Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves



Dangerous Times

I set out this morning to write a different column.

I was going to do a bit about the Hillary health issue and make a point about the dereliction of duty by the media in failing to cover the issue until they couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Then I had an exchange with a friend who is an aid worker in Sudan. She’s worried about security of foreign workers and local friends.

It seems armed men in uniforms occasionally go out seize women take them back to quarters and rape them. Including a few foreign aid workers. So far the women have been released afterwards.

My friend and I belong to a loose group of people interested in personal security issues and wanted some feedback. She was concerned about resisting, that it might escalate the situation fatally.

My first thought was, at this point the problem has gone beyond how not to get raped to how not to get dead.

My second was that I had nothing to offer her by way of advice. She’s there and I’m not.

Except for one thing I learned from Steven Vincent, a journalist who was murdered in Basra, Iraq 11 years ago.

I didn’t know Vincent well, but we exchanged a handful of emails over the course of a few months, the latest the weekend he was abducted and murdered. Some time later in Washington I met an Iraqi lady who knew him, and had begged him to live in her house rather than in the community.

I admired Vincent a lot, because he went on his own dime to make up his own mind. Unfortunately it got him killed.

The conclusion I reached, which I passed on to my friend, was that when you go to live in these appalling countries you get to love the people who are trying to live their lives as best they can.

To the point you forget they have a lot more experience surviving there than you do. Which can make to hesitate when you really ought to cut and run.

She thanked me, and mentioned a Serb security man had also warned her that she trusted her driver and some local co-workers way too much.

Maybe it’s not so far from what I set out to write.

The common thread that runs through a lot of our discourse these days seems to be the assumption that reality is optional.

News people that should have been following up on a story ignored it, hoping it would go away. They ignored it because they didn’t want it to be true. Until they were forced to acknowledge Hillary had a problem.

Another example.

I know a fair number of people with opinions about foreign affairs. People who have never lived outside the United States and appear to assume the rest of the world is like us.

It is not.

We are the outliers, a people so rich and secure, and so ignorant of history that we can maintain the happy illusion that the world will never intrude on our fat happy lives so long as we extend the hand of friendship to all.

The consequence of this is that when things go south we start looking for what we did wrong to offend our should-be friends.

Another example. We have two presidential candidates who have assured us they can deal with Vladimir Putin as a friend.

Perhaps they should have listened to Putin’s reply to a similarly clueless German reporter who asked if they could be friends.

“I am not your friend,” Putin replied. “I am president of Russia.”

Putin basically repeated what British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston said. “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

I’ve been told often that this archaic idea of mine, that the world should be approached with armed wariness is what’s wrong with the world. That lack of a benevolent and trusting attitude to all peoples is what causes conflict.

Putin and I think they’re idiots.

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Has anybody else noticed that the lunatics have taken over the asylum?

No, seriously. That used to be a joke, “Ha, ha, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.” Not anymore.

I’ve just read a friend’s blog post about a situation at her job. It seems there is someone in her workplace with “anger management issues.”

Anger management issues are what we used to call “a temper.” Meaning that some people react to stress by getting angry, shouting, and in extreme cases perhaps throwing things. After which they’d calm down and apologize.

Now however it’s been medicalized, it’s an “issue.”

In the case of my friend’s coworker, he announces he has “ANGER MANGEMENT ISSUES” for which he gets some kind of therapy.

Oh goody, there’s certainly times I wish I could have had some help in managing my Irish temper.

Or not. Evidently this guy’s issues give him a free pass to indulge his temper, which everybody else is supposed to tolerate. Including a coworker who has social anxiety disorder and suffers in silence for days after each outburst. Which Mr. Anger Management Issues is totally oblivious to.

Coincidentally after reading her post I came across an article about how Princeton University is ordering their staff to avoid using the word “man” or gendered pronouns such as him or her, and substitute they and them. Because not everybody identifies as a him or a her.

“Gender binary is the traditional view on human gender, which does not take into consideration individuals who identify as otherwise, including and not limited to transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and/or intersex,’” says the staff directive of the elite institution of higher learning older than our nation.

