Does your “give-a-$#!tter” work?

I am on the phone listening to a female robot’s soothing reassurances: ”Thank you for holding. We value your call. Someone will be with you as soon as possible”. Which she repeats between phrases of soothing music.  

I am sure she means well. She probably has a family, maybe even kids of her own. I wonder if she gets a coffee break. Does she go out with her robot friends for lunch? Is she really as nice as her tone indicates? Is she that way with everyone? Hey! Maybe she likes me! 

Nah.  She doesn’t even know me.  Who am I kidding?

Or maybe she does! Maybe she’s at the end of a computer owned by Amazon or Google that knows everything about me, including my good looks, charm, and personality…!

Then I wake up. It’s 7AM and time to greet the loneliness of a crowded pandemic. 

A friend of mine once asked her husband why he didn’t seem to “give a $#!t” anymore. 

“My ‘give-a-$#!tter’ is broken.” he said.  

Which eventually broke her “give-a-$#!tter”. Now they’re divorced. Fortunately, their “give-a-$#!tters” still work for their kids.

A “give-a-$#!tter”, for those of you who still believe in Superman,  is basically a meter for caring. He didn’t care, so his “give-a-$#!tter” was broken.  

Which pretty much describes this country now. Republicans don’t care about Democrats and vice versa. Rural folks don’t care about city folks. The rich don’t care about the poor. Big companies don’t care about their customers, (although they do “give-a-HUGE-$#!t” about their customers’ data).

It was not always this way. Despite the constant lauding of American individualism today, the early Americans focussed more on community than lore would have it. They had to to survive. Wagon trains were communities. If your “give-a-$#!tter” broke, you were kicked out. And bad things happened to you. Like death.  

Through the years, projects too big for individuals became community efforts, from small towns all the way up to the Federal government. “United we stand; divided we fall” was the idea.

Our “give-a-$#!tters” all worked.

Vestiges of that culture remain here and there: public schools, public water, our highway system.

But as the country grew more successful, western writers and later Hollywood ignored the culture of community and glorified rugged individualism: If you work hard, you succeed; if you don’t, you die… and good riddance. 

Now nearly half of the country considers the notion of a safety net to be socialism, which is just another word for communism. 

Our recent leader, who personifies a broken “give-a-$#!tter,” identified that divide instinctively. And, under his leadership what had been a weak seam joining the two sides, became a huge gap.  Immigrants were denigrated. The pandemic was ignored, killing hundreds of thousands. White Supremacists, once furtive,  came out of their sewers and attacked the Capitol. 

“Now is not the time to debate gun control” says the NRA after Atlanta and Denver and every other mass shooting, followed by genuflecting to the Second Amendment. Imagine the number of lives that would have been saved had the words “muskets” or “cannon” been used in it instead of “arms”. 

Or if the NRA’s “give-a-$#!tter” worked.

Broken “give-a-$#!tters ” are way more common now than, say, during the last national crisis, WWII. Today, even though it takes no effort to wear a mask or stay a few feet apart as a sign of caring about others, many Americans, including government leaders, vehemently refuse.   

Valuing community hasn’t completely disappeared. There isn’t a religion in the world that isn’t based on functioning “give-a-$#!tters”. Sports teams have it. So do families. Even neighborhoods.

But broken “give-a-$#!tters” are trending now. Political leaders used to care about people. Now they care about polls. Businesses used to be “relationship driven”; now they’re “data driven”. You and I don’t matter, data does. Artificial Intelligence does. 

Which can get discouraging. Well, except in my case. Because I know there’s a robot out there, somewhere in my dreams, who really does “give-a-$#tt”.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

How To Make America Rich Again

“Sacré Bleu! How could you do that!” says Buddy, my standard French poodle the other day. He speaks French, English and Bark! I only speak English, so I am always at a disadvantage.

“Do what?” I ask, although I have an idea.

“Tell me those things were treats?”

“Those ‘things’ were heart worm pills, which you always refuse to take.”

“You lied.”

“If I hadn’t wrapped them in cookies, you could get heart worm and die. I had to lie.”

He waters a nearly dead bush, nearly dead because he waters it a lot.  

“That’s what’s wrong with humans. You lie”, he says dismissively.

I recall a conversation with a Penn sociologist who said everyone lies multiple times a day, mostly “good” lies, to be sure, but lies just the same.

I hate it when he’s right.

“Dogs don’t lie. Another reason we are superior to humans. It’s a très sad part of nature.” 

I can’t argue. It is sad. We walk along in silence. I think about all the lying, and for what? Then, I get an idea, an unbelievably great idea! 

