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Race, Class, and Bigotry in the United States March 18, 2019

Warning; this is not a diatribe about ‘conspiracies’. I’ll do my best to not let this turn into a Ted Kaczinsky-style rant. There are very few classical conspiracies afoot in the world today of the sort pioneered by the utterly fabricated ‘Elders Of Zion’ nonsense and since latched onto by people with a particular type of mental illness or the desire to motivate specific groups of people for selfish political or economic reasons. Actual conspiracies only function- and even then very poorly- when restricted to a small group of people who can each exert some measure of control over the rest of the conspiracy’s members.

What I’m talking about are existing social and cultural trends harnessed by various actors for the purpose of maintaining a status-quo relationship across time which is and has been counter to the best interests of the whole of our society. It is social control, and social engineering; but for the fact that no one is actually ‘running’ things it might as well be a conspiracy, if tacit and hardly ever overt. The whole thing is smoky and murky and falls into a lot of ‘grey’ areas mainly because there isn’t a conspiracy, in the terms of things being tightly controlled by a small group of powerful actors. This situation just merely functions like one- if horribly inefficient- and the people who know they benefit from it are content to keep it leaderless and unfocused. For that reason it is also damned hard to counter, because there is no leadership to be attacked and overthrown.

Let me set it up with some broad brush-strokes first before I dive into an examination of the moving parts. (Full disclosure imprimis, though; I am ‘white’ and ‘male’.) The social structure of the United States is, and has been long before there were States to become United, a three-tiered system. ‘Rich white men’ occupy the top tier, under whom are a larger number of ‘poor white men’, under whom- at least in the early period- existed the largest tier by population, occupied by ‘everyone else’. A good portion of the lowest tier were, then as now, white people in comparative poverty but also had (and more significantly) almost all people of color. The ‘rich white men’ made all of the decisions, and implored the ‘poor white men’ to enforce their political, social and economic dominance over the lowest tier generally by promising them a piece of the economic pie, some small measure of political power, and promoting the assumption that they had more in common socially with the rich white men than those people on the tier below them.

This system requires a three-tiered structure to remain stable. The upper tier needs a bottom tier to focus the middle tier’s attention away from it, since the middle tier is the only group powerful enough to displace them from the top of the social order. The middle tier’s power, though, is dispersed; and it is dispersed for a reason by the efforts of the top tier to keep those in the middle scared of losing the economic and social benefits they have to the members of the lowest tier. The top tier lays awake at night, terrified that one day the middle tier might realize that they have more in common with the bottom tier than those on the top . . . so the primary focus of the top tier (beyond the creation, retention and maintenance of wealth and its commensurate power) is to maintain the assumption that the middle tier has more in common with it culturally and economically than with those among the lowest tier of people.

Beyond passing laws that favored white men in general and rich white men specifically, most of the implied social control was- and generally still is- cultural and behavioral. Social norms like segregation, racial purity, economic situations that favored the white men (and naturally the rich white men most of all), political expression, business practices, slavery (at first), arrest and incarceration rates (later, after Emancipation), and lynchings all had a basis in law. The law, however, was not the primary fashion by which these social norms were enforced but merely the legal fiction that allowed thenorms to exist and also shielded those who used the laws as an excuse to oppress the members of the lowest tier.

Oppression in America has never been primarily carried out by a police state, as it was in many of the European nations. It has always been the province first of the populace itself (the middle tier) to perform the discrimination and oppression mandated by the social norms. Laws merely served as a shield that the oppressors could hide behind if they got called out for bad behavior. The socio-economic pyramid in America stays in place, and its sides kept slippery, via the mandate given by the members of the first tier to the members of the second tier to keep everyone on the bottom at the bottom.

Over time the social reformers hard at work in this nation eventually freed the subset of the third tier held in direct servitude as chattel slaves, confirmed their men their right to vote, later offered women of all colors and classes the same franchise, and removed many of the laws allowing some of the more egregious and overt forms of oppression a legal basis to operate. Lacking political support against the liberal reformers to stop these legislative moves towards a more equal society, the members of the uppermost tier used social rhetoric, demonization, economic arguments (as opposed to race-based ones) and appeals to reactionary movements among the middle tier to keep the organs, structures and desire for oppression to continue essentially unabated.

Now freed of a political necessity to maintain onerous and indefensible laws that justified and protected oppression, those who favored that oppression as a means to uphold the social order and ‘class’ structure merely had to whip up racial tensions between the members of the two lower tiers to keep the status quo intact. The rich white men (who were neither monolithically ‘rich’, ‘white’ nor ‘men’ anymore, but whose number still mostly fit into those three loose classifications) needed the status quo to endure since both their perceived self-worth and their economic fortunes depended upon the tiered structure to remain a pyramid with a slope as steep as possible. Those in the top tier most of all feared change; change brought uncertainty and made painful adaptation necessary to maintain their place at the top.

Where necessary, the rich white men blocked social reform legislation, or were able to render it through subtle and minor changes to be less powerful or even ineffective, if in practice. They were also able to use the increased effectiveness of the media to get their ‘message’ out to the poor white men and women in the second tier to continue promoting racist attitudes, bigotry and a general resistance to change whether at the ballot box, in business and labor practices, tacit acceptance of corruption, discrimination and inequality in law enforcement and an overall feeling that changes to the social order would lead to loss of self-worth, wealth, privilege and- worst of all- feeling responsible for oppressing millions of their fellow human beings either overtly or covertly at the behest of a few very rich (generally) white men.

