Thursday, March 31, 2011

Heartbreaking picture from Japan.

This photo just hit me in a sensitive place. This is really horrible....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Newt Gingrich once again proves that it is not what you say, it’s how many inflammatory, dog-whistle words you can fit in one 30-second sound bite.

From Washington Monthly:

"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

Ha. America…. Secular… Atheist… Radial… Islamists…. American…

That’s pretty good, Newt. We should have been playing Buzzword Bingo.

Please tell me how something can be “secular, atheist” and “radical Islamist” at the same time? Aren’t those concepts rather mutually exclusive? Isn't that kind of the whole damn point of "atheistic?" Pardon me, but JESUS! If you are going to string a bunch of buzzwords together to try to get someone riled up, there should be a rule that you need to at least do that in a way that MAKES SENSE!

It appears to me that one of the primary requirements to run for the President of the United States from the Republican side of the aisle is to be a barking lunatic willing to pander to anyone and everyone who you consider to be in “your base.”

I am truly frightened about what might happen to this country if, against perhaps not-all-that-long odds, one of these nutjob Republicans were to actually win. I am not sure if the Democrats can hang on long enough for all of the idiotic, white, scared shitless of anything not associated with our tribe, voters in our country die so they can't vote anymore. Sorry, but that’s how I see it shaking down.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I am starting to have this same feeling of unreality about the Japanese nuclear disaster that I did about the oil spill in the Gulf.

This is a very serious situation and I believe that we don’t know half of what is going on. Here is a short description via DailyKos about what the people on the ground are dealing with.

The world today got its first glance of the 50 workers, until now an anonymous group of lower and mid-level managers. Pictures from inside the plant show staff in full protective suits and masks working in debris-strewn control rooms lit only by torchlight. They are also pictured working to reconnect power supplies and trying to make the towers in the plant safe.

Five are believed to have died and 15 are injured while others have said they know the radiation will kill them. At first light today officials were alarmed to see steam pouring from reactors 1, 2, 3, and 4. It was the first time that steam has escaped from the No 1 reactor.

I have heard about the two or three workers that got radiation burns on their feet and legs by walking in radioactive water. But this is the first time I have heard about people actually dying and receiving enough radiation to know that they are going to die. I also did not understand the true devastation because of the hydrogen explosions. The controlling mechanisms, even if they get electrical power restored, may not actually function. And we are now hearing that one of the main containment vessels has a very large crack in it and that was probably the source of the radioactive water that burned the workers as they valiantly attempted to do whatever they could to help the situation.

Remember, also, that these plants are on the shoreline of the ocean. All this radioactive runoff is going directly into the ocean.

I know this is poor taste and I think many people have been avoiding making these comparisons just for that reason. But I can’t help but notice that the situation now resembles many of the mutant monster sci-fi films of the 1950’s, both Japanese and American. No, I don’t expect a giant whatsits to come lumbering out of the sea and start crushing cars. The giant monsters were just metaphors anyway. The real monster, the unknown entity that we were all totally unprepared to deal with, is radioactivity. The only real differences here are the fact that an earthquake and tsunami were act the heart of the disaster, not an atomic bomb. Otherwise, those filmmakers were very prescient.

I keep hoping that this will all just go away. The situation can’t possible be as dire as I am thinking it might be. I was having some pretty awful thoughts about not being able to cap an oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The situation in Japan is much, much worse. I really don’t even want to consider the possibility of the “worst-case scenario.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'm sorry, but Newt Gingrich's wife is really kind of creepy.

Does this photo remind anyone else besides me of The Stepford Wives? (The original one...) Can you imagine this person as the First Lady? Which is a much lesser horror, I admit, than the one involving her husband as the President of the United States. But still...

This confirms my beliefs that many Republicans believe they can and should do anything to destroy “the enemy.”

The enemy I am referring to, of course, is anyone who might be a Democrat, a liberal, a union member, a teacher… Anyone who doesn’t act and think exactly like them. That is who Republicans identify as their enemy, and they fully believe that the end justifies the means.

