Category Archives: Personal Observations

My observations on a variety of subjects

Through the Looking Glass into 2017

We are on the wrong side of the looking glass. The Red Queen in the White House just Tweeted, “Off with his head!”

For just one moment, bring your mind to a halt. Look at life in America in 2017 as though you had just gotten out of a time machine from 1945.

At least half of everything is lies. Simple, empirical, no-that-ain’t-so lies.

Isn’t that bizarre?

People have always lied. Diogenese, we are told, carried a lantern in daylight, looking for an honest man. In spite of that I propose that the level of lying, the broad dissemination of untruth, has never before been as high in human society as it is in America (and certain other countries) today.

Never before have we had the tools to disseminate ideas like we have today. And only since World War II has the science of persuasion been so well investigated and understood. There are professionals out there who could sell salt to a stone.

They do it with pretty lies. Advertising is not about facts. Beautiful women are not automobiles. Spinning gloriously through the sands or through the city, everyone magically out of your way so you and your car can dance alone in the wind – that’s not driving. You know that. It’s OK. It’s life in America.

It’s a lie. It’s pretty fiction. People get used to buying lies with real money. We sell, buy, and operate our governments the same way.

I’m not talking about Donald Trump, although he does get people’s attention with the blatant disrespectful nature of his lies. He lies every day, and all the media reports his lies. They read his tweets. Every word is a lie. The clever reporters wink at you, saying, You, there, in the know – isn’t it outrageous how he lies?

They are telling his lies for him, and they are not explicitly reporting them as lies. Because that would be impolite. It would show bias. He is, after all, the President.

See? We are on the wrong side of the looking glass.

We are in a time and place so bizarre that a man who tells wild lies in plain language has a reputation for “telling it like it is.” He is not an aberration; he may be the pinnacle of American lying but he is by no means unique.

There is no mainstream media outlet in America today that is willing to show a bias in favor of empirical truth. We are on the wrong side of the looking glass. We special people who get the joke, who recognize the lies – we’re losing. Liars control our lives. Liars are our government; liars own roughly 90% of everything. It’s not just Donald Trump.

The topic of the day is (ahem) “Tax Reform.” The United States is currently blanketed with the same old lies about tax cuts for the rich that we’ve been told since 1980. There is no question: we are being empirically lied to every day over every form of media, text and electronic.

Tax cuts do not pay for themselves. Tax cuts do not create jobs. Tax cuts do not create economic growth. And tax cuts most emphatically do not reduce the deficit or the debt.

Here is where I’m supposed to tell you about Reagan and Bush and Brownback in Kansas and blah blah blah how their tax plans exploded, and refute all the lies, but there is no point. It’s the Super Bowl with no referees. I’m tired of having conversations where one side uses facts and the other side uses lies and the media pretends they are equal.

Facts and lies are not equal.

Most of the statements on which the tax cut debate is being based are empirically, provably false. There is a public record. Get it out. Read it.

The liars go out on TV and on the radio and they tell their lies and the anchor says, “The Democrats say your plan would take retirement security away from working Americans,” and the Senator says, “Lie lie blah blah blah improve the economy jobs,” and the anchor says, “Thank you for your time, Senator,” and it’s on to the next fiction.

This, remember, is the party that is identified and reported nearly universally as “fiscal conservatives.”

People who are about to pass a law that will result in the public borrowing an additional trillion or more dollars over and above the trillions we were already going to borrow identify themselves as fiscal conservatives and the United States media passes it on with a straight face.

If we are to have a two party system and govern ourselves we can’t have one party who lies about everything. We can’t have a media which presents lies and facts as equal and calls that unbiased reporting. Our nation is on the verge of dying.

When they’re not lying about taxes they’re lying about global warming. Here, once again, is where I’m supposed to refute their garbage, but it’s a waste of time. Do you believe science, yes or no? Science is a system. Humans created the world we live in using science. It’s all one thing. There is no grounds for debate.

Except to lie.

And the media still plays along. Did global warming cause Harvey, Irma, and Maria? Did global warming cause the west to burn up? (Let’s see… our globe is warmed. Those things happened. Yup, global warming caused them. Weather is caused by the climate. Next question.)

We are all admiring the emperor’s new clothes. Can you see our new Second Amendment where only the second half of the sentence applies? Isn’t it lovely? Did you hear the one about money being speech?

We have gone through the looking glass to get to 2017. On the other side of the looking glass it was 1890 and they were snake oil salesmen and medicine show con artists. On this side they are Senators, Congresspersons, Presidents and CEOs, and own newspapers and television networks. They run one of our nation’s two major parties, our government, and our economy.

It is a very strange experience.

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This Can’t Be Happening

I am about to tell you something you already know. Pretend, when you read it, that you didn’t already know it and are just finding it out for the first time.

One of the two political “sides” or what used to be “parties” in the United States is telling almost 100% lies. They have chosen to not participate in reality as we know it.

Not Trump. The entire Republican Party, at least all I can see from here. Even the Never-Trumpers live so far off in a maze of untruth and outright fiction that one really cannot have a conversation with them. It is worse than not sharing a common language: Republicans refuse to acknowledge the existence of everyday reality. They have Alternative Facts. Their entire public position is One Hundred Percent Fiction, or close enough for the FDA.

***

Science is real. We’ve had that argument. We had it from about the 12th through 16th or 17th Centuries. That is a done deal. Denying science is one hundred percent a lie.

This is where I’m supposed to produce a convincing case for science, because of course the other side is worth rebutting.

No.

It’s bullshit. Even having the conversation is bullshit. A people cannot govern themselves when at least half of everything they are told is empirically false. It cannot be made to work. Presenting the opposing case is a waste of time and energy.

