Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The On-Going “Hate” Campaign

The other day I got a couple of spam-type political emails, claiming that “The Left Hates Thanksgiving.” And before long, it will doubtless be “The Left Hates Christmas,” because that also occurs every year.

Both of which are follow-ons to a whole slew of far-right initiatives to portray both centrists and liberals as the evilest people in the United States. The right also engages in far greater personal attacks with virtually no regard for the truth. All the vicious right-wing rhetoric about liberals eating babies and running child porn operations from beneath pizza parlors [that don’t even have basements] is fairly indicative of the disregard that the far right has for the truth.

For years, the right has claimed that the left wants to take away the right’s guns, but the left only wants to get rid of military style mass-killing weapons, and they couldn’t outlaw all guns if they wanted to, not without a Constitutional amendment, which isn’t politically possible now and never will be.

The left certainly has no love of the far right, but for the most part, the left tends to attack individuals for their policies and for trying to take away personal freedoms. There’s a huge difference between minorities who’ve been oppressed for centuries wanting fairer treatment under law and right-wing nutjobs who attack the Capitol because they don’t want to accept an election that didn’t turn out the way they wanted.

All across the country, election officials have been threatened, and politicians who have pointed out the illegality of the January 6th insurrection have had their lives and those of their families threatened, hundreds of times.

I’ve been in and around politics for almost fifty years, and I can only recall four instances where possible “leftists” targeted Republican officeholders with armed attacks and/or violent threats. While there are likely a few others as well, the numbers of officeholders threatened by the far-right is in the hundreds, if not the thousands, and includes Republicans whose actions the far-right doesn’t like, all of which strongly suggests that the Republican Party is not only the Party of No, but also the Party of Hate.

And what’s even worse, none of the GOP leaders even seem to care that some of their officeholders and far too many of their supporters are lying hate-mongers.

Commercials and the Odds

I have to admit it. I do tend to get my news from CNN. But I’m getting less and less enchanted with CNN, not because of the “slant” of the news, because all news sources have a slant, but because, with the new head of CNN, not only are there layoffs, but there are more and more commercials. That’s likely because CNN’s parent company – Warner Bros-Discovery – wants to squeeze more revenue out of CNN at a time when fewer people are watching CNN. That’s despite the fact that Warner Bros-Discovery’s gross profits for the fiscal year ending in September were $11.4 billion, an increase of 58% over the previous year.

Now, I don’t see that cramming more ads into a profitable news network that’s already losing viewers is going to do anything to increase viewers. If you’re looking for news and only finding more commercials, that’s not going to maintain viewership.

But this trend is everywhere, the latest being Netflix and Amazon Prime cutting commercials into movies that used to be commercial-free. Supposedly, one of the attractions of Netflix and Prime was the lack of commercials.

I’m not a sports fanatic, but on brief breaks from writing on Saturdays and Sundays [yes, I write on Sundays and every other day], I’ll channel-surf the football games or in basketball season, the college games, but I’m doing that less and less as well.

Why?

Because even though my satellite system may have three or four games on at the same time, there are more and more times when all four games have a series of commercials on at the same time, and there are more of them that last longer. How the various networks manage to synchronize this inability to avoid commercials I have no idea, unless it happens that they’re paying the athletic bodies for more commercial slots. And if I’m seeking a brief look at a game in progress, I’d like to see a game in progress, not a series of commercials, especially since the satellite service is already charging me for access (not that I have much choice, living 200 miles and a mountain range from the nearest metro area).

But then, the biggest corporations are locked into a mindset of grubbing for higher and higher profits, even when it’s counterproductive… and possibly likely to precipitate greater government regulation, about which they’ll bitch even when their actions have invited it.

The Republican House

If early statements and promises are any indication, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives will continue being the Party of No, with meaningless investigations of any Democratic member of the Biden Administration that they feel they can target, as well as quite a few legislative initiatives [which will likely go nowhere] to undo any laws and policies that the Republicans don’t like. So far, I’m not aware of a single constructive suggestion from the Republicans, and I don’t consider tax cuts for corporations and the wealth as positive, not given the state of both deficit and debt.

It’s not as though Kevin McCarthy has much choice, given the size of the “Freedom Caucus” and the number of election deniers within the House Republicans and the fact that Trump, the biggest liar and election denier of all, has announced he’s running for President again.

