Saturday, December 10, 2016

Upsetting the Apple Cart You Built

 
Ruminations on the effects of Fortress America Attitudes and "making it great again."


You can't step into an American movie theater these days without seeing a movie poster for yet another film about some sort apocalyptic future that is either already showing or soon to arrive. The same can be said of books as well since doomsday thrillers and their contractually required sequels regularly occupy the best sellers lists. Yeah, everyone should already understand Americans are on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown—if not a psychotic break with reality which manifests itself in the violence and despair in our movies, books, television and unfortunately, our civic discourse and society itself. The reasons for such a national mental health crisis are both numerous and so intertwined that if human civilization ever does mature to the point societies are stable for the long term but retain the ability to be creative, open, and dynamic, I am sure academic careers will be made on how our times are rationally explained.

For me one of the most curious apocalyptic futures to be examined in movies, books, and to a limited extent in television shows are the ones that portray a lone United States fighting off some determined and superior enemy on its own soil. The absolute best example of this is the 1984 version of the movie Red Dawn where a group of Colorado high school kids flee into the Rocky Mountains after a Soviet-lead invasion of the continental United States. From their hidden mountain camp, these teenagers observe events in occupied towns that eventually force them to become resistance fighters.

What caused this horrific invasion of the United States was stated at the beginning of the movie in that all the vital alliances the West had created after the Second World War fell utterly apart. Western Europe, except the Brits, decided to sit out the conflict essentially becoming “neutral” from internal political pressures. Also playing a part in this nightmare were every Central American nation, including Mexico, falling to communism which allowed Cuban, Nicaraguan, and their allies to amass their forces just south of the Rio Grande. Once the attack was launched from there the Soviets jumped across the Bering Sea into Alaska and drove south.

As paranoid, nightmare fantasies go, Red Dawn was at least entertaining even though its premise was so absurd I remember several military historians laughing at the idea it could ever happen. The key word that real experts expressed to say why such an invasion was impossible was logistics. It has been said many times, anyone with enough training can be a tactician, but it takes a genius to figure out how to effectively move, feed, and equip a fighting force.

Of course, this movie came out during the Reagan years when they annually published dubious but colorful reports showing numerous near science fiction-like weapons systems the Soviets were developing. Later years would show most of these systems were high end prototypes built to test concepts or outright fantasies created by military analysts determined to maintain job security. Truth be told, the United States pursued its own similar high end research back then and still does despite shrill claims from political propagandists that certain American leaders are not looking after the defense of the country.

It does not take an expert to realize Red Dawn was just playing on the latent fears of a public who had been told since the 1950's that the commie boogeyman was hiding underneath their beds. Unfortunately, fear readily sells to bored, stagnate suburbanites who, while living in the relative lap of luxury, when compared to the rest of the world, see the world changing and their vaulted position at the top of the societal heap eroding underneath their feet.

No, I am most certainly not saying the Soviet Union was a big peaceful teddy bear, it was a true threat to the United States and its allies. What I am saying is that succumbing to paranoid fears leads to overreaction and/or betraying your own principles, which only plays into the hand's of your enemy.

As the 80's unfolded with Reagan playing geopolitical hardball with the Soviets, some Americans worried over the massive protests in European countries over the basing of nuclear weapons on their territory. The truth of the matter was that despite the appearances of Western disunited, these free and open political displays showed the post-WW2 alliances were healthy and protecting the values that made us better than the communist nations. More to the point, with NATO standing strong and its member nations staying true to basic human rights, it was only a few years later the Soviet Union fell giving the world a short rest in the eternal global power struggles which are governments one true interest.

With the Soviet Union essentially neutered by 1990, it didn't take long for it to be replaced with another devious menace out to undermine the free world. In 1992 the author Ralph Peter published a book entitled , War in 2020 which had the United States more or less alone and aiding a decaying Soviet Union mired in a civil war with the opposition forces being armed by a resurgent imperialistic Japan. Yes, this was the period everyone was fearing the economic might of Japan whose businesses seemed to be overtaking the entire world. The famous author Tom Clancy even played out one of these paranoid plots about Japan in one of his own books whose name escape me right now. In fairness, I did enjoy reading War in 2020, thinking of it as decent speculative science fiction. As for the Clancy's fictional creation of Jack Ryan, his meteoric rise in power and influence seemed so ridiculous to me that it made his later works, including the one involving Japan, more a cartoon than a serious techo-thiller. Honestly, I half expected Clancy to eventually write a novel where Jack Ryan not only saved the planet from an alien invasion but was elected president of Earth for life by a grateful humanity.

The last years of the 1990's had the irrational fears of Americans refocus on a rising China. Poor Japan was by then beset with economic problems that made those fears of the United States falling under its influence look as silly as the idea that the Soviets could launch a D-Day like invasion of North America. In 2000 the author Eric L. Harry published a book called, Invasion which was about Red China pulling a Red Dawn on the continental United States but instead of launching this attack from the Mexican border, good old Cuba stood in as the anti-Britain allowing it to be used as the home base of the massive amphibious assault heading for the American Gulf Coast. Once again, Invasion lets it be known that the U.S. faced this particular nemesis complete alone.

Contrary to my tone, Invasion was actually quite good, as techno-thrillers go, and I finished it hoping the author would return with a sequel since while it finished on an upbeat note for the United States, the war was a long way from being over. The basic scenario in the novel is that due to the threat of the Chinese military machine that had already conquered a good chunk of the world, the United States government institutes a draft so encompassing that even the daughter of the President is forced to serve. Making matters more delicate for the book's fictional American president, his daughter scored so high on the mental and physical evaluations that she volunteered to serve in the infantry. Yeah, the situation in the novel is so dire females were not only drafted but ended up fighting in the trenches all through the southeastern United States. While the main story involves president's daughter combat on the front lines, the subplot was how the United States was rushing to build arsenal ships, a new type of naval vessel designed to overwhelm the defenses of the Chinese Navy which controlled the oceans.

