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Monday, April 23, 2018

Getting smart about a weed that makes people stupid

During most of my semi-adult and adult life, people around me have used marijuana.  That is the reason I have never found it enticing.  I have been disturbed by its effects on people I have observed.  I cite two such examples.

The first involves an extremely talented tenor saxophone player in a band I once played with when I was of high school age.  Some friends had organized a garage band.  We spent 6 to 10 hours a day in Karl's garage one summer listening to jazz records and trying to play what we heard.   By August we had a small book of songs we could actually play.  We started out with the ambition of playing dixieland,  but along the way we became impressed with the virtuosity of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and our aspirations changed.  The kid who played sax with us moved, so we were out a reed player.  Our band members came from different high schools in the area.  We knew kids from the various high school bands and had encouragement from some of the band directors.  The director from United Township H.S. fronted a combo, and he introduced us to the tenor player who he featured as a soloist to replace the departed sax player.    I'll call him Manny.  He was from a Mexican neighborhood where the railroad workers lived along the tracks.  

Manny's talent was far greater than any of the other band members, except for Karl.  Karl had been taught the guitar at a very early age by his Brazilian grandfather.  The two set a musical standard that made the rest of us exert ourselves to complement their playing.  Manny used music as a way to deal with poverty, racial discrimination, and a difficult home life.  Many young people in his neighborhood dealt with the same problems,  and they had developed another way to ameliorate their situation.

Three railroads ran through the community and one of them had a huge switching yard near the neighborhood where Manny lived.  During World War II, hemp was used in making war materiels, and seeds from it fell off the railroad cars and took root in the rights-of-way and nearby fields.  People in the neighborhood harvested it,  dried it, and smoked it.  People say that the stuff from that commercial hemp was not particularly good,  but the people who lived along the tracks seemed to make it work.

Manny did not smoke marijuana around the band members when we worked out arrangements and rehearsed.  But he did some nights when we had a gig.  Sometimes if he felt tense or preoccupied by problems,  he would smoke a little to relax and get in the mood to play music.  This never bothered fellow band members who wanted everyone to play well.  Manny did not smoke cigarette-sized roaches.  His looked more like cigars.

Sometimes Manny seemed terribly distracted.  We thought he had problems at home that were upsetting, but he never wanted to talk about his home life.  Sometimes at a gig, he would smoke heavily to adjust his mood to play music.  One night after a break, Manny appeared severely stoned.  As we started to play,  Manny was clearly not playing the same song or in the same band as the rest of us.  His rhythm was off and he seemed almost tone deaf.  Karl hustled him off the stand and told the audience that something went wrong with Manny's saxophone.

It happened another time when a band member made a tape recording of the set.  A few days later, we played it back for Manny and he  couldn't believe what he heard.  He asked us never to let him on the band stand if he got like that again.  Manny's band director helped him get a music  scholarship, and after he graduated from high school, we never heard from him again.  Years later, I asked the band director if he knew how Manny was doing, and he said he did not know and was afraid to ask.  But for the band members,  Manny left a memory of the destructive effects that cannabis could have on a big talent.

I later found out that excessive use of marijuana could cause a person to become disassociated from his environment and produce auditory hallucinations.  That's apparently what happened to Manny.

My next negative encounter came in 1968, my first year of teaching college.  That was the height of the "hippy era."  I had a 2 o'clock class in early American literature at the English building, which occupied a remote corner of the campus.  Students gathered around the entrance to smoke before class.  Many were dragging on roaches,   When class commenced, some members sat with distant stares and only occasionally seemed to focus on the class discussion for a moment or two.  Those students did not take notes, or very few.  The quality of their attention became an issue on examinations and papers submitted for the class.  They were remarkably incoherent.  Some were confused.  And some made no sense whatever.  A professor from the history department brought the matter to the faculty senate, which set up a special meeting to discuss the matter.  When the students received failing grades for their incomprehensible efforts,  they would often come to the faculty offices to discuss their grades.Their attempts to explain their  efforts were more unintelligible than their written work.  The faculty was concerned that the amount of time reading nonsensical papers detracted from more serious work by students.  A policy was formed that professors would annotate early efforts which produced incoherent papers, but after initial efforts to explain the grades,  they would simply grade the papers with a brief explanation of the errors  and then file the papers.  The "pot files" became a big campus joke.  But rather quickly students stopped coming to class stoned or tried to take tests under the influence.

