Why I’m a Liberal (And You’re Not)

I may be the last real liberal.

I have been offline and sort of out of touch for a few.
Please enjoy this commentary from 2012. I didn’t have to update it much at all…

Nancy Giles, courtesy Oberlin College Alumni Assoc CBS Sunday Morning looked at the line in the sand between liberals and conservatives by asking Nancy Giles and Ben Stein to do essays on why they come down on one side or the other.

Ms. Giles quoted what she called the Oxford English Dictionary definition:

liberal adj. Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own.

“I’m a liberal,” she said. “I love the mix of voices and the larger perspective.”
I’m down with that.

In fact, I couldn’t agree more that we need a mix of voices. Mine is right, of course, but others do add color and flavor and nuance and, yes, more data to what I say.

Hey! I must be a liberal.

The bad news is two-fold. One is the simple fact that none of the other liberals I know are actually willing to listen to other voices or see the larger perspective. The most recent example is that of picketers trying to shut down the voice of Lenore Broughton the driving force behind the Vermonters First super PAC.

Oh. I must be the only liberal.

And then there is the case of Islam. Many believe Islam is a religion of terror and war and destruction of women but, according to American liberals, there are only a “few warlike Muslims so we can’t damn the whole religion.” And yet. And yet, my liberal friends damn everyone to the Right of them for a few right wing nutcases at abortion clinics. Or most any Christians.

“I could only listen until that woman read that definition of Liberal and claimed that was what she was,” Rufus said. “Libruls are the least liberal people I know.”

Rufus leads us to the second bit of bad news. See, I own an O.E.D. “Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own” ain’t in it. On the other hand, Merriam-Webster does call liberal, “not literal or strict : loose <as in a liberal translation>.”

Looks like I am indeed a liberal in the first sense but Ms. Giles and the other self-proclaimed “liberals” I know hew to the second. They are as incorrect or inaccurate with the facts as possible. Or perhaps it was just an inexact translation.

Let’s go back to Ms. Giles’ dictionary.

liberal adj. Of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.

That’s interesting but it’s not in my printed copy of the O.E.D. Here’s her next definition.

liberal adj. believing the government should be active in supporting social and political change.

Oh, boy. That’s out of Wikipedia or the Socialist’s Bible but it has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the dictionary.

liberal adj. Tending to give freely; generous.

Ooo. I’m down with that, too. Of course most people know that the leader of the American liberal party, Barack Obama, grudgingly started giving more than a pittance to charity about the day after he decided to run for president. In other words, once people would actually notice. The leader of the other guys (that would be Mitt Romney, circa 2012, or Donald Trump today) has given away a big percentage of his, quietly, every year he’s had income. On a more personal level, all the liberals I know want to control my income while my efforts go into an arts council and Anne’s into the Special Olympics. Our choice.

Money and politics. Ms. Giles wants control of both and that’s not very liberal.

OEDIn fact, my actual O.E.D. includes definition #5 as

liberal adj. Favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; spec (in politics) favouring free trade and gradual political and social reform that tends towards individual freedom or democracy.

I may not respect but I do accept your incredible naivete, behavior, and opinions that differ from mine. I give of myself without asking you to do the same. I believe in local control, free trade and social reform that moves us toward individual freedoms and democracy.

Yup. I’m a liberal. And you’re not.



1944: 18-22 year olds stormed enemy beaches, parachuted behind enemy lines, charged into battle, looked death square in the eye, and heard the 88s whistle in their ears.

A Special Safe Zone for Your Protection

2016: 18-22 year olds (their grandchildren and great grandchildren) tormed the administration building to demand “safe zones” on college campuses to protect them from offensive words whistling in their fragile ears.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Ruint, I tell you.


Human Interface Design: A Tale of Two Phones

Professionally, officially, I’ve never had much reason to consider how humans interact with the machinery I’ve designed. In fact, since my specialty is material handling equipment, I’ve had lots of reason to consider how to keep humans from interacting with the machinery I’ve designed. Belts and gears and pushers and pullers and blades and fingers should be kept mutually exclusive.

All that changed when I designed a boat.

A Tale of Two Panasonic PhonesI like how stuff feels in my hand, whether a boat hull or a nice shirt or a cordless phone.

Apple’s former “Human Interface Evangelist,” Tog Tognazzini, told Science Friday that Apple doesn’t deserve its reputation for good design anymore. (Be warned that SciFri’s SoundCloud will make you sign in just to listen to the file.)

Apple has a well earned reputation for perfect, intuitive gadgets.

Back in the old days of the 80s, manufacturers printed a long book (translated through Sanskrit from the original Chinese) of instructions and illustrations for most anything you bought. Tech writers ruled. You’d either “RTM” or spend the rest of the machine’s potentially very short life fiddling with it to learn how to use it. We techies bemoaned the day manufacturers stopped supplying that long, printed manual.

Apple fixed that.

Steve Jobs changed your life and mine.

“iOS raises the bar for excellence in user interface design and offers great opportunities for you to deliver engaging and unique user experiences. Consider these common design concepts before you start coding to enhance the usability and appeal of your apps.”

Apple made it not just possible but necessary that anything you hold in your hand be hand friendly. Or not.

Wikipedia tells us, “The goal of this interaction is to allow effective operation and control of the machine from the human end, whilst the machine simultaneously feeds back information that aids the operators’ decision making process. Examples of this broad concept of user interfaces include the interactive aspects of computer operating systems, hand tools, heavy machinery operator controls, and process controls. The design considerations applicable when creating user interfaces are related to or involve such disciplines as ergonomics and psychology.”

The industrial design field of human-machine interaction also has concepts that work across interpersonal relationships as well.