I’m pretty sure they all know they’re lying. They’re not that stupid. They just figure they’ll be dead before reality catches up with them. The young ones better not plan on getting very old. It’s here now.

***

Everybody knows tax cuts don’t balance the budget. There is no case in history where tax cuts can be shown to have improved an economy. The harder it is tried the worse it fails. Kansas tried it real hard, and it was an abject failure.

Republicans say, “We’re going to cut taxes to get this economy moving,” and everybody pretends there might be some truth to that. But everybody knows it’s a lie. They know it. Unfortunately not all the suckers on the sofas know it’s a lie. The reporters and talking heads know it. It’s just another lie. Alternative Facts were here a long time before Kellyanne Conway.

They are stealing your money. T-Bills provide an unending, streaming, upward redistribution of wealth.

Don’t say, “Trump.” Don’t say, “Fox.” I’ll bet you that for a thousand times various Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans and Some Talking Heads say “tax cuts… get the economy going,” never once does the moderator say, “No it won’t. Everybody knows that. Kansas. We’re tired of your lies.”

I understand that politicians make rosy scenarios. I understand that politicians, try though they might, can’t make all their promises come true. Welcome to real life. What we are going through today is fundamentally different. One party is basing their entire position on a broad fabric of empirical lies. Denying arithmetic and the public record is not the moral equivalent of figuring out you have to raise taxes. No.

***

They lie about science. They lie about the economy. They lie about the debt. Every Republican in Congress knows Absolutely For Sure that no President ever spent one dime of that borrowed money. Congress spent it. Republican Congresses borrowed and spent it. We were in tolerable, although not great, shape regarding debts and deficits when Republicans took over Congress in 1995. Now our debt looks like Greece.  (OK not quite.) This really matters. Any sensible person would be at least concerned.

The Republicans borrowed it. All of it.

On purpose.

They cut taxes so they didn’t have enough income to run the government. They borrowed the difference.

This is the simplest arithmetic, written in the Congressional Record for all to see.

A people cannot govern themselves when one of the contestants for leadership bases every single concept of their program on out-and-out lies. It cannot be done.

***

Republicans run for government, get elected to govern, and still say government is terrible. The government can’t do anything. Government is an imposition on an otherwise blissfully unencumbered citizenry. Government is supposed to be Small. The Constitution Says So.

The government of the United States is huge, vast almost beyond comprehension. It could easily be the largest organization in the history of humankind. China might. One of the two is, almost for sure. Here is just a partial summary. At no time in their public presentations do Republicans acknowledge what government does, they just pick some one tiny thing and rave about how terrible it is that we don’t have Limited Government.

The proper scope and powers of government cannot be discussed with Republicans because they will not acknowledge the existence of the very entity they are both operating and denigrating. There is no agreed on factual basis from which to have a debate.

A people cannot rationally govern themselves when the choice they are offered is between reality and outright fiction.

Some Republicans – not all, but not just fringe loonies either, some people who are considered to be “reasonable” – have publicly said that it is acceptable and Constitutional for citizens to take up arms against their government. American citizens have been told this by sitting Senators and by widely heard and seen media figures. This is utter madness. The very concept is madness. There has never been a government in world history which has had a written policy that citizens could take up arms against it, and ours is not the first one, either.

Why do we have to waste so much time on bullshit, lies, fabrications, falsehoods, malarkey – these people are governing the United States of America. There is never a day when any one of them presents a predominantly factual position on anything to the citizens. What world is this?

I don’t know what to do. Anybody got any ideas?


I take a related look at this subject in the short essay here.

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Systems

An attempt to express the inexpressible: how do you show a universe?

I take a “systems” view of everything. That is, I view everything as a system made up of subsystems which in turn are made up of smaller subsystems which, at some very basic level, perhaps only at the atomic or even quantum level, are made up of individual components which themselves would surely not exist were it not for the overarching system.

Everything – the universe as we perceive it – is the overarching system. It is made up of energy and matter, dark and otherwise, doing things we can’t understand and doing them at some level where the human concepts of “purpose” or “cause” are meaningless. Why is the Universe? Because it Is. That is good enough for me.

Milky Way Galaxy. The local one.

Within that universe system one finds subsystems. One finds, for instance, galaxies, and within them solar systems and other components. One individual atom is a system made up of smaller components and bearing, perhaps not coincidentally, an uncanny resemblance to a solar system.

One of the solar systems is ours. In turn, one of its subsystems is this planet. Earth. This planet is a system made up of everything on it and in it, all the atoms, all

Cross section of the varying layers of the earth – ALL design on this image is created from scratch by Yuri Arcurs’ team of professionals for this particular photo shoothttp://195.154.178.81/DATA/i_collage/pi/shoots/783432.jpg

the energy, all the rocks and dirt, all the biological entities, the tectonic plates, the atmosphere, the oceans, the mantle, the molten core. Each of these systems operates in ways which are still too large for even the smartest human to fully grasp.

We humans tend to get this all wrong. We tend to think of ourselves as separate from, not part of, the system which is Earth. We are – to no-one’s real surprise – anthropocentric. We think we are somehow special and stand aside from or apart from the systems around us. We think of “the environment” as “out there,” but that’s simply incorrect.

I watched Wes Jackson speak on this topic once, and have never forgotten his illustration. Holding his hand out in front of himself he said (not a direct quote, just as I recall it) Say a molecule of air is out here, and it’s The Environment. (He drew his hand closer to his face.) How close does that molecule have to get to still be The Environment? (Touches his mouth and nose with his fingers.) When you breathe it in, is it still The Environment? When it enters your blood stream? When it is combined with carbon in your cells? When you exhale it?

