Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Blog

So, I’m a blogger, so I guess I should do this. It’s about change, about lots of changes through history and what that means to us now. I might seem a bit annoyed. If you want to get a teenager to read this, preferably one who doesn’t want to, they might get the proper tone of voice for it.

Everybody is talking about change. Of course we will change. Hasn’t every President run on that platform for the last 50 years? Make America Whatever or Hopey Changey, I don’t care. Throw the bums out. That’s a desire for change. But there is always tension, against the fear. Too much rapid change to greater rights for more people and a move toward socialism resulted in populism, on the left and the right. I have watched the constant battle between the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the good old traditions since I was born in 1960. Look at what’s happened in the last 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic. That’s in your parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime if you are older, so hopefully you talked to them. If you are younger, hopefully you know someone in the next generation up. They might have an old recording or at least some pictures.

They went through:
Nuclear weapons
Invention of vaccines
1918 flu
World War I (1914 to 1918)

Despite the pace of change having increased in the recent centuries, we haven’t developed new ways to cope with it. I don’t have much to suggest for that, but for me, getting some perspective on how much has happened, how far we have come in a short time, and how it has always been the people pushing leaders to change. That has helped me understand it.

My Public Education history spent too much on the days before the Revolution in this country, that’s my opinion. I always wanted to get to the World Wars and why those happened.

It was a major change in how the world worked. Before then, we were a world of royal families. Generals road on horses with colorful uniforms and battles lasted for a few days. With the arms buildup of the late 19th century, a result of the industrial revolution, these in-bred idiots who had no idea how to live in a time of electronic communication and world travel, put a match to the powder keg they built. To defend against heavy artillery, they created trench warfare, to breakthrough that they invented tanks, and on and on.

If you don’t want to have a love for history, don’t click here. Dan Carlin has a great ability to tell the story and provide the facts. His “Blueprint for Armaggedon” series is the story of WWI. 

Going back through the 19th century further you had:
The Industrial Revolution, steam engines, mechanics, oil. Horses were no longer the best source of power, but we still use the term “horsepower”.
Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859.
Michael Faraday, who died in 1867, advanced our understanding of electromagnetism. That’s kind of important to whatever device you are reading this on.

Pause for a moment on this guy. He discovered the mysterious energy floating around that we could use to move things and to communicate across miles. Click to see David Tong giving a lecture in the same hall where Faraday gave his. Tong is talking about the newly understood forces of quantum physics, that we now understand are the fundamental forces behind all things. He’s giving that lecture in the same hall, with the same desk, that Faraday did. It’s like we just figured out stone tools yesterday, and now we all have scalpels in our medicine cabinets. 

While Faraday was alive, we were finally throwing off the last myths about race and changing laws so we could no longer justify slavery. There are still slaves in the world, I know, but most people know that’s wrong now. What will be commonly thought of as wrong by end of your lifetime?

Change takes a little longer in the centuries before that, but let me connect just a few more things. Once the empires that grew out of ancient history started bumping into each other and “discovering” each other, we started accumulating our knowledge, sharing it actually, but not always in a nice way. You might have heard of Thomas Aquinas, who tried to reconcile the Catholic religion with Greek philosophy. He had a little help from the Muslims by the way. Not too long after that, we had Protestant kingdoms, so there was a lot of fighting with the Catholics.

At the end of all that fighting, after the Thirty Years War, 1648, a treaty was signed called the Peace at Westphalia. It took away powers from the Pope and created a new type of nation. That’s what you live in, a Westphalian nation-state. Sure, your way of life is rooted in a Judeo-Christian/Western Civilization/Constitutional Republic/Democracy/melting pot, sure. But the basic structure of our politics has only been around for 400 years, and it was formed under duress, and it’s not working. A bunch of morons from the Middle Ages made it up to get the Pope out their business and we can get the billionaires out of our pockets if we create the next system.

Something else happened once the European Princes and Bishops quit making us kill each other. It was the British Royal Society, founded in 1660 to promote scientific thought and learning. It was the fertile ground where Isaac Newton flourished. Newton created the mathematics that got us to the moon (along with some of those other folks above). Computers were first put to the test during that work. That pretty much brings us up to where we are now.

To have that sort of creative energy, to allow the brilliant people of the day to discover something, you have to first have some degree of peace. You have to have a little extra left over at the end of the day to give to the general welfare, to build some roads, to have some nurses ready to take care of us instead of working overtime to pay off student loans and a mortgage from that house they bought before the bankers destroyed the economy.

What gets left out of historical discussions like this is none of it happens if we don’t care about people that we will never meet; people on the other side of the world and people who are not born yet. If we aren’t keeping the world clean and free from violence and filled with beauty, if we aren’t nurturing the people who grow our food, or who are sitting in a room somewhere coming up with formulas that who knows what they will do, but we can bet they will do something, then none of this happens. Then we slip back into using those stone tools to harm each other and take whatever we can just because we can. None of this happens if we don’t realize we need each other.

A note on the present: We aren’t purposely crashing the economy by shutting it down, just so we can save a few million lives. The economy would have crashed if we didn’t do anything because the hospitals would have been overrun. People would have chosen to quit interacting with others after it was far too late. Services would be much more disrupted because the closures would be random; we wouldn’t be choosing to keep groceries open as opposed to restaurants, we would be choosing from far fewer options.

