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Works and Days

Strangers in a Familiar Land

August 29th, 2011 - 9:00 am

The Ignorantly Rude

One thing that has surely changed is the end of shared manners and protocol. Drive up a one-land road in the Sierra: very few oncoming drivers know that the downhill driver must back up to a turnout and yield right of way to the uphill driver — or why that should be true. More often a middle finger or the greater tonnage substitutes. It is not just that we no longer teach Civics; we no longer apparently teach real driver training either. In a zero-sum, 24-hour day, our architects of race/class/gender therapeutic classes did not appreciate that for each sermon on a particular group’s particular grievance, something like how to shake hands or yield the right of way on a road had to give.

In winter, watching drivers trying to put on tire chains is often a spectacle. An entire generation has mastered video games but not how to prepare for two inches of snow. On our rare three-lane stretches of cross-state freeways, there is no old protocol remaining that semi-trucks stay in the right lane, sometimes pass in the middle, and never enter the left. Today I followed two trucks barreling along in the middle lane, who passed using the left and never entered the right. But that is small potatoes: nothing is more frightening that making your way around a weaving semi with eight wheels over the dotted lane line, only to look up at the driver text-messaging at 70 mph, with two trailers of 20-ton freight fishtailing.

Millions of Green Jobs

What scares me about contemporary America is the relative competitiveness of our workforce, especially many of the young. When our politicians sermonize about putting Americans back to work and keeping jobs at home, I wonder whether they appreciate that far too many millions of our young people simply cannot read well, and do not have the habits or industry comparable to their competitors abroad, or at least not at the commensurate pay necessary for them to live decently in America. Our emphasis is on either the government hiring people or jawboning reluctant employers to do so; but not whether society is turning out a literate, creative, and disciplined worker. Could we transmogrify the TSA personnel in our airports or those behind the windows at the DMV office into a high-tech sophisticated workforce, assembling world class sophisticated solar panels (“millions of green jobs”) superior to those found in Germany or Japan, or better-priced and made than what comes from China? I doubt it but pray that I am terribly wrong. (I grant there is a reason why Toyota or Honda might build a new auto plant in a Tennessee of still productive workers, but not so likely in a Fresno or Madera of high taxes, lots of regulations, and questionably skilled workers.)

Government, Inc.

Today I spotted in my weekly local newspaper three front-page headline stories: one, a former police officer pled guilty to a child pornography charge; two, the arrest of two city employees on charges of stealing our town’s steel manhole coverings to sell on the side to local scrap metal yards; and, three, a three-way fight between feuding city council members over conflict of interest charges made and refuted by each. Such chaos in the abstract is quite evident in the concrete when you see the town’s pulse and remember what it was in 1960.

As Juvenal reminds us, it is hard not to write satire.

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