Troubling Futures

The year is now 2022. Or for those who prefer a broader view, 12022. But regardless of what calendar you prefer, our soggy, muddy ball of rock has completed another lap around that giant mass of compressed gas we call the Sun. That being said, what does the future hold? That depends entirely on who you ask. There is a YouTube channel I like called Beau of the Fifth Column, which recently had an interesting presentation about this.

For fans of science fiction, the year 2022 has two associations. First, it is the birth year of George Jetson. The Jetsons portrayed a future world that was full of hope, luxury, and a lot of fun technology: Flying cars that could collapse into a carrying case, domestic robots, common interplanetary travel, and so forth. When the show was created in 1962, that was how the creators saw the world in 100 years. Granted the world wasn’t perfect, and some even considered it a technological dystopia. George hated his job, much of life’s drudgery continued as always (just with fancier technologies), and corporate nastiness was as rampant as ever.

But on the whole it was an optimistic view. World hunger, economic inequality, and other social problems were either resolved or were at least no worse than they are today. And some of the fancy technology we see in the Jetsons has come to pass. For example, supercomputers the size of a wristwatch aren’t far removed from our smart phones and notebook computers. But I don’t think we will have flying, transformer-esque cars, or common interplanetary transport, by 2062. And I certainly don’t think we’ll have our various social and economic problems under control by then.

The year 2022 has another association. It is the year in which the 1973 dystopian movie Soylent Green is set. In that world, unregulated capitalism has created the largest contrast between rich and poor imaginable. Only the very wealthy can afford actual food, as even the most common vegetables cost more than a month’s wages. Most people have to survive on a concoction of algae and proteins called Soylent Green, and the proteins for the mix come from human flesh. It’s a nicely packaged form of cannibalism. This was definitely not an optimistic view of the future.

Which future vision is more likely you ask? In my opinion, neither one. The Jetsons represent a vision of the future that has become laughably naive. As much as I would like to say the world has a bright future on a scale the Jetsons portrayed, I simply can’t see it happening. But I don’t foresee a Soylent Green future either. Unfortunately, what I do see is perhaps even darker.

What I see resembles a different science fiction film, Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film, Elysium. In that film, the world is in shambles. The environment is dying, pollution is out of control, overpopulation is a global problem, nearly every type of resource is scarce, and the list of social problems is too long to recite. But all of these problems are willfully ignored by the people who are able to do anything about them.

Those people, who were the wealthy and privileged, lived on a spectacular orbital habitat called Elysium. On Elysium, people generally lived comfortable, almost idyllic lives. Food was plentiful, the environment was well managed, and services like health care were plentiful and easy to obtain. The population of Elysium was around 200,000, but while the rest if humanity – which numbered in the billions – lived in poverty and squalor on decimated Earth.

And there was no serious attempt to change or even address this inequity. The totality of all human activity was focused on maintaining and improving Elysium. Education, infrastructure, public health, and almost any other issue you can think of was of secondary importance. The bare minimum of resources were used to keep the communities of Earth functional enough to fulfill their obligations to maintaining Elysium, with everything else going to the orbital habitat itself. Even food production favored Elysium, resulting in food shortages all over Earth. It’s not unlike what happened in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Many people on Earth aspired to move to Elysium, but between the draconian immigration laws, and the extreme inequity of wealth, they never got a chance. If you wanted to live on Elysium, you pretty much needed to be born there. The movie went into the details somewhat, but the gist was that if you lived anywhere other than Elysium, there really was no way to improve your life. And your wisest choice was to simply accept that and stop complaining.

At one point the main character looks into the late afternoon sky, which is usually hazy from pollution, and could see the Elysium habitat spinning in the sky. A number of people are looking wistfully at the star-shaped structure, and are miserable. Elysium was the ultimate gated community, and the people who lived there did everything they could to make sure it stayed that way. At another point someone tries to sneak aboard the habitat to get their daughter some life saving medical treatment. They were met with gunfire. If you don’t live on Elysium (i.e. are extremely wealthy), you are denied many of the necessities of life.

How is this worse than Soylent Green? In Soylent Green there was an attempt to meet the demands of growing food shortages. It was a totally disgusting solution, but it was still a solution. In Elysium no such attempt is made. Addressing the problem would require diverting resources from Elysium. It was considered better to allow millions on Earth to starve than force some of Elysium’s citizens make do with slightly less.

