Archive for January, 2023

The Great Multiplier

A while back, I made the observation that technology is, of itself, neither good nor evil, but that its basic function, whether intended or not, is as a multiplier. In warfare, technology multiplies the force wielded by an individual or a group of individuals; it multiplies the distances from which one can strike and the impact of that strike. In transportation, it multiplies how far and how fast one can travel. In communications, technology allows the transfer of more information almost instantly [at least on our planet] to more people.

But there’s one aspect of technology that’s seldom mentioned, and that’s the impact not only on the person or people affected by the technology, but also on the individual using the technology, where often technology multiplies the ability to do harm and the ability to avoid being caught or punished for that harm..

Donald Trump effectively mobilized somewhere between thirty thousand and a hundred thousand protesters (depending on where people were counted and by whom) on January 6th, from all across the nation, and more than a thousand actually stormed the Capitol, of whom more than 700 so far have been arrested and charged, with most being convicted or pleading guilty.

The problem with technology, in the case of Trump and others, is that while technology multiplies their abilities, it fails to multiply their accountability. In fact, in the case of Trump, his uses of technology has made it difficult to enforce any accountability.

Con men and swindlers can commit thefts from places where they can’t be discovered, let alone prosecuted. Cyber-bullying among teenagers has become endemic, and definitely contributes to increases in teen suicide. Trolls can badger and harass people with little fear of either retaliation or repercussion.

Functioning societies fall into two categories – autocracies and those based on popular trust, generally but not exclusively democracies. But technology is increasingly being used in ways that isolate people and create greater mistrust of any one who is different. Because isolation and mistrust undermine governments, one of the questions facing democracies is how to stop the increasing misuse of technology, because, skeptic that I am, I sincerely doubt that the people who are using technology to harm others are going to stop of their own free will. Trump and Putin certainly aren’t, nor are all the others.

Why So Little Gets Done in Congress

The current “popular” reason why so little gets done in Congress is the wide polarization between the Democrats and Republicans, and that’s certainly a major factor, but I’d submit that there are other reasons that are just as important, if not more so.

The first is that the benefits of doing anything for the public good always take time to happen and often longer for people to recognize and appreciate them, while the negative impacts usually recognized and trumpeted widely and instantly by those affected. That’s why it took decades for legislation eliminating leaded gasoline and lead-based paint to be enacted. Lead in gasoline was a cheaper way of allowing gasoline refiners to market lower octane gasoline that worked in cars. Without using lead, refiners needed more highly refined and/or other more expensive additives. The same was true of lead paint. The benefits of “deleading” were spread across society, but benefitted the poor the most, while the costs were concentrated across a comparative handful of companies and industries, all of which had greater wealth and political power.

Dealing with environmental issues has run into the same difficulties.

Another problem is that some problems have no “good” solutions, because any financially and physically workable system will hurt many innocents. Yet the longer such problems persist without being addressed, the worse the problem becomes.

Immigration is one of those proems facing the United States. First, there’s no financial, military, and physically feasible way to halt all illegal immigration without becoming a police state along the lines of East Germany or North Korea. Walls don’t work, and deporting millions of border-crossers on a continuing basis becomes a huge financial and resource burden. Much of the problem lies in the fact that for many would-be immigrants, ANYTHING is better than remaining where they are, but to change those conditions in Central America and elsewhere would require essentially invading and rebuilding the socio-political structures in those lands, which would require resources and an effort that neither the regimes of those countries nor the American taxpayers would support. A “middle-ground” of allowing certain immigrants who would benefit the United States and absolutely rejecting the others would mean rejecting innocent people who merely want a chance at a better life. At the same time, failing to address the problem with clear-cut policies and laws will insure that the problem will worsen.

And the bottom line is that most politicians wish to avoid pain at a time when workable solutions will cause immediate pain for those with resources and votes.

False Equations

One of the traits common to politics today, but especially to the Party of No, otherwise misnamed as the Republican Party, is a continuing failure to understand and acknowledge context and factual accuracy, and to equate minor transgressions with major criminal offenses.

