who came from a setting more in line with their vision to implement a more complete overhaul of the church in a transformation that probably jettisoned some of the old guard from Calvary Temple who didn't share the reformer's vision. In that process they probably welcomed this particular couple in part because this couple's vision was a bit more contemporary and culturally in tune than the Mannahouse church organization in which they had spent their prior careers as pastors but wanted to shift subtly away from themselves, informed by their own experiences leading younger members of that group of megachurches. But, the Pearl Church probably retained much of the pre-existing congregation of Citypoint. Of course, this is purely speculation based upon circumstantial evidence.

It is a non-denominational Christian church on the "megachurch" model currently led by a husband and wife team, Doug and Donna, who were junior ministers in a Portland, Oregon megachurch for seventeen years with a focus on the youth ministry, who are recreating that model with their own tweaks here in Denver.

But, non-denominational Christian can obscure the substance of what a church is about which would otherwise have been conveyed in detail in a word or two with a denominational label. It does not acknowledge any religious authority above the Congregational level, or identify any membership in any larger organization of affiliated churches, even though it acknowledges inspiration from City Bible Church (a.k.a. Mannahouse) in Portland, Oregon under the leadership of Pastor Frank Damazio, which is also associated with Portland Bible College (which has a statement of faith that openly opposes gay marriage and embraces Biblical literalism shared by its sponsoring church, unlike the Pearl Church).

Probably the biggest litmus tests to help understand the substance of it are that it is an adult baptism by immersion church as opposed to an infant baptism church, and that it does not follow the traditional liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, or a liturgy derived from although sometimes subtly different from the Roman Catholic liturgy, unlike Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalist Churches, and the Reformed Churches, for example.  For example, it does not recite any variation of the Nicene or Apostolic creeds, even though its doctrinal statements, based upon citations to the Bible rather than Roman era conferences, are basically consistent with those creeds. 

None of its statements of doctrine would be considered particularly heretical among any of the leading non-liturgical Protestant denominations in the Western European Christian tradition in the United States, unlike, for example, Unitarian Christians, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Mormons, the Community of Christ, or the Unification Church (i.e. the Moonies). Likewise, it does not draw from the Pacifist religion traditions of the Quakers, the Mennonites and the Amish, and it does not have a strong immigrant identity or focus on ministering to LGBT individuals like the Metropolitan Church.

Sexual orientation is a subject upon which is public materials are silent, neither prominently welcoming nor openly rejecting. And, for the most part, the public materials make only the most hesitant political statements and are silent on strongly political issues. There is also no mention of abortion or immigration in its public materials, for example.

It also does not in any way visible on its website adhere to any of the particular practices associated with historically black Christian denominations in the United States. It's website openly proclaims its welcoming of all races, there is no express or implied hint of overt racism, and it may have a more ethnically diverse makeup than most Protestant denominations that are not historically black, but it is still clearly, as the photos on the website illustrate, a predominantly white church in a predominantly white neighborhood.

From a Christian doctrine and practices perspective, it might best be described as a rebranded Baptist church that is pulling towards the moderate direction that the Christian Church (Disciples) has tried to stake out for itself. It appears to mainly draw upon the views of Christianity shared by most Baptist churches that are predominantly white in the United States, but without the heavy Southern white and rural cultural and historical baggage that those denominations carry (and that the Calvary Temple name implied). It may also borrow somewhat, although less obviously, from the Christian Church (Disciples) and the predominantly white Pentecostal Assembly of God denomination, and from the less firmly denominational Christian revivalist and missionary tradition. 

Notably, the church does not expressly identify itself as "Evangelical" even though Evangelism is one of its core values, and does not use the words "Born Again" or insist on "Biblical literalism" in its public materials, while these are catch words in most predominantly white Southern churches outside the liturgical church tradition and in "fundamentalist" churches. On the other hand, it does talk about the active role that Satan and angels plays in the world, embraces faith healing as something that really happens, and expressly encourages its members to believe in the supernatural and to look for miracles in daily life. It also has subtle seeds of the prosperity gospel.

