Conservative Ideology

It seems to me….

Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.  Socialism is what they called public power.  Socialism is what they called Social Security.  Socialism is what they called farm price supports.  Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.  Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.  Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”  ~ Harry S. Truman[1].

For many years, those on the conservative right in the U.S. have invoked a nostalgia for the 1950s and an America that never was but they presume to have existed so as to rationalize their sense of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentments, and lingering contempt for the social movements of the 1960s; a time of new aspirations for women, gays, and people of color[2].  Conservatives insist on striding backwards towards a glorious past that existed only in their imagination.  In truth, at least in economic terms, the country of the 1950s resembled Denmark as much as the U.S. of today.  Marginal tax rates for the wealthy were 90 percent.  The salaries of CEOs were, on average, just 20 times that of their mid-management employees.

I was a registered Republican for most of my early life.  I did not leave the Republican party, they left me in their shift toward the extreme right in the years following President Eisenhower – an ideological shift that still continues today.  Many Democrats also have shifted toward the right and now occupy the position once occupied by the Republicans.  There effectively is no longer any extremely liberal political party in the U.S. as both parties have abandoned their traditional constituents.

My basic political tenets remain similar to when I was young probably characterized best as being an Eisenhower Republican.  Looking back at the Republican Party platform of 1956, my personal ideology has barely changed.  Though I now prefer to consider myself an independent, my political ideology is probably consistent with that of a moderate Democrat.

There are a considerable number of people who have mistaken ideas as to what our nation actually is.  The U.S. is not now and never has been a democracy: it is a republic.  A democracy is a political system which is made by/of/for the people; a republic is a representative democracy with a chief of state known as a president.

In a democracy, the rule of the majority of people prevails; in a republic, the rule of law prevails.  In a democracy, minority rights are overridden by the majority.  A Republic protects the rights of minority groups or of an individual.

Similarly, while we have had social welfare programs since our country was founded, we are not now nor ever have been socialistic.  People should be more careful when they throw labels around without understanding their meaning.  Socialism has never worked anywhere it has been tried and neither would it work here in the U.S.

This does not deny that there are widely supported socialistic facets of our nation.  Socialism is the political and economic theory of social organization advocating that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  E.g.; the U.S. military is an example of total socialism but I am not aware of conservatives opposing it.  Those serving in the military are provided all their basic needs: shelter, food, healthcare, clothing, training…; without charge.

Democratic socialism is another term widely derided by conservatives who seem quite willing to advantage themselves of its provided benefits.  It is a system of political thought and action that calls upon the government to provide certain social and economic rights or entitlements necessary to the wellbeing of all members of the community.  Many cities provide such basic amenities as water, sewerage, basic education, security (police, fire…), roads, street lighting, and other essential services.  Some cities also provide electrical power or, essentially exclusively in rural areas, telephone communications.  All attributes common to social democracy commonly available – without conservative complaint.

Similarly, it is difficult to speak of a “conservative” ideology as it means something different to each person.  Additionally, each of us is more or less liberal or conservative depending upon the specific topic being considered.

While there is no single set of policies universally regarded as conservative, conservatism is basically a political and social philosophy that favors retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization.  The meaning of conservatism therefore depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time.  Conservatives do however, in general, tend to believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values, a strong national defense, and that the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.  Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

Being slightly more specific since the primary political differences between Republicans and Democrats supposedly are between either a liberal or conservative ideology, conservatives typically place a higher value on existing institutions based on custom and tradition.  They are more likely than liberals to express faith in some supernatural force that guides human affairs which they believe to be necessary due to mankind’s essential base and irrational nature.  They believe there exists an enduring moral order.  That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant and moral truths are permanent.

There is an acceptance of human inequality and the attending consequence of social hierarchy.  Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked; that economic leveling is not economic progress.

They recognize a need for a sense of community among individuals that will bind them emotionally to their society.  Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.  In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.

Conservatives adhere to custom, convention, and continuity accepting that both permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.  They believe it is the old customs that enable people to live together peaceably.  That there is a need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.

They are guided by their principle of prudence.  Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.  We, as moderns, are unlikely to make any brave new discoveries in morals, politics, or taste.

Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.  They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.

While a counter description of liberal beliefs is not provided, there is more similarity and acceptance than generally recognized.  It is unfortunate that the chasm separating the two dominant political parties has grown to where neither is willing to listen or compromise with the other.  There is strength in both sets of beliefs and our country is stronger when both willingly come together and cooperate.  Admittedly, achieving compromise when strong beliefs are involved can be extremely difficult.

Additionally, there are a number of largely empirical issues whose answers need not, in principle, be associated with one’s position on the left or right politically but, in practice, are.  These include[3]:

  1. The anthropogenic basis of climate change,
  2. The effects of fiscal stimulus/austerity,
  3. The effects of monetary expansion and risks of inflation,
  4. The revenue effects of tax reductions,
  5. The practicality of universal healthcare.

In the world’s largest cities, where populations are densely concentrated and growing, economies are generally thriving and cosmopolitanism is embraced.  Where populations are sparse or shrinking, usually in rural places and small cities, economies are often stagnant and populism sells.  This tends to further divide growing urban liberal localities from those more conservative rural areas.

Change is inevitable in society, in governmental arrangements and relationships, in leadership, in public policies, and throughout the political world.  Ideologies of the moderate varieties seek change at a pace that enables progress to occur but neither so quickly that destruction of stability and order in society becomes more likely, nor so slow as to foster stagnation and status quo permanence.  Clearly, there is considerable room for disagreement and dispute over what is the proper balance in all of these concerns.

When discussing political issues, some conveniently choose to ignore basic facts when confronted by something with which they either disagree or that differs from their preferred ideology or set of beliefs.  Republicans are never happy even when Democrats propose anything positive or beneficial.  Democrats, on the other hand, would be glad if Republicans ever proposed anything worthwhile.

Conservatives claim Democrats are extremists when it is they who have moved to the extreme right embracing such factions within their party such as the Tea Party, libertarians, White Evangelical Christians, alt-right, white supremacists, QAnon, and others.  The Republican party has moved sufficiently far to the right that they now either favor, or at least willingly tolerate, neofascism.  In the 2020 Presidential election, almost 47 percent of the voters supported a populist candidate for President who actively campaigned as a would-be autocrat.  Several nations in Europe now consider the Republican Party to be an extremist organization[4].

That the U.S. wavered on the edge of neofascism should alarm everyone but apparently does not[5].  Characteristics of neofascism include blind loyalty to a leader who’s really more of a national father figure; belief that the leader is the state; belief that opposition to the leader is opposition to the state and thus treason; conviction (instilled or ignited by the leader) that the source of the problems facing the good wholesome ethnic majority is some Other or collection of Others who must be ostracized if not banished; agreement that the rules and constraints of democratic order are sometimes useful and should be obeyed as long as one can obey them and win as doing so confers a certain legitimacy, but if they have to be cast aside to hold power, then cast aside they must be.  These principles have animated every fascist regime in human history.  They were at the heart of Trumpism and were able to draw many more adherents in this country than many of us would ever have thought possible.

While democracy prevailed in 2020-2021, its fragility and need to be carefully nourished and protected from would-be usurpers was all-too apparent.  Symbols and support for neofascism, prevalent in the election campaign, will take time to fully overcome.

The irony of current politics is that policies advocated by liberal Democrats primarily benefit those of lower and middle income rather than those with greater wealth.  Policies supported by Republican conservatives have been detrimental to that group mostly benefiting the wealthy – healthcare, education… – not those with little voice at lower-income levels.  Conservatives now represent a constituency that embraces a closed ideology.

Republicans have successfully sold the big lie to their base convincing them that Democratic policies represent socialism – never let an actual fact stand in the way of ideology.  Voting patterns indicate conservatives would rather stay with a set of ideas and priorities that are frankly failing them.  The main thing that has to happen is that the system has to once again work well for enough working and middle-class people such that neofascism’s allures are diminished.  Currently, too many people, on both the left and right view the government with mistrust and suspicion.  For that to be overcome so the majority once again accept and support those elected to represent them will require compassion, sympathy, and understanding.

Democrats currently control the Presidency and enjoy a very narrow Congressional majority.  If they are able to approve measures helping working-class people; e.g., COVID-19 recovery, a decent minimum wage, infrastructure improvements, public investment in rural areas and small towns, and building a greener economy; they most likely will be able increase that majority in the mid-term elections in 2022.  If Republicans are once again able to stand against advancement, the opportunity will be lost along with any prospect of progress.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Harry S. Truman was the 33rd U.S. President from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as the 34th Vice-President.  He implemented the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of Western Europe and established the Truman Doctrine and NATO.

[2] Davis, Wade.  The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206/?fbclid=IwAR2g4crbtzGPQDBq-B72pq_Da8LiE8H7QhxI5zwXrTBcz-oKEHm3SWLILLw, 6 August 2020.

[3] Krugman, Paul.  The Closing of the Conservative Mind, The New York Times, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/the-closing-of-the-conservative-mind/, 25 May 2013.

[4] Brammer, John Paul.  The Republican Platform Is Extremist – And So Is Anyone Who Supports It, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/14/republican-platform-extremist-conversion-therapy-donald-trump, 14 July 2016.

[5] Tomasky, Michael.  Trump Just Broke Through The Last Level of Neo-Fascism, Daily Beast, Trump Just Broke Through the Last Level of Neo-Fascism (thedailybeast.com), 11 December 2020.

Posted in Alt-Right, conservatism, COVID-19, COVID-19, Democracy, Democratic Socialism, Democrats, Democrats, Dwight Eisenhower, Eisenhower, Evangelical Christians, Harry Truman, Ideology, Ideology, libertarians, neofascism, QAnon, republicans, Socialism, Tea Party, Tea Party, Truman, Trump, White Supremacists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

COVID Employment Motivated Changes

It seems to me….

We are living in a world that has been changed by COVID, and our legislative priorities need to support our communities and our workers to address the needs of our new environment.”  ~ Jeff Van Drew[1].

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history – and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors[2].  COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives but in its potential long-term societal effects.  Change is the one constant when it comes to culture; all peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life.  As companies eliminated or downsized central offices, employees worked from home, restaurants closed, shopping malls shuttered, streaming brought entertainment and sporting events into the home, and travel became ever more problematic (and uncomfortable); people have adapted as they always have.  Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is a trait characteristic of our species.  As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental impact.