The Freedom Caucus appears likely to make it somewhere between difficult and impossible for McCarthy to come up with and pass a unified and constructive Republican agenda, even though there are areas, such as immigration reform, that could gain enough Democratic votes to pass. But because there’s so much anger among Republicans, it’s likely that “revenge” actions against the Democrats and President Biden will take up much of the next year, and the year after that will be consumed by pre-election positioning.

All that suggests a singularly unproductive Congressional session, and I could be wrong (I certainly have been before), but the anger and negativity of most elected Republicans will make getting anything done beyond the bare minimums (if even that) extraordinarily difficult.

Now What?

A slight majority (or a near majority, depending on how you view it) of the American people decided last Tuesday, on the whole, that they did not want to be governed by people who lied and who tried to restrict their freedoms. It was, at best, a reluctant decision, but a great many Americans decided that the more liberal party was less of a threat than a party dominated by election-deniers and would-be autocrats.

Even as I write this, not all elections in the House or Senate have been decided, but assuming that the Republicans do end up controlling the House, it’s likely to be by a very slim majority, and I would not wish to be Kevin McCarthy, because, as I learned many long years ago as a Republican staffer in the House and later as a Republican appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan Administration, the people who can hurt you the worst aren’t the Democrats, but other Republicans.

With something like 150 election deniers among House Republicans, McCarthy will have a very hard time getting much of anything done except dead-end investigations, contentious hearings, and attempted impeachments, and those won’t suffice to keep the Trumpists and ultra-conservatives happy, not for long. That doesn’t even consider the additional divisiveness of another Trump campaign for the presidency.

Sooner or later, McCarthy may well have to threaten to shut down government to try to obtain what the far right wants, if indeed he becomes and remains Speaker. This likely won’t set well with most Americans, at least if Biden portrays the situation accurately to the people.

All in all, the next four years look bumpier than the previous four, unless the Republicans melt down into bitter feuding fiefdoms or some Republicans defect to the Democrats out of sheer self-defense, and none of that seems likely to me. But then, again, like many political pundits, I didn’t see the election turning out as it did, and given the political instability, nothing is certain at this point, except for ever more bitter rhetoric and recriminations from the far right… and, possibly, after the shock wears off, more unwanted stridency from the far left.

Simple Laws = Stupid Laws

Too many Americans (and all theocrats and dictators) have a fondness for “simple” solutions: Ban All Abortion. Stop all immigration. Kill the Unbelievers. Defund the Police. Stop the Steal. Insist that the only love be between a man and a woman. Balance the budget, no matter what. A college education is the answer.

The list of simplistic absolutes is long, both now and throughout human history, and all of those absolutes, including the many that I haven’t named, have one thing in common. They can’t work, at least not without massively increasing human misery and suffering.

Why do free or even semi-free nations have justice systems and courts? It’s just not to determine guilt and punish the guilty. It’s also to determine whether the absolutes apply and to what degree. Our legal system attempts to take into account shades of gray. It’s far from perfect, but those who created it understood that absolutes are too often tyranny.

The problem politically is that too many people don’t like complexity, and, as well, that too much complexity is unworkable. Just try to install solar power in some parts of California.

So law has to strike a balance between simple beliefs and unworkable complexity.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Republican Party seems to back tyrannical faith-based absolutes and far too many liberal Democrats opt for “woke” complexity.

What the Democrats don’t understand is that they’ve lost support by pushing complex extremes, while the Republicans don’t understand that their beliefs will result in the majority losing their freedom.

And, of course, the extremes on each each side thinks they have the only acceptable answers, which is why the election is turning out the way it is.

Corporations Are Anti-Democratic

Or at the very least, profits come above democracy and its values for almost half of the Fortune 500 companies, who contributed more than $14 million to the 147 congressional Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election results. The five largest defense companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — contributed a total of nearly $2 million to Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, and that doesn’t include contributions to so-called Super PACs that can fund independent campaigns for or against issues or individual candidates.

After brief “pauses” in contributions, by early 2022, the political arms of these corporations were back in business supporting those Republicans, because they need those government contracts, which is something I don’t quite understand, given that, in many cases, there’s almost no one else who could develop and build those expensive defense procurements.

