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Culture of Resentment, Culture of Apartheid

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

We Want White Tennants

Up through the mid 1960s segregation was the norm. Especially in  the southern states. Separate schools for black and white, separate housing for black and white, separate hospitals for black and white, separate restrooms for black and white, separate drinking fountains for black and white…separate everything for black and white. Nearly all of it of inferior quality.

Buy things were not much different across the Mason Dixon line where blacks and other minorities were kept out of decent jobs, hotels, health care and housing. Even parks and the downtown areas and public transportation.

This was a White Christian country and if you were not of that persuasion, you need not apply. Up here in Cleveland you rarely saw any minorities downtown unless the worked there. You never saw them in the big stores shopping or even at the drugstore soda fountain. You rarely saw them on the buses or the rapid transit.

After the passage of the civil rights acts and fair housing acts minorities could not legally be kept out of traditionally white areas. You began to see them downtown and in white neighborhood schools. White America responded by moving more and more to the suburbs. They could not legal have the restrictive covenants any more but kept housing prices hight and began real estate steering. Making sure minorities could not buy housing in their little all white enclaves. Banks would only lend for particular neighborhoods. Housing was still segregated.

As minorities began to move into these suburbs the whites moved further out. Into areas where the zoning laws were such that the property was much more expensive and multi family housing was limited or even forbidden altogether.

With the cities being abandoned by the white middle class and businesses, the Federal Government tried to revitalize them with what was called Urban Renewal. It had some successes but mostly failures. The whites would not bite and the minorities could not afford the new properties and banks had strict rules.  Even the FHA would not lend in most cases. All keeping the minorities in minority housing. Usually government projects of badly kept highrises and the tradition poor neighborhoods.

Now there is rumoured that the Obama administration will force integration of these white enclaves. By over riding local zoning laws. With the desegregation of local schools and health care and even parks, there is now heave resentment. And it’s exactly what these white enclaves feared would happen with the election of a black man. And of course they fear that this will add to the deflation of the housing value.

What is more they are losing the Federal Monies they got for their schools and hospitals and libraries and parks. And they are furious. The election of Obama was the last straw as far as they are concerned.

The ones who can, have been moving put of state to Florida or Arizona or Colorado or Minnesota in hopes of creating a mostly white “christian straight” state that the Federal Government cannot touch. Electing Senators and Representatives to say no to anything that might prevent this.

A lot of what people don’t get is that these whites don’t Hate blacks, they just don’t want them around. In their schools or parks or hospitals or neighborhoods or anywhere. It’s not only racism, but classism as well. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and I’ll bet even still Jews in some cases. And they surely do not want their taxes helping them.

And they are making sure to get the message out that minorities are not welcome.

Pull Up a Chair: Blade Runner: An Examination

11:06 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Since there has been confirmation that Ridley Scott is in the first stages of making a sequel, Blade Runner 2, I thought I would do an analysis of the original dystopic science fiction Film Noir. Underrated at the time of its release, it has gained in appreciation since, with various box sets and cuts available now. It’s based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep by Philip K. Dick and set in Los Angeles circa 2019. Science fiction writers, even those of the darkest dystopian futures, tend to be overly optimistic quite often, which is the case here, having by that time assuming technologies that are yet to appear.

This, however, can be forgiven as they tread a thin line having to make the future seem advanced enough and yet still enable the reader or viewer to relate in the current time. Blade Runner is no exception, assuming that by this time we are colonizing space. But only for those who qualify physically, and one assumes mentally and financially as well.

The plot — which I will not repeat here in its entirety, but still spoiler alert — revolves around Decker, a Blade Runner, a member of the police unit to track down and execute replicants, bio-engineered slaves developed and produced by the Tyrell Corporation, which are illegal on Earth. Decker is persuaded by Bryant — head of the unit — to come out of retirement to hunt down and eliminate 4 replicants that have come back to Earth from the “Off World Colonies.”

What you are immediately hit with is this view of an urban environment that is only slightly better than completely run down. With floating blimp-like objects that contentiously blare out audio and beam video to entice you to move off Earth to the colonies. Indeed, only those “lesser humans” remain on Earth. Some by choice, but most by necessity due to not being able to qualify. It takes place in an Asian area of the city, with Asian eateries nearly everywhere. You are left to wonder if this is the norm for the whole city or planet, that one of the qualities one needs to posses to move “Off World” is to be White.

The movie gives many messages, direct and a number indirect. That the “Beautiful People” have given up on Earth and have left for the colonies. That those who are still on Earth are left to make it as best they can. That Dr. Tyrell himself is both a victim and benefactor of this, having built an industrial empire through his genus in genetic engineering by supplying replicant slaves to the colonies. That the technology needed to maintain the status quo of the little people on the streets, makes it down to the streets. That those on the street and still on Earth mostly get along, since with the immigration of the “Beautiful People” to the colonies, there is no longer any reason not to get along. Indeed the “street language” is described as “a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you. ” That the police are there primarily to make sure nothing and no one upsets this relationship. That the biggest corporation, both physically and financially, is the Tyrell Corporation, reaching high enough to actually get sun at the top, when in the street it’s always foggy and rainy and polluted. It’s a city left to slowly fall apart.

