About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

The 1950s are gone

By Erik Dolson

There was a time, 70 years ago, that liberals are now looking to with nostalgia, as are Republicans who want a return to that golden age. The problem is, that era was an exception, not a norm. The conditions that created the 50s no longer exist.

The U.S. had just won WWII, and thanks to the Marshall plan, was rebuilding the rest of the world. Europe and Asia had no industries left, their cities were shattered, and we had it all, including a pent up demand for homes and jobs.

In this situation, U.S. capital and labor were in high demand, with income from around the world that needed to buy what we could produce. The current “American Dream” was built on that foundation, especially that children would have a better life than their parents.

If there is something that should be called “American Exceptionalism,” it is that America was in an exceptional position after winning WWII and defeating fascism.

But remember what preceded that: the Great Depression. This was a time when the forces of industrialization and capitalism, mostly unchecked, led to violent swings in the well-being of the average person. It was also a violent time in Europe, after WWI.

We seem to have forgotten those wars and how they affected the world. In the last 70 years, we have seen nothing like that fear and turmoil.

There are ways to improve our “economies,” but we have to face a few facts.

We have to recognize that there will be winners and losers, through no fault of their own. That is both the strength and horror of capitalism. How do we remain a civilized society, a community, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?” (version until 1954).

We have to recognize that democracy and freedom are often enemies of each other, and that liberty, often tied to property rights, is fundamental in America.

We have to recognize that there is no such thing as a “free market,” that government setting rules to achieve a better society is often the only constraint that capitalism will obey.

No system is perfect. There are European countries that have achieved a fair balance. I am pessimistic that we can follow their lead, because our “system” has been captured by vested interests (banks, pharma, energy, tech, educators) that are not going to just give up what they have won, and we have a populace half of whom think science is an opinion and who are easily manipulated into advocating against their own interest.

Lest someone think I am blindly liberal, I believe in capitalism, business (especially small business) and capitalism as practiced elsewhere. And I know that only large business will be able to compete against the Chinese.

While I probably have liberal “values” such as universal health care (lose your job AND your health insurance?) and universal K-12 education (let’s make it more effective), the arrogance of the Left and the thrust that actions should not have consequences have had almost as corrosive an effect on American dialogue as unrestricted political contributions and the resulting concentration of power.

Failure of “free market” health care

By Erik Dolson

In the last two weeks of March, nearly 10 million people lost their jobs. Of those, more than 3 million also lost their health insurance.

With the coronavirus looming over every household, think how this might feel — your father is sick? Your child? Everything you worked for is on the line when you sign those hospital forms. Feeling sick yourself? Maybe just see if it clears up, right?

That loss of health insurance affects not just you and your family, but everyone you come in contact with.

The brilliance of capitalism is the efficiency with which it allocates resources. In theory, capitalism balances costs versus quality by giving buyers a choice in a transparent market place. This is the essential mechanism.

But health care has disconnects that violate the basic rules of capitalism: consumers (patients) don’t pay the bills and don’t really make the choices. Insurance companies and government pay the bills, and consumers rarely “shop around” for the best or least expensive care.

This malfunction of the market place is seen by comparing costs of health care in the U.S. versus other countries: U.S. health care is twice as expensive, for mostly mediocre results, than any other developed country in the world. Ultimately, the burden of this falls on citizens through high insurance rates and taxes. We just don’t get to choose.

It’s legitimate to ask, where does the money go?

Drugs cost ten to twenty times more in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world because drug companies have purchased the U.S. Congress.

Private equity firms have swooped in and purchased doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country. Like insurance companies, their goal is to maximize profit, which they do by increasing fees and cutting costs. If you notice absurdly high charges and confusing write offs on a hospital bill, or long wait times and hurried doctor’s visits, this is part of the reason why.

But wait. If the payers and the providers are both interested in reducing cost, why don’t we have the least expensive health care in the developed world? Because insurers and corporations take a large share, and fighting over that share costs about 30% of every dollar spent on “health care.”

Why don’t we have the best health care in the world? Because when we talk about payer and provider, what’s missing from the “free market” equation? The receiver of the service, the patient, you. The one who is most concerned about the outcome. For a market place to work, the receiver of the product or service has to make a choice between price versus quality, and that doesn’t happen in health care.

And, as we see with the coronavirus crisis, health is not an individual concern. You choosing which car to buy doesn’t really affect me. You coughing in line behind me at the grocery store does.

Narcissist strategy

By Erik Dolson

Donald Trump  does not care how many die of the virus. He does not care about the economy, either, except how it affects his own wealth. He only wants to be reelected, and rich, and prove he is the greatest man in the world.