That episode was evidence that people under the influence of marijuana could not competently perform mental tasks.

On the other hand, I am acquainted with a number of people for whom marijuana has performed medical wonders.  One couple has a child who had severe seizures for which the doctors could find no control.  Then a specialist they consulted suggested they try a medicine made from cannabis.  It worked.  

Another person had arthritis pain so severe, it made her a near invalid.  She tried a regimen with pot and was able to resume an active life.

A mental health counselor I know has found that marijuana is a safer, more effective, and a cheaper way to treat some people with mental health issues.

Marijuana can be an intoxicant, and some people can develop a dependency  on it, if not an outright addiction.  But it also has proven medical benefits that have not been fully explored and exploited.  The scientists need to be turned loose on it,  which means that the laws which affect so many casual users need to be gotten out of the way.

Not taking advantage of marijuana's benefits is dumber than some of those papers I tried to read in the pot files.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Aberdeen: a burner town

In the jargon of market analysts who characterize communities in regard to their economic development, Aberdeen is a burner town.  

A burner is something that is disposed of once it is used.  A non-contract cell phone which you can buy at Wal-Mart, activate some minutes of talking time, and throw away after using it--particularly if you want no record of the transactions you engage in--is called a burner.  A cheap car bought privately without any submission of paperwork,  used for some kind of shady task, or a demolition derby, and then disposed of, most effectively by burning, is called a burner.

Communities which are desperate for jobs and business activity but have little in the way of location and infrastructure to offer are called burners when they accrue a record of transient businesses passing through them.  The usual situation is one in which the local community offers some very significant financial incentives to prospective companies.  The state in which such communities are found are nearly always  "right-to-work" states, meaning they are anti-union and have legal codes which are pro-employer and anti-worker.  The pay level in such communities is so low that any enterprise that can offer slightly better wages will have no trouble recruiting employees.  Some otherwise legitimate businesses sometimes find  need to set up a quick, temporary operation, and they seek out such communities.  Such communities are also attractive to fly-by-night operations.  Low costs, minimal standards, and a tolerance for unethical and dishonest enterprises are are what such communities offer to attract potential businesses.

Aberdeen began and grew as a railroad hub, the source of its nickname  Hub City.  It was never a boom town, and it spawned few resident industries.    What growth it has experienced has been as a distribution center, the third largest city in South Dakota, about 200 miles away from the largest cities in the Dakotas, Sioux Falls and Fargo.  After the collapse of railroads during the 1970s, population growth in Aberdeen stagnated, actually experienced a slight decline: [1970-1980] -0.24 %/yr [1980-1990] -0.2 %/yr [1990-2000] -0.02 %/yr. 

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the rather intricate web of railroad tracks that wove through Aberdeen connecting it with towns in all directions was dismantled and the rights of way turned into bicycle and jogging-hiking trails with many of them returned to farm land.  During that period, the 14-county area around Aberdeen led the nation in its rate of outmigration.  Without the rail connections, Aberdeen was isolated and hard to get to.  For a time Republic Airlines offered convenient air service with local direct flights between Sioux Falls, Fargo, Bismarck and the Twin-Cities.  But that service was not sustainable for long and service shrank to flights only to the Twin-Cities hub. Aberdeen is not easy to get to.

In 1989, Aberdeen was hit with a calamity when the Imprimis plant, a subsidiary of Control Data, the manufacturer of computer systems was closed.  Control Data was struggling to stay solvent in the swiftly evolving age of cybernetics  and was closing plants and laying off employees throughout the country.  However, when it closed the Aberdeen plant, it said the plant was too far away from its customers.  That reason emphasized the town's inconvenient location and sparse infrastructure.

Three electronics-related companies were recruited to occupy some of the space vacated by  Imprimis and over time provided about 300 jobs, but those companies, too, have left town.

For a  time some vacant buildings housed call centers which employed hundreds, but after a brief flourish, they, too, drifted away.  A locally grown business closed down 240 jobs in 2015, when the Wyndham hotel reservation system left town.  It was originally the Super 8 hotel reservation system, but was transformed into the Wyndham group after a series of mergers.