Instead, the Pearl Church brands itself visually and with what it chooses to say and to not say, as an urban, modern, innovative, culturally in touch while distinctively Christian, and not overtly hateful church that is focused on personal development more than the culture wars. 

For example, the website prominently features of family portrait of the husband and wife team that leads the church (identified predominantly by their first names only) and their children. No one is wearing "church formal" clothes. The husband  and one daughter has a leather jacket on. The oldest son has a haircut that is basically clean cut punk. Everyone but the wife is in jeans. The background of many of their pages is the downtown Denver skyline.

Organizationally, it bears great similarity with most other megachurches, in that it has a lot of activities and subgroups targeted at particular subgroups of members of the congregation: children, adolescents and young adults, professionals, men, women, etc. Much of the emphasis on the church's activities are on these smaller group activities. And, while it has, like most churches of almost all denominations, a more traditional service and a more contemporary service each Sunday (with the contemporary service being the dominant one),  it doesn't unduly focus its description of itself on the nature of the music and experience at the main contemporary service.

27 September 2019

Bangladesh growing economically, Pakistan stagnant.

The split of West Pakistan and East Pakistan after their split from India was entirely foreseeable, because culturally the two regions had little in common except Islam. This continues to play out today as the two countries follow very different paths. 
8% vs. 3%.
via Brown Pundits. These are GDP growth figures, not population growth figures. Pakistan has 2% per year population growth. Bangladesh has 1% per year population growth.

26 September 2019

Windows Is Still A Screen Of Death Nightmare

Sabine Hossenfelder (a physics professor and physics blogger) describes her birthday present from Microsoft: an extreme screen of death nightmare that took industrial grade measures to resolve.
For the past couple of days one of my laptops has tried to install Windows updates but didn’t succeed. In the morning I would find an error message that said something went wrong. I ignored this because really I couldn’t care less what problems Microsoft causes itself. But this morning, Windows wouldn’t properly start. All I got was a black screen with a mouse cursor. This is the computer I use for my audio and video processing. 
Now, I’ve been a Windows user for 20+ years and I don’t get easily discouraged by spontaneously appearing malfunctions. After some back and forth, I managed to open a command prompt from the task manager to launch the Windows explorer by hand. But this just produced an error message about some obscure .dll file being corrupted. Ok, then, I thought, I’ll run an sfc /scandisk. But this didn’t work; the command just wouldn’t run. At this point I began to feel really bad about this. 
I then rebooted the computer a few times with different login options, but got the exact same problem with an administrator login and in the so-called safe mode. The system restore produced an error message, too. Finally, I tried the last thing that came to my mind, a factory reset. Just to have Windows inform me that the command couldn’t be executed.
With that, I had run out of Windows-wisdom and called a helpline. Even the guy on the helpline was impressed by this system’s fuckedupness (if that isn’t a word, it should be) and, after trying a few other things that didn’t work, recommended I wipe the disk clean and reinstall Windows. 
So that’s basically how I spent my day, today. Which, btw, happens to be my birthday.
The likely culprit was a bad Windows update.

A Rebalancing Agenda

How do we solve the systemic and entrenched flaws of our political system which gives it a built in conservative bias?

This is an agenda of actions which Congress may be law take, without constitutional amendments. This could be accomplished with majorities in the House and the Senate and a cooperative President.

Admit More States To The Union

* Admit the District of Columbia to the U.S. as a state except for the immediate vicinity of the capitol and a reliably Democratic neighborhood or two adjacent to it with 50,000 to 100,000 people that would retain D.C.'s three electoral votes for President under the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution that would lack Congressional representation.

* Admit Puerto Rico to the U.S. as a state if it votes for that in a referendum in which the only other choice is to become an independent country and Commonwealth status is not an option.

* Admit the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. as a state.

* Admit Guam and the Northern Mariana Island (combined) to the U.S. as a single state with two local governments.

