Archive for October, 2022

The [Electoral] Stupidity of Youth

While polls are not very accurate at predicting how young people will vote, early voting statistics suggest that, once again, the turn-out for younger voters will be low, despite the number of issues being championed by Republicans that will penalize younger Americans.

According to various surveys, too many young people aren’t voting because “the politicians are too old and don’t speak to us.” Or because the young don’t see anything or anyone that appeals to them. Or because they think politics isn’t that important.

This is stupidity based on the internet ala carte menu mindset of a generation that has been able, at least in terms of products and entertainment, to get almost anything they want. And if they can’t get what they want, they won’t buy a product, or visit that site or venue.

What they seem incapable of grasping is that in politics your choices are limited in reality to two choices. All too often in American politics, the choice isn’t between which candidate is better, but which one is least bad.

If you’re young and don’t like either, and don’t vote, the choice is made by those who care enough to vote, and in most cases, those voters are “old people” many of whom who don’t have the interests of the young at heart.

If you’re young and have student loans, and don’t vote, you’re likely to lose the chance for some loan forgiveness, because Republicans in six states have filed a lawsuit to stop loan forgiveness, and the majority of Republicans, who are either old or against higher education, especially for minorities, oppose loan forgiveness.

One of the greatest risks to life for young women are complications involving reproduction, yet states controlled by Republicans have already increased those health risks by the way they’ve crafted anti-abortion laws so that women, especially young women, who aren’t well off, even working women, face greater risks of dying.

Far too many young people don’t seem to understand that politics isn’t like the internet, where you can come back later for a better product, or not buy at all, and not suffer. In politics, not choosing to vote is, in effect, a form of electoral Russian roulette. It might not affect you, but then again, the effects could be severe.

But the Democrats aren’t addressing this problem; the Republicans don’t see youth issues as a problem for them; and far too many young people don’t understand or think it doesn’t apply to them; and I’m pointing this out on a platform that very few young people seem to frequent, because, after all, the young think everything should be available where they are.

The Improbable Sycamore

When we bought our house twenty-nine years ago, it came with an assortment of pinyon pines and junipers, some pfitzers, and a well-established sycamore that partly shaded the master bedroom, even though it’s not that close to the house. It looked to be a sturdy stately tree, and the only one of any height, since even mature pinyon pines seldom exceed fifteen feet and junipers aren’t much taller.

My first mistake was to confuse the solid trunk with sturdiness. My wife the professor was more skeptical, asking, “Why did anyone ever plant a southern tree here?”

I didn’t understand at first. Then came the first windstorm. Now, for readers not familiar with the climate where I live, there are reasons why the only indigenous trees in the area, besides sagebrush, are pinyons and junipers. One of those reasons is that we live in high desert. The second is that we have high winds – on and off all the time. Fifty mile an hour gusts are always a possibility. Thirty- thirty-five mph winds are common. Higher wind speeds are not uncommon, and without storms. One clear-air storm ripped most of the shingles off a house just up the street. Another ripped the vinyl siding off a house a block away. Every year or so we get seventy mph wind gusts. They blow semi-trucks off the interstate.

Then, even though we live in a desert, every second or third year we get heavy snows in either early fall or late spring. One Mother’s Day we got fifteen inches of heavy wet snow, just after we’d started a major remodeling/addition project, but that’s another story. Earlier this week we got a mere eight to ten inches of heavy snow – far too much for the wide leaves and the soft wood of our southern sycamore tree – which is why I woke up to several hundred pounds of broken limbs surrounding the “stately” sycamore, which, as a southern tree, doesn’t deign to shed its leaves until at least mid-December, despite the fact that the nights have been freezing for at least a month and a half by then.

It’s also why, when the sycamore finally relinquishes its leaves, it looks gap-branched and most irregular despite the efforts of local tree-trimmers, who aren’t ever available until I’ve cleaned up the immediate carnage and sawed and added limbs to the firewood pile. The sycamore, crippled as it is, remains the tallest tree by far around our part of the hill, and I don’t know whether to bless or curse the idiots who planted it.