It would not be some simple math of 2 or 3% more people dead. We would be surrounded by sick people and no one would want to touch them for fear of getting sick themselves. This would multiply the problems. Any normal illness or regular medical attention needed would be almost impossible. We would have new priorities, like disposing of the bodies.

The stock market selloff was recognition by those who understand how their system works, that it is not working, that it is not designed to respond to a problem like this. It is not designed to take care of the people that actually create the wealth that they accumulated. Ironically, it created the problem by changing the environment, putting workers under stress, and prioritizing profits over health. It put messaging over science. They know this, they saw it coming. They didn’t tell us until they cashed out. But cashing out is a strategy of the dying system. I don’t know what the next system will be, but it won’t be the current leaders who create it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

You're In My Light

In case you missed the news, I've abandoned the Atheism for the Religious series for now, maybe forever, and I'm exploring having some fictional characters talk about it.

The first 7 pages of a book I've been thinking about for a long, long time

Last Updated: 2/24/2020

You’re in My Light
A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store

A few million years of evolution have left us with a fear of something rustling in the underbrush. Some ape like ancestor ran when they thought they heard something, and another ape never became anyone’s ancestor because they didn’t run. They became lunch. In this underbrush, in a world with satellites and self-driving vehicles, there appears to be a face taking shape in the leaves. Those could be eyes. They are moving slowly higher. Leaves don’t do that. It is eyes, with ash and clay smeared around them to match the brush.
 “What’s with the camo Pete?”, the second ape descendant blows his cover.
“Shhsh, it will hear us.”
“Of course it will hear us. It’s more sensitive than any animal on earth. It literally has advanced alien technology.” For someone being stalked by an alien drone, he seems rather casual, khakis and a T-shirt with the names of several bands from the 70’s that were harvested out of the Midwest.
“Then what are we doing here? You said we were going to shoot at the aliens. You look like you’re having a picnic.” The intensity of battle is wearing off in this conversation but he’s still ready for a fight.
“We aren’t shooting at aliens. We’re shooting at a drone that people made with some alien technology in it. You’re reading too much Star Trek fan fiction and not enough tech journals.”
“I know it’s a drone. What I mean is, if we are taking on the aliens, and they can see us hiding here, how can we possibly hope to mount any kind of resistance?”
“Maybe history should be on your reading list. How did the Palestinians get the attention of the rest of the world? How did Afghanistan take down the Soviet Union? It was one helicopter at a time, sometimes getting civilians involved. This isn’t conventional war. They were out matched and so are we. It’s called ‘trying to win’.”
“Yeah, I read the ‘Freedom Fighters’ speech, bin Laden was a freedom fighter, and so was George Washington. They are going to call us terrorists and so on, but we’re not fighting for some religious ideal or against some despotic King, this is our planet. We aren’t just fleas arguing over who owns the dog, we have 4 billion years of biology behind us here. See, I read. But all I was told is shoot down a drone and run back to town.  I’m trying to figure out how all that fits in the master plan.”
An “m” started to form on the lips of Pete’s brother in arms, then one eye squinted and his head turned to the side like a dog trying to hone in on the sound of something strange it had just heard. A whir caught their attention and the fight or flight response switched on, to fight. “Okay, we’ll talk master plan when we get back. Here it comes now. I need you for your marksmanship right now, not your political theories. As soon as I fire the shotgun, it will bank to avoid it, and you can take it as it recovers to level flight.”
“This part I know.”
The drone whizzes by, noting the heat outline of a couple people by the side of the road. Nothing to report home about. A shotgun is popped out from underneath a blanket and fired without taking any time to aim. The drone dips sharply into a turn to avoid the spray and Pete is already drawing his weapon (describe the gun) from under a poncho laying beside him, tracking the arc that the drone is now committed to. The butt of the rifle is quickly up to his shoulder and following the motion of the panicked drone.
In a room lit only by surveillance screens and low table lamps, someone sets down their coffee and says, “Kids, we should put some ‘Deer Crossing’ signs back up, give them something to shoot at”. His screen shows a country road forested on either side with two figures silhouetted by their heat signature. The screen goes blank. “Shit.”
“Nice shot. Let’s go.”
That order wasn’t necessary. Both men are moving at double time down a deer path. Pete now carries both guns. They split up as they start down toward a stream, crossing it at different points, neither one of them looks back. The forest turns to corn field. He moves down the rows swiftly being careful not jostle the tassels above him. He slows to listen as he nears the edge of the field, looking left, right, and more important above.
The guns are tucked in to the poncho he’s been carrying and slings them all over his shoulder casually and strolls toward the nearby barn.  Inside, he finds the ring in the floor under some hay and heaves open a door revealing many more weapons and ammunition. With loving care he unloads places each gun in its designated place. Water and some grooming utensils that could just as easily be there for the horses are used to wash off the unnecessary camouflage and transform him into just another boy in town. As he leaves the barn, his finger and thumb hold his tongue for a loud whistle with two notes. On the other side of the house someone who looks like a farmer checks his watch then returns to making some motions that look like working the land.

