Monday, February 22, 2010

If This Site Offends Your Sense of Ideological Purity, Please Stop Reading It

If you don't like full-on rants, read no further.

Warning: this is a full-on rant. I strongly recommend you stop reading now.

There was a T-shirt in the 1980s that read, "I used to be disgusted, but now I'm just amused." I am not amused, just disgusted.

I get dumped on for an amazing variety of sins against various strains of ideological purity: I am insufficiently Apocalyptic, I am "one of those right-wingers," I am "socialist" (yes, I am both right-wing and socialist at the same time), I am a "corporate shill" because there are adverts on the site, and so on.

If This Site Offends Your Sense of Ideological Purity, Please Stop Reading It.I didn't ask you or anyone else to view the site, nor did I charge you money to do so with the implicit promise of some value, nor have I ever suggested that I have any "answers" or that you would find whatever strain of ideological purity you seek.

You can go back and read the archives of this site from May 2005 when readership could be counted on fingers and toes. It was an experiment in self-expressionthen and remains that now.

The site is not posted for glory, income or readership. If readership dropped to near-zero it would actually be a relief; the trivial advert income would vanish (no loss) and my voluminous email would dry up, relieving me of hundreds of hours of unpaid work. If everyone who finds something to disagree with here (i.e. most people) would simply stop reading, it would be a great relief.

I have even been accused of seeking to disrupt various ideological purities as if this were some sort of contrarian game; It isn't. These are the meanderings of one individual, nothing more, nothing less. I am not seeking anyone's stamp of ideological-purity approval, or any other form of approval. I just find all strains of ideological purity to be cognitive traps. I'm not going out of my way to be non-ideological, I just don't find ideologies, be they Apocalyptic Doom, Left, Right, the Savior State or whatever ideology you may subscribe to as being all that useful in a utilitarian, practical sense.

I've been told my photo isn't sufficiently "serious." I've been busted for the numerous typos which soil the site; I've been trashed for not keeping up with dead links.

Hey, if any of you want to write a couple hundred thousand words of original content a year for no financial compensation other than what drifts in from generous readers, some "corporate shill" adverts and a few book sales, be my guest. This is an experiment in self-expression, not a business. Whatever expectations you bring are self-generated; nothing is promised here implicitly or explicitly.

If you want to read blogs which align with your views, then by all means do so. There are millions to choose from. Or if you have your own blog, then you can read your own work and have the satisfaction of agreeing with the author 100% of the time. There is no reason to come here, and I certainly am not offering one.

If you're squeamish, stop reading. For all those who find me insufficiently Apocalyptic, I have a couple of questions for you:

1. Have you ever been in the National Guard?

2. Have you ever been close to anyone in the National Guard?

3. Have you experienced extended Armed Forces tours involving small-arms ground combat with tactical air support?

4. Have you ever been close to anyone who experienced extended Armed Forces tours involving small-arms ground combat with tactical air support?

5. Have you ever been arrested or imprisoned by the Central State as "an enemy of the State"?

6. Have you ever been close to anyone who has been arrested or imprisoned by the Central State as "an enemy of the State"?

7. Are you a police officer with tactical/SWAT/crowd control training?

8. Have you ever been close to anyone who is a police officer with tactical/SWAT/crowd control training?

9. Do you personally know and break bread with any of the "criminal class" who are likely to make up this roving mob of heavily-armed desperados?

The less naive amongst you will probably see where this is going.

The Apocalyptic Doomer ideology is fixated on a single end-game: roving mobs of heavily-armed desperados roaming the cities and then the countryside like ravenous, murderous locusts.

This scenario is tiresome for several reasons:

1. The "good guys" will also be heavily armed and as a special bonus, much better organized

2. The one thing the State excels at is organized, directed violence.

3. There is never any mention of God or church in the Apocalyptic Doomer ideology

I don't make a big deal about my own religious beliefs and faith here; that is private, but longtime readers may have caught glimpses of my family's religious roots and of my own beliefs in my various scribblings here.

I find it extremely offensive that religious faith, worship, communion, God and church are entirely missing from the standard-issue Apocalyptic Doomer ideology. In that worldview, humanity is intrinsically evil, greedy, shortsighted, violent, rapacious, etc., and as soon as the modest constraints of civil order are loosed then the hounds of Hell will be unleashed.

I beg to differ on several accounts.

Allow me to sketch out another scenario based on my own experience and those of my close friends and family members.

-- Civil order is threatened by various calamities/collapses.

-- Central State (Federal Government) declares emergency and confiscates the Strategic Oil Reserve and all 5.5 million barrels of domestically produced oil, plus all the domestic natural gas production. Rationing is immediately instituted, with priorities given to local and national security forces, the Armed Forces and agricultural/energy production/storage/distribution.