Machines have made jobs obsolete for centuries.  The spinning jenny replaced weavers, elevator buttons displaced operators, and the Internet drove travel agencies out of business.  One study estimates that about 400,000 jobs were lost to automation in U.S. factories from 1990 to 2007.  The drive to replace humans with machinery has only accelerated as companies have struggled to avoid workplace COVID-19 infections and to keep operating costs low.  The U.S. shed around 40 million jobs at the peak of the pandemic, and while many have since come back, some will never return[3].  One estimate by economists is that 42 percent of the jobs lost are gone forever, especially for workers without college degrees or whose employers do not offer retraining.  Non-union workers remain especially vulnerable.

As with much about the pandemic, this new wave of automation will be harder on people of color and low-wage workers.  Many Black and Latino Americans are cashiers, food-service employees, and customer-service representatives which are among the 15 jobs most threatened by automation.

In theory, automation and artificial intelligence should free humans from dangerous or boring tasks so they can take on more intellectually stimulating assignments, make companies more productive, and raise worker wages.  In the past, technology was deployed piecemeal, giving employees time to transition into new roles.  Those who lost jobs could seek retraining, perhaps using severance pay or unemployment benefits, to find work in another field.  This time the change has been abrupt as employers, worried about COVID-19 or under sudden lockdown orders, rushed to replace workers with machines or software.  There was no time to retrain.  Companies worried about their bottom line needed to rapidly reduce employment leaving eliminated workers on their own to find ways of mastering new skills – many found few viable options.

In the past, the U.S. responded to technological change by investing in education.  When automation fundamentally changed farm jobs in the late 1800s and the 1900s, states expanded access to public schools.  Access to college expanded after World War II with the GI Bill, which sent 7.8 million veterans to school from 1944 to 1956.  But since then, U.S. investment in education has stalled putting the burden on workers to pay for it themselves.  And the idea of education in the U.S. still focuses on college for young workers rather than on retraining employees.  The country spends 0.1 percent of GDP to help workers navigate job transitions, less than half what it spent 30 years ago.

In the past, when automation eliminated jobs, companies created new ones to meet their needs.  Without technological advancement, much of the U.S. workforce would still be toiling away on farms which accounted for 31 percent of U.S. jobs in 1910 but now is less than 1 percent.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more adept at jobs that once were the purview of humans making it more difficult for humans to retain their lead in a race with machines.  Companies deploying automation and AI say the technology allows them to create new jobs but the number of new jobs is often minuscule compared with the number being lost.

It will be quite some time before many COVID-19-related societal effects can be fully understood or appreciated but some became apparent quite early in the pandemic.  Other effects might be more short term but still remain difficult to evaluate.

The sudden severe recession precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate development or implementation of many additional AI processes and applications that make white-collar work more efficient and allow fewer employees to do the same amount of work (or more).  Since automation processes occur on timescales of months or years, shifts attributable to the pandemic could become apparent only well after the COVID-19 crisis recovery is well underway.

56 percent of American workers hold jobs that are at least partially compatible with remote work yet prior to the COVID-19 crisis, fewer than 4 percent of the workforce worked from home more than half-time and less than half worked from home at all.  While the number of people working remotely prior to the pandemic was gradually increasing, the majority of employers preferred centralized locations.  As a result of the crisis, possibly as many as 30 percent of the workforce will work from home multiple days per week within the next two years.

This sudden increase in remote workers has resulted in numerous empty office complexes which could substantially impact commercial real estate markets unless this trend reverses which seems increasingly improbable.  44 percent of remote employees report having a more positive attitude when working remotely, 53 percent claim they experience less stress[4], and 81 percent of remote workers state that working remotely also allows them to achieve better work-life balance.  95 percent of remote workers are sufficiently satisfied working remotely that they recommend it to others.  From a company’s perspective, both remote working and automation are ways to reduce costs.  While some workers enjoy the luxury of working remotely, others could be left without a job.

As travel came to a virtual halt, schools closed, governments reacted, and most people found themselves self-quarantining in their homes attempting to avoid and halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Consumers attitudes, behaviors, and purchasing habits have changed.  Many small businesses reacted by reducing or suspending operations and have felt the toll on their bottom line.  As people practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary trips, and as many businesses are forced to close their physical stores or limit their in-store capacity, most brick-and-mortar stores are feeling the pain of limited foot traffic.  Entire sectors, like hospitality and tourism, disappeared overnight.

Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost or reduced as a result of the pandemic – many of which will most likely never return.  For the first time in 20 years, the number of people experiencing extreme poverty has risen reaching its highest rate in over 50 years with Black and Latinx people being more than twice as likely as White people to live in poverty.  Immediately prior to the pandemic, women held more jobs in the U.S. than men (50.03 percent), but women have experienced greater numbers of job losses than men reversing decades of progress toward equality in the workplace.

A significant number of those losing employment initially attempted to turn to the gig economy which though providing flexibility, also offered only limited access to unemployment benefits, health insurance, or sick leave.  Many consequently have been among the hardest hit economically by the pandemic and subsequently have left their gig jobs due to the increased competition, decreased demand, and personal safety concerns.

The extremely negative impact of COVID-19 on both those without health insurance and for those whose insurance was dependent upon employment should be sufficient to convince even the most conservative Republican that major changes to healthcare provision are vital.  While the course of U.S. healthcare policy will change in some way, what it is not yet clear is whether that change will be manifested as a political shift in favor of a universal healthcare solution such as “Medicare for All” or more incremental efforts to increase healthcare access, constrain costs, and perhaps provide a public alternative to private health insurance plans.

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated that people, organizations, and governments expand digital platforms as all try to cope with the disruptions the outbreak caused in personal lives, societies, and businesses.  More organizations, businesses, and governments are shifting to online platforms to deliver products and services and continue operations as consumers adopt new online shopping behavior.  An essential element that needs greater attention in confronting the COVID-19 disease and its impact on society, personal lives, and the uncertainties all face is the infrastructure that enables digital transform to be more resilient and future-proof.  It remains possible that many predictions about COVID-19 related digital transformation permanence might prove to be wrong.  Regardless, balancing goals and initiatives that help protect workers and business partners, get the economy back up as fast and efficiently as humanly possible, realize mid-term goals, and continue to prepare for the future will be essential.

Jobs in work arenas with higher levels of physical proximity such as medical care, personal care, on-site customer service, and leisure and travel are likely to experience the greatest transformation following pandemic recovery.  Other kinds of virtual transactions such as telemedicine, online banking, and streaming entertainment have increased as a result of the pandemic but may decline somewhat as economies reopen though they remain likely to continue well above prior usage levels.

Because of the pandemic’s impact on low-wage jobs, it is estimated that almost all growth in labor demand will occur in high-wage fields[5].  More than half of displaced low-wage workers may need to shift to occupations in higher wage brackets requiring different skills and increase education to remain employed.  Workers with less than a college degree, members of ethnic minority groups, and women are more likely to need to change occupations after COVID-19 than before.  People without a college degree are 1.3 times more likely to need to make transitions compared to those with a college degree, and Black and Hispanic workers are 1.1 times more likely to have to transition between occupations than white workers.

Epidemic responses have necessarily focused primarily on security, risk, disease transmission, impacts on poverty and incomes, and issues around access to services, community engagement, and governance.  Various studies and reports have highlighted the effects of political, economy, and social differences and vulnerabilities in addition to cultural realities in managing the pandemic recovery.

A significant number of issues[6] have become increasingly apparent due to the pandemic including the impact of mendacious news, social polarization, science mistrust, role of social media; relationship of politicians and scientists, public trust in politicians, public health alliances, effectiveness of relief packages, information communication and dissemination, online teaching and assessments challenges, national cultural and public events cancellation, and closure of museums, cinemas, and conferences.  I’m sure everyone can think of numerous more.  It is not apparent how – or even if –  they can be resolved.

It has been over one hundred years since we last faced a significant pandemic and there have been significant societal and technological advances during that time.  While some guidelines on effective response exist, there always are differences in what is appropriate.  It will be interesting to see the long-term societal effects following recovery.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Jefferson H. Van Drew is a U.S. politician and dentist serving as the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district.

[2] Davis, Wade.  The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206/?fbclid=IwAR2g4crbtzGPQDBq-B72pq_Da8LiE8H7QhxI5zwXrTBcz-oKEHm3SWLILLw, 4 August 2020.

[3] Semuels, Alana.  Millions Of Americans Have Lost Jobs In The Pandemic – And Robots And AI Are Replacing Them Faster Than Ever, Time. https://time.com/5876604/machines-jobs-coronavirus/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=20200813&et_rid=31911233, 17 August 2020, pp64-71.

[4] Nevogt, Dave.  Are Remote Workers More Productive?  We’ve Checked All The Research So You Don’t Have To, Hubstaff, Are remote workers more productive? A data-backed answer (hubstaff.com), 31 August 2020.

[5] Lund, Susan, and et al.  The Future Of Work After COVID-19, McKinsey Global Institute, The future of work after COVID-19 | McKinsey, 18 February 2021.

[6] Zeinab-Chahine, Rubina Abu.  The Social Impact Of Coronavirus, The Daily Star, The social impact of coronavirus (msn.com), 21 April 2020.

Posted in AI, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Automation, College, College, COVID-19, Education, Educational, Employment, employment, GI Bill, Health Insurance, job loss, Pandemic, Personal, Poverty, Poverty, Poverty, remote work, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Love Is In The Air

It seems to me….

Although I believe affection and romance should be shown all year around, it’s always smart to have a good plan up your sleeve for Valentine’s Day.”  ~ Marcus Samuelsson[1].

The premise of Valentine’s Day is simple to understand – February 14th is a time to show appreciation for friends, families, significant others, and anyone else for whom you might feel affection.  Determining the story of its namesake Saint Valentine, however, is more difficult[2].

While many Catholics believe Valentine’s Day commemorates the martyrdom of a priest named Valentinus beheaded on 14 February 270AD in Rome by Emperor Claudius II, there is little further agreement as to who he was, what he did, or why he was executed.  Additionally, there are multiple legends of Saint Valentine and different reliquaries in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England, and France all claiming to have bones attributed to a Saint Valentine.  While little might be known about the real Saint Valentine, he has been proven to actually have existed: archaeologists recently unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to him.

What little is known is primarily attributable to the efforts of an order of Belgian monks who spent three centuries collecting evidence on the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.  Called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum”, or “Lives of the Saints”, beginning in 1643.

Some legends claim Valentine was a bishop in Terni, Italy, who healed the sick, including the blind daughter of a prison guard whom he met while in jail for practicing Christianity in a pagan world.  Some say he was sentenced to death because he tried to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity.  Others say the sentence came because he was caught secretly performing weddings, defying a ban on marriage that had been imposed by the Emperor as a solution to military recruitment difficulties.  A pious widow supposedly stole his body and had it buried at the site of his martyrdom on the Via Flaminia, the ancient highway stretching from Rome to present-day Rimini.  Later, a chapel was built over the saint’s remains.

