Archive for June, 2023

Why Is Government So Big?

The simple answer is: Because too many people are greedy, careless, self-centered, and stupid.

Virtually every government function is there to protect people from themselves, because while James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” men and women are far from being angels.

We have a large bureaucracy devoted to regulating and policing the food industry because too many food producers were producing contaminated, spoiled or tainted food, or food with unhealthy or poisonous additives, or using preservatives that essentially poisoned consumers, largely because it was cheaper, and that increased their profits.

We have safety standards for vehicles for similar reasons. We have air pollution regulations because industrial fumes and exhaust once made the air so toxic it killed people, and water pollution regulations because rivers were once sewers that could also catch fire. We have drug regulations so that pharmacists don’t poison people. We have building standards and inspectors so that houses and buildings don’t collapse, as thousands of structures did in Turkey in the recent earthquake, apparently partly because corrupt inspectors were bought off to allow buildings to be constructed that didn’t meet the building standards.

The list of regulatory agencies seems endless, but that’s because every advance in technology also advances the possibilities for the greedy and the unscrupulous to prey on those without the knowledge or means to protect themselves. And because there are so many unprincipled individuals, those regulatory agencies also have to devote resources to assure that they’re not being corrupted as well.

Extensive government isn’t as necessary in lower-tech, low population density societies, where a failure of a building or a bridge harms only a few people. But in our society today, failure of a single bridge can kill hundreds, and damage an entire region economically.

Another reason for regulation is to make sure that cost-cutting doesn’t jeopardize safety.

An aircraft design with flaws, such as the 737-Max, can kill hundreds. Boeing presented the 737-Max to the FAA as a slightly updated version of the 737, rather than one with considerable modifications, in order to reduce the regulatory costs and possible delays.

A design flaw in a mass-produced automobile, such as Ford Pinto, which led to hundreds of deaths, could have been minimized or eliminated by the installation of a plastic buffer pad that cost all of one dollar. The buffer, which Ford tested, was rejected for cost reasons, saving Ford about $4 million over the production years before the gas tank problem was fixed.

So… if you want smaller government, you have two options – accept a far more risky and likely shorter life or find a way to make your fellow humans more responsible and less greedy, careless, and self-centered.

Personally, I’m not fond of the first option, and I find the second a practical impossibility, which leaves me with reluctant acceptance of large government.

The Writers’ Strike

The 2023 WGA strike is the labor dispute between the Writers Guild of America — representing 11,500 screenwriters — and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. It began at 12:01 a.m. PDT on May 2, 2023. Primarily, the strike is over pay and working conditions. The industry wants to cut down on costs by having smaller writers’ rooms (mini-rooms) or doing without them altogether and relying more on “gig” writers. This isn’t setting well with writers, given that writers only receive about 2% of the total revenues generated out of their work.

While it doesn’t affect me directly and personally, I certainly understand the struggle, because it’s symptomatic of more than just broadcast and cinema media, representing as it does the struggle between “creators” and “packagers.” This dichotomy doesn’t just exist in entertainment; it’s just more obvious there.

There have also been recent incidents in the “book” side of the F&SF industry, where it came out that Disney was refusing to pay royalties to authors whose books had been made into movies. I don’t have that particular problem, since none of my books have ever been turned into movies or television series, but some authors have, and the Disney incident is indicative of just how little corporate CEOs value the ideas and craft behind what they market.

At the same time, I suspect very few F&SF fiction writers make the kind of money that run-of-the mill screenwriters make, but then, we usually don’t have to operate under the deadlines that they do.

Authors published traditionally share certain concerns with the WGA writers, such as how the publishers (i.e., packagers) present their work. Indie authors who publish their own books have greater control over their presentation – but also take on a great deal more work.

I have mixed feelings about the WGA strike, except that I definitely share the strikers’ concerns that the industry “packagers” are minimizing the strikers’ contribution to the final productions, not that it’s anything new.

“One of These Things”

Many long years ago, when my children were much younger than my grandchildren currently are, they watched the original version of Sesame Street. Among other jingles I recall was one presenting four items to a song entitled “One of These Things” (Is Not Like the Others). The idea was for the youngsters watching to pick out the item that was different.

When the latest predictable Republican flail came up, this time about Hunter Biden, I wondered if any of those Republicans had watched Sesame Street. Probably not, because it was likely too liberal for their parents. But they should have because the vast majority of Republicans in Congress seem unable to make any sort of meaningful distinctions about anything.

