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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?

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.

 

Survivalism: it’s not just for right-wing wackos any more.

5:42 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I’m going to end it for you, one way or another. - Kirk Star Trek, A Taste of Armageddon

An Op Ed by John Feffer in Truthout  on Climate Change lays out pretty clearly what we are facing.

We’re in the middle of a sixth mass extinction, and this will be the first one – and possibly the last – we will witness as human beings.

Stating that even some scientists are fairly pessimistic about “end game.”

A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth—the author of the manifesto Uncivilizationconfesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. “You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years,” he says, “and every single thing had gotten worse.” He’s heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.

But even here we see an illusion, thinking he and his family can somehow ease the pain of apocalypse.  While Chris Hedges and Dwayne Booth [Mr. Fish] give their views on how we are waging a war on ourselves.

Even this skirts the problem. The right wing is in complete denial and is holding on to some fantasy that has them rising up to heaven – complete with physical body intact. The left was to save itself and maintain the status quo of the fine house, electric appliances and a nice car. All environmentally friendly of course. And nobody wants to deal with over population in a world that has been trashed or truly face the fact that CAPITALISM and competition are the major causes.

Some even convinced that they can survive an economic and environmental apocalypse. They need to read some social history about what that would mean. About the late 19th and early 20th century when getting from A to B could still take days, working from sun up to sun down just to not starve. And health care was to be hospitalized in some hell hole that was little better and cleaner than the school house.

Even the IPCC is no more than a political football and glossed over.The problem is a state of mind. An attitude and avoidance of the truth.

SPOCK: I’ve noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.
MCCOY: Suffer the death of thy neighbour, eh, Spock? You wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?
SPOCK: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.

We all live in complete denial of one thing. Our own mortality. And like Eminiar Seven above, have made it neat and painless and hidden it away. We have even hidden it from our very own war machine. Using remote controlled drones and weapons. We have lost touch with our own deaths and in the process lost touch with life itself.

We condemn mass killings and murder and yet are only mildly interested in our own mass suicide.

My mother’s generation is likely the last to truly experience what death really means. Having been through the depression of the 1930s and WWII and disease that likely would kill you. When hospitals were places were people – who could afford it – most likely would die.

Now a days even nurses rarely see people die, let alone family members or friends. You are drugged up and attached to some electronic monitor and sometimes even put into a coma. Like in some Aldous Huxley novel.  This in my opinion is responsible for our lack of compassion for others and a focus on our own immediate desires and comfort above all else.

When faced with anything now that would spell our doom, we either try to ignore it or over react to it in unreasonable ways. Yet still trying to keep hold of our capitalistic status quo or how can we tackle what we are doing to ourselves and still remain arrogant, selfish, self centered pricks.

We can’t. It’s that simple.

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.

American Culture….American Albatross

9:15 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

1959 Fury -flicker creative commons

I did a diary a while ago where I contended that this country – America – had no culture or it was designed by Madison Ave. in NYC.  This was not entirely correct. No…American culture is whatever happens to be “IN’ at the moment. And Madison Ave. and their elites take full advantage of it.

Unlike Germany or Japan or China or Italy where there is still a deep cultural heritage that even the young embrace to one extent or another, America has little except for some vague historical reference or embellishment that Hollywood uses to amuse us.

It is not unusual to see someone decked out in traditional garb during a festival in Germany or France or Japan to also be holding a cell phone or iPad or some such, for what they have is NOT who they are. They may like the new music, but they also like their traditional music as well.

Americans on the other hand will eventually embrace whatever the trend is and throw the old away like yesterday’s New York Times. We like to call this willingness to change. But it comes with a price. The Japanese still live in houses of of traditional Japanese design and often wear traditional clothes, yet are some of the most progressive when it comes to new technology. The Germans have no problem with living in old baroque-style apartments although the insides may be quite modern.

They have a like or grounding with something more permanent to hold on to which makes change and that which is new easier to handle and less threatening, rather like children are more willing to explore because they have the security and safety of their parents and a home to go back to.

This willingness or desire to change, in my opinion, is a façade – superficial. The car with the futurist fins was not really any different from the model without the fins that preceded it.  The fancy new house that looked modern on the outside was quite traditional inside.  By the late 1960s everything had to look psychedelic.  Psychedelic love songs were still love songs. We defined ourselves as the bastion of liberty or capitalism or anti-communism or some other such nonsense, but when the Soviet Union fell and China started to embrace a capitalistic economy, even that started to look a bit thin and weathered.