Donald Trump knowingly and willfully transported thousands of official documents from the White House, of which more than three hundred were classified, many highly classified. He insisted, contrary to established law, that they were his. He claimed, falsely, that he could and had declassified them. After months and months of attempting to reclaim them, with Trump’s attorneys falsely claiming that all documents had been returned, the Justice Department executed a search warrant and discovered even more documents.

To date, a few handfuls of classified documents, if that, dating from Biden’s time as Vice President have been found in an office he used after leaving the Vice Presidency and in his home. These were turned over to the archives and later to the Justice Department. Biden didn’t claim they belonged to him and has cooperated fully.

Trump did not and still hasn’t, yet the Republicans and many of the media are equating the situations as roughly equal.

They’re anything but equal.

Once upon a time, I was staff director for a Congressman, and even with a staff of twelve or so, the amount of paperwork was staggering. Now, admittedly, we handled no classified documents in the office, although I did have a security clearance. The Executive Office employs roughly 1,800 employees, with slightly less than five hundred directly under the White House chief of staff, and the paper flow to the President and the Vice President is staggering.

Even under the best of circumstances, with that much paperwork, it’s practically impossible to absolutely assure that a document here and there doesn’t get filed in the wrong place or sticks to another file and ends up misplaced, particularly during a transition period or when leaving office. That’s a far different kettle of fish, as the saying goes, from the deliberate and willful theft of thousands of documents.

In addition, the Republicans are asking for “visitor logs” of people who visited Biden’s private residence, despite the fact that such logs don’t exist for private residences and have never been required – and that such a request was never even suggested for Donald Trump. But then, Trump ended the policy of visitor logs to the White House, which Biden restored. So the Republicans are demanding of Biden what they didn’t of Trump, compounding their intellectual and political dishonesty, not to mention emphasizing their hypocrisy.

There’s a huge difference between the situations, but what can you expect from a political party that denies election results and is indebted to Trump?

As for the media… as usual, they’re in it for the headlines, and accuracy is either an afterthought or irrelevant, especially for conservative media.

American Gladiators

The instant cardiac arrest of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was so jolting that it even stopped an NFL game that might affect the outcome of the Superbowl.

Personally, I’m surprised that the NFL hasn’t had more severe and near-fatal injuries.

Because passers and receivers have become more accurate, it’s become obvious to defensive backs that the most effective way to break up a pass is to hit the receiver full-force the instant he catches the ball. This timing is so close that I’ve seen more than a few cases where the receiver has been effectively tackled even before his fingers could touch the ball and where the officials didn’t call a penalty. And on more and more pass routes, the interaction between the receiver and the defensive back resembles a wrestling match run at full speed.

And that’s from someone who doesn’t watch all that much football any more. In fact, I haven’t seen a complete game in more than thirty years.

This sort of split-second brutality has become more and more of a feature of the game, especially for quarterbacks and receivers. A number of NFL teams are on their second-string, if not third-string, quarterbacks this year. In the years long ago when I did watch professional football a bit more intently, I don’t recall the plethora of injured quarterbacks I read about now.

While Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday was regarded as satire and overkill when it came out in 1999, what happened to Damar Hamlin is exactly what Stone was pointing out about professional football – that it’s a barbaric, scuzzy, gladiatorial battle of blood, sweat and tears that grinds down the players to powder and rewards them with fleeting fame… and possibly enough money to sustain some of them in a physically diminished life after football.

Perfection Press Sanitizing

One of the aspects of the religio-social culture of the prevailing faith where I live is an emphasis on perfection, particularly as it applies to women and their appearance and to their families. There’s a definite pressure on women to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family with the perfect number of children (5).

This obviously takes a toll on women, seeing as women, especially married women, in Utah have a higher percentage of use of anti-depressants than in any other state, and a third of all women in Utah suffer depression, more than twice the rate for men.

I’ve been walking for my exercise for the nearly thirty years I’ve lived in Cedar City, and I always see women, particularly younger women, usually jogging, often pushing strollers, at all hours. I see a few men, but I’d estimate that there are ten women for every man I see, and almost all the men I see appear to be around my age. The women also appear to have more gym memberships.

This need to present a façade of perfection permeates everything. Even death. Utah also has one of the highest rates of teen suicide, but that never gets much press. When a teenager dies in Utah, and no cause of death is listed, there’s a high probability that it was suicide.