As I stated, the one common thread in these stories was that the United States was fighting alone. While the reasons for the United States not having any allies varied slightly, they all revolved around a general lack of resolve and courage by nations who Americans either defended or liberated in the past. A dubious conceit, but when you are the military and economic superpower for the free world, it's one that should have been eventually expected by all involved. Remember, even ancient Athens, who played the biggest role in saving Western civilization from Persian domination fell prey to its own monumental hubris.

The huge problem I and many others had with the premise of America fighting to the death with a superior foe on its own soil is that enlighten men all through the West after WW2 established a network of alliances that said point blank, you screw with one of us then you will face all of us. The basic assumption most Americans had during those tense Cold War years was that if there was a weak leak in the members it was with the European countries who naturally weren't keen on fighting the Third World War on their soil. I hazard a guess and say they hoped the defensive alliances would act as deterrence preventing any aggression in the first place.

These alliances, supported by every American president and congress since WW2 allowed the West to face down the Soviet Empire and for a brief moment after communism fell, suggested ever so briefly the eternal global struggle of rival powers might be finally over. So, while these alliances are far from perfect, it seems a no-brainer that no sane person would screw with a global system that has kept the peace in a large part of the world since the late 1940's.

Enter Donald Trump who from the beginning of his campaign has clearly stated he thinks the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliance setup to defend European democracies, is obsolete. Furthermore, Trump went on to say he isn't sure he would commit troops to defend our European allies if Russia did attacked them, a mind-boggling statement that in saner times would have eliminated him from consideration from any political office.

While the fictional nightmare scenario of the United States facing an invasion of its own soil is still something that lives in the realm of total fantasy, Trump based his political run and now his upcoming presidency on destroying the establishment. Nothing would destroy the current global security establishment that abandoning our allies because he “doesn't feel they are pulling their weight.” Allowing Russia to reabsorb the Baltic states then pull the central European countries of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and others back under its control would throw economic markets around the world into turmoil.

And on that same note, if Trump lets China to continue to build artificial islands throughout the South China Sea for military purposes they could on a mire whim bottle up critical shipping lanes where a majority of international trade flows. Most rational economist say Trump's claim that he will bring back old fashioned factory jobs is bogus. There is simply no way that American workers could be paid enough to make washing machines and televisions without passing the huge raise in price down to the consumer, thus ending cheap products causing the economy to stall. But forty million Americans do have jobs directly related to international trade, disrupt those jobs through trade wars or by allowing military adventurism by our adversaries and we would once again be talking about another Great Depression.

Well, Republicans allege none of FDR's New Deal programs really pulled the country out of the depression, that it was the military buildup leading into WW2 that put people back to work and the economy back on track. Maybe that piece of gold-plated filth will inadvertently do the same thing as his successor is forced to mobilize the economy and military on a similar scale as FDR did to once again reestablish the conditions that existed after the last world war.

Personally I do not put much stock in the recount efforts currently going in three of the Rust Belt states Trump unexpectedly won back in November. Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee and the person pushing these efforts, is a delusional self-serving stooge who bares a large part of the blame for Hillary losing the election. Democrats should face the facts that Trump won by way of the Electoral College and start making plans for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential run. My point being is that elections have dire consequences and through apathy, spite, and simple stupidity the imperfect but remarkably stable global order the United States helped establish after WW2 is now threatened. Not mainly by our enemies nor by the cowardice of our allies as is the case in the fictional works I mentioned, but by Americans themselves. Just as the ancient Athenians before us, our own hubris has placed us on this path and history strongly suggests that when established political and military orders are destroyed that is when blood will begin to flow.

There is a Chinese curse I've known about for years, it goes something like this: “May you live in interesting times.” Never fully appreciated its subtlety but the next four years things are going to be interesting, lets hope we all make it to the other side.

This actually fits well with the group that elected Trump.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Moral Dinosaurs



There was a time in my life when I flirted with the ideas surrounding conservative Republican philosophy. Hindsight being what it is, I am severely embarrassed about those four or five years I bought into the hateful rhetoric, the blatant lies, along with the stunted and backwards views on humanity and the world. Curiously enough it was the combo of Bush/Cheney that made me wake up and realize the party of Lincoln was hopelessly corrupted and morally bankrupt as any human-created entity could ever fall. So, in a weird way, they were my passive Luke Skywalker while I, as Anakin was less brought back to the Light Side of the Force and more repelled by the Dark. A small distinction I admit, but in these bizarre, almost surreal times we find ourselves living you take what awareness the universe offers and run with it.

Let me state this, conservatism is not inherently evil even though many followers of that movement are at least indirect accomplices to those who promote hate and a complete disregard to the welfare of less fortunate Americans and the rest of the world. The best example for this is Congressman Paul Ryan who stated something to the effect that Donald Trumps words during the presidential campaign were racist and wrong but still wanted the Republican nominee to win the election. Then there are the spineless antics of both Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney who are even now groveling at Donald's feet after commending his actions.

Going with the idea of a yin and yang balance, liberalism does require a counterweight to prevent it from drifting off into its own form of excesses. So, for that reason alone conservatism, the rational type, is needed because any group or belief can fly off the rails. The trouble is that conservatism, at least the American type, has become mired in fear and prejudice and is suffering from a delusion that the 1950's era United States was some Golden Age where the country was great. And I'm not going to touch conservatism's bizarre appeasement to white Southerners who many even in the twenty-first century want to ignore slavery.

Simply put the United States we live in now is not the same one that existed in the 1950's and sure as hell isn't the one that existed at the ratification of the Constitution. As much as conservatives want to petulantly stomp their feet on the ground while whining about the original intent of the Founding Fathers, they are a full-fledged detriment to the United States. Men such as John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington among many others all suffered from the usual flaws but where they were exceptional was in that they crafted a document that allowed the United States to evolve beyond its eighteenth-century limitations.

