Archive for September, 2021

Bad Plan vs. No Plan

The current legislative battle over the budget, debt ceiling, and federal spending between Republicans and Democrats will result in disaster, no matter who claims “victory.” That’s because it’s a battle between a bad/flawed approach to dealing with the nation’s problems and a failure to even attempt to address the problems.

The Democrats recognize the majority of the problems, if not all of them, by any means, but their “solutions” in too many cases consist of throwing more money at flawed government programs. Sometimes, more funding is necessary. You aren’t going to get more women back in the work force without more childcare options, and “private” options are more expensive than what many women could earn. You won’t get better healthcare for veterans without more and better doctors. You can’t fix bridges and roads without spending more money. We have national parks that are overcrowded and falling apart for lack of maintenance funding… and so on.

But other spending is insane. Why should we spend tens of billions more subsidizing a failing higher education system? We already have millions of “graduates” who will never have a job requiring a college education, largely because they lack skills in basic reading, writing, calculating and problem-solving, skills that have to be taught and learned young. We need education reforms that start at the bottom, not at the top, and offer true equality of opportunity for students with ability and determination, not a free pass to watered-down education for everyone.

We spend unnecessary billions on bases and weapons and military procurement that even the most hawkish generals and admirals don’t need or want.

We spend billions on expensive emergency room health care because we don’t provide basic affordable health care for the poorest Americans.

The current Republican “solution” seems to be to spend less on all programs, good and bad, to build useless border walls, and to push for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at a time of the greatest income and wealth inequality in U.S. history.

The likely result of the current “battle” is spending less than the Democrats are demanding and more than the Republicans will offer, with a possible stand-off that will worsen the economic situation. In the end, the Democrats will probably “win,” most possibly with a Pyrrhic victory, because the Republicans offer no real alternative… and even if the Republicans do “win” they have no real plan for the country, with the result that matters will be even worse, because the problems aren’t going away, and all too many of the proposed “solutions” don’t address the root causes, and just provide costly “bandages.”


As I have noted in “News” section of the website, the release/publication date of Isolate has been pushed back another two weeks, along with fifteen other Tor books, because of capacity problems with the printing firm. Those capacity problems result from a shortage of qualified and skilled workers.

For years, I’ve been making several points that most politicians and most of the American public seems unwilling to understand and face. First, credentials don’t automatically equate to ability. Second, a significant percentage of college graduates still can’t read or write effectively and lack basic mathematics skills, skills that need to be taught not in college [because it’s too late for virtually all students to learn those skills when they’re that old], but on the elementary school level. As a result, college undergraduate degrees are an expensive waste of money for at least half of those who enter college every year. Third, very, very few students at any level are being taught to think or solve problems. And fourth, most students are unfamiliar with real work and seem unable to concentrate on work or anything else, except possibly their cellphones and video games, for any length of time.

The result of these factors is that the United States officially has more job openings than unemployed individuals. In reality, those numbers don’t include voluntarily unemployed individuals or those who have given up looking for jobs.

I read a report the other day dealing with these issues, a report that contained the conclusions that businesses essentially aren’t hiring many people without experience except at the very lowest levels in services and sales… and that most unemployed individuals and those entering the workforce aren’t interested in such jobs.

The other day I was tied up with various chores and decided that, rather than head home and fix something to eat, I’d grab something from one of the various fast food outlets that abound in the college town that is Cedar City. Except I ended up fixing a late lunch at home because after discovering that the drive-in facilities at the first four outlets I tried [at 2:00 in the afternoon] were so jammed it would have been a half hour wait – for drive-in service, because they’d all closed their lobbies until 4:00 because of staff shortages, at least according to the signs they’d posted.

We’re going to see much more of delayed production and unavailable services because the generations who knew how to think and work are getting too old to keep doing it, and because too many of the younger generations lack the skills, can’t or won’t concentrate, and want to be paid more than businesses can afford.

The problem is compounded because too many businesses don’t want to invest in training people for a variety of reasons, some valid, and some because of a short-sighted emphasis on short-term profits and because the public education system is failing too many students on the basic level, while overspending on unneeded and unnecessary higher education that isn’t preparing students for the real world while loading them up with student debt.

But, if you think the computerization/ automation of jobs is bad now? Just wait until you’re not only arguing with online and telephone automated systems, but with drive-in restaurant computers that keep telling you can’t get what you want or ordered because of supply chain delays.

The “Belief” Problem

The United States has a significant problem with “belief” today, and it’s not so much what Americans believe as how too many of them believe.

