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On Tyranny

Libraries and book stores are full of books explaining what and why the social and economic worlds are the way they are. In many cases there is much supporting information about the environment around the problem, but not much about the problem, or issue. Recently, my wife ran across a review of the small book listed below, bought a couple of copies, and read one. She was most impressed and (highly) recommended that I read it, which I eventually did. In the meantime she bought several copies, one of which we sent to our Marine grandson. He took it to the office to read in his spare time, began it that morning and didn’t put it down until he had finished it shortly before lunch. He then gave it to his office mate and insisted that he read it.

There are twenty topics, framed as orders. Each one has from a half to two page comment that explains what Snyder intends each topic statement to mean. If there is a repository of advice about dealing with what is happening in this country, for me this is it.

(I have included three samples from his lessons)

On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century
Timothy Snyder

Do Not Obey In Advance
Defend Institutions
Beware the One Party State

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.

Take Responsibility For The Face Of The World
Remember Professional Ethics
Be Wary Of Paramilitaries
Be Reflective If You Must Be Armed
Stand Out
Be Kind To Our Language
Believe In Truth

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Investigate
Make Eye Contact And Small Talk
Practice Corporeal Politics
Establish A Private Life
Contribute To Good Causes
Learn From Peers In Other Countries
Listen For Dangerous Words

Be alert for the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

Be Calm when The Unthinkable Arises
Be A patriot
Be As Courageous As you Can

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What Is Going On?

Like all other Americans, I am facing an unknown in our recently elected Federal government. Departments which have represented us, such as The State Department, seem to sitting on their hands. Is this the will of the President, or of some of his henchmen? He is spending his time in the White House alone, going to Florida on the weekends (at public expense). His wife and youngest son live in New York city while older children drop by the White House. The morning news says one daughter is coming to spend more time with him in the White House.  All these people have to be protected by the Secret Service in their comings and goings.  Naturally, this will cost more money to provide and the SS has already filed a special request.

He gets up early and listens to conservative news, (which often is more rumor than news) then dashes off negative comments about what people have done or are supposed to have done. He has earlier accused his predecessor in office of having been behind spreading malicious information about him. Not one of his cabinet or administrative (FBI) officers agree with this charge. And, there are similar witless charges.

Republicans in Congress,encouraged by the president. moved to get rid of the “Obama” welfare give away, except they came up against the millions of lower income constituents in their districts who benefit from this expenditure. Unable to put together a majority, the leadership had to put this on a back burner.  And, after refusing to consider (for how many months?) the earlier nominee who was presented by the Democrats for Supreme Court Justice, they are now leading the questioning of one who is “neutral”.

I have been here since FDR’s first term. Many different men have been president, but there has never been one this unprepared. Unfortunately, this is not the nuttiest Congress I have ever seen, though the refusal to get rid of “Obama Care” offers hope that the Nuts are not completely in charge.

I could go on, but I suspect this is just the beginning. What will this country be like after four years?

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What’s New (Maybe)

Every once in a while I look at the list of books that I have read and am surprised at the number from Amazon, or that have come from the library after coming to my attention from Amazon. Many are very interesting and some are not. The uninteresting I don’t have to keep. The library books are free and I can return those that turn out to be not what I am interested in.

For example, The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes, is a relatively recent examination of how the British Duke of Wellington in his early 19th C campaign against the French in Portugal and Spain supported his intelligence officer in cracking the new message code. His officer had already deciphered the previous code, an act that let Wellington know what the French were supposed to do, sometimes before they knew. The book is full of action and suspense: just my type. Then, there is Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman. These fictional stories take place on the Navajo reservation and the principal character is a young Navajo policeman. The stories have told me much about life on the Navajo reservation.

On the other hand, there is The Red Knight of Germany:The Story of Baron von Richthofen. He was THE fighter plane ace of WWI, shooting down more planes than any pilot on either side. The book was published in 1930, giving it’s author time to explore every air battle and every victim of Richthofen. Not quite half way through it came to me that describing most air battles, places of crash for all of his victims, and their names was all the book was about. I’m not sure even a German could stick through all of that.

And, now, there is The Sea & Civilization, foisted on me by a very good friend. It is 600 pages of densely packed information on the development of the world from the time when we can first identify people moving from one place to another by sea. It is well written, very interesting and long. After about two months I have read 124 pages.

Thank goodness for the library and Amazon. They should keep me interested and involved until my departure.

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Sorry about this

I became so interested in the basketball playoffs that I forgot a blog.  Next week.

