Monthly Archives: December 2020

Caped Jerks

Yes, I’ve been watching “The Boys” about some crusaders who object to super heroes murdering people. It’s a very sneaky plot. The super heroes save people and get justice except when they’re high. They are just as likely to kill the bad guy and everyone in the vicinity as they are to actually save the day. If they mess up, (let off a laser-eye attack in the cockpit of the airliner destroying all the instruments) they’re just as likely to escape and cut the plane in half and blame the terrorists. And sometimes they demand sexual favors for payment. The corporation pays them handsomely and runs polls like Nielson Ratings and arranges for special events and promotions to bring in more gigs. They decide they want to be part of the military, and the only way to get them into that position is if one of the heroes comes up with a synthetic serum that turns ordinary people into super heroes, but since he sells it to the terrorists (incognito of course!) they create super villains. In that way, the only solution to super villains is the superheroes in the military. Et Voila! ANYWAY… It’s lots of blood and sex and gore and ridiculous situations, some of which have that Seth Rogen touch.

My question is this: Who does their laundry? Every single episode, they’re all wearing the same clothes. The end of the episode, the hero has blood spatter and tissue all over his outfit, and the next episode, same outfit, all clean and shiny. Does he change clothes between calls? Can you imagine him dressed like Captain America (they call him Homelander) and dropping in on a bank robbery with blood and guts all over him?

Homelander: Hey guys! Robbing a Bank?

Bad guys: Dammmmmm! What is that stench?

H: Oh probably some small colon and a bit of brain and blood…

B: gags

H: Just drop the money and surrender.

B: still gagging

H walks up to the sick one and that poor guy just starts throwing up.

Wonder Woman clone called Maeve walks up.

M: Homelander? Couldn’t you shower before you came here?

H: WW! Glad you could join us! I’m going to take this teller into the vault to see if anything else is missing.

M: I’ll hold down the fort. I wonder if I can juggle these three guys?

We hear three thuds like breaking watermelons and then M calls out: Guess not…

Then we see H coming out of the vault adjusting his trousers, and the teller straightening her skirt with obvious signs of transferred blood and goo. So obviously, these jerks need to be taken down and exposed and that’s why we have “The Boys” who try to combat these guys even though they do not have any super powers of their own. They have recruited 2 super heroines who keep saving them from the jerks, and I guess we’ll see if they stick with them.

The whole series is like that. It’s like a really bad car wreck. You can’t look away and you’re not sure if you should laugh or cringe. Will I watch the next season? Yes. Why? I don’t know!

I’m Depressed

And the first question that comes up is this: “Why?”

Depression doesn’t need a reason. It is an emotion that doesn’t necessarily have any tangible relationship to an event or a time or a person. When Ann Frank was hiding, every morning she had a reason to be depressed, and she chose to be happy. Nobody Chooses to be depressed. We search, in vain, for a reason why we’re depressed and think, might be SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder. We could believe that we miss our relatives and friends that have passed away. We could be discouraged that we couldn’t find presents for everyone, or that we didn’t get the presents we wanted (or thought we deserved.) But when you really look at it, depression comes; it stays; it messes you up; and then it leaves.

Well-meaning people try to distract us from this feeling by asking you, “Why are you depressed? You have everything to live for!” Then they list all the things you should be thankful for. Now you’re GUILTY and depressed. Or they get out the Dad jokes to try and lift your spirits. Now you feel ungrateful and your brain hurts because of the bad puns. They try to take you out on the town, but you don’t feel like putting on pants. You can’t get up the enthusiasm to do anything. You can’t even get into your favorite book. The worst is when they put on some sappy Hallmark movie so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Mocking is the first thing that comes to mind.

Why is “Die Hard” considered a Christmas Movie? Why do people consider Hans Gruber’s drop from the top of the building the beginning of the Christmas Season? Was Hans’ great, great grandfather Franz Gruber–the man who wrote Silent Night? No? It’s because the only cure for depression is murder and mayhem and/or music by the Blues Brothers.