* Admit American Samoa to the U.S. as a state.

* Authorize California to form two to four successor states from its territory as proposed by legislation or a citizens initiative.

This would add 12-14 U.S. Senators to the U.S. Senate, mostly like all of them Democrats. It would add nine or ten members of Congress from the newly admitted states other than California to the U.S. House, most of whom would be Democrats.

This would also dramatically reduce the number of Americans who are nationals but not U.S. citizens and who lack representation in Congress.

Increase The Size Of The U.S. Supreme Court

* Increase the size of the U.S. Supreme Court from 9 to 15 justices.

* Appoint six liberal justices to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the vacancies, leaving the U.S. Supreme Court with a 10-5 liberal majority.

* Establish as a default that cases in the U.S. Supreme Court are heard by a panel of five justices subject to en banc review by the entire U.S. Supreme Court, except in cases in which the constitutionality of a statute is not at issue, and require two justices to grant temporary orders in requests for stays of orders from lower courts rather than one in the current system.

Repeal Non-Democratic Rules In The U.S. Senate

* Repeal all powers of individual U.S. Senators under U.S. Senate rules, including members of the leadership, to deny consideration of matters pending before the U.S. Senate, such as "holds."

* Require consideration by the U.S. Senate as a whole of Presidential nominations and bills passed by the U.S. House within a certain reasonable time period (perhaps three or four months).

Removal Of Presidents For Incapacity

* Pass a law pursuant to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution to vest authority to determine that the President is incapacitated on a body other than the Vice President and the cabinet.

Faithful Execution Of The Laws 

* Establish a private cause of action with the minimal constitutionally permitted standing requirements for enforcement by writ of mandamus of the failure of the President "to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" as set forth in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

Reduce The Number Of Political Appointees

* Transfer many of the roughly two thousand federal government jobs that are political appointments to the federal civil service system.

Emoluments

* Create a private civil action to force enforcement of the prohibition on receipt of emoluments from the President, under Section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution, and members of Congress, under Section 6 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. This should include a ban on conduct of any kind of private business or investment activity that is not put in a regulated blind trust.

Election Law

* Prohibit voter ID laws by statute under the enforcement powers granted by the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

* Limit gerrymandering and authorize proportional representation in Congressional elections, by statute, under the power granted by Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the enforcement powers granted by the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Narrow The Scope Of Federal Court Civil Jurisdiction

The federal courts now and for the foreseeable future has a core of far right judges. One way to reduce their influence is by narrowing the scope of federal court civil jurisdiction.

* Repeal 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (general federal question jurisdiction) and 1332 (diversity jurisdiction). 

Therefore, federal district court civil jurisdiction would be limited to select federal questions with specific authorizing statutes (like intellectual property and civil rights cases), appellate review of other federal questions by the U.S. Supreme Court, cases with the United States as a party, and diversity cases involving interpleader, certain class actions and real estate claims involving rights arising from two different states. Suits between private parties, even if arising under most federal laws, would not be subject to removal to federal court.

Repeal Offenses Currently Triable As Federal Crime

* Repeal the lowest level and most common illegal immigration crimes (e.g. unlawful entry) which would instead be only a civil offense.

* Repeal federal crimes that are duplicative of state crimes, such as kidnapping, bank robbery, child pornography, marijuana offenses, drug offenses that do not involve transportation of drugs across state or national boundaries, and many forms of homicide that have tangential federal connections.

Transfer Responsibility From Federal Court To Tribal Court For Certain Crimes

* Give tribal courts jurisdiction over felonies committed in tribal territory and provide funding for prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts to allow tribal courts to meet federal standards of due process in those proceedings. These cases are now tried in the federal courts which have consistently done a poor job of handling them.

Transfer Some Administrative Law Functions To Article III Courts

While the federal courts have many far right judges they are still far superior to the quality of justice found in some administrative law courts. This also would make use of resources freed up by narrowing federal court civil and criminal jurisdiction.

