2/01/2018

Gun Fallacies


About 15 years ago, a friend (David) made the dumbest possible decision to use a gun to defend himself from a pair of stupid young men late one evening after a gig in a small Idaho town. He didn’t manage to kill anyone or even seriously injure them, but he did shoot two unarmed men and, in a panic, ran away and tried to hide the evidence. In every simulated and real scenario I have ever seen, ordinary people demonstrate no good reason to possess a gun during an emergency. People kill their kids, kids kill other kids, cops shoot unarmed victims or innocent bystanders, and people shoot themselves accidentally or on purpose. But the whole "good guy with a gun comes to save the world" bullshit is just that; bullshit. I just finished reading A Massacre in Memphis, The Race Riot thatShook the Nation One Year After the Civil War.  A couple of the scenes in that story reminded me of David’s experience with a gun.

The first incident in A Massacre in Memphis that is a classic example of dumb shits with guns demonstrating how criminally easy it is for a pack of idiots with guns to do everything except what they planned with their little toy pistols. The scene is--after a day of white and black idiots waving sticks, throwing rocks, and shooting guns in the general direction of their oppressors or the people they've decided are the reason nobody wants to hire drunken, lazy Irishmen--a group of black men decided to chase a group of white cops out of their neighborhood. Most of the black citizens in this encounter were recently discharged “Buffalo Soldiers” who were well-trained and experienced soldiers, supposedly competent with weapons and with being under fire. Like most modern cops, the white (mostly Irish) cops were more skilled at close-up brutality than being in a gun fight and they not only couldn’t hit a barn door at ten feet, although the only one who did hit something shot himself. Not an unusual story today. 

“To this point no weapon more dangerous than a stick or rock has been displayed. But now a pistol shot rings out. One of the more distant black men, intending no doubt to scare the police men and speed them along on their retreat, has pulled out a revolver and fired into the air. A few others follow his example. The policemen, thinking they are being shot at, halt on the bride and turn. Three of them reach for their revolvers. Two of them draw, level their weapons at the crowd and open fire. The black me who are shooting into the air immediate lower their guns and fire at the policemen. Within moments, twenty or more black men are firing.

“One of the officers, thirty-two-year-old John Stevens, falls. A should goes up from the crowd, “He is shot.” He has in fact been shot, but not by any of the blacks. In his panicky attempts to draw his weapon and return fire, he has pulled the trigger prematurely, putting a bullet into his own leg. It is a bad would: the bullet goes deep and shatters his right thighbone. All who see him go down assume he has been hit by gunfire from the blacks.

“The fusillade is quickly over. The firing has all been hasty and inaccurate. Dozens of rounds have been discharged, but no black person and no policeman but Stevens has been hit.”

In this episode of "Gun Dummies," the two cops who opened fire and started the shootout at the bridge ran away, leaving their wounded officer and the one sane cop who hadn’t panicked to face the black soldiers on their own. That cop and several of the black protesters helped get Stevens to a doctor and, then, to a hospital. The two panicky cops ran back to the police station, exaggerated what had happened and prettied up the fable of their own participation, and helped start a Memphis riot and race war. More of that kind of gun-owner behavior continues throughout the story, but another favorite moment of mine was when black non-participants in the fight were trying to flee the city and escape the white mob.

“Many of the blacks being shot at are fleeing down Rayburn or across the eastern branch of the bayou. Pendergrast sees one who appears to be lagging behind the rest: the man is running down Rayburn just twenty feet ahead of the (white) mob. Pendergrast can see only his back. He takes aim at him with one pistol and fires. The man pitches forward and sprawls facedown on the street. Pendergrast goes up to him and turns him over on his back. To the grocer’s astonishment he sees that his victim is white. ‘God damn it,’ he exclaims. ‘I am sorry I shot this man. I thought he was a God damn yellow nigger.’

“The man is fireman Henry Dunn, who in his eagerness to wreak vengeance on blacks raced ahead of the rest of the mob. He is alive but unconscious, and obviously cannot live long. Pendergrast’s bullet has entered the back of his head, plowed through his brain, penetrated the skull on the other side, and lodged under the skin of his forehead.

Pendergrast now seeks atonement for his error by claiming a black victim. Leaving Dunn, he goes down to the bayou and spots a short young man in an army uniform who is trying to get away. The man is Lewis Robinson, a former corporal in the 3rd. He is too far off to get a good shot at but is within shouting distance. Pendergrast calls to him, telling him to come back, that he will not be harmed. Robinson takes Pendergrast at his word. He halts, then begins making his way back toward the grocer. When he is close enough, Pendergrast raises a pistol and fires into his face. The bullet hits Robinson in the jaw. A policeman nearby also fires, hitting Robinson in the side.”

American history is littered with the wreckage of lives, families, and communities destroyed by the fable of the "gun that won the West." The west was "won' and became a semi-livable place when communities decided they'd had enough of the mindless fallacy of "good guys with guns." When law officers began to disarm the usual idiots who are inclined to carry weapons everywhere they go and when communities and states decided to disarm the usual suspects, the country finally began to achieve some sort of stability and security. Like most lessons in history, we seem to have forgotten that lesson and the NRA/Russian propaganda is doing everything it can to prevent a rational discussion about the problems a "well armed" society creates for itself. In fact, we have repeatedly disproved Bob Heinlein's drunken claim that "a well armed society is a polite society." It was dumb when he said it and it's even dumber to keep thinking it. 

1/29/2018

Free At Last

Listening to comedian Rory Scovel on the January 20th Live from Here show, I realized that he’s right: the freakin’ world is gonna end with Trump in charge . . . and that is, weirdly, a good thing. During the show, John Prine even did a song with a lyric that emphasized that thought. They’re both right, we’re free, we’re finally free. Nothing matters any more. Everyone is going to die at pretty much the same time.

The religious right made it clear to anyone who knows anything about traditional Christian theology that the only remaining Christian “value” is the Supreme Court interpretation of the first amendment that exempts “churches” from corporate or personal income tax. That’s it, for them. End of moral discussion. Nothing else matters. Yeah, they babble about “right to life” in their 13th century hustle to get women back into the kitchen and delivery rooms, but that yak has been going on since the first European immigrant wet-backed into “New England.” The right to an abortion is one of the first marketing ploys the "New World” promoters used to con women into risking the wilderness. Face it, Republicans don’t care about any lives but their own and the Koch brothers’.

For decades those two groups, Republicans and faux-Christian evangelicals, have held the high ground in the cultural war’s labeling and marketing game; with phrases like “family values,” “Christian values,” “American (‘merican) Values,” “traditional values,” and so on. Now, thanks to Donald John Trump, those days are long over for several reasons. The first would be that the evangelicals and the uneducated and the self-appointed moral guardians of “conservative values” elected Donald John Trump; a vulgar, hedonistic adulterer, a sexual and economic predator, self-aggrandizing narcissist, a child-molesting, serial bankruptcy con artist, and all around near-perfect anti-Christ. If they can vote for him, nothing they’ve ever said about morality has meant squat.

Guys like me, who used to think it was polite to save “special” words for the garage and basement, have been cut loose. George Carlin would be amazed. All seven of his “words you can’t say on television” are now on television almost every night. Just from the language Donny John has let loose on the public, all bets are off. “Fucking,” “motherfucking,” “fuck,” “shit,” “shithole,” “shithouse,” “pussy,” “son of a bitch,” “bullshit,” and pretty much any other collection of words that used to be considered obscene and unfit for public use are now spouting from the President’s tiny pursed mouth. Boorish and bigoted behavior is now the model we’re showing to the world from the White House, But if you think Trump’s language is mean and obscene, you ought to hear what his minions are saying.