If you know someone that is depressed, do NOT tell them how they’re supposed to feel. It’s an emotion that is not easily directed. It’s like love. You cannot direct love in a way that you end up with the prom queen who happens to be a millionaire or toward the Stunt double for Dwayne Johnson. Telling a depressed person how to feel adds to the depression. Don’t force them into jolly devil-may-care activities because they Don’t Care. They don’t want to get out of bed or go through the effort of Going Someplace to Do Something. Don’t make them explain themselves. Do you think that depression has a cause and can be “cured” by getting rid of the cause? Depressed people don’t know why they’re depressed. You wake up with a malaise like you wake up with a stuffy nose. You can’t go back to the instant where you breathed in that virus. You have no idea where or when it was. Same with depression.

Watch some murder and mayhem and mock the characters or the action or the continuity. Listen to some rock and roll or jazz or blues or classical music. Be there with the person. They’ll be all right.

What will you do with YOUR stimulus check?

Listening to NPR on our way home from Oklahoma, they had a guest financial adviser for the benefit of their listeners.

There are two different audiences they were appealing to: First was the listeners to the NPR station, and since it is basically news and discussion of current events, their avatar would be a middle aged couple, white-collar workers with a bank account and a steady job and an appreciation for the arts. The second audience was that of the adviser, so she was looking at an upper middle class couple with a bank account and a certain wisdom about finances…the kind of people that might be looking for a financial adviser instead of getting all their information from Facebook.

Herein lies the problem. The adviser was talking about what to do with the $600 we may be receiving for Covid 19 relief. News flash: Most of the people in her audience were not actually affected by the Covid 19 restrictions. Who was? Blue collar workers, but the blue collar workers not deemed essential. Frontline people such as janitorial staff, healthcare workers, people in transportation (truck drivers and such), grocery stockers and frontline cashiers, and the fast food industry are essential people. These are people who cannot get time off due to sickness because missing 1 paycheck determines if there are lights and heat in their homes. People who were furloughed, laid off, or fired are missing house payments, meals, utilities, and transportation. $600 will just be a drop in the bucket.

What did she say? “You need to replenish your savings. If you don’t have an emergency fund, put at least 3-6 months’ worth of income into a fund to tide you through this emergency. You should probably use it to reduce your debt, or contribute to your IRA.”

What? Replenish savings? Most people have no savings account, let alone an emergency fund. The worst affected blue collar workers make about $2000/month so 3-6 months would be $6000-$12,000. If they are normal blue collar workers, that much in savings would go to a down payment of a car or a TV set, or a vacation or a wedding. The idea of having that much money in reach and not using it is inconceivable.

What? Reduce debt? $600 wouldn’t cover 2/3 of a debt payment let alone reduce the total debt. People without jobs are INCREASING their debt because now everything has to go on a credit card. They have no cash! They’re paying for McDonald’s with a credit card, gas, utilities, groceries… They will do that until they max out the card and without jobs, the collection companies will be horrible.

What? Contribute to IRA? Most blue collar workers may have a 401K at work but after being out of work for this amount of time may have already borrowed against it. Very few blue collar people have an IRA in addition to a 401K, and most 401K plans that have matching funds available from the company use a paycheck deduction. You can’t deduct from the paycheck if the worker is not getting one. Further, 3% is about average for the match. 3% of $2000 is $60, so though the upper limit on 401Ks is about $19,500 per year, you cannot contribute $19,500 if you’re only making $24K. Figure then about $1440/year with the match or $720/year without.

What DO you do with that $600 check then?

Triage. I have been there, done that. Do NOT put it in the bank. Cash it and put it in your mattress. Use the cash to pay for groceries. You might be eligible for utilities help and you may have to make accommodations with your lender to help you cover your rent or mortgage payments. The cash is in no way, shape or form to be used for anything but groceries, not fast food or entertainment of any type. In the mean time, find out what you can trade. Do you have some helpful skills that can be traded for things you need? One guy I know had a whole bunch of trees he needed cleared out. He had this other guy with a chainsaw come to clear out the trees and paid him in firewood. One girl in HS was walking dogs in exchange for bread and eggs. One lady was making home-made bread in exchange for a pound of hamburger. (Well, it was deerburger since the partner in the exchange was an avid hunter.) This one kid in junior high was trading knitted caps with a buttons in the back for mask strings for frozen dinners. Be creative. Offer some of your services to people who are working from home…cat sitting to keep the cat from walking on the keyboard, dog sitting to make sure it doesn’t interrupt zoom calls, baby sitting after school. Tutoring the kids that are home-schooling pays pretty well. Can you cook for people who are still working? Can you deep clean the house since it is now their home and their business? Have them pay you in cash or barter.

