The Need For Speed

We’ve been at the Sawmill Creek Lodge in Huron, Ohio the past few days for the Webner family reunion.  Although Sawmill Creek has many fine amenities, it does not have in-room wireless connections, and therefore Kish and I can’t use our own laptops to access the internet.  As a result, we have made liberal use of the business center and its PCs.  Frankly, they are a bit slow compared to our Apples.  We find ourselves drumming our fingers on the tabletops as the seconds drag past, seemingly eternal in their duration, and the computer labors to make the necessary connections.  How frustrating!

Of course, it was only a decade or so ago that we were thrilled to have dial-up connections to the internet and to hear that weird boinging sound when the connection was made.  Then, when the internet was new and the novelty of so much information at our fingertips had not worn off, we were happy with downloads that took a minute or two.  With each new computer and internet service provider, however, the speed of connection and the size of the data stream has improved, and now a wait of more than a few seconds to fly to a new web address is just intolerable.

I suppose we should be a bit more patient in modern America.  After all, what’s a few seconds?  Why should a very brief delay be so bothersome?  All I know is:  it is irksome.  It will be nice to get back home to the iMac and to be able once again to rocket around the internet at the accustomed astonishing speeds.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VIII)

The north side and on the south side of the Ohio Statehouse are bookended by sundials. 

Whereas the sundial on the north side of the Statehouse is a tribute to George Washington, the sundial on the south side is dedicated in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic.  The simple inscription on the sundial is “Lest We Forget.” 

Circumstances quickly gave that inscription a special poignancy.  The sundial was presented by the  Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War on September 14, 1941 — less than three months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor hurled America headlong into World War II and required yet another generation of Americans to fight for freedom. 

The sundial is anachronistic in this digital era and has turned a pleasant blue green in the decades since its dedication, but its inscription is timeless.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VII)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VI)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (V)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (IV)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (III)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (II)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (I)

Inching Closer To Proof Of Extraterrestrial Life

If you follow science news, you regularly see reports on scientists who are looking for proof of the existence of extraterrestial life.  The latest story is a report on the examination of geological formations on Mars.  Scientists are finding minerals and geological formations at one particular Martian site that are very similar to minerals and geological formations found at a site on Earth that contains evidence of life forms that existed 3.5 billion years ago.  The similarity of the sites causes scientists to believe that the same kinds of life forms may have existed on Mars billions of years ago. 

With the development of increasingly refined extraterrestrial telescopes, other forms of radiation detection and imaging technology, highly sophisticated exploration satellites, and robotic equipment that can land on other planets and conduct experiments, we are moving slowly but steadily closer to finding conclusive proof of past or present extraterrestial life.  It may be in the form of fossils found on some now-desolate planet, or the identification actual living creatures that live in the liquid seas found on the moons of  Saturn and Jupiter, or in some other form — but the day of that ultimate discovery seems to be drawing nearer.

The question to ponder is, how will mankind react to such a discovery?  Will it affect religious doctrine and philosphical discourse?  Will it cause people to realize that the differences between peoples of different countries are not so great after all?  Or will people who are otherwise absorbed in their daily lives even care?

Measuring The Meaning Of Mothering

The BBC has a story today on one of those odd scientific studies that seek to confirm what everybody already believes.  In this case, the study attempts to assess the impact of mothering on children.  Psychologists evaluated the interactions between mothers and their infants during a routine check-up with the children were only eight months’ old, and those now fully grown children were then asked to respond to survey questions 30 years later. 

Not surprisingly, the study found that when mothers are expressively loving and supportive, their children are better situated to deal with distress and to develop effective life, social, and coping skills.  The children of emotionally cold mothers, on the other hand, have more difficulty dealing with anxiety.  There is a limit to the developmental effectiveness of maternal warmth, however.  The study concluded that over-mothering can be “intrusive and embarrassing.”

So, the study supports what we already knew instinctively:  that mothers make a difference in the lives of their children.  For those mothers who are prone to feeling inadequate — and what Mom isn’t? — the study also will cause them to fret that they have ruined their kids’ lives by neglecting to give a hug or warm words of support at a crucial moment. 

I won’t have thought it possible that mothers could be made to feel even more guilty about their parenting skills, but this study probably accomplishes that.  Isn’t science wonderful?

