What’s the Hurry?

All across the United States, especially in cities and suburbs, and in business, everyone’s in a hurry. The mad rush is everywhere. Seemingly everything has to be done faster.

Amazon Prime is “encouraging” employees to become private contractors so it can cut delivery times to one day.

The local university is adopting a trimester program and cutting semester lengths from 15 weeks to 13 weeks so that students can graduate in three years instead of four, despite the fact that there are already more college graduates than there are jobs that require a college education and that the speeded up education will cost just as much and will have less content. Yet for all this hurry, fewer and fewer students are emotionally ready for college, let alone the workforce or a professional career.

Parents are in such a rush that they register children for select preschools as soon as they’re born, and some even game the college admission system. The kiddy-porn-clothes industry is doing its best to accelerate sexual awareness in pre-teens.

Highway speed limits keep climbing, and despite speed limits of 80 mph on the interstate here, if you travel at 80, eighty percent of the other travelers will pass you, including more than a few semis. I see mothers in minivans doing 40 mph in 25 mph residential areas, and more than half of them are on cell phones at the same time.

Television shows are electronically compressed so that things happen faster, and Amazon Prime and Netflix release new series all at once so that viewers and speed-binge-watch them faster and faster. Video games move faster and faster. Basketball has shot clocks to keep the action moving fast.

Bosses and superiors get impatient if emails or texts aren’t answered in minutes.

Politicians are hurrying to start their next campaigns earlier and earlier, while fewer and fewer of government problems are getting addressed. The members of Congress were sworn in less than six months ago, and re-election campaigns are already in full swing. That’s clear from the solicitations I’ve already gotten. And certainly all the hurrying by politicians to start the next new campaign hasn’t done much for getting the old problems fixed.

But what’s the point of all this speed? When children are forced into growing up earlier, is that good for them? When they’re hurried from planned activity to planned activity, with little free play time, is that in their best interest? And is fast-tracking them into colleges and insisting that colleges give them high-level vocational training, and little else, to speed them into the work force in anyone’s interest, except that of business?

When employees keep having to hurry to answer electronic status requests, does that help them get their real work done well and on time? Or is that why U.S. work hours keep getting longer and longer?

And, as for taking any time to stop and smell the roses, since no one has the time to cultivate roses, the only roses most people ever see are South American hothouse roses with no scent at all.


Once, many long years ago, I was the legislative assistant for a U.S. Congressman. Like many young and idealistic professionals, I wanted to make the United States a better place [and I still do]. I implemented an early form of a computerized constituent response system so that my boss could get his ideas for reform and improvement across. I came up with plans for tax reform and quite a few others. A few of those my boss introduced, partly to humor me, I suspect, and partly because they were actually good ideas, but none of them ever even got a hearing. I also came up with a way to allow the U.S. Postal Service to run at a profit without continually jacking up first class letter rates [the general approach would still work today].

None of these proposals went anywhere, although they were certainly technically and practically feasible and could have been implemented. I won’t even come close to claiming I was a voice in the wilderness. There have always been idealists trying to make things better, and there still are.

But what my congressman told me, patiently at first, and then not so patiently, was that it didn’t matter how good something was, or how it would improve things, or how technical and practically feasible it was, if there wasn’t political support for the proposition. My proposals for improving the Postal Service were a perfect example. To this day, the USPS regards mass mailings as a marginal cost, even though the bulk of what’s carried are mass mailings and parcels. This means that the first class mail revenues have to support the bulk of core USPS costs. I’d simply proposed that mass mailers be charged the actual full cost of providing that service.

Needless to say, as the mass of junk mail even today continues to proliferate, that proposal was a total anathema to the highly subsidized mail industry – which is why at my house we recycle some 20-30 pounds of unwanted and unread catalogues every week, each sent for as little as twenty-one cents per pound. So, as a result, first class letter writers – and occasionally federal payments when the USPS runs a deficit – are subsidizing commercial for-profit advertising mailers, because it’s never been politically possible to enact what would seem like practical improvements.

There are many possible reforms, whether they’re in healthcare, taxes, or postal rates, which are technically and economically practical – but, without political support at all levels from the grassroots through the entire political structure, they’re effectively impractical.

To claim that the U.S. or any other country should be able to enact “practical” measures put in place elsewhere ignores the fact that any reform proposal is impractical unless political support either exists and can be mobilized or unless such political support can be developed.