When Pete arrives in town for a well deserved adult beverage, the man who was his superior officer less than an hour ago is already well into an electronic trivia game. Pete asks what’s new and the standard reply of “nothing” actually means something this time. It means they haven’t made the news, yet. Gun shots in a corn field in Indiana in late summer are not news. The shooting down of a federal drone would remain a matter for the Federal Government. They wouldn’t involve local police until they had done some investigating. What neither of them know is if the pattern of their movements is drawing any attention.

The Betamax video player whirred quietly as it played lecture #213. The home maintenance series was not his favorite, but there were still homes that needed maintenance and fewer people who knew how to maintain them. Not the homes around here of course.  He had been in just about every one of them and had tuned all of them like a Stradivarius. Some of them were on to him that the best time to fix something was always just before dinner but now that money was not so important their informal arrangement worked just fine and the smiles and warm conversation over the table made it all alright.
The analog signal streamed out of the back of the player connected by cords with red, white and yellow connectors. It followed a windy bent path to the much smaller less dustier black box with one small green light on it.  From the other end of that box a much smaller gray cable went out through the wall. It sparkled a bit from the early morning sun coming in through the small window on the east side of the shop.  The signal finally found its way out to an antenna. Dave swore it could not possibly do anything the first time he saw it, but according to all available evidence the now digitized signal was making its way to space.
When they gave him the antenna, Dave thought they were joking. He said it looked like they designed it based on watching a Jetsons cartoon. They just smiled. They do that a lot. They told him his father’s collection of educational lectures and demonstrations needed to be preserved. He asked why they couldn’t just take them and do whatever they needed to do. They said they don’t work that way. He didn’t care for that answer but couldn’t get much more of an explanation out of them.
They had come here from somewhere a little further out along the Orion Arm to save the planet, or so they said, and although a few billion people now accepted that as true, Dave was still not ready to go with them. That they weren’t big on answering questions was one of his reasons. His grandparent’s generation had gone off to Europe and the Asia to die without getting their questions answered. In his time parents’ time, friends of his were beaten and harassed and couldn’t get decent jobs because there were people who had answers that couldn’t be questioned. Dave preferred hearing evidence and his father’s series on logic and logical fallacies was always right there in the back of his mind, well maybe sort of center and forward, but he’d learned to keep it from getting to his mouth too much. That could make for awkward conversations. Anyway, he wasn’t going to get on some spaceship without knowing a lot more.
Thump, thump, thump.
Dave snapped up from his day dreaming that had been initiated by the shiny cord going out through the wall. It was Marianne. Dave always thought that was funny especially since according to her hair she was a ginger, but not everyone got the Gilligan’s Island reference anymore, and after mentioning it four times, he figured out Marianne didn’t like it either. Her smile retold that story and also said she needed something fixed and would like him to come by but only if he’d keep his conversation pleasant. Long recounting of obscure science fiction characters was another thing he had figured out not to do.
The full, warm beverage she had was held in her palm and gently kept there with two fingers from the other hand. The breeze from the opened door blew across it and freshened the room with a hint of cinnamon and honey. It was raised as if being presented, not as if she was going to sip from it.
Remembering to let her speak before reacting to all the social cues, Dave said, “Hey Marianne, what’s up?”
“I figured you’d be up and working early like always, without breakfast, so I brought you some tea.”
Suddenly making the connection between his inability to focus and his lack of sustenance, he reached for the steaming cup. Their fingers just touched in the exchange. Dave was thinking about that as he reached. He knew this was a good thing that helps people feel better about their encounters. Marianne had no specific thoughts about it. Encountering people wasn’t something that required that much thought for her.
“I probably should grab a bite to eat.” They exchanged smiles, baggage from their past encounters slipped to the floor.
Marianne didn’t let the silence get awkward, “Sooo, having a little trouble getting a good seal on my root cellar door. We should have a good harvest this year and I’d hate to lose any of it.” Then trailed off, sort of suggesting good times for him to come by but hoping he’d help close her sales pitch. Graciously, he did.
“Yeah, yeah, today is good.” He moved to the doorway, where she was still standing, and they danced their way to an understanding that he was coming out. For a moment the tea and her breath and her hair transported him to a land of princesses and ballrooms. Marianne had no idea what he was thinking but like Ginger Rogers, she could do everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels. The two of them now faced the rest of the world and greeted the morning that was on its way to noon.
The promise of a good harvest brought all the feelings of a healthy community out on display. Looking around with the eyes of people born before 2000, Dave and Marianne could see Halloween and Thanksgiving and just a hint of Christmas but the little ones, whose voices now added a soundtrack to the scene, just saw the bounty of something that the old people did all day that magically made sweet and juicy things come out of the ground and end up on their plates. Their heads aren’t bothered with a man in a red suit arriving at a department store who also is somehow concerned with how they acted all year. They aren’t working on a costume so they can run around asking for candy. Why would they do that? They know who has the best candy.
One of those little critters broke from a group that was running by and latched on to Dave’s leg. She looked up at him with her brown eyes surrounded by a milk chocolate face and started telling a detailed tale of adventure and romance. None of the words were in a language that Dave knew, or anyone knew, but they flowed like a sailor singing a song after returning from whaling in Kachemak Bay. Dave provided the chorus of “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” on queue. Somewhere in there he interpreted the word “crackers”. As she said it, she used her non-violent resistance technique of going limp, laying her head back toward the dining hall. Dave did not need to hold her for questioning, so he rolled her to her feet that were already running before they touched the ground.