The Large Family Factor

Two recent and separate studies reported in 2020 that large families tend to be far more conservative and far more religious than smaller families, as well as less highly educated, and that such conservatism is definitely reflected in their voting behavior.

While these studies don’t surprise me in the slightest, they certainly tie into the current U.S. political scene. They also explain, at least in part, why the United States is likely to remain politically polarized for some time to come, since, by definition, large, conservative, religious, and less highly educated families are having more children, and liberal, more highly educated, and smaller families are having not just fewer children, but considerably fewer children, roughly two or less, and some younger couples in this group are choosing to have no children at all.

Part of the reason why these trends may well continue is the skyrocketing cost of higher education. Parents who think about educating their children may well decide to have fewer children, and children from larger families may find less support for higher education as well as finding it increasingly difficult to afford higher education. Then there’s the fact that rural areas tend to be more conservative, more religious, and also usually have lower costs of living.

At the same time, these statistics reflect groups as a whole, not individual families, since there are certainly highly educated, large, religious and liberally inclined families as well as small highly educated families that are quite conservative.


There’s a phrase that I hear too often, especially when used with children and young people – You can do anything you put your mind to – or some similar expression.

I know parents and teachers want to encourage young people, but using that phrase is not only misleading, but it’s also cruel.

Not that parents and teachers shouldn’t encourage young people, but that encouragement should be based in reality.

That’s not being cruel. The universe is filled with limitations. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, no matter how much energy and effort you apply. If you jump off a cliff without a paragliding outfit you’re going to fall… and hard.

The same is true of people. There are some who can do almost anything in their chosen field, such as Michael Phelps in swimming, or Tom Brady, but even they end up facing limits imposed by age and their physiology. And what’s often overlooked in cases such as theirs is just how much they can’t do, how much they’ve given up in the rest of their lives to achieve a comparatively short span of greatness in one field.

And yes, there are people who achieve goals no one thought those people could achieve, but they’re celebrated precisely because they’re so rare.

I’m not saying that anyone should tell a young person that they cannot do something, but they should tell them what it takes. My wife the professor teaches voice and opera, and every year she gets fresh-faced students who were considered “stars” in their high schools. Only a few of those students will get a life-supporting paying job in classical music. One in several hundred might go on to get “star” roles in the field. Why? Because there are probably ten thousand or more music graduates every year for perhaps at most a thousand jobs, most of them instrumental.

And while she can tell whether a student has the raw talent, so many other factors (or limits) enter the equation. How determined is the student? How hard and long will they work? How good is their technique? Can they learn roles quickly and accurately? Is their voice what grad schools or directors are looking for? And with the growing emphasis on media… do they look the “right” way for the part? These days, the absolutely most brilliant and greatest singing white soprano will not be cast in the professional lead in Madame Butterfly. Other roles, perhaps, but not that one.

And then, there’s simply the luck factor. I’d likely still be a mid-list SF writer, if in the late 1980s I hadn’t decided to write a fantasy novel because certain fantasy authors at a F&SF convention had hinted that I couldn’t do it. I turned in that novel to Tor just after Tom Doherty decided to publish the first Wheel of Time book. Even my own editor didn’t know I was writing The Magic of Recluce. But Tor liked it and gave me the same cover artist (Darrell Sweet) at a time when big fantasy books were taking off. I couldn’t have planned the timing. I was just working like hell trying to sell enough to become a full-time author. And sometimes luck goes the other way, as with The Green Progression, which I thought was the worst-selling hardcover Tor ever published, but turned out to be only the second-worst, which was why there wasn’t a sequel, even though it got some good reviews.

The bottom line is simple. You can’t be anything you dream, and if you want to succeed in the field where you have ability, and keep succeeding, you’ll have to work harder than you thought possible on the abilities you do have for longer than you think possible… and even then, you’ll likely need a bit of luck.

And, of course, there’s the one in a million case, where a lucky bastard makes it big without doing anything and certainly not working as hard as you did, but do you really want to gamble on being able to do it that way?

The Unseen Implications

When Putin ordered partial military mobilization on September 21st, he also issued a directive stating that all organizations, including international companies, must conduct military registration of their staff, assist with delivering the summons from the military to their employees, ensure the delivery of equipment to assembly points or military units, and provide buildings, communications, land plots, transport and other material means to support the war.