While the Catholic Church designated St. Valentine’s Day to supposedly honor him, the feast day’s earliest associations with love and fertility may have been inherited from the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated by ancient Romans between Feb. 13 and Feb. 15.  A matchmaking lottery would pair men and women up for the duration of the festival and an order of Roman priests would run naked through the streets slapping women with the hides of goats and dogs they had sacrificed which was thought to make the women fertile.  It is possible that Pope Gelasius I established the feast of Saint Valentine in the fifth century to “Christianize” the festival.

Valentine was not one of the more important saints venerated by medieval people nor was his feast one of the 40 to 50 festa ferianda, or celebratory festivals, which required people to abstain from work in order to fast and attend mass.  The holiday fell in the middle of several more important holidays, such as Candlemas on Feb. 2, as well as the carnivals leading up to the Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of the Lenten fast season which often fall around the same time.  (Valentine’s Day in 2018, for example, was the same day as Ash Wednesday.)

This began to change in the Middle Ages when notions of courtly love began to gain influence in Europe and some celebrants found a more cheerful way of explaining why Saint Valentine’s feast day should be a time to think about romance.  Poets, most famously Geoffrey Chaucer in his 14th century “Parliament of Fowls”, were the ones who put it together that the day fell right around the time of year when birds would sing their mating songs to get ready for the spring.  Chaucer wrote, per one translation, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day / When every bird cometh there to chose his mate”.

Another source of the holiday’s development can be found in the “High Court of Love”, established in 1400 Paris by Isabel of Bavaria to make decisions regarding abuse where women supposedly selected the court judges through a poetry reading competition.  The oldest remaining Valentine is possibly one from the Duke of Orleans, written to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London sometime during this period.  A February 1477 letter in which Margery Brews of Norfolk, England, called her fiancé John Paston “my right well-beloved valentine” is considered the oldest known Valentine written in English (it now is housed at the British Library).

English audiences embraced the idea of February mating after Shakespeare’s lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet’s Valentine in 1602.  Englishmen and women then began using 14 February as an excuse to pen verses to the object of their affection.

Romantic phrases and images started appearing on greeting cards when the industrial revolution began in the mid-19th century enabling the production of mass quantities of affordable consumer goods.  Cadbury’s heart-shaped boxes of chocolates appeared in the 1860s, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards in 1913 – all of which have remained Valentine’s Day traditions.

Another Valentine’s Day symbol of this love-filled holiday often seen on cards and paraphernalia is that of Cupid, a winged baby boy.  In Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, known for shooting arrows at both gods and humans causing them to fall instantly in love with one another.

Many people consider Valentine’s Day more than just a day to send cards or give flowers and jewelry; about a fifth (21 percent) of people become engaged[3] making it about the fifth most popular day for marriage proposals (Christmas Day being the most popular).  Tradition matters: one in 10 25-to-34-year-olds said they hoped to get engaged on 14 February.  While numerous weddings take place on Valentine’s Day[4], there does not seem to be any definitive estimate as to how many though it is a busy day for wedding chapels in Las Vegas and similar other locations.

Saint Valentine’s feast day was never considered a major holiday until recently which should please those who think too much is being made of it.  It now is one of the most celebrated holidays around the world, second only to New Year’s Day, though it remains a working day in most of them.  It also is the second most popular card-giving holiday, only Christmas being more popular.

Enthusiasm has shown no indication of flagging even if the story of Saint Valentine is not exactly well-known.  The National Retail Foundation predicts U.S. consumers will spend in excess of $19.6 billion on Valentine’s Day celebrations.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian Swedish chef and restaurateur who is the head chef of Red Rooster in Harlem, New York.

[2] Waxman, Olivia B.  The Mysterious History Of The Real Saint Behind Valentine’s Day, Time, http://time.com/5143563/real-st-valentine-valentines-day-history/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief-special-template&utm_content=2018021419pm, 14 February 2018.

[3] Different surveys vary quite widely on how many actually do become engaged on 14 February.

[4] Disclosure: My wife & I were married on Valentine’s Day.

Posted in Ash Wednesday, Belgium, Candlemas, Claudius II, Cupid, England, Festa Frianda, France, France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Hamlet, Ireland, Isabel of Bavaria, Italy, Italy, John Paston, Lent, Lupercalia, Margery Brews, Norfolk, Ophelia, Parliament of Fowls, Pope Gelasius I, Rimini, Rome, Rome, Science, Scotland, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shrove Tuesday, Slovakia, Terni, Valentine’s Day, Venus, Via Flaminia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Philosophes And The U.S.

It seems to me….

We’re in an age of enlightenment, and we have a choice as a society which path to take.”  ~ Rhys Ifans[1].

The foundations of the U.S. government lie squarely in the 17th and 18th century European Enlightenment.  Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and others took the bold steps of creating a government based on the Enlightenment values of liberty, equality, and a new form of justice.  In this, they were well versed in the writings of the philosophes whose ideas influenced the shaping of the new nation.

In a world where people at the time were ruled by monarchs from above, the idea of self-government was mostly unknown.  Democracy takes practice and wisdom from experience.  The ideas and practices that led to the development of the U.S. democratic republic owe a debt to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, the Protestant Reformation, and Gutenberg’s printing press.  But the Enlightenment of 17th-century Europe had the most immediate impact on the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

The philosophes (French for ‘philosophers’) were writers, intellectuals, and scientists who shaped the French Enlightenment during the 18th century[2] and contributed to the revolutionary ideas and criticisms of the Ancien Régime.  Based on the metaphor of bringing light to the Dark Age, the Age of the Enlightenment (Siècle des lumières in French and Aufklärung in German) shifted allegiances away from absolute authority, whether religious or political, to more skeptical and optimistic attitudes about human nature, religion, and politics.

The impact these philosophes, their writings, and theories had on the French Revolution has sometimes been exaggerated and remains open to debate.  Most were intellectual elitists with little regard for the common people believing they had little or no role in government.  There is little doubt, however, as to their influence on the founders of the fledgling United States of America.

Few were primarily philosophers; the philosophes were mostly public intellectuals who attempted to apply reason to the study of many areas of learning including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics, and social issues.  Similar to many ancient philosophers, they were dedicated to solving the real problems of the world writing in every conceivable format on subjects ranging from current affairs to art criticism.

The best-known philosophes were Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, and John Locke.  There also were numerous other lesser-known figures including the mathematician and political scientist Nicolas de Condorcet, religious critic Nicolas Boulanger, and atheist writer Jacques-Andre Naigeon.

Baron de Montesquieu was a political theorist whose 1732 book De l’esprit des lois, (The Spirit of the Laws), articulated and popularized the idea of the separation of government powers as a means of preventing tyranny.

Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume of Voltaire, was a prolific writer on a range of subjects.  Voltaire was particularly known for his criticisms of organized religion and his condemnations of its venality and corruption.  He was an advocate of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of the church and state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher whose writings focused on education, government, and natural rights.  Rousseau is best known for developing the theory of a “social contract” between individuals and their government.

Denis Diderot was a French writer who compiled the Encyclopédie, an Enlightenment text that assembled all existing human knowledge and made it publicly available undermining the authority of the French monarchy and the Catholic church.

John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism”.

Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire influenced the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in many ways.  Montesquieu, for example, believed in the separation of powers to avoid tyranny and promote liberty and justice as expressed in both of those documents.  He wrote a system of checks and balances that a government should incorporate so that one branch cannot overrule another.

The single most important influence that shaped the founding of the U.S., however, was John Locke who redefined the nature of government.  Locke was actually the first to suggest the three branches of government; the judicial, executive, and legislative; which Thomas Jefferson interpreted in the Bill of Rights.  In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke identified the basis of a legitimate government[3].  According to Locke, a ruler gains authority through the consent of the governed.  The duty of that government is to protect the natural rights of the people, which Locke believed to include life, liberty, and property.  If any government should fail to protect these rights, its citizens would have the right to overthrow that government.  These ideas deeply influenced Thomas Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration of Independence and other documents.

Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, one of the basic charters of human liberties, contained the principles that inspired the French Revolution.  The basic principle of the Declaration was that all “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” (Article 1), which were specified as the rights of liberty, private property, inviolability of the person, and resistance to oppression (Article 2), and became what has been termed the credo of a new age.

The U.S. Constitution was not universally applauded at the time of its adoption.  The most vociferous criticisms of the new constitution originated in the Groupe de Coppet of Jacques Necker and Madame de Staël, who faulted the new government for failing to adequately separate and balance the parts of government.  In response to what radical journalists like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin Bache perceived to be the monarchial drift of the Adams administration, they pressed for a drastic reform of the U.S. constitution pointing to the more egalitarian French constitution with its unicameral legislature and weak plural executive as their model.

The U.S. revolution in effect became the French revolution as arguments about bicameralism, executive prerogative, and the legitimacy of constitutional conventions that began in Boston and Philadelphia were repeated in Paris by politicians and intellectuals freely citing U.S. models and ideas.  Though there were clear differences between the motives for each revolt and how the two wars were fought, most experts believe the war in the U.S. at least partly paved the way for France’s uprising thirteen years later.  The Americans provided a working model of revolutionary success that was not lost on the French.

For Americans, the state of nature was very real.  It was where individuals were endowed by the Creator with natural rights like life and liberty.  Looking largely to John Locke, they believed governments should be instituted to protect those rights.  For the French, it was completely different.  They imagined a new order in which everyone naturally loved and cared for one another – but only if all the bad laws and customs of the past were completely destroyed.

Not all the U.S. founders believed in human equality.  For example, writing in the Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison made it clear that he had no use for the French idea of absolute equality.  He wrote, “Theoretic politicians have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions”.

Regardless of even the most lofty of ideals, there always will be social and economic disparity for irrespective of philosophical platitudes, people are not created equal and no amount of appropriateness or appeal can make it so.  Just as some are taller or shorter, some are more intelligent and ambitious.  Even if all wealth were evenly distributed, some would relatively quickly accumulate a major share.

This fundamental inequality does not deny that everyone is entitled to the basic essentials in life.  Everyone has an inherent right to an adequate standard of living, healthcare, education, and other necessities which society has an obligation to provide.

Edmund Burke was one of the first to suggest that the philosophes of the French Enlightenment were somehow responsible for the French Revolution.  His argument was taken up, and elaborated on, by many historians including Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton.  The philosophes undoubtedly provided many of the original ideas.  While there were many similarities between the U.S. and French revolutions, there also were fundamental differences.  In the U.S., the revolutionaries wanted a decentralized but federal government with checks and balances to protect against the potential tyranny of the majority.  In France, they wanted a unicameral legislature that was supreme and which, in the extremes, would tolerate no opposition from the courts[4].

