History Rewritten

When I first discovered and was almost immediately fascinated by history, especially ancient history, history book after history book postulated that the pyramids had to have been built by slave labor. More recent archeological discoveries have revealed that they were built by paid and comparatively well-fed skilled workers.

Likewise, in the 1950s and early 1960s, virtually all books about post-colonial western hemisphere grossly underestimated the pre-colonial population, especially that of North America, and presented the United States and Canada as sparsely populated by benighted and uncivilized “Indians.” Many history books of that period even reiterated the myth that a significant percentage of the European population believed that the earth was flat. Both sets of assertions have proved to be untrue.

During the Middle Ages and even after the Renaissance, much of Europe idolized and idealized the “great” civilization of the Roman Empire, but the majority of technology underlying the Roman Empire came from foreign, primarily Greek, sources. With the possible exception of concrete, the Romans didn’t excel at technological ideas, but at the wide-scale implementation of existing technology, often by slaves. In fact, at the time of Caesar, between twenty and thirty percent of the population of Italy consisted of slaves, something that is still seldom mentioned in references to the Roman Empire.

Despite the fact that the American South rebelled and tried to leave the Union in order to preserve slavery and effectively retain white supremacy, for almost a century after the Civil War, the social and political aristocracy of the south struggled to rewrite history, through literature, politics, and lots of statues and monuments, under the guise of states’ rights and to portray the soldiers and generals of the south as noble figures, rather than traitors and pawns of the old order.

Unfortunately, not all inaccurate writing or rewriting of history lies in the past. For whatever reason, these days no one seems comfortable pointing out that virtually all black slaves sold to southern American planters were originally enslaved by other blacks, and that the practice continues, if on a much, much smaller scale, even today in Africa. While that doesn’t excuse in the slightest the whites who bought blacks to enrich their coffers, not all the blame for the ills of slavery can or should be laid exclusively on whites.

Likewise, the current push by ultraconservatives to return to the idealized and conveniently “sterilized” time of free-enterprise ignores the wide-spread ills of early free-enterprise, from ten to twelve hour days six days a week, wide-spread child labor, unsafe working conditions, contaminated food, and more, all of which are overlooked.

Also, despite widescale revelations over the past two decades, most Americans still have no idea how much the American business community influenced American intervention and military pressure around the world and especially in Central and South America and how much of the immigration problem that meddling has led to.

Or, as Oscar Wilde said most cynically, “Our only duty to history is to rewrite it.”

Risk and “Wanting More”

I’ve often said that disasters of any sort are seldom caused by a single factor, but this observation is seldom heeded or even recognized. The disasters caused by the “snowmageddon” that struck the various California mountain areas weren’t just because of the unprecedented amount of snow, but by the fact that more and more people built houses, roads, and businesses in places where heavy snow would in fact cause such problems. Hurricanes create greater damage overall than ever before because more people want to live where hurricanes are more likely to strike, and that’s compounded by government and insurance policies that allow rebuilding in such hazardous locales.

The two most recent bank failures represent another aspect of the same problem. Because banks impact so many people, bank failures can create economic disasters unless government steps in. But when people know that government will step in, there’s far less pressure to manage well and more of an incentive to take greater risks, which creates the need for more bailouts or more regulation, if not both – that is, if we don’t want to crater the economy.

A compounding factor – also almost totally ignored by politicians and policy-makers – is that current corporate law effectively insulates bank and corporate managers from personal repercussions. Often they even collect bonuses and high salaries after various kinds of disasters, to which they contributed or even caused by practices designed to maximize profits and bonuses, rather than better or safer operations, and almost never can those who implemented bad policies and procedures be held personally responsible.

The string of railcar derailments on the Norfolk Southern Railway system follows the company’s efforts to stop stronger safety measures from being implemented, and the attempts at minimal compensation for victims of the hazardous chemical spill in Ohio.

And, of course, the current media climate glorifies the idea of getting “more.” No one ever seems to be praised for acting carefully or responsibly.

But the risks and costs of all that “getting more” are downplayed and ignored, and those who claim they want more responsibility placed on individuals and companies, rather than more regulation, don’t want to bear the costs and deaths of less regulation.

You can’t have it both ways.

Reading Blues

I haven’t posted much recently about what I’ve read, not because I haven’t been reading, but because I won’t mention books I dislike by name, and I’ve come across too many of those lately.

These days I tend to read F&SF as much to keep up with authors with whom I’m not familiar as for entertainment and enlightenment. One of the problems with this is that I’ve been reading – or trying to read – too many books that have been well-reviewed and in which I’ve found I have no real interest for one or more of the following reasons.

The first reason is because in one type of book being recently written/published the setting is not only implausible, but wildly so, not to mention internally self-contradictory, as well as, in at least one case, apparently written to test the reader’s ability to deal with example after of meticulously written grossness, which earned it praise as highly original from several review sources. Personally, I don’t consider the equivalent of sludge and sewage particularly original, given that they’ve been part of any urban culture since there have been towns.