In their effort to attract business, promoters emphasize the low cost of doing business in the state,  and emphasize the very few workers who are union members.  A former colleague who was a labor economist remarked that the climate is great for businesses but a lousy place to work.   But he was quick to point out that South Dakota's low tax burden and anti-labor laws do not, in fact, attract stable, reputable businesses.  Such businesses do not mind paying taxes where there is a strong, reliable infrastructure to support their operations.  They consider taxes an investment in their operation.  But Aberdeen has not attracted the kind of businesses that create a stable and accomplished work force.  A sampling of business closings since Imprimis left town shows the burner pattern:

  • 1996:  Sheldahl closes, 125 jobs.
  • 2001:  Midcom closes, 190 jobs.
  • 2008:  K.O. Lee, a local tool manufacturer closes.
  • 2009:  Hub City, doesn't close but lays off 79 in Jan, and Feb.
  • 2012:  Wells Fargo Finance lays off 66.
  • 2012:  Molded Fiberglass  lays off 92.
  • 2012:  Verifications cuts 77 jobs.
  • 2013:  Northern Beef Packers lays off 108 in April, 260 in July, eventually closes.
  • 2015: Midstates Printing, cuts 55 jobs.
  • 2015:  Wyndham Hotels closes, 240  jobs.
The latest large-scale employer to leave town is Molded Fiber Glass Co. which announced its closure in December with the elimination of 409 jobs.  Its plant was a classic burner operation.  The plant was built solely to manufacture the huge blades for wind turbine generators.  It had only one customer:  General Electric.  Economic development people nattered away about the facility becoming a part of the Aberdeen business community,  but never broached the fact that the plant was created to make only one product for an order from one customer, and would likely be shut down when that order was filled.

When the announcement of the closure was made in December, neither company or economic development officials mentioned that a year ago  General Electric proudly announced:
As of April 2017, GE has completed the acquisition of LM Wind Power, a leading independent supplier of rotor blades to the wind industry. By in-sourcing wind turbine blade design and manufacturing for GE Renewable Energy, we improve our ability to increase energy output while reducing the cost of electricity to create more value for our customers.
GE had acquired its own manufacturer of wind turbine blades, a global company for $1.5  billion.   It no longer needed MFG Co.  LM Windpower was headquartered in Denmark with a plant in Grand Forks, ND, which employs about 650.

Aberdeen's shaky economic status is also reflected in the retail sector.  This year its Kmart was closed, and today it was announced that Herberger's, one of the original anchor stores in the Aberdeen Mall, was purchased by liquidators and will soon close.

Meanwhile, the community tries to attract more burner operations by boasting how cheap it is:
We have no state income tax, no corporation tax, low business and property costs, a great central US location, an expanding workforce, and a regulatory environment that consistently ranks high in the country. In fact, South Dakota is almost always at the top in nationwide studies of business friendliness for small business and entrepreneurship.
In the current frenzy to create jobs, there is little attention paid to those jobs largely filled  by immigrants, jobs that people actually fill out of desperation, not jobs they want to spend their lives doing.  Companies do not think much about  jobs that people can live with.  Folks like to talk about workforce development, but they are silent about job development that supports decent lifestyles and stability.  

Such  is life in a burner town. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

For many, despising Trump has nothing to do with politics

Investigating reports of criminal activity is what law enforcement was created to do.  When Trump and his gulls claim that the special counsel's investigation is a witch hunt,  they are trying to dismiss Trump's lifetime of nefarious activity.  His record is something he built himself over the decades, not something manufactured by the opposing party.

In an editorial, The New York Times summed up his life history:  

Mr. Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he’s gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money and his own bravado.
I recall a long conversation with a retired commercial banker from Chicago in the late 1980s in which he explained why Chicago businesses leaders wanted Trump to stay out of their town because every where he went he gave business a bad name.

Two months before the 2016 election,  the Huffington Post published a story with the headline

Trump’s Criminal History Should Be Front and Center.

In March of that year, the conservative National Review, published a story with the headline

The Definitive Roundup of Trump’s Scandals and Business Failures

These stories did not mention Trump's politics.  They focused on his belligerent dishonesty, and they cited the documented incidents in which he put it on display.

Trump's charges that the Department of Justice and the FBI are engaged in a witch hunt must be assessed in the context of his history.  Any person with the record of malfeasance such as Trump's is someone law enforcement is obligated to monitor and investigate, because he is, to use the catch phrase, "a person of interest."  His record of past and  continuing misdeeds makes him a perennial suspect.  Law enforcement keeps  lists of known offenders so that they know where to look when certain crimes are committed.  Trump appears prominently on such lists.  The investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election will examine his relationships with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures.  His ties to them make him a person of investigative interest.  The Department of Justice would be grossly neglecting its duty if it didn't investigate Trump.  So, Trump tries to discredit the DOJ and the FBI because they are examining the facts of Trump's business history.