Let’s jump forward to the 21st century. It is no longer acceptable (finally!) in general society to overtly refer to a person’s color, religion, ethnic background, sexual preference or gender as a reason for why they should be oppressed or discriminated against in politics, business or law. Some people in the middle and upper tiers still certainly dislike various groups of people for any and all of these reasons; though save for a vocal minority of extremists who hide behind the First Amendment, getting people who harbor these feelings to admit them is difficult- and some may not even realize that their attitudes are bigoted or racist.

However, it is still acceptable to use a person’s socioeconomic status, criminal background or even the place and circumstance of their birth as a proxy for any of the old categories in order to call for their oppression, to discriminate against them, or to make them unsuitable to be included as full members of our society. People in the lowest part of the lowest tier in our society use public assistance, live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, are incarcerated at the highest rates, have the shortest lifespans and use up more health-care, law enforcement and social service resources- which, we are constantly reminded, cost taxpayer dollars (borne disproportionally, due to a progressive tax structure, by the members of the top two tiers).

Socioeconomic status as a proxy to discriminate and oppress people . . . Wow. It’s such a neatly crafted dodge against the old categories, and it even makes a certain facile amount of ‘sense’; the assumption is that poor people are poor because they’re lazy, or stupid, or make bad life choices; not because of the color of their skin or the other circumstances of their birth. It’s perfect, more so the deeper you dig into the myth that people exist in the bottom tier because of their individual qualities (or lack thereof) – that they make bad personal choices. If they just worked harder, or made better choices, or got an education, or moved out of those crappy neighborhoods, or just didn’t get arrested or pregnant or drop out of school . . .they wouldn’t be on the bottom tier. Right?

This facile reasoning also glosses over the simple, hard fact that the bottom tier contains most of the ‘people of color’ who live in this country. The rich white men who need the engines of oppression to keep them on top and assuage their fears that this nation might become more egalitarian- and thus challenge their position and ability to use it to continue to amass great wealth and influence- have found the perfect substitute for the old and now publically unacceptable tags of race, gender, religion, etc. to find a class for the middle tier to demonize and oppress. Not every person of color exists in the bottom tier, naturally; these tiers are not monolithic as in Western Medieval feudal societies or some of the social power structures in the Middle or Far East. We at least harbor the illusion (culturally imprinted by our educational curriculum) that through hard work and perseverance anyone in the United States can rise beyond their color or the circumstances of their birth to get rich and, at least technically, join the middle or even upper tier. Nevertheless, these ‘success stories’ however touted are the extreme exceptions that proves the cold reality of the three-tiered power structure.

However, enough of the lowest tier are people of color. They have remained there for over three centuries by the great efforts of the upper tier and not least by the upper tier’s harnessing and manipulation of the fears and hopes of the middle tier. There are a varied selection of methods of ‘social control’ (i. e, oppression) in the toolbox, all of which harness fear and envy, the most egregious of which I list below.

1. ‘Outright’ bigotry. This one is still pretty powerful, and is the one that is the most dangerous. It turns cohesion with one’s own social group (religious, political and ethnic) outward against anyone who doesn’t share your religion, political views and ethnic group, thus harnessing one of the deepest human survival drives. If the other side ‘turtles up’ and espouses the same type of rhetoric it merely serves to intensify the social unrest- and the poorer side generally gets the worst of it.

2. Sexual orientation. Most religions have incorporated a dogma that anyone who is not heterosexual or does not fit into one of two genders is automatically NOT part of their society. Thus there’s an automatically demonized group who makes up between 2-10% of ANY population.

3. Control of reproduction. This automatically sets women up as a group that can be readily oppressed, because they can get pregnant while men cannot. Forcing them to give up control of their reproduction, whether by restricting their access to reproductive health, birth control, or abortion makes improving their own lives much harder when they are in single mother situations because their children’s father is incarcerated or cannot contribute financially to the welfare of said children. This acts to place and/or keep them (and their children) in the lower tier, besides endangering their health and life.

4. Drugs. Demonizing/criminalizing drug use has been used to focus law enforcement as a tool of oppression against particular sub-populations of ‘people of color’; marijuana to allow selective targeting of Hispanics and later the ‘counter-culture’ hippies, ‘crack’ cocaine for blacks, heroin for the urban (generally ‘colored’) poor, etc. This has two purposes; being able to arrest people of color not specifically for the color of their skin but by instead targeting a particular drug perceived as endemic among a particular population, thus intensifying the effects of using law enforcement and incarceration to force people to remain in the lowest tier; and also by enforcing ‘acceptable’ behavior- through a ‘double standard’- among the middle tier. Naturally those of the middle and upper tiers suffer lower penalties for drug use and possession than people in the lowest tier via unfair application of prosecution and penalties; itself a powerful form of social control. Defendants generally get positive outcomes in criminal trials directly correlated to the amount of money they can spend on legal defense. ‘Justice’ is on a ‘cash and carry’ basis in the United States.

5. Location. Designating certain neighborhoods as ‘high crime’ areas- even when they are not- focuses law enforcement attention upon the people who live there, increasing their chances of being arrested or harassed when 99% of them are not involved in crime per se. There is a reason why certain neighborhoods of New York City are designated ‘high crime’ whereas Wall Street is not; same for Washington, D.C’s ‘Capitol Hill’.

6. Political expression. Selective harassment of political activists who espouse egalitarian movements or other philosophies oriented towards greater political power for members of the lowest tier removes community leaders who could otherwise effectively mobilize them.

7.  Financial dis-incentives. Making the procurement of education expensive ensures that fewer members of the third tier will receive the opportunity to learn decent, marketable skills- and more importantly deny them the networking and other social contacts that could lead to an improvement of socioeconomic status. On a smaller scale, expensive ID required for work or to exercise the franchise keeps poorer people (still mostly of ‘color’) from getting better jobs or being able to vote.

