Saturday, March 19, 2016

Solutions to the Pinewood Derby Problems

Several friends have now mentioned to me that whole-ward pinewood derbies are better. Nobody plans to win because there are too many cars. It's all about creativity in presentation, and watching the fun, and usually someone loses on purpose so no small child has to.

I really like that idea.

Another solution we thought of is to test different things. Yes, run races for quickness. But also run a distance race. Or a which runs the longest, not necessarily the fastest. And a "who goes up a hill best" race. And a race for going very straight and not veering off to one side or another. Or a race for which car floats best. Anything else besides speed just to change things up and point out that while some cars are great for speed, if you need them to float they might not work.

And also just patience with a stupid system. That's always good advice, especially when people are all volunteers who were assigned to do this, and they're doing the best they can.

Why I hate the Pinewood Derby

Pinewood Derby day! Our great celebration of '50s boyhood returns. Even though the '50s are long gone and good riddance.

Benji was so traumatized by last year's Pinewood Derby that he refused to participate this year. He let Anda take his car and build and race for him (which I thought was fair, since she didn't get to do it purely because of her biology.)

I hate the pinewood derby. Really truly despise it, even though my kids have had good experiences along with the bad.

Here are the things I hate (and proposed solutions):

1. I really, honestly do not believe that Jesus would set up little, sensitive boys to work hard only to be crushed. I can't imagine Him attending the Pinewood Derby and watching 12 of 17 boys go home in tears and thinking, "Gosh, isn't this a great event?!"

Now, some leaders run it better than others. The person running ours this year worked very hard to reward the boys for honest effort without minimizing the accomplishments of those who actually won. So this can be a worse or better situation, but I still question what Jesus would do in this case.

2. It's long past time to get rid of events that only boys can do and girls don't get to. This bothers me a LOT. Right up there with 8 year old boys getting a fun activity every week and girls having to only have one every other week. WHO IS PLANNING THIS? Because it's wrong. I can accept that the priesthood only goes to the men in the church, but there is absolutely no reason for little girls to be punished for being little girls. I do not think God approves of treating our little girls this way.  If He does, He and I need to have a serious talk because in my view this is very, very wrong. (Which is why I let Anda make and race Benji's car instead of letting the other boys do it).

I was in a ward once where they let siblings and parents make and race cars, too, also on the ward's budget. This is a viable solution.

Another solution would be to run a second pinewood derby at a different time of year for the activity day girls. Modern girls need to know how to use tools and need to practice the engineering process, too, so why are we not including them? Plus they want it. And I know a whole lot of girls who feel hurt and sad that a church thing refuses to include them because they are female.

I cannot emphasize how wrong this feels to me. It makes me angry and hurt and it needs to change, and if I knew who to petition, I would write them a letter right now even though that never works for me (they always say no anyway). I would circulate petitions to all the wards I can reach and send them to Salt Lake City. This is just a really stupid thing to do to little girls and very very easy to fix. (I don't care that it's run by the cub scouts and they don't do girls. Why can't we just buy the same kits and give them to the girls and have an unofficial, don't-pass-it-on-to-regionals race? Most of the boys cars don't go on to regionals anyway. Or let's just choose to never pass any Mormon cars on to regionals and that makes it fair).

Can I add day camp on to this list, too? For real, people! Run the same number of equivalent events for boys and girls. Let's stop with the boys get to shoot arrows twice a year and girls have to do a "day of service" and paint another picture of the temple onto a stained 2x4 once a year. The girls want to shoot arrows, too, and the boys need to do service.

Proposed solution: Abandon scouts and have all the kids do a program like the girls do. Or make the girls program functionally identical to scouts (although I think the girls' program is superior).

3. The pinewood derby system, as it runs now, is deeply unfair to poor kids.

To make a car that is competitive even a little and not embarrassing to the little boys, you have to have the right power tools to cut with, you have to have graphite for the wheels, you have to have weights, and you have to have nice glossy model paint. All of these are expensive.

Solution: See number 4. Also, require everyone to use the kits the ward provides instead of allowing them to go out and buy a specialty kit (pre-shaped car).

4. The system is also unfair to anyone without special "inside knowledge."  This disadvantages kids whose parents are doing this for the first time, kids who follow the original intention of the program and make the cars all by themselves, disabled kids, kids who have parents who never were in cub scouts, and families headed by single moms. So pretty much everyone who is already vulnerable--just put them at a greater disadvantage to everyone else. That's a nice plan. I'm sure Jesus is super happy about that, making the kids who cry anyway cry more, and making the lives of the disadvantaged even harder. That's awfully nice of us! .

