Monday, February 29, 2016

Beware the foul fiend

What if being disgusted by Donald Trump isn't nearly enough?

The very question has the assumption we Canadians often fall prey to, which is that what we think about American politics matters at all. It's a nice "from the sidelines" thought exercise for a people that just chose the establishment party - and chose it big time - in their last election. But hey - it's fun!

Anyways, the question at the top is spurred by a Rex Murphy take on Trump that I found quite thought-provoking and on point. In it he acknowledges that Trump is a dangerous, "easy answers" candidate but also that he is born out of a political system that has been failing for years. If you haven't watched it yet, check it out below:

From Rex Murphy's take:

"Donald Trump is a real threat to "rational, measured political action." Deploring him is the easy part. Seeing him as a clown, a dangerous one, as an opportunistic, hyper-rich, egotist, all-mouth-little-brain and easy conscience can make everyone feel good and superior.... The rise of Trump-ian style and the failure of normal politics are one."

I wonder, just what the "failure of normal politics" he describes might be? The first point Rex raises is money. Obama spent a billion dollars. Every election goes to the candidate who spends the most money. Politics are controlled by those with money. Probably the best imagining of this is by Bill Hicks, who figures politicians do what they're told. Worth a listen for the first minute or so:

But money ain't all. Politicians' lying is being seen less and less as something that's okay to let slide with a wink and wag of the finger. It's becoming revolting to pretty much everybody but especially the American demographic that supports Trump. Sure, if they see Trump as The Honesty Candidate they're allowing themselves to be duped, but Trump's straight-shooting style has resulted in some pretty cool moments of substance, be it telling a room full of potential Jewish donors he didn't think Israel always bargained in good faith to openly declaring that politicians can be bought - because he's bought them before. This door was opened by a political system that was more than willing to lie to the electorate.

One subject that likely motivates many Trump supporters is race... and I'm not sure how to address this one. Trump has been more than happy to express racist sentiments against Hispanics and Muslims and that undoubtedly wins him fans. At the same time he also does not have a Mein Kampf on his resume and - to me at least - seems to be spouting the racism or allowing the allegations to linger as a sort of dog-whistle to get and keep attention. In a wonderfully friendly and thoughtful society these actions would have ruined him. But they haven't. A large segment of the population apparently agrees with what he has said, or will at least give him a break because he's telling it like it is. Okay, it would be really crappy if he became the next Hitler but I don't think Trump is a racist (or the next Hitler for that matter). Frankly I'm surprised Trump didn't blast the KKK as only he could. Wouldn't it have won him some legit respect for the general election?

I'll need to stop it there for tonight. Basically the thought that sticks with me is that Trump didn't emerge out of nowhere. If people felt that politicians acted remotely in the interest of the people, if there was a healthy debate on issues that mattered to people - even if it's difficult, like race - then he probably isn't running away with the Republican nomination.

There are forces far more powerful than Trump at play, which is the actual reason to be afraid of his success. He's not the next fucking Hitler but the signs are there that the human soul continues to be open to one, as it always has. A people that feels embarrassed economically, disrespected or threatened globally, and ignored by their leaders will act in surprising and potentially ugly ways. And we have always allowed the state to use violence. Which is why being disgusted with Trump isn't enough. The narratives that he is responding to are what must be defeated.... and that doesn't seem easy at all.

* * * * *

PS: Extra special bonus from The Golf Channel. Trump as prez: good or bad for golf? (Actually)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Top 10 Twitter Tweets of the Week

I'm a pretty big fan of Twitter. It's my favorite website by far and it has a lot of good content. The internet is a wonderful place.

Speaking of good content, here's some that I've collected from other people and put together in this blogging first: a Top 10 Twitter Tweets of the Week. So here we go. In no particular order but numbered so you can tell I'm not screwing you over, trying to get away with just nine or something.

Full disclosure: apart from the animal videos and general funny .GIFs I also really dig what's called "weird twitter". It makes me laugh a lot. Naturally there will be some of those mixed in to something like this.

Anyhow, here goes!










Saturday, February 27, 2016

There wasn't much of a U.S. Army at the beginning of the Civil War

As I've read about the U.S. Civil War, one of the things that struck me was how both sides were creating armies out of scratch, essentially.