I know I’m just scratching the surface here with a mere few thousand words. Many people who have come before me have made these same observations, more definitively and cogently than I am able. I’m not a sociologist or legal professional- just an ex-soldier, Quality Control professional, and part-time writer of science fiction. This is just what I have come up with through my own powers of observation, admittedly limited due to my particular experiences and exposures. What I’ve seen is probably a lot different than what you might have, dear Reader; but no one person can comment directly on the entire experience of being a citizen of the United States, in all of the manifold ways we live our lives in this curious political, economic and cultural experiment that is our nation.

I just hope that somehow we can become more than the sum total of our history, cultural institutions, ethnic and religious and language groups, and individuals. We’re going to have to become more than the sum of any of those things in order for this experiment to remain viable, and more importantly, serve it, ourselves, and those generations to come.

Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 09.07.18 September 6, 2018

‘When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.’ -Robert M. Pirsig

I know it’s been a while since I’ve been here, and I apologize for the long absence.
Let’s talk again about fear.
We here in the United States (and Europe, so far as I have seen) are being constantly bombarded with cries of doom and gloom from seemingly every quarter. The dangers abound, among them climate change, immigration, gun crime/gun ownership, radical political and religious groups, racists and bigots of every conceivable stripe, political corruption, corporate profiteering, and the old favorite of general mopery-and-dopery by {insert name of ethnic/religious/ideological group here}. The only defense we are offered by the purveyors of these warnings are to ‘Speak out! Organize! Resist! FIGHT!’ In essence we are being called to polarize.
Please don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge that clear and present dangers to our institutions, society, and even the entire planet exist right now. I just don’t buy that polarizing into two opposing camps is going to solve any of these issues. I offer that instead of–to give a current example–burning our apparel and boycotting for-profit organized sports (however satisfying those things might be) we might want to turn around and ask why the people who tell us these scary or outraging things want us to be scared and outraged. Continually and helplessly afraid; constantly terrified of ‘x’ or ‘y’ or ‘z’, constantly angry because we’re scared.
Fear is one of the primary motivators in human behavior. It is primal, powerful, direct, and universal. On the other hand, it is easy for us to become desensitized to fear, especially abstract fear, reducing its usefulness as a motivator. The fear-mongers know this; thus they often change the details around to suit the current zeitgeist so the fear always seems fresh, impending, looming at the door-step or the next election or the next quarterly statistical report issued by the government. These tactics are well-known, even time-worn, and they work because humans are programmed by millions of years of evolution to respond to these fears by the ‘activation response’. Thousands of philosophers and scientists have commented more cogently and expertly than I am able to here about these responses and the methods used by the unscrupulous to engender them.
I’d rather focus on why the fear-mongers want us to be afraid; to keep us, the body politic, in a permanent state of agonizing terror. However sadistic the fear-mongers are, they aren’t sadists; neither are they keeping us afraid ‘for our own good’. Dire warnings and gloomy predictions and lurid stories drawn from the 6-sigma ends of the probability curve of dark human behavior serve a purpose for the fear-mongers; they are paid well to deliver these quanta of horror to their audiences–us.
We’re being manipulated and adroitly so, although not to satisfy the desires of {insert name of shadowy international conspiracy here}. We’re being exploited by being told that our prized ideology/dogma/goal will be thwarted by the nefarious activities of some other ethnic or ideological group bent on robbing or destroying us; throwing our entire ‘way of life’ and our personal safety into hazard. This is how free societies, especially pluralistic ones, are controlled indirectly without resorting to (at least at first) legislation through our society’s institutions.
So let’s not ask if any of the people we’re being told are our ‘enemies’ are actually trying to throw us down. Y’know, they might be; but the waters have gotten pretty muddy and it’s hard to actually pin down the ‘bad actors’ we’re being told to fear, since the fear-mongers paint ‘them’ in such bold and wide strokes. Instead let’s ask why we’re being continually threatened with danger, doom, and destruction; and further ask ‘Who is saying that we’re threatened–and more importantly, WHY are they saying it?’
Food for thought, and a call to take a step back from the social media feed or the news browser, breathe deeply, and try to work out who is the real ‘enemy’ of our society–the fear-monger.
Keep striving, friends.

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09.29.17 September 28, 2017

“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776
From 7th through 11th grade I attended a private prep school. Back in the 80’s the school’s doctrine was considered pretty liberal; not quite far ‘left’ but definitely leaning that way. These days I suppose its core values would be considered moderately ‘left’ if such a term even applies anymore among the heavy (and essentially worthless) ‘left’-‘right’ polarization we see now. In any case, I had a lot of instruction in American history and–admittedly ‘liberal’–political philosophy. I remember that the ‘distrust the Establishment’ vibe I got from my instructors juxtaposed with the notion that ‘government and not churches or private organizations is the only means to improve society’ confused the Hell out of me then, and still does. Full disclosure; I did not graduate from this institution.
Nonetheless, I feel I have received a decent education in the matter of government in its peculiarly American incarnation. Not all my instructors were ‘howling liberals’, and most of those assigned to teach government and political philosophy took their tasks seriously and strove to be even-handed in their presentation of it. I fell a little to the ‘right’ in general compared to the political tone of the school’s political philosophy. Part of that came from pure adolescent rebellion and part because even back then I always liked to weigh each issue out on its own merits a la carte rather than subscribing to a whole political platform. Blame it on me being forced to engage in a lot of formal debates . . .
Thomas Paine, however you may feel about his political thinking or his personal convictions not only knew how to turn a fine phrase but also had an uncanny ability to strike to the very essence of an issue. I’m the last person who would claim to have Paine’s ability to inveigh eloquently or cut incisively to the heart of the matter that confronts us now, 241 years later, but given what faces this nation today we need someone who CAN.
We live now not under the tyranny of a distant king, but instead one of specious rhetoric spewed out by the mouthpieces of a plutocratic oligarchy, demagogues who owe no affiliation to any political Party or anything but their paymasters. One-sixth of our population lives practically disenfranchised, their civil rights paid merely lip service as they languish in a situation they have little economic or political power to affect or leave. Most of the rest groan under the oppression of service to impossible debts both public and private in a Hobbesian dystopia created by a hyper-capitalistic economy while a minuscule fraction enjoy a hedonistic utopia free from debt or service to same . . .or any other responsibility. The very government that the Constitution and Bill Of Rights have established to be our servant instead serves as the tool used to keep class and ‘race’ engaged upon one another in mutual hatred. In the words of Yeats, “. . .the center cannot hold-”
We desperately NEED a Thomas Paine. We need someone who can clarify, expound, explain and define the true problems facing us so that we all, working together on the true issues vexing us, can find a consensus that while not perfect will serve us ALL moving forwards.
Keep striving, my friends.

