Quit yer bitchin'. You have a job in retail.

No, you have a job in capitalism. That's a system whose main intent is to maximize the exploitation of resources. Capitalism is an idea, a tool, conceived to help societies become better.

The folks who invented capitalism, did not foresee the idea of humans as a simple resource to be exploited. The idea that humans should be exploited as fully as an iron mine, or a foreign market became known as 'laissez faire' capitalism and reached its pinnacle in something known as 'social darwinism' when the Duponts, Rockefellers, Ford, etc, opposed making factories safe for workers because they wouldn't evolve to be good workers if the consequence of death wasn't culling them to produce offspring that were better at factory life.

Most people considered this to be a horrible idea that was counterproductive to the development of a pleasant, prosperous society. Consequently, labor unions were made legal, the precursor to OSHA was created, weekends came into existence as holidays, etc. Which is to say that the open ended exploitation of workers was no longer considered to be legitimate.

Since then, it was assumed that families needed time when everyone had the day off. Otherwise, the odds that twenty or thirty family members would happen to have the day off were vanishingly small. Employers respected few holidays, but Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas were sacrosanct.

Now we find ourselves in a era of unemployment and economic stress. Corporations, both to improve their prospects and because workers are vulnerable, have decided that Thanksgiving is an optional holiday, subservient to the gods of profit.

It's a really bad thing. We used to have three days when you could schedule a family party and be confident that everyone was available. Easter has been left behind as Sunday is no longer a day of worship.

Now, the capitalists see Thanksgiving Day as a resource that is left unexploited. The thing is, we are the people for whom this society exists and this is bad for us. We have given over every other day of the year except Christmas to the unfettered pursuit of profit. It is time for us to tell them that enough is enough. For two days each year, they should not be allowed to active their greedy, capitalist motivation.

Which is to say, this tool has run amok. Like a robot that has started disassembling the factory it's supposed to be building, capitalism has gone too far. It seeks to profit from every moment of human life. But, it's a tool. We get to say what the capitalists are allowed to do. We no longer allow them to make the workplace dangerous. We require them to pay taxes and prevent them from dumping their garbage in our water supplies. Every corporation relies on society to enforce contracts, prevent theft, and supply roads to carry goods. In return fo those, we get to set the rules of commerce.

On Thanksgiving, having your job be involved in retail, or anything else, should be subservient to the needs of society. No one should have to work and no one should be enticed to buy. Capitalism has no place on Thanksgiving. Shut it off. Demand that your family be allowed to exist.

Holiday Greetings for the Self-Absorbed

When my birthday arrives, I will not wish you a Happy Birthday, because I know that just because the day is important to me, it is not necessarily important to you.

If your intention is mainly to talk about yourself, go ahead with "Merry Christmas." If your goal is not purely self-absorbed, then you might want to take into account the fact that I'm not Christian.

If want to wish something for me, "Happy Chanukah" is more appropriate. I will not be having a "Merry Christmas" regardless of what you say, but I will be celebrating Chanukah and appreciate the good wishes.

But, I like to share the general happiness and really do wish well for other people, so I don't walk around saying "Happy Chanukah" to everyone. I know that's not meaningful to many people. I say Happy Holidays because that applies to everyone who wants to celebrate this month and I want to offer them good wishes in a way that takes their needs into account.

Unfinished Essay, 11/5/14

It used to be that 'get out the vote' was the key to winning elections because people mostly didn't care about politics and, if they got to the poll, they would vote based on an impression gained over a long period where the only details that held constant were facts. Politicians said a lot of nasty and dishonest stuff about each other but, their reach was limited and the messages were neither very consistent or sophisticated.

Lies were background noise. People made simple decisions based on impressions that were substantially based on reality and self-interest.

Today, elections are in a communication milieu based on pervasive communication technology and sophisticated product marketing techniques. Advertising has been proven to work (people routinely buy things that are unhealthy, overpriced or useless based on advertising) and, with the addition of unlimited money, provides a constant propaganda stream where the fiction overwhelms the facts.

Both parties have access to this technology but the Democrats are missing one other thing. They are unwilling to say things that completely contradict reality. Republicans are. So, we have been subject to eight years of assertions that Barack  Obama is an extreme, liberal socialist even though that is literally the opposite of the truth that he is a left leaning conservative.

We are told that Obama and the Democrats have ruined the economy and that is literally the opposite of the truth. We have been told for years that Obama "wants to take away your guns" another assertion that is completely untrue. The list goes on and on.

It turns out that humans are largely powerless in the context of sophisticated and pervasive advertising. As a consequence, we have grocery stores filled with unhealthy food that people buy with joy, a Christmas holiday season that bankrupts people, and the rejection of the Democratic party.