Have no doubt. The economy is still running, and the people with money are getting more money, but not all the economy is visible. Some is underground. Goods and services are still being exchanged for value, but the value may not be in currency.

The Paradox of Discernment

My son has gotten me addicted to “Forged in Fire”–a weapon forging competition. Each contestant is given a weapon to recreate or reinterpret and their final projects are put to the test. The first hurdle is parameters. They have 3 hours to turn raw steel (and that’s part of the challenge) into a blade. It has to be the right length and the right shape, or the blacksmith goes home. Then they add the handle and guards and decorations and submit it for the second challenge. For this part, they get 2 hours. When they’re done there’s a strength test and an edge test and if the weapon’s edge curls or chips, if there are gaps between the edge and the handle, if the metal isn’t tempered and formed correctly or it fails the tests and actually breaks, that blacksmith goes home. In the Second build, the remaining Two blacksmiths go to their home forges and make a rather large project. It has to go through a kill test (with a pig carcass or a ballistics dummy) a strength test (where they beat the daylights out of it to see if it can survive) and a cut test where they check the edge and the damage it causes.

We watched the battle of the services: 4 competitions involving Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy, and each had to do a typical service knife and the ceremonial sword carried by the officers in their branch. We have been watching this show for a while now and have seen some amazing weapons produced, and my son being an Army Vet, we wanted the Army blacksmith to win. We were watching the competition with the Marines and the K-Bar. One of the competitors had a really REALLY ugly knife. The serrations near the handle looked like they’d been done by a kid. He didn’t get it ground down correctly either, so it looked like had been found on a battle field 40 years ago and suffered a lot of damage. When tested for strength, it BROKE at the first notch of the serrations. He had the actual knife to compare it to and take measurements and look at the design details, but not once did he go up to get a closer look.

In another episode, in the final challenge, they had to come up with a fancy guard around the hand…They call it a cage guard.

Basket-hilted sword - Wikipedia

The contestant was trying to weave wires into a cage and he didn’t know how. The wires bent in the wrong places and were uneven on the weave. Had he worked with wire before, he would have known to get a kit that holds the wires in place and keeps them separate and straight. He should have looked that up on jewelry sites. Once you have that, then you can weave them with more accuracy. When he got done, it was amateurish and inaccurate. It was not the $50,000 sword he wanted. The blade worked well. It was strong and sharp and would Cut and Kill. But it was ugly as sin! So it lost.

In Seth’s blog he talks about the 10-year-old that can’t tell the difference between a Sears and a Guarneri violin. I teach violin. We start 10-year-olds listening to get the best sound. They play with their teachers. They listen to soloists. They record themselves. They listen to feedback on how to get a better sound. It’s not the 10-year-old that we worry about discerning the best sound. Joshua Bell can play a Sears violin and get an amazing sound from it because he is trained to. He has adjusted his ear so that his body responds in a way to make the sound he hears in his head. The truth of the matter is that his audience would never be able to tell if he was playing his $14,000,000 Stradivarius or the one you found in your attic. He would get a good sound regardless, But, he’d have to work harder to get it.

If we educate our audience to discern and appreciate the beauty, the efficiency, the design, and the craftmanship, that raises the bar for all those around us. If they can no longer accept mediocre, won’t they try to measure up to their own expectations? If they can’t tolerate “acceptable” and crave the “exceptional,” won’t we try to measure up? Wasn’t this the basis for the free-market capitalism in the beginning?

Have we, in order to make everyone feel like we have a level playing field, lowered our expectations and accepted “good enough” and “passable” for so long that we feel threatened by the marvelous?

Let me tell you something. There are some people with amazing talent out there. But 99% of the people who really shine put in hours and hours of work into what they do. They do NOT accept the merely passable and strive for the exceptional. We see it in Joshua Bell, of course, in Sting, in the Beatles, in Jacob Collier because it’s performance art. But we also see it in architecture, in engineering, in really well-written speeches, in amazing teachers, the finest nurses, the most wonderful garbage men. But in most things–MOST THINGS–excellence is pitied, berated, put down as something useless because nobody will notice it.

NOTICE EXCELLENCE AROUND YOU! Celebrate it! Point it out! Emulate it! Don’t settle for average. Know that only you can be the best you. You cannot be the best Roberta or the best John because it’s Not you. And know that Roberta or John could never be a good you. Not even close.