Effectively, that means that international companies operating in Russia are now obliged to assist the Kremlin’s war mobilization by helping conscript soldiers and equip the army. Currently, U.S. companies employ between 250,000 and 700,000 people in Russia, those numbers differing by who has compiled them.

Interestingly enough, I’ve seen nothing about this declaration in U.S. major media or by any candidates running in the upcoming mid-term election. That doesn’t mean someone didn’t publish it, but the fact that U.S. companies operating in Russia are practically and legally required to support the war effort against Ukraine doesn’t seem to be a priority.

Among other things, complying with the law could make those companies and their employees at least theoretically liable for committing war crimes, not that anyone is ever going to prosecute political leaders over the Ukraine-Russian conflict.

While a significant number of U.S. companies have curtailed operations in Russia, comparatively few have fully pulled out, which means that most of them could be required to support the Russian war effort.

Why hasn’t either political party addressed the issue? Could it be that too many U.S. companies are heavily invested in Russia and that, if they pulled out, the economic losses could be sizeable and that the Russians would simply seize the assets permanently, as they already have in a number of cases?

So why have U.S. companies invested so much there? Because the profits outweigh the immorality of supporting a tottering economy of a human-rights abusing dictatorship?

That couldn’t be, could it?

Except that, as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” because that’s exactly what major U.S. corporations did in Germany in the years leading up to World War II, and even well into the war.

So… give it some careful thought when you see all the corporate ads declaring how patriotic and caring for the American way they are. But then again, hasn’t the American way become getting the most bucks any way you can?

The Extremes in Everything

Almost everyone notices and deplores the polarization and extremism in politics today in the United States, but there’s more to that trend than merely in the political arena.

As I’ve noted before, there’s extremism in the environmental field, ranging from those who want to burn coal and use more fossil fuels because they believe more power and more industrial and consumer production will improve life and that’s more important than environmental “purity. On the other side are the environmental purists who want no power from fossil fuels or nuclear fission, and only from renewable sources. Both are crazy, because uncontrolled fossil fuel use will create massive environmental impacts and could eventually render the planet uninhabitable for humans, while purely renewable and passive solar can’t solve the energy needs of society, and large-scale solar panel and battery-stored power use will create considerable environmental damage, possibly even on the scale of strip-mined coal.

On the social front, the conflicts are everywhere, from Black Lives Matter and those even more extreme on the far left to the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and other white supremacists on the far right. Then there are the cultural wars over pronouns, identity politics, and history. There’s the struggle over various aspects of education, most of which result in dumbing down the ability of students to read, write, calculate, and, most importantly, to think.

Then there’s the war over how far freedom of speech goes – or should go – where the extremists in both parties, but predominantly on the right, want the freedom to shout out their “truths,” even when those “truths” are fact-proven, bald-faced lies, but the extremists violently, even physically, oppose those who try to rein them in.

And in all these conflicts, the extremists on both sides have no interests in practical, middle-of-the-road solutions, because they see their “truths” as absolutes that cannot be compromised.

Yet the greatest freedom for the greatest number requires compromise. So does the continuation of a high-tech civilization. Not that the “purists” seem to care about either freedom [at least anyone else’s freedom] or civilization.

False Fearmongering

I keep getting emails from the far right that scream “the Socialists are coming” or “left wing terrorists threaten Trump supporters” or “Hollywood is trying to buy Congress” or “Stop Political Persecution by DOJ” or “Keep the FBI out of Your House.”

All of them are scare tactics that can’t or won’t come true.

But if I sent out a political email that said, “Vote Against the Religious Jihadists Who Destroyed U.S. Women’s Freedoms!” I’d be considered an unhinged exaggerator at best and a hatemonger at worst.

And yet, that email I can’t send would be more accurate than all the rightwing scare tactics that currently fill the internet and infosphere.

Seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholics (or 6 ½ if you consider that Gorsuch was raised Catholic and now professes to be Anglican), and six of the seven effectively voted to take away a woman’s control of her own body.

