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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Soon-To-Be Lost Art of the Gentleman's Disagreement

Sometimes best friends are united by their disagreement over politics and religion. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a culture where old friends could sit on the porch and argue politics like gentlemen, share a tall cold glass of sweet tea and enjoy the back and forth of friendly verbal sparring.

One wonders who it is that has convinced us all that anyone who disagrees with us is our enemy. We live in a nation founded on the recognition that each of us is different.

We have fifty states so that you can find one that suits your political, social and economic clothes simply by moving a few hundred miles or so. We put limits on our government and balanced the three branches so that none of them may declare themselves absolute power and that we all might agree to disagree, preserve the right to be who and what we are and continue to live in peace.

The greatest threat to peace and liberty today is the insidious belief that anyone who disagrees with me needs to be shut up. Storm's a comin' folk!

Tom King
© 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Scammers from the Special Hell

There was a possible woman named Leona Niemann contacted my wife on Facebook Chat today. She started out by telling Sheila she had "great news" for us. Sheila, a Facebook neophyte and very trusting soul called me to ask if I knew who this woman was. Having caught my share of scam attempts in the past, we led this person along to see if my suspicions were correct.

My wife is very kind and trusting. She doesn't have a lot of defenses against liars, cheats and swindlers. When I describe Ms. Niemann as a "possible" woman, it's because she has a brand new account with no personal information, started just two days ago. The avatar picture is a shot of a harmless looking older lady with her husband as an avatar. Red Flag #1. The avatar was posted two days ago. Red Flag #2 

"Leona Nieman is very likely a skinny Nigerian kid renting time in an Internet cafe' or "she" is a pasty 19 year-old high school dropout sitting in his Mom's basement and trying to scam bank account numbers from people who are under stress or in pain. This person needs to be unfriended by everyone on "her" list. You can bet the picture avatar isn't real. There isn't any information about her on her page. 

She started out her scam by starting a chat saying "I've been trying to get in touch with you for several days. I have some great news!" Red Flag #2.  A lot of details are hinky too when she describes the great news.  She calls it the "Facebook Powerball Grant".  The name works on three psychological hooks:

(1) Facebook - Everybody thinks Zuckerberg is so rich he needs to give his money away to everybody like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (also popular free money scam names)

(2) Powerball - Sends visions of huge free winnings based entirely on luck.

(3) Grants - The idea of grants plays on the commercials of Matthew Lesko, the skinny guy on TV in the puce suit covered with question marks telling people there was all this free money out there that was being given away. Matthew did scammers a huge service with those commercials.

Then she tells you that she saw your name on the winners list when UPS delivered her award. Red Flag #4. Was that piles of cash in canvas sacks that were delivered to her and did a list of all the winners come in with the packing slip? UPS would never accept such a delivery. It is such an obvious come-on, but the people they target are usually people they believe to be inexperienced or fragile.

My wife's response was classic Sheila.
The scammer had got several of our Adventist friends on her list and tried to portray herself as "one of us", but made the mistake of using the abbreviation OMG. Sheila said no Adventist would use God's name in vain and on the Sabbath too! Then we unfriended her.

Such people a "Leona Neiman" (whoever the phony name refers to) should be consigned to a special level of hell. Preying on older people, people suffering trauma and people who are merely trusting souls  places one in a very close, personal cooperative relationship with Satan.

Just sayin'

Tom King © 2015

I want to post a clarification. The Leona Nieman account I wrote about above is a hacked account of a very nice lady from Keene, Texas. There are two identical accounts in Leona's name on Facebook If you check the account, you'll see that one has fewer friends and was set up on Nov. 11. I've contacted Leona and the hacker who now knows we're on to him. If "Leona" contacts you with some "great news" about you receiving the "Facebook Powerball Grant", they're trying to scam you and it ain't Leona

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Vanishing Art of Conversation

There's an excellent post in today's "Art of Manliness" weblog called "The Power of Conversation".  The post offers up the idea that our tech has altered our conversation in ways that prevent real conversation.  I've noticed that in my own experience, especially since the early 90s as more and more people have gone online in a big way.