-- A roving mob of heavily-armed desperados gathers in an urban zone, pillaging, raping, murdering, etc.

-- With modest efforts (burning vehicles, scattered small-arms fire, etc.), escape routes are cut off and the mob is quickly concentrated into a kill zone.

-- A gunship with a minigun swoops in and liquidates said roving mob of heavily-armed thugs, with minimal ground support working from established fields of fire. Or in Napoleon's phrase, the crowd is dispersed with a "whiff of grapeshot."

-- Hundreds of dead bodies are removed from the kill zone, and survivors are trucked off to the prison complex gulag which is already in place to secure hundreds of thousands of "enemies of the State." I don't mean secret gulag camps; I mean the existing prison complex which holds several million citizens right now.

Does anyone seriously believe that 5 million barrels a day isn't enough to fuel a mobile force capable of imposing order on any number of roving mobs of heavily-armed desperados? Imposing order domestically is, all in all, rather "cheap" in terms of energy and time required. The system is robust, the staffing in place.

Just within my small circle of friends with extended tours of duty either flying close support (loaches and gunships) or engaging in small-arms close combat, there are three "good guys" who could lead a small trained force which would decimate/kill a disorganized/loosely organized mob, no matter how "heavily armed," of virtually any size.

K., a retired Marine captain with two ground tours in Vietnam could set up the fields of fire and set the trap. S. would fly the loach with a gunner, and A. would fly the gunship with the minigun, landing to refuel and reload as often as necessary.

S. claimed to "smell" bad guys beneath the jungle canopy, and given that he is still alive I give his claims great credence.

These are the "good guys." That is, if they felt their families and communities were at grave risk of lawless violence, and they were ordered to complete a mission, they would be obliged to do so under threat of court-martial.

I'm sorry if the notion of killing hundreds of people is disturbing, but the idea that the State couldn't liquidate/kill "public dangers" assembled in rampaging mobs is simply nonsensical. That sort of reaction is the State's raison d'etre. The State holds a monopoly on "legitimate" violence. That and the power to tax are the great monopolies of the State as a political structure.

I am not suggesting this kind of State violence is likely, nor am I condoning it--on the contrary, I find the very possibility abhorrent. I am simply noting that the State has the oil, forces and "emergency powers" to conduct such an operation for the "public safety."

If you find a non-lethal scenario less disturbing, then substitute gunships macing the heck out of the mob and a larger ground force moving into truncheon/incapacitate the folks before hauling them away to a temporary gulag within existing prisons.

Lest you think this is far-fetched, please look up the Life Magazine dated August 15, 1969 (kindly forwarded to me by reader Ed C.) which contains an article describing precisely this kind of large-scale State security operation in Berkeley, CA. Anti-war "mobs" were beaten and hauled off to a "State security center" within Santa Rita prison--temporary quarters consisting of the bare dirt, with prisoners being instructed to lay face down in said dirt and not to speak lest they be truncheoned or worse. "Rights" as prisoners were non-existent, and the net result was a few guards were disciplined for being overzealous. The official excuse was the guards were 'Nam vets who did not take kindly to the "demonstrators."

The account is penned by a visiting professor who by unfortunate happenstance was in Berkeley to meet (by pre-arrangement--this is pre-cellphone days) another researcher on the corner of Addison and Shattuck. The visiting prof was a Korean War veteran and not active in the anti-war movement or in that particular "mob." If you read the piece, you get a taste of how those of us who have encountered the Savior State with bared claw feel about it.

Would you like an Abu Ghraib experience here at home? That can be arranged. The guards were told that you are a "security threat" to the nation, so roughing you up a bit is for "the good of the country."

You may (naively) believe that State forces would never shoot citizens in either hostile action or in cold blood (take your pick). American history is replete with citizens gunned down by state-sanctioned forces--and not just in political situations.

For instance, scores of citizens were shot down under the "looters will be shot on sight" orders imposed on San Francisco after the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906. The probability that some of the dead were innocent (not looters) is high, but the killings raised little fuss at the time. Emergency means emergency, and the State has a lot of leeway when an "emergency" is declared, even if the definition of emergency is open to debate after the fact.

After all, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was just such a trumped-up "emergency" which offered some threadbare legitimacy to a 7-year war which killed tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians.

You can trust the State to drum up an "emergency" if the need arises.

As for rationing, those alive in 1974 may recall the State imposed gasoline rationing overnight. It was obeyed with extremely minor infractions/resistance.

I have known lots of the "criminal class" because I worked in construction. Maybe to the fearful Apocalyptic Doomers, these guys are demonic and frightening, but to me they are just average normal guys who got caught selling drugs, breaking into buddy's houses to get back at some slight, or accidentally shooting someone in the arm when their poker game got interrupted (all true stories). These are guys who carry guns in their trucks and on the jobsite.

