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Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid- 02.15.21 February 15, 2021

Hello again, my friends.

Another ‘President’s Day’, still in the grip of The Pandemic and a massive winter storm that has blanketed the center of this nation from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. I wanted to talk about a different ‘storm’ today, though, one less obvious but still no less traumatic.

Our lives anymore consist of an overlapping series of ‘cusps’; points at which things hang in the balance and only time tells- sooner or later- which way matters shall fall. It is for societies as it is in our personal lives. In the past year or so, while in the teeth of a Pandemic whose continuing progress still affects our lives in ways nothing else in living memory has, we here in the United States have teetered on a cusp also unprecedented in memory or experience.

Our legislative body- the House and Senate, composed of our elected Representatives and Senators- has been wrapped up in an activity (in two acts) for which it is unsuited to decide or resolve, and for which was not designed to handle. Twice a sitting President has been accused of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ by the House, and twice acquitted of the charges by the Senate. Without disappearing down the rathole of whether the individual is guilty (whatever the Hell THAT means anymore) or even culpable of the charges presented before our legislative body, I feel that there are a few basic things about the entire affair which need unpacked.

We routinely experience a disconnect, both thematically and paradigmatically, between the ‘inputs’ of our political system and that system’s ‘outputs’. ‘We The People’, the true customers and stakeholders in our political process here in the United States, deliver a series of inputs to our Government via the people we elect as our Representatives (the Congress and the Senate) to- in theory- join together to make our will known by writing and voting on laws to thus decide public policy. We desire that the outputs of this system reflect the political will of ‘We The People’, or at least in aggregate of those who vote for said Representatives, to reflect in the legislation and decisions that they make to be the law of the land, for ‘Us’.

Two things have become abundantly clear over the past few years, though they have been apparent for decades. First, the ‘inputs’ we give to our elected Representatives (both in Congress and the Senate) don’t translate well into what we WANT as citizens; and I realize that because we are a pluralistic society those ‘inputs’ are often at contretemps, especially given the extreme level of polarization evident among us over the past three decades or so.

Second, and more tellingly, the ‘outputs’ we receive are even MORE different and distant from the ‘inputs’ desired by ‘We The People’ with each passing year. Legislation by compromise is the best possible outcome any of ‘Us’ can hope for even without a divided electorate, which itself is inefficient and not wholly satisfying to ANYONE; but our system of government was not designed to be either nimble nor wholly satisfying to all- merely something we’ve agreed to live with given our pluralistic society.

Nonetheless, in days gone by (before the 1990’s, let’s say; for the sake of argument) most of us could grumble and say that at least WE got a few of the things we wanted; progressives could get a few incremental policy changes in return for the conservatives among us retaining a measure of political and economic stability. No one ever came away from the table with a pure win, but no one got totally shut out, either. In the days before ‘wedge issues’ and ‘single platform’ candidates took over the political landscape, that was usually enough.

Things are MUCH different now.

Politics here are now more like a suicide pact where the party having the majority in the Legislature- or the allegiance of the current President- either ‘doubles down’ on their most radical policies to ram them past their opponents or signs executive orders to enact sweeping changes (or nullify those made by the last party’s President) as quickly as possible before the next election sweeps out the current party in favor of the other one. The fact that there are only two political parties in the United States is a matter I may discuss in a later blog . . .

In Engineering and Quality Control, my professional background, we would call this a process in the grips of ‘positive feedback’. And all of us in those professions know the eventual fate of such a process, running under such inputs. It oscillates more and more wildly until it exceeds all controls on the process and eventually ‘crashes’. Economists also know this situation, as do historians . . . and it has happened before, with predictably disastrous results.

One last thing I’d like us to remember is that politics, as an endeavor, is NEVER about ‘who is RIGHT’ or ‘who is WRONG’; it is solely dedicated to obtaining power and retaining it by whatever means are necessary. That’s the rub of any democratic society; even a titular ‘republic’ like the United States with its layers of insulation from ‘mob’ voting and a system of checks and balances (the ‘controls’ I mentioned) has to be wary of the politicians and other factions hijacking the political process for their own gains. Or passing laws to ensure the ease of such assumption of power, whether for themselves of for those interests wishing to more easily move wealth from the poor and middle class up to the extremely rich. Both progressive and conservative elements are easily and equally wooed by these interests.