Corporate donors and billionaires have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Political Action Committees theoretically not affiliated with any political party or candidate, but that’s a legal fiction. The PACs spending millions of dollars and running night-and-day attack ads here in Utah against the independent candidate for Senate [Evan McMullin] while endorsing the far-right incumbent [Mike Lee] might as well be called GOP auxiliaries.

Add to that the fact that such PACs can spend millions on advertising pushing blatant misstatements and outright lies. In McMullin’s case, he’s actually a moderate Republican and member of the LDS faith who’s anti-abortion – but the PACs portray him as ultra-liberal and pro-abortion because he said he voted for Biden over Trump.

In just the mid-term elections, oil and gas industry Super PACs have poured over $300 million into ads supporting Republican candidates to the House and Senate. Eight Republican billionaires, all with ties to corporate, finance, or tech industries, have poured nearly $400 million into supporting Republican candidates.

At the current pace of spending, campaign spending for the mid-term elections will exceed $9 billion, the vast majority of that money coming from Super PACs.

Why all that spending? Because profits come before people or the national interests…and they’ll continue to do so as long as corporations and billionaires can spend unlimited amounts on their so-called unaffiliated campaigns.

Republicans Remain the Party of No

Less than a week before the mid-term election, the Republicans have yet to come up with a single concrete principle or legislative agenda for how they’ll solve anything. Their only message is, effectively: The Democrats caused everything that bothers you, and we’ll do better, because, after all, the last election was stolen, but we don’t have the faintest idea how we’ll do anything, except be against everything the other guys support.

The message isn’t surprising. It’s the same message that the GOP has had for years. The only real achievement the party has made in the past decade was to enact a massive tax cut that primarily benefitted the wealthy.

Yet it appears likely that the Republicans will take over the House, possibly the Senate, and will accomplish almost nothing on the federal level, while Republicans on the state level will do their best to undermine government credibility at all levels.

Why will the Republicans likely win? Because too many Americans are angry, and they need someone to blame, despite the fact that conditions here in the U.S. are far from as bad as they believe, and most of what’s going wrong isn’t because of what the federal government is or isn’t doing now, or for that matter what it’s done for the last two years, as I’ve pointed out earlier.

But today, facts don’t matter, only feelings, and those feelings, especially anger, Trump [negative pun intended] facts, common sense, and even enlightened self-interest.

And screaming “no” and echoing lies isn’t going to make anything better, not that the screamers will listen to anything, because then they’d have to take some responsibility, and far too many Americans don’t have the faintest idea what electoral or even personal responsibility entails. Besides, following simplistic lies and screaming “No!” is so much easier.

The [Electoral] Stupidity of Youth

While polls are not very accurate at predicting how young people will vote, early voting statistics suggest that, once again, the turn-out for younger voters will be low, despite the number of issues being championed by Republicans that will penalize younger Americans.

According to various surveys, too many young people aren’t voting because “the politicians are too old and don’t speak to us.” Or because the young don’t see anything or anyone that appeals to them. Or because they think politics isn’t that important.

This is stupidity based on the internet ala carte menu mindset of a generation that has been able, at least in terms of products and entertainment, to get almost anything they want. And if they can’t get what they want, they won’t buy a product, or visit that site or venue.

What they seem incapable of grasping is that in politics your choices are limited in reality to two choices. All too often in American politics, the choice isn’t between which candidate is better, but which one is least bad.

If you’re young and don’t like either, and don’t vote, the choice is made by those who care enough to vote, and in most cases, those voters are “old people” many of whom who don’t have the interests of the young at heart.

If you’re young and have student loans, and don’t vote, you’re likely to lose the chance for some loan forgiveness, because Republicans in six states have filed a lawsuit to stop loan forgiveness, and the majority of Republicans, who are either old or against higher education, especially for minorities, oppose loan forgiveness.

One of the greatest risks to life for young women are complications involving reproduction, yet states controlled by Republicans have already increased those health risks by the way they’ve crafted anti-abortion laws so that women, especially young women, who aren’t well off, even working women, face greater risks of dying.

Far too many young people don’t seem to understand that politics isn’t like the internet, where you can come back later for a better product, or not buy at all, and not suffer. In politics, not choosing to vote is, in effect, a form of electoral Russian roulette. It might not affect you, but then again, the effects could be severe.

But the Democrats aren’t addressing this problem; the Republicans don’t see youth issues as a problem for them; and far too many young people don’t understand or think it doesn’t apply to them; and I’m pointing this out on a platform that very few young people seem to frequent, because, after all, the young think everything should be available where they are.

