Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Statistics That Count

I’m sick of companies that send me reminders and requests to rate them or the products/services that I’ve purchased. I’m also more than a little tired of polls that guesstimate how the public feels about this or that issue or politician, almost on a day-by-day basis, and particularly the pseudo-polls sent by both parties that misrepresent the issues in order to beg for contributions. Not to mention companies that legally misrepresent prices and interest rates… and, of course, politicians who declare that the election was stolen when recounts, investigations, and audits show that it wasn’t.

I purchased the product or service. Whether I purchase more is what really counts for the company. What I especially hate are those questions asking how the company could improve its products and services. If a manufacturer or service provider doesn’t already know its shortcomings, the odds are that they won’t take my suggestions anyway. And why should I provide free market research that they’ll ignore? The bottom line isn’t what I think, but whether the product/service is good and the company sells enough to remain in business.

While good polls can reveal what those polled feel at the moment, what such polls don’t reveal is, in most cases, more important than what they do. Today, everyone is most concerned about inflation. It takes a poll to verify that? The more important question is why they blame the current administration, when it has only a minor part in creating the inflation. This isn’t an apology for Biden; it’s been a problem for decades, if not longer. The factors that influence the economy have long lead times, and whoever’s in office now gets the credit or blame for the acts of his predecessor. The polls just focus the blame/credit on the wrong person… and most of the public is either too stupid to understand or doesn’t care, because they want someone to blame.

And far too many companies misrepresent prices, like the replacement window company that offers your second window at forty percent off, provided that you buy four, which means that you get the first four windows at ten percent off, but the number that sticks in most people’s mind is forty percent. Or the car dealers or others who advertise no payments for the first year, but don’t mention that the payments after that include interest on the entire amount for that first year.

As for the Republicans who insist the election was stolen, the bottom line is the final authenticated vote count, and, interestingly enough, the bottom line in Kansas on abortion was that sixty percent of the voters voting [which was a record turnout for a primary election] didn’t want abortion banned, no matter what the right-to-lifers claim.

Short-Sighted?

There’s a certain trade magazine “serving” the F&SF fiction field that’s facing considerable financial difficulties caused by limited subscribers, increasing print costs, and declining advertising. Now I’ve subscribed to this magazine for years and years, and over at least the past five years, I’ve donated modest sums to the foundation that publishes the magazine. But one of the biggest revenue problems the publication faces is the significant decline in advertising revenue. And frankly, from what I see, that decline is largely one of the publication’s own creation.

Years ago, the head of one of the larger F&SF publishers pointed out to me that the magazine had never really done any significant interviews, reviews, or stories on a mega-selling series or on its author. In fact, virtually none of that publisher’s best-selling authors received any significant coverage. The magazine tended (and still does) to focus more on “avant” authors or those perceived to be new and/or cutting edge, many if not most of whom do not sell even mid-list quantities of books. While that’s a laudable goal, essentially minimizing coverage of more “mainstream” F&SF authors means that larger publishing houses, in a time of tighter budgets, decided that they didn’t need to advertise as much, or at all, in the magazine. This was compounded by the attrition of older publishing executives who regarded advertising in the magazine as a form of public service.

As far as advertising funds go, small presses don’t have much money to spare, and successful indie authors are going to put spare funds into activities and venues that show a direct result. The authors and presses who benefit the most from the magazine don’t have the funds to support it, and the publishers who do have the funds no longer see much point in doing so.

If, over the years, the magazine had included more articles and interviews that benefitted more mainstream authors, the advertising drop-off might not have occurred or been so drastic, but from what I’ve seen, the magazine’s editorial choices and slant have become more and more focused on works appealing to a smaller and smaller segment of the reading and writing marketplace.

The Author Doesn’t Get It

Over the years, I’ve intermittently received comments along the lines of “you don’t get/understand [fill in subject].”

What this usually means is “you can’t possibly understand.”

Occasionally, the commenter is correct. Very few people living – possibly only those with a near-death experience – can understand death from the first person personal view. Or being incinerated in a by a huge fireball. For everyone else, including authors, trying to portray such circumstances requires research, extrapolation, and imagination… and you still might not be accurate, which is why I don’t stray too far from what I’ve experienced and seen. I haven’t actually crashed an aircraft, but I have lost the only engine I had and survived the autorotation into a field, and I’ve rescued survivors of a crash moments after it happened and seen the bodies of those who didn’t make it.

And most times, though, this author does understand; I just might not “understand” it in the way the commenter feels or sees it. That’s only natural. We’re all different, the difference ranging from attitudes and feelings we share and understand about others to total emotional incomprehension.

I’ve given my best advice, both personally and professionally, and seen people disregard it… and then lose their careers and futures. I’ve also taken my own advice… and failed miserably on more than one occasion.

I doubt that I’ll ever feel the seemingly blind love and joy others take in personal weapons of mass destruction or feel the undoubting self-righteousness of a true believer, possibly because I’ve always had a lot of doubts. But that’s why I only portray such individuals from the outside. And most times, at least for me, that’s the best way, because people usually react to what they see and experience from others’ behavior.