The majority of U.S. citizens were farmers, many of whom owned their own land.  By the standards of the day, the U.S. was a “middle class” society.  Except for slaves, there were not large swaths of society steeped in poverty.  The U.S. revolutionaries were the landed and professional elites, many of them lawyers, rather than radicals, interested in preserving the old social order, not overturning it.

In France, the majority of people were either dirt-poor peasants impoverished by the petty encumbrances of the old feudal system or the equally poor san-culottes in the grimy streets of Paris.  The revolutionaries were either liberal aristocrats or, increasingly as the revolution became more radical, middle-class lawyers who were social and political outcasts in the ancien régime.

Today, significant social and political progress has been achieved; liberal democracies are hybrid legacies of both revolutions.  From the French came the welfare state and the propensity toward centralization found in social democracy; and from the U.S., came progressive (communitarian) style of liberalism and all the protections for liberties.

The Constitution represents a culmination of all that came before it.  Many jurists in the U.S. today considering themselves to be philosophical originalists who focus on the text of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ supposed intentions in resolving legal disputes.  That is feasible only by having extensive familiarity with the origin of those writings and theories embodied within it as initially conceived by the philosophes.  It is not always apparent this is true.

In the spirit of current protests in opposition to social unfairness, it should never be forgotten that Thomas Jefferson and other U.S. founders were revolutionaries opposing what they considered iniquitousness and injustice.  Thomas Jefferson even stated, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing[5]”.  What the U.S. is in need of today is greater compassion, consideration, and understanding.

While Thomas Jefferson is now condemned for having owned more slaves than any other U.S. President, he spoke out in opposition to slavery though never freed his slaves upon his death, possibly resulting from excessive debt, as did George Washington and several other founders of our nation.  Following the death of Martha, his wife at 33 during childbirth, Sarah “Sally” Hemmings, an enslaved mixed-race woman who was Martha’s half-sister, became his mistress and they had at least six children.  All their children were freed when they became of age and Sally was eventually freed by Jefferson’s daughter following his death.

While today he definitely would be castigated as a racist, times have changed and it would be interesting to know how Jefferson and other founding fathers would react to the systemic bigotry still prevalent in our society.  As he seems to have been responsive to the more advanced social theories of his time, I would like to believe he, and the other founding fathers, would consider it due time to put into practice their immortal declaration that at least before the law “all men are created equal”.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Rhys Ifans is a Welsh actor, producer, and musician.

[2] Llewellyn, Jennifer, and Steve Thompson,  The philosophes, Alpha History, https://alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/philosophes/, 20 October 2019.  This was a source for much in this document.

[3] Foundations Of American Government, American Government, https://www.ushistory.org/gov/2.asp, 2019.

[4] Holmes, Kim.  The Great Divide:  The Ideological Legacies Of The American And French Revolutions, The Heritage Foundation, https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-great-divide-the-ideological-legacies-the-american-and-french, 12 August 2014.

[5] Jefferson, Thomas.  Tree of Liberty, Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, https://www.varsitytutors.com/earlyamerica/early-america-review/volume-1/jefferson-letter-madison, 30 January 1787.

Posted in Alexis de Tocqueville, Ancien Régime, Aufklärung, Baron de Montesquieu, Benjamin Franklin Bache, Boston, Constitution, Constitution, De l'esprit des lois, Declaration of Independence, Denis Diderot, Edmund Burke, Encyclopédie, Enlightenment, Enlightenment, Federalist Papers No. 10, France, France, Francois-Marie Arouet, French Revolution, George Washington, Government, Groupe de Coppet, Jacques Necker, Jacques-Andre Naigeon, James Madison, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Lord Acton, Madame de Staël, Martha Jefferson, Nicolas de Condorcet, Paris, Peasants, Philadelphia, philosophes, Racism, san-culottes, Sarah “Sally” Hemmings, Siècle des lumières, Slavery, Slavery, The Spirit of the Laws, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Voltaire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The U.S.’s Deteriorating Airports

It seems to me….

I grew up in airports and on air bases.  I know what flying and airports can be.  And most airports make me feel like we’re about three per cent better than ants.  Especially U.S. airports.  They’re zoos.  All civility is gone.”  ~ Douglas Coupland[1].

Airports throughout the U.S., like much of the country’s aging transportation infrastructure (highways, bridges, etc.), have not kept pace with industry changes and user demand over the past three to four decades.  In fact, Airports Council International – North America estimates that U.S. airports have nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs through 2023[2].

Across the world, newer airport facilities, such as Changi in Singapore or Schiphol in Amsterdam, look like the breezy, sleek future of air travel envisioned in midcentury travel advertising.  Nothing similar exists in the U.S.

New airports in other countries are status symbols while those in the U.S. are more about functionality.  Other countries emphasize space and amenities; those here are primarily about getting in and out as quickly as possible.  But times have changed and flexible space design has become imperative, especially when changing security needs and new technology alter how airlines interact with passengers.

More than 925 million passengers traveled through U.S. airports in 2019[3].  Over the next 20 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates enplanements will grow to more than a billion.  U.S. airports must ensure their facilities are able to accommodate increased passenger and cargo demand.

Airport terminals generally are built to last 25 to 30 years but the average U.S. airport facility is now 40 years old.  The American Society of Civil Engineers rated airport infrastructure a “D” and not one U.S. airport ranks among the world’s top 25[4].  They are characterized by inefficiencies, poor design, endless waits, and an overall sense of disarray.  The long lifespan of many U.S. airports, and the wide acceptance of flight as a regular mode of travel, has turned formerly prestigious airports into overloaded, everyday processing facilities not meant to handle the increasing number of passengers, bags, and flights required by the growth of modern aviation.  The response, more often than not, has been a patchwork of expansions and additions, instead of wholesale overhaul or redesign.  The noise, pollution, and cost associated with enlarging airport facilities, as well as local opposition to expanding the footprint of these facilities, often prevents any actual improvement.

Needs vary from airport to airport, from expansion projects to replacing complex baggage handling, security screening, and other outdated systems along with adding new access roadways, concession space, and parking facilities.  Updates are needed to accommodate services that did not exist 10 years ago, such as the proliferation of smart phones, ridesharing, and on-demand meal delivery to gates.

With a limit on space, and the huge challenge of replacing legacy facilities, airport designers and architects in the U.S. are often left with limited options to make passenger flow function better: make better use of available space or to build up, not out.  Frequently, even if an airport had originally been built well outside developed areas, population centers have shifted to eventually surrounding it.  Others are located in areas constrained by geological features such as mountains or water or lack access to mass or rapid transit systems.  Airports also must consider an ever-growing list of “what if” features prompted by security changes, including securing baggage claim areas and installing bomb-proof glass.

It is a common misconception that airports are funded with taxpayer dollars.  Although nearly all U.S. airports are owned by state or local governments, or operated by local authorities, airports are required by the federal government to be as self-sustaining as possible and do not receive local taxpayer funding.  Airports must therefore operate like businesses: funding their operations from their revenue through parking, concessions, airline fees, and other streams and to responsibly manage often expensive major improvement projects.

Operational inefficiencies, passenger congestion, limited retail, access in and out of terminals, and the negative passenger experience found in almost every U.S. airport result from outdated design, increasingly high demand, a lack of funding investment, and a tendency to reject the concept of collaborating with private-sector experts.  Airport designers are increasingly turning to better communication, signage, and technology to make passenger flow more efficient, eliminate the feeling of being in a funnel, and make the navigation process as straightforward as possible.

It is difficult to select which U.S. airports are the worst as there so many from which to choose.  While air travel began here, inefficiencies, poor design, endless waits have resulted in their general deterioration.  Everyone who has traveled through them – especially if they recently have flown anywhere else in the world – will gladly share their criticism.

Collectively, there seems to be a general consensus that the three airports closest to New York City take the award as being among the world’s worst: John F. Kennedy (JFK), Newark, and La Guardia should be avoided if possible.  Unfortunately, they have considerable company.  There are many lists deprecating different aspects of U.S. airports and almost every airport seems to appear on at least one of those lists.

What is somewhat interesting is that it is not unusual to see the very same airport appearing on lists of supposedly the best airports in the U.S. and on another as being one of the worst.  That probably is an indication of the consistently poor quality of all U.S. airports.

None of this is to deny that there also are many extremely poor international airports – too many to mention.  In some locations though, well-known architects have created bright and airy spaces, with amenities ranging from spas and yoga rooms to outdoor botanical gardens and swimming pools.  Several airports in Asia and the Middle East draw praises for their ultra-efficient terminals seemingly drawn from a science-fiction utopia.  Some, such as Singapore Changi Airport, can itself be considered a destination with an indoor waterfall, butterfly garden, and open-air decks and restaurants.  Passengers can take a free city tour, lounge by the swimming pool, or binge-watch movies at a free 24-hour cinema.

Other international airports considered to be exceptional include Hamad International Airport in Qatar, Incheon International Airport in South Korea, and Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All provide amenities unavailable in any U.S. airport.

Criticism related to air travel is not only on the ground; additional potentially more dangerous problems also exit in the air.  Air traffic control (ATC), provided by ground-based air traffic controllers, directs aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace and provides advisory services to aircraft in non-controlled airspace, but limited control capacity and growing traffic has led to flight cancellations and delays.  At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the U.S.

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has been attempting to modernize the National Airspace System (NAS), expanding its capacity, and increasing its productivity since it launched its NAS Plan in 1982.  The same ancient computer system has controlled all high-altitude traffic for the past 40 years.  Aware of the problem, the FAA has been limping toward a collection of upgrades called NextGen for well over a decade.  In 2003, Congress also acknowledged the seriousness of the ATC problem in a Vision 100 reauthorization of the FAA creating the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) to plan for and coordinate the transition to a Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS).

The JPDO estimated that not expanding the system’s capacity by 2020 would cost the U.S. economy $40 billion per year.  The leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have said that unless the U.S. acts quickly to address fundamental problems with aviation infrastructure capacity, the consequences could be “devastating”.  We are still waiting.

While the FAA over the last 30 years has proven to be wholly incapable of effectively managing the development, funding, and implementation of desperately needed new ATC technologies and procedures, a portion of the blame must also be shared among others including air traffic controllers resistant to more automated technologies and aircraft operators reluctant to install new onboard avionics equipment.