On Monday, realizing the economy is getting ugly, he panics. He wants to reopen the country for business, now!  He says he has total control over the nation.

Somebody points out this isn’t true, and actually makes him responsible if things don’t work out. Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

So on Thursday, he bellows that he’s giving governors the right to open — or not —their individual states. That he had no such power doesn’t matter — he gave himself cover if opening businesses too early results in more deaths. Not his fault! Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

On Friday, he tweets support for those protesting restrictions, undercutting the governors he “allowed” to act just the day before. So if the economy falls off a cliff, he tried to prevent it! Not his fault! Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

It’s a perfect strategy for the narcissist. If deaths go up, it’s not his fault! If the economy tanks, he tried to prevent it! And, who else is better qualified to lead the country out of a pandemic depression? Why, it’s Donnie Wonderful to the rescue! Four more years!

Roll Your Own Mask #3

By Erik Dolson

Okay, this is my favorite so far.

An article in Business Insider described how three women who know fabric were appalled that people, including health care workers, were wrapping T-shirts around their heads as a mask against the coronavirus.

Lindsay Medoff and Heather Pavlu of  Suay Sew Shop in Los Angeles, and friend Chloe Schempf, bought a $1,400 particulate-counter device and actually tested out various potential mask materials. They discovered that blue shop towels actually have good level of resistance to particles like the coronavirus.

So, I have abandoned furnace filters in my quest for the best mask we can easily make at home. Too expensive, too complicated. But I’ve kept some of the things I’ve learned, such as, pleats allow masks to conform to our face. And, tying a bow in string behind your head in Costco is far too complicated for a man, although I have no doubt a woman could do it in 7 seconds.

But this new mask is very easy and inexpensive to make, and therefore disposable, a requirement of mine. Here’s what you need: Shop towels, string, rubber bands (4), and scissors.

 

I lay one shop towel on the counter and put another one on top of it at right angles, so the perforations that allow us to easily tear the towels apart are not lined up on the two sheets. Then I folded in the pleats. For me, it was easiest to flop the towels over for each pleat, which are about one ince wide.

When I was done pleating, I wrapped rubber bands tightly around each end, with another rubber band fed under. I pulled one end of the second rubber band through itself.

I then cut a piece of string about the width of the mask, and tied it to the ends of the rubber band loops.

I pushed on the center of the mask which gives it shape, and then put over my head, with the string above my ears.  I pull the bottom of the mask under my chin, and the top across the bridge of my nose.

On my mask, I also folded a piece of coated wire into a pleat and bent it down to bring the mask tight to my nose, but I don’t like putting a piece of wire close to my eyes and think there is probably a better solution.

Another improvement might be to use the wide elastic that “professional” masks use instead of string and rubber bands, but one goal of the project was to use items easily found, and this mask fits well.

Remember, this mask is a kludge, and you should use a proper N95 mask if you have one available. But if you can’t find one of those, or have decided to donate that mask to a nurse, a cop, a doctor, or the person who sells you groceries, then perhaps the Blue Moon mask could help you from getting sick with COVID-19, or prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to someone else.

Roll Your Own Mask, #2

By Erik Dolson

My local hardware store carries pleated furnace filters. The highest grade of these claims to have a pore size of .1 to .3 microns and be able to filter viruses. So I bought one and tore it apart, getting rid of the metal screen on both sides.

Then I cut a piece a little larger than the width of two of my hands with about seven (7) full pleats.

I wrapped a rubber band tightly around one end, and then another rubber band tightly around the other end.

Then I cut two pieces of string about double the width of one of my hands.

I fed one end of one string under a loop of one of the rubber bands, and then tied the two ends of the string together with a square knot. I did the same to the other end of the mask.

Done.

I opened the pleats, which turned the mask into a small “bowl” shape or half dome and put the mask on. I had to adjust one of the strings around my ear for a better fit, and I was finished.

I like this mask. It takes very little time to make, is disposable, should provide adquate coverage and protection. I read that some are recommending Tyvek, the white plastic they use now to sheathe houses before installing the final siding, as a filter. The furnace filter does feel like Tyvek, but I have no idea about relative effectiveness.

In fact, since I have no way of testing, I have no idea how effective my new mask is going to be. There are no guarantees.

But it fits, is easy to wear, cheap and disposable, and I’m going to leave the N-95 masks for health care workers, cops, grocery story clerks, post office employees and delivery people — those who make “shelter in place” possible for the rest of us.

