Archive for December, 2021

Christmas and Planned Obsolescence

We have a long-standing Christmas tradition. Actually, we have quite a few, and I suspect all couples who’ve been married (or together) thirty years have long-standing holiday traditions. But the tradition under discussion is an extensive display of outside Christmas lights – white icicle lights on the gutters on the front and rear of the house, twinkling white lights on artificial garlands affixed to long rear deck railing, some lighted figures on the front lawn, and various strings of lights on the fitzer hedge flanking the front walk and in the side yard.

Needless to say, a number of hours are required for installation, usually taking much of the weekend after Thanksgiving. The labor is necessary for the enjoyment the lights provide us, occasional visiting family members, and the neighbors – and, of course, the power company, which surely enjoys the increased revenues.

We have, however, noticed a trend in terms of the lights themselves. When we first moved to the house we occupy some twenty-eight years ago, we bought six strands of white-wired white icicle lights for the rear of the house. We still have four strands remaining. On three of them every light still works. The fourth strand, alas, lost the lights in a three foot section this winter after two days of winds gusting to 50 mph, likely because several bulbs were smashed. Replacement lights for a 28 year-old strand are not available.

The trend we noted is that almost no set of lights manufactured in the last ten years lasts more than two or three years. The other interesting factor is that although my wife scrupulously saves all the spare bulbs, every strand of newly-purchased replacement lights has a slightly different bulb design, so that if you need more than two replacement bulbs, you essentially need to buy a new strand. And it’s worse than that, because it takes needle-nosed pliers, a surgeon’s touch, and the strength of Sampson to replace one of those bulbs.

Which is why, every January I end up tossing a strand or two of lights, and every late November I buy more, which invariably give out more quickly than their predecessors. I have the feeling that we’re on the way to one-season disposable Christmas lights, and that may be a reason why light displays are becoming limited to those of us who are slaves to our traditions.

The Slippery Slope

In the previous post, I lamented the massive lack of honesty among Republicans, especially among elected office-holders, who are getting to the point where at least some of them will literally do almost anything to hang onto to power and position, whether legal or not.

So far, the Democrats are better, but not nearly as much better as they believe, and therein lies the problem.

The public “lying” problem isn’t new. It’s as old as civilization, but when it gets bad enough that most of the public in a country believes that no public official can be trusted, that country is on the brink of revolution or autocracy, if not both. The United States is coming perilously close to that benchmark, given that the majority of Republicans have effectively declared that they don’t believe the administration on factual matters of national importance.

So how did we get here?

It’s really pretty sadly simple. First, Americans have never liked unpleasant truths, and rather than face them, they prefer to blame others, usually the President in power. Second, while Americans have always had a weak understanding of politics and history, the current generations have an even weaker grasp and, moreover, don’t want to improve that understanding. Third, Americans have become slaves to instant gratification, and with that has come a failure to understand or accept that it takes time to fix things. That’s why the first President Bush lost re-election – because he made unpleasant and unpopular financial fixes – and why President Clinton reaped the benefits of those fixes because he didn’t have to make unpopular public policy choices.

Fourth, politicians of both parties have learned that telling unpleasant truths has the immediate consequence of unpopularity and losing the next election. This bleeds over into everything.

For example, although the official inflation rate for some time, until the last few months, has been below 2%, that methodology for calculating inflation isn’t the same as it was fifty years ago, because the impacts of housing, food, energy, and education are now significantly understated. This “adjustment” not only understated the “official” amount of inflation, but also allowed the government to keep down cost-of-living increases in Social Security, military pensions, and various other benefits and programs, which not only reduced federal outlays but effectively was a hidden tax on beneficiaries.

So… when these costs suddenly increase, and government economists are saying inflation is “transitory,” even people who aren’t economists definitely get the idea that their government is lying to them. And all those years of misinformation and statistical manipulation are coming home to roost in the form of more and more people losing trust in government… and asking, “What else aren’t they telling the truth about?”

Now, even when a public official is telling the truth, most people are skeptical.

And that’s very, very bad news at a time when there are no good quick fixes available.

The Liars/Hypocrites Party

According to recent polls, roughly 60% of registered Republicans and Republican office-holders have now endorsed the lie that Trump had the election stolen from him by fraud. In addition, the Republican leadership is effectively ostracizing any Republican office-holder who dares to tell the truth.

The real issue is no longer just about that lie. It’s about the fact that the majority of Republicans will not only blatantly lie, but will reject the facts and the truth in that instance, especially when Trump administration officials refuse to testify about what happened on January 6th and when Trump himself attempts to keep records secret which would reveal what happened behind the scenes.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, not when the vast majority of deaths from COVID are now among the unvaccinated [largely Republicans] who refuse to believe the cold hard statistics about who is dying and who is not. When people will die because they refuse the facts, why should I be surprised that they’ll accept another big lie about who really won the election.

Republicans claim that life is sacred, and that’s why they want to ban abortion. So why do they so strongly oppose aid to children born in poverty through no fault of their own? By their logic, children in both situations are faultless and need help, but apparently only the unborn deserve it…and only until they’re born, which is quite convenient for the Republican pocketbook.

And because abortion is still largely governed by state law, poor women in Republican-dominated states would be impacted far more than wealthy women, but, again, Republicans seem immune to the hypocrisy of their policies.

This sort of lying and hypocrisy is exemplified by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has steadfastly voted against disaster aid to other states on the grounds that such aid is not the role of the federal government, but who is now demanding aid for his home state since it’s been hit by massive tornadoes.