I grew up before texting, cell phones and blogging, but I embraced technology early, in large part because I could do all this communicating from home without a large expense for driving around places. As a 40 year veteran of the nonprofit wars, my funds for socializing have always been somewhat limited.

One problem, however, with conversation by social media. Twitter with its draconian limitation on the number of characters you may use and the rapid fire exchanges encouraged by social media which hides the majority of any post that's more than a few lines long, social media users are encouraged over time to communicated in an abbreviated style. Ultimately one winds up communicating in sound bites.

When you have to get it all into 140 characters, you tend toward sensational, slogans and advertising jingle type posts and reject arguments or even discussions that require a lot of explanation or detail. It's the conversational equivalent of slam, bam, thank you mam! There is little room in this sort of conversation for nuance and no room at all for body language, slips of the tongue or unconscious social cues of the sort that make in-person conversations so surprising.

Another problem with this type of communication is that it encourages a kind of verbal sparring style of talking, especially when you are exchanging text blocks with someone you may not agree with. As a rule, most of us dislike conflict as a rule. In public settings or private conversations, it can sometimes be difficult to disengage from a conversation without hearing something that challenges our opinions and beliefs or takes us out of our intellectual comfort zone.

In social media, it's easy to unfriend or block someone who says things we don't like. That's kind of unfortunate, because as we do that we soon find ourselves in an intellectual echo chamber from which we have banished any voice that challenges our comfortable belief system.

Some thing that's a good thing. These people join cults or become members of religions or political parties from which they exclude anything or anyone that might challenge their narrow ideology. In a way social media actually encourages people to bunch together with only those who reinforce their own ideas.

But that's not how we are designed to learn and grow intellectually or spiritually. Even God can bear to be questioned. It's significant that the premise of the oldest book of the Bible, The Book of Job, was about this very issue. Job didn't know why all the bad things were happening to him and he asked God for an explanation. Jobs friends, however, tried to shame him into NOT asking those questions. Instead they presumed to know the mind of God and to tell Job why he was being punished. In the end of Job, God offered no explanation to Job, but told him he wouldn't understand, but that he should trust him. He also had Job offering up sacrifices for his friends' sin of presuming to speak for God.

"By engaging with those with whom we disagree, we end up growing and examining our own ideas more closely, even if we don’t ultimately change our minds." say Brett and Kay McKay. This is why I seek out conversations with people with whom I disagree. It's cost me some readers who find longer articles like this particular Art of Manliness Article to be tedious and to avoid them.

Because our social media style discourages in-depth reading and thinking and leads us to avoid conversations with those we dislike, we become stunted in our ability to carry out deeper level reasoning. As a result, we make ourselves vulnerable to flimflam orators who tell us what we want to hear and we do not examine the orator's real positions any more deeply than can be perceived in the loud authoritative bellowing of a Hitler, a Stalin of for that matter, a Donald Trump or a Hillary Clinton. The social media-trained conversationalist instinctively shies away from someone like Ben Carson whose communication style is deeper and more nuanced and lacks the self-assured bombast of his chief rival in the race for president. Carson, a man who knows better than to think we know everything we need to know just now, forces us to think more deeply than we are comfortable thinking. The twitter society doesn't like to read more than 140 words at a time. 

I've decided to risk challenging the 140 character limit and write till I'm done with my thought. I may even start doing a video podcast, just so I can get in the voice inflection and the body language that backs up your own half of a good conversation.

I'm not going to do what a lot of self-appointed doomsayers do in this kind of post and condemn society, technology and everything else we can find that is suitable for demonizing. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our technology or in society. The fault is in ourselves. If we wish to save our brains for something more useful than as a counterweight for our couch potato butts, we need to stretch our ability to piece thoughts together that are longer than 140 characters.  Just saying.

So, if you have any thoughts on this subject, please write them out fully in the comments section below. I read them all, even and especially the long ones. Some of the best conversations I've had so far on social media have been with people who challenge my assumptions and are willing to allow me to challenge theirs. I think, that if we all did that, perhaps our beloved country would not be as divided as it is today.

Tom King (c) 2015

Photo by:  Thomas Szynkiewicz

Sunday, October 18, 2015

We’re Off to See the Trumpster

Is The Donald’s Hair a Mind Control Device?