Roll Your Own Mask #1


 

By Erik Dolson

There’s growing support for all of us to wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but N95 masks are hard to find and the ones available should probably be reserved for nurses, cops, doctors, grocery clerks and post office employees — you know, people who keep the wheels turning.

So I was looking online for DIY Covid-19 masks, and there were many good ideas. Some were more complicated than others, and some you wouldn’t want to throw away. I thought the best mask would be easy, cheap, and disposable, so I made one. I call it the “Opus.”

Here’s what I did.

one full size paper towel
two #4 cone coffee filters
two longish rubber bands
Tape
string
scissors
hole punch (optional)

Fold the two bound edges of one coffee filter about an eighth of an inch (one mm) from the pressed seam.

Put this filter inside the unmodified filter so that it fits exactly.

Run pieces of tape over the two pressed seams of the outside filter from one side to the other. This is to reinforce these pressed seams, which are not very strong. I went lengthwise, and then added two more pieces of tape, overlapping the first, on each side to further strengthen the outer cone.

Punch two holes all the way through the nested filters about an inch and a half from the wide end and through the tape (you did put enough tape there, didn’t you?) I also reenforced with those little circles you can buy at stationary stores. The tape might be adequate.

Put a rubber band through each hole. (See all the tape?)

Cut four pieces of string, about the length from elbow to extended finger tips. Tie a string to each end of the two rubberbands.

“Flag fold” a paper towel so that forms a triangle, a cone when opened (great in a coffee emergency if you’re out of filters).

Fold the pointy end of the paper towel triangle up so it will fit snugly inside your coffee filters. Tape point to itself. Push towel into the mask, and trim the excess off the wide end, maybe leaving just a little extra. You choose..

Put the mask on, and tie the “top” strings that are attached close to your nose down and behind your neck. Tie the “bottom” strings up, above your ears to the top back you your head. Make both fairly tight.

Adjust for good, snug fit. You can use paper towel trimmings to prevent air leakage on either side of your nose.

I had no way to test, have no idea what particle size will make it through all three layers, and offer no guarantees. I do know when the mask fits well, air goes through the three layers and not around, because the mask will flex on inhale and exhale. When N95 masks become available, those are what you should use.

In the mean time, my “Opus Mask” may keep you from getting the virus, or sharing your virus with others.

~ Erik

 

 

Labels can mislead

By Erik Dolson

Yesterday, a man I’ve worked with and deeply respect said I wasn’t really a “liberal.”

He’s a “conservative,” and it’s one of his favorite light-hearted jabs when we agree on something before we move on to disagree about something else. Perhaps I shouldn’t move on so easily. By saying I’m “really a conservative,” my friend resolves the conflict that he respects the thinking behind my opinons.

We all dismiss with labels rather than reflect on the arguments. Maybe it’s easier to change the label than face the agreement.

I’ve dodged “boxes” most of my life. I’ve long said I was a “political economist.” To me, the ideologies of the left and right were more faith-based than data-based. Both ignore that the laws of economics are about as immutable as the laws of physics and we waste incredible energy and resources oblivious of that fact.

Rather than recognize the benefits of the other’s ideology, each seems inclined to ignore the cost of their own and emphasize the cost of the other.

Liberals seem to believe that no one should be responsible for themselves; conservatives forget that we all benefit when we take care of each other, and there is a role for government in warding off economic anarchy. My conservative friends believe too many “undeserving” are stealing the fruit of their labor, my liberal friends see the top one percent using privilege to steal from everyone else while trashing our common treasure.

Another good friend and I were out shooting the other day. I made some crack about the inconsistency of being “liberals who enjoy guns.”

“It’s NOT an inconsistency,” he fired back (sorry). He is more rigorous in his thinking than I am, and fine-tunes his labels more precisely. But consequently, he may have even more difficulty communicating to a world that prefers easy, broad-brushed colors of red and blue.

Believing that Trump is an intellectual derelict, as damaging to America as Covid-19, an ineffectual immoralist, a fountain of selfishness, hate and anger, doesn’t make me a “liberal.” Neither does my belief than no person in America should be without healthcare.

Believing that English should be our national language and a baker should be able to bake a cake for whom he chooses does not make me a conservative.

When do labels stand in the way of our agreements, and keep us from getting something done?

Why bailout stalled

By Erik Dolson

Republicans are using the national pandemic to enrich themselves and their friends. Democrats want to help Americans. It’s about that simple.