There is one very telling moment during the climax of the film. Jody Foster’s character was definitely one of the “bad guys.” Early in the film, when she was questioned about the living conditions on Earth, she responded with “when one of them stands up, five of us fall down.” When she is mortally wounded during the final battle, she refuses medical treatment. She preferred to die rather than live in a world where her privileged position would change.

I think her attitude is reflective of many in our current society, and why the future looks potentially bleak. The very wealthy are doing everything they can to make sure that the status quo remains exactly the way it is. The cost to society, the environment, and anything else that doesn’t lie within their “gated community,” is of little or no importance.

The movie itself showed some excellent world building, and of creating a social situation worthy of Philip K. Dick. But it doesn’t have a convincing ending. Everything is wrapped up too quickly, and in an unconvincing way. But the social situation it portrayed was disturbingly realistic and far too plausible. I’ll probably go into this more in a later post, but suffice to say that the future I foresee resembles the one portrayed in Elysium.

All I can say is that I dearly hope I’m wrong.

What do you believe?

On January 20, Joseph Biden, was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Many people heaved a collective sigh of relief, while others cried out in rage. There are still people who believe the election was “stolen” from the incumbent, Donald Trump, and there are still people who believe that Trump was an illegitimate president from the beginning. And all the while, political labels are being thrown around like grenades: Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Centrist, Libertarian, Independent. From where I’m sitting, the squabbling between the various political parties seems like a throwback to tribal style politics, where one group yells at another one until they back down in submission, or the two groups engage in open hostilities until one is standing and the other is thoroughly trounced. Up until January 6, United States politics has rarely gone to the level of violence, but if the collective mood is anything to go by, it’s going to become more common.

I must ask weather or not people from the various groups are even trying to find solutions to the nation’s problems any more. They seem more concerned with making sure their side has all of the cookies in the jar. What’s worse, it seems to all be about labels. If you’re a Democrat, the Republicans hate you are are determined to destroy you. If you’re a Conservative, Liberals have labeled you as a monster that needs to be purged from the collective conscience, and so on.

Does anyone look beyond the party labels any more? If they don’t, they should. I recently read a very interesting article by a woman named Lori Gallagher Witt called “I am a Liberal.”[1] I found this article very thought provoking, and not because of her political views. My own politics tend to lean Liberal, but like Witt I don’t always fit the classic mold. I liked was how she took various key issues and described her views on them, while actively avoiding references to one political philosophy or another. It’s at the end, when you’ve seen the totality of her views, and her overall values, that she says she’s liberal. It’s not because of one issue, or one set of events, or one particular person. It’s a summation of different views on different topics.

Given how politically divided the United States has become, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to try writing an essay like this. If we all sat down and actually thought about what we believe, and not what some political spokesman says we should believe, then we would all be in a better position to make decisions. We would also be better able to call out some of the less savory members of the government.

I tried to take the structure of Witt’s essay and come up with a series of questions that we should all ask ourselves. Notice that I specified the structure of her essay. You don’t have to agree with her politics, or belong to one school of thought or another. And you don’t have to broadcast the results all over the world the way she did (and how I plan to do). These are just the things that I believe every US citizen should have some sort of answer for. If for no other reason than to have a concrete answer when these questions arise. (And surprisingly, they often do!)

That being said, the structure of Witt’s article went something like this:

  1. What is the purpose of the government? Some say it’s to help look after members of society, while others say it’s only purpose is maintaining law and order. What do you think?
  2. Is health care a right, or a privilege? Think carefully on this one, because it’s a hotbed.
  3. Is education a right or a privilege?
  4. What is your opinion of taxes? No one likes them, some consider them a necessary evil, others consider them just part of life, and others oppose them with ever fiber of their being. Where do you fall, and more importantly, why?
  5. Do you believe that every person should have a living wage? Or are their some jobs out there that simply don’t warrant a living wage?
  6. Do you believe in the separation of church and state? This one has become surprisingly blurred in recent years, as politicians keep trying to legislate their religious beliefs into law. Spooky stuff.
  7. Do you believe that everyone should have the same core rights, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation?
  8. How much control should the government have over day to day life? Most people dislike regulations and laws, but human behavior has so much nasty stuff in it that such things are necessary.

The essay goes into other specific issues, like sustainable energy and gun control. Those would be worth looking into as well. I can also think of some other issues that deserve discussion. But let’s just start with these. You may discover your views aren’t quite what you expected, and that your traditional opponents may not be as crazy as you thought. Sometimes liberals and conservatives what to achieve the same things. The difference lies in how they go about achieving them. I’ve found that when people actually share what they believe, instead of what their political party says to believe, they often have more in common than they originally thought. And once we can agree on goals, then we can discuss how to get there.

