Author Archives: jparquette

About jparquette

Fortunate and blessed in companionship with my wife of fifty years, in health and in modest, but more than adequate circumstances. Life is good.

Well Scripted Redux

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

science vs politicsJournalists are not the only group wittingly or unwittingly conditioning our thinking. Nor are they the only group that believes they have a corner on virtue and where the world should be headed. A recent article in the MIT Press Reader, “Why Science Can’t Settle Political Disputes”[i] documented how politicians line up to use science as a bludgeon to convince others of the rightness of their cause. Whose science and how it should be interpreted is the issue and a valid one.

However, the article fails to develop adequately a more insidious calamity with current politics and science. In his Farewell Address,[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned in 1960 about the danger of collusion in a “military-industrial complex.” What is less well known in the same address is this warning: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” A vast topic by itself, but for this post, ideology drives not only research priorities, but tweaking results to conform to an established orthodoxy is another example of the effects of hidden indoctrination of progressive ideology. Those results that are favored from climate change to so called gender fluidity get funded for more grants and more money for researchers along with the opportunity for career reputation and advancement. One of the consequences is the crisis of repeatability in scientific experimentation. A close second is the “good ol’ boys club” degradation of the “peer reviewed” imprimatur of scientific research.

Neither have history and the law escaped with unfettered liberty from the fishbowl in which we swim, murky from indoctrination and utilitarian ethics. The ideologue justifies any means necessary to gain victory. A leaked 1973 memo during the Roe v Wade no holds barred grudge match is illustrative. A significant amicus brief was submitted and hammered into the heads of the justices: a false narrative first put together by lawyer Cyrus Means.

The Roe team claimed that a long history exists of abortion tolerance in state’s law prior to 1850. That the reality was precisely the opposite did not discourage the attorneys from creating the propaganda and hammering it home. Attorney Roy Lucas drafted the review used to lay a major piece of the theoretical constitutional background for the decision by the lead attorney, Sarah Weddington. Lucas received a memo from one of his assistants, law student David Tunderman. He acknowledged that the historical narrative was false but thought the use of it fully justified in service of the end they all wanted. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun in the final decision cited the Means bogus narrative in support of the Roe decision.

Rarely has the cynical utilitarian ethics of the zealot been on such clear display.[iii] “David Tunderman wrote that Means’ ‘conclusions sometimes strain credulity’ but nonetheless concluded that ‘where the important thing is to win the case no matter how, however, I suppose I agree with Means’ technique: begin with a scholarly attempt at historical research; if it doesn’t work, fudge it as necessary; write a piece so long that others will read only your introduction and conclusion; then keep citing it until courts begin picking it up. This preserves the guise of impartial scholarship while advancing the proper ideological goals.’”

 So it is written, so it shall be.

“The sad truth about humanity…is that people believe what they’re told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.” Neal Shusterman, ”Unwholly”

How did this bizarre detachment befall us: the collapse of even the ideal of objective truth? The desired end is what matters; how we get there is up to the spreaders of the narrative necessary to achieve the end. Some of the answers lie in the higher education institutions over the last fifty years or so. The students then become the teachers and administrators in most of our schools, in universities certainly, and increasingly now in high schools and elementary schools with the orthodoxy enforced by the teacher’s unions.

We will look at a few examples, but we are awash in them.[iv]  What is most troubling is that administrators, politicians, and teachers’ unions are determined to keep the extent and content of the conditioning out of the reach of “meddling” parents. Much of the disputed content is contained in two general areas: race and gender, both mainstays of the progressive agenda. As former Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said recently in support of teachers’ unions, which are under fire in Virginia, “Parents should not be telling schools what to teach their kids.”[v]  It is no surprise his campaign to try and retake the governor’s mansion received $25,000 in campaign contributions from the teacher’s union.

There is so much of this that it’s difficult to comprehend the damage, so this will provide some a few summary descriptions with footnoted links that you can follow until either your attention span or your spirit runs dry. There are many more with just a cursory search. The point of this blog post is general awareness of the agenda parents are facing today deciding where their children are educated. The response of the progressive ideologue, whether in the media or the education bureaucracy is to deny that these things are being taught. They are lying. As in the Roe memo, it is not the truth that holds sway, but only that the orthodoxy prevails. [vi] What we all have lost was lamented by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century. “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

It’s gone away in yesterday

Now I find myself on the mountainside

Where the rivers change direction

Across the Great Divide.” Nancy Griffith, “Across the Great Divide”[vii]

 

Right here in Rhode Island, we have a teacher’s union suing a school committee and a parent to keep the content of the curriculum secret after she filed multiple requests to simply view what her child was being taught, especially regarding critical race theory and gender identity.[viii]

In Fairfax County and Loudon County Virginia, the battle has been well and truly joined. Attempts of parents to challenge the curriculum or to just find out what it contains have been greeted by derision and condescension. Who are parents to question what is being taught to their kids? Sample books were found in even elementary school libraries that taught among other things how to perform oral and anal sex and depicted adult/child sex in a positive light.[ix]One father whose daughter was sexually assaulted by a fourteen-year-old, skirt wearing boy professing as a girl in the school restroom cried out to the school department in protest. He was arrested, cuffed, and hauled off.[x]

The most alarming story began with the national teachers’ unions sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that parents who question school curricula to the school boards be investigated as domestic terrorists. He has sent the FBI around to monitor the situation. After the uproar from the parents ensued, the union rescinded its letter, but former Supreme Court nominee Garland still deploys the unfettered power of the Department of Justice to investigate parents who question what their children are exposed to.[xi]  Garland was not dissuaded by the disclosure that his son-in-law owns a company, Panorama, that conducts personally invasive student surveys and produces training programs to further the progressive race agenda and lands multimillion dollar contracts as consultants for school departments[xii]. Now the AG gets to sic the FBI on parents who may take issue with that agenda.

Honest evaluation does not shrink from the truth of our situation: the decades long first phase of the Culture Wars was lost to conservative or even middle of the road citizens. The strategic high ground was secured by the progressive front: academia, schools, journalists, and social media, even the military and the power of the state. So, what is next? What is left is a type of guerilla resistance and holding essential enclaves. Not exactly the Benedict Option, but something akin to it. And never giving up the fight.

Remember the Hilary Clinton book, “It Takes a Village?” The progressive principle is to get to the kids as young as possible. The state and its troops in the schools are better stewards than parents of the next generation. Isolate children from their parents for six or seven hours a day and prohibit the unenlightened parents who don’t buy into the progressive project from hampering the infusion of the new mindset. It is the lock and the key.

Our hope is that perhaps “woke” cuts two ways. The rising counteractions of parents who are increasingly awakened to the violation of their first responsibilities as teachers of their own kids is a drama unfolding daily. There are signs that the silent middle is rowing out of the doldrums and preparing to set sail. Terry McAuliffe lost his bid to retake the governor’s mansion last week. The decisive factor in the election was the extraordinarily high turnout of parents with kids in school.

 The stakes could not be higher.

 “Another little portion of the human heritage has been quietly taken from them before they were old enough to understand.” C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

[i] Why Science Can’t Fix Politics, MIT Press Reader

[ii] President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the nation.

[iii] From “Wrong Then, Wrong Now: The Fake Abortion History of Roe v Wade,” Justin Dyer, Public Discourse, 9/29/21

[iv] See “Huxley Predicted the Future of Education”, John Miltimore, Intellectual Takeout, 2017. I also borrowed his illustration for the first post in this two-part series, “Well Scripted.”

[v] Terry McAuliffe tells parents to shut up and sit down; let the school department and teachers’ unions indoctrinate children to their agenda.

[vi] What educators teach and what they admit to teaching in some cases are very different.

[vii] Sadly, Nancy Griffith passed away earlier this year. Her songwriting was greatly respected by many of the more well-known names in country and folk music.  Across the Great Divide.

[viii] Teacher’s union declares that what is being taught to the kids in South Kingston, RI is not the business of the parents.

[ix] These books were pulled after they were disclosed in the meeting by a parent. That they were there in the first place is shocking.

[x] Lots of stories on this one with a quick search. Here’s one.

[xi] The Department of Justice sends its FBI attack dogs after parents seeing information on or challenging curriculum.

[xii] Merrick’s family cashes in on the curriculum agenda and “retraining” teachers and students.

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Well Scripted

laurielipton_brave_new_world“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World[i]

Back in the mists of the early seventies for about a year I was a correspondent for a regional daily paper in Boston. I remember well the cigarettes smoldering in our ashtrays and cold coffee and typewriters at eleven at night trying to beat a deadline with coverage of a local town’s selectmen or planning committee meeting or a story about a local politician’s failings. Two fingered typing rapidly to fit in with the newsroom – men typed two fingered staccato; women reporters used all ten. They were faster.

