Being On Time

Recently I had an appointment at a designated time. I was there early. The designated time came and went. About ten minutes late, things finally got underway.

I tried not to let this bug me, but deep down it did.

Growing up, I was taught that it is rude to be late. If you say you will be somewhere at a particular time, you should be there. My grandparents were famous for never being late. They drilled their punctuality habits into UJ and me — and old habits die hard.

I recognize that a few minutes isn’t a big deal, but I’ll always believe that not being on time shows disrespect. The tardy person clearly doesn’t value the on-time person’s time. I think it also shows other things. If you can’t organize your schedule to make your appointments, what else are you failing to manage or account for properly?

Some examples of self-centered tardiness are worse than others. The most egregious example I experienced occurred when a guy I was meeting was 25 minutes late, then showed up with his gym bag and breezily said he’d been working out. Seriously? I readily concluded that the guy was a selfish jerk, and I’ve never changed my mind.

If you want to make a good impression on me, please be on time! If you want to start out with two strikes against you, be late. And if you want to be on my shit list forever, bring along your gym bag, too.

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A Permanent Governing Class

A few days ago John Dingell, 87, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, announced that he was retiring after the longest congressional career in history. Now sources are saying that his 60-year-old wife will run for his seat and is expected to be elected.

Dingell has served in Congress, representing the same district in southeastern Michigan, since 1955. That was one year after Elvis Presley released his first single and 11 Presidents ago. And here’s the kicker — Dingell succeeded his father as Congressman for the district. If his wife wins the seat, there will have been three Dingells in succession, over a period of seven different decades.

In my view, there’s just something weird and wrong about the same family holding the same congressional seat for such a long period of time. It smacks too much of a permanent governing class for my democratic tastes. I think members of the House and the Senate will be a lot more mindful of their constituents, and a lot less lordly in their behavior, if they actually have a meaningful risk of losing an election.

Isn’t there someone not named Dingell who could capably represent the district?

In Defense, Recognizing “Fiscal Reality”; In Domestic Spending, Not So Much

Yesterday Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled plans to reduce the size of the U.S. military. The plans were motivated, Hagel said, by the need to recognize “the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges.”

Hagel’s plan includes cutting the size of active duty forces, changing pay structures, benefits, and housing allowances, eliminating certain weapons programs, and potentially closing military bases. Obviously, the proposals will need to be carefully considered to ensure that we are fair to the women and men who have served so capably in our military, but I have no problem with the concept of reducing the footprint of our military and modifying its focus. The world has changed since our forces were actively fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; those changes inevitably will affect our defense planning. If bases or weapons programs are no longer needed, they should be ended, and our focus should be concentrated on the weapons programs and forces we truly need to respond to the threats posed by the current, fractured, dangerous world.

I am struck, however, by the difference between our approach to defense spending and our approach to other parts of the federal budget. The “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” obviously doesn’t exist just with respect to the military budget, it exists with respect to every dollar spent by the federal government. Where is the careful evaluation of whether other federal programs are no longer needed, as the Pentagon apparently has decided with respect to the U-2 spy plane? If we are willing to cut 80,000 active duty personnel from the military rolls — about 15 percent — why should we hesitate to cut a similar percentage from the non-military federal government payroll? If we are willing to close military bases, why shouldn’t we end federal programs, like those that fund advertisements to use your seat belt, that have long since served their purpose? Of course, there has been no such reevaluation of the true need for the morass of seemingly permanent federal programs and federal employees in the non-defense area.

During his campaigns and during his presidency, President Obama has talked a good game about fiscal prudence, but the actual evidence of his commitment to rational federal spending and deficit control has been lacking. Now his Defense Secretary has recognized the “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” and has used that reality to justify proposed reductions to the arm of the federal government that protects us from peril. If President Obama doesn’t use the “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” to make similarly significant reductions in domestic spending, he will lose whatever remaining credibility he may possess on budget control issues.

You can’t cut the jobs of soldiers and sailors, but continue to spend like a drunken sailor on every federal program we’ve inherited from the New Deal onward.