While modern American conservatism came into being during Barry Goldwater's run for president, it was Reagan who brought it into power. Believe it or not, I'm not here to further my bias views towards what I've already called corrupt and morally bankrupt. What I have recently discovered though is how conservatives are now rallying around a new standard bearer who has dedicated himself to the preservation of “traditional values.” This new hero of conservative values is none other than Vladimir Putin,president of Russia and authoritarian tyrant who gleefully suppresses basic human rights and murders political opponents.

None other than most ancient of conservative dinosaurs, Pat Buchanan, the architect of Reagan's“Moral Majority” and the leading warrior in the so-called“culture wars” here in America just gushes like a lovelorn teenage girl over the macho Putin. Buchanan being the man who once championed the fight against Russian communism and the promotion of American values. Of course, Buchanan's moral and civic piety was lost after his series of books spelling out his inherent fear of immigrants and those who do not live up to his self proclaimed moral standards. His conclusions in those books can all be summed up in his ideas that everything was totally cool with Western Civilization as long as white, Northern European Christian males were in charge of running society. And that Western Civilization downfall is coming because women have more control over the bodies, thus lowering the Caucasian birthrate, while all those nasty, ignorant people with darker skin shades are popping out babies like there is no tomorrow.

The incredible irony that people like Buchanan totally fail to appreciate is that the values of Western Civilization of liberty and democracy have won. Overt nationalistic fascism and Marxist-Leninist communism are, as Reagan predicted, is on the ash heap of history. Now, this doesn't include the more subtle forms of fascism, based on ancient ethic and nationalistic beliefs promoted by Putin and his kind, nor the corporate communism of Red China who have embraced capitalism but refuse to allow democratic elections or basic liberties.

Instead of working harder to promote and spread Western values, Buchananites are getting increasingly fearful and deranged over the fact that to be true to those principles we have to include groups that have normally been left out and oppressed. Even worse, there are those in America for whom Putin's macho stance appeals to their less than informed minds or their own stunted and stupid views on what it means to be a tough man. I personally know one fool who admired Putin because the martial artist actor Steven Segal worships the ground the Russian president walks on. This feeds into those Americans who believe President Obama wasn't born in the United States and those who think Putin is somehow defending Christian folks in the Middle East and the rest of the world. I have a dim view of all religions but if Putin and those who support him, and Pat Buchanan for that matter, are in anyway Christian I have no worries about going to hell after I die.

Say what you will about Ronald Reagan, if someone went back in time and brought him to 2016 I have no doubt he would be appalled at those supposedly following his beliefs. I'd bet money I do not have that he would consider Trump an abomination and Buchanan's, a long time friend, embrace of a murderous tyrant over another freely elected American president treasonous.

You have to give the Devil his due though, while for decades the Soviet Union tried to split the West with all their communist propaganda, it looks like Putin has finally found an effective weapon in the form of appealing to our age old fears and prejudices. As someone who has lived in the American South for most of my life, nothing scares ignorant white people more than the specters of angry minorities and strange folks who do not fit the overall social and cultural mindset.

While I love the city of Charleston, South Carolina if you ever visit take one of the historical carriage tours and pay careful attention to the houses built before the Civil War. Those rich Antebellum types were so fearful of their slaves killing them in the middle of the night many second floor windows have mean looking spikes mounted just below to prevent anyone from climbing up the walls and breaking in. Reading a little history will also show the greatest fear for all whites, especially plantation owners were slave rebellions. It is cold comfort that at least Southerners share common prejudices with the rest of sorry ass humanity when it comes to shunning those not fitting current cultural norms. It's damn easy to point fingers at those who, for whatever reason, do not fit in with the majority.

The thing about all this that really bugs the living shit out of me is that if you and yours feel so threatened by all the gays, Hispanics, Muslims, transgender types, and anyone else that you feel forced to look to a murderous tyrant for leadership I feel a sick pity for you. Because as much as the Millennial kids are spoiled and difficult to get along with, they do not give a rip about others peoples sexual preference, ethic origin, religion, or any other superficial label the current pillars of moral supervision force upon us all. Even where I live, a community so politically conservative it rivals the stifling attitudes of the 1950's, the kids here are overwhelmingly open minded and accepting of those that are different. Are these kids perfect or the harbinger of some Aquarian Age? Hell no, I would still move my family and me to a “Blue State” in a New York minutes if circumstances allowed. But like I described Pat Buchanan, the ridged and narrow-minded like him are dinosaurs lazily glazing in the pastures of their fears. But there is a huge ass asteroid on its way in the form of the young who a few generations further down the road will be embarrassed at the beliefs their grandparents and great-grandparents held.

So keep your goddamned Putin and any who look to him as a savior of traditional values. The arc of history has an imperfect but steady liberal trajectory. What is almost funny in all this is that Putin's moral crusade is less about protecting traditional values and more to shore up Russia's global presence and influence. But if he is the best Buchanan, Segal, and their likes can come up with I actually might be able to dredge up a little optimism for humanity's future.



Here is something special for a certain person who took offense for me calling Putin a thug and him a tool.
 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving Weekend Malfunction


Since I entered the dubious realm of what is called adulthood, and by that I mean having to work along with taking up the duties of being a parent, Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. All jokes aside about families eager to come together and celebrate the bonds of kinship, Christmas starts losing its meaning once the great lie that is Santa is revealed to the wiser young ones. And by wiser, I mean those kids who had probably already knew the deal but kept their mouths shut since they didn’t want to endanger the Golden Goose of mom and dad desperate to keep them happy.

Even those short years afterwards, while the now enlightened children still have enough innocence that the average adult can tolerate their presence, Christmas becomes increasingly problematic. The true symbols of the season like the insanity of Black Friday shopping and the time consuming preparation involved in decorating and travel make it something to dread like going to the DMV or a prostate exam. Do not hate me and do not send any hate mail, you know I am telling truth. In all honestly, we all have relatives we literally cringed at the thought of spending time with during Christmas and this says nothing about the bottled up resentment at having to spend money for presents on those assorted fools.