It is noteworthy just how unprepared America was to fight a war... even one against itself. Sure, Americans had guns and knew how to use them, and had just eighty years before beaten off the British in their War of Independence. But they were nowhere near being any sort of military power. They distrusted standing armies, keeping only the tiniest numbers of soldiers employed - around 16,000, spread out in forts near the Indian territory. They had created the military training academy of West Point, but that produced perhaps a few dozen soldiers a year.... and those men were expected to be engineers building public works during peace time.

When the Civil War broke out that needed to change... but they were almost starting from scratch. Men were excited and wanted to be soldiers and almost immediately the States, North and South, were flooded with volunteers and were creating more regiments than they were asked for. They had to buy guns from Europe since most of the guns in America were fine for hunting but obsolete as far as military use goes. There were no officers so they were often elected from among their peers, or they were appointed by the State's political leaders. Neither of these ways of getting officers are in any way good.

Basically, I marvel that each side was able to raise an army and actually make it fight. Men and guns were two key ingredients, but required an incredible amount of materials and a system of supply to actually make it an army. Both sides raised armies of a little over 100,000 men at first. It took 600 tons of supplies each day for an army that size, plus well over 35,000 draft animals, and apparently the horses and mules had a life expectancy of only a few months. Little known fact: the need to get uniforms for all these men is when standard sizes were born - before clothing would have been homemade or otherwise tailored by hand.

Nowadays it seems ludicrous to imagine America as anything other than an armed-to-the-teeth military power.... but it definitely wasn't back then. That was a more recent development. One that wouldn't take hold until the Second World War. Even then, most soldiers were volunteers. The large, professional U.S. Army would only happen recently during the Cold War. It'll probably be a thing until soldiers get replaced with robots.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The forgotten contentment of a good Happy Hour

I'd just like to share a simple pleasure with you that I think we forget about, a lot of the time: the after-work beer at the neighborhood pub.

I ended up doing it two times this week, both times after working at my dad's accounting office, helping him get T4s completed and out the door. The first time I was hanging out with my brother who had a few days in between stints up North working on the census. The second time was my girlfriend and another good friend. It's good to catch up with people you care about and there's something nice about doing it after work.

Both times I was there early, sat down at one of the big wooden tables, put my phone away, and just... drank a beer. Nice and slow.... cue the beer commercial!

Ha... I think there is something that psychologists would back me up on here, which is the benefits of having a "third place" - be it for socialization or contemplation - between work and home. A lot of time we can move from one work area, where we make our money, to another, where we prepare our food, do chores, etc. The neighborhood pub (or coffee shop, etc) fills a need then. And "after work" occupies a cool space temporally: it's not really at a time that we will schedule in advance like our evenings or afternoons... or creates a transition point from "working" to "now my time is for me".

Anyways, this was something that I remembered this week. And remembering simple pleasures is a thing quite worthy in and of itself, and good for our mental health, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Middle East's Reformation

So profound and disruptive are the changes or growing pains experienced in the Middle East right now that many believe the best historical comparable is none other than the Protestant Reformation. That is not a good thing. At least in the short term.

If the Protestant Reformation is only a vague memory from school years past then we may be forgiven for remembering the Reformation as a quaint time of religious hipsters wanting to "do church a little more local" and cool priests posting their ideas on rustic solid wooden doors that their also cool friend reclaimed from another older, church.

So... anyways. The Protestant Reformation was well over one century of chaos, violence, and new religious ideas. If you were to attribute the cause of the Reformation into one idea, it would be Luther's famous solo scriptura which meant rejecting the central interpretations in favor of direct study of the Bible by local churches and individual parishioners.

This would lead to an enormous struggle between the Catholic Church and the splintering Protestants. There would have been economic, political, and historical aspects to the civil war that ensued as well, but it was certainly a religious war... which are always the messiest. And it was long, too. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517while one suitable enough end point for the period is the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648... 131 years. Read the excerpt below and see how easy it would read today replacing a few words with Shia, Sunni, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc:
Initially a war between Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmenting Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers of Europe, becoming less about religion and more a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence.
The more you read about the Reformation, the less comforted one feels about the Middle East, at least for the next few generations. Huge religious societal shifts in thinking can take a very long time and be very violent. 30% of Germany died in the Thirty Years' War alone; deaths were in the tens of millions. Finally, though the Reformation ultimately led to positive change in Europe there is no guarantee that what is going on in the Middle East will leave the society better off.

