Where is the line between infrastructure and socialism?

Where do you, personally, draw the line between infrastructure and socialism?

Merriam Webster dictionary definition of infrasctructure, the system of public works of a country, etc.I ask this sincerely, with no desire to engage in polarized internet snipe-fests, but in the spirit of attentiveness to what government services various individuals might deem “necessary” and which are “overreach.”

Even more interesting than the what, is the why.

Only deep ignorance of history allows one to pretend there’s anything universal about this question. Our republican forebears in Rome—whose architecture we aped in the United States capitol in part due to the Founding Fathers’ lionization of that civilization—prioritized very different governmental interventions than we do today.

Proving myself, as always, a true dilettante and no real scholar, I’ll begin by pointing to a series of mystery novelsthat I read years ago. They turned me on to a startling fact: the ancient Romans had no police force.

police car parked at justice centerRome, civilization par excellence, did not feel that it owed average citizens the protection of civil police. The military kept order to an extent that suited the needs of the state, but there was no one to call when your silver was stolen. It wasn’t until the great republic became an empire that Augustus formed the Praetorian Guard in 27 BCE… to protect himself.

And all this in spite of the fact that the Ancient Greek city of Athens had seen the nascent formation of a police force (c. 400 BCE) to keep order and arrest and manage prisoners using publicly owned Scythian slaves. Investigating and detecting crime, in the ancient world, was the responsibility of individual free citizens.

So, is a police force a basic piece of infrastructure, a right that should be available to all, or is investigation and detection by paid government agents an imposition against individual freedoms as the Romans seemed to believe?

In spite of our turbulent times and the fraught political environment, I’ll admit it: I think this is a fascinating question. In a democracy, it is, in fact, the duty of every citizen to ponder these essential assumptions.

Do modern American people on the right and on the left really have such different ideas about what a government ought to do, or are our differences more about degree and descriptive nomenclature?

Continue reading

Treason in the U.S. Senate & rioters storming the Capitol

Be aware of the following feckless U.S. Senators:

  • Ted Cruz (R-Texas),
  • Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), ?
  • James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), ?
  • Steve Daines (R-Montana),
  • John Kennedy (R-Louisiana),
  • Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), ?
  • and Mike Braun (R-Indiana),

and Senators-Elect:

  • Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming),
  • Roger Marshall (R-Kansas),
  • Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), ?
  • and Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama)

These Members of Congress signed a posted statement inciting violence in my nation’s capitol today. Lawless Trump supporters have even breached the Capitol Building itself, forcing the U.S. Senate and House to bar their doors and interrupt their proceedings at around 14:30 on January 6, 2021.

Official Election Mail trademark authorized by US Postal ServiceThe Senators’ statement pretends that there remains valid and significant contention about the results of our November 2020 election. These men and women are intentionally ignoring the fact that our courts have already acted in accordance with the law and found no legal justification for further action regarding purported irregularities.

2% of Americans believe the Earth is flat in spite of evidence to the contrary being plainly visible to the naked eye at sea or from a plane; the fact that a population being fed a steady diet of misinformation by social- and partisan media doubts reality makes it no wonder that, as per the Senators’ statement, “39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’

By your own admission in your statement, then, Senators, 61% of Americans must believe the election was valid. With the majority holding such an opinion, how do you justify encouraging rioting in the streets of Washington, D.C. and the interruption of the work of our nation’s government?

By continuing to defy the United States Constitution to which they’ve sworn allegiance, our laws, and the reasoned decrees of our state and federal judges, the Senators I’ve listed are feeding their constituents’ inflated paranoia, not doing their jobs as duly elected representatives.

Trump is attempting a coup. These Senators are complicit.

By all means, the Feckless Eleven—and others like freshman Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—are entitled to hold opinions and do their own research into how, when, and why our elections are imperfect. If they find any actual evidence of wrongdoing, they should bring it to the attention of the courts. It’s hard not to ask, however:

If they sincerely doubt the results of November’s ballots, how do the four newly elected Senators feel justified in showing up in Washington, D.C. at all? By their own logic, they have not received any mandate from their respective constituencies!