For a great many people besides me, Thanksgiving has become the one refuge of sanity situated between the bastardized Halloween, whose only purpose is to support the Chocolate/Sugar Industrial Complex and the insanity that is hyper-capitalistic Christmas. Sure, you are liable to see those very same relatives that you secretly hope were adopted because you hate the idea that your own kids might share any genetic material with them. But at least the tension is reduced after dinner because everyone just wants to stumble into the living room and sleep as they process all that hormone-laden turkey bubbling away inside their digestive tracts.

At my house Thanksgiving has become so laid back that it actually irritates my wife that the kids and I have seriously recommended we just buy one of those gigantic frozen pizzas and serve that up for dinner. My wife, raised in a true Ozzy and Harriet suburban environment, is almost programmed like a robot to perform certain functions when it comes to the holidays. Among them, are the very duties I’ve been bitching about like searching for that perfect gift for our kids and her nieces, along with whatever she discovers for herself along the way.

But does that mean daddy can run off to the sporting goods store and buy him that five hundred dollar kayak? Only if he wants to include the two hundred dollar tent attachment, and then proceed to make it his permanent residence. No, dad has to be happy with his new underwear and socks and if he is lucky, just maybe mom might be nice to him once the kids have gone to sleep. Whatever the case, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that allows me to relax and enjoy the company of my family without having to put up with a lot of crap. Well, this year turned out to be a little different.

This sad tale actually began two months ago when my wife embarked on a home renovation obsession that is even now still gathering steam. We’ve had a contractor rebuilding the room over the garage since the middle of October with completion scheduled around the middle of December. All jokes aside, the room very much needed rebuilding and the contractor’s work is literally fantastic. In the coming weeks though,  different contractors will replace the stove, the kitchen counter tops, and redo the cabinets all through the house. Not only that, the carpet all through the house is being replaced and we will probably have the person fixing the fence damaged from the recent hurricane also replace the worn planks on our backyard deck.

This does not mean I sitting back and sipping a sophisticated mixed drink watching the guys do their Bob Villa impersonations. No, my wife has a whole list of tasks for me that while time consuming aren’t that hard. I actually got the first one done last Wednesday and it was painting the master bedroom.

One problem though, while I noticed that the new paint color was almost identical to the old, once the room was finished I frankly couldn’t tell the difference. In one way that was good since that meant I didn’t spend several more hours going over spots where the old color bled through. On the bad side, once my wife inspected the newly painted room the look on her face suggested she just might come home with another couple of gallons of a color that will stand out more. Which means my happy ass will be doing it all over again.

While Thursday was a true day of rest, for reasons I can’t explain my wife talked me into going shopping Friday morning. The two places she wanted to hit were the local Best Buy and the nearby Target. At first, my intention was just to sit in the car as she and my daughter navigated the belated hordes inside those temples of cheap imported goods. But when my wife vaguely suggested that we might buy another, bigger television as she headed for Best Buy I decided to accompany her inside since she has a bad habit of buying beat up display models because, “they are great deals.” On a previous trip to another one of those types of stores, she bought a surround sound system that had been used as a display model for over a year.

When the clerks packaged it up, they couldn’t find the instructions so they went online and printed them out. A nice gesture, but after my wife brought it home I spent several hours following those instructions trying to get it to work. At some point I finally discovered the clerks had given us the printout for a completely different model totally incompatible with the junk I by then had all over the living room floor.

However, at least I ran enough interference Friday to prevent a similar occurrence. Once that was done, I snaked my way through the crowds and retreated to the car like a beaten dog. I did have enough foresight to bring a book to read in the car and enough sense not to go with my wife and daughter into Target, which looked even more crowded and insane than Best Buy.

Unfortunately, I repeated my mistake the next day. Saturday being the day before my birthday, we all went out to eat a nice lunch. Curiously enough, the local Home Depot is about two-hundred yards away from my favorite Chinese restaurant and after we were all nicely satisfied, my wife decided she absolutely had to go look at carpet. I’ll just say that while I usually enjoy walking around hardware stores looking at all the cool stuff, those next three hours were tough to endure. I will say this, the Home Depot lady in charge of carpet earned every cent of her pay those long grueling hours.

My wife and daughter are going to London, England sometime in 2017, the exact date is still up in the air but one is thing for certain is that I will not be traveling with them. The cost for just two people is outrageous and besides some fool has to man the fort and keep our two dogs from peeing all over that new carpet. Long story short, other than a few short and cheap wife-approved trips, I’m not going to get a real vacation in 2017.

However, given the soul crushing and time consuming nature of all these home renovation projects, I must admit I am reconsidering my threat to whip out my own credit card and purchase a trip to someplace in the Caribbean with my departure date the day my wife and daughter return from London. My general idea is to call the house as I sit my happy ass on the other side of the airport TSA line and tell my lovely spouse I will bring her home a souvenir from whatever warm, sunny beach I find myself visiting. Yeah, I’m going with the "it’s better to act then ask for forgiveness than wait for permission that will never comes" route. Whatever happens when Thanksgiving 2017 comes we should all have some wild stories to tell. Hell, maybe my lovely spouse will even agree to pizza next year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Crunchy Peanut Butter Transcendence




Paraphrasing here, but I recently read an article by a travel writer describing how after a long and grueling schedule of visiting wonderful places and meeting interesting people around the world, he likes to return home after his tiring journeys, sit in front of his fireplace and sip a glass of fine wine. As I further read the article, I waited for some tacit comment that while navigating various labyrinth-like international airports, dealing with degrees of exhausting jet lag and difficult bureaucratic immigration and custom officials are a pain, being a travel writer was about the best work a person could snag in this stunted existence. But strangely enough, in a world overflowing with crappy jobs, this irony-impaired author just continued on about the best wines to drink after returning home from strenuous travel as if his predicament was natural and shared by the rest of humanity.

Far be it from me to criticize a truly talented and successful writer but unfortunately my normal sympathy, compassion, and basic give-a-fucks were all stupefied at the idea that seeing the Eiffel Tower, the ruins of Rome, or a beautiful Tahitian sunset could ever approach being more trouble than they were worth. I'm sure other people are more deserving of someone smacking them upside the head than this travel writer, but right now I'm at a loss to name anyone else.