So I ask you, wonderful readers: what do you believe?

  1. The article has been floating around the Internet for almost two years, and for a while it was wrongly attributed to film maker Ron Howard. I suspect that at some point Howard forwarded Witt’s article to a major media outlet, and the pedigree became confused. That sort of thing is actually rather common on the Internet.

Image credit: Roosevelt Review.

Un-united states?

I am still flabbergasted. On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, something happened that until that day was generally considered unthinkable: a mob attempted to overthrow the government of the United States. OK, that’s not totally accurate. Technically a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with the aim of preventing the two houses of Congress from tallying and certifying the Electoral College voting results of the November 2020 presidential election. Had this coup d’etat succeeded as planned, it would have prevented the duly elected presidential candidate from taking office on January 21.

I suspect most people know the chain of events leading up to this disaster. But for those who are not, I would summarize it as follows.

The Presidential election of November 2020 was numerically won by the challenger, Democratic candidate and former Vice President from Delaware, Joe Biden. The incumbent was New York Republican businessman, Donald Trump. Trump had been a highly controversial president since his first day in office. Many of his political opponents have been fighting him at every turn for four years, with varying degrees of success. Many of his actions have been heavily criticized, and most of his actions as President have been overshadowed by his personal behavior. But even so, Trump has always been an interesting public figure, and he has always had an uncanny knack of generating populist support from a variety of demographics.

When he lost the election in November, he refused to accept the results. In the months leading up to the election he had been expressing concerns of voter fraud, vote tampering, and illegal manipulation of tallying equipment. When the numbers were not in his favor, he cited these issues as his reasons for rejecting the results. He and his staff mounted numerous lawsuits to have votes either rejected or recounted.

However, because of the heightened concern over voting accuracy and security, many of the states had implemented many safeguards during the election. These safeguards varied from state to state, but the overall goal was to insure that each vote was correctly and accurately counted, and that the process was well documented and recorded. So unfortunately for Trump, his lawsuits were generally thrown out by the legal system, because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed.[1]

But even when the courts threw out his suits, he still refused to accept the election results. He frequently claimed it was “stolen” from him, and that there was no way we could have lost. A large part of his support base believed this as well, and held protests all around the nation. Some of these protests got rather dicey. Generally the demand was that the standing results be thrown out, recounted, or that a new election take place.

The process of electing a United States president runs from November 4 to January 6. For most of the elections I can remember, the steps that take place after the general vote are usually ignored by the general population, and viewed as simple formalities by elected officials. But this time it was different. Trump and his supporters tried to reverse the results whenever and wherever they could. So while most of the country assumed that Joe Biden would take office on January 20, there was a sizable faction that was determined to stop that from happening.

Trump himself had been pressuring some state governors to change their designated electors, with the aim of tipping the final vote on January 6. This was very evident with Georgia, where regardless of the numbers, Trump seemed absolutely certain that he had won the state, based on the size of the campaign rallies he had there. On January 3, just three days before the essential joint session of Congress, Trump spent almost an hour on the telephone with Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. Trump urged, begged, and even threatened Raffensperger, demanding a recount that would win Trump the state. Raffensperger flatly told President Trump that his assumptions about the voting in Georgia were wrong, that he did not have sufficient votes to win the state, and that the voting tally would stand. This was just a taste of what was to come.

Congress assembled for their joint session on January 6, with the certified electoral vote ballots in their handsome wooden boxes, to officially certify the results of the election. This is when things went haywire.

Before I continue I need to point out that the news sources I generally use are Reuters and Axios, sometimes USA Today, and occasionally the Washington Post. The AllSides media bias chart puts the first three into the “centrist” category. That is, they generally don’t lean Liberal or Conservative in their reporting.[2] The news is depressing enough as it is. I don’t need to make it worse by slogging through whatever political slant the news source may have.

Back on topic, the growing drama of the presidential election came to an explosive head on January 6, and went something like this:

10:02am, January 6: Vice President Mike Pence informs President Trump that he does not have the authority to reject the electoral vote, which Trump had been pressuring him to do. The president criticized Pence for doing this, saying on Twitter:

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Trump’s supporters echoed this sentiment.

11:00am: Trump addressed a group of several thousand of his supporters who had gathered outside of the White House, saying that Republican law makers were challenging the election results and that they would “stop the steal.”

1:10pm: Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, objected to the acceptance of his state’s certified Electoral College votes, prompting a debate. This was expected to be the first of several such objections from Republicans in Congress.