Investing in U.S. infrastructure whether it be airports, roads, or bridges is not a partisan issue nor one of national pride.  Both Republicans and Democrats know that for the U.S. to remain economically competitive, our infrastructure must be strong and resilient.  Similarly, it is not necessary to have the highest rated airport in the world, but their importance to commerce and tourism needs to be a consideration.  The time for air traffic control improvements have become an accident waiting to happen and needs immediate resolution.  U.S. aviation has become an embarrassment – an expensive, and potentially dangerous disincentive to travel.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Douglas Coupland OC OBC is a Canadian novelist, visual artist, and designer best known for observations on modern-day U.S. culture and for popularizing the term Generation X.

[2] Airport Infrastructure Needs Study, Airports Council International, Airport Infrastructure Needs Study – Airports Council International – North America, 2020.

[3] Preliminary Estimated Full Year 2019 and December 2019 U.S. Airline Traffic Data, United States Department of Transportation, Preliminary Estimated Full Year 2019 and December 2019 U.S. Airline Traffic Data | Bureau of Transportation Statistics (bts.gov), 30 April 2020.

[4] Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, Aviation Infrastructure | ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, 2020.

Posted in airports, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, Amsterdam, ATC, Aviation, Changi Airport, Dubai International Airport, Dubai International Airport, FAA, FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Hamad International Airport, John F. Kennedy Airport, Joint Planning and Development Office, JPDO, La Guardia Airport, NAS, National Airspace System, Newark Airport, Next Generation Air Transportation System, NGATS, Schiphol Airport, Singapore, Transportation, Transportation, UAE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The International Order

It seems to me….

Since World War II, the rules-based international order created and maintained by the United States has benefited peoples around the globe and none more so than Americans here at home.”  ~ Mac Thornberry[1].

For seven decades the world has been dominated by what has become known as the western international order.  Following conclusion of the Second World War, the U.S. and its partners built a multifaceted and sprawling “international order”, organized around economic openness, multilateral institutions, security cooperation, and democratic solidarity[2].

Global affairs were substantially shaped by three broad trends: the increasing free movement of people and goods, international rules setting, and a broad appreciation of the mutual benefits of a more interconnected, interdependent world.  Together these factors defined the liberal international order and sustained an era of rising global prosperity and declining international conflict.  But this order is now increasingly being supplanted by a new global reality; one defined by the assertion of national borders, national interests, and protectionist trade policies.  Problems of the past have apparently been forgotten by the current generation.

In international relations, what formerly was called the liberal, rules-based, or U.S.-led international order, referred to the perception that contemporary international relations are organized around principles of international cooperation through multilateral institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organization, open markets, security cooperation, promotion of liberal democracy, and leadership by the U.S. and its allies.  The order was established in the aftermath of World War II led largely by the U.S.

The Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed in August 1941 became the founding document of that order.  The principles set out in the charter included peace and security (including the right to self-defense and the preservation of territorial status quo), self-governance (self-rule, open societies, the rule of law), economic prosperity (economic advancement, improved labor standards, social welfare), free trade, and the preservation of the global commons.  The Atlantic Charter drew on the “four freedoms” — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — that Roosevelt had outlined in his State of the Union Address in 1941.  It in turn formed the U.S. commitment to the postwar recovery and security of Europe through the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty.

The basic idea was relatively simple.  A straightforward typology including three elements: the security order, the economic order, and the human rights order.  In practice, however, wanting a liberal international order and actually having one governed by liberal principles are very different.  The U.S.-led order during the Cold War was neither international nor liberal.  It was a bounded order that was limited mainly to the West and built on a realist foundation[3].

The U.S. had two main goals, economic globalization and political liberalization; its long-term foreign policy mission was to transform dictatorships and socialist countries into democracies.  While globalization was largely achieved, Russia became the primary opposing superpower with its own goal of worldwide communism.  The resulting “cold” war narrowly avoided actual military conflict but also prevented either side from achieving its objectives.

Today, this liberal international order is in crisis – in 2016 for the first time since the 1930s, the U.S. elected a President actively hostile to liberal internationalism.  On every issue: trade, alliances, international law, multilateralism, environment, torture, and human rights, Trump made statements that, if acted upon, would effectively end the U.S.’s role as leader of the liberal world order.

During his term in office, Trump abrogated the alliances and agreements, that had resulted in an unprecedented period of global peace and prosperity extending from the end of World War II until present, upon which that order had been based.  The only ones that profited from his actions were Russia, China, and other authoritarian rulers emboldened by his actions.

Liberal democracy is, at its base, a sustained social contract between the government and its citizens.  Liberalism sought for many centuries to empower the common man and reduce social inequality, but today, economic and social inequality are at an all-time high and future prospects remain unpromising.  According to a recent report[4] on social inequality, 82 percent of the wealth generated in the world is owned by the 1 percent of the population.  It is quite clear that capitalism and liberal democracy have exacerbated social inequality around the globe rather than empowering the vulnerable and poor.

Perhaps the greatest damage Trump has done is to U.S. soft power by openly scorning the belief that the U.S. should stand up for universal values such as democracy and human rights thus discouraging U.S. liberal allies in Europe, East Asia, and beyond.  It bolstered autocrats to more sordid behavior.  It enabled China to declare U.S.-style democracy passé tempting other countries to copy China’s autocratic model.

That the global system is under unprecedented stress is by now undeniable.  The belief that everything will once again return to normal under President Biden is too sanguine.  The world has moved on.  Asians are building new trade ties, often centered on China.  Europeans are working out how to defend themselves if they cannot rely on the U.S.  And U.S. politics has turned inward: both Republicans and Democrats are more protectionist now than prior to Trump’s term in office.  The role of the digital media in increasing that stress also is clear as is its potential to be utilized for progressive reform and democratic accountability.

In pulling back from international cooperation, Trump was forfeiting the U.S.’s historically important role in shaping international norms and multilateral policies.  Nations willing to pick up the slack, whether under authoritarian regimes (like China) or democratic leadership (like France), will shape international rules and institutions to conform to their own priorities, not necessarily U.S. ones.  And they will not be eager to give up their new-found influence if and when the U.S. once again decides it wants the reins of global influence.

For all its flaws, the U.S. has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works.  All that became imperiled by a President who believed that strong nations looked out only for themselves.  By putting “America First”, he made the U.S. weaker and the world worse off.

Global democracy is in decline largely in response to U.S. withdrawal.  As the U.S. has retreated into nationalism, stopped speaking up for human rights, and ceased pressuring dictators, autocracy has advanced (and democracies eroded) in the vacuum.  In the 1970s, similar forces were at play: Social divisions, a lack of trust in leaders, and a wave of activism generated dire predictions about democracy’s future but the world pulled out of it when leaders and parties won convincing elections, garnered enough public support to drive new policies, and proved democratic systems still worked.

Democracy’s dilemma today is a problem of information.  The open forms of input and exchange that democracy relies on can be weaponized to inject falsehood and misinformation that erode democratic debate.  Disagreements are no longer solved in healthy ways due to the noise injected by outside actors and domestic discontents.  The solution is to find ways to guard institutions from such informational attacks.

Having withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Trump even threatened to take the U.S. out of the UN altogether.  The UN has worked because key members have, even when disparaged, stayed inside the tent and worked for reform from within.

Withdrawal from the UNHRC, given the U.S.’s reprehensible migrant detention policy, constituted part of a broader, much more disturbing shift in U.S. attitudes toward global engagement rejecting multilateralism and advocating nationalism as instrumental for future success, not only for the U.S. but everyone else.

It was difficult under Trump to predict what the U.S.’s response would be to key foreign issues whether on trade, humanitarian issues, or military response.  The process of establishing any consistent response to key foreign policy issues was either non-existent or totally ignored.  He failed to appoint career diplomats to important ambassadorial position.  He cancelled U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement which primarily benefited us and constrained China, an opportunity permitting China to very willingly step in replacing the U.S.

Not only was Trump unpopular in the U.S., most of the world similarly considered him unfavorably.  More than 70 percent of the respondents in a recent international survey[5] indicated they had lost respect for U.S. leadership as a result of his 2016 election as President.  As a result, the U.S. has fallen from consideration as the fourth Best Country in the world to seventh behind #1 Switzerland, #2 Canada, #3 Japan, #4 Germany, #5 United Kingdom, and #6 Australia[6].

For the first time since the second world war, the great and rising powers are simultaneously embracing various forms of chauvinism[7].  Like Trump, leaders of countries such as Russia, China, and Turkey embrace a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in which global interests compete with national ones making for a more dangerous world.

Historically, by backing global institutions, the U.S. has made itself and the world safer and more prosperous.  The last time the U.S. turned inward was after World War I and the consequences were calamitous.  At home, it tends to produce intolerance and to feed doubts regarding the virtues and loyalties of minorities.  It is no accident that allegations of anti-Semitism have recently infected the bloodstream of U.S. politics for the first time in decades.

While the U.S. remains the only global superpower, it and other industrialized leaders no longer control geopolitics and the global economy.  Emerging nations including China and India do not necessarily share common political and economic values or priorities.  Regardless of rhetoric by U.S. politicians, many nations now have sufficient political and economic self-confidence to ignore the U.S. and its priorities or desires.

Trump never seemed to realize how his policies would unfold in the context of other countries’ jealous nationalism.  Disengaging does not cut the U.S. off from the world so much as leave it vulnerable to the turmoil and strife new nationalism engenders.  As global politics has declined, it is the U.S. that has been impoverished and increasingly angry trapping Trump in a vicious circle of reprisals and hostility.  Now that he is gone, both the U.S. and the world needs to reclaim the enlightened patriotism of prior Presidents admired throughout the world.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] William McClellan “Mac” Thornberry is a U.S. Republican politician serving as a U.S. Representative from the Texas Panhandle.

[2] Ikenberry, G. John.  The End Of Liberal International Order, International Affairs, inta94_1_2_241_ikenberry.pdf (princeton.edu), 2018.

[3] Mearsheimer, John J.  The rise & Fall Of The Liberal International Order, University of Chicago, Microsoft Word – Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order.July 26, 2018.doc, 11 September 2018.  (Not final version)

[4] Inequality, Oxfam, Inequality – Oxfam Policy & Practice, 2020.

[5] Poushnter, Jacob.  How People Around The World See The U.S. And Donald Trump In 10 Charts, Pew Research Center, How the world sees the U.S. and Trump in 10 charts | Pew Research Center, 8 January 2020.

[6] U.S. News Best Countries Rankings, U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/rankings-index, 8 February 2017.

[7] The New Nationalism, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21710249-his-call-put-america-first-donald-trump-latest-recruit-dangerous, 19 November 2016.