Trump wants to put Steve Mnuchin in charge of distributing bailout money. Mnuchin, formerly of Goldman Sachs, the company at the center of “Main Street bails out Wall Street” during the Great Recession. (see photo of Mnuchin and wife above — Chicago Tribune)

Mnuchin thinks economic health starts with big business in New York. The rest of us are expendable. Under his plan, how much money will go to Trump family hotels?

Need another example of Republican priorities? After receiving inside information that the economy was in trouble, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia, (whose husband is chair of the New York Stock Exchange) appear to have sold massive amounts of stock while reassuring America that everything was okay. 

Everything is not okay, especially because of the Republican party of oligarchs and plutocrats. This pandemic is worse because of their actions and inaction.

Democrats want to give relief to ordinary people who are out of work, those worrying how to pay rent or make house or car or insurance payments. Democrats want to make sure these people have sick leave so they don’t spread the virus. Democrats want to help Americans see a doctor!

Trump did not cause the Corona virus, but his policies and those of the Republican party have made the consequences much worse for the working men and women of America.

Those Trump insulted for the last three years — scientists, the Federal Reserve, and yes, bureaucrats, are trying to help average Americans survive.

They know their duty is to all of America, not just padding the lives of the top 1 percent.

The Strength of America

By Erik Dolson

Three weeks ago today I headed back up to Canada. I needed to prepare the boat for her trip up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Anacortes in Washington state, where work was scheduled to be done about a week later. It was pleasant in Victoria, even without my car. The city is beautiful, I worked on the boat, enjoyed the nearby restaurants, went to the gym, rode my wheel.

I read news about the Corona virus, about a death in a Seattle nursing home, but it all seemed far away.

A nice weather window opened up a day earlier than I planned, and the trip up the strait was uneventful. After three nights in a marina, Foxy was hauled out of the water and put on stands to paint the bottom and install a new depth, speed and temperature sensor compatible with modern electronics.

I stayed on board the boat, despite the occasional 33 degree F weather and winds that howled through the rigging.The Corona virus, hitting San Francisco and then Oregon, still seemed far away: I could shop at Safeway without enduring lines too long, buy a coffee at Starbucks and sit and read the news.

Work on the boat lasted a little longer because of weather and by the time Foxy was back in the water, travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada were being discussed. There were rumors that ferry schedules were changing. If I took Foxy back to Victoria, if Canada would even let me in, travel back and forth was going to be difficult. So I took the boat to Friday Harbor instead, and drove back to Oregon about three weeks after I left.

The world had changed.

With California under an order to “shelter in place,” I went to Costco Saturday morning for food that would last me a few weeks if need be. I was in a lane one away from where I needed to be to make a turn so I accelerated quickly, but the car next to me raced to block me out instead of letting me in. Hmmm.

At 9:30 in the morning at Costco, people were pushing carts piled with toilet paper and paper towels out the door. Inside, there was no hamburger or toilet paper left. I bought a jar of peanut butter, some eggs, bricks of cheese, a few steaks I could cut in half, OTC medications I’ve come to depend on.

People weren’t functioning very well. Some would stop in the middle of an aisle and stare off, no doubt checking things off a mental list. I can’t carry all that in my head so my list was on paper. Others blocked an aisle while disagreeing with a warehouse worker who said that Costco was not in control of toilet paper shipments.

There was anxiety in the air, and I could feel it try to get to me. I wondered if social anxiety was more infectious than the virus. I made the decision to bury my frustration and pushed my cart around them, saying “excuse me.” Maybe too loudly. I had to accept that the changing world affected some more than others.

I went to Trader Joe’s for the oats I like to eat at breakfast, but there was a long line out the door, longer than I wanted to wait for a can of rolled oats. Instead, I walked over to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy some simple dumbbells, since my gym is now closed. But Dick’s was closed too, except for curbside delivery.

So I went over to the nearby Sportsman’s Warehouse, thinking they might have some dumbbells. There was a line there too, but it seemed to move quickly, so I waited. As I got to the front, a sign said that ammunition purchases were limited to two boxes per customer, and they were out of 9 mm handgun ammo.

I thought about that for a minute.

You can’t shoot a Corona virus with 9 mm ammo. It just isn’t sporting, and there’s the possibility of collateral damage. So obviously, the run on ammo was in anticipation of social chaos. Did ammo hoarders think all those people who didn’t stock up would descend in clouds to steal their toilet paper? Didn’t ammo buyers have any left over from when they panicked and cleaned out the shelves when Obama was elected?

The fact that some of them seemed almost giddy at the prospect of social collapse made me a bit uncomfortable. It made me wonder if I had enough ammo at home. In that moment I knew social anxiety was contagious.

