Generally I try to maintain a positive attitude. But sometimes I recall the parody of Kipling: “If you can remain calm when those around you are panicking, maybe you just don’t understand the situation.” I’m not saying that we have reached that point, but it seems to be getting closer. Consider these news items:
America’s top military officer, in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China, provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.
Third-grader brings cupcakes to school on his birthday. But teacher confiscates them because they are topped with tiny toy World-War-II-era soldiers.
TSA will allow knives with blades no longer than 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) on airliners, as well as small baseball bats, lacrosse and hockey sticks, ski poles, and golf clubs, but it continues to forbid normal containers of water, toothpaste, or lotions.
Veterans Affairs whistle-blower charges that agency intentionally manipulated and ignored data, resulting in veterans being denied care. Suppressed data included a link between “burn pits” in Iraq and lung disease in veterans.
Keyless car ignitions are now common but cause problems, including refusing to start when fob is present, stopping in traffic when it is, allowing car to be shut off without shifting to Park, and not allowing runaway car to be shut off.
I could go on for pages, but you get the idea. We obsess about the insignificant or the unchangeable, while we ignore the truly dangerous. We complain about stress, but then needlessly complicate our lives with computerized gizmos.
My current negative mood was triggered by the outage of our DSL line, thus disabling our Internet connection as well as a phone line. The line has been out now for 24 hours, but ATT says it will be at least another 24 hours before it will be repaired. Fortunately, someone’s unsecured wireless network allows us to leach off it temporarily. Otherwise, we would be cut off from e-mail and the Web.
But this is nothing new. We live in a hilly area of Los Angeles, and except for a corner of the back yard, there is no cell-phone reception. In other words, ATT is unable to provide really reliable DSL or phone service, and Verizon is unable to provide virtually any cell-phone service. If we did not have a second land-line phone that still functions, we would be unable to call 911. So much for the “information economy” in our second-largest city.
Often when I phone a major business such as a bank, insurance company, or auto dealership, I am barely able to understand what is said, though I have normal hearing. The phone systems these large corporations bought were probably the cheapest they could find, were probably made in China, and are probably serviced by people who can barely speak English.
If you want to have an “information economy,” it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that first you must have reliable information, and then you must be able to communicate it. Smoke signals or yelling loudly just don’t qualify.
To take a more mundane example, the supermarket where we shop used to carry inexpensive kitchen knives made in Brazil. The edges were reasonably sharp, the handles were comfortable wood, and the knives had full tangs – the steel went all the way through the handles. But now the store carries knives made in China. The blades are thin, the handles cheap plastic, and the tangs are short. I would hesitate to cut a crisp apple for fear the blade would snap off.
The quality of the knives is lower, but the price is similar – so this doesn’t count as inflation. Also not counted as inflation is the “big roll” of paper towels, which is about half the size of the old roll, or the “large” box of tissues, which now has 240 sheets instead of 280. Inflation here is claimed to be less than 2%, and increases in wages, pensions, and Social Security are based on this figure. But if we took declining quality into account, I believe the true inflation rate would be closer to 4% or 5%.
Question: How long can the decline in quality of goods and services continue, before our phone and Internet outages become the rule rather than the exception? You can make a phone system cheaper, a knife blade thinner, and personnel less educated for only a finite amount of time. Then, at a point that is not predictable but will surely come, the whole thing will break down and cease to function. The time to reverse the downhill slide is before that point is reached, not after. Then is the time for regret.
China is not our “strategic partner,” no matter what our politicians tell us. China’s rulers are becoming increasingly belligerent toward Japan regarding some little-known but important islands. China does nothing to restrain the insane ranting of the rulers of North Korea. When a North Korean police state with nuclear weapons declares that it is renouncing the cease-fire that ended the Korean War, and the Chinese rulers remain silent, we are justified in suspecting that the Chinese rulers are using North Korea to make trouble – and distract us from what the Chinese themselves are up to.
Another question: Do we really want to continue enriching China with our massive trade deficit, thereby strengthening their military capacity while we are reducing our own military capacity? There is just plain stupid, and then there is dangerously stupid and self-destructive.
These are some of the thoughts that ramble through my mind as I sit here, leaching off someone else’s wireless connection and waiting for our own to be repaired. I wonder if this is exactly how the ancient Romans felt, as they watched the mighty civilization their ancestors had built slowly disintegrate – not from external pressure, but from internal decay.
And I wonder how long it will be before we, like the Romans, will be left looking at the ruins we admire, but have no idea how to repair. They looked at temples, roads, and aqueducts. We will look – in some cases are already looking – at Internet connections, keyless auto ignitions, and computerized everything.
Contact: email@example.com. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.