The Improbable Sycamore

When we bought our house twenty-nine years ago, it came with an assortment of pinyon pines and junipers, some pfitzers, and a well-established sycamore that partly shaded the master bedroom, even though it’s not that close to the house. It looked to be a sturdy stately tree, and the only one of any height, since even mature pinyon pines seldom exceed fifteen feet and junipers aren’t much taller.

My first mistake was to confuse the solid trunk with sturdiness. My wife the professor was more skeptical, asking, “Why did anyone ever plant a southern tree here?”

I didn’t understand at first. Then came the first windstorm. Now, for readers not familiar with the climate where I live, there are reasons why the only indigenous trees in the area, besides sagebrush, are pinyons and junipers. One of those reasons is that we live in high desert. The second is that we have high winds – on and off all the time. Fifty mile an hour gusts are always a possibility. Thirty- thirty-five mph winds are common. Higher wind speeds are not uncommon, and without storms. One clear-air storm ripped most of the shingles off a house just up the street. Another ripped the vinyl siding off a house a block away. Every year or so we get seventy mph wind gusts. They blow semi-trucks off the interstate.

Then, even though we live in a desert, every second or third year we get heavy snows in either early fall or late spring. One Mother’s Day we got fifteen inches of heavy wet snow, just after we’d started a major remodeling/addition project, but that’s another story. Earlier this week we got a mere eight to ten inches of heavy snow – far too much for the wide leaves and the soft wood of our southern sycamore tree – which is why I woke up to several hundred pounds of broken limbs surrounding the “stately” sycamore, which, as a southern tree, doesn’t deign to shed its leaves until at least mid-December, despite the fact that the nights have been freezing for at least a month and a half by then.

It’s also why, when the sycamore finally relinquishes its leaves, it looks gap-branched and most irregular despite the efforts of local tree-trimmers, who aren’t ever available until I’ve cleaned up the immediate carnage and sawed and added limbs to the firewood pile. The sycamore, crippled as it is, remains the tallest tree by far around our part of the hill, and I don’t know whether to bless or curse the idiots who planted it.

The Large Family Factor

Two recent and separate studies reported in 2020 that large families tend to be far more conservative and far more religious than smaller families, as well as less highly educated, and that such conservatism is definitely reflected in their voting behavior.

While these studies don’t surprise me in the slightest, they certainly tie into the current U.S. political scene. They also explain, at least in part, why the United States is likely to remain politically polarized for some time to come, since, by definition, large, conservative, religious, and less highly educated families are having more children, and liberal, more highly educated, and smaller families are having not just fewer children, but considerably fewer children, roughly two or less, and some younger couples in this group are choosing to have no children at all.

Part of the reason why these trends may well continue is the skyrocketing cost of higher education. Parents who think about educating their children may well decide to have fewer children, and children from larger families may find less support for higher education as well as finding it increasingly difficult to afford higher education. Then there’s the fact that rural areas tend to be more conservative, more religious, and also usually have lower costs of living.

At the same time, these statistics reflect groups as a whole, not individual families, since there are certainly highly educated, large, religious and liberally inclined families as well as small highly educated families that are quite conservative.

Limits

There’s a phrase that I hear too often, especially when used with children and young people – You can do anything you put your mind to – or some similar expression.

I know parents and teachers want to encourage young people, but using that phrase is not only misleading, but it’s also cruel.

Not that parents and teachers shouldn’t encourage young people, but that encouragement should be based in reality.

That’s not being cruel. The universe is filled with limitations. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, no matter how much energy and effort you apply. If you jump off a cliff without a paragliding outfit you’re going to fall… and hard.

The same is true of people. There are some who can do almost anything in their chosen field, such as Michael Phelps in swimming, or Tom Brady, but even they end up facing limits imposed by age and their physiology. And what’s often overlooked in cases such as theirs is just how much they can’t do, how much they’ve given up in the rest of their lives to achieve a comparatively short span of greatness in one field.

And yes, there are people who achieve goals no one thought those people could achieve, but they’re celebrated precisely because they’re so rare.

