The Country & The Country–America in 2012

In 2009 China Miéville came out with The City & The City, a fantasy novel about two cultures, living in one physical location, that were so alienated from each other that they believed they lived in two separate cities, even though both cities were located in the same geographical location.  Citizens of each city spoke a different language, had different laws and culture, and they had been trained since birth to ignore each other so well that they were invisible to each other.

When I read The City & The City I thought the idea too far out to believe, but the 2012 Presidential election is making me change my mind.  This afternoon was I was reading news feeds on my iPad with the app Zite about climate change.  There were two kinds of stories.  90% of the stories were science articles about the effects of global warming around the world.  Not stories theorizing the coming of global warming, but reports of its effect right now.  The rest of the stories were from climate change deniers.  They no longer try to attack the science of global warming, they laugh at the the absurdity that anyone should even consider the possibility of climate change.  They sneer at liberals who believe these science fictional fantasies.  They applaud Romney, Ryan and the Republicans for giving zero thought and time to such Chicken Little fears.

We’re now living in The County & The Country!

What I’m writing now is completely invisible to conservatives.  If they read this essay they would only see some silly story that sounds like nonsense.  It’s doubtful any would even try to read it.  And I’m not writing this to appeal to their reason.  I know I’m invisible to them.  They can’t hear me.

We have become so polarized in the United States that we can no longer see members of the opposite political party.

I could take the time to list many pro and con articles I read today, but what’s the point, those that see, do – those that don’t, can’t.  Anyone can go to Google Alerts and set up a news watch on any topic.  Just set up a “climate change” News Alert.  You’ll be sent an email once a day with all news of any kind about the topic.

Global warming has been happening for decades.  The effects have been felt for decades.  Humans change the planet all the time in endless ways.  We affect the weather all the time.  And it’s all invisible to you if you choose to ignore it.  I think even people who understand that climate change is happening refuse to pay attention.  People do not want to change their lives.  People do not want to make sacrifices.  People do not want to believe that bad things are going to happen.

New Scientist has an interesting article that asks:  “If 2013 breaks heat record, how will deniers respond?”  I often wonder about that.  At what point do the people who can’t see climate change suddenly start feeling the heat?  Will they ever?  How powerful is mind over reality?

The Republican party claims President Obama has been a failure as a leader and now it’s time for Republicans to lead the country.  Only they can lead us out of our economic mess.  I’ll admit that Obama hasn’t been a great leader.  I’ll also admit that Republicans can be great at leading the country.  But they are a one trick pony when it comes to leadership.  All they know how to do is lower taxes, regardless of the economic impact.  Voting Republican means voting to lower taxes on the wealthy.  You can be absolutely sure they can lead the country into lower taxes.  Whether they can lead us anywhere else is doubtful.  But it’s also a 100% guarantee, that they won’t do anything about the environment, other than run away, or stick their heads in the sand.

Voting Republican means:  “We want NO leadership on environmental issues.  Zip.  Nada.  Nothing.  Nix. Zero. Zilch.”

America is now two countries coexisting in the same spatial plane.  There are two cultures, liberals and conservatives.  They do not speak the same language.  They can not communicate.  Conservatives see reality on the North American continent different from liberals.  It’s cool and refreshing where Republicans live.  All they see is high taxes, wasteful governmental programs, welfare squatters, sin and a black man as President.

They want to grow the defense budget to protect America from any harm when our only real enemy is ourselves and climate change.  Is that leadership?

[One reason I don’t give Obama high marks for leadership is he hasn’t lead on climate change.  He does accept the problem, he just hasn’t made it a political issue.  Read “Obama and Romeny on Climate Change Science” at the Washington Post.]

 

JWH – 9/3/12.

Is Cynicism a Side-Effect of Aging? – The Mark Twain Syndrome

Samuel Clemens, known famously as Mark Twain, became extremely bitter and pessimistic about the human race as he got older.  I’m 60 and I’m starting to feel I’ve caught a touch of pessimism myself, so I’m wondering if I’m developing the Mark Twain Syndrome?  And will I get more negative as the years pile up?

Mark-Twain-by-Alvin-Langdon-Coburn

Is cynicism a side-effect of aging?

Now Twain had a lot of reasons to feel depressed and bitter.  His wife, and two of his three daughters, died before he did.  He made fortunes and lost them.  He ran up staggering debt.   In his old age he had to constantly tour the world giving talks so he could honorably pay off his creditors.  Plus he saw a lot of the world that he just didn’t like, and he felt he had good reasons to think humans were a nasty species.  Twain died in 1910, so he never knew the horrors of the 20th century, but the vicious satirical stories he wrote in his later years feel spot on to modern readers.

I would think anyone following the highly polarized politics of the 2012 presidential election would feel depressed about our political system.  I would think anyone studying how humans treat the environment and our fellow creatures would feel gloomy about the Earth.  I would think anyone comparing the growing greed of the rich versus the expanding misery of the poor would feel doomed over the fate of mankind.  It’s hard not to believe that homo sapiens aren’t going to use up every last resource on this planet and never feel guilty.