No, the jobs most of us workaday schmucks have settle for are ones that pay the bills and, if we're lucky, leave enough left over to do more with life than just survive. As for mentally and physically unwinding after a tough day at work with a fine wine, personally for me, that will remain the purview of socially snobbish pricks who fret about the type of china used at dinner and the proper placement of the shiny silverware. Hell, in reality given my schedule, I really don't have the option to unwind for any length of time after work.

Coming home in the morning after my shift I have just enough time to clean up, eat some breakfast, then try and crash around 8:30am before the two family dogs start losing their minds around 2:30am needing to go outside and pee. I know you shouldn't anthropomorphize the behavior of animals, even pets, but I swear my dogs, Snickers and Sparky, have this particular facial expression that says, “Hey dude, if you don't get your sorry ass out of bed right now, you'll be the one cleaning up the stains in the carpet and picking up the poop.” Funny things about that, when I don't let the dogs out in time, both of my fur kids retreat to the couch and then give me this smug,”we warned you” look as I go through the motions of fueling up the carpet cleaner and disposing of their solid toxic waste.

No, the only real time circumstance has allotted for me to get all introspective is what amounts to my lunchtime in the middle of my shift, usually somewhere around 1:00 to 2:30am. If I was a sociable person I would eat lunch with my two coworkers, its just that I don't like Duck Dynasty, or any of the other shows they watch in the actual break room that all have a combined IQ of 60. In an effort to keep good relations, I do sit with them in the break room at the beginning of the shift and drink a cup of coffee. During that time I have adapted the advice of the leader of the penguins from the Madagascar movies to keep good relations. I simply smile and nod at the unoffensive conversations they have, subjects like how they can't understand how any self respecting guy could have a cat as a pet. Or my favorite, their usual rage festivals at bad drivers and how close they came to pulling their pistol out from its hiding place underneath the seat after some fool offended their delicate sensibilities while on the way to work.

When my lunchtime comes I retreat to the room used by my group to store supplies and spare uniforms. Inside that room we have a table and comfortable office chairs that allow me to sit back and enjoy what has to stand in as a replacement for any fine wine. Believe it or not, I get an immense sense of enjoyment from eating a crunchy peanut butter sandwich. No, it's not a finely aged wine nor is my location for lunch in front of a warm, inviting fireplace but in this progressively depressing age, shit could be far worse.



For reasons I have never figured out, there seems to be a bias directed against lovers of crunchy peanut butter. This goes back to my childhood when I remember the other kids at my school lunch table staring in horror as I bit down on the tasty shards of peanuts mixed in with the regular creamy spread. Given their expressions, they apparently misidentified the crunchy noise coming from my chewing as screams of horror from the tiny peanuts as they met their demise. At least that is how I liked to played off their disgust and grade school condemnation at my lunch preference. Unfortunately, no one else in my family liked crunchy peanut butter, so I was eventually forced to go with the preference of the unimaginative majority.

By accident I renewed my love of crunchy peanut butter after becoming a dad. I was making a grocery run and along with buying the wrong shampoo for my wife, the totally incorrect breakfast cereal for the kids, I accidentally grabbed a jar of crunchy peanut butter, which was supposed to be used for their school lunches. Frankly, I never in a million years would have guessed the level of blow back I got from my wife and kids over picking the wrong peanut butter. Picking both the wrong shampoo and cereal was completely forgotten about when they saw the horror of all those chopped up peanuts inside the jar. If my kids ever have to go to therapy, I figure that incident will be brought up as to one of the reasons they can't deal with life or have long-term personal relationships.

As for my wife, it amazes me that in as little as five minutes after the fact, she can totally forget the odd place she moved the book I was reading, or where she tossed my shoes that I mistakenly left in the living room—another terrible sin in its own right. But to this day, over a decade later after mistakenly buying a jar of crunchy peanut butter for the kids lunches, she readily brings up that fact whenever I inadvertently again screw the pooch at the grocery store. Yes, she brings up many of my other sins but it all goes to prove the point that the Pope is correct in that women can never be priests. It is simply impossible for them to forget any transgression and as sure as bear leave steamy piles of poop in the woods, they cannot forgive.

All that changed recently since I have one kid in high school and the other in college. Neither of them like peanut butter anymore, and my wife buys her own organic creamy, which to me looks more like wet mud. So that leaves me to finally indulge in my crunchy peanut butter without guilt. What this personal crunchy peanut butter renaissance means is that I am now able to sit back during my all too short lunch breaks at work and unwind while contemplating the crappy state of human affairs. One of my favorite thought-experiments while I savor the magnificent flavor of my sandwich is to think of where I would go on the planet to get away from all hoi polloi that make up many of my fellow Americans. For years my favorite imaginary sanctuary was either the south island of New Zealand or the southwestern coast of Australia. Both places are blissfully underpopulated, which fits nicely with my general antisocial tendencies and well established disgust of the human animal. I would be remiss if I didn't add that both places are about as far away from the United States as a person can get and still be on planet Earth. A nice benefit when the United States has its collective psychotic break with reality. Yes, the election of Trump is a disturbing omen that such an event will be here sooner rather than later. 

Yes, during these periods of relatively deep thought, it has occurred to me that I am taking on many of the snobbish characteristics I laid at the feet of the wine drinking travel writer for whom world travel can be a burden. There is nothing more plebeian than peanut butter but on the other hand drinking wine at work would get me fired. Anyway, I save the alcohol for the weekends to deal with things at home like neighbors and chores that never end.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Forgotten Warning


“The Collapse of Civilization” by Steve Thomas


Predicting the future is truthfully a fool's errand. Recent societal changes have taken the most astute observers of culture by surprise and technological advancement over the last sixty years would probably seem like magic to those born at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, I remember a report published when I was a kid that was scary accurate in how the future unfolded.