Some have gone further and invented new pronouns such as ‘ze’ and ‘hir,’ which would be funny except the New York City Commission on Human Rights Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Expression: Local Law No. 3 (2002); N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(23) says if you run a public accommodation you can be fined for not using them with your tenants. Or not letting a guy use the lady’s room.

Like all roads headed in this direction, it started out with good intentions.

Long ago, there used to be something on TV called Public Service Announcements. (How long? Think black-and-white TV.) Before air time got hideously expensive TV stations would occasionally spend a few minutes on a message devoted solely to the public good. Hire an ex-con, give a man a second chance. Don’t leave your keys in your car. Beware of socialism. That kind of thing.

One I remember was a plea for compassion towards people who are a bit off.

“It’s not the way they want to be, it’s the way they have to be.”

Well that was nice, but along the way something happened. Compassion was replaced by tolerance. Then passive tolerance, basically minding your own business and live and let live, wasn’t good enough anymore. We needed “acceptance.” Then we had to embrace our differences. And if you still thought their craziness was weird and maybe kind of icky, then you were a bad person.

We knew things had gotten seriously weird when they invented a pretentious academic term “cisgendered” to mean what we used to call “normal.” And if you think guys who think they are guys and are attracted to women who think they are women is normal, then there’s a special insult for you, “heteronormative.”

There, doesn’t that make you feel special?

Has anybody noticed that this “acceptance” is not compassion but the very opposite of compassion?

Long ago during a brief period I worked as a psychiatric aid in a mental hospital we were given a very firm directive on dealing with patients. Don’t humor their delusions!

There is such a thing as normal. Yes, it covers a pretty broad continuum and is fuzzy around the edges. But it exists, it’s real.

Yes, a righteous man will take into account another’s infirmities and weaknesses. But it does him no favors to reward bad behavior or pretend he’s OK when he’s clearly not.

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The lineup on the day

In this most contentious of campaign seasons there are a couple things pretty much everyone agrees on. One is that this is an election like no other in our lifetime. The other is a vague feeling that this is not good.

Recently I proposed this model of how the electorate lines up on a graph.

It’s important to note something. Though it goes from left to right and yes the Democrats are on the left, it is not a model of political thought but of behavior, how people plan to pull the lever on election day.

It seems to me that we have a spectrum defined by fanatics at either end.

On the left you have the Hillary fanatics. These are the people who airily dismiss all charges of bribery, corruption, malfeasance in office, etc. as the products of a 30-year campaign of pure slander.

OK, so no indictments. But there is a long list of blatant self-serving lies, such as landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, shown to be false by eyewitness testimony and video.

Doesn’t seem to matter to them.

You cannot reason with these people. Nothing, literally nothing, matters to them except Hillary equals first woman president and upholder of “Progressive” values.

On the near left you have the “Hillary is the lesser of two evils/never Trump” crowd. Often former Sanders supporters in an odd mix with Republicans who can’t stand Trump.

In the middle you have the “plague on both your houses” crowd who think both major candidates are equally bad.

This group is pushing the surge in support for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. In an ordinary year a great many of them would simply stay home. I don’t think that will be the case this year, and it may very well be a watershed year for the third party movement.

Oddly enough, there will be some former Sanders supporters among them who feel like they’ve been kicked in the face by the Democrat establishment. So there may very well be some socialists voting for the libertarian in an electoral irony.

On the near right you have the “it can’t be Hillary” crowd. They don’t really like Trump, but are deathly afraid of Hillary.

On the far right (and again, this is not about the left-right divide in political philosophy, only electoral behavior) you have the Trump fanatics who think Trump is going to “make America great again.”

As an aside, do you think anyone might ever run on the slogan, “Make America normal again!”?

You can’t talk to these people either. Point out that Trump was a Democrat about five minutes ago, that he ran a scam real estate college, tried to use eminent domain to seize an old lady’s property for a casino (and lost!)… nada. You get angry people denouncing you as a Hillary supporter.

One more observation. Hillary was nominated against the wishes of the rank and file Democrats. Maybe she would have won it fair and square, but we’ll never know because she openly stole it in a manner that indicated she didn’t give a damn who knew it.

Now Bernie Sanders has slunk home like a man who’s just realized he was very lucky to get out of it with a whole skin. His supporters have divided into those who are mad as hell and won’t take it any longer, and those who will lick the boot that kicked them.

