Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Glacial Home Renovations

Home renovations are proceeding at the expected glacial pace with the biggest problem for me being that the kitchen table is filled to overflowing with stuff and I don't have a reliable place to write. At least we're down to having the kitchen cabinets remodeled and painted to the color my wife wants. The new carpet was installed about a month ago, which was a huge relief since after having removed the old stuff in two rooms, we were walking on rough plywood boards. Other finished projects include repairs to the backyard deck, remodeled master bathroom, and the room over the garage having been transformed into a habitable living space.  
There is actual hope that once everything is either back in its proper place, or thrown away, or donated to charity we might be able to use the dining room again. It should go without saying I am truly sick of having to think about anything to do with home improvements. Thankfully, my lovely spouse has refrained from bringing up the outside projects she wants done to the front and back yard. I am seriously not in the mood, especially with my wife and daughter planning their summer trip to London, England while I stay here at the house.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Who Put The Real In Reality?



Given that 2016 was such a terrible year filled with hate, injustice, war, ignorance, and just about every other human failing we could all probably use a period of rest and decompression in an effort to regroup and reclaim our basic humanity. The trouble with that idea though is that we have a massive, speeding train heading straight for us with impact scheduled for the morning of January 20th. So, with that in mind I figure why not just go ahead and introduce another nugget of mental angst to screw with peoples minds in these trying times.

Without going into a long and drawn out preamble, mainly because I'm tired and unable to think of one, I'll propose a simple question. What would you think of the possibility that our entire universe is one super sophisticated computer simulation? Yeah, for you pop culture and Sci-fi movie fanatics like me I'm sort of talking about a Matrix-like existence, but for my purposes lets not pussy foot around with one foot in the base reality—or real world. Let's go full Tron and say our universe, galaxy, planet, houses, cars, and every thing we see or know is nothing but a complicated software program. Totally freaky I admit, one that has actually caused a bizarre but momentary sense of claustrophobia when I first read some serious information on the subject.

While philosophers like Plato have been playing with the idea for literally thousands of years scientists started taking the concept at least semi-serious when available computing power began expanding exponentially. You have to understand that while a simulation containing a fake universe with at least one planet containing seven billion sentient software entities going about their lives is mind blowing, scientists use computer replications to predict the weather, business trends, cellular interactions, and many other elements of the world. Those who are discussing the idea that our universe and existence is a simulation are just taking things to the next level.

It is Swedish philosopher, Nick Bostrom who is following in the tradition of Plato by suggesting three propositions concerning simulated universes.

  1. The fraction of human-like civilizations that do not commit species suicide and go extinct is close to zero.
  2. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that might want to create a super sophisticated simulations of their primitive ancestors is close to zero.
  3. The fraction of people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is close to one.

The basic premise of Bostrom's idea is that a posthuman technological civilization would have enormous computing power. Even if only one such civilization was interested in figuring out how their barbaric ancestors avoiding extinction they could literally run millions if not billions of simulations to figure out how we survived long enough to reach their hyper-advanced level. So, if we accept that idea there could be an untold number of simulations being run making the odds that you, me, and the other seven billion humans on this planet existing at the base reality infinitesimally small. Now don't worry, while Bostrom is a respected philosopher and scientist on many other far out subjects not everyone is buying his supposition about the state of our existence.

Critics of Bostroms's anthropic reasoning have pointed out that “simulated” humans couldn't be conscious as compared to humans living in the base reality. They contend conscious or sentient behavior is far too complicated to simulate and when you throw in seven billion other humans the task would simply be impossible. This is really a good point, but this is assuming everyone human on this planet is actually sentient. It has been pointed out numerous times a great majority of humanity simply likes to go with the cultural flow they are born and never change. The prime example being the religion people are born along with such things as nationalism, political affiliation, and even basic cultural assumptions. The point being that after a certain point free will doesn't seem to extend beyond the choice of whether or not people will choose Italian or Chinese food for dinner on a given night.

The first reason assumed for the development of these hypothetical simulations would be as a sort virtual recreation of the human past that would allow far future historians and anthropologists insights on the lives of ancient peoples. I admit, the prospect of viewing the development of Bronze Age Minoan civilization would be utterly fascinating for me. There is simply so much missing from the historical record from that period to compare it to the mythical Atlantis wouldn't too far off the mark.

