Troll Season (again)

I’ve noticed an uptick in Internet trolling. It’s a bit earlier than I expected, but there’s a lot of money behind the trolling, and a lot of people doing it.


I just re-read this, and it still seems sound.

I’ve noticed a new varietal coming out this Spring. The poster will go on the attack, accusing posters of making things worse because they are calling out the bad actors instead of concentrating on the problem that “both sides” are equally guilty.

Where it becomes obviously trollish is when one side is killing people, and the other side is trying to keep them from killing people, they both get tarred with the “both-sides” brush, and YOU get attacked because you are calling out the people killing people and don’t spend equal time criticizing the people who are trying to stop the killing. Apparently you are supposed to just stay quiet. Mmmm hmmmm.

Basic response remains the same: DON’T ENGAGE.

If you’re in a group and a lot of other people are getting sucked in, it may be worth taking one for the team and calling out the Troll. You will be attacked, of course. Ignore it. It’s a Troll. They aren’t your audience. You’re talking to the people being sucked in, and once should be enough. If they still want to engage the Troll, it’s their thing.

A City Upon a Hill

US Politicians since Ronald Reagan have referred to the greatness of the modern self-styled Rome, i.e. the United States of America, as a “shining city upon a hill.” As is typical of political speech, it’s a glowing turn of phrase misused to mean something quite different from its original intent.

The original phrase comes from a sermon by John Winthrop, written in 1630. Winthrop was a Puritan minister, and the word “shining” does not appear in his sermon. His meaning was that the Puritan colonies in the US would be highly visible, and carefully watched by other Christian sects in Europe and the Colonies. “[T]his sermon called Puritans to model radical communal solidarity.” And indeed, the Puritans were quite successful at this. “[T]he commitment to a higher cause and the dedication to God had made the Puritan community unusually successful, and the success of their venture—the wealth it generated—had eventually undermined the venture itself. When Puritans started making money, their purposes collapsed.”

In other words, they started out as an idealistic communal hippy sect, and once it started to turn a nice profit, they degenerated into a pack of greedy bastards. It’s the age-old story.

See if you are curious about this.

Reagan’s public revival of this expression, repeated by every President since, calls to mind the great cities and high towers that appear in works of fiction and lore: Tintagel where Arthur was conceived, Camelot where Arthur ruled, Minas Tirith where the last kings of Middle Earth reigned.

People forget something basic.

When you build a shining tower, it casts a shadow.

I read a story a long time ago, that went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a kingdom in which everyone was happy, healthy, and successful. A nobleman from a distant land arrived one day, and was astonished by the health and industry of the people. The King received him, and accompanied him around the kingdom, showing him wonder after wonder. They returned to the castle, and as they walked together, the traveler saw one dark door in a shadowed hallway, strangely out-of-place in this bright kingdom. He inquired about it. The King ignored him and moved quickly to the next wonder. Late that night, the traveler stole quietly from his room to the dark doorway, consumed by curiosity, and found it unlocked. A stone stairway lead downward from the door. He descended the staircase, and at the bottom, he found an old man, and a locked cell containing a small, naked figure of a child curled on the floor, covered in dark bruises.

“What is this place?” he asked the old man.

“This is the Heart of the Kingdom,” he replied.

“I don’t understand,” the traveler said.

“There is an enchantment on the land,” the old man said. “This is the price. You see the child within the cage? Every month, a child of less than ten years is selected by lottery from a family in the realm, and is brought to this place, to be stripped, beaten, and left to die of hunger and thirst in that cage. So long as this continues, the realm will prosper.”

The traveler, horrified, did not even return to his room for his possessions before fleeing the castle and the kingdom.

As I read about the chaos taking the Republican Party in the House right now, I keep coming back in my mind to the question of what drives the far-right Republican base. It’s a fringe, nut-case political ideology, yet it has substantial popular support. Why?

I think the answer lies, in part, within the parable above. I will explain with another story, this one a personal account.

The other night, I ordered take-out from a local Italian restaurant. I arrived early, and pulled into a parking spot in the storefront lot facing the restaurant to wait until the order was ready. At the outdoor table right in front of me was an older man in a khaki jacket. He didn’t like me being there; apparently, I had intruded on “his” space, which apparently extended into the parking lot. He started shouting at me, calling me a “white nigger” (he was also white), and a “son-of-a-bitch,” and making repeated reference to his military service; then he’d round back to the beginning and start over, getting angrier and more physically agitated every time as I continued to ignore him.

I eventually pulled out and moved the car to a spot further down the row, and he didn’t pursue. I called the restaurant to let them know this guy was out there, harassing customers. When I went in to pick up my order, the owner apologized to me. She said it was like this most nights: there was a homeless shelter nearby, and the crazies would come out and sit in front of the restaurant and shout at people. The police would do nothing, and there was no one else to call. They had to start closing the restaurant at 6:00 pm because of it.

The United States sacrifices its people without concern, some through military service in wars of geopolitical adventurism, some through unquestioning support of business downsizing and outsourcing in the name of “economic efficiency and profits,” and nearly all of us through a banking system that allows real inflation to outpace wages while juggling the numbers to make the argument that this just isn’t so.

All of us are racing upwards toward that “shining city on a hill,” but most of us will drop from exhaustion long before we get there.

As a nation, we shrug. Leaving the unfit behind is the sacrificed child, the Heart of the Kingdom. It’s the way we roll. Pick yourself up and try harder, soldier. If you can’t make it to the top, it’s your own damn fault. It’s not our business to offer you handouts. Pull your own weight. Reimagine yourself.

I believe what drives the far-right Republican voters is an awareness that they have already been abandoned as “unfit” to live in the shining city. They’ve lost the game. Many are retired and being devoured by rising prices. Many are young and did not inherit wealth to let them start somewhere above the bottom of the hill. Many did their best, but had their industry collapse, or their job eliminated, or a health or financial issue that buried them alive.