The view one gets of the city is not unlike that of the old Hudson your rich uncle left you when he moved to Manhattan. With rust and problems you yourself cannot fix, but it still runs well enough to get you to the store and back. Even with fading paint and the bumper tied on with bailing wire, broken radio antenna and a radio that makes buzzing sounds when played. Parked out in front of an old farm house that leans a bit more each year, it hasn’t seen paint itself for many years.

Scott does leave a number of questions unanswered. Like why use an obviously primitive method of identifying replicants? Why not use genetic identification? Unless perhaps the genetics between humans and replicants are so similar, that it has proven unreliable. Was the reason given by Tyrell for implanting memories into replicants the real reason, or is it something else? Does Tyrell have some other use for replicants where memories would be necessary? Why would he give Rachael an extended lifespan, when all others were limited to 4 years. Why did he even try to extend this in other replicants? And lastly, why just a female with these additional qualities?

Blade Runner gives a peek at a capitalist society that has left its former home to be slowly abandoned and fall into ruin; where capitalists have finally found the ideal slaves and ideal peasants.

A great movie, but not a pretty picture.

Looking forward to Blade Runner 2?

Getting Old …

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

I wrote this because I had my 65th birthday on the 14th of this month. I am now on Medicare and a supplement plan. Whoppy doo!

We hear and see stories of people living tom be 100 or more, 82-year-old’s that still run the Boston Marathon and hike up mount sides and what not. Mostly the human interest sections of the news or on Huffington Post, etc. Wonder if it has occurred to anyone why you hear about? Why it’s considered news? The reason should be clear. It’s still news because it’s still damn rare, that’s why.

Truth is that getting old can suck. The scientific explanation I last read is that over time one’s DNA gets corrupted and screwed up and if your DNA is mediocre at best, then things begin to go wrong. Like that old used Chevy Bel Air in the barn, stuff starts to fail and fall off.

We are led to believe — mostly by Hollywood and writers, but now the medical profession — that we can grow and die comfortably. What a load of horse crap. Verbal manure. There are so many things that can begin to go wrong as one ages. Neural degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, MS (Multiple sclerosis), Huntington’s chorea, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Cancer of anything except the hair and nails. Various forms of cardiac disease and circulatory disease.  Bone disease like arthritis and  Osteoporosis.

Nearly all of which are more torturous as time goes on. The only good news is, the medications to treat them — nearly all of which have side effects as unpleasant as the disease itself.

Hear is the reality check in all of this: If you think your going to live out a long and happy life and then die peaceably, that only happens the the movies or if you take an overdose of something.

My cousin on my mother’s side has MS [which I may have as well, I can say yes to 14 of the 16 symptoms]. My grandfather on my mother’s side died of a heart attack but it took 3 to kill him. My aunt on my mother’s side died of complications from a brain disorder. My father died of a brain haemorrhage, cause unknown [ I suspect a tumor]. My grandmother on my mother’s side died in her sleep at 90 something. And on and on.

And yet, we put ourselves with torture or let other’s do it, thinking by doing so we can beat the reaper — when we could instead just enjoy ourselves and our lives.

Guilty!

5:12 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Antique Handcuffs – flickr creative commons

I have been thinking a lot about this lately: this country has one big, gigantic, humongous guilt complex and shame complex. People in this country and culture feel guilt over nearly everything they do.

And most especially what they enjoy doing. Rarely well you see those who engage in practices they enjoy come out and say they do them simply because they enjoy doing them. Whether its sex, drinking, smoking, drugs, sports, walking, running or what not. They always have to have some cock-a-mamie justification or excuse.  We feel guilty about the house we live in, car we drive, job we have. We are made to feel guilt about being sick or getting old, as if we had anything to do with it.

We even feel guilty about the wars we rage. That’s why our foreign policy makes no damn sense. About the only thing we DON’T feel guilty about is making money and it’s those at the top who least likely to feel guilty about it.

Not only do we go to great lengths to make others feel guilty about what they are doing, we make laws that will still allow us to engage in those things we enjoy but bury our guilty feelings. Especially the religious right, who seem to believe it’s their God-given duty to do so. Yet they seem to believe that being so damn religious and self-righteous, they have a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. But consider this, why would one think they need a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card if they did not deep down think that they belonged in jail in the first place?

I smoke because I like it. It feels good. I don’t drink because I don’t like it. Clean, clear and to the point. And honest and I do not feel the least bit guilty.

The hardest thing is to get people to admit what they do and why. I was in group therapy a while back and one person was working on their relationship issues and sexual hang-ups. The therapist asked this person if they masturbated. It took a hell of a lot of prodding the get this person to admit that yes, they did. Now the tuffy — the therapist then asked why? After even more hemming and hawing by the person in question, the therapist got really frustrated and finally said, “You masturbate because you like it. It’s fun.” Believe it or not, the person in question STILL could not admit that that was the primary reason.