And right now, in the United States, there’s just not enough political support in elected government itself for the reforms various Democrats are proposing, and very few of them are working to develop grassroots support. On the other hand, conservative Republicans have spent almost a generation developing an evangelical/conservative grassroots political network… and that effort is bearing its bitter fruit today… and this will continue until Democrats or others build broad-based political support willing not only to talk about but to work to get out votes and voters for their ideas.

Idealism/Principles as Policy

Every thinking person should have ideals, but ideals need to be tempered with practicality.

There’s a saying that’s been attributed variously to George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli, Otto von Bismarck, Winston Churchill, and others that goes like this: If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain. According to research by a number of individuals, the original version of this was first uttered by French historian and statesman François Guizot when he observed, “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.”

I’d put it another way. To trumpet high-sounding ideas without any practical, workable, and politically acceptable plan for implementing them is well-intentioned idiocy, but, equally, to turn one’s back on want, discrimination, and the abuse of privilege on the grounds that attempting to remedy or ameliorate those ills is impractical is not only arrogant and uncaring, but stupid, and, in the long run, often fatal to a society that ignores those needs.

And, frankly, that’s the political divide I’ve seen emerge out of the unrest in the United States today. I look at all the rhetoric on the Democratic side, addressing valid concerns and real ills… with almost no practicality in sight. You cannot raise the money to deal with those problems by merely increasing tax rates on the wealthy; under the current structure, they’re already avoiding taxes. What’s needed is a tax structure that cannot be avoided, that is seen as fair, and that is not confiscatory. I could make the same sort of case about most Democratic proposals. Of course, that’s why almost all of them talk in glittering generalities.

On the Republican side, almost all the rhetoric is about principles…or fear… principles that aren’t working well for most Americans, except for the well-off and well-educated, and fear of change, fear of anyone who is different, and fear that people won’t live as well as their parents did.

There’s another old saying, about death and taxes, but that’s not quite right. The only two things that are certain in life are that things do change… and that, sooner or later, everyone dies. We try to prolong life, but death remains. And if we don’t adapt to change, things will get worse… and we’ll die sooner.

Neither impractical ideals nor unyielding rejection of change serves anyone well, but that’s the shape of the current political divide.

Gutless Wonders

This past weekend I listened to two career politicians waffle and essentially refuse to answer questions about Trump and his administration. Both were Republicans, and it was clear that they didn’t agree with what Trump had done [in one case, selling military weapons systems to the Saudis without Congressional authorization and in the other sending more troops to the Middle East], but neither wanted to disagree publicly. In my own state of Utah, Senator Mitt Romney bounces back and forth on Trump, but so far still votes for whatever Trump wants.

Congressional Republicans, for the most part, have no plans for leading, and they haven’t for years. What few initiatives they do have are based on spending more money on defense and pork barrel in their own districts, while effectively reducing programs that benefit working Americans and decreasing the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. They’ve given up the idea of a balanced budget, or even reducing the deficit, although they occasionally give lip service to it, because they know and won’t admit that, at the present time, there’s no realistic way to reduce the deficit in any meaningful way without increasing taxes on wealthier Americans.

In the meantime, across the board, Trump tries to minimize Congress and its responsibilities under the first section of the Constitution. While the Democrat-led House tries to stop this Presidential overreach, the Republican Senate does nothing. Pretty much, the Senate Republican leadership’s reaction is either “no” or a refusal to address anything but a minimal effort to keep government running. They all know that Trump’s trade war with China is a disaster for American farmers and some industries, but they refuse to admit it. While they’ll admit, if quietly, that Russian interference in our elections is a real problem, they won’t even look at the fact that Trump openly invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, or that Trump denies that he benefitted from Russian interference.

Nor will Republicans address the thousands of outright lies and falsehoods made by Trump… or his “re-tweeting” of false and falsified material, such as the distorted video of Speaker Pelosi.

Now, Trump has proposed to issue pardons for several Americans on trial for war crimes, including one who brutally murdered a helpless Middle Eastern teenager. The U.S. military strongly opposes such pardons. These wouldn’t be Trump’s first totally unwarranted pardons. In 2017 he pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff convicted for refusing to end his racial profiling of the state’s Latino residents and noted for his long-standing, brutal, and dehumanizing treatment of prisoners.