Republicans also theoretically believe in local political control, but only if it’s Republican. That’s why they split Salt Lake City, which is heavily Democratic, into four parts, each part being included and outvoted by heavily Republican suburban and rural interests. So although I live more than two hundred fifty miles from Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake City has very different needs from Cedar City, a part of Salt Lake City is in the second congressional district, and I can almost guarantee that the Republican incumbent’s attention is only marginally focused on the needs of his urban constituency.

I’m not saying that Democrats aren’t hypocritical, but today’s Republicans have taken lying and hypocrisy to an all-time low. Not only that, but they’re shameless about it.

Public Appearance?

I happen to like vests, but it’s clear that, except occasionally with three-piece suits, vests are not currently popular or fashionable in most parts of the United States. But what is fashionable today?

The definition of fashionable is “characteristic of, influenced by, or representing a current popular trend or style,” while stylish is usually defined as “fashionably elegant and sophisticated.”

Now, obviously, with my love of vests [tastefully flamboyant with matching tie when I’m making writing-related appearances, and quite conservative otherwise], dress shirts, and cowboy boots, I’m no slave to current fashion, but what I wear, according to more than a few people, is a style that suits me, in more ways than one. Because I have high arches, cowboy boots are one of the few forms of footwear that don’t destroy my feet, and all of my boots are either solid black or brown.

When I was younger, I sported longer hair and a mustache, partly because my first wife thought both were more fashionable This was in the 1970s, and 1970s fashions, especially in retrospect, didn’t benefit most people, and I was no exception. I look better with short hair [even if there’s not much of it left on top] and clean-shaven. I also feel better that way.

Any type of fashion trend generally tends to look better on people who are young and painfully thin. Most of us aren’t. And that means, if we want to look our best, we need to choose what looks good on us and what is also practical and comfortable.

What I don’t understand is why so many people, especially younger [defined loosely as those who are less than forty] people, particularly men, seem to go out of their way not to look good. Maybe I’m missing something, but when people I know are not poor, or even close to it, show up wearing ripped pants or cargo shorts, dirty shirts, and flip-flops in forty degree temperature weather, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Nor does wearing shorts that swallow you, or tank tops that show and exaggerate every extra pound.

If dressing like that is making a statement, what exactly is that statement?


I recently discovered that a number of readers have decided that my books fall into a category that I’d heard in passing over the last several years – “competence porn.”

I don’t have a problem with readers finding my protagonists competent – as well as even some of my villains. My problem lies with the category itself, possibly because I’m definitely old school, and while I can’t object to knowledgeable adults reading and viewing pornography, it’s definitely not my thing. As Marian Zimmer Bradley – who definitely knew pornography – once observed, pornography is mainly concerned with anatomical plumbing. Combining pornography with competence exalts the former and degrades the latter.

And I have a real problem with degrading competence, especially at a time in our history where everyday competence is getting rarer and when fewer and fewer young people can read or write competently. Classifying books with competent main characters as a type of pornography is the last sort of thing we need today.

Part of the idea behind the “competence porn” classification is a failure to understand that competent characters aren’t perfect. Even the most competent individuals make mistakes; it’s that they seldom make stupid mistakes in their own field, because competence requires knowing your field.

Another problem with the term “competence porn” is the current tendency of far too many readers to denigrate genres, subgenres, styles, and authors that they don’t like. I understand that many readers like and want fallible characters who get into messes because they’re not competent. Some readers want to root for such characters. That’s what they like. But that doesn’t mean that what they don’t like is bad. Sometimes it is; many times it’s just not to that reader’s taste.

I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with anyone who denigrates books that feature excellence and competence. If an author doesn’t write competence well, one can fault the work, or the way it’s handled, but terming books that feature competent main characters as competence porn is a disservice to both the authors and to the ideal of competence.

The Fragile Generation

This past semester, my wife, the voice and opera professor, has been faced with the most fragile and unprepared group of incoming students that she’s seen in more than fifty years of teaching, although for the past decade or so she’s found that incoming students have become increasingly fragile and less academically prepared.

Not only are the vast majority unable to write a coherent paragraph, but most of them have difficulty reading material that the majority of previous classes could handle. They also have difficulty following class discussions, in turning in assignments on time, and in being able to attend class regularly. And we’re not talking about minority students, but predominantly western USA whitebread students.

They consider writing a thousand word essay as a major and unnecessary trial and fifty pages of reading a week as excessive.

Every single faculty member in the music department is facing the same issues, as are faculty members in any department that is attempting to actually get students to study and to learn. According to a university staff psychologist, roughly forty percent of the incoming students in the university suffer from depression and/or have anxiety issues.

In the field of music, as in most fields, professional musicians and music teachers have to know the music, the techniques, and the history behind their studies, but these incoming students don’t know how to write or how to learn and memorize music. They’re under the illusion that they can Google everything, and they often get sullen or resentful when they find out that they can’t… and they also can’t be separated from their cellphones. Under university policy, while faculty can request students to put away cellphones, faculty can’t prohibit them in class. One student in another department even requested that the university director of ADA certify her cellphone as a psychological necessity after her professor asked her to stop using it incessantly in class.

Many of them break down in tears – and the males tend to be bigger babies than the women – when they discover that they actually have to work to pass a class.

Yet the administration pressures faculty members to do everything they can to keep students in school, even students who’ve missed weeks of classes because they’re too stressed out to attend classes.

Given the way the students are when they arrive at the university, there’s too much they’re not being taught in elementary and secondary schools, and they’re certainly not being taught true self-discipline or accountability. But everyone seems to think it’s the job of college faculty to undo all the damage caused by overindulgent parents and elementary and secondary school teachers bludgeoned into submission to the “self-esteem” requirements forced on them, largely by parents.