When we know things have changed, redux

out_of_service2.jpg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_500_and_1000_rupee_note_demonetisation

About a year and half ago, the article When do we all know and discuss that things have really changed? was written.   A few responses were given; most notably on hunger (which is an excellent way to for people to take notice).

It is a bit disheartening, in that it takes an empty belly to know that things are different, but probably the most realistic.  There’s always a bit of hopium that exists, perhaps, that people might take notice of things without getting hungry, but hunger really grabs you.   There’s a quote many of you have heard of, “A nation is only five/seven/nine meals away from anarchy,” and it fits.

The odd part of the hunger thing is that it is sometimes brought about by human stupidity – and not just in the management of crops and/or transportation, or by failing to plan for things like weather.  The financial system of country can be driven into the ground, and with it, the ability for commerce to happen (and you get the not-eating/uprising thing again).   This is happening today, in India (as a good amount of cash is declared useless), and it has happened before; a wayward central bank goes bonkers, and then the predictable happens. If interest rates go up in the US, a lot of overleveraged and “overbought” assets can crash to the ground, and we may be in for yet another “rhyming of history.”  Oh well.

As far as non-hunger related wake up calls, the recent US election has done a number on the general punditocracy, of course.   Perhaps the cracks are beginning to show, even without hunger.   Six months ago we brought up a few graphs that showed some interesting data points.   Maybe this is another wakeup call; the graphs are a getting a trifle scarier, at least for those who pay even small attention to such things.

chartic_20161206.png

Questions:

  • Do you think Brexit/the US election has been a wakeup call for the elites?  Is this putting any sort of fear into the folks at the top?
  • Will this new normal be assimilated?
  • If we get down to no ice in the Arctic in a few summers, will this be sufficient to wake up anybody?
  • Will it take the loss of a few cities on the coast in hurricane season?
  • In the final analysis, is it possible that it will only take hunger for people to wake up?

 

 

Quidnot

floating_houses

From www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/arts/design/offshoring-the-future-of-housing.html

Dmitry Orlov is building the Quidnon; a very well thought out “houseboat that sails.”   Not fancy-schmancy, not architecturally sleek, but something that is designed to work.

Someone is trying to do something similar, but not quite the same – houses that float.   While we think this is interesting, you still have to wonder if this is really a useful thing.   Houses that float can be useful, for a while, but will they still suffer from some of the same problems that houses near the water have?   Cost of materials; being tied to shore; inability to move under their own power – the host of problems here seems long.

These houses, while ‘pretty’, don’t seem to be built for climates that get a lot of snow (look at all those windows and flat roof construction).   They seem to have a freeboard of about a few inches, rather than being designed for any real sea changes.

Questions:

  • Anyone see how these could be cheaper than regular houses?
  • Would you live in one of these?
  • Are there other alternatives to the Quidnon you have seen?

Learning to live without

J32_sailboat_Lady_Cait_0697.jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J32_sailboat_Lady_Cait_0697.jpg

There have been a few essays written here that have discussed the processes and small elements that make up what we will need to do, in adapting to the future world we are going to experience.   Some of them arSans car,  The legal process and the slide down, On preparing,and Tiny steps, first steps.

This past weekend, in order to help out a friend, learn something about boats, and do some hard work (good for the soul and all that), and in the spirit of learning to live without, I signed up for a small boat delivery project.

Now, the distances involved were not major; three or four days at sea, with various stops along the way.  In a small boat (under 32′), and one that isn’t in perfect shape, you learn a great deal about learning to live without, learning what is important, and how to make do when things are not all according to plan.   In the above examples, all land based, some small creature comfort or change was made, and we learned to live with that change.  Boats, however, bring that change up a few notches.

On a boat, there are serious limits to what you can bring, and to what you can do when something goes wrong.  If you lose a tool overboard, it is gone (unless it is on a lanyard, or it floats).   You can only bring a certain number of spare parts, and you always have to be mindful of the resources you are using; water, food, toilet paper (!), paper towels, fuel for stoves, heating, and propulsion.  Dry, clean clothes are at a premium.  If you forget something, you can’t just go out and pick something up at the corner store.  Cell phone coverage can be spotty; electricity and lighting can be limited.

The other element that takes things up a notch is the danger/safety element.   One of the things about this trip is that it probably wouldn’t have happened if my presence wasn’t there.  Being at sea can be outright dangerous, even in good weather, perhaps even moreso than hiking, driving or other terrestrial pursuits.  In undertaking such a trip in the middle of November, you can subject yourself to some pretty harsh conditions.    When underway at night, it can be even more dangerous.   At some point during our journey, under an overcast sky and at night, the only thing we could see were our navigation lights, and the boat itself.   If one of us was to go overboard, it would have meant a very cold crewman, and a struggle to get them back in the boat, and warmed up to avoid hypothermia.

