Old Diary

Bell Curves and Public Policy

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now.  I started it, and could not figure out how to present what I have been thinking.  Finally, I know where I want to go with it, so let’s have a think together…

No nation survives forever in one form.  That kind of explains why the dominant world power at various times has been India, China, Rome, Greece, and Britain.  Once a nation has formed there is both a certain kind of lethargy that keeps it from moving too much, and a spur-in-the-side movement to cultural maturity that cannot be stopped.  While a single nation is struggling within to change or not to change there is the inexorable march of time — and the changes brought about by world events including the increase in knowledge.

What was a perfectly good way of looking at the world in one time, isn’t such a great way of looking at another.  When our constitution was written our forefathers saw some aspects of human rights quite clearly, but they were still viewing blacks in america as only 3/5 of a person — an idea which has clearly fallen by the wayside.  There are myriad other little details about the way we live and how we regard our fellows that, likewise have changed — and that has been the history of humankind.  As we understand the world around us better we understand our relations with other humans better and we morph our society to accommodate this new knowledge.

pledge of allegiance

various iterations of the Pledge of Allegiance

The U.S. is now some 350 million strong. We are not, however, 350 million united.  In the past 25 years or more it has been increasingly obvious that political divisions among us are growing, political parties are hardening their stances, and compromise between viewpoints is ever more difficult to achieve.  The 1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance is really an outdated document today.  The mood in the country isn’t so much about “One Nation” or about “Under God.”  We are far from “Indivsible”, and “Liberty and Justice for All” are only an unfulfilled promise.

I’m sure we have all heard of a “bell curve.” It’s a way of visually representing the range of viewpoints or the range of scores of any assemblage of data.  You can use it for test scores, for intelligence, for public opinion:  all you have to do is to define what a standard deviation is and the data will pretty much fall onto the same graph, time after time, after time.


So, when it comes to opinions about how the government should run you are always going to have a clump of people in the center who’s viewpoints aren’t all that different from each other. And trailing off on both  sides are the more extremist datapoints of whatever you are tracking.


The thing is, that in the U.S. right now opinion about how the country is to be run is not being affected as much by the bell curve of public opinion as it is being affected by the Lorentz curve of wealth.  All that talk in recent months about the “1%” of the population that controls 90% of the wealth.


If you look at the Lorentz curve you see that only up there around the 95% percentile does income really take off — that’s 5% of the population or fewer who are the most well off, and then that final 1% that outpace all comparisons and who live in truly rarified atmosphere of wealth.

What happens when you compare these two charts?  If you match the scale it’s not hard to see that the ultra rich have very little in common with the rest of the population.  It’s not hard to understand why they push for different tax laws, and different sovereignty rules, and different …. well, pretty much everything anyone else wants is not what appeals to the ultra rich.   And it’s pretty foolish to think that those who control that kind of wealth are ever going to make it easy for those holding the popular ideas to take away money to pay for those ideas.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Specially since that money has bought the right to express itself in the political arena.

curves combined

I have no idea how the United States gets itself out of the mess it has gotten into.  When I hear Republicans defending their election of Donald Trump it’s common to say it was a choice between Trump and Clinton and that they had enough of government-as-it’s-been-done, so Trump was the only option.

The thing is, that line of thought is so disingenuous.  The Republican Party had 15 other candidates to choose from. And from a field of 16 they chose Donald Trump.

The idea in this country that you owe your allegiance, somehow, to your political party really falls apart when the best you have to offer is a Donald Trump, or for that matter a Hillary Clinton.  People were so enamored of the idea that she could be the first female president that they ignored the Clinton baggage that came with her.  Still, at least she had a lifetime of political and diplomatic experience to offer.  So, Democrats clearly miss took the climate in the country. Like many, I’m all for having a female president when the right one comes along — but Bill Clinton’s mistakes in office should have been a great big red light illuminating the negative carry-over Hillary would have to overcome.  That, along with the fact that the Democrats simply failed to mobilize 10 million voters upon whom they called to elect Barack Obama, and the result was inevitable.  Why they were not mobilizing that extra 10 million voters should have been a warning not to be too confident — but it was not.
socialist goals

I came across this post from “Trans-Mom” on Facebook a while ago.  I wanted to share it because the two sides of America — Money & No Money — are worlds apart on how to address the problems we have.