To support this not-that-farfetched hypothesis, I offer this little gem. This story is appearing in many places on the internet. Here is the Crooks and Liars version. It seems that some legal eagle in Wisconsin wrote to the governor to suggest that he actually fake some sort of physical attack on himself and make it look like the perp was some union supporter. Here’s what the letter said, in part.

“If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions’ cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions,” the email said.
“Currently, the media is painting the union protest as a democratic uprising and failing to mention the role of the DNC and umbrella union organizations in the protest. Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions. God bless, Carlos F. Lam.

Here the thing is in whole.

My, my. That certainly sounds above board and nothing at all to be embarrassed or ashamed about, right? All is fair in love and war?

Now, I am not going to suggest that every single Republican and conservative thinks like this. I fully believe that there are very ethical and moral people in this country who happen to have a very different vision than I do about how this country should be run. The problem here, however, is that there seems to be a very large number of Republicans out there that do NOT think like this. On the contrary, they appear to believe that anything that can be done to “win,” should be done. I think the 2000 election taught us that. That approach continues on to this day. Just think of the James O’Keefe selective video editing to take down targets conservatives don’t like, such as ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, Planned Parenthood, NPR… The only limitation they put upon themselves is this. Do not get caught. And even if you do get caught, you should never apologize, never back down. No matter how much dirt is on your hands when you get caught, remember this, it’s always the liberals fault!

I really would like to know how these kinds of people justify their actions to themselves. How do they sleep at night? How much different is this than, say, the old Soviet Union or some 3rd World Banana Republic? How can they possibly state, with a straight face, that they "love this country" and "love freedom and Democracy" and pull this kind of crap?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Technology: Does the Japanese nuclear reactor crisis indicate we have become far too trusting of technology?

Before I start on this, I need to explain something. I do know something about this subject on which I am about to expound. I have a job involved in very complex technology. I can’t write about those direct experiences, however. One of my firm rules I imposed upon myself when I started this blog was that I wasn’t going to blog about my job. That is a good way to lose said job. But I do have almost 30 years experience with dealing with safety critical, highly complex systems. You are going to have to trust me on that point. And, for the record, I have a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a Master’s in physics. While I was in college, I also received some experience in the power generation field and spent some time around a nuclear power plant, courtesy of my participating in the school’s cooperative education program. Although that was now over 30 years ago, I do remember quite a lot of the fundamentals involved here.

For the record, no, I don’t work in the power generation field with my current job.

I have been watching with interest the ongoing and continually worsening crisis in Japan regarding the four (I believe it is now four, it could be more) unstable, possibly out of control, nuclear reactors in Japan. This emergency has been ongoing since the double barrel hit of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a huge tsunami, and it seems to be getting worse as the days progress. I am not going to try to summarize the current situation, as any summary I try to put together will be out of date by tomorrow. Rather, I would like to focus on the bigger issue of technology in general and how our society has become totally dependent upon it without understanding or underestimating the very real risks involved.

I have seen some writers in recent days compare this accident, if that is even a good word for it, to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. That ship was labeled, from the time it was on the drawing board, as “unsinkable.” Literally, the belief was that it could never be sunk. Technology had advanced during the Industrial Age to the point that it was infallible. That was one reason why, when that huge ship sank on its very first voyage, it just clobbered the accepted reality of the day. Yes, the horrendous loss of life also had a huge impact on the collective psyches of both America and Britain. But the one part that I would like to discuss is the fact that people really had come to believe that the technology involved was that advanced such that all risks had been negated. That ship could never sink, end of story.

Our society today seems to find itself in that same erroneous state of mind regarding technology. It has become an integral piece of the fabric of day-to-day life in the 21st Century. We are literally surrounded by very sophisticated technology that we hardly even see for what it is. Smart phones, iPads, instant connectivity no matter where you might be, electrical power that we never even think about except when it isn’t there anymore, relatively inexpensive gasoline for your automobiles no further away than the gas station or convenience store three blocks away, on and on. Technology surrounds us. Our current society is totally dependent upon these things and we hardly ever think about what might be required to sustain all this technology and what the consequences might be if it doesn’t behave according to our preconceived notions.