But one question that has never been answered for me by those promoting this idea is how could you program supposedly sentient simulated beings to retrace the same historical path. It is readily stated by evolutionary biologists that if your could rewind time to previous ages there is no guarantee that life would evolve like it did the first time. We're talking about intelligent dinosaurs, if you exclude that nasty asteroid impact, or maybe a world dominated by a different subspecies of human like the Neanderthals or Denisovans. Then again, maybe enough historical records survive in the forms of video, still pictures and written word for a posthuman civilization to accurately reconstruct eras along the lines of Star Trek's holodecks.

I think the most likely use of historical simulations of the past would be for comparative analysis. Essentially seeing how screwed up, or better, events would have played out if for instance Rome never fell, or Napoleon was totally victorious in his quest to conquer all of Europe. The possible permutations of simulated history are nearly endless. The question then returns back to whether or not simulated humans are sentient. If such a simulated Earth could be engineered forcing the people that live on that planet to endure experimental totalitarian regimes and war-like empires would be highly unethical to say the least.

There is also the question as to what simulated people would call the creators of their reality. Needless to say they would have the power of life and death not just over one person but of entire civilizations. Just pondering the scope of those god-like abilities makes me uneasy. Lets reverse the question and say, that somehow a simulated human discovered the true nature of his or her existence. That they are just a small segment of software on a vast computer whose ultimate purpose might beyond their limited comprehension. This hovers far too close to religion, which is something I really do not want to touch. I would be remiss not to mention that given our own advancements in computer hardware and software, we could be close to having the ability to create such simulated universes ourselves. Yes, that could mean a possible line of simulated universes nested within other simulated universes. 



Needless to say, there is no proof that we are in fact living in a simulated universe. It has been pointed out though that our universe does seem to be based on hard mathematical laws. This could just be an example of the multiverse theory that contends a near infinite number of universes exist and we just happen to be the one whose physical laws allow for intelligent creatures to evolve and eventually measure the basis of reality. As to oppose to living in a universe where different physical laws were established that prevented the formation of stars, heavily elements, and eventually life.

Fermi's Paradox has also been mentioned as a consideration in the real or simulated universe discussions. Given that planets have now been proven to be normal occurrences around other stars and that the conditions that led to life on our world almost certainly existed on at least a few of them intelligent life should be fairly common given the size of our galaxy. Even limited to traveling ten percent the speed of light, it would take a moderately adventurous alien species two millions years to colonize or explore the galaxy. Wait you say, biological creatures like us are not made for long duration space travel, that the distance between stars is so great interstellar travel is simply impossible. That is quite likely, so eliminate the biological component and just send unmanned probes controlled by artificial intelligence that voyage to another star, use local resources to build more of its kind before sending them out on their own voyages. At the very minimum, the galaxy should be filled with mechanical Jim Kirks boldly going where none have gone before. Where Enrico Fermi comes into play is that he asked the question over lunch to his colleagues who were talking about the subject of Little Green Men just where in the hell was everyone? It has been pointed out by those suggesting we live in a simulated universe that our Divine Programmers did not include aliens in our software package. Which sucks for people like me, but at least that we don't have to worry about Klingons or the damn Borg from showing up in orbit one morning.

You might ask where do I stand on the question of whether we live in a simulated universe? Well, contrary to my wife's concerns, I haven't lost all my marbles and say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I tend to feel that way about many subjects that have little or no scientific evidence to back them up ranging from Bigfoot to God. It's not that I reject outright their possible existence, its just that for me personally the jury is still out. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Bigfoot is a myth given the number of gun nut goofballs that are running around the forests of North America. By now someone should have shot one of the hairy bastards and brought in in for all the television news cameras and his fifteen minutes of fame.

The true nature of human existence will probably forever elude our species while we are limited to our current form. It's taken the invention of things telescopes and microscopes as well as particle accelerators and massive computers to get us to our present level. Maybe it will take us creating our own simulated universes filled with sentient but software-based humans to grasp our place in the greater scheme of things. If that comes to pass, I just hope we have enough ethical concerns to prevent them from electing a narcissistic twit to the most powerful office on that particular Earth. As long as I am waxing philosophically, if the Divine Programmers wanted to be seriously cool, they could email me the winning numbers to next week's Powerball Lottery.