Trump on the other hand was elected with massive popular support among rank-and-file Republicans against the frantic and panicky resistance of the Republican establishment.

Previous elections have pitted fanatical leftists who regard their candidate as the messiah against center-rightists who regard theirs as damage control at best. Consequently McCain and Romney fought like sick nuns.

Now the right has come up with a fanaticism of their own to fight the fanaticism of the left.

The important question is of course, what are the numbers for each category?

And even more importantly, how will they react on the day after the election?

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The Twilight of Democracy

Is anybody looking forward to this election with anticipation? Or should I ask, is anybody looking at this election with anything but dread?

On the one hand we have a seriously unlikable harridan whose ideology is pretty straightforwardly totalitarian, as defined by Mussolini.

“Everything within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state.”

After an investigation for serious felonies the FBI director announced she was guilty as hell but he couldn’t touch her, in almost as many words. Fanatical supporters crowed she had been “cleared.”

The DNC has been revealed to have rigged the nomination process to block Bernie Sanders by Wikileaks via Vladimir Putin.

And by the way, if they’re willing to rig a nomination do you think they would scruple to rig an election?

And is anybody the least concerned a hostile foreign power is openly trying to decide our election?

Which brings us to Trump. An unknown quantity, since he’s run businesses but never held so much as a city council position.

Need I point out government is not business?

Trump has held a lot of different positions on many issues and nobody seems to notice that at present he’s essentially a moderate Democrat. An improvement over the hard left cadre that has seized leadership of the party to be sure.

He’s a bit vague on how he intends to accomplish the things he promises but at times sounds alarmingly like a Latin American caudillo.

But for the first time in more than a century we have a third party candidate in libertarian Gary Johnson who looks like he might ride a wave of disgust, not into office let’s get real, but into vote totals that can’t be ignored.

If either of the two major parties collapses, there is a real possibility of a third party rising to replace one of them.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the last time that happened a civil war broke out.

So while we still have some semblance of our old democracy, I’d like to reminisce about some things I noticed while I was living in the brand new democracies in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Empire.

In Poland they call their state “The Third Republic.” France is on her fifth.

This implicitly recognizes the first characteristic of a true democracy, continuity.

“Democracy is a habit,” as English writer Gavin Lyall once put it.

In America we have so far never cancelled or postponed a regular election, not even during the Civil War. We’ve had plenty of questionable elections, including a presidential election that was possibly stolen (Nixon-Kennedy). But other countries experience has shown when you suspend your democracy, you don’t pick up where you left off, you start again from the beginning building a new tradition of continuity.

How something is done is at least as important as what is done.

Not long ago I pointed this out in an editorial vis-à-vis legalizing same-sex marriage via executive fiat. A newspaper editor indignantly replied that we can’t wait for messy democratic procedures to correct an injustice. (She compared it to slavery.)

Yes we can, and yes we must.

It would seem like a no-brainer, but the power to wave your hand and do good is inevitably the power to do bad things, unchecked by democratic restraints.

In a new democracy, it’s not the first free election that establishes it. It’s the first election in which the party in power loses – and gracefully cedes power. Then everyone breathes a little easier.

In an old democracy a party impatient of democratic procedures which assumes more and more power to do things by fiat must face the fact that when power is transferred they put those powers into the hands of their opponents.

The thought inevitably occurs, “Then we have to make sure power never changes hands again.”

And lastly something that a lot of people miss. “Soft on crime” is not a feature of liberal democracies but of tyrannies.

Tyrants are friendly to criminals and often use them for their dirty work. Those who desire to rule without restraint admire those who act without restraint.

Have a nice election.

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My America

Finally it happened, the twice delayed road trip with my children, re-planed and expanded better than ever!

First day to the panhandle of Oklahoma. This year it looked greener than I’ve ever seen it due to an unusually wet year.

Our plan was to cruise the back highways through the panhandle and cross over to New Mexico to see Capulin Volcano National Park. My son saw it when he was five years old and his little sister was all of three weeks old carried around the rim of the ancient cinder cone in a sling by her mother.

My son is by now heartily sick of the story of that first trip, but it’s still a fave with his little sister. How we made the decision on the fly to drive from Black Mesa to see the volcano – and how we made the mistake of telling him what we were going to see.