The editor was young, male, and long haired, as was I. He wielded a good red pencil and sharpened our writing skills. He was also an ideologue who made it clear that stories favoring progressive issues would be given a pulpit; those that did not would suffer a brutal red pencil until we left out anything favoring opposing opinions. We took the message quickly to heart without it ever being clearly stated. It was not that we fabricated facts, but that we selected those facts that helped the cause and neglected those that didn’t. Since at that time I was sympathetic with the editor, I found no fault with the editing.

One of my most vivid memories of the job is a phone call I received from the wife of a planning committee member and local prominent conservative with whom I had had some run ins. Her husband was a condescending patrician with his reading glasses normally perched on top of his fashionably cut blond head and possessed of an expensive private school whiny drawl. I’d long harbored an aversion to the type. As he was a local developer, I found a conflict of interest in his decisions and comments during meetings when they jumped another builder through many hoops. The applicant was a rival of my planning board guy and was trying to get a subdivision approved that would compete with one in which the committee member was selling lots. Predictably, in my judgmental crusader persona, I savaged him in a couple of articles while my editor cheered me on.

His wife called my home, not screaming, but hurt, outraged, and in tears about the generous unpaid long hours and expertise that her husband graciously donated for the well-being of the town. And how could I do that to him and tell those lies so publicly? I didn’t understand his refined nature or his decency and goodness. Now, I didn’t share her view of him, but she did whole heartedly believe it.

I learned viscerally that while I was feeling self-righteous and clever, real people were affected and embarrassed. She was a good-natured, unpretentious woman with whom I had shared pleasantries before at an event; she thought we got along well. My ideological convictions conflicted with my feelings. But I soldiered on, nonetheless. My facts were right. The goals of my ideology overtrumped my emotions. The ends justified any necessary means. If I could short circuit the nascent political career of this man, well, all’s fair. Objective journalism was not my intent, nor my ideal. I may have been able to string together cogent sentences, but I was a bad reporter.[ii]

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free –to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

A Gallup poll[iii] this week chronicled the level of public trust in the media (or rather the lack thereof). It was the second lowest such poll ranking for this metric on record. Journalists compete for truth telling trustworthiness with back of the truck health supplement hawkers. Thirty six percent of the public retains a “great deal of” (a meager7%) or a “fair level of” (29%) trust that what they read in the newspapers or see in their evening news is reliable and accurate. Which, of course, means that sixty four percent do not trust what they read or see to be truthful, unbiased, and free from ideological distortion. The breakdown is more revealing: thirty one percent of independents, eleven percent of Republicans, and sixty eight percent of Democrats have confidence that what they see and hear in the mainstream media (MSM) is honest and factual. That seems to show that Democrats are dimwitted, incredibly credulous, or that their confirmation bias is operating on full wattage. I believe the last explanation to be most likely among them.

Other data show that over ninety percent of MSM reporters and editors that contribute to political campaigns contribute to Democrats and progressive causes. The seemingly obvious conclusion is that what we read and hear and see that passes for news is progressive indoctrination – we are regularly and consistently submitting to what Huxley called a “conditioned” state. No doubt this suits sixty eight percent of Democrats just fine. And sixty nine percent of independents and eighty nine percent of Republicans are not happy about it.

But the indoctrination gets worse, much worse. More to follow in the next post.

“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass-communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely, to impose necessary illusions, manipulate and deceive the stupid majority, and remove them from the public arena” Noam Chomsky

[i] [Image credit: (“DELUSION DWELLERS”, charcoal & pencil on paper, ©Laurie Lipton)]

[ii] I was not a bad reporter because I was telling lies – I was not. I was not a bad reporter because I was deterred by the hurt feelings of a subject – I was not. I was a bad reporter because I allowed my ideology to determine my subjects and the facts that I chose to include and not to include. There were plenty of other target subjects available and plenty of other facts. As the cliché goes, watching local politics is a target rich environment. But I focused that week on this planning committee member because I didn’t like his politics.

[iii] October 7 Gallup poll on the public’s trust of the media.

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Freedom From Religion Part Two

“You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage

You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage

You may be a business man or some high-degree thief

They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are

You’re gonna have to serve somebody….”  Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody[i]

 

Before we explore where “Freedom From Religion” is leading us to, we might ask what is it leading us from? Human beings are by our nature religious, and we will find a religion irrespective of our denials that our orthodoxy is orthodoxy. Even if it is secular progressive atheism or a version of Star Wars Manichean dogma, we are hard wired for religion, and we gotta serve somebody. If our determination for postmodern marginalizing of ancient faith is the goal, what will we do to fill the gap in our center? And without doubt there is a hole in our hearts, an existential alienation and loneliness that we try to avoid thinking about with distractions, entertainments, and busyness.

The concept of “praising God” is a starting point to examine what we are leaving behind.

Halal

The derivation of words and their original context are worth understanding. The Hebrew “halal” means “praise.” From it is derived “Alleluia!” or “Praise God!” Christian belief is that rightly ordered praise is the true end of our liturgy and our lives. What does that mean? God is not an easily dismissed straw man: the old, bearded man on a remote throne so rightly derided by the new atheist. True God does not need our praise. God, Who is “ipsum esse,” the very act of “being” itself, does not need our anything.

So why would He require that we praise Him? Since He only wants our good, then rightly ordered praise must rebound to our benefit. We find a clue in the derivation of the Hebrew word “halal.” The original pictograph on the left in the figure shows the image of a man pointing upward at something amazing. (Remember that written Hebrew reads right to left.) The repeated figures represent shepherd’s crooks and were used to indicate “pointing the way.” The figure in the middle of the graphic shows the pictograph evolved into ancient Hebrew, so “praise” derives from “directing us to something amazing.”

Thus, we may ascertain that “praise” has more to do with pointing us in the right direction than obsequious flattery and telling God He is great. And what might that direction be? To diminish our frail and foible prone egos and center our lives on one thing: there is a God, and I’m not Him. And to know this is to know everything.[ii]

 

“Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,

where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

But store up treasures in heaven,

where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.’” Gospel according to Matthew

 

What substitutes will plug the hole in our heart? Most of our efforts are not evil in themselves, indeed most of our substitutes are goods raised above their station. Distractions, entertainments, diversions are among them. Playing and watching sports or theater or music are good things, unless they wedge their way into becoming our focus, our center, the primary occupier of our attention and time. Perhaps one of the four Thomas Aquinas wrote about: honor, power, pleasure, and wealth can rise to the occasion and fill the gap. None of these is inherently bad. Acting in a manner to be liked and respected is a positive; craving the approval and praise of others is not. Accumulating sufficient power to achieve good ends, to influence others in a positive way is a good thing, but as Baron John Dalberg-Acton famously remarked over a century ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Seeking comfort for self and family, a warm house on a cold day, the solace of another human body held close, a great meal with friends are good things; hedonistic obsession is not. Wealth can be used to provide for ourselves and our families, to fund charitable good works, all of which are good things in themselves. It is when they become the center, the center falls apart. In the end, they all can become mere addictions that require ever increasing doses to achieve ever more diminishing highs.[iii]

Another word for “praise” in this context is “worship.” Rightly ordered worship means putting what alone merits being at our center in our center. From the Old English ‘weorthscipe’ to the later English ‘worth-ship,’ meaning worthiness or an acknowledgement of worth. What is at our center? What is of prime importance to our heart? Where do we seek solace and peace?

“The leper here stands, not so much for the socially ostracized, but for the one who has wandered away from right worship, the one who is no longer able or willing to worship the true God. What’s so important about worship? To worship is to order the whole of your life toward the living God, and, in doing so, to become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered. To worship is to signal to yourself what your life is finally about. It’s nothing that God needs, but it is very much something that we need.”  Bishop Robert Barron writing about Jesus healing the leper.

 

Leonardo baby in the womb

Infant in the womb. Courtesy of leonardodavinci.net

Arguably the first of the two most grievous victims of our post Christian culture are the dignity and intrinsic worth of each human person, including pre-born human beings. The second is the concept of sin itself with individual responsibility, which has escaped our thinking entirely. The former will take more than a blog post, but perhaps the latter can be explored or at least the discussion begun.