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Blog 09.12.17 September 13, 2017

Hello again, my friends!
It is with a sad heart that I must recount the passing of Dr. Jerry Pournelle, author, journalist and political scientist. I will not retell his accomplishments, bibliography or biography here; those who know of him know them well, or can at least reference them. I never met him or even corresponded with him, but nonetheless he affected my life.
Dr. Pournelle turned me into an adult.
Oh, one could argue that US Army Basic Training turned me into a ‘man’, for what that’s worth, by whatever out-dated definition one uses these days if one needs it. Certainly by most legal definitions I became an ‘adult’ as well once I signed the enlistment contract and raised my right hand to ‘swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States’ etc. But Dr. Pournelle helped me go one better; he helped me become a political ‘adult’.
In the society in which I grew up, there is no single definition of what being an ‘adult’ means anymore. We males don’t put on our father’s armor and take up his sword and shield and march with the hoplites or the legionnaires; it’s not when we kidnap our first ‘wife’, or kill our first man in battle. Females don’t become automatically ‘adult’ here when they marry or give birth or even have their first menses. Our society is somewhat more complicated these days than those examples from the Ancient world.
These days, where I live, we become ‘adult’ through an ill-defined progression of milestones; we go to ‘Prom’, we get a driver’s license or ID, we get old enough to vote and join military service (only if we want to); we get old enough to buy and (legally) consume alcohol and cigarettes; we get old enough to get a credit card and rent cars and/or buy a home or a car of our own; we move away from home; we get married; we have kids–the latter four usually happening in a variable sequence depending on the path our lives take. Somewhere during that bewildering series of events we’re considered an ‘adult’ whether or not we FEEL like we’re adults. Pretty soon people are calling us ‘Mister’ or ‘Mizz’ Lastname whether we like it or not. I still look around for my Dad whenever someone says ‘Mr. Waterman’.
Anyone over the age of 18 (and being a citizen of the US, at least here in the US) can vote in any election held at any level of government. Many do, though nowhere near a majority. Myself, I never voted until I bought a home 19 years ago at the age of 29. I felt I didn’t have enough of a stake in national or local issues until I owned ‘real’ property and thus had a connection to a community in which I lived and had put down actual roots. A wife and child followed only years later.
Dr. Pournelle’s writing, in his fiction as well as his essays (see the ‘Pournelle Square’, which makes ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ into the false constructs they are), stressed beyond any personal conviction or opinion about any political agenda the fact that people, though having the ability to voice their desires through the franchise of voting, had first best be damned careful about exercising their franchise; and only exercise it when they knew all of the ramifications of their desires and decision–as well as who was asking them to exercise it, and more importantly WHY. Not knowing these contingencies only makes the act of voting essentially whining for one’s impulsive desire; the very thing that demagogues and campaign managers use to sway the ignorant. Dr. Pournelle stressed that any exercise of the franchise meant that the voter HAD to take responsibility for the political outcome–win or lose–even if one had not bothered to vote at all. We are all in this together, whether we liked (or realized) it or not . . .
Many of Dr. Pournelle’s fictional protagonists are soldiers or ex-soldiers, which has caused some of his critics to call him a ‘fascist’ (an overworked term, that!) or at best a conservative militarist ‘hawk’. His own political opinions were immaterial. What Dr. Pournelle understood instead, having been a soldier himself before he obtained a B.S and M.S in Psychology and a Doctorate’s in Political Science, was that soldiers understand the meaning of wielding both violence and being the final word in any nation’s policy, whether as conscripts or volunteers. Soldiers end up deciding who lives or dies out on ‘the sharp end’, and with that ability comes the knowledge–at least for the good ones–what life and death really means. He also conveyed that no one who had that knowledge should ignore its innate moral calculus, nor fail to consider it when making any decision; especially when the citizens of a nation decides who would rule it . . .and at what cost, and for what end.
Thank you, Jerry. You gave me so much more than hundreds of hours of enjoyable reading. You gave me the formulae I needed to understand the decisions I would be asked to make as a voter in the United States. Rest well, thou good servant.
Strive on, my friends.

