Fiction and Reality

A number of decades ago I first conceived my nationalized space setting. In this fiction future history the United States takes a wrong turn during the 21st century and begin its slid from being a world power to being a third rate power. In part this was inspired by the decline of previous empires, because eventually that is the fate of all great empires and nations, and it was also inspired by a hope that we might avoid such a turn of events.

Two years ago a publisher passed the first Seth Jackson novel set in this future history. That’s fine, as I have said in other essays, Rejection is part of the game, don’t play if you can’t handle getting the rejections and the dislikes. My agent has moved it on and another publishers is now giving the material a look. It’s strange to be consider more books in the series as I watch the current events around me.

The fiction was not about our current president. Hell, all throughout the election last year I was as certain as anyone else we would not end up where we have in fact landed. (And it a slim reed of hope to note that it was the greatest election misfire in history to produced this outcome.) As I continue to work in my fictional future I avoid making reference to current events, even though I do believe that the misfortune of today’s political climate will reverberate for a very long time. I think it is best to not date the material with too many current references and being too specific, particularly in SF, can be a self-inflicted wound, but it has me thinking about this nation’s future.

Is this what it is like to live through an empire decline?

I fear the answer may be yes. As a people we seem to be coming apart at the seems and as a nation we seem to be turning away from the exterior focusing on our selves to exclusions of the world. The ridiculous ‘border wall’ is such a symptom. It’s not about actually solving a problem. It’s about literally walling ourselves off and proclaiming that which is beyond the wall is unimportant. That didn’t work for Hadrian and it will not work for us. Our loss of ‘soft power,’ influence, and respect are attributes that cannot be rebuilt with a change of administrations. Nations are working around this presidency and discovery that perhaps the United States no longer is indispensible.

China is rising and perhaps the future of the world is the Yuan as the Reserve Currency.

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Universal Healthcare is not Slavery

So from the left side of the political spectrum that has been an assertion that ‘healthcare is a right.’ For the moment let’s set aside if they are in fact correct with that position. (And no the preamble to the constitution doesn’t establish it, that section has no force of law. It’s what gamers call ‘color text.’) In response to this position some on the right, generally from the libertarian wing, have counter-claimed that asserting that healthcare is a right means making an illegitimate claim on another’s person’s labor and that is de factor slavery.

Slavery? That is an absurd proposition beyond the boundaries of the asinine.

First off, the healthcare professions, doctors, nurse and the like would still be compensated for their labor. t would not be stolen without compensation or consent, so it in now way resembles slavery. It is the height of offensiveness to even suggest such a thing.

Second, all right require the labor of others. You want a right to a trail? That means that there must be judges, District Attorneys, clerks, bailiffs, and a whole host of support personal. You want a right to vote? There has to be registers, clerks, and again a vast support network. A right which is not protected and not enforced is no right at all and that protections and enforcement requires people and their labor.

Where the questions of labor that is compelled is the taxation. Taxes represents the labor of people that has been confiscated to support the public good. There is a great and vigorous debate over what constitutes a public good and therefore what sort of things are so valuable, so essential, that collective we must take some from most in order to support the goal.

There are strong arguments on both side about healthcare and if it is a public good or an individual responsibility, but comparisons to slavery are only for the dim and the deluded.

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An American Birthday

Yesterday was the 4th of July. I spent it with my sweetie-wife in a relaxed and comfortable day off. We went to the theaters and for a second time watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, we enjoyed each other’s company, and we played games. The lack of cook-outs, picnics, and fireworks should be taken as a political statement. I believe that this is a great and flawed nation. A nation that has helped birth great ideal into the world and a nation that has failed to live up to its own great ideals.

There are those who look upon America’s history and stress only her sins. Make no mistake America have great sins upon her honor, most of them dealing with European racism towards the rest of the world. Our founding fathers possessed great insight and aspirations, but they also own people as chattel slaves. Looking only at the sins is a distortion; it is point-of-view propaganda that presents a false narrative.

There are those who ignore the sin and only promote the noble and uplifting elements of American history. With a wave of the hand they dismiss the suffering, the injustice, and the murder committed by this nations. Ignoring those terrible crimes, refusing to acknowledge them as terrible crimes, or placing them in some seal and irrelevant past with no connect to the present is also simplistic propaganda.

