Category Archives: Culture

Say “Thank you, Mr. Reagan.”

Oh no, this is not about any of the current healthcare debates of tax cut proposals. I have a feeling that most of you reading this own a smart phone and that you can take advantage of that device’s GPS for turn-by-turn navigation. This is a feature that has not only enabled a great deal of modern commerce but has saved lives. For this you say ‘Thank you, Mr. Reagan.’

The Global Positioning System, GPS, was developed for the U.S. Military to allow the United States to have pinpoint accuracy on all it’s assets around the world. It is what is referred to in mil-speak as a ‘force multiplier.’ A factor that allows a force to fight as though their number were actually larger than are present. Opening that up to everyone’s use is a major policy and that policy change was ordered by President Reagan after a tragedy.

September 1 1983 KAL flight 007 wandered off course and into the airspace claimed by the USSR. Mistaking the passenger jet for a spy plane the Soviets shot it down killing all 269 aboard. I order to avoid such tragedies in the future the Reagan administration opened the GPS up to world-wide civilian use.

Say ‘Thank you, Mr. Clinton.’

The system opened to civilian use by Reagan was slightly altered to degrade performance. Non-military users could not locate their position with an accuracy greater than a few hundred meters. This prevented navigation errors such as with KAL 005 but preserved a significant degree of superiority for the U.S. Military. In 1996 the Clinton administration, recognizing the huge private sector potential, removed the additional signal that degraded the service for civilians. Now everyone with a GPS receiver could pinpoint there location to within a new meters. You know, that thing your phone does all the time.

What’s the point of all this?

Conservatives and Liberal can both have terrific ideas, either can advance the common good and either can see beyond petty self-interests. Only a partisan fool blithely disregards something solely because it came from across the aisle. Every idea, suggestion, and should be judges on its own merits.

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Words Create Reality

I was going to write a post about the long-term costs to the Republican party if they throw millions of people of their healthcare. (Short answer the cost is high and it endangers everything conservatives want to achieve or protect.) However the shooting in Virginia has prompted today’s thoughts.

 

It may be self-serving for a professed writer to proclaim the power f the word but in my opinion the truth remains no matter the source. Words create our reality. Now clearly I do not mean that in a Newton/Einstein/Bohr sense of reality, but human perceptions of about what the universe is and how is works is vitally important that those perceptions are shaped and created by the words we use to describe our shared understanding.

The words we use to describe ourselves and perhaps more importantly those with whom we disagree contain a terrible power. We can all too easily de-humanize those who are not of our in-group. Once people are de-humanized and no longer seen as ‘really people’ then the processed proceeds easily to assault and murder. This is true in war where propaganda creates the illusion that the enemy solider is a monster and not a person. This is true and vile depravity of racism where entire swaths of humanity are expelled from our family. And it is true in politics when we refuse to accept that those who disagree with us can hold a legitimate point of view. This has been on display far too often lately.

Of course there was the attack this week by a lone gunman who attempted to murder Republican politicians as they played a game. That action is the wholly unsurprising resulted of labeling your opponents Nazis. After all Nazis are the unquestioned evil of our modern age. Pundits on the left and on the right argues endlessly that the Nazi actually belong to the other side’s camp because turning your opponents into Nazis is the ultimate de-legitimization of their position and causes.

Recently we’ve had a spate of people urging that it is always right to assault a Nazi, and lucky for them they get to decide who is and who is not a Nazi. This week was not unexpected; it was the next logical step.

The process plays out exactly the same when you decry they your opponents have a culture of death, that they do not value human life, that their system of belief is wholly evil and violent. When you beat that drum you cannot then be shocked that houses of worship are burned, people are assaulted and people are murdered. If civilization itself is at stake, the reality too often painted with words from that side of things, then how can we exert anything less that total commitment including violence?

I recall sitting on a panel at a science-fiction convention and a fellow panelist called for greater civility in our political discourse while using pejoratives to describe his political opponents and that is the heart of the problem. Those on the right can easily see how the inflamed rhetoric from the left caused this week’s shooting, and those on the left can clearly understand how the right’s rhetoric caused the recent murder on public transit and yet from your own side the perpetrators are always unbalanced people never actually representative.

Yes, these people are imbalanced but it is the inflammatory words that helped prompt them into think that there actions are not only acceptable but praiseworthy.

Choose your words carefully.