The only words Donald John Trump seems to think we all need to avoid are “vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.” Who knew what “obscenity would be in 2018? George Orwell would be writing a whole new 1984 if he’d lived to see Trump’s America.

But the real gate-buster is the fact that, not only are we all likely to die while Donny John is President, but that we are all going to die at very nearly the exact same time! Think about how liberating that knowledge is. One of the disgusting values most liberals hold dear is “What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grand-children?” Republicans, pseudo-conservatives, and fundamentalists of all stripes and denominations never worry about the future: they either don’t care or they and their death cults sincerely hope that we’ll all die soon. Well, we’re leaving those kids absolutely nothing, which means we don’t have to worry about their struggle and suffering from the mess we’re going to leave them. We won’t be there to slut-shame and they won’t be there to do the slut-shaming. We’ll all be dead!

Isn’t that awesome? Seriously.

I’m not kidding.

We’ll all be dead, every one of us within a few seconds of every other: barely time for the last ones left on the planet to say, “Oh, shit!” And we’ll all be dead and gone and, afterwards, there might not be much left of the whole planet’s ability to support life.  At the literal least, when Donny John is done, it will be at least 100-200 million years before the alligators, crocodiles, rats, cockroaches, bottom-of-the-ocean amphipods and echinoderms and foraminiferans, and/or houseflies evolve into something capable of being pissed off at us for blowing up the world. 

How is that not liberating?

We might as well legalize practically everything that isn’t directly and intentionally murderous: only because we don’t want to short anyone out of their 1-3 years max life-expectancy. Drugs, all of them, all of the recreational ones, anyway, get legalized. Screw waiting for lazy, incompetent Republican congresscritters to get around to shutting the door on the DEA. This is a states’ rights issue. Just legalize anything that can get us high and make federal law enforcement stay in Washington, D.C. (where weed is already legal). We’re good with the totally bonkers right-to-lifers; everyone dumb enough to get pregnant gets to be a mom just in time for both mom and the kid(s) to be blown to bits! What’s the worst thing that can happen to new moms? 1-2 years max and your troubles are over. Of course, drug manufacturers get to sell their latest male and female sterilization and birth control drugs without any sort of FDA approval process. Over-the-counter, for crap’s sake. Who wants to be pregnant or a new dad if the odds are lousy that the kid will even live long enough to be born?

Nothing you can say, nothing you can do (excepting the murderous boundary), no words are obscene, no sexual behavior, and no financial crime matters. Because we’re all going to be dead in the same moment. And it’s going to be soon!

Obviously, if someone doesn’t want to wait for Trump to poke his “really big red button” with his tiny little fingers, they should have all the resources necessary to take an early exit. Pfizer and the companies that make sodium thiopental should get to be as rich as they can be in the 1-3 years they have to sell death-row drugs to the general public. When someone does manage to off themselves, relatively painlessly, we’ll be done with dreary, teary funeral ceremonies. We should celebrate that kind of skill and research. Most likely, we’re all going to fry in a blast of several-thousand degree evaporated atmosphere and radiation. Who knows? Trump’s apocalypse might be incredibly painful and the successful suicide will seem like the smart choice. We should all be jealous, rather than selfishly-sad. Every death will be cause for one of those drunken Irish wakes where at least another half-dozen mourners get killed on the way home from the party. Life will be like non-stop frat parties, which we’d think was irresponsible and shortsighted if we thought there was going to be any sort of future to worry about.

So, I say it’s time to celebrate the Age of Trump. We’re all going to be guilt-free and that’s no easy thing these days. In fact, if Trump doesn’t kill us all, the smart move will be to follow Trump with President Rock or Nugent. On their first day in office, either one of those two drunken nitwits would stumble into the Oval Office and fall on Trump’s “big red button.” Otherwise, our kids and grand-kids are really going to hate us for the mess we’ve left them and we’ll probably live long enough to hear about it.

1/21/2018

Hobbies and Vocations

Possibly the title of this should be “Hobbies vs. Vocations,” but the point is some things qualify as pastime activities and some things are actual work with an intended function. Some things are necessary and some are not. Some pursuits are moderately intellectual, but if they didn’t exist, which they don’t in hard times, we’ll all get along just fine. Some jobs are just recreational and totally unnecessary, under all conditions. Some people do work so critical that if they stopped the rest of us would die in a few days, weeks, or months. The more entertainment-oriented we become, the less able we are, as a society, to tell the difference. In the US, approximately half of the population is “employed.” Considerably fewer than that are doing actual, useful work.

In a dysfunctional, disconnected-from-reality society full of luxuries and trivial pursuits, often only a few people are engaged in doing actual necessary work. For example, in the United States less than 2% of the population is engaged in agriculture, but 100% of us eat. In 2014, 0.3% of the US population was actively licensed physicians. [As an aside, you probably don’t know that 25% of US physicians are born outside of this country. If you live in a rural area, your dependence on foreign-born physicians rises to above 50%. Choke on that immigration data, farmboy. Literally, choke on it and see who comes to rescue you, if you are lucky enough to live near a physician.] In 2014, 0.76% of the US population was employed as nurses and non-physician qualified healthcare workers. 2.4% of Americans are teachers, from K-12 through higher education. Counting all engineering disciplines, from agricultural to nuclear to manufacturing engineering, 0.7% of us are engineers. 0.2% of the population are practicing electricians (and about 50% of them will be retiring in the next decade) and another 0.2% are plumbers, pipefitters, pipe layers, and steamfitters. All of these occupations, and a few more, are mission-critical to life in civilization.

On the other side of the usefulness ledger, in 2014, 3% of Americans were employed as some sort “financial advisor” or analyst or banking. 2% of us are employed in entertainment industries, from music to theater to gambling to providing specific services to those industries. 0.2% of the uselessly “employed” are “religious workers,” clergy, and other superstition promoters. The list of incredibly pointless activities is practically infinitely long. Worse, our tax system appears to be constantly undergoing modifications to encourage less and less useful output from the population. Likewise, the education system is packed with incredibly stupid hobby activities; some even degrade the whole academic process by awarding PhD's in truly ludicrous non-disciplines.

An acquaintance unintentionally inspired me to consider how much of academia is aimed at hobby activities when he asked, “You don’t think someone with a PhD in (sociocultural) anthropology, who lived with a primitive tribe of humans for a year, and who spent most of his life studying and thinking about that subject is important?” My immediate and considered answer would have to be, “No, I’d need more evidence than that.” Archaeology or biological anthropology, probably-to-yes, but socio-cultural, almost certainly no. In my experience, which is much greater than I’d like but not massive, I have yet to take a class from or talk to a cultural anthropologist who can listen to anyone long enough to learn something from them. They are almost universally talkers, not listeners. And when they talk, they talk until you go zombie. Likewise, another acquaintance with a PhD in Ministry was explaining how excited he was to be teaching a class in “Dream Work” at a local community college. My stomach turned at the thought of young people wasting their money and future on a class that barely qualifies as a novelty subject, even if there is a whole nutjob institution called the Institute for Dream Studies and a whole wacky world of chin-dribble pretending to be science or philosophy attached to that insanity.

It is certainly unsurprising that most humans would rather be doing fun, easy stuff than work. I’m totally onboard with that. However, when we lose track of what’s important and necessary and what isn’t, we’re solidly on the path to decadence. At least a decade ago, I heard a talk on one of the NPR early afternoon programs from a Stanford University engineering dean about his experience with academic politics. If I could remember who that was I could find the damn talk and link it to this essay, but I have failed, totally, in recovering that memory or any reference to its existence in the NPR library. However, the basic gist was that this academic manager came to the office with the deluded, but inspired goal of cross-breeding liberal arts into engineering and science disciplines. What he discovered, instead, was that most of the engineering and science professors were well-versed in the arts and often professional or near-professional performers or artists in their spare time. The reverse was completely untrue: the liberal arts instructors were practically stone-boilers, technically. Their grip on all aspects of science, mathematics, and technology was worse than the average high school graduate. So, he set out to change that and discovered that he had taken on an impossible task; politically and academically. Not only were the “humanities” academics uninterested in joining the 20th century, they were quick to unite in opposition to learning anything that might make them less irrelevant.

