Archive for May, 2023

Red Light… Really?

Over the last week in this part of Utah, there have been at least five serious accidents reported (and there may have been more that didn’t appear in the local media) caused by someone running a red light, with an impact on not only two vehicles, but others as well. This past week, there was “only” one fatality, but there easily could have been more.

In the same period, I’ve also seen, while driving, three other instances where someone either ran a red light or entered the intersection as the light turned red… and what I’ve seen has to understate the frequency, because I doubt I average even a half hour a day driving. Fortunately, in those three cases, no accident ensued.

I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but such collisions are definitely becoming more frequent, and not just in Utah, I suspect.

Anger may well be one of the causes behind some of these accidents or near accidents, given that we’re also seeing more and more incidents of road rage.

And arrogance is definitely a factor, the idea that the driver is more important than anyone else, which was certainly the case in one accident here in Cedar City, where the driver was driving on an expired and revoked license.

But the largest factor, I’m convinced, is that too many people are trying to do too many things too quickly and aren’t paying enough attention to the road. Multitasking is often an excellent way to screw up all those activities/chores/etc., that you’re trying to do at the same time, and it’s especially dangerous when driving… and even more dangerous when the driver is late and trying to catch up.

All of which beg the question – why are so many people so angry, so arrogant, so hurried, and so distracted while driving at excessive speeds a vehicle that can instantly become a killing machine? And so blind or indifferent to how deadly their vehicle can be?

It’s almost as if they’re saying, “A red light, that doesn’t really mean anything.”

The Real Split

What is the real defining split between conservatives and liberals? According to a recent article in Scientific American, research from the University of Pennsylvania indicates the fundamental difference is that “Conservatives tend to believe that strict divisions are an inherent part of life. Liberals do not.”

So… in practice this means that conservatives tend to be hierarchal absolutists, seeing all the elements of life as either black or white, and dividing elements of life into ranked categories with absolute bounds, while liberals are more likely to see things in shades of gray and to minimize categorical differences.

That’s why conservatives see gender as binary, despite the fact that every year babies are born with indeterminate sexual organs. And there’s been a fight over this as well, with the liberal side saying that one in a thousand children are born intersex, while the conservatives cite figures a hundred times smaller. But the plain fact is that there is a spectrum between genders, regardless of the numbers, and this spectrum has been found in 65,000 different species of animals as well.

The problem created by the conservatives is that they want to impose absolute rigidity, which is a form of despotism, because people are different, and in the United States there are definite sub-cultures, even within the smallest of least populated states, so that excessively rigid rules and laws are too restrictive and actually generate conflict.

On the other side, liberals too often fail to recognize that a working society simply can’t physically have and maintain the scope of laws and regulations to suit everyone perfectly, and there do have to be some limits.

Too Few Limits?

When I was a young man, too many years ago, mass shootings were almost unknown, and never occurred at schools. Crude and lewd language was largely kept to back alleys or behind closed doors. Politicians – with a very few exceptions – shaded the truth rather than obliterated it.

Statistics show that crime spiked in the 1970-90 period and most crime rates, including murder, are at the same level as in 1950, although total numbers are up because the U.S. population has almost doubled since then.

The biggest differences I see involve the loss of societal and social limits on personal behavior. From what I can tell, most towns or cities over 50,000 people have problems with homeless people invading public spaces and even private commercial spaces, to the point that, in a growing number of cities, business owners have to clean up human filth and debris every morning before opening. With the outcries about past inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, governments have effectively abdicated most responsibility for either adequate treatment or lodging of those individuals, while dumping the problems these individuals create on the rest of society, as well as imposing additional costs on local governments.

We’re also seeing more drivers ignoring speed limits and running red lights, a significant increase in retail shoplifting, as well as increasingly violent disruptions at public meetings, and a growing lack of civility at all levels of society, even in Congress where shouting and heckling the President – something once considered unthinkable – has become common. College students organize protests and harass and heckle speakers for having differing beliefs. Racist demonstrations have become common.

One of my grandchildren attends a public middle school. In her class is a young male who repeatedly disrupts the class, who has attacked classmates violently, and upon one occasion, assaulted another smaller and weaker withdrawn student who’s never said or done anything offensive, and it took three teachers to remove him. Despite suspensions, the behavior has continued for the entire year. The administration appears helpless, and the parents won’t do anything, except insist that their son remain in school – no matter what the cost is to the other students and to their learning. This is hardly an isolated instance, but it’s the result of a society that refuses to say, “Some behavior is unacceptable, no matter what your background or problems are.”