Of course, they can’t accept that they were unfit. There’s obviously been a mistake somewhere in the paperwork. They’ve been cheated. It was an immigrant that took their job. It was a government handout to a lazy person. It was discrimination against veterans, or against white people, or against their Christian religion, or against their maleness.

They are right that it wasn’t their fault, any more than it was the fault of the child chosen by lottery to be beaten and starved in a dungeon cage. It fell on them because their number came up in the lottery. They had to be fired so that Elon Musk’s financials would look better this month. It wasn’t personal.

So why do these folks turn to the Republican Party?

I think it’s really pretty simple, which it would have to be.

Donald Trump gave them a job.

When you are starving in the middle of a large city, unable to find work, and someone offers you a little pay and some respect for roughing up dead-beat borrowers, maybe breaking an arm or two, maybe making someone “disappear” — you take it. It’s food. It’s rent money. It’s new shoes. It’s dignity.

Donald Trump gave them legitimacy, because he was listening to their discontent. He had his own agenda, a criminal agenda, but he was listening, and that’s something no one — no one — on the Democratic side was doing.

Nor are the Democrats listening now.

I’m thinking of that guy outside the Italian restaurant the other night. What good will it do him to have lots of federal money dumped into “the economy” for dams or roads or solar energy plants? How long would he last on a road crew before he took a shovel to some “white nigger” he was working next to? What about a black worker? Is it even possible that he could ever “pull his weight” again after whatever trauma put him into this state? How could a capitalist justify the return-on-investment?

The basic problem with the Democrats is that, since Reagan, the Democratic Party has been the whole-hearted supporter of the capitalist Heart of the Kingdom, the very system that manages the kingdom’s dungeon and its ghastly lottery. They seem to believe that if they just feed the capitalists enough government money, the money will start to “trickle down” to the people they hire. They have a lot in common with some of the Republicans — their differences are … nuanced. They aren’t listening to those who have already fallen.

The rest of the Republicans, the far-right Republicans, are following Trump’s lead, and they are listening to the discontented, but for their own purposes. Like Trump, criminal purposes. Mad purposes, in some cases.

No one will like what they create if they ever take power again.

So what is the solution to this conundrum?

Well, I have a modest suggestion. We had a not-entirely-dissimilar situation in the late 1900’s, and what resolved it was “trust-busting.” I believe the modern terminology would be “nationalizing” certain industries, starting with industries that exhibit the “economics of second best.” These are industries that cannot be optimized, because — put very simply — profits compete directly against the value of what is produced.

The medical insurance industry is a good starting place. No other civilized nation rations medical care according to ability-to-pay. Hell, no other uncivilized nation (or tribe) rations medical care that way. Medical bills, or fear of medical bills and medical bankruptcy, touches every person, young and old. Medical insurance actuaries perform a valuable statistical function for planning costs, but all of the actuaries should be employees of the Federal Government, and all of the current profit-taking from the medical insurance industry should shut down entirely. They should all be “downsized.” Absorbed and regulated by law. And the top administrators? Suck it up, and “reimagine yourself.”

I’m pretty sure most physicians would be good with this. The current system isn’t working for them, either, because the insurance industry is draining a huge amount of money out of the profession, both by profit-taking, but also by rationing care, putting pressure on clinics to get rid of services and doctors, and overloading the rest.

I’m picking the medical industry as a low-hanging fruit, as it is probably one of the most unethical and dysfunctional applications of capitalism that it is possible to imagine. If someone has a better example, I’d love to hear it.

But the goal is to go back to John Winthrop’s original idea: that we are a “city on a hill” that others are watching, and we must stand for something better than swagger and bad manners and naked greed.

The End of Technology

A snappy title for what may be an old-man rant. Judge for yourselves.

A week ago or so, we bought a new television. We bought the old one when we moved into a new house in Fort Collins, back in 2012. That 10-year-old television works just fine, except that the streaming services have been fucking about with their systems, and suddenly, there are bunch of formerly-free services that are pay-per-view (in one form or another) and their software is completely incompatible with “old technology.”

They call it “anti-piracy,” but I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

So I plug in the brand-new television, and it kinda works, but Netflix won’t allow me to play anything except Constantine (with Keanu Reeves) which is, frankly, not a very good movie. I go through two lengthy troubleshooting sessions on the phone, complete with remote service connection from a tech. Turns out, Netflix tweaked their “anti-piracy” software, and it is suddenly incompatible with God alone knows how many televisions, including (unfortunately) the one that still stinks of the packing materials in our house.

Quicklist: Types of Television

  1. Quantum Light-Emitting Diode
  2. Organic Light-Emitting Diode
  3. Light-Emitting Diode
  4. Liquid-Crystal Display
  5. Digital Light Processing
  6. Plasma Panels
  7. Direct View

Consumer Reports currently recommends 82 different models of television, and put 59 more into the “Yeah, not so much” category. That’s 141 “choices” to cycle through, featuring some random distribution of the seven different types of television listed above. Which of these are compatible with Netflix? And also with Amazon? Which is available at a good price at Costco? Do I want motion-smoothing? Is color saturation important? What about the Hip-Hop-Foo-Maroo option?

God Himself gave up on all this some time back and started designing a new universe that doesn’t support television.

I talked it over with my wife, and we’re taking the new television back, and reconnecting the old one. And if, in the end, I can only use it to play Skyrim with my old XBox-360, then so be it. It’s my Big Screen Skyrim machine. Or maybe we’ll just dump it and repurpose an entire room.

Imagine that.

I also tried to make an adjustment to my retirement plan this weekend. I’m not talking about tweaking investment accounts. I’m talking about the personal model I’ve put together for how the fuck we will keep the rain off our heads and food in the refrigerator for another 20-30 years, until we finally stop making choices and die.

I will be blunt: the mathematical model I put together for a heavy-ion accelerator back in graduate school was simpler.