They don’t see the difference between dangerous immigrants and those willing to work hard and obey the laws of the land. They don’t see the difference between involuntarily or unwittingly retaining a few classified documents and returning them as soon as they found out and deliberately taking and hiding hundreds, if not thousands of classified documents, and then justifying it by legal falsehoods. They don’t see the difference between paying taxes late in one or two years and bilking the government with falsified records for decades. They don’t see the difference between limited shading the truth and making over thirty-thousand false or misleading statements over an entire term.

They not only don’t see the difference, but they’re trying to prosecute Democrats for minor failings while blatantly ignoring massive disregard of the laws and longstanding U.S. traditions (like the peaceful transfer of power).

But if they reject the concept of knowing the difference as expressed on Sesame Street, because it’s too “liberal,” what about the concept as expressed in their favorite book – the Bible? The one that says:

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Nope… they even don’t follow their own holy book… except when it serves to oppress others in some fashion.

The Deadly Combination

Most people seem to like the combination of the internet and electronic communication, but what happens if that’s all you’ve got, and something goes wrong? And you can’t get a real person to even address the problem, no matter what you try?

Think that’s an unfounded worry? A skeptic’s dystopia that can’t happen?

Let me tell you about our struggle with a meal delivery service called Tovala, that delivers meals for quick preparation with a computerized oven/broiler. Weekly, you select what you want from the menu and the meals are delivered the following week.

Some six months ago, we signed up for a food delivery system from Tovala. While there were a few meals we didn’t care for, the system worked reasonably well, and it definitely cut down on meal preparation time.

But the warning signs were there early. In March, my wife asked the electronic system to skip a week. That was an option on the ordering schedule. The system took the instructions, but we still got and were billed for the delivery of another week’s worth of food.

When the university semester ended, and we had more time, we paused meal deliveries for the summer, an option available on the online ordering system. But the following Wednesday, we got another order. We persisted, sending an email to Tovala, asking to stop meal delivery service. But the next Wednesday, we got another delivery, for which we were billed, even though the Tovala system indicated that our orders had been suspended indefinitely.

I tried to call the company, but could only find one telephone number, which had a recording telling me to use the on-line service or email Tovala. We lodged a complaint by email and got a response saying that deliveries had been suspended. We emailed the customer service section of the credit card company asking that charges from Tovala not be honored, but there was no response to that.

We thought the problem had been resolved when, the next week, there was no delivery from Tovala. Except the following week, there was another delivery, for which we were billed. So, we finally got a real person on the line, but only from the credit card company – who informed us that there was no record of our request to stop payment to Tovala, but who promised to look into the matter.

That didn’t work, either, and the next week we got yet another shipment.

After another hour of internet searching, my wife finally found a number that connected to a real person. That real person insisted that the order hadn’t been cancelled. My wife persisted. The real person actually searched and discovered that, for some reason, my wife had two accounts, and that they’d cancelled the inactive one. My wife definitely never signed up for two accounts, and we never received two orders. In any event, the real person promised that both would be cancelled.

Finally, this week, we didn’t receive a shipment of food we didn’t want and hadn’t ordered. I’m still a bit worried that, despite it all, we might get a shipment next week.

But my question is: How many people are going to be overcharged, hurt, or worse by electronic/AI systems with no way to get to someone who can actually address the problems? We’ve spent hours dealing with this problem so that a company can save a little money, and it’s cost us not only time, but dollars for meals we weren’t around to eat, not to mention the waste of food.

So far as I can see, these systems are too often one way — cost saving for the company and endless hassles for the customer.


Yes, I know. There’s no such word as simplisticity, but there should be, because it’s a perfect word to describe false and simplistic comparisons between events or facts.

The GOP and the right have an amazing tendency to rely on simplisticity. Equating Trump’s deliberate and massive heist of classified documents to a handful of classified documents inadvertently kept by Pence and Biden or to conversational email references to classified subjects by Hillary Clinton is definitely simplisticity.

So is equating the January 6th armed uprising to peaceful protests.

Or equating Trump’s thirty thousand plus documented misstatements and lies to literally any other U.S. national political figure. Well… except for George Santos. Yet I’ve heard Republican after Republican dismiss Trump’s lies with the statement, “All politicians lie.” They may, but nowhere to the extent that Trump has and continues to lie.

Another area where simplisticity reigns is in arguments over taxes and tax policy. Those on the right cite statistics generally based on “taxable income” and percentage of taxes paid, or occasionally on proportion of taxable income generated by the wealthy and the percent of that income that’s taxed federally. The problem with that simplistic approach is that the majority of income held by the wealthiest Americans isn’t taxed or taxable under current tax codes. Likewise, because poorer families pay a greater percentage of their income in state, local, and Social Security taxes, comparing the percentage of income taxed based on federal income taxes misrepresents their tax burden.