Whoever this dean was, it didn’t take him long to bail from the whole project and academic management in general. The odds were overwhelmingly against him. And they still are, “Some 45 percent of the faculty members in Stanford’s main undergraduate division are clustered in the humanities — but only 15 percent of the students.” What that means is that every committee, every budget meeting, every power struggle is overpopulated with humanities instructors who have nothing else to do but “contribute” their positions to management, who are also highly likely to be from the Liberal Arts academic community. What else do they have to do? It’s not like anyone is beating at their doors to fund their “research” or other half-baked opinion pieces. Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid isn’t even a little shy about the goal of the school, “We have 11 humanities departments that are quite extraordinary, and we want to provide for that faculty.” Screw providing value to students, the point is to keep the faculty housed and fed. It should be obvious that when an incredibly expensive and dubious proposition like humanities education becomes primarily an effort “to provide for that faculty” who desperately want to cling to their declining position in society, the education system has a busted spoke or ten.

Face it, if they weren’t cutting off chunks of money most likely intended for science and engineering projects, they’d all be working at Starbucks or McDonald's. Literally, that is a fact. For this kind of field, to stay moderately relevant academics have to “publish or perish” in the staid, barely-critical world of academic publications: mostly subsidized by academic institutions and their publication outlets. If it weren’t for the financial umbrella provided by academic institutions, the humanities folks would have to really learn how to write and compete in the overall non-fiction area that is largely populated by hobbyists who are successful professional writers. From the shelter of academia, these hobbyists can act superior and disdainful of professional writers who can actually sell books about the subjects the academics can only peddle with the carrot of a degree attached; even if that degree is economically pointless outside of being a door into academia. Garrison Keillor once ridiculed MFA degrees as being a study of “My Fabulous Adolescence.” I wouldn’t be particularly surprised or offended to hear most graduate humanities studies collected under that childhood-extension umbrella. The arts apply, too. After all, “if you can talk, you can sing” and “paying other people to get your kicks for you” is the sort of thing expected from decadent societies.

One hilarious aspect of the shrinking humanities is in their desperation to appear relevant the courses are becoming more comedic while they try to appeal to popular culture addicts and trivia. For example, “‘Teaching Classics in the Digital Age,’ [where] graduate students use Rap Genius, a popular website for annotating lyrics from rappers like Jay-Z and Eminem. . . " One of the most repeated arguments for Liberal Arts and Humanities is “our job is to help students learn to question.” One of those questions should be, “Is this a serious subject worth spending a few thousand dollars on or is it a hobby topic that I can adequately research on my own time for free with a library card?” As humanity departments dumb-down the value and difficulty of a Liberal Arts education, in a desperate attempt to cling to a paying gig, that question becomes easier to answer. A solution would be to cost-justify portions of the education system, but that often has unintended consequences. California, for example, tried to encourage STEM-qualified K-12, particularly high school, instructors back in the late 80’s by requiring public schools to pay more for STEM graduate instructors than Liberal Arts instructors. No money was allocated to schools for this requirement, so the end result was that more expensive STEM instructors were laid-off and replaced with marginally-qualified teachers who met the minimum standard for math and science course instruction but who were not math or science grads. Mandates require tight regulation or you may not get what you hoped to get as a result.

As Harvard University professor of government Harvey Mansfield said, “Science students do well in non-science courses, but non-science students have difficulty in science courses. Slaves of exactness find it easier to adjust to the inexact, though they may be disdainful of it, than those who think in the realm of the inexact when confronted with the exact.” That is a really complicated way to state the obvious: students who have spent their lives being disciplined and working in a system that has standards and expectations have no problem kicking back and goofing off if that is all that is required.

1/15/2018

Rat's Rule #2: When You Know It Is Over

Way back in 2008, I wrote a Geezer with a Grudge rant titled, "A Technological Dead End?" I always intended this essay to be turned into a Rat's Rules for this blog, but because I wrote it once it never made it to the Rat's Eye View. Today, I have fixed that. This is Rat's Rule #2: as a technology approaches terminal, it gets really good.  Then it dies.

All Rights Reserved © 2008 (revised 2012) Thomas W. Day
I have a theory, born from personal experience and lightweight observation of history.  My theory is that as a technology approaches terminal, it gets really good.  Then it dies.  When a new technology is just finding its legs, the technology being replaced makes a wonderful collection of giant leaps; which will fail to stave off obsolescence, even for a moment.  But examining those last moments of declining technological health can be really enlightening.  

I'm not saying this as someone who has been on the leading edge of a technology shift.  In fact, as a mid-tech transient I've been trailing edge for most of my life.  In the mid-1980's, professional analog audio recording gear began to be displaced by digital recording systems.  The last generation of analog recorders were a huge improvement over anything previous technology.  But it was too late: the convenience, cost advantage, signal-to-noise improvement, and trendy-ness of digital wiped out those last moments of glory and hardly anyone even noticed that most of the problems usually associated with recording on analog tape had been minimized.  Today, professional analog recording systems are practically relics and even the simplest personal computer has more editing and playback horsepower than a multi-million-dollar studio from twenty years ago. In my lifetime, I've seen (or am seeing) electronic tubes, analog computers, magnetic data storage, photographic film, visual artist's tools, payphones, cathode ray tubes, analog television, vinyl records and turntables, carburetors, and dual-shock motorcycle suspensions quickly peak and begin the rapid transition from regular use to museums' shelves [2]

I was first turned on to this realization when I was a very young man.  When my kids were toddlers, one of our favorite weekend trips was to Minden, Nebraska to visit the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Museum.  The place is stuffed with all kinds of historic tools and toys, from Pony Express relics to railroad history to farm equipment to early internal combustion vehicles. The thing that tripped my trigger was getting a close look at horse-drawn carriages, especially the high-end, luxury models from the turn of the last century.  Just as the first internal combustion vehicles were making horse-drawn transportation obsolete, the last carriages were becoming efficient, comfortable, and sophisticated.  I studied suspension systems that we wouldn't see on cars until fifty years later.  Some of these vehicles had heating systems, evaporation interior cooling, clever convertible tops, interior and exterior lighting, safety equipment, and finish work that made the next half-century of car design look primitive.  Unfortunately, they also had horses providing the horsepower. 

The other sign of impending obsolescence is nostalgia.  This country is currently being decorated with monuments to the Golden Days of Oil.  To anyone with a sense of history, that ought to be a big, red, flashing sign that something is on the downhill slide.  Folks are paying idiotic prices for Gulf, Esso, Kerr-McGee, and Standard Oil memorabilia.  Oil Century Museums are popping up everywhere from California to Tex-ahoma to Florida to New Jersey.  Ohio is home to the "Society for Commercial Archaeology."  And, of course, we have wads of motorcycle museums littering the country side.  On my last long Midwestern bike trip, I counted ads for half-dozen Harley/Indian museums before they began to fade into the fast food, antique store, and hotel signs. The last couple of decades witnessed a giant blast of the past as Boomers tried to revive their youth with muscle cars and 1950s-styled big twins.  That fad won't last much longer, because Boomers are soon going to be looking for their next hipster thing in prosthetic hips (like mine) and electric wheelchairs. 