These weren’t just any crackers, these were Marjo’s sourdough crackers, merely a byproduct of a weekly batch of sourdough bread. Bread that sustained this community like it had sustained communities for thousands of years. Not the kind that comes in a plastic bag and has to be sliced by a machine because it is so delicate that a human hand would rip it to shreds. The kind that you keep on the counter wrapped in a towel. The kind that you break and experience the chewy crust, experience it kicking in enzymes in the mouth and your whole body settles as the soothing process moves toward your stomach.
Marianne could see he was now on a mission and she waved him off and headed for the fields. Dave caught up to his little friend pushing against the large dining hall door. She put all of her body into it. She called upon the power of her ancestors to move that massive door that was between her and crackers. Dave used a few fingers over her head and gently guided it to balance her back to vertical and to release that kinetic energy across a big room full of empty tables. Marjo knew to have a plate of crackers for dirty hands to grab so they wouldn’t intrude any further into the baking area. Dave also respected that barrier. She would invite him to cross it he waited for the invitation.
Marjo always had that look for Dave, a smile with a little sadness. Not quite, “bless your heart”, but not exactly “hey, you been working out?” Marjo was the big sister Dave didn’t have, the girlfriend that might have been if she were younger, the mentor he didn’t want, and the drinking buddy who well, actually didn’t drink, all rolled into one. He was not in the mood for the story of yeast again so he had been working on his cheeriest “good morning” from a couple steps before hitting the door. Not that he could hide anything from her.
Marjo meets Dave
Before the arrival of the Orions and their space port, Dave had happened upon this kitchen while biking the well known hills in and around the farm that he now called home. He held a flat tire in his hands and a sheepish grin on his face. Marjo knew he needed a hug and also knew that wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t her first flat tire. People came here from all over the world, to learn from the best minds, to see the beauty, to improve their art, to demonstrate their athletic skills. Most were not that aware of the people who lived there all year round. They were just there for ambience or something.
So a flat tire out in the country was an inconvenience, not a chance to interact with a real person. People like that couldn’t just have a flat. There had to be a lot of pacing and hand wringing and tales of schedules disrupted and questions of why this happened to them, with some certainty others did not have this same problem as frequently as they did. Dave however just had a flat. It wasn’t bothering him all that much. He was just as happy doing the work of fixing it as he was doing the work of riding the bike.
Not that he was that happy. The flat tire wasn’t bothering him but something was. Marjo could see there was a shadow a step or two behind him. Something he could keep ahead of by biking or fixing things or doing whatever else he did other than slow down enough to let that shadow catch up. Of course it would, they always do. If that was all there was to it though, she wouldn’t give it another thought. But she had seen so many shadows.
Marjo’s story
Her uncle came back from Iraq with no scars, just a bit weathered from the desert sun, but she knew there was something wrong. Everyone treated him differently no one talked about it. Marjo was given specific instructions not to. She knew she had to live by the rules as a little girl, but she also knew it would be different when she grew up. But childhood aspirations can turn to adult frustrations. She watched as more and more men and women were not allowed to grieve for the lives they had ended. When a war ends, there is a time for rebuilding and for reconciliation with the enemy, but in endless war, that time never comes.
The time for celebration never comes either, as the war is never won. In Vietnam a hill would be taken one day and lost the next night. In Iraq whole regions were liberated and then soldiers who did the liberating watched the news from home as those places were occupied by the latest group with some new initials. For some, the best way to deal with it was to go back. At home, you hear more about how war is tearing the country apart, or you see that nobody really cares, or someone wants to debate it with you. You can’t grieve the deaths of your friends or of the people in the country you occupy, but at least you can get back and try to find that person you were.
Marjo watched this grief go undigested. Not digested by the culture because the culture that developed it was one that was accustomed to knowing that a victory would be followed by a new escalation somewhere else. Not by the government because the military budget just kept growing and debt along with it. There was no job at the Pentagon or anywhere that could undo this, but she resolved to make some sort of dent in this collective ungrieved loss.
Her uncle came over for game night one evening. He brought a grocery bag full of snacks. He pulled out a big bag of pita bread and two different tubs of hummus. Mother gave her that look that said, “don’t ask”. After a while, when people were commenting on the good company and good food, he said, “That’s what they eat. The people from around where we were based. We would load up on that, a big pile of pita bread. Have it on the plane while we were bombing them.” Marjo locked her eyes on his. “Kinda sick really”, he finished. She started to smile because she didn’t want to just stare at him like an idiot. She held that back and matched the droop of his eyes. Whatever move or turn it was in the game kept that from going on for too long.
She knew there was work to be done in the world. She didn’t know what that would be but she had a sense that whatever it was, it would not be found on television or on some glossy pages. She didn’t want to cut herself off from the world but she wanted to be around people who were using their hands, not just consuming culture but creating it. Creating it in the way it had always been created, by listening to the voices from the past and taking the best of what they had. She sought out the mentors, the marginalized, the ones they called old fashioned. In them she found the roots of every sitcom and blockbuster sci-fi movie. They were in those old stories. Some of those stories that were not even written down.
