The Pay Grade Problem

Sharon and I went to Sam’s Club yesterday. On the way into the store we stopped  to look at their parking lot-based plant display. Sharon squeaked out a long and feeble “hheeellllpp, waaaatteerrr” as we approached the area. Several of the larger plants had blown over and all of them were dry as bones. Leaves were shriveling and the potting soil had shrunk away from the pot walls.

Help Plants

As we entered the store, I told the greeter of the situation outside. He said he would tell the manager. As we walked on by, I noted that the greeter was more interested in staring into space than in the crumbling plant inventory, so I walked over to the service desk to speak to a young lady who was engaged in some vitally important texting exchange on a smartphone (or store device?). She never looked up at me. After a minute or two, I gave up there and we went on to get our items, checked out, and went to the exit door to have out receipt highlighted by the receipt highlighter person. There, I tried once more. He said, “I know . . . mumble mumble . . . but that’s above my pay grade.” Seriously. Wow.

I went by Sam’s this morning on another errand to see if the manager had gotten the word and done his/her job. The prone trees had been put back on their feet, but sadly, no water had been spared. Someone was there unwrapping new hostas (sorry hostas). I took a picture, the one above, and went about my business thinking that one way to assure that one does not push that pay grade up too far is to exhibit the level of concern we saw yesterday.

Anyway, it’s supposed to rain day after tomorrow. Maybe that will help the plants that do not spontaneously combust before then.


Battle Of The Laundry Clones

Sharon and I went to Lowe’s to buy a top-loading washing machine and dryer yesterday afternoon. We’d had it with the mold jungle growing just inside the door of our front-loader, and it tended to wander out of its assigned space into the lane of traffic in our small washroom.  Our sales person was busy with another customer when we arrived, so we killed time by  comparing the marques on the floor.

The Samsungs and LGs were very different from familiar American names and from each other. Their engineering folks had clearly been at work trying to innovate (over-innovate?). One LG washer had its controls on the front, but the tub was so deep that a smaller person would not be able to retrieve that loose sock at the bottom without entering a set of random commands on those very convenient buttons as they slid over them on the way down into the machine’s maw. I’m guessing the commands would be ignored with the lid up and the operator standing on their head in the tub. Hope so. LG also had a machine with a second mini washing machine underneath the main machine at toy poodle level. That should enable one to start training the kids to do their own laundry at a very early age. Samsung had a washing machine with a pre-wash sink in the lid. Very cool. I wonder if I could clean my paint brushes there? Probably once. But, kudos for trying Samsung and LG, really.

There was a surprise with the American brands. The ones we looked at were not different. Very much not different. In fact, except for tweaks in their rather simple skins and, sometimes, control panels, they appeared to be built from the same parts bins and by the same robots. We noted striking similarities (clone-arities) in visible components from door hinges and latches, detergent and softener trays, filters, and tubs in Maytag, Roper, and Whirlpool washing machines and dryers. Was there anything different deeper inside? Didn’t know. Were they all built in the same factory? One thing is for sure, the American marques did not have controls on the front or mini washing machines underneath. Innovation must take a back seat to cost control in a very long bus where these machines were designed.

Little boxes in the Lowe’s store,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes in the Lowe’s store,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a white one and a gray one
And a blue one and a black one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Sorry, couldn’t help it. (1)

So, I started trying to find out what the scoop was on this apparent washing machine and dryer clone thing. The first thing I noted was that Whirlpool has a link on the Maytag website. A clue? Yep. Maytag and Roper are Whirlpool brands. (2) So is Kenmore, but we did not go to Sears on our machine quest. Sears is another story. All three brands are built in Ohio out of mostly American-made parts. Don’t know about the same robots.

As strange as the washing machine story seems, Whirlpool may have done its marketing homework fairly well. Suspecting all this, although we had not done research yet, we still bought a Maytag. Ticky tacky or good enough was OK in this case. We did not really need a mini washer and we lose enough socks as it is.



Internet Privacy In America Made Great Again

I’m guessing that this week Mr. Trump will sign (1) the resolution repealing a proposed FCC rule barring ISPs from collecting and selling information related to their customers’ browsing habits. This means that just about every service provider on the other side of the terminal block upon which your internet connection appears can proceed with projects to spy on your activities (just like the NSA) and sell the information they gather to the highest bidder.

The fact is that not much will change from the state of affairs that exists today except expression of the government’s intent to move away from the people’s interests and toward corporate interests when it comes to internet privacy policy. After the last election we should not be surprised by this. And, the privacy rule being repealed has not actually taken effect yet.

So, what’s a body to do in this new government of, by, and for the corporations? Lots of safe browsing advice is to be found on the web, but one piece of that advice now becomes a requirement for those who want to maintain even a modicum of control over what their ISP can see and sell. The prudent internet user simply must be using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt not only the content of traffic, but the identity of the service or destination to which one is connected.