Interestingly, none of my friends with actual combat experience own an arsenal. I don't recall them even owning a single weapon. If they really thought they needed one, then they would get one, no doubt.

If anyone has ever been in a mob, or disorganized, unruly crowd, then you would not exactly give them the edge in a combat scenario against well-trained, organized forces.

As for roving bands of hoodlums storming homes and warehouses, we might recall that the good guys are as heavily armed as the bad guys in our society. The advantages fall to the property owner: they know their layout, they are motivated to defend what's theirs, etc. The only real threat is a carefully planned "home invasion" in which the criminals have carefuly researched the layout, the residents' habits, etc.

To reckon that the average criminal will invest in all that effort is also ludicrous.

I have been interrogated by Federal agents as a potential "enemy of the State." I didn't hurt anyone, steal anything, threaten anyone, embezzle any money, not pay my taxes, etc. My "crime" was to resist the State's policies. When I visited my friend R.J.B. in Federal prison, I got a taste of how the Savior State responds when its policies are challenged in entirely nonviolent ways.

As the Federal judge noted in his trial, R.J.B. was one of the finest young men of his generation.

I am offended by the Apocalyptic Doomer ideology on spiritual grounds as well. Yes, humans are capable of great evil, violence, greed, etc., but that is not the sum total of all humanity.

If there is any aspect of this blog which goes unremarked--and this in itself is noteworthy--it is my constant references to the spiritual rot at the core of the American Lifestyle and Status Quo.

Calling the Status Quo rotten to its core on spiritual grounds is somehow embarrassing to the standard-issue punditry or purveyor of Apocalyptic Doomer ideology. It's as if calling the status quo rotten and worthy of collapse on spiritual grounds alone is somehow not quite cricket.

Assuming roving bands of heavily-armed murderous thugs will roam the countryside doesn't cause a single eyebrow to raise, but calling for a spiritual Transformation as the status quo of greed, fraud, lying and senseless violence unravels make me a threatening weirdo to every ideology. So be it.

So let me be clear here. The "enemies of the State" being carted off to the gulag will probably be friends of mine, and the guys so many Doomers fear in the unruly mob will be former workmates or employees.

I have no desire for "fame," "fortune," "security" or whatever it is that's supposed to drive us all to slave away at something. My standard of "success" is simple, because I am a KISS kind of guy--keep it simple, stupid.

1. Did I make myself useful today?

2. Did I take care of myself today and avoid burdening anyone with my cares and troubles?

3. Were I to meet the living Jesus at day's end, would I feel ashamed of my conduct during the day, or could I meet his gaze with the inner knowldge that I emulated his teachings to the very best of my ability?

That's my "definition" of success.

Americans are funny about "how much they earn." People seem afraid of being accused of being rich or something, because then they'll be asked to donate money. Hey, you worked, you earned it. My taxable gross income last year was $30,700. Out of that I paid about $10,000 in taxes (property tax--my "half" of the total bill), Federal, State and sales, about $5,000 for health insurance (since I'm self-employed, I pay my own), and about $5,000 in principle on our mortgage (again, my "half," which is not deductable of course), leaving about $10,000 for everything else. A laughably tiny slice of that came from this site.

I do not have a trust fund. My IRA holds about $15,000, a figure which fluctuates but never seems to go up due to my various speculative mistakes. "Experts" say it needs to be $1.5 million should I be looking forward to a "comfortable" retirement.

I reckon many municipal and state employees who are my age (56) have already retired. I am not sure what "retirement" even means; "taking it easy," going on cruises, working a second job to accrue even more money, I don't know.

None of those things really appeal to me. I have no interest in retiring, so the fact that I don't have a retirement, and that I expect Social Security to fold up before I draw my "share" doesn't bother me. I hope to make myself useful until I keel over.

I have offended Doomers by declaring that the aftermath of the collapse of the Savior State and corporatocracy could be "fun." Let me give you an example.

Somewhere in the thousands of pages on this site is a crazy entry I wrote about how great it would be if two lanes of Interstate 5 from Sacramento to Los Angeles were closed to vehicular traffic and reserved for bicycles and electric bikes/mopeds: $25 per Gallon Gasoline and a Crazy Idea (375-mile bikeway to L.A.) (June 12, 2008).

This assumes that truck and auto traffic will become limited due to high cost of fuel or rationing, or both, i.e. what most people would see as "doom and gloom."

I am supposed to wear a hair shirt and be gnashing my teeth that I cannot drive a fully loaded SUV in air-conditioned comfort to L.A. anymore.

