Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Most People Are Missing About the Events in Ferguson

“Rioting-the unbeatable high
Adrenalin shoots your nerves to the sky
Everyone knows this town is gonna blow
And it's all gonna blow right now:.

Now you can smash all the windows that you want
All you really need are some friends and a rock
Throwing a brick never felt so damn good
Smash more glass
Scream with a laugh
And wallow with the crowds
Watch them kicking peoples' ass

But you get to the place
Where the real slave-drivers live
It's walled off by the riot squad
Aiming guns right at your head
So you turn right around
And play right into their hands
And set your own neighborhood
Burning to the ground instead"   - “Riot”, Dead Kennedys

The mainstream media has gone full retard yet again, this time focusing their attentions on the shooting and subsequent civil unrest in Ferguson, MO. Since things have settled down there somewhat, I think it’s worth talking about now that people are likely to be less emotional about it.

Many things bug me about this situation, but not so much the things that the news is mostly talking about. They’re almost completely fixated on the shooting, protests, and rioting without digging any deeper. So let’s ignore the shooting that sparked the protests and the riots for the time being. Yes the idea of a potentially suspicious police shooting bugs me, but none of us outside the active participants (and perhaps the Ferguson PD and local and state officials) know yet what really happened. The media and the government want you to focus mostly on the event itself, so you get distracted and waste energy watching the whole thing and arguing with other people who also don’t really know what happened (but who still insist that they do). As I said a while back, there’s no point getting really worked up about things beyond your circle of control.

One thing that really bugs me is that there’s little, if any, mention of the economic and environmental factors that provided the fuel for the unrest. Poverty, slowly eroding standards of living, high unemployment, steadily decreasing prospects for meaningful employment in the future, and a local government (of which law enforcement officers are a part) which tends to be indifferent at best and hostile at worst. Say that this same shooting had happened in an economically thriving, or at least stable, environment. Would we see this level of violence from the people in that community? Not bloody likely. What we have is people pushed to the margins, seeing no hope for the future, and feeling frustrated at being left out of the promised “American Dream”. Over time this leads to apathy and resentment, and left long enough it festers into something rather unpleasant. For many people it leads into developing a victim mentality as a defense mechanism, where feeling that events are beyond one's control makes it easier to not accept responsibility for one's life. For a smaller percentage of the population, the victim mentality might lead to anger at their situation and a sort of “screw ‘em, the rules are against me so I might as well take what I can when I can” kind of mental justification. And then there is that even smaller percentage of people that include predators and sociopaths, those who’d steal and commit violence any time the opportunity presents itself. And when it does the others, those who aren’t necessarily predators or sociopaths but ARE angry and resentful, will tend to participate in the rioting upon seeing others doing the same. In other words, when observing others taking part in the rioting and violence they start viewing the activity as more socially acceptable. Herd behavior at its worst. 

Even so, the majority of that community is not stealing or damaging property or trying to start trouble with the police, they are either protesting peacefully and/or trying to continue to live their lives. It’s a rather small percentage of that community (with perhaps some outside agitators) that’s behind the violence and damage. And that’s rather scary when you think about it, that the stability of our communities and societies can be so easily disrupted by a relatively small percentage of the population. So my concern here is that we have more and more cities and communities with these economic and environmental factors in common with Ferguson, each of which is a potential bonfire that only needs some random triggering spark to ignite it. It doesn’t matter what the triggering event is; only that it occurs.

So how established is this trend and is there any realistic expectation it will reverse soon? Well given the unsustainable debt situation and looming energy crunch, I suspect the economic/environmental factors to actually get worse rather than improve. A lot of people want to blame Obama, or Congress, or the Democrats, or the Republicans, but really the situation is beyond them. It’s a systemic problem at work; their recent actions and political BS may be aggravating an already bad situation, but aren’t the root cause of the mess.

So if the bad economic/environmental factors are here to stay for a while, where does that leave us to potentially decrease the odds of further riots, civil unrest, and mass violence? In my mind, it means the only thing left is to focus on improving peoples’ reactions to hardship. As I said in the last post, our reactions are just as or more critical to the end outcome as the hardship itself. And to improve our reactions to adversity, more of us need to change our thinking, take responsibility in our lives, and remove ourselves from the broken system as much as is feasible. The less people we have thinking like victims, the more people we will have who will act as a counterbalance to the predators and opportunistic sociopaths seeking to make trouble. But if the majority continue to stay asleep and be easily led, the only answer to the violence and riots will be to let the growing police state handle it their way. The way that involves violence and killing, oppressive new laws, loss of all privacy due to mass domestic surveillance, restrictions on firearms ownership, mandatory curfews, and perhaps in the worst places, martial law. 

