Ten Years of “Unique” Stupidity in American Life

I continue [not surprisingly 😉 ] to have plenty of notions about the Ukrainian conflict and various domestic issues we face, and hope to return to publishing fairly regularly in the not-too-distant future.  That said, MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning included an interview of Dr. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced, “Height”), author of The Righteous Mind, the book that I suspect that I have cited in these pages more than any other.  Dr. Haidt discussed his recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” an essay describing how social media has affected our polity and our children and how it has been exploited (on the edges of both sides of the political spectrum).  Apparently, Billionaire Jeff Bezos tweeted recently that he considered the essay well worth reading, albeit long.  I wholeheartedly agree (on both counts; although as all are well aware, I’m in no position to criticize lengthy pieces  🙂 ]. 

A link to Dr. Haidt’s article is below.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic

On BR-319

While the international community’s attention is properly riveted on the atrocities being wreaked upon the people of Ukraine, other challenges and dangers across the globe continue unabated.  For those able to access the Washington Post, a piece just published by our favorite journalist.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/brazil-amazon-deforestation-highway-br-319/?itid=hp-top-table-main

The Joy of Income Taxes

These pages have two main purposes:  to provide another perspective on the matters it addresses for those who care to consider it, and to discipline me to refine my own ideas through the exercise of writing them down.  I am 100% confident that no one cares what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis.

That said:  this weekend, I’m doing our income taxes.  I’ve always done ‘em.  Don’t use tax software, but do ‘em old school:  by reading the hard copy Instruction Booklet and filling out the forms longhand.  It’s obviously a tedious endeavor requiring concentration, although I have never particularly minded it.

This year, I’m absolutely looking forward to it.  The task will necessarily distract me for a number of hours from what is happening in Ukraine – the killing of innocents, the irretrievable upheaval of lives, the destruction of structures and institutions, the usurpation of one nation by another more powerful … just because it can.  As I get lost in the IRS’ arcane world and the numbers flow by, my outrage will dissipate, at least for a while.

In the eyes of the Almighty, there is no difference between what is happening in Ukraine today and what has happened and is happening in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, parts of Africa, and so on, and so on, and so on.  We are just seeing the obliteration of Ukraine’s society and culture more clearly due to its proximity to Western media.  I am having trouble putting it aside.

Have a good weekend.  As I get engrossed with taking this number or that from this worksheet or that and entering it onto this line of the return or that, I hope I will.

On Volodymyr Zelenskyy

As this is typed, the Russians are bombing Kyiv, Ukraine’s capitol.  CNN is reporting that the United States is urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russia’s primary target, to leave Ukraine and set up a government in exile.  As of this minute, Mr. Zelenskyy is remaining in Kyiv to fight for a free Ukraine.  CNN has reported his response to the American offer: 

“I need ammunition, not a ride.”

It Was God and Guns

A number of years ago, on our then-annual summer sojourn to central Wisconsin – before the political rise of former President Donald Trump, but after former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker had taken office and assumed the acrimonious, politically warlike approach toward Democrats, liberals and all who opposed him that Mr. Trump subsequently adopted on a national scale — we noted a wide number of enthusiastic expressions of support for Mr. Walker throughout the area.  I was then fairly surprised by it.  This part of Wisconsin was then and remains today fairly economically deprived.  Even in summer – the tourist season – many of these little Wisconsin communities are ghost towns during the week.  One day, we happened to encounter a retired social studies teacher who had spent his career in one of the small local high schools.  Some way or other, we became aware of the fact that he was liberal, which enabled me to ask about the issue that had been puzzling me:  all one had to do was look around to see that the Walker Administration had done nothing for these people, but their support for the Republican Governor was ardent and palpable.  Why?  I was even then geeky enough to say:  “These people should be for Roosevelt.”  He was of the vintage to understand the reference.  He replied:  “It was God and guns that did it.”