I have had people say to me, "Well, those people should ask for help. I'd help them! They can do cars at my house next year."  Yeah? Well how were they supposed to know that before their child was melted in tears because the car lost every single race because it was too light and they didn't even know that weights existed?

Some wards try to mitigate this (including mine) by having a weigh-in with tools, weights, and scales available, and the people who know how to place weights provide the weights (and the graphite for the wheels) and teach the others how to do it.

This helps a little, but doesn't solve the problem that people are not getting good instructions. The kits don't even include the rules for the size of the cars. I've been doing this for years now and still don't know what I'm doing, and just learned this year that the blocks of wood come too long and you have to cut an eighth of an inch off the length.

There is insider knowledge about how to place the wheels, where to put the weights, how to shape the cars (what kinds of tools to use), etc. Some people know this, and some don't, and you can't get the information anywhere.

This is an unfair system and puts fragile boys at a disadvantage and crushes them.

Solving problems 3 and 4 would be fairly easy:  Have a make-cars night together, starting with a workshop from a person who knows how to do it, and followed by a chance for parents and kids to make their cars together. Bring all the tools (including a band saw and sand paper) and all the supplies (fancy paints, brushes, graphite, etc) for any and all who want to join. Let the insiders teach the outsiders so everyone has the same resources and same information and all the help they need, without having to beg or guess who has the time and tools. Make it optional so parents who really want to just make their cars with their kids at home can, but assign some people who know what they're doing to help. Kids still get to make the cars with their parents, but without the disadvantage. Or invite the parents to come to the weekly scouts meetings the two weeks before the pinewood derby and do it there, for scouts.

An easier solution that wouldn't address problem 3 but would help with problem 4 would be to print articles from Boys' Life magazine about how to make a winning car. They have them. A lot of the insider knowledge is right there, but nobody gets Boys' Life (and truthfully most of it is useless propaganda for "buying in to the way we do things" anyway). Stuff like this would be immensely helpful:  But the boys and parents don't even know to look for it.

5. This teaches a faulty engineering process. If you go by the pinewood derby, you get an assignment and supplies, and you make something and then that's it. No testing. But real engineers build-test-rebuild-retest-tweak-retest-redesign-retest.  It's a long process of trying and failing and learning from the mistakes and improving.

Solution: Let the boys do test runs the week before, send their cars home, and then run the real races the next week, after everyone has had a chance to rebuild and tweak their cars.

6. I am pretty sure the kits come unequal even though they look the same. I really want to get four kits and do nothing to them but insert the wheels--all with equal care--and then race them. If all kits are equal, they would tie. But the weight distribution within the wood itself, and the wheels and axles not being truly identical (some have burrs, some are unbalanced or slightly bent, etc), and other factors mean some boys are doomed from the get-go and some will win even if they do nothing to their car but stick the wheels on.

One year Dan made a car that functionally should have acted like a sail and slowed him down, but it won everything. The next year he made a beautifully aerodynamic car and it lost everything. Weights were the same (but placed differently). Obviously there is something more going on than is in the control of the boys, which means we are rewarding some people for their "work" when in fact it was the luck of the draw.

Actually, that's probably a life lesson right there: it doesn't matter how hard you work or how talented you are, some people just make a lot of money and some don't, and it's actually not due to cause and effect like we think. You work hard and do your very best and it doesn't matter at all because if you weren't handed a good kit in the first place, you're gonnna lose. That feels like real life.

There is no way to solve this problem, but we could minimize it by making all other things (like access to resources) equal.

7. We are subjecting our boys to this trauma to what end? Yes, people need to learn how to lose gracefully because we all lose sometimes. But when else in life are we asked to work very, very hard on something that is quite difficult for one shot at public glory/humiliation (only 1 in 20 gets glory--the odds are very bad unless you have a leader like we had this year who works hard to recognize all the work the boys did) and no chance to go back and fix things up and try again? This is not a "life lesson" or "practice at useful skills".  The kids would have a better chance at winning a coin toss, and that takes no effort.

What the boys learn from this is their best is not good enough, and that no matter how wonderful their creation is, they're going to lose. And that the only thing that matters is winning by someone else's standards, not how cool the car is, how innovative it is, how unique it is, how hard you worked on it, or if your kit came with warped wheels in the first place.  While sometimes in life the result is all that matters, sometimes the innovation matters more. And always when there is a single required quantifiable result (like speed), we have chances to collaborate with experts and run trials before we have to be tested.

Benji won't even try any more. And that's a shame because I'd like for him to have a chance to make something he loves and learn to use tools, but we have the system set up so the cards are stacked against him, the failure is public and obvious, and the risk is too great. I can't ask him to do that.