And for those in fear of their homes, businesses, and personal safety, please don’t look to the government for help, because their “help” will include the measures above. Ultimately it’s up to you AND your community at large to protect yourselves and your property. Sure there are still some good police officers out there, but by the very nature of their job they can usually only respond to criminal activity after the fact, not be in place to prevent it. A few dozen neighbors and business owners all relaxing on their porches or rooftops with tasty beverages in one hand and shotguns in the other, however, is a peaceful deterrent that few police forces can match.

Or alternately, you can wuss out and move to Canada....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

They Lie to Everybody…. They Lie to the Fish!

“I did everything they told me to! Did you know I build missiles? I helped to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons… you know they lied to me.”  - Bill Foster / D-Fens, Falling Down

Both the title and the quote are from an old favorite movie of mine. For any uncultured heathens out there who’ve been living in a cave or remote monastery in the Himalayas for the past two decades, the movie Falling Down starred Michael Douglas as a laid-off, divorced defense contractor in Los Angeles who starts his day like many of us, stuck in suck-ass traffic gridlock. However, instead of sucking it up and slogging through the day like most of us do day in and day out, on this particular day his environment just happens to push him past his mental breaking point. He leaves the car in the middle of the road and decides he’s “going home”. What follows is a journey through the city where he encounters much of the typical crap and injustices that make up our flawed society, and his mental breakdown frees him to lash out at the various sicknesses and problems in society in increasingly violent (and entertaining) ways. 

I won’t give away the ending for the few who haven't seen it, but rather I’d like to focus a bit on the quote above, which the main character says near the end. “I did everything they told me to!”… such is the cry of someone who’s been fed society’s false promises all his life, and feels angry and betrayed when he’s discarded and the lie is revealed for what it is. Now think of how many Americans are feeling this way now. Heck, many Europeans too for that matter. We have had an economic recovery of sorts here in the US, but let’s face it; the recovery has largely benefited the rich and connected and left most average workers behind. It’s not surprising, since money printing overwhelmingly favors those individuals and financial institutions closest to the printing press. Sort of a double punch to the gut for the average working stiff or those trying to find work… they not only see it harder for themselves to make ends meet, but at the same time see the ultra-rich get even richer. I don’t want to go into the issue of fairness itself here at this time, but rather talk a little about peoples’ perceptions and expectations, and why it’s important to break free of the falsehoods that modern society is pushing on us. 

It is our unrealistic expectations and dreams spawned in part by government's and society's comfortable lies that can be particularly dangerous to our future well-being. As much wiser people than myself have said, it’s not so much the hardship itself but rather a person’s response to the hardship that plays the biggest part in the overall outcome. One’s reaction to hardship and ability to handle adversity in life is going to be impaired if one maintains a mindset and expectations that run counter to reality. Instead of accepting what’s happening and working to figure a way around or through it, people clinging to unrealistic expectations and dreams that are shattered or unfulfilled or way out of reach are likely to get wrapped up in denial or anger or despair, all of which gets in the way of solving the problems we face. And in many cases, it makes the problem worse. Think of the visibly well-to-do family with fancy cars and expensive things that suddenly experiences a job loss, yet insists on supporting their lavish lifestyle by borrowing money rather than cut their expenses and change their expensive habits. Or the completely unprepared person living in a hurricane-hit area that afterward refuses to take personal action to improve their situation because they insist that the government will fix things and provide for them, and as a result get sick or hurt through their own inaction. Or the young man or woman who takes out close to $100K in student loans to get a degree from an expensive college, and after graduation and finding no work decides to double down and go even further into debt for a graduate degree in the same field hoping that things will be better when he/she gets done with grad school.