It’s this country’s puritan crap background that I think is one of the leading causes for it. From the start we are brainwashed that anything we enjoy doing is therefore bad and sinful and has to be avoided. Even after all these years we still carry around this rotten, horrible baggage. And the religious right goes completely ballistic if we admit we do what what we do because it makes us happy and feel good. About the only people who lack this guilt are Wall Street tycoons, priests and the police. We even work ourselves to death and feel guilty about not working harder.

The Germans — and most Europeans — drink hard, and smoke hard and relax but do not feel guilty about it. And yet they are healthier than us and live longer.

We are killing ourselves not by what we do but how we do it and how we feel about, which leads to over eating, over drinking and other obsessive and compulsive behaviors to feel good. Mostly about those other things we do that we like and make us feel good. WTF?

We need to give up guilt because one of the best ways for those in power to control those who are not is through guilt and shame.

Where’s The Outrage? The Way We Were Is Not Much Different Than the Way We Are

7:23 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

The Bastille – flickr creative commons

Short and sweet. My last diaries are presented to explore what what could and might take place now or the not very distant future, give our history and what our culture currently [at least tacitly] approves of.

An entry on Rowan Wolf’s Cyrano’s Journal Today — Article by Andre Vltchek with Forward by Patrice Greanville — delves into the writing by Andre Vltchek and the critique by Patrice Greanville. Vltchek himself laying into the public at large for their lack of any real action towards the bankers and corporations and what not.

The citizens of the Western Empire are actually so lethargic and indoctrinated, that even when billions are stolen from them (not just from the people in their colonies), when banks get bailed-out after their speculative orgies, or after so-called elections get fully subsidized and manipulated by the corporate mafia, they do nothing; absolute nothing!

Go to a pub in the UK or Germany, and ‘everybody knows everything.’ You will hear it repeatedly: ‘politicians are swine’ ‘corporations are controlling elections.’ If you stay long enough, after several pints of beer someone will perhaps slam his fist on the table: “We need revolution!” Then everybody agrees and they all go home… and the next day – nothing.

‘Occupy Wall Street’ activists got roughed up by the police… And nothing. Everybody goes home. And shouts at the television.

Vltchek then asks ..

Is there still anything that will outrage people to the point that ‘they would actually not go home?’ That they would stay on those bloody streets, build barricades and fight, as they did in the past, even as recently as in 1968?

How many millions have to die in the Western colonies, before the people in Europe and North America pay attention, recognize the massacres and admit that they are actually citizens of a fascist empire, and that it is their moral obligation to fight it and dissolve it? Is 10 million in the DRC not enough? Is one coup after another that the West openly orchestrates, not a sufficient eye opener?

A question that has been asked over and over.

I think some historical perspective is required here. First of all our revolution was not so much a revolution but a bunch of elite merchants and bankers that did not want to pay taxes to jolly of England anymore, as well as plantation owners who were afraid the England might free all the slaves, including the ones in the colonies.  Which — by the way — England did, not to long after.

As for as the English revolutions and the French revolution and Russian revolution, the conditions that the serfs and commoners lived under were horrific and the attitudes of the elites and royalty were as Dickens described as “If they would rather die … they better do it and decrease the surplus population.”   And that is putting it mildly.

In Russia the lead up was Bloody Sunday. Where the people and workers demonstrated and wanted to give the Tzar a petition, and the Tzar sent in his Cossacks who killed and maimed hundreds.

In other words life was hell at best.

We have come a long way since them but that is the problem. Even during the height of the depression of the 1930s, few if any had to live in conditions like that. No medical at all, water was undrinkable, the Feudal Lords would take what little food there was even if the harvest was bad. No television, radio, or Internet …

Now in the worst of times and places, life is as bad. We have come a long way but in the process we have become lethargic, complacent, passive/aggressive, arrogant, self involved, egotistical and really do not give a wet slap. We have lost our ability for passion and replaced it with reaction.

Our creative technology has made wars and executions downright boring. Killing has almost become common place and most people just want it to be either hidden away or inoffensive.

So we have reactions in a pub but little action anywhere. It’s much more entertaining and comfortable to sit on the couch or play video games. Taking one’s aggressions out on Twitter.

But our overall behavior has not changed much, we are just more felicitous about it. Which is why no matter how outrageous my predictions seem, they are not improbable. No more improbable than waging war forever or incinerating thousands halfway around the world.

Medicare…Attitudes….History….A Rant

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Angry

This diary is a rant. I make no bones about it.

I just finished up my Medicare supplement and Part D drug sign up. And even I was amazed at how many companies what a piece of the action. One even had someone come by to sell me their particular plan. Apparently it is so lucrative that those who have nothing at all to do with health insurance want in on it. But if you do not have a supplement plan the copays and deductibles can break you in a heart beat.

There are so many got-chas and things you have to look out for concerning the coverage it’s unbelievable.  I can see why some people would not want the federal government involved. I like the idea of Medicare for all or single payer but I am not sure I would want the federal government involved either.

But this has little to do with what kind or shape the government is or the economic system. It has more to do, I feel, with the country as a whole. As George Carlin has stated,

But where do the people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky.
They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from american parents
and american families, american homes, american schools, american churches, american
businesses and american universities. and they’re elected by american citizens. This is
the best we can do, folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces:
Garbage in, garbage out! If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, if you have selfish,
ignorant citizens, you are gonna get selfish, ignorant leaders.