So let’s be careful, friends. Be wary of promises too good to be true; be mistrustful of those who would inflame ‘wedge issues’ and opposition-based partisan politics; and always at first and last think about what YOU are being offered versus its cost to our nation as a whole. Democracy is the MOST expensive form of government, and it requires the greatest level of oversight from its citizens to function properly. It is the also form that most easily and quickly devolves into either oligarchy, tyranny or anarchy. Let’s remember the lessons learned by those who have gone before us, and avoid learning them ourselves- yet again- the HARD way.

Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 01.18.21 January 18, 2021

Hello again, friends.

This is going to be a little longer than usual, but bear with me. Please read it through or just scroll past; there is NO ‘TL:DR’ version of what I have to say.

I’m going to talk about narratives again, to offer a little more clarity. We all remember that a narrative, when shared by the members of a group, is a tidy little story we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and our relationship to it and those within it. Narratives are arguably the most powerful tool our species has developed for survival.

Or maybe not. We lay at a cusp in our future survival and development; nothing new to our species, that. Cultures that developed a narrative which enabled them to survive thrived while those with less successful narratives did not. We find their material remnants scattered all across the globe, and not all are ancestral to any culture currently inhabiting the planet. In that individual humans are the sum total of their genetic heritage, cultures- civilizations- exist as the sum total of their narratives. Thus civilizations and their narratives survive- or fall- regardless of the genes contained within their people. The power of narratives lay with their ability to control human behavior, especially in groups; cooperative groups of humans are defined by their narratives much more so than their genetics.

Being the stories we share among members of our group- from hunter-gathering tribes to nuclear-armed, Internet-using nations- narratives are the things by which we live, and also die. We begin receiving them from the moment of our birth from those who raise us, educate us, employ us and support us. ‘No man is an island’, Donne writes in ‘Meditations XVII’. None of us can have any sort of existence without others save that it have ‘no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ (Hobbes, Leviathan). And to live with others is to share a narrative with them.

So today, we have ‘anti-science’ and racist narratives held by significant fractions of the populations of technically advanced and supposedly ‘progressive’ nations; nuclear-armed and Internet-using ones. Why is this?

I’ve written about the ‘Scientific Method’ and narratives in general in earlier blogs. I want to speak here more about ‘anti-science’ and less about bigotry-driven ‘racism’, though before I move past discussing the latter specifically I’ll mention that racism per se is nothing new to cultural narratives and even served as a survival advantage, if one we find distasteful today, back when the tribe remained the basic unit of human culture and survival margins were fingernail-thin. It exists today because being so deeply-seated in most civilizations around the globe it still proves a powerful tool, used by the unscrupulous, to divide, stratify and thus manage even modern ‘progressive’ societies politically and economically (see my blog ‘Race, Class and Bigotry in America’).

‘Anti-science’ is different from racism in several important ways. Humans have had racist narratives practically from the beginning of the species, whereas the ‘Scientific Method’ has existed barely four centuries in its current form. For the first half of its existence few people had little idea of its scope and power, since it remained limited to astronomical observations and developing mathematical algorithms to describe some basic effects of physics (then) generally unimportant to the common man. Once applied to other facets of the material world, though, it soon made possible massive and rapid advances in technology. Cultures that did not accept its revelations soon fell behind those who did, and the past three centuries have seen an ever accelerating pace of change in population, energy, and wealth.

The first outcry against ‘science’ came from religious authorities that felt the Copernican and Galilean discoveries would unseat the Earth as the center of the Universe and contest the Christian dogma that the heavens were unchanging, and thus throw that dogma open to other challenges. Not anything that really concerned the ‘man in the street’, though it shook the tiny intellectual world to its core.

The next outcry against science came again from religious authorities, with Darwin’s publication of ‘On The Origin Of Species’. He posited that species changed over deep time in response to external ‘evolutionary’ pressures, and while not exactly a new concept Darwin asserted that humans proved subject to the very same ‘evolution’, instead of being a singular unchanging creation of God in His image. People were incensed and disturbed by the implication that humans were ‘merely’ animals. That cry of outrage echoes loudly even today despite manifold demonstrations of evolution as a mechanism even within our own DNA. The genetic basis for racism imploded that day in 1859, despite vigorous attempts to deny and defuse it that continue apace.

Leaving aside the renascent ‘Flat Earth’ belief and the ‘Anti-Vaxxer’ movement, subjects I might tackle in another missive because they each share a different purpose and modus operandi, the latest outcry against the fruits of the ‘Scientific Method’ comes in the form of ‘climate change denial’, which fuels acrimonious debate even as I write this. It’s cast as a battle between those who ‘believe’ in anthropogenic climate change and those who do not ‘believe’ in it.