My friend gekko held forth on the latest modern management style: “The latest flavor of The End All Solution To Managing Employees and Co-Workers fades quickly and no others rise to replace it,” she wrote over here.

Exactly. Most of these management fads are pretty much designed by aliens who have never actually probed a human. The closer in me would like it if the “Human Resources” folks inventing this stuff had at least rotated through an actual Human Interface design department. And taken the flack that should come when they get it wrong.

Hey H.R.? There are more people doing the work than in your “sample.”

H.R. gets it wrong more often than not because they forget to test their latest fad on real employees.

Mr. Tognazzini makes the point that Apple did that, too, with their new, gray, “flat” iconography and text interface. If you’re over 50, you can’t see their new, gray, “flat” iconography and text interface.

Good DesignHey Apple? There are more people over 50 than under 25 in your test market!

Apple gets it wrong more often than not because they forget to test the design on their actual users.

I’ve written before about the Panasonic cordless phones I like so much. The phones have always fit my hand and my pocket nicely. They have a headphone jack and work excellently with my headset. They have plenty of memory in the phonebook and multiple ringtones that can be assigned to various numbers. They have built in call blocking.

I had to buy a new one. You can see the old black one and the new white ones in these photos.

Bad Design Sadly, Panasonic changed the cordless phone face. Just a little bit. “We’ll make the buttons bigger so our older users have a better experience!”

Except the bigger buttons now let you butt dial or table dial or hang up the phone when every you use it. The bigger buttons ride up on the sleek, curved, front face and stick out farther than the body. I saw that the first time the phone butt dialed my neighbor. You’d think the Panasonic design department would have noticed.

Panasonic got it wrong because they forgot to test the design in the real world.

There’s a moral in there.



We lost a friend January 8. He was just 76.

“So sorry to have to post this… Rocketman passed away yesterday. Local favorite entertainer, musician, loving father, pirate, and friend to so many here in our islands… He most certainly was one of a kind, and the likes of him will surely never pass this way again. My condolences to his daughter, Roxanne, and all his family and friends in the Keys and all around the world. The old man certainly was right: it sure did beat 40 below, shoveling snow… And I do like it! If ever there was a life to be celebrated in style, it was Rocketman’s. Godspeed, Rocketman.”
— John Bartus

Robert Hudson played music in the late 70s and 80s in Las Vegas before coming to the Keys the same year we did. He became known as Rocketman the Pirate and he drummed, sang, and played with just about every other musician in the Keys. Between gigs he sold treasure.

“Too bad. He needs a replacement,” Rufus said. “Bartus is too accomplished. I am too fat (and I don’t live in the Keys).”

Not too fat. Too old.

I don’t think fat matters, per se. Old does. He was a legend but we need a youngster to take his place. The next Rocketman needs to be under 40.

“No way,” Rufus said. “The age was part of the attraction. Otherwise he is just another troubadour.”

The way you get to be an old troubadour is to start as a young troubadour. Not to mention our need to have somebody around for more than another couple of years.

“Aging out is American popular culture vernacular used to describe anytime a youth leaves a formal system of care designed to provide services below a certain age level.”

The troubadour has a storied history. The earliest troubadour whose work survives is the Duke of Aquitaine, portrayed as a knight, who first composed poetry on returning from the Crusades which he “related with rhythmic verses and witty measures.” Today, we think of a troubadour as a poet and singer of folk songs and rock music and other fishy ballads. Apropos of nothing, troubadour rhymes with albacore.

We are watching our favorite local artists and community leaders “age out.” Or worse.

Ben Bullington, a country doctor and singer-songwriter from Colorado, died in 2013. He was 58. He was a small town family doctor until his pancreatic cancer diagnosis; he immediately stopped practicing medicine and made as much music for as many people as he could. Vermont musician and legend John Cassel died in ’14. He was 78 and working when he suffered a heart attack after playing a show. The man of a thousand songs, Ron Hynes from Newfoundland died in November. He was 64. Blues guitarist and border legend Long John Hunter of El Paso died last week. He was 84.

I’ve been thinking about aging out a bit, ever since my family doc reminded me that he’s a year older than I. See, he’s aging out, too. That means he’s going to retire sooner than later and I’m going to have to break in some young whippersnapper.

We need to train our replacements for Dr. Bullington, Mr. Cassel, Mr. Hynes, Mr. Hunter, for the other beloved local legends. And for Rocketman.

Psychology Today rules that by dividing your own age by two and then adding seven you can find the socially-acceptable minimum age of anyone you want to date. So if you’re a 24 year-old, you can date anyone who is at least 19 (i.e., 12 + 7) but not someone who is 18. And if you’re 89 as Hugh Hefner is, you can feel free to be with anyone who is at least 19 but not someone who is 18. Oh. Wait. You can be with anyone who is at least 51-1/2 (i.e., 44-1/2 + 7) but not someone who is only 51.

When Ronald Reagan turned 75, Dennis Miller wished him a happy birthday. “Seventy-five, and he has access to the nuclear football? You know, my grandfather is 75. We don’t let him use the remote control for the TV set!”

If I have to train some young whippersnappers, I want them to stick around for the long haul. That’s why Rufus is wrong.

Over in real life, I chair a small regional arts council (known in the trade as a “Local Arts Service Organization”). I’m not quite ready to pass the microphone yet, but we are looking for a fresh face for my job, too. Out on stage last year, I introduced a number of new performers to the professional footlights. We expect to do that even more with Summer Sounds, with the county festivals, and at other venues around area. See, our top-notch musicians are all getting a little grayer, too.

Eventually, it is forced on all of us.

R.I.P., Rocky. Arrrrgh.