How can you have faith in Congress when the national debt grows and all they can talk about is tax cuts?  How can feel good about America when one party stonewalls the other for four years in hopes of winning the next election?  When did serving the party become more important than serving the country?

Our current economic calamity is due to a man-made economic catastrophe.  Billions were stolen but no one was ever put on trial.  And the rich are spending billions to get a President in office so they can go back to business as usual.

I can’t help but believe that a perfect storm of national collapse is brewing.  Is the U.S. in decline like the Roman and British empires were long ago?

Here some of the factors:

  • Growing economic chaos
  • World-wide shift to fundamental religious thinking
  • Global warming
  • Diseases becoming immune to our medicines
  • Population growth
  • Dwindling resources
  • Relentless pollution
  • Accelerating species extinctions
  • Uncontrolled debt
  • Political polarization
  • Aging population
  • Growing segment of population that’s not in labor force
  • Escalating crime and corruption around the world
  • Rising healthcare costs
  • Rising food costs

Now, do I dwell on all of that because I’m getting older?  If I was young would I feel that all of those issues were just problems to be easily solved?  I don’t know.  It’s not like I want to walk around with a sandwich sign proclaiming “The End is Near” but I feel like I’m on a fast train and the brakes just went out.  Is that feeling caused by getting older?

How do you know when things are bad or when you’re just feeling bad and think civilization is in decline?

Conversely, when I read about developments in science, technology, medicine, I feel positive and my thoughts about the future are uplifted.  Science is the one constant positive – but most people reject science.  What makes me feel good makes other people feel bad.

When I was young and read about Mark Twain I hoped I’d never become bitter and negative like he did.  Even now I try to stay positive.  But its not easy.  Oh, if I keep busy and ignore the problems I’m as happy as a two-year-old with a box of cookies.  And I tend to think that’s how most folks handles the problem–they eat more cookies.

When I was young, growing up with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, I assumed we’d have permanent bases on the Moon and Mars by now, and men and women would have explored the entire solar system.  In my teens, I felt before I died engineers would be drawing up plans interstellar spacecraft.  Maybe not manned ones, but at least for interstellar robotic explorers.  I think part of my disappointed about getting old is none of this has happened.

I’ve read enough history to know that the present has always been on the tipping point of chaos.  I should feel confident that we’ll continue to bumble though.  But I’ve also read enough history to know that nations rise and fall, and that all over the globe there are sites where people live who think about their country’s former glory.  We revel is the decline of communism, but who is to say capitalism will last?  Personally, I think free market capitalism will fail under overpopulation.  We have over 12 million people defined as unemployed, but we have over 87 million people not employed, or considered unemployable.  This population is over 16, not in jail or in military service that doesn’t work.  They are retired, mentally or physically can’t work, gave up trying to find work, or won’t work.  Less than half the U.S. population has jobs and they must fund the living expenses for the entire population.  Capitalism isn’t creating enough jobs.  It’s worse in other countries.

And the people who are working and paying taxes want to pay less.  This is at a time when our economy depends on socialism.  The reality is the U.S. has been a socialistic country since the 1930s.  To reject socialism now means condemning tens of millions of poverty.  The growing nostalgia for fundamental religious beliefs and conservative values is no solution at all.  It’s just a plea, “Stop the world I want to get off—why can’t things be the way they used to be?”

Now I’m dwelling on the bad again.  Are my worries just from getting old?  Or do we all have something to be depressed about?

JWH – 7/15/12

Why Do People Want To Be President?

Why do people want to be President?  I used to think they wanted the job because they had a visionary solution to fix the problems we all face – but that’s naïve.  We’re polarized instead of unified.  Each Republican claims they are the unique true conservative as if their rivals were deviating from a script that defines the ideal American. 

The Republican candidates make no effort to appeal to all Americans but to the extreme conservatives.  I’d like to know how many people are very liberal, liberal, middle of the road, conservative and very conservative, but finding that breakdown is hard.  Help will be appreciated.

The U.S. POPClock stands at 312,789,991 Americans.  Anyone wanting to be President must represent all those people.  The reason why politics is so polarized is only a fraction of that number get a candidate that matches their political beliefs.

Finding statistics on party affiliation is hard.  I did find out in 2010 there were 137,263,000 registered voters or about 59.8% of those eligible.  Here is a report from the U.S. Census on the 2008 voter demographics.  It covers age, sex, race, education, income and other statistics, but not political parties, but is a good snapshot of American voters.  Infoplease has a chart of voter turnout for the years 1960-2010 that suggest about half the people registered to vote end up voting for Presidents.  In 2008 132,618,580 people voted, or 56.8 percent of the voting age population, which is very close to the population of registered voters above.

