The Haves and the Have Nots: Personal Reflection of Where I Fit

I have just begun reading Michael B. Katz‘ book In the Shadow of the Poorhouse, his comprehensive book on the history of welfare in America. I begin this book on the heels of Da Chen‘s (Chen Da) personal memoir of growing up dirt poor as a member of a hated landlord family under the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Colors Of The Mountain. What strikes me, today especially, but always, is that a lot of what we consider when speaking of disenfranchisement and poverty is based upon perception. I, after all, am a member of the rich landlord class in America, head and shoulders above the ranks of my unfortunately tenants in both means an education, and, therefore, opportunity. And yet I write today’s blog sitting in an abandoned apartment that is unrentable because two door frames have lead paint and await the next income of any size that will allow me to just pay the heat bill on the one building still seeing any kind of income, although not enough to keep me out of foreclosure. I have been narrowly keeping the nipping dogs of poverty at bay under slightly more favorable circumstances for the last thirteen years. And yet, despite thirteen years of evidence to the contrary, I still rosily look ahead and foresee that the winds will turn in my favor any day now.

I often wonder, as I deal with the “truly” poor, what perceptions they bring to the table. After extensive conversations, we usually get down to a universal truth at some point: I am responsible for my terrible life. And yet, qualifications vary greatly as to what constitutes a good life and what exactly is preventing them from living it. Obviously the human condition is characterized by flaws, many serious and universal. As the Bible would say it, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When one wants to ask just how our world would be better if we all did not fall short of God’s glory, we have the example of Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being.

And what does Jesus’ story tell us about how to make this world a better place? First, it does nothing without calling a spade a spade. He doesn’t excuse our flaws. He, after all, as the Bible clearly indicates, came to make a sacrificial payment for our flaws—his own death. But more than that, he showed us the way to be glorious like God. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “though being in very essence God, he did not consider equality with God something to be sought, but rather humbled himself in the form of a servant.” Jesus summed up his compassion like this: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Isaiah said of him, “A bruised reed he will not break. A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

Certainly none of us can save the world like Jesus. And none of us comes close to reflecting God’s perfection, his glory. But the example of loving our neighbors as ourselves is clear. All of us, rich and poor, endowed by our creator with a sense of fairness and compassion, whether or not we acknowledge that it comes from God, are, to some extent, concerned with the plight of humanity. This is, in no small part, because we recognize the bigger picture, that the plight of my neighbor affects my own. There is, nevertheless, an innate selfishness to each of us that is not ready to lay down one’s own life for the sake of others, no matter how much we care about them. For many, the selfishness has entirely blocked out more than lip service to “all for one and one for all”, and for many, even the lip service is gone and forgotten in the ever-accelerating paper chase.

But back to the question at hand. Why is it that I continue to see myself as rich, even while I slip into foreclosure and my indigent tenants live comfortably off their handouts? This is possibly where I benefit from the foresight and broader perspective of my education. I can see into the future, which quickly approaches, that brings the collapse of America and the end of the welfare system. This makes me wiser, but, as the song says, sadder. For there is no upside available when welfare runs out and those with little to their name must be supported by those of us with not much more. We surely won’t be able to pick up the slack. Education tells me that this is because my perceptions have been used against me just as much as has their perception that the government will always be there to take care of them.

Yes, I, and those like me, have also been given the Koolaid. Many is the commercial that advertizes that the college educated individual will make $200,000 more in his lifetime than the poor high school graduate. Of course, we are not told that this will be used against us to prop up the ruling class, which includes those in the fiefdoms of the universities. Indeed, factoring the time wasted in school, the money lost to student loan interest and the higher taxes paid, we will have to work twice as hard just to keep from ending up welfare recipients ourselves. (That, of course, is the unstated goal. Once everyone is on the government teat, then the new communist agenda can be rolled out. Confer “Colors of the Mountain.” and every other book about communist tactics.)

Of course, now it becomes even more obvious just what one cannot do with an education. My friend recently graduated Magna Cum Lauda from an Ivy League class university. He was handed his diploma and went out to find a job. Sorry, now you’re an educated poor man. You know more than us and could be our boss. We are quite impressed, but cannot hire you. My friend is not alone. Countless millions more who merely survived college with the promise of being entitled to a cushy job are not only not finding cushy jobs, they are lucky to find any job at all. And, by the way, those student loans are due NOW.