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Trust Once Broken is Nearly Impossible to Re-forge

Life is not like the Lord of The Rings and trust once it is shattered is not easily reformed into a new shiny compact like the recreated blade Narsil transformed from its shard into Anduril.

Ask any couple where one has betrayed the other with an affair. Ask anyone who has placed their trust in another person who let them down and then asked to be trusted again. When someone’s given word is broken it is very difficult and usually a lengthy process to regain a measure of trust so it is with nations.

Trump’s lasting impact on the United States is probably going to be in the area of how our allies treat us and our commitments. From his refusal to recommit to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. which is the very heart of the treaty, to the sudden withdrawal from the Paris Accords, our allies are going to understand that America’s word is much less dependable and our actions much more volatile then they have assumed.

Roman maintained Pax Romana through it’s military dominance of the4 ancient world with Rome’s mighty Legions. England maintained Pax Britiana with her Navy and economic colonialism, but Pax American has been something different.

For the most part, and imperfectly, we have maintained a world peace and flowering economic growth around the globe through our leadership and our diplomacy. As I have mentioned in other posts the United States spends far more than other nations on its military because we are the one assuring the world’s peace. We are also the linchpin of the world’s economy, with out dollars acting as the planet’s reserve currency. That power and that responsibility comes entirely from the world’s trust, trust in American agreements and treaties.

While amongst ourselves the right and the left have bitter differences, over seas we have historically presented one face and fully backed our agreements, something the world counted upon. Trump has shattered that. Our allies now publicly state that they can no longer fully count on America, that they must be ready to go it alone. This does not make us stronger it weakens us. This does not secure our economy it imperils it. Other nations are watching us and want our position. There is no love for a fallen empire and no loyalty to an ally to shatters trust.

We are in terrible danger.

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Memorial Day

Today we remember our fallen soldiers but one aspect I want to mention is that not all fall in combat.

It seems decidedly strange thing think that we now have an entire generation that is rapidly approaching adulthood that have never known a time of peace. 2001 to present has ben continual war for the United States, some times hotter than others but always there. Before the present and enduring crisis there was the peace for the Cold War.

I served, briefly for I was a terribly sailor, and I saw no combat, took part in no exchange of gunfire and never sailed under the direct threat of attack, but still I knew servicemen who died while on duty.

I sailed on one WestPac, a cruise of the Western Pacific, and two men were killed while another was maimed for life during that voyage. One was a marine who fell from a helicopter during on exercise and the other was a crew chief lost when a helicopter crashed and went over the side, vanishing beneath the Pacific’s uncaring surface.

The military in all its branches is a dangerous profession, filled with men and women who for a variety of reason have chosen to place their lives on the line for our greater good.

War, peace, training, or combat all who serve do so at great personal risk and not all survive. It is our duty, our responsibility to make sure those lives were never lost in vain.

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‘Come see the Violence Inherent in the System!’

This week on the eve of a special election the electorate was treated with the spectacle of a congressional candidate, Gianforte, assaulting a person, a reporter, for their presumed liberal politics. Repeatedly punching the man while shouting that he was ‘… sick and tired of your guys!’ Sadly the candidate still won his election but let’s look at this again.

There were unqualified condemnations of the assault from people presumably on the left side of the political spectrum. This sort of violence is utterly unacceptable and there needs to be serious consequences for the criminality. From the right I heard qualified condemnation and regret. Yes, this is bad and it shouldn’t have happened, but liberal have long poised the discourse and this is the result of that. (I’m going to set aside any validity to that position, that’s not the point today.)

I have unqualified condemnation for all political violence. Violence should be held in reserve until it is required to defend life and safety. You bring the very concept that violence is acceptable, in any form, to political discourse and you have taken the steps to a terrible future.

We have another incident 4 months ago.

Richard Spencer, arguably America’s leading Fascist, the man who led a room of people in the NAZI salute while shouting ‘Hail Trump!’ was assaulted on camera while being interviewed.

I heard many voices from the left offering with outright praise for this violence to very qualified condemnation, while voice on the right proclaimed the utterly unacceptability of violence based on the target’s political views.

I posted at the time that while Spencer is utterly reprehensible this violence was in no manner justified. I feel the exact same way about Gianforte’s assault on a reporter. My position is perfectly aligned with my principles in both cases.

Be wary of being so wedded to your team, of being so poised by your animosity, that you surrender your values. Without solid values there is nothing but naked raw ambition and power.

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Unimportant Political Posting

For Saturday here is an utterly unimportant political post about something that ticks me off.