So in 2008 there was about 300,000,000 Americans, with 231,229,580 eligible to vote, with only 132,618,580 voting, and so the winner actually represented less than a fourth of the country.  And if that winner is extreme conservative or liberal, it means a large hunk of American citizens are unhappy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement points out that 1% of the population holds most of the wealth.  The rich can’t politically get what they want on their own.  Republicans claim we need a smaller government, but isn’t that to acquire the federal wealth?  California went to a smaller government and now people hate it.  If you shrink the government who gets that wealth?  Everybody or the 1%?

Is there any candidate that tries to appeal to all the people?  Or do they each campaign to get just enough votes to win knowing that votes from the largest subgroup wins the game?  Are conservatives really the largest subgroup in America?  The 1% can’t elect who they want on their own so they’ve allied themselves with radical conservatives.  Do they actually represent America?

There is something terrible wrong about a leader that appeals to such a small segment of the population, especially when it appears to be for greed.  Evidently people want to be President not to help the country, but the most vocal subgroup.  Is that really democracy?

JWH 1/2/12

Presidential Aptitude Test (PAT)

This morning the idea came to me that we should have a SAT type test for candidates running for political office, and especially for Presidential candidates.  I checked Google and this idea has come up many times before in magazines, newspapers and by other bloggers.  One of the earliest examples of this concept was a letter to the New York Times in 1992.  It’s a good idea – especially after watching the Republicans go through debate after debate this year.

Think about the severe certification process we have for accountants, lawyers, doctors and teachers?  Why shouldn’t we have minimum standards for politicians?  Now most people will say the grueling gauntlet folks have to go through in the press is the aptitude test for politicians, but that only seems to weed out people that can’t handle campaigning pressure or flush out sexual bad behavior.  It’s more of a beauty or popularity contest – like picking the King and Queen for homecoming.

Most people who have the nerve to throw their hat into the ring to become president usually have experience in Congress, were state governors, or were successful businessmen, and on a rare occasions were generals.  Now running a state is probably the closest job to the job skills required to run the country.  Personally, I don’t think the skills acquired in the Senate or House is really equal to those it take to run the country.  And although the President is the Commander in Chief, I don’t think running the Army provides the same skills either.  And I can see why some people might think a successful CEO should be good for the job of President, but that only works if you think of the country as a business, which it’s not.

I want our President to be very smart, but there’s a lot of political analysis that suggests that Americans don’t like intellectual presidents.  However, since our country seems to be going down the tubes, I think we need to think hard about the job qualifications and quit thinking of picking a president by who we want to drink beer with.

What’s really needed is a renaissance man or woman.  Someone with a MBA and CPA, and J.D.  But we’d also want someone with a Ph.D. in American History and another in World Affairs.  It would also help if this person had a medical degree and was a scientist.  Once you start thinking about all the areas the president needs to know about, it’s no wonder the job doesn’t belong to a committee of experts.  And I think most voters feel the President do get their smarts from their advisers – but wouldn’t you also think the President needs to be smart enough to know what their advisers are talking about?

If the Education Testing Service (ETS) offered a PAT test for Presidential candidates I would expect anyone I was willing to vote for to have gotten high scores in most of the vital areas.  He or she wouldn’t have to be a genius, but I want people that scores in the top 10 percent of all areas.  Is it demanding too much to think that the man or woman that leads us has to be a straight A student?

So what areas of knowledge should a potential President be tested on?  These are subjects not related to his/her personal qualities like vision, leadership, charisma, perseverance, ability to communicate, focus, ability to listen to people, etc.

  • Law
  • Economics
  • History
  • Government
  • Science
  • Business
  • City, State, Federal and World Trade
  • Foreign Affairs
  • Philosophy, Rhetoric, Logic, Ethics and Religions

Most Republicans have a myopic view of economics – cut taxes.  They also seem anti-science and anti-education.  And after the grilling reporters have been giving them for months I would think they all would do poorly on the PAT test.  However, even though Obama is considered well educated, would he excel in all these areas?  My gut hunch would be he would have the highest PAT scores except for Gingrich, who is bookish for a Republican, but he might not get all As.  I think Obama is far more scholarly than Gingrich, but I just don’t know to what depth.  Wouldn’t you love to see their test scores to know for sure?

I’ve often wondered if the true job requirements and public scrutiny keeps 99.999% of all qualified applicants away from applying for the job of U. S. President.  I also wonder how much real power the job of U. S. President can have at improving our lives and the country.  Is there a man or woman in our country that could have done a better job than Obama?  Would we be seeing strong economic growth and low unemployment if John McCain had won the election in 2008?

President Bush and now President Obama have pushed for a system to quantify the performance of teachers – people who must meet state certification laws.  Shouldn’t we expect that same kind of quantitative measures and certification for politicians?

If we tested our politicians and then compared their scores to performance over time we’d know if test scores mattered.

At the very minimum, and a just for fun kind of thing, I wished all the candidates running for President would take some standardized tests on American history and government.  I’d really like to know how they all do.

JWH – 12/3/11