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Changing Human Behavior

In my last essay, I finished by wondering what’s next. This question is bothering/concerning a lot of people. In my case, I have been struggling with the changes in recorded music for several years. My wife and I began with 331/3 records which played up to 45 minutes of music on two sides. This was successor to the 78 rpm records that played about 4 minutes per side. Then, the 331/3 record was succeeded by compact cassette tape with about the same amount of time. Tape was succeeded by compact discs with up to 80 minutes of recorded time. All of these media still work, but have mostly been replaced by digital format, which is even less understandable to me than the previous media. Unlike automobiles, recording music has moved through completely different formats and playing machines.

Making automobiles that don’t need human control for some of their actions is simply one aspect of changing interaction between machines and humans. What is making this possible is computer programming which is coming closer to recognizing a particular human voice as a control of technology. And, driving new autos involves using computerized help. Like automobiles, playing recorded music can now be managed by computer. But, unlike automobiles, recorded music is no longer played by machines devoted directly to it.

Computers, like the first one I used with a colleague at GW, were of large, standup size and physically connected to several working stations. You had to develop a program to use it and then there was not much the uninitiated could do with it (and this was in the mid 1980s). Developers gave us a continuing array of smaller and more capable machines. With the development of the internet, computers moved on to the knowledge machines we now use.

However, development is not over. Voice operated computer service is being developed. It is in a relatively primitive stage, but its hands free, voice operated system of communication continues the trend of less physical action in our daily lives. Change increases as one builds on another, and poses the question about how humans will participate in our social and economic life. (Just watch people using cell phones everywhere to realize how we are reducing physical human interaction.)

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Where to in a new technical age?

Reading about Orville and Wilbur Wright working through the development of an airplane led me to think about the many individuals and groups working to produce working automobiles. Where the Wrights were working in uncharted territory, car makers simply continued developing buggies. GM was the combination of five separate auto manufacturers, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Chevrolet plus GMC trucks. Together with Chrysler and Ford these three companies came to dominate automobile in this country and made lots of money for their investors.

European and Japanese manufacturers came to fit their automobiles to the American market. They added all sorts of new devices to their cars and forced the American companies to do the same. These additional costs plus high labor costs put the American companies in a bind. By the early 2000’s all three companies were in serious financial trouble with GM and Chrysler going bankrupt. Ford managed to avoid this, but barely.

Three of our largest manufacturers, having restructured themselves to match outside competition are now faced, as is the competition, with all sorts of electronic invention to make driving “easier”. Manufacturers are moving toward installing so many so many electronic devices to help the driver that the driver is required to devote less attention to controlling the automobile.

Certainly, manufacturing and selling automobiles is a major part of several nation’s economies. What happens when the demand for new cars declines?

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Life

I look at the changes that are occurring around me and I think of the time when I didn’t see change going on. It’s difficult to see your life in terms of change. Growing up in the Depression in North Carolina, I saw little change. Though my mother was bedridden for several years and my father was principal in three different schools, my life as a kid continued on in a seemingly unchanging pattern with kids in the same environment. Even when my father moved us to Washington, I continued in the same environment of school. The people were different—they thought my accent was funny—but we continued doing the things done in school.

Then, in college, I was moved out of my familiar school environment by joining the Navy as a member of an officer candidate program.The responsibility of being an officer was unlike anything I had ever known, and was probably the best experience I could have had in becoming an adult. I had a job with clearly defined responsibilities which no one else could assume.

My experience was like that of the veterans of WWII. The government paid for education, which made college available to all who could qualify. This, in turn, allowed all kinds of corporations to grow and production of consumer goods (cars, houses, kitchen appliances) to be manufactured. Millions of people had similar jobs required for a manufacturing society. Salaries and wages were more than that required for basic life requirement, more than was available when I was a child.

Well, that has changed. Capitalism has evolved, is producing more goods of all kinds and prices are being kept low by moving work to foreign countries and importing the finished product. Both of those changes mean that production and other work in this country have changed. There are fewer available jobs that pay well, particularly in states across the midwest where so many of the well paying (union) jobs were. In the Washington area well paying jobs are declining as government grants are becoming fewer. The Republican congress promises that they will continue the process of reducing federal expenditures. The Washington area has provided, since the Roosevelt era, many entry level jobs that offer the prospect of moving up the salary and responsibility ladder.

In the Washington D.C. area, for example, the ratio of single men to women is 1:4.1, in the close in Virginia and Maryland suburbs it is 1:6.1 in an area population above six million. What this often shows up in Arlington is 2 or 3 single men and 2 or 3 single women living in newly built apartments. While the Washington area has been growing in population and jobs until now, this is not true of much of the rest of the country.

For example, the Detroit area population declined from 1.8 million in the 1950 census to 717,000 in 2010, largely related to the decline of the auto industry. In 1950, the population of Chicago was 3,620,962 and in 2010 was 2,695,598. The figures in both of these cities show the results from a decline in a manufacturing economy. On both coasts, cities that are not dependent on manufacturing, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, show some growth. But, we do not see the overall growth of the mid century.