There is no dividing line where “we” start and “the environment” ends. There is no separation. If you put a barrier around us, separate “us” from “out there,” we immediately die. We only exist and live to the extent that “the environment” enters, merges with, creates, is created by, and again departs our bodies. Well under half of the cells we carry around within our skins even contain any human DNA. Three quarters of everything we are is simple water. We are majority Environment and only minority Human. We – each of us – are small systematic organizations of portions of the overarching system which is everything. We are aware and conscious subsystems. We are exactly as much a part of the Earth system as is, for instance, a hurricane, except we appear to be, over the long haul, more destructive.

The things which we create are also systems. The automobile does not exist apart from the system that it inhabits. If we had no roads, if we had no fuel stations, we would have no automobiles. We are also merged into that system, and it into us: it is blindingly obvious that, without drivers and passengers, there would be no automobiles.

Taking that example farther, look at the evolution of transportation. A million years ago proto-humans walked the same path day after day, following after the coyotes, deer, and woolly mammoth. They, and we, created trails. Trails were the predecessor of interstate highways.

After we settled, created agriculture, and developed ever more complex systems within which to arrange our lives, the trails got wider. Flatter. More convenient – and slightly less robust. It came to pass that, after a rain, our trails might be nearly unusable for a period of time. Mud. Because more complex systems are inherently less robust. Murphy was right: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. It cannot be any other way.

Continuing on, after some time we found that animals would pull our loads, transport our bodies. We invented the wheel. The trail system which went back with us to the mists of time continued to develop. We built on the subsystem of fallen trees

A Log Bridge Spans Oak Creek Just Out Of Sedoan Arizona In Oak Creek Canyon

that had long taken us across rivers, until we could drive our horses across them.

By the early days of the 20th Century the road system had evolved to where it could support auto (self) mobiles (moving devices.) Horseless carriages.

In turn, the footpath through the jungle system, now developed into dirt roads, evolved further, to support the horseless carriage. People began selling this previously nearly useless “gasoline” stuff along the roads, and Hey Presto: Road Rage. Gridlock. Pavement. Interstate Highways. Global Warming. It’s all part of the system.

Woman showing bad gesture

The reason the system view is important is because all of these characteristics, both the desired characteristics and the undesired ones, are part of the same system. Cars give us nearly unimaginable (by historic human standards) mobility. They are part of the system which warms the globe as well. In turn, global warming causes floods. But pavement itself also causes floods. Road graders cause floods. There is no one discrete unit which can be repaired, corrected, eliminated, or redesigned which can alter all of the outcomes of a system. The invention of the automobile altered the jungle trail system but it did not create some new, entirely different thing. It simply was an evolutionary step in the formation of the transportation system we have today.

Cities of six, ten, twenty, or thirty million people are also systems, which in turn are made possible – and possibly inevitable – by other systems. Without some type of powered high speed transportation it is nearly inconceivable that people could live in groups that large. Food couldn’t be brought in; waste couldn’t be taken out. I can’t say how we would live, but with different subsystems we would have different aggregate systems.

The reason all this might be relevant today is because the systems we have developed have unforeseen deadly characteristics which, if not addressed, could cause said systems to fail in sudden catastrophic fashion. Once again, more complex systems tend to be less robust. A fifty thousand dollar car can be turned into a large lump by the failure of any of hundreds of subsystems, from a pneumatic tire to a fuel pump to a computer. Yes, we have developed all those subsystems to a reasonably high degree of reliability, but there is never a day in any major city without a certain number of these “highly reliable” transportation modules stranded, inoperable, by the failure of one or more of their highly reliable subsystems.

In contrast, the United States dropped more tons of bombs on North Vietnam during our war with them than all that fell onto Europe during World War II, all without ever bringing their very crude, basic systems of food, water, and transportation to a halt, because their systems were simple. It is almost impossible to starve out an agrarian culture raising its food with early iron age technology. The system is simple, not very efficient, and incredibly robust.

Global warming is indisputably a systems problem. I submit that terrorism is also a systems problem. I believe that the possible or probable end of the First American Republic (AKA The United States of America) is a systems problem, in this case rooted in several of our systems, notably our communications system.

For the moment global warming – the increasing storage of available free energy in the Earth system – is probably the biggest single threat we face. This is not to say that, for example, nuclear war is not a severe threat, but rather to say that global warming is an inevitable output product of our current system of living, producing, and transporting the goods of our lives. Nuclear war is maybe; global warming is now. And global warming is the absolutely inevitable result of the systems of life in the so-called modern, advanced, developed world.

If we are to avoid the unpleasant realities of a global warming world, most of which we can’t even begin to foresee, we must think at a systems level. What different systems can we develop which will not include this outcome?

We don’t have very much time; large systems have a great deal of inertia.

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The View From Here Late August, 2017

This is a work of speculation. I do not have any sources; I do not have any inside knowledge; everything I'm looking at today you can probably see on Google whatever day you're reading it.

Say Mueller goes to the Supreme Court with incontrovertible evidence that the Executive and Legislative branches at the highest levels engaged in careful systematic fraud and treason with Russia to, in the gentlest possible terms, install themselves as a Russia-friendly government in the United States. Then what?

From here as I look out over possible futures I see many. It is like sitting at the hub of a wheel and looking down the spokes. I am not offering a prediction; I am painting you a picture. I’m not trying to tell you that things are now or are going to become some specific way because I don’t know. What I am saying is, the things I see could support these results.

I am of the opinion that the end of the Constitutional Presidential system republic which was the United States is in the past, not the future. The country we knew is already over. It no longer exists. I have written of the event which, in my opinion, marked the end of the First Republic. If you haven’t already you can read that essay here, as well as one speculating about the people involved, here. 