Our times are dominated by subjective and emotive decision making, a radical materialist philosophy with its attendant aggressive secularism that countenances no dissent, and what Cardinal Josef Ratzinger famously called “the dictatorship of relativism.”[iv] These have left us with the belief that the important solutions are only found in ideology, science, or by social and government intervention on behalf of one of the many splintered constituencies of grievance politics. Capitalism and free markets will solve all our problems if given free rein. Socialism and the advantaging of the disadvantaged and oppressed will bring us justice and peace. Science will answer all our riddles and provide all the wisdom we need. Despite all evidence in the last century that none of these will serve, our arguments cling to one or more of these assumptions whispering error into our ears.

Prior to the cataclysms of the bloodiest century in human history, the seeds of the secular and materialist revolution that transformed our society were already well planted and sprouted in earnest. In 1910, when G.K. Chesterton was among the most respected writers in the Western world, the Times of London sent out an inquiry to many of those luminaries asking one question. An essayist of peerless skills, Chesterton famously responded with the shortest essay of his life, two words to answer the question, “What is wrong with the world today?” The ‘prince of paradox’ answered, “I am,”

Without sin and acknowledgment of my personal responsibility for my own pride, selfishness, my utilitarian use of others, seeking my own advantage to the detriment of others, then my attempts to address the plight of the group which we want to benefit will remain rooted in my own ego, self-focus, and helping myself to feel superior to the ignorant un-woke guy who fails to see what is so obvious to me. Christianity from the beginning means that our own weaknesses are beyond our ability to fix and that we need a Savior to remedy them. A profound Pelagianism informs our culture and our thinking: we don’t need help, we can earn our salvation however we define it here and now or later, and we can become our best selves by our own efforts and our own self will. “I’m basically a good person, right?”

Therefore, by the wisdom of our tired world, the mercy of God is unnecessary. A serious look inward and honest assessment is uncomfortable and “I’m OK, You’re OK” anyway. So, jump up to the podium, grab a sign, march to City Hall or the Capital, post our wisdom on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, and together we can resolve the injustices of the world. Would that this were possible, but until I address the rottenness at my own core and turn to the only possible remedy for them, my efforts, however commendable, will remain a “noisy gong.”[v]

The Good News is that the remedy is at hand, and that salvation can’t possibly be earned.  “All the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.[vi]” Redemption, filling the hole in my heart, peace, joy, and true freedom is free for the asking. [vii]  In the end, it is only necessary to ask one question. “Is this true?” Everything else follows.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

[i] Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan

[ii] Psalm 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (New International Version translation) Not obsequious trembling and fear, but reverential awe: perspective, not cowardly groveling.

[iii] “With this there grows / In my most ill-composed affection such / A stanchless avarice that, were I king, / I should cut off the nobles for their lands, / Desire his jewels and this other’s house: / And my more-having would be as a sauce / To make me hunger more” Macbeth, William Shakespeare

[iv] For a beginning analysis of what a “dictatorship of relativism” effects in the culture, read Roger Kimball’s introduction to a symposium in New Criterion in 2009: “The Dictatorship of Relativism: Who Will Stand Up for Western Values Now?”

[v] 1 Corinthians 13:1-2  13 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” New American Standard Bible 1995 translation.

[vi] Piers Plowman, William Langland 1332-1384

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Swine, Double Speak, and Bringing Home the Bacon

“It has been the political career of this man to begin with hypocrisy, proceed with arrogance, and finish with contempt.” Thomas Paine

[i]smart_pig Recently I read an article about a bacon crisis looming in California. [ii] Sad is the plight of the owner of a small breakfast diner who survived the pandemic restaurant crisis but may be put out of business because her staple, bacon, eggs, and home fries, might soon be missing a key ingredient. A California law written in 2018 is coming into effect with regulations about the space and care required on pig farms for every resident pig to permit them to ship pork products into California. California consumes about fifteen percent of all pork products in America. A tiny portion of pig farms in Iowa, from which most of California bacon, ham, pork loins and related products come, can afford to comply. Hence, it will be eggs, home fries and yummy vegan bacon substitute soon in the diner, and the owner fears the line for Sunday brunch will be considerably shorter.

 The impetus for the new laws was a series of videos shot surreptitiously by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and others that graphically demonstrated that not unsurprisingly pigs are not treated very well on many pig farms or in slaughterhouses. [iii] Now before we change the subject of this post, let’s not get into a discussion of the horrors of pig abuse. We will stipulate that these are truly awful and need to be redressed by a humane society. The subject of the post is that undercover videos were taken. The owners and workers at the large farms who were filmed most certainly were not aware they were starring in the videos. Vice President Kamala Harris and now Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra, both former Attorneys General for California, were in the forefront of legislation to protect chickens, pigs, and veal cattle from abuses.[iv] When the exposed malefactors are favored targets of the politicians, there is no squeamishness about the source of the information.

Another recent story revealed the video recordings made by an undercover journalist professing to interview Keith McCoy, a long-time lobbyist for Exxon Mobil Oil, for a job opening. [v]In it, the candidate spoke candidly about the duplicity of the big energy company paying “tribute to the virtue”[vi] of renewable energy and lowering carbon emissions to placate the climate change activists.  Another California Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, Chair of the Environments Subcommittee of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform,[vii] and various news outlets have no objection to undercover investigative videos when they unmask favored targets.[viii] Again, I’m not defending the possible hypocrisy of a huge international energy corporation , only demonstrating that undercover videos exposing it are perfectly acceptable with the Democrats who attack such a juicy quarry.

“Hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you’re moral, saying you’re moral is not the same as acting morally.” Alan Dershowitz

Current HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and VP Kamala Harris, when they were successive Attorneys General in California, investigated and prosecuted the Center for Medical Progress and their investigator, David Daleiden, for producing undercover videos which disclosed some appalling illegal activity of abortion clinics, primarily Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is not a favored Democrat target, rather they are a favored partner.

Harris and her staff colluded directly with Planned Parenthood to push legislation that was originally drafted by a Planned Parenthood lawyer, then used to prosecute Daleiden for his undercover videos. She has been a major recipient of Planned Parenthood political donations for many years, as were many other Democrats. In the 2020 election cycle alone, PP donated $10,401,306 to political campaigns through their multiple PACS, all but $23,000 (or about 99.8%) of it went to the home team Democrats. [ix]

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. On January 28th, he announced he was issuing an executive order that the Trump ban on Planned Parenthood federal funding was ending. PP receives in a good year over $500 million in Federal dollars, much of it from Medicaid, Federal money disbursed by the states. Since 78% of their “clinics” are in or near poor minority neighborhoods, Medicaid is a major source of PP’s annual $1.3 billion in revenue.[x] Planned Parenthood benefits with a strong immediate return on investment for their ten million in PAC money to Democrats and Joe Biden.

The president of the non-profit Planned Parenthood is paid about a million dollars a year; the average salary of executives, including “clinic” directors is north of two hundred thousand; the average salary of the executives back at the mothership headquarters is over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.[xi] There is a lot at stake for these executives. Biden also is working very hard with his allies to eliminate the Hyde amendment from spending bills, specifically currently the funding for HHS, led by Becerra. The Hyde amendment was supported for years by Joe Biden. No more. It stipulates Federal funds cannot pay directly for abortions. Eliminating it would open new floodgates for Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.

The rules for Becerra and Harris change according to the subject of the undercover videos. If it’s a meat producer or a multinational energy company, all’s fair. If it’s the partner of Democrat politicians, the gloves are off going after investigative journalists. Harris responded to Planned Parenthood’s concern about videotaping their clinic operators by working with PP to write legislation making such undercover videos a felony. As Attorney General, she found a friendly judge and with a subpoena directed a pre-dawn raid on David Daleiden’s home, confiscating computers, cameras, and videos. After she collected over $81,000 in campaign contributions from PP and moved on up to the Senate, her hand-picked successor, Xavier Becerra indicted Daleiden on fifteen felony counts; some were dropped, and nine are still being adjudicated.

All the legal actions against Daleiden by PP’s big cadre of lawyers are being defended against at great cost pro bono by the Thomas More Society[xii]. Another pet judge was found in San Francisco, and PP sued Center for Medical Progress and Daleiden personally. Obtaining a judgment in front of their judge in San Francisco, Planned Parenthood was awarded $2.2 million, which would bankrupt their victims. Planned Parenthood’s goal is to silence him permanently. They have injunctions against the release of more videos, which are as damaging as the early ones that made it into the public domain. Sue him back into the stone age, a scorched earth legal strategy that has him in danger of bankruptcy and/or prison. Thomas More Society and Daleiden are appealing all verdicts and fighting the judgement, which likely will persist for years in the courts and cost millions to defend. Planned Parenthood has plenty of money and lawyers ready to go.