Now this is not about giving up all one’s dreams or hope for the future… it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s about being open to new information and being willing to challenge one’s assumptions and expectations. It’s a matter of flexibility and willingness to adapt, and not blindly accepting popular wisdom. And it’s about getting to know oneself and finding what one really wants out of life. How many of the unrealistic dreams and expectations that people hold on to are ultimately pushed on us from external sources? How many of us would be happier if we turned off the TV and ignored the people telling us what we are supposed to think and supposed to desire? Freeing oneself from the comfortable lies of the status quo and re-aligning one’s dreams and expectations is ultimately a positive message. How can one be truly happy trying to live their life according to someone else’s expectations? If more people would only undergo some self-examination and let go of their fear of change and the unknown, most would find goals and dreams for themselves that are far more fulfilling than what our society is impressing upon us.

Going back to the movie, it’s obvious that the title character had certain rigid assumptions and expectations about life, work, marriage, etc. that led him to and beyond the breaking point when he realized they would never come to pass. Granted the character had a predilection towards anger, but that was not the cause of his breakdown, merely the means through which the breakdown expressed itself. How different would his life have turned out if he had come to accept the loss of his marriage and his job, and tried to find what made him happy rather than constantly dwelling what he couldn’t have? Rejected what society said was expected of him and tried living life differently? Perhaps all he needed was to move to the Caribbean and run a surf shop or be a tour guide, living the rest of his life without a lot of money yet happy and relatively stress-free….

…. Of course then again, perhaps he would have decided to blow a hole in an excursion boat full of obnoxious, whiny cruise passengers and pelted them with bloody chunks of fish as they floundered in shark infested waters. Sequel anyone?  ;-)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Back from Vacation, and the Link of the Week

Just got back from vacation to see family in Sequim WA over on the Olympic Peninsula. The big news around there is I guess Fox News and Huffington Post recently named Sequim the top retirement destination in the country. One 'advantage' they cited was legal marijuana.... like I said last month, marijuana legalization is gaining acceptance and is going to be one of the big issues leading up to the 2016 elections. As to whether Sequim is great when it comes to retirement living, I would agree that it's ideal for some, particularly those who are acclimated to northern states like Alaska or the far northeastern states and just want something a little milder but still with seasons. It doesn't get bitterly cold there and the summers are pretty mild, but the winters are probably still more chilly than many seniors would like.

For this week, the link of the week is actually a podcast from Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast, titled The Failure of Individual Leadership in America. Don't let the term 'Survival' dissuade you, as the host intelligently covers a wide range of everyday things and is not some bunker-living whack-job that the popular media tries to associate with anything termed 'survivalist' or 'prepper'. Anyway, I think this podcast episode speaks beautifully to the theme of ignoring the herd mentality and taking charge of one's life that the articles here are all about....

Link here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Military Conscription

“Saying that a draft would reduce the cost of the military is like saying that the pyramids were cheap because they were built with slave labor.”  - Milton Friedman

Well here's a sign that the current Ukrainian regime is getting really desperate in their struggle with the separatists…

Military draft in Ukraine signaling agony of Kiev regime - Russian experts (note: heavy pro-Russian slant)

and here:

Ukraine Votes to Call Up More Reservists

"KYIV— Ukraine's parliament approved a presidential decree on Tuesday to call up more military reserves and men under 50 to fight rebels in eastern Ukraine and defend the border against a concentration of troops in Russia.
Separately, the parliament also sought to raise to 60 the maximum age of Ukrainians who may be called up from military reserves in the future from the current ceiling of 50. The change needs to be approved by the president and it was not immediately clear if it would apply to the Tuesday call-up."

Sweet zombie Jesus, they’re calling up men up to age 49 and trying to raise the age limit for calling up reservists to age 60? The latter especially seems to be a move of desperation, reminiscent of the Nazi’s drafting of the 12-year-old members of the Hitler Youth into direct combat in the regime’s final months.

Though if there's any bright side to this, it's that the call-up is not limited to the poorest segments of Ukrainian society...

Bankers Called Up for Ukraine War as Rolls-Royce for Sale

"A knock on the door for Andriy Gerus came on a Monday morning in July.

Fresh from getting his MBA in London, a managing director at Ukrainian investment company Concorde Capital was preparing to go for a stroll with his baby in Holosiyiv, a leafy district of Kiev, when a surprise visitor handed him a military summons.

“I imagined myself with a gun, marching,” Gerus, 32, said at a cafe in central Kiev. “Everyone has two choices: to comply with Ukrainian law, go with your conscience and prepare for mobilization or avoid joining the army by relocating and risk three to five years in prison. I prefer the former.”"