This isn’t to say we weren’t safe; “one hand for you, one for the boat”; “always wear your life jacket”; “move in slow motion” – these are the dictums you need to live by.   We had charts, backup navigation elements, radio, GPS; all of which can mean the difference between a small change in course and disaster.

Being aboard a boat, even for a few days, brings up the reality of how much wealth we have (hot showers, clean clothes, lots of water, safety from the elements, access to resources) here in our cozy world.  There are other activities like rock climbing, scuba diving, parachuting, flying a small plane or glider which have some danger elements, but boating for long periods, out of range of short by more than a few nautical miles, truly focuses your mind.   You can’t screw around.  You learn to live without a daily shower, flushing toilets, a wide variety of hot meals and food, entertainment and information on tap.

 Questions:

  • What other activities have you done that have focused your mind, and made you learn to live without?  Being financially poor; living in a remote location; what else?
  • Do you actively pursue situations where you are forced to do without?  Fast?   Go ‘minimalist camping’?
  • Does doing these things really help?  It is one thing to go camping, boating, reduce expenses voluntarily; it is another to do those things full time, when no backup is available.   Someone once called this “Disney danger”; danger that looks like something really dangerous, but isn’t, because there are so many failsafes and backups to keep you from getting hurt.

 

And now for something completely different

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monty_python_foot.png

Well, JMG and Michael Moore called it – President-Elect (soon to be) President Trump.   Because of those prescient and well reasoned predictions, my take on the election has been to tell folks everywhere, “This isn’t going to be easy to hear, but there’s a very good chance he will win; and if not, it will be very close.”  As it turned out, it was even harder to bear for some in their ivory towers.

Oh well.  The recriminations, blame, and finger-pointing will go on for a while, of course.  If there’s one word that describes this event, it is probably that ancient word hubris; that dangerous overconfidence that leads to a downfall of epic proportions.  Again, again, and again, humans seemingly refuse to learn.

For sure, we are going to have a different world.   Mr. Trump’s worldview(s) have been varied and tough to pin down, and a shakeup in the foundations of our society and foreign policy is surely upon us.   Heck, even California wants to secede.   It is particularly sad, however, how some of the folks on the left have responded.  When Obama won eight years ago, there were complaints to be sure, but not the kind of protests we’ve got today.    When the folks who leaned left cheered when Obama used executive orders, didn’t they see that one day, this would set a precedent for a right leaning executive?

For those of you who think that we’ll never see a female US president, here’s an interesting thought experiment.  My ancillary view to this election has been that impeachment was always just around the corner for whoever won this poisoned chalice of the presidency.   With impeachment, a new vice-president will have to be chosen, and wouldn’t it be ironic if the VP slot was filled by a moderate female Republican?   Impeachment might even follow the new president.   It isn’t impossible for both the president and vice-president to resign – Spiro Agnew was forced from the Vice Presidency of Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford replaced him.  A bit later, Nixon resigned, voilà – we had President Ford.

It’s been a wild ride this year, nothing should be ruled out, for sure.

Questions:

  • Who else saw this coming?
  • What other outrageous predictions do you see coming true?
  • Is it possible that Trump might end up like Reagan?   Or like Nixon?
  • What will be the biggest change we will see under a Trump presidency?
  • Are you still having trouble grappling with this reality?

 

 

 

This is it!

producers.jpeg

Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in “The Producers” (Embassy Pictures, 1968)

In possibly one of the funniest movies of all time, The Producers, (the original one, in 1968), there’s a key scene just before the opening of ‘Springtime For Hitler.’  By the way, if you’ve seen the new version, great; but the old version has an edge to it that seems timeless; a copy is probably available at your local library.   Gene Wilder (playing Leo Blum), in a burst of unbridled optimism, shouts out, “This is it!”, thinking that in the next few hours, the worst play ever, with the worst director, and worst actor, will fail spectacularly.   The end result will be “wine, women, and song,” with he and Max Bialystock in Rio.

The reason this scene resonates so well with me, and with the current strange election season is that in about 24 hours, we’ll know if we’ve got Mr. or Madame President.   Surely, there will be people on both camps, who are gleefully rubbing their hands (internally or externally shouting “This is it!”) thinking a) they are going to win, and all will be well, (and!)/or b) their opponent will win, and they’ll take the blame for the coming bill that will come due.

If Ms. Clinton wins, we may get more of the same, and as many from the right hand side of this blog roll have mentioned, that won’t be the kind of thinking that we’ll need.  In fact, it will be the kind of thinking that will accelerate our demise.  Likewise, if Mr. Trump wins, we’ll have a different kind of thinking, which will also accelerate our demise.   Like the old joke about capitalism and socialism – “What is the difference between capitalism and socialism?  Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man.  Socialism is the reverse.”

The real wildcard, of course, is that something will actually get done when the new president takes office (echoes of “Hope and Change”), but let’s not hold out breath. Tempers are frayed, families and friends are fighting;  we’ll all be glad when this is over.  And at the end of the day, we’ll have a leader who will most likely be up to their eyeballs in scandal.