Re: What is a Voter to Do?

Some say I’m optimistic about politics. They’re right, but my optimism is really just a defense mechanism I’ve developed to keep myself from getting depressed about America’s political future. Some liberals let the Bush presidency turn them into cynical trolls, but I survived by convincing myself that brighter, more reasonable years were ahead.

Until recently, this habit of optimism kept me hoping that the economy would improve enough by November to allow Democrats to keep control of Congress and spend another two years checking items off Obama’s agenda. Alas, this is looking increasingly unlikely as the economy takes its sweet time getting back on its feet. Even Robert Gibbs admits that the Republicans are capable of taking back Congress this fall. My cynical liberal brethren may be a miserable lot, but they’re in better touch with the reality of American politics than I am.

So, to touch on the question Uncle Jim raised in his post yesterday, what will happen if the Republicans gain control of Congress?

I predict that such an event would actually calm things down in Washington, and would benefit the Democrats in some ways. Uncle Jim raised some terrifying possibilities: that they will shut down the government, will cut funding for social programs, will impeach Obama, will repeal healthcare reform. I doubt any of these will occur.

After the Republicans took Congress in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, they failed to agree on a budget with Bill Clinton, so the government shut down for a while. They thought it would appear that they were taking a stand against Clinton’s style of governing, which the American people elected them to do, but it backfired. The American people saw them as agitators, and Clinton received a boost in popularity and clout. I doubt Republicans would make that mistake again. Shutting down the government would also be risky during a recession as great as ours, when government workers are already complaining about forced vacation time and millions of unemployed are depending on government checks.

The current economic crisis would also make it difficult for Republicans to cut social programs, but they don’t have the balls to do that anyways. Republicans have always talked about eliminating “big government” programs so that Reagan’s ghost will no longer have unfinished business on Earth and can finally depart for the spirit world. In reality, these programs are so important to millions of Americans that reducing them is impossible. The Republicans might make a few token efforts, like Bush did when he proposed that preposterous rehaul of Social Security, but they will mostly carry on as they always have by pretending to be committed to shrinking the federal government while actually expanding it.

I can’t even think of anything they would impeach Obama for, unless they indulge the wackier members of their party by calling his citizenship into question.

Repealing healthcare reform is something I’m actually worried about. There isn’t a Republican in Congress who wouldn’t like to be able to brag to his voters that he helped repeal the biggest expansion of the federal government in decades. However, even if the Republicans gain control of the Senate, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority, and I have faith that even the Democrats who were wary about healthcare reform will fight as hard as they can to keep it from being repealed or toned down. It was, after all, the Democratic party’s greatest legislative achievement in decades, something that Democratic leaders have been hoping to accomplish since before many members of Congress were born. For it to be undone would bring great shame to the party.

Also, despite polls showing that most Americans do not like the bill that was passed, I have a feeling (not based on fact) that most Americans wouldn’t like for it to be repealed. A large majority of Americans realizes that our healthcare system is a mess and that something needs to be done – that’s part of the reason Obama was elected. The drafting of the reform bill involved so many compromises to satisfy enough congressmen to get the necessary votes that what resulted doesn’t completely satisfy anyone. Still, it is an attempt at reform for a healthcare system that desperately needs it. It took years of effort to get passed, and even then it was partly luck. Decades may pass before another chance at healthcare reform comes along. If the Republicans ever get the chance to repeal the bill, I think the American people would see it as a step in the wrong direction and would not give it their support.

Anyway, with every month that goes by the healthcare bill becomes more entrenched in the lives of Americans. Before long, it will be as untouchable as Medicare or Social Security. Still, it is likely that the Republicans would make sure the bill is implemented in the least effective way possible.

The reality of what would happen if the Republicans gain control of Congress isn’t as thrilling as many imagine. Washington would probably be a lot like it was after the Republicans took Congress during Clinton’s term. Like Clinton, Obama would have to tone down his agenda – although much more, because he isn’t as moderate as Clinton. No groundbreaking bills would be passed. It seems hard to believe considering how rancorous Washington has been the past few years, but giving some power to the Republicans might calm things down.