And therein lays the rub. I do NOT ‘believe’ in climate change. I also do NOT ‘believe’ in gravity. I KNOW that if I push a pen off this desk, though, it will fall at a perfectly predictable and describable fashion towards the floor. There’s no debating it, and there’s also little room left in which to debate the admittedly harder to visualize phenomenon of global warming via anthropogenic changes to our atmosphere. Step off of a tall building and you will hit the ground HARD whether you ‘believe’ in gravity or not. Pump gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and it WILL warm the Earth, whether you ‘believe’ it or not. It operates more slowly than gravity, but just as inexorably.

So why are millions of people denying evolution and climate change, but not Gravitation (no one but the Flat Earthers deny that things orbit the Earth) or the Pauli Exclusion Principle (makes electronics a ‘thing’) or Special Relativity (makes GPS possible)? Here’s where the narrative comes in, and furthermore the manipulation of narratives to political ends.

Racism depends on the acknowledgement that some kinds of humans are inferior to others based upon their skin color or (more generally) genetics. Evolution as a process tells us that sort of division is bogus. But this well-proven scientific fact invalidates a narrative being used to justify racial division socially and economically all over the planet. The people who profit from establishing and maintaining these divisions thus have a vested interest in denying the science and maintaining their hold over the narratives they promote.

Fossil fuel industries are arguably the most profitable enterprises that have EVER existed. A fifth of the value of the global economy comes from the extraction, conversion and sale of fossil fuels at all points in the energy cycle that has arguably driven our technological civilization to where it is today. Besides being a convenient energy source AND awesomely profitable, burning fossil fuels have also pumped gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere over the past century at an exponentially increasing rate. As early as 1898, Svante Arrhenius argued that the increase in carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels (in his days coal) would change the composition of the atmosphere and lead to a warming trend through the newly-proven ‘greenhouse effect’. But reducing or entirely phasing out the use of fossil fuels would kick the pins from under the richest people on the planet and lead to a massive change in the lifestyles of millions of people in our wealthiest nations. So all force gets brought to bear to invalidate the science in order to retain control over their wealth and lifestyles because they must protect the narratives that put them there.

This is the point at which WE- that’s you and I, dear friends because this affects ALL of us and the futures of our children- have to decide between keeping our comfortable narratives, deeply ingrained into our societies and our lives; or incorporate the results of the Scientific Method into them in order to survive and free millions from the status of second-class humans. Denial of evolution and climate change, each an ‘anti-science’ movement, threatens us ALL. I’ll leave each of you to mull over what I’ve said for a while and then do as your conscience dictates.

Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 01.15.21 January 16, 2021

Hello again, friends.

It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. He would have been 92 years old today, a venerable but not impossible age for humans of his generation. Someone I was close to was also born in 1929, though in June; my step-father. I knew him from 1980, when he married my Mom, until his passing in 1992. We all knew him as ‘Scott’. He was Black, and he grew up in the South; two other things he shared with Dr. King.

While reading Dr. King’s bio on Wikipedia today, I remarked to myself that he and my step-father were born in the same year, a year we generally note- if at all- as the beginning of the Great Depression. They shared the experience of being Black males growing up in the South during that time in our history. I stopped to wonder what they each might have thought, if alive today, over how things have changed for Black Americans during the intervening ten decades. Or, more importantly, the things that have NOT changed.

It’s merely a thought exercise for me, as a white man. I do not purport to have anything at all to comment on the Black experience here in America save as an outsider to it. My voice is not their voice, my life was in no way shape or form like that of Dr. King’s or my step-father’s.

It’s important, though, that we all take a moment to think about ‘it’. Race relations in the United States is the ‘elephant in the room’, and has been for four centuries. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives as a direct result of ‘it’, some on battlefields and some in vicious hatred-driven atrocities all across the nation. Millions more people have lived lives limited to some degree or another by how our society treats those it deems ‘second-class’; naturally not limited just to those who are Black, but those of other skin colors, other genders, other ethnic groups, other sexualities.

There is a lot to unpack, there. There is no one factor that encompasses why things are the way they are today; no ‘prime cause’, no single matter we can point at and say ‘Well, THERE’S the problem.’ Indeed there is no single fix, no ‘silver bullet’, no magic program that will resolve the issue. I have my opinions but I certainly don’t have any solutions.