I’m not going to bore you with details of all the ways the Executive Branch is blowing off not only established norms but the clear instructions in the Constitution. It’s out there. That follows the overthrow of a Democratic President by a Republican Congress. The only intervening event was an election during which Russian propaganda was disseminated over a complicit media by our governing oligarchy in cooperation with the Trump Organization and the elected Republican Congress. Senate Majority Leader MItch McConnell told President Barack Obama to shut up about it and he did. This last is not in dispute: it is a matter of public record. Not by any stretch of language or meaning could we be said to be living under the Constitution. The Republic is not here today.

From here one possibility is that the forces of good led by Bob Mueller III find evidence and trigger some action that frees us from the entire coup; I don’t think that is very likely but it is possible.

It is also possible that Mueller takes incontrovertible evidence of Trump coordination with Russia to Congress and they say, Yeah, so what? and go on about their business. No impeachment. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: Congress is already looking at incontrovertible evidence. They’ve got most of the same documents Mueller has. They’re OK with it.

What next? Would he take it to the Supreme Court? I believe that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction but I’m just reading the Constitution. Lawyers were made expressly to argue about this stuff and I’m not one. But say he does, and the Court takes it, and he’s got the whole ball of wax. Say Mueller goes to the Supreme Court with incontrovertible evidence that the Executive and Legislative branches at the highest levels engaged in a careful systematic fraud and treason to, in the gentlest possible terms, install themselves as a Russia-friendly government in the United States.

Taking that road further, say that the Court finds for the republic and calls for new elections, appoints George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as caretaker President & Vice President, and fires Congress pending new elections. A bunch of particularly corrupt members of Congress – McConnell and Ryan and their cronies – would be, at a minimum, banned for life from public office, but the rest would be allowed to run again. Without some institutional memory it would be much harder.

That would be my personal ideal outcome. Except: What if they all refused to leave? The orange guy is currently living in blissful disobedience of a court order that he not block American citizens on Twitter, and everybody says, (hold your nose and make your voice weird) “Oh, that’s Trump.” and ignores him ignoring the court. His pardon of Joe Arpaio was a dictator’s thumb in the eye to the concept of an independent judiciary. One member of the Supreme Court is also a member of the coup. Nobody can stop him.

Nobody can stop him because our Constitution is fatally flawed: there is no provision to keep a President and a Congress from working together to take America private. If the easiest way to accomplish that is by signing up with Russia so be it. I suspect that it wasn’t technologically possible to have done this in 1800. With today’s money, computers, and communications it’s not only possible, it’s almost inevitable.

There’s an assumption that if the Supreme Court fires them they’ll leave. I’m not that confident. When he stops being President he’ll probably go to jail. Ryan and McConnell too I would think. Along with a bunch of others. I doubt if they’re up for that.

If they all (Trump, Ryan, McConnell, Trump’s pet generals) look at the Supreme Court and say, Nope – then what?

Then either they stay in command or the military throws them out. If they don’t leave by their own power it will come down to force. Historically Presidential System Republics tend to end in military coup. If we step into that morass it will be grim, but I’m going to proceed from here based on the assumption that even if that happens an almost genetic memory of self government will eventually win over and we will throw the bums out. I’m going to tag that – the throw the bums out day – as point A. I’ll come back to that.

Another whole possible road follows from some power – Mueller or Congress or even the Supreme Court – taking out Trump or even the whole Executive Branch but leaving the original Congressional Coup in place. Things may quiet down, but the republic is still over. We’ll be Red China, more or less, with a semi-command economy worked by technoserfs, governed by a self selected Central Committee. Or a Russia variant. Or Mexico. One party rule, abject poverty and incredible wealth, with a big empty space in between. We already have one characteristic of Soviet Russia in our economy: as they used to say in Russia, “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” America hasn’t had a raise in 40 years. Most people have had a cut in pay. It shows.

If the Congressional Coup stays in place, McConnell and Ryan and the Koch Brothers will stuff some other, hopefully less colorful, stooge in there and we’re still an oligarchy. The Republic is still gone.

In that case – Trump out, the Republicoup Congress in – elections are probably hopeless. Every dictatorship on Earth holds elections. You let the people you want to vote, vote. They elect you. Return to top.

I do a lot of rooting for elections, but personally I don’t expect to see the formation of a functional, actually voting, Democratic coalition big enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and take Congress back amidst the propaganda storm. I like to root for it because it is theoretically possible and would be a wonderful outcome. Please do go vote for Democrats, it might work. But otherwise…

There’s no telling how long it will last. In Mexico they’ve been doing it for I think ninety-some years. One party oligarchy, sham elections, the people get so poor they’ll risk their lives to come to The United States to make a little bit of nothing doing hard dirty work. Well, before Trump’s Troopers. Amongst the poverty Mexico has at least one candidate for Richest Man on Earth plus a handful of other billionaires, most of whom are professional criminals but that’s to be expected. We could go that way. We’ve got a good running start. But.

But say Americans in large numbers notice they’ve been had. The bottom 2/3 to 3/4 of everybody really are natural allies. Believe it or not, we and the rednecks ought to be voting for the same things. We’re all getting screwed together. Many everyday Americans have fallen for a propaganda storm that has turned them against one another. Mostly it has been done by focusing on religion, race, and guns. The Central Committee might just come and take away their guns after they are no longer needed to intimidate the rest of us. Or we might study and outwit the Propaganda War. I don’t know. It may be, by whatever road we travel, we all reach point A. We throw the bums out. We get past it. I feel confident that eventually we will, again based on history. People have stood up to kings since at least 1200 or so. So once we get to point A, once we throw the bums out, then what? Now what?