So what would YOU do in his situation? Yes the draft in the US has been over for over four decades, but they still demand that young men sign up for Selective Service just so Uncle Sam has that option available. And in many other countries still have mandatory military service for all young men (and in a few cases women too). To draw an analogy, this Ukrainian situation is like drafting up Americans into military service to invade Texas because the residents of Texas voted overwhelmingly to leave the Union. Is answering the call to arms in this case to take back Texas patriotic or is it participating in oppression? Would you be fighting because it's the right thing to do, or because selfish power-hungry types in the halls of power want to maintain control over the resources and people?  I wonder how that Ukrainian managing director in the above article REALLY felt about being called up.... is he really saying how he feels, or does he actually feel railroaded into fighting a separatist movement instigated at least in part by the current regime's hardline anti-Russian propaganda?

I can't honestly claim to be a conscientious objector, as I think the military serves a necessary purpose and some wars can't be avoided. I've never served in the military myself, though there were a couple times in my life where I was leaning towards doing so. The biggest thing that ultimately held me back from doing so was lack of trust in the people running the political machine, both in knowing which situations merit the use of military force AND choosing the proper ways to implement said force when it is warranted. And sadly, that lack of trust appears to have been justified over the last two decades. So in principle I would be willing to take up arms in defense of the nation. But with the leadership and the corrupt political system as it is, I suspect most US military actions in the near future will be have little to do with defending the nation and everything to do with desire for power and/or wealth. How could one condone that, much less risk one's life for it?

Getting to the practical side of things, however, I suspect there's little chance of a military draft occuring in the US in the near or medium term. Some of my jobs have involved the military as a customer, and they aren't kidding when they say today's military is specialized to the point that the time investment required makes the traditional military draft a net negative. Only if or when the advanced capabilities of the military are degraded or starved of necessary materials will a military draft be likely to occur. But that does not preclude the possibility of other kinds of conscription. The two most likely possibilities in my opinion are a selective or "special skills" draft and a domestic security draft.

Some might already be familiar with the special skills draft when discussion of it hit the news about 10 years back. But for those that aren't, it's meant to fill critical specialties that the military is unable to fill on a volunteer basis. The most likely persons would be those in medical professions, but other proposed professions include those with particular language skills or computer specialists (not a comforting thought for my family, as my wife is a tri-lingual RN who is fluent in Russian). Such a draft would affect a minute percentage of the population, so the political risk would be minimal from the politician's point of view.

A domestic security draft is a scenario I came to on my own, one that might be put in place should the US economy suffer another recession/depression at the same time the US military is overextended in various operations overseas. It would basically involve drafting people to fill the holes left by all the National Guard and Reserve personnel called up to be deployed overseas. It would require less training than conscription into active military positions, and would lessen the potential for political blowback as the draftees would stay in the country and wouldn't be sent into direct combat roles. In the hypothetical recession/depression scenario the nation would be experiencing growing civil unrest, riots, and crime as more people are pushed into poverty, and the domestic security force would not only be there to clamp down on unrest but also decrease the number of unemployed. Now do I condone this? Hell no, especially not with the current corrupt political system we have. What I am doing is simply trying to see where the current trends are leading us. We have the growing militarization of domestic police forces, and the ever-growing Department of Homeland Security which despite it's wasteful spending and gross incompetence continues to be granted more power and responsibility. Yep, that same organization that gave us those obnoxious Eric Cartman tyrants in the TSA is likely to be the same one in charge of training and running any hypothetical future domestic army. If that sounds like a f***ing nightmare to you, I agree.

The point is that if we ever see conscription in the US, it'll likely differ greatly from that of the Vietnam era. And that will probably include the age range too... ages 18-25 might have been the draft age then, but in WW2 men aged from 21 to 45 were drafted initially (later changed to 18-38), and in WW1 at one point they were drafting ages 18 to 45. So that means the men (or women) like myself who're past age 25 but not yet suffering physical decrepitude aren't necessarily in the clear.

Are these outcomes inevitable? Certainly not. This is largely a thought exercise. But at the same time these are where the current trends are leading us, and if we don't want this to be our future we have to wake up and refuse to give our consent to the people in both parties leading us in that direction.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Link of the Week

“There's something that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick.” - The Doctor, Doctor Who

Once a week I’ll throw out a link to whatever article seems especially important or timely or not getting the attention it deserves. This week we have an editorial regarding the recent Western-Russian friction from the publisher of Handelsblatt, which looks to be the German equivalent of The Wall Street Journal. It’s nice to see that not all the media is participating in the manufactured media blitz of hostility towards Putin and Russia. They were even kind enough to print the article in English as well, so those of us not fully fluent in German can read without suffering the eccentricities of Google Translate….