There are plans to build a high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it is easy to predict this will be very expensive, just as it is in Europe and Japan. The Savior State is running out of money to fund massive subsidies.

But to the great annoyance of the Doomer crowd, the idea of bicycling 380 miles to L.A. sounds like great fun to me. I am supposed to be worried about roving gangs of heavily armed thugs who will be desperately trying to steal my 20-year old bicycle, or I'm supposed to be weeping that the status quo life of "comfort" has been superceded.

I'm not trying to be contrarian here; I'm just the kind of person who likes cycling and likes a good appetite. I ride 10 miles just to clear my mind, so the idea of riding 40 miles on flat ground sounds invigorating. All the route would need is some solar-charged, battery-powered trams to carry the bikes and riders up the mountain passes. The Central Valley has lots of sun; some solar arrays along the way could charge standard battery packs so riders of electric bikes could hot-swap their batteries for a few bucks.

A few simple facilities along the way could provide shelter/food; as for road maintenance, without the pounding of 18-wheelers, the current surface would probably last a long time with minimal maintenance.

I am not talking about 100% self-sufficiency here; I'm talking about a reduction in energy consumption on the order of 85%, i.e. the nation consuming 3 millon barrels a day of oil instead of 19-20 MBD.

I'm talking about a life in which "the pursuit of happiness" is fully enabled that requires very little energy or goods. I'd be perfectly fine with a monthly allotment of $15 a month of electricity, 10 gallons of gasoline a month and a 5-gallon tank of propane for cooking. I've gotten by with less and been quite happy.

I have built a sturdy cabin 12 X 16 with a handsaw, a square, a level and a few hand tools. I can cut a 2X4 with a handsaw in the time it takes for someone to set up their electric tool. I prefer a handsaw and hand drills, screwdrivers, etc. I rarely use a power saw unless I'm under time pressure.

Yes, this requires milled lumber, and steel for saws, but once again I am not talking about pre-industrial life, I am talking about a life with modest quantities of essential industrialization which uses perhaps 15% of today's massive (and mostly squandered) energy consumption.

If 85% of today's energy consumption goes away, it's fine with me. If 85% of the Savior State goes away, that's also fine with me. If 85% of subsidized agribusiness goes away, that's fine with me, too. We'd all be better off without any high-fructose corn syrup. If factory-meat declines as a result, no loss; better to eat real meat and real food and eat less of it. Hasn't anyone noticed that eating less crappy food might actually benefit the nation's health?

I am as tired of the Apocalyptic Doom ideology as I am of the status quo ideology which holds that reinflating the housing bubble is essential or the world will end.

Midieval pilgrims walking the pilgrimage of St. Jacques de Compostelle from France to Spain routinely walked 40 or 50 kilometers a day; they were hardly Supermen and women.

The best time I've had recently is climbing 1,000 feet in Yosemite and walking 8-9 miles over packed snow in sneakers and a light coat a few weeks ago. It was about 40 degrees F. in the daytime, quite comfortable if you keep moving. I ate and slept well and we walked another 4-5 miles the following day before we had to leave. I wish I could do this all the time; it's invigorating.

Two heaping handfuls of food is enough for the day; a lot of food can be grown on a 2,000 square foot parcel; the age of sail enabled travel and trade (albeit slower than today) between distant lands. I'm tired of hearing how a reduction in a wasteful lifestyle dooms us all. If 85% of today's energy consumption goes away, life will still be good, just as it's been good for hundreds of years before fossil fuel.

And massive reductions are not even necessary. As I noted here last week in(Why I am Optimistic February 16, 2010), it's physically possible to construct an alternative energy system which generates the same power consumed today by 2030. The only lack is vision and political will, as those benefitting from the dominance of fossil fuels have a lock on the leadership of the Savior State.

I'm also tired of people who feel so confident in their predictions of the future. Here is an experiment for all those blessed with such certainty.

1. Invest $10,000 in out-of-the-money options on some market you "know" will be at a certain level/state in six months. That should easily turn the $10K into $50,000.

2. Repeat step 1, turning the $50K into $250K in another six months.

3. Repeat step 2, turning the $250K into $1.25 million in another six months.

Anyone who is "certain" about the future course of events can surely turn that knowledge to the markets, and in a mere three turns should be able to turn $10,000 into $1.25 million.

If someone can't accurately predict the markets' actions in six months, how can they possibly know what will transpire 6 years or 10 years from now?

I'm all for guessing, and I do a fair amount of guessing here. But I'm not offended if someone disagrees with me, or threatened by their lack of ideological purity. I call it guessing because it is guessing; we're all guessing. Nobody knows the future.

End of rant; we resume our usual annoying content tomorrow. I feel better getting this off my chest. And I really don't care if anyone reads this, or reads anything here. This is only an experiment in self-expression.


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