The federal government with it’s bureaucracy and rules is convinced someone is going to rip it off. And if the past is any indication, they are right in assuming this. So they make  a good idea as difficult to use as it can be and yet get ripped off.

This country does not have an economic problem or a governance problem. It has an attitude problem. There are far too many people in this country that feel privileged, owed, special, entitled and prideful. That are arrogant, self righteous and spoiled.

They are forgetting their own and this countries history. That for a lot of people who came here it was work your but off from before sunrise to after sun set just go get by. That the west was won not by some adventure some souls, but by people who lost their farms and land when the weather turned on them and they had little choice. [Read 1800 and froze to death].   That others in other countries had figured out electric lighting, automobiles, radio, television….That everyone except the Natives are immigrants and these immigrants came here either to escape persecution or starvation or to make easy money or keep from going to jail.

I remember there was still a lot of talk about the DAR [ Daughters of The American Revolution]. A bunch of stuck up snooty old ladies who could some how trace their families back to the founding fathers. Well good for them. Most of the “founding fathers” were smugglers and tax dodgers and thieves of some sort.

The truth is that the only reason we have not so far been bombed back to the stone age is pure luck and has zero to do with any exceptional-ism.  We are still useful to enough people that no one has sought to put us in our place….yet.

But there are those who know someone could if they wanted to

Until the majority of people in this country rids them selves of their attitudes of superiority and gains some humility, I don’t see anything much changing.  This likely will not happen until we are put in our place.

 

Thomas Piketty – The left’s new hero

9:34 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Capitalism

We don’t have many heroes today. Not the kind that are willing to call out the real truth and tell it like it is. We have a lot of pseudo heroes thought. The right has Sterling and Cliven Bundy. The left has Krugman and Rachel Maddow and Robert Reich and now Thomas Piketty.

Seems that Thomas Piketty has a new “Tell All” book out, Capital in the Twenty-First Century that is creating quite a stir in the blogosphere for it’s  “Truth Telling” of the Wall Street world. However James Howard Kunstler seems to differ in his latest essay  in Clusterfuck Nation. I will highlight some of the juicer parts here [with commentary of course].

The first mistake of Piketty fans such as New York Times op-ed ass Paul Krugman is the assumption that the dynamic labeled  “capitalism” is an ism, a belief system that you can subscribe to or drop out of, depending on your political correctitude. That’s just not true. So-called capitalism is more like gravity, a set of laws that apply to and describe the behavior of surplus wealth, in particular wealth generated by industrial societies, which is to say unprecedented massive wealth. The human race never saw anything quite like it before. It became both a moral embarrassment and a political inconvenience. So among the intellectual grandiosities of modern times is the idea that this massive wealth can be politically managed to produce an ideal equitable society — with no side effects.

Indeed, the left loves anyone who proposes ideas and solutions that mean they can retain their 6 figure incomes and grandiose life styles. He also  points out that the decrease in fossil fuels is the main reason that the industrial revolution is coming to a halt, it’s engine running out of gas, as it were.

Piketty and his fans assume that the industrial orgy will continue one way or another, in other words that some mysterious “they” will “come up with innovative new technologies” to obviate the need for fossil fuels and that the volume of wealth generated will more or less continue to increase. This notion is childish, idiotic, and wrong. Energy and technology are not substitutable with each other. If you run out of the former, you can’t replace it with the latter (and by “run out” I mean get it at a return of energy investment that makes sense). The techno-narcissist Jeremy Rifkins and Ray Kurzweils among us propound magical something-for-nothing workarounds for our predicament, but they are just blowing smoke up the collective fundament of a credulous ruling plutocracy. In fact, we’re faced with an unprecedented contraction of wealth, and a shocking loss of ability to produce new wealth. That‘s the real “game-changer,” not the delusions about shale oil and the robotic “industrial renaissance” and all the related fantasies circulating among a leadership that checked its brains at the Microsoft window.

This “Magical Thinking” has been quite popular with the left for sometime. Any one remember in the 1950s how nuclear power was going to “Save us all !” and give us all “Cheap energy, now and into the future.” That has worked out REAL well, hasn’t it. [snark intended] Or that solar and wind will now bring us to some energy nirvana. [Don’t get me wrong, I love solar and wind. But to replace carbon base fuels ? Forgetaboutit.  If we truly wanted or thought we could have this “energy magic bullet” there would be a hell of a lot more time, energy and resources into finding a replacement.

Historically advances of this kind have not come from think tanks or research institutions, but some clown in his/her garage or shack who had a eureka moment. “AHA…I’ve found it !” Then if took another set of clowns to figure out just what “it” was, since the first clown hasn’t a clue. But I digress.

I suppose it’s counter-intuitive in this moment of the “Deep State” with all its Orwellian overtones of electronic surveillance and omnipotence, but I’d take the less popular view that the Deep State will choke to death on the diminishing returns of technology and that nation-states in general will first degenerate into impotence and then break up into smaller units. What’s more, I’d propose that the whole world is apt to be going medieval, so to speak, as we contend with our energy predicament and its effects on wealth generation, banking, and all the other operations of modern capital. That is, they’ll become a lot less modern.