I’m not saying that anyone should tell a young person that they cannot do something, but they should tell them what it takes. My wife the professor teaches voice and opera, and every year she gets fresh-faced students who were considered “stars” in their high schools. Only a few of those students will get a life-supporting paying job in classical music. One in several hundred might go on to get “star” roles in the field. Why? Because there are probably ten thousand or more music graduates every year for perhaps at most a thousand jobs, most of them instrumental.

And while she can tell whether a student has the raw talent, so many other factors (or limits) enter the equation. How determined is the student? How hard and long will they work? How good is their technique? Can they learn roles quickly and accurately? Is their voice what grad schools or directors are looking for? And with the growing emphasis on media… do they look the “right” way for the part? These days, the absolutely most brilliant and greatest singing white soprano will not be cast in the professional lead in Madame Butterfly. Other roles, perhaps, but not that one.

And then, there’s simply the luck factor. I’d likely still be a mid-list SF writer, if in the late 1980s I hadn’t decided to write a fantasy novel because certain fantasy authors at a F&SF convention had hinted that I couldn’t do it. I turned in that novel to Tor just after Tom Doherty decided to publish the first Wheel of Time book. Even my own editor didn’t know I was writing The Magic of Recluce. But Tor liked it and gave me the same cover artist (Darrell Sweet) at a time when big fantasy books were taking off. I couldn’t have planned the timing. I was just working like hell trying to sell enough to become a full-time author. And sometimes luck goes the other way, as with The Green Progression, which I thought was the worst-selling hardcover Tor ever published, but turned out to be only the second-worst, which was why there wasn’t a sequel, even though it got some good reviews.

The bottom line is simple. You can’t be anything you dream, and if you want to succeed in the field where you have ability, and keep succeeding, you’ll have to work harder than you thought possible on the abilities you do have for longer than you think possible… and even then, you’ll likely need a bit of luck.

And, of course, there’s the one in a million case, where a lucky bastard makes it big without doing anything and certainly not working as hard as you did, but do you really want to gamble on being able to do it that way?

The Unseen Implications

When Putin ordered partial military mobilization on September 21st, he also issued a directive stating that all organizations, including international companies, must conduct military registration of their staff, assist with delivering the summons from the military to their employees, ensure the delivery of equipment to assembly points or military units, and provide buildings, communications, land plots, transport and other material means to support the war.

Effectively, that means that international companies operating in Russia are now obliged to assist the Kremlin’s war mobilization by helping conscript soldiers and equip the army. Currently, U.S. companies employ between 250,000 and 700,000 people in Russia, those numbers differing by who has compiled them.

Interestingly enough, I’ve seen nothing about this declaration in U.S. major media or by any candidates running in the upcoming mid-term election. That doesn’t mean someone didn’t publish it, but the fact that U.S. companies operating in Russia are practically and legally required to support the war effort against Ukraine doesn’t seem to be a priority.

Among other things, complying with the law could make those companies and their employees at least theoretically liable for committing war crimes, not that anyone is ever going to prosecute political leaders over the Ukraine-Russian conflict.

While a significant number of U.S. companies have curtailed operations in Russia, comparatively few have fully pulled out, which means that most of them could be required to support the Russian war effort.

Why hasn’t either political party addressed the issue? Could it be that too many U.S. companies are heavily invested in Russia and that, if they pulled out, the economic losses could be sizeable and that the Russians would simply seize the assets permanently, as they already have in a number of cases?

So why have U.S. companies invested so much there? Because the profits outweigh the immorality of supporting a tottering economy of a human-rights abusing dictatorship?

That couldn’t be, could it?

Except that, as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” because that’s exactly what major U.S. corporations did in Germany in the years leading up to World War II, and even well into the war.

So… give it some careful thought when you see all the corporate ads declaring how patriotic and caring for the American way they are. But then again, hasn’t the American way become getting the most bucks any way you can?

The Extremes in Everything

Almost everyone notices and deplores the polarization and extremism in politics today in the United States, but there’s more to that trend than merely in the political arena.

As I’ve noted before, there’s extremism in the environmental field, ranging from those who want to burn coal and use more fossil fuels because they believe more power and more industrial and consumer production will improve life and that’s more important than environmental “purity. On the other side are the environmental purists who want no power from fossil fuels or nuclear fission, and only from renewable sources. Both are crazy, because uncontrolled fossil fuel use will create massive environmental impacts and could eventually render the planet uninhabitable for humans, while purely renewable and passive solar can’t solve the energy needs of society, and large-scale solar panel and battery-stored power use will create considerable environmental damage, possibly even on the scale of strip-mined coal.