Although this is merely repeating a lament that I have previously recorded in these pages, it nonetheless seems appropriate today to note that the true danger facing our nation is not Mr. Trump or his cohort.  Through their messaging, spread by propagandists such as Fox News, they have provided an alternate reality regarding the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, COVID, the environment, and on and on; but their supporters have zealously chosen to embrace narratives that anyone willing to apply any level of discernment would immediately recognize as false.  These citizens have done so because they loath what they perceive that a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-gender, urban-based segment of our electorate has done to desecrate their values and denigrate their standing in society — what they consider America to be.  I have heard more than one alt-right proponent – U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan comes to mind – declare that the Democrats and progressives hate conservatives.  I ask you to consider whether in any aspect of life, winners “hate” their adversaries.  They don’t – they’ve won.  It is sometimes the losers that hate.  Mr. Jordan’s declaration amounts to pure projection — not because progressives are any morally better; they reek with condescension toward rural America and its values — but because over the last decades, progressive attitudes have come to dominate our culture.  I would submit that it may be some among those who consider their country to have been overrun by attitudes they find abhorrent that perhaps harbor the deepest antipathy.  They reject demonstrable truths.  I recently heard a commentator use a phrase that frequently comes to my mind:  They want what they want.

I have sometimes quoted Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, in these pages; based upon his research, Dr. Haidt articulately argues that people are ruled by their emotions and use their intellectual powers to provide rationalizations for their visceral inclinations.  Given our national posture today, on the anniversary of the event that I consider to portend the most danger to our democracy since Pearl Harbor, I instead quote another, perhaps as insightful about certain aspects of human nature as he was malignant:

“The broad masses of a people consist neither of professors nor of diplomats.  The scantiness of the abstract knowledge they possess directs their sentiments more to the world of feeling.  That is where their positive or negative attitude lies.  … Their emotional attitude at the same time conditions their extraordinary stability.  Faith is harder to shake than knowledge, love succumbs less to change than respect, hate is more enduring than aversion, and the impetus to the mightiest upheavals on this earth has at all times consisted less in a scientific knowledge dominating the masses than in a fanaticism which inspires them and sometimes in a hysteria which drove them forward.”

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf 

I believe in America:  it has been very good to me and mine, and for the billions in this country and across the world for whom it has, despite its failings, been Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.  I do not dismiss the possibility that we will regain a level of political and cultural equilibrium.  At the same time, I confess that a year after the Capitol insurrection, we continue to face the greatest challenge to our system of government that we have faced since the end of World War II.

“Never Seen Anything Like It.”

On Thursday, a young couple in our extended family to whom we are very close had to flee their home to escape the wildfires that swept Colorado in the Boulder vicinity.  They and their young daughter were thankfully able to evacuate safely.  They discovered yesterday that their house was one of the few in their area not consumed by the flames, but as this is typed, they don’t know whether the structure, given its immediate proximity to the inferno, is or can be made habitable.

Friday morning reports were full of what we have come to recognize as standard reporting for these tragedies:  that it had been exceptionally dry for a Colorado December; that the winds, driving the fire in seconds across football field-sized areas, were unprecedented; that those covering this wildfire declared that they had “never seen anything like it.” The comments, though wrenching, were dishearteningly familiar — the same as those we have heard in descriptions of our nation’s fires, floods, and mudslides in the northwest, tornados across the great plains, droughts devastating once-fertile farmland, and hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico, the east, west, and gulf coasts, let alone of the destruction wreaked in so many areas of the world:  Haiti, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., etc., etc.  From the comfort of our homes, we view these disasters with horror and sadness but now, perhaps also a level of detachment:  there have been so many, they have become so common, that it is difficult – at least for me – not to become a bit numb … until it hits somebody you know, somebody you love. 

While progressives passionately advocate for all measures that will reduce America’s carbon emissions to limit the destructive effects that these have upon our climate, there are factors that the most ardent frequently ignore, among them:  we have a lot of families that depend on the fossil fuel industry for their incomes, with at this point – despite Democrats’ protestations – less than comprehensive means to avoid the significant deleterious economic and psychological effects on many of these Americans that would result from the elimination of their livelihoods; our efforts will have little impact if other nations, most notably China (who is reported to be currently relaxing its climate control efforts to counter its slowing economy), don’t employ similar measures; and the more we rely on electricity, the more our power sources may become prey to terrorism and natural disasters that might critically impact our access to power during the north’s frigid winters and the south’s torrid summers.