Many beliefs are based on facts and long observation. The sun rises and sets every day, and people believe that it will – and from what science can tell us, that has occurred for billions of years and will continue for billions more, although the length of each day will increase by an infinitesimal amount each year. We believe in gravity, because, here on earth, when you drop something, it falls. Those and other beliefs are based on factual observations, and they can be checked against physical reality. Some people, such as flat-earthers, still deny that physical reality, but most people believe in physical reality.

Admittedly, our physical senses gather information and our brain processes that information to interpret those impressions and create an image of that physical reality, but while images may differ from individual to individual, the physical world – more precisely the energy fields that comprise the world – are not dependent on whether an individual believes in that reality.

Then there are beliefs about what cannot be proven in any scientific fashion (or at least not yet), such as whether there is a divine being or multiple universes or dimensions.

And finally, there are beliefs about what I’ll call aspects or views of reality. Some of those beliefs accept that an event occurred, but different people hold different beliefs about whether the event was beneficial, evil, or a mixture of both. In these instances, those with different views don’t dispute that the event occurred, but only how it’s viewed. There are many views about the creation of the modern state of Israel, but almost no one would dispute that the state of Israel exists.

Then there are those who believe that something which can be verified as occurring did not occur… or they believe that something that did not occur actually happened. For these people, truth or accuracy has no effect on their beliefs.

From what I’ve observed over a moderately long life is that more and more people are now so strongly invested in certain beliefs that they feel strongly, overwhelmingly, that “if I believe this, it must be so. It cannot be otherwise.”

The problem with this view is that reality, accuracy, and facts are what they are, and while beliefs can change human actions and perceptions, they cannot change what has already happened or the physical laws of the universe. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop these “true believers,” and all too often the rest of us pay for such false beliefs, often dearly.

The Creeping Cancer of “Consumerism”

Once upon a time, a “consumer” was someone who consumed/used physical goods and limited kinds of services provided by others. Today, especially in the United States, almost everything is viewed through the lens of consumerism and the old and misused mantra that “the consumer is always right.”

People used to listen to news broadcasts and read newspapers to find out the facts of what was happening. Now, they search for and “consume” the news that suits them, regardless of its accuracy or factual content.

Students now “consume” education, and to meet that consumer demand, the vast majority of colleges and universities are dumbing down curricula and providing a huge range of costly services, many of which are at best tangentially related to learning, while putting out the word to faculty not to upset the little darlings in order to keep numbers up, just like a business catering to consumers. Despite all the right-wing talk about left-wing elitism in higher education, what’s pushing the trend to coddle students isn’t primarily the faculty, but the students, assisted by well-meaning and misguided junior administrators. On the undergraduate level, education has become less and less about learning, especially learning to think, and more and more about “keeping the numbers up” and making students “comfortable.” Trigger warnings are everywhere, as if unsettling facts and theories were real bullets, instead of challenges to be faced and dealt with through thought and reason.

Politics has become consumerized as well, especially after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that essentially declared that votes were consumer goods that could be bought by anyone who had enough money and clever advertising.

Although law has always been biased on the side of the affluent, simply because the poor never had the funds for the best advocates or legislators, it’s become even more consumerized in recent years.

One of the reasons why the US has regulatory agencies dealing with food and drug safety, product safety, and workplace safety is because manufacturers of consumer products proved that far too many of them could not be trusted to turn out a safe product under safe working conditions.

Just as physical products can’t use dangerous ingredients, or parts, and make wildly false claims, why shouldn’t we require similar standards for all the new consumables?

Maybe news outlets should face fines or suspension of their licenses for airing provable falsehoods, including “commentators,” who seem able to air dangerous and blatant falsehoods. Maybe universities should be subject to “truth in education” laws. Maybe politicians should be held personally liable, with damages, for blatant falsehoods.

But… I don’t see it happening, because the United States has become largely a nation of consumers addicted to their consumables, regardless of the effects on their health, their political system, and their ability to think.

The “Basis” of Science

The other day a commenter made a statement that falsification is the basis of science. Like a great deal of what appears on the internet, the statement is true, but incomplete, and was presented out of context. As I’ve said elsewhere, a correct statement presented in the wrong context is effectively a lie, or at the least, a misrepresentation.

True science is based on physically proving what works… and what doesn’t, and in what context something works, or doesn’t. Einstein’s work theorized that there were instances in which Newton’s three laws didn’t seem to apply, or not fully. That was a theory. Later experiments proved much of what his theory proposed… but questions remain about certain physical aspects. What gets overlooked is that in most of everyday life and current industry and technology, Newton’s Laws are accurate and applicable.