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08.21.17 Great American Eclipse Report August 22, 2017

Hello again, friends.
I just got back from Casper, WY. Yes, I drove 370 miles each way to watch a dark object totally obscure a bright one for 143 seconds. And I howled like a terrified hominid when it happened.
Let’s rewind about a year. I typically vacation in Casper, WY for a week every August. I stay with Tate Museum staff member Russell Hawley, scientific illustrator par excellence and a good friend for over 30 years. I’d kind of known for several years about the upcoming eclipse and that its path of totality would go directly over Casper. I’m not sure who thought of it first but before I finished my vacation last year we’d put together nebulous plans for me to shift my typical vacation schedule a few weeks later, and curtail it somewhat in order to include my school-age daughter, Mary. I typically go to Casper myself and I made sure that Russell was alright having a rambunctious kid underfoot for a few days.
Now bear in mind Russell has a LOT of friends from all around the world; he’s a paleontological illustrator. They’re a close-knit bunch. Add in hundreds of ex-students from the classes he teaches at Casper College, friends from school (like me), family members, etc. and there were plenty of people who wanted to crash on the floor of his modest two-bedroom, two-bath apartment . . .let me say that I was privileged and honored to ‘make the cut’.
As The Day approached and hotel reservations dried up in the small city of Casper (it duels with Cheyenne for the distinction of being the largest ‘city’ in Wyoming) and the city fathers looked forwards to an onslaught of visitors (likened to ‘Hurricane Katrina without the hurricane’) I, a logistically-minded fellow from my days in the U. S. Army realized that the situation in Casper could lead to an impossibility of finding restaurant seating or even basic groceries and supplies in the city of 55,000 souls. I put together, along with the usual clothes and bedding for an adult and a girl-child, what I felt would be sufficient rations to feed my daughter and I and maybe a few others for a few additional meals over the five days I anticipated staying. I filled a cooler with some perishables, a little beer and a lot of ice and gathered two large bags of dry goods and non-perishables.
On the morning of D-Day Minus Four I loaded the clothes, bedding and dry goods into the trunk of my car and went to work. My loving wife Heather, who would not be joining us due to the exigencies of her schedule, graciously picked my daughter up from her first day at school, iced down my cooler, and met me with child and cooler after I got off work so I wouldn’t have to back-track 40 km down Interstate 25 to pick them up. Once we’d traded hugs and kisses Mary and I were off to Casper!
Now I really had no idea of what to expect traffic-wise. I put the usual road traffic analysis and reporting apps on my smartphone and tried to keep an ear on the radio news. Pundits had predicted a mass influx of up to 600,000 people heading towards the Wyoming path of totality, which explains my decision to get out there several days early. Traffic north of Denver indeed proved more hellish than usual, if only because it was somewhat later than I would have usually passed through that choked corridor and it was also the Student Drop-Off Day for USC in Fort Collins (something I hadn’t planned for!) but it only delayed me at most an hour over my usual five-hour drive to Casper. Mary and I saw one of the most stunning sunsets of my life while driving north through Wyoming on a blessedly uncrowded Interstate north of Cheyenne, WY and we arrived at Russell’s apartment in Casper at 2130.
Over the next few days several other guests arrived at ‘Casa Rouselle’. It was my daughter’s first visit to Casper and the Tate Museum where my friend works as the Education Director. I spent my time as usual at the Museum perusing Russell’s fantastic professional book collection while Mary utilized art supplies and successfully charmed the Museum Staff and visitors alike. If you’ve never been to the Tate Geological Museum (http://www.caspercollege.edu/tate-geological-museum) I highly suggest you go. I’ve plugged it in this blog before and I’m doing it again now. Ask for Russell Hawley, and tell him Waterman sent you.
Casper itself did receive quite an influx of visitors but nothing at the scale of the near-Apocalypse that had been predicted. Gas stations, liquor stores and supermarkets were not emptied of stocks, and though some local restaurants did mark up prices rather gougingly (the guilty shall go unidentified; they know who they are, the cads!) by the time Der Tag arrived
things remained rather more civilized than I had expected.
It turns out that several of Russell’s other guests had brought provisions more appropriate for a full continental military campaign than just a few day’s food for less than a dozen people. I sheepishly returned the rather simple provisions I had brought (less the perishables) to the trunk of my car . . .except for the beer, of course. We all ate like kings despite the rather cramped facilities and limited equipment available in an apartment’s small kitchen. Many thanks to those who brought and prepared the most excellent delicious fare we enjoyed.
Eclipse Day at last! We arrived at the campus of Casper College at 0800 to stake out a place on a wide, tree-shaded grassy slope facing the east. The day held a hint of smoky haze from the fires burning in Montana but no clouds though the evening before hadn’t looked too promising. We found easy parking and although the Tate Museum area on the south end of the campus had been reserved for the sole use of Astrocon 2017 our chosen spot only 400 meters north was not at all crowded. Eclipse glasses got handed out all around, with cautions and older folks keeping close eyes on the younger. Alcohol had been forbidden and food vendors restricted those who brought no refreshments did not lack for water and soft drinks provided at very low prices by roaming volunteers from the College. I counted around five hundred people in our section, which was 200 meters long and nearly that wide, including the parking lot. Many brought telescopes and other viewing devices, and a few dozen people actually tailgated. The crowd was happy but not excitable and restroom facilities in all of the campus buildings remained open.
The Moon began obscuring the Sun right on schedule, the exact moment announced by the simultaneous chirping of the eclipse apps running on a hundred smartphones–which drew laughs from a lot of people. We shared the camaraderie of people coming together to witness a very spectacular but sedately-progressing event the outcome and progression of which everyone knew.
Towards totality the light took on the curious quality that can only be understood properly by those who have witnessed a full solar eclipse before. The temperature dropped off gently though noticeably as the limb of the Sun slowly vanished. I fumbled around with my smart-phone and my eclipse glasses to try to take a few pictures of the disappearing Sun but was unsuccessful; my days as an amateur astronomer were long ago and far away. I didn’t destroy my phone camera, at least . . .
A hush came over the crowd as the last sliver of the Sun crept around the limb of the Moon towards extinction. The only sound came from the ubiquitous eclipse apps counting down the last seconds to full totality. Then the Sun was gone. Five hundred people tore the eclipse glasses from their faces, gazed upon the eerie silvery corona of the Sun and then purely howled in primal joy, fear and excitement. My daughter even looked up from the game she was playing on my tablet, gasped, and went ‘Oooh!’ I let out an Artillery battle cry (Oooh-shah!) and literally jumped up and down like a hominid.
I tore my eyes from the gleaming apparition to look for the stars. I saw Venus but couldn’t locate any of the more dim true stars among the haze and sky-glow. . .but I saw the ‘ring sunset’ around the entire horizon in pink and gold and the darkening of the land at mid-day . . . absolutely stunning.
And then, the moment the Sun began to appear from around the limb of the Moon and the unearthly corona disppeared, people began to pack up their things and drive away. That very moment. It seemed as if someone had said ‘Show’s over, folks’ and everyone figured they could bail . . .hurry, beat the crowd out of Wyoming.
I stuck around with my friends, except for a few who really had to be back to work in Colorado the next day. They left not right after the end of totality, like many, but only only once we’d had lunch and the Moon had long left the Sun behind. They unfortunately paid the price because of tens of thousands of other people who had day-tripped up or just figured they’d watch the matinee showing on TV . . . and bailed early because they were bored, or didn’t plan for the Exodus, or just plain didn’t consider that the multitudes, easily bored, couldn’t be troubled to take an extra day from their busy lives.
The traffic coming in had been nowhere near as bad as the traffic leaving. I had planned to leave early (0400) the next morning if the traffic situation allowed; but I had an additional day I could stay just to avoid the Exodus if necessary and not add the loading of my car to any growing traffic situation. My friends who had carefully planned beforehand and absolutely needed to leave the day of the Eclipse got trapped in a 15-hour long traffic jam in Wyoming, of all places, through no fault of their own. Some folks just needed a ‘selfie’ at the ‘You Are Now Leaving Wyoming’ sign after their Eclipse Experience, and it jammed traffic back for 150 miles on Interstate 25. In the words of Dan Simmons; ‘Human beings; go figure’.
Anyway, that was my experience during The Great American Eclipse of 2017. I saw something sublime and ethereal and timeless, and learned lessons about humanity.
Keep striving, folks.

