Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Real Split

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

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

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

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

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

Too Few Limits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump the GLOAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a Thought

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

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

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

So why did the Republicans make such a proposal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merely a Liar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mage Wins Kentucky Derby

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Economy/Bad Economy

On average, the statistics would seem to indicate that the U.S. economy is doing better. Inflation dropped below 5%, the lowest rate in two years, and unemployment decreased to 3.5%, a fifty-year low. Wages are up overall, and housing prices are beginning to ease.

So why does a record sixty-nine percent of the American public hold negative views about the economy both now and in the future?

Because those optimistic figures don’t tell the whole story. While overall income in the U.S. has risen over twenty-five percent since 2000, median household income has risen only seven percent, and wages for working class earners have barely stayed ahead of inflation. Income for the top one tenth of one percent of earners, by contrast, has jumped forty-one percent, and corporate profit rates and revenues are at an all-time high, a factor that created more than half the current inflation. So, for the fortunate few, the economic situation is looking good.

As for the rest of the U.S., higher interest rates have reduced the ability of average Americans to afford rent or mortgage payments, to buy car, or to pay off credit card balances. The price of natural gas for home heating has more than doubled since this time last year. The average price of a home in the U.S. has increased by thirty-five percent in just the last five years, while the average mortgage rate has more than doubled since 2020, a combination that effectively increases the cost of buying a house by almost 2 ½ times.

The overall prices of goods in America have increased by 67% (even after adjustment for inflation) since 2000. Less than half of all Americans can afford to pay an unexpected cost (medical, car repair, etc.) without going further into debt or simply being unable to pay.

At the same time, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy of any high-income country in the world, the poorest access to health insurance, the longest working hours, and the least parental leave and paid vacation. Also, by the way, we have reached the point where firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers.

Those factors might just explain the disconnect between the favorable statistics and the way most people feel.

The Underlying Problem

The “right-to-life” position of devout Catholics and extreme Evangelicals is a very real problem but is also symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

The Founding Fathers recognized that problem, which is the danger posed by making national laws based strictly on one given religion’s views and requirements, especially when there are different faiths with differing views.

Right now, the far right’s pro-life extreme position enshrines in law a belief that essentially a fetus’s right to life trumps the mother’s right to life and right to determine what to do with her own body. Put another way – the right-to-lifers believe that even a clump of undifferentiated cells has more rights than a living, breathing, thinking woman.

Jewish beliefs, from what I’ve read, state that the mother’s rights are paramount until birth. Neither represents the most widely held belief in the United States, that abortion should be allowed, roughly along the lines set forth in Roe v. Wade.

One of the essential underlying principles behind the founding of the United States and its Constitution was the goal, so far as possible, of self-determination. The far-right anti-abortion laws restrict and deny self-determination to women, despite all the explanation and apologia to the contrary.

Not only that, but the so-called “pro-life” position is in many ways “anti-life” because the ramifications of legal restrictions are destroying or reducing available pre-natal and maternity care in states and localities across the country. Some medications that can induce abortion are being banned, even for women with other conditions who need them to survive. Birth control methods are also being denied, restricting the ability of women to plan their families and their future.

All these restrictions don’t apply to men. So… enshrining the views of a religious minority creates a legal inequality between men and women. On the other hand, allowing women the right to choose does not restrict the personal rights of women who do not believe in abortion. If they don’t want an abortion, they don’t have to have one. If they find a particular kind of birth control objectionable, they don’t have to use it.

Why is this so hard a concept to understand?

The anti-abortion crew insists, in effect, that there’s something so special about their beliefs that the government should pass laws to override the beliefs held by the majority of Americans.

Not only that, but the same crew, using terms like the innocuous sounding Florida Citizens Alliance, Moms for Liberty, Families for Educational Freedom, or Utah Parents United, have effectively banned classic American novels (like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird), books that even mention different gender identities, and histories that illuminate more fully the evils of 400 years of black oppression or of the Holocaust.

State, local, or federal repression of ideas or books you don’t like because goes hand in hand with political repression, and those actions are what define a theocracy – a land where one religion rules and imposes beliefs by law — and theocracy is what the Founding Fathers opposed, and what many of them fled from.

Is theocracy what really what you want?


We have pets. At one time we had five dogs and three cats. All the cats rescued themselves by finding us. So did three of the dogs. Ergo, we needed a carpet cleaner. Although we’re down to one cat and two dachshunds, we still have the occasional need for a carpet cleaner.