What is it about David Daleiden that so terrifies PP and its Democrat allies? I invite you to look at the videos that were made public prior to the injunctions. Center for Medical Progress investigative videos. The first response from Planned Parenthood was to try and get the undercover videos outlawed in California, which they did. Then they unleashed their formidable public relations propaganda team to spread the rumors that the videos were fake and heavily edited. Daleiden responded by posting the full original, unedited versions including hours of edited out footage of riding in cars and eating in restaurants.

The evidence they disclose is damning. The investigative journalist Daleiden posed as a middleman broker buying fetal body parts to sell to research labs. Selling fetal body parts is illegal, so the stakes for the PP executives include felony convictions and prison. The videos show PP directors negotiating prices, describing how they can alter their abortion procedures with actual live cutting up fetuses to salvage specific baby parts. One said point blank that she wanted the additional money to fulfill her dream of owning a Lamborghini. Other videos show other PP employees promising that fifty livers should not be a problem if the price is right. As I suggested with the slaughterhouse videos, do not watch these on a full stomach. Documentation is well preserved, names are named, and faces are explicit. The cold and casual calculation of descriptions of procedures and price negotiation is chilling.

If put into general release, and they are not silenced, it would be impossible for Planned Parenthood to maintain the fiction that they are in this for the benefit of woman’s health care and “reproductive rights.” They kill and kill without remorse in a very organized fashion for big money, and there is not much they won’t do to keep that quiet.

“For some, trying to uphold such a distorted, upside-down morality is too much to bear. Frederica Mathewes-Green was a young pro-choice feminist. But after reading a physician’s account in Esquire of an abortion, her eyes were opened. “There I was, anti-war, anti–capital punishment, even vegetarian, and a firm believer that social justice cannot be won at the cost of violence,” Mathewes-Green recounted. “Well, this sure looked like violence. How had I agreed to make this hideous act the centerpiece of my feminism?”  Scott David Allen

[i] Smart pig picture is taken from an article in Modern Farmer, 2014, by Andy Wright. “Pig headed: How Smart are Swine”

[ii] Bacon May Disappear in California as Pig Rules Take Effect, Associated Press, Scott McFetridge, July 31, 2021

[iii] A short Google search will turn up many such videos investigating farms and slaughterhouses in Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, and other places. Here’s one from PETA. Don’t watch on a full stomach or before you head to the diner for breakfast: https://www.peta.org/videos/nebraska-pig-farm-investigation/

[iv] We are not vegan in our house, but we do buy cage free eggs, eat no veal, and buy meat from humanely raised pigs and grass-fed free-range beef. I’m not defending the people who treat animals inhumanely, only pointing out that the evidence that brought them down was collected by breaking California laws about spy videos from investigators and journalists.

[v][v] CNN exposes the Exxon Mobil videos shot by Greenpeace.

[vi] “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld

[vii] Why does the name “House Committee on Oversight and Reform” sound suspiciously like an Orwellian Congressional Star Chamber?

[viii] Article on the hearing and the lobbyist.

[ix] Open Secrets, which tracks all political donations, shows this for Planned Parenthood. Over $2.9 million went to the Biden campaign or positive ads, and over $2 million went into attack ads against Donald Trump.

[x] For some information on the original eugenics’ agenda of PP, there are many resources. A start would be an old quo vadis blog post, Maggie Two.

[xi] Article with some examples: — CEO salaries at affiliates increased 22 percent in the last two years. All make over $100K.  According to former Texas clinic director and former PP national employee of the  year, Abby Johnson, they are bonused on meeting abortion quotas among other criteria. 33 make over $200,000 a year. 16 make over $300,000 a year. 6 make over $400,00 a year, and the boss makes over a million. The report said that the average Planned Parenthood CEO is “in the top five percent of all workers in the United States.” Non-profit is a fungible term.

[xii] Here is a link to the Daleiden and Center for Medical Progress cases. Thomas More Society is a non-profit group of skilled attorneys working on behalf of pro life and religious freedom cases. https://thomasmoresociety.org/client/david-daleiden/ Interestingly in case of strange bedfellows, PETA filed an amicus brief supporting Daleiden’s cause.

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Freedom From Religion Part One

Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

And you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’ [i] “The Times They Are A Changing” Bob Dylan 1964 

ClassroomMost of us, including me, were panicky as our date on the calendar approached, although there was no preparation possible. We did not know the script, only that we needed to report to the principal’s administrative office five minutes before school started and face the microphone that transmitted our voice to fifty speakers and every classroom and hallway.

Each morning before classes started in junior high school (now middle school) and high school while we were in our home rooms, announcements were made by a senior about the day’s activities in the school, what was on the menu for lunch in the cafeteria, where the yellow, uncomfortable bus without seatbelts would wait after school for those who wanted to go to the hockey game, and other prosaic details about our shared lives. We passed along the schedule and agenda items from a single bullet points page that the principal’s secretary prepared. Finally, we would call the school to silence and begin our school day with a short prayer, a Bible reading, and the Pledge of Allegiance Under God.

The prayers were basic and ended, as I remember, with the “Lord’s Prayer.” The Protestant kids would continue with “For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever, Amen.” The Catholic kids in the classrooms would remain respectfully silent after “But deliver us from evil,” which always seems like a good idea anyway, as rare is the person who foregoes a little extra protection from evil. A few remained silent for the “Lord’s Prayer,” but most of the Jewish kids would join in; the familiar beautiful thoughts had been first prayed by an obscure Jewish rabbi a couple of thousand years ago[ii]. The Bible reading was usually from a Psalm common to both Jewish and Christian traditions. I know some who feigned teenage boredom with the whole thing, but I knew no one who was offended. To my knowledge, none of the other kids admonished those who did not join in – their prerogative and none of our business as to why.  We had our heads down and did not notice. After all, the tradition, especially in the Eastern part of the country, was as old as public schools in America.

They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”  The Gospel According to John, 19:15[iii]

Glendalough,_Lower_Valley_3All of this changed in 1962 with the Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale followed a year later with Abington School District v. Schempp which banned Bible reading in schools. Engel arose not from a groundswell of grass roots support, but from a small group of parents in Nassau County in New York who took issue with the Regent’s Prayer, which was composed collaboratively by a group of ministers, priests, and rabbis. Then it was endorsed by the New York School Boards Association and the New York Association of Judges of Children’s Courts for use in the public schools. A less offensive prayer would be hard to find: Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”  Eleven of the thirteen lower court judges who considered the case ruled in favor of its constitutionality. However, the Supreme Court struck it down.

Common knowledge, which is often wrong, holds that the profound cultural changes we have lived through bubbled up from the bottom. Quite to the contrary, the transformation has been led from the top down and much of the change effected initially by judicial action as it discovered never thought of constitutional wrinkles one after another[iv]. Wave after wave eroded what had been solid ground for the first two centuries of our history until it turned to quicksand. As John Adams [v]memorably said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This wisdom and the understanding of the necessary people who can sustain a republic were accepted by the great majority of our citizens then. No longer of course.

Decision upon decision from Engel through Roe to Obergefell and many others pared away the wisdom of millennia until the full narrative was revealed. The original Jeffersonian “wall of separation” no longer merely proscribes a direct state affiliation with a particular church. Religion now is barely tolerated and relegated to the private, the weak-minded, and the superstitious. Consciences informed by religion should decorously remain silent in the “naked public square.”[vi] The robust “freedom of religion” enshrined in the First Amendment has morphed into a much weaker “freedom of worship,” and then only if it stays locked behind the walls of our church or synagogue or mosque like an embarrassing uncle. Lest we mistake the marginalization of Christian religions as a side effect, we need to understand that this is not an incremental decrepitude, but a usurpation. There is a new church in the land, a deliberate replacement, a secular “progressive” church of the state with its own sacraments, edicts, commandments, and sacred ideas, ruthlessly enforced with enormous power by Puritans who make the Salem witch trials look halfhearted. And woe unto us if we are not paying attention.

Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children…” The Gospel According to Luke, 23:28

[i][i] Happy 80th birthday, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. From 57 years ago:  The Times They Are A Changing’  On his eightieth birthday, he has an interesting birthday well-wisher, singing a Dylan tune: Every Grain of Sand

[ii] Although the rabbi escaped obscurity and gained quite a bit of notoriety after rival religious leaders conspired with the state to murder Him, and He confounded them by rising from the dead.

[iii] Biblical quotes are from the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

[iv] Such nonsense and creative interpretation are replete in these decisions: “emanations and penumbras” of a constitutional right to privacy was most well-known. Or Judge Anthony Kennedy’s notorious fiat “mystery passage” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which pontificated that one has “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Really? No objective reality that transcends and precedes subjective experience? Kennedy’s ruling read much more like some beer and bong saturated midnight session in a graduate dorm, or the faculty lunchroom self-congratulatory proclamations of orthodox progressive tripe than ably articulated legal reasoning.