Back during the last year of the Carter Administration a report came out painting a dim view of the future stretching from the last two decades of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first. I forget the author of the report, some government agency I believe, but it made the case that the coming years would see countries across the globe dealing with increasing pressures from worsen pollution and swelling populations exacerbated by basic resources becoming scarce. This would lead to an increasing of international tensions, terrorism, and outright war. This report went as far as to state that this would ultimately lead to the introduction of authoritarian governments in normally democratic countries. That last item was something that both puzzled and worried me since this report came out before the end of the Cold War. At the time I just couldn't imagine Western countries willingly surrendering the principles that made them special enough to stand against the communist nations.

The main reason I remember this report was that it ran counter to the general optimism inherent to the late 60's and early 70's, the years that, for a lack of a better term, I essentially became conscious. To my young mind, after having been tainted with the philosophy of Star Trek and being influenced by the Civil Rights struggle, the future was supposed to be one where things got progressively better. Yes, during the late 1970's I was a serious science and science fiction nerd who ate up any literature attempting to describe what the lives of human beings would be like in the coming decades. Sure, there would be setbacks, but the view of the futurists I read in magazines like Analog and the now dead Omni said we were on the road to far better things for everyone on the planet.

While I have forgotten most of the details, I do vaguely remember this report spelled out the reasons why things were going to get bad and they mainly centered around far too many people basically wanting the American lifestyle. To meet this desire already threatened resources would be stripped further increasing their costs, which would push the poorer among us down the socioeconomic ladder straining civil society. Authoritarian leaders would then appear to quell the uprising of the poor, denied masses and protect those of property or conversely, to overthrow the existing unfair status quo.

It was an exceedingly dark and dystopic future whose only meager sliver lining was the vague suggestion that technology might remedy the situation by the middle of the twenty-first century. The last thing I remember about this report was that it made enough of an impact that the Reagan Administration instantly countered it as soon as they came into the White House with their own pollyannaish version. It claimed everything in the future was going to be hunky-dory and anyone that said different was a lying commie.

The troubling aspect of that forgotten, pessimistic report for me was even at that young age it clearly spelled out the troubles we were to face. As opposed to the Reagan version that gave vague assurances that everyone should just buy sunglasses because the future was going to be so bright.

As fate would have it the intervening years were seemingly not as dire as first predicted. The looming Soviet Empire collapsed almost overnight freeing dozens of nation from its oppressive grip. Democracy and free market capitalism were proclaimed by nearly all as the natural state of human affairs. And finally, the United States became the sole global superpower whose destiny seemed to expand its way of life to every person on the planet. Then there was the unparalleled expansion of electronic technology that took the computer from a device the size of a room to one that could fit in a pant's pocket and act as your telephone, high quality camera, universal information almanac, personal assistant, and thousands of other things. Among all this unbridled freedom and pursuit of new markets and technology things were slowing going to shit.

The first thing that has to be mentioned was the growing web of free trade treaties that on the surface are a great idea. That being rising global trade and open markets promote higher living standards which in turn increase stability and prosperity for everyone taking part. The problem with this good idea was that international corporations decided the economic bottom line dictated that manufacturing-- i.e. good paying jobs—had to migrate to countries where the pay was far less than what the average worker got in the United States or any other First World country. Now this was fine for the Elite and those running the corporations, their wealth not only stayed the same but grew almost exponentially since workers in China only got paid cents on the dollar compared to their American counterparts.

As for middle class American workers this has meant a long slide downward as jobs that allowed a newly married couple to buy a house, raise kids and put them through college, while saving for retirement began dissolving like smoke caught in a breeze. With good jobs disappearing credit cards became the way the middle class kept up the facade of a prosperous lifestyle. During my grandparents' time debt was a shame and something that was taken on only with great reluctance. I remember one occasion when my grandparents television had a permanent and irreversible meltdown requiring that they go out and buy a replacement.

Today such a shopping trip can be executed in one afternoon, but for them that meant waiting for several weeks as paychecks built up and a few other bills were paid off. Then there was the shopping around trying to get the best deal since back then the purchase of a television was much the same as buying a car. Once the new television was delivered, I remember my grandfather working overtime at the local paper mill so it could be paid off as quickly as possible.

Today it is nothing for the average family to make a similar purchase on a whim all the while having no tangible monetary savings. Sure they “own” a house that over time should increase in value and some sort of retirement savings account that takes the place of the long dead workplace pension. But these folks are permanent riders on the credit merry-go-round and subject to the shifting temperament of those that manage the stock markets and banks.

Needless to say, since the 1970's economic equality in the United States and around the world has suffered terribly with a tiny percentage of the super-rich controlling the vast majority of global wealth. To the modern wealthy Elites, their status is as natural as eighteenth-century aristocrats thought their own position was during that that era of hereditary kings and dukes. However, like the peasants that eventually wised up and killed off many of those aristocrats, there are those of us that have become aware very little of the post-Cold War expansion of wealth is trickling down to those of us on the bottom half of the economic ladder. But instead of forming coherent groups to address this equality, populist leaders have stepped forward who appeal to the worst in our nature. They promise utopia but upon closer examination are only spewing hate-filled rhetoric while scapegoating people and institutions and that while flawed, are not the true source of their problems.

There is absolutely no doubt that capitalism, when compared to the command and control economies of the post-WW 2 communist nations is both more efficient and takes into consideration the basic human right that someone should be able to reap the benefits of their idea or invention. That being said, capitalism has similar tendencies like communism in that it eats the unfortunate and poor. The simple fact that corporations almost daily abandon longtime and loyal employees and relocate to countries that pay significantly less and do not have troublesome institutions like labor unions shows a contempt for the individual that I frankly find psychotic.

One of the central parts of the pessimistic Carter report was how pollution in the coming years was going to become worse. This was another aspect that puzzled me since the 1970's was the decade that the Clean Air and Water Acts passed by the United States Congress had gone along way to reducing and reversing industries affects on the environment. Of course, Ronny Reagan wasn't long in the White House when his administration began reversing as much of those vital reforms as it could get away with. Later administrations would go even further all in the name of slicing through “Red Tape” that hampered economic development.