One nice thing about being older (the downside being reference in “Too Old to Start Over, Too Young to Die”) is that I was able to complete my Master’s program back when, with a little effort, I could do it without student loans. On the same lines, the greatest thing about my education over the last three decades is that is has been at the very survivable cost of libraries, the internet and discount book stores. As I look at poor college graduates, I see that I am vastly superior in knowledge that counts than most of them. Yet my advantage is mostly one of time and experience. I have learned on the long journey that the world is not fair. They are learning via Cliff Notes. Yet we are all in the same predicament.

What is the answer to poverty then? If I could give than succinctly, would I be an overnight sensation, rich in material wealth beyond my wildest dreams? I doubt it. The answer is at once simple and complicated. To the spiritual wealth, I have the answer in Jesus. Since most would rather talk about “hard realities” of life and “real wealth”, this is, materialism, Jesus doesn’t cut it very well with his heavenly mansion rhetoric. Fine. Let’s talk about the here and now.

First of all, despite the road down which I suspect Mr. Katz is going to take me, public welfare really is about private sector involvement. But it’s much more personal than that. Communism, a dirty word because, in most instances, it equates to mass slavery for the benefit of the elite cadre, is actually a concept with quite a bit of merit, when practiced on the personal level. True communism is, after all, nothing more than extension of the family unit. Anyone with half a brain understands that every country with a strong family unit (with more than 1.6 engineered children) prospers. Countries that tear down this sacred unit soon regret it. Hillary Clinton told us it takes a village to raise a child. She has it backwards a little. It takes a strong family to raise a child. And the stronger the family is, the more the family can help the village. Strong families can reach out to include those who need the love and support of a strong family.

Secondly, there is the sticky question of entitlement. How much does entitlement get played by those who could be working and taking care of themselves? Public sentiment has gone around many times on this. The answer is a little problematic because, like any poorly designed clinical trial, it tries to define the problem with only one variable—is the person able-bodied. That doesn’t take into account education, location, and cost of living, to name a few. Now that the college graduate, allegedly a highly motivated group (at least those who I don’t watch pickling their livers on a daily basis during their undergraduate years), faces the same problems of gainful employment, the corollary issues are more illuminated. Certainly, reading books like “Colors of the Mountain” and examining other cultures and their acknowledgment that only a few rare souls really “make it”, we can see than the problem of poverty and how to end it is universal and universally unsolved by state welfare.

Maybe I will go out and find a treasure trove of new business, dig myself out of my current hole and go on happily with my life. It could happen. I do, after all, have the education. But to what extent will I have to put my compassion for the whole on hold for the selfish advancement of myself. This much I know—poor people can’t help poor people in America. It’s not because we don’t want to. It’s mostly because, in its effort to serve the needs of all people, the government has exacted the entire resources of the once independent middle class and forced them all into dependence. Too many of us who thought we were clear of the poverty line have not been paying attention as greater taxation, regulation and hidden inflation have raised the line so high that we don’t have to limbo very low anymore to get under it.

So, here I am, possessing of many answers, on the trail of asking the right questions, and having nothing to show for it but the undying annoyance of the koolaid drinkers. For me, richness cannot lie in my personal bottom line. That would be a repudiation of my entire life’s goal to raise up my neighbor, not to mention a slap in the face to my gracious God. I hope to be, like Da Chen’s beloved ancestors, someone to whom people can look for inspiration and motivation when the chaos of America’s and the world’s Cultural Revolution, and its present irrationality, subsides. It took forty years for Da Chen’s family to finally see the fruits of doing the right thing. I hope it won’t take that long for me. Three more decades would make me an old man indeed. But even if I never see that day, knowing that it will come still makes it worth it to me. And that makes me one of the haves.

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I Like Ike. I Want To Be Like Ike.