What I can offer is a call to you all to think about ‘it’, on this day, the birthday of a towering figure in race relations, a man with his foibles and flaws like we all possess, yet also possessed of a single good and gracious message that he preached tirelessly until he was taken away from us in 1968. Let’s all of us think about it, and talk about it, and listen to one another, and look around us, and roll the inequities and issues around in our heads as we remember the words of Dr. King; ‘I have a dream . . .’

And keep thinking and listening and looking and talking, every day, in every forum, in every place in our lives, out of every window and on every street, to forge ahead for that dream until we all find a way to do better for every person in this nation and on this planet. I am neither a ‘conservative’ nor a ‘liberal’, but a mere human being; and I can see that our society is not where it could be. Nor is it where it SHOULD be.

Friends, there are 320 MILLION of us here in this nation, all endowed with our individual gifts and the ability to rise above our own foibles and the collective imperfections of our culture. From the mansions, from the corporate board rooms, from the halls of Academe, from the assemblies of our elected representatives, from our courtrooms, from the housing Projects, from the prisons, from the living rooms and the barracks Dayrooms and the backyard barbecues, we can together all find a way to BE better, DO better, and THINK better. No one of us can solve this, but ALL of us can. We MUST.

Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 12.19.20 December 19, 2020

Hello again, folks!

I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve spoken to you, and I apologize for the absence. Life gets busy. An election year in the United States, and a pandemic year for EVERYONE. Since last time, I’ve changed ‘day’ jobs and luckily been able to remain employed during these tumultuous times, albeit at reduced salary. I’m glad to have remained employed and I realize that many of you have not.

2020AD will go down without doubt in the annals of recent history as a year of unprecedented changes. I’m going to call it the ‘Year When We Found Out’. Because many of us have discovered a LOT of things about ourselves and more importantly about our society and its ability to withstand change- or NOT. We’ve also discovered amazing dichotomies, dissonances cognitive and otherwise, and injustices that were always there. It just took a national and a world-wide disaster, both of them unfolding before our very eyes in (un-)real time, to make many of us realize what had been going on the whole time.

Both disasters masqueraded as things apprehensible and immanent- and not trivial in themselves by any means- but they merely served as the exterior indicator of matters that are much deeper and systemic in nature; symptoms, if you will, of underlying diseases. The one ‘local’ to me, here in the United States, was a political disaster whose precise nature proves as unimportant as the man who engendered it though revealed something very important about the deficits of this nation’s political system- and its society. The nature of the ‘worldwide’ disaster that has affected us all in fashions both great and small, economic and personal, itself is also unimportant in detail but it has nevertheless served to point out flaws in the way we’ve let our planet-spanning society grow and function. The disasters themselves aren’t important in that if it hadn’t been a crooked politician or a disease, it would have been some other crisis that would have shown us the desperate (and hopefully not fatal) flaws in the narratives to which we’ve staked our literal lives and future. Willingly or not.

People a lot smarter than me (and many, alas, who are NOT) will be writing books for DECADES about what 2020 has taught us. It’s not my goal to paint it in any but the broadest brush strokes. To that end, I’ll just share some insights that I’ve had over the past year, in short and without a lot of polemics.

One thing I’ve found out this year (and will not be a news-flash to ANYONE) is that society in the United States is deeply divided. Everyone in the nation, and many outside it, already KNOW this as an incontrovertible fact. I’d know this myself long before 2020 (see my earlier Blog, ‘Race And Bigotry In The United States’). What I discovered is just how deep the rifts are, and that it’s not as simple as a mere binary division between political parties (or ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative’) or even the trinary division between the rich, the middle class and everyone else, which supposes that all three ‘classes’ share the same economic system (they DON’T, anymore). This nation has fractured, daresay practically atomized itself, in manners economic, cultural AND narrative. The thing that was supposed to unify us, bring us all together and let us discuss our views in a manner that had little to do with our access to traditional media and give the small and dispossessed the same opportunity to treat with everyone else, has turned out so far to be a poisoned gift.

I speak of course of the ‘Internet’ and its handmaidens, ‘social media’. For reasons too complicated to enumerate here this supposed ‘boon to mankind’ has turned into a nightmarish collection of algorithms programmed to atomize society (and make a couple of small groups a LOT of money doing it . . .) Like fire and government but seeming stronger than either, social media has turned from a powerful servant to a horrible master. And no, the irony of writing this essay on social media is NOT lost on me. All new forms of communication media- writing, print, telegraphy, radio, television- have engendered social disruption in the generations after their adoption, but THIS one has so far been ‘gangbusters’. It’s going to take a lot of adjustment for society, not only here in the US but world-wide, to adapt to Internet-mediated social media and find a new functional level of discourse. If indeed it CAN adapt, in its current incarnation.

Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us all how fragile and interconnected we’ve made the planet’s economic system. With local variations on a theme, of course, the economic narrative currently shared across the entire world is ‘liberal capitalism’; a system of shared beliefs in investment, profit-making and mutual interaction mediated through the exchange of goods, services and most importantly credit as mediated by the paradigm of money. Properly supervised with regulations administered by honest governments to protect the helpless, and efficiently run- especially with the help of the Internet- liberal capitalism harnesses the economic output of the World entire for the best outcomes of everyone. Naturally some benefit more than others but in theory (the very core of the narrative) is that everyone who participates gets some slice of the pie, and the pie itself also gets bigger . . .

Until it doesn’t. Supply chains with no excess capacity, support networks that rely on carefully-staged shipments of goods, and services that run constantly at their maximum output suddenly shudder and grind to a halt when ANYTHING serves to disrupt even one link in their immensely complex and choreographed operations. When I was a soldier, long ago, we ran military operations with some level of ‘cushion’; contingency planning, excess capacity, capabilities and operators who could stand in when battle stopped a supply shipment or wiped out a key function. However, modern business does not operate that way anymore. Armies don’t have to turn a profit, after all. Contingency planning costs money. ‘Excess capacity’ laying idle- whether it’s ‘extra’ stock in a warehouse or ‘extra’ beds in a hospital- isn’t making a profit for the investors, whose current paradigm demands the maximum profit possible be guaranteed contractually and who won’t hesitate to enforce any breaches via law. I’ll leave the moral ramifications of THAT as an exercise for the perceptive.

Enough for this blog. I’m not here to beat up any particular group or groups of people. There’s no ‘percentage’ in finger-pointing. I’ve merely shared some things I’ve concluded over the course of 2020, and hopefully offered some food for thought. I’ll recommend Noah Yuval Harari’s excellent book ‘Sapiens; A Brief History Of Humankind’ here.

Keep striving, friends- and stay healthy!

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02.04.18 February 5, 2018

Hello again, friends.

Despite all of the media turmoil about politics in the United States, I will not turn this blog into a political rant . . .however much I’d like to rant about this or that response to the latest ‘outrage’ revealed in the press (electronic or otherwise). I would like to remark upon a few musings I have had about politics in general, however.

A few people I know have decided to leave the United States–even to revoke their citizenship–because of fears that they cannot exercise their voice (or fear legal repercussions due to their views or perceived political status) given the current climate here. Many others have expressed severe misgivings over the direction that they feel this nation is heading, whether politically or socially. Yet others voice despair over the polarization evident in our discourse in the press and in social media.

One of the great gifts I feel I have is knowing people who among them hold political ideologies from the far Left (beyond classical Marxism) to the far Right (extreme statist ‘patriotism’ and even exclusionary beliefs; though I do not treat with racists nor bigots). I exit my ‘echo chamber’ of the people who feel as I do–call us centrists of one stripe or another, willing to compromise on details–to explore the political opinions of those who do not see the world as I see it.

I have found that two of the things I feel lacking among those I discuss matters with on the extreme Left or Right (Note; I find these terms such a trite and dated method of classifying politics here in the US or even the Western world; see the ‘Pournelle Square’) is ‘legitimacy’ and ‘restraint’. ‘Legitimacy’ is accepting that your political opponents, though their views differ from yours, still retain a basic honesty and right to be heard and discussed. ‘Restraint’ is the forbearance one gives to the person with whom you disagree that their view should still be considered and not dismissed out of hand just because they do not agree with you.

Democracy–even in the fashion it is practiced in this Republic–depends upon political discourse between its citizens. Discourse depends upon the people who engage in it seeing one another as equals, at least as considered in the political and social world. Increasingly I find that the people at the extremes of political ideology in the US lend their opponents neither legitimacy nor exercise restraint in declaring their views invalid; to the extent that they name those who do not agree with them actual enemies of the State . . .

The US has already been through one major period where the extremists on either side have declared the others ‘illegitimate’ and then shown them no restraint. It culminated in the Civil War. It tore the nation apart, and in many ways the past 150 years have not sewn up those wounds nor even allowed them to heal, though no one alive then still lives today. I personally would not wish to see those wounds torn open again, nor tear open new ones by inflicting new injuries.