The second point about theories is that while they can be disproven, they can never be absolutely proven. The best science can say is: at this point, all the evidence indicates that the theory cannot be factually disproven. So… the test of a theory is whether it can be disproven – or falsified. In some esoteric aspects of quantum mechanics or relativity, we have not been able to physically test various aspects of the theory. That means the theory seems to explain the situation, but that we can’t test it to say that either the evidence supports the theory or that it doesn’t.

Science is not static. As science progresses, we learn more. Sometimes, we learn through experimentation or discovery and analysis that an idea once held is not correct, or not totally correct. A cynical expression of this fact is that science progresses as those who hold to older and incorrect theories and refuse to accept newer evidence die off.

Accurate and effective science is a process that has two basic roots – to understand and prove what works and why and to investigate and disprove that which doesn’t. What is known changes daily and so does what was thought to be true and now needs to be discarded or modified.

Some basics don’t change, and they don’t change because evidence continues to support them. Certain viruses and bacteria cause disease. Good sanitation practices and immunization reduce the spread of diseases. Period. Proclaiming personal freedom from proven sanitation practices or immunization won’t reduce the spread of disease and the injuries and death. That’s the science. Anything else is political self-rationalization.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

People are the ones who lie. With or without numbers. People also ignore the numbers or fail to understand what they mean. I was trained as an economist and worked for a short time as an industrial economist, and I have a pretty good idea of all the ways the numbers can be manipulated.

As far as COVID numbers go, they’re not lying. People are misrepresenting them or arguing against them on non-scientific grounds. The initial testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed an initial effectiveness of 93-95%. The researchers also noted that the vaccines did not provoke as strong an immune response in older individuals or those who were immuno-compromised. The numbers also showed a minuscule risk of severe side-effects from any of the major vaccines. Those numbers and facts remain accurate so far, even considering the greater infectiousness and severity of the Delta variant.

Statistics also show, historically and practically, that a high degree of vaccination/infection-and-recovery is necessary [roughly in the 70% range] to stop an epidemic.

What are we seeing? That the cases in hospitals are overwhelmingly of the unvaccinated with a small percentage of older vaccinated or immuno-compromised individuals, just as the trials predicted. The statistics also show that well over 10% of individuals hospitalized for COVID who survive suffer long-term and possibly permanent health damage, and in some studies that number approaches 40%.

Until a greater percentage of unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated, or catch COVID, those numbers will continue, and they will include unvaccinated children.

All the political crap about “it’s my right” not to get vaccinated isn’t going to change the numbers.

I live in an area where only 36% of those able to be vaccinated are, and the death toll hit the highest number ever last week. I’m not exactly a spring chicken, as the saying goes, and even after being fully vaccinated, I’m likely still at risk. So is my wife, who is also vaccinated and slightly immuno-comprised, but still teaching. Her students have been understanding, and all of them are either vaccinated or wear masks in class.

This is not so for the rest of the community, which is why we don’t go to restaurants or any crowded venues… and shop with care. Our life – and that of millions of others – is restricted because of the baseless fears of the ignorant and their unwillingness to follow time-tested and working procedures for dealing with an epidemic.

Just why do so many people ignore all the obvious – and verified – facts? Except that’s not really the question. In a public health crisis the question is what the government should do. Getting out the facts isn’t sufficient. Too many people are either too ignorant, too distrusting, too lazy, or too invested in self-centered “personal freedom” to get vaccinated.

So the choice is pretty basic – either require vaccinations or see a lot more people die and become permanently disabled. And if you don’t get vaccinated, you’re saying through your inaction that your “freedom” is worth more than the lives of other people.

Republicans = Exponential Hypocrisy

In the wake of the resurgence of COVID in the form of the Delta variant, the majority of Republican governors in the states hardest hit by COVID, with ICUs and hospitals at capacity or beyond capacity, continue to oppose vaccination requirements and mask mandates. Their cry is “personal freedom” or “it’s my right to choose.”

Those Republicans, including the clearly hypocritical governor of Texas, would have people die rather than give in to governmental public health mandates.

While I obviously disagree with their “principle,” they aren’t even consistent in its application. In fact, there’s extreme hypocrisy in this stance, especially in the case of Governor Abbott, because the governor wants personal choice in the case of COVID public health requirements, insisting that individuals have control over their own bodies, yet he and the Texas Taliban, i.e., the Republicans in the Texas State Legislature, have legislated to deny women the choice to control their own bodies, by effectively eliminating the vast majority of abortions in Texas and even creating a potentially nationwide vigilante system for denying that choice.

But then, it’s become increasingly clear that all too many Republicans have little interest in consistent principles, effective public health measures, or equal legal treatment for all Americans, regardless of income.