No, it’s not a misprint.  Not talking about Michael Jordan or Jackson or any other entertainer.  I’m talking about a guy who came from a small town in the middle of nowhere, worked his butt off in relative obscurity for thirty years in the army, and, though considered a genius of vel craft, was never even to the rank of colonel by age 50.  The a proven leader of men, he was consigned to one strategic desk job after another, never getting a chance to show off his superior abilities for waging successful military campaigns.

But, all those desk jobs would come back to be very important.  Because those desk jobs weren’t just menial glorified secretarial roles.  They were jobs that required working for and with the brightest military minds of the era–Patton, Marshall, MacArthur, Pershing, and places like France and the Philippines, places in which his experience would come to be very important when the call came.

And the call did come.  And Dwight David Eisenhower answered it.  And the world was better off for it.  After Eisenhower assumed command of the Allied Forces, the war was quickly and efficiently brought to a solution.  No, he didn’t to it without firing a shot.  But, given the standoff that was, and given the historic loss of life that the standoff of the World War I had incurred, it’s safe to say that millions of lives were saved by one middle-aged career middle management army man who almost nobody had every heard of before he assume command.

I am like Ike in one way.  I have a lifetime of learning and training with not much to show for it.  No one knows or cares who I am or what I can do.  But I know that I can do.  And my time is going to come.   Every setback I have now is training.  Every book I read of every great mind and every accomplished individual is training for when it is my turn.

Just before Barack Obama was elected president, I was talking to one of the college “boys” who lived next door.  He was one of the more promising ones as I could tell, since he actually was interested in reading books deeper than People Magazine.  I had even given him one of the best books I had at the time, The Closing of the American Mind, to read.  Had he read it, he would probably have, just as I had coming out of graduate school, realized that middle aged people knew considerably more that I, the well educated young buck.  He would probably not have made the statement to me that people of my generation had had their chance and that is was not time for his generation to fix all the world’s problems.  And he might even have thought twice about the fact that the man everyone chose to change America was middle aged guy the same age as I whose entire life experience was being a snot-nosed community organizer before he became a do-nothing senator by having all his opponents disqualified in the senatorial election.  And he might have noticed, if he had read that book, that the very people who had tried to destroy America in the 60s, and that had actually destroyed the education system in which this young lad was now being indoctrinated into a lock step zombie, were the same people who had created one Barack Obama.

But I digress.  The point is, Ike had the same problem.  He had a lot of answers to which no one would listen.  So he bode his time and waited, and waited, and waited.  One day, people woke up and realized that the current leadership was getting nowhere.  And his time came.  And the old man taught everyone a few things.  He saved the Western Hemisphere from having to goose step and the Asian theater from having to learn Japanese.

So, “old” people like me, people whom the teenagers think should just die already, there probably going to come a time when we are heard again.   When the progressive agenda has pushed us over the line of no return, young people will turn in desperation to the tried and true ideas of yesterday.   And it will once again be “our time.”  How are we going to respond?  I, for one, have been mired a little in self pity and felt like just throwing in the towel and going on welfare and food stamps like everyone else.  Smoke a little joint here, close a bar down there, sleep till mid-afternoon, live in a flop house, pass the buck to some other tax payer to give me my rightful handouts.  But we all know that the paper chase can’t continue after the bottom of productivity has completely eroded.

There is coming a time, soon, when the New Deal will utterly fail and we all must go back to basics.  Basics means domestic production, self-sufficiency, innovation,  real GNP based on hard commodities, life after petroleum-poisoned food and nationally subsidized drug addiction.  The time will soon come when anarchy will tear down the remains of what is broken, and, this time, people will be ready to replace what has been broken since the 60s with what actually worked before then.  And who is going to lead the disillusioned, starving children back to those times besides those of us who can still remember them?

I want to be like Ike.  I hope I get that chance.  I can’t give up.  I have to be ready.   If I don’t survive until the Change, then it’s my duty to teach someone under 30 who will survive and be ready to lead the campaign.  This is not time to be soft.  There’s a war going on.  America is still under the same threats today that is was in Ike’s time.  No time for losers.

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Yes, The WERE WMDs

This is a little article from Best of Cain that fell into my lap today,

Politics: Actually there were lots of chemical weapons found in Iraq, says . . . the New York Times?