Watching what's going on in our culture makes me suspect that we're about to see our beloved internal combustion engine technology vanish.  I don't know if you've noticed, but internal combustion engines have become trailing-edge technology, almost overnight.  There are alternative transportation systems on our highways and all over the rest of the world.  At the same time the technology designed into internal combustion-powered cars and, especially, motorcycles has become absolutely incredible.  The performance, reliability, and even the sound of modern motorcycles has been tweaked to the nth degree.  The only thing that's been stubbornly ignored is energy efficiency and that's probably the only characteristic that really matters in the twenty-first century.

In (2007) end-of-year issue, the relatively conservative Motorcycle Consumer News published their "Performance Index" for the current generation of motorcycles. In a summary, they listed the following most important performance categories: ten best 1/4 mile times, ten best rear-wheel HP, ten best power-to-weight rations, ten best top speeds, ten best rear-wheel torque, and ten best 60-0 stops. All but one of those measurements are, essentially, the same sort of 1950's information; power.

Most likely, the only modern statistic included in the data provided would be "average fuel mileage." By this standard, the 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R was the winner at 65.3mpg (the 2007 version was 10mpg less fuel efficient), followed by the Ninja 500 (64mpg), and Honda's Rebel 250 (62.6mpg). The Victory 8-Ball at 29.8mpg was the fuel guzzling loser. My daughter's 1991 Geo got better mileage than more than half of the motorcycles MCN rated. From occasional long ride experiences with folks on liter sportbikes, my own calculations estimate that MCN was optimistic about the efficiency of most of the bikes they rated. I wouldn't be surprised at less than 20mpg performance from many of those street legal race bikes. (The new Honda NC700X has upped the game a bit, but I think it's too little, too late.)

While those performance-based qualities are being fine-tuned, the world's oil consumption has rapidly passed world oil production.  Sometime in the last five years, oil demand whipped around oil production capacity and the world's economies will either shift away from burning petroleum or suffer the consequences.  Some experts claim that 2005 was the whipping point; the last year of "cheap oil" and that we're on the downhill slide where production will get further from meeting demand every year.[1]  In 1999, the uber-conservative, alternative-technology-spurning oilman Dick Cheney was one of those "experts" warning that the age of oil is about done.  Cheney told other oil execs, back then, that the reason oil companies weren't building new refining plants was that investment would be putting good money after bad.  We have more than enough oil processing equipment, we don't have much oil left to process.  Some folks estimate that in as little as two or three years, it may cost $100 to fill a compact car's tank.  Filling a bike's tank will be pretty close to half that and it's going to be more expensive every year afterwards.

Let's get real.  A 250hp, liter bike that burns 15-20 mpg is going to be a pretty worthless piece of history when gas costs four to ten times what it costs today.  Everything we use, do, and consume, will be incredibly more expensive when oil bumps against the predicted 2025 $400 per barrel.  If we humans are lucky and put some planning and a lot of resources into the next few years, we might be converting to hydrogen cell vehicles or some other petroleum-less fuel about the time the old technology becomes impractical.  I like to imagine that motorcycles, with their inherent energy efficiency and other advantages will be part of that change.  I'm sure horse lovers hoped horses would find a place in the modern transportation scheme, back in 1906.  Who knows, maybe horses will make a comeback?

Personally, I'm feeling a little nostalgic today, while the majority of Americans appear to be clueless about the future of our energy-dependent systems.  As an example, the dim-bulbs in St. Paul are widening freeways, planning communities that are further than ever from necessary services and employment, and designing government buildings that depend on energy systems that will be disappearing about the time those facilities are put into service.  My sentiments, inspired by that irresponsible bureaucratic inattention to reality, is considerably less upbeat.  Their behavior is more evidence that we always get the government we deserve, just like every other country in the world. 

While there appears to be a fair amount of thought going into replacing the power plant under the hoods of our cars, for a while it looked like that wouldn't be happening for two-wheeled vehicles.  Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have changed all that.  Zero Motorcycle's new Z-Forcetm power pack is pushing electric motorcycle technology fast into the new Green Age. With a 100 mile range, an 88mph top speed, and 3,000 charge cycles (a 300,000 mile battery life), Zero's bikes are beginning to warrant their price premium. Hayes' diesel-powered bike is another cool thing.  A hydrogen-powered turbo sportbike would be beyond hip.

Knowing that this oil barrel is more than half-empty with a rust hole in the bottom has forced me to suspect that the world I lived in is vanishing.  I'm trying not to sound like a reformed whore, but it's hard for me to pretend to any other pose.  I am from a generation that burned gas for almost nothing but recreational uses.  I can "brag" that I sometimes rode my Kawasaki Bighorn, Rickman 125 ISDT, or even the Harley Sprint to the racetrack, took off the street hardware, raced the bike, and, after reinstalling lights and crap, rode back home.  I guess that's something.  But I also trailered, trucked, and station-wagoned bikes to races, took long mind-altering rides in the country, and practiced racing on all sorts of surfaces.  Today, those leisurely rides through the country side feel a bit like immature, excessive exercises in selfishness; and I'm missing them before I've given up doing them.  I know that every drop of oil that I waste is coming out of my children and grandchildren's heritage and I'm becoming more than a little ashamed of the oil I wasted before I knew better.  The days of getting together with a few dozen friends to explore backroads and hang out in the twisties are fading.  I think sports like motocross, road racing, and all of the fun we have had aimlessly and recreation-ally burning fuel are also coming to a sooner-than-you-think end.  Between declining resources and world-wide pollution and global heating catastrophes, it appears that we have hung on to these carbon-burning handlebars a little too long.

I'm not celebrating this.  I'm not gloating or saying "I told you so" while I write this.  I lived in a gloriously ignorant, greedy, selfish time and it was an incredibly fun period in human history.  I wish I could pass it on to my children and, especially, my grandson.  If we're truly a civilization worth saving, we'll find a way to make a world our kids can enjoy.  If we don't, we deserve any misery we receive. 


[1] A depressing, but complete site for all sorts of links to information about the coming energy crisis is http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/.
[2] Paul Young added this note to my list of vanishing technologies from my own lifetime: "One of the guys I work with had his 11 year old son come up to him and ask 'Have you ever heard of something called a landline?' Something else to add to your list of disappearing technology. "

12/18/2017

Getting Out While You Can Call Yourself a “Smart Rat”

Stuff ends. Eventually, everything and everyone dies. Anyone who uses the words “forever,” “in perpetuity,” “to the end of time,” or any phrase or word similar to those in relation to anything human is clueless about time, death, decay, and entropy. Businesses, and in particular corporations, are designed to be easy to kill and for the killers to get away punishment-free.

Businesses often get shutdown to protect the people with the most money and power. The bigger the business, the more protection provided to the perpetrators. The people who did the work, created the products and services, produced the products and services, and who believed in whatever "mission" the business pretended to have get sacrificed. It's the way life in this country has worked for 200+ years, with only a few moments of interruption. Corporations whine that "employees aren't loyal these days." Interpret that to mean, "You people are too smart to buy into my bullshit."

Somewhere out there in the web is a reprint of a great speech Andy Grove (one of Intel’s founders) gave to a collection of business assholes where he explained why employees did not owe those rich and powerful men one ounce of loyalty. His recommendation to employees was to consider their employers as one of many possible customers and to treat their own careers as independent businesses. One absolute rule for the self-employed is to never limit your business to a single customer. Likewise, an employee who commits all of his output to an employer is destined to be disappointed and, probably, unemployment or worse. An employer deserves exactly the same loyalty as that employer gives to employees; nor more and probably slightly less.