What’s even sadder is that most rank-and-file Republicans don’t see this, and, if they do, don’t care that they’re well on their way to becoming the American Taliban, in attempting to make one set of self-contradicting and repressive religious beliefs the law of the land.

Sacred Hypocrisy

The entire “Right-to-Life” movement in the United States is based on the idea that human life is “sacred.” Except that’s not true. In both practice and ideal, the movement insists that only unborn life is sacred.

The life of a woman who will die from a pregnancy isn’t sacred. The lives of tens of thousands of unwanted children born to women who cannot support them aren’t sacred. The so-called Right-to-Lifers make no provisions for the needs of unwanted or ill-fed children. Nor do most of them support legislation or provisions to aid poor mothers. At a time when minimum wage jobs won’t support an individual in most U.S. cities, let alone a family, what do Right-To-Lifers think is going to happen to all the unwanted children who will be born if abortion is banned? Not only that, but how many more unwanted pregnancies will occur because birth control counseling and means have been restricted or banned.

We already have too many homeless in our cities and streets… and the anti-abortion crowd thinks that banning abortion won’t create more?

Like it or not, human beings will have sex. Puritans, strict Catholics, and many, if not most, Evangelicals insist that abstinence is the only “approved” form of birth control, and, given restricted or banned abortion, and without access to knowledgeable and available birth control, there will be even more unwanted children and mothers who either cannot physically support those children… or who will not. Moral proscriptions and moralizing won’t change that.

Nor will moralizing and laws change the fact that most poor women don’t have the resources to raise children in ways that won’t leave many, if not most, of those children without the skills and resources to be productive members of society, particularly at a time when decent paying, low-skilled jobs have all but vanished. But the majority of the Right-To-Life crew doesn’t want to pay to provide that support.

In addition to that, the Right-to-Lifers won’t acknowledge that a significant number of unwanted pregnancies are the result of men forcing themselves on women. Given that, in most cases, men are stronger than women, the Right-to-Life position is essentially condoning the subjugation of women to the will of men, both in forcing women to have sex and then forcing them to bear unwanted children.

So Right-to-Lifers want to force women to have children they can’t support, and that Right-to-Lifers won’t. I don’t see any deity swooping down to provide manna for food or angels constructing lodging… and while some charities do the best they can, it’s not enough, and it never will be.

What the Right-to-Lifers are doing, however well-intentioned they think they are about the sacredness of life, is trying to require unwanted children to be born and then denying support to that unwanted life once it is born, because apparently those children aren’t all that sacred once they’re born and suffering, with the result that the massive costs of inadequate government benefits for those mothers and children are dumped on everyone else. And on top of that, most of these right-wingers then complain about the burden those children and their mothers place on society.

And the only terms for that are religious hypocrisy, ignorance… or stupidity, if not all three. Take your pick.

The Law As Ass

One of Dickens’ characters, Mr. Bumble, as I recall, said something to the effect that if the law established some ridiculous provision then the law was “a ass.”

Usually, the law isn’t quite that bad, but that was before Texas passed its recent anti-abortion legislation. Regardless of one’s position on abortion, this legislation is worse than an abortion of rights or a miscarriage of justice [both of which it is], and the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to stop its implementation suggests that those justices in the High Court’s majority are also asses – in legal terms.

Apparently, in order to avoid making the state of Texas the enforcement body, the law enables anyone to file a civil lawsuit in any jurisdiction against anyone who performs an abortion of any fetus from Texas where the heartbeat can be detected [usually around six weeks] as well as against anyone who enables/assists in obtaining such an abortion. The statute also mandates a judgement/payment to the plaintiff of up to $10,000 and possibly more.

The historic legal requirement for obtaining damages is that someone has suffered an injury of some sort, yet under the Texas law anyone can file such a lawsuit, even if they cannot prove that they personally suffered such an injury. The “beauty” of this approach is that even if the complainant/plaintiff receives no damages, the defendant is saddled with enormous legal costs and bills, while the plaintiff and the Republican legislators who passed the legislation get off scot-free.

Furthermore, the language around what constitutes an enabler is vague enough that anyone who transports a woman seeking an abortion to where an abortion takes place might well be subject to the legislation. That could conceivably even involve airlines or other transportation.

The Texas Right to Life movement is already reputedly establishing a hot line to receive tips about women seeking abortions. Perhaps, in that light, the organization should change its name to the “Texas Taliban.”

The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t just strike down the law as a gross infringement on personal privacy suggests worse may be yet to come.

So… three cheers, or rather raspberries, for all those legal asses.