All of these are the result of a societal failure to enforce socially, rather than legally, a norm of acceptable behavior.

While societies need rules, without also an accepted code of social behavior, laws are insufficient to maintain order – unless you want an iron-fisted autocracy.

And if there’s a continued growth in the lack of self-restraint, the U.S. will end up either in anarchy or under a right-wing autocracy, because neither the left nor the right appears willing to call out bad behavior and incivility on the part of its own partisans, and the right is perfectly willing to legislate controls over those who disagree with their perception of the ideal society. And neither seems able or willing to reach a consensus on acceptable social and public behavior.

Trump the GLOAT

Donald Trump should be officially recognized as the Greatest Liar of All Time – the GLOAT to end all GLOATs.

After all, almost every sentence contains a lie or misrepresentation of some sort.

Back in 2017, Carole McGranahan in the American Ethnologist journal stated, “Donald Trump is different”…and the most “accomplished and effective liar” thus far to have ever participated in American politics.

But Trump went on from there. Fact-checkers from The Washington Post, the Toronto Star, and CNN compiled data on “false or misleading claims”, and “false claims”, respectively. The Post reported 30,573 false or misleading claims in four years, an average of more than 21 per day.

But Trump hasn’t slowed down. In his recent New Hampshire Town Hall, he reiterated all the old lies and added a few more. Although he was convicted of sexual battery and defamation in the recent E. Jean Carroll case, Trump claimed “I don’t know her. I never met her.” There’s one large problem with that. Four years ago, The New York Times published a picture of Carroll and Trump and their spouses conversing.

Trump claimed he built hundreds of miles of border walls and finished the job. He did neither. His administration repaired existing walls, but only added 47 miles of new walls.

He also declared that he “offered” 10,000 National Guard troops to stop the January 6th violence. Every single figure who had authority to request or authorize such troops, as well as extensive documentation, refuted that claim.

Another lie was the statement that the U.S. has provided $171 billion in aid to Ukraine and that we’ve sent so much that the U.S. is out of ammunition. The current aid total is $37 billion, and the U.S. certainly not out of ammunition.

And then, when Caitlin Collins had the courage to point out his untruths, Trump had the nerve to say, “You’re a nasty person.” Nasty for pointing out that he lied?

But then, what else can you expect from the GLOAT?

Just a Thought

The United States is facing a debt ceiling crisis, and if the U.S. does begin to default on its fiscal obligations, the economic results will be far from pretty.

The Republicans have passed legislation in the House of Representatives that supposedly addresses the problem. In fact, it doesn’t, at least not in any way that won’t create even greater chaos than a default will, because the spending cuts required by that bill would amount to an average cut of 22% in virtually all non-defense government programs.

No responsible Administration can willingly accept such cuts, which would fall on the poorest of Americans and would also affect infrastructure and environmental programs, agriculture, air travel, and health and safety programs in a number of areas.

So why did the Republicans make such a proposal?

Some would say that it’s to force those “free-spending Democrats” back to financial sanity, or at least to negotiate for less federal spending.

I’m not so sure about that. The Republicans were perfectly happy to raise the debt ceiling in a Trump administration when the national debt was significantly increased by the Trump tax cuts, most of which went to the wealthy.

Could it… might it… just possibly be to break the economy temporarily because that’s the only way a Republican candidate could win the presidency?

If the Biden Administration agrees to any significant cuts in non-defense programs, in order to avoid a default, there will be significant negative economic impacts. If it doesn’t agree to heavy cuts, and the Republicans hold fast, there will be a default and negative economic impacts.

Either way, the economy tanks, and Biden gets blamed.

Pure brutal genius, and the poor dumb American public will dump the entire blame on Biden, and that poor dumb American public will get what it deserves. Unfortunately, so will those of us who saw the possibility coming.

Merely a Liar?

One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths is his ability to tell blatant falsehoods in all manner of ways, but convincingly and often entertainingly.