I certainly have no remedies for this problem, but neither do Donald Trump and his crowd!

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How We Got To Where We Are

I’m currently reading The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough which is not only written in his usual readable style, but gets to the brothers, Wilbur and Orville, that shows them to be brilliant and hardworking. I was unaware of the amount of knowledge that they generated in figuring out how to build a machine that would fly. The testing, using relatively simple machines to build a machine that would fly got more dangerous the longer and higher they could fly. This got me to thinking about having lived through the invention of so much in today’s daily lives.

Reading about two young men with no technical education who learned all they needed to know to build the first machine that would go up and could be kept up led me to think about the technical times I have lived through. The brothers began with bicycles, moved on to motor cars and then spent all of their time on flight.

Railroads have been around a lot longer and were still the major passenger service through the 1950s. However, as more automobiles were sold, more paved roads were built, the need for short line passenger service by railroads declined. In 1919, General Eisenhower drove across country coast to coast to assess the ability of the military to move on the existing road system. It was a dreadful trip on both vehicles and passengers. This stayed in his mind and when he became president he supported a national highway system (which is badly in need of repair).

A major outgrowth of WWII was our system of air travel. With barely 30 years elapsed since the Wright brothers got a plane up in the air to stay, several companies were trying to build passenger planes and a market for them. With the advent of the war, several large plane manufacturing companies were built up on designing and building massive numbers of bombers and fighters. Air fields were built all over the country, thousands of men (and some women) learned to fly and do the work that kept planes in the air. In the process, railroads transported millions of men and massive amounts of equipment all over the country. By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of young people had had some contact with airplanes and were an easy sell for air travel.

So Wilbur and Orville were leaders in moving the western world into its transformative mode. There are more Wilbur and Orvilles today, but they are working on ideas in environments that are truly inaccessible to the rest of us.

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Under Water

Well, I am home from my trip and decided it was time to acquire a new laptop. Something had happened to my 4 or 5 year old one and I feared that if it could be fixed, it would cost a bundle. So, I ‘bundled’ up and arrived at the Apple Store as it opened Monday and was impressed with one laptop. I was assisted to make my purchase by one man and taken over to have it set up by another. Before he had gotten really into his task, he was muscled out by a woman who made me feel right at ease. I listened and watched for about 45 minutes, was given my equipment and sent on my way with smiles and a warm feeling.

Arriving home, I immediately got to work trying to implement my instructions. Unfortunately, I quickly realized in my fuzzy implementation that I wasn’t able to pull my instructions together (and maybe they were wrong/confused). Figuring the problem was mine, I asked one of my electronically inclined daughters to come over and straighten me out. I will skip the attempt to do so and just say that we gathered all of the related materials, including other laptops together, and made an appointment for the following afternoon.

We met our appointed technician who found several errors in the set up. In the process, he found that my smaller computer had a problem that was probably preventing its working properly, fixed it and sent us on our way. I am writing this newsletter on the fixed laptop (that I allowed to cause all this) and am waiting at home for one more person to see if he can transfer the mail connection and one other operation to the new laptop. If not, I guess it’s back to the Apple repair shop. At least I know it’s not just my stupidity (whatever good that does).

In any event, I am now going through my list of contacts and their passwords. All those times that I simply wrote changes somewhere on the sheets with the lists and then rewrote them because they did not work have finally caught up with me. Heaven only knows if I will ever get my mess straightened out-even partially!

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Escape

Well, they’ve come and gone and I’m still here. The ‘they” are first, the inauguration of President Trump, followed by the women’s gatherings all around the world. Trump’s swearing in was pretty standard with a usual speech following. That his taking over the Presidency was not widely acclaimed was shown by the empty seats on the mall. This was, of course, “created by the newspapers” which tinkered with the photographs.

Then, there was the women’s march around the world. Particularly, in the U.S., women came in large, unorganized groups to express their feelings about the outcome of the election. One of my friends walked to a metro station and saw women standing in line for blocks waiting to get downtown.

My wife and I decided we needed to escape the Washington “festivities”. We did this by taking the train to Williamsburg to wander around a colonial town that I have been visiting from time to time since the late 1940’s. The train ride down and back restored my faith in the railroad passenger system. When Claudia and I were married, I couldn’t remember which of the two lodgings in the restored area was the least expensive. So, I made reservations at the Inn, which I found, to my dismay, was the top of the line. This decision provided a wonderful honeymoon experience, but severely dented my Navy Ensign finances. This time, we stayed at the lodge which has grown since our last visit, but provided a most comfortable stay.

Unfortunately, we discovered that Colonial Williamsburg closes up each January to allow for refurbishing. Nevertheless, we had a good time and felt we were better served than had we stayed in Washington.

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