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Blog 07.25.17 July 25, 2017

Hello again, friends.
It’s all a question of faith, right? Because after all what we believe is more important than what we know. Faith and knowledge and belief and truth have intersected, as they always have, to create the rather interesting situation we face today.
Five centuries ago, a person’s beliefs were just as important–to them and their peers–as they are today. And that’s where their effects ended. Sure, a ruler’s beliefs could dictate which of his subjects got offered privileges and which got death. One’s personal beliefs dictated his political views and how he dealt with his fellow humans, or even who got considered ‘human’. Half a millennium ago, though, beliefs could not affect the entire world’s ecology or the survival of the human species. That’s all different today–in ways I don’t think we’ve fully considered as a civilization. Each of us make decisions every day that affect our lives about objects and processes that our ancestors 25 generations ago could not have understood let alone imagined; and many of us make decisions that affect the future of our species concerning things that none of us can even see with our own limited senses.
In the sixteenth Century, superstitions such as the Earth being flat or the center of the universe; whether supernatural beings existed and had effects on mortals; or whether disease is caused by misfortune or malign forces were all pretty much harmless to the human species as a whole. People could believe pretty much anything they wanted to, whether as received knowledge from the preacher or Grandmother or just because of the evidence of ‘common sense’ (meaning what one could observe with the ‘senses’ of sight and hearing ‘common’ to all of us), and though they might prove deleterious to the individual or his society they didn’t endanger the species or the planet as a whole. I can prove this supposition because the human species managed to survive, as a whole, despite some pretty amazingly misinformed beliefs that ‘everyone knew’.
Then something that had been around for quite a while but known only to a limited, educated few really began to become prevalent and important to the survival of the species and daresay our entire world. It’s called the Scientific Method. In brief it defines a toolkit and skill set that actually allowed humans to use reason to determine which beliefs described reality in a useful fashion–and which did not. I credit its spread to movable type and the concomitant spread of literacy among a wider and wider audience with the spread of the scientific method, though there were certainly dozens of other factors that played a part as well.
Now humans had access to a set of mental disciplines they could use to distinguish hearsay and fantasy from reality and true causes for phenomena that had previously baffled hundreds of generations of truly intelligent thinkers. There is only one problem, though; humans are not rational thinkers. We’re rationalizers; we tend to believe something first and then find ‘evidence’ to back up what we already ‘know’. Our evolution as a species had for hundreds of thousands of years relied ‘believing’ received knowledge, custom and behavior literally ‘on faith’. Scientific inquiry and falsification of null hypotheses, on the other hand, require a curious mindset that needs to be taught–and carefully so for it to function properly. It has reached nowhere near full acceptance within our civilization, as evinced by the number of people who say ‘I believe in Evolution’ or get the definitions of ‘Law’ and ‘Theory’ mixed up when speaking about scientific concepts.
The Scientific Method is not the death of belief, and anyone who understands how it works knows that it isn’t. For me, at least, the existence of a force beyond ourselves is in the realm of belief; I have faith in Something which I don’t require anyone else to accept and needs not be falsified to prove Its existence to me. On the other hand, I’m not going to kill anyone if they don’t ‘believe’ the way I do or make decisions that might affect my entire civilization based on what other people tell me It ‘wants’ or doesn’t want…
Let’s agree to keep decisions about what happens in the ‘real’ world in the realm of rational thought, and keep our feelings about what we ‘believe’ to ourselves. There’s still room in the world for both belief and rationalism–for all of us. We’re going to need both to get us through what’s facing us.
Keep striving, folks.