Back in 1970, when I was in High School, I read a book called Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. It made a huge impression on me at the time, and one of his concepts was the problem of “overchoice.” Overchoice is a fragmentation of standard (or even substandard) life-choices into a lot of frivolous distinctions based on “market differentiation,” which can cause people to obsess over which is “better.”

When I was a lad, there was Ford and Chevy. Same damn cars, but people argued about “quality.” My father was a Ford man, and never bought a Chevy in his life, to my knowledge. A point of pride.

By the 1970’s this had become a major social pathology. Toffler called it “overchoice.” Other terms are “analysis paralysis,” or “information overload,” or “the tyranny of small decisions.” It’s closely related to “buyer’s remorse,” where you finally make a decision, and then start second-guessing whether it was the right decision. Ford or Chevy? Post Toasties or Corn Flakes? OH MY GOD I MADE THE WRONG DECISION I AM GOING TO DIE!

It burns up all the energy we could be putting into economic justice. Or climate change. Or global hunger. Or a normal family life.

Nah. What am I thinking? What’s IMPORTANT is the latest and greatest in Quantum Light Emitting Diodes. Whatever the fuck those are.

Apart from the issue of making us all into drones who spend our lives sorting grains of sand by size, all this overchoice starts to erode functionality. I went to a store today to get a piece of metal to fix a fence latch. At check-out, I encountered an electronic teller that requires that I first put my card in the slot, then select 1 or 2 for credit/debit, then press Enter. It’s one of the last of these dinosaurs in town. So, like everyone else, I stand there wondering why nothing is happening until the teller un-zones and says, “Press Enter” — it’s hard to keep the annoyance out of her voice, she does this all day long — and then I remember I’m in THIS store, and life moves forward. I go to two other stores, and encounter electronic tellers which have a completely different process.

Somewhere, a dozen executives chose one system or the other, and wasted God knows how many hours making the decision. Now they have teller machines everywhere, and can’t afford to re-tool. If they did, it would all change in a year or two, and they’d have to do it again. It gets folded into the cost of their business, and their prices go up.

In the process, the technology starts to diverge at a core level, and machines stop talking to each other. Suddenly, a brand-new television variant doesn’t work with Netflix. A major bank drops support for an old teller machine variant, and a thousand businesses need to upgrade. The upgrade isn’t compatible with old accounting software they’ve been using for years, so they need to spend more money. Some of them go out of business. The entire economy shudders, just a bit.

In space, they call this a Kessler Event, where all of the space trash we’ve dumped in low-earth orbit starts colliding, knocking more stuff out of orbit, until you have the mother of all highway wrecks a few miles above our heads and it comes raining down on us after knocking out all of the satellites we rely on to communicate that there is a shitload of burning metal coming down on our cities.

In my old-man opinion, we’re also headed toward a software Kessler Event.

School Prayer

I’d like to start by talking about the Pledge of Allegiance.

The first Pledge of Allegiance in the US was written and publicized in 1885 by Captain George Thatcher Balch, with the intention of teaching patriotism to children in public schools, particularly children of the European immigrants who began to flood the US beginning in 1850. It reads:

We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!

The Pledge of Allegiance was rewritten in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, as a general pledge to a national flag that could be used by any citizen of any republic.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

It was modified in 1923 to make it specific to the United States of America, and again in 1954 (during the post-WWII Cold War against the officially atheistic USSR) to include the words “under God.”

Reciting the Pledge was compulsory in public schools until 1940. The Jehovah’s Witness church, one of the American Fundamentalist sects of Christianity, claimed the Pledge was a form of idolatry in conflict with their religion, challenged the pledge in court, and won. Recitation was officially non-compulsory in public schools from 1940 onward, but in schools where reciting the pledge continued and continues to be practiced, it demonstrably causes discrimination against students who exercise their right to decline, and continues to come up in court cases, one of the most recent being in 2015.

My mother was a fundamentalist (not Jehovah’s Witness, incidentally — I’ve read that there are around 2000 distinct Fundamentalist sects in the US at any given time, and she was raised in one of the many). As a child, she taught me that the Pledge of Allegiance was idolatry, and was quite upset about it.

Every morning in school from the ages of five to eleven, I stood by my desk, faced the flag, put my hand over my heart, and recited a vow of allegiance to a piece of fabric using words like “Republic” and “indivisible,” words utterly meaningless to a six-year old. I had no real idea what it meant.

What I did know was that my mother did not approve, and that — presumably — God did not approve either. So this compulsory act every morning felt like a violation. It did not inspire loyalty to that piece of cloth, nor to the Republic for which it stood. Instead, it inspired distress, anger, and a certain contempt.

I remember the day that I saluted the flag with my hand over my heart with all the fingers curled, except for the middle one. I think it was fifth or sixth grade. I was careful, and was not caught by the teacher, though a couple of other students noticed, and that gained me a day’s notoriety. It was more pre-adolescent rebellion than anything else, and despite the notoriety, it made me feel worse than just going along. So I didn’t do it again. But the ritual was completely meaningless to me after that.

When I entered junior high school, we no longer had a home room, instead moving from classroom to classroom, and any time we might have spent flag-pledging was instead spent winding through the narrow, overcrowded hallways between classes. I don’t recall ever being required to recite the pledge in school after that, certainly not daily.

With that personal experience in mind, I’d like to talk about group prayer in school, particularly in sports.

It suffers from exactly the same defects as the pledge of allegiance.

It’s always easier to just go along, but if you don’t respect the prayer, or the religion, it feels like a violation. That sense of violation breeds distress, anger, and contempt. A constant diet of that in a school setting can be very, very dangerous, for the student (naturally), but also for the other students and teachers.

Students have the “right” to not participate in the group prayer, of course, but the reaction to that refusal in a team setting has very good odds of making you a pariah, meaning you might as well drop the sport and take up chess.

But why pray before a game at all?

Are you actually praying that God will support your team, or smite the other team, so that you can “win?” Seriously?