Also… perspective matters – enormously. The man or woman who kills someone shooting up others is likely to feel a lot less guilt than someone who murders their boss over something trivial [but then, maybe not, given some bosses].

And, sometimes, the author doesn’t get it, but with good writers, that doesn’t happen as much as the critics think, if more than the author would like to believe.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, a young teenager operated a lawn-mowing business with his younger brother. This was long before powered string-trimmers. I was that teenager, and I did a lot of hand-trimming [hand-powered clippers] and edging [muscle-powered half-mower], although the main mower was Briggs & Stratton powered. It was hard work, and when I got old enough to drive I left the lawn-mowing business behind and became a lifeguard.

Even though I was one of the better competitive swimmers in the region, I still had to be Red Cross Water Safety Certified and pass a rigorous test against a number of other candidates. Getting a lifeguard job in Denver back then wasn’t all that easy.

Fast-forward to the present.

Because I know what drudgery lawn-mowing is, when I became successful enough, and when my children were long out of college, my first personal luxury was hiring a lawn service, and it definitely wasn’t cheap, but I was tired of mowing the lawn.

For a time, that was fine, but then that lawn service just vanished, literally overnight. I found another lawn service, but over the past several years the quality of mowing and trimming has diminished. My neighbors, with other lawn services, have noted the same problem. Then last Friday, the lawn-mowing team arrived, spent twenty minutes, and vanished, leaving the lawn two-thirds unmowed and totally untrimmed. I haven’t yet had a response to my inquiries.

On a related note, several weeks ago, I ran across a syndicated news story about how quite a number of public swimming pools across the United States were closed or unable to open because of a shortage of lifeguards.

I definitely have to wonder.

Literary Racism?

The other day I came across a comment to the effect that authors who portrayed society where the majority of power wielders and decision-makers were white were in effect supporting racism. That’s a rather broad brush. If you’re writing historical fiction, fantasy or not, that’s the way the culture was. If you’re writing present-day or near-future fiction of any sort, that’s the way most cultures are and will be for at least a generation. Accurate portrayal isn’t racist, although glorifying or rationalizing existing racism certainly is.

In writing Isolate (and it’s forthcoming sequel, Councilor), I changed the “color” palate. Those of the aristocracy and older commercial wealth tend to have darker skins, whereas farm workers and lower-class manual workers have lighter skins. While I believe that would be the outcome in that society, it’s still “racist,” in a reverse way, but every culture in human history has had a way of “discriminating” against some group. Even animals do on occasion.

As I’ve noted before, the Roman Empire was far less race-conscious than American culture is today, but they discriminated, nonetheless, mainly by economic status. Slaves came in every color and so did people of wealth and power, especially outside of Rome, and even a number of emperors were not of Roman birth.

A similar problem exists for a writer with regard to gender. Like it or not (and I don’t), in the U.S., men, as a group, still tend to minimize women and attempt to keep them out of positions of power and to restrict their rights, and in the near future, for a number of reasons, it can’t and won’t change [even if the Supreme Court were to be drastically re-structured overnight and equal rights and pay legislation became law tomorrow].

That should be changed, and, in time, I’m hopeful that it will be, but to declare that fiction that doesn’t represent racial or gender “equality” as racist or gender-biased is unrealistic, because all societies “discriminate” in some fashion. Depicting a racist or gender-discriminating society isn’t by itself racism or discrimination, but endorsing or glorifying such a society is.

Lying As Power Grab

A recent article in Salon [“Republican Voters don’t actually “believe” the Big Lie about January 6 — they’re in on the con”] makes the point that, historically, authoritarian movements such as the Nazis and fascists have espoused lying as a repudiation of the “enlightenment values” of truth and feel that any strategy that will gain them power is acceptable. The Salon article goes on to illustrate how those involved in the January 6th riots and attempted coup, as well as others in the U.S. far right movement, fall into that pattern of behavior.

The use of lies is accepted and exalted by authoritarians because lying is not only an expression of power, but expresses dominance over accepted truths because authoritarians believe those espousing democratic ideals are slaves to their words and truths. For example, white supremacists lie and seek power because they reject the idea that “all men are created equal” and refuse to accept that premise.

What’s especially dangerous about this behavior is that the “great American experiment” in democracy is based in large part on an underlying respect for truth and a belief in the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, while the far right believes that the left was guilty of stealing the election without either evidence or truth.

The January 6th insurrection was based on a proven falsehood because those behind it believe that any means to power is justified since the other side is so “evil.” Of course, they don’t seem to understand or acknowledge that using any means possible to gain power is a greater evil than the policies they oppose.

When power itself is the goal, almost any means to achieve it can be rationalized, and the Republican support of the “big lie” fully illustrates how they place the desire for power above the desire for a true democratic republic, which they seem intent on destroying in order to save it.