It would be painful to see Obama’s ambitions thwarted or watered down. We would probably have to wait years before a substantive climate change bill could be passed. But we could take solace in the fact that Obama has already racked up some great successes. It might be a relief to have Republicans in control of part of the government anyway – Democrats will no longer have to shoulder all the blame for the slowly recovering economy. Obama’s chances in the 2012 election might actually be increased.

A Brief Response

We’ve had some good back-and-forth discussions on the blog lately about political issues, from UJ and some commenters, including my friend Doug.  I like a good, civil discussion as much as the next person; in fact, I wish we had more discussion in this country, not less.  That is why I think the internet and blogs are such terrific developments.  We’d all be better served if more Americans aired their views and respectfully noted their disagreements.

I don’t know where the fellow UJ identified got his information about what Republicans would do if they achieve a majority in Congress.  I certainly don’t support the impeachment of the President and haven’t heard anyone talking about that topic.  I can’t think what he has done that would justify impeachment.  The fact that I (and others) disagree with his approach to the federal budget obviously isn’t an impeachable offense.  I also don’t think anyone is eager to shut down the federal government.  That said, however, I do think there are many people, including Republicans, who think we would be better served by significantly cutting spending and repealing the “health care reform” legislation that was enacted earlier this year.

In my view, the biggest issue we face is our federal debt.  Today the Congressional Budget Office released an interesting and very troubling report about the level of our debt and the likely effects of the debt if we don’t do something about it — now.  I expect that we all agree that something needs to be done about the deficit and the federal debt.  The question is, what?

The CBO report outlines the two obvious options — raise revenues, decrease spending, or some combination of the two.  I have no objection to raising revenue as part of the solution, but I think that personal and corporate income taxes are high enough already.  The top brackets already pay about one-third of their income as federal income taxes; they also pay federal Social Security taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, local income taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes on top of that.  Is it really fair to ask the small business owners and high wage earners to pay even more?

So, how can you raise revenue?  I think user fees are one option; where the federal government provides a service — be it clearing and patrolling inland waterways, operating national parks, insuring bank accounts, or any one of countless other services — it is not unfair to ask the people who benefit specifically from that service to pay for it.  I would be in favor of increasing user fees to better cover the cost of providing those services.  I also think that the federal government needs to do a better job of charging for its assets.  When the rights to use broadband frequencies are sold, for example, let’s make sure that we get the fair market price.  I don’t expect such actions to solve the budget problems, but I do think that every little bit helps.

I think it is obvious that cutting spending is going to have to be the principal means of achieving fiscal discipline.  I previously wrote about the budget for NHTSA and how I thought it could be cut.  It is all a matter of making tough choices in view of our current predicament.  Should the federal government really be funding seat belt awareness and drunk driving prevention programs at this time when spending discipline is so desperately needed?  I’m sure that there are many other small agencies and federal programs that could be cut, too — and that includes programs in the Defense Department.  No federal spending should be off-limits. 

One significant objection I have to the Obama Administration is that it has tried to talk about the need to restrain spending and be more fiscally prudent but has done nothing to pursue that goal.  When I decide how to vote in November, and in 2012, one of the key decision points for me will be to choose the candidate who I think will be most willing to make the hard choices.  I don’t care whether they are Republican, Democrat, or something else — it is time to elect people who will roll up their sleeves and tackle the issue of our government spending.

Jack Tatum

I was sorry to learn of the death of Jack Tatum today.  I was even sorrier to read stories that said that Tatum was “best known” for delivering the hit that paralyzed wide receiver Darryl Stingley.  It seems unfair for unfortunate one play to so define a player — particularly a player of Tatum’s caliber, for he unquestionably was one of the greatest players in the history of Ohio State football. 

Jack Tatum, who wore number 32 as a Buckeye, was one of the key players on the Ohio State teams in 1968, 1969, and 1970, including the undefeated team that won that national championship in 1968.  Although recruited to Ohio State by Woody Hayes as a running back, Tatum unselfishly switched to the defensive side of the ball and became one of the most fearsome, devastating tacklers college football as ever seen.  Tatum was as crucial to the Ohio State defense as Rex Kern was to the Ohio State offense of that era.

Tatum went on to pro football renown with the Oakland Raiders, but had health problems related to diabetes as he grew older.  One of his legs was amputated, and he was only 61 when he died.  He will be missed by his family, his friends, his former teammates, and Buckeye fans everywhere.