I counsel restraint and forbearance, lest we let petty demagogues rip open a new civil discord in our body politic that will inevitably lead to another Civil War. We can’t afford it, either in terms of blood, treasure, lives lost or a civilization ruined because we can’t stoop to speaking to one another decently and work out our issues together, through compromise and equanimity. We have nothing to lose by working together save for our stupid pride; and everything to lose otherwise if we do not.

Keep striving, friends.

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Blog 05.31.17 June 1, 2017

Hello again, folks.

I’ve kept this blog apolitical. I don’t favor any particular political party or off-the-shelf political ideology as are found so readily in my home nation. I’m more an a-la-carte political creature; ‘give me two from Column ‘A’ and one each from Columns ‘B’ and ‘C’.’ Buying into a political ideology in its entirety leads to polarization and monolithic binary thinking such as ‘US vs. THEM’.

Corruption (n,’corrupt or dishonest proceedings, bribery’) and graft (n, ‘the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one’s position or influence in politics, business, etc.’) affects people no matter where they live or what party they claim membership in or ideology they espouse. These practices are inevitable products of large and complex societies. We all deal with them to one extent or another wherever we live–they affect all of us, though admittedly some less than others.

Most nations have a rule of law to some extent and thus possess systems to counter corruption and graft in their private and public institutions. These systems have been established for two primary reasons. The first and most obvious reason is for the sake of justice, so that the powerful cannot further enrich themselves at the abject expense of the less powerful whether in business or by law. The second less-known reason concerns the economic health and survival of the society at large. Corruption and graft cause businesses and institutions to run less efficiently and increases the ‘hidden’ costs of goods and services to its customers (‘taxpayers’), whether fuel or medical care or law enforcement. They in effect make everything in that society cost more in a totally unaccountable fashion and thus hinder the commerce and discharge of responsibilities which every society and economy needs to function.

No society is immune to corruption and graft, or is so perfectly organized that these activities don’t happen. They are serious limiting factors in societies without an effective or efficient system for the fair administration of law and order, aligned on the basis of class or tribes or other such non-regulated groups. Societies where one’s socioeconomic status, ethnic group, ‘race’, language or religious faith determines one’s treatment by others–whether individuals, businesses or government institutions–tend to be unfair and show obvious corruption and graft even where lip service is paid to the ‘rule of law’.

The United States tells itself and the world at large that it is a fair and egalitarian society. To an extent I believe that it is; for certain definitions of ‘fair’ and ‘egalitarian’, however. A great deal of corruption and graft is apparent in our society with even a cursory examination of our laws, the practices of our businesses and governmental institutions, and even the conduct of some of its individual members.

So, does our society in the United States treat different people with different levels of fairness because of its inherent corruption and graft, or does corruption and graft exist here because we treat different groups of our inhabitants differently? It’s a much more vital and central question about what we need to do as a people and a society to make things better–for us all!–than which party we belong to or the particular ideology we follow.

  Keep striving, folks.

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Blog 04.25.17 April 26, 2017

Hello again, folks.

Change is an ineffable part of life. Part of that change for humans is growing older (with any luck at all). Aging isn’t all bad, no matter that in this culture–as in many others past and present–it is youth that is worshiped and celebrated while age is despised and often disparaged.

I’m of an age where I’ve probably seen a few more sunsets than I’ll see sunrises, barring some unforeseen advance in medicine, and there are some things I can’t do anymore (plus a few I ought not do any more, at that!). It’s not as big a deal as our society’s worship of youth and youthful exploits makes it out. ‘Every day above ground’, like we always said in the Army. Sometimes we forget what a simple and awesome joy it is to just walk upon the world and among its wonders (and people!) no matter how one believes they got here. The past informs us and the future draws us inexorably along the track of our lives, and both have great importance to any but the extremely young and old. Cherishing what we have in the present, though, is the most important thing we possess as thinking, conscious beings.

That being said, existential concerns tend to consume our attention and time to a great extent. Those of us who enjoy the fruits of a modern technically advanced civilization do not often have to worry about where our next meal comes from or where we’ll sleep tonight–but still we worry a lot. We share a certain feeling of powerlessness that has always been the lot of humans. Our distant ancestors (and some people today, certainly) had concerns that loomed right before them; hunger, safety, health, security, all of which had to be confronted personally on a daily basis lest they fail and perish. Many of these factors were intractable, forcing our fore-bearers to find workarounds and compromises and just plain accept their utter impotence to affect most of the forces at play in their lives.