Another matter is the growing tendency to shift viewpoints wildly from character to character, for no discernable reason, often just to show how irrational, scheming, or evil even minor characters are. A good writer doesn’t need to shift POV to show that, or even to show that the minor character villain is more than a cardboard plot device, but perhaps editors are allowing this sort of writing because fewer and fewer readers seem able to pick up smaller clues and hints and need massive “signposts.”

Then there are the books that dwell in great depth on the miseries of personal incompetence, ineptness, and/or apparent powerlessness in authoritarian or bureaucratic societies that could care less, which can be done well, as in 1984 or Brave New World, or even, more recently, A Memory Called Empire, but seldom are most authors able to do that well.

Then, there’s the class of books where I find myself asking, “Why on earth should I care about these people?” Now, admittedly, I could care less about most of George R. R. Martin’s characters, who are all despicable to greater or lesser degrees, but George writes them well, possibly because of his long experience in Hollywood. Most writers presenting despicable characters don’t.

Finally, there’s another class of books that also befuddles me. I don’t mind good action novels, but not the ones where every detail of every fight, every explosion, every betrayal, every sensual scene is described, but where it’s almost impossible to discern where in the generic setting any of these actions take place.

And those are just a few of the reasons why this curmudgeon isn’t recommending more books.


Some thirty plus years ago, when most of my children were out of the house, my then-wife and I looked into selling the five plus bedroom house in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., because the stress of my high-paying, higher-stress consulting job had literally landed me in the hospital, and we were hoping that a smaller dwelling with less maintenance would allow me to become a full-time writer.

It wasn’t possible. Housing prices had risen so fast that smaller decent houses were selling for almost as much as our larger dwelling would fetch, and a lower income couldn’t finance them. In the end, that was a great part of the reason we moved to New Hampshire.

I’ve recently discovered the same problem is recuring for several relatives, although the mechanics are slightly different, this time because of the concurrence of a change in the tax treatment of selling residences and the even higher rises in housing in a number of urban areas.

What happens when an older single widow or widower [that doesn’t apply to us, thankfully] or divorced individual has a house too big to handle, in which there’s a substantial amount of increased equity because of spiking real estate prices, and wants to downsize? In a number of suburban areas, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to downsize without huge penalties.

And for single parent families, the situation can be even worse. One professional woman bought a house ten years ago for $500,000, with a mortgage of $350,000. She had a solid income from her own business, but COVID effectively destroyed 80% of her income from her business. She’d like to sell the house and buy something smaller for her and her child because her income won’t cover the current mortgage payment on the house. The house will likely fetch slightly over a million dollars. But if she sells the house, she’ll realize a capital gain of $500,000, half of which is taxable, with a capital gains tax of roughly $40,000, and sales costs of $75,000 leaving her with approximately $525,000, which sounds like a lot, except even a 1,200-1,400 square foot townhouse anywhere within 20 miles will cost $700,000, and her income isn’t high enough to qualify for a mortgage to make up the difference. So she can’t afford to buy a house half the size of the one she owns, which she can no longer afford, and she has to pay capital gains tax when the “gain” in value is effectively illusory.

This situation can be even worse in places like Los Angeles, where 1,100 square foot former “tract” homes in many areas, not even high status locations, sell for over a million dollars, which is why so many former Californians are moving to Cedar City and elsewhere in Utah, where they’re driving up housing prices here.

And all the time, the government is collecting taxes on illusory capital gains.

Tax Games

The legislature of the great state of Utah has just passed a $200 million income tax cut bill which reduces the state’s income tax rate from 4.85% to 4.65%. Two hundred million may sound significant, but the decrease in income taxes for a family making $80,000 a year will amount to $208, or roughly 57 cents a day. For families making less than that, the tax cut is estimated to cut taxes by as much as 22%, but for a family with a taxable income of $30,000, a 22% reduction is less than $200.

This is the second – or possibly third – year of “small” tax cuts, and those small percentages add up to significant dollars for the top five percent of Utah taxpayers but aren’t all that helpful for lower income taxpayers.

I’d rather see no tax cuts and the money used for public education funding, given that Utah teachers – all the way from kindergarten to the university level – aren’t that well paid and face, on average, some of the largest class sizes.

And just possibly, the state legislators might consider more funding for improving air quality along the Salt Lake City/Wasatch Front, since the pollution levels there are among the worst in the nation. That doesn’t take into account that wasteful water use is resulting in Salt Lake drying up, which also results in toxic dust from the exposed lakebed being blown into the air.

Both the air and water problems, as well as shortfalls in infrastructure, have been compounded by the fact that Utah has been the fastest-growing state in the U.S. from 2010 to 2023, with a total growth of 23.88%.

But, obviously, touting minuscule tax cuts that really only benefit the wealthiest taxpayers is really good politics. Whether it’s best in the long-term for the state and its people is another question.