Last week the “old” carpet cleaning machine died. I’ve never gotten more than four years out of any cleaner, and this was no exception. So, over the weekend I trundled off and purchased a new version of the same brand – one that proved effective over the years.

The price was almost exactly double what I paid four years ago. The design was somewhat better and likely more functional, but essentially the same technology and design. When I checked other makes, the price increases were comparable.

Now, according to the BLS, overall inflation since 2019 has been 19%. So why is my carpet cleaner showing a 100% rise in prices? Most statistical reports I’ve been able to find show that U.S. manufacturers required, on average, price increases of 8% per year over the past few years to maintain profit margins.

Even the average price for new cars has “only” increased some 30% over the past four years. So why have carpet cleaners increased 100%?

I fear that the answer is quite simple. Because on certain product lines, those where the consumer really needs to buy the product now, the manufacturers can charge more, get more profit, and blame the increase on generic “inflation.”

According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, over the past four years, over half (54%) of inflation was caused by increased corporate profits, which makes sense since profits have increased at record rates, while, historically, corporate profit increases have only contributed 11% to inflation.

So let’s put the blame for high inflation where it really belongs – on greedy corporations – because those increased corporate revenues didn’t go to workers [except high paid executives], and the “supply chain” shortages or increased wages weren’t the principal cause of today’s inflation. Excessive profits were.

Which is why my carpet cleaner cost 60% more than it really should have… and why I have absolutely no sympathy for corporate executives opposing higher corporate taxes.

The New Fanatics

The most common definition of “fanatic” is: “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.”

The far right in the United States clearly meets this definition, especially with regard to abortion.

They’ve harassed and murdered doctors for conducting legal abortions, not to mention wide-scale harassment of women seeking legal abortions. They’ve attempted and often succeeded in banning and limiting a range of effective birth-control medications, including medications not limited to birth, thereby threatening the health of women requiring such medication to treat other medical problems.

In practice, banning all forms of abortion would kill thousands if not millions of women – or turn them into criminals for not wanting to bear children they don’t want and often can’t support. The fanatics who propose such laws have demonstrated that they have no interest in supporting and educating these unwanted children, even when the mothers cannot. That’s hardly “pro-life,” not when they’re willing to require a living woman to die.

These same fanatics also want to ban the majority of contraceptives, the result being that men can have sex without being effectively required to deal with the consequences, while effectively shoving the entire responsibility for having sex upon women and denying them the means for avoiding unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and likely increasing the amount of domestic violence (which almost invariably turns out poorly for the woman).

As I’ve noted earlier, the Republican political establishment largely backs or does not oppose these measures despite the fact that the majority of Americans don’t support the fanatics’ agenda.

Notwithstanding the flawed and often deliberately misleading legal rhetoric of today’s far right, the Founding Fathers made it clear in the Constitution that they did not want government to impose religious standards on the people.

But fanatics don’t really care about what the Constitution really stated, or about having a government for and by the people; they want a government that imposes their standards on everyone, even when the majority doesn’t approve. It’s ironic that so many of them have spoken against the imposition of Islamic “Sharia” law when they’re effectively proposing a “Christian” law that treats women in the same fashion and would effectively create a semi-theocratic state.

Abortion, Immigration, and the Far Right

What aspect of both abortion and immigration does the Republican far right fail to see or understand?

That aspect is fairly simple. You can’t totally stop either. You can’t even significantly restrict either without massive loss of civil rights and without significant adverse health effects and social disruption, particularly on women and families who are living from paycheck to paycheck.

Already, some of the various state restrictions on abortion are having major impacts on women’s health. Family planning clinics are closing;.hospitals are closing maternity wards; some doctors are reluctant or refusing to treat patients with spontaneous miscarriages because they fear lawsuits. Certain drugs that can be used to induce miscarriages are effectively being prohibited for sale, even to patients who need them to survive other medical conditions, partly because pharmacies fear lawsuits and even conviction on felony counts.

Some women, largely affluent or with connections, will still find ways to obtain abortions. But millions of women won’t have that choice. Millions of others will find their health and health care compromised.

As I noted more than a few times before, you also can’t stop all unwanted immigration, not without becoming an authoritarian police state with walls like the former East Germany, willing to shoot anyone who crosses the border.

Yet the Republican Party trumpets freedom – except what they’re effectively trumpeting, as demonstrated in Tennessee last week, is more a form of white male supremacy, rationalized by evangelical white Christianity, in a country where less than fifteen percent of the population adheres to the stringent beliefs of Christian nationalists (essentially the largely white evangelical Trump base).

Moreover, a Pew study released last week showed that two-thirds of Americans believe that religion should stay out of politics.