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Black and White

Black and White

Striped Skunks like my neighbors By http://www.birdphotos.com (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I have a skunk, or more likely a family of skunks, living under my chicken house.  The chicken house – the skunk’s front door – is about 20 old man steps from my back door, in its own yard fenced separate from the back yard.

Our pet graveyard is along that fence (we’ve lived here a long time) with a flower bed on top of it.  I can tend the flowers, mow the chicken yard, drag stuff around; the skunks don’t bother me. We can bury our departed friends and the skunks don’t bother us or them.

Overall skunks aren’t bad neighbors.  Oh, well, you know, if you have dogs it can get harder, and of course we do have dogs.  But the skunks seem to have figured out which side of the fence is safe, and even if Chica runs over there when they come home, they just scuttle into their apartment with their tails up, and don’t get too huffy.  I’m trying to teach Chica to just watch the skunks and never chase them. She knows not to chase cats or chickens, so it’s not an unrealistic objective.  If we’re sitting on the back porch when the skunks come home, as long as Chica and I just sit and watch, the skunks toddle calmly across the chicken yard minding their own business and go under the chicken house, tails down and calm.

We’ve had one middling minor mishap between Chica and a skunk, but we weren’t near the chicken house.  We were out in the pasture and happened across a skunk making his rounds.  This is rural Missouri; wild animals live here.  She didn’t get full-blown Skunked, which is chemical warfare.  She just got brushed.  Warned.  The skunk was as big as she is so it wasn’t fighting for its life.  Just a kind of a chemical Beat it, kid, ya bother me.  She was a little extra fragrant when she snuggled up close for a few days.  And I had to hang her regular collar out in the weather for a month.

Skunks really aren’t bad neighbors.  A raccoon or a fox might have killed her.  Skunks eat mice, bugs, grubs, and other things I don’t really need in my chicken house.  They rarely climb, so chickens and eggs are pretty safe even if they should happen to get inside.  Which they could do; the door is open all day.  Skunks are not at all aggressive, and will ignore you from five feet away if you ignore them.

Skunks are usually reported in wildlife-y articles as being possible carriers of rabies, and of course they are.  So are raccoons and foxes, both of which live here.  Feral housecats.  Coyotes.  You can’t go kill every living thing because it might have rabies. It’s life.  Crowding a skunk is never that smart anyway. I plan to stay out of biting range.

And I’m not going to kill them, so I’d just as well enjoy them.

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Western Education is Forbidden

note 8-3-17 I retitled this essay from Boko Haram Everywhere for clarity.

There is an anti-government, religious (Islamist)  fundamentalist group in Nigeria known by the name Boko Haram. This is not the name they gave themselves, but was given to them by people watching them in action and has stuck.

Boko Haram translates roughly into “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram is the group which kidnapped all the girls from a Nigerian girls’ school, among other acts.

In western Asia, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is another Islamist fundamentalist group who call themselves the Taliban, which roughly translates into “students.” They are not students in the conventional sense one might use in developed nations, but rather are students of Islam to the exclusion of virtually all else. Their name is not Western Education is Forbidden, but they forbid western education.

The Taliban is known for many acts, but one that stands out is the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, a young, female, pro-education activist in Pakistan.

These groups have in common a belief that modern, empirical, science and fact based education is suspect at best and, where it conflicts with religious teaching, should be prohibited.

In the United States the best known proponent of this world view is the Republican Party.

I am serious.

The Republican Party has long taken a stand against the teaching of evolution, expressly because it conflicts with the explanation of creation written in the Christian holy book.

The Republican Party stands foursquare against the teaching of atmospheric science, particularly global warming / climate change, not least because their religion tells them that humans can’t affect creation in this way.

If Boko Haram or the Taliban governed the United States, the White House Office of Science and Technology would be closed.

The Republican Party governs the United States and closed the White House Office of Science and Technology.

The Republican Party advocates home schooling and private schooling and has long been in opposition to public schooling. I have had the dubious pleasure of tutoring home schooled Missouri children in reading. In the course of these efforts I have seen their textbooks.


a brief digression:

Back in the 1970’s a group named the ZBS Foundation created several radio theater productions. Their first series starred Jack Flanders, who found himself in various places that start somewhere in our real world but extend past the boundaries of everyday reality. The plays are wonderful, especially the early ones.

In those halcyon days NPR stations would broadcast these programs, which were created as serials with 50 minute episodes, and hippies like us would schedule our lives so we could be near a radio to hear, first, The Fourth Tower of Inverness, followed by Moon Over Morocco and others.

In Moon Over Morocco the expat barkeeper, Kasbah Kelly, is explaining how the locals see the world differently from Westerners. I can’t quote it exactly, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. In essence he says,

Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah. If you do A and B happens, you say A caused B. Not to them. Not at all. A happened. B happened. That’s all.

He goes on, but that is the crux of it: Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah. Except in American homeschool textbooks they call him (always him) God.

In 1974 it was the backward people of Morocco. In 2017 it is the Vice President of the United States.

We have a problem


Missouri homeschooled children are taught that the earth has existed for six thousand years, and that humans have resided here since the first, 168 hour, 7 day week. I forget which day; you don’t need to remind me.

Missouri homeschooled children are taught that any geological evidence that contradicts the above teaching is wrong. False. Science can’t be trusted.

Missouri homeschooled children are taught that physics is the expression of god’s will at work. Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah (God) but they try to keep it subtle.

Missouri homeschooled children are taught that our nation was founded by Christians and that enforcing Christian teachings as fundamental law is explicitly the purpose of our Constitution and other founding documents.