Make the Connection…

Today, the biggest concern of most voters is inflation, but two years ago, the big issues were COVID and economic stagnation and lack of income. So… in response to those concerns, the federal government, under both Republican and Democrat Presidents, pumped billions of dollars into business and personal pockets, which gave people funds when they didn’t have work or had less work, and funneled cash to businesses who could document that they would otherwise lay off employees. But because of the damage to the supply chain caused by COVID, all that money chasing too few goods triggered inflation… and now everyone’s blaming the current administration for the inflation caused by two administrations doing what people wanted.

The United States has more firearms in private hands than all the firearms in the rest of the world in private hands. Is it any wonder that we also have the greatest number of civilian deaths from firearms?

Year after year, the United States has effectively dumbed down education by requiring teaching to the test, exerting less classroom control, and by allowing rampant grade inflation. We’ve insisted that college is THE answer, and we’ve also passed on more of the cost of college to students. Now we have twice as many young people graduating from college as there are jobs requiring college education and a massive student debt load that all too many graduates struggle (and often fail) to repay. We also have a shortage of skilled workers in fields not requiring a college education.

Still only about sixty percent of Americans are vaccinated against Covid… and we have case numbers again rising with the advent of yet another new variant.

Other countries massively subsidize new facilities to build sophisticated electronic microchips. The U.S. doesn’t. Now we don’t have any significant microchip manufacturing facilities, even though every sophisticated military weapons system requires such chips, and China leads the world in such capacity.

Too many American students don’t like and/or don’t have the educational background in hard sciences, which leads to a lack of top-notch scientific talent. At the same time, we’re turning away brilliant technical types who want to immigrate.

Today more and more wealthy Americans and their accountants have become more “creative” in calculating their taxes, but the IRS is weeks, if not months, behind in processing tax forms. Although audits of questionable tax returns are at an all-time low, and the government is running massive deficits, Congress keeps trying to cut funding to the IRS, while pushing for more tax cuts and more spending

There’s a lot more, but that’s enough to consider for now.

Meaningless?

The other day, a reader called my attention to what might be called a relatively polite rant, i.e., an op-ed in The New York Times by someone called Tim Krieder, whom I’d never heard of. According to the op-ed, he defines himself as a Millennial who’s disgusted with the entire structure of work and sickened and angry with the excessive greed of the corporate moguls, who work at underpaying their employees and squeezing every last dollar from them. And what’s worse, so much worse, according to Kreider, is that so much work is meaningless.

Kreider begins by saying, “A new generation has grown to adulthood that’s never known capitalism as a functioning economic system.” That’s somewhere between hyperbole and utter bullshit. American capitalism works. In fact, that’s the problem. It works far too well at making money for the capitalists and not nearly well enough for those they employ – except for a handful of those at the very top.

Kreider goes on to excoriate the cults of “busyness” and “hard work is necessary for success,” then declares that people are enervated not just by pointlessness of their individual labors but also by the fact that they’re working in and for a society in which they have neither faith nor investment. This isn’t exactly new.

What Krieder – and apparently much of the millennial generation – doesn’t seem to get is that jobs are work, often work that seems meaningless to many workers who aren’t involved in manual tasks or those where the results can’t be immediately perceived. The Millennials want “meaning,” and what they mean is work that they feel is meaningful. Anything else apparently doesn’t count.

I can guarantee that all those jobs and busywork that Kreider deplores are “meaningful” to someone, or those greedy capitalists at the top of the pyramid wouldn’t be paying for them. The capitalists certainly have been more and more effective at reducing staff and while maintaining output, and they aren’t going to pay for work they think is “meaningless.”

While I certainly agree with his points about mind-numbing and exhausting work that seems meaningless, that’s been true for a good century, if not longer.

My first job after I left the Navy was as a statistical analyst for a manufacturer of compressed air filters, lubricators, and valves, trying to determine sales patterns and project future trends, using a series of formulae developed by the former head of market research. Being somewhat of an iconoclast, I kept two sets of projections, those predicted by the various formulae and those I wrote down based on my gut feel. After a year, two things became clear. My gut figures [which I kept private] were more accurate, and that I wasn’t suited to that kind of mental drudgery. Today, of course, all that would be done by computers, but this was at a time when desk-top electronic calculators had just become available. After my departure, my position was filled by someone much more enamored of that sort of work. I also noted, about ten years ago, the retirement of my immediate superior at that company, who clearly had spent fifty years dealing with marginally meaningful numbers.

From the compressed air position, I then went on to other pursuits, some where I failed miserably, before getting into politics as essentially a combination of analyst, researcher, and composer of all sorts of political analyses, correspondence, testimony, and speeches, none of which survives except in long-filed archives, if there. And all of that would be meaningless, by Mr. Kreider’s standards, but it did enable me to survive mostly comfortably, to raise a family, and to write F&SF on the side until I was successful enough to become a full-time writer.

I’m far from being that much different from millions of others over the past five decades who struggled between trying to find meaning and supporting themselves and others.

What Mr. Kreider says is, for all his protests that the current American “work culture” is meaningless and carries that meaninglessness to extremes, is nothing that hasn’t been said before, and said with far less self-pity and self-righteousness.