Maybe I’m still taking the world the way it used to be for granted, but look, I get it. A “shelter in place” is something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, and we’ve been left pretty much on our own to deal with it. The world has changed.

But still, the enemy is a virus, not each other, right? Everybody grabbing and hoarding and shooting are symptoms of social disorder that will make it worse, not better, right?

So I’ve had to slow down my defensive reactions a little bit. I’ve had to pause a second longer before I say something, or change lanes, or make judgements. Even that might not be enough. In fact, I may have to go out of my way to help someone else, a stranger perhaps, if they seem to be having a hard time.

Maybe that might be the strength of America, that we can put down our differences and give each other a hand when times are tough? I think I’ll give it a try.

Boeing rot again on display

By Erik Dolson

Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun has now stepped in another large pile of his own deposit. Think of it as interest on the Boeing’s inheritance from General Electric (G.E.). Just more of the same from the plane maker.

Calhoun was trained by G.E. Chairman Jack Welch, who died last week. Welch was known as “Neutron Jack,” nicknamed after neutron bombs that killed people but left buildings intact. The Welch style of management was ruthless, including termination of 10% of all employees every year.

This had consequences for morale. Several recent Boeing CEOs were from G.E. or heavily influenced by that company. Morale at Boeing suffered, as well.

Boeing’s Calhoun was quoted in an interview that appeared in the New York Times last week as laying the blame for Boeing failures on previous CEO Dennis Muilenberg. “If anybody ran over the rainbow for the pot of gold on stock, it would have been him,” Calhoun said. The problems at Boeing, he said, “speaks to the weakness of our (former) leadership.”

What Calhoun failed to say, possibly because he is incapable of it, was that as an important outside board member, his leadership was part of that weakness as yet another alumnus of General Electric, touted during the 80s and 90s as the zenith of corporate capitalism. In fact, the Welch legacy may be turning out to be a failure when not implemented by Welch.

Growth at all costs, huge payouts based on stock price, and ruthless cutting of costs (talent and expertise) in the effort to increase profits (and bonuses for management) may have resulted in destruction at Boeing and other companies where Welch protoges landed after drinking the G.E. Kool-aid.

That beverage also involves public relations at the expense of honesty. Last month, Calhoun said that emails and texts between Boeing test pilots lamenting the build quality and training of pilots on the 737 Max represented a problem with emails and texts, not the airplanes themselves or culture at the company.

It should be noted that Calhoun stands to receive a rather large fortune if he can quickly get the 737 Max approved by the FAA  and flying again.

Denying that the communications between pilots accurately represented a crumbling corporate culture, where engineering decisions were overruled by managers under the gun to cut costs, frightened they might lose thier jobs if they failed to do so, Calhoun said the emails and texts would stop.

How reassuring.

Now, Calhoun has turned on the top managers of Boeing that he supported while he was a crucial board member and they were putting profit ahead of safety.

And he has implied it was the fault of pilots who were overpowered by software that flew two of his jetliners into the ground, software that did not exist on aircraft they were trained on. These pilots apparntly did not read the fine print in manuals that accompanied the new planes. Shame on them.

The loss of 348 lives had nothing to do with greed and failure to provide adequate instrumentation and training.

His hand in the till while he is cracking the whip, Calhoun has defended his salary and is in full CYA mode, rather than being accountable. This is the G.E. way when followed by men other than the admittedly brilliant Jack Welch, who was dealing with a fat corporation in another era.

The leadership at Boeing is still in denial, which means the company has not yet hit bottom. This is not over. Even NASA recently suggested that agency no longer trusts the company.

Small wonder. Boeing will not recover until the company redevelops the honesty required to admit and then publicly correct rot caused by 40 years of misdirected leadership. Boeing builds airplanes. Airplanes need to be safe, not just profitable.

There was another capitalist icon of the 1980’s era who seems to have been forgotten in recent decades: W. Edwards Deming, who was essential to the rise of Toyota and other Japanese automakers. Like Welch, Deming was a believer in statistics and process control, and the elimination of defects in manufacturing.

But Deming also advocated team building (rather than cutthroat competition among fellow employees), distribution of responsibility and accountability (as opposed to top management collecting absurdly valuable stock options via intimidation), and listening to those actually doing the work (as opposed to firing or smothering dissenting voices).

Calhoun has to go. He is not the man for this job. No graduate from G.E.’s school of abusive management is. Perhaps Boeing could lure Dan Davis, former director of Motorsports for Ford Motor Company, out of retirement for a couple of years. Davis has a resumé and a style that Boeing needs about now.