Politics has become more of a chess match than foreign relations or foreign policy.  It is not longer important to do what is best for the United States of for the country in question.  What counts now is how the story will play at home.  Here you have, for different political reasons, both the Democrats and the Republicans hiding the truth about the same issue.

On a larger scale, beside whether one can really know the situation on the ground in Iraq or any other place, you have the constant cry of the “fringe” that politicians don’t care about the truth or that they must hide the truth because of a much larger agenda.  We who waste too much of our lives figuring out just who is up to what are here to say that the agenda is total slavery of the human population done at such a slow pace that, by the time the people get it, it’s too late.  Of late, this has been accelerating, as the presidency of one Barack Hussein Obama has brought us quickly to the end game.

Just an example from domestic policy would be the big lie about the Affordable Care Act.   We were sold this as a way to streamline health care, when the truth actually was that it was a way to drop lower middle class earners into the same tax bracket or higher than the one percent.   No one would have been able to get any political traction telling a wage earner of $40,000 that he would now be watching $25000 of his money go to taxes anstead of “$15000.  The entire country would have been outraged.  But this is exactly what has happened, now that health care coverage costs have skyrocketed even while you must now pay out of pocket for anything short of a major car accident or terminal cancer.  (of course, if you are terminal, you will die before the co-pay kicks in.  If you are over 75, you aren’t worth fixing anyway.)

There are a lot of other lies out there.  One of my favorites is that poor people are given freebies for the good of the poor people.  Not really.  Poor people are only tolerated so that a lot of bureaucrats can have cushy jobs and look important.  Otherwise we would have a euthanasia program to get rid of them.  We actually already do, since we can’t have too many poor people.  It’s called Abortion On Demand.

But I rant on.  Do be sure to read the Article and some of the supporting links.  Then you actually might have some idea what’s going on out there in the sand.

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The Second Amendment: In Search of Modern Context

Many assertions have been forthcoming over the last decade or so as to what exactly is protected and what is prohibited under the Second Amendment.  On the one extreme, you have those who see any form of gun control as a form of tyranny that is prohibited under the idea that all individuals form the militia as a whole and therefore individually have the right, even the responsibility, to bear arms.  On the other hand, you have those who believe that the urbanization of our population, and the consequent abandonment of standing militia at large in favor of hired police forces, has de facto dissolved the militia at large argument for gun ownership and resulted in the consequent abandonment of any individual gun rights.  While I tend to favor the idea that all who wish to own guns for protection are, de facto, members of a standing militia, I also do not own a gun.  There are several reasons for this, on which I might shed some light as I examine the modern context of the gun debate.

As I was driving home today, I happened to drive by the local police yard.  In it was a large van that I believe is equipped as a public relations vehicle that goes to various functions and allows the citizenry (especially children) to become familiar with a police vehicle.  It sometimes is accompanied to such functions by a swat vehicle and a squad car or two.  The slogan on the side of the van read, “Get to know us before you need us.”  This struck me as a direct inverse to the situation, as it is painted, in Ferguson, MO.   This pertains in a big way to the Second Amendment, because the general populace has ceded its militia responsibilities to the police force.  As such, it is not proper for the citizenry and the police to refer to the other as “us versus them”.  In reality, there should only be talk of “us”.  The police are, or should be, an extension of the local citizenry.

As I see it, there are two reasons for a failure in such cases as the alleged disconnect in places like Ferguson.  And both of them have to do with the failure of the citizenry to be the militia at large.  The first stems from the fact the neighborhood has neither the ability nor the desire to comport itself as a law-abiding society.  This, unfortunately, is often the plight of cities, especially those where turnover of residents is great and knowledge of one’s neighbors is sketchy at best.  This has been further exacerbated by the rise of the internet, texting, and social networking that allow us to shut ourselves off from our actual surrounding in favor of our virtual communities.  The result is the lack of community that checks our selfish, do-what-I-want attitudes with more community-oriented mores.  The “live and let live” attitude that has resulted means that no one cares to mind the neighborhood and have any responsibility for it.  Here it is assumed that the problems are not great and that the police have everything well in hand.  Or, if they don’t, at least no one knows me so no one will bother me.  Locks and shades protect a virtual world inside the little prison cell.