And the answer doesn’t lie in protesting the lack of meaning, in dropping out of the workforce, or in working as little as possible, as Mr. Kreider seems to advocate, but in political and legal action to change the corporate culture from one that continues to over-reward the capitalists to one that grants economically a greater share to those who create the goods, services, and products.

Your Way or the Highway

Many years ago, when my wife and I moved to southwestern Utah, we encountered a number of, shall we say, “cultural” practices based on the prevailing religion. Some of them were understandable, if somewhat restrictive, such as the de facto practice of not scheduling university concerts, performances, or recitals on Sundays, even if that was an imposition of a religious belief on a public institution. Some were less acceptable to a public academic institution, such as the insistence that no performances, lectures, classes, or other activities be scheduled on Monday evenings, because the prevailing religion had declared Monday evenings as “family home” evenings.

Those who protested were often told that, if they didn’t like it, they should move, which non-members of the prevailing faith called “My Way or the Highway.”

Over the years, the more onerous attempts to impose religious cultural standards on the university have diminished, but not totally vanished. From what I’ve seen, this sort of local/religious parochialism that restricts the rights of non-believers exists in far more places than southwestern Utah, as does the attitude that “if you don’t like it, then leave.”

The first problem with this attitude is that the United States is a nation, not a confederation. The Founding Fathers tried the confederation approach and discovered it didn’t work. Even “accommodating” slavery in the South didn’t work, because the ramifications of doing so adversely impacted the North and the West.

Segregation didn’t work all that well either, and its legal abolition, particularly in the South, resulted in economic and social improvements in the areas that practiced it.

As a matter of equality, why should individuals face a situation where they must choose between a job for which they’re qualified or having their rights circumscribed because of the religious/social tenets of the area in which the job is located. This isn’t a theoretical question; it’s one that exists in many parts of the United States.

Abortion is just the most obvious example. In the case of abortion, current state laws: (1) create unequal rights for women based on geography; (2) discriminate against poorer women; (3) close off or limit economic opportunity for women unless they are willing to accept fewer rights.

Making abortion legal throughout the nation and where the choice is up to the woman (along a structure similar to Roe v. Wade) does not deprive those who are opposed to abortion of their rights. Criminalizing abortion does deprive women, as well as health care professionals, of rights.

That means, effectively, that the United States, as a nation, must agree on what constitutes basic human rights, on a secular basis, based on known fact, not upon belief, no matter how fervent, and in the case of those rights, the majority needs to prevail. Obviously, there are always instances where the situation may not fit within the legal structure, but to define basic legal rights in different ways in different states is not only setting a precedent with effects similar to other forms of legal discrimination, but also creating a possible recipe for legal and civil chaos, violent unrest, and civil war.

True Believers

The biggest problem with true believers isn’t what tenets they hold to be sacred; it’s that they want to force those tenets and what goes with them on people who don’t share them.

For example, in the United States, if a true believer doesn’t want to have an abortion, no non-believer is going to force her to have one. But if a non-believer wants or needs a medically safe abortion of a non-viable fetus, the true believers pass laws that not only restrict her freedom, but endanger her life. Their action endangers the non-believer… and there’s no cost to the true believers.

True believers have opposed restrictions on corporate political statements and contributions because they outlawed certain corporate practices. This ignores the fact, as events have recently demonstrated, that unlimited corporate “freedom of speech” effectively restricts individual freedom of speech not only because money drowns out individual viewpoints, but also because only wealthy individuals can afford to dispute the corporate view and because no individual in the corporation can be held legally responsible for falsehoods, misstatements, or lies. So, effectively, the corporation gets preferred treatment under the law.

Same-sex marriage doesn’t harm true believers. There’s no requirement for them to marry someone of the same sex, and, in fact, same-sex marriage is more likely to benefit the true believers because it creates more stable bonds and less societal disruption. But true believers oppose it because it doesn’t fit their beliefs.

True believers cannot recognize or accept facts contrary to their own beliefs, which is why so many still believe that lying, thieving, hypocritical Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

The true believers are the ones causing disruption because they and their political allies are passing laws and overturning others that are against the wishes of the majority of the people. In effect, they’re imposing minority rule, while failing to acknowledge it, and in fact hypocritically claiming the opposite.

Belief & Bucks

Decades ago, one of my political science professors made the statement that Christianity was a religion for slaves. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s in this world, but believe in Christ, and you will be rewarded in the next. It’s a wonderful way of keeping the slaves in their place.

He was right, and the political right has taken full advantage of this fact that still underlies Christianity.

Corporations have the right to drown out everyone else’s right to speak, because they are in fact de facto Caesar in our current society.

The church, aided by the evangelical right and moneyed interests, now has the right to rule pregnant women’s bodies, while corporations get government to allow them to destroy the environment and to impair the health of the multitudes in order to increase what Caesar gets. But it’s all right. True believers will receive their reward in the next world, and for those of you who aren’t true believers, well… tough shit.