Both Kerry and Obama were mocked by conservative media for ‘elite’ food tastes, Kerry while campaigning for asking about different cheeses on a philly cheese/steak and Obama for asking about deli/spicy mustard for a sandwich. (Not to mention the arugula comment.) these choices were presented as evidence that the respective pols were out of the mainstream culture and elitists.

Recently I have seen liberal media mocking Trump for his food selections, that he loves fast food such as McDonald’s, like catsup on his steaks, insulting him for having ‘common’ tastes.

Fuck off to all of you.

Trump is a terrible terrible president and may well be an inflection point indicating the beginning of the end for American dominance of the globe, but that’s not the point here. The point is that people are allowed to like what they like. They are allowed to take pleasures in the little things in life that help make life bearable.

I will not take part in elitist snobbery from the left or from the right. (And yes, mocking people for not following your tastes is elitist ) frankly food snobs in general piss me off. I see the memes passing around about how you should cook this or how you should consume that and the people who don’t should be asked to leave.

Yeah it’s joking but the heart of the joke is that others are expected to live their lives to an standard that is not their own.

You don’t like the way I order my steaks? You don’t like my choice of sauces.

Screw you. Your opinion on such things does not matter.

The same goes for music, television, books, films, and the like.

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Thoughts on Roger Moore

I am a few days late in posting my remembrances in part because I so rarely engage in public displays related to celebrity deaths but also in part because this feels more like a Friday topic.

As a baby boomer Roger Moore was a facet of my entertainment environment, television and film he remained for decades a familiar and stable cast member. Like many people he was my first Bond. I was staying the summer with my sister Carol and she took me to the movies to see Live and Let Die. Coming from a small town in Florida and before that an even smaller town in the rural mountain of North Carolina this was my first exposure to a true multiplex theater and I just adored the idea of so many movies in one location.

I became a Bond fan but there was always a little dissatisfaction with the franchise. The tone, silly and fun didn’t connect for me on what I thought a spy movie should be. However I did return again and again to watch Moore’s wittily save the day. Exploring past film I discovered Connery and Lazenby and I really like Lazenby but I have always walked out of step. My favorite Bond is the current one, Craig.

Outside of Bond there were a number of project that Moore had become famous for but one that did not add significantly to his fan, and that is a flawed film, was one that became a personal favorite, ffolkes.

Early 80’s this is the story of a Scot mercenary ffolkes (Moore) who tackles the problem of terrorists who have taken hostage three oil platforms in the North Atlantic. The film is cheesy enough to have been produced in Wisconsin but for me is fun enough that I continually lose myself in it.

I think I shall need to give it another viewing soon.

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Even Literal Jokes are Illuminating

The news cycle these days is more like a news cyclone. It moves fast, it’s unpredictable, and we are all concerned with swaths of destruction. It also means that an idea to explore or discuss is often simply the last hour’s events and out of date by supper. No matter, there a couple of events that raise some points I’d like the dive into and I don’t care that they are older news stories.

Last week we learned that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy during a private discussion with fellow House Republicans said:

There’s two people I think Putin pays, Rohrabacher and Trump.”

The quote was denied until it was revealed that an audio recording of it existed and then the statement was described as a joke. A lot of people do not think it was a joke, but I disagree with them. I actually doubt that the House Majority Leader was stating as a fact that with Representative Rohrabacher or Trump were on Putin payroll. I accept that it was a joke, a jest, a jibe, but that doesn’t meaning the statement is meaningless. Jokes exist in a context or they are not funny.

Two of the contexts that you can find joke is exaggeration and incongruity. A joke that relies on exaggeration takes a context everyone knows to be true and plays it to hyperbole for humorous effect. Stating that the giraffes at zoo were hitting on the school’s basketball player is not meant to literally imply either that the player is 12 feet tall but rather exaggerates his height for the punch-line. In that context it is clear that while McCarthy’s comment can be viewed as a joke the underlying premise is unsettling. The joke is only funny if there is a baseline to exaggerate, if there is a closer than comfortable relationship between Putin and the two men, a relationship so well accepted and know that it can be the basis for a joke. That should give everyone pause.

The other context I’m looking at is incongruity. That’s where a joke plays against an expectation. This is the sort of joke where someone might say to a person over-reacting that William Shatner called and wants his sense of subtly back. It plays on the well know, though not always fair, ding for Shatner’s expansive acting method.