Today, our problems–in the ‘developed’ world, at least–are different in detail if of exactly the same nature as our ancestors suffered. We worry about existential matters like the health and future of our society and the planet it lives on instead of the plot of land they tilled or the coming of the rains. We are gravely concerned about the actions of people who live thousands of kilometers away instead of those sketchy folks who live over the next ridge. Some of us look decades and even centuries into the future instead of next month, year, or the next generation. Humans will always worry, and should always worry. We should never forget, though, that we are mortals; our reach will always exceed our grasp in things both concrete and abstract.

The most important gift we have, however, is our ability to apprehend and experience what is happening now. Don’t forget that, especially today.

Keep striving, folks.

 

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Blog 04.03.17 April 4, 2017

Hello there.

It’s been almost a year since I began writing these Blogs. Not as often as I like or ought to, but it’s a hobby; I try to save writing them for when I have something to say that I feel is important.

Most of us (I’m guessing . . .) have friends. Many of us have close relationships with these people, who represent important relationships in our lives. Sometimes we see these people every day and sometimes years pass before we can sit down face-to-face and speak with them. Social media can be an important tool we use to stay in touch with people we otherwise wouldn’t contact very often. However, it can also serve to distance us from them as well.

Social media makes it easy to send a post to a friend and also comment on one of theirs, just as social media makes it easy to post something to the world at large and receive comments from hundreds or thousands of people, most of whom DON’T know you up close and personally. It’s too easy to just whip off a post or a comment, and then assume that you’ve maintained that key interaction that makes you friends . . .and more importantly reinforces and maintains it. You can remain friends with someone who lives on the other side of the planet that you haven’t seen in decades via social media; not impossible, but often difficult anyway. I keep in touch with a large group of folks via social media whom I spent months and years with in very trying circumstances. We share bonds forged during the most eventful periods of our lives, when we were young and impressionable and under a LOT of stress.

Other friends live just a few kilometers away, but we still don’t see one another as much as we’d like. We have lives, families, jobs, schedules; a whole host of ‘things’ that seem to conspire to keep us from spending the best-quality time together–which is TIME TOGETHER. They end up sounding like pretty sorry excuses to not hang out . . .but they all add up. The worst of it is that we’ll still use social media to ‘stay in touch’ with these folks who live a short car ride away, when we could just make a date to have coffee, or dinner, or just drop by and be face-to-face with one another. The Russians have a term for being together; ‘drug s drugom‘. It literally means ‘friend with friend’.

I haven’t been spending that sort of time with some of my closest friends. I will not offer excuses. Instead I’m just going to go and spend that time with them. I advise you all to do the same. Don’t make excuses; make (and keep) friends. Especially if they are literally a few thousand meters away from you. Be polite and solicitous of their personal space, but GO and BE with them; and do what humans do best and are at their best when doing it.

Keep striving, friends.

 

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Blog 03.10.17 March 11, 2017

Hi there, folks.

There’s a problem in our society. I’ll limit this statement to where I live, which is in the United States.

We have a nascent and on-going civil war in our nation, and it bothers me. I live here, so I’ll speak to it. Other nations might be suffering it to one extent or another, but I don’t live there- I live here. It’s partially cultural, and partially due to a trend many of you might also be seeing where you live. I’m not talking about the ‘news cycle’, or ‘echo chamber’ effect of social media, or even the changes in state-sponsored education of our youth. It does touch upon those things, though.

I promised you all that I would not talk about partisan politics when I embarked upon this series of blogs, and I’m going to hold myself to that promise. I will not name parties or political figures. You can read into my words what you will–I can’t stop you from assuming what you will. You should know already from reading these blogs roughly where I stand within the 2-D Pournelle Chart (Google it!) of political affiliation.

As members of a population, we US citizens can each say freely where we stand in politics and ideology. We vote for the political persons who we feel can best represent us in our legislative and executive needs at each level in the local, State and US governments. But here’s what we forgot about, no matter who we voted for (or didn’t bother to vote). We forgot that we have a morality and culture we all share, no matter how different we all are. The entity called the ‘United States’ is composed of a plurality; meaning we are many disparate peoples who nevertheless live under the same laws and (one hopes) governing principles upon which we all agree. ‘From many, ONE’. Not one religion, not one ethnic group, not one set of personal needs or particular desires; we have to be ONE and united in how we act within the ‘res publica’ we all live under in the US to give each of us and all of us as a whole a fair chance to live our lives as we see fit, under principles we can all agree to abide by. These governing principles, enshrined in our Constitution and its Amendments, dictate how the government we select can and cannot deal with our lives collectively and personally.