I have been using a VPN whenever I take my laptop or tablet out of my home. I’ll be using it all the time now. When I selected my VPN, I looked for one operated by a European provider (government of the people, good privacy law) and which provided its own Domain Name Services (DNS). It does no good to employ a VPN that uses DNS servers that are owned by the ISP or some other privacy invading web service entity. That might take some research. There are many good options. (2)

Sadly, good VPN options all cost money, about $60 per year, a new tax on privacy in America made great again.


  1. Updated April 4, he did, on April 3.

Lemmings Thwarted

A few days ago I wrote a piece (1) about Speaker Ryan’s doomed “Obamacare” repeal and replace bill. The incompetent bill was something that an only a backwoods college freshman Randian might dream up in a closet shut off from any sensory perception. It accomplished nothing except to alarm thoughtful people.

I thought the bill might pass because the Republican majority, already detached from reality, really seemed to be running like a herd of lemmings toward Ryan’s legislative cliff. But, no, it did not happen. Quite unexpectedly, for me, it did not happen because of something else in that post that I wrote must happen to protect us from extremism:

We need diversity in government to force compromise, to force rationality that cannot exist within an intellectual climate dominated by dogma and absolute power. Let’s put away political “holy” books and flags and use our heads — for a change.

We got it. We got the diversity we needed. We got it from the Freedom Caucus, from a caucus that wants to return this country to the state of affairs that existed in 1861, just before the Civil War. And, that’s OK, not the return part, the help part. Those strong-willed folks prevented Ryan’s lemmings from destroying one of the best pieces of constitutional “general welfare” (2) legislation ever written, certainly in this century.

I’ll have to check my congressman’s (Pat Tiberi) website after the dust settles. Pat runs right in the middle of the lemming pack. Not too much evidence of independent thought in his voting record. Earlier today the health care pitch looked like it had been whipped up by Donald Trump, himself. (3)

As Speaker Ryan deals with the press, I know that this victory for reason may not be long-lived, but today I saw hope.

All-in-all, a very good day, today.


  2. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Going To Mars

I read this morning that NASA has a plan to get to Mars in 20 years. (1) If it takes 20 years, they will probably land at Elon’s third DragonPort and freshen up a bit at the local SpaceX hotel. (2) But that’s not the point. Once on Mars and cleaned up after the long trip, when those intrepid NASA explorers take a Model Y out for a run in the circumplanetary desert they will have no water, no trees, no animals, no oxygen, and a thin CO2 atmosphere in which to suffocate should their breathable air bottles spring leaks.

Which is to say, why bother? Our new EPA chief may be able to recreate this environment on Earth in less than 20 years and save a lot of money.



Ad Blockers

Several of the web sources I like to use to stay up on current affairs in politics and technology have recently started blocking access to those who use ad blockers. I’ve been able to stay connected to my domains of interest by finding alternate sources (not alternate facts), or by twiddling a few browser knobs.

It seems to me that, to name two, all The New York Times and The Inquirer have done is to chase folks away from their own shops. They have reduced their own potential reader bases while doing nothing to fix their core problem. I’d love to see some numbers that say differently.

Here’s the thing, like many ad blocker users, I don’t use an ad blocker to block ads. That’s right. I use an ad blocker to block connections to web sites that I do not trust, and to block scripts that have nothing to do with a media company’s delivery of news and everything to do with increasingly shady ways of taking personal information from me.

For example, if The New York Times and The Inquirer would serve their own ads from their own domains, if those ads did not pop up and dance in front of the content I am trying to read, if they did not run sleazy little programs to sift through my browser’s internal electronic garbage can, I would look at them without complaint, with boredom perhaps, but not complaint. You know, like I do with the old fashioned paper newspaper I get every day.

It’s time to look behind you, guys and gals, because your view of the future looks pretty grim.


Healthcare For Lemmings

The present discussion about health care legislation is embarrassing. It really is. The Republican proposal is so ill-conceived, so ill-constructed, and so pointless that it really merits no discussion. But that does not matter to its sponsors. The only thing that matters to them is getting rid of that “disastrous” Obamacare that just might be the beginning of a just and effective national healthcare system that just might improve the general welfare of the people in the United States. Perhaps they have they not read the Preamble to the Constitution they purport to protect. (1)

The right has become consumed by a narrow and brittle ideology. Logic and reason hold no sway there, certainly not the CBO. It’s now the domain of alternate facts and of a juvenile Randian philosophy which is just as screwed up in its own way as was Lenin’s communism. And, for the time being, the traditional left seems unable to define and articulate its guiding principles. For the terms of two Democratic presidents the party has been unable to deflect the wave of ideological lemmings on the right, so those critters are about to carry us all over a cliff to an economic, cultural, and environmental crash from which recovery will require decades. That is, unless we do something different to scatter the mob.