This is a fixable system, but people are so entrenched in tradition that they aren't willing, and that's a shame. That's what happens when the people who run the system are the people who succeeded in it in the first place. (This isn't true in Mormon wards, where people are called to run the system, but it is true of the higher-ups who are controlling the national rules; they wouldn't be in scouts if they hadn't had a good experience with it in the first place. They succeeded the way it was written, so they have no reason to change it for those who are not succeeding.) Now that I've written this, I can see so many applications outside of cub scouts (English teachers go into English teaching because they were the few who liked how it is done, for example, which perpetuates the system, and not necessarily to the benefit of most regular people).

And since I have no voice--there is nobody to complain to or agitate for change--there is nothing I can do except grit my teeth each year and cry with my boys. Especially when they lose because I couldn't get the wheels on straight because of some hiccup or another.

While I love the idea of boys building cars, I hate the pinewood derby. Even though my kids both won this year.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Did I just read that?

"He hopes people will coin the phrase "meet at The Mix.""

Well, they can't. Because he just coined that phrase.

Also, I've never heard a more "dated" name for a shopping center.

And, another also, nobody ever says, "Hey, let's meet at that 27-acre mixed-use housing/business/retail center." They'd never find each other. It's like saying, "Let's meet at Thanksgiving Point." You have to say something more specific. So I'm guessing that published mention is the only time anyone is ever going to say, "Let's meet at The Mix" except in the upcoming advertising blitz.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Talking about poverty

This last week many people (many family members, even) put cute little cards and videos on Facebook sharing the idea that poor people are poor because they refuse to work and are greedy, lazy, sons-of-whatever who just want to steal the money of the hardworking tax payers who should not have to pay for welfare for anyone no matter what. It's all tied up in the Republican party line on poverty.

They did it seemingly oblivious to the fact that saying someone is poor because they are lazy and therefore should just get a job, not get welfare, is just a fancy way of saying they brought it upon themselves, which the scriptures tell us not to do.

Nobody seemed to make the connection that if they knew someone who was really poor, this would be a horribly cruel thing to say to them, that they are lazy, worthless, unworthy of help, and obviously not interested in anything but leaching off other people and watching TV or they wouldn't be asking for help--because real people don't ask for help ever; they suck it up, suffer, work hard, and then don't need help anymore because they saved themselves. As everyone should.

It reminded me of Job, who is sitting and suffering and his friends are telling him that it's his own damn fault that he's suffering (which wasn't true) and he finally turns to them and says, "How long will ye vex my soul and break me in pieces with words?" (Job 19--it's worth a read if you want to know how it feels to be poor and constantly have people harp on you that it's your own fault and you should fix it yourself.)

I truly do not see how condemning and insulting the poor with little to no understanding of what they are living with is helpful. Truly, it is what Job said, vexing their souls and breaking them in pieces with words. And when a person is struggling with all their might to just get through, to hang on to faith and hope that things can get better, praying their shoes don't get visible holes and their kids don't have a field trip that costs $4 to attend, and working their tail off in the mean time, stealing any bit of hope or energy from them is beyond cruel.

If your entire understanding of poverty comes from crap like "20 Things Rich People Do Every Day" (or anything else Dave Ramsey ever wrote; Dave Ramsey is great is you have a steady sizeable income but are using it poorly. He is the worst enemy of the truly poor because people use his words to condemn the truly poor and justify not helping them because they "refuse to help themselves." Also because his advice is totally and completely worthless if you're destitute.)...anyway, if your understanding of poverty comes from that or from that one month right after you graduated from college before you got your first real job, then you might want to pause and think before you post anything about poverty anywhere. Do you really know what you're talking about? Where are you getting your information? Is it founded in reality--or even research--or politics? Does your idea of being poor consist of waiting a couple of days for the next paycheck to come? You might not know what poverty actually really is, and you should before you start trying to solve the problems.

So let's talk about real poverty for a minute, and why "just go get a job, you lazy bum" is a really bad, uninformed solution.

First of all, go read this: "Poverty Saps Mental Capacity".  A lot of the things that people like Dave Ramsey attribute to causing poverty are actually the result of poverty (things like not reading enough books, or showing up late for meetings).  This is why it is beyond cruel to "steal" a poor person's energy by making them deal with mean accusations. They already don't have enough energy to get them through, and if you really want them to be out of poverty and off welfare, kindness and support (emotional support, not necessarily financial support) will go a lot longer way than accusations of laziness or other cruelties you can heap on them, as Job was trying to explain to his friends.

Secondly, a large majority of poor people are either working or looking for jobs actively. (Notice that the 37% of "not working" include millions of people who are looking for work.) In fact, the most recent statistic I've seen said that less than 1% of welfare recipients are using the system wrong or committing fraud. So the idea that is spread around of the "welfare queen" is largely a myth. Over 99% of the people who are getting help actually need it.