Seems like a lot of us have forgotten how the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to us, our leaders, and our institutions.

No one can take legally take away the rights given us by our Creator, or Fate, or by dint of being a human. Don’t let any governmental institution or politician tell you he can ‘give them back’ or commensurately ‘take them away’ from you. The Constitution is not a suicide pact, nor is it something that ‘gives’ you rights or ‘takes them away’ from anyone else. It is a series of promises to the citizens, and (with some strictures like requiring citizenship to have the franchise to vote) anyone else residing in this nation, that the government WILL NOT infringe upon the innate rights of all human beings residing in this nation.

The only way you can lose your innate rights as a human is by letting someone take them away from you; conversely the only way you can keep them is by fighting to ensure that no one takes them away from you- or anyone else. Important point; those of you who do not live in the US, or are not citizens; you too have these same innate rights, though you might have to fight for them to be recognized where you live . . .

Note that NO ONE has the innate right to oppress others; or harm, enslave, or cheat them just because they don’t share your gender, ethnicity, birth status or football team affiliations . . . or religion.

Keep striving, folks.

 

 

 

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Blog 03.01.17 March 2, 2017

It’s been a long journey, but I finally got ‘there’.

I suppose I could have done it a while back, along any of several paths, beginning in the late 1990’s. But I’m the sort of person who does things his own way–call it being obstinate, or unwilling to rely on other people to make my personal dreams come true, or just an inability to engage in a process that up until recently was either extremely expensive to one of my limited means or too demanding of my patience with a process that has been (IMHO) needlessly complex.

In this case the technology to make my personal dream became available long before the ‘human’ mediated systems caught up to the technology’s innate possibilities. ‘Desktop publishing’ has been around in one fashion or another for over a generation; think of the first word processor software and computer-driven printers. It remained crude for much of that time, but bit by bit (pun intended) the technology improved to the point that there was no engineering-related reason for me not to have achieved my dream around the time I wrote my first novel-length work. What was lacking was the innate inadaptability of the human-based systems that ruled publishing for over four centuries.

Days gone by, an author (or his ‘agent’) sent a manuscript to a publisher. After a variable number of re-writes and editing iterations, the editor–an employee of the publisher–gave the go-ahead. Typesetters would do their jobs and press operators would run their huge machines  and books would get shipped to distributors, marketing agencies would launch a promotion campaign, bookstores would sign up and the author’s book would hit the shelves. Dozens of people would be involved in every step of the operation, as industrial a process as making a rifle, a boot, a baseball bat or a can of tuna.

That paradigm doesn’t apply so much anymore. Processes are heavily automated now, whether they produce a rifle, a boot, a baseball bat or a can of tuna. Machines need a lot less human labor to operate anymore, and a lot of the steps that once required human attention no longer do. Paper, ink, printing, cutting, assembly and binding are a lot easier in the 21st century. The biggest difference, though, is in the jobs of the people who control content and the appearance of the final product. A lot of the folks once involved in the industrial operations like printing and binding are no longer involved, certainly, in our heavily automated world. The people I’m concerned with, though, are now almost totally absent from the process; the editor, the literary agent, the proofreader, the typesetter.

I performed the last four roles almost exclusively, albeit with help from a ton of software. I AM the middleman in that process. I paid no literary agent a percentage of my profits to get the work in front of an editor; no one from the publisher edited my work; no one proofread my copy, and software (plus a lot of fiddling work from me) set the type. I could have literally published a string of a random million characters that fit the overall guidelines of the typesetting software. No one would buy it, but that would be on me . . .since no single book is published unless someone purchases it from the Print-On-Demand publishing company. Only when a customer clicks ‘Buy Now’ on the publisher’s website is a book printed, bound, and delivered. Only that act sets in motion the wheels of 21st century publishing, pays the people who get paid to print the book, and eventually pays me a royalty based on the price I set for the book itself (which automatically includes the production costs).

Which all culminates in the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I first set pencil to paper as a small child . . .to have a printed, bound version of something that I wrote available for others to enjoy. Go see for yourself. You can even look at it online, read a few chapters of it . . .and if you’re so inclined, click ‘Buy Now’ and have it in your hands to read and enjoy. It’s called ‘Man From The East’, and it’s now a paperback on Amazon.

Keep striving, folks.

 

 

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