Are you trying to bind the outcome to God, so that if you lose, you can blame it on divine disfavor instead of poor playing? Or worse, so that if you win, you can claim that you are the favored children of God? Seriously?

Are you asking for God to make sure you don’t get injured on the field? If that’s a concern, why are you playing the sport in the first place? In a war, where the other “team” is literally trying to kill you, and you don’t really have the option of not participating, then yes. But intramural basketball? Seriously?

It’s none of these, of course, but I wanted to get them out of the way.

The coach, in these settings, is attempting to offer a blessing to his team. To do that, he needs to channel divine power — that’s simply the anthropological requirement for human beings: you cannot bless unless you have been blessed. It’s the same thing as a Medieval soldier being shriven by a priest before going into battle. It’s the same as the shaman of a tribe blessing the hunters before a hunt. It is offering a larger-than-life permission to go out and do what needs to be done, without fear, without doubt, without hesitation. It unlocks something primal in the human psyche. A particular edge.

But it loses all its power if you don’t say the words right.

Delivering a blessing is like fitting a key into a lock, and if the key is not the right key for the lock, or if you handle it badly, it not only won’t work, it will sow discord and confusion.

Here’s simple illustration. Take your typical all-white, all-Evangelical-Christian basketball team from a high-school in Indiana, and bring in a Pagan Druid to bless the team just before the Big Game against their toughest competitor. Does ANYONE think this would be a good coaching tactic? I certainly don’t.

Now consider the same team where the star player is Jewish. Or Muslim. Is an Evangelical Christian prayer going to unlock their edge? Unlikely. It’s going to trigger that distress, anger, and contempt, no matter how hard they try to let it slide over them. “This doesn’t include me,” they will think. “I’m not part of the team right now.” Maybe they’ll shake it off, and play well. Maybe they’re so talented that it just doesn’t matter. But you are handicapping them with this prayer. That’s really bad coaching.

You may have just as much trouble if some of your players are devout Catholics.

A great coach will understand all this, viscerally, and he or she will find better ways to bless their team. Just a heartfelt, “I am so proud of you all,” will do far more good for a mixed-faith team than any prayer to a God that some members of the team feel is someone else’s God.

Prayer should simply not be part of public school. In any capacity. Period.

In most cases, public prayer in schools serves no purpose but the narcissism of the self-justified “person of faith” leading the prayer. And regarding these, I shall simply quote Jesus:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:5 New International Version

The Chattel Slavery of Women

I am furious with the current Supreme Court. It’s been only two days since the Roe v. Wade overturn, and I’m barely coherent. But I am starting to cool, just a bit. Almost down to the melting point of copper.

I’m starting to think that the Court was correct to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This issue has never been about “right to life.” That has always been an empty slogan, a misdirection, a propaganda phrase to manipulate the masses and confuse them.

The real issue is the chattel slavery of women, to serve as breeders.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The original colonies of the United States were founded on chattel slavery. Chattel means “property.” It is property in the same sense that you might consider a cow, or a pair of pants, or a leather wallet your property. Chattel slavery means that the slave is owned by someone. Like a cow, the slave can be bought and sold. If the slave is more trouble than he is worth, he can be “put down” by the master, like a sick cow. The slave could — in principle — even be carved up and eaten, just like a cow.

The slave is property.

Likewise, going back thousands of years, girls were born property of their fathers, and chattel ownership of the girl was transferred to a husband — as in “husbandry,” the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops or livestock — typically in return for a bride-price. A woman without a husband was that most miserable of beings, a slave without a master, a sheep without a shepherd, an old maid or a widow.

Two of the consistent reasons for a man to “put away” his wife throughout history have been infidelity, and a “barren womb.” Infidelity confuses the ownership: which man owns the offspring? Failure to produce offspring means the woman is defective merchandise, and if she cannot be returned for a refund, she should be discarded and replaced.

That is why all of the “medical” arguments for abortion fall on deaf ears among the anti-abortion folks, because these arguments miss the real point. Women in the US are chattel breeders, and if a woman dies in childbirth, the ancient rule is to save the child, not the mother: if the child lives, the woman has fulfilled her sole purpose as a breeder, even if she dies. If the child dies, or is born with defects, it is the woman’s fault as a defective breeder, and she should be discarded and replaced. If she refuses to breed with her husband, by abstinence, contraception, or abortion, she is being willful and disobedient, and can be forced to breed. This is not considered rape. It is only rape if she is impregnated by a man other than her owner.

Among the anti-abortionists, there is absolutely no valid reason for a woman to terminate a pregnancy. The “sanctity of life” argument is a red herring to deflect from the real issue, which is the sanctity of property rights.

Women did not get the right to vote until 1920 in the US. The woman was property. She had one function, which had nothing to do with politics. Would you allow your cow to vote? Your pet dog?

Women were not allowed to speak in the church my mother grew up in, through her adulthood in the 1940’s, and well into my childhood memories in the 60’s. What would be the point? Would you allow your cow or dog to speak in church?

The reason oral contraception was so outrageous when it came out in 1960 was that it gave the power to breed to the woman, taking it away from her husband. Unthinkable!

So the real abortion question is this. Are women chattel? Or are they citizens?

When the US fought the Civil War, it was over the choice of whether to expand or abolish the chattel slavery of workers. It resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment, and then the Fourteenth, which freed the slaves and made them citizens. It is still a matter of great dissent in this benighted nation.

After Roe v. Wade was decided by the Court in 1973, there was an expectation that Congress would follow up with some kind of “Women’s Rights” legislation. That never materialized, and that is where the real problem lies.

As much contempt as I hold for this current Supreme Court — and it is substantial contempt — I don’t think the solution is to expand the court or impeach the justices.

The solution is to fix Congress. By whatever means is necessary.

And then we need to settle this matter of the chattel slavery of women as breeders, by law, and preferably a constitutional amendment.

Will it take another civil war to accomplish this?


Roe v. Wade

I’m having a very hard time with the United States right now.

Do I love my country? No. Not today.