Also, 77% of people will use the "safety net" by getting government help (food stamps, "welfare," housing assistance, medicaid, etc) at some point in their adult lives. That's almost everyone.  That means almost everyone is poor at some point. This is not a rare or unique experience. It's incredibly common. Far more common, in fact, than never needing help.

Obviously, nobody wants a whole country full of people living happily off handouts. It's not sustainable and it's not realistic. But here's the thing: poor people don't want that either! The vast majority don't want to be on welfare and would give anything to get off--and they're giving everything they can. But we can't just get rid of the safety net because 77% of adults need it at some point, and it's unfathomable that we would even consider letting people starve to death or die of preventable, easily treatable illnesses like pneumonia.

So let's take as our basic goal that all people who are able to work are supporting their own families, without being on welfare.

Accomplishing this goal requires some agreements.

First of all, we have to agree that solutions to poverty that are harmful to families are not actually solutions because strong, stable families are the key to stopping multi-generational poverty. If we destroy the families, we do not succeed in ending poverty but merely push it off to the next generation. And the next.  So all solutions have to increase family stability, not decrease it.

We also have to agree that solutions to poverty cannot wreck a person's health or body because that drops them right back into poverty again, but as disabled people who can never get out of poverty because it destroys their ability to work. This is why we can't get rid of food stamps (or lower them to the point that people can't buy healthy food) or medicaid (even for adults). If people are not healthy enough to work, they are stuck in poverty forever. Food and medical care are steps out of poverty because they give people enough health to work. Take those away and it's actually counter-productive.

And we also have to agree that long-term solutions to poverty have to include taking into account individual circumstances that individuals cannot overcome without help. This would include mental illnesses (like Depression), treatable but untreated disabilities (like ADD), and having all your training and experience in an area that no longer can support you (like having done construction all your life but the construction industry collapsed, as in 2008).

And, finally, we have to acknowledge the reality that getting a job is not usually an overnight thing. It takes time to find postings of jobs, apply for them, wait for interviews, etc. You can destroy your chances, of course, but you can also do everything right and not get hired. You cannot force someone to hire you.

So: 1. Family has to stay intact; 2. Health has to stay intact; 3. Sometimes people need help; 4. You can't make someone hire you. Can we all agree on those four things?

Finally, for the LDS people, any solution to poverty cannot interfere with a person's ability to keep their covenants, including that to multiply and replenish the earth (so you can't really condemn them for having more children or condition their receipt of help on them not having any more children) and to keep the Sabbath day holy (which means you can't just go out and get any old job, doesn't it?), among others (can you ask a faithful LDS member who is poor to just work as a bar tender? To be a stripper? To dance at a casino? Or deal at a casino? You see the problem?).

So here's the solution I see all the time: Cut welfare. It will make people hungry and they will stop being so lazy and go out and get a job--anyone can get hired at WalMart or Driving Trucks.

So, how does this fit in to our 4 agreements? Well, driving trucks is out because of number 1. If you take a parent away from an already fragile family, you have problems with number 1, and long-haul trucking is that. Not only that, long-haul trucking is bad for your health (according to my friends who have been truckers).  So that's out by number 2 as well.

This brings up another point that I hadn't mentioned: Poverty Traps. Sure long-haul trucking is, on the surface, a great solution because the training is "Free" and the pay is good. But it turns out that free training is more akin to indentured servitude than a real job. You have to work off the "free" training at a lower pay rate. And some of the companies treat you poorly, pressuring people in such a way that they are either afoul of the company or afoul of the law. If you choose to strictly obey the law, you end up having to pay the company back for your training, and poor people can't afford to do that.

It's not a good solution because it's a trap.

There's a local short-haul trucking company here in town that is a similar trap. You take a job delivering for them on a regular route, and they offer to pay a tolerable (not very good, but above minimum) wage. Then they give you a route that cannot be accomplished in the required amount of time unless you speed. The company offers to pay your speeding tickets. But then you get enough points on your license that you lose your license and they fire you. Now you are without a license and without a job. Worse off than you were before. It wasn't a solution. It was a trap.

Many, many of those "why don't they just go do _____?" kinds of jobs are actually traps.