There is one basic fact about all technology, no matter how advanced or primitive it might seem. That is, at some point, it will fail. Things break. Washers in faucets wear out. Pipes break. Metal fatigue can result in a catastrophic failure of a component in a system. Transistors fail. Insulation in wiring becomes chafed which results in a short circuit. Water gets into somewhere it isn’t supposed to be, which always results in things not working correctly. Oil pumps fail which causes moving parts to become dry and fail due to heat and friction. Failures are a fact of life in technology.

The trick for system designers, therefore, is to anticipate these failures and build mitigations into whatever it is you are designing so that the failure is not catastrophic. That is why we have backup systems and backups to backup systems. You have monitors in place for anything that might go wrong, so you can detect it and do something about it. A very easy to understand mitigation factor is for an operator of something, such as a car engine or a nuclear power plant, is to shut the thing down when it starts not working correctly. However, the trick to that is for the operator to understand when it isn’t working correctly and that he should intervene. With very complex systems, that becomes a very tricky proposition indeed.

The problem with this approach of understanding and mitigating all possible risks for very complex systems, such as modern commercial airplanes, nuclear reactors, submarines, and petrochemical plants, is that the list of things that can potentially go wrong becomes almost infinite. It becomes much worse of a problem when you start factoring in multiple failure conditions and what is always referred to as “operator error” on top of those failures. Once the system designer starts applying his or her fertile imagination to this problem, the whole process becomes almost infinite.

That is where “probabilities” start coming into the picture. Because it is impossible to take care of every single and multiple thing that could ever go wrong, then it becomes a matter of addressing what is most likely to happen and what is the thing that can happen that could have the worst consequences? Those are the risks that system designers address first. And as one who has seen the inside of this process, it becomes almost a game you play. Cost factors start to become very large in the overall decision making process. If a designer wants to address a possible situation that could have dire consequences if it were to happen in a very specific way and it would take a whole lot of money , time and resources to address, but it really isn’t all that likely to happen, then it is obvious that the people that make those kinds of decisions are not likely to address that particular scenario. It's all in how you "draw your box" around the possible scenarios you have to design your system to accommodate in a manner that will hopefully minimize death and destruction. Once something is placed outside that box, then, by definition, it is outside of your accepted reality. It will not happen. The Titanic will not sink.

When the increasingly dire situation in Japan started hitting the news, I immediately started wondering why the backup cooling systems of those power plants didn’t automatically kick in. Not having cooling water for a nuclear reactor is probably THE one big thing that designers worry about. It is rather likely that it will happen, too, if you don’t design and operate your reactor in very certain ways. So it was a mystery to me why all of these reactors that are in trouble seem to have lost their backup cooling systems. All of them had that problem at the same time. How did that happen? I won’t go into the probability numbers, but that would seem like that would be a Once In The Lifetime of the Dinosaur Kingdom kind of event.

Well, it turns out that the problem with all these plants is that they did have a backup cooling system that depends on emergency electrical power generators. And guess why those all failed? The tsunami wiped them all out, as they were built in a low-lying area right next to the ocean. That risk was either never identified or was considered to be so unlikely that they designers didn’t need to bother mitigating that one.

In a country like Japan that has a long history of violent earthquakes and tsunamis, you would think that this scenario might have been considered, given the possible catastrophic results. No, this was one of the things that was not considered in the realm of possibility. Why? My guess was that it was an economic decision, not a technological one. The potential for this scenario was recognized but it would have cost too much money to address a situation that people in charge didn’t think would occur.

That is called “acceptable risk.” People are making decisions about what is acceptable, given what it would take to address that problem. That is the basis for a Cost/Benefit Analysis. The problem here, as you might be able to see now, is that the main risk involved is for the citizens of Japan along that stretch of coastline. The risk that the managers of the company that had those nuclear plants built is being borne by the citizens of Japan, who had absolutely no vote in that decision.

Believe me, this kind of thing is constantly going on in today’s society. That is how this vast technologically based infrastructure we have in this country and the world works. Everything is a tradeoff.

There has been much discussion about nuclear power and whether it is a “safe” technology. Here’s my thought on that question.