That something different is to form a government of the people —  to declare our independence. What a novel idea. I cannot believe that all the people in this country can be neatly sorted into Republican and Democratic camps. What each of us must do is to recognize that this underlying two-party system reality is the root cause of our oscillating extremes of governmental disfunction and growing national division. Each of us needs to start voting for whatever party or person winds one’s own clock, to close our ears to the ideologs, to chart our own course, and to consciously try to block absolute majorities in Congress, in state assemblies, and in city councils. We need diversity in government to force compromise, to force rationality that cannot exist within an intellectual climate dominated by dogma and absolute power. Let’s put away political “holy” books and flags and use our heads — for a change.


  1. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It’s Not The Source, It’s The Truth That Counts

On Meet The Press today, Senator Cotton, R-AR, said “far down the road” to the possible appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian contacts by Trump staffers before Trump became President. He warned that all we have are anonymous sources, and anonymous sources cannot always be trusted. (1)

True, Senator Cotton, not always, but often anonymous sources are the only way to uncover corruption in government. Do you think we can rely upon Mr. Trump and his friends to tell us the truth? How’s that been going for you? Perhaps like the truth from Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover? We must also remember that these are dangerous times for truth-seekers. Trump’s reflexive action is to divert attention from the subject of stories that illuminate his illegal or ill-considered activities by discrediting or demeaning the sources. It is harder to discredit an unknown source. You can’t call “Pocahontas” or “so-called” on a shadow.  Sometimes anonymity is the only crack one can squeeze truth through, often because the source’s livelihood or even life is at risk.

Sometimes the methods used to expose the truth must be as illegal as the subject of a story itself. Sometimes, it’s that important.



Three-Year-Old Revokes Rule

We’ve had an interesting week or so in Washington. First, on February 17th Donald Trump signed legislation revoking the Stream Protection Rule (1) which helped protect streams from coal strip mine pollution. This, he thinks, is an important part of putting miners back to work digging the coal no one wants. (2) At ThinkProgress, Joe Romm has a 2014 piece in which he references Paul Krugman’s take on miner unemployment. Automation has taken those jobs and they are not coming back. (3) As I see it, the non-rule we now have might best be called the “Shit Non-Rule” because it basically says it’s OK to shit in your neighbor’s backyard and let the neighbor pay the costs of cleanup. It’s the American way.

Then, today our non-elected (4) leader decided that news agencies that don’t tell it like he sees it can expect access problems. My first thought is that this action is much like that of a three-year-old who won’t let a friend on the outs come to their birthday party, and that really says a lot about the dangerous character that sits in the Oval Office these days. Upon reflection, I think the excluded news agencies really just missed out on an alternate fact presentation. Maybe they could have made better use of their time chatting and drinking coffee around a table at Starbucks instead of listening to a 3-year-old having a tantrum. We’ll see what excuse pops up, or who gets blamed. I don’t think this will last. Not like the Shit Non-Rule.


    By votes cast: Trump-62,985,106 Clinton-65,853,625

A Flawed Democracy

I read in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index 2016” (1) this morning that the United States is now a “flawed democracy”. Of course, we knew that. It’s been that way for a while. But this is a new (January) formal ranking from a respected source. On page 4, the Index says that the country has dropped to its new ranking because :

“Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US.” (page 4)

Then, in trying to understand this discontent the Index notes:

That, “The parallels between the June 2016 Brexit vote and the outcome of the November 8th US election are manifold. In both cases, the electorate defied the political establishment.” (page 12)

And that, “Donald Trump’s victory was stunning because it was achieved in the face of the unremitting hostility of the entire political establishment.” (page 12)

I’ll grant that confidence in the US government is low, maybe historically in some modern sense, although I would say that it was certainly lower during the Civil War Period. The reasons why this might be so are another matter, but certainly relate to a constant stream of propaganda from nearly evangelical radio and TV personalities and from what we might now call alternative news outlets or entertainment channels masquerading as news outlets.

I’ll grant that there are some similarities between the Brexit vote and the US presidential election, chiefly that both outcomes were incomprehensible disasters, but there was certainly a massive output of propaganda and “alternate facts” during the campaigns.

The Economist missed the boat on the third point. I’ll not grant that Trump won the US Presidential election. He absolutely did not. He lost it by 62,985,106 to 65,853,625. (2) That is, 2,868,159 US citizen’s votes were simply, publicly, and legally not counted, tossed out. At least in the Brexit vote, the people’s votes added up to the numbers required to create the head-spinningly silly result. In the US, our medieval Electoral College, even further hamstrung by individual state rules prohibiting electors use of the power of reason granted them in the Constitution, over-ruled the people and handed the Presidency to the clear loser of the popular vote. In what kind of a democracy is this permitted to happen? A flawed one.

So, while The Economist called the end result right, it missed what I think is the key point of justification completely. If your vote does not count, you do not have a democracy – regardless of what a country’s constitution says. To my mind, one’s confidence in the government comes way down the list in ranking democracies.