Wait…who’s teaching here?

I have been teaching for a really long time. Last count? 52 years. Half a century. Most of my teaching has been in the field of music. I have been playing piano for 63 years and I listened to my mom giving piano lessons that whole time. I have a degree in Music Education that goes beyond most anyone in the field. You have to have 120 credit hours for a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, 50 of which need to be in Math, about 50 in education, and the rest general education. If you go Pre Med, it’s about 67 hours in the field of medicine. I had about 80 credit hours in music for my undergraduate degree, then I got recertified and got a 2nd degree in business finance, but still took music! I ended up with about 127 credit hours in music. Would you guess I know what I’m doing?

I have had a few students that decided what they wanted to learn and how they were going to learn it. Excuse me? I understand that most people haven’t a clue how they learn stuff, and I have developed over the years an approach that covers all the learning styles: by hearing, by reading, by watching, and by doing.

So today…sigh… The first thing out of his mouth was, “I didn’t practice the two weeks between our last lesson.” Big surprise. And the second thing was, “I wanted to move faster. I don’t feel I am progressing.” Read the first statement he made. (Can I slap him please?) He said, “Teach me like this:” and he put on a video of a woman playing a hymn that he liked using a I, IV, V and vi progression, but when she was singing the chords were much more complex because she was altering the chords with her melody. She’s playing a C chord and singing a melody centered around an F which is really interesting but that’s not how she’s presenting this. All the chords are in root position so the student needs to move his hand all over. In addition, all she’s presenting is the accompaniment but the melody is sung rather than played.

“See?” he says. “She makes it easy.” No problem. Can you play it in D? How about F? G? Do you know why those chords fit with those notes (which they don’t by the way) and how she knows which to play? No? What did you learn then? The progression isn’t written down, the melody is not written down. How do you remember the whole song? Close the computer. Now play what you saw. Do you think I can play what I saw? You’d be right. I can play it the way she showed you and at least 4 other ways.

The student underestimates the difficulty of the stuff he wants to play so he wants to skip steps. He wants to jump from Kindergarten where he doesn’t know the note names to elementary college music theory. If you are studying with someone, shouldn’t you go at the pace that both you and the teacher can agree on? I do explain every step of the way. But after 2 months, he still refers to C as Do. I told him Do could be any note on the piano. But C means C. “Oh, OK, I will make flash cards and learn that tomorrow.” No, you will simply name your notes as you play them so you get a sound and letter and a physical feeling all connected. And No, you can’t change the fingerings. “But…” NO you will learn it better this way. Fill in these blanks in the exercise with the note names. Then say the notes as you play–all three songs.

I get so frustrated. No you can’t tell me how to teach you. I know what you can and cannot do. It will take you longer to do it your way and you won’t remember. Step 1: Teacher is right! Step 2: Look at step 1.

Update 12/14/2020

Can he name his notes? Did he fill in the blanks under the notes? Does he now know the song? No, No and No. So I asked him, “Did you name your notes when you practiced?” No. “Did you make those flash cards you were talking about last time?” No. “How did you think it would go when that was precisely what I told you I was going to ask you to do at our next lesson?” Not well. (Where’s my cast iron skillet? Ka-Bong!)

OK… For Christmas we are going to learn this song by ear. I teach him the melody–Joy to the world. I explain that on the strong beats such as 1 and 3, the notes in the melody should be part of the chord he’s playing in his left hand. We’re in the key of C, so if there’s a C, an E, or a G on a strong beat, then we play a C or “I” chord. If there’s an F or an A, we need to play an F or “IV” chord in this inversion. If there’s a G, B, or D, we need to play a G7 or “V7” chord in that inversion. Do you understand why we need to know the note names now? He has a pretty good ear, but true to form, he gets some of the patterns mixed up. This is normal. His next lesson is in January.

Here’s the thing. If he hadn’t followed my instruction but had used his own instead, he might have been somewhat successful. It might have taken him longer to accomplish the result than if he’d done what I’d told him, but it would have been better. But instead of thinking “She’s nuts, I’m not going to do that!” and then making an attempt on his own, he did NOTHING! I do not think he will be a student for long.