Do I love my countrymen? No. Not today.

Absolutely the only caution I have in this sentiment is that I think this is exactly the place that the bastards want us all to be in. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

But the alternatives are becoming less supportable with every month that passes.

Today, the US Supreme Court — Supreme is such a sick joke in this context — overturned Roe v. Wade. We all knew it was going to happen. But something fundamental changes when the first shot in an impending war is actually fired. Now that they’ve fired it, I curse them.

I curse them with the one thing their overarching, swollen egos will feel, which is historical condemnation.

I curse you, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett. That your names will be remembered until the English language is lost. That you will be remembered as the bought-and-paid-for corruption at the bitter ending of the American Experiment in democracy. That you will be remembered as collaborators with and bellwethers of the tyranny and anguish that is coming.

I curse you.

I do not wish you death. I wish you a long, long, long life. A life of second thoughts, of doubts, of self-recrimination, and eventually, of public shame. A life of empty bluster and increasingly weak self-justification, ending in misery.

In the end, when you breathe your last and find yourself in the next world, you will search long for your Lord, who will not greet you at the gates as you expected. When you find Him at last, He will be seated on a rock near the Lake of Fire. He will look at you impassively.

Then the children will come. The pre-born, who died in agony, fighting for breath without lungs. The children addicted to toxic drugs at birth. The children born with only fluid where a brain should be, born without arms, or legs, who lived in pain for their entire short existence. The unwanted children born to unfit parents who knew they were unfit, unwanted children beaten, murdered, and destroyed, in body, mind, and soul.

Those who cannot walk will be carried by the mothers who died giving birth, bleeding out, screaming in agony.

Victims of your unspeakable arrogance.

They will roll a huge millstone with them as they approach, inscribed with the names of every mother and child who died untimely because of your “judgement,” a noose fixed through the hole in the center. And you will finally understand the words of Your Lord, that it is better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea, than to have harmed one of these little ones.

They will tighten the noose about your neck, and start it rolling into the Lake of Fire. And your Lord will look at you, at last, with some emotion: with the smoldering ire that drove him to whip the money-changers in the Temple. He will watch without blinking as you are dragged into the flames.

You are cursed.

Keeping Secrets in the Dark

I have to confess, I don’t really understand why the Supreme Court justices are so tweaked about the leak of a draft ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Let’s leave abortion out of this for a moment. Let’s make it about abolishing some obscure turn of law adopted as a precedent in the early 1800’s requiring porcelain garden gnomes to be placed front of government buildings. (I just made that up, by the way.)

Someone — someone — then leaks a draft of the Supreme Court opinion that abolishes the Garden Gnome Precedent.

RAGE! The Sanctity of the Court has been compromised! No one in the Court can be trusted! Who leaked this document? Search out the vile miscreant! SOMEONE NEEDS TO PAY! We can only hope and pray that The People will not lose ALL TRUST in the Court because of this! ARRRGGGHHHHH!


When people start to distrust the courts, it is (and has always been, and will always be, in all times and all places, forever and ever) the result of the Court repeatedly handing down shit decisions.

The real issue here appears to be that the Court was “outed” over a shit decision in-the-making before they had the chance to pass it off as settled law. In this regard, it is a bit like the failed coup of January 6, 2020. When you attempt to overthrow the government, the goal is to get it over with before anyone catches on. Otherwise, it turns into “for want of a nail,” and all that.

When you intend to hand down a shit decision from the Supreme Court, it’s useful to keep it secret until it’s a done deal.

All this outrage from Alito and Thomas in itself seems to me a plausible reason to distrust the Court. Something is distinctly off. Like opening the door to your son’s room to tell him dinner is ready, and when a cloud smelling of skunk and mint wafts out, he launches into a screaming rage about “privacy.”

It isn’t about privacy.

In other words, I think all this rage and pouting is really about the fact that the very justices who wrote the draft already know it’s a shit ruling. It would not matter if it were about abortion, or porcelain garden gnomes. The court understands perfectly well that it is trying to wrap the law around something indefensible, and now that it’s out in the open, they are going to have to face the wrath and distrust of The People before they’ve managed to make it a done deal.

So let’s talk a little about the history of both the nation and the Court.

There have been two fundamentally different models of (white) government in the US since the Europeans arrived.

The first — the earliest — consisted of entirely autonomous colonies (subject to European rule, but like mobsters, if you keep them paid, they leave you alone), which gradually expanded, consolidated, and became the original thirteen states of the US. The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1777, bound these thirteen states together as a Confederation. In 1789, the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the US Constitution.

The core problem with the original Confederation, and with the United States up until the mid 1850’s, was that the states really didn’t get along very well.

One of the difficulties was slavery.

The southern states, in particular, had grown rich on an agrarian model, exporting various crops and agricultural products to Europe, and the profit margins were based on the economics of slave labor. Between the original colonies in the early 1600’s and the states of the early 1800’s, several things changed. The southern agrarian model depleted the soil, especially cultivating cotton, so yields declined. Competition from other nations started to cut into export profits. The slave trade started to decline, particularly after England abolished slavery (1807), raising the prices and reducing availability of slaves. And perhaps most importantly, the Mechanical Age, or the Technological Age, was rapidly replacing manual labor, and capturing the lion’s share of new wealth. This gave the northern states an alternative to trying to compete with export of agrarian products, an alternative that required an increasing number of increasingly skilled workers.

Slaves escaping to northern states could be trained.

Slavery turned into a very tense national issue through the early 1800’s, particularly as the Abolitionists began making a strong (i.e convincing) moral/ethical argument against the institution of human slavery.

In 1861, the southern states seceded from the northern Union of States, and formed a new Confederacy of States under new Articles of Confederation. The Union and the Confederacy went to war.

The Confederacy lost the war, was abolished, and its states were re-absorbed into the Union. All the states again became a United States of America under the Constitution.

This tension between a single united government, and a loose confederation of sovereign states, has never receded more than momentarily since 1778. It still lives.