This nation has laid out high goals for itself and for humanity. This nation had never achieved those goal in total, it has always fallen short. Perfection cannot be achieved but people, we will also fail but we must always strive for that perfection. In the arts perfection can be the enemy. You may want the perfect prose but you cannot have it. There comes a time when you stop attempting to improve the piece and it must be what it is. This is not true of our nation. The United States of American will never be a completed project. We must always either be rising towards our ideal, or falling into decline.

With every vote to are choosing the path. Either up towards the heights or down into darkness. Where will you take us?

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The Ultimate Insult

What is the worse political insult you can throw at a person? It’s not fascist. It’s not Nazi. It’s not Communist. I think the worst insult you can hurl a person is either liberal or conservative, and more specifically Democrat or Republican.

Now those sound pretty tame compared to the others mentioned. Surely, it must be far more insulting to be named a Nazi than a Republican. Well that depends on who is doing the naming. Those on the left expect to be called Communist and such from the right and liberals have long named Conservatives Nazi. In a partisan political combat those are practically medals. However if you are a conservative and a fellow traveler on the right calls you a liberal, that burns, that’s a wound. The same is perfectly true from the left. During the last presidential election the insult thrown with the most emotional weight at Hilary from fellow Democrats was that she was really a Republican.

This is the apogee of tribalism. It ceases to be about ideas, solutions, or even principles but everything devolves down being a good member of the team. I certainly know this effect well.

I believe in a second amendment right to bear arms; I believe in capital punishment; I believe a flat tax rate; I believe that capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system, and more than once I have had conservative friends call me a left-wing liberal.

I believe in marriage equality; I believe in a woman’s right to control her body; I believe in social safety nets and universal care; I believe that corporations are not people, and more than one liberal friends have called me a right-wing conservative.

To me being called a liberal or a conservative is hardly noticeable, but to a partisan it is the supreme insult. It is to be called traitor, a turncoat, a quisling for the enemy. People who are partisan will contort and twist to avoid this. If it means taking up the same side or cause as the opposition they will stand silent on events that may otherwise inflame them.

This is opposed to reason and discourse. Free yourself from your tribe; think and speak for yourself.

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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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Some Random Thoughts While Recovering

This week has been a rough week. Every single of the week I have suffered a migraine attack. Individually each one has been a mild to mid-grade headache, not enough to keep me home but severe enough to seriously reduced my productivity and enjoyment. This morning I awoke with another migraine and after yesterdays I decided to take the serious step to break the cluster. That means staying home from the day job and taking two does of my medications about four hours apart. This nearly always stops a cycle but leaves me fog-headed and a little unsteady. Right now, for the first time in a week, I do not feel like a headache is about to explode.

 

The Republicans have released the Senate’s bill for repealing and replacing the ACA with their own version. It is cheaper, skimpier, and will result in lots of people losing their coverage. If they pass it and Trump signs it, not a certainty as the man’s alignment is Chaotic Greedy, I think they this victory will serve them as well as Imperial Japan’s victory at Pearl Harbor. They will have won a battle but plunge into a war that looks far worse for them. This will have taught the Democratic party two very valuable lessons. First that it is futile to consider the conservative position on health care. The attempt at a mixed mode or public and private systems produced no benefits at all. Second that reconciliation is the method to achieve their goals; that there is no penalty paid for shutting out the other party. In addition to those lessons further making the ground worse for the conservatives the conversation on health care has changed in a very basic manner; the population in general believes that more people should have access to health care and that it’s a proper role of the Federal Government to make that happen. One of the few consistencies in the Trump campaign was his promise to make healthcare cheaper and covering more people. Trump is salesman and he was telling people what they wanted to hear. It is what they want and the GOP plan does the opposite of that. They might make that sale with a fast talk roll and a quick vote but once implements there’s no three-card monte way to hid the results. Let me close out the political thoughts with one more observations. Conservative positions are a package deal, they are all sailing on the same ship. If the GOP sinks the ship over healthcare it will take down everything else that conservatives might care for, tax cut, ‘pro-life’ policies, gun rights, all of this I think is imperiled in the long term. Is that a trade you really think is worthy? Is this the hill to kill your movement on?

 

I’ll wrap up with an artistic observation. I am quite happy with the releases of Mad Max: Black & Chrome and Logan Noir. After the advent of cheap and easy color film, remember The Wizard of Oz and The Adventures of Robin Hood were 1939 but common color films didn’t come about until the late 1960s, B&W film were for only art house releases and the odd film released wide in B&W generally did not do well. Seeing the special editions in the theaters give me hope that we are seeing a generation of general theatergoers who are more open and interested in artistic expressions that go beyond just the basic entertainment.

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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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‘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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