[v] This was not to say that all the founders and authors of the Constitution were regular church goers. Only 17% of Americans were such when the country was founded. However, almost all citizens subscribed to the understanding that such a form of government could only survive if the people being governed were grounded by a transcendent and common moral compact that called all of them to ready sacrifice for something greater than themselves.

[vi] “Naked public square” is a term coined by Father Richard John Neuhaus decades ago in the journal he founded, “First Things.” Father Neuhaus was describing a secular public arena for debate that increasingly sought to muzzle religious voices.

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I Met a Guy

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?”  Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights

Hope - Flower in a parched landHow many of our stories start with “I met a guy?” Just as this one will. We were in the backyard of my daughter’s home in California earlier this spring during a birthday block party and cookout in the cul-de-sac out front for a neighbor turning ninety. One of their neighbors drifted in to see some of the yard improvements completed to adapt to the needs of two small active girls during a pandemic. Rodney’s daughter came as well, and the three girls ran helter-skelter testing the limits of swings, water tables, trapezes, trampolines, and slides. While the children joyfully yelped and played, we became acquainted in the way strangers sometimes do in unplanned encounters.

He was a tall African immigrant with an open demeanor and a pleasant face well accustomed to an easy smile. In early remarks, Rodney told me he was a field implementer for a large software company who pre-COVID travelled frequently to help customers install their manufacturing and business controlling software. He educated owners, trained managers, and taught line employees how to get the most out of their expensive investment.

I told him I had worked with folks like him and been involved several times in my career with traumatic “go live” transitions to new company operating systems. We agreed immediately that the most vexing challenge was employee resistance to the whole trying process of redoing almost every aspect of how everyone does their job, accesses the data they need, and controls what they need to control. Even if their old operating system was obsolete and nearly useless, line employees and managers developed their own “work arounds” for its deficiencies and were comfortable with, proud of, and dependent on those accommodations. His is a tough job. A positive outcome, despite huge investment and commitment from owners, is not guaranteed and can fail, causing no end of unhappy employers and employees.

We struck a quick and mutual understanding with that short, comfortable chat, and he decided to open the door to a deeper conversation, for which I will be grateful for a long time. Rodney emigrated from the United Kingdom when he enrolled at Boston University, majoring in finance. After graduating, he took a job with Fidelity researching corporations and evaluating potential investments. He told me he was disheartened in an aggressive and highly competitive position; after three years of difficult paid post graduate education in the ways of business, he found a new job as a trainer and manufacturing software implementation project manager and enjoyed it. All a typical exploratory career path story — understandable given his laid back, sunny personality, and obvious strong communication skills. He relished engaging with real people and helping them.

Then came the rest of the story. He grew up in a prosperous home in Uganda, one of twelve children of three wives, and the son of the man who occupied the desk analogous to the one held by the Chairperson of the Fed in the United States. His father’s boss was Idi Amin, one the cruelest of African dictators and a murderous psychopath[i]. Complicating his position, his father remained grandfathered in his job from when his tribe and religion (Catholicism) had held sway prior to the coup and takeover by Amin’s tribe and Muslim religion. He precariously balanced there for a while due to his merit, experience, and profound understanding of the complexities of currency and finance.

Rodney explained to me that in Uganda, as in many African countries, tribe and religion were defining characteristics that established all relationships. If your tribe and religion were in power, your job, lifestyle, prosperity, and social position were comfortable. Corruption is a given, and to survive you must acquiesce in it. If you were not well connected to the current government, you were lucky to feed and shelter your family at a subsistence level. When politics and power changed hands, often violently, prospects could transform overnight, not just those at the head of the government, but everyone down the line.

Amin accepted Rodney’s father because of his reputation and skills, but incrementally ratcheted up pressure to increase the money supply and leverage in an inflationary, ruinous manner to fund Amin’s vision of power, armaments, and control. Rodney’s father advised, cajoled, and ultimately refused to ruin the country’s economy. Shortly afterwards, he was disappeared. Rodney never saw his father or two of the wives again. His own mother and all twelve of the children fled in the middle of the night with the clothes on their backs, running for their lives. He was ten years old.

They shuttled from sanctuary to sanctuary in small Catholic parishes, traveling on foot always at night for several hundred miles until they finally crossed into Kenya and found relative safety in a crowded refugee camp. For the next year, they met with authorities and worked to find a permanent home. Several times his mother was offered the option to split up the children – four to the UK, four to Canada, and four to Australia. Each time she insisted that they stay together. Eventually her determination won out, and they emigrated intact to England. From there he rebuilt his life, pursued his education, and began his career, eventually meeting his wife in the United States, and together settling with their children in California.

“Tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”  Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

When next I am tempted to self-pity or whining about some petty inconvenience or slight, I will recall his story. Rodney’s inner joy, trust, and upbeat demeanor are not put on, nor is it a pollyannish denial of the cruelty and alienation inflicted so often on the defenseless. He has seen it in person. Not flimsy optimism, but hope, and hope as a virtue and a soul deep choice in how he faces forward each day.

We talked for another half hour or so. He remains a practicing Catholic, and his faith and trust is not just a Sunday habit; he has a devotion to the Eucharist that sustains and strengthens him. He and his wife volunteer at a local refugee center affiliated with his parish, ministering as best they can to the flood of immigrants, documented and otherwise, that live in Southern California. The distress and fear he encounters do not dishearten him; they ennoble him.

The previous week a Somalian[ii] man came to him for help pursuing a refugee status. Should he be deported back to Somalia, where persecution and murder of Catholics and other Christians is commonplace, he would most likely be killed and die in a prolonged and painful way.

Somehow the Somalian had cobbled together enough for an unorthodox plane ticket and managed passage to Brazil in an overcrowded plane. Once in Brazil and COVID desolation, he found no further aid or direction for a new life, so he started walking. And how he walked. He walked through the rest of South America to Columbia, crossing each perilous border. Pressing ever northward, he traversed the entire span of Central America: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and finally across the heavily guarded border into Mexico. At every juncture, he risked prison, deportation, further exploitation, or death – foraging for food along the way – over 4,300 miles. Once in Mexico, there followed another 1,900 miles of dusty, hot roads through that dangerous country, always headed toward his dreamt about promised land of the United States. Rodney told me that after he and his wife heard the harrowing details, they arranged for another friend, an attorney, to try and help the distressed man stay, but his new friend’s security is far from assured. Rodney told me that he had to leave the room soon afterwards so his tears could not be seen.

Rodney told me if ever he ever went back to Uganda, he would necessarily have to adapt to living a corrupt life of bribery and kickbacks as the only means of survival, so absent unimaginable cultural transformation there, he will never again return to the magnificent geography and biological diversity of the land of his birth. 

Remarkably, he carries no burden of bitter resentments over the murder of his father or the ordeal of hundreds of miles of fear filled night walking. He nurtures only gratitude for the strength and courage of his mother and the help given along the way of their desperate pilgrimage by poor rural parishioners risking their lives to provide shelter. The opportunity and promised freedom in the country that adopted him drew them ever onward, was real, and they made it[iii]. And our country is better for welcoming him.

 Most especially, he treasures the miracles of his wife, his family, and the faith that saw him through. He is compelled by love to give back some of the love he received and serve those who are suffering similar calamities. He recognizes in them a yearning for freedom, a yearning with which he can empathize in his heart as few others can.  

“The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.”  Richard Rohr

[i] Supreme Commander/President Amin assumed control Uganda in a military coup in 1971 when his military record of corruption was about to be investigated by the first Milton Obote administration. One of Amin’s favorite methods of “fraternal correction” was personally administered with a three-pound hammer, which he would wield with his strong arm until there were very few square inches of unpulped flesh left on the poor soul being disciplined. Or the screams stopped. Whichever came first. During his reign of terror, Uganda was appointed to join the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, joining China, Russia, Pakistan and other stalwarts of human freedom.