My wife, Sheila, and I were talking over breakfast this morning and watching a piece about Donald Trump on PJTV on the computer. My wife turned to me and said, “Whenever I see Trump on TV, magazine covers and on the Internet news, I can NOT force my eyes from that red squirrel tail on the top of his head. I keep waiting for the squirrel to scurry down his back leaving him bald and probably completely unaware of what just happened.”

My Sweet Baboo complains that on the one hand, Trump seems so completely narcissistic and on the other, he is so completely unself-aware. We could understand that if he weren’t a billionaire, but surely, Trump could afford a decent toupee’, some hair plugs or a membership in the Bosley Hair Club for Men. I mean, come on! The man could BUY the Bosley Hair Club for Men.

Perhaps the reason for Trump’s popularity is the fact that people are so distracted by his combover that they can’t actually hear more than just the loud bits when he speaks. My wife says every time that she’s listened to him, she finds herself mesmerized by the hair and by the time the speech is done, she’s no wiser about what the man believes than she was before.

And before you ask, she HAS tried listening to Trump with her eyes closed. I’ve caught her lying on the couch with her sleep mask over her eyes trying to absorb a Donald Trump speech.

“It’s no good,” she told me. “I know that hair is still there……….waiting. I can’t get it out of my head.”

I believe Trump’s hair is a kind of mind control device. It certainly explains Trumps popularity with low-information voters and with that certain class of journalists who believe they are immune to mesmerism, but who really aren’t. He says a few angry things that a lot of people would like to say themselves. He says those things loudly and with a full measure of authority.  It all sounds sort of good and you are kind of with him, but then he starts getting into details and shaking his head around when he talks. You find yourself fixating on that hideous combover and waiting for a little breeze to lift it up off his head.

I am Trump, the Great and Powerful
Who do you think you are?

At that moment you are no longer hearing what Trump is saying. It all sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher going “Wah, wah, wah, wah wah,” off in the distance and like Charlie, you aren’t really absorbing any of it.

I once watched fame Texas attorney Percy Foreman do something like that to a jury. You could smoke in court in those days and, during the prosecution's questioning, he would sit there with a cigarette letting it burn down into an ash two or three inches long. The jury was soon fixated on that hanging ash waiting for it to fall. When the prosecution was done with his questioning, old Percy would knock off the ash and do his questioning with the jury’s full attention on himself.  He was defending Charles Harrelson, the actor Woody Harrelson’s old man, who had murdered a judge and was on trial for his life. Foreman's client didn’t get the electric chair. Apparently, the jury couldn’t remember enough of the testimony later to feel like they should ask for the ultimate penalty.

One wonders how much of a surprise the real Donald Trump will be to voters if they actually do elect him President. Likely it will be as much of a shock to them as President Obama was to many of those who voted him into office. Apparently, it was even something of a shock to the would-be President Trump who had this to say about Barak Obama in 2008, and I quote, “His comments have led me to believe that he understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level. He has also surrounded himself with very competent people, and that’s the mark of a strong leader. I have confidence he will do his best, and we have someone who is serious about resolving the problems we have and will be facing in the future. To me that is very good news.

That’s what I mean about Trump not being very self-aware.  Even though that statement is printed in one of his favorite books (his own), he seems blissfully unaware that he's ever said such a thing. He’s very much a media surfer, riding whatever big wave is popular at the time. When Bush was unpopular in the media, Trump calls W the “worst president ever”. When Obama is getting Nobel Prizes, he saying Obama has the “mark of a strong leader”.  If the media decides Vladimir Putin is a cool dude, next thing you know Trump will be praising him. One minute he’s a hard-ass redneck right-wing radical ready to truck 11 million Mexicans back across the border tomorrow and the next he’s a socialist touting universal government single-payer healthcare.

And the Trumpettes cheer him on, also, like the Donald, blissfully unaware that he is saying things they would crucify any other candidate for saying.

Why do they let him get away with that? I've seen these people, that support Trump, turn on a GOP candidate for shaking hands with a random Democrat and then turn around and seem to have no problems that Bill and Hillary Clinton both attended his most recent wedding (#4), that he donated to Hillary's and Obama's campaigns and that he actually voted for Obama in 2008. He has the family values of a jackrabbit on steroids, but none of his drooling legion of supporters seem to notice any of that, nor do they object. Why?