Posted in Australia, Canada, Canada, China, China, Churchill, Cold War, Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, CPTPP, Democracy, France, France, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Germany, Germany, Global Affairs, Globalization, Globalization, international order, Japan, Japan, Japan, Roosevelt, Russia, Russia, Switzerland, TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump, Turkey, Turkey, UNESCO, UNHRC, United Kingdom, United Kingdom, United Nations Human Rights Council, Western International Order, Winston Churchill, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Never Sufficient Time

It seems to me….

There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do.”  ~ Bill Watterson[1].

There are many things in life that are not only frustrating but also maddening.  One of those at the very top of the list is insufficient time to complete all the tasks and projects we consider important.  There always are too many things to do and too little time in which to accomplish them.  Personally, time, actually lack of it, is my biggest source of frustration.  Friends and acquaintances who have not yet graduated to the ranks of “retired” unrealistically anticipate lack of time to no longer be a vexation failing to appreciate that tasks will always multiply to more than fill whatever time is available.

Any utterance regarding insufficient time is frequently met with the reminder that all of us have the same 24 hours available each day as everyone else.  Agree – it also is obvious that some people are consistently more productive than others.  While some admittedly have greater ability, much is attributable to setting priorities.

Elon Musk is frequently mentioned as an example of someone with superior time management ability.  He clearly is an exceptional business leader with unique skills and competencies being able to simultaneously manage such diverse successful companies as Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, The Boring Company, and Neuralink among others.  If he is able to do it, the argument goes, why can’t the rest of us.  There are numerous Web sites and books willing to tell us the 10,001 amazing “secrets” of successful individuals such as him.

Very few of us are like Elon Musk and must simply admit there is insufficient time for all we want to do[2].  And if we do somehow manage to get most of our tasks and responsibilities completed, our personal time and that spent with loved ones most likely suffers.  We quickly move from one thing to the next losing present moments.

Staying busy where we constantly take on new tasks and social commitments attempting to pack more activities into our day has become one of the social norms in the modern world.  Regardless of how much we accomplish or how busy we remain, there frequently is a corresponding loss of happiness and connection with the things that really matter.

Time is a valuable resource, much more valuable than money – once gone it never can be earned back.  Yet we constantly waste it.  So be it.  I happen to enjoy “wasting” some of that time: hiking, reading, socializing….

While everyone wishes to be more productive, overly concentrating on productivity is not healthy.  There might be times when we need to be efficient (at work, running errands, doing housework…) but time is also needed to relax.  We suffer under the illusion there always is insufficient time but there are times when we must slow the perpetual drive of chasing the next moment.  We need to be as diligent about our rest times as we are about work.

Most of us have read numerous recommendations concerning time management but, at least for me, possibly partly attributable to my age, personality, or lack of sufficient motivation, nothing has been beneficial.  It also is possible that I am just attempting to accomplish too much.  It is a problem to which everyone can apparently relate but which only seems to increase as we become older.

Much of life is spent simply running in place.  Normal daily activities – cleaning, maintaining… – take excessive time precluding progress toward long-term-goals.  Short tasks that seemingly should be completed in only ten to fifteen minutes always seem to require an hour or more.

When retired, one of the difficulties in setting priorities is that everything is important and relatively few of the time management recommendation seem to work.  Being retired, I no longer have the excuse of blaming work for lack of time – and I do not believe I am that unorganized or unable to establish priorities.  There no longer is anyone saying they need some report by noon today or that a project must be completed prior to next Thursday.  How did I manage when employed?  In many ways, the worst boss anyone can have is one’s self.

Everyone initially has unrealistic expectations about available time following retirement.  None of us live in a vacuum and we have other separate sources of priorities which need to be considered.  Decisions are not totally our own as there frequently is a spouse with their own set of “Honey-Dos”.  Couples who most likely previously worked somewhat independently and set their own schedules, for better or for worse, start sharing time and working together rather than dividing and accomplishing tasks individually.

We feel pressed for time due to our own psychology; not just the tyranny of the clock.  All of us are bedeviled by the feeling that we do not have sufficient time to do what we want to do but “feelings”,enough”, and “wants” are somewhat subjective.  For example:  Women doing housework felt more pressed for time and in turn more depressed than men doing the same quantity of work.  Men who volunteered were less depressed than women who apparently did not experience the same degree of benefit.  One of the primary differences is that men tend to do more enjoyable housework and volunteering; they mow the lawn or coach soccer teams; and consequently feel a greater sense of accomplishment.  Women, on the other hand, more often undertake the small, repetitive daily chores and service work which are much less rewarding.

We start a day with the goal of completing specific tasks but frustratingly only complete a small percentage of them.  Frequently just preparing to work on something takes longer that the task itself.  We start one task only to realize three other related tasks must be completed first.  Rather than crossing items off our to-do list, it only continues to grow longer.

The problem is partly that we fail to systematically set priorities for what we hope to accomplish.  If we do not discriminate between what is primary to us and all that is secondary, we will never have sufficient time.  If we cannot, or will not, admit that we simply do not have sufficient time to satisfy all our ambitions, then we are just not willing to confront the fundamental aspect of our unalterable human limitations.

Sometimes it can be difficult to say no when someone asks for a favor.  We need to remember it is OK to say no when we are not able to do something.

Every new activity or project typically starts with a high-level of interest and enthusiasm which typically decreases over time.  The length of time it remains of interest is dependent upon numerous factors: its degree of personal importance (a job), challenge, variety, potential….  Unless it evolves over time, it eventually becomes of less interest.  Habits internalized and performed with little effort or thought might last for years if beneficial.  Anything routine or repetitive might rapidly become boring and ceased relatively quickly though other factors; e.g., camaraderie; might sustain continuation significantly longer.

There will be days when we are unable to complete everything on our list – and that is OK.  We should just make sure we do our most important tasks first and leave the rest for tomorrow.  None of us can control everything in this world but we definitely can better control our time and how we spend it.  Save some time for what really matters; save some and enjoy it.

Most of us accept we never will be super-productive.  Much of that is dependent upon the priorities we set.  I’ll continue to complain about my personal lack of sufficient time for all I would like to do.  That is OK, I accept it.  All of us must make tradeoffs and some things in life are worth the price of never being accomplished.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1]William Boyd Watterson II is a U.S. former cartoonist and the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes known for his negative views on licensing and comic syndication.

[2] Goers, Anastasiya.  Not Enough Time?  How To Stop The Illusion, Think Simple Now, http://thinksimplenow.com/clarity/not-enough-time/.

Posted in Elon Musk, SpaceX, Tesla, Time | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trump’s Attempted Coup

It seems to me….

The greatest propaganda coup of the American Right has been to convince its citizens that we are in the grip of a liberal conspiracy.”  ~ Shane Smith[1].

6 January 2021 will long be remembered as one of the darkest days in U.S. history.  Instead of a day designated to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power, it will be remembered as the day a mob – encouraged and urged by a current U.S. President – breached the Capitol, smashed windows and doors, occupied the Senate chamber and elected representative’s offices resulting in an armed standoff, numerous injuries, and the death of several people including at least two members of the defending Capital police force.

One can only be dismayed and disheartened by such a direct attempt to overthrow our constitutionally elected government by a right-wing pro-Trump mob of domestic terrorists – incited by a sitting President’s incendiary language and antidemocratic raves.  It is something that happens in other countries, not ours.  Most of us, including myself, never believed anything like this could happen here.

The riot, provoked by Trump’s speech earlier in the day, was like none other in modern U.S. history and occurred when Trump was pressuring Vice-President Mike Pence to unlawfully steer Congress’ vote count in his direction rather than for legally elected Joseph Biden.   In attempting to use the power of his office to undermine the legitimate process of a Presidential election, Trump wanted nothing less than to invalidate the voice of the people and falsely sanction his reelection as President.

The sole intent of the mobs who stormed the U.S. Capitol was to disrupt congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.  Trump’s public comments and tweets were entirely focused on overturning those election results, not the policy goals of his final days in office.  All his hostility toward Washington, D.C., and his disregard and contempt for the country’s democratic traditions, culminated in a violent display of Trump supporters laying siege to the Capitol.

Trump’s unchecked impulses resorted in what can only be considered as an attempted insurrection.  He engaged in criminal behavior by inciting a riot and encouraging an attempted coup.  His despicable behavior has been totally unacceptable and, regardless of the brevity of his remaining time in office, he should be immediately removed and held legally accountable.

As past-President Bush stated, the “violent assault on the Capitol – and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress … was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes”.  Trump has repeatedly and baselessly asserted that he lost the election due to mass voter fraud – claims which have been dismissed by election officials and governors in every state, by all intelligence and investigative agencies, and by every court including the U.S. Supreme Court.

D.C. law enforcement officers were apparently outnumbered and overwhelmed by waves of pro-Trump rioters who swarmed police barricades, sprayed chemical agents, smashed windows, and entered the U.S. Capitol building by brute force.  It was a seditious and treasonous act; a violent seizure of the U.S. Capitol building by violent rioters.  Not since the British burned down the White House in 1814 has an institution of our government been defiled in such an egregious and hostile manner.

Once the rioters broke in, federal agencies were slow to respond.  As the mob raided the Capitol and lawmakers evacuated to safety, the D.C. National Guard could not quickly deploy to the building until they were duly authorized – even if they were, they did not have weapons.  The U.S. military mainly supports local authorities through the National Guard, which is under the control of state governors who respond to requests from local leaders.  D.C. does not have a governor, so the Secretary of Defense has that responsibility, which has been delegated to the Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy by statute.

It is difficult to understand what took so long for law enforcement reinforcements to be called in and take control of the situation.  Police were assaulted, tear gas and sprays were used against them, and yet few arrests were made.  It took hours for buses to arrive.   Arrests were delayed as most of the front-line officers initially did not have riot or protective gear.  The attack represented a massive failure of institutions, protocols, and planning that supposedly are to protect the first branch of our federal government.  Law enforcement apparently had ignored the seriousness of the threat of domestic far-right extremists, just as they have done for years.  They had been warned it was coming but for some reason, apparently, they let it occur.

As the predominantly White mob of extremists smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol, shoving police officers to the ground, ransacking congressional offices for several hours, and posing for photos with stolen items, police took a decidedly hands-off approach.  Among the most disturbing sights were the scaffold and hangman’s noose erected outside the west side of the Capitol, as well as the image of the Confederate flag being gleefully waved by insurgents as they swaggered through the halls.

For social justice demonstrators, the images of men and women wearing red Trump 2020 hats and clutching U.S. and Confederate flags walking through the Capitol building largely unmolested, came as shocking yet predictable evidence of long-held suspicions that conservative White protesters intent on violence would not be met with any of the coercive and aggressive tactics employed against minority rights demonstrators in the summer of 2020.