* Transfer jurisdiction over immigration cases to the federal courts and abolish the immigration court system. Establish a statutory right to counsel for indigents and minors in all immigration cases.

* Transfer jurisdiction over campaign finance violations from the Federal Election Commission to the federal courts, with actions that can be brought by both the Justice Department and with private civil actions.

23 September 2019

Reasons You Might Suspect (Rightly) That I Am A Liberal

There are a variety of data points about me that might cause you to suspect that I am a liberal, which I am. They include:

* I grew up as a child of academics in a college town.

* My spouse is not white and neither are my children.

* I hyphenated my name with my wife when I got married.

* I am an atheist and have raised my children in a secular manner.

* I am a member of the American Humanists Association and have a bumper sticker from it on my car.

* I am a New York Times subscriber.

* I practice law as a sole proprietor.

* I have been registered to vote as a Democrat since I could first vote. So were my parents. I have never voted for a Republican in my entire life.

* I have been an officer in the Democratic Party of Denver and I have attended more than one state convention of the Democratic Party.

* I have never served in the military.

* I have never owned a gun and I have never gone hunting.

* I have never been a country club member.

* I have lived abroad.

* I know what life is like in Finland (a Democratic Socialist country) from a relative who lives there and lived with my family for while, while I was in college.

* About half of the entertainment media that I consume (i.e. TV, movies, music) is not in English.

* I attended one of the most liberal colleges in the United States as an undergraduate.

* I used to listen to National Public Radio news on a regular basis.

* I was a radio journalist in college and have been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists while I was an adult.

* I live in the central city of a major metropolitan area and sent my children to school, early childhood education and kindergarten through twelfth grade, to the Denver Public Schools.

* I have many political allies, clients and friends who are LGBTQ, and have marketed for clients at PrideFest and a lesbian bar and in LGBTQ directories. My son's violin teacher of many years was gay, as are many of my children's close friends.

* I was president of the ACLU in college and have been involved in it off and on before and after college.

* I have a graduate degree.

* I have clients who are poor and working class as well as affluent.

* I have a left leaning blog (this one) and lean left on most political issues.

* I drive a subcompact Japanese car and have never bought an American car, although I have received a couple of GM cars as gifts when I was younger and used them.

* I like cats.

* I am a fan of science fiction, fantasy and comics.

Reasons You Might Suspect (Wrongly) That I Am A Conservative

There are a variety of data points about me that might cause you to suspect that I am a conservative, even though I am not. They include:

* I was born in Atlanta, Georgia.

* I am a married, middle aged, white, heterosexual man.

* I have a mortgage.

* I am entirely Northern European by descent according to DNA tests.

* I am a father of two children (both of whom are also children of my wife).

* I got married when I was 23 years old and my wife was 22 years old, after a two year engagement, in the Protestant church which my wife attended growing up, and which her parents still attended at the time.

* My native language is American English and I am not fluent in any other language.

* My father's parents and my extended family on his side, whom I visited often while growing up, lived in rural Northwestern Ohio. I have many relatives who still live in that area and have attended numerous family reunions, funerals and a wedding in that area.

* My mother's parents and part of my extended family on his side, whom I visited often while growing up, lived in rural Michigan in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I have many relatives who still live in that area. I have attended many family reunions and some funerals in that area.

* I grow up in a small town in Ohio attending a high school where the biggest student groups were the Future Farmers Association and the Future Homemaker's Association.

*  I was an Eagle Scout (some would say that I "am" an Eagle scout).

* I used to read the Wall Street Journal on a regular basis.

* My father was a military veteran.

* My father showed me how to use a rifle when I was a boy.

* I attended a Protestant church regularly and continuously, except for one year while abroad as an exchange student, until I left for college, I was part of that church's youth group, and was confirmed in that church. My wedding reception was in my in-laws country club.

* I attended a Protestant church while in college and was a Sunday school teacher for a while at that church.