Some questions to think about:

1. When was the "95 Theses" moment for the current reformation? Tunisian uprisings? Birth of Wahhabism in the late 18th century?
2. The world now is far more connected. Does that affect things? How did unaffected neighboring countries behave toward the conflict in Europe?
3. If both reformations can be viewed as a "return to scripture" does it matter that the two books in question are different?


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thoughts on Gwynne Dyer

Here are some regurgitated thoughts, mostly Gwynne Dyer's, from a talk he gave recently at the U of W. Enjoy!

Why do care what happens in the Middle East? The Middle East contains 10% of the world's population and 3% of the world's GDP including oil. Which is.... surprisingly low, especially the GDP number.

Twenty years ago, you could answer that question much easier. The primary reason we cared, 1900 to 1990? Oil, of course. Throughout the last century oil from that region must have represented a large enough percentage of that strategic resource to warrant the West's interest. Since then oil has become plentiful (if a bit more expensive) through new discoveries and extraction technologies. Dyer says that most of the Middle East's oil goes to China, India, and Japan.

In his mind all this begs the question, "Why is this our problem?" We're down to humanitarian reasons (though there are people in Africa, too, but we never really cared about them), historical reasons (we helped create this mess) and religious reasons (Israel). All of these could play a part.

However given the fact that Al Qaeda, Isis and any other revolutionaries in the area are specifically trying to get the West to intervene in these countries, we should treat this whole intervention thing with caution... so as to not do anything stupid like invading Iraq again. That went far beyond "caring too much" and instead destabilized the region, created ISIS, etc.

Dyer believes that in Syria, Russia basically has it right: Assad is the lesser of the only two realistic (and horrible) options... which speaks to how awful the other side is given how Assad is a monster. In the short term I can wrap my head around this, but where do things go, longer term? Will Bashar al-Assad pass down Syria to his son, one day? There have been uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen - and I'm probably missing a couple. I've heard that Tunisia is the success story of the bunch (with Egypt returning to a military dictatorship). So that's good... hopefully there can be one example that didn't devolve into a failed state with all the violence and strife that accompanies it.

Maybe the reality now is that we should certainly care a lot for our fellow human beings in the Middle East... but that we need to expect to save or fix the situation. "Helping" is probably a better word so long as we remain pragmatic and subtle about it.  Support countries that are working with financial aid and pressuring countries that are stable but corrupt to make some reforms.

I've heard the Arab Spring / failed states / extremism stage we are in described as an Arab civil war or reformation.... and that rings true to me. Last time I checked those things take time and are sorted out, for the most part, internally.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

How likely is nuclear Armageddon?

Trump was - if anything - actually arguing against nuclear proliferation in his idiotic answer.

I just had to go on a rant tonight, apparently. The discussion between the three of us had progressed from the question "Why do humans have drive?" to "Where is the world going to?" and the grim specter of a nuclear Armageddon began to tantalize me.

How likely is a large nuclear exchange, say 10 detonations or more? I would like this answer to be "exactly zero".... but we can't really say that.

While there is something to be said for the fact that in the 71 years since nuclear weapons have first demonstrated their destructive power they have not been used since, I think human kind has been a dangerous flirt in this. There have been several instances where nations have come very close to exchanging nuclear weapons. In sexual parlance, we haven't "done it" yet... still holding to the "just the (nuclear) tip (....missiles) philosophy.

Some close calls:

1962... The Cuban Missile Crisis:

This was scary as fuck, looking back on it. Probably at the time, too, since that's when making actual bomb shelters in your backyard was all the rage. Basically, John F. Kennedy displayed an incredible willingness to bring the world to nuclear exchange for... pride or prestige. Nuclear missiles in Cuba didn't change the picture at all - the U.S. and Soviet Union were able to destroy each other in 15 minutes anyways. They were primarily being sent there because Kennedy had already shown himself intent on assassinating Castro and invading the island.