Indeed, we have enough housing to house our entire population — but we also have individual ownership and who wants to give up something they own to give it to someone who has nothing?  Not many.  If you look at the Lorenz Chart above it ought to be self-evident that the $$$$ to pay for our largest problems lies now with John Q public.  John or Janie Q public don’t make enough money to pay for the projects.  But Corporations — many of whom pay little or no tax — and the super rich do have the resources.  The problem being that they are unwilling to voluntarily give to that degree.

The rich are never going to impoverish themselves.  Why would they.

So then, how do you achieve a more equitable division of wealth?

Is it going to happen easily?  We have the entire history of the U.S. to say no.  The rich have gotten increasingly richer over our history.

Is it going to happen without bloodshed?  I would hope so, but to be honest, looking around the world at other societies with ultra-rich individuals I can’t think of a single one where an evening out of the  wealth has been accomplished without revolution.  Some have been more painful than others.

I wish I had an answer.  But this is the world of the Millennials and those who will follow. My generation is gradually passing from the scene, and my generation will not be the ones who fix the problems that they have helped create.

I wonder what’s ahead?

Old Diary

Simple Pleasures

In a busy complicated world it may not be very cool to say you actually like something simple and basic but if there has been any theme in our last seven months since returning to Milwaukee it’s that I have been enjoying and more than that, reconnecting with the basic rhythms of life.

Quite frankly, one of my favorite times each day has become the few minutes when I get out the coffee grinder at the end of the day to set it up for the following morning’s pot of fresh coffee.  We bought this hand-crank burr grinder when we went RV’ing.  We used it for a month or so, and then it went into the back of the cabinet and I got out the old electric whizzer which I used without complaint for the next 6 years.  However, as soon as we moved back home the hand crank burr grinder came back out and I’ve been enjoying my evening’s meditation on coffee beans ever since.

Without the need to make travel plans my life has settled into a very different state of mind.  Oh, our little roadtrips are enough to keep my planning skills up to par but the idea that we aren’t going to HAVE to move in a couple weeks, or couple months, or when this gig comes to an end has changed my entire way of thinking; and it has changed my routine — the physical one as well as the mental one.

I was reading just today that some behavioralists want seniors to get something like 150 hours of physical activity per week under their belts to help keep their brain busy and active.  That sounds like a lot of time — even lawyers don’t bill that many hours!  I’m not sure if I’m getting that or not; still I’m happy about the way life is going even with the changes going on with our health and in our new environment.  And most importantly I don’t feel any need to do anything differently.

coffee grinder

I can’t explain why that is such a grand development other than to say I have been a restless spirit all my life.  I had to be going.

I still fidget when I sit.  I’ve been notorious about how fidgety I am when I’m sitting down, but even that has changed so that I’m actually able to sit and enjoy just staring out at a lake, or at the birds, or at a log floating down the river.  Earlier in life I’d do those things for about 2 minutes and then I was ready to move on to something else.  Now I’m finding peace and contentment in the simplest things of life and wondering why I forced myself to be on the move so much of the time earlier in life.

Little things like grinding the coffee find a special appeal right now because they are set tasks.  You do them on a schedule.  They take a set amount of time.  Then you stop doing them.  As I have shared many times in the past I have never liked routine.  About the time I mastered a job and got really good at it I was always ready to move on to a new job and to learn that one just as well.  But whether it’s age, or the fact that now I’m doing things I absolutely WANT to be doing, I’m quite enjoying a little rhthym in my life.

I’m only going to talk about that one example.  My reason for bringing it up is pretty basic. Contentment doesn’t have to be complicated.  And contentment in life has a lot to do with appreciating your current situation — whatever it might be.  Sure, there are things about life right now that I really DON’T like but those are not the things I focus upon.  And I have so much to be thankful for that thinking about anything else seems, somehow, neglectful and wrong.  So, I don’t.  And I’m much the happier for it.

I guess I’m finding alternatives to gardening.  There is something about having our hands in the dirt: planting and weeding and pruning that has always provided the quiet moments I needed.  Now that we don’t have our own “property” I can’t have a big garden but we can have a couple plants around the house and I’m finding other things like my coffee grinder that give me a few minutes of mindless exertion during which to calm my soul and regain touch with the earth.