SOURCES:




Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Abyss





The last time I got old fashioned shitfaced drunk is so far back in my past I actually considered it more akin to an ancient legend than actual fact. Without going into the gory, barely remembered details the story involves several of my army buddies, multiple bottles of Mad Dog 20/20, and waking up underneath a highway overpass. The kicker in this short version of a long story revolves around the fact that my buddies and I left a friend's apartment to make a short walk to a convenience/liquor store to buy food for a party. After that, things go fuzzy really quick and when we woke up one of the guys in the group, Sam Moran, didn't have his shoes. Being that this event took place in Colorado Springs, Colorado during a cold winter night Sam's missing shoes were a not so minor mystery.

With tonight marking the end of that cluster frak called 2016 I plan on frying a similar amount of brain cells, but at least I will remain safely inside my comfortable home. While life offers no guarantees or refunds, 2016 was an utter disaster on so many fronts going from the mundane to the bizarre and different levels ranging between extremely annoying to apocalyptic, not seeing it finally die would be a crime. The real concern sane people should immediately realize though is that while 2016 was a ill-tempered bully, there is a high probability 2017 will turn out to be a narcissistic psychopath.

Yes, that last part is a jab at the person who will soon be occupying Oval Office for the next four years. I will never refer to that piece of gold-plated filth as president. If American society ever returns to some semblance of rational behavior, I am sure academic careers will be made on scientific papers being published which try to explain how a man so detached from reality was given the chance to wield so much power. This is of course assuming Trump doesn't lead the United States over a cliff.

Personally, I've read enough history to understand democracies do some very stupid things once emotions overpower rational thought. At the beginning of the fifth-century BC, the ancient Athenians were on a path that would see them climb to the pinnacle to wealth and power during that period of classical Greek history. However, by 404 BC they were defeated by Sparta and stood a couple of hairs away from enslavement and disappearing from history. The reason being that they were such huge a-holes to everyone that their actions ignited the Peloponnesian War. While Sparta was the chief city they were at war with, it goes without saying Athens was its own worst enemy often treating their allies worse than the cities they were fighting. The only thing that ultimately saved them was by the end of the war the Spartans had exceeded them in the category of being massive a-holes. As the proverbial dust settled, the other Greek cities that fought against Athens saw Sparta strutting around ready to dominate and essentially prevented the enemy city from being razed and its population enslaved.

The Peloponnesian War is a long drawn out and tragic affair, so to make things slightly easier to digest, I would highly recommend reading about Pericles, the guy who lead Athens into the war but whose lack of a real plan to win and caused his own death and thousands of others after a plague ravaged the city. And then there is Alcibiades, a narcissistic punk whose idea to invade Sicily lead to one of the worst military defeats in recorded history. To make matters more surreal, before the Sicilian Expedition went sideways, Alcibiades defects to Sparta and readily helps them in the war against his home city. After that things enter a political Twilight Zone with the traitor later fleeing to the Persians for refuge and finally back to the side of the Athenians.

I guess the half-assed moral lesson Americans should learn from this is that hubris, or in our case, the desire for greatness and blindly following charismatic douchebags will probably lead to disaster. Case in point is how Trump is adamant that the entire American intelligence community is wrong about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Okay, I know I'm bias, but Trump's love tweets about Putin are just creepy and give me a sick feeling in my stomach. Saddling in close to a tyrant while talking shit about your own people while at the same time doing everything in your power to alienate allies just might make the epically bad decisions the ancient Athenian made pale in comparison.

This begs the question how did Trump get elected? Without becoming nauseatingly asinine that is another question best left to academics from some future era. One reason offered up is that he appealed to the down and out white working class who have been left behind by economic globalization and free trade treaties that have strictly benefited multinational corporations. Okay, I'll buy the latter portion of that statement but the former is a bit of a bad joke to me.

Why I find that funny is because despite all the pouting and gnashing of teeth it was the white middle and working class folks that helped create this situation. Way back during the days Trump likes to say when America was great while the average worker had more purchasing power you didn't just run out to Walmart and buy a new television when the old one had a meltdown and was beyond repair. That was a major purchase not far removed from buying a house or car, which required people to shop around and maybe even wait until a few other more important bills were paid off. Hell, the simple fact that numerous people made their living going to houses to repair stuff like televisions is a testament that you didn't easily replace that item. Yes, for the person who might bring up television repair is still a job these days, but it is nowhere near the levels of those bygone years when RCA and Zenith were common names in American living rooms.

