Sunday, July 18, 2010

Taking stock

My birthday was the 17th.  I am now 61.  I believe it appropriate to make some judgments on my life and how it relates to the current zeitgeist.

The good news.

The infinity that is the Internet continues to astonish.  For those of us who remember how research papers were written in the old days, Google, etc. is nothing short of miraculous.  I absolutely hated the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.  You would finally find something that looked remotely relevant only to discover your library never had subscribed to that magazine, or the subscription had lapsed for the years you wanted, or the magazine existed but the page you wanted had been torn out, etc.  You would plow through books only to find the topic you wanted to reference was utterly useless.  And when you had finally assembled the necesssary information, you had to type it up on paper using this primitive device that struck a ribbon.  Including illustrations or even simple graphs was so difficult as to be nearly impossible.

Simple reality--if you have a decent connection to the Internet and you are still ignorant, it is a conscious decision you have made to be that way.

On the other hand, there ARE advantages to learning things the old way.  There is still no substitute for reading a book for the simple reason that some ideas are so complex, they really do require a book-length treatment.

The bad news--we can't get anything serious done

I have MANY WTF days.  Take, for example, the related problems of peak oil and climate change.  The solution is thunderingly obvious--the human race is going to have to get along without its favorite invention--fire.  Fortunately, we have pretty much figured out that because of electricity, fire is optional.  So we have to figure out how to rebuild our societies to be non-fire based.  Yet NOTHING gets done while the clock runs out on options for actually saving the biosphere.  The science of climate change was pretty much settled by 1989 yet 21 years later there is a whole movement of climate denialism in the middle of the hottest year of recorded history.

Governments are hopelessly corrupt.

I have a friend who spent part of his childhood in Mexico--the son of a prosperous land developer.  Being in the building business, his father is an EXPERT in all the forms of official corruption.  Friend likes to say, "It isn't that USA politicians are corrupt and sell out their constituents, it's that they sell out SO CHEAP!"  Of course the tragedy is that they always sell out to the folks who think like slum landlords.  Perhaps that is because folks who think like slumlords are the ones who have the most to invest in the corruption of the society.

Education is sub-moronic.

Last April, I had a nasty run-in at a party with some teacher's union Obamabots who wanted to know why I hadn't voted for their man.  Two reasons, says I, 1) in his acceptance speech in Denver, he promised to get the USA off foreign oil by spending $150 billion over 10 years.  Since such a task would require more like $15 trillion, he was trivializing one of the most important problems facing the nation by a factor of 1000 which proved he was scientifically illiterate, innumerate, or both, and 2) He claimed in a campaign speech that his uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz.  This claim was historically impossible and I try not to vote for known historical illiterates.

I live in a state that still glorifies public education.  My community's high school is so luxurious and extravagant, it makes the Taj Mahal look like a random pile of rocks.  So here were a couple of employees of this system informing me that I was being hopelessly unfair to the President by expecting him to know that only by joining the Red Army could his uncle have helped liberate Auschwitz.  I said, "Look, we are not expected to know much about World War II except that the Germans were hyper-evil because they wanted to kill Jews, Churchill's Britain was brave in continuing the fight against Hitler but ultimately, we had to bail him out, and there are some other details but essentially USA saved the human race.  The war ended when we stopped the Germans from killing Jews.  Since this is virtually all anyone under the age of 80 knows in USA, is it really so crazy to expect a presidential candidate to know that the biggest death camp was Auschwitz and that Auschwitz is in Poland?"

I was informed in no uncertain terms that is WAS unfair to expect Obama to know that Auschwitz is in Poland.  In fact, it is unfair to expect anyone to know anything.  In their minds, school is a place where one teaches tolerance and an open mind.  I said, "This is crazy--until a person has a reasonable grasp on the events of history, it is literally impossible to think as an adult."  I was informed that I was talking to a grown woman with a Ph.D. in behavioral sciences so it was quite possible to think as an adult without knowing any history.  As this point I was reduced to helpless sputtering, "Let me see if I have this straight--you are comparing history, the subject that every culture insists is critically necessary, with psychobabble?"

We tax ourselves to build palaces where folks who have no idea why education exists can waste the curiosity of our children by having them learn the 10,000 excuses for why it isn't important to actually know math, or science, or how the world they live in got to be the way it is.  The only good thing you can say about the products of such an "education" is that they don't have much to unlearn.

Our economics only measures the activities of pirates and vandals.

35 years of "free-market" hegemony has reduced the economics profession to its current state of disgrace.  Whiz kids who can do fast algebra until the cows come home but couldn't organize the building of a birdhouse, much less a conversion to a fire-free economy.

We are crippling our work force.

The blase view of official Washington on the subject of unemployment and under-employment is magnified when one considers that after 35 years of shipping industrial expertise overseas, we don't have the skills to do much anymore.  Even IF we were to start spending the necessary money for a sustainable solar infrastructure, there is a good chance we would flounder around for a VERY long time making huge mistakes.  Don't believe me?--imagine you were put in charge of building a USA high-speed rail system.  Where would you even start.  This country has never made high-speed locomotives so we would have to start from virtually nothing.  It would be a bigger problem than Japan had emerging from the rubble of WW II.

Our large media organizations are utterly hopeless.

Hard to exaggerate here.  We are spoon-fed information by folks who know even less math, science, and history than Obama.  It is hard to address serious problems as a society when the organs of information are run by drooling morons.  It really is.

Our politics are pathetic.

It's no damn wonder that about half the nation cannot be bothered to vote.  Take the last election.  The choice for president was between an overprivileged Annapolis slacker who was known for wrecking expensive aircraft who then parlayed his "victimization" into a senate seat where he became embroiled with some of the more lurid crooks in USA history like Charles Keating.  He picks as a running mate an Uberditz who still entertains us with her buffoonish behavior.  On the Democratic side, we have someone who had a grand total of TWO years in the Senate and was best known for his ability to raise large sums of money from the biggest and most aggressive Predators on Wall Street.  He chose as his running mate, a buffoonish hack from the great state of Delaware--where all the great Predators go to incorporate.

Makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over.


  1. It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.............................................................

  2. EXCELLENT POINTS! I especially like the argument that to be a rational thinking adult, one must understand "how the world they live in got to be the way it is." America's freedom and affluence did not just happen; and it wasn't created by government programs, or even anything that happened in our lifetimes!

    Our nations governmental structure was designed by some very logical individuals who looked back through history at actual societies that worked well--worked for the common people, that is. The appropriate design was based primarily on limiting the central government's power and maximizing the liberty of each individual. All prior societies that failed to do that were totalitarian--a simple lesson of history that reveals how current expansion of government programs is going the wrong direction for Americans.

    A second lesson from history is that today's affluence did not arise during the past 20 years or 50 years or even 100 years. We are riding on the momentum of 300 years from 1620 to 1920 when the foundations for America's supremacy were established. Some changes were needed like extending the franchise to women and minorities, and regulating speculators on Wall Street. But the basic system of government, economics and schooling, up to World War I, was a winning formula and in reversing too much we have brought on the specter of Decline.

    Clearly, people who have not been taught even the rudiments of the past 100 years events will have no comprehension of the last 2,000 years that saw the birth of modern civilization. Unless they know how we got here, they will never understand how to keep our freedom and prosperity.