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Blog 07.02.17 July 2, 2017

Hello again, friends.
It’s almost Independence Day here in the US, and Canada celebrated their national birthday yesterday. It’s as good a time as any to reflect a bit on what makes our two nations different yet remain probably some of the best friends and allies in the world today.
Canada and the US share a lot of qualities, of course. We’re both primarily English-speaking cultures, although Canada is officially bi-lingual with a strong element of French-derived culture; while the US has no formal official language it is effectively bi-lingual with a large portion of its population having Hispanic roots. Both nations also have many other minority populations that speak languages from all around the globe and from indigenous peoples who were here before this continent was colonized by Europeans.
Both nations derive a lot of their culture from their English roots, to include their judicial and legislative systems although the US has a much more heavily modified version of the English Parliament while Canada’s judicial system is influenced somewhat more by French Civil law instead of the ‘common law’ more prevalent in the US.
We also share the longest land border between any two nations on the planet, and it’s probably the easiest international border to cross anywhere outside of the European Union despite some additional restrictions added after 9/11. No military units, walls or fortresses face one another across this largest of all international frontiers; if anything, the US and Canada are probably the closest military allies on Earth, even decades after the end of the Cold War.
Despite being the world’s largest trade partners Canada isn’t quite the economic powerhouse as is the US, but it’s only a matter of degree since both nations are still quite wealthy and for much the same reason. Income disparity isn’t quite as stark in Canada as in the US, in my opinion because Canada has a more integrated social welfare system–and because it never suffered the specter of slavery.
Canada’s population is barely one-tenth that of the US although its surface area is marginally greater. Less of that land area is developed or even suitable for farming or intensive habitation due to its location on the continent but it still has enormous natural resources–including some of the largest proven reserves of fossil fuels–and an agricultural output second only to the US.
Although the two nations almost went to war in 1867, since then they have shared an almost unbroken peaceful political and economic history with one another with few of the problems that have vexed other close neighbors. Canada is not as many would flippantly say ‘just a part of the US’; nor does Canada’s ‘socialism’ present any sort of political danger to the US. We are similar, but different in many important ways, and the two nations have pursued different goals in different fashions as suits their citizens and political climates. ‘Vive la differance’, I say. Friendships among nations, like those among individuals, rely just as much on differences as similarities.
Happy Birthday, United States, and Happy belated Birthday, Canada!
Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 06.20.17 June 20, 2017

Hello again, folks.
I’m still keeping this blog apolitical, but I’d like to discuss what I see as an emerging issue in our ‘modern’ world. There’s a popular sociological term known as ‘amoral tribalism’ that, without getting into a long lecture in sociology, I take to mean ‘holding no moral values or concepts other than those of one’s own tribe’. This philosophy is not at all new; it’s actually been the default state of all humans up until the formation of nations a mere few millennia ago.
Amoral tribalism kept humanity alive for hundreds of thousands of years. It is one of the characteristics that allowed our ancestors to out-compete all other hominids. Having a strong tribal identity shared with one’s relatives and defending that identity assiduously assured the survival of one’s relatives in the face of pretty horrendous competition with other tribes–or species–for resources. One’s tribe was either good at it and out-competed the people down the river, or those people ate your lunch if your tribe could not unify to resist the interlopers.
This behavior naturally leads to an ‘US vs. THEM’ mentality deeply ingrained in the human psyche. It is still the guiding cultural philosophy of a majority of people living on this planet no matter if they are hunter-gatherers in a rain forest or in modern cities with advanced technology. Most modern nation-states, however, have eschewed–at least on paper–amoral tribalism for nationalism where groups larger than tribes have united under an exterior system guided not by tradition but by precepts of law and order administered by extra-tribal organizations such as legislatures, judiciaries and executive functions who at least claim to espouse values that nominally serve all citizens of their nation.
In short, the purpose of a nation and its established organizations is to remove the power of the tribe and replace it with that of the individual. In some instances this removed the violent competition between tribes to create a governable populace; in a few others it allowed individuals the ability to live, prosper and associate freely with whomever they chose.
The ‘developed’ nations of this world claim to put the guiding values of their cultural institutions over those of the (in many cases) long-dead tribes once existing in them. (Whether this in effect makes those nations just larger tribes instead of something that transcends the limitations of tribalism is a topic for a different day . . .) In effect, the government of a nation theoretically allows each citizen his own rights divorced from the moral expectations of his or any other tribe. Substitute ‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘ethnicity’, ‘religion’, ‘political party’ or the term of your choice in place of ‘tribe’ and you may begin to see where I’m getting at with this blog.
The tribe still lurks under the veneer of civilization, though, and it still has great power. It is becoming resurgent even in pluralistic societies such as in the ‘developed’ nations. One has to ask, ‘Is the tribe returning in those places because people no longer trust their government and its precepts and its organizations . . .or because someone has found a way to create tribes de novo (or resurrect old ones) and thus manipulate the citizens of a nation in that fashion? I offer this merely as food for thought as you watch the news or scroll through your social media.
Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 01.20.17 January 20, 2017

Hello again, folks.

I’m going to try to do this more often. I used to write a lot of short, open essays, whether as part of assignments or a journal I used to keep back in the paper-and-pencil days of yore. It’s a writing muscle I haven’t practiced much of late, and it needs exercise just like my narrative-writing and report-writing muscles. They have gotten most of my attention over the years.