In my 50+ years of employment, the majority of my past employers are gone. Now that McNally Smith College of Music has joined those ranks, seven of the twelve employers on my resume have vanished. One, ex-Fortune 100 Guidant is on record as Forbe's #2 "Worst Mergers in History." Another Fortune 500 train-wreak, Telectronics, would have resulted in criminal FDA prosecution if Clinton had been a fraction of the Democrat some mis-remember him being. Two of the small corporations on my resume were absorbed by larger firms; one for a profit and one sold for clip_image002patents and equipment. The rest just disappeared without a trace. Not a one of those failed companies were well managed, but the mismanagers were all grossly overpaid for their incompetence. Most of them were grossly over-compensated for blowing up the companies they mismanaged. The fortunes created by some of those golden parachutes could have solved Greece’s economic problems.

clip_image004Here's what I learned from my first experience, back in 1972, with one of those companies. My tech-mentor, L.A. (Arnold) Stevenson, a high school dropout/genius Air Farce-trained electronics tech who is still the hands-down best educator I have ever met, "The first rats to leave the ship are the ones who can swim." That lesson taught me that the day to start looking for work was the day I got hired to a new job. That habit really came in handy when I started my own businesses.

I didn’t stick around for the bloody end of any of the companies I worked for, but I got damn close in my first engineering job. The first time that company crashed, I stayed until I’d been asked to layoff every one of my techs and mechanics; then they laid me off just before Xmas (sound familiar?). Six months later, that company rehired me as a contractor which, eventually, turned into a management job. The next time their market collapsed, I was the first out the door; leaving my employees and friends with a little more job security and a big warning notice that “the end is near.” One of my best friends tried to stick it out to the bloody end and when he was laid off the Reagan economy was in full recession and there were NO tech jobs to be had in Nebraska. He died of a massive heart attack at 35 an unemployed year later. That was also a life lesson for me.

blame-cartoonA lesson I learned the hard way from two of my defunct small company employers was “Never invest more of yourself in a business than the owners (or the people who profit the most) are investing.” For the last 15 years of my career, I regularly turned down management positions because I know enough about myself to know that my loyalty to the people who work for me will override my common sense and I will violate this rule. I will try to drag a dead horse over a mountain, even if I see the executives sitting on the damn horse while I try to move it. The simple solution to that problem is to avoid horses/management altogether. I can’t “fix” me, but I can sure as hell put some fences around my options.

Another thing I learned from Arnold was that I never wanted to be an employer. Everyone who has ever worked for me did so as an independent contractor. I don’t need the responsibility, the people who have worked for me didn’t need to be trained to be dependent on me, and I have always been too interested in too many things to want to be tied down to one business model or customer base.

I worked, weekends and nights, as an independent contractor for Arnold and he paid me about 10x what I made on an hourly rate with my day job. He constantly reminded me that he was my sole customer and that was a bad thing. That spurred me into doing a lot of electronic design work which led to my first product “invention” and a royalty check that saved my family a few years later when I was laid-off and near broke.

12/09/2017

The Best Society Possible

I’ve been a science fiction reader almost since I started reading, at least nine or ten, starting with comic books and continuing to this day. SF gives us some deluded hope that human society can evolve to something more decent than whatever toilet bowl we’re living in at the moment. It’s a delusion, obviously, but the Trekies can imagine humans might evolve into a society without superstition/religion, war, racism, and sexism, Star Wars nutjobs can keep living the silly fantasy that one fool with a spaceship could defeat the Death Star and the government with some magic powers and an oversized puppy, and a few of us can see what the world our fellow humans are really building will turn into. For me, Soylent Green pretty much hit the nail on the head as a realization of the best and worst I expect of human society and the end times of the Sixth Extinction. I don’t think the United States has a hope in hell of ever creating an assisted suicide system as humaine as the one in Soylent Green.

I know there are people who imagine happier futures than this one, but having grown up in a evangalistic family and mostly spending my life smothered in the superstitious Midwest, I’m not one of them. Using the smokescreen of religion to mask their vicious and greedy personalities, the 70-something-percent of Americans who are the core of America’s decadence would never allow a process or facility as decent and realistic as the suicide center in Soylent Green. We’re a nation that believes people should suffer to the last moment to allow the wealth-extraction system (aka American healthcare) time to completely transfer patients’ assets to the 1%.

The only gross error in the movie’s depiction of an assisted suicide facility is that in 2022 when the envionment is completely overwhelmed by human pollution, the lines in front of a building like that one would make opening day for Star Wars XXXXII look abandoned.

12/01/2017

Is There Only One Reason the NFL Is Losing Fans?

nfl_attendenceLots of people, including fans, are wondering what is going on with the NFL’s lost fan base. According to the folks who care about this stuff, the NFL’s television ratings are down 7.5% for the beginning of this season. So far, there hasn’t been a change in the bottom line for the NFL’s primary financial source, overall advertising revenue, but it seems unlikely that will last. Papa John's founder and CEO and head-douchebag John Schnatter claims that the NFL players’ protests are keeping people away from the crap Papa John’s scrapes onto a pizza pan, while Greg Creed, Pizza Hut’s CEO said, "We're not seeing impact on any of that on our business." I can’t help think lots of failing mismanagers will start to blame their companies’ poor performance NFL players, since nobody wants to blame overpaid, under-talented and generally incompetent CEOs for much of anything. We elect Presidents, governors, and fill Congress with that kind of resume.

NFL comparisonSo, politics, as usual, gets the blame; although most of the people citing politics as their reason for giving up pro football aren’t bright enough to realize that the whole issue of the national anthem at the beginning of pro games was a political statement. Before 2009, nobody knew what NFL players thought about anything political because they stayed in their locker rooms until after the anthem was played. The Department of Defense spent $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 on "paid patriotism," to try to pump up recruitment at all sorts of professional sports events. American flag displays, military honors events, reenlistment ceremonies, and a long list of military promotions became part of the NFL’s income stream. The players getting sucked into the opening ceremony was a political statement intended to inspire young people to imitate their heroes in uniforms. Some of the players involved in today’s protests are old enough to have been on the field when their voices wouldn’t have been heard about any political issue. So, one kind of pro-war and military/industrial complex politics is acceptable, but bringing attention to the discrepancy between how police handle people of color vs. white people is unacceptable? I guess you could say that protesting during the military’s taxpayer-funded recruiting pitch is protesting the military, but if that’s your argument we’ve got a lot bigger problems than most of us hoped.

nfl viewershipI’m not convinced that the player protests are the NFL’s biggest economic problem. Pro and collegiate sports are all seeing a drop in interest, but football has probably come close to running out its string. Younger people are, on average, less interested in spectator sports. The grandstands at many stadiums resemble Fox News’ base: 50-and-over. At this rate, the decline in the NFL’s fortunes may depend on the league finding other countries to sell their product. Outside of the US, “football” means something completely different.

Chronic_Traumatic_EncephalopathyIt’s pretty obvious from the latest medical evidence that any parent willing to subject a kid to the hazards of football is a long ways from a responsible parent. It’s not just pro players who have discovered football is a dangerous sport, college players are almost as badly damaged by the sport. It should be obvious that high school and Pop Warner football is just as risky, or more, because the “care’ provided by football coaches doesn’t become more cautious as you work your way down the sport’s ladder. This issue cuts the sport (and others) two ways: a declining pool of players willing to risk their lives for money and spectators becoming unwilling to be a part of a gladiator spectacle where they might witness one of their favorite players receive a fatal injury on the field.

nxgzzzadzlgz0ybbcix2Finally, there is the other side of the fans’ perspective on the protests. The NFL walks both sides of the road; supporting the players and berating them. Those of us who agree with the purpose and intent of the players’ protest are quickly losing interest in a sport owned by men and women who are more inclined to support Donald Trump and his band of angry racists. I have never been someone the NFL could count on for income from any direction, but I did watch a half-dozen or so games on television (at my local sports bar), including the Super Bowl, for a lot of years. Last year, I didn’t see a game including the Super Bowl. So far this year, I’ve sort of kept track of Colin Kaepernick’s employment status and as long as he can’t find a team with the moral courage to hire a man who is willing to sacrifice his fame and fortune for a cause, I don’t need the NFL.