During the confirmation hearing for A.G. Jeff Sessions a statement of his came back to haunt him. referring to the violent, racist group the KKK Sessions is quoted as saying that the KKK was ‘OK until I found out that they smoked pot.’

Again this was explained as a joke, and let’s go ahead and examine it as a joke. Now the KKK is not known for pot use so this doesn’t look like a joke of exaggeration but rather one of incongruity. The idea that the serious, and bigots are always overly serious in their hatred, Christian warriors are pot heads is at odds with their image, but that does not remove the nasty factor in this joke. There are really only two ways of looking at this statement.

1) That smoking pot is more serious and morally wrong than being a group of violent racist bigots.

or

2) That being a group of violent racist bigots is not as morally wrong as smoking pot.

I know that those two statement seems the same but they really are not, though neither is an admirable worldview. In the first the idea that the racism and bigotry is bad, perhaps even extreme, but it is exceeded by pot smoking. With the second view pot smoking is so reprehensible that even being a violent racist bigot is not as bad.

The joke only really works by way of context with the first interpretation. That being a violent racist bigot is wrong but it is not as bad as being a pot smoker, this both exaggerates the pot smoking and downplays the bigotry. The joke only works if your consider pot smoking in the same realm as violent bigotry and no matter how you cut it that is a serious disturbed viewpoint that either considers the KKK not so bad or harmless pot smoking the same as murderous violence.

So jokes can be jokes, but they still illuminate the interior workings of the minds that find them funny.

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Representation Matters

Popular art reflects the culture from which it sprang. It is this basic fact that underpins the concept that representation in the arts is important. How people of all types are depicted in the arts both reveals the cultures attitudes towards those people and how those people see themselves within the culture at large.

In my book there is a world of difference between representation and bean-counting. The latter is simply plugging is a person of X characteristics to simply say that those characteristics are in the work. Bean-Counting takes no notice of character, reducing people to tokens for fulfilling quotas. Representation is about having characters realized to your fullest ability who happen to encompass a broad range of traits and characteristics. Both require conscience effort on the part of the artist but one makes for better art and more honest representations.

Representation matters because art effects those who consume it. Not only the dominate member of a culture but those who are not in positions of authority or respect. People internalize the depictions that they are exposed to and those internalizations warp the self-image and behavior of all who take them in.

Representation matters because without it we have a terrible waste of talent and resources. We need artists of every stripe participating in the communal village. Even voices you do not agree with, particularly voices you do not agree with. There was a time when the concept of individual rights was the dangerous new idea that the old order tried to extinguish. What uplifting and revolutionary thought is waiting out there?

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Can the State Require You to Risk Your Life?

Setting aside the issue of first responders, the military, and even conscription into the military forces, when is it just and moral for the state to require a citizen to take an action that places their very life in jeopardy?

Very simply the state requires you to do action X and that action carries a low probability of, say one in six thousand, of causing you to die. If you do not perform action X the state will imprison you, fine you, and bring the full weight of the criminal justice system down on you.

It would seems to me that this sort of thing should be considered immoral and an action of an out of control government, The right to your own life has to be the basis for all other rights.

I have heard people argue it would not be immoral for the state to do this in order to save another life. That does not persuade me. Let’s consider this is a political context.

Pelosi or Cruz, whichever politician is your personal political devil, is in dire need of a new kidney. Pelosi/Cruz will die without the new kidney and the state has determined that one of yours is the very best match. Under the threat of fines and imprisonment you are orders to under go surgery and surrender a kidney to the desperate Pelosi/Cruz, but it carries that 1-in-6000 when you go under you will never wake back up. Do you have the right to tell the state to stuff it? That it’s too bad about Pelosi/Cruz but this is something you do not want to do. I say yeah, that is your moral right.

This fantastic scenario occurred to me because I have the tendency to place myself in other people’s shoes. I am constantly watching my Facebook feeds and thinking about what if I were in someone else life, what would that be like? It is part of what makes me a writer. A number of my friends are mothers and I considered the courage of pregnancy. In the United States about 1 in 5,500 pregnancies end with the death of the mother. That’s a terrible and frightened statistic, one that makes me doubt, pain of childbirth aside, if I would have the courage to follow one through to term.

And you can see where that thought trail led.

Laws prohibiting abortion force a woman to risk her life. Plain and simple that state is forcing a citizen to engage in an action that can very well kill them.

I am sure I am not the first person to ponder this aspect, but is has strengthened by pro-choice stand.

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