In the case of Ferguson, though, more likely it was not so much a case of a neighborhood of strangers as it was a police force of strangers.  Many attempts to have the community effectively police itself were thwarted by the fact that there were not enough local citizens who were either interested in or qualified to develop a locally-staffed police force.  So outsiders were needed.  The alternative in this case would have been to let the community degrade into an anarchic war zone.   Tacitly or otherwise, all the citizens have consented that police from outside the community is preferable.  Unfortunately, such police have little knowledge of people they encounter in emergency situations.  As police are in harms way more often than not, they are going to assume that everyone they meet, with whom they have no personal contact, is a hostile combatant.  As such, when anyone makes a move that can be interpreted as aggressive, regardless of the actual intent, the policeman is going to respond according to his training, which is designed, much like a military soldier’s, for self-preservation.  In most cases, this involves the use of disabling or deadly force.

Regardless of whether the police are unfamiliar with the citizenry because the citizenry is transient or because the police force is hired in, the fact remains that they are overwhelmed.  It is not possible for the small, well-armed and well-trained militia to adequately police a neighborhood.  Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has become somewhat famous for pointing out this fact in public service announcements.  The police cannot be everywhere at once.  They need the help of the militia at large.  Chicago had such militia, in the form of parent groups that protected children to and from school, that were successful in the past.  (Why they were removed by the politico is the subject for another day) Other neighborhood watches have proven successful over the years.  But they have largely ceased to exist as we have become a more self-absorbed society.  The militia at large needs to be reactivated.  Bad guys carry guns and terrorize neighborhoods.  The antidote is for good guys to also carry guns and protect neighborhoods.  In a very real sense, guns in the hands of good people do very little good if the good people who own them aren’t organized and effective at using them to deter the bad people.  The is why the Second Amendment speaks of a “well regulated militia.”  Just having a rusty gun locked in a back room isn’t well-regulated.

Perhaps you haven’t heard about the 12 year old girl in Montana who was a champion trap shooter and who, when three men tried to assault her in her own home, stopped one dead and sent the other two running.  Some people would claim that she shouldn’t be protected under the Constitution because she had a gun for sport, which has nothing to do with being a militia member.  But, when the enemy came knocking with lethal intent, she instantly became a militia member and did her duty.  While this was a more high-profile case, the fact is that many people who carry weapons have had to take it upon themselves to join the “posse comitatus”.  The actual meaning of this term is the emergency deputizing of a citizen into the police force, or, the militia at large.  Anyone who has used a gun to stop a criminal, literally an enemy of the people, has deputized him or herself at that moment in just such a way as the Second Amendment would intend.  It is interesting to note that, although guns can deliver a lethal blow, in most cases what they deliver is a message that the militia at large is active and that those who would do harm to the citizenry had better think twice.

I do not own a gun.  There have been times in which I thought it might be a lot safer to own one.  And, I sometimes feel I have a responsibility to carry one in order to be able to protect others around me.  But the Travon Martin case also has a lot to teach those of us who would be part of the militia at large.  Having a gun creates the potential for using a gun with deadly force.  Having such ability creates a different aura for a person.  If I don’t have a gun, I am less likely to allow myself to be in situations where I would need one.  If I don’t have a gun, I am more likely to do my best to diffuse situations that could become violent or to leave before they become so.  If I don’t have a gun, my thinking is different.  I am more inclined to reach out to my local police officers, get to know them, keep them informed of potentially volatile situations.  If I have a gun, I might be more inclined to rely on my gun for safety.  Eventually, I will have a gun.  I was trained as a youngster to use fire arms.  But before I get that new concealed weapon, I need to be able to set aside the time to learn to use it correctly and accurately.  It may be that I’ll opt for a taser or mace instead.  Perhaps a broad range of weaponry.  Already I am armed with a personal flashlight large enough and bright enough to disable a potential shooter’s vision long enough to escape or to brain him with the “aircraft quality aluminum” casing.  “Well-regulated” is less about what weaponry you have and more about your ability to use it effectively.  And self-defense is not always about going on the offensive.  But sometimes it is.  Sometimes you can’t avoid the fight.  When that time comes, you need to be ready.