On the social front, the conflicts are everywhere, from Black Lives Matter and those even more extreme on the far left to the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and other white supremacists on the far right. Then there are the cultural wars over pronouns, identity politics, and history. There’s the struggle over various aspects of education, most of which result in dumbing down the ability of students to read, write, calculate, and, most importantly, to think.

Then there’s the war over how far freedom of speech goes – or should go – where the extremists in both parties, but predominantly on the right, want the freedom to shout out their “truths,” even when those “truths” are fact-proven, bald-faced lies, but the extremists violently, even physically, oppose those who try to rein them in.

And in all these conflicts, the extremists on both sides have no interests in practical, middle-of-the-road solutions, because they see their “truths” as absolutes that cannot be compromised.

Yet the greatest freedom for the greatest number requires compromise. So does the continuation of a high-tech civilization. Not that the “purists” seem to care about either freedom [at least anyone else’s freedom] or civilization.

False Fearmongering

I keep getting emails from the far right that scream “the Socialists are coming” or “left wing terrorists threaten Trump supporters” or “Hollywood is trying to buy Congress” or “Stop Political Persecution by DOJ” or “Keep the FBI out of Your House.”

All of them are scare tactics that can’t or won’t come true.

But if I sent out a political email that said, “Vote Against the Religious Jihadists Who Destroyed U.S. Women’s Freedoms!” I’d be considered an unhinged exaggerator at best and a hatemonger at worst.

And yet, that email I can’t send would be more accurate than all the rightwing scare tactics that currently fill the internet and infosphere.

Seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholics (or 6 ½ if you consider that Gorsuch was raised Catholic and now professes to be Anglican), and six of the seven effectively voted to take away a woman’s control of her own body.

That wasn’t a scare tactic. It already happened… and it seems like eighty percent of Americans have forgotten that our Supreme Court is dominated by members of a minority ultra-conservative belief that wants to return American women to being broodmares.

Inflation will come and go, and even if it doesn’t immediately subside, it doesn’t take your freedoms; it just raises the cost of living. As for the “socialists coming,” the members of the so-called left wing in the United States would qualify as centrists in most first world democratic societies. I certainly don’t call investigating the theft of government documents and classified materials “political persecution,” and no one else should either. And I don’t see that the FBI will be breaking into everyone’s house, possibly the local police in certain communities, but not the FBI, if for no other reason than there aren’t enough FBI agents to come anywhere close to the number required.

Yet a vast number of Americans will vote based on unrealistic fears, rather than against the political party who appointed American religious fanatics to the Supreme Court, fanatics who make no secret about their desire to reduce personal freedoms even more, based on a faith practiced by a minority of the American people.

“Free” Stuff?

Over just a twenty-four hour period earlier this week, I received emails declaring that I had “won” an iPhone14 Pro, a Pfizer Treatment, a $5000 Shell gas card, a Ninja food processer, a Zempire tent, a Craftsman generator, a Yeti cooler, a Ryobi lawn mower, a “Hobby Lobby” reward, a Titleist TSi3 Driver, a Traeger Grill Timberline XL, and a $500 Delta Airlines Gift Card.

If I responded to any of these “winning” notices, I can guarantee that I won’t have won something for nothing, and that, most likely, they’re all scams to get hold of personal information and my money or tie me into a long-term contract of some sort. I also can’t believe that they’re “misguided” marketing ploys, since there are only two companies on that list from which that I’ve ever purchased goods or services.

That doesn’t include the 50-100 political solicitations (daily) for campaign contributions, from both political parties and from one independent candidate, each of which declares that the Republic will fall without my donations and that the need is urgent, because the other side has or is marshalling more funds.

Even though my spam filter rejects/collects somewhere over 300 messages a day, it doesn’t catch another 100-150.

All of this says a great deal about the United States, and most of what it says is anything but favorable.

What strikes me most is not only the volume of these pleas and offers, but that the more “commercial” spam appeals must be effective at separating a considerable number of people from their money, because even internet bots take some effort, time, and equipment to spew out such a volume of fraudulent offers.

All this “free” stuff also plays to the insatiable appetite of American for something they don’t have to pay for, which is exactly why we have inflation at a recent high and far too many people blaming the politicians instead of themselves.