[ii] Persecution of Christians in Somalia: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/somalia/

[iii] The latest Homeland Security data compiled through 2019 shows over 549,000 immigrants from African nations were granted permanent resident (green card) status in the United States from 2015 to 2019, and an additional 816,000 primarily minority green card holders from Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Haiti. At an average of 1.1 million total green cards issued per year, just these two predominantly black demographic areas account for about 25% of all new legal permanent residents in that five-year period. Apparently both the immigrants and immigration officials seem to be blissfully unaware of the “systemic racism” for which the U.S. is so often condemned in academic lounges and political rallies. https://www.dailysignal.com/2021/05/13/coming-to-america-africans-caribbeans-flock-to-systemically-racist-us/

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Maximum Benefit, Minimum Wage (Part Two)

Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.” Abraham Lincoln

rockefeller-beam-workers-lunch-construction (1)There is no substitute for what we learn in our early jobs. In 1968, minimum wage was set by the government at $1.60 per hour. The $15 an hour minimum wage proponent today claims that $22 or even $24 an hour is necessary just to remain even with inflation since then. But is that true? I did a quick projection from the $1.60 an hour in 1968, which is generally held to the be the time of the highest wage relative to inflation and most advantageous to the worker. A dollar’s worth of goods in 1968 would cost what today? The Consumer Price Index calculates that $100 in 1968 requires $771.30 in 2021 to purchase an equivalent amount of necessary goods[i]. Using that ratio would raise the minimum wage to $12.34 today. Not $24 or $22 or even $15, but $12.34. But it is $12.34, not the current $7.25, to which it was raised in 2009, a dozen years ago. That is a long time.

Without debating the free labor market and what role government should play in setting wages or prices, because that is far beyond the scope of this modest blog post, if we stipulate for discussion that there is some role government should play putting their thumb on the scales to help the working person earn fair wages, then clearly some adjustment is needed in the minimum hourly wage to which workers should be entitled for their labor.

What would the impact be of raising the minimum wage to $15? Most large companies exceed that already as a hiring wage. The labor market before the COVID recession hit was close to full employment, and to hire anyone for skilled or even semi-skilled jobs required that level of pay, at least in New England. Now things are different, and there are ten million people who were employed then that are not employed now. Market forces have pushed the full employment starter wage down a bit, but it will come back. Although perhaps not for the type of starter jobs most people rely on to enter the work force when they are young.

Small companies, the incubator for most new jobs, cannot afford to hire untrained, inexperienced workers with no known work history at $15 an hour. The high turnover and the number of misfires trying to fill those unskilled positions mitigate against starting people off at a high wage and still make the profits necessary to remain a small business and grow. Small business owners have told me they cannot afford to and will not hire inexperienced labor with no training and with a possibly deficient work ethic at that pay rate. With the cost and unproductivity of new hires with few skills, such a starting rate would put them out of business.

“Work is about more than making a living as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.”  President Bill Clinton

The Congressional Budget Office did a detailed evaluation of the economic impact of a mandated $15 minimum wage. What would that look like when implemented? The estimate from the CBO calculated that raising the minimum wage to $15 would add money to the total national payroll, but a lot of that would be offset by the loss of income to the 1.4 million people whose jobs would be lost. Rather than go into all the detail, the CBO analysis is available, and I recommend you review the whole document[ii]. It would add to the Federal budget deficit by $54 billion over the ten-year period projected in the study. Health care costs would increase. Child-care costs would rise mostly hurting the lower income brackets with two worker families who rely on these services. Childcare costs project to grow to between 30% and 50% of the income of the families needing it.

My greatest concern is that many of the job losses would occur in starter jobs where young people learn to survive and prosper in the workplace. Even the raise in 2009 to $7.25 prompted employers concerned about keeping their labor costs under control to turn to automation: from innovation in operating system software that cut down data entry jobs to kiosks in restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, to replace counter workers. The more repetitive types of lower skill jobs in shops and factories – like making fence panels — would be quick casualties. A higher minimum wage can be offset for businesses striving to remain profitable in a competitive environment (when is it not a competitive environment?) by eliminating positions and replacing them with capital investment in robotics and software, one-time costs that are amortized over time and result in overall cost reductions.

This is what the CBO predicts will happen – the loss of 1.4 million jobs – and it will affect disproportionately the young part timer trying to get started and the educationally disadvantaged breaking into the labor market. Young workers need to improve their lives with the dignity and structure of work necessary to escape the frustration, discouragement and boredom that leads to no good place. Those who most need an entry into the workforce must be afforded the opportunity to learn the physical skills and the “life skills” so necessary throughout our lives.  A government decree does not guarantee them that nor can it justify that early formational work is worth $15 an hour to an employer. Perhaps, as my son suggested, an exception could be made for starter jobs like intern positions for students. That is an idea worth some discussion.

A shortage of starter jobs would rob the inexperienced of the chance to make some mistakes, to build their confidence and to experience the satisfaction of taking pride in their work – to build productive habits for a lifetime. Can we afford to forfeit this opportunity only available for a few short years for so many, when they are young and have so many miles to go before they sleep?

“It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.” W. Somerset Maugham

[i] Consumer Price Index calculator.

[ii] Congressional Budget Office study on raising the minimum wage to $15:

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Maximum Benefit, Minimum Wage (Part One)

“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Elbert Hubbard

The greatest legacy from my parents was watching them do their jobs, whether that was in a formal workforce or at home. They did not raise any lazy kids. We were all blessed with a variety of humble jobs when we were young. For me, I started as a paperboy, then shoveling snow for neighborhood driveways. After caddying at the local nine-hole golf course for a summer, I had a relatively miserable weekend job bagging groceries at the grocery store in the center of our small town.

 I enjoyed much more some side cash jobs cleaning dead bugs off and waxing airplanes at the local airport, splitting the per plane fee with my friend, and unloading railroad cars piecework with the same friends on weekends for a local lumber wholesaler. All cash jobs. Boxcars fully loaded with fir gutters were the hardest challenge to “break the car” (get started by sliding all the way into the car on your back at the top to kick out to your buddy the first few forty-foot pieces jammed up against the roof.)  OSHA and Department of Labor enforcement and the nanny state was not as omnipresent then. We learned about planning to attack the load and how to remove splinters from various parts of our anatomy.

Next followed by a wonderful six weeks before turning sixteen on a dairy farm during haying season. A buck an hour cash in an envelope on Friday evening – never – before or after – was I richer. We would follow a relentlessly moving flat wood trailer being pulled by a slow-moving tractor, passing bales of hay from the rows on the field to the foreman, who stacked them high. When the trailer was stacked high, we hopped on the back to ride to the barn. We then reversed the process, handing the bales up to the foreman in the barn to be stacked for winter forage. Going home sunburned and covered in itchy hay dust and sweat after a day in the company of similarly tired, affable friends, I do not know if I have ever since experienced as full a sense of pride, job satisfaction, and a foretaste of manhood.

When I turned sixteen, the work rules allowed me to get an “on the books” job that my dad lined up for me through a friend at a local family-owned fence company, paying minimum wage of $1.25 an hour. A quarter more an hour than haying, but much less after taxes. It is the first job that shows still on my social security history statement. I worked there summers and weekends through the rest of high school and my first two years of college. Over the many years since, the indelible lessons learned there and on those early jobs helped form me for tree climbing arborist jobs, truck driving, newspaper reporting, and ultimately lumberyard work from the bottom up in a millwork shop to executive jobs managing multiple yards with hundreds of employees.

 “We work to become, not to acquire.” Elbert Hubbard

The fence company was a small conglomerate run by a father, Vito, and three sons, Bobby, George, and Dickie (affectionately nicknamed “Space” for his cranial volume without any noticeable filler). Vito’s brother, Crazy Charlie, hung around and lived up to his name. Charlie enjoyed bossing everyone about without any defined authority to do so. Bobby ran the fence company, although his handsome visage, easy charm, and capacity to party occupied his most focused attention. He was as likeable a character as one could hope to meet. Bobby was very competent to run the place when he chose to do so. Bobby was a good friend to the Songin brothers, one of whom frequently stopped by the shop. Butch, Queey, and Harold were local sports heroes and gifted natural athletes. All of them played minor league professional hockey with the old Providence Reds. Butch was the star hockey player, although all three were very good. Butch was also the first quarterback for the old Boston Patriots before they had their own stadium.

George was the most visibly competent of the owner’s sons and built sound houses, which he framed himself; he was even tempered and a good trainer. Dicky was, well, he was Dicky, and he installed swimming pools, paved driveways, and occasionally had a contract for a tar and gravel commercial roof. While I spent most of my time at the fence company, the workflow for the family businesses sometimes moved us to framing houses with George or paving driveways with Dicky for a week or two. I especially liked nailing off spruce roof board sheathing for George and the challenge of humping bundles of roof shingles two at a time up a ladder.

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The fence company, though, was the incubator for many skills. My first job was dipping fence posts in the creosote bucket buried in the ground next to the wood drip drying rack. Both the rack and the buried bucket have long been EPA banned, and the stuff permanently stained blue jeans and boots in a few hours. I soon moved up to feeding the other end of the posts into one of two also now OSHA banned machines by hand. One was a high-speed router that we would spin the posts into to cap them with an eased edge all around. No guards or impediments to touching the blades should one be careless. The second post cap machine was a heavy honed blade on an eccentric wheel that turned the longer posts for picket fences into a semi sharpened rough design like a pencil sharpened with a pocketknife. The machine ran like an automated guillotine, and we would feed and turn the post until all sides were hit. I never witnessed anyone feeding an arm into the thing, but there was nothing to prevent someone from doing so.