Last week, in the neighboring community of Enoch, the owner of a local insurance agency killed his wife, his mother-in-law, his five children, and then committed suicide, and all the news stories mentioned how wonderful a family they had been, and what a tragedy it was. Except, everything clearly wasn’t that wonderful. Under questioning, the Enoch police chief mentioned that there had been three calls over the past several years about “domestic disturbances,” but that there had been no charges. It also turned out that the wife had filed for divorce and that her husband had been served divorce papers just a few days before the shooting. Most of these details either didn’t appear in the local press or were buried.

This is scarcely new. Several years ago, two teenage males were killed in a stabbing incident here in Cedar City. The only news released was that the deaths occurred, and that the matter was “resolved.” More than a few cases of embezzlement have been hushed up as well as other incidents, and those are only the ones I know about.

But everything is perfect here in Deseret.

An Interesting Gift

As all my family, and many of my readers know, I have a penchant for vests, both dressy and every day. So it was no surprise when I received black wool winter vest from a family member – delayed more than a week by the recent storm that savaged the mid-section of the United States. At first glance, it appeared to be a slightly dressier version of an older vest.

Then I noticed the glossy, multi-colored and professionally printed card attached to the vest, topped with the words, CONCEALED CARRY. Directly below that was the image of a revolver on top of a U.S. flag, beneath which were the words, in smaller caps, SECOND AMMENDMENT [spelled exactly that way], followed by a paragraph declaring that the maker/seller of the vest supported the right of citizens to bear arms and to carry licensed and concealed firearms.

A second and more careful inspection of the vest revealed pockets and straps inside designed to hold two revolvers – one on each side. Above the left-hand inside straps was a machine embroidered six-bullet-point list for safe use of the straps.

It’s rather unlikely I’ll be using the vest for its apparently intended purpose, particularly since I don’t have a concealed carry permit, but, since it is a handsome vest, I’ll certainly wear it.

But what puzzles me the most is how a fairly well-known retailer/manufacturer could go to all of the trouble of designing, manufacturing, and selling such a vest – and then fail to spell “amendment” correctly.

Or aren’t most of those who would buy the vest able to tell that “AMMENDMENT” was misspelled, or does it matter in the slightest to them? In this regard, I have noticed that many of those who cite the Second Amendment most vociferously have the least understanding of what it means, legally and constitutionally, so why would a mere misspelling matter in the slightest? Just as a certain segment of the House Republicans apparently have no real understanding of their responsibility to govern and how to exercise that responsibility.

Climate Change – A Few Thoughts

While over 70% of Americans now believe that climate change is real, only about 50% of Republicans do, not that the discrepancy between Democrats and Republicans surprises me, given that Democrats are, in general, much more prone to accept “new” findings (even those that turn out not to be true or accurate), while Republicans tend to be older and more conservative, and conservatives are much slower to change their views on anything, even when the facts are overwhelming.

But, in one way, that still surprises me, because age does offer a perspective that youth lacks. When I lived in New Hampshire some thirty years ago, just above Newfound Lake, the lake froze so solid that every winter the lake was dotted with little ice-fishing huts, and even stake trucks were routinely driven on the ice. Now, one of my daughters reports that over several recent years, the lake didn’t ice over at all. The spotty local records indicate that there’s no record of the lake not freezing over before 2000.

I’ve lived in Cedar City for almost thirty years, and in the first ten years, we almost invariably had periods of sub-zero weather [Fahrenheit]. The infrequent snowstorms were usually severe (ten to twenty-five inches), and the local museum has a plethora of pictures illustrating just that. Until about five or six years ago, we never got rain in winter. In just the last few years, we’ve been getting winter rain, when before all the precipitation was snow. Now the infrequent storms are even less frequent, and the moisture content usually far less, and for the last week, we’ve had rain, finally turning to snow as I write this.

Whole sections of pine forests in the mountains are covered with beetle-killed pines. Why? Because, it turns out, that what kills the beetles most effectively is weeks of sub-zero winter weather, and we haven’t had anything like that in the three decades I’ve lived here.

Now, the recollections of an older man should be taken with caution, unless the statistics back them up, which in this case they do. But now that the statistics are out there, why do so many conservative older people fail to see the trends?