I think it’s the hair. I just don’t think they are hearing the rest of what he is really saying. They’re all completely mesmerized, sitting there waiting expectantly for some stray breeze to lift the hair up so they can see what’s under there!

I can tell you what's under there Trump-o-philes.  Nothing!  At least nothing you'd want to actually see.

(c) 2015
Tom & Sheila King

Monday, October 12, 2015

SNL Pokes the Gun Culture Bear

Saturday Night Live took a poke at the pro-gun culture last weekend. I don't watch Saturday Night Live anymore. It stopped being funny ages ago as this video demonstrates. I knew about it because it kind of blew up on the social media site Banjohangout.  Now we have a strict, no politics or religion policy on the Banjo Hangout, but because banjo players range politically from hard left liberals like Pete Seeger to serious conservatives like that kid from "Deliverance", it's kind of hard to enforce that rule, so if we keep it relatively polite the moderators don't kick us off for the most part.

Mostly where I come from, guns reside quietly in gun cabinets and gun safes to be taken out for hunting or practice at the range or in case a burglar breaks into the house.
Hardly anybody thought about carrying a pistol around on their bodies when they go to Walmart until fairly recently. After all, the Wild West was over we thought. At least that's how it used to be.

When I was in high school, some of my friends used to carry rifles and shotguns displayed in plain sight in gun racks behind the seats of their pickups. I don't remember anyone being militant about it. It was just something guys did out in rural areas and small country towns. Then, when that became illegal, things started to change and gun owners started getting more defensive.  Then, as the number of holdups, muggings and robberies we saw on TV seemed to skyrocket, it felt like the Wild West had come back with a vengeance. Then, as the anti-gun movement became more aggressive about "getting guns off the street", I noticed that all of a sudden there's a lot more ammo being stored in those gun cabinets and gun safes than there used to be. Kind of like everybody's expecting something bad to happen.

After the last two presidential elections, gun stores all over East Texas sold out of a lot of basic kinds of ammo (shotgun shells, 357 magnum, 45 caliber, and 38 caliber and most popular rifle ammunition) in just a few days. You literally couldn't find the most popular sizes of ammunition for weeks at a time and when new stuff came in, it sold out overnight. A lot of gun stores put people on a list and took a deposit on ammo in advance of its arrival from the manufacturers. Gives you an idea of the climate created by the militant anti-gun movement.

My neighbors may be mocked by Saturday Night Live, dismissed as kooks by the press and characterized as gun nuts by politicians, but they are well armed, especially in rural areas. Choosing which home to rob is kind of a crap shoot and given the shortage of anti-gun folk in the region, the odds are really pretty poor that you're not going to walk into a hail of gunfire if you're burgling a place. And after you are shot, there's not a lot of love for you in the legal system as it's really tough to seat a jury of 12 people who have any problems shootin' outlaws.

A couple of years ago, an 80 year old man noticed that two guys had pulled up to his neighbor's house in a box truck and were emptying the place of valuables. He'd been asked to "watch the place", so he went over, got the drop on the boys and got on the phone to 911. Then on the recording, you hear him tell one of the young men to put down the gun and promising him if the gun came up, the young man was going down. The gun apparently came up and the young gentleman and his friend both went down.  The grand jury refused to prosecute the old man under the East Texas tradition that there are some folk that just need killing.

All that to say this. The "gun problem" is going to be tough to solve even in areas where there is a heavy concentration of anti-gun activism. I moved to Washington State, thinking I'd be surrounded by unarmed anti-gun progressives. I'm an easy-going, tolerant sort, so I didn't mind so much.  What I found was that outside of Seattle and Olympia, the denizens of rural Washington are armed quite as heavily as East Texans, if not more so. There are a lot of AR-15s and home built/modified weapons out there in the Washingtonian hinterlands. Many of these are of a firepower that would give anyone pause about getting aggressive with one of these sweet-tempered, church-going folks.  