When we visited Alaska, I was struck by the fact that although it is among our most politically conservative states, no Alaskan we met disputed climate change or the need to address it.  They have seen their glaciers disappear and watched the abundance of their wildlife and its behavior patterns – upon which so many depend for their livelihoods – alter drastically.

I am confident that our young couple will be fine; they survived, and no matter what the ultimate determination of the condition of their home, they are smart and resilient, they will be sustained by their love of their daughter, and they will enjoy the support of a large and loving family.  Even so, the fact remains: It’s not that we haven’t seen anything like this before; it’s that we’ve seen too many like this before.  As I’ve indicated earlier in these pages, I consider the need to safeguard voting rights and outcomes our most immediate national legislative priority.  That said, while taking into account the many interests and issues affected by climate change policy, may this new year be the year in which we as a nation, despite our factious political atmosphere, make meaningful progress toward protecting our world for our children and grandchildren.

May you and your family have a Happy and Healthy New Year.  Stay Safe. 

May Peace Be With You

“… [M]ay the Lord bless his people with peace.”

  • Psalm 29:11

“… Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

  • John, 20:19

“As-Salaam-Alaikum.

  • A religious salutation among Muslims, meaning, “Peace be unto you.” 

“Inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana.”

  • Hinduism:  Bhagavad-Gita

“May I be a balm to the sick, their healer and servitor until sickness come never again …”

  • Buddhist Philosopher Shantideva

“If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.”

  • Confucius

It took little time to find quotations representative of faiths of which I am less familiar; a longing for peace seems universal.  May you and your loved ones enjoy its warmth during this Season. Happy Holidays. 

“What are you doing here?”

[Hopefully, all reading this note will excuse my adaptation of a well-known fable.]

“Look, we did something that was historic, we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide when we, together, all of us, we got a vaccine done.  This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is right now, take credit for it… it’s great, what we’ve done is historic. … [I am both vaccinated and boosted.]”

  • Former President Donald Trump, December 20, 2021

So, the man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates.  The Lord looked out, saw him, and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I died, Lord,” he replied.

“What did you die from?”

“I died from the Coronavirus, Lord.”

“How did that happen?  Did you get vaccinated?  Did you get boosted?”

“No, Lord!  It was my freedom!  It was my faith!”

“So … First, I sent you Dr. Fauci, an eminent doctor, who told you vaccinations were safe.  Then, I sent you Pope Francis, who told you that getting vaccinated was an ‘Act of Love.’  Finally, I even sent you … Donald Trump, who told you that vaccinations protected America. 

What are you doing here?” 

On Chris Wallace

Yesterday, Chris Wallace announced he was leaving Fox News for CNN+, CNN’s streaming service.  It is reported that his Fox News contract was up, and he’s out of there.  As I noted when CNBC News Anchor Shepard Smith left Fox News in 2019, I place the highest credibility upon those willing to speak the truth when the truth is contrary to their own interest.  I accordingly considered Mr. Wallace’s approach on Fox News a particularly vital contribution to the ongoing cable news debate of national issues specifically because he was on Fox News, which generates its revenues by serving Trumplican sugar to an audience that laps it up.  I observed when noting Mr. Smith’s departure: 

“It is no surprise to the readers of these pages that I am generally in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Morning Joe panel and the rest MSNBC lineup (although I’m occasionally surprised that they don’t asphyxiate themselves on their own hyperventilation); I enjoy the relish with which the majority of the CNN talking heads pursue [former President Donald Trump’s] falsehoods and inanities (although I wonder how they avoid drowning in their own antagonism); but I’m always acutely aware that no matter how sincerely these MSNBC and CNN commentators hold their views, they’re on those networks’ air because their employers’ business models in part involve inciting antipathy toward Mr. Trump and his cohort.  What made Mr. Smith different was the fact he was speaking to an audience that generally mostly strongly disagreed with the truth he offered.”