That wasn’t a scare tactic. It already happened… and it seems like eighty percent of Americans have forgotten that our Supreme Court is dominated by members of a minority ultra-conservative belief that wants to return American women to being broodmares.

Inflation will come and go, and even if it doesn’t immediately subside, it doesn’t take your freedoms; it just raises the cost of living. As for the “socialists coming,” the members of the so-called left wing in the United States would qualify as centrists in most first world democratic societies. I certainly don’t call investigating the theft of government documents and classified materials “political persecution,” and no one else should either. And I don’t see that the FBI will be breaking into everyone’s house, possibly the local police in certain communities, but not the FBI, if for no other reason than there aren’t enough FBI agents to come anywhere close to the number required.

Yet a vast number of Americans will vote based on unrealistic fears, rather than against the political party who appointed American religious fanatics to the Supreme Court, fanatics who make no secret about their desire to reduce personal freedoms even more, based on a faith practiced by a minority of the American people.

“Free” Stuff?

Over just a twenty-four hour period earlier this week, I received emails declaring that I had “won” an iPhone14 Pro, a Pfizer Treatment, a $5000 Shell gas card, a Ninja food processer, a Zempire tent, a Craftsman generator, a Yeti cooler, a Ryobi lawn mower, a “Hobby Lobby” reward, a Titleist TSi3 Driver, a Traeger Grill Timberline XL, and a $500 Delta Airlines Gift Card.

If I responded to any of these “winning” notices, I can guarantee that I won’t have won something for nothing, and that, most likely, they’re all scams to get hold of personal information and my money or tie me into a long-term contract of some sort. I also can’t believe that they’re “misguided” marketing ploys, since there are only two companies on that list from which that I’ve ever purchased goods or services.

That doesn’t include the 50-100 political solicitations (daily) for campaign contributions, from both political parties and from one independent candidate, each of which declares that the Republic will fall without my donations and that the need is urgent, because the other side has or is marshalling more funds.

Even though my spam filter rejects/collects somewhere over 300 messages a day, it doesn’t catch another 100-150.

All of this says a great deal about the United States, and most of what it says is anything but favorable.

What strikes me most is not only the volume of these pleas and offers, but that the more “commercial” spam appeals must be effective at separating a considerable number of people from their money, because even internet bots take some effort, time, and equipment to spew out such a volume of fraudulent offers.

All this “free” stuff also plays to the insatiable appetite of American for something they don’t have to pay for, which is exactly why we have inflation at a recent high and far too many people blaming the politicians instead of themselves.

The Learning Gap

College professors today are facing an ever-increasing number of students who seem either unable or unwilling to learn.

In practical terms, there are only three basic ways to learn: reading, listening, and doing. All learning comes from these, either separately or in combination with the others.

The current generation entering college has grown up with computers, cell phones, Google, and social media. They’re a Google away from any specific fact. Their attention is fixed on their cell phone, and they’d rather be on the cell phone than doing almost anything else – even sex, according to some studies. And fewer and fewer of them read, either for school or pleasure.

The result of this devil’s brew is that the majority can’t read or write that well. Because of social media’s constant interruption and attraction, they also can’t focus or concentrate that effectively, and more and more of them show ADHD symptoms. They’re so used to visual or audio-visual stimulation that they can’t listen well enough to process information aurally. Nor can they concentrate enough to remember anything that the cell phone or social media doesn’t pound into their skulls.

All retained skills or knowledge require memory at some level, and STEM fields and music, as well as others, simply can’t be mastered without learning and retaining facts and procedures. A number of professors have remarked on the inability of students to retain knowledge and mental process skills. On one day students show they understand the matter or skills being discussed or demonstrated, but within a day or two, they recall or retain little, even when they’ve demonstrated the first steps the day before.

What’s missing? The ability to focus for any period of time and concentrate on material and skills one doesn’t know. That ability is also required for actual thinking.

Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that the United States, despite its wealth and size, can’t produce enough high-level professionals in STEM fields? Or that the drop-out rate in music and other information intensive programs has increased over the years?

Or that more and more people in the United States believe simplistic slogans that can’t be supported by facts.