Since the end of the Cold War massive industrialization along capitalistic principles by former-communist and third world countries have assaulted the global environment all in the supposed name of raising living standards for the less fortunate. That does occur in a limited fashion, some places more than others, but in actuality the level of environmental destruction, climate destabilization, and worker abuse at the hands of monolithic corporations is so bad you could debate whether or not any positive short term gains are equal to the long term negatives. In short, while working in some third world sweatshop does provide a narrow avenue for some to escape grinding poverty, if that person and his or her family have to drink polluted water, eat tainted food and then suffer through a drought one year and unprecedented and destructive floods the next are they truly any better off? This ignores the possibility that these sweatshop workers are near slaves being forced to endure soul crushing hours while working in dangerous conditions.

This being the late 1970's, I don't remember anything about climate change being mentioned in that pessimistic report. However, I learned recently of a 1950ish video that shows two science types talking about how industrialization was spewing untold amounts of pollution into the atmosphere and how that it could, and would eventually alter the global climate for the worse. The fact that huge numbers of people absolutely refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that human actions have severely damaged the planetary climate does not say anything good about the chances of our species long term survival.

In all the years that have passed since I became aware of this report, the one aspect that I took some relief in was that the Western nations hadn't succumbed to the siren call of authoritarian demagogues, now even that has come true. At first it was newly freed Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland electing individuals who have no dedication to the principles of freedom their nations dreamed about while under Soviet domination. Then this contagion spread to Western countries rightly worried about the power of uncontrollable multinational corporations, fears over economic globalization, and outright racism spawned by uncomfortable changes in internal demographics. Sorry Brits, while you guys and gals have every right to worry about how globalization is effecting your country, your recent vote to leave the European Union was packaged in ways less than honorable given your country's traditions.

Now even the United States has succumbed to the trends that long forgotten report predicted. The American public has just elected a man who has never held public office and whose temperament and behavior suggests the absolute last job he should hold is one where the lives of literally billions of people are in his hands. Furthermore, his admitted admiration of authoritarian tyrants in other countries as well as his reluctance to steadfastly condemn racist supporters frankly scares the hell out of many Americans. Trump's criticism of the American free press and threats to curtail its ability to do its Constitutionally mandated job by all rights would have immediately eliminated from presidential consideration if a majority of the American public were true to the principles the United States was founded upon.

Personally I believe these trends go beyond the report saying all this would be brought on by dwindling resources. While capitalism is a better economic system than the one used by the now dead Soviet Union, it nonetheless has its own inherent flaws. Namely that expansion must be constant and that efficiency and profit must come before people and the environment. These flaws, for the most part, could be overlooked in a world with far less people but that is simply the not the case anymore. Ignoring economic globalization alone for the moment, just having over seven billion people on a small planet all demanding access to food, water, and something more that makes life worth living would strain resources beyond the breaking point.

I absolutely hate sounding like a New Age guru, but I can't escape the conclusion that our current global structure of competing nation-states and massive corporations that answer to no regulating body is unsustainable. As for the report's suggestion that technology might ultimatly save us from the mess we have created, that is the one aspect I believe it will get wrong. The only thing that will save not only our global civilization, and maybe our species itself, is the realization that no nation, religion, corporation, or ethnic group can continue to look to the past as some sort of lost golden age of greatness. Simply put, our numbers and demands on the planet and each other will not allow it. It's a tired cliche but there is in reality no great savior that will solve all our problems, only fools believe such a thing. What will save us is the awareness that the ideas, superstitions, and institutions that divide into conflicted and selfish groups are foolish and worn out relics from previous ages that we best discard, not just for the betterment of ourselves but for the very lives of our children.

Author's note: If anyone can direct me to a link or even an article to that report published during the Carter Administration I would greatly appreciate it. I'm probably not phrasing my internet searches correctly so I'm not finding any mention of it even through I know it was real. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Aftermath




As anyone who has read my ridiculous rants and crappy fiction for any length of time should know, last Tuesday night was a full-fledged shit sandwich party for my family and me. Trump’s unexpected electoral victory over Hillary Clinton will go down as one of the most insane upsets in American history. For three days after the election, I was literally emotionally and mentally numb, hell I’m still coming to grips with this situation.

I honestly wish I could say something nice about Trump and the people that see him as some savior. Unfortunately, I can’t and I refuse to make nice given the crap such people rained down on President Obama from the day he won the 2008 presidential election. Pushing political ill will and outright hate aside for a moment, if Trump pursues his campaign promises I frankly see him creating a far bigger mess than the one George W. Bush left behind for the black guy to clean up. You simply will not bring back old-fashioned 1950’s manufacturing jobs when some chump in China or Mexico makes pennies on the dollar compared to an American worker. If these jobs did come back companies would have to pay workers enough to do more than just survive. They would mean Joe Sixpack having money left over at the end of the month to buy that new washing machine or television while being able to save a little for his kid’s college education. The cost of such wages would have to be passed down to the American consumer, which would mean a nice rise in inflation. To bust this bubble even further for those who don't remember the 1970's, American consumers hate inflation and tend to stop buying all those neat new adult toys which keep the economy afloat.   

Then there is Trump’s promise to renegotiate trade deals and hit foreign goods with tariffs. Start pulling on those threads and the millions of jobs here in the United States that send their products overseas will definitely be in grave danger as other countries throw tariffs on our stuff. We’re talking trade wars with the global economy going into a tailspin with an economic depression the best of all possible outcomes.

But hey, Hillary lost and the Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, so the ball is firmly in their court. Given Trump’s mental and emotional instability and the Republican’s desire to make the United States into the image of Ayn Rand, a cynical part of me wants to see hell rain down on those silly souls who think Donald will lead them back to the proverbial Promised Land. All us sorry-ass liberals can do is sit back and watch the train wreck as it unfolds. But who knows, the bastard got elected, by the Electoral College, not by the majority of the American public, so who the hell knows how this will all unfold. I’m just going to start rereading Grapes of Wrath to refresh my memory of outright despair and struggle. I have a sneaking suspicion such conditions might return sometime between now and 2020. 
On a lighter note, I am still in a state of semi-bondage as the great home renovation projects continue. I swear, my wife is taking on some uncomfortably similar characteristics to those little, megalomaniacal dudes that run North Korea.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

What I Did Last Weekend


 No, I'm not bragging...