When she discovered bread making, she found her muse. It seemed like one of those lost arts she should pursue. She looked at bread making machines but immediately had a vision of it sitting in a back alley waiting for garbage day next to someone’s treadmill or whatever other piece of unused good intentions that might be found there. She bought a cook book but she could tell that there were aspects of this that could not be put into a recipe. She started looking around for anyone with a little flour on their clothes, any hint of a passion like her own. It didn’t take long to find a class in sourdough bread making.
She was amazed to find out that you didn’t need a yeast packet, you just add some water to some flour and put it in a clay crock and throw a towel over it. The yeast finds it. It’s in the air. When she first saw it growing, she stammered and asked if this made sense. To be letting something attract mold and bacteria didn’t seem like such a good idea. But that’s not what was happening. The starch in the flour doesn’t attract that less healthy stuff. The yeast though, takes that nubby living seed and transmutes it into something that sustains life.
She hadn’t just found out how to make bread, she had found her story. The yeast that she couldn’t see in the air was like the sadness that she saw that others didn’t. It grew and generated carbon dioxide and lactobacilli bacteria and just a little alcohol. This gave the bread that sourdough flavor. In the same way, she knew she could let sadness express itself and help digest the sorrows that are always growing their hardened seeds. She became that person that knew there was always something going on with you and everyone else knew she was the one to come to when you needed that big shoulder to bury your face in. Dave was more of a long term project.
She didn’t know if she’d ever see him again after that first random encounter. She didn’t try to draw anything out of him. He talked of his love of the hills in the area, noting that he hadn’t spent too much time on the flat spots like the one they were on. He loved thinking about the wall of ice that had been there twenty four thousand years ago.
North from there it had scraped clean whatever was beneath it bringing bits of it south as it slowly pushed forward. As it receded, it washed into the landscape that it hadn’t reached, creating a less organized work of art beyond its reach. Rivers formed through hilly landscapes and underground, exposing million year old sedimentary stone. This land was not good for a whole lot in the world of commodities like the flat land the glacier had created. Marjo mentioned Aldo Leopold and Dave said he felt a kinship with him, seeing value in land that did not do well as a real estate holding. He found comfort where others would see imperfection and obstacles.
Orion report
The Orions had observed this in its later stages when they arrived 15,000 years ago. They had seen some creatures spreading out around the globe as those glaciers receded. At that time they were an insignificant 1/10 of 1% of the biomass of vertebrate creatures on the planet.
(date, translation,   )
Report on first contact with planet 729 on the path of the origin star. Nitrogen/Oxygen atmosphere with no toxic trace elements. In the goldilocks zone from its single sun. Carbon based mammalian life supporting mitochondrial bacteria is spread across the land and water. 71% water, 97.5% is saline. (70% of fresh is glaciers, more in glacial period). Not in any immediate danger.
Species labeled species A has populated a areas of the planet in all hemispheres. It shows intricate social structure, compassion even beyond its own species, language, a sense of past and future, and the ability to adapt. Possible other species worth studying. Recommend further observation.
“Hungry?” asked Marjo, keeping her eyes on the little one, but speaking to Dave. A few crackers in the face were enough to keep those little legs energized, but Dave would need a little more. The bread makers rotated, so each could tend to the rest of their lives and all of them together maintained the supply, enough for their families, plus a little extra for whoever might wander through. Yesterday’s sweet rolls would be a good start and hopefully the chickens were producing too.
“Yes actually”, he replied before stuffing his face. “I get focused on something in the shop and forget to eat.”
“Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” Marjo, always with the pithy sayings.
“And then you find out you’re not alone in the universe.” Dave meant that in the human race sense, but Marjo lowered her head a bit, giving him that look from her third eye. Then glanced down to the tea, knowing where it came from.
“Yes, Marianne needs something fixed. And that’s all. You know that’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t know much. I know there will be some celebrations coming up soon and you haven’t considered the contents of your closet.”
“Does new rain gear count?”
“It does not.”
“Well, I need to get to Chicago. I suppose I could do some shopping.”
“Chicago! That’s a hike. Or are you taking the shuttle?”
“Shuttle? Are you forgetting who you are talking to? I’m looking forward to a week or so, on the bike. I’ll stop by the Tippecanoe river to see some old friends. And the electronics shop I’m going to is Old Dave’s.” The storefront for that shop actually said The Electronic Shoppe. Old Dave thought it was funny because you can’t be an electronics shop and be pretentious. If someone looked at the sign and thought it was pretentious and didn’t come in, then he didn’t want them coming in anyway. No one called him Old Dave either except this younger Dave, and Dave’s father, while he was alive. He had been there when new Dave was born and Dave’s father didn’t like the idea of calling him “Uncle” although he knew this man would hold that special place in his life. He would be the one who could tell his son the stories of what his father did before he was born, the one who could tell him when it was okay to break the rules, while Dave’s father played the role of father, one had to enforce them.
Marjo never forgets who she is talking to, “Oh good”, she said without stopping the kneading, the checking of the oven or the other tasks she was managing that Dave could only guess. He had just revealed something to her, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He thought about correcting the awkward situation by offering to help, but he’d been down that awkward road before. She knew who Old Dave was and how important it was that the two of them see each other now and then. Dave would use the excuse of keeping his mouth full of food to justify the silence. He salted his second boiled egg from the jar on the counter, being careful to do so over the garbage can of course. He was eating outside of the schedule which meant he had to clean up after himself. He brushed some crumbs off the counter, waved with the egg hand while grabbing his tea and juggled it all out the door.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy 2020