Yet Republicans continue to use gerrymandering and judicial selection as a way to impose stringent religious-based beliefs into law, beliefs contrary to those held by the majority of Americans, and for that matter, contrary to the U.S. Constitution itself.

Those laws will fail to stop abortion or immigration, but they will adversely impact the health and welfare of all Americans, as well as increasingly limit personal freedoms in almost every area, except of course, the right to bear arms – and to carry and use weapons of war.

Climate Change & Weather

This past Tuesday, at 2:15 in the afternoon, the thermometer indicated that it was 55 degrees F. on the back deck. By 3:30 p.m., the temperature had dropped to 30 degrees, and there were already two inches of snow. By the next morning, when the snow stopped, it was almost knee-deep in the back yard, and the temperature was down to 15 degrees – on April 4th.

Now… radically shifting weather and weather events far out of season are scarcely unknown here in Cedar City. In 2014, we got 13-14 inches of snow on the Saturday before Mothers’ Day. We lost power for two days, and it took weeks before all the broken branches were cleared from the town.

But changes in climate have markedly changed the weather patterns, especially in increasing the violence of weather events and the wind speeds associated with extreme weather events. Statistics show that climate change doesn’t seem to increase the number of severe weather events, such as major rains or snowstorms, hurricanes, or tornados, but it does appear to have increased the intensity of such events.

The vast majority of this past week’s tornados in the south and Midwest, for example, had more high wind speeds and stayed on the ground significantly longer than historical averages, just as last year’s hurricanes had higher wind speeds. Likewise, the amount of snow dropped on the California mountains this past year is close to the all-time record year, and the snow year’s not over. Here in Utah, this winter set an all-time record for snowpack, and the governor has announced a snow-melt warning. Even so, the Great Salt Lake is only a few feet above its all-time low.

So while the southwestern United States has been given a brief reprieve from one of the worst droughts in historic times, I’m wagering that this past winter is only a short respite from increasing heat and dryness.

The Infrastructure of Evil

The other day I was reading a book – one I found enjoyable – when suddenly a question occurred to me? How can the bad guys create all these problems with no one even noticing until they get in the protagonists’ way or someone gets killed.

As a writer, I put as much effort into creating the infrastructure that opposes my protagonists as I do for the protagonist, and that means giving more than hints that the opponents are up to something. Obviously, how much of this is seen or noticed by the viewpoint character or characters depends on how much the protagonist knows to begin with and how much he or she should know, but really effective opposition/evil has to leave traces somewhere. If people disappear, those around them notice. Everything leaves traces… somewhere. Now, often people, and even governments, are gullible, stupid, or greedy enough to ignore those traces, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The other aspect is that effective organizations require resources and expertise, even the evils ones. I know that the James Bond movies are thriller popcorn, but I have to laugh at the implausible economics of the villains. Smuggling gold by disguising it as the bumpers and parts of a luxury automobile and then shipping the automobile by air freight? That doesn’t make sense economically or technically.

One reason why I stopped writing book reviews years ago was that the publication I wrote for didn’t like my pointing out implausibilities – such as giving an address as residential when that address was actually in the middle of the main drag of Georgetown – the D.C. Georgetown – or using dental mirrors for long-distance around the corner surveillance.

And effective and realistic villains not only need money or the equivalent, but they also need a consistent source of it. In the real world, that’s usually drugs or counterfeiting something, or skimming off businesses or occasionally using a totally legitimate business to provide resources or cash for something less legitimate and more profitable. But I seldom see where such resources come from in F&SF novels, especially fantasy.

Yet I so often find that while authors labor over the realism of the viewpoint characters and supporting characters, that same care isn’t always applied to the bad guys.

The “Lost” Boys

Too many young men in the United States appear to be in trouble on a number of fronts, especially educational and occupational.

On the educational front, in 1970, men earned 60% of all undergraduate college degrees, but by 2022, men only received 40% of such degrees, while women’s share was 60% and is climbing.

By high school graduation, two-thirds of the students in the top 10 percent of the class, ranked by G.P.A., are girls, while roughly two-thirds of the students at the lowest decile are boys. In 2020, at the 16 top American law schools, not a single one of the flagship law reviews had a man as editor in chief.

On the economic front, matters aren’t any better.

In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% of that same demographic were not working, the highest percentage ever recorded.

One in three American men with only a high school diploma — 10 million men — are now out of the labor force. The biggest drop in employment is among young men aged 25 to 34.