If [Senators-elect Lummis, Marshall, Hagerty, Tuberville, and Hawley] sincerely doubt the results of November’s ballots, how do [they] feel justified in showing up in Washington, D.C.?

Perhaps these treacherous Senators should use their own funds to continue investigating, if they sincerely believe there really are unsettled questions; their frequently seditious* states are also free to launch investigations from their own budgets. After all, elections in the United States of America are conducted by the states, each with its own local authority.

One might suppose the representatives of states known to still promote the idea that the Civil War was primarily about States’ Rights’ as opposed to slavery could comprehend this distinction.

These so-called Senators will earn a salary of at least $174,000 per annum to defend the U.S. Constitution. I’ve read that one woman inside the Capitol Building has already been shot. What are the odds it was one of these highly paid politicians glibly spouting conspiracy theories for personal gain as opposed to an aide or security guard serving her country for minimum wage?

Shame on you, Senators. America will remember your names, right alongside that of Benedict Arnold.USA flag - 1

Senators Daines and Braun publicly stated that they would not opt to object to Biden electors after violent extremists stormed the Capitol. In recognition of the update, I’ve lined through their names in my post. Screenshot from NYT article listing 8 Senators and 139 Reps who objected to Nov 2020 electoral votes for president

The Senators after whose names I’ve appended a question mark do not appear to have voted to object according to the New York Times, but they were not included in the AP statement I linked to above.

139 Members of the House of Representatives voted to object; their names are included in the NYT link above.

For those who haven’t followed the news, I’ll include the relevant snippet of Trump’s speech that literally instructed his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol Building. It should be noted that the man himself was lying when he stated that he would join the protestors in that action. Trump went back inside the White House and is reported to have spent the afternoon watching the chaos he’d instigated on television.

“…we’re going to walk down to the Capitol… I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your votes heard today.”

—Donald Trump’s speech of January 6, 2021 as reported on Snopes

* Seven states formed the Confederacy, seceding and initiating the U.S. Civil War: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, followed shortly thereafter by Texas.

The short-lived Confederate States of America added Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to total eleven states. Slave states Missouri and Kentucky were acknowledged as members, but neither officially declared secession. The Confederate Territory of Arizona is also worth remembering.

Half of the Senators I’ve called out in this post for their reckless, Constitution-violating actions hail from states with a history of rejecting the rule of U.S. law. Three of the others represent states did not yet exist as of 1861: Oklahoma, Montana, and Wyoming.

Back to school or learning pod, every parent’s choice is reasonable

I don’t think my behavior should be characterized as doom-scrolling, but I do subscribe toand read dailytwo of the major American newspapers as well as a handful of magazines. I prefer my news* to be well-researched, fact-checked, and professionally edited, thank you!

Recently, everywhere I look, I’m confronted by angry, polarized debate creating artificial binary positions on the particulars of education in the COVID-19 era.

In person learning is too dangerous! Remote learning is useless! Both positions are flawed…

“In person learning is too dangerous!”

“Remote learning is useless!

Both positions are flawed because real life is nuanced. What works for one child—or one family, or one community—can’t be arbitrarily exported to someone else’s situation because there are meaningful differences between cases.

school supplies - 1Some teachers aren’t at particularly high risk for complications from the novel coronavirus, and want to get back into classrooms quickly. By all means, let’s put those educators to work in communities where infection rates make that a sensible solution. Other teachers have pre-existing conditions or would prefer to teach remotely: there’s an audience for that modality, too.

I have yet to see any analysis comparing the number of teachers who’d like to get back inside schools with the number of families who desire the same for their kids. What if all this finger pointing is for nothing and those numbers align naturally in most communities? Shouldn’t someone put a modicum of effort into asking such a straightforward question that could solve so many problems?

Remote education worked well for some students. Learning outside of a large, “industrial school” setting was the dominant mode of education for most people prior to the past century. It’s ridiculous to pretend that there is only one path from ignorance to wisdom; all of human history argues otherwise.