* I attended the Protestant church where I was married for about a year, when I moved to the city where I was married after finishing my last semester of higher education, until I moved to Colorado because I was basically unemployed.

* I attended a Protestant church for about three years while living in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is where I first lived in Colorado and is on the conservative Western Slope of Colorado.

* When I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado I went to lunch at the country club once a month.

* I read at couple of blogs written by conservatives regularly.

* I have never been arrested or charged with a crime (other than traffic offenses and parking tickets).

* I studied economics in high school and continued with economics through second year college macroeconomics.

* As a history minor, a very large component of my studies was the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

* My major, mathematics, was apolitical.

* I was considered when I was in college to be a conservative and wrote an article or two for one of the most conservative student publications on campus.

* I was part of the Chamber of Commerce for a while.

* I am self-employed.

* I was a friend of the president of the college Republicans in college.

* I am not opposed to nuclear power.

* As a lawyer, I do considerable work in areas of tax law pertaining only to the very affluent, and I do some oil and gas law. Much of my other legal expertise is only relevant to business owners and the affluent. I have many very affluent (e.g. $10 million in net worth or more) clients.

* I have been employed as a lawyer at a very large (700+ lawyers) law firm.

*  I have never owned a hybrid or electric vehicle.

* Part of my college credits came from Miami University of Ohio, one of the most conservative public colleges in Ohio and in the United States (the most conservative are almost all private).

* My hometown was represented in Congress for many years by John Boehner (from 1991 to 2015), who served as the Republican Speaker of the House (2011 to 2015).

* I've spent time at a country club in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on a vacation.

* A good friend of mine from college grew up in Idaho.

* A good friend of mine from college grew up in North Carolina.

* A good friend of mine from high school lives and works in North Carolina.

* A good friend of mine from college lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

* My best friend growing up, who was the best man at my wedding, served in the U.S. Army National Guard.

* One of my more embarrassing moments in college was asking a question that demonstrated that I didn't know that husband and wives could have separate property.

* I am not very good at spelling.

17 September 2019

The Case For Small Homes On Small Lots (And Understanding Why They Are Resisted)

It is hard to find affordable housing in many metro areas.

In particular, it is hard to find unsubsidized small single family homes on small lots, and this is a big part of the lack of unsubsidized affordable housing.

Lots of this is due to land use regulation, and building codes mandating minimum square footages and other unnecessary requirements are also a barrier for small home options other than true single wide or double wide mobile homes.

For example, building codes often prohibit building dormitory, or camp ground, or  boarding house, or "flop house" a.k.a. single occupancy hotel style communities of small dwellings (attached or detached) in which unit tenants or unit owners have a shared bath house or share some kitchen facilities, as opposed to having a full bath and kitchen in each unit. Exceptions can be and are granted, but doing so is expense and difficult for a low to moderate income family or a small developer trying to meet their needs.

Land use regulations intended to discourage mobile homes are a big reason that small lots, cottages, accessory dwelling units, and "tiny homes" are banned so many places, not withstanding federal laws limiting the extent that building codes and more blatant zoning laws banning mobile homes all together can be used to prohibit mobile homes.

Land use regulation also mean that as a practical matter, mobile home owners in urban and suburban areas where land is not cheap have to rent the land that their mobile homes are sited, creating an exploitive and vulnerable landlord-tenant situation, instead of a stable ownership arrangement.