“I have an idea! “ I say. “An unbelievably great idea!”  

He ignores me, busy leaving a personal souvenir on a neighbor’s lawn.  

“The country is in trillions of dollars in debt, right?” I say, picking up the souvenir with a plastic bag (I am ever the good neighbor).

“Is that your news of the day?”

“Nope. This is. I know where to get the money to pay the debt. And how to make America rich again!”

He stops and looks at me. “I can smell stupid, you know.” 

“A new tax!” I say proudly. “The Liars Tax. Anytime you lie, you have to pay a tax. Simple, huh.”

“Is that a joke? It is. It’s a joke, right?”  

I am undaunted. “So, say you’re a politician and you want to get elected and you promise to, I dunno… be honest”.


“You know that’s a lie, because all politicians lie. It’s part of their DNA. We all know that.”

“Bien sur. Of course.”

“Enter the Liars Tax. The bigger the lie, the bigger the tax! Can you imagine the money that tax will produce just from politicians!”

“One problem,—“

“—It’s not just politicians. It’s everyone.  And I’m not just talking about obvious lies. I’m talking about legal lies, too, you know the ones that lawyers write for companies—”

“A big problem —”

“—like Comcast or Verizon – in fact all advertisers! And think about the Pharmaceutical Industry. The Liars Taxes they will pay boggles the mind! ” I’m on a roll. “Car dealers will have to pay in advance. ”

We’re walking briskly now. “So will the media”, I say. “Can you imagine how much money the government will get from Fox News alone!!”

“Yes…”, he says. “It will be zero!”

“Zero!  Are you—?”

He looks at me with a cross between disdain and pity. If you’ve ever had a French poodle, you know what I mean.

“Who’s going to decide?” he asks.

“Decide what?”

“Which is the lie and which is the truth?”

“OK…Oh!  How about Donald Trump! He told 30,000 lies in just four years. Takes one to know one, right!”

The look becomes a bit sadder. If I didn’t know better, I’d say pity was creeping in.

“OK, OK…”, I say,  “How about the clergy?”

“They believe everyone.”

“OK, OK…Athletes?”

“Deflategate, Houston Astros…”


“You’re kidding, right?”


“Which party, yours or mine?”

“Um… teachers?”

“Of evolution or religion, and whose version of history?”


“So I can be accused of eating homework…”

“Oh…” I’m starting to run out of steam. “OK…Just let me think about this a minute… or three…”  

“Yes, Henry. You do that”, he says in a soothing voice. “And when you have an answer, tell just me, OK? Meanwhile, let’s just keep this between you and me. Don’t even tell your kids, your family…the neighbors…strangers, especially strangers.”

We’re back at our front door. I open it and he lets me go in first. “Meantime, why don’t you relax on the couch, turn on “Leave it to Beaver” or “Superman” or “Disney Channel” and relax? OK?…Good boy!…That’s a good boy!…”

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What Texas is teaching the rest of us

Half the state without drinking water. Electric bills of thousands, one for $16,752. Gas lines and wind turbines frozen and inoperable. Millions without power. Ted Cruz shamed for escaping to Cancun because he could, while his constituents were dying inside their houses.

That Texas swagger got pretty stilted this week. The storied Lone Star state, bastion of rugged male individualism, self-sufficiency, and humble bragging, got blown away by an old lady: Mother Nature. 

At first Governor Greg Abbott and the coal-oil-gas cabal blamed the renewable energy sector – wind and solar – an easy target. But then the word got out that wind and solar provide only 20% of the state’s energy on a sunny, windy day, and a mere 7% on a cold, snowy day.

Dang it!

So now, he’s blaming the state energy sector, a little closer to the truth, but also a pile of horse puckey. The Texas energy sector was designed built and modified by Texans, and no-one else.

In the 1930’s the Federal government started regulating interstate transmission of electric power. Texas, by that time, the muy grande hombre of energy and anti-regulation, immediately refused to send or receive power across state lines. 

Texas didn’t need energy or regulation from anyone, pardner!

With no regulation, energy competition in Texas became the wild, wild west.

In the 1970’s, in an effort to calm that wildness, the state formed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT. But the people who ran ERCOT were still oil-coal-gas good ol’ boys, so little really changed.  

Natural gas machinery, housed inside buildings in the rest of the country, were left outside in Texas. It was cheaper. Wind farms and solar farms, had no anti-icing features. It was cheaper. Gas lines and pipelines were not winterized. It was cheaper. 

Lower costs meant bigger profits. Yahoo!