One of the central issues is the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery immediately after the Civil War, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which made full citizens of black people and gave them the right to vote. It is intrusive on “freedoms” in two very fundamental ways.

First, it abolishes slavery across all of the states, which establishes that the federal government can, indeed, tell the states what they can and cannot do.

Second, it establishes that the federal government can establish national laws based on a moral basis — we call it “humanitarian,” but that’s just a sugar-frosted word for “moral.” From an economic standpoint, slavery is and has always been economically profitable for the slaveowners (though it generally sucks for the slaves.) You need look no further than the $15/hour sticking-point on the national minimum wage to see that slavery is still profitable. But outright slavery — legal ownership of human beings as property — is enshrined in the Fourteenth amendment as “morally repugnant” (and illegal) within the United States.

Moving to the present, there is a current strain of legal theory called “originalism.” I’m not the right person to walk the ins and outs of this theory, but my take on it is that it basically wants to go back to a Confederacy model of sovereign “states’ rights,” much as was embodied in the original US Articles of Confederation and the original Constitution, minus all of the fluffy Amendments (including the Bill of Rights). It isn’t clear if they think the entire Bill of Rights needs to go, but the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments definitely need to go, and pretty much everything after that. It’s all lumped together as “federal overreach.”

This legal theory is deeply dependent upon understanding the “Original Intent of the Framers.” Of course, the only people who could possibly determine this “Original Intent” are legal scholars like (for instance) Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Perhaps John Eastman, the “legal scholar” involved in the Jan 6 coup. Perhaps Jared Kushner: he’s apparently an expert on everything.

The naked conceit that any 21st century person could truly understand the “intent” of an 18th century slaveowner-turned-statesman is ridiculous.

My observation is that people who pretend to understand the Intent of the Framers are running a con. Or to step away from American slang usage, they are simply lying.

But fine. Let’s just presume that they have some kind of magical, trans-historical psychic power that lets them enter into the mind of, say, Alexander Hamilton, and divine his Inner Thoughts.

So what?

We live in a different world than Alexander Hamilton could possibly have imagined. These historical people were not gods. They were not all-knowing. Many of them weren’t all that smart. All of them were flawed.

I personally believe that “originalism,” as a legal theory, is an intellectual fraud, at such a basic level that even a layman like myself can call bullshit with some confidence. It’s merely a way to overturn custom and government while pretending to “restore” it to a romanticized earlier state that almost certainly never existed.

But the two fundamentally different philosophies of government remain, and those are quite real.

So to bring this back to the Rage in the Supreme Court, I think this current packed Court’s intent — at root, with all dissembling stripped away — is to abolish the Fourteenth Amendment, to “restore freedom.”

When you hear people screaming about “freedom,” the Fourteenth Amendment is at the core of it. And they are basically screaming for their state governments to have the freedom to oppress citizens of that state in cruel and arbitrary ways, as in the Good Old Days. The right of states to do whatever they damn well please. To bring back slavery. To criminalize abortion. To make Christian Evangelicalism the State Religion. To restrict the vote to “desirable, productive” citizens. To deport minorities. To lynch people on hearsay without trial or evidence. To maintain Law and Order with armed militias.

The people screaming about “freedom” think this freedom applies to them as individuals, because they are all the “right kind of people.”

They are in for such a rude awakening….

The Fourth Turning

The Fourth Turning is a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe, published in December of 1997.

The thing that first caught my eye was that they predicted an odd and rather catastrophic problem in US politics that would be unfolding between 2005 and 2025. It wasn’t entirely specific, but it was detailed enough to make me sit up and wonder, “How in the world did they know about THAT?”

Recall that, in 1997, Bill Clinton was president, Windows 95 was new, Islamic terrorists were firmly “over there,” the Twin Towers still stood tall in New York City, and you could wear your shoes all the way through the airports. The biggest, baddest thing on the horizon was the “Y2K Bug,” though it was comfortably three years away. Only scientists and science fiction authors talked about Hubbard’s Peak, and “Global Warming” was a private crusade of Al Gore.

Yet here the authors of this book were talking about Generation X (children born in the 1980’s, barely teens) being derided in the 2000’s as worthless in all possible ways, widespread distrust and disgust with all branches of national government including the Supreme Court, economic turmoil on a major scale, and the rise of fascism in the US, all brought about by a “trigger event” sometime in the mid-2000’s decade.

Think back, folks. Think hard. All of these things were purest dystopian science fiction in 1997.

Yet here we are.

How did they know about THAT?

There’s a remarkable simplicity to their observations: there’s a pattern in history. It’s as predictable as coming darkness, after the sun gets low in the West and the clouds start to turn orange.

I need to write about this, because writing is my way of thinking out loud and settling my thoughts. There is a lot to think about here.

Let’s start where the authors do, with the concept of the Saeculum. This is a Latin term, and it comes from a Roman concept, borrowed from the Greeks, and probably goes back as far in history as you wish to go. It is generally defined as a period of between 80 and 100 years, based on the measure of a long human lifespan. Most of us make it to our 70’s (if we survive childhood illness and wars and plagues), and always have. Many surpass 80. Some surpass 90. Few cross the 100-year line. Saeculum is the name for a historical period roughly equivalent to a “long human life.”

Another observation is the concept of a Generation. We’re all aware of the meaning of this, and most of us relate to a particular generation. A “generation” is not strictly bounded by dates or age. We could call it a kind of collective mindset. We talk about the “Boomer” generation, for instance, and nearly everyone alive either identifies with this generation, or does not, and usually quite strongly.

What’s interesting is that there is any identifiable thing called a generation. We are all born on different dates, and born to different parents over a wide range of ethnicities, wealth, geography, and recent history. First grade classes are always full, as are high school graduations, and new graduates enter the world as young adults every year. You would think we would be all quite different from each other, spread out along a continuum. Yet we somehow fall into these very distinct generational categories, and go through our life-changes as a cohort, or a “generation.”