Gun ownership should be a right for all citizens.  But, all citizens also should understand and accept the responsibilities of such ownership.  It should go hand in hand with knowing your local law enforcement, knowing and being active in your community, doing you best to help others in the community foster a sense of responsibility to one’s neighbors.  Merely sticking one’s head in the sand and then whining when police seem to overstep their bounds or when gun rights are taken away is not going to cut it.  In that case, you are not worthy of the Constitution of the United States of America or the republic whose law it defines.

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Too Old to Start Over, Too Young to Die

I have never thought of myself as old.  Sure, when I hurt, I say it loudly and proudly.  But I always have felt that I would get up tomorrow and feel good again.  But, lately, reality strikes me in the face.  Perhaps I am too smart to ever lack for something useful to contribute to society.  But, as I age, I begin to see that society has little use for me.

Because of my skill set, I have always been able to find enough work to survive.  But, my skill set depends upon those who both desire my services and can afford them.  As music becomes more about listening to guys talking over a beat box, the need for musical instruments has diminished.  As digital keyboards have become cheap and not bad, the need for piano tuners has plummeted.  Maybe soon, especially if we take another economic swoon as expected, business will dry up.  Then I will find myself in the same position as so many people my age–old enough that no one wants to hire me unless I get new skills, and not possessing either the time or the money to get new skills.  Sure, I could get student loans, maybe.  But, by the time I’d actually get a job to start paying them back, I’d have to work until I’m 80 to pay them back.  No one wants to hire a 60 year old college grad when there is already an eternal pool of smart, young and energetic grads who will take less and live in the parents’ basement.

The entire prospect of working at McDonald’s is, I am sure, quite depressing for the laid-off middle ager who has seen his job sent to India or has seen technology obviate him.  Such is the reason I never put the books down.  I’m always looking for more information and new skills.  However, the world is certifiably crazy, and, while the ability to program a small piece of plastic to be the new secretary or human interaction device is in high demand, most real-world skills, especially anything approaching wisdom and perspective,  are quite laughed at.  Who needs that when we all have sound bites?  And, after all, us old people, so I was told the year before Barack Obama, my contemporary, became president, have had our chance, and our input is no longer desired or required.  No, the young people have all the answers now.  After all, most of us old fogeys don’t even tweet!

Oh, you younguns are going to have some problems with us old farts now.  We couldn’t make it to retirement with our pensions intact and affordable health care to keep us ticking.  Now it’s going to be up to you to support us as we all give up and go on welfare.  But wait a minute!   That’s what all you young folks are doing!  Hmm.  I suppose you will have to round up all the old people and shoot them.  Or, maybe, if you just deny us health care, we will just die already.  I mean, we already lived, but now we’re just old.  So what do we have to live for any more?  Might as well just kick off and save the planet the CO2.

Well, I’m sure that old people still DO count, even if we can’t get work or afford to keep our homes.  I’m sure we WILL make huge contributions to this lawless society that it will never even realize or appreciate.  Only after we are gone and the texting, tweeting nation must find leadership will our thankless efforts be missed.  But too late then.  Good thing societies of old didn’t have such disdain for their elders.  One wonders how the Israelites would have ever gotten to the promised land without Moses.  He started his job at 80 and was still on the job at 120.  Grandma Moses, on the other hand, started painting in her 80’s–not leading a people but still respected for her art.  Senior citizen Diana Nyad should certainly be an inspiration to all Cubans trying to get asylum here as she became the first person to ever swim to Florida by herself, something no virile young person has managed to do.  Seems like us old people should be worthy of a higher calling than Walmart greeter.

I can’t really blame Obama or any other president for the plight of the too old but too young.  No, I blame the college ejumacated kinda youngsters so full of knowledge and so devoid of understanding.   Not your fault that your guides were blind.  But, if you had had any sense, you would have figured this out and would have awakened from your over-sexed, drunken stupors long enough to not let yourselves be brainwashed.  Now, all of a sudden, you’re struggling to pay off your student loans while you let the same crap that got you into financial hot water continue, in fact you even promote it.   Too bad you’re too short-sighted to see that, in a few short decades (yes, decades are SHORT), you will be me.  And there will be no safety net of funds.  And the young people who replace you will speak Spanish and Farsi and will not have any problem with exterminating you.  I hardly find any joy in the prospect of your future.  After all, for me, the future is now, and it’s already not very pretty.