Back in the day, the political class had a certain loyalty to the idea of our political system. Their self-image required them to pretend to be honest, to pretend to value the give and take of a system with competing interests, to pretend that they respect America and its people, including their fellow politicians. That is, there was, if not honor among thieves, there was a quaint expectation that being able to get a lot of votes entitled one to some deference, even if only as a matter of respect to their voters.

This is no longer the case. Arguably going back to McCarthy in the fifties, we have moved away from the idea of governing as an honorable profession of serving America's interests and toward one where the pursuit of power is paramount. It is justified with the notion that one cannot do any good if one is not elected, but it comes down to the use of any means possible to gain and keep power, even means counterproductive, even traitorously so, to the interests of the country.

So, we elected a political party who refuses to implement ideas that are known to work (and it used to love) such as 'cap and trade' for CO2 reduction even though our military lists climate change as a major security threat. They pretend concern about the deficit even though it's been proven time and again that deficits are the only way to keep the economy moving in a recession. They say that health care workers exposed to ebola should be quarantined even though the experts say clearly that that would be counterproductive.

It all adds up to a vicious imbalance. On the one had we have people

There was an idea called 'laissez faire capitalism'. It said that, for capitalism to work, it must be pure. Capitalists should be allowed to do anything that made sense to them in the pursuit of profit, that there should be no regulations or impediments on market processes.

This was a very bad idea that lead to another thing called 'social darwinism'. Adherents to this idea rejected calls for them to make factories safe for workers, arguing that the workers would never adapt to industrial life if those unfit for factory life were protected and thereby allowed to breed unfit children.

It became obvious that these were completely dysfunctional ideas and, today, there are no purely capitalist societies left. Every place has regulations, some form of economic redistribution and, among other things, lots of workplace safety rules.

John Bennett "Blackjack" Baren (1944-2014) RIP

The long, strange trip of John Bennett "Blackjack" Baren, psychotherapist and raconteur, age 70, ended on October 3, 2014. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife and life partner of 28 years, Margie C. Baren; parents Morton "Barry" Barenboim and Juliet Baren; and his great-aunt and surrogate mother, Sadie Loeb. He is survived by sons Ted Corky Cogan (Gina Jackson), outdoorsman and adventurer; Robert John Baren (Darcy Haley), indoorsman and agitator; and his cousin and partner-in-youthful-mayhem, Joan Hanssmann (Dennett). He was grandpa, friend, playmate, instigator, storyteller and confidant of Joshua Cogan and Allison Cogan. John Baren was friend to poets, philosophers, psychologists, pirates, artists, musicians, theologians, scientists, saints, and scoundrels.

He loved animals and was preceded in death by dogs and cats Lucky, Pookie, Garfield, Mandy, Savannah, Salt, Pepper, Striker, Snickers, and his beloved hound dog Beauregard. He is survived by the very sweet and loyal Molly the Dog.

John Baren held degrees and certifications from the University of San Francisco, California State University at Sacramento, and Wright State University in psychology, sociology, physiology, philosophy, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and behavioral psychology. He started his career working in various mental health facilities for the State of California and on the faculty of the University of California at Davis. He also served as Executive Director of the Dayton-Montgomery County Mental Health Board, Executive Director of the Bellaire Psychiatric Hospital in Houston, Texas, CEO/President of Anclote Manor Hospital in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and on the faculty of the Wright State University School of Medicine. He worked in private practice of psychotherapy for over 40 years where he cherished his longtime partnership with Dr. Kathy Platoni, COL, US Army (RET). At the time of his passing Baren was a therapist and former Clinical Director of Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center in Richmond, Indiana.

Of his many professional experiences, he was most proud of his time at Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center. There John Baren was a tireless advocate for the care of children while also serving as surrogate father and grandfather for both residents and staff. Throughout his career, most recently at Wernle, he trained and supervised hundreds of therapists, psychologists, and mental health professionals.

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, John Baren was an accomplished sailor and juvenile delinquent. He regularly used his sailing skills to antagonize guards at the then-occupied Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. He came of age at the epicenter of the hippie and peace movement and spent time with contemporary artists of the time including members of the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company. While attending the University of San Francisco he also played professional tennis.

As an artist, John Baren was known for colorful and whimsical pen-and-ink drawings and mixed-media pieces. As a writer he completed several books of poetry and short stories, and he most recently completed a novel. He also published several scholarly articles, and wrote, edited, and collaborated on numerous books and textbooks on psychology.

Throughout his life John Baren collected many rare, interesting, and extremely odd tchotchkes, pieces of art, firearms, antiques, bizarre neckties, and memorabilia. He enjoyed good cigars, quality bourbon, excellent food, and crappy beer. Rest assured the legend is true, the stories are accurate, and much has been omitted to protect the innocent...and the guilty.

Memorial service to be held on Saturday, November 29, 2014 with time, venue, and performers to be named later. Questions may be directed to the administrator of the estate (such as it is), Dr. Kathy Platoni (contact information provided upon request).