Yes, I've been remiss in my blogging duties. My writing energies have turned to fiction. My attempt at a blog series to explain my spiritual "Theory of Everything" petered out. Not so much petered out, as I realized that either I get a degree in something like history of the psychology of religion and write some obscure paper on a detailed aspect of the mind, or, I try to write something people will actually read. So, that's what I'm doing these days.

Maybe I'll start publishing excerpts.

BTW, there is no year zero, so this is the end of the teens decade. Just like you normally count. Do you start counting at zero when you are counting something? No. You are not a computer. You count, 1,2,3, up to 10. That's a decade. Your welcome.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The amazing chart of everything

I’m a little embarrassed about how much of this chart I’m familiar with, but I’ve had to look up these things when seemingly intelligent people bring them up and tell me I should be concerned about them. I admit at one time I thought there might be something to the Nostradamus prophecies, but then I simply read what they said. The actual words don’t match the theories about how he predicted the Kennedy assassination. But the guy who made this chart seems to be serious about it, and I’m sure you all know someone who is very serious about at least one of the items found here.

My obsession with this is partially just curiosity, partially the human tendency to gawk at disaster, but it is also rooted in academics. I was in an African American Studies course in my freshman year in college when the people following Jim Jones all killed themselves rather than disband their group and reconsider their life choices. The professor asked us to think about how this happened, particularly why middle class black people joined this group.

Part of it is mind control, making them repeat the ritual without using real poison and barraging them with long speeches about his view of the world over a loud speaker all day long. But cults almost always begin with some reasonable ideas that seem intuitively good. Those roots are usually not well documented and get swept under the longer story that is easily found once the group has some fame. It seems obviously wacko to outsiders at that point, but those who accept it have a history that has altered their intuitions about what is right, so they can justify the wackiness.

Each one of these nodes has a story like that behind it. A story of how it began as someone asking questions that seemed reasonable. They become conspiracy theories when answers are provided that aren’t based on facts, evidence, and logic that is interpreted by people familiar with the full context. People choose the simple answers of the complex inclusive data. This could remain a small group of gossipy neighbors or grow into a political party with actual power.

In this chart, most of it is real names of people, corporations, and organizations, but the connections and the arrows are almost always a stretch. “THX 1138” was really a movie by Steven Spielberg about a guy who escaped a domed city where the government controlled everything with lies and kept people sedated by prescribing drugs. Why that is right next to the “Birth of the Internet”, I don’t know. Further up, in the historical section, the Rockfellers really did monopolize oil in the USA and they did it with nepotism and corruption. Why that is right next to “Ritual Magick” on the chart, who knows?

Harder to miss, the big arcing arrow from scientific discoveries of the modern world to “DEPOPULATION”. You would need to read a lot of stuff that would challenge your credulity of the authors belief in what they were writing to know why Monsanto and Flouridation are on this chart. You might feel like brain cells were trying to escape as you read it, hoping to find a place where reason and logic still exist. What this chart shows is evidence is not needed once you’ve decided to live in a world of fear where you have no power. In that world, it’s better to give up your powers of reason and, according to the logic of that opposite world, then you’ll see what is obvious.

In the world of facts, people do horrible things to each other in plain sight. I couldn’t find “Organized Crime” on here, but we know the names. They walked around in major cities and people loved and adored them. They were treated like the ones who were fixing the problems that the government and police were causing. Meanwhile, they were building their private armies and throwing bodies in the river. Pablo Escobar appears. He financed social programs while also bankrolling corrupt politicians, guaranteeing that those social programs would not have democratic oversight. They got the blame for what was wrong, he got the credit for doing what was right and the power that comes with it.

When you decide that what you see is not real, that you were taught nothing but lies, and that anything that comes from a respected source is actually designed to control you, then everything is part of the giant conspiracy and your best strategy is to do nothing except tell everyone else about how you figured it out. By saying you are questioning everything, you get to feel powerful, but by not using your powers of logic and reason, by claiming your theory is beyond question, you’ve relinquished the power you actually have.

There are of course bad things in the world. Caligula, near the top in the Antiquity section, was a vicious narcissistic ruler. That’s why we say Rome was “falling” at the time he ruled. Democracy was conceived, then faded and came to light again over a thousand years later. This chart seems to connect that re-emergence more to the Illuminati than to the formation of nation states full of free people. No explanation is provided.

Alchemy was a waste of time but as the chart notes, it led to gunpowder. There are good and bad uses for gunpowder but you could say it would be a more brutal world without it. Many items appear on the chart without comment, so it’s hard to say what judgment QAnon is passing on them.

The paradox of “conspiracy theorists” is they will use real conspiracies like Nixon and Watergate, The Gulf of Tonkin incident, Bush lying about weapons of mass destruction, and Jeffrey Epstein as their evidence that governments and rich people are really corrupt, but it’s not “conspiracy theorists” who uncover those conspiracies! The mainstream information sources that are supposedly covering up the conspiracies are the ones that brought those to light.