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The best book for learning Chinese

In my humble opinion, the most helpful book I have yet run across for learning Chinese is Chinese Demystified.  One of the biggest problems with Chinese is that it has a lot of characters that change in meaning and even in pronunciation depending upon how you use them in a sentence.  Of course, you can communicate OK in Chinese without using a lot of these characters.  But, you’re always going to sound like a stupid foreigner, or a 洋鬼子 (yangguizi – foreign devil).

When I started Particularly Good Chinese, it was with the idea in mind that I’d help people really master the little particles of speech that make all the difference in Chinese (and also, to some degree, with Japanese and Korean).  Chinese Demystified, in its 21 chapters, does a pretty good job of covering these essential and tricky characters.

If there is a down side to the book, it’s that the examples are few.  Also, it’s often assumed that you know the meanings to several characters that have not been previously introduced.  The upside is that all examples are given in simplified (简体jianti) and traditional (繁体 fanti) script.  This gives you the ability to compare the two and be somewhat ready for Taiwan, if your travels happen to take you there (or, like me, you love to watch Taiwanese TV shows).  However, the writing is mostly in the Beijing style, so you will still have some work to learn Taiwanese, which uses the same characters but has slightly different idioms.

Many Chinese courses try to teach you everything orally, not paying any attention to the characters, or, at best, using pinyin for pronunciation help.  While pinyin can be very helpful, certain sounds are not quite as they appear to the Westerner, especially an American.  We have all heard Chinese people struggle with L and R, for instance.  The sound for the pinyin R is quite different from almost any R we use.  To the uninitiated ear, it sounds more like an L or J.  It takes quite a bit of practice to distinguish the Chinese L from R, and also Zh from J and Q from CH.  And then there are the NG and N finals, or endings, which are often too subtle for western ears to tell the difference.

I like to learn how to read the Chinese characters (and Japanese for the same reason) because I am able to group words with similar sounds or meanings that are based on common 部首 (bushou), the little script parts that make up larger characters.  Often, knowing the bushou can help one guess at pronunciation or meaning of new words, which helps a lot with comprehension when reading new material.  While Chinese Demystified doesn’t spend any time teaching the bushou, at least it provides the script for all sentences.  It really does help one to begin to get a feel for the characters and a deeper understanding of very strange sounding foreign language.

I plan to start making more text and audio learning tools based around Chinese Demystified.  I also plan on concentrating more lessons on nailing the bushou.

As far as learning vocabulary, look for iPod, iPad and Android apps that work with vocabulary. Flashcard apps really help. My favorite one, before my iPod was stolen was Sticky Study.  It contained all the vocabularies of the HSK (Chinese Level Tests) and was very customizable.  Also, it made sure to target the characters you needed work on until you had them nailed.  .  For dictionary apps, I like Pleco.

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Change is Gonna Do Me Good

I’m announcing my plans to completely change my blog.   I’ve decided that I need to break out each of my categories into it’s own space.  So, Right Wing Nuts and Bolts will become just a spoke on the wheel.  And instead of just being a topical article here and there and some borrowed stories on this or that current even, it is going to take on a book form, with sections and chapters.  Then, relevant articles will all be found as links to the chapters.

All the other categories are going to be laid out the same way.  And, instead of just saying a few brief things about, for instance, health, and quoting this or that person about something, I’m going to write the definitive book on the subject.  Again, sections with chapters, and lots of links.  Except that, since this book will be an e-book, it will be a constant work in progress.  As new information become available, the book can adapt to incorporate it.

The reason I’m going to this new format is two-fold.  First, there is too much information, cross information and misinformation about almost everything.  And there is usually too much concentration on little parts of a subject that don’t take into consideration the greater whole.  This causes us to become skewed and short-sighted in our assessment of things.