Simplisticity isn’t new. I can recall from my childhood people saying that blacks were stupid or ignorant because they bought expensive cars and lived in run-down neighborhoods. At the time, I was young and didn’t realize that in some cities and areas, that was because of various restrictions, such as redlining, that made it impossible for them to own or rent houses in more upscale neighborhoods.

So, when you have a simple and popular view about something, it might be a good idea to ask whether it’s actually accurate… or just comforting simplisticity.

Saga of Recluce Chronology

Year 92 From the Forest (January 2024)

Year 101 Overcaptain (November 2024)

Year 103 Sub-Majer’s Challenge ( September (?) 2025)

Year 104 The Last of the First (2026 (?)

Year 410 Magi’i of Cyador

Year 418 Scion of Cyador

Year 801 Fall of Angels

Year 803 The Chaos Balance

Year 815 Arms-Commander

Year 825 Cyador’s Heirs

Year 833 Heritage of Cyador

Year 1075 The Mongrel Mage

Year 1076 Outcasts of Order

Year 1077 The Mage-Fire War

Year 1093 Fairhaven Rising

Year 1300 The Towers of the Sunset

Year 1590 The White Order

Year 1600 The Magic Engineer

Year 1605 Colors of Chaos

Year 1900 Natural Ordermage

Year 1903 Mage-Guard of Hamor

Year 2050 The Order War

Year 2110 Wellspring of Chaos

Year 2112 Ordermaster

Year 2250 The Magic of Recluce

Year 2255 The Death of Chaos

The years date from the founding of Cyad.

Those Most Hurt

The Republicans are absolutely right that the United States can’t keep up deficit spending running over seven percent per year, not without creating long-term inflation and a national debt whose interest could soon reach forty percent of annual federal government spending. But they’re wrong in how they want to deal with the problem. At a time when we have multi-millionaires and multi-billion-dollar corporations who pay little or no taxes and whose businesses are essentially partly subsidized by federal government income and healthcare supports, the Republicans want to cut funds for the poorest of Americans while cutting taxes on the richest and passing tax credits for them as well.

The Democrats, on the other hand, want to keep increasing spending on existing social programs without being able to come up with a politically viable way to support those programs without increasing the deficit.

The so-called compromise bought us some time, but not much else. The plain fact remains that, under the current political stalemate, only corporations and the well-off really benefit. They keep their lower taxes and tax credits, and one way or another, everyone else pays.

One of my neighbors recently retired, not because he wanted to, but because, after forty years or more of working with heavy machinery his knees and shoulders gave out. Even with two replacement knees he couldn’t do the job he once did, and he couldn’t wait to get the maximum social security benefits. While he was more prudent than many, the fact remains that too many workers can’t physically work long enough to get even reduced social security benefits. Yet these are people who get hurt most by Republican policies, and one of the great ironies is that a disproportionate number are Republicans who don’t even seem to see that.

But until those who are hurt the most and don’t realize it finally understand, nothing will change.

The Housing Crunch

I live in Utah, and I’d never exactly thought of the state as an expensive place to live, but changes creep up on you. When we moved to Cedar City, not quite thirty years ago, the cost of living was statistically about 94% of the national average. Today, depending on which index you use, we’re between 99% and 103% of the national average, and I suspect that those numbers are low. My property taxes, while not insignificant and low by the standards of some states, have doubled over the last eight years. The price of natural gas has tripled since last year.

But where Utah has really taken a hit is in the increase in housing prices. Depending on which figures or indices you look at, Utah is on average between the fourth and tenth most expensive state for housing, and housing prices have roughly doubled over the past fifteen years. Housing prices in Cedar City have more than doubled.

Four factors, I suspect, lie behind the rapid and substantial price increases. First, Utah has the highest birth rate in the nation, and has had for decades. Second, immigrants are pouring into the state, especially into Cedar City, which has one of the fastest growth rates in the nation, and the majority of those immigrants, at least here in town, are from California. Third, the local university has expanded from 3,500 students to over 15,000. And fourth, despite new housing developments everywhere, the amount of new housing hasn’t matched the demand.

There’s another factor, as well – that too many of the developers and builders are concentrating on higher-end housing, and that’s reflected in the fact that Cedar City now has a small but growing number of homeless people, while high-priced houses up for re-sale take a long time to sell, because the majority of newcomers insist on building new houses, most likely with the gains from selling houses in California and elsewhere.

But then, what’s happening here is also occurring in far too many other areas as well.