We are seeing this now, in other countries and even here. With people, groups and even states telling the Federal Government to “Bugger Off” on more and more issues. With the Federal Government having to capitulate more and more. And else where like the Ukraine and Italy. I’m waiting for Brittany and Bavaria to start getting antsy.

I doubt that the Warren Buffets and Jamie Dimons of the world will see their wealth confiscated via some new policy of the Internal Revenue Service — e.g. the proposed “tax on wealth.” Rather, its more likely that they’ll be strung up on lampposts or dragged over three miles of pavement behind their own limousines. After all, the second leading delusion in our culture these days, after the wish for a something-for-nothing magic energy rescue remedy, is the idea that we can politically organize our way out of the epochal predicament of civilization that we face. Piketty just feeds that secondary delusion.

I have stated this many times. Thinking that we can somehow magically change this at the voting booth is just silly at best. Talk about magical thinking…OY ! Throughout history, such choices have been made by people who become royally pissed off and over throwing the situation…usually violently. And such changes have nearly always resulted in just exchanging one set of robber baron scum-bags for another.

The most plausible framework for understanding that is the circulation of elites. This refers to the tendency in history for one ruling elite to be overturned and replaced by another group, often by violence, and then become the new ruling elite. It always happens one way or another, and even the case of the Bolsheviks in Russia during the industrial 20th century can be seen this way.

Catching everyone by surprise, for some reason. Even those who planned it and wanted it in the first place. Here comes the new boss…same as the old boss.

Image Flickr creative commons

10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America – Mark Manson

9:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

I got this link to an essay by Mark Manson from a Facebook friend. One of the best assessments of America and Americans I have read so far. I myself have never been to Europe or any other country but I have talked with people outside this country on My Amateur Radio, and at length sometimes.  In over 200 countries in fact. I have found them to be kind, patient, for the most part humble, sincere and polite. Not what I would say about more than a few American Amateurs. I have lived in the north and south and visited a number of states but not many west of the Mississippi, so I do confess my experience in that respect is limited.
Even though I find the appraisal to be pretty much on the mark.

Imagine you have a brother and he’s an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don’t mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don’t want to be around him.
This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don’t want to be near him at the moment.

I know that’s harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That’s not a socio-economic statement (although that’s on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it’s going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with an analogy:

You know when you move out of your parents’ house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends’ families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit. You know, dad thinking it was funny to wear a Santa Claus hat in his underwear every Christmas or the fact that you and your sister slept in the same bed until you were 22, or that your mother routinely cried over a bottle of wine while listening to Elton John.

The point is we don’t really get perspective on what’s close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn’t realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don’t see what’s messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.

And so even though this article is going to come across as fairly scathing, I want my American readers to know: some of the stuff we do, some of the stuff that we always assumed was normal, it’s kind of screwed up. And that’s OK. Because that’s true with every culture. It’s just easier to spot it in others (e.g., the French) so we don’t always notice it in ourselves.

So as you read this article, know that I’m saying everything with tough love, the same tough love with which I’d sit down and lecture an alcoholic family member. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome things about you (BRO, THAT’S AWESOME!!!). And it doesn’t mean I’m some saint either, because god knows I’m pretty screwed up (I’m American, after all). There are just a few things you need to hear. And as a friend, I’m going to tell them to you.

And to my foreign readers, get your necks ready, because this is going to be a nod-a-thon.

A Little “What The Hell Does This Guy Know?” Background: I’ve lived in different parts of the US, both the deep south and the northeast. I have visited most of the US’s 50 states. I’ve spent the past three years living almost entirely outside of the United States. I’ve lived in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and South America. I’ve visited over 40 countries in all and have spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans during this period. I speak multiple languages. I’m not a tourist. I don’t stay in resorts and rarely stay in hostels. I rent apartments and try to integrate myself into each country I visit as much as possible. So there.

(Note: I realize these are generalizations and I realize there are always exceptions. I get it. You don’t have to post 55 comments telling me that you and your best friend are exceptions. If you really get that offended from some guy’s blog post, you may want to double-check your life priorities.)

OK, we’re ready now. 10 things Americans don’t know about America.

1. Few People Are Impressed By Us

Unless you’re speaking with a real estate agent or a prostitute, chances are they’re not going to be excited that you’re American. It’s not some badge of honor we get to parade around. Yes, we had Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, but unless you actually are Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison (which is unlikely) then most people around the world are simply not going to care. There are exceptions of course. And those exceptions are called English and Australian people. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.

As Americans, we’re brought up our entire lives being taught that we’re the best, we did everything first and that the rest of the world follows our lead. Not only is this not true, but people get irritated when you bring it to their country with you. So don’t.

2. Few People Hate Us

Despite the occasional eye-rolling, and complete inability to understand why anyone would vote for George W. Bush, people from other countries don’t hate us either. In fact — and I know this is a really sobering realization for us — most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us. I know, that sounds absurd, especially with CNN and Fox News showing the same 20 angry Arab men on repeat for ten years straight. But unless we’re invading someone’s country or threatening to invade someone’s country (which is likely), then there’s a 99.99% chance they don’t care about us. Just like we rarely think about the people in Bolivia or Mongolia, most people don’t think about us much. They have jobs, kids, house payments — you know, those things called lives — to worry about. Kind of like us.

Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world either loves us or hates us (this is actually a good litmus test to tell if someone is conservative or liberal). The fact is, most people feel neither. Most people don’t think much about us.

Remember that immature girl in high school, who every little thing that happened to her meant that someone either hated her or was obsessed with her; who thought every teacher who ever gave her a bad grade was being totally unfair and everything good that happened to her was because of how amazing she was? Yeah, we’re that immature high school girl.

3. We Know Nothing About The Rest Of The World

For all of our talk about being global leaders and how everyone follows us, we don’t seem to know much about our supposed “followers.” They often have completely different takes on history than we do. Here were some brain-stumpers for me: the Vietnamese were more concerned with independence (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), there is evidence Native Americans were wiped out largely disease and plague BEFORE Europeans arrived and not just after, and the American Revolution was partly “won” because the British invested more of their resources in beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here?

(Hint: It’s not all about us. The world is more complicated.)

We did not invent democracy. We didn’t even invent modern democracy. There were parliamentary systems in England and other parts of Europe over a hundred years before we created government. In a recent survey of young Americans, 63% could not find Iraq on a map (despite being at war with them), and 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa. Yet, somehow we’re positive that everyone else looks up to us.

4. We Are Poor At Expressing Gratitude And Affection

There’s a saying about English-speakers. We say “Go fuck yourself,” when we really mean “I like you,” and we say “I like you,” when we really mean “Go fuck yourself.”

Outside of getting shit-housed drunk and screaming “I LOVE YOU, MAN!”, open displays of affection in American culture are tepid and rare. Latin and some European cultures describe us as “cold” and “passionless” and for good reason. In our social lives we don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.

In our culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely. Consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” is empty now because it’s expected and heard from everybody.

In dating, when I find a woman attractive, I almost always walk right up to her and tell her that a) I wanted to meet her, and b) she’s beautiful. In America, women usually get incredibly nervous and confused when I do this. They’ll make jokes to defuse the situation or sometimes ask me if I’m part of a TV show or something playing a prank. Even when they’re interested and go on dates with me, they get a bit disoriented when I’m so blunt with my interest. Whereas, in almost every other culture approaching women this way is met with a confident smile and a “Thank you.”

5. The Quality of Life For The Average American Is Not That Great

If you’re extremely talented or intelligent, the US is probably the best place in the world to live. The system is stacked heavily to allow people of talent and advantage to rise to the top quickly.

The problem with the US is that everyone thinks they are of talent and advantage. As John Steinbeck famously said, the problem with poor Americans is that “they don’t believe they’re poor, but rather temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” It’s this culture of self-delusion that allows America to continue to innovate and churn out new industry more than anyone else in the world. But this shared delusion also unfortunately keeps perpetuating large social inequalities and the quality of life for the average citizen lower than most other developed countries. It’s the price we pay to maintain our growth and economic dominance.

In my Guide to Wealth, I defined being wealthy as, “Having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” In those terms, despite the average American having more material wealth than citizens of most other countries (more cars, bigger houses, nicer televisions), their overall quality of life suffers in my opinion. American people on average work more hours with less vacation, spend more time commuting every day, and are saddled with over $10,000 of debt. That’s a lot of time spent working and buying crap and little time or disposable income for relationships, activities or new experiences.

6. The Rest Of The World Is Not A Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared To Us

In 2010, I got into a taxi in Bangkok to take me to a new six-story cineplex. It was accessible by metro, but I chose a taxi instead. On the seat in front of me was a sign with a wifi password. Wait, what? I asked the driver if he had wifi in his taxi. He flashed a huge smile. The squat Thai man, with his pidgin English, explained that he had installed it himself. He then turned on his new sound system and disco lights. His taxi instantly became a cheesy nightclub on wheels… with free wifi.

If there’s one constant in my travels over the past three years, it has been that almost every place I’ve visited (especially in Asia and South America) is much nicer and safer than I expected it to be. Singapore is pristine. Hong Kong makes Manhattan look like a suburb. My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston (and cheaper).

As Americans, we have this naïve assumption that people all over the world are struggling and way behind us. They’re not. Sweden and South Korea have more advanced high speed internet networks. Japan has the most advanced trains and transportation systems. Norwegians make more money. The biggest and most advanced plane in the world is flown out of Singapore. The tallest buildings in the world are now in Dubai and Shanghai. Meanwhile, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

What’s so surprising about the world is how unsurprising most of it is. I spent a week with some local guys in Cambodia. You know what their biggest concerns were? Paying for school, getting to work on time, and what their friends were saying about them. In Brazil, people have debt problems, hate getting stuck in traffic and complain about their overbearing mothers. Every country thinks they have the worst drivers. Every country thinks their weather is unpredictable. The world becomes, err… predictable.