Secondly, I believe that I will have to start charging money for entrance to the new sites.  Of course I won’t do this right away.  I want everyone to have the same access to the information that I have.  And I want everyone to understand just how valuable that information is.  LIfe-changing is the word.  But, most people believe that everything free is cheap and worthless.  Actually, the best things in life are free, yet we like to pay people to tell us what we are too lazy to discover for ourselves.

Here’s the thing.  I already know most of what is on all those “fantastic time-sensitive opportunity” financial and medical sites that you can now join for just a fraction of the $1000 or whatever that the information is worth.  And, believe me, the info IS worth that and more.  And even though I already know most of it, I’m still tempted to subscribe just to make sure I know and I’m not missing anything.  That is the draw.  And the draw only comes with advertising.  And advertising is expensive.  And I can only afford to advertise if I get a return on my investment.

But, as I begin to put the sites together, as I start filling in the chapters and headings, as I start to collect the links and make sure all the truly valuable and relevant ones are in place. I’m going to keep on blogging for all to see.  The more support I get, the faster I will get to where I want to go.

Maybe you don’t realize it, because I haven’t spent the time posting about every little wave of current events, but I am really an expert in a lot of fields.  I’ve dedicated my life to learning.  Not only have I become broadly read on history , geography, politics, religion, language arts, music, business and finance, but I also have learned how to learn.  That, combined with my years of teaching experience, puts me in the right place for disseminating a lot of truth.  It also gives me some unique abilities to wade through a lot of horse manure that floods into our daily lives and get right to the points that matter.

Dr. Ben Carson’s new book, which I read while I had an hour to kill today, has a very good point.  He said that, even though every kind of knowledge is at our fingertips on Google and other search engines, there is no substitute for having a broad base of knowledge.   When we meet people on the street, listen to politicians in speeches, watch the evening news, or pick up a book or magazine, we are inclined, even if quite cynical, to take people at face value.   Part of being well-read, or educated, if you will, is to have crossed enough paths with truth and lies and to have confidently shaped our values and beliefs enough to recognize immediately when the horse manure is starting to get deep.  Without this knowledge, and this ability to cut through rhetoric and see the underlying truths or the lack thereof, we become reactionary.  We do stupid things because we fail to know that they are stupid.  Dr. Carson uses the example of a young man who fancied himself  person with extraordinary athletic prowess.  To prove his point, he decided to swim out to a bridge pillar and back.  Unfortunately, he was ignorant of the strong undercurrents.  This ignorance cost him his life.  He knew he was strong enough to swim there and back.  It was what he DIDN’T know that killed him.

What we don’t know is killing us economically, morally, socially and physically.  I don’t plan to write the book on every truth and lie.  No one has enough book shelves for that.  Nor do I have the time.  I want to write the books that point to the right books that point to the other books.  I want to create the center for the vast web of knowledge that’s already out there.  I’d like it to be free for whoever wants it.  If I can, I will.  If not, at least it will be priced a lot less than the worthless college degrees that almost everyone struts about with and claims to know something.  Yes, some college graduates know a lot.  The rest know how to fill out forms real good.  (Lawyers not only know that, they also know how to speak legal.  They become very important when you need them.  Maybe we’d like a country where you didn’t.  But since that is a pipe dream, here is my first piece of really good advice–get a lawyer!)  But you, Mr. and Mrs. America, should know a lot more than that.  Because, every time you turn to an expert for help or advice, the majority of what you pay them is for is to possess the information that you should already know.  Not only that, but a lot of the information you are paying for will be the wrong information.  You will not only be worse off than before, but also poorer.  (An exception is the building trades, where most of the money you pay covers government pay-offs and insurance costs.  But it’s usually still better than trying it yourself and ending up dead or with a ruined property.)

Yup, I’m poor.  But that’s because I spent all of my time and money getting educated.  Sometimes I read a book.  Sometimes I learned the the old-fashioned, hard knocks expensive way.  You should learn from me and save yourself all the expense and heartache.  I believe that’s why God put me on this green earth.  I’m going to do my best to tell you what I know.  Whether you listen or not is entirely up to you.

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