It also made Mr. Wallace different.  It has been reported that Mr. Wallace recently objected to Fox News leadership regarding the network’s airing of Patriot Purge, a 3-part series conducted by Fox News Commentator Tucker Carlson.  I have been aware without following the situation closely – I want to spend as little of my remaining life space as possible attending to Mr. Carlson, and to the reporting on Mr. Carlson’s pronouncements – that Patriot Purge seeks to rewrite the history of the January 6th Capitol insurrection, and has been lampooned by credible fact checkers for boosting Trumplican propaganda.

Godspeed to Mr. Wallace in his new endeavors.  Although he is reported as leaving of his own volition, I doubt that the Murdoch Family and Fox News leadership care that much.

“The nationalization of the broad masses can never be achieved by half measures, by weakly emphasizing a so-called objective standpoint, but only by a ruthless and fanatically one-sided orientation toward the goal to be achieved.”

  • Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On American Kindness: Redux

[The wrenching verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial this past Friday may have been the legally-correct result, but the conclusion is inescapable that the whole situation was a senseless waste caused by a clueless teenager, carrying an assault weapon with no idea as to the potential consequences of his actions, who traveled from his home in Illinois to a Wisconsin city where he had no valid business.  On Sunday, we had the senseless tragedy in Waukesha caused by the apparently random act of a man, reported by The New York Times to have “a long, violent criminal history,” who was out of jail on bail that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office now states was set “inappropriately low.” The families of those killed and injured in Kenosha and Waukesha should be giving thanks this week instead of grappling with unfathomable loss.  Although there is no solace for these families, when considering these tragedies I thought of an experience I described in these pages in February, 2019.  While there is so much in our current national and global situation to concern us, perhaps the help TLOML and I received on a dangerously cold night — from an elderly African American gentleman who, demographically, probably voted for President Joe Biden and from young Caucasian auto mechanics, at least one of whom, demographically, probably voted for former President Donald Trump — offers some consolation, at least for those not gripped by the deepest despair, that most of our people have good in them.  May you and your loved ones, as well as those from afar who have found refuge within our nation, have a warm and healthy Holiday.]

Over the weekend, we were in Milwaukee for a family gathering, and our fairly new Prius was struck, opening a gash on the left rear side that we were pretty sure when we discovered it was at an angle such that wind shear would cause some of the rear fender to rip off if we tried to drive back to Madison without having it attended to.  (No note was left.)  From an engine standpoint, the car was completely drivable.  We were able to make an appointment at a nearby service center (more on the shop below), and at a few minutes past 5 on a Friday night, set off to drive about 4 miles in significant winds and bitter, bitter cold with the dark coming on.

We didn’t make it.  About half way to the shop, we heard a bang and realized that part of the fender had flipped back due to the wind.  We pulled over in the now almost-dark to retrieve what had come loose, cars moving around us, fairly concerned about what we were going to do.

A van slowly pulled up behind us and stopped.  Its motor kept running, its headlights stayed on, and its emergency flashers came on.  An African-American gentleman, in his mid-50’s – warm, friendly, reassuring — got out of the van, came up, and — with cars continuously going by us and in temperatures and wind cold enough to numb your bare hands in a couple of minutes — helped us put the pieces temporarily back in place, and with duct tape he provided, we got the fender patched sufficiently so we could finish the drive.  Then we exchanged names, we thanked him – I don’t think it was possible for us to thank him profusely enough – shook hands, and … he bid us good night, and went on his way.

Got to the service center.  The shop is for engine repair, not body work, but the rep and a couple of the technicians came over and when they heard that our goal was simply to make the car secure enough to get back to Madison, they said they thought they could attach a couple of fasteners that would hold the left rear together, and told us to go to dinner (we had family with us in another car) and come back in about an hour. 

When we got back, the car looked like it had a few stitches, and was clearly sturdy enough for us to get it home.  We asked what we owed; we heard:  One of the guys had some time.  No charge.  Glad we could help.

For those of us that tend to focus on the seemingly paralyzing political acrimony we have at home and the serious issues we face here and internationally, it’s good to recall:  There exists, as there always has, a good will, a kindness, a generosity of deed and spirit in America.