7. We’re Paranoid

Not only are we emotionally insecure as a culture, but I’ve come to realize how paranoid we are about our physical security. You don’t have to watch Fox News or CNN for more than 10 minutes to hear about how our drinking water is going to kill us, our neighbor is going to rape our children, some terrorist in Yemen is going to kill us because we didn’t torture him, Mexicans are going to kill us, or some virus from a bird is going to kill us. There’s a reason we have more guns than people.

In the US, security trumps everything, even liberty. We’re paranoid.

I’ve probably been to 10 countries now that friends and family back home told me explicitly not to go because someone was going to kill me, kidnap me, stab me, rob me, rape me, sell me into sex trade, give me HIV, or whatever else. None of that has happened. I’ve never been robbed and I’ve walked through some of the shittiest parts of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In fact, the experience has been the opposite. In countries like Russia, Colombia or Guatemala, people were so honest and open with me, it actually scared me. Some stranger in a bar would invite me to his house for a barbeque with his family, a random person on the street would offer to show me around and give me directions to a store I was trying to find. My American instincts were always that, “Wait, this guy is going to try to rob me or kill me,” but they never did. They were just insanely friendly.

8. We’re Status-Obsessed And Seek Attention

I’ve noticed that the way we Americans communicate is usually designed to create a lot of attention and hype. Again, I think this is a product of our consumer culture: the belief that something isn’t worthwhile or important unless it’s perceived to be the best (BEST EVER!!!) or unless it gets a lot of attention (see: every reality-television show ever made).

This is why Americans have a peculiar habit of thinking everything is “totally awesome,” and even the most mundane activities were “the best thing ever!” It’s the unconscious drive we share for importance and significance, this unmentioned belief, socially beaten into us since birth that if we’re not the best at something, then we don’t matter.

We’re status-obsessed. Our culture is built around achievement, production and being exceptional. Therefore comparing ourselves and attempting to out-do one another has infiltrated our social relationships as well. Who can slam the most beers first? Who can get reservations at the best restaurant? Who knows the promoter to the club? Who dated a girl on the cheerleading squad? Socializing becomes objectified and turned into a competition. And if you’re not winning, the implication is that you are not important and no one will like you.

9. We Are Very Unhealthy

Unless you have cancer or something equally dire, the health care system in the US sucks. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th in the world for health care, despite the fact that we spend the most per capita by a large margin.

The hospitals are nicer in Asia (with European-educated doctors and nurses) and cost a tenth as much. Something as routine as a vaccination costs multiple hundreds of dollars in the US and less than $10 in Colombia. And before you make fun of Colombian hospitals, Colombia is 28th in the world on that WHO list, nine spots higher than us.

A routine STD test that can run you over $200 in the US is free in many countries to anyone, citizen or not. My health insurance the past year? $65 a month. Why? Because I live outside of the US. An American guy I met living in Buenos Aires got knee surgery on his ACL that would have cost $10,000 in the US… for free.

But this isn’t really getting into the real problems of our health. Our food is killing us. I’m not going to go crazy with the details, but we eat chemically-laced crap because it’s cheaper and tastes better (profit, profit). Our portion sizes are absurd (more profit). And we’re by far the most prescribed nation in the world AND our drugs cost five to ten times more than they do even in Canada (ohhhhhhh, profit, you sexy bitch).

In terms of life expectancy, despite being the richest country in the world, we come in a paltry 38th. Right behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and slightly ahead of Slovenia, Kuwait and Uruguay. Enjoy your Big Mac.

10. We Mistake Comfort For Happiness

The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.

Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations.

Comfort equals sales. We’ve been sold comfort for generations and for generations we bought: bigger houses, separated further and further out into the suburbs; bigger TV’s, more movies, and take-out. The American public is becoming docile and complacent. We’re obese and entitled. When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.

Depression and anxiety disorders are soaring within the US. Our inability to confront anything unpleasant around us has not only created a national sense of entitlement, but it’s disconnected us from what actually drives happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-validated, achieving personal goals. It’s easier to watch a NASCAR race on television and tweet about it than to actually get out and try something new with a friend.

Unfortunately, a by-product of our massive commercial success is that we’re able to avoid the necessary emotional struggles of life in lieu of easy superficial pleasures.

Throughout history, every dominant civilization eventually collapsed because it became TOO successful. What made it powerful and unique grows out of proportion and consumes its society. I think this is true for American society. We’re complacent, entitled and unhealthy. My generation is the first generation of Americans who will be worse off than their parents, economically, physically and emotionally. And this is not due to a lack of resources, to a lack of education or to a lack of ingenuity. It’s corruption and complacency. The corruption from the massive industries that control our government’s policies, and the fat complacency of the people to sit around and let it happen.

There are things I love about my country. I don’t hate the US and I still return to it a few times a year. But I think the greatest flaw of American culture is our blind self-absorption. In the past it only hurt other countries. But now it’s starting to hurt ourselves.

So this is my lecture to my alcoholic brother — my own flavor of arrogance and self-absorption, even if slightly more informed — in hopes he’ll give up his wayward ways. I imagine it’ll fall on deaf ears, but it’s the most I can do for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some funny cat pictures to look at.