While there was never a single nefarious corporate suit who sat in his office planning the economic neutering of the American worker, having overseas workers build products them ship them to the United States was a huge win on several different levels. First, it promoted international stability since a happy foreign workers was less likely to look to the commies for a chance for a better life. Remember the Cold War where the United States was engaged with the Soviet Union over the hearts and minds of the people of the world. Secondly, cheap products flowing into the United States meant Joe Sixpack could have an easier life. The last thing on Mr. Sixpack's barely literate mind was that this convenience would slowly eat away at the very foundation that made his lifestyle possible. Sort of like letting a kid have unrestricted access to a candy store whenever the little brat wanted. Pretty soon that access begins to be viewed as an entitlement even though the lazy brat is badly overweight, suffering from severe health concerns, and has no teeth left in his or her head. The American consumer loves cheap electronic toys and food and it surprises me how few Trump supporters have thought through his delusional promise to bring back those good paying jobs.

Let's say Trump waves a magic wand, which given economic realities that is what it would take, and brings back those good paying factory jobs. These workers would at least have to make a decent wage around fifteen to sixteen bucks an hour because of the cost of living here in the States. A large part of the reasons the toys and food are cheap is because the workers involved aren't paid shit. American workers getting at least fifteen bucks and hour will naturally cause the price of televisions, washing machines, computers, and any other product you can name to raise accordingly thus returning us to a more sedate 1950's to 1970's way of buying big stuff. This will naturally shrink the economy to those same levels pretty much negating any benefit. For the sake of simplicity, I'm ignoring the new and rapidly advancing automation technologies that have many economists and politicians scared to death because it seriously look like it could eliminate a huge chunk of the jobs in existence today.

Another thing that really worries economists is that forty-million Americans make their living producing stuff that is exported overseas. Have Trump simply put tariffs on the incoming toys, which will force other countries the respond in kind and pretty soon those folks are out of work sinking the economy. Then again, one of the most self-destructive statements I ever heard came from a organized labor hating redneck who back during the time the American automotive companies were about to go out of business wanted those union workers to suffer because he thought they were coddled to much. He was the prime example of someone wanting to cut off their nose to spite the face.

All things considered, this love of cheap toys is one of the reasons those poor working class folks pretty much screwed themselves. That and the fact that off all the people I know personally in that category none of them have even a microgram of curiosity or ability to look beyond their stunted existence. The information they base their decisions on comes from sources that reinforces their already narrow view of a world growing increasingly complex. As long as they are told they are victims and that some minority boogeyman is out to take their stuff and force them to eat tacos or buy prayer rugs they feel justified to sit inside that candy store and suck down more sugar. That is assuming they ever look away from the entertainment offal flooding those big screen televisions bought at the local Walmart.

Such conditions do not lead to rational adults who can make intelligent decisions about the future of their country. Call me an a-hole, but all I see are a people turning into proles from Orwell's book, 1984. With 2016 a massive pile of stinky, watery poop I have no optimistic illusions about how 2017 will unfold. My chief concern is whether or not Trump gets us into some type of war with Russia and China. While the gold-plated filth openly admires Putin, the Russian president's main goal is to reestablish Russia on the world stage as a major power. I hold to the view that he will not feel that is accomplished until he totally embarrasses the United States by destroying NATO or even direct military conflict. I admit, I consider President Obama to be an exceptional man and leader but he has allowed Putin far too much leeway in world affairs.

Calling Trump just a fool would be a backhanded complement, I have such a low opinion of him I see Putin playing that chump along to the point that even Congressional Republicans will be forced to act to save political face. And if on the off chance Trump wakes up to how badly Putin played him as a bitch, that thin-skinned narcissist will lose his mind. I've already stated how things could go with China, which could lead to military conflict by itself. If that should happen, expect Putin to jump in to assist China since that would accomplish his own goal.