Conspiracies that actually happen like a President lying on a daily basis or a small family getting rich off of a Pharmaceutical company selling pain medicine, are not included in this chart. Epstein is being investigated even after he died because living people conspired with him, but this chart only has “Pizzagate”. The same people that missed the Epstein conspiracy are now making up stories about how he was killed by the Clintons. This chart was made in 2018, before the Epstein and Sackler stories broke and the QAnon writers are now catching up with them.

There is a big difference between conspiracies where powerful people are lying and hiding information and working for themselves while saying they work for us, and decisions made in the regular course of people trying to figure out how to make a living in a decent and ethical manner. We use toxic chemicals and precious resources to make life better for most people on earth. Billions of people sleep soundly knowing their taxes are supporting a military operation somewhere on the other side of the world that they would never consider participating in. We do our best to discuss decisions like this, requiring layers of oversight and regulating whatever industry gets to profit from the lesser of evils that we eventually choose. We hope that we get the chance to work on the new problems that we caused by implementing the solutions to the original ones. None of this belongs in the same category, on the same chart, as lizard people using the Denver Airport as their secret base.

This chart is the modern version of Greek mythology; mixing historical figures with imagined monsters and giving them all personalities and character traits that attempt to reflect human traits and failings. But the words and actions of the stories didn’t happen in the real world . It’s done in an attempt to try to explain the crazy world we live in, to reconcile what we know is right with all the wrong that we see. It skips over the hard work we need to do to uncover those wrongs. I hope this type of thinking fades and the methods of science prevail and continue to be improved but there is no guarantee. The record of civilizations is not that great, they kind of come and go. Fortunately, even when the powerful and the structures they built fail, we still have each other.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Superior Hiking Trail Ely's Peak

Earlier section the trail

This is a great little section that is in between two well-travelled sections but feels pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The signage is good and the bridges are maintained. In August, the streams can be nearly dry but water will be trickling through. Most of these are just ditches that can be stepped over but the bridges are abundant because in the spring, they can be torrential. Check the weather and be aware of the conditions of the ground. If it is saturated, flooding can pop up quickly and be very dangerous. We crossed one bridge that had the remnants of hand rails that had been torn off and
another that was twisted. 
In the town of Fond du Lac, find 131st Av W off of Highway 23. Go a few blocks to the trailhead. Follow the creek to connect to the trail. This picture is from the Duluth Outdoor Recreation Map. An awesome resource for hiking in Duluth. They should have them at the visitor's center at the top of the hill. 

If you are coming from the Grand Portage trail, just stay on it and make a left at the sign. If you are in Fond du Lac, use one of the spurs and hook up to the SHT. We went east, toward Ely’s Peak. You’ll get switchbacks, vistas, creek beds and all sorts of flora and fauna. We had a nice breeze so even the bugs weren’t bad. As you near Ely’s Peak, you start to hear some road noise, then you pop out of the woods and you’re on the very busy and high speed Beck’s Road.

You should see a sign for the Superior Hiking trailhead off of that road for people driving and looking for parking, but when hiking, just cross straight over and skirt around that lot using the paved Munger Trail part of the way. Plenty of signs here and probably plenty of people. That will get you over the train tracks then start looking for the trail again, to your left. You can’t miss Ely’s Peak from below. Once you start ascending though you lose that reference. You still have the St. Louis River and dots of civilization to the South, so pretty tough to get lost.

This is a pretty direct ascent but the rocks make good steps and it levels off once or twice. Once you get near the top, there are many spur trails to the peak, too many to try to describe. When you get to a place where there is a deep valley to your left/North and another peak, then you’ve passed Ely’s and you’re on your way to Brandon’s Peak and Spirit Mountain.

If you are looking for the other Ely’s Peak parking lot, north along Beck’s Road, that can also be a bit confusing from the trail. Google maps had trails that weren’t there and I’ve read other descriptions of this area that I have found difficult to follow. After the first steep section up from the Munger, there is a spur off to the left. This links up to the DWP trail right at the entrance to a tunnel. If you don’t see that after a few minutes, turn around and try a different spur.

On some maps, you’ll see the DWP Trail. This is a wide flat dirt trail. To the North, it goes through some businesses and all the way to the Interstate. In the other direction, it parallels the Munger Trail, but not close enough so you can see one from the other. Part of it is a tunnel, under the peak, so on a map you will see the dotted line, but you are walking above it. Google currently puts their pin for the tunnel on top of the rock, which seems kind of useless to me. Getting to the tunnel is pretty easy from the Ely’s Peak parking lot, just north of the railroad tracks that go under Beck’s Road. It has no markings, but you can’t miss it. Take the one path leading toward the peak, take a right when you hit the DWP trail and you’ll get to the tunnel. From there, take a very steep ascent trail to the peak, or a trail going down and to the right that links up to the SHT. If you are coming from the peak looking for the parking lot, do the reverse of the above find the DWP, the path to parking is good size, so just avoid the smaller options. If you get to a business, you went too far.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A bit of politics