Once again, most Republicans are mute, and that makes all but a very few truly gutless wonders. What’s worse is that a few Republican lawmakers even support such pardons, something I find incredibly appalling, and unfortunately reminiscent of all too many repressive regimes and dictatorships. The other appalling aspect of all of this is that over 40% of the country presently supports such a President.

People and Belief

Contrary to popular opinion, we do not live in a totally free society. Behavior in our society is in fact restricted by laws, laws theoretically made up by the people for the people, laws designed by the Founding Fathers to reflect a secular, i.e., non-religious, set of principles for acceptable conduct. Those Founding Fathers were so concerned about the adverse impact of religion on law that they insisted on the separation of religion from government.

What they either could not, would not, or did not foresee was that religion is merely one face of “belief.”

My seemingly ancient Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedic dictionary defines “belief” as “mental conviction of truth or actuality of anything without certain proof.” And certainly religion fits under “belief,” because it is based on the conviction, utterly without any form of physical proof, as Isaac Asimov once pointed out in detail, that there is a deity.

Unhappily, there are also other forms of belief, also without proof, that infect society today, and yet all too many “true believers” wish to restrict the acts and behaviors of others or to behave in a way that jeopardizes others on the basis of their beliefs. I certainly hold that people should be free to believe what they wish, just so long as (1) they do not force or attempt to use government to force those beliefs on others and (2) they or their beliefs do not do me, or others, harm.

The idea that there is a soul in two cells that one day may become a fetus and then a human being is not a fact, but a belief. To use that belief to deny a woman who has been raped, or who may die from a pregnancy, the right to determine her own future places a belief without proof above present and demonstrated harm to the mother. If that mother believes that, of course, and chooses not to abort those cells, that is her choice and right. But no woman should ever be denied a choice to preserve her life and her own control over it because of an unfounded belief. Likewise, once a fetus is viable outside the womb, there is absolute proof that another human life must be considered.

Some may insist that life is “priceless” or sacred. There’s absolutely no proof of that. There are far more miscarriages and spontaneous abortions than medically induced ones. In addition, every single day we calculate the value of human lives, whether through insurance, regulatory findings, lawsuits or wrongful death findings. All those are absolute proof that, for human beings, life is anything but priceless. As for the deity, at least deities in the Judeo-Christian mode, life also obviously isn’t sacred, not when various peoples have been supposedly instructed by the deity to kill others.

Anti-vaxxers believe that vaccinations are more dangerous to them and their children than the actual diseases. This is another deadly – and incorrect – belief, and there are scores of studies, as well as documented evidence, to the contrary. The problem here is that, because of this belief, those unvaccinated, particularly with regard to rubella [German Measles] and whopping cough, can infect children too young to be vaccinated, subjecting them to risk of death, or hearing and eyesight loss. The fact that, just this year, over 1,000 children in Madagascar died from measles obviously has no impact on such believers.

Scientific evidence continues to mount in support of the fact that the acceleration of global warming is human caused, yet global warming deniers choose to believe the opposite, and oppose measures to reduce, if not halt that warming. There’s massive evidence to support human caused warming… and virtually none to the contrary… and that warming trend is already causing significant deaths and massive destruction.

The problem, of course, goes beyond beliefs, because “true believers” almost always want others to share their beliefs, whether others want to or not… and whether there’s any real proof to support their beliefs.

Liberals, unfortunately, have the same problem. Faculties and students across the country protest when ultra-conservatives are scheduled to talk at their universities. While hate speech does indeed exist, having contrary views, so long as one doesn’t propose violence to others, is not hate speech. Telling students facts that they don’t want to hear, or giving them poor grades for poor performance, is not persecution, or creating a toxic environment, yet university faculty are being charged with just that because more and more students don’t want to hear facts contrary to their beliefs.

People react badly when their beliefs are challenged, even beliefs totally without proof.

That’s why the Spanish Inquisition tortured heretics to death. That’s why ISIS killed non-believers and destroyed historical antiquities that didn’t match their beliefs. It’s also why white supremists minimize and kill people of color, despite evidence that there’s absolutely no genetic link between “race” and intelligence.

That’s also why Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri legislators want women who’ve been raped to have to bear unwanted children, while sending doctors who perform abortions to jail. And, oh, yes, these are the same folks who oppose welfare, health care, and food for poor children, but they don’t seem to consider that “saving the [unwanted] unborn” results in more unwanted poor children that they don’t want to support. And that’s just one of the problems with beliefs that ignore facts.