About the only way I can see Trump coming out ahead in the years to come is if he goes totally counter to his usual behavior. If Trump keeps to the White House and occasionally announces some bogus deal with an individual company about keeping jobs here or bringing a few back to the United States he might be able to keep is suckers happy. They are already heavily brainwashed to believe anything broadcast from Fox News and other fake news sources. The only question I have is whether or not the Democrats will get organized and come up with a plan that will hurt Trump in the 2018 midterms and kick him out of the White House in 2020.

So, given my concerns and fears you should be able to understand why I plan on getting shitfaced tonight. With that I say good luck to everyone and I look forward to seeing what the human comedy will offer up in 2017. 


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Trials and Tribulations






To say I am a bit of pariah in the area I live is a given. I don't attend any of the local mega-churches that act as religious country clubs where the majority of inhabitants go to be part of the accepted social set. I most definitely do not drive an oversized trunk which is a male status symbol in these parts on par with what guns you own as well as the required circular NRA sticker on the back window. While there are a few exceptions, my politics alone keeps me at arms length with otherwise nice people who view Obama as a tyrant and anyone not white and Anglo-Saxon as an invasive species. I will offer up a backhanded complement and say the centuries old suspicions about Catholics appears to be dead.

All that being said, it is this time of the year that one of my serious deficiencies shows itself to all the others who spend days, if not weeks, setting up Christmas decorations on the outside of their wondrous Mcmansions. I have never really seen the point of elaborate outside decorations. Of course, this is just a holiday extension of my distaste of yard work but it is also an expression of my dislike of light pollution and how it literally drowns out the stars in the sky. In an effort to not seem a total secular humanist douchbag, I do not harbor any contempt for those who do decorate the outside of their homes. As of this writing it is still a free country, although what happens after January 20 will be anyone's guess after that.

Where my family usually falls in line with everyone else is on decorating the inside of our house. My wife has three separate themed Christmas decorations boxes that contains items for the tree, the living room, kitchen, and even the bathroom. Frankly, I find the bathroom stuff ridiculous but it all makes her happy and while I'll never be confused with a rocket scientist, I have learned that it is best just to go along during this time of the year.

This year is a bit different though since we are in the middle of several major home renovation projects. With storage boxes literally overflowing and taking up a great deal of space all over the house there was simply no room to pull out the Christmas decorations this year. While this fact didn't sit well with my wife, this holiday sacrifice will be repaid with her eventually having new carpet throughout the house, along with new marble kitchen counters and revamped cabinets. On a side note, you cannot underestimate my happiness in the fact that the bathroom remodeling was largely completed a couple of weeks ago.

Now understand, to our far more holiday-minded acquaintances we haven't advertised the fact that we're essentially skipping Christmas this year. Our lack of outdoor participation has been mentioned in the past, which my wife diplomatically explained away as having more to do with the front of our house being a different design from most of the others in our neighborhood. We don't have a large front porch which is what most everyone else uses as the basis of their decorative garland, colorful lights, and tinsel ideas. I'm sure to our closer associates she has whispered that it's her damn husband's fault because he is a total scrooge.

From what my daughter has told me recently she has inadvertently revealed our non-participation in Christmas this year. It seems that during one of her classes just this last Monday the topic of Christmas decoration came up among her friends. The parents of all her close friends are Christmas decorating fanatics and the way my daughter explained it when she told them we didn't even have a tree up everyone was quite shocked. Making matters worse, given my known anti-social and leftist leanings beliefs, I am sure the assumption others will take is that I have gone total anti-Christmas if not militant atheist. Needless to say, given the area I have become a bit paranoid as of late. Another side note, no, I am not an atheist, my beliefs have me firmly in the agnostic camp. In fact, I pray quite frequently on the off chance God does exist and that one more person broadcasting on the supernatural hotline might cause him to reengage with his erstwhile hairless primate creations.  

Returning to the main point sitting out Christmas, I have this vague worry that as I try to sleep during the day after coming from work that a Yule tide lynch mob might invade my house with them super gluing glittering tinsel and cheap wooden crosses all over my body instead of the ancient ritual of tarring and feathering. So, if I am not heard from again that will probably be the reason. That being said, I wish everyone Happy Holidays while I consider the possibility of  avoiding the coming lynch mod by joining the secular guerrilla underground which is fighting the endless War on Christmas.

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 and Nicaraguan forces to amass 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 about 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 escapes 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 completely 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 ended 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.