When these people say “Christian teachings” they don’t mean “The words of Christ.” That would be bad enough. Our government expressly can’t choose one religion over others. They mean, “Every word in the Bible, taken literally as empirical fact.”

Literally every subject in every text book is explained by God. The history, physics, geology, geography, and biology taught in public schools are only correct insofar as they can be shown to agree with and not contradict the Bible. The worst thing about public schools is that they teach children to not believe the Bible.

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education in the United States of America, confirmed by the Senate, holds expressly to that view. In 2017.

Across the entire world there is an active movement to halt the teaching and acceptance of science as the factual explanation of the world around us. We sit here in the United States and view groups like Boko Haram, the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and ISIS / ISIL / Daesh with horror, but right now today the governing party of the United States has accepted the world view and governing policies of those groups. This has been said by others before me but I think the statement is usually viewed as hyperbole at best, if not hysterical, wild-eyed alarmism. But this is the literal truth: across the entire world in 2017 there is an effort, or more accurately an amalgam of parallel efforts, to replace science with the holy texts of various religions.

This is how the Dark Ages came to be. Greece, Rome, and the Middle East were all civilized, intellectually developed societies which traded and interacted with one another and gave us reading, writing, algebra, the zero, democracy, Socrates and Plato, and much of the roots of what we call civilization today. (Northern Europe not so much, at least not yet then.) Somehow all that collapsed into ignorance and superstition. We – those same regions and peoples, now with parts of Europe and the United States added in – are moving toward ignorance and superstition again today. Can we stop it? I don’t know.

One unstated but clearly operational objective of the governing Republican party of the United States of America is to replace fact-based, testable, empirical science with holy writ.

I don’t know why this is. In fact, I can’t comprehend how it even could be. It is, however, observably true. The basic point of the Trump Administration and the Republican Party is that we’ve had enough science, enough progress, and we need to stop exactly here, move into a holding pattern, and not offend God anymore with contradictions to His Holy Writ.

This process has been going on longer in the Middle East than it has here, so one can observe how it plays out a little better.

First, there is no such thing as Islam. There are many groups of people arguing over who owns the One True Islam, and killing one another over it. It is easy to live in a predominantly Christian society and say Radical Islamic blah-blah, but in reality ISIS has sworn to stamp out Hamas, Iran is certain that Iraq is a sewer of heresy, while Saudi Arabia has the One Holy City and therefore gets to cut the heads off people who disagree. I can’t keep up with all the players although, from time to time for a day or two, I’ll have in my head who are Sunni, Shia’a, Wahhabi, Alawites, sub-sects and bitterly warring factions among sub-sects. Because once the only thing that can be taught is the One True Faith, ultimately there can only be One True Teacher. Because at some point, at some level, no two humans agree absolutely.

By the same token, there is no such thing as Christianity. In Ireland during the Troubles otherwise reasonable human beings were killing one another over who was Christian, Catholic or Protestant. In Evangelical Protestant America there are more bitterly divided sects and sub-sects than you can shake a stick at. In Washington DC at the street theater / festival protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration I saw rabid Christian Evangelical street preachers with an 8 foot tall sign that said The Pope Is The AntiChrist. Yes, really.

Once one particular sect gets their writings in the textbooks the killing will start. Or accelerate.

Our two party system, which once represented two differing views of how to govern a modern, science-based, secular nation, has devolved into a literal clash of civilizations with one party which advocates teaching science and progressing by that means, and one which advocates outlawing science and teaching Christian holy writ and progressing through the constant intervention of God. So far too few Americans have noticed.

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Work and Mortality

I am at an age where almost every day some famous person in my general age range dies. Since I partake of a fair amount of news, I see and hear about it.

So of course, I think some about dying. About the ethical and technical aspects of it. What I’m leaving behind for other people to clean up.

Some factors suggest I will live a long time. Some factors say I won’t. I’ll never know until time. However, every day realistically might be my last. (As is the case with all of life.) Or I might have thousands more days to go. How should I proceed from here, knowing these things?

I like to work. I like to make things, fix things, invent things, try things out. I make things out of wood, steel, aluminum, and plastic. And brass. I shape dirt and rock.

There is a lot to fix on a smallholding. Mowers and trucks, buildings and fences, trailers and tractors. More mowers. Plus some other, different mowers. Another tractor. Another building. There is always something to fix.

There is also always something which I think I can make a little better if I just make this or that, or reshape or change this or that. I can’t lift as much weight as I once could, and when I come close to it I hurt for days, so to whatever extent I can let leverage, planning, and minor mechanical inventions take the place of lifting and carrying, I’m going to do that.

One could make a case that the human urge to invent is based in laziness and hedonism: We invent stuff so we can be more comfortable and not have to work so hard.

Plus I have meadows to mow, a creek to tend, land to keep and cherish.

So I work.

Which is good. Work is what I do. Work, read, write, teach, and Tweet. And sleep. No TV. I wouldn’t have time for it. I work, and I rest.

And in the course of all this work, I tend to leave stuff out of place. Buy twenty bolts, use 11, leaving the other 9 in a plastic bag somewhere where it will be in my way for ten or fifteen years until I decide where it belongs instead and put it there. Odds and ends. Not tools, tools get put away, but – detritus. “I might use this someday” parts. Broken tools that I might fix. I’m in too much of a hurry to fix one thing to fix the other thing, or to put away the last few parts from that other project. Times 30 years. Times 12 years in this place, but I still own the other mess too.

So if I died tomorrow, which would be more important to those left to pick up the pieces: The projects that I did get done, or the crap I left out of place in piles for them to sort through and put away before they can auction it off?