I’m a Quality professional at my day job. It came to me slowly over time, moving from position to position in the company that has employed me for the past 23 years. I began there as a ‘temp’, hired to deburr tiny metal screws for just over minimum wage. They hired me full-time for a different job that no one wanted and everyone told me not to take–a metal-finishing operator, essentially working in a barely-ventilated room full of tanks of hot corrosives–but I needed the money and the health benefits. It seemed no more dangerous than being a cannon crewman, my first assignment in the US Army some seven years earlier. If it wasn’t as exciting, it sure proved a lot more lucrative with regular hours. I cross-trained as a machine operator, running 50 year-old machines to make the very screws I had once deburred, and soon did that full-time.

Turns out I’m not God’s gift to machining. These were not the computerized machining centers in use today. They required a lot of fiddly poking about with hammers and wrenches and other things with which I’m not at all handy. I wasn’t a total loss, but my supervisor could tell that I’d never be more than mediocre at it no matter how hard I applied myself. He took me aside one day and mentioned that the Quality department had an opening for an Inspector, and if I applied for it he’d put a good word for me.

A few months later a Lead position came open in Quality, over a newly-forming team. Again everyone told me not to apply for it; it seemed fraught with problems and a lot of political entanglements–what we used to call in the Army ‘set up for failure’. I got the job because I was the only one who had applied for it. It felt like I had fallen into the deep end. I had quotas to meet, back-orders to clear, and brand new recruits to train, some of whom didn’t know the difference between a set of calipers and a micrometer. But like the frog I kept kicking, I trained my folks, and remained open to any suggestions or new ideas that would improve my new little team’s speed, skill, and technique.

I learned a lot. I made some mistakes, too–once I accidentally knocked over a cabinet full of about $20,000 worth of gauging. I made some enemies and a lot more friends, and at some point I realized that I’d become a Quality professional. And I liked it. I won’t say that it was the best job I’d ever had, or that I was a Quality God walking the Earth, but I had joined the ranks of those who try to sort the acceptable from the nonconforming, and find ways of increasing the former while decreasing the latter. It rewards problem-solvers and the curious, and to be good at it one has to be willing to listen and learn and study both processes and the people who run (and invent!) them.

Quality Control, as it was known back then, or Quality Assurance as it is in vogue now, isn’t my dream career. I’d much rather have been an astronomer, or would like to be a published novelist(!). However, it has paid the bills lo these many long years, and I’ve done much worse jobs during my short time on Earth. I have devoted the care and attention to it that it demands and deserves, though I never did go back to college. There was always some other thing that required my attention . . .a thin excuse, I know now, but I try not to whine about my regrets. I am a member of the American Society for Quality, certified by that body as a Quality Technician and a Six-Sigma Green Belt. The examinations required that I know things I would have never learned in college.

The point, if any, is that you don’t have to love something to be good at it. And you don’t have to be the utter best, either; mediocrity is a blind hole, but ‘mere’ competence is nothing to be sneezed at. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, though, and you should always seek to be better at what you do even if you won’t be ‘the best’ at it. The world doesn’t need superstars or divas or geniuses. What it needs are people who do a good job well and are competent enough to perform a task while realizing that they can always learn how to do it better. Good leaders recognize this need, and are defined by their efforts to better those working for them as well as their peers. They know they must reward those who perform but also strive to better those who need help to meet the standards. They seek out talent and people willing to attain competency, and they find other roles for people who will never be good in the role they play now.

Thank you, Mike P! You put me on a path that neither of us regrets.

Good night and keep striving, folks.

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Blog 05.06.16 May 7, 2016

Hi there, folks.

I’m glad some of you have looked at the website. I’m sure some have gone around to look at Man From The East on Kindle, too, and just decided not to buy it yet. I understand. A novel is an investment in a little bit of money and a lot more time to read. You want to know that you’ll get a good return for both.

This novel won’t change the world, and reading it won’t make you a better person, or even a better dancer. I don’t have a lesson to impart, nor anything ineffable to relate. All I want to do is entertain you; make a dull day a little more interesting, a sleepless night a little more bearable. Give you a chuckle, make you blink and ask ‘WTF?’, let you empathize with someone who shares your humanity even if it’s in a place far, far removed from what you know. I don’t know who first said ‘ ‘Adventure’ is defined as someone having a bad day on the other side of the world’, but if it’s true then Kamalgin Amadari is certainly up to his neck in it.

I’m not much on casting characters as heroes or villains, anti-heroes or protagonists or antagonists. They have roles, and while some remain mostly positive and others often negative, my characters end up acting according to how they respond to the given situation according to their motivations. No one wakes up in the morning saying ‘I’m an extremely bad person! I’m gonna be a villain today!’ – especially not the villains. Nevertheless, evil remains in our world, and in Amadari’s world too. Sometimes it’s because good men do nothing – hmm, sounds like a good title for a novel . . .

Then again, the world – ours and Amadari’s alike – abounds with loathsome people, some of whom seek or already have power over us. Some of the most intense struggles in human existence revolve around how we deal with them, or concern lessons learned the hard way when we don’t deal with them properly (or at all). No adventure story is complete without telling how the protagonist deals with other people, especially ones he doesn’t like and can’t shoot . . .

Most protagonists are simple people in complicated situations, or complicated people in simple situations. I get to write both, sometimes in the same story. What we think of as the real world never seems so cut and dried, at least at the time it’s happening. We have to try to decide what we’re going to do and what will happen because of our actions on the fly, without the benefit of hindsight. I try to capture that uncertainty, both on the part of the protagonists and the antagonists alike, with neither of them knowing how things will work out.

Pick up Man From The East on Kindle. Let me know how I did, either by leaving a review there or one here. I welcome all constructive criticism, even if you didn’t like the story.

 

 

 

 

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