The right to pray and to coerce others to pray cannot be restricted, but a woman’s personal right not to reproduce, even if she’s raped or if it could cost that woman her life, cannot be allowed. No matter how you put it, that’s a form of enslavement. And it’s based on a belief that, first, life is sacred, and second, that there’s a soul – even before conception, apparently. Both are without proof, and they’re a set of beliefs imposed on non-believers.

The right, especially the religious right, has fought and consistently opposed an equal rights amendment. It’s not an amendment to give women greater rights, but equal rights. Why does the right oppose it? Largely because too many men don’t want women to have those rights, even if most men won’t admit it, because, after all, faith declares women must be subordinate to men, and also because it will cost corporations billions if they have to pay women equally.

What the far right wants has nothing to do with what’s good for most people; it’s strictly to maintain control over people’s lives and maximize the wealth of the few – and, despite efforts and words of the Founding Fathers, they’re using a slave religion to boost belief and bucks.

The “Success” of the True Believers

The true believers in the U.S. political system are savoring their successes. They’ve furthered the ability to carry all kinds of firearms under any circumstances. They’ve arrogated, on the federal level, the near absolute right-to-life of a few cells over a woman’s personal control over her own body, and they’re aiming at enacting more absolutes into law, as well as further eroding the Constitutional separation of church and state.

While they’ve accomplished their immediate goals, citing both what the Constitution says and what it doesn’t, they’ve employed very selective readings that other scholars have disputed and ignored anything contrary to what they want to believe.

One of our great Presidents made the statement that the battle of Gettysburg was fought so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Right now, however, the true believers insist that government of the people, by the minority of the people, for the minority of the people, shall be their goal.

The majority of the people believes that some form of abortion should be legal. The majority believes that there should be some form of restriction on who should be allowed to carry firearms and under what conditions. The majority believes that the results of fair and free elections should be honored. The majority believes that the right to vote by all citizens should not be restricted.

The true believers on the right believe none of that.

That is because true believers cannot comprehend that there is any validity to anything in which they do not believe, even when the facts do not support their beliefs, and even when those beliefs are not shared by the majority of the people.

If one looks at history, societies governed by true believers have seldom endured, and when they have endured, they have become brutal tyrannies. And, interestingly enough, and contrary to both the rhetoric and beliefs of true believers, most tyrannies in history have risen out of conservatism, not liberalism, or even ultra-liberal radicalism.

And those are two other facts that the true believers on the right cannot understand or accept.

The ROI “Problem”

More than once, I’ve been critical of the business model that can be described as “maximizing profit at any cost, particularly when you can foist off as many costs as possible on someone or something else” [like the environment and/or public health].

This is scarcely new in the United States. For almost fifty years, big oil promoted cheap gasoline enhanced by tetraethyl lead, with adverse health impacts, particularly for the children of low income families who lived in cities filled with automotive exhaust. Big tobacco did the same with cigarettes… and still is.

For almost a century and a half, businesses just dumped wastes of all sorts into the nearest waterway, making most of the large rivers little more than toxic sewers. Even now, pesticide run-off from factory farms has created and continues to increase a massive area in the Gulf of Mexico that’s has little or no oxygen and almost no fish of any kind.

Big and small business have attempted to do the same with the minimum wage, keeping it as low as politically possible, and business continues to wonder why millions of people who have any option at all refuse to take many minimum wage jobs, even though it’s statistically and economically impossible to live on that wage in almost any city in the U.S.

But the profit/greed instinct runs strong in the human animal, as does the need to quantify how much more profit your business is making than are your competitors – or how much less, meaning that you have to cut costs to be “competitive.”

The standard measurement tool is ROI [Return on Investment]. The form is simple. Divide the gain from an investment by the amount of the initial investment. The result is ROI.

Right now, U.S. gross corporate profits, net corporate profits, and profit rates (i.e., ROI) are at an all-time high. In three industry sectors – information technology, real estate and financials – the average profit rate is above 20%. In big pharma, a Bentley University study found a gross profit margin of over 70%. But thanks to creative accounting, often high gross profits mysteriously turn into more modest numbers.

The problems involved with using ROI as a metric for business success are close to innumerable. First, how do you isolate/account for outside factors? The state of the national economy has an effect on all businesses. The same is true about state and federal laws and regulations. So does the amount and nature of competition. External economic factors also affect ROI, particularly interest and inflation rates.

Corporate internal factors also affect the return on investment. Have bad managers been replaced by good ones [and are higher salaries required by better management factored into the investment costs] or good ones by those less able?

For all these problems and difficulties, addressed time and time again in industry and scholarly articles over the past several decades, all too many corporations use simplistic or slanted versions of ROI that serve their purpose, either to boast or to show regulators how little profit they make. There are literally scores of articles on different forms of ROI, but in the end it’s all about how to maximize output from inputs and processes to keep costs low and profits high.

All that seems to matter is to meet the minimum regulatory standards, keep wages as low as practicable, products as cheap and shorted-lived as customers will tolerate, dividends or stock prices just high enough to retain investors, while maximizing ROI and upper executive pay.