Another observation is that generations have types that occur in a cycle over the course of the Saeculum. This is largely invisible to us as individuals, for the simple reason that there are roughly four distinct generations in a Saeculum, that is, a long human life. The generation most like our own was therefore our great-great-grandparents, and we will not see another generation like ours until our great-great-grandchildren. No one nearer in time is really anything like us, and because this spans the entire Saeculum, the long human life, most of us will never meet anyone like ourselves from a different generation. Our great-great-grandparents were gone before we were old enough to remember them, and we will be gone before our great-great-grandchildren will know us. So all that most of us ever see, throughout our lives, are the three generations before us, and the three after us, and they are all very different from us.

We all think — with good reason — that we are alone, and quite unique.

What I’m starting to notice, now that I’m a grandfather, is that there really are similarities between my own grandchildren, and my grandparents. Or in my case, my parents, since my parents were around 40 when they married.

Something about this concept of generations pulls all of us together into this generational collective mindset.

So let’s talk about this cycle of generations, using the latest cycle for reference. The authors give the generations “functional” (recurrent) names, as well as specific names that have been used to describe these particular generations in history:

  • Hero : G.I. generation
  • Artist : Silent generation
  • Prophet : Boomer generation
  • Nomad : X generation

The next generation to come is the Millennials, and they are currently in their school years. They will (or should) become the next Hero generation. The one that follows them is not yet named, because they haven’t been born, but they will be an Artist generation. The one to follow that will be a Prophet generation. And so the cycle continues.

The ordering of this is pretty much fixed, not just by the nature of the parental generation, but by the combination of the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent generations, all functioning at different levels of society. When a generation is born, the great-grandparents hold the greatest influence within society, as the elders in government, religion, business, and communities. The grandparents hold the senior-management power: the supervisors, the deacons, the school principals, the senior bureaucracy. The parents form the young working class. This combination, and the tensions between these generations, are what shape the newborn generation.

As the new generation comes of age and starts having its own children, their great-grandparents are either dying or stepping-down, their grandparents are moving into fullest power, their parents are moving into senior management, and they themselves are becoming the young working class.

There are two major cyclic events within each Saeculum, one called The Awakening, and the other called The Crisis. The resolution of the Crisis is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Hero generation, while the Awakening is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Prophet generation. This is a straightforward pendulum between material and spiritual peaks. The Hero builds a functional society that glosses over spiritual values and justice in the name of expediency, and the Prophet addresses a spiritual awakening and re-assessment that glosses over functionality.

A Hero generation is an enthusiast of the society it has built. A Prophet generation is a critic of the society it lives in.

At cross-quarters to this cycle is the cycle of the Artists and Nomads. The Artists come of age in the midst of a materially functional society marked by stability, material opportunity, and cultural enthusiasm, but also by conformity, conventionality, and a certain kind of stagnation. The Nomads come of age in the midst of an increasingly dysfunctional society full of almost unlimited freedom (or license), but marked by increasing instability, declining safety and access to opportunity, and the need to improvise, partition, and disconnect just to survive.

An Artist generation is full of bright hope for the future of society, even if it is a tad dull. A Nomad generation sees little or no hope for the future of society, though it can be profitable and exciting if you are willing to be nimble and not-too-fussy about the rules.

So let’s talk a little about where we are in 2022. It sure ain’t 1997.

We are sixteen months out from an attempted coup by a sitting President to retain his office despite a resounding rejection at the polls.

We have a Supreme Court worried that a premature leak of a draft decision regarding Roe v. Wade is going to “damage confidence in the Supreme Court,” apparently in some strange universe where loss of decorum — rather than shit rulings — is what makes people lose confidence in the Court.

We have a Congress that simply cannot govern, and at least one party (Republicans) clearly not even interested in governing.

We have increasingly open Christo-Fascist movements agitating for dissolving the United States, by force and terror, with substantial support among Republican politicians at every level.

We have an economy constantly on the edge, just one misstep from inflationary collapse, supply-chain collapse, production collapse. The rot is deep.

We have a billionaire class rapidly advancing to a trillionaire class in an inflationary economy where much of the nation lives on less than $15/hour.

We have WW3 on the horizon, should an aging, ill, and demented Russian dictator decide, Oh, what the Hell….

We have global warming on a runaway course of destruction, and we are rushing into its arms like a lover.

The Prophet generation — the Boomer generation — is aging, and the Silent generation is dying out. The Nomad generation is well into parenting years, and the next Hero generation is is school.

We are moving toward a Crisis writ as large as WWII. Times that “try men’s souls.”

Here’s the comfort: this has all happened before. This has been the Saecular cycle for as far back as we care to look, with remarkable (though not infallible) regularity. The reason we don’t recognize it, as we recognized the cycle of day and night, or the cycle of the seasons, is that the cycle lives just outside living memory.

On the plus side of this comfort is that in the past, the US has always pulled through Crises into a new Saeculum that was better than what came before.

On the minus side of this comfort is that there is no guarantee that this Saeculum (or any other) will end well. Nations fall. Civilizations vanish.

I’d like to close with a figure he authors call the Gray Champion, dating from 1689.

King James II was about to strip the US colonists of their liberties and their fantasies of self-rule, and the Colonial Governor marched troops through Boston in a show of strength. As they marched, “the figure of an ancient man” with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command” appeared on the street and stood in the path of the soldiers, and demanded that they stop. His appearance was so daunting that they did. This so inspired the citizens of Boston that they deposed and jailed the governor, which set in motion forces that eventually led to the Revolution a century later. No one knew exactly who this “Gray Champion” was, save that he was once one of the young Puritans who had settled in New England a half-century before.

The Gray Champion has re-emerged in each of the major American Crises since.

A Prophet.

A Boomer of a bygone age.

As the generation that has been charged with safeguarding the Spirit of the Nation, of looking deep into the spirit of the nation and of criticizing its hypocrisy, and injustice, and failings, it falls to us in our nation’s time of need to stand, and say, “This shall not pass.” To be the Gray Champion of our time.