There's also another kind of trap. Almost all of those "anyone can work at WalMart" kinds of jobs pay too little. So sure you get a 40-hours-a-week job, but it only pays $10 an hour. This is above minimum wage, but it comes out to a total of $1600 a month BEFORE taxes. This is not a large enough amount of money to get you off welfare, but it takes all your time, so there isn't time or energy enough left to get off welfare. And there isn't really any chance in a giant company like WalMart to "work your way up." And if you did work your way up to a better job (like night cashier), the better paying jobs often break rule number 2 (ruin your health either by injury from lifting or other strenuous work or by making you work night shifts, which are bad for your health as well as for your family life).  And "better paying" is still not over $17 an hour, which leaves a family with only one wage earner still in poverty--off of "welfare" but still on food stamps and medicaid. And that's if the employer keeps you on 40 hours a week. People who work these jobs tell me invariably higher pay comes with lower hours, so you can end up worse off with higher pay. And, since everyone is easy to replace with a kid who will work for less, you can't really try fight it.

What good is a job if it doesn't do anything but leave you stuck on welfare for the rest of your life?

And getting two full-time jobs is not really an option without breaking rules number 1 and 2, especially if you have kids.

All of this combined with the reality that you can't make someone hire you at all, and you can see that saying "Just go get a dumb job" is not as easy or useful a solution as you think you're providing. And, by the way, no, WalMart will not hire anyone who walks through the door.

So this brings us to number 3 above: Sometimes people need help. Almost all of the people I know (and I know a lot) who are stuck in poverty are in the position that either they need help with a mental illness (most of them with depression, but some are bipolar or have other issues) or with a disability (mostly things like ADD or ASD that has not been diagnosed or treated ever in their lives and they don't realize they have it). Getting those disorders and disabilities diagnosed and treated is next to impossible without money. Even if you are on Medicaid, it's next to impossible because nobody actually takes Medicaid unless they are new in the field or can't keep other patients/clients because they're awful at what they do. Despite what the media tells you, it actually is reasonable to assume that most people who aren't successfully supporting themselves wish they were, and are willing to work for it, but need help. And a great majority, I would guess, fall into one of these two categories and need help with the underlying cause of their inability to get or keep a job. People with ADD, for example, need medication, often need counseling, and most need some form of vocational rehab because something about ADD plants people into exactly the wrong careers for their set of talents and challenges. That, combined with the poor people skills that often attend ASD, ADD, and other disabilities and disorders (like depression), lead these people to have a terrible time choosing the right job, keeping the job, and getting another when the job fails (which it invariably does).

Saying "just go get a job" to these people is impossible. They actually can't do it. And denying them the help they need condemns them to never get out of poverty. It's cheaper to get them help than not. Even when they have a job, the job often takes so much time and energy for so little pay that they don't have the time (or can't get off work) enough to get help. This is especially true for the poor self-employed. Every day off is a day with no pay, so getting help for depression or ADD means going without pay, which they can't afford to go without. It's a trap, too.

There is no solution for these people without help. Expanding and improving the vocational rehab system so that you don't need a doctor's note to join and so that the result is having a suitable job, including coaching getting through the hiccups and social rules that attend having a job would go a long way to solving this. Anyone getting government aid should automatically be allowed to get vocational rehab, without a referral from a doctor. It would be cheaper in the long run than keeping people on welfare.

The other thing people need help with is job re-training. If they have all their experience and training in a field that collapses, it isn't their fault that they can't work in that field anymore, and they really can't get a job in another field without help. And here's the kicker: if you have no money, you can't get training in a new field. Training costs money. And poor people haven't got money. And, if they're working a "junk" job to try their best to make ends meet or to qualify for aid (yes, you do have to have a job to get help), they don't have time to get training, either, and can't afford the physical, mental, and emotional energy it takes to learn an entirely new trade. What's more, if they do have to learn a new trade, they have to start at the bottom and work their way up the pay scale--and if they can't do that quickly, they're once again stuck in poverty no matter what. If a job change doesn't lead them fairly quickly off food stamps, what good does it do?

Another problem with job re-training is that people often are on their own to choose a new career. But without guidance and counselling, which cost money, they often choose the wrong career. And, unfortunately, they don't know they are in the wrong career until after the training is done (and the grants and loans used up and coming due). I know many people who got all the way to the end of a degree only to discover either they actually didn't like the work you get from it, or there was no work available in that field, or they couldn't pass the certification test for one reason or another. Re-training without guidance is not a solution to poverty. It's just more debt and more time wasted on welfare as you have to start over. Again. It's incredibly discouraging, expensive, and difficult to have to face retraining and failing over and over. Especially if the reason you are failing is actually untreated ADD or depression or ASD.