 

From Wireless to Wireless

8:42 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Wireless – via flickr

Communication has from the first been a major priority of humans. From the early days of travelling Minstrels that oft times use the major news of the day in their repertoire. To the printing press and the first “Newspapers.” But until the early 19th century and the advent of the telegraph, one could hardly call this news. It could take days, weeks even months for any information the travel any distance.

Which more appropriately puts it under the heading of recent history. There were various attempts at signalling devices but most were limited in distance, cumbersome to use, complicated, unreliable and therefore of little improvement over just carrying the message there by Pony Express. By the mid 1800s a number of electromagnetic methods of sending messages were being developed.

The one adopted here was one that Samuel B. Morse designed. Initially limited in distance — only about 10 miles — with the addition of relay stations, it eventually crossed the contentment and even the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Using a special code to represent the letters and numbers and punctuation necessary by sending pulses down a wire: the Morse code. The code, if not the mechanics, was quickly adopted world wide.

But this “land line” telegraphy was not with out it’s problems. The greatest being it’s vulnerability to intentional sabotage by Native Americans, train robbers, bank robbers and opposing military forces.

But still you might hear what’s going in in Chicago but Poplar Bluff, MO? Forgetaboutit.

In the late 1800s Heinrich Hertz did experiments with electromagnetism. Discovering the principal of electromagnetic waves IE Hertzian or radio waves. It was not long before a number of people started to experiment with these new found magnetic waves. Of course there was a big push to use them to send information.

One cannot really say who first got the idea of using electro magnetic waves to send and receive messages but Gugleilmo Marconi was the first to make a commercial success of it. And it became a big hit I can tell you. By the early 20th century it seemed like everyone was building radio sets and trying out this new technology.

Unlike wired telegraphy where all messages went through a telegraph office, anyone could put together a wireless set and have at it. But early wireless was crude to say the least.

There was absolutely no way to tune or separate wireless transmissions. Either sending or receiving. The receiving set was not at all sensitive and the transmissions themselves, even from the most sophisticated apparatus sounded like noise. Keyed on and off buzzing sounds. Like this or this or this. Now imagine 4 or more stations on at the same time all trying to contact you or them selves or somebody else. It would get very chaotic to say the least.

Well after the Titanic sank and other lessor disasters, it was obvious this new wireless thing needed regulation big time. And so it was. It was Edison who saved the day, though he did not know it at the time.  He was trying to figure out why his light bulbs were getting this coating on the inside and the filaments burning out at the same time. Edison did not understand alternating current and was not the least bit interested in wireless. Sill he want to know what was going on and made a special bulb with a wire attached to a plate in it. What he noticed was when he put a meter between the plate and one of the filaments, it showed an electric current flowing.  He called it the Edison Effect, wrote it up and gave a few demonstrations and that was it.

Fortunately Sir John Ambrose Fleming who was interested in wireless attended one of those demonstrations and got very curious. Would this detect radio waves? And indeed it did. What he discovered was the first practical application of Thermionic emission. Essentially meaning that when you heat a metal of any kind up really hot, it givers off electrons. In the air these electrons just go into the air and if enough are given off can combine with the oxygen and create ozone. But in a vacuum, like a light bulb, they have nothing to combine with, so they collect somewhere. Like on the metal plate.

If you connect this plate to a positive electrical voltage, the the electrons will flow from the filament to the plate. If you put a negative voltage on the plate, no electrons flowed. Fleming called this his valve or oscillation valve. Another engineer named Lee DeForest then discovered that if you put a wire grid in between the plate and the filament,  a very small electric voltage on this “grid” made a large change in the electron flow from the filament to the plate. He called his new “tube” the Audion. DeForest found that not only could it amplify but could also be easily made to oscillate and produce a nice pure radio wave and its frequency could be easily set.

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VIDEO: Navy to Test Electromagnetic Railgun

11:11 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Navy to Deploy Electromagnetic Railgun at San Diego Naval Base, aboard the Joint High Speed Vessel Millinocket in July

In case you don’t know what a rail gun is:

A railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher based on similar principles to the homopolar motor. A railgun comprises a pair of parallel conducting rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail.

Now the military running true to form thinks this is something new and innovative, as well as very scary…bugga bugga. But this technology has been around for a long time. Tesla theorized them and others have built them as seen here. And here.

What has kept this kind of technology from gathering steam has been the physical size of the associated components. Power source, switching and control, magnetic launcher itself. But now with small powerful lithium cells available and smaller and smaller super capacitors and semiconductor switches and micro controllers etc. Not to mention that super-conductive magnetics are becoming easier to achieve, building a small, easily transportable version is now quite practical. It could even be made as separate pieces to be assembled at the site of use.

And if one can build a magnetic weapon to fire a solid projectile …

More information from Wikipedia’s entry on the Joint High Speed Vessel:

On 7 April 2014, the U.S. Navy announced that a prototype electromagnetic railgun will be installed onto a JHSV for at-sea testing in FY 2016. Though the ships are non-combatants, they were chosen for their available cargo and topside space and schedule flexibility. They will not be permanently installed on the JHSV and the Navy has yet to decide which ship classes will receive a fully-operational railgun. The tests are to offer lessons to incorporate into a future tactical design and to gain knowledge on how to integrate the system onto a ship with modifications.