Binder page listing high school courses for grade 10I’ve read articles bemoaning the selfishness of (rich) parents forming COVID-19 learning pods instead of sending their kids back to public schools. At the same time, many (mostly urban) schools don’t have enough physical space to safely host all of their pupils in a socially distanced manner.

It strikes me as obvious that the removal of some kids—admittedly, those whose families can afford to pay private tutors or take time away from work to teach their own themselves—from over-crowded conditions will only improve the odds against infection-via-density for those who remain.

Backpack with textbooks and school supplies spilling out

It flat out sucks that we have yet to find a way to offer any semblance of an equal opportunity for an excellent education to all students regardless of color, creed, or zip code, but reducing each pupil’s risk of contracting COVID-19 in his or her classroom is a more straightforward problem to solve.

Since this is literally a matter of life or death, I think we should start with the low hanging fruit of smaller class sizes by whatever means possible. Some skilled educators may be lured by wealthy families’ ability to pay for private tuition, but few go into teaching for the money, so I suspect most passionate teachers will remain in the system where they chose to work.

Some families have no option but to send their kids back to classrooms. They depend upon this one and only form of state-sponsored child care in America in order to work, earning a paycheck, but also contributing their labor to benefit society. Their kids deserve to be the first children back at school in person. I willingly cede the seats my kids could rightfully occupy to children who need them more.

The children of essential workers and kids who live with food insecurity should have first dibs on in person instruction this year. This isn’t about getting the most back for every penny I spent in taxes, it’s about doing the right thing at a tumultuous time.

lunch box on kitchen counter

Lunchbox, ready for school.

It is pathetic that many of our schools are in poor repair and lack modern HVAC systems or windows that open. It is ridiculous how many young bodies we squeeze into rooms designed for far fewer. It is outrageous that millions of our children depend upon meals served at school for essential nutrition.

None of that is right, but all of it is true. I will continue to advocate for better schooling for every kid at every opportunity I see, but I’m not going to ignore reality when lives are at risk. Neither choice is pure merit, but neither choice deserves scorn.

The choice that works for your family this year is good enough. Do what works. Kids can learn in many ways and from many sources, especially when they see their parents carefully making thoughtful choices on their behalf.

Children play amongst colorful leaves on a sunny autumn dayKids are resilient. Thank God! Most of the kids will be all right. That’s the best we can do in the face of a viral adversary that has killed 171,787 Americans as of August 29, 2020.

For the moment, the best I can offer my community is to keep my kids away from public spaces to alleviate the pressure of a pandemic on the strained resources of our health and education systems.

I’m doing my best, like so many other parents. Frankly, we should all give ourselves a break, because our best really is good enough for now. Instead of blaming each other for making different choices, let’s all focus on meeting the needs of our own kids, each in our own ordinary, reasonable way.

I voted Election sticker - 1Highly paid elected officials in D.C. and other capitals deserve the pressure and expectation of doing more, because they are the ones who dropped this particular ball. Give them the blame they’ve earned. The U.S.A. is failing in its attempt to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but it isn’t for lack of effort on the part of average American parents.

* It’s true that I added the New York Times to my paid subscriptions only after COVID-19 started sweeping the world, but I’d been on the verge of the upgrade purchase for almost a year. I think this is where I give a shout out to the Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Wired magazine, and The Economist for edu-taining me through a pandemic, right? 

It was my growing reliance on NYT Cooking recipes during the early phase of sheltering-in-place (with hit-and-miss grocery deliveries) that finally prompted me to input my credit card number.

According to this NY Times article from September 4, 2020, 40% of parents have chosen remote learning instead of taking advantage of the hybrid or in person options offered in that city.

As a mother who has home schooled one of her children for over seven years, my experience was that customizing my own plan for my own child was far easier than implementing the adapted curriculum dictated by my other kid’s school that was unprepared for the sudden need for remote learning last spring. American parents have the right to educate their own children as they see fit, so declaring as a home educating parent is an alternative for those whose kids responded poorly to their schools’ offerings.