So for two-and-a-half hours we listened to, “Are we there yet? Is that the volcano?”

“No! It’s two hours. Now be quiet!”

“OK… Is THAT the volcano?”

As we approached the volcano we began to fear he’d be terribly disappointed it wasn’t spewing fire.

No worries, he loved it. Just as nine years later his sister loved it, scampering up the path around the rim as Daddy and Big Brother labored to climb breathing the air available at 8,200 feet.

From Capulin to Colorado to have lunch with a friend who’ll be important in their lives in time to come. From Colorado to Wyoming to bathe in the hot spring pools of Thermopolis, a perennial favorite of ours from when we lived in Wyoming.

After picking up a tinge of pink because of course we’d forgotten that sunlight in high altitudes reflected off water equals burn, we went on to Devil’s Tower, which I’d visited once years before. We took a mile hike around the base and marveled at the climbers we could barely see high above us.

From Devil’s Tower to Deadwood, South Dakota. Took daughter for a walk downtown while my son settled a quarrel on an online gamer group. And how odd is it that he can pursue personal relationships with a group of people, some old friends and some he’s never met in person, while traveling thousands of miles around the country?

Took Little Bit to a sandwich place in an old gas station that also features a glass blowing studio.

“I like Deadwood,” she announced after looking around.

Fetched son, showed the kids the saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was murdered. Kids agreed this was major cool.

A kindly local directed us to Miss Kitty’s for pizza. Kids greatly amused aged Daddy misheard “Poor House Pizza.”

“You named a pizza for a bordello?” I said.

“No, POOR house.”

“Well it is Deadwood,” I said defensively.

Made the hand-off to their mother next day and left the two old Deadwood hands to show her around.

I love traveling. Maybe it’s in the blood. Family genealogies show no generations have been buried in the place they were born for centuries now.

Or maybe I picked up the wanderlust as a Navy brat. I’d made two Atlantic crossings by the time I entered first grade.

I’ve traveled all over Eastern Europe by train, and long stretches of the Arabian Peninsula by car.

But best of all I love to travel in my country by car, especially the Midwest and West. I love to take the old US Highways rather than the Interstates. I love to take my kids to eat in local restaurants where the food is best and the people always ready to chat.

I love to take them to places we’re familiar with, and new places we’ll become familiar with.

I have not been able to provide a lot of stability for my children in many ways. They live in a rental house with an eccentric single father. We’ve moved a lot, and I fear not for the last time. Their closest relatives are far away and hard to visit.

But I can do this for them. I can take them around the vast spaces of this big lucky country of ours, visiting favorite places and discovering new ones. Meeting people with skills and stories.

This is how I tell my children however far they roam and wherever they live, “This is your country, here you will always be home.”

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Game of Kings and Powers

Well Game of Thrones is off into unknown territory. The HBO series has advanced further than the five books author George R.R. Martin has produced so far, and in my humble and very cautious opinion seems to be doing OK. So far. PLEASE!

And there is more good news for fans of period fiction and fantasy, a movie “The Last King” is coming out in July, about the early life of Håkon Håkonsson, the 13th century king of Norway.

Håkon survived an infancy marked by any number of people trying to kill him, became king in spite of them, and ruled for 46 years. His reign is considered a golden age of Norwegian history.

I don’t really have any hard data, but it seems to me that these kinds of movies and TV series are becoming more popular. I mean fantasy set in pre-technological civilizations, historical drama, and science fiction where political intrigue is integral to the story, such as “The Expanse” on Amazon.

I can remember when years went by between science fiction series on TV. Historical dramas were pretty common at one time, but fantasy was exclusively light entertainment such as “Bewitched.”

So what happened to popular taste?

A scholarly friend once suggested that what we’re seeing is a re-normalization of tastes following a historically unusual period. His thesis was that popular taste in fiction has always been fantastical throughout history. Consider the Epic of Gilgamesh, the tales of King Arthur, fairy stories, etc. He pointed out the realistic novel set in present time with no fantastic elements was a historically late invention.

Others see this trend as a retreat from rationality, a return to a pre-scientific world view.

Perhaps these are partly true. And perhaps we’re reviving an ancient literary tradition for another reason.