(My friend, Rob Baren, lost his father recently and wrote a lovely eulogy. I never met his father but, considering this lovely little piece, I regret that.)

Seventy Five Years


Long ago, I decided that there would be a time when I would refuse medical care intended to prolong my life. The author's reasoning about 75 as the right age for this to happen is compelling. (It might even cause me to consider getting some medical care to help me actually get to 75.)

This part of his story is particularly meaningful to me. I consider the meaning of my existence to substantially be the impression I leave on my children and have long worried about the harm an infirm old age would cause. I hate the idea of their recollections and stories being dominated by illness and incapacity.

"At age 75 we reach that unique, albeit somewhat arbitrarily chosen, moment when we have lived a rich and complete life, and have hopefully imparted the right memories to our children. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline."

As I think about this more and more, I think it is very useful to have a working definition of when the end of life is no longer to be resisted, when dying is no longer a tragedy. One hopes to be missed but, I want my offspring, family and friends to have a way to consider my inevitable passing to be appropriate and good, a culmination, not some terrible end.

Go Apple, Screw the Law Enforcement Tyrants


I certainly am ok with allowing search warrants to be executed but, I also think we have an *absolute* right to conduct out lives in ways that frustrate that goal. In the old days, one would move across the country and be effectively out of reach. Now that's impossible but, we have this.

I am irritated by two things in the public conversation about this. One is discussion of the many edge cases where it would be a real problem. Of course it would be a shame if well-encrypted phones prevented rescue of a child. So would the guy not having a phone. So would an earthquake. In either case, it's a rare problem that should not drive public policy.

The other is the notion that the entire society should shape itself around the interests of law enforcement. Law enforcement is a utility. It is here to help us out. I want my data to hav maximum security. Sure, that's partly because I might want to participate in a revolution or vote against the next dictator, but even more, I want 4CHAN to have as difficult a time as humanly possible.

The lazy sense of entitlement on the part of FBI Director Comey makes me insane. You are here to protect our privacy, not sabotage it. If it is more work to catch the bad guys, ask for a raise. It's your job, not mine.

Those Responsible Should Suffer

This woman is a hero who took care of her daughter and is going to prison for it. The people at the hospital who reported her to the police, the local prosecutor and the judge who put her in prison all had the discretion to be reasonable. Instead, they allowed their right-wing, woman hating politics to PUT A WOMAN IN PRISON FOR HELPING HER DAUGHTER.

WHY? Because they they have made it so that the abortion clinic is too far away and costs too much. They are poor people.

The people at the hospital who reported her to the police, the local prosecutor and the judge deserve abuse and hatred. They deserve to never have a moment's peace while this woman is in prison.

Daesh Cutthroats

Because I know everyone is wondering what I think of the President's plan for combating the Daesh Cutthroats (formerly known as ISIL or ISIS or Islamic State), I thought I would read up so I can tell you.

Bottom line: Anyone who claims to be certain about what is right is a fool.  Both fighting and leaving them alone are moves in an extraordinarily complicated chess game. Either way, there are risks. However, Obama knows more than you and I do so I guess he's more likely to be going the right direction.

Letting them continue unimpeded could allow the consolidation of a huge power bloc that would in every way be dangerous to American interests. Neither Obama (apparently) or I (for sure) believe that there is any meaningful danger to us, here but, allowing these people to become substantial players on the world stage will certainly result in our lives becoming worse.

However, engaging them is expensive and carries risk of the 'Guantanamo penalty', that is, it might motivate the bad guys much more than it's worth. I don't consider it very likely that we will be forced into a large engagement. At least, not as long as Obama is president. (If you allow a Republican to run the military, they will find a way to start a war no matter what. This will only make it sooner.)

To calculate the correct answer means figuring out how it will effect Assad of Syria and his opponents, Iran, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and, don't forget, Russia. (And leaving out the Kurds and numerous other groups who are unlikely to be a huge risk factor.) This is a maniacally complicated situation that is the essence of the mathemtical definition of chaos.

My personal summary of the idea of 'chaos theory' is that every real-world calculation requires several steps and that, at each step, the situation can only be known within a certain margin of error. After an amazingly small number of steps, the multiplication of the errors in each one means that the error function of the result you are trying to determine is so great that your prediction is meaningless.

Dealing with the Daesh Cutthroats will require a long series of actions. Each of them will have unpredictable results. I repeat, anyone that purports to know how it will turn out is a fool.

By that I mean, if you are strongly opposed to Obama's decision for us to become involved in this or if you think he is being too weak, your certainty alone is evidence of intellectual failure. It is fair to like it, or not like it, but thinking that you know the correct answer is foolish. I'm guessing that, if Barack Obama were here to discuss it, he would say the same thing.