There will never, repeat, never be a totally safe nuclear power plant. There will always be a possibility of something going wrong. If the system is designed in a way that the first and almost only requirement is that it will never experience an accident, then the risk that there will ever be a critical problem will be very small indeed. For instance, the plant could be designed with quadruple redundant cooling systems and with not one but two containment domes, each about 30 feet thick that would withstand a military type bomb being dropped directly on it. Accidents will not be a Zero Possibility, but they become increasingly very, very unlikely. The more safeguards you put in, the less likely that anything bad, no matter the cause, will happen.

However, that is not how things are done in our society. The companies that are going to invest billions of dollars in nuclear power plants are going to want a return on their investment. What’s the point of having these wonderful power plants if you never make any money? That, in common parlance, is referred to as a "Bad Business Case." Therefore, economics is a very major player in design decisions that you might think would be totally technologically driven. If you think that, you would be wrong.

But this is still O.K. That’s how our society works. The problem lies with how one goes about assessing the possible risks. If your schedule is very tight and your company is on the verge of going under, you might be inclined to start cutting corners in order to not spend any more money or effort than you absolutely have to. You might start “drawing your box” around the possible scenarios that you must account for in a way that starts to minimize those possible scenarios you must consider. If you limit those scenarios, then your job as a system designer becomes much easier. And cheaper, by the way.

That is what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The situation that occurred was considered to be something that the designers did not have to worry about happening. When it did occur, then the response is invariably, “Who could have foreseen X happening?” Does that sound at all familiar?

There are a number of other factors that contribute to accidents, of course. This is a very complex field of study and many books have been written on the subject. I am not going to be able to cover everything here. But I will mention a couple of other factors that I believe are very prevalent in how our technological society functions.

The first one is that these systems, whatever they are, are now so complex that the designers don’t truly fully understand what it is they are building and, more importantly, how they can fail. They are just too complex and there are too many individuals and different companies involved for any single person to grasp the intricacies of every single aspect of that system. When the first failure of something we have never seen before occurs, designers can learn from that experience and address that particular aspect in future designs. This is called (by me) the “Oops! Well, we shouldn’t do THAT again!” approach to systems engineering. However, that approach certainly didn’t help those affected by the first accident.

Another factor that is very important to the study of industrial accidents is that of complacency. To summarize, this means that since something bad hasn’t happened before when we did X, then, by definition, it won’t happen when we do X the next time. And complacency becomes so prevalent that it becomes nothing bad will happen when we do X again and put Y on top of it. That was one of the leading contributors to both the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle accidents. That entire process is called, in more academic circles, “Normalization of Risk.” Nothing bad has happened before, so it won’t happen in the future. Everyone has accepted the unstated assumption that the condition, which I called X previously, will not happen. It just isn’t in the entire paradigm. Therefore, we don’t need to worry about X, or even X plus Y, in our design.

I don’t think I even want to start talking about “operator error.” That’s what everyone’s reaction seems to be when anything happens outside of your preconceived notion of how things should work. If anything happens that designers didn’t anticipate, don’t we always see that “operator error” tag, even though you might be asking the question, “Well, how was the operator supposed to know how to react to these circumstances, since they have never been trained to deal with X, or X plus Y?”

All of this goes a long way in explaining why the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine was built without a containment dome or building, in case of a radiation leak or explosion. An explosion of the nuclear reactor was never in the realm of possibility, so therefore, it would have been a waste of money to build a containment dome to contain something that would never exist. As a result, we now have an uninhabitable zone, a la The Planet of the Apes, the size of Switzerland in the middle of Russia and the Ukraine.

If, on the other hand, worrying about the economic impact on your design and operational requirements is NOT part of the picture, then it is possible to design, build and operate a technologically complex system, and to do it safely. This is the case of the U.S. Navy and their nuclear power submarines. After the loss of two submarines, the U.S.S. Thresher and the U.S.S. Scorpion, the Navy decided that they were not going to lose any more submarines, for any reason other than being sunk by a hostile military force. To this end, they instituted a system called SUBSAFE. As a direct result of this program, the U.S. Navy has not lost any submarines since this program was instituted. Please note that economic considerations, such as how much this program costs the U.S. Navy, is not a factor. Keeping their submarine fleet safe from sinking is the only priority. This is not the case for anything done where profit margin is a concern, which is pretty much anything not involved with the U.S. military.