A great example of how insane it is having people fly or float around with these things is below:

One Soviet officer’s reluctance saved the world from nuclear war. On October 27 (1962), American destroyers forced a Soviet submarine to surface near the quarantine line using depth charges. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the sub was carrying a nuclear-tipped torpedo. The Soviet commander believed that war had started and prepared to fire. Fortunately, authorization from three other officers was needed. Two were in favor. One was not.

The pride and prestige of Kennedy... the desire "not to disgrace our navy" of the Soviet sub commander. Think those human traits have gone anywhere?

1979... Good Old Fashioned Computer / Human Error:

....(C)omputers at the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) headquarters indicated that a large-scale Soviet missile attack was underway.

NORAD immediately relayed the information to high-level command posts and top leaders convened to assess the threat. Their response was swift: crews responsible for launching U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles were put on the highest alert, nuclear bomber crews boarded their planes to prepare for takeoff, and the Airborne Command Post—the aircraft designed to allow the president to maintain control in the event of an attack—was put in the air, though without the president on board. Six minutes later, when satellite data failed to confirm any incoming missiles, leaders decided against retaliation. It was later discovered that a technician had mistakenly inserted a tape containing a training exercise scenario into an operational NORAD computer, simulating a full-scale attack.

Missile silos were readied and pilots boarded their nuclear-armed planes because... the wrong disk was put into the computer....

1999... Right... Other Countries Have These Weapons Now

Fourteen nations possess nuclear weapons... and that includes a place as rational and sane as North Korea. Some of them hate each other. Like India and Pakistan. Sometimes they almost nuke each other:


When we talk about threats to our species, we usually global warming now. But we shouldn't forget nukes. Smart people like Noam Chomsky still consistently bring up the threat of nuclear weapons as one of, if not the threat to human kind. They're used primarily as political weapons, kind of like "get out of invasion free cards" but they do still exist... and will detonate when fired.

While we can hang our hat on the fact that nukes have not been used since 1945 our capacity for violence, pride, and mistakes - both stupid and honest - mean we should count ourselves lucky. I dunno.... if humanity is progressing to a more thoughtful and loving future it would be great to not fuck it up by destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons in the meantime.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

U.S. Politics & Civil War, Pt. 1

The trigger of the U.S. Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1861. One month later the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia seceded and a bloody war that would last four years began.

Reading about the politics of America in the decades that preceded the war made me wonder what comparisons could be drawn to today. The issue then was certainly slavery, the deal-breaker being extension of slavery into new territories west of the Mississippi, while today... well just what are the issues in America, right now?

From this Canadian's perspective the big issue comes down to the more government / less government question: If citizens feel abandoned by the American Dream, is the answer large government involvement from Bernie Sanders or balanced budgets and smaller government from Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? As fundamental as this disagreement is, it probably doesn't warrant any comparison to the Civil War.

What troubles me more is the "take our country back" rhetoric, the racial overtones, the angst that many Americans apparently feel (Trump, Cruz, and others wouldn't be saying it if it wasn't resonating with a lot of people). It sounds like a segment of the population will strongly resist the end of the white, Christian majority. Plus, it sounds like that segment of the population is far more likely to own firearms. It's probably nowhere close to a majority but that doesn't mean it couldn't be hugely disruptive or influential in American politics. Like Al Capone said, "You can get more with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word."

I believe that dark sentiments hinted at in the above paragraph (violence, racism, etc.) exist in all populations and in each of us. However they can be exacerbated by our environment. Both Democratic and Republican primaries have had huge support for candidates viewed as "outsiders" who will take politics back from "the establishment" and this suggests a feeling that voices are not being heard. Add to this the stagnating wages and rising costs of the "Apple Economy" (where all manufacturing jobs are outsourced leaving only a few high-paying design jobs and the low-paying retail and distribution jobs) and people will become more desperate.

I have no idea where things are going: better, worse, more of the same. Hopefully Americans have a healthy debate (it seems their primary system expresses views we shy Canadians would never air) and enter their future in a way that more or less works for everyone.