We all know there are things we can’t say with impunity, questions we can’t ask, and we all know pretty much what they are.

In the nation with the strongest legal protections for free speech in the world we are terrified of the consequences of voicing mere speculations that arouse the passions of the PC mob.

If you doubt this, remember how James D. Watson’s career was brought to an abrupt end by uttering some incautious remarks on a controversial subject. Watson has been called “the greatest living scientist” but it earned him no tolerance, no forgiveness. He did not even get the courtesy of a counter-argument. The various institutions he was associated with rushed to disassociate themselves with the discoverer of DNA.

Could it be that period drama, fantasy, and science fiction is today the only safe venue for discussing controversial subjects?

I once pointed out that one theme of the late beloved “Battlestar Galactica” was how a free society survives under stress.

Could it be that on some level we realize that life here is so good, so secure, that we have raised a generation that thinks this is the normal and natural state of affairs? That young people raised with this assumption are in no position to deal with the world as it is outside this fat happy civilization of ours?

That is unless they watched Game of Thrones last episode where they would have watched Jon Snow and his half-sister (or possibly cousin) Sansa Stark plan strategic alliances. So-and-so has common interests with them, but there have been killings between their families. Such-and-such are friends with enemies who committed unspeakable atrocities against their family, but might be persuaded with the right incentives…

Those who see “The Last King” will for a time enter a world where men would routinely consider killing an innocent baby, up close and personal, for being the child of a dead king.

We think politics is pretty dirty, but losers of our political fights don’t fear for their lives, and certainly not the lives of their children.

It was not always so. In parts of the world it is still the reality on the ground.

If we want to survive as a free nation we need to inculcate a certain tough-mindedness in each generation. The PC phenomenon shows we’ve been failing. Maybe this is how we make up for it.

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No, he didn’t apologize

First of all, Obama’s speech at Hiroshima wasn’t terrible.

I have to say that because Facebook and right-wing websites are full of indignant protests that Obama “apologized for dropping the bomb.”

No he didn’t. I have the text of the speech in front of me now and nowhere does he apologize. He said it was an awful thing, and who in their right mind would disagree? He said that war was an awful thing. Ditto.

The speech was a diplomatic homily. It says basically that war is terrible, and that atomic weapons have made it even more terrible. It avoided blame and dwelt on how our achievements in science and technology can be applied to horrific destruction.

This is scarcely an original observation but it was well said.

He said we should pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal both Ronald Reagan and Admiral Hyman Rickover “the father of the nuclear navy” endorsed.

He rather surprised me when he said, “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” because Obama always struck me as a “Let’s make us a utopia and we’ll get it done yesterday” kind of guy.

Obama did mention the atrocities of the Axis powers in an oblique sort of way.

“The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us.”

He didn’t come out and say, “This is why you had it coming” but did anyone really expect him to?

The fact is an awful lot of people who don’t like Obama, and I’m not a fan myself, assumed he apologized and blamed America for dropping the bombs because that’s what they expected from him.

Whoever wrote the speech did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between commemorating the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reminding his hosts that the government of Imperial Japan did bring it on themselves.

I have heard arguments for and against Truman’s decision to drop the bombs, and some of the arguments against come from rock-ribbed conservatives.

I myself think the arguments for carry more weight The bombing of Hiroshima came only two months after the 82-day battle of Okinawa had ended. A battle that cost 14,900 allied deaths and 80,000 deaths overall, as Japanese soldiers and civilians fought with fanatic courage to the bitter end.

Many of us have seen the film of a woman throwing her baby off a cliff, because they’d been told the Americans would torture and kill them.

I cannot imagine what she felt like when instead, the Americans fed them.

Obama gently reminded the Japanese that the Allied victory brought them a better way of life, a better philosophy than the fanatic militarism of their past.

“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”

Realizing this ideal between our two countries came at a terrible cost. A cost that will without doubt be paid again and again, because there are evil men in power in the world still.

I don’t say this often, but good job Mr. President.

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Single parenting

Monday morning my little girl asked if her friend could ride to school with us.

“OK sure, no problem,” I said absent-mindedly.

“And could you sign these papers?” she asked.

OK, permission slip for Park Day. Oops, discipline slip. A blotch on a usually perfect record, this one for late work. Grades – hey, advanced in reading! So glad.