I learned to run the press to drill properly spaced holes into the posts according to the size of the fence they were to accommodate. Different spacing for different heights with marks on the table as visual stops to position the top of the post. Small posts had two. Over four feet high had three holes or six at right angles for corner posts. Posts for the middle of the line were drilled through. End posts stopped halfway. After a week or two, I learned all the jobs and could perform them reasonably efficiently as needed to produce enough pieces a day to keep the boss happy.

Making the fence panels was a step up. I learned to properly crown the rails with the flat side up and fit their doweled ends into a slotted metal table with the proper spacing for each panel height. We placed the cedar pickets and hand nailed them on with six penny galvanized nails. Twenty-two-ounce framing hammer. One stroke to set the nail, and one to put it away flush.  The key to speed was the left hand feeding the nails, a skill that was also essential to nailing off George’s roof boards later. One to set, one to put the nail flush without dinging the picket. Spin and set up the next nail between your fingers with the head ready while the right hand swung with power. Six nails to a picket to fix it to all three rails. Each picket was about three inches wide, so an eight-foot fence panel needed about thirty leaving small spaces between them and the doweled end of the rail left unpicketed to slide into the posts during installation.

Spread the pickets a bit at the top because there was a slight taper from the bottom to the top of the picket so that they stayed plumb.  A hundred and eighty nails approximately a panel. One to set, one to put it away. Spin the nail. Tap, bang. Spin the nail. Tap, bang. Tap, bang. Four or five panels an hour. Feed smooth with the left-hand fingers. Tap, bang. Tap, bang. Arm strength builds up until there is no more soreness at the end of the day. Find the rhythm. Keep focused and the day goes by with concentration, not distraction. Eye hand coordination developed to perform the work without destroying your feed hand. Immediate gratification when I pulled a finished panel off the table and stacked it ready for the job site trucks. Find the rhythm. Spin, tap, bang. Spin, tap, bang.

The next summer I was the second man on a field crew working for Elmer, the most experienced and talented crew chief. You were lucky to get one outing with Elmer. If he perceived any laziness, you never got a second. I was fortunate to work the whole summer for him and weekends after school started again. I learned to dig post holes narrow and thirty inches deep through New England rocky clay soil with a sharpened bar, shovel, and post hole hand scoop digger. Secure the posts in plumb and true with a homemade welded tamper. Nail in the panels. Hang the gates. When I turned eighteen, I ran my own crew and drove the truck to the sites. We were paid by the foot installed with a varying rate for type of fence and extra for gates. A hundred and fifty feet a day, and I made an adult’s weekly wage in the summer, a wage capable, if full time, of supporting a small family or paying fall tuition with a summer’s work. Not minimum wage anymore and never again in my life. I could install a fence today without a hitch, albeit a lot slower.

In those early jobs I learned to wield framing hammers and sledgehammers, five or six different kinds of power saws and handsaws, hatchets, wrenches, shovels, picks, a welding torch, and various types of drills – power and hand bit braces, even a machete and many more. But the more important skills were even more transferrable to becoming an adult: how to get up in the morning every day and get to work on time. How to cooperate and get along with co-workers of all personality types, intelligence levels, and moods. What it is like to work for a great mentor and boss. What it is like to work for an unreasonable, volatile, self-important tyrant, who sometimes throws hammers. How to persevere through occasional twelve-hour days and sixty-hour, six-day weeks in reasonably good spirits, resolute. How to solve a hundred problems a week. How to satisfy unhappy customers, even when they are clearly in the wrong. How to supervise and motivate, encourage, train, discipline, and praise authentically. And maybe most importantly to value and respect the work and those who do the work. So many lessons.

There is no substitute for what we learn in those early jobs.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”  Plato

 

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Sufficient Wisdom

“It takes a husbandman with spade and hoe

To teach the learned, who profess to know…”

       from the poem “Sufficient Wisdom” in the eponymous book of poems by Father Arthur MacGillivray S.J., 1943, Bruce Humphries, Inc., Boston

 

Robert Frost and Father MacGillivray on right

Someone once told me that part of all of us remains nineteen for the rest of our lives, which I think is true. For many in my generation, that time of greatest disillusionment and the shock of early adulthood occurred in 1968 in the terrible three months of the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. For other unfortunates, the amber in which they stuck like fossils was the “summer of love” and Woodstock in 1969. For me, at only seventeen years old, it was 1963 outside the book depository in Dallas[i], and my freshman year at Boston College. On the afternoon of the assassination after the university cancelled all the classes, we drifted in the streets of an almost silent Boston, stunned like everyone else. Small eclectic groups of neighbors and strangers gathered around car radios or televisions in homes, bars and shop windows following the events in disbelief.

There are much happier memories though of that year after high school. Father MacGillivray with whom I studied for my first two semesters is one of them[ii]. I was recently reminded of him through a conversation with my brothers about E.B. White, author of beloved children’s books like “Charlotte’s Weband “Stuart Little,” and one of the most accomplished essayists of the American mid twentieth century. We studied White with Father MacGillivray, especially his “Elements of Style” and an extensive analysis of his definitive long essay about the Big Apple, “Here is New York[iii].” To say he opened worlds and gifted us with an irreplaceable formation previously unimagined would be a woeful understatement.

Before we started, we were assigned a freshmen summer reading list, including Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain,” James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace.” There was a fourth book, I think, which eludes me.

He was somewhat dramatic with a trained theatrical voice he would employ to great effect doing readings of plays, essays and poetry. On winter mornings, he would sweep around campus in a red lined black cloak greeting all with an ironic smile, sparkling eyes and a friendly nod. We read and analyzed in some depth Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” which we memorized and recited. I still remember parts of it. “I fled Him down the nights and days; I fled Him down the arches of the years: I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter…” .

We studied among many works “Macbeth,” Robert Frost’s “Death of the Hired Man” and the “Road Not Taken.”  We spent almost a month on T.S. Eliot’s[iv] “The Hollow Men,” “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock,” “Ash Wednesday” and finally “The Wasteland,” many of the allusions in which were wasted on me.

“He seemed to know that all the choicest fruits

Mature by early tugging at the roots,

That once the earth is clear of stick and stone,

‘Tis wisdom to leave well enough alone.” 

          from the poem “Sufficient Wisdom” as above.

 

After a series of emails with my brothers and sister, I grew curious and regretted not having done research earlier. Father MacGillivray had published his own poems in 1943 in his book “Sufficient Wisdom,”  which he never mentioned to us. I learned he had exchanged letters with Eliot and knew Robert Frost well from a series of lectures Frost delivered at the college, facts also previously unknown to me. I found a picture (shown above) of him with Mr. Frost cutting an 82nd birthday cake, which was Frost’s last. The Boston College archives has a book left to it in 2000, when Father MacGillivray died: a first edition of Frost’s inscribed to him and with some lines in Robert Frost’s own blocky hand printing. At first the book generated great excitement, as it was thought the short stanza was an unpublished Frost poem, however it turned out to have been from his earlier work, “Kitty Hawk”:

 

“But God’s own descent

Into flesh was meant

As a demonstration

That the supreme merit

Lay in risking spirit

In substantiation.”

 

Father MacGillivray’s own book was long out of print, but I was able to locate a used copy, which I promptly bought for $12.50, through Abe Books in a small bookstore in Ohio. In wonderful condition with the original dust cover, a first (and probably only) edition, it found its way to Ohio from the library of Admiral Richard Byrd to whom it was inscribed by the author. He met the famous explorer  and Medal  of Honor winner on a train trip to Connecticut in 1956 six months before Byrd’s own death in March of 1957. The inscription in Father MacGillivray’s strong cursive was on the inside flyleaf: “For Admiral Richard E. Byrd with grateful remembrance of our train-meeting on your way to Bridgeport – October 19, 1956, Fr. Arthur MacGillivray, S.J.”  I fantasize a brilliant serendipitous conversation between the two, wiling away the monotony of a three-hour train ride.

 

His poems are full of tree and farming metaphors, of seasons and weather and nature’s gratuitous order and beauty. I will persist as time allows to learn why. I marveled at some of them, harkening back vivid memories five decades old. Father M was a miner of minds. He cunningly and carefully placed his charges and detonated them with perfect timing. When the noise quieted and the dust cleared, he exposed clean veins of insight in the ego encrusted bedrock of our seventeen-year-old selves. Veins that have yet to be exhausted.