The Colorado Sun has a series of related articles addressing some of these issues. The opening blurb of the first article alone says a lot and frames the question correctly in my view.
Mobile homes provide the bulk of unsubsidized, affordable housing in Colorado but their numbers are shrinking and ownership is moving from mom-and-pop to corporate.
The same article goes on to elaborate that:
The business model — in which homeowners pay lot rent to park their houses on someone else’s land — exposes the immobility and economic vulnerability of tenants who can’t afford to move or live anywhere else. . . . Mobile homes provide the largest inventory of unsubsidized, affordable housing in the nation, but many began as RV parks in the 1960s and 1970s and are now old, with rundown water and electric systems and trailers that have been long past “mobile” for decades. . . . the number of parks is declining and ownership is consolidating as mom-and-pop parks sell out to large investors, which sometimes leads to displacement and redevelopment — and, in the eyes of many residents, an imbalance of power that threatens their low-cost lifestyle. More than 100,000 people live in more than 900 parks across Colorado. Those residents include many of Colorado’s working poor and immigrants who are undocumented. They have been mostly ignored for decades. Born in the post-World War II era, when quick, cheap housing was in demand among returning veterans, mobile homes endured and hit a peak in the early 1970s, according to U.S. Census data, before beginning a gradual decline in new home sales. . . . 70% of homes sold under $125,000 are mobile homes. . . . . Mobile-home residents live under the radar — literally zoned out of sight and segregated from conventional housing. . . . the top 50 owners of mobile-home parks have a combined 680,000 home sites across America, a 26% increase from 2016 to 2018, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute. Investors and private equity firms, formed by investors who directly invest in other companies, now own more than 150,000 manufactured home sites, according to a 2019 report . . . . Nationwide, an estimated 20 million Americans live in mobile-home parks. Nearly 10% of the nation’s housing stock is manufactured homes, which numbered about 8.5 million in 2018 . . . . Park owners charge residents rent for the lot on which the unit sits. The tangle of rights and responsibilities for decades has favored the park owners. . . . As of Feb. 1, about 2.5 million mobile-home residents cut a rent check to a corporate entity.
The regulatory barriers to mobile homes in land use regulation don't come from nowhere, and aren't entirely irrational. They are often found in parts of cities and towns that have bad reputations for legitimate reasons. And, in a situation where land use regulation and building codes are assigned to local government, the inclination to ban this can of land use entirely and somewhat indiscriminately is one that can be indulged in because no particular local government has an obligation moral or legal, to make sure that the poor can live somewhere, and their voters are, by somewhat inadvertent design, disproportionately long term home owners and long term renters who have stable, middle class or better lives, who look out for their own interests.

In a word, many mobile home parks are "sketchy" places.

Aesthetically, the predominant type of mobile home is ugly as sin, even though it isn't all that difficult to make nicer looking ones. They are frequently shoddily constructed, and a death trap in the face of tornados, hurricanes and floods. 

More significantly, there is a tendency to concentrate mobile homes close to each other in mobile home parks, and affordable housing pretty much by design disproportionately attract people who are poor or at least have modest means, and in the adult world, people who are poor or have modest means tend to be at the bottom in terms of socio-economic class above everyone but the homeless, and on average, less education and intelligence. Mobile home parks are also notorious for having high rates of crime, high rates of child abuse and neglect, having many residents who have trouble acting in a way that is respectful of their neighbors and civil and tidy and well maintained, and high rates of substance abuse. Lots of this is a product of lack of income (i.e. poverty), but socio-economic class and the fact that people who have trouble refraining from this disfavored kind of conduct and have economically undesirable characteristic often do poorly in the work force or economy.

Notable, mobile home communities that are not viewed as a strong negative for a community, tend to be restricted to senior citizens who may have low incomes because they are retired and often only have Social Security, Medicare, meager savings and low paying part-time work to provide them with an income. But, they tend not to have the issues with socio-economic class, education, intelligence, anti-social behavior, incivility, and neglect of their homes, of the poor generally.

Similarly, people who are temporarily homeless due to a natural disaster or because they are refugees, college students, soldiers and young farm families often have low income and live in residences that are spartan, temporary, and/or lack individual bath and kitchen facilities, but like seniors tend not to have the issues with socio-economic class, education, intelligence, anti-social behavior, incivility, and neglect of their homes to nearly the same extent.

16 September 2019

Yemen's Troubles Aren't All Recent

The war in Yemen, a civil war being played as a proxy fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is leading to myriad civilian casualties, in which the U.S. is helping Saudi Arabia from behind the scenes for no good reason, was already in motion eight and a half years ago.