But this springing from one new thing to the next without any really history of deep cultural values makes any real change very difficult to achieve. Psychology limits the security needed to explore, as well as making our understanding of our own history very muddled indeed. With no real anchors and no real goals, America is adrift in an ever more rough sea.

So we have those on the right who embrace a history that is fictitious and a left constantly searching for some nirvana using a utopian vision of Europe, or some other area, as their ultimate goal, yet not willing to let go of their current situation to achieve it.  Holding on to the status quo with a death grip. Like a child holding on to the clothes of whatever grownup is near since mommy and daddy are nowhere to be seen. All of which keeps us stuck.

And the right sees the left as far too eager to burn down the house even if the house has been condemned and empty and falling apart for ages.

So here we are…with a fallacious past and no new thing to grab onto. Lost in the forest afraid to move or at best not knowing where to go. The  ironic part is that we are currently involved over a country – Ukraine – whose cultural heritage is as vague and disjointed and [partially at least], imaginary as our own.

White Collar, Blue Collar: There is a difference

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Workers – from flickr

The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on- George Carlin

Well George this is NOT entirely correct. It does make a difference and a fairly big one. The difference is cultural. The George Carlin clip this is from – George Carlin on the American Dream – which Elliott used as a diary the other day, got me thinking of the difference — view and thinking.

Before WWII there were nowhere near as many so-called white collar workers. Managers, professionals, engineers etc. Few people were college graduates and the need for them was much lower. Most jobs were either in factories or mills or trades or agricultural. The environment was one of more mutual cooperation and mutual respect and mutual interest. Especially those areas that were unionized, with the unions growing tremendously up through the 1930s. The union and union workers looked out for each other’s interest and supported each other. If one union went out on strike, oft times others would follow in support. It was a community both on the job and off.

After WWII this situation changed. The GI bill, financial aid and the creation of inexpensive state and community/junior colleges meant that more people could get college degrees and the increasing white collar/office jobs that the newer technology was calling for. Engineers and managers and designers and what not. The work environment was quite different in the office/professional arena than that the blue collar factory. Instead of cooperation, competition was the byword. Dog-eat-dog. The fella in the office/cubical next to yours was no longer your friend but your competition for the raise, promotion, new position. In college and the university, beating the next guy out for that grant and research money.

This followed over to your personal life as well in suburbia. The best house and yard and biggest party etc. Car, vacation and school for you kids. And the workers as something to exploit so one could look good to the boss. Embracing the capitalist ideals, competition and corruption, feeling threatened by anything that challenges it.

The left which had been the bastion of the blue collar workers also began to shift to the college youth and then white collar world. Eventually the traditional enemies of the factory workers and tradesmen were now grabbing the mantle of the liberal/progressive. And almost schizoid role reversal began to emerge. But unlike the left of the blue collar world where the members were willing to fight for themselves and each other to advance the goals of the whole, this “new left” would compete with each other and avoided anything that might put their situation at work and at home in any jeopardy.

Lest they lose their position, income or job. Being branded as a trouble maker or worse. Having nowhere else to go and being treated by the this “new left” as they had always been treated by “the management,” the blue collar workers abandoned the left and even joined the right wing — their previous enemies.

Which is pretty much where we are today. A white collar/professional left who doesn’t say or do anything that might upset their own personal status quo. A blue collar right who distrusts anything the left says or does since these “new leftists” refuse to take the required actions, lest they lose their cherished positions. And treats them like lowlifes or worse.

Certainly this played into the hands of the elites at the top, whether this was planned or not isn’t the point. It has defined our politics and agenda since the late 1970s at least or at least a good part of it.

But this is beginning to unrave. With fewer and fewer of these white collar jobs available, as witnessed by the large graduate unemployment, and more and more graduates having to take jobs in the trades or crafts or even the service industries, their allegiances are changing.

Others are working together or as private contractors or consultants. Forming group associations to further themselves both inside and out of their occupation. Not unlike the guilds of old. Some formal, others not so much. The very technology that created this college-educated class of liberals, is now working against them and creating a situation where the office environment is becoming more and more of an anachronism.

Having less and less to do with the politics and economics of old. What will come of this I do not know, but I do suspect that the “new left” and “new right” will eventually be left in the dust.

With independent being the largest growing political stance, the old politics will die out.