Questions:

  • “Après moi le déluge,” so it has been said by Louis XV of France, before the French Revolution.   What will be a equivalent phrase uttered by our next president, when things really start to implode?
  • Will we have a Ceausescu moment in the US in the next four years?
  • We’ve all been waiting for the implosion of things.  Will we get Ugo Bardi’s Seneca Cliff, or John Michael Greer’s fractal decline?   Will the choice of president/outcome of the election influence this, or not?

 

 

 

Backup plan

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice_President_of_the_United_States#/media/File:US_Vice_President_Seal.svg

No matter who you look at, both presidential candidates have a lot of baggage, and a lot of traits that infuriate the supporters of the other, as well as those who are just disgusted with the entire process of Election 2016 to date.

My mini-thesis on this whole debacle is that it is the vice-presidential candidates who are going to play an important part in our collective futures.  Both candidates have a lot of negatives, and some of those negatives involve some serious ‘impeachable offenses.’

The folks who designed the US system of government did well to provide us with a backup plan, in case something went wrong with the president du jour.  

Stay tuned.

Questions:

  • How likely do you think this scenario is?   A search on ‘Clinton’ and ‘Nixon’ turns up a lot of hits.   Even Trump has a few folks looking at some of his dealings, and thinking they might be criminal as well.
  • Do you feel strongly about any of the VP candidates?   They may seem a bit underwhelming, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

 

 

Things To Come

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Things_to_Come#/media/File:Things-to-Come-UK-poster.jpg

Ah, Things To Come.   One of the original sci-fi movies that promised a beautiful future, after a long struggle and world war.   Like most optimistic films of the time, it thought that technology, a scientific viewpoint, and the abolition of religion would make everything OK, and we’d all be wearing togas and living a wonderful life (as Donald Fagen would sum up so well in his ironic song IGY). 

Looking in the news, however, it seems that technology, for the Nth time, has backfired.   The most recent cloud of acrid technological blue smoke that has belched from the electronic smokestacks was the recent hack and network shutdown, caused by the ‘Internet of Things’ and an interesting piece of software called Mirai.  Here’s an interesting quote, from that article, showing how totally screwed up how some people connect with others:

Setting aside the shoddy security of these devices, yesterday felt incredibly weird. I spent most of my work day without access to Twitter and it was a miserable experience. The service has become an important part of my life, it’s where I communicate with my friends and first hear about important news. Without it, I feel eerily disconnected. I actually had to type a URL into my browser to find out why the service was down.

No Twitter?  Heaven forbid.   Like the exchange made by Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Sleeper:

Luna:

PLEASE !  I WANNA GO HOME ! I'M GETTING A HEADACHE.

I'M HUNGRY !  I HAVEN'T HAD A STRESS PILL !  
I HAVEN'T HAD A BATH IN SEVEN HOURS !
I'M TELLING YOU, I'M NOT ACCUSTOMED TO THIS ! I NEED MY ORB ! 
I WANT TO RELAX ! LOOK AT ME !  LOOK AT ME ! I'M SHAKING !                  
 
Miles: 

YOU KNOW, YOU'D BE GREAT TO TAKE ON A CAMPING TRIP.

It is for this sort of reason that keeping all your technological eggs in one basket, by hyper-connecting your life, and relying on security promises from firms that tell you all is well is the sure road to ruin.   Oh, and being connected 24-7 by an electronic leash.  Do we really need Internet connected toasters, fridges, stoves, thermostats, and so on?   This hack (which may have been simple or brilliant), like the first worm that was released a long time ago (before the Internet became what it is today), is truly the real shape of Things To Come, if this insanity continues.

The future (before it comes crashing down on us, from the usual suspects of financial chicanery, climate change, and resource depletion) is more likely to look like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil  (Tuttle-Buttle, and all that); a surreal and never-ending cross between Monty Python and Nineteen Eighty-Four.    Sure, it might be terrifying, but it might be that if the bureaucracy has its way, it’ll lose your paperwork.

Questions:

  • What will the next big Internet of Things idiocy?
  • If this is what happens with DVRs, imagine what will happen with self-driving cars or self-driving delivery vans.  Does anyone smell a problem here?
  • How long before we realize that the expression ‘Internet of Things’ could wind up like nuclear power’s ‘Too cheap to meter’?
  • Crime is already quite readily committed by computer; when will we get our first homicide using an IOT device?   The Internet (via social media) has already caused people to be shamed, shunned, and to commit suicide.  What device might be the culprit? (Update:  The Michael Hastings incident might have been one; now, the next barrier is “When will something like this become public knowledge, if someone does this who doesn’t have great skill at hiding their crime?”)
  • There are rumblings of the US conducting cyber-warfare against its ‘enemies’.  Doesn’t this seem like the modern day equivalent of poison gas on the battlefield?   An attack on a hyper-connected network most surely will backfire, won’t it?