A worst-case scenario? It wouldn't be "these states" vs "those states" conflict like in the 1860s - but that's probably a rare exception as far as civil war's go. More of the Cliven Bundy / militiamen stuff, or success of politicians that are skilled at tapping into and manipulating the discontent of the masses, a la Trump.

Hope you enjoyed this! I'll go into this more in the future since I have more thoughts. If you'd like to read some fiction on a future U.S. Civil War, check out Orson Scott Card's book, Empire:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Take a load off and stop striving

From Rohr, again.

"In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis, Gandhi, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial."

I forgot to finish this blog earlier today. It's not going to be much but I had a few quotes from my medication that I thought I would share. The one above struck me partially because of how obvious it is. It seems most spiritual thinkers have been advocating things like "letting go", "simplicity", and "acceptance". The outliers are the rah-rah accomplish anythings found in some churches - though they have their points, too.

I wonder how you and I strive too much. Is it for possessions? This is, in an interesting development, starting to go out of style. In the culture I'm in it's not very prevalent anyway.

Striving for perfection or to promote the ego though... that's probably where we'll find our striving, unsatisfied selves. Something to think about.

I'll leave you with a few other quotes!

"The Franciscan alternative orthodoxy asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone's need but not everyone's greed."

"But we can indeed be happy in mutual interdependence with nature, with the kindness of others, and with our own hard work and creativity, while living in the natural rhythms of life."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thoughts on becoming "good"

Reflection on Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, find it here.

Am I a good person?

Not the smallest of questions with which to start off my 30-day blogging commitment, but it happened to be a question that came to mind by Christian mystic, pastor, and author Richard Rohr... so let's go with it!

The answer we would like to come to is "yes" and in the easiest and quickest way possible. I'm a good person because I help my friends, I treat others fairly, I donate to charity, etc. The good outweighs the bad. Or, if I'm not so sure about that, I at least mean well. If being good to others isn't my measure, perhaps I'm good because I'm good at business, sports, or getting laughs. 

We have a "deep but deceptive human need to 'think well of one's self"", says Rohr. I'd agree with him on intuition and that desire seems like it fuels a lot of our actions. I for one try to improve at hockey - even at age thirty, and I'm not exactly bragging about my failings on Facebook. But - innocent stuff aside - what does he mean by "deceptive"? Is it not 'good' to think of ourselves as... 'good'?" 

The deceptive part is that we  can easily allow ourselves to believe that it is us and us alone with the responsibility to show that we are good. To me, there's something overly burdensome and (thankfully) not true about the idea that it's all up to us. When we succeed at being good, there is no problem. But eventually we all fail one way or another. Whether we hurt someone we love or experience our bodies become sick or die.

The good news is that you and I are good at our core: both loved and accepted by God, as I would put it. We are totally and unapologizingly worthy of thinking well of ourselves! (By the way... is it possible the Bible is one big long account of God trying to convince us of this? Or perhaps, us slowly and brokenly coming to accept this? I'm not a "real theologian" so keep that in mind!) If you've heard much of Christianity you've probably heard of the concept of "Original Sin", which Rohr figures is more about the inevitability of sins happening or their effects being inherited from our parents / past generations. Thankfully we're not a bunch of shitty people with a huge to-do list to become good people.

The weird thing in what he's saying is that... our goodness is connected at the hip to our 'not goodness'. We're going to make mistakes. We're going to fail. We're going to die. We will be weak and we will be losers... little Trump reference here.... 

"Donald Trump recently said he's 'a great Christian'. That needs a serious fact check, I think. What he's talking about...
Posted by Mike Friesen on Monday, December 28, 2015

...but God loves us anyway and transforms us because of that. When I think about this it strikes me how comforting / discomforting that is. Discomforting because it's basically saying "count on hardships... lots of them". The comforting part is that it's transformation for the better... although I'm 100% not trying to join the "let's wrap everything up in a nice neat bow" club by any means.

What's my takeaway? My takeaway is that we are loved at our most inner, intimate core, meaning we should be patient with ourselves mess up or are in any way less than we'd like. Call it failure, sin, weakness, suffering - whatever we'd like - but when we approach those things with humility and with... the hope that an impossible beauty can emerge from those things, we're somehow growing closer to God.