“Düsseldorf - Every war is accompanied by a kind of mental mobilization: war fever. Even smart people are not immune to controlled bouts of this fever. “This war in all its atrociousness is still a great and wonderful thing. It is an experience worth having“ rejoiced Max Weber in 1914 when the lights went out in Europe. Thomas Mann felt a “cleansing, liberation, and a tremendous amount of hope“.

Even when thousands already lay dead on the Belgian battle fields, the war fever did not subside. Exactly 100 years ago, 93 painters, writers, and scientists composed the “Call to the world of culture.“ Max Liebermann, Gerhart Hauptmann, Max Planck, Wilhelm Röntgen, and others encouraged their countrymen to engage in cruelty towards their neighbor: “Without German militarism, German culture would have been swept from the face of the earth a long time ago. The German armed forces and the German people are one. This awareness makes 70 million Germans brothers without prejudice to education, status, or party.“

We interrupt our own train of thought: “History is not repeating itself!” But can we be so sure about that these days? In view of the war events in the Crimean and eastern Ukraine, the heads of states and governments of the West suddenly have no more questions and all the answers. The US Congress is openly discussing arming Ukraine. The former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming the citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German Chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.“

German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope. 

Newspapers we thought to be all about thoughts and ideas now march in lock-step with politicians in their calls for sanctions against Russia's President Putin. Even the headlines betray an aggressive tension as is usually characteristic of hooligans when they 'support' their respective teams. 

The Tagesspiegel: “Enough talk!“ The FAZ: “Show strength“. The Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Now or never.“ The Spiegel calls for an “End to cowardice“: “Putin's web of lies, propaganda, and deception has been exposed. The wreckage of MH 17 is also the result of a crashed diplomacy.“

Western politics and German media agree.

Every reflexive string of accusations results in the same outcome: in no time allegations and counter-allegations become so entangled that the facts become almost completely obscured.
Who deceived who first?

Did it all start with the Russian invasion of the Crimean or did the West first promote the destabilization of the Ukraine? Does Russia want to expand into the West or NATO into the East? Or did maybe two world-powers meet at the same door in the middle of the night, driven by very similar intentions towards a defenseless third that now pays for the resulting quagmire with the first phases of a civil war?”

Full link here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

American Public Schools: Worthless and Costly At the Same Time

 "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."  - Albert Einstein

Earlier this week my wife and I registered our son for kindergarten at our local boundary school here in Denver, and even though school hasn't started yet, my reservations about it continue to grow.

When we were first putting in the application several months ago, we discovered that only half-day kindergarten was part of the paid public schooling, and full-day kindergarten in Denver Public Schools requires parents to pay tuition. It was a bit of a surprise to me, but I thought we’ll just roll with it and find how much we would have to pay. And how much is that? $310 a frickin’ MONTH, or $2,790 for the school year. $2,790 just for covering the other half of the school day for KINDERGARTEN, and from what my sister-in-law tells me, even with full-day enrollment there’s still a large number of ‘half-days’. If I’m going to spend that kind of money, I might as well send him to community college! Needless to say, we told them we wanted the half-day option. We faced some resistance initially, at which point it became apparent that half-day kindergarteners are the exception here and not the rule. Apparently most of the other parents are actually ok with paying that (un-bloody-likely), or their stated incomes give them very substantial tuition assistance (much more likely). We are a two income family with professional jobs and so we are way beyond any so-called ‘tuition assistance’, unless we lie about our incomes, which may well be what some other families are doing. Their insistent "your child won’t get the full educational experience if on half-days” spiel stopped quickly enough though when I told them how much it would cost us.

But despite my griping about the kindergarten ‘tuition’, IMO the real cost of this schooling is not monetary. The cost is that of wasted time and lost independent spirit & creativity.