Because he can do so, is always willing to do so, and because he has absolutely no regard for accuracy, this poses an enormous problem for his opponents – and for the future of the United States. It also raises the question of whether he even knows what the facts are, or what they mean, although whether he does or not is largely irrelevant because it doesn’t affect his actions or those of his followers.

This considerable ability on the part of the former president depends on basic vulnerabilities in human character – most people tend to judge people more favorably when they can identify with them, and we all tend to identify more with people who tell us what we want to believe and who appeal to us by raising our greatest concerns and posturing as the enemy of people and ideas we fear or dislike.

We don’t like facts that threaten our beliefs or self-image, and we’re more likely to support those who reinforce our beliefs and prejudices because there’s a socio-genetic predilection against the outsider or the “other” and a desire to belong that can override almost everything else [why else would so many people believe in religions and faiths that are so patently ludicrous?]. We also generally prefer the simplest answer to the most complex problem, even when that simple answer is totally wrong.

Trump is a master at exploiting these human weaknesses, possibly one of the most effective social manipulators since Adolf Hitler, and, frankly, he’s likely more effective because his hatred of those he dislikes is less obvious and he can use humor, often barbed, masterfully in belittling others.

And, most of all, his opponents underestimate him, partly because they also underestimate the need to belong motivating his supporters and the disdain those supporters have for what they regard as “the establishment.”

Telling his supporters that he lies won’t change anything, not when they have a vested interest in believing those lies. Parading facts that debunk his lies and misrepresentations won’t sway them, because they see those facts as either lies or irrelevant.

Yet his opponents continue to assume that most people will be reasonable and thoughtful and see through the lies and misrepresentations and that facts and accuracy will prevail, despite the fact that there’s no assurance at all of that.

Mage Wins Kentucky Derby

Really, did a magus or wizard win the storied horse race? Of course not, but from that headline alone (and yes, it was a real headline), a few might initially think so, but from the context, most people would fill in the blanks and figure out that a horse named Mage won the race.

The problem is that, today, in far too many areas, particularly law, economics, and politics, far too many Americans don’t know enough to put headlines, deepfakes, political statements, and economic news in the proper context. And it doesn’t help that various spin doctors and politicians, and even judges, are trying to distort or misrepresent the context.

A recent example of misleading political context is the Republican “Debt Ceiling” proposal, where the GOP claims that they’re only asking for a 1% cut in spending. Nope. They’re asking for a 1% percent cut from the fiscal year 2022 budget, and the country is now in FY2023, and the cuts will apply to FY2024 spending, which means that, because of the high inflation over the past two years, a wide range of cuts in both federal employment and spending will be required, because most Social Security and federal retiree programs and medical benefits cannot be cut, nor can most DOD spending. Since the GOP plan also insists on no new taxes, even on corporations paying no taxes, the cuts will affect lower-paid Americans, a wide range of non-defense spending and businesses supplying the government. Those substantial cuts will increase unemployment and decrease consumption and production to the extent that some economists [and not just “liberal” ones] have calculated that the result of the GOP proposal, if enacted, would result in greater economic damage than a failure to lift the debt ceiling.

The anti-abortion far right claims that they’re pro-life. They’re not, no matter what they think, because they refuse to see the problem in context. So far, the principal result of anti-abortion laws, not just in the United States, but around the world, is an increase in women’s death rates. The more restrictive the laws governing abortion, the higher the percentage of pregnant women dying or suffering permanent health damage, without any decrease in abortions. Already, in Texas, more women are suffering permanent health damage or death because, under Texas law, doctors can’t act to save them because they fear being sued or being sent to prison, even though their lives or long-term health are at risk, and even when the fetus wouldn’t survive. Currently, the U.S. has the highest maternal death rate of any first world nation, largely because of the impact of anti-abortion legislation. Further restrictions on abortion will make matters worse.

Seeing things in context means looking at the facts in real world context, not the pie-in-the-sky invented facts or facts skewed or misrepresented.


My father was a golfer, at one point a scratch golfer, who loved the game. I played golf occasionally until I was in my late twenties and a few times after that with my father, but I never saw much point to it. The fewest strokes to get a small ball hundreds of yards into a small hole… and then do it again seventeen more times? Now, I can appreciate the considerable strength, skill, and concentration it takes to be good at golf, but for me it’s pointless.

