December 31, 2020

End-of-Year Thoughts

This is the time when pundits review the year that is about to end, offer lessons learned, and opine about what is to come. There are many lessons we can learn from the experience of 2020, so I thought it worthwhile to offer my own list of such lessons. I don’t claim that my list is comprehensive, and I admit a certain bias colors my perspective: I am a Christian informed by the Enlightenment and a believer in democracy.

Feel free to copy my list or to argue with my conclusions. Here is the list:

  1. Black lives don’t really matter.

  2. Inspiring—and perhaps even rational—political rhetoric is dead.

  3. Falsehood is more interesting than truth.

  4. The presidency is too powerful.

  5. The exploration of space is still inspirational.

  6. We have yet to discover a sustainable balance between globalism and nationalism.

  7. We need fewer stores than we used to.

  8. We still need the Postal Service.

  9. Dogs love company.

  10. Police protect and serve the police.

  11. Constitutional checks on tyranny are weaker than anyone suspected.

  12. The virtues of free speech are diminished when public dialogue proceeds in disjoint communities.

  13. Our baroque system of choosing our president and vice president is undemocratic and vulnerable to manipulation.

  14. Christians must reclaim Christianity for Jesus Christ before it’s too late.

  15. Our survival depends on science and medicine.

  16. Offices aren’t as important as we thought they were.

  17. The American system of delivering medical care sucks.

  18. The military-industrial complex is as powerful as ever.

  19. Unreformed capitalism will eventually lead to its own destruction.

  20. One can even tire of sourdough bread.

  21. Nurses and doctors are heroic; politicians are not.

  22. It’s time for the long run of the Republican Party to come to an end.

  23. John Maynard Keynes was more insightful than we give him credit for.

  24. We have no idea how to deal with the People’s Republic of China or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  25. Individualism run amok destroys community.

  26. The respect once accorded the United States of America may never be regained.

  27. Children really do like school.

  28. It’s time to rediscover antitrust registration.

  29. Toilet paper and paper towels are essential to one’s psychological health.

December 23, 2020

Lost (and Found) Keys

 Last week, a visitor found a set of keys on the driveway as she was leaving. The keyring held two keys—one was assuredly a house key—and a dark leather strap about four inches long. It also held a key fob for a vehicle. Of course, I had no idea whose keys had just been found.

I quickly determined that the keys belonged to no one who had recently visited; no one had lost keys. It had recently snowed, however, and, rather by accident, I had seen a man engaged in clearing the sidewalk of snow. The keys might be his. Since he was hired by the condo association, I didn’t know who he might have been, but I made a mental note to investigate this person if no owner of the keys was found.

The found object offered some clues as to its owner. First, there was the vehicle key fob. It was probably possible, with the coöperation of the vehicle manufacturer, to match it to its owner. Suprisingly, however, the fob did not carry a manufacturer’s name. It did include various numbers that might have led a determined detective to the owner, but I wanted to look for more obvious clues first.

Information on the leather strap looked promising. It showed a signature on one side and a set of coördinates on the other. With difficulty, I could read the coördinates, but the signature was, as many signatures are, difficult to decode. I could make out the first letter of the last name and also the last two letters. This sent me to the local telephone directory. Since I don’t live in a big city, I could check for all the listings consistent with what I read on the strap. But, as we all know, fewer and fewer people have landlines these days, and there was a good chance the target of my search was not in the directory. That proved to be the case.

That left the coördinates to check out. These were hard to read, but they were clearer than the signature, and I was certain I had read them properly. My thinking was that they would lead me to the home of the keychain owner. It took me a couple of tries to enter the information into Google Maps, but I finally identified the specified location. That’s the good news. The bad news was that that location was within a nearby cemetery. It seemed unlikely that anyone lived there.

My next idea was to post a notice of what I had found, but where? The newspaper was a possibility, as was Facebook, but the former seemed a longshot, and I didn’t know of a sufficiently local Facebook page likely to be seen by the intended reader. Surely, the owner had set foot on the driveway where the keys were found, so it seemed likely that the person would try retracing his or her steps in search of the keys. With this thought in mind, I placed a sign on the garage door. It said, in large letters, “LOST KEYS?” and pointed the reader to the front door.

