Friday, September 26, 2008

Keillor on human error, finance, and truth

It's odd, as a Minnesotan, that I didn't realize Keillor has a Trib column. There's no feed, but I'll use one of several page monitoring services to create one. A special thanks to the commenter who pointed me to Garrison's latest column. I'll split my response into two parts
Cowboy economics --

It's just human nature that some calamities register in the brain and others don't. The train engineer texting at the throttle ("HOW R U? C U L8R") and missing the red light and 25 people die in the crash—oh, God, that is way too real—everyone has had a moment of supreme stupidity that came close to killing somebody. Even atheists say a little prayer now and then: Dear God, I am an idiot, thank you for protecting my children.

So true. Two days ago a driver almost ran me down as I crossed a shopping mall exit. She drove straight ahead, maybe 200 yards, and I still didn't register in her central vision. She was looking right, and probably talking on the phone.

I'd have jumped on her very slowly moving hood, so I wouldn't have been badly hurt, but those things happen all the time. I've done lesser versions myself. For every person who backs over their child playing in the driveway, a hundred fall to their knees with a near miss.

The train driver shouldn't have been texting, but it's insane that the system relied on someone noticing a red light. That was reasonable in 1940.

Keillor continues ...
... On the other hand, the federal bailout of the financial market (YAWN) is a calamity that people accept as if it were just one more hurricane. An air of crisis, the secretary of the Treasury striding down a hall at the Capitol with minions in his wake, solemn-faced congressmen at the microphones. Something must be done, harrumph harrumph. The Current Occupant pops out of the cuckoo clock and reads a few lines off a piece of paper, pronouncing all the words correctly. And the newscaster looks into the camera and says, "Etaoin shrdlu qwertyuiop." Where is the outrage?...

... Confident men took leave of common sense and bet on the idea of perpetual profit in the real estate market and crashed. But it wasn't their money. It was your money they were messing with. And that's why you need government regulators. Gimlet-eyed men with steel-rim glasses and crepe-soled shoes who check the numbers and have the power to say, "This is a scam and a hustle and either you cease and desist or you spend a few years in a minimum-security federal facility playing backgammon."

The Republican Party used to specialize in gimlet-eyed, steel-rim, crepe-soled common sense, and then it was taken over by crooked preachers who demand we trust them because they're packing a Bible and God sent them on a mission to enact lower taxes, less government. Except when things crash, and then government has to pick up the pieces.

... What we are seeing is the stuff of a novel, the public corruption of an American war hero. It is painful. First, there was his exploitation of a symbolic woman, an eager zealot who is so far out of her depth that it isn't funny anymore. Anyone with a heart has to hurt for how McCain has made a fool of her.

McCain seems willing to say anything, do anything, to get to the White House so he can go to war with Iran. If he needs to recline naked in Macy's window, he would do that, or eat live chickens or claim to be a reformer. Obviously you can fool a lot of people for a while, and maybe he can stretch it out until mid-November. But the truth is marching on...
Government regulators are corruptible too; we've seen plenty of that in the past 8 years. The sex and drugs dept of the interior scandal shows how government can be broken. We need a mix of market oversight and regulation; the Clinton years show us how the balance can work.

We need something else though, and that's much harder.

Every cop knows that civil peace doesn't come from the police. The police are an essential component, but most of all you need a civil society, a culture of accommodation, tolerance, respect for law and for people, and a culture where duty and honesty earn respect. A culture where wealth without honor earns scorn and liars are scum.

We've drifted from that culture. Rove and the GOP led the descent in the 2nd Clinton term, but they couldn't have done it alone.

We don't know how cultures form or shift -- we still can't do the "social engineering" I contemplated 30 years ago. We suspect it comes, in part, from the top. If McCain/Palin are elected, and I still think they will be, we'll be cementing a culture of deceit. If Obama/Biden win, and I think that will take a bleedin' miracle, maybe we can start a turnaround.

Lastly, I don't remember when the "Republican Party used to specialize in gimlet-eyed, steel-rim, crepe-soled common sense". I think that was probably before Nixon - Gerald Ford was perhaps the last of that breed. A little bit before my time. We need that conservative party very badly.

Unfortunately only a devastating electoral defeat will lead the GOP to reform and return as a healthy alternative -- and I don't see that happening.

I wish the truth were marching on, but I sure don't see it. Maybe in China.

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