This disturbing and disgusting incident further indicates how racist a society we remain and how law enforcement actually more readily facilitates such behavior by White protesters.  If those who stormed into the Capitol were Black, events from this past summer have shown there would have been a totally different outcome.  In fact, civil rights activists were quick to compare the Capitol Police officers’ lackluster response with the overwhelming display of force by police at Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.  Federal law enforcement agencies and the National Guard, which had been intimidatingly visible during protests following the death of George Floyd, kept a much lower profile.  Those from the right have often been viewed as patriotic while those from the left are seen as a challenge to the status quo.  Race apparently still dictates how and whether one’s right to protest is respected.  The attack was a clear example of White supremacy.  The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to peacefully assemble but history has shown not all demonstrations are perceived equally.

In the five years since Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for President, there has been an unprecedented and abnormal rise of violent right-wing extremism in the U.S. and beyond.  Faced with insufficient money and resources to combat far-right extremism, those movements have been allowed to metastasize online.  Meanwhile, Trump and conservative politicians continued to pander to those extremist groups.

Overall hate crimes have skyrocketed in recent years to the highest level in over a decade –  bias-motivated murders reached a record high in 2019.  Since 2016, the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased every year hitting an all-time high in 2019.  Latinos were targeted and gunned down in El Paso, TX, in 2019.  Anti-Asian hate crimes shot up last year with almost 1900 recorded incidents.  African Americans, already the most common target of hate crimes, reported a spike in bias crimes.

Right-wing extremism is a global terror threat, one that directly endangers our nation and jeopardizes our democracy.  Whether from behind his desk in the Oval Office or through the toxic feed of his Twitter account, Trump stoked division, spread disinformation, and spawned hate.  He normalized what was once unthinkable and mainstreamed what was once marginal.

It should not take an open insurrection in the heart of our government for elected Republican representatives to realize their words (or silence) have an impact that goes well beyond their own narrow political interests.  Their words matter, and humoring Trump’s election fantasies and treasonous behavior have real-world outcomes and, as we saw on 6 January, dangerous consequences.

For four years, many Republicans have accepted an uneasy bargain by having Trump as their standard bearer.  They have put up with the lies, the erratic decisions, and self-centered rule in exchange for placing conservative judges in federal courts, rolling back regulations, and driving home tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.  But now even many long-time supporters who worked closely with Trump believe he has irreparably damaged his legacy by spreading disinformation about non-existent election fraud and encouraging thousands of his supporters to march on Congress.

This was the culmination of a reckless multi-month campaign effort by Trump, bolstered by a number of Republicans, to undermine democratic processes and the rule of law following his electoral defeat.  He carried on falsely charging fraud even as there was no fraud and no legitimate manner in which he could overturn the results.  After the massive election interference in the 2016 election, this was the most tightly scrutinized election in U.S. history.

Serious damage to our democracy has been done and the government needs to hold Trump and those who continued to back his baseless claims to account.  Extremists and neofascists – whether Libertarian, Tea Party, Fascist, Alternative Right, White Power, QAnon – should not have any place in any major political party.

The Republican party once stood for free markets and moral values but has since largely abandoned its support of freedom and liberty.  It is antagonistic toward federal law enforcement, provides support to Russia and other authoritarian regimes, rejects refugees, backs “deep-state” conspiracy theories, on and on.   Its charges of fake news undermine the First and Second Amendments.  It is time for the GOP to purge and disavow itself of its radical elements and return to its traditional beliefs and what it has long stood for prior to any additional future attempts to overthrow our government.

Law enforcement is now apprehending those involved in the assault on our nation.  There, however, can never be full recovery unless the person primarily responsible for this attempted insurrection also faces punishment for his actions.  It too often is the case that the one bearing responsibility is able to evade the justice deserved.  The U.S. is better than this and such an assault must never be permitted to occur again.  Trump, out of arrogance and disrespect for our nation, encouraged his followers to attempt a coup.  Healing necessitates that Trump also must be held accountable and face justice similar to those who actually staged the attack.  No one – especially the U.S. President – is above the law.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Shane Smith is a Canadian journalist and media executive.

Posted in Bigotry, Black Lives Matter, Bush, Coup, Coup, El Paso, Elections, George Floyd, George W. Bush, Great Britain, Great Britain, Pence, President, Racism, Secretary of Defense, sedition, terrorists, Texas, treason, Trump, Vice-President, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2020? Time To Move On

It seems to me….

2020 is quicksand –
Keep calm and try
to make it out alive
.”  ~ Terri Guillemets[1]

For most of us, 2020 was a year unlike any other we ever previously experienced.  Perhaps with proverbial 2020 hindsight, we might have had some premonition the year would be different – but we don’t so didn’t.  Pandemic, weather extremes, social unrest, unemployment, economic uncertainty….  For many, the most stressful aspect was the social isolation.  Even on those rare excursions for groceries or other necessities, seeing most people wearing face coverings (at least those who were more conscientious), constantly reminded us of the devastating daily reports of infection and rapidly rising death toll.

Additionally, there was a President who refused to confront the pandemic.  A congress that refused to help those unable to afford the basic necessities of life.  Indefensible deaths in our streets….  The list is long.

Hindsight visual acuity always is better looking back than forward.  Past actions, events, and decisions normally are reevaluated and understood only from that perspective.  Meanwhile, life went on.  There were family celebrations, ribbons and bows, and, this year, virtual hugs to tend to prior to unveiling the bold new number on the calendar ending a year that brought both surreal and, for many, sad realities.

Most of us have weathered the storm – though the somewhat steady pace of events still continues relatively unabated.  While many were negative, some events, seemingly extremely rare, were positive.  Looking back, it is those negative events that stand out resulting in 2020 being the worst year in recent memory.

Topping any negativity list has to be the toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As the year ended, coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 84 million confirmed cases with 1.8 million deaths.  The U.S. had one of the worst responses to the virus with about 29 million confirmed cases and 350 thousand deaths predicted by the end of 2020.  While one of those rare instances of positive news is that effective vaccines are now available, sufficient inoculations to achieve herd immunity will not be achieved until mid-summer 2021.  It also remains likely that the worst effects of the virus will occur this winter season as people gather indoors and return from Christmas and end of year family holiday celebrations.

Millions of people became unemployed, depleted their savings, or became caregivers for family members.  Technological advances provided support to those working from home or learning remotely, telemedicine supplemented personal healthcare, many shopped online for products and services, along with numerous other changes.  It definitely was  a year of change.

People contended with adapting to new social restrictions and requirements for facial coverings, social distancing, and frequent handwashing.  Severe economic impact resulted from mandatory closure of many businesses including restaurants, bars, and other locations where people gather forcing thousands to rely on food banks unable to pay rent, basic utilities, or even medical treatment.

It was a year when Zoom became part of our vocabulary as the increasingly popular video conferencing application became the place to visit family and friends.  With working from home, face-to-face meetings and conferences were cancelled for the indefinite future, previously optional video conferencing apps quickly changed from being optional to a necessity.  Even once the pandemic threat subsides, employers now realizing the benefits of employees working remotely are unlikely to require a return to an office environment.

Many schools and educational institutions converted to remote learning encumbering parents as well of students and teachers.  Inadequate access to online resources disadvantaged many students significantly degrading their education raising doubts for many whether recovery will even be possible.  Unavailability of adequate daycare was an additional imposition.

The pandemic shut down most sporting events and even forced postponement of the Summer Olympics until 2021.  While most professional sports eventually resumed abbreviated competitions, stadiums remained empty, and it became difficult to predict which players would be absent on any given day resulting from a positive virus test.

Rather than uniting in opposition to an increasingly deranged President, the chasm separating the two U.S. political parties continued to widen.  The unreasonable cult-like following of a populist President became an obvious threat to our democratic government when Trump ran for reelection as an apparent autocrat and then, refusing to concede, attempted repeated coups to overturn his humiliating defeat.  Trump has only been able to tear down and never to accomplish anything beneficial or productive; he undoubtedly will be considered by future historians as the worst President the U.S. ever had.

Another encouraging glimmer of light clearly visible through the darkness was not only rejection of Trump but election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first black/Asian woman on a major political party’s Presidential ticket, in an election that saw record numbers of people voting early and by mail.  It remains questionable how much Biden/Harris will be able to accomplish as the Senate will most likely retain a Republican majority (though dependent upon the outcome of a Georgia runoff election for its two members).

The effects of climate change continued to rapidly escalate negatively impacting the environment[2]:  2020 will likely be the warmest year on record.  Wildfires burned more than 4.2 hectares (10.3 million acres) in the U.S. and an additional 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres) in western Australian.  The Atlantic hurricane season was the most active and the seventh costliest season on record.  There were devastating floods in Africa and Asia and significant sea-ice loss in the Arctic.  An increasing number of ocean heat waves caused substantial damage to marine ecosystems, decimated coral reefs and kelp forests, and displaced or killed fish and sea birds.  The past six years, 2015 to 2020, have been the six hottest years since modern records began in 1850.

Acrimonious political divisions and racial unrest exploded into violence following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, shortly following similar incidents involving Breonna Taylor and numerous other African Americans by police, fueling mass protests against systemic racism and police violence in more than 2,000 U.S. cities and 60 countries throughout the world.  Compounding the unrest is growing economic inequality resulting primarily from a shift from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on services.

Supreme Court jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death sparked a partisan battle over Trump’s nomination of her successor, Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed despite bitter Democratic opposition just days prior to the 2020 Presidential election.  Republican hypocrisy was obvious as the same politicians urging Barrett’s confirmation had strongly argued against President Obama nominating a replacement jurist to fill a similar court vacancy when almost a full year still remained in his term.

Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and hence the European Union (EU) in the 1990s but skepticism regarding deeper integration of Britain and the EU always existed as many Brits never were willing to accept any legitimacy of European control over British institutions[3].  Britain also refused to accept either the common currency or elimination of internal borders.  Euroscepticism was further amplified by what many considered poor economic performance and requirements for member states to admit an unlimited number of migrants from other EU countries.  Britain held its first referendum on membership in what was then still the European Economic Community in 1975, less than three years after it joined.  Then, following nearly a half century of membership in the European Union, British voters chose to leave the union in 2016 – a decision named “Brexit”.  Negotiations over Brexit regarding Britain’s future links and trade with the EU continued for months and the exit deadline was repeatedly delayed.  Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its biggest source of foreign investment.  Membership in the bloc helped London strengthen its position as a global financial center.