11 September 2019

Reverse Mind Reading

In real life, novel mutations are more often bad than good, because the status quo is tightly selected for being reasonable close to optimal.

The same ought to apply to the kind of psychic or supernatural mutations featured in comic book series like the X-Men and speculative fiction works like the TV series "Heroes." But, we rarely seek the dark sides.

One more negative than not psychic mutation might be "reverse mind reading." Instead of being able to read someone's mind, everyone else would be able to know exactly what someone with "reverse mind reading" is thinking.

One might be able to use it in a useful or positive fashion, but I've never seen it portrayed for good or ill.

04 September 2019

Deep Thought About Modern China

Boing Boing flags "a kind of masterclass on contemporary Chinese politics, authoritarianism, liberalism and dissidence" from wunderkind Kaiser Kuo. This explains many aspects of the modern political scene with a social contract between the ordinary Han Chinese masses and non-radical intellectuals of China:
a kind of bargain between the authoritarian technocrats of the Chinese state and its people: "let us govern as we wish, and we will keep chaos at bay and sustain the growth that is lifting you out of poverty."
It also makes the pointed observation that one of the reason that we don't see a lot of visible signs of dissatisfaction with the regime (outside of Hong Kong where people have a certain amount of insulation from the regime's totalitarian practices to which they are clinging with all their might) is that dissenters end up dead or incarcerated, including more than a million members of ethnic minorities in concentration camps there, so the notion that "the Chinese people like their government" is somewhat overstated even if it gets across an important point.

02 September 2019

Fall Cleaning

Turning A Corner

As an adult who isn't a student or working in the education fields or a farmer or fisherman or construction worker or tourism industry worker, my work projects often last more than the nine months of the school year, and more importantly, there is never a time, even briefly, when all of your projects are completely finished before a new set of projects begin. But, the school year still defines the life of a parent, even when your kids are in college far away from home. The new school year is as close as one gets to a new clean slate beginning in middle age.

My son and daughter are ensconced in their college dorm rooms in New England for the year, my two nieces are beginning the 6th grade years in school, and my nephew is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief at having his very chatty sister out of his hair during the day as he continues at the grindstone of home schooling in his eighth grade equivalent year doing so. I am done traveling until Thanksgiving after trips to Greece for a 25th wedding anniversary trip and a trip to Providence to get my son settled into school, although my dear wife will be jet setting on a couple of trips before then, seeing family, this fall.

Fall Cleaning and an MS Word Rant

After two decades with kids at home, it is amazing how easy it is to be uncluttered when they are both gone. And, clearing out the clutter is a nice way to quietly recognize a new phase in life. 

In fairness, my fairly conscientious kids, with not a little nagging, also did a lot to get their own rooms and the house, in general, in order before they left and purged a fair share of their own obsolete junk in addition to what they took with them in my daughter's full sized SUV filled to the gills with two kids worth of stuff to move into their college dorm rooms. The lawn got mowed at the very last moment, the house was well vacuumed, pictures that had been displaced from painting work got hung, and so on. 

The task was already half done after frantic efforts to get the house in order for a high school graduation party with lots of out of town guests and reorganizations needed for some home repairs and minor upgrades (all intended to be finished before graduation, but some of which took well into the summer).

The last of these tasks, which I hope to make a dent into this evening when its not 98ยบ with the sun beating down and no wind, and perhaps finish next weekend, is to clear various kinds of landscaping and camping and sports stuff out of my garage (designed with the 1920s and 1930s cars in use when it was built in mind), so I can squeeze the car my son left behind in there until he returns for winter break, so I don't have to get tickets if I forget to move it on street sweeping days or for leaving a car idle parked on the street longer than allowed by law.

It's not just physical clutter either. I used dead time while traveling to and from Rhode Island to update software, delete space hogging files and applications that I don't need, put electronic files in the proper folders, etc.