In 1999, Governor George W. Bush went even farther. He deregulated the Texas energy sector, leaving it a purely market-driven, supply and demand system.

Yippy kai yay!

But when Arctic weather hit the fan in 2011, Texas did nothing. So it happened again this year, only far more catastrophically. Supply dropped, demand grew, prices skyrocketed. And, because Texas had refused to join either of the two main power grids serving the rest of the country, Texans were left out in the cold – literally – and facing utility bills of thousands of dollars.  

The Lone Star state felt pretty helpless and lonely last week.

Compare that to New Jersey. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, New Jersey residents lost power for weeks. New Jersey utilities, following regulations, billed them only $15 that month vs a normal bill of around $150. No-one was charged thousands of dollars.  

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap”, some wise old guy (I think his name was Jerry) said eons ago.

But before we non-Texans laugh up our sleeves at anyone with a twang, we might look at ourselves, too.  

Take the Covid19 crisis. Some states sent doctors and nurses to New York in the beginning. New Yorkers returned the favor later. Even though it has the fifth largest economy in the world, California couldn’t deal with the last two years’ fires by themselves; they needed and got help from other states. New York and its surrounding states are incredibly dependent on each other, economically and culturally.

That is why we call ourselves the “united states”. We help each other out in dealing with things as large as a pandemic or as small as winter storms.

That concept translates equally to international situations. Nationalism is a nice idea in terms of culture and history, but not when it alienates other countries who could help us. We can’t fight off Russia’s or China’s or Iran’s attacks without the help of our allies. We can’t take on the next pandemic without our allies along with other countries. We might get to zero carbon emission by ourselves in 30 years, but we can never survive climate change itself without the help of the entire world.

As Lincoln might have said: we need each other, maybe not all the time, maybe not most of the time, but absolutely some of the time.  

Just ask Texas.

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The 5th Avenue Smoking Gun

I’ve always thought you could divide the world into 2 groups: leaders and followers. 

We talk about leaders a lot. “Hey, that Molly, she’s a great leader!”  

Or, “Don’t work for that bozo! He couldn’t lead his way through an open door!”

We tend to ignore followers because, well, they’re followers. Who cares, right?

Here are some qualities of a good leader you’ll find in most leadership courses: Good communicator, accountable, responsible, motivated, high integrity, emotionally stable, and smart.

George Washington was a great leader. Ditto Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Kennedy… I guess I’ll stop before Nixon.  

Good leaders are all around us. The best leader I knew personally was Pat McGuigan, retired ex-Command Sergeant Major in the Army who was the Manager of Malvern, PA when I was President of that town’s Council. He helped turn many of my cool ideas into reality, like getting Congress to designate a Revolutionary War battlefield as a Federal Park…(Wait…No… that was his idea.) Or adding three playgrounds to the town…(Oops… his idea, too). Or after he left, naming the Municipal Building “McGuigan Hall”… (Yep, that was my idea – I’ve always been a leader at naming). 

Marks of a bad leader are: No empathy, ruthless, dishonest, lazy, dictatorial, narcissistic, blames others, vindictive. 

We’ve all known people like that.  

That doesn’t mean bad leaders don’t have followers. Jim Jones had followers; they drank his kool-aid and died. Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jon-Un, Castro, Che Guevara, and others had followers. They didn’t do well, either.

Good leaders do good things for their followers. Bad leader do bad things for their followers.

Followers have only one real responsibility: choose their leaders carefully. It’s a big responsibility and not always easy. It requires good education and good judgment. The turn of the last century saw bad judgement by followers in Italy and Russia who followed charismatic leaders right into loss of freedom. Those followers were followed by worse followers in Germany and Russia (again), not to mention South America, China, Burma, Viet Nam…  

A lot of pain comes to followers of bad guys (interestingly, I can’t name many women who were bad leaders, but that’s another column).

Our recent leader was known as a bad guy well before he ran for President. He stiffed suppliers and banks, cheated on his wives, discriminated against renters.

His followers, for whatever reason – anger at big government, loss of status, racism, fear of liberals – glommed onto him like a horny teenager at a porn site.

And, predictably he did a lot of things that hurt the country internationally and nationally, as well as his followers, many thousands of whom died from his non-leadership of Covid 19.

The combination of his Big Lie and love-struck followers led to the Jan 6, 2021 assault of Congress and, this week, his impeachment trial.

But they aren’t the worst followers in the Trump Saga; the worst followers are those who follow his followers.

California Representative Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader under Trump, had a chance to remove and admonish Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, anti-semite, QAnon follower, 9/11 doubter, and all around mean girl. Instead, he and numerous other Republican leaders slobbered over the 74 million Trump voters and, in the interest of keeping them unified against Democrats, did nothing. 45 Senators, so far, have done the same thing for the same reason: they voted against impeaching Trump. 