The next day, the doorbell rang. There was a postal truck on the street and a postman at the door. He explained that a fellow worker who delivered mail in the area had lost his keys and had been searching for them. We agreed that I probably had the searched-for keys. To be sure, I kept the keys, and the postman pledged to speak to his co-worker.

On the following day, that co-worker showed up at my door. He easily described his property, and I mentioned how I had tried to track him down. As it happened, he had lost a son, and the coördinates were those of his son’s grave. I had not considered such a possibility. Checking out the cemetery would have given me another clue, though not a conclusive one.

Anyway, I was glad to have found the owner of the keys. Would it have been better simply to have left the keys where they were? Perhaps. Though they might have been covered by another snowfall, been run over by a car, or picked up by someone less likely to know what to do with them. In the end, it all worked out.

December 14, 2020

Weapons Carried in Public

The authorities in Washington, D.C., said on Sunday that they had arrested a man in connection with the stabbing of four people on Saturday night as supporters and opponents of President Trump clashed blocks from the White House.

The New York Times, December 13, 2020

Violence in America based on political belief has gotten out of hand. Demonstrators of whatever philosophical stripe should not be risking their lives by participating in constitutionally protected demonstrations. Public officials should not have to fear violence against themselves or their families because of their expressed views or their official actions. Doctors performing legal medical procedures should not live in fear for their lives, and houses of worship should be inviolable sanctuaries. Schools should be secure halls of learning. None of these “normal” situations can, any longer, be taken for granted. Twenty-first-century America sometimes seems to be the Wild West redux.

Why, we should ask, should anyone be carrying a weapon—a pistol, a knife, or, heaven forbid, an assault rifle—in public? Weapons carried for an aggressive purpose should be disallowed in a civilized society. If a weapon is carried for an ostensibly defensive purpose, what or who is it protecting its bearer from? If others cannot be armed, why should anyone be? Weapons carried in public are instruments of intimidation. Do we really want public discourse to take place at the point of a gun?

A few disclaimers: I am not anti-gun. Guns should be allowed for hunting game, whether for food or for wildlife management—though mountain lions are a better alternative for the latter task—and guns should be allowed for protection from wild animals or to control pests that are a threat to agriculture. But these legitimate uses are highly environment-specific.

Do police need guns? In the present environment, certainly. If guns were not so common, perhaps not. In any case, police are distressingly likely to use firearms in situations where neither life nor property is at stake. This propensity needs to be suppressed. If otherwise innocent people are carrying weapons to protect themselves from the police, the proper response is to re-train overly aggressive law enforcement officers. The general issue of arming police, however, is a discussion for another day.

Discussing the Second Amendment is likewise a dialogue for another day. For the moment, unwise decisions by the Supreme Court have limited options available for regulating gun ownership and use. We should not be asking what the Court allows, but what is reasonable, perhaps even essential, public policy.

In particular, we should be asking what the purpose of allowing the carrying of weapons in public is. The argument–questionable, in any case—that the Constitution allows it is not a compelling one. If police are available to keep the peace, what is the function of personal carry? This is a question that isn’t being asked. It is a question the NRA does not even want you to think about.

Think about it.

December 12, 2020

On Trump’s Loss

 Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. The election was not close, and there is no evidence that the contest was other than perfectly fair. It was, in a word, normal. Politicians have been losing elections since the earliest days of the Republic. This is how the system works.

Never in our history, however, has a presidential candidate been psychologically incapable of accepting an electoral loss. Never has such a candidate been unable to believe that the citizenry could reject his bid for reëlection. Never has such a candidate believed that he has a right to be declared the winner, irrespective of rules that afford him no such right. Never has such a candidate enlisted large numbers of his political party in support of his psychosis and his rejection of the rule of law. Never have so many lawmakers been so sycophantic, so enabling of madness, and so wrong.

As of this morning, President Trump was still tweeting “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” His notion of “fighting” can only become even more bizarre. Will this nonsense even extend beyond January 20? I hope not, but I am not counting on it.