Seldom does one see a different calculus, such as how can a business remain solvent, produce good products, satisfy customers, and fairly pay its employees and stockholders. It’s far simpler to trot out the single magic term – ROI – as if that explains and justifies everything.

And for U.S. business, that seems to suffice.

Still Falling for the Snake-Oil Salesman

As the House of Representatives’ hearings on the January 6th insurrection continue, and Republican after Republican testifies, and Trump campaign official after official testifies, and they all say that Trump lost the election, one thing is crystal clear.

A significant percentage of Americans will never be convinced that Trump lost the election, and they will continue pour money into fraudulent organizations that falsely claim they’re out to reverse “the steal” while Trump funnels the funds into his own pockets or to deceptive organizations set up by close Trump cronies. In fact, they’re so convinced he won that they won’t even look at the evidence to the contrary. Nor will they look at evidence that the January 6th insurrection was violent and inspired by Trump.

I can understand people supporting officials who claim to represent their views. What I have a hard time understanding is why they send often hard-earned dollars to support someone who’s continually demonstrated that he lies, who fires or drives out or turns on so many of those working for him, whose most ardent supporters appear to be white supremacists, and who is effectively pocketing money donated for “legal expenses.”

Trump reminds me of a combination of a frontier snake-oil salesman and a fire-and-brimstone preacher who inspires followers to give him money, and then leaves them with little but faded hope. The problem with this is that, because he’s so charismatic to his followers, they’ll blame everyone but him for the unsolved problems and difficulties in their lives, and they’ll keep sending him money under false premises. The more money they send without the results they want, the angrier they get at those who fail to support their snake-oil messiah.

Those followers are so angry that Republicans who have shown that they know he’s peddling lies now preach the same lies because they fear his wrath and the power of his followers.

And you wonder why I’ve always felt that “true-believers” of any kind, especially those whose beliefs deny reality, are the greatest danger to a free society?

Changing World, Unchanging Perceptions

Every year the world changes, but in the beginning of human culture the changes would have been few and slow. But technology, even stone age technology, increases the rate and scope of change, and humans now have more technology than ever, to the point where, at present, the world changes far more quickly than do the perceptions of most people.

Those changes create perceptual conflicts. The other day someone commented on this blog that most Americans don’t live in cities. For most of U.S. history, that was true – up until 1920. Since then the population in “urban areas,” which includes small towns, has increased from half the population to over 80%. Some might say that denser and larger cities still hold only a small percent of the population, but since 2010, the top 48 urban areas, i.e., the big cities, have held more than half the U.S. population, and the suburbs, while growing, only hold 25% of the U.S. population. Yet a significant large percentage of Americans still hew to a more rural or suburban perception of where people live, and that perception strongly influences their politics and voting behavior.

More than a few months ago, I made the observation that the substandard minimum wage was effectively a subsidy for corporations and for small businesses. I won’t say that observation was disputed, but it’s a fact that’s been ignored or minimized, and recent changes in habits and demographics support my observation. Why are there so many low wage jobs going begging? The direct reason is that not enough people want to work for those wages, and there are several factors.

First, legal immigration of people who will accept those wages has been reduced and greater emphasis on requiring legal credentials [real or forged] has reduced the number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. who can and will work, because getting caught working illegally will result in deportation.

Second, fewer and fewer young Americans are willing to take such jobs, and the reason they won’t is that they don’t have to. When I was that age, to be able to do what I wanted to do required cash. Any form of entertainment required money – for movies, drive-ins, taking girls out on a date, gasoline and insurance for my old 1952 Ford, even for clothes because, back then, clothes mattered, and while prices were much lower, without income, I was essentially isolated, except at school. Technology has changed all that. Teenagers today don’t have to meet personally; they have cellphones. They have more access to almost costless entertainment on any given day than my generation had in total over their entire teenage years. They don’t date, for the most part; they hang out. They’re not as interested in clothes, and, in real dollar terms, basic clothing is cheaper. All those changes mean that they need far less money for their non-scholastic pursuits. Then, too, because the job market for skilled professionals is getting tighter, many college students opt for professional “internships,” rather than part-time jobs, to increase their attractiveness after graduation. All this means that far fewer teenagers and young Americans are interested in taking what they regard as shitty low-paying jobs.

Americans and small businesses, in particular, have come to depend on goods and services created by cheap labor, subsidized by the ever-decreasing real value of the minimum wage. But with automation and technological change, those small businesses often can’t afford either to pay more or to adapt. Larger businesses automate and hire fewer people at all pay levels, where real pay is lower, except at the very highest levels.

The growth of cheap and personally selective mass communications, as I’ve noted earlier, has reduced social cohesiveness and increased political polarization, and that polarization has resulted in zoning and political climates that reduce the amount of affordable housing for poorer Americans, and that often means they can’t afford to live where there are jobs because those jobs won’t pay for higher lodging costs.