Where am I going with this discussion? I think the main point I wanted to make here is that we, as a society, do not understand the risks involved with these very complex technologies. Things will always go wrong, and the likelihood of spectacular accidents and failures increase the less that the people in charge worry about the possibility of those things actually occurring. And the risk is borne by all of us. Yes, those companies will lose money, maybe the entire company, if accidents are bad enough. But it is the unwitting participants who also bear a very great risk, such as those who live next to nuclear power plants, petrochemical plants, underground pipelines, etc.

It is too late to put this particular genii back it the bottle. It is out and the possibility of it wreaking significant havoc is very large, especially when you lump all the possible risks of all our technology together. You end up with the Bhopal chemical plant disaster in India, in which thousands died. You end up with collapsing coal mines with miners still inside. You end up with deep-water oil rigs that explode and leak millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico with absolutely no known way of shutting off a deep water leak like that, even though many workers knew that risks were being taken. And you end up with the possibility of hundreds of thousands of Japanese people being forced to relocate from an area that may be contaminated with radioactivity for thousands of years to come.

“Acceptable risks” are always acceptable. Until they actually happen, that is.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 NCAA Tournament: Big East kind of sucking canal water once again.

As my alma mater, the University of Washington, experienced yet another end-of-game meltdown of a game against perennial power North Carolina and lost in heartbreaking fashion, I find I can take comfort in the fact that the Bestest, Most Wonderfulest Basketball Conference That Has Ever Existed has already lost 9 of their record 11 teams this 2011 NCAA Championship.

Let me see here….

• Villanova (9 seed) lost to George Mason, who got destroyed by Ohio State.
• West Virginia ((5 seed) lost to Kentucky.
• Syracuse (3 seed) lost to fellow Big East conference member Marquette.
• Cincinnati (6 seed) also lost to a fellow Big East conference member UConn.
• Louisville (4 seed) lost to 13 seed Morehead State on a last second 3 pointer.
• Georgetown (6 seed) got destroyed by VCU, who had to play in the “first four” games on Wednesday.
• Notre Dame (2 seed) got absolutely humbled by a 10 seed in Florida State.
• Pittsburg (1 seed) lost in the stupidest ending to a college basketball game ever, to Butler.
• St. John’s (Toast of New York and 6 seed) lost to Mid-Major power Gonzaga.

Ah, so that’s not doing so well, is it, for a conference and all their media promoters at ESPN and CBS? I have heard several analysts say something like, “Well, two Big East teams had to lose, as those two games had Big East teams playing each other.” Personally, I like the flip side of the coin. Two Big East teams had to WIN those games. Who’s to say that, if those games were against teams from other conferences, the Big East teams wouldn’t have come out as the losers? It might be that the Big East should feel fortunate to have two teams in the Sweet Sixteen.

And it seems to me that this sort of happened to the Big East in LAST YEAR’S tournament as well. Eight teams were made it into the field in 2010 and all of them but West Virginia were gone by the Sweet Sixteen. The biggest bombs back then were Georgetown getting beat by 13 by Ohio University, Xavier over Pitt and my Washington Huskies over Marquette in the opening round.

A number of basketball aficionados were rather upset this year, when the field was expanded from 65 teams to 68 that it seemed that the entire reason for expanding the already large field was just so MORE BIG EAST teams could be invited! Do the math.... Going from 65 teams to 68 teams results in a net gain of 3. How many additional Big East teams were invited in 2001 from 2010? That was 8 in 2010 and 11 in 2011 which results in.... 3! How about that? It looks like to me that expansion was done just so we could invite more Big East teams, only for them to lose!

11 teams from a single conference? That’s more teams in the NCAA tournament than most conferences have conference members. In my mind, that's insulting to everyone else.

Maybe next year, they can expand the field again so we can invite the entire goddamn Big East conference, including TCU which is coming in as the 17th member next year. That’s what everyone wants anyway, right? Would that satisfy everyone’s little basketball ego? The rest of us would then be able to get our jollies off to have almost every single game in the opening rounds feature a loss by the Too Damn Big East.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My vision of how the United States, as run by the current Republican Party, would look in 30 years.