The thing is, they do love their families and are well-prepared to defend them. Gun control is going to be a hard sell with them. Given the number of drug-related multiple murders and famous serial killings in this area, it's hard to blame them for wanting to have a handy means of self-defense. I went to a men's prayer breakfast just after I started going to my church up here and after the amens had been said, me and an assortment of church deacons and elders went over to the gun show at the fairground. Apparently the head deacon was building a fully automatic AR-15 and needed some parts.

We also have some unhappy bears up here too. They sometimes come into neighborhoods and have been known to eat the family cat or dog on occasion. We are fond of our dogs and kitties, so we need to be able to scare the bears off sometimes.  A fully automatic AR-15 would just about do that!

Just sayin'

© 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

So Who Owns the Rain?

Gary Harrington, of Jackson County, Oregon was jailed and fined a couple of years ago for collecting rainwater. In court, Oregon officials declared unequivocally that rainwater is considered the "property of the state." Libertarians, conservatives and more than a few permaculturists (sustainable gardening/farming enthusiasts) are outraged. As it turns out they are more outraged by the government claiming to own the rain that falls on your property than they are by Mr. Harrington's treatment, but, after all, it's the principle of the thing.

Admittedly Mr. Harrington was collecting rather a lot of rainwater and it wasn't in barrels behind his house. Harrington had constructed 3 ponds on his 170 acre land which among them hold 13 million gallons of water. None of these ponds are situated on streams. The water comes from rain which actually falls on Harrington's
property and from snow melt - also from snow on his land.

The big deal that sent everyone through the roof was the statement in court by Oregon officials that the State of Oregon owns all the rain that falls on your property and that if you want to use any significant amount of it, you have to get a permit from the state.  Given that streams and rivers and town water supplies depend on runoff from the land, one can kind of understand why the state or county might want to not lose 170 acres of it. But of course, in trying to make everything fair, the government almost creates more problems than it solves.

The way the law reads, you can only collect rain off of hard surfaces like concrete driveways, rooftops and such, but once it hits the ground, it's no longer yours to do with as you please. According to director of
the Oregon Water Resources Department, Tom Paul, "Oregon law says all of the water in the state of Oregon is public water and if you want to use that water, either to divert it or to store it, you have to acquire a water right from the state of Oregon before doing that activity."

Always fearful of government overreach, people on both the right AND left wonder, "What's next?" Sunshine falls on your property. Are they going to charge you a fee for the sun that you use if you put up solar panels? How about the wind? Does Oregon own the wind? Will they charge you a fee for wind usage if you put up a wind charger? 
Here's one issue where we can hook up with the sustainable permaculture people, not a notably conservative lot and give them a little love and maybe get their votes next election. After all, it's liberals that are pushing this kind of thing, not conservatives. We think your home's your castle and rain, sun and wind belong to you. We don't like government overreach either.

If it had been a matter of Harrington arbitrarily blocking up a stream and depriving those downstream from free access to water, I can see the state's getting involved. In the Harrington case, Gary is a cranky old guy who blew off orders by the county to destroy his ponds and kept refilling them. This is more about government authority than it is about water. With his ponds full, Harrington's land is likely putting as much or more water downstream than it was when the pond acreage was covered in water-absorbing trees and grasses. Over time, the pond bottoms develop a kind of seal that holds water from being leaked out too quickly.  Water still percolates through to the water table, but even more goes downstream through overflow when the ponds are full.

Ironically, if Mr. Harrington had paved his land with concrete, destroying plants and trees and THEN collected the runoff, he wouldn't be in trouble. It's allowed for you to collect water from nonpermeable surfaces. So, since Mr H continued to allow much of the rainfall that hit his property to  to sink into the soil and down into the water table, he isn't allowed to collect any of what's left for his own use without paying for a permit and receiving permission to build his ponds, Actually Harrington did get a permit, but after the ponds were built, the state rescinded his permit.

Okay, so answer this question for me:  "If Oregon owns the rainfall, and if excessive amounts of Oregon State's rain falls and floods my property and destroys my home, can I sue the state for damages?"  After all, if my property, say my car for instance, crashes into your home, I have to pay the damages. I can do that because the state of Oregon forces me to buy car insurance in exchange for the privilege of driving Oregon's lovely roads.  Should Oregon then, be forced to buy flood insurance for the whole state, just in case THEIR rain wrecks my house?