The massive growth of fossil fuels has created increasingly negative environmental effects, but, until recently, despite scientists pointing out the problems, most people’s perceptions wouldn’t allow them to see or accept what was happening, particularly when the need to reduce pollution costs jobs in high-polluting basic industries such as coal and oil and where the jobs that do exist are fewer and require greater levels of skill.

The real danger is that people can’t or won’t mentally accept, adapt, and react constructively to the rapidity and scope of the changes created by our growing reliance on technology and that they’ll react angrily to those changes which affect them adversely and ignore or take for granted the hundreds of changes that have improved their lives – and those reactions are based on perceptions of a world that no longer exists… and one that sometimes never did.

And to top it all off, technology has also massively increased the production and distribution of highly effective firearms at a time when frustration and anger are increasing.

We’re seeing that anger everywhere, and I don’t see it vanishing any time soon.

Perspectives

Over the past few months, and even in the past few days, I read and heard a fair amount of Republican rhetoric about how the Democrats are all to blame for the current inflation and economic problems and that, when pressed, because Republicans seldom mention it willingly, how the Democratic House is making such an unwarranted big deal about this little demonstration on January 6, 2021.

Frankly, that disgusts me. When an outgoing President tries to overturn an election both parties at the state level agreed was fair and legitimate and something like 147 Republican U.S. Representatives support an attempt at a legislative coup supported by a large and violent demonstration and invasion of the Capitol Building, it is a BIG DEAL.

Republicans are always citing the Constitution, yet they were the ones trying to overturn the Constitution. I’d say that’s a very big deal. Yet with three or four notable Republican exceptions, they can’t even talk about it, except to minimize it. And the fact that right-wingers across the country continue to attack everything they don’t like as unconstitutional strongly suggests that they know little about actual Constitutional law, only what they think the Constitution says, and could care less about what it really means.

Not only that, but such statements and rhetoric convey quite clearly that the Republican leadership only believes in democracy when Republicans win elections. Election races that Democrats win are illegal and corrupt.

Fox News and other right wing news organizations won’t televise the January 6th hearings, most likely because doing so would cost them ratings and support because too many Republicans have swallowed the Trumpist Koolaid.

Oh, and about all that excessive federal spending that spurred inflation? Guess what? Most of it occurred under Trump’s watch, and, anyway, the Republicans supported everything that passed. But, of course, the Republicans can’t admit that, either. Or that the Trump tariffs also boosted that inflation.

A Few Questions

How did we as a society get where a woman wanting equal rights and control over her own body is an “ultra-liberal,” and where “traditional family values” mean legally subordinating a woman’s rights to government [usually male] control? And where those who trumpet “family values” the most strongly are the ones most opposed to programs for poor families and neglected children?

Or where the vast majority of “conservatives” are opposed to actual conservation and push for more fossil fuels development – or at the least oppose reducing dependence on fossil fuels?

Or where “fiscally-conservative” Republicans support as much federal spending for government programs as “spendthrift” Democrats and people don’t recognize it, especially Republicans?

Or where “progressive” Democrats seldom, if ever, can make any progress because they’re so scattered that they can never focus on the most important issues, like eliminating de facto discrimination and getting equal pay and equal rights? And why are there so many outcries about the “proper” pronouns and “improper terms” for ethnic groups and so few about poor pay and working conditions?

Why do parents and politicians focus so much on children getting into and paying for college when at least a third of those children haven’t been well enough educated to succeed in college?

And why do so many Republicans feel that teenagers who aren’t old enough to drink alcoholic beverages are old enough to be trusted with firearms capable of rapid-fire mass murder?

Why do so many businesses complain about the shortages of capable and trained workers when they routinely use downsizing and reductions-in-force to remove older capable employees? [Might it just be that the experienced and capable employees make more money, and businesses – especially in the computer, financial, and high-tech electronics fields – don’t want to train younger people and can’t find cheaper good workers?]

Why does the pharmaceutical industry get away with profit rates nearly twice those of similar corporations in other fields at a time when drug prices can bankrupt the average family? And why does Congress let Big Pharma manipulate formulations of established drugs solely for the purpose of forestalling generic competition?

Why are states with dominant political institutions and/or political parties most interested in reducing individual rights the very states most likely to cite “states’ rights” in support of such discrimination?

Overreaction to Overreaction

The long and often passionate reactions to the previous post provide a fair amount of support for its point.

I never advocated taking away guns, even AR-15s, but when I suggested that perhaps magazine sizes and modifications were excessive, there were accusations, an insistence that Americans needed to have mass-murder weapons as a last defense against domestic “tyranny,” and comparisons to gun control by Nazi Germany. But the plain fact was that Germany relaxed the gun control measures imposed by the Versailles Treaty of 1919 in 1928, well before Hitler came to power. In 1939, long after Hitler came to power, the Nazis did change the laws to forbid firearms to Jews.

And there was the straw man argument that other weapons kill – which they do, but not anywhere close to the continuing, persistent magnitude of death by guns, except, again, the domestic automobile, which we regulate heavily, with the result that the death rate has been more than halved since its peak in 1969. Yet no one seems to think that those life-saving measures have restricted their freedom that much.