I this is something that has been playing around my mind in the past few days. I am not putting a lot of thought or research into this. This is just how I perceive the U.S. would be run if Republicans had their way, as evidenced by what they are currently saying and doing (that is an important point in my scenario).

There would not be an opposition political party. It would not be allowed. Our government system would resemble the old Soviet Union style of government, but only in form, not in content. Party loyalty would be paramount and no dissent would be allowed, even for trivial matters. All political votes would be expected to be won with 100% margin. The same goes for political elections. They would still be held, but they would be a total sham, with usually only a single candidate on the ballot. Voter suppression tactics would not really be needed anymore, because there would be a total lack of choice about the candidates.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights would still be in force, but by name only. Certain items contained in these documents that would cause an upset in the current system are either summarily ignored or else changed.

The political media would be a replica of today’s Fox News Channel. Every story, every news item, would be in support of the current administration and what a great job they are doing, or else to demean and denigrate anyone brave enough to come out and actually say anything about the system. But there would be much more coverage about the economy and business issues. This would also be a huge propaganda operation, but in support of the huge corporations of the country instead of the politicians. That distinction, however, would be getting harder to make every single day. The rich and powerful that run these corporations would also be, in essence, the puppet masters behind the curtains that told the politicians how to conduct their business. That would be a huge difference from how the old Soviet Union was run. That was power politics for the sake of being in power. The new system in place here would be in total support of the “free hand of the market.” Anything that corporations wanted to do, or didn’t want to do, would find willing supporters in our political system.

There very real stratification of our society would continue where it would reach a point that the upper class of the country would have total control over everything. The middle class would essentially be non-existent. The lower class of the country would be huge. It would be largely uneducated, as the public school system would be dismantled and anyone wanting an education could find it at private schools, but for a price. The rest of the population would resemble the rural America in the 1800’s. Education for the lower class would be at a minimum, and the jobs that would be available would be menial or backbreaking, dangerous work, because that would be all that is available. All the good jobs would be used as gifts for cronies, and the sons and daughters of cronies.

If you have the money, everything is available. If you don’t, then you are truly SOL. There would be little to no social services available. Even what are today considered to be “essential services” would be available at a price, such as health care, fire departments, and law enforcement for crimes against your person or property. This part of our society would resemble the corrupt states where money and bribes would be everything. If you want something, you would have to pay through the nose. For those with the wealth, that would mean little because it would be a drop in their bucket.

We would still continue to have a very strong military that would consume most of the available resources of the country. That would be a major way for the poor and uneducated to escape their particular hell, to join the military. The country would continue to throw our weight around the world, invading smaller countries whenever they did not bow to our sometimes very capricious will. The rest of the world would start to align against us, both economically and militarily. That would not stop us, however, because God is on our side. The United States can never be defeated.

This brings me to the subject of religion. Christianity of the most fundamentalist and militarist type would become the order of the day, and it would be fully supported by the government. If you didn’t subscribe to this particular brand of religion, you could never advance in society or your profession. Other religions, such as Judaism, would be tolerated, but only just. You would not be allowed to practice openly any religion on the “banned” list, and there would be many of those. Harassment, intimidation and physical violence by vigilantes and officers of the law against the others would be openly tolerated if not actively promoted.

The ruling class would be totally oblivious to the rapid decline of the country, of course. When it was noticed, it would be the fault of someone else; such as “old Europe”, Jewish Bankers, the lower class, or whoever the current convenient scapegoat might be that day. There would be very little manufacturing done in this country. All investment in the future will have stopped, as all profits that corporations made will be channeled into the already fat bank accounts and stock portfolios of the already obscenely rich. They will not notice that there are no customers anymore that have the resources to buy whatever products are produced. Most of the wealth of this country would be made by shuffling paper around and very complicated “financial instruments” would be used to build a house of cards upon which the very fragile remains of the economy rests.

I will not continue to what I think would be a very grim and hard landing. Such a system would not be sustainable. I could see several possible endings to such a society. It would not be pretty. Total collapse of a society never is, and one as large as ours would make it that much worse.