Friend’s mother drops her off. We drive to school me still musing in the car.

Then I hear from her friend, “And I have to answer a lot of questions to see if I’m depressed or have anxiety.”

“Honey, sometimes you’re not depressed, sometimes you’re just sad,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Sometimes I’m sad because the boys make fun of my name.”

“Well listen,” I told her. “In a few years they’ll all be wanting dates and then you can be mean to them if you want to.”

I should mention that she, like my daughter, is nine. And like my daughter she’s very pretty and will probably grow up to be beautiful, so the possibility of being mean to the boys is no idle threat.

She and my daughter have frequent sleepovers either our place or hers. Never been a problem. I’ve never seen any signs she’s anything other than a happy normal little girl.

Of course there could be things I don’t see. But I’ve got this feeling the schools are looking for psychological problems when the problem is childhood.

Kids can be pretty rotten to each other. I was physically bullied as a child in school because I was puny and kind of a smartass. (I dealt with it by learning to fight – and to be less of a ****.)

My son has a different problem. At 14 he’s bigger than I am – and I’m not little. He’s not a target for physical bullying, but the teasing, slanging, insulting are just as hard to take. Maybe harder because he can’t fight back.

My daughter may be the most well-adjusted person I know. She’s physically active, popular, has lots of friends, and is kind to kids who are not so popular.

It worries me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. She lives in a broken home and is being raised by an eccentric older single father. Shouldn’t she have some problems?
Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement and official “Worst Mother in the World,” has pointed out that statistics prove this country at this time is the safest it’s ever been to be a child.

Yet we are full of anxiety for our children.

My children have more freedom to venture further away from home than pretty much all of their age-mates. And their confidence shows. Other little girls look to my daughter to accompany them on walks. Neighborhood boys are beginning to cultivate my son’s friendship. Perhaps because they like the idea of having a big friend.

It’s not that I don’t worry about my children, it’s that I get a grip on myself when I do. I’ve lived in dangerous places. I know the difference between the reality of danger and paranoia.

It’s not that I discount the possibility of psychological problems. My immediate family has many cases of depression, hyperactivity, and Aspergers. It’s that I know the difference between those kind of problems and the **** life throws at you.

So why are we so worried?

Some of it has to be the technology. We didn’t have iPads, the Internet, or smart phones. It is having some kind of effect on our kids but we have no idea what the long-term effect will be, because there hasn’t been a long term yet.

And of course the media has something to do with it as well. Criminal predation on children is rare – but because it’s rare it’s news. Which gives us the impression it’s more common than it actually is.

And could it be we’re worried about ourselves and projecting it onto our children?

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The Uber Economy

Somehow I always knew I’d wind up as a cab driver.

I think it was that scene at the end of “The Razor’s Edge” when Tyrone Power said his next adventure might be going back to America and getting a cab so he could meet lots of people.

“Cool!” I thought when I first saw that movie, and again when I saw the vastly underrated remake with Bill Murray.

Of course, in this day and age that’s a whole lot more difficult than when he so blithely tossed off the idea. Cabs and cab drivers are subject to a stack of regulations which make entry difficult to impossible.

So I became an Uber driver.

The problem is, right now I can’t take a full-time journalism gig. Various commitments with my kids mean I have to, as in have to, take them somewhere four out of five weekday evenings. I also have to spend an hour-and-a-half every day without fail helping my daughter with her eye exercises. A commitment that will run at least another six to eight months.

Journalism hours are irregular at best. I’ve done some freelance work but at least one editor got miffed and cut me off when I couldn’t commit to becoming full time.

So I got a new phone and downloaded the Uber ap. When I go online and someone needs a ride I get a ping and a set of directions to pick them up. When they get onboard I get directions to their destination. (A sneaky trick they use to keep drivers from refusing rides to places they might not want to go.)

This is great for me. I can’t really take advantage of the best times; early morning and afternoon rush hour, and late evenings on weekends, but I can slow down the cash hemorrhage. For most people it’s a part time supplement to their income, but some do make a living at it.

OK, no benefits. I’m a contractor. Some have reacted to indignation at the idea and call it “exploitive” and “unregulated,” Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among them.

Sanders however uses Uber almost exclusively. Hillary uses only limousines to avoid exploiting the little people.