In 2018, 29.7 million children received free or reduced-cost lunch daily per the USDA

Transparent pricing is literally the least we can do to improve US health care

There are very few actions or aims of the current administration of the United States Executive Branch with which I agree, but one such rare alignment won a legal victory this week when Judge Carl J. Nichols ruled against the insurance-dominated medical establishment in favor of American patients.

The U.S. District Court ruling agrees with the White House that it is reasonable to force medical service providers to publish a full accounting of negotiated prices for their services. Disclosing the price a patient would pay if s/he elects to pay cash will also be required.

Insurers say their negotiated prices are their own secret treasures to share with providers, and that we—the consumers, the patients, the worried loved ones—don’t deserve to know what they are. I say that insurers offer so little value relative to the enormous fees paid to them that their wishes are irrelevant and a distraction from the goal of almost all Americans to have better health care with fewer going bankrupt to pay for it.

I believe that the administration of the U.S. medical care system could be improved in almost every way. That said, cost transparency requires no bipartisan agreements on contentious issues such as rationing of care or how much in dollars a government owes each citizen in the provision of health care.

Price transparency will cost almost nothing save a few hours of administrative work by hospital staff. Typing up and publishing these lists will take a minuscule fraction of the labor hours currently spent on insurance billing. In exchange, and, for the first time in decades, cost-conscious consumers of health care—the ill, the injured, the infirm—will have at least a passing chance to vote with the pocketbook by taking business to more efficient providers. Continue reading

Evangelical Christians trample my religious freedom by applying their convictions to all in the abortion debate

The abortion debate in America is a contentious one that I have no interest in rehashing here. While I have many thoughts and opinions on the issue, most of them fall outside of the kind of rational discussion I prefer to instigate on my little site dedicated to the wonderful as opposed to the profane.

Something I cannot ignore of late are the actions of multiple states—tellingly, states which tend to be poorer than the U.S. average with a markedly less educated populace—as they defy the moderate will of the majority of American citizens and the affirmed constitutional right of individual Americans to follow their own faiths and consciences with regard to abortion procedures.

Activists at the extreme of both sides pervert this complex and morally fraught issue by ignoring subtleties and braying out absolutes and ultimatums. I reject those dangerous simplifications from both the right and left. Most Americans believe that some abortions should be safe and legal. Less than half of Americans support either a total ban or the complete freedom to terminate any pregnancy.

In particular, as a Jewish woman, I find it offensive that conservative Christians are promoting their religious beliefs in the political arena with a total disregard for the separation of church and state.

This separation, of course, is another freedom guaranteed to each of us by the Constitution.

The actors on these Supreme Court defying laws like to portray themselves as sole legitimate arbiters of God’s will. Upon signing the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama issued a statement that she did so because “every life is a sacred gift from God.” Of course, with no exceptions in the Alabama bill for survivors of horrific crimes against girls no matter how young or women whether competent to consent or not who become pregnant, it’s obvious that Governor Ivey feels some lives are more sacred than others, and that it is her place to judge such matters.

Jewish law argues that a mother’s life must be saved at the expense of a fetus if the parent is in danger and the process of childbirth has not yet begun. “[T]he life of those already living comes before the life of those yet to be born.”Jewish law also recognizes the mental health of the mother as a vital factor in making the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Other faiths advise their adherents differently.

It is evangelizing pure and simple for this kind of dictatorial Christian to attempt to subvert my religion with her own when it comes to my family’s medical decision making.

There are suppositions about the moment that “life” begins, but no definitive answers from science yet to trump matters of faith and belief. We may someday know when the spark of animation—or the soul—enters the bundle of cells that grow into living flesh. We do not know now beyond a general range of viability dates for human babies.

From my perspective, it would be wise for people who value unborn lives above those of living women to invest heavily in the technological leap of gestating fetuses outside the womb. If it were possible to “harvest” unwanted pregnancies and nurture them elsewhere, some of the moral quandaries would change if not diminish. Certainly at that point those with the most extreme viewpoints on the subject of abortion could offer to save every unwanted child and assume the costs—financial, social, and emotional—thereof.

https://theawarenesscenter.blogspot.com/2011/02/incest-pregnancy-abortion-and-halacha.html