And in so doing, to precipitate the Crisis, and guide the nation through it.

Just as it will fall to the Nomads to get us through the chaos by finding ways to keep the material side together.

Just as it will fall to the Heroes to build something — as a generation — that will rebuild from the wreckage, and inspire hope and enthusiasm for the future.

Just as it will fall to the next Artists to enjoy the harvest of fair times, to perfect and embellish.

Just as it will fall to the next Prophets to focus on what was left behind and corrupted in the chaos and compromise and rebuilding. To call out the injustice, and the spiritual emptiness, and the hypocrisy.

This is not a time to be cowed by statistics. This is a time to stand up for what is right.

To become the Gray Champion.

A Letter To Congress

I sent this today to my Representative, and to both Senators. Feel free to copy and use it yourself, or use it as a template for your own thoughts.

The technical phrase is: I release this to the Public Domain. It belongs to the public.

Dear Senator/Representative,

I am writing about a deep concern regarding the future of our nation. I apologize for the length, but it is a deadly serious topic.

The United States is ripping itself apart, politically. This much is obvious. Other democratic nations have noticed, calling us a “backsliding democracy,” even questioning whether we are still a democracy. I question it, too.

This has happened at least twice before, in the 1850’s, and again in the 1930’s. In both cases, the Union was at serious risk of dissolution. We are now in a similar position.

The core issue seems to be the same in all three cases: the entitlement of the wealthy to increase their wealth to the detriment of the nation.

In the 1850’s, the issue was slavery, the right of the wealthy to own other humans, work them as property, trade them for profit as property, and pursue them if they fled as “stolen” property. In the 1930’s, it was the dominance of corporations and trusts, which sought to evade the new federal taxes, manipulate the stock markets, and monopolize entire industries to eliminate competition; to raise prices and lower wages, all with no concern for the harm it caused the workers or the residents near their operations or the nation as a whole.

The issue since the 1980’s, culminating in the 2010’s with the election of Donald Trump, has been the attempt to reduce the federal government to a tool for the wealthy to protect their “investments,” returning all other political power to the states, which may choose to nullify federal regulations and any pesky amendments to the Constitution that offend them. To “shrink the federal government until it can be drowned in a bathtub.”

We see the kinds of powers the states wish to exercise in the behavior of Governor Abbott of Texas, or Governor de Santis of Florida. We are headed toward Balkanization, interstate economic war, and (eventually) military conflict supported by state governments and militias.

The nation fell into civil war once, and avoided it the second time. I am not confident of our chances this time.

It is clear that the entire Republican Party is deeply complicit in this matter. They have packed the Supreme Court with “originalists,” a philosophy that enshrines the Constitution as Holy Writ, and carries the potential for disregarding any of the amendments to the Constitution, such as the 14th, which makes human slavery illegal, or the 16th, which allows a Federal income tax. Under this philosophy, even the 1st amendment could be ignored. Or the 5th. When in the majority, Republicans use the filibuster relentlessly to shut down debate, discussion, and lawmaking. They were deeply involved in, and have turned a blind eye toward an attempted coup of the office of the Presidency — a coup that very nearly succeeded.

It falls to President Biden and the Democrats in Congress to carry us through this time. The Republicans will bring us to dissolution and war.

I do not wish to see a civil war. I have grandchildren.

I believe that the dry wood fueling this fire is a disaffected, angry population, with one broad underlying problem. Put in simple terms, we all live now in a nation-sized company town.

I’m referring to the “company towns” of the big logging and mining operations of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, where you could go to make big paychecks, but found that the company store would take it all back with inflated prices that kept your pockets empty. You would make great money, spend it all on necessities or small pleasures, and walk away older and no richer. The Trump supporters call this a loss of “freedom.” But it is really a loss of opportunity, based on a loss of security. You cannot pursue an opportunity when you have no time to do anything but try to make next month’s rent.

US Americans have no security.

Medical care is catastrophic. I went through a medical bankruptcy, for colon cancer. I watched a man suffering a heart-attack decline care because he could not afford the ambulance; he died that night, alone and in pain. I was forced out of independent contracting, trying to keep up with medical insurance under the pre-Obamacare price-padding from the insurance companies. Drug prices are a scandal, even with medical insurance, due to open price-gouging.

Housing is increasingly inaccessible. Denver, Colorado, where I once lived, has been reported as approaching a $1M median house price. California housing prices have long been ridiculous. Where does all that money go? To the mortgage bankers.

Old age is desperately insecure. My first “stake” in retirement was wiped out by the 2001 tech-bubble collapse. My second would have been destroyed by the 2008 meltdown, had it survived the medical bankruptcy. Social Security is coming up fast on the “boomer” trust-fund cliff, and the Republicans have successfully blocked any fix to that since Reagan.

Income for many is capped at a level below a living wage by monopolies on jobs. Throwing money into the workforce can create new jobs, as Biden has demonstrated, but it doesn’t address the fact that many of those jobs remain below living wage.

Education is no longer a right, but a speculative commodity, surrounded by loan sharks. It is rapidly falling out-of-favor with the young, for the very good reason that it no longer makes any economic sense for them.

Few believe the US government will rise to the challenge of global climate change — I certainly do not.

The common element underlying all of these ailments is ultimately the failure of the Federal government to finish the job it started in the 1860’s. Back then, the ownership class owned people. Now, the ownership class owns everything except people. Food. Water. Shelter. Land. Labor.

The Democratic Party needs to stop dithering, and face the core of the problem: the ownership class. The American oligarchs, barons, investors. The wealthy. The systems of ownership that make them wealth, and keep them wealthy.

Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have thought deeply about these matters, and while their solutions may need more work, the core idea is sound: we need to return ownership of the nation to the people of the nation.

If the Democratic Party continues to dither, telling the citizens that this is the best they can do, then the United States will fail.

I feel this in my bones.