My question is harder than it might seem. Say it was something my wife asked me to fix. OK, what something? If it’s “The faucet won’t shut off,” I’d bet she’d rather have me fix it now even if that meant she had to put away the pipe wrench should I happen to not live long enough. Making it so her tractor will start rates up there as a pretty high priority, but it’s not like the faucet. Maybe I should clean up all the loose ends from the previous project before tackling whatever is wrong with the Big John.

Working faster than you can quite keep up with does have something to recommend it, but it’s not all good.

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” – William Shakespeare

Tired of my messes, I have spent considerable time the last couple of days cleaning up one small mess among many, my welding cart. I’m not done. And “cleaning up” in this and many other cases is synonymous with “Putting away the stuff that covers it 12 years deep.”

I won’t give you the details, but it’s harder than it looks. Decisions. Figuring out what something is. Stuff that you didn’t put away because it didn’t have an “away” and you have to think one up in a cluttered old farm shop, Figuring out how to keep “putting it away” from being “go through this again later.”

What has all this got to do with mortality?

Every day I decide, consciously or unconsciously, whether to put stuff away or do some new project. Every day I decide between doing for the moment, leaving my messes for those who come after me, or thinking of those people, the Next Ones, as active participants in the decision.

Why is the work I do important? Because I think it’s important. You could say the same thing for most of the work humans have ever done: at the moment somebody thought it was important. Build a fire in the cave. Put a man on the moon. Fix my broken mower, or maybe mow with it. People do what they think is worth doing.

I’m just doing whatever comes to mind. How critical is it that I get all this crap done, and leave piles of “I wonder what this is,” for those who come behind me, as compared to leaving things in reasonable usable order?

Perhaps the best thing I can possibly do for those who follow me on this earth is to leave as small a mess as possible.

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If You Needed A War

Say you were the president of a country and you needed a war.  I don’t know why you need this war. Maybe there is something going at that you don’t want people looking at.

And say this was all happening today, late March, 2017. You need a war. Well, you could quietly ship a bunch of Marines to Syria.

Oh, we just did that. They are “Artillery support” for the battle Our Allies are waging against [insert enemy here] at [insert place here.]

OK, I’ve been involved with that artillery support thing. I know how that works, First you pick a spot about, oh, 5 or 10 miles from the battle. Marine 155 guns, M777 Howitzers, the kind we just sent to Syria, shoot just under 15 miles effective range, 24 km, and you’ve gotta be able to shoot clear to the far side of your target, so you’re about 10 miles away from the center of the fight. You put half a dozen or eight 155mm guns in your selected spot in the desert or jungle, maybe a few more, but not a lot more. It takes a lot of people, a lot guards and equipment, a lot of food, and just a lot of general stuff to keep a bunch of guns and gunners safe and operational out in the middle of nowhere. You can only do so much of it in one spot. Recent reports said they were sending 500 troops. That sounds like a lot, but when you get all the work assigned it’s not.

Some of those people run the guns; others camp in a circle around the guns to keep them safe. I figure the original 500 reported would have been barely enough guys (I guess these days guys and gals) to shoot half a dozen or eight guns, with one shift awake and on duty at all times, 24 hours a day seven days a week, plus support staff, plus enough basic grunts to man a perimeter around them, same terms. That was one of my jobs in my war. I was one of the guys on the perimeter standing guard around artillery.

All these gunners and guards, these guys and gals, have to be commanded. It’s kinda like union work. Bosses don’t run the machines. So part of that 500 is bosses.

And all these guys and gals, all the bosses and worker-bees, have to eat three times every day. They have to drink water. They all have to shit pretty much every day. Since this camp just was plopped down into a selected spot, there is no plumbing, no running water, no restaurants or bars. So there have to be cooks and shit-burners, or whatever they do with shit now. I can assure you that they are doing something with it, and that some person has that job. You can about figure the original 500 was stretched pretty thin.

So of course we had to send another thousand a week or so later, and I think I read in that second report that the original 500 was a thousand too. Because mumblemumble. And battalion shit burner.

Food and water has to be hauled into this fire base. Garbage and trash has to be handled somehow, burned or buried or hauled away. Rats are everywhere; towns (or fire bases) that don’t provide sanitation tend to get rabies.

I don’t know what they do about clothing in this new co-educational military; during my war we wore what we had on until they brought us a change, which typically happened every month or six weeks.

So we’ve got this little tiny single-purpose town out in the middle of nowhere, 5 or 10 miles from a major battle. And from this town we are raining explosives down out of the sky on the guys we like the least at the battle. Artillery doesn’t shoot bullets, it shoots bombs. 155 mm howitzers shoot six inch diameter bombs a couple feet long. What we’re doing is shooting bombs into a battle to blow up our enemies.

Sooner or later the bad guys will decide they’re annoyed because we set this thing up in their country.  I can tell you from personal experience that having explosives rain out of the sky onto your place of work is annoying.  And ten miles isn’t that far. So they organize a response, and some morning at 3:00 in the dark of the moon they attack the fire base and kill a bunch of the guys and gals, gunners and guards, bosses and worker-bees, cooks and shit-burners, the artillery folk and the grunts guarding the guns. That’s how war works. Then we’ll have a really good provocation. Say they kill (just pulling a number out of the air) 21 Marines. Now we’ve got to Do Something. It’s on all the TV stations.

Back in my day, says the old geezer, we didn’t have women on our fire bases. Frankly the idea horrifies me. But say they do now; I’m not really sure. I know that Marines have women in combat now. Artillery is serious combat but you don’t have to carry the gun on your back. I’m just guessing here; I have no idea how this women in combat thing works. But if they did have women operating the guns, and two of them got captured when the perimeter was overrun, that would just be, to coin a phrase, the cherry on top. The [current enemy epithet] killed 21 Marines and the Rapist Monsters have two of our women!