Then there were the citations of law – most dating back a century or two – with claims that they support pretty much uncontrolled possession of firearms, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that some restrictions on firearms are Constitutional. All these also ignore the fact that in fact firearms were restricted at the time of the Constitution – restricted to white males, largely land-holding white males. The Founding Fathers also provided the mechanisms for change in what they wrought, which suggests rather strongly that they never intended the Constitution to be an unchanging iron-clad straightjacket.

Since that post, we’ve had yet another mass shooting by a man – and since virtually all mass shootings seem to be by angry men, perhaps we should just limit the possession of weapons of mass murder to women, except that would then create even more angry men with yet another motive to play self-appointed vigilante for grievances real and imagined.

I’m frankly getting tired of the hue and cry from the far right claiming that even comparatively minor restrictions on weapons and who can use them is some massive reduction of freedom. Those opposing some control of on such weapons are all too often the same crew that cite “right-to-life,” but somehow seem to think that massive restrictions on women are justified, but minor restrictions on gun owners are not.

I suggested a few restrictions on who could use what kind of firearms, and the reaction was, as I pointed out, an overreaction, the same kind of overreaction now occurring in Congress, with the likely and predictable result that no real change will occur and that the mass killings will continue.

Overreaction

Recent discussions on this blog and in the public media on subjects such as abortion, gun ownership, and opioids have something in common, and that’s a manifestation of overreactive absolutism that appeals to the politically active extremes who control each political party.

While I still believe a majority of Americans are at heart moderate, from what I see, that moderate majority is shrinking, for a number of reasons.

There’s a growing distrust of the other side, fueled by the extremists on both sides. The gun control/safety issue is one example. With almost 400 million firearms in the United States and the second amendment, there is NO WAY the “left” is ever going to take your guns.

So the question is really about how to increase gun safety and what restrictions are reasonable to reduce gun violence and the associated carnage. The only real use for an AR-15 with large magazines and anti-personnel rounds is to kill people. So equipped, it’s not a hunting weapon; it’s not a target or sport shooting weapon; it’s really not a self-defense weapon [how many people can or should sleep with something like that close at hand and use it accurately and effectively in the middle of the night?]. No homeowner needs hundreds of rounds for self-defense, and anyone who thinks that is either self-deluded or excessively paranoid, and might well be exactly the kind of individual not to be trusted with hundreds of rounds and a rapid-fire weapon.

When a teenager buys two AR-15 type weapons and hundreds of rounds in a few days, that ought to set off red-flags everywhere. The fact that local police in Uvalde didn’t want to confront a single teenager with that kind of weaponry should suggest just how dangerous it is.

Driving a car requires getting a license [and passing tests to assure minimum competency] and having a vehicle with features equipped for safe usage. It doesn’t stop millions and millions from not driving, and we still kill tens of thousands of people on the highways every year – but you don’t get to drive tanks and armed APCs on the highway.

Societies don’t work well without limits on excessive personal and corporate behavior, nor do they work well when everything is overcontrolled.

Yet on the question of firearms safety, somehow it’s all about the unfounded fear that the feds and the left are going to take away guns, rather than about what reasonable and practical standards and laws need be enacted for public safety.

Illogic and Hypocrisy

Texas has more guns than any other state and also suffers more gun deaths annually than any other state. In addition, the states with the highest rates of gun ownership also have the highest gun death rates.

In the tragic Uvalde school shooting, while early reports stated that one armed school security officer was ineffectual against the shooter and allowed him to get into the school, later police statements indicate there was no security officer present and that police arrived fifteen minutes later and did not attempt to enter the school building after the shooter fired at them. More armed law officers arrived, and proceeded to dither around the outside of the school for forty minutes, breaking windows to help children escape, but not putting themselves in harm’s way, while the shooter barricaded himself in a classroom and massacred the teacher and 19 children, until a tactical unit arrived.

So all those guns weren’t terribly useful, or at least none of those upstanding personnel wanted to use them and risk their lives to stop further killing of children.

Yet Republican Texas politicians—and Republicans across the country – continue to claim that more guns are the answer when statistics clearly show that more guns are the major component of the problem and that more guns (and/or their owners) aren’t stopping the shooters.

These same Republicans claim they’re opposed to abortion because life in any state of development is sacred, and they’ll make it impossible for women to get abortions, often even if the pregnancy could cost that woman her life. Even where abortion is legal, they make it incredibly difficult, with all sorts of restrictions and requirements. Yet an eighteen year old can walk into a gun store and buy two weapons whose only real use is to kill people, with almost no requirements at all.

We don’t allow people to drive cars without licenses and driver’s tests, but you can buy a gun without either.

Interestingly enough, 62% of all U.S. gun owners are male, and 88% of all U.S. homicides are committed by males, three quarters of which involve a firearm. And, of all the women in the world killed by firearms in 2017, nearly 92 percent of them were women in the U.S.

The Republicans not only want to restrict women’s freedom to control their own bodies, but they also reject any measure that would restrict their right to weapons designed to kill people, including women and children.