So on the subject of wasted time…. think back to your own days in the school system. How much wasted time would you say was involved there? I remember in elementary school in the 80’s whipping through the classwork through the early part of the day and spending the rest of the time pretending (not very well I might add) to pay attention. For every 8 hour school day I probably spent less than 2 hours picking up whatever needed to be learned AND doing my homework for the next day. And boy did some of my teachers hate that second part…. “Homework is supposed to be done at HOME!” Yeah well if I already know the material why shouldn’t I get it over with now instead of wasting my time listening to you repeat what I already read? Now junior high and high school involved more effort on my part due to gifted and AP classes, but most of the other classes I could have covered and passed in a fraction of the time. Now sure I was a smart kid, but I sure wasn’t a Sheldon Cooper child prodigy (probably not even a Howard Wolowitz). Even the average kids in class, or at least the ones that bothered to do the reading and the work, didn’t need even close to the full school day for all that garbage. The plain truth is that the school curriculum is a one-size-fits-all system, and the bar is perpetually being lowered so the lowest performers can pass. And the tragedy is that many if not most of the “lowest performers” are not stupid; they simply either learn best through a different method of instruction or they are distracted by troubles at home or social problems at school. We probably spend less than 5 or 6 hours a week teaching reading & math to our 5 year old, and that includes reading during bedtime. And I suspect he reads far better than most kids already in first and second grade.

Regarding independent spirit & creativity being subdued in the school system, I want you to think for a moment about the most successful people and how they achieved success. Was it from the things taught in school, or in spite of the things taught in school? For that matter think of the times in your adult life and career where you achieved success, and what skills and knowledge best allowed you to carry that out? Odds are they had little or nothing to do with K-12 standard education. What is it that is most often drilled into us in most schools?  Rote memorization of events and facts (typically without much discussion of the surrounding context or any active discussion between students and teacher)..... Grades and test scores are more valuable than creative thought..... How to shut up and sit still..... Obey and don’t question your teachers (i.e. authority)..... Conform with those around you and accept the social hierarchy..... and above all, DON”T CHALLENGE THE SYSTEM AND DON’T ROCK THE BOAT.

It really wasn’t until my 20’s where I was able to unlearn and break free of that BS picked up in school and start on a path truly of my own choosing, not just what’s expected of me by society. And many of us live our entire lives without ever managing to break free of that mindset.

But now think what it is that the most successful people have in common. The ability to think creatively and outside the box..... The will to rock the boat and take risks when appropriate..... And the willingness to question conventional wisdom and authority.

So contrary to what we are usually told, what we have is a public school system that is designed NOT to teach our kids to succeed, but rather teaching them how to obey authority, do as they're told, and how to be obedient cogs in the economic machine. Now some adults are naturally disposed to that and content with it, and if it makes them happy then that's fine. But subjecting all children to that sort of environment is squandering and diminishing the potential of millions of our kids. Especially in the Internet Age, where so many more alternate avenues to education exist. How many cures for diseases or technological innovations are we depriving ourselves through our insistence on sticking with a one-size-fits-all, conformist model of education?

Now that all being said, I’m reluctantly willing to enroll our son in public school kindergarten. Primarily because the first couple years of school still encourages creativity and personal exploration. But I can’t see keeping him in an American public school past that, because I don’t want him to go through the same nonsense that I had to endure. I would rather spend a few hours each weekday homeschooling him in the basic requirements, and giving him the rest of the ‘homeschool day’ to pursue projects and reading that is of interest to him. I think back to when I was in school, and how I would have LOVED to have the opportunity to be homeschooled and spend half or more of my day on my own interests. I could have spent that time sketching & painting, tinkering around with the computer and various electronics, learning carpentry from my dad, or reading books of my choice. Wouldn’t that have appealed to you?

I don’t want to come off as saying that schools teach nothing of worth, because there are some valuable things being taught. And I did have a handful of teachers that encouraged independent thinking and active discussion rather than rote memorization and lecturing straight from the book (but these were the exceptions and not the rule). My point here is that, in general, public schooling is an inferior option, and reinforces behaviors that hold people back from real success. So I want more parents to explore other options. For some it may be homeschooling, of which there’s an incredible variety of plans and community activities. For others it may be private school, at least some of which are worthwhile. And yet for others it may be one of the small number of truly innovative charter schools and experimental schools. There are other options. Do the right thing by your kid(s) and start exploring them…

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Are We Poking the Bear To Provoke a Response, or Because We’re Divorced from Reality?