Boys and girls, that’d be all it takes. Congress would give the President that Save Our Marines Resolution, and we could get into a real, millions involved, draft-the-young-folks war.

We really haven’t had one since Vietnam.

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Thank You For Your Service

I hear it a lot. Thank you for your service.

There are basically two kinds of combat veterans: ones who can’t talk about it, and ones who can’t shut up about it. I’m in the second group.

Combat changes a person. War. Technically everything a person experiences large or small causes some change, but combat tends to be large, traumatic, and attention-getting, so it changes people more. Or it did me, anyway.

So I talk about it, I say (or write or tweet) “when I was in Vietnam we…” and somebody says (or writes or tweets) “Thank you for your service.”

I really wish they would not say that.

“Thank you for your service” was laid on American society by Republicans to make themselves look like the party that cares for veterans while they’re cutting our funding.

“Thank you for your service” was laid on American society by Republicans who had figured out that people – the American public writ large – had lost the thrill of war and would rather we Just Didn’t Do That Right Now. Because Vietnam. Because it was still fresh in memory then.

So they built this Thank You For Your Service trope so we could pretend that there is an inherent connection between war and patriotism, war and heroism.

I don’t really want to hear it.

In the first place you would have had to thank this guy 

And not this one.

But even more to the point, there was a reason nobody “thanked” us. The war in Vietnam was a shitty idea and a lot of us knew it. If somebody said thanks they might get any number of responses, only a few of which were positive.

Here’s what you are thanking us for: We went into somebody else’s country and we killed them, there in their home country, because our government did not approve of the government they had chosen for themselves.

Thanks? You know, if somebody wanted to say, I recognize your loyalty to your country, I could go with that, but that’s not the message Republicans wanted to get out in the public. A message like that might tend to call attention to the fact that the children of the governing classes in the United States in those days rarely showed the same loyalty we “troops” showed. Our government said, “We want you to go kill a bunch of strangers who aren’t threatening you,” and a lot of us said, “Sounds like a shitty idea, but OK, if that’s the price I’ve got to pay to be an American.” But as it turned out, we were the suckers.

Bill Clinton didn’t go. Newt Gingrich didn’t go. George W. Bush didn’t go. Donald Trump didn’t go. Mitch McConnell didn’t go.

John Kerry and Al Gore went, but they didn’t exactly get thanked for their service.

Attendee at 2004 Republican National Convention demonstrating her contempt for the Purple Heart.

But for now the Republicans don’t have any veterans they have to belittle, so they have returned to Thankyouforyourservice. It’s like a talking doll.

“When I was in Vietnam…”

“Thankyouforyourservice.”

“I get my medical care from the VA and…”

“Thankyouforyourservice.”

Wait.

I killed a bunch of people. It wasn’t their idea for me to be in their country.

They killed a bunch of my friends, and shot me up pretty good in the process. I killed them on purpose. That’s how war works. When the shooting starts one tends not to think of philosophical subleties. But…

“Thankyouforyourservice.”?

No. Please. I really, really don’t want to hear it.

If you happen to see this guy walking by you can thank him.

Sergeant Flower
Sgt. Flower on some godforsaken hilltop in Vietnam, 1968
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O’Jeffy Care

It seems to me that legislatures do everything in their power to make things more complicated than they ought to be. Take healthcare for instance.

Here is the healthcare law I would write:

  1. The government offers free, single payer health care to anyone who wants it. Walk in, sign up, get an appointment, see the doc.
  2. The current, insurance based, for profit medical care delivery system is allowed to operate exactly as it already does. Anyone who prefers that system is allowed to use it.
  3. That’s it.

Let people choose for themselves. If they want to buy insurance, let them buy insurance. If they want to get their care from billionaire corporate owners, let them. If they think the best doctors drive BMW’s and Mercedes-Benzes, let them go to those doctors and pay the bills however they see fit. Provide the minimum regulation required to make it harder for outright thieves to operate openly and otherwise ignore them. Insurance and medical practitioner regulation are primarily state obligations and that is fine. Leave it that way.

If, on the other hand, people are broke or can’t afford to participate in the for-profit system, offer them a complete system at no cost, like the system that Veterans enjoy today.

Insurance companies don’t want to insure sick people anyway. Why should taxpayers force them to take our money when they don’t want it?

Is there a possibility that the free government system might be slower and clunkier than the sleek profit-based system? Yes. And it’s all right. The grim fact is that most people who would otherwise die of their diabetes or cancer are willing to wait in line a little longer, and are willing to have to order their medicines in advance by mail. The alternative is a slow, painful death. It’s not that hard a choice.

The government could start out paying existing for-profit hospitals for care, a la Medicare, but it wouldn’t take long to build up a parallel system. Leave the for profit system alone to do what it does best: separate fairly healthy people from their money. Hospitals are continually closing all over the United States, particularly in rural areas. The Federal government should buy them, refurbish them, and operate them to provide treatment. Staff them with Federal employees.

For profit medicine is opening up storefront clinics and “urgent care centers” in cities all over the country. A single payer Federal system could easily do the same. It’s not that expensive to stock a storefront with a modest amount of doctor’s office equipment and hire a couple of nurse practitioners and some office staff. The truth is that nurse practitioners are, in most cases, better trained and equipped than the MD’s of my earlier adult years. A complete blood lab costs less than a new Chevy and will fit on a table top. Give a homeless person the choice between a friendly nurse practitioner and coughing his guts up under a bridge and I don’t think he’d have much trouble deciding.

This doesn’t have to be that hard. The only thing that makes it hard is figuring out how to get the rich their cut of every public dollar. If we give up on that part, we can do the rest.

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