This might be a fun case to present to the Supreme Court.  A more sensible ruling would be to allow the state to control streams and established waterways and prevent irresponsible damming up of shared water sources and leave rain which falls on your property to the property owner.  If you have a stream on your property, you wouldn't be allowed to dam it up, but in Oregon, with as much rain and annual flooding as they get, it seems likely they could use all the flood control ponds they could get. Harrington has even built three of them at his own expense.  

Oregon is not alone in claiming the rain as government property. Colorado does Oregon one better, claiming a right, not to just the rain after it falls, but to all the moisture in the atmosphere. There you can get in trouble for collecting rain off your roof.  The Colorado Division of Water Resources makes it clear:  “Colorado water law declares that the state of Colorado claims the right to all moisture in the atmosphere that falls within its borders and that ‘said moisture is declared to be the property of the people of this state, dedicated to their use pursuant’ to the Colorado constitution. Interestingly, in Colorado some folk have "senior" rights to the people's water, which, I think, means they acquired them before the Colorado legislature turned into a politburo. If only you have junior rights, you're just out of luck.

It's an interesting issue to say the least.
I should think it would provide some real entertainment if it took a run through the Supreme Court.  But then what do I know. I'm just waiting for Jesus to come, tear it all down and start over with a New Earth, where God gives to all freely and we don't have junior and senior water rights to fight over.

(c) 2015 by Tom King

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Instinct to Help is Hardwired Into Us

This story of Derby the Dog proves, at least to my satisfaction, that God made us after all, despite what the survival-of-the-fittest evolutionary model claims to the contrary.  It illustrates the kindness of people toward animals and, for that matter, toward any fellow creature in trouble. There is no basis in Darwin's survival of the fittest evolutionary model for any evolved creature to do this kind of thing. We should, by all accounts, be programmed to claw our way to the top, using and abusing anything that gets in our way or impedes our ascent. That we stoop to help ugly dogs, disease ridden stray cats and risk our lives to cut a fishing net off an entangled whale speaks to a very non-evolutionary impulse in humans to be kind to those whom we cannot use to our advantage, to creatures that cannot but cost us labor, expense, time and personal risk to aid them in their predicaments. 

We (at least most of us) even rush to the aid of our fellow humans in need, even though in an evolutionary sense they are our direct competitors in the struggle for evolutionary supremacy. We even lend a hand, when it was their own decisions that put them in peril in the first place. The landscape of humanity is littered with food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and grandmas raising half a dozen or so of their irresponsible offspring's babies and grandbabies despite being old, worn out and having raised one generation already.  We do it because we have an innate sense that it is right to do so.

Evolutionary processes did not put that there.

God made us to care for the world. We do it almost instinctively - especially if we happen to be good friends with our Creator. We know what is right and we have to work very hard to push that knowledge of what is right to do aside so that we can be able to act like thugs, punks and bullies. It's hard in the beginning to be a sinner. We know better.  It's hard-wired into us.

© 2015 by Tom King

Saturday, September 19, 2015

And The Ig Nobel Prize in Economics Goes To......

This year's Ig Nobel Prizes for Improbable Scientific Research were handed out Thursday night at Harvard. The top winners were an International effort that managed to partially unboil an egg and a couple of physicists that determined that all mammals empty their bladders in 21 seconds (Dr. Raston's drunk Uncle Larry was excluded as an outlier in the data collection process).
The guys that won the Literature prize, won for a study that proved that every human language has the word "huh" in it and that it always means the same thing. When I heard this, my first thought was, "Huh?"
The Management Prize went to some guys that proved that CEOs who experienced natural or unnatural disasters like hurricanes, volcanos, tornados, plane crashes or terrorist attacks that didn't harm them go on to become risk-takers. They were unable to get any data on those injured or directly affected by these kinds of traumatic events. Apparently they're still hiding in their closets.

My favorite were the winners of the Economics prize. Using the "If you can't lick 'em join 'em" principle, the Bangkok Metropolitan Police [THAILAND] won the prize for a test study in which the department offered to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refused to take bribes. Oddly enough it worked...........they think. No one can be quite sure really.

Who knew? For the rest of the odd, but strangely entertaining list of this year's winners check out the list here.
© 2015 by Tom King