A half century has passed since U.S. astronauts last ventured further from Earth than near-space orbit.  While still not deep space, it therefore was extremely encouraging when SpaceX launched NASA astronauts into orbit and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time since the U.S. government retired the space shuttle program in 2011.  All previous space-related missions were government funded and conducted but this mission initiated a new era of U.S. spaceflight as SpaceX is a privately owned corporation.  Such public-private partnership between NASA and Space-X allows the U.S. to deploy start-up style technology, from automation to the use of virtual reality for mission training, providing the U.S. greater independence and hopefully a more routine foothold in space.  This type of partnership potentially should enable the U.S. to return to the Moon by 2024 followed by establishment of the first permanently manned lunar outpost.

There obviously were too many major events even to mention a relatively small percentage of them.  The Middle East, southeast Asia, Africa – adversities and challenges existed anywhere one chose to look.  While having always been true, improved reporting can make widely disparate incidents seem overwhelming.  Conversely, increased awareness optimistically might result in resolution.  As long as hope remains, everything is possible.

Some years are better than others, some worse.  2020 definitely belongs in the latter category though positive aspects tended to increase toward the end of the year.  I wish everyone a very Happy New Year.  We haven’t any idea what the new year will bring but it has to be better than its predecessor.  May it bring only the best to you and yours….

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Terri Guillemets is a U.S. writer and self-described Quotation Anthologist.

[2] 2020 On Track To Be One Of Three Warmest Years On Record, United Nations Climate Change, 2020 on Track to Be One of Three Warmest Years on Record | UNFCCC. 02 December 2020.

[3] Mueller. Benjamin.  What Is Brexit?  And What Happens Next?  The New York Times, What Is Brexit? And What Happens Next? – The New York Times (nytimes.com), 31 January 2020.

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Religious Faith vs. Beliefs

It seems to me….

Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”  ~ Voltaire[1].

The vast majority of people remain members of the church their parents attended.  If they do become members of a different church, it usually is the one most conveniently located to attend.  Acceptance of that church is then passed on to their children repeating the cycle.  Though I have looked into other religions, consider myself a Christian while accepting that my preference for Christianity results primarily from early familiarity due to parental influence[2].  Let me also preface these remarks with the admittance of a total lack of religious authority.

A religion is a social and cultural system based on rituals, practices, and organizations professing belief in a common deity.  In a religious context, there is a subtle difference between faith and belief.  Belief is not as strong as faith and does not necessarily refer to an unwavering trust and confidence in God.  Faith is frequently used in a religious context but belief is much more varied.

Belief is based on trust and confidence and defined as a firmly held opinion or a strong confidence.  Faith somewhat similarly is a strong trust and confidence but in something or someone.  Faith specifically refers to something that cannot be proven by evidence; in other words, faith is not based on proof and normally provides followers hopefulness and optimism.  Though their meaning is slightly different, the two terms are frequently used interchangeably.

Many of those professing belief (faith) in the church in which they are a member strongly defend it from any criticism.  This devotion is, for the most part, normally blind and irrational in that no one can really claim to be a Christian or devotee of any one religion unless they actually have become familiar with the basic tenets of other major systems of belief: Atheism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism….  Without such familiarity, adherents usually have only inherited their faith from parents or their environment.  Their faith is devoid of actual comparative knowledge and based on emotion rather than rational experience.

It is estimated there are over 4,200 different religions, faiths, denominations, sects….  There are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups and numerous smaller ones[3].  An accurate estimate is difficult as just within Christianity, 34,000 separate “groupings” have been identified.  How can anyone claim with absolute certainty which, if any, provides insight into absolute truth?  Beliefs are just that: beliefs.  It is impossible to positively determine which is correct.

Frequently, the strength of one’s belief results in not only disparagement, but even attempted suppression of differing faiths.  While religions provide a positive influence on much of our lives, their dark side also needs to be acknowledged.  Some people see only the negative aspects of religion and consider all sects inherently bad.  It is true that religion, along with nationalism, are the two primary causes of conflict and hatred but acknowledging only those negative characteristics fails to credit the beneficial and worthwhile work religious organizations accomplish.

Organized religions have many rules to which their members are expected to adhere; many can only be described as arbitrary and not based on scripture or sound moral principles.  Most religions consider members of other religions or sects as unbelievers or even heathens.  The primary concern should instead be how they treat others, what they have done to improve other’s lives, how good as stewards they have been in making the Earth a better place for their having lived.  Some find fault or even ridicule teachings or practices of other religions without seeing how their own beliefs appear equally unacceptable to others.  Everyone has a right to pray to his or her God when and where they want.  That is their right but others have a comparable right to not be subjected to the unshared beliefs that others believe necessary or correct.

Unfortunately, too many people attempt to force their religious beliefs on others.  Just as Irish Protestants and Catholics fought despite their shared beliefs in Jesus Christ, someday, hopefully, Christians, Jews, and Muslims will find unity and commonality in their belief in the same Supreme Being shared back to Abraham.

Many supposed Christians apparently have never read the Bible and consequently do not have a basic understanding of their own religion.  While 88 percent of those identifying as Christians claim to own a Bible, and on average own 3.6 copies, less than 30 percent have ever read entirely through it.  Over 82 percent of U.S. Christians only read their Bibles on Sundays while in church and only 25 percent of Americans now attend church on any given Sunday.  Only 22 percent of U.S. Christians believe the Bible is fully inspired by God Himself and written by men who were divinely appointed by the Lord almighty.  Over 1 in 4 American Christians believe the Bible to be a book written by mere men and not the authoritative word of God.

A widespread 2013 survey determined that about 75 percent of those questioned strongly approve of the separation of church and state (a lower percentage than in many European countries)[4].  This does not indicate people have lost religious faith as only about 30 percent indicated they were either “not or not very” religious.

There are Christians who are quick to claim they know they will go to Heaven as they have accepted Jesus as their savior.  Some I know to be pompous hypocrites and bigots hardly exemplifying what I consider ideal Christian attributes.  Sunday mornings typically finds many American at their prayers at either the local shopping mall or golf course who frequently are more religious than some sanctimonious Christians impatiently waiting the end of services at their preferred house of worship so as to not miss their favored sporting event on TV.

Supposedly “Christian” values increasingly seem non-relevant to even those espousing to be the conservative Christian right.  Caucasian evangelical voters apparently rationalized their candidate’s louche personal life and public boasts of sexual assault following the 2016 Presidential election with 72 percent of those voters claiming a candidate’s private morals to not be relevant.  Really?

Many people feel prayers should be part of school.  I’m not sure where they went to school but where I grew up, a relatively high percentage of my classmates were Jewish.  There never was any general acceptance of prayer – other than possibly a moment of silence – in school.  And there never should be.  While I fully support religious freedom of expression, I believe it to be a personal matter and never should be mandatorily imposed on others.  Religion is the parent’s responsibility and never that of the community.

Many of our original colonies were founded by people seeking to escape religious persecution; we always must be vigilant to not become what motivated them to flee their native countries.  Consider that today they would be classified as refugees.  How can we object to opening our nation’s doors to other similar people regardless of what some apparently consider to be a fearful diversity?

While some falsely attempt to claim we are a Christian nation, that is basically un-American and a denial of who we are as a nation.  Our nation’s founders were primarily Freemasons and supported the separation of church and state in our Constitution.  We, hopefully, welcome and accept those of all faiths and beliefs.

Though many people might object, most people seem to accept that while religious beliefs may be based on what is taught by some churches, each is a human creation and therefore at some point incorporates human errors and weaknesses.  All of us are human and therefore imperfect; there isn’t any church that, while composed of both believers and adherents, can claim to be the one and only rightful word of God.  Any organized church is basically a political entity which attempts to perpetuate itself and expand its membership.  The membership base of some churches exhibits cult-like characteristics and behavior rather than rational acceptance.

It is difficult to question practices we were taught as a child and habitually continued throughout our lives; everyone should consider how many of those rituals actually make sense.  As an example, take prayer.  Prayers have no more than a statistical probability of being answered (sometimes thankfully).  Prayer might not provide assurance but it is all we have.  Though it might feel as if no one is listening – or doesn’t care – faith assures us of its relevancy.  It is similar to while knowing there is only the slimmest statistical possibility of winning the lottery, continue to purchase lottery tickets.

Rejection of supposed religious “truths” is easy if one has a superior belief with which to replace them but lacking such certainties, religious acceptance is sustained only through faith.  Rejection of religious dogma frequently only results in a personal vacuum.

The three basic concerns and considerations of life are science, religion, and the minutia of living.  Science is one branch of knowledge that questions faith.  The faith science doubts is the blind religious faith necessitating that people believe people can walk on water.  It is not denial of such beliefs, just the search for provable facts.

I was given a mind that always questions what others seem to accept without the uncertainty I normally experience.  Perhaps some of that also is attributable to my background in science.  This does not give me any greater insight into truth.   No, I do not have answers – like many others, I need help knowing and understanding.  The problem is that I have found very few willing to knowingly talk about religion who are free of bias.

Much religion remains similar to when it still was considered necessary to offer a sacrificial goat or buffalo but there is an essential change taking place in what it means to be “religious” today.  As religious people shift their focus to ethical guidelines and spiritual discipline – rather than doctrine – there is a universal trend away from hierarchical, regional, patriarchal, and institutional religion.  Doctrines and dogma are giving way to new grassroots movements based in community, social justice, and spiritual experience.

There are those things that I definitely do believe.  I believe all of us will be judged after we are gone on the type of life we lived.  Did we leave the world a better place for having been here?  Were we compassionate and provide assistance to those in need?  In meeting our own needs, have we given back more than we have taken?

There is greater social concern than in the past.  There are increased expectations that we are being good stewards not only of the Earth but of ourselves.  That there is a responsibility of those successful to help others.  That we need to take better care of ourselves both physically (weight) and mentally (addiction).  To avoid negative results of economic self-interests.  To aid refugees.  To encourage and provide opportunity for all to become the best they can be: the young, women, minorities, the mentally or physically challenged….  If religions really consider themselves as doing God’s work, all should be the concern of organized religion.  And if not, why not?

While we can assume basic principles of morality; e.g., do unto others as you would have them do unto you; it is impossible to do the same for religious principles.  Though I attempt to do what I believe to be morally correct, I never can be completely sure I am not just rationalizing my behavior to excuse my personal desires.  I do know that while I desire to live up to the standards I set for myself, I frequently fail to do so.

I have spent most of my life feeling somewhat lost and searching for truth.  Now, in my mid-eighties, I am still looking.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state.

[2] Bornmann, Lewis J.  Religion: Literal vs. Figurative, WordPress, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/religion-literal-vs-figurative/, 4 February 2013.

[3] Barrett, David, et al.  World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey Of Churches And Religions – AD 30 To 2000, Religious Tolerance, http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm, 2 December 2015.

[4] Shermer, Michael.  Is God Dying?, Scientific American, December 2013, p82.

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