11/26/2017

Living in the 3rd World

The Nation recently published an article that beautifully explains democratic socialism, "After I Lived in Norway, America Felt Backward: Here's Why." The Atlantic Magazine published a story about a survey of Norwegians and US citizens and their acceptance of luck in economic inequality, "How Norwegians and Americans See Inequality Differently." “In Norway, people very much disapprove of inequalities that are due to bad luck. People in the U.S. are more willing to accept inequality, even if it reflects pure good luck for some and pure bad luck for others.” The UK's Independent reported, "Majority of Norwegians 'do not believe in God' for first time in country's history." A survey found that 39% of Norway's adults do not believe in gods, 37% do, and 23% don't give a damn.

You have to wonder if there is any connection between these different analysis of Norway? To me, it seems obvious that a declining religious base would influence the nation's respect for luck. Gods, luck, fate, and other hoodoo are the basis for a superstitious nation and superstition has always been the way the idle rich manipulate the working class into propping up their useless lifestyles. Russia is the current world leader in economic inequality; with 74.5% per cent of the nation's wealth controlled by the 1% of that country's population. Obviously, the characters currently in charge of the US federal government are jealous and are working hard to "catch up." For the rest of us, that should be a contest we oppose. However, the US superstition rate is much higher than Norway; with only 13% of the population being clever enough to select "none" when asked which boogieman they worship. Worse, the uneducated red states are home to the highest percentage of voodoo-chanting nutjobs and that isn't likely to change much in the foreseeable future.

So, economic inequality is safe for at least one or two more generations in the Home of the Timid.

10/26/2017

Easy Useless Answers


My sister sent me a Facebook post with this video and a question, “This is very interesting, Would like to have feed back from you. I hope that we can agree to disagree on this subject. I would just like to know your beliefs. Calm cool and collected conversation.”

My first response was pretty poor, “Poorly explained options, DNA did not 'happen by accident,' it happened after billions of years of failed and partial failure natural selection experiments. So, this protagonist has a well-scripted set of misleading questions and jumps unprepared people with his propaganda routine. No surprise that their answers get him the answer he expects and most likely edited to refine. A more detailed explanation of Dawkins' position is found in The God Delusion, but this video isn't about obtaining rational opposition it's just an effort to demonstrate a cheesy debate tactic. It would be interested to see the entire input to this video, because it's obvious the editing was intended to direct the conversation in a very limited way.

“Since the whole God argument is so childish, most atheists don't put enough thought into religions' propositions to be good anti-superstition debaters. Logically, that would be wasted time. Dawkins has done so because the Big Three religions have become 'death cults' bent on destroying life on this planet to create a test for their various Armageddon stories. It's an admirable goal, but hyper-unpleasant because you have to listen to so much silliness. The whole 'something from nothing' argument is not satisfied simply by shamans' inventing a god and placing him/her/it in charge of creating something. That's just human arrogance to imagine that we can go "poof" and invent the answer to a scientific question with 1500 year old sheepherders' tales.

“We're currently involved in a pretty scary natural selection experiment, as a species. Just in the last 25 years, 75% of flying insects have vanished from the planet. That will have all sorts of effects on every species up the food chain, including humans. It's pretty obvious from the fossil record and even human records that lots of natural selection experiments have failed or been modified. That DNA is either lost or combined with surviving lifeforms. Did the gods screw up with those animals? If they can screw up something as simple as a butterfly, how did they manage to create an infinite universe?

“If humans are going to survive, we're going to have grow past superstition. If we don't, we certainly don't deserve any claim for love for our children and their children. Being the cause of the 6th Extinction in the name of religion is nothing to brag about.”

The question and the smarmy “interviews” stuck with me throughout the day. Mostly, I worked my ass off all day and a long history of going through these questions slowly came back to me. Thirty years ago, a philosophy instructor loaned me a book, Abusing Science, The Case Against Creationism, by Philip Kitcher (a UofM professor) that attempted to answer all of the questions posed in this video. It’s a terrific book and, oddly, still in print. The problem with asking about evolution and DNA, the origin of the universe, and the building blocks of life from a religious perspective is that the questioner already believes he has the answer, “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” The answers from a scientific perspective are all hyper complicated, requiring an education in astrophysics, biology, genetics, geology, and other disciplines. Abusing Science goes to those places and experts and obtains those answers, but most of us (probably all of us) are already involved in complicated and specialized lives and we’d have to spend a few days preparing an answer to these poorly framed and leading questions. Dawkins has presented several of these rebuttals, in case someone actually cares enough to hear them. Here is one, for example:


In 1957, my mother died of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). In 1957, medicine had no answer, no solutions, no options for someone even suffering from stage one hepatocellular carcinoma. Religion still offered the brilliant and perfectly useless, “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” Today, "people with early-stage liver cancers who have a liver transplant, the 5-year survival rate is in the range of 60% to 70%.” Religion is still stuck with “God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know the mind of the maker. And so on.” If religion was a valid area of thought, it would have evolved something useful, like medicine has done, by now. In fact, since Christianity has been around for about 1500 years and has accomplished exactly nothing of use to any human, other than becoming a highly refined money-making scheme for churches, televangelists, and assorted con men, generating wars and warriors for practically any political excuse, and a huge variety of inequalities and injustices.
That’s where religion draws its strength, though. Uneducated people who desperately hope for a magic solution to the problems of existence, survival, power and money are not attracted to the complexity of the real world. “God works in mysterious ways,” is a good answer for them because real answers require a serious effort to comprehend. People, as a species, are fairly lazy. Easy, useless answers are more acceptable to most people than reality.

A friend tried to justify some part of that position by saying, “That ecological disaster you referred to was caused by science.” No, it wasn’t. If we were a scientific species or even marginally led by scientific leaders, we’d have dramatically dropped the world’s population 50 years ago and the cliff we’re heading toward would be far more manageable. Religion and its bizarre interpretations of sheepherders’ gibberish squalls like a stuck pig when any attempt to slow down the world’s population gets any traction. Religion is the core to practically unsolvable problem in the world and will continue to be until something either ends humanity or superstition. I’d bet on superstition outlasting our species. It is core to our flaws. As Voltaire said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Hoping for the end of life because some halfwit convinced you that you'll be in paradise after life is the ultimate absurd atrocity.

10/10/2017

“We’re Not Nazis!”

A while back, I wrote about an encounter we had at a campsite in Wisonsin with a pair of Boomer Twin Citizens with an irrational committment to our present nutjub Republican President, “Trump-Colored Glasses.” Since they were doing all the talking, other than a few observations my wife or I made about the behavior of our nutty leader, the inference they were making (to me) was that they were mildly aware of the inconsistencies in their belief system and were more trying to convince themselves, than us, that they weren’t Nazis or Nazi supporters or colaborators. “We’re not Nazis,” the wife said in a fairly disconnected outburst.

So, what are you if you aren’t a Nazi? If you mindlessly, carelessly support a neo-fascist President and a cabinet and executive office full of the worst people in the country, can you still claim to be innocent of association and responsibility for electing and supporting those people? I don’t see how. If you selectively obtain your “information” from the least reliable sources (Fox News, Breitbart, and your drunk cousin for example) do you seriously expect adults and literate citizens to respect your choices and give you a pass for responsibility for the positions you have taken? Again, I don’t see how. When you have knowlingly put the stability and security of the nation and world at stake simply because you are upset that a well-educated President stabilized the economic freefall after your last collection of nitwits blew up the economy and handed trillions over to the TBTF banks without as much as a basic request for what they would do with the money, you don’t think you deserve to be called ‘rascists?” Good luck with that.

getupAs I’ve noted on a regular basis, one of the core principles of modern conservatism is “never having to say we’re sorry for being wrong, again.” It is amazing how little crap sticks to the people who have been wrong on every issue since we started banging the rocks together. I’m sure they’ll slither away from responsibility for Trump, too. Not with me, though. I won’t forget and I won’t forgive. As far as I’m concerned, you either learn from this massive and incredibly stupid mistake or you spend the rest of your life being a Nazi sympathizer, which is not far enough from being an actual Nazi to worry about. As someone said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” You who voted for Trump and neo-Nazis who populate our House of Representatives and state governments are guilty and respnsible for the damage you’ve done. Go ahead, wear your swastikas in public. It’s not like we don’t know who you are. As usual, pseudo-conservatives will make a mess and expect the few of us who actually care about our country to fix it.