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing will begin in five minutes.” - Ronald Reagan (said jokingly during radio microphone test)

Since it’s hard to trust the news coming either from the West or Russia, I try to examine who benefits from these actions (cui bono?) and try to put myself in the shoes of those in the halls of power. Now I acknowledge that Russia is NOT our ally by any stretch, and that Putin has his own game which probably isn’t to our benefit. But even adversaries, potential or actual, should be afforded a wary level of respect. And back when they were an actual adversary, the US and the West always used some level of diplomacy in dealing with the USSR. So why are our leaders going so aggressively over the top with this? This smacks more of middle-school name-calling and bullying than anything resembling statecraft. In the last post I attempted to answer the why of the US posture against Russia, but it doesn’t help explain why the talk and actions are so provocative and incendiary. Thus far I’m seeing two plausible potential motivations:

1)     The first possibility is that one of the primary goals actually IS to provoke a reaction from Russia. Presumably not a direct military one, as both sides know that if either power is substantially weakened then a nuclear escalation becomes much more likely. But rather an economic response bad enough that it spurs a global recession or economic crisis, around which a narrative can be created that ‘Russia Killed the Recovery’. Likely Russian responses IMO include shutting down some or all the gas pipelines to Europe, some coordinated dumping of US and/or European bonds, or a series of cyber espionage attacks on the US financial systems. Now under normal conditions no one would want that. But if one already expects, as do I, that the extreme and exponentially-rising levels of debt are going to eventually collapse and thus cripple the economy anyway, then one might as well try to turn the blame away from oneself. And if the people in charge are particularly calculating and corrupt, politically connected individuals and institutions can be tipped off ahead of time to position themselves to profit from the crisis. Now this scenario does assume that much of Europe's leadership is in the dark regarding the US' intention to provoke a reaction, seeing as they would likely suffer more from a Russian response (especially if it comes to shutting off the gas, which I see as most likely).


2)     The second possibility is that the US leadership’s goal is more basic, and the aggressive posture is just part of the “if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” mindset. I think it’s no coincidence that the laughably awful implementation of US diplomacy has been coinciding with the increased role of force and threats in what passes for US foreign policy. So what we have is the US leadership resorting to their favorite tool, unaware or uncaring that this potential adversary is a much different animal than Iraq, Syria, or Iran. In this scenario they're not really expecting a shooting war or even any serious economic repercussions to come about as a consequence. To think Russia would dare to respond in any serious way is unthinkable to them.


Now I can see how someone who was intelligent, well-informed, and utterly selfish & amoral would find the logic behind the first motive appealing and possibly worth risking using such heavy-handed and aggressive tactics. But then I think of what the average career politician is like, and how over time power changes most people. Think of it for a moment…. unlike most of us, they have been spending many years or decades wielding power and surrounded by people who kiss their asses, with very few people around with the guts to directly challenge their decisions or put forward contrary opinions. Now that is a perfect environment for molding egotists and control freaks whose interaction with and grasp of the real world is limited, and who tend to think of themselves as ‘above’ most people. And since they often skate through life without suffering the negative side effects of their own decisions, they tend to not consider the risks and consequences of their actions. At least that seems to fit the pattern of American politics that I’ve seen during my adult life thus far.

So ultimately, it seems the best explanation is that our leaders and some of those advising them and/or pulling their strings are reality-divorced egotists who are not nearly as smart and powerful as they believe they are. It is also a simpler explanation, and makes fewer assumptions regarding the intelligence, knowledge, and ability to cooperate of those individuals. I have no doubt that there are some clever individuals in the halls of power that may turn any blowback to their advantage as in the first scenario, and I’m sure even the more clueless politicians will pounce on the opportunity to blame Russia for any economic fallout and work to make them an enemy upon which the population can focus their discontent and frustrations.

Either way, I think it’s reasonable to expect some calculated response from Russia within the next few months. Military action in Ukraine I see as less likely, but still a small possibility (warning: the article's propaganda is thick and the context is lacking, so hold your nose when you read it). Most likely I see a partial or full gas shutoff being implemented during the fall or winter to inflict maximum pain on Europe so that they’ll buckle under and abandon the US call to isolate Russia. Russia has done it before for less. It’s not like Europe has any real near-term alternatives to Russian gas. So for the time being, Putin has them by the short and curlies….

UPDATE: Seems Russia is thinking even more outside-the-box regarding their response than I expected….

No Fly Zone: Russia Plans Airspace Blockade For European Flyovers In Sanction Retaliation