Following followers is not just circular leadership, it’s a downward spiral for the country.

On the other hand, some leaders have shown courage and integrity. Senator Romney and Representative Cheney, along with a few other Republican leaders, have stood up to the Trump mobs at professional and personal risk (death threats and more). Wouldn’t it be incredible if more Republican leaders put the nation in front of their craving for power? 

As the Impeachment unfolds this week, the House Managers have presented evidence that months of Trump’s speeches incited the Jan 6 riot. The remaining question is: did he do it on purpose? Did he know his constant lies would trigger an attack on Congress. 

In other words, is there a smoking gun?

For the answer, go back to a campaign speech before he won the Presidency.

Over four years ago, on September 23, 2016, Trump said: “They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.”

Substitute “Capitol” for “5th Avenue” and you have your smoking gun.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Waiting for GoDo-vid

The alarm goes off at 5:35AM. I don’t bother to get dressed. I just roll out of bed and into the kitchen. Ok I don’t roll, but I sure don’t rock at that hour. The dog wonders in as the coffee is brewing. He yawns, then follows me into the living room. He collapses on the floor as I collapse on the couch, laptop on my lap, iPhone by my side.

By 5:55 I am on the vaccine website, waiting for it to allow new visitors. At precisely 6:00AM, the screen changes, telling me the website is full, but the page will refresh in 60 seconds. I scroll down to see a list of counties and the number of vaccination slots available. 

The screen counts down from 60 to 2. (Maybe…, Yes, this might be it!…) It freezes. The 2 changes to 60. It starts again. Cool! Another chance!

And again. And again. And again. Each time it shows fewer slots.  

After a few minutes of staring at the screen, my mind begins to wander. I wonder if there’s some supervisor in some office somewhere watching the screen, too, although not in hopes of a vaccine; they’re hoping the servers don’t crash.

That person(s?) has no idea who I am or anything about the thousands of other 65 and older people, healthcare workers, or other types, that are staring at computers.

We are only numbers…well, not even numbers, just parts of an algorithm, a combination of numbers that need to align perfectly in order for just one person to get in line for that life affirming shot.

Maybe those at the other end of my computer are drinking coffee too. Maybe they’re yawning. Maybe they, too, are looking out the window as dark turns to day. Hey, we might have a lot in common!

I wonder if I can make more coffee before 60 turns to 2 again… 

The dog sits in front of me, an expectant look on his face. (No way, Buddy. You’re just going to have to hold it. We’re talking Covid here!)

Or maybe there is no “they” at all. Maybe at the other end of my computer is … just another computer. 

(He lies down again and lets out a sigh)

60, 59, 58, 57…

Or maybe I’m one of hundreds of thousands of excited over-65 year olds, seconds away from a screen that will allow me to apply for a vaccine slot.

60, 59, 58, 57…

Exactly 84 minutes later the number of slots is a big fat zero. A message says to try again in two days. Darn!… Oh well, two days is better than two weeks!

I look up, bleary-eyed. The sun is up.  The dog is too. 

“Hey! Henry! Outside! Please!”

I quickly take him outside because, well, when you gotta’ go you gotta’ go. 

We walk under birds sunning themselves on telephone wires, squirrels chasing each other up trees, clouds hurrying across a blue sky.  The dog casually waters a few bushes, which don’t seem to mind. Then it’s back to work.

At exactly 9:00, I try another approach. This time, per other web instructions, I phone a county vaccine number. It’s just like before, only instead of watching numbers counting down on a screen, I listen to a busy signal… followed by a click and a dial tone…then call again. 

Zzzz, click, dial tone…. Zzzz, click, dial tone.… Zzzz, click, dial tone…..

At first I imagine a bank of hurried switchboard operators like something out of a 50’s movie. It’s a nice image, but soon replaced by one more realistic: a bank of servers driven by an unseen algorithm, not a person in the frame.

I pace around the house with the phone, wishing I could throttle Trump for pushing this onto the states and wishing I could throttle all those governors who had a year to prepare for the vaccines’ arrivals, a year to set up some way of simply signing up and getting in line, and did nothing. 

After around 25 minutes, I get a recording saying there are no more vaccines, to try again in two days. 

Darn! I enter it in my calendar. Then,.. Hey! Better than two weeks! Right?

I look at the dog who has retired to his favorite corner for a mid-morning nap. He again opens one eye at me for a few seconds, then closes it with a sigh. 

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)