That is what I see when I hear how the Republicans say when they are describing their view of the country. I do not believe I am being over-imaginative here. This is what they are saying. I am fabricating totally wild hypotheses, either.

Would anyone like to discuss this?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Fascinating historical photo: President Lincoln.

This is Abe Lincoln's Presidential train at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. Lincoln is the man in the middle of the photo in his famous tall black hat. President Lincoln stopped in Hanover Junction on November 18, 1863 before traveling west to Gettysburg, PA. This picture was taken the day prior to President Lincoln's now most famous speech, "The Gettysburg Address". It was also about four months after the infamous Battle of Gettysburg.

Last year, I was in Washington, D.C. One of the things I have always wanted to see was Ford's Theater. Unfortunately for me, the theater itself was closed the day I was there. But the basement museum was open. I was speechless when I was looking at the pistol John Wilkes Booth used to kill Lincoln in cold blood. There was a rather smallish looking boot split up the middle which turned out to be Booth's. The doctor that was sheltering him had to cut it off of Booth, as he severely injured his ankle in his infamous jump off from Lincoln's box to the stage. And, really rather on the morbid side, there was a pillow used in the house across the street where Lincoln was taken, complete with blood stains.

But what really got to me was when I did go over to Peterson House across the street, which is where the President was taken after he was shot and where he ultimately passed away. Although all the interior furnishings has been replaced since that time, it has been reconstructed as faithfully as they could. That was when I got rather emotional, being in the same room where President Lincoln died. That was some In Your Face history, let me tell you. I really want to go back and see the theater when it is open.

This photo is copyrighted by Eric Larson. Please go visit his railroading photo album. Click on the photo for a bigger version.

UPDATE: I was thinking that you could consider this train the Air Force 1 of its day.

Thoughts on Lunatic America.

I will try to force myself to write something here. Blogs, by their very nature, need quite a lot in the way of care and feeding on a daily basis. This one hasn’t been receiving much of that in the last year or so. If my blogs were pets, they would both be lying in their own poop in a corner somewhere, quietly wimpering, hoping that someone will be nice to them or at least give them some clean water now and then.

What a nice visual… I don’t know why it is so difficult to write anything anymore. It may be that my job is mostly writing and reading. Not for their own ends, of course. There is a purpose in all that writing and reading, which usually takes a fair amount of mental concentration to do them correctly. I don’t seem to have any spare mental concentration to go around anymore. Sorry, blogs. Tough noogies, as we used to say back in the 6th grade in the Manitou Springs Jr. High School. I just am having a very difficult time on focusing in on anything that requires some amount of concerted effort and disciplined logic.

But, as I have mentioned before, I think most of my problem is that I am finding myself unable to deal with the insanity that is the United States of America. That is my main problem, I believe. I have college degrees in engineering and science and therefore tend to approach most aspects of my life with some logic and rational thought behind my approach. This approach completely falls apart when attempting to deal with or understand people who constantly exhibit the ultimate antithesis of logic and rationality.

When Barack Obama was elected president, I was very happy for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I suppose, was the fact that there would be a Democrat back in the office of the President. Secondly, John McCain and his pet showmoose wouldn’t be in power. But I was actually looking forward to the right-wing freak out because there would a Democrat AND a black man as President. I just thought it would be really fun to see the wingers go nuts. Sit back and enjoy the show, folks! Plenty of entertainment coming right up!

How wrong I was about that. The expected freak out did happen, but a) it was much, much worse than I every imagined it could be, and b) it wasn’t fun in the slightest. What it did was really make me come eye-to-eye with the fact that there are a huge number of people in this country who, from my perspective, act completely crazy when it comes to politics. They may be very nice people when not being political, but they are just crazy. Logic, facts, and rational, thoughtful approaches are not part of their repertoire. What seems to drive them are extreme tribalism, hate of “the other”, xenophobia, winning every single contest, no matter how small, at all costs, rage, and the obvious need to have an enemy, even manufactured ones, on which to take out their rage.

But to them, I am the crazy one. I don’t see the universe exactly as they see it, so, by definition, I must be crazy because it certainly isn’t them.