The Learning Gap

College professors today are facing an ever-increasing number of students who seem either unable or unwilling to learn.

In practical terms, there are only three basic ways to learn: reading, listening, and doing. All learning comes from these, either separately or in combination with the others.

The current generation entering college has grown up with computers, cell phones, Google, and social media. They’re a Google away from any specific fact. Their attention is fixed on their cell phone, and they’d rather be on the cell phone than doing almost anything else – even sex, according to some studies. And fewer and fewer of them read, either for school or pleasure.

The result of this devil’s brew is that the majority can’t read or write that well. Because of social media’s constant interruption and attraction, they also can’t focus or concentrate that effectively, and more and more of them show ADHD symptoms. They’re so used to visual or audio-visual stimulation that they can’t listen well enough to process information aurally. Nor can they concentrate enough to remember anything that the cell phone or social media doesn’t pound into their skulls.

All retained skills or knowledge require memory at some level, and STEM fields and music, as well as others, simply can’t be mastered without learning and retaining facts and procedures. A number of professors have remarked on the inability of students to retain knowledge and mental process skills. On one day students show they understand the matter or skills being discussed or demonstrated, but within a day or two, they recall or retain little, even when they’ve demonstrated the first steps the day before.

What’s missing? The ability to focus for any period of time and concentrate on material and skills one doesn’t know. That ability is also required for actual thinking.

Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that the United States, despite its wealth and size, can’t produce enough high-level professionals in STEM fields? Or that the drop-out rate in music and other information intensive programs has increased over the years?

Or that more and more people in the United States believe simplistic slogans that can’t be supported by facts.

The Lag Effects and Politics

Having observed politics for quite a few years can give one a perspective that most voters don’t have. That perspective can also be rather frustrating.

Right now, the United States is experiencing higher inflation rates than at any time since the period from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, and polls show that inflation is the greatest concern of most Americans coming into the mid-term elections. Because the Federal Reserve is deeply concerned about the economic impact of continuing inflation, the Fed has increased interest rates sharply over the past six months, which effectively increases costs for consumers in addition to already increasing prices.

The major causes for inflation are the massive government aid during the COVID epidemic, the historic low interest rates [which spurred increasing housing demand and boosted prices and inspired other purchases], and the Russia/Ukraine war. Now, most Americans were happy about the first two causes, but they’re unhappy with the longer-term costs of higher prices and higher interest rates to damp inflation, and many will vote against Democrats in the mid-term elections as a result. But the majority of causes were begun by the previous administration, and people generally supported the continuation of aid and low interest rates by the present administration.

This is a pattern that has recurred over much of the last century, where the administration in power gets the blame or credit for actions undertaken by the previous administration. President Carter got blamed for situations created by previous administrations, while Reagan got credit for the impact of Carter policies. The first President Bush had to deal with the excessive spending of the Reagan administration by increasing taxes, and lost his bid for a second term, while Clinton got credit for the better economic conditions created by the Bush reforms.

The reason this happens is because the fundamental economy usually doesn’t change that quickly, except in the rare cases such as COVID, and people vote on what they see and feel NOW, not on whose policies and actions created the present economic conditions, which means that many of those voters are, in effect, voting for or against the previous administration, not the present administration.

“More Plot and Less Politics”

Every so often I get a comment like that, more often lately in the books of “The Grand Illusion,” and I just want to shake my head. In fact, sometimes I do. I feel the same way when someone makes comments about just wanting to get rid of politicians and politics.

What many of these people fail to understand is that, like it or not, politics are responsible for all the achievements of the human race, and that the declines of past great civilizations largely resulted from the failure of politics.

Why do I say that?

Because individuals acting alone are limited in what they can do. Cooperative effort is what enables technology pretty much anywhere above late stone age, and cooperative effort requires social organization. Social organization falls apart without a political structure of some sort. While some theorists will claim that a market system trumps politics, even market systems need politics to function above the stone age.

Regardless of which is more important, there have never been any societies with a technology at or above the bronze age without some form of unified political and economic system.

Now, I understand the need for entertainment in fiction. If a fiction book doesn’t entertain a reader, it’s generally a failure. But just as non-stop action is totally unrealistic, as I pointed out in an earlier blog, so are societies without at least plausible economic and political structures.