Besides re-training, other things that require money often stop people from getting jobs and also need to be honestly addressed somehow. You can't get a job if you don't have the money to print a decent resume. You can't get a job if you don't have clothes that you can interview in. You can't get a job if you can't afford transportation to and parking fees for an interview. You can't get a job if you can't afford to get a government-issued ID--Driver's Licenses aren't free, and neither are birth certificates or passports! You can't get a job if you can't access the internet to do job searches--and even some public libraries charge a fee unless you have a card, and you can't get a card without an ID, which costs money.  You can't start a business without money. You can't get a college or trade school degree without money. You can't even do a pizza delivery job or newspaper route unless you can afford a car, gas, maintenance, and insurance. You can't get a job if your teeth look horrible because you couldn't access dental care. You can't get a job if you can't see well enough but can't afford new glasses, or if your old glasses are taped together. You can't get a job if your only pair of shoes is ugly, you can't afford makeup, or your hair cut is horrible. You see the problem? And when you have money, you don't think that the 25 cents it costs to print a resume at the library is prohibitive, but there have been times when I didn't even have 3 cents to spare. I am not joking or exaggerating. Any single cent you have to spend in order to get a job can prevent a person from getting out of poverty. And solutions to poverty have to take this into account.

So I guess what I'm saying is the discussion is oversimplifying the problems and taking them without any understanding of what poverty actually is, or even what the proposed solutions even mean. It's all caught up in "how dare you take my money" without any understanding that it costs more to leave people in poverty than to take honest, effective steps to get them out! (And "just get a job" doesn't work for that. It is not effective, and often not particularly honest, either.)

And until we include the realities of the problems and the solutions in the discussion, we're just being mean to the poor in order to pat ourselves on the back and absolve ourselves of any responsibility in the matter.

Coming back to Job, chapter 26, where Job is again answering his friends, "How hast thou helped him that is without power? How savest thou the arm that hath no strength? How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is? To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee?"

The poor have no power. They hardly have power to do basic things you take for granted. Having the power to not be poor anymore is a ridiculous thing to insist they have. They are the arm that hath no strength. And yet they're trying anyway. But consider: How has thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? Did you just throw out a pat answer and move on? Or did you carefully, thoughtfully ask questions, find out the realities and truths, pray about solutions, and charitably (true charity, I mean) offer to help in ways that were respectful and not demeaning, empowering and not belittling?

It is a valid question Job asks.  Because Jesus says when we have done it unto the least of these, we have done it unto Him.

When we are talking about poverty--especially to the desperately poor--whose spirit came from our words?

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Trump-Hitler comparison

It is socially unacceptable, generally speaking, to compare people to Hitler.

Despite this, Trump is starting to be compared off and on to Hitler. This seems excessive if you think of Hitler as the leader of Germany in WWII.

But if you think of him as Hitler, circa 1931, the comparison is rather apt. Both are polarizing characters that are gifted speakers who are collecting hurting, angry, hungry people and promising to solve all their problems if they would give in to their basest desires, accept hate, and follow him. Then, as now, there were hundreds of people whose lives were crushed under economic disaster that the governments wouldn't or couldn't fix, and those people were angry and desperate for change. A person who could sweep in and propose a solution was magical to them. Trump is not the result of decades of polarization, like people claim. Trump is the result of a single decade of economic ruin that the government has failed to fix despite their assurances that the economy is better and things are looking up. Trump is promising to stop lying to the people and fix things for them, so they aren't stuck in economic stagnation. Why wouldn't they follow him no matter how vile he is? It was the same for Hitler.

Watching Trump's rise to power this year has reminded me distinctly of an article I read in one of the old magazines in my antique book collection. A young man in 1931 met Hitler, listened to him speak, and reported on it for the LDS Church. In 1931, Hitler was not in power yet. He was in exactly the same position as Trump is, traveling the country and collecting followers.

The article is not easy to access anymore, but you can read it here:

Go to "Adolf Hitler: The Man and His Ideas," on page 15 (pdf page, not magazine page, and finishing up on page 56-7, also pdf page, not magazine page).

In case you can't read it, here is the text: "Adolf Hitler The Man and His Ideas By Wendell C. Irvine

" PICTURE a crowd of some four thousand people assembled in a huge auditorium in Oldenburg, Germany, on a Saturday afternoon of October, 1930. Women, and many of them wearing costly apparel, are in the majority, but well-built young men in their early twenties are also strongly represented. Most of the latter are dressed in the inevitable brown shirts, sand-brown belts and corduroy breeches of the German Fascisti. Four thousand people sitting eager and tense with expectation, four thousand pairs of eyes trained on the speakers' platform, and four thousand figures rising to their feet with one accord as the next speaker is introduced and making the large hall reverberate with the thunderous salutation, "Hoch! — Hoch! — Hocht" A man not much over forty years, of slender build and pleasing countenance stands before the vast assemblage, raises his right hand in the Fascist salute, and with a penetrating voice speaks: "Germans! I give you greeting!" It is the voice of the "magician," of the German "hypnotist," and its every tone and shade of quality seem to say—"Introducing Adolf Hitler, spell-binder, par excellence, orator unexcelled, and Napoleon of oral conflict!"