Here’s a little discussion, back from during the Bush administration, courtesy of Balloon Juice.

John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is—

Tyrone: 27%.

John: ... you said that immmediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

John: Objectively crazy or crazy vis-a-vis my own inertial reference frame for rational behaviour? I mean, are you creating the Theory of Special Crazification or General Crazification?

Tyrone: Hadn’t thought about it. Let’s split the difference. Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification—either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

John: You realize this leads to there being over 30 million crazy people in the US?

Tyrone: Does that seem wrong?

John: ... a bit low, actually.

That’s pretty much the conclusion I cam to. 30 million crazy people in this country. People to whom facts and logic mean nothing. 30 million…. That’s a lot. And they are certainly making themselves felt these days. Put a nice label on your movement, say, oh, “The Tea Party”, scream and shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with you, be supported at every turn by a major television outlet and several billionaires willing to spend all sorts of money to support their agenda, threaten and actually succeed on occasion to throw out members of your own political party if they don’t toe the “crazy” line that you have established, well, you can find yourselves with a lot of power. People have to listen to you, even though you only make up a 30% of the voting population of the country. The “liberal” media is too concerned about appearing liberal to point out the craziness. The leaders of their own political party are terrified that the monster that they created will turn on them, so the keep upping the stakes every single chance they get.

Our President, the one that I was so happy to see elected, has turned out to be a terrible negotiator, in that he seems to continually capitulate to these crazy people. Negotiations in good faith with sane people who disagree with you is one thing, but attempting to negotiate with crazy is a losing prospect every single time.

The crazy people appear to believe that science is just opinion, that global climate change is some sort of hoax, and the United States of America is the bestest, most wonderfulist country that has ever existed, on this world and any others that happen to be around. But they are adamantly against helping anyone who isn’t one of them, who (probably through no fault of their own) are having a difficult time of it. They do not want to make any investments, none, in the infrastructure of this country. They do not want to make any investments in education for the youth of this country, upon which the “greatness” of this country will depend in not that distant future. Republican governors are turning down money from the federal government for high speed rail projects that would help their state’s infrastructure, not to mention bringing in sorely needed jobs, just because they don’t like the President and his agenda. Other governors manufacture budget crises and then use those crises to push their own agenda, which is to crush unions. Other countries are beginning to eat our lunch in terms of investment in their economies and their future.

The United States ranks among the lowest in developed nations when it comes to infant mortality and their healthcare system, but among the highest when it comes to money spent per person for that same crappy healthcare system.

Real income for the lower and middle class workers has not budged in 30 years. Real income for the upper 10% has increased about 400% in those same 30 years. Businesses are sitting on huge amounts of cash reserves, but are not investing in themselves or hiring people. Huge companies have found loopholes by which they are able to avoid paying any corporate income taxes. But when it comes to budgetary woes, the people who are being asked to “share the pain” are always, without fail, the ones who have the least ability to give any more. Families who make over $250,000 a year are “poor” when it comes to taxation, but for all other considerations, teachers who make $50,000 a year and have a good dental plan are somehow greedy and overpaid. But by God, those oil companies, the ones that have made ONE TRILLION DOLLARS PROFIT in the last ten years, they need all those subsidies they are getting from the federal government!

None of this is new to anyone, of course. This isn’t really what I started out to write. This is just a litany of the craziness which has taken over this country.

I just can’t begin to imagine where this all might lead. I am almost to the point of just keeping my head down and hoping that my foxhole is a good refuge. I hope it all holds together for another seven years until I can retire. After that, I have no idea. I have toyed with the idea of moving to another country, although who knows what the situation might be in seven years.

Given all this, I just find it difficult to write another silly movie review or post funny pictures. It feels forced and wrong, like putting on a puppet show in your garage when your house is burning down.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Kinda says it all, doesn't it?

Here's a joke making the rounds on the internet....

Just in case you haven't seen this one.

A CEO, a Tea Partier, and a Union member are sitting around a table that has a plate with 12 cookies on it. The CEO takes 11 cookies and then leans over to the Tea Partier and says,"Psst. That Union guy is trying to take part of of your cookie."