If a period of time, in this case the 365 days making up a normal terrestrial year, could have sinister motives, I swear 2016 could be Hannibal Lecter or even one of the supernaturally indestructible movie slashers such as Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. From the moment David Bowie died and the 2016 American presidential campaign started, I distinctly remember a few people on the internet saying this year was going to be a full-fledged crapfest. And in all honesty, given what we have been through calling 2016 a crapfest is a gross understatement. Just the trauma of having such people as Ted Cruz appear on the news almost daily during the primaries and then top it off with Trump winning the Republican nomination is more than any sane person should have to deal with in a single year.

Somehow, we’ve made it to the end of October and quite frankly, I’m not expecting things to get much better in the short-term. Multiply that last statement fifty to one-hundred times and extend this nightmare until 2020, if America goes and elects that bizarre combination of Jerry Lewis and Benito Mussolini president of the United States.

On a personal level, my lovely spouse, whose codename remains Dragonwife, has spent most of this year doing her best to take what little free time I can normally call my own. For the last several years she has wanted to do major renovations on the money hole…I mean the house we live. These changes would include ripping out the carpet in all the rooms and replace them with hardwood floors, changing out the kitchen countertops, and installing at least a closet in the room over the garage so it could be classified as a fourth bedroom. I say at least on that last item because for a while Dragonwife wanted to add a half-bathroom to that room as well.

A couple of interviews with renovation contractors later and she has finally realized that while such a project is possible, the cost would be so great it would make more sense just to sell the house and move into another that would already have such facilities. I didn’t hear the amount the contractors said it would take to add a half-bathroom but it was enough to utterly kill that idea. You’d have to know my wife but she does not easily abandon any project, especially something she has talked about for years. However, after speaking with those guys, she placed a big “X” through the notes she had for the half-bath and hasn’t mentioned it since. There are most certainly other items she wants to change and replace while all this is going on but I’d would get bogged down listing them.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty here but whenever my wife conjures up fantastic plans involving home projects she eventually starts nickel and diming everything down to my level. She does this mostly to save money and redirect funds to other things that I simply cannot do alone or lack the proper equipment to accomplish. Cases in point are the several Leyland cypress trees that fell over in our backyard due to the recent hurricane. I do own a small electric-powered chain saw, which is solely designed to cut small limbs and not forty and fifty foot trees whose trunks are at least a foot in diameter. This says nothing about having the truck and/or trailer big enough to carry away the wood after cutting everything down. Dragonwife eventually realized that it was simply better to stick with hiring someone to remove the trees since they would also have the equipment and personnel to pull up the stumps as well.

Now throw in the water heater that for some unknown cosmic reason decided to start leaking, a lot, several days after the cypress trees tipped over and several home renovation projects that were going to be outsourced have found their way on my honey-do list. This weekend I tackled the first of these new honey-do items with a Dragonwife high priority star beside it. Little side note here, for those who don’t know I work third-shift so my weekend starts after I leave work Friday morning and ends around 10:30pm Sunday night.

Painting the vanity in the small bathroom at first didn’t look like a major job. Sure, I was going to have to sand the wood so I could apply the couple of coats of primer needed so it could be painted but I didn’t think the job would take that long. The first thing I didn’t take into consideration was the freaking mess that I would make from sanding the heavily varnished wood. All together the cabinet was done, inside and out, in about two hours. It took me three damn hours to clean up the mess inside the bathroom and in the hallway. At one point, I began wishing the bathroom floor had a drain that would have allowed me to use the detachable shower head to wash off the dust coating the toilet, bathtub, walls, and floor.

Applying the primer came next and while that was easy, the bathroom in question is quite small so I had to contort into some improbable and uncomfortable positions to cover everything inside and outside of the cabinet. Once that was done I had to get cleaned up because it was getting close to the time to pick up my daughter from school and I absolutely refuse to sit in my car waiting for her while feeling that dust on my skin. Needless to say, Dragonwife and me had a talk when she came home Friday evening wondering why the small bathroom wasn’t done yet.

Saturday morning began bright and early with me painting the cabinet. After three coats of paint, it finally began looking decent. One of the contractors told my wife from the get-go during the interview process that there was simply no way to hide the grain pattern in the wood so when she said the cabinet looked good I agreed and called it a win before she could change her mind. Now that left the two cabinet doors and the two small drawers to sand and paint.

Sanding those four items was one of the most time consuming chores I have attempted in recent memory. I’ll be honest and say I have no talent when it comes to this home improvement stuff and as far as woodworking is concerned, I haven’t done anything like that since high school. But it took me hours to properly sand away the layers of varnish on those items. I have no idea if I was doing something wrong of that the cabinet doors and drawers were prepared differently than the vanity.

Understand I have some sense, I did the sanding on the doors and drawers outside on my deck and there was a point about halfway through that I wished I decided to take on the fallen cypress trees instead with my pitiful under-powered electric chainsaw. Somewhere around 4:00pm Saturday I reached a point that I had gotten enough primer and paint on those hateful things to quit for the day.
 All that is left is the back of the cabinet doors and I hope some kind deity might not throw any unexpected issues in front of me when I finally tackle that last segment this coming Friday. Why am I waiting for this coming Friday to finish such a ridiculously small job? Because the next item on my high priority honey-do list is the larger cabinet above the washer and dryer in the laundry closet.

Supposedly, the timeline my wife has for completion of all these projects, both the ones I have been enslaved to do as well as those using contractors, is the middle of December. At this point all I can do is hope that at some point the evil grip 2016 has on me and everyone else will be broken allowing us all to have a happier and much saner 2017. Quite frankly, a large part of that hope hinges on what happens on Election Day. No matter what, the one thing I am sure of is that I will be coughing up wood and varnish dust well into next year.

The situation isn't that bad