You can’t maintain an autocratic kingdom or even high-tech society without enforcers of some sort, and a set of enforcers, whether a military-police structure or a secret police, requires organization and structure, which in any system involving human beings requires politics. Non-autocratic technological societies have differing structures and differing politics, but politics remain necessary.

I could ask the question of why at least some “action-oriented” readers readily accept the impossibility of non-stop action and reject the impossibility of societies without workable politics, but the answer is most likely that, because they don’t see or understand that politics can be as deadly, and often more deadly, than military or other action, they find direct violence and action more emotionally satisfying. That lack of understanding on a larger scale in society is why autocrats like Putin, Hitler, Mussolini, Orban, and more than a few others gained power through political means, rather than by direct military force.

Shades of Gray

One of the biggest rationalizations/copouts in politics today is one used by far too many voters, usually when someone makes an observation about one politician’s unethical or potentially illegal behavior or the politician’s blatant falsehoods. Those who want to support the politician, despite that behavior or those lies, all too often say, “All politicians are crooks” or “They all lie.”

To begin with, every single human being who reaches adulthood has lied. That’s not the question. The question is what kind of lies they told and to whom. Were they white lies to spare someone’s feelings? Or lies to excuse their own failures, like claiming they were late to work because an accident backed up traffic when they really overslept because they were hung over. Or were they lies like those told by former President Trump? The other question is how often and how blatant the lies.

When we deal with acquaintances, most people weigh the “shades of gray” in judging people, but when they deal with politicians, from what I’ve seen, the smallest fault in a politician one doesn’t like or who’s of the “wrong” party is enough to justify voting for a politician with far greater faults who comes from the “right” party. People shy away from dealing with shady merchants or car dealers, but they don’t show the same reluctance when a shady politician from their own party spouts blatant falsehoods.

And usually, neither candidate is perfectly pure. When that happens, a large segment of each party tends to justify staying with the party candidate by magnifying the sins of the opposition candidate, rather than by comparing their actions and statements of the two [now, most people say they do this, but it’s clear from election results that many don’t].

Sometimes, voters believe that the principles a politician opposes or supports justify voting for that politician, despite his or her flaws, but how large do the flaws have to be before voters turn away from a flawed politician? How outrageous do the falsehoods and lies have to get before voters reject a politician from their own party?

Some voters never do, and that was how the Germans ended up with Hitler, the Italians with Mussolini, the Russians with Putin, and why Trump believes he can run and win a second term.

Misleading Statistics

The other day, I got an email cartoon listing nineteen goods/categories whose prices have increased 10% or more over the past year. Nine were grocery products and one was men’s suits. The others were categories: gasoline, airline tickets, used cars, gas utilities, hotels, delivery costs, electricity, furniture, and cleaning products. The bottom line caption was: So how is inflation only 8.6%?

I checked the numbers against the latest CPI-U, and some were exaggerated. The email said used car prices were up 35%, but the CPI lists the annual inflation at 7.8% The email also listed gasoline increases at 49%, when the actual was 29%.

But the most misleading aspect is that all of the items listed by the email together comprise less than 30% of all the items that comprise the CPI-U. All food items comprise only 14%. Eggs [up 44%] only amount to 1/10 of one percent.

Overall food prices (comprising 14% of the CPI-U) increased 11.4%, but all commodity prices, excluding food and energy, only rose 6.3% over the last year.

Now neither 8.6% nor 6.3% is good, but citing huge price spikes in small segments of the economy is definitely misleading. It’s also politically effective. People don’t notice the prices that don’t rise or rise more slowly. They notice that gasoline and egg prices are way up, or that used cars are getting pricy.

Yet, I’d be willing to be that the majority of people who received that email or saw the original posting of the cartoon and its statistics will have the reaction that the government is grossly “cooking the statistics.”

And the government has been “readjusting” the statistics for years, but in little ways, such as reducing the impact of food and energy costs on the CPI, but its figures aren’t “readjusted” by the two and three-fold magnitudes suggested by the cartoon.

This statistical “discrepancy” also illustrates one of the biggest problems faced by a democratic high technology society, that fewer and fewer of the people who vote really understand either the technology or the economy underlying their society, and that lack of understanding becomes fertile ground for demagogues who offer falsified/incorrect facts, gross exaggerations, and beguiling simple (but unworkable) “solutions” to complex problems.