While the news media reports and svpeculates about Trump's latest tweet and the political
turmoil he creates,  business journalists who have covered Trump over the years don't let Trump's misdirections of attention divert their eyes from his continuous history of malfeasance and mendacity.  The truth of what Trump is has been established by his own behavior.  Those who know his history are convinced it will be revealed with a huge load of documented facts.  That is why Robert Mueller, the FBI, and law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are so dangerous to him.  They will expose him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Resistance to stupidity is needed to rise above the degradation of politics

Donald Trump is a symptom of a nation in a severe state of degradation.  At a recent fundraising speech in St. Louis,  he bragged about lying to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.   It is considered a political point when one politician can accuse another of lying.  But Trump lies constantly. so anything that comes out of his mouth cannot be believed or trusted.  Still, he holds many people in thrall.  When he can brag about lying and his thralldom falls to its knees in adulation,  it indicates how markedly the U.S. has fallen into decay.   Trump flaunts his mendacity as a demonstration of his power. 

This is not the country that we veterans once served.   It is what we served to protect our country from.

The underlying question is,  what made Trump possible in America?  How did the people allow their government to become the debased imitation of a predatory corporation?  Why have so many people abandoned all standards of human decency and aspiration to worship a person who, at best, can only be termed a low-life creep? What happened to the people?  How were they turned into sheeplike prey for predatory capitalism?

You might say they have been brainwashed.  At any rate, their brains were tampered with.  Among the techniques they were subjected to is psychographic messaging.  The general attack on the human mind is something that George Orwell warned about.   When the media are used to monitor people and flood their minds with misinformation,  they are easily controlled.  Education does not necessarily prevent people from intellectual damage, but enlightened inquiry produced by sound education enables people to resist the attacks on their consciousness.  Those whose minds have survived the media-carried onslaught are people whose educations took and helped them develop the habits of verifying facts and employing critical thought.

But many people do not have the advantage of an education that enables them to have an informed voice in a democratic society.  They do not have the level of literacy that enables them to discern propaganda and manipulative messaging. As school boards have been invaded by right-wing zealots, education in the language arts and subjects that provide perspective and critical analysis of thought have been under attack.   Consequently, many schools have purged their curricula of courses that are not devoted to making students docile, unquestioning employees.  This elimination of courses which encourage the acquisition of thought processes has even reached higher education.  

The success of this purge of intellectual discourse is evident in the comments made on the various media.  Very many of the responses posted on the Internet media are factually wrong, stupid, and malicious.  Attempts to counter falsehoods and hate-driven posts are met with a barrage of ignorance and stupidity.  Trump's puerile tweets  encourage people of mean mentality to join in a chorus of belligerant ignorance.  Trump's tweets follow the known pattern of identifying and gaining mental control of the vulnerable.

The students of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, responded to the massacre of 17 of their fellow students and teachers with a thoughtful articulateness that sent many Americans into an abusive rage--former Sen. Rick Santorum, Laura Ingraham,  Ted  Nugent, etc .Senior David Hogg particularly elicited utter malice from Ingraham and a dolt whose efforts at thoughtful articulation are shown on the left.

These people have the First Amendment right to express their feelings.  And we have the First Amendment right to show how their expressions designate them as people of defective minds and character who are unfit to participate in productive human discourse.  They follow the lead of Donald Trump who demonstrates his unfitness daily.

The people who criticize public education are often expressing their fear of students who possess educations and intellects vastly superior to their own.  They are part of the culture war.  They are programmed though psychographic messaging to regard anyone, but especially high school kids, who can competently process information and articulate cogently as being products of liberal indoctrination. These people accused the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School kids as pawns of liberal teachers.  These are the people who claim that professors who practice the precepts of their disciplines and profession in our colleges and universities are displaying a liberal bias.  

These are the people whose intolerance of genuine discourse and debate have brought America to a state of degradation.  They do not value or respect people who are not possessed of their blind bigotry.

If the human learning that has developed over the centuries is to retain any value,  these people must be resisted word by word.  They have dismissed science.  They have said that the legacy media is all fakery.  They cannot use language with integrity,  and cling to Trump's mendacity as their guide to reality.

We need a vigorous resistance to save the good things humanity has produced. We must resist the destruction of a tradition of education that has carried out the vision of the founders. Resistance is survival.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States