Have I ever been in a situation where I thought the teacher was wasting my time. YES!!! Educational Methods class. However, I used their methodology to finish the projects. I used my methods to learn their methods. They had everything timed out. It was an 8 hour course. Under their constraints, it should have taken all 5 weeks during the summer session to complete 3 hours of the requirement. I told them I’d finish it. They nodded in that annoying “Yeah, Right” way and told me it was impossible. I did 2 hours of requirements in the 1st two weeks, then I did 5 hours in the remaining 3 weeks. I made them all sign my course completion paperwork. They had a tradition of ringing a cowbell when someone finished the course. I brought in a gong.

Another time, I was frustrated by this teacher who insisted on her methods and I found it terribly inefficient and fought tooth and nail on every assignment. About 1/4 of the way through the semester, I had an epiphany. The teacher was, *gasp* right! She didn’t explain her reasons for teaching the way she did, and, like a dummy, I assumed it was random and illogical. I went in to talk with her and asked some pointed questions which she answered, and I know she saw the light bulb go off. There was that “OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH!” moment. From then on, I did precisely what she asked and breezed through the rest of the class.

What a stupid response!

Do you ever find yourself responding to a friend who has been sucked into some bizzaro conspiracy theory? Now if you’re like me, I tend to hang out with people who are roughly in my intellectual range. I question everything, I redo the statistics, I do independent research (not just wiki…) and I think things through. I therefore assume that my friends have also done their due diligence.

For instance: in the 2016 election, Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump by 3 million or so votes and the dems were screaming that we should go directly to popular vote and eliminate the electoral college so the rightful person would be in charge of the country. But, of course, we adhered to the established voting practices and the winner of the electoral college ballots won: Mr. Trump. The Republicans were smirking since they won the round. But Mr. Trump did not have the populace behind him. He had some very vocal supporters and he did everything controversial you could imagine, and history will have to judge how he affected the USA during his presidency.

Then, in 2020, Mr. Biden beat Mr. Trump by 7 million or so votes. In addition, he won the electoral college votes. Now the republicans are saying there was something shady when Biden only won 16.7% of the counties and still got the highest popular vote in history. Won? Well, on the map, it only shows those counties where he got over 80% of the vote as “winning” and they don’t show the counties that Mr. Trump won at all. The counties that Mr. Trump got 80%+ were low population counties. So if you consider the charge that the percentage of counties won by Biden was lowest on record, it doesn’t take the raw data into account. Counties don’t have individual votes, so the percentage of counties means nothing.

States have electoral votes based on the population of the state. So even if Mr. Trump had 80% of the most counties, if the raw population vote was insignificant, then the state’s vote for Trump would have no measurable impact on the final counts. The Electoral college was 306 to 232 in both elections. Trump got the 306 versus Clinton in the 2016 election, and Biden got the 306 in 2020. Where’s the controversy in that? Why is this so impossible to believe. Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes, and won the electoral college 306 to 232. How is this stealing an election?

The election was in November and now it’s December. Why is this still an issue to discuss? If this next 4 years is anything like the last 20, congress will be in an adversarial relationship with the president and nothing will get done. They will whine and cry and conspire and drag their feet and things will not get done. You remember they spent 8 years debating his right to be president. (He was twice elected to the office even though the opposing party’s main focus in the first term was to Guarantee that the president didn’t Get a second term and they failed.) They insulted him and his family and fought him tooth and nail on every single issue. Then the moment Mr. Trump took office, he started reversing all the work that the previous president had done. I imagine they will be doing this for the four years Mr. Biden is in office instead of thinking of the citizens first. They insulted Mr. Trump and his family all four years and fought him tooth and nail on everything HE did.

This is not how a democracy works. This is how it locks up and gets paralyzed by inaction and infighting. They are not serving us at all. We have checks and balances…Executive, judicial and legislative branches to make sure no one has too much power. Well they left out the media–news and social and that skews everything.

Get this straight: Whether you voted for the winner or the loser, Mr. Biden IS your president. He is not going to send the National Guard into your bomb shelter to take away your guns, assign all your money to the lazy-assed Millennials and those drug-crazed welfare scammers. It takes too long for there to be noticeable changes in the fabric of society. The stuff that HW Bush did is just now being noticed, same with Clinton, George W, Obama…Delayed effects. Anything that Biden does will not be significant for much later in this decade. Oh, and scary thought: Those Millennials will be running the country soon. Better train them up. They shouldn’t think that the President is the person to whom everyone must rise against as an evil dictator that must be dethroned in his first 90 days in office.