He has to make a call. That's his job. I'm no more enthusiastic than anyone about this but, he knows more than I do.

iStockphoto Screwed Me

They have changed their pricing model to be a fifteen dollar minimum price.

Hitherto, I was able to grab low res images to decorate websites for a few dollars each. I could make a cheerful page with three or four images for twenty or thirty dollars. Now that page would cost $45 or $60. Insane for my usage.

BigstockPhoto.com still has decent pricing. Their images are not, generally as good, but they have just become my goto source for web stuff.

iStockPhoto.com, I hate you now!!!!

Denying Reality in the Israel/Gaza Conflict

The left in America has long had a negative attitude about Israel. The support of the underdog that is so important in America, is misapplied in the Middle East to the support of the genocidal murderers of Hamas. It might be simplistic analysis that concludes that poverty excuses everything and that wealth and power is always evil. It certainly has an anti-semitic component. I think there is a reflexive opposition to anyone who is an ally of the American military.

 One of the main news organs of the left is The Nation magazine. I often subscribe to it and generally agree with their strong, leftist philosophy. But, they harangue against Israel during the current conflict with Gaza (especially HERE ) with a viewpoint that, I think, comes down to being propaganda. It overlooks really important, basic issues and focuses on distracting details. It is, essentially (and I know how ironic this is considering the source), a conservative viewpoint. It prioritizes ideals without consideration of the practicality of the real world.

For example, that article's first point is that the right to self defense is subordinate to UN Article 51 and makes assertions about the balance of suffering, etc, but concludes with a literal non-sequitor, that “no country would tolerate rocket fire” is baseless. I read the paragraph six times and that conclusion is not even suggested by the previous context. It exemplifies the problem of this viewpoint. It is based on a pure assertion merely associated, but not supported, by other ideas. Ie, propaganda.

I understand that international law can be construed to judge Israel’s actions illegal. I also know that, regardless of principal, no society would allow rockets to be shot at into its population. Every person involved in writing that article would commit any illegal act necessary to prevent a child from being raped. They would say, “Look. Some things take priority. Some things cannot be allowed.” In fact, “no country would tolerate” is the only part of the argument that matters.

I read article to simply reiterate the conclusion that Israel is evil. Some of the facts contradict my understanding but it doesn’t matter. Israel is a country descended from people who suffered genocide. It is surrounded by enemies sworn to repeat that genocide. When it has attempted civilized interactions they have been universally rebuffed. When they have unilaterally lowered their guard, their position got worse.

Were The Nation not part of the Israel-hating left, it would offer some discussion of what Israel should do instead. It would have a prescription for how Israel could move things forward. What tomorrow might look like. That doesn't happen. It never happens in these articles about how bad Israel is treating the people in Gaza.

When liberals are confronted with anti-choice types, they are irritated by the assertion “because it’s a baby.” They say, “But what about the teenaged girl who has been raped?” Or, talk about a woman’s autonomy. They insist that real-world facts be accommodated by any acceptable viewpoint. Or, when a rightie says, "People should earn their keep." We say, "Absolutely, but, there are many reason why they don't and society can't function with starving people around. You're insistence on allowing children to starve based on your ideal of responsiblity is itself irresponsible."

This viewpoint does not account for the fact that Israel has rockets and tunnels to deal with. Talk about UN Article 47, the human catastrophe, the occasions where Israelis soldiers have behaved badly all hew to an ideal of state behavior, but they miss the real point: rockets are being shot into the population. The only option that anyone seems to suggest is to allow the rockets to continue. It is meaningless practically as just letting people starve because they won't work.

Israel is a democracy with a free press. It is a country whose values and lifestyle generally parallel ours. In fact, many of the leading people in Israel come form America. They are as close to being us as you could want. The suggestion that Israel, that Jews, would specifically abuse a population is silly. It might happen in a lapse but, systematically, they are no more likely to think, “We will kill a whole lot of Palestinians for fun,” than we are – and, in this case, the we I mean is real people, not the CIA.

Israel is a country that is dominated by Judaism. Unlike the assertion that America is a Christian country with laws based on Christian principles, Israel is a Jewish country with laws based on Judaism. Judaism does not allow the behavior the left asserts. Murder and 'collective punishment' are not allowed. It insists on the ethical treatment of people, of telling them to get out of the way of the bombs. It requires building field hospitals to treat injured Palestinians. It requires minimizing harm and, by all accounts, they seem to me to be doing that.

But, if it does happen, their free press will reveal it, just as our did the CIA prisons, etc. So far, no dice.

I conclude, though, by repeating the assertion, no country would tolerate rockets being shot into it’s population. Nor, tunnels being dug into its interior clearly intended to convey armed combatants bent on murder. I will really only consider an opinion to be interesting when it takes these two facts into account and presents a recommendation for what could be done otherwise.