"It was on this occasion that I saw Hitler for the first time, and during the half hour that he spoke I formed my first impressions of him and the organization over which he presides. I believe I was the only American in the audience, and I had come there prompted more by idle curiosity than personal interest, but inhaling the highly intensified atmosphere of hero worship radjiated by those around me, and,—my knowledge of German permitting—listening to the man himself, I, too, succumbed to his magic, fell under the spell of his wand, and felt almost forced to agree with my neighbor in saying that a new and brighter star had appeared in the political constellation of the world. A few hours later in my hotel room, where I was able to think reasonably once more, I gave myself up to analytical thought, and concluded that Adolf Hitler wasn't as great as Bismarck after all, that the content of his speech that afternoon was inclined to border on radicalism, and that his speech was greatly enhanced by the ideal conditions under which he spoke. However, even in the face of my sudden return to saneness, I was forced to admit that he was the greatest orator I had ever heard, and that while his personality was not akin to greatness, it was a dominating, compelling force that would play a salient role in the unfolding of the new German history. Whether for good or evil, it was a power that would be felt.

"GOING down to dinner that evening I was somewhat surprised to see an unusually large crowd in the lobby, and on making inquiry as to the cause of the congestion I was informed that Hitler and his contingent were staying at this hotel. I jokingly remarked to the hotel attendant with whom I was talking that I would like to meet this Herr Hitler. Without a moment's hesitation he told me that he thought it might be arranged, and not leaving me time to protest, made his way over to a group of Fascist leaders, brought one of them over to where I was standing, and told him I was an American student who was desirous of meeting Hitler if it could be arranged conveniently. The Fascist lieutenant greeted me with the precise military bow so often seen in Germany, and seemed to think it his duty to entertain me for the moment. He gave me a short outline of the political situation, and although his ideas were decidedly a la Hitler, I gleaned information that was of great interest to me inasmuch as I had now resolved to at least gain an understanding of Fascism and what it meant to the German nation. We had not been talking more than a very few minutes when Hitler himself, accompanied by his various aides and body guards, left the elevator and strode across the lobby. My newly made friend interrupted him in his march, saluted, and with marked deference and respect asked if he could be permitted to introduce "a young American scholar." (I take my bow.) And before I was aware of just what was happening, I was shaking the hand of Adolf Hitler, the would-be Dictator of Germany, and answering the casual questions which he politely asked. This whole incident did not take more than three minutes, but in that short time I availed myself of the limited opportunity of studying the man at close range and tried, funny as it may sound, to get an insight into his character.

"HITLER is a very handsome man. Of medium height and slender physique he does not make an imposing figure, but his confident carriage, and the manner in which he holds his head up in the air discount whatever physical faults he might have. He has straight black hair, a clear, browned skin, and dark eyes that seem to betray his every emotion. His thin-lipped mouth is bordered by a bristling Charlie Chaplin moustache, and his jaw, which seems out of proportion to the rest of his features, is alone evidence of the power, determination and resolution of the man. Had I not known to whom I was being introduced, I would have thought the man before me to be a mild-mannered, intelligent member of the upper middle classes, or perhaps a fairly successful business man. But instead of that, I had met "Handsome Adolf,'5" the super-romantic hero of Germany's innumerable romantic women, the recipient of countless "mash" notes and gifts from ladies of noble birth, all of whom, meaning women in general, he is said to detest. And while he is a delightful figure of romance to the opposite sex, the men find in him the consummate genius of leadership, hail him as their champion, boast of his great courage, and hold his methods of discipline in great respect. It is certainly an interesting paradox that the man who awakens the romantic hero love in women, as exemplified in the movie-star worship of the members of the fair sex, should at the same time arouse men from the bitterness of despair and hopelessness and cause them to recognize him as a dominant leader for whom they would gladly go to war. Hitler, being a subtle artist, fully understands the strings which he must pull to bring about the desired movements of his marionettes. His greatest instrument and almost never failing friend is his remarkable gift of oratory, and in discussions of a political nature he is almost invincible. A well-known German military official has said of him:' "If you are hostile to him you Continued from page 1 3 feel physically exhausted after resisting his talk. He takes control of the conversation from the instant it begins and never lets up.'' We have considered the man more or less from a human angle, now let us regard the facts of his life which led up to his prominence.