10/02/2017

Trump-Colored Glasses

On a short camping outing this weekend, we met a couple from the Twin Cities who seemed to have a lot in common with us: the same camper, the same age, roughly the same education, and similar life and work experiences. The surprising major difference was that they are committed Trump fanatics. The guy wanted to talk about mythical “antifa” atrocities he’d witnessed while he was participating in Trump rallies at the state capitol. The woman kept chanting “You should listen to Donald’s whole speech in Poland. It tells you who he really is.”

I did that and, relatively speaking, Donald was reasonably impressive in his ability to read the Teleprompter without too much self-congratulation. However, he followed up that performance with Tweets demonstrating his usual insanity, "We will fight the #FakeNews with you!" over the moment when Donald tried to intercept President Duda’s wife who was on her way to acknowledge Donny’s wife. Apparently, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to pat himself on the back because he followed that weirdness with “My experience yesterday in Poland was a great one. Thank you to everyone, including the haters, for the great reviews of the speech!” He was really proud of his reading ability, apparently.
However, my takeaway from the camping experience was that Trump’s fanatics are completely mesmerized with The Donald. They are somehow entranced with something about his personality. My wife speculated that many of these people had a “favorite boorish uncle” Trump reminds them of and that familial memory is the link that draws them to him. It’s a weird kind of charisma that loses most of us, but conservative white people appear to be drawn to it like moths. Like moths, they are totally uncritical of whatever it is that attraction is about.

One of the stranger things said that morning was the wife’s conviction that if Hillary had been elected we’d be on the way to war with Russia. I have no idea where that night terror came from and she wasn’t at all clear on its origin, either. I’d vote for “fake news” if I had to speculate.


We had our brief encounter the morning after the Las Vegas massacre, which made one of the morning’s conversations seem surreal in retrospect. My wife and I hadn’t heard the news about the shooting. The couple repeatedly talked about how sad they were that so many of us felt disconnected from our fellow Americans. I said that the fact that public places were becoming so dangerous thanks to the many nutjobs who feel the need to go everywhere armed isn’t doing honest conversation much good. He said, “we need to get the guns away from the nutjobs.” Obviously, that is the NRA’s distracting chant. It’s also a non-starter. I suspect the most sane people in the country are unconvinced that wanting to own a gun is an indication of sanity. The things people use guns for are the best indication of why they want to possess them: suicide, murder (mostly family members and friends), and fear. I don’t know where you would start if you decided to take guns away from crazy people. At least one in five US citizens experience mental illness in a given year. Where would you start in identifying who is “mentally ill” and who is just a pissed off son-of-a-bitch? Do you worry about the difference?

Among the things this couple used to justify their love of Donald Trump, consistency and rational thought weren’t on the list. They just desperately want Trump to be their fearless leader and don’t want to be judged on the merits of that desperation and irrationality, “We’re not Nazis!” Like most of that crowd, they absolutely hate President Barack Obama. They hate Hillary Clinton. And they absolutely believe nothing about those positions make them bad people. I came away from the conversation feeling even more like this is 1933 and that Canada probably isn’t even close to being far enough away from the United States when this all comes to a head.

8/27/2017

What’s Truly Evil?

Immediately after I posted a link to “A Simple Solution to America’s Cop Problem,” an acquaintance wrote, “Wow, that's the most evil thing I've ever heard you propose.” First, I’d like to know what other “evil things” I’ve proposed. Second, I’d challenge the idea that this is evil in any way.

A nation that was so happy with bankrupting its citizens for medical debt that half of the 2016 voters elected someone who promised to return the country to the debtors’ indentured servitude we “enjoyed” before the ACA pretty much has a lock on evil. “More than a quarter of Americans say that someone in their household is struggling to pay medical debt” and that statement is from February 2017. Medical debt is the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in the USA. And many Americans are happy with that statistic and the situation, apparently. I’d call that “evil.” In 2014, 40% of Americans were in debt for illness expenses. While the number of actual medical expense caused bankruptcies is often debated, for instance in Snopes.com, we all know it’s high and unreasonably, irrationally high. But the American Way is to never allow public interest to interfere with corporate profit, so we effectively don’t care. That is, also, evil. The Republican healthcare plan originally called “RomneyCare”—and renamed by the racist assholes masquerading as libertarians, conservatives, and other forms of fascism as “ObamaCare”—actually succeeded in reducing medical bankruptcies, so they want to get rid of it. Also, evil.

Leading Causes of Bankruptcy

crchart1If you are bright enough to understand that the nation is willing to let people with physically identifiable diseases and injuries die and be tortured on their way out with a middle-class wealth extraction system that bubbles-up a lifetime of savings and responsible behavior to the idle and destructive 1% investment class it should be perfectly clear to you that any help, sympathy, or compassion for mental health illness is so far past non-existent that it isn’t even imaginary. At best, pseudo-conservatives offer prayers and other superstitious hoodoo as substitutes for actual assistance after a chronically depressed person either breaks down and falls into the black hole of our incompetent and ruthless mental health system or locates the final exit. Cancer patients are expected to continue work through their chemo and radiation therapy to pay for their insurance and mental health patients are expected to rise above their failing brain chemistry and heal themselves. “Work or go broke and die” is the national healthcare motto. That is also evil.

The fact is, this country’s “mental healthcare” is an oxymoron, at best. You can peel back all of the suicide prevention advertising bullshit to find absolutely nothing behind those billboards. The fact is that mental health problems are not only ignored but criminalized in the US. We not only don’t care about people suffering with depression, neurosis, and psychosis, we want to make a profit from their misery. “Cure,” my ass. For most mental health patients there isn’t even a lick of hope for relief. Even the industry admits most-or-all of the prescribed medications and therapies are unproven to be in any way effective.

The other side of my proposal, which was written as a cynical science fiction “solution” to a problem I believe this country will never become adult enough to admit, was to “assist” cops in finding appropriate victims. Many US cities have turned their police departments into armed tax collectors, disguised as something else. Ferguson, Missouri, for example, has a police department the Washington Post described as a “plundering collection agency. (Please follow and read this link. If it doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one.)” That police department so terrorized the citizens of the city to the point that any sort of police interaction could result in a citizen being hauled off to jail, fined for a variety of insane charges, tossed back on the street even further in debt to the city, fined into unemployment and homelessness, and harassed to the point that even a glance from a cop could result in a totally rational desire to run for safety. Which, of course, gave the cop justification for firing at will because everyone knows a person running for the cops must have committed a crime and probably scared the cop out of his half-wits.

Last year, suicide rates in the US jumped to a 30-year high. On average, about 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year and that number has been fairly constant for decades. That number is also pretty close to the fatality rate of a Vietnam War every year.

Citizens-killed-by-cop numbers are not accurate or complete because state and local departments do not report all police shooting information and some federal agencies, like the Border Patrol, do not provide complete information, but at the least police kill about 1,000 citizens every year. It’s pretty obvious that many cops would like to be free to kill a lot more people. With all of that as background, add to it the fact that millons more Americans have had about all of this life they can stand. If we’re not going to fix any of the country’s healthcare and policing problems, we might as well find a way to blend the two dysfunctions into the best stupid solution we can manage.