A small treasure of a book that I never knew existed. Makes 2020 already a good year.

 

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

–Thomas Merton

 

[i] I once wrote a blog post on the Kennedy assassination. November 23, 1963, if you have interest. The same day was also the date of the deaths within hours of Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis. That coincidence was the subject of a book I enjoyed by Dr. Peter Kreeft, who is a longtime professor of philosophy at Boston College: Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death. Here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/Between-Heaven-Hell-Somewhere-Kennedy-ebook/

[ii] The English Literature course with Father M was three of the eighteen credits that were considered full time. For me in addition were a lab biology intensive (my initial major), French, Old Testament theology, Logic as a prelude to Epistemology and Pre-calculus/calculus.

[iii] https://www.amazon.com/Here-New-York-B-White-ebook/

[iv] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/t-s-eliot

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Slow Loris

“I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.”  — J. K. Rowling

I like the sound of words, especially names, and they make me curious. The slow loris is a genus of nocturnal, slow moving, slow reproducing mammals, mostly in Southeast Asia and the nearby islands[i]. All the identified species are listed as “vulnerable” or “endangered.” Borneo loris, Bengal loris, and Pygmy loris are some of them. We should be comforted that we are free of any known Fast loris or Giant loris species.

When we think of venomous creatures, what comes to mind are invertebrates like scorpions, Australian box jellyfish, and brown recluse spiders, or maybe vertebrates like copperheads, king cobras, Gila monsters and Mexican beaded lizards. The slow loris is the only known venomous primate (primates include chimps, silverback gorillas and Irishmen.)

This unique primate slow loris bite can cause acute allergic reactions and is a devil of a bite to heal – the toxin eats away flesh and prevents the body from mending itself properly, and sometimes their bite can be lethal to humans.  A bizarre aspect of their behavior is what precedes the thing biting you: it licks and sucks its elbow. The interaction of saliva and the venom sucked out of a hidden elbow patch is then amplified in its toxicity by the creature swishing the mix around in its mouth prior to chomping you.

If a slow loris you meet goes for its elbow, run. Fast. At least they probably will not be able to catch you.

“We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.” – Blaise Pascal

Our new presidential appointed climate change czar John Kerry was asked after the first day of the new administration how he believed the people who lost their 11,000 jobs due to the cancelling the XL pipeline in the Day One executive order could be helped. His answer was a masterwork of aloof cluelessness. Of course, he said, they should get jobs in solar plants.

Flying all over the planet in his family’s private jet that dumps hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon into the atmosphere every year, it is easy for him to have missed what life is like for those who drive a well-maintained pickup with 165,000 miles on it to work. A pipeline welder – like the many other skilled craftspeople it has been my privilege to know over decades in construction and tree work – works long and hard for many years perfecting their craft, deeply identifies with the prestige their skilled job provides and takes great pride in employing those skills carefully to support their families. Welding pipe sections together so they last for many years without leaks or breakdown is not a trivial skill. A union pipe welder will average about $69,000 a year. Not a fortune like marrying into the Heinz family, or the six homes, multiple yachts and private jet Kerry and his wife own, but a solid, well earned income: enough, if one is prudent, to support a family, a mortgage, and maybe a modest annual vacation in a small-rented cabin or campsite for a week. The average worker in a solar plant makes around $40,000, and there are not many solar jobs in the states where the pipeline was being built. So, uproot a thousand miles and get your pay cut by 40%. Sounds reasonable. Why should they be upset?

Can’t see those betrayed folks from Kerry’s windsurfer anyway.

To a progressive elite on a grand mission, taking a 40% bite from their income and inflicting a heartbreaking blow to the dignity of some stranger whose life is incomprehensible to that visionary, and most likely just a “deplorable clinging to guns and bibles,” is a bit of the collateral damage necessary for the greater good when one is saving the planet.

The Biden executive order may run into some significant speed bumps, one of which contains some high political irony. There are legal concepts relating to reliance expectations[ii], and not to drift off too far into the underbrush, they were upheld in 2020 by the Supreme Court against the Trump administration decision to stop the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. The 2012 Obama administration policy, while not providing a direct path to citizenship, eschewed deporting the so-called Dreamers who came to the United States illegally as infants or small children. Having lived for all practical purposes their whole lives in this country, been educated here, and built careers here, I think most reasonable and compassionate people would agree with some version of the policy. The Dreamers had expectations to continue their life here under DACA. The great majority of them were earning their way, raising families, paying taxes, and doing what all legal citizens do to better the society.  The Supreme Court agreed and ruled that under DACA protection, those folks should be able to rely on their reasonable expectations to not have their lives torn apart by immigration enforcement.

Well, it can be argued that union pipe welders, the Canadian oil trading providers with long-term purchasing contracts with refiners, and the multiple construction companies which geared up to fulfill signed contracts to build the XL pipeline extension have similar reason to rely on expectations to continue what they agreed to do and count on those promises without major disruption. I am not an attorney, but litigation is pending, and a court decision will probably resolve this executive action as well.

“To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them.” Aristophanes, The Knights

But we sensibly ask, what of the executive action itself? Does it help our beleaguered planet to clear up its air? Plainly, many of the first day executive actions were prepared in advance to placate some of the more strident elements of President Biden’s awkwardly stitched together constituency. The XL pipeline order made a great headline in Mother Earth News. The XL pipeline had been put in place as the final connection from the Alberta oil fields to a much larger existing pipeline that runs from Nebraska to the refineries on the Gulf Coast. Long planned, construction was well underway.

For some perspective, more coal plants were shuttered under the Trump administration than any previous four-year period, and in 2020 for the first time since 1880, more electrical power was generated by renewables (wind, solar, hydro) than coal. All planned new plants in the USA to replace obsolete or closed plants are already ticketed as natural gas or renewables, with the majority renewable. However, unless all of us are willing to forgo our SUVs, pickups, and basic transportation, shut off our air conditioners and refrigerators, take cold showers, and ride horseback to visit relatives across the continent, we are going to need natural gas for electricity and fuel for our non-electric cars and jet planes for the foreseeable future. The trajectory driven by both economics and environmental concerns happily is and will continue to be to cleaner energy, but it is not going to be an instant transformation. The oil from the Alberta oil fields will be used irrespective of how it gets to the refineries.

The Biden executive action must be urgent though and will provide a safer means of transporting the crude oil the 1,179 miles from the Alberta sand oil fields to the existing pipeline head in Nebraska, right? More chance of spills with pipelines than trains or trucks, right? All the data shows pipelines, most of which are underground, are 4.5 times safer[iii] with fewer safety occurrences than those other means of transportation, and 70% of those fewer pipeline incidents have zero actual spillage or less than a cubic meter.  So, safety to those on route or to the environment is not addressed in the executive order.

Well, then, how about carbon emissions in the transportation process? This must not be just political posturing and ideological pandering, right?  Cancelling the pipeline saves the planet, right?  The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil to be processed into the fuel we need every day. Trains are better than trucks for safety and require less energy (and carbon emissions,) so we will use those best-case metrics. Trucks would be worse. The railroad industry boasts it is four times more fuel efficient than trucks.

A rail car carries 650 barrels. A barrel of oil weighs 300 pounds.  That is a lot of weight to transport. The largest allowed train is 100 cars, so it would take about twelve and three quarters full trains every day to take up the missed pipeline slack. These calculations do not consider what it takes to return the empty cars for refill, or idling cars and trucks stuck on rural railroad crossings while the long trains go by. The data to feed the calculations are readily available from various public sources, and I will not make this any longer by going through the detail on my spreadsheet, which is available, if you have interest. Trains use diesel fuel to pull their loads. The results are that moving all that oil from Alberta to Nebraska will blow about 3,340 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A day. About 1,218,514 tons of carbon dioxide a year for decades that would be saved by building the pipeline. So environmental damage is not addressed in the executive order. It is a false flag project, a green initiative in optics and headlines only.

So, if you are a green advocate, or a skilled union pipe welder, or a Dreamer, and you get to meet a president or an energy czar some fine day, that will be a memorable moment for you. But I caution you, always remember the slow loris that started this post. Unlike what the taxonomists tell us, that creature is not the only venomous and deadly primate. If that politician walking over to greet you sucks on his elbow, run for the door.

“Liars make the best promises.”  Pierce Brown, Golden Son

[i] More slow loris information for the insomniac.

[ii] American Bar Association webinar transcript on reliance expectations in the DACA case.

[iii] https://www.fraserinstitute.org/article/pipelines-are-safest-way-transport-oil-and-gas

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