"ADOLF HITLER was born in 1889, in the small border town of Braunau in upper Austria of humble parents, and spent the early part of his life there following the trades of sign painting and carpentry, until, as a young man, he moved to Munich, a distance of one hundred miles from his home, where he began the study of architecture. At the advent of the world war, in 1914, he enlisted as a private, and served with distinction during the following four years, being once gassed and once wounded. At the conclusion of the struggle he made his headquarters in Munich once more, and in 1922 his political career began. Capitalizing upon his oratorical powers, he made impromptu speeches in the beer-halls of Munich, denouncing the post-war political regime and painting a picture of a futuristic Utopia. He also told his beer garden clientelle that American banks are controlled 99% by Jews (Attention Messrs. Morgan!), flayed the Monarchists, derided the Catholics, and treated the Socialists and Republicans with equally eloquent contempt. It was not long before the name of Hitler was well known throughout Bavaria, and it was a year later, that Hitler, with the backing of the beloved General LudendorfF, walked into a huge beer hall where a mass meeting was being held by several town officials, fired a couple of shots into the ceiling to gain silence, and proclaimed the National Revolution. He guaranteed safety for von Kahr, the presiding official, if he would accompany them from the hall, and within a few minutes talked him into joining the movement of the revolutionists. Hitler's forces filled the streets, but the next day von Kahr was visited by two decidedly anti-Hitler men in the persons of the Archbishop of Munich and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, who succeeded in bringing him back to his senses. As a result, the city police were called out to clear the streets.  and a sharp machine gun skirmish ensued between them and a detachment of Hitler's forces commanded by LudendorfF himself. The Hitlerites were routed, and Hitler and Ludendorff forced to flee from Munich. They were both apprehended however, and brought back for trial. Hitler made a speech to the jury, and for the first time his oratory was futile. He was sentenced to five years in prison by a weeping judge, and Ludendorff, because of his great war record was acquitted. Upon hearing the verdict, Ludendorff, arrayed in a colorful uniform, and bearing all his decorations, arose to his feet and said: "I consider that verdict an insult to the uniform I wear and a disgrace to the decorations of valor which the Fatherland has given me." The verdict remained as given, and Hitler went to prison while Ludendorff was freed. It is said that the prison officials wanted to give Hitler deaf prison guards for fear he would make a speech to them and gain his freedom.

"THE second and greatest stage of Hitler's political career began immediately after his release from prison, his sentence having been commuted after one year's servitude. Beginning in Thuringia,—the only province in which he was still allowed to make a public address,—and aided by the conditions of the times, he began to sow his political seed once more. After his conviction in Munich the world had laughed and proceeded to forget the pretentious "fanatic," who had caused such a stir, but in 1930, when, aided by one of the most serious depressions of all time, Hitler again came before the public eye, worldly opinion stopped to ponder and consider his case.

"In 1928 Hitler's party won 12 seats in the Reichstag, or less than 3 % of the seats in that body. In the September elections of 1930 the same party won 107 seats, or 20% of the total number, and became the second strongest party in the land. Hitler, who because of his service in the German army had lost his Austrian citizenship, and who had been refused German citizenship, was unable to have a seat in the Reichstag, but he controlled the movements of his party nevertheless. The speaking ban having been lifted, he, being unable to take part in the sessions of the Reichstag, now spends his time going from one city to the other framing his political ideas in gilt-edged words, and arousing the admiring shout of the poor, unemployed and desperate German citizen. He still preaches his pet sermon, but his powers of speech aid him in altering the form but not the structure of his theories.

"AND so today, this "man without a country" goes eternally "stumping," expounding his doctrines of anti-everything except the Dictatorshp of Adolf Hitler. He has 5,000,000 followers in Germany, who, when they are not occupied in having street brawls with Communists, are aiding in the furtherance of the Hitler program. Hitler says: "Disenfranchise the Jews; execute the profiteers; expel the dirty alien; repudiate Versailles and reparations; abolish department stores and force trade back to the small merchants; wipe away parasitical unearned incomes; BE GERMANS!"—and these thoughts are echoed throughout all of Germany by the five million adherents of the Hitler faith. Hunger and depression stimulate them, and the silver tongue of a political fanatic acts as a drug upon their confused minds and bodies.

"IN testifying at the trial of three Reichswehr officers in Leipzig, Hitler took the opportunity boldly to outline his plans for the future. He stated that there would be a revolution, the Republic over-thrown, treaties repudiated, Dictatorship set up, and that when a tribunal of the people was formed to judge those who were responsible for the formation of the Republic in 1918, "Germany would see heads rolling in the sand!"

"Thus is the house of Hitler constructed. But it is a house founded on depression and hard times, a house that the first wind of prosperity will topple over, for even now it's foundation trembles under the load above it. And its master? He too will fall where he has dominated, but he will leave his impression on the entire world as a leader, as an organizer, as a fighter. The greatest thing that could be said about him, however, might well be inscribed on his tombstone —

"Adolf Hitler—Orator." "