I also took a shot at making the style sheet in the default document on my version of Microsoft Word closer to my standards which I must always redo from scratch with each fresh document not recycled from a previous one. It is surprising hard to do that in a system that is so focused on styles and maximizing opportunities for user customization. I want fewer options easily available for my daily work. I would be happy to go through extra clicks to consider fonts and colors and other formatting options I never use, for example. Ideally, formatting options never used for a long period of time would automatically default to a background status that would require extra clicks to use so as to reduce clutter in the user interface. Likewise, I wish it were easier to make style functions that I do use more prominent (e.g. superscript, subscripts, Greek and mathematical and typographical characters). The fact that Microsoft doesn't do these things reflects poorly on their corporate culture. The fact that third-parties don't offer software that resets defaults to better standard sets likewise reflects poorly on the domestic IT industry culture (whatever the cause of that may be).

While strictly coincidental, two years after the building was purchased, after sixteen months of renovations before we could move in featuring delays in getting permits and construction delays, and eight more months in occupancy, the punch list items from the construction are now almost done and my building where I have my new office is finally very presentable. The outside looks complete now, and we're getting ready to clear out the last office stuff and construction materials out of our garage at work so we can use that in the winter. Now, if we can just get our industrial sized copier, printer, scanner, fax machine to work for more than a week without needing repairs . . . . Law offices use a lot less paper and snail mail far fewer things than we used to, be we aren't entirely weaned from that yet.

Mission Accomplished

Our nest is empty. 

In some ways, it is time to say "mission accomplished" in the parenting department. My children are both adults (although, for some perverse reason, there are only a handful of motels and hotels in Boston that are willing to rent rooms to adults under the age of twenty-one, let alone rent cars to them). They got into good colleges that they will be able to attend student loan debt free when they attain their undergraduate degrees. My oldest will graduate in the fall after three years with a major in environmental science and a minor in managerial economics and will turn twenty one a month later. My son may someday find out what he wants to do with his life. Or not. They've both had serious significant others for extended periods of time, who may or may not be around for the long haul. They are capable of surviving with only minimal assistance at this point and even if both my wife and I passed suddenly in some accident, they'd have each other, extended family on both sides, and many friends to turn to for support, as well as a modest inheritance and a substantial sum in the form of term life insurance payouts to provide (realistically) more financial support than we would have provided to them and their families over the next several decades of our lives.

According to sources cited by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers", most of the economic boost that the children of people with high socio-economic status and affluence receive in life comes not from inheritances received when their parents die or large lifetime gifts during their lifetimes, but from the human capital and education that they acquire from their parents grown up and in their early twenties. Some of that goes all of the way back to genetics and pre-natal good health they have received before they are born. More comes from good parenting, great opportunities, and most importantly, a lack of severe deprivation, neglect or abuse (what J.D. Vance in his memoir the "Hillbilly Elegies" refers to by the psychologist and social worker's terminology of "Aces" which stands for "adverse childhood experiences") growing up. A bit comes from opportunities to attend the right college and universities and the connections that they can benefit from on the eve of and at the very dawn of their careers.

Obviously, parents are not irrelevant even in adult life and grandparents can pass on benefits to their children and grandchildren, although my sense is that this contribution has been greatly diminished as of the early 21st century and also is a role that can be filled quite adequately by someone who isn't a blood relative if need be.

Refocusing

So, with all of these changes, and the mission of parenting, if not actually fully accomplished, at least greatly diminished, the time has come to consider where to refocus my efforts and what goals to give greater emphasis.

For example, one of my wife's goals was to get everyone to compete in an athletic competition this year - something that she and the kids have already done, and now I'm signed up for my own baby step, a one mile race while she runs a 10K, in a few weeks.

It is time to contemplate, reconsider, reinvent, and redirect. And, the quiet discipline of "fall cleaning" is a good way to let that cauldron of decision-making simmer in my unconscious background, with mental resources not diverted to other tasks.