Women’s earnings (for full-time year-round workers) slightly more than doubled from 1960 to 2021 in real dollars, compared with a 29% growth for men, and adjusted for inflation, most men in the U.S. today earn less than they did in 1979, suggesting that the gender wage gap (17% at present) is largely concentrated in the high-paid professional fields, and is likely much higher than 17% in those fields.

The top ten to fifteen percent of American males are doing just fine; they still control and monopolize the majority of highest-paying positions in the U.S., but below that level, most men are comparatively worse off than their fathers.

Nor are matters much better on the social front.

Today, 18-to- 34-year-old men spend more time playing video games daily than 12-to- 17-year-old boys.

Men account for 40% (or less) of new college graduates, but also account for roughly 70% of drug overdose deaths and more than 80% of gun violence deaths.

Nearly half of all young adults are single: 34% of women, and a whopping 63% percent of men, partly because more younger women are dating and marrying older men, or refusing to “settle” for just any male. Surveys suggest that’s because they find too many men their own age to be unsuitable and/or are reluctant to marry someone who isn’t doing at least close to as well as they are.

Theories abound as to the causes of this change, but underlying all those postulated causes is one other basic factor – for the first time in history, the need for physical strength in the high-tech occupational world is comparatively minimal, and as such, pays less than ever before.

As for subsidiary causes, I tend to believe there’s a devil’s brew of factors, beginning with the loss of higher-paid, semi-skilled manufacturing jobs in the United States, compounded by the excessive touting of higher education as the answer to lack of opportunity and the stigmatization of technical skills – electricians, plumbers, machine tool operators. Add to that the loss of suitable of male role models due to discrimination, excessive incarceration, the loss of entry-level skilled trade jobs, the appeal of video games and social media, as well as other factors.

And then there’s something I almost hate to mention, but there’s also the laziness factor. A certain percentage of male human beings seem to be designed so that they look for the easiest way to do what’s required, and for some, that applies to survival. So they take the easiest courses in high school and college and find the easiest way to pass, and if they can’t find a job, they may return to their parents’ basement. Or some may see dealing drugs as much easier and more profitable than physical labor or long hours. How many are there? Well, statistics say that there are more than 10 million able-bodied American males who aren’t seeking a job on a long-term basis – even when jobs are available.

Or, put another way, the “lion” model hasn’t worked all that well in human society, and it especially doesn’t work well in a higher tech society.

A Particular Problem with Law

Last year Alan Dean Foster revealed that the Disney corporation hadn’t paid him the royalties he was owed for various works in the Star Wars universe. With that also came the revelation that Disney also hadn’t paid a score of other authors, if not hundreds. Foster had been trying to get the matter addressed by Disney for years, but between corporate stalling and legal maneuvers, Foster couldn’t get anywhere until he took the matter public, and even with the publicity generated by SFWA [Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America] it took months for Disney to offer a settlement. But from various press reports, it appears that many other writers are in the same position and so far remain unpaid.

This is hardly a problem restricted to writers. It occurs time and time again when a large organization or corporation fires, dismisses, injures, or fails to pay employees or individuals who’ve provided services. A state university here in Utah fired a tenured professor, despite a finding by the university’s own grievance board that the firing was unjustified. After more than seven years of fighting the unjust termination, the professor ran out of money and settled for less than his legal fees alone. Another case of unjust termination by another professor is still pending. My wife’s university has a legal department with seemingly endless resources that dwarf anything that individual faculty members can muster… and the ability to draw out litigation and legal matters for years, if not decades.

The same problem exists with all large corporations. Even the federal judge overseeing PG&E, whose maintenance failures have led to two massive fires killing over a hundred people and destroying entire towns, found it impossible to make the company fully accountable or to obtain adequate restitution for those who lost their lives, largely because the corporation used its political muscle to change state regulation and oversight, and to shift the cost of clean-up to rate-payers rather than shareholders, while paying executives bonuses. And yes, PG&E was also the company Erin Brockovich proved was poisoning the water system of the town of Hinkley, and while she obtained a $333 million settlement, no individuals at the company were ever held responsible, and the settlement cost was passed on to rate-payers.

Theoretically, all people are equal under law, but when one “person” is a corporation, they’re no longer equal. First, there’s seldom any personal risk to anyone in the corporation so long as they’re legally maximizing profits, even though the corporation can be held liable. Second, no one but the federal government really has the resources to take on giant corporations in legal fights, and sometimes even the feds can’t. And third, corporations can last out any individual.

Which is why the only protection for individuals in a world where corporations have more rights than individuals lies in federal regulation – or in making those who run the corporations personally responsible and liable.

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.