And that is exactly what “A Simple Solution to America’s Cop Problem” was all about. Do I think it’s an ideal solution? What? Are you stupid? Of course it isn’t ideal, but I’m just working with the poor material I’ve been handed. Likewise, do I think launching the world’s idiots into space in a marketing campaign like that described in “The Marching Morons” is the solution to the constant down-breeding of the human race that has been practiced in the flyover US states and most of the world’s various theocratic nations for the last 500 or more years? Well, maybe.

8/22/2017

A Simple Solution to America’s Cop Problem

What we need to do is to get all of the country’s homicidal cops together with all of the depressed people. The country wants to get rid of heathcare, especially mental healthcare. It costs too much to waste time with people who don’t want to live anyway, right? Better to spend that money on Cadillac medical coverage for politicians, bureaucrats, and corporate executives than to waste it on people who only work for a living and suffer in quiet misery.

don't shootThink about the efficiency a few simple changes in police policy could create. For example, some people are currently decorating their vehicles, homes, and person with ineffive “Don’t Shoot” signs. That is simply the wrong message. Statistics claim that about 94% of people don’t want to be shot by a cop; or anyone else. In a country of 300M people, that leaves at least 15M non-random targets for murderous cops. So, instead of decorating equipment and people with unnecessary “Don’t Shoot” paraphrenalia, the people who want to be shot just need to take the initative and properly label themselves. That way, no “innocent” trigger-happy cops will have to worry about being second-guessed by their more ethical, courageous, competent, and intelligent fellow cops or the general public. “He was asking for it. Read the sign!” will be all the shooter/cop has to say to justify emptying a couple of automatic weapons into a kid or anyone else.

shoot-me-nowOf course, that doesn’t solve the problem of scared cops randomly firing off their weapons at every shadow, squirrel, noise, or innocent bystander, but it’s a start. Training cops to focus their attention on suicidal citizens shouldn’t be all that difficult. We just have to pass a couple of laws that prevent rookie cops (pretty much all of them, based on news reports of cop shootings) from stopping anyone for anything unless they are wearing a proper label and/or their vehicle is properly marked. States could sell “Just shoot me now” special license plate graphics, so cops can look up a victim on their computers before stopping and shooting someone. To prevent incorrect post-mortem second-guessing, mental health clinics could offer free “Just shoot me now” tattoos, since they’re not likely to be capable of providing any other kind of assistance. It would mean that everyone will have to more careful about whose car they borrow (or steal), but that’s just one cost of freedom we’ll all have to suck up and remember.

You’re-Eight-Times-More-Likely-to-be-Killed-by-a-Police-Officer-than-a-TerroristThe end result is that cops can more-or-less fire at will and the “more than 15 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent” depressed people will get what they want too.

A side-benefit is that the faux-Christians might argue that abortion really is a violation of the unborns’ suicidal rights, since even little kids will be able to wear “Just shoot me now” clothing; with their parents’ permission, of course (or not?). So, their little souls will be tossed into the Great Soul Soup and God will be satisfied that they had a shot at Eternity and threw it away. The faux-Christians will get to see lots of unwanted kids being born and get to cheer for the killer cops at the same time. Everybody’s happy . . . unless they are depressed, of course.

odds of getting killed by copsThe important thing is that nobody who wants to live will be getting shot by a “public servant.” Except in cases where the cop in question was hired by someone like Trump’s hero, Joe Arpaio. In special cases like that there will have to be an illiteracy exemption for the innocent cop who couldn’t tell the difference between “don’t shoot” and “shoot me now.”

8/19/2017

Thinking Small and Growing Smaller

The United States once did really big things. For about fifty years, we were the inventors of practically everything significant in the world. In the late 1800’s, the United States created a land grant university system that educated children other than just those of the ruling class and created a middle class that drove the nation’s economy, it’s industry, it’s creativity, and its spirit. We created a public education system the rest of the world imitated and, then, improved on while we allowed ours to decay into a pre-prison system. We built cities that redefined urban living. We crossed the continent, first with railroads then with airlines. We electrified cities, then the countryside, and tied it all together with telephones and followed that with the Internet. We went to the moon dozens of times and sent astronauts there six times before 1972. There are branches of science that wouldn’t exist anywhere in the world without American curiosity. There are concepts of democracy, justice, and freedom spreading throughout the world, based on models the United States of America invented. We were the envy of the world.

Then we weren’t. To paraphrase Marlin Brando’s character in On the Waterfront, “We coulda been a contender.”

There has always been a primitive, superstitious character to citizens of the United States. After all, as another move character said about the American people, “We're all very different people. We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans. With a capital ‘A. huh? And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts.” All of which is true. And like mutts we’re naturally inclined to knock over trashcans and root through the rubble for a scrap of food or join a pack of other rejected mutts and go feral and become dangerous to everything around us. Along with getting “kicked out of every decent country in the world,” we brought with us a collection of religions that were clearly as insane and useless as the most dangerous ideas humans have ever invented. Today, those religions are driving the country to do smaller and smaller things in the name of money and power and under the pretense of doing a variety of gods’ will.

Take our prison system, for example. In the 1950’s, we decided to move our prison model from punitive to “corrections.” We still cynically call prisons “corrections facilities,” but they no long serve any part of that mission. Today, our prisons are slave-owning, for-profit corporations that drive some state’s legal system to create more and more “crime” to provide those corporations with slave labor. As a result, one of the most embarrassing big things the United States has done since the genocide of the American Indian is creating the world’s highest prison population rate: 724 of every 100,000 Americans currently resides in an American prison. Russia, a dictatorship and repressive totalitarian government, is a distant second to the United States.

Our one and only other big thing is our war machine, jokingly called the “Defense Department.” We have dedicated our national budget and our industry to creating more dangerous and powerful weapons of mass destruction, individual destruction, and everything in-between.

Neuroscience, without much help from government funding or the public, has plodded along learning more about how the human brain and it’s collection of chemicals, electrical systems (neurons and neural circuits), and molecular biology create the individuals we become or could be. Crime and war are two big things that neuroscience could have changed with just a reasonable amount of encouragement, but neuroscience, like evolution, terrifies the superstitious and, more importantly, the people who make bucket loads of money on crime, war, and religion. In fact, those three “special interests” are overwhelmingly the forces that prevented the United States from reaching its potential and will eventually undo the nation and the species.

The fact is we do not control our brains, our brains control us. The combination of chemicals, electrical systems, and molecular biology between our ears and in our gut are the things that control who we are. Knowing that and controlling it would allow us to be anyone we want to be; as individuals and as a species. The trillions of dollars the US flushes down the military-industrial toilet could have been used to get to the core of human conflict and resolve it. The trillions of dollars wasted on our punishment system could be spent on creating happier and more productive citizens, through education, science, and a shared desire to improve the quality-of-life for every person in the country and the world. We could have built a corrections system that enhances lives and freedom. That would have been a big thing, but we’ve devolved into a nation intent on punishing the poor for being poor and declaring war on everyone who won’t hand over their national sovereignty along with their natural and human resources.

The cost of abandoning big things (No, Donny. Your wall is not a big thing.) is that we become smaller as a result. Our world image has shrivelled to a tiny fraction of what it was in November 2016 and it becomes smaller by the day. Our self-image isn’t doing well, either. Fascists and neo-Nazis are symptoms of failure and self-hate, not power or superiority. You don’t set a goal of repressing others, stealing their resources and lives, and propping up yourself at the expense of everything from decency to intellect because you are free, healthy, and happy. Those are the goals of total failure. Those goals are so small, they reduce everyone they touch upon.