What I’d like to point out to the honorable politicians is, this is not a choice between a good job and a bad job. It’s a choice between a job that exactly suits my immediate needs – and no job.

There is also another ride sharing company Lyftt, and something called Arcade City is vowing to redesign the business model yet again to make it driver owned.

What made this possible was computers and smart phones that put a willing buyer and a willing seller in touch in real time.

And this is only the beginning, I just found out there are Uber-like services for freight. Companies like uShip put people with things to move in touch with people who have appropriately sized vehicles. And that means from bicycles to semis!

What else has the technology made possible?

Well by now everyone is familiar with Kickstarter and GoFundMe. By the end of this year I expect to take delivery on a back pack designed for on the go travelers who need to take a business suit, and a new kind of winter parka.

I’m terribly disappointed the flying bicycle didn’t get off the ground, so to speak, but the point is I wasn’t out any money from a failed investment. And the entrepreneurs who think of these cool ideas have access to capital they don’t have to go begging to banks for.

GoFundMe makes charitable giving personal, sending our help and aid directly to the recipient without paying Goldman-Sachs-sized salaries to administrators.

Concierge medical practices avoid insurance hassles and maintain affordable prices for routine care at least in part because they have access to huge medical databases

We are seeing the democratization of access to information and capital at a time when complex taxation and regulation were strangling the entrepreneurial spirit. Of course there is a backlash from those who see their interests in keeping both tightly centralized and regulated.

Hang on to your hats folks, it’s going to be one heckuva ride!

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On fences and neighbors

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”
-Robert Frost

Fences, barriers, boundaries, and borders have been much on my mind lately, and things that bother me about them that I can’t quite articulate.

It seems the Progressive project of the present era is to dismantle them all.

It started well. We wanted to end racial discrimination enforced by law, and we did. We wanted to end discrimination against women in the workplace, and made great strides. We wanted to end the legal persecution of homosexuals and did.

But we found that discrimination persisted in popular prejudices. We attacked them with laws rather than education, because education was too slow, and we made progress.

Then it got crazy. Not all at once, but a piece at a time until what was satire in one generation became sober reality in another.

Some examples in no particular order:

The latest flap about bathrooms and why shouldn’t men use the ladies?

We and the Europeans are conflicted about national borders, and whether we have a right to keep anyone out at all. Even if it means accepting huge numbers of people who are actively hostile to the political and ethical principles our civilization is founded on.

Feminist psychology holds sex is merely plumbing and “gender” is a social construct, an artificial barrier to keep half the human race oppressed. So if women are disproportionately represented in certain professions it has to be fixed, right now! Because it can’t be that some women like to have children and be around to raise them, can it?

The courts have decreed a business has no right to pick and choose among its customers. (If you’re Christian at least. We await the results of test cases directed at Muslims.)

Universities and large corporations have whole departments dedicated to recruiting people who look different, but Heaven forbid a conservative should be found in the social sciences or humanities!

And lately the federal government has been considering ways to make the suburbs of the nation more diverse in terms of income and ethnicity.

This has been going on for a while now, long enough to show some effects on society.

It does not seem to have made us one big happy family. In fact, our country seems more divided than ever. Divided by race, party, and even in our most intimate relationships.

As Wendell Berry remarked, “Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.”

The same might be said for race relations. The long hoped-for healing seems to be receding from our grasp.

Even anti-Semitism, “the oldest hate” seems to be coming back with a vengeance.

Maybe that’s just the effect of a lot of people from different backgrounds mixing more than they used to. Throw people together who used to stay at arm’s length from one another and there’s bound to be some friction.

Or maybe it’s because some folks have shown they have no tolerance for other people’s boundaries. Don’t want to cater a gay wedding? By God you will, you intolerant Bible-thumping bigot!

Oddly enough, these are often the same people who think Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on their door with copies of The Watchtower are an intolerable intrusion on their personal liberty.

And maybe Progressives have it backwards.

Maybe a diverse society demands more acceptance of boundaries, not less. More of a common culture, not less.

Maybe toleration should extend to our prejudices and preferences, insofar as they remain personal and private. Maybe if people don’t want your company or your business you should go somewhere else.

“He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”
-Robert Frost, Mending Wall

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