On the other hand, I played tennis moderately well until I was in my fifties, and enjoyed it, but I have to admit that, on an intellectual level, tennis is as pointless as golf. You have to hit a ball over a net into a certain area and keep doing it until you or your opponent fails to keep the ball in the court. Then you start all over again. But it wasn’t pointless to me because I enjoyed it.

The “point” to all this is that for something not to be pointless, you have to understand whatever it is – a sport, a game, an occupation – and you have to like it and/or gain something from it.

The other day I saw a reader review of Isolate, calling it “Pointless,” and from what little the reviewer wrote, I’m sure the book seemed pointless and plotless to him, because he saw the descriptions and conversations as meaning nothing. For him, the “point” of a book is clearly action. That’s what he wants and likes.

But it was also clear that he had no understanding that the basis for “action” in the real world lies in the thoughts in the minds of people with power or people who wish to obtain power, wealth, or objects or people they covet – or possibly those who wish to deny, power, wealth, or objects… or even freedom.

The current war in Ukraine didn’t really start when Russian troops crossed the borders and started firing; it began when Vladimir Putin decided he wanted to “restore” the old USSR/Russian empire. World War II didn’t begin when Hitler invaded Poland; it began when the conservative German political aristocracy thought they could control Hitler and made him chancellor in an attempt to further their own ends.

To the action-lovers, the thoughts and conversations and political machinations that spur the actions are largely irrelevant and often “pointless.” For me, however, what’s pointless in a book are endless reactions to an undefined cause, or one not understood, possibly because I’ve seen how the failure to understand the “non-action” causes leads those reacting to make even worse mistakes.

Think Again

The other day, Representative Tom Emmer – the House Majority Whip and the number three Republican in the House of Representatives – made a statement that, on the surface, doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, to the effect that the GOP budget/debt ceiling bill enacted by the House would impose exactly the same federal government spending levels next year as in this year. In addition, it would limit future spending growth to one percent per year.

Unhappily, if one actually thinks this through, which Emmer either did not or doesn’t want anyone else to, there are major economic and legal problems with such a spending cap.

First off, the federal government employs not quite three million people in civilian capacities and has 1.4 million service members on active duty. Pay raises have already been enacted for these people. In addition, the pay of military retirees is automatically indexed to inflation, as are all Social Security benefits. Active duty military pay and benefits last year ran over $51 billion, and military pay has been boosted by 4.7% for 2023 – which will require an additional $3.3 billion.

Likewise, the current annual civilian payroll for the federal government is roughly $200 billion, and the increase in payroll for this year will be $10 billion. Currently, 67 million Americans receive almost one trillion dollars in Social Security benefits annually, and benefits are automatically indexed to inflation, and next year’s mandated increase is roughly $90 billion.

The government also purchases hundreds of billions of goods and services, from paper clips to multi-billion-dollar aircraft carriers. If inflation stays even at 5%, holding the budget at the same level would result in an actual decrease in purchasing far more than just 5% because of the increases already mandated in pay and benefits will leave less funding for all other government programs. Then add in the need to replenish the amount of military equipment we’ve sent to Ukraine, and a wide range of other government programs will have to be decreased.

I could list budget category after budget category, but they’d all show the same thing.

Now, it’s true that inflation increases people’s incomes, but because federal income tax brackets are indexed, tax revenues don’t increase nearly as much as does the cost of government.

But the problems with the GOP proposal would only get worse every year. Why? Because for only three years out of the last 30 has inflation been below 1%, and the total inflation since 1993 has been 109%. All of that means that, under the Republican proposal, almost every federal program except Defense, Social Security, medicare, medicaid, and federal retiree benefits would face 15-20% cuts in less than five years, with greater cuts occurring each succeeding year.

So… the GOP proposal, if you think again, is far less reasonable than it sounds.

By the same token, Democrats can’t just keep everything as it is, because the mandated increases, and merely keeping up with inflation, will increase budget deficits. So they either have to cut back in some places or increase taxes, so some combination of both, to avoid even more inflation.

Personally, given that half of the current inflation was caused by increases in corporate profits, while the real incomes of more than half the population didn’t keep up with inflation. I’d favor higher corporate taxes, with no loopholes, and higher taxes on incomes above, say $2 million, and much higher taxes on incomes above $10 million.

Yet, from what I can see, neither side is looking at the problem rationally.