When I saw Beto O’Rourke asking the press WTF about Trump’s comments fueling racism and leading to mass shootings, I had to figure out just why these gun legislation bills are not getting voted on. I find it hard to believe that Beto does not know this, so I see his rant as not that different from Trump railing at the press. To solve the problem, he would need to comment on votes for Senators in other states, which is not something political leaders usually do. He would have to explain the historical precedents that give Mitch McConnell the power he has, also something politicians don’t do. Beto doesn’t want to explain how the system is broken, he wants to use the broken system to his advantage.
So I went to Google University to try to pull back the curtain. I offer some solutions at the bottom, so skip to the bottom if you don’t like reading about the history of rules of order. I’m afraid I don’t have much more than “organize and vote”, but there are some specific strategies and priorities that could get McConnell demoted to just another Senator.
McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader. That means the Presiding Officer gives him priority to speak. That is the VP, as per Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 or the Constitution. But, basically that is just a chair for rules of order, not a position of power. Article 1, Section 4 grants the Senate power to establish it’s own “Standing Rules”. But, those are rather archaic and don’t grant any real power either. They do not fill all the gaps when controversy arises, so there are informal precedents. The precedent of the majority leader being recognized first by the presiding officer (see 1937 John “Cactus Jack” Nance Garner) gives Mitch McConnell the ability to set the schedule and control the agenda of the Senate. By law, any senator could make the motion to proceed with any bill. They could just shout it out and then someone could shout out a second.
So why don’t they? I don’t think it’s “deference” to Mitch McConnell. It’s deference to the donors that would crush them if they opposed McConnell. None of these procedural rules keeps people in power over a majority of its citizens without a system of enforcement to back it up. The enforcement needs money. It’s tough to win an election without it. Whoever has the money is not interested in procedures and majorities. They only need people to do their work and buy their stuff. They figured out how to scam the system and there is no vote that can change that. But your vote does matter, I’m getting to that.
The money isn’t just to pay for some TV time, it’s used to fake studies that show that you should be afraid of the government and afraid of others who really aren’t “others” at all. It’s used to keep the system of poor education in place so people don’t understand the system that is oppressing them. It’s used to distract while they reach into your wallet. More to the point, it funds border security and policing but doesn’t fund training for de-escalating violence or better mental health care to keep people out of the justice system in the first place.
A couple things we can do. One is, flip the Senate so McConnell doesn’t have this power and Republicans don’t have it. Even if they keep the Presidency, the VP as presiding officer does not have much power in the Constitution or by tradition. Even if all we get are votes on bills that are lost or vetoed, we have at least identified who is voting how and we can put pressure on those individuals. Easier said than done though since McConnell is there because of a few hundred thousand people in Kentucky, just like senators in North Dakota or Georgia. But there are swing states and even if you don’t live there you can contribute to the campaigns.
Another is voter suppression and apathy. I agree that voting is unfair and your vote does not count as much as some voters. But it is not worthless. People who want gun control and want children released from detention centers are in the super majority. As long as we continue to lose these battles by slim vote margins, it appears we don’t have power. But remember, women won the right to vote without having the vote and civil rights was changed by people seeing what was happening in states where votes were suppressed. That suppression is still going on, each of us just has to look. If you know someone who says it isn’t, show them.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Living the Dream

I saw this graph at a lecture, and I couldn’t find it, so finally I was able to screen shot it. The lecture was on atheism, but it shows something pretty amazing that has happened in the last 80 years. That’s grandparent age, so it’s not that long of a period of time in political terms. Unfortunately the years were cut off, but as it says, Gallup started asking this question in 1937, so that’s on the left. It goes to 2012 on the right. It’s only asking if you would support your party endorsed candidate if they were one of these categories, so one person could say yes to any or all of them.

Note, that at the time, a black, gay, lesbian or atheist President is not something they even considered asking about. Catholic, Jewish or a woman, that’s it. And women did not do too well. Women rose steadily, probably due to their prominence in the war and work efforts around World War II. They started including blacks and atheists after that war as those were both things being talked about. Blacks started out low, but the civil rights movement moved them up within a few decades. Anyone who reads anything about that time knows this was no easy ride for any of these groups. Finally, somewhere around the 60’s it was recognized that Gay/Lesbian is also a category that someone might answer “yes” to.

I could say a lot more about the two groups who are still polling low, and there are other polls where Muslims come in around the 50% or less level too. I’ll link the talk, where Hemant Mehta did talk about it. What really struck me though is this is the dream of democracy and diversity coming true. Another 100 years earlier, just about anywhere in the world, the only people who could lead their country were people who had a royal blood line for that country. Either that or they killed whoever was there before. This question wouldn’t even make sense to the man on the street in feudal Europe or any other continent. Those two lower lines have continued to rise since 2012 and I believe it will not be that long before the strangeness of this question, because the answer is obviously “yes”, will be as strange as asking someone from a monarchy if they would support a king from a different country or of a different religion.

As a line graph, it looks like more and more people are crowding up at the top. But in terms of population the proportions of people hasn’t changed that much, it’s just that they can openly be who they are without needing to compromise and more of us are fine with all of us getting the benefits of working in and living in this modern world we’ve built. The 70% who once said “no” to these questions are seeing that it’s better to say “yes”. Granted some of them are no longer around but statistically this graph is showing people who changed their minds. Even the younger people participating had to learn this from somewhere. Culture does not usually change that fast, but lessons like this can be learned that fast.

                                           Hemant Mehta: Is Atheism a Political Taboo?