1:47pm: The large group of pro-Trump protesters had reached the Capitol building and were attempting to gain entrance. Capitol Police had begun to evacuate some of the surrounding congressional office buildings.

2:00pm: Protesters gained entry to the Capitol building, having broken some glass and barricades in the process. Officers were seen firing pepper spray into the group in an attempt to quell or disburse it.

2:20pm: Both chambers of Congress abruptly recessed as the protesters began traveling about the building. Most members of Congress remained within the Capitol, following established shelter in place procedures.

2:40pm: Pro-Trump protesters were filmed fighting with Capitol police officers, many of whom had guns drawn.

2:50pm: Pro-Trump protesters were still fighting with police, while breaking windows and other objects. The members of Congress, still following shelter in place guidelines, donned gas masks as pepper spray began to be used within the building.

3:00pm: Protesters break into the offices of many lawmakers, including the office of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

3:30pm: Reports surface of one protester having been shot by Capitol police. Trump, again via Twitter, urged the mob to disperse and “go home,” while also calling them “very special.”

3:36pm: The White House Press Secretary announced that the D.C. National Guard was en route, and that other law enforcement agencies were coming to assist as well.

4:00pm: Reports surface of an explosive device found near the Capitol. It was also reported that the device was no longer a threat.

4:10pm: Joe Biden, in a televised statement, urged the protesters to stop, stating that destroying government property and threatening the safety of elected officials is not a protest but an insurrection. He also urged them to step back and “allow the work of democracy to move forward.”

4:25pm: D.C. Police report finding at least five weapons, and confirmed 13 arrests.

5:00pm: Trump’s social media video from earlier in the day is removed. Facebook claimed that under the circumstances it was likely to generate additional violence.

5:15pm: Police used tear gas and percussion grenades to disperse the protesters.

5:30pm: District officials announce that the Capitol building was again secure, and that the mob of protesters was dispersing.

6:00pm: Many protesters remained on the streets of Washington, in defiance of an earlier announced curfew. Meanwhile, Trump posted on Twitter that events like this happen when a “sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” He ended with “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

6:10pm: Officials confirm that one person had died during the storming of the building, but did not provide details.

6:30pm: Twitter suspends Trump’s account, claiming that his statement from thirty minutes earlier was a violation of its public interest policies. Trump was also warned that further violations could result in the permanent closure of his account.

6:55pm: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Congress would resume proceedings of the Electoral College certification once the building was declared clear and safe by law enforcement officials.

7:59pm: Seventeen members of Congress urge Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, in response to Trump’s actions during the riot.

8:00pm: Congress resumes proceedings.

8:10pm: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces that Congress “will not be deterred” in performing the confirmation, and that it would not be intimidated by “thugs, mobs, or threats.”

8:40pm: Some Republican lawmakers, who had planned to object to the voting results, reconsider their decision.

9:55pm: Republican Senator Josh Hawley made statements saying that we would still object to the Electoral College results, and while he objected to the violence insisted that the Senate should continue with a legal process to address his objections.

10:00pm: Officials confirmed 30 arrests.

10:15pm: The Senate voted against the Republican challenge to Arizona’s Electoral votes, 93 to 6.

11:00pm: The Associated Press confirmed four deaths during the violence in the Capitol. Both police and protesters are reported to have used pepper spray during the exchange.

3:40am, January 7: Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Those are the raw facts I have found. This particular time line draws from a Washington Post article, but other sources concur with it. Subsequent news reports said that Pence, Pelosi and McConnell had all been moved to undisclosed locations during the crisis. This is certainly a good thing because it has also been suggested that members of the mob were searching for them. I suspect that had they found Pence or Pelosi, the Vice President and the Speaker would have been murdered. I’m not sure about McConnell, but I don’t think he would have had a good experience either.

Worst of all, this violence had been encouraged by none other than President Donald Trump himself. There is now talk of a second impeachment, or removing him from office using the 25th amendment. This is a mess no matter how you view it. Sadly, even after Trump leaves office, the attitudes he catered to will still be with us. Including the belief that the election had been stolen.

There are all kinds of theories floating around now. Did the mob intend to kill some of our nation’s lawmakers? I suspect they would have, if given the chance. One protester seemed to think that if they killed enough Democrats, the remaining Republicans would be enough to grant Trump a second term. Apparently many Americans have no problem with killing representatives of an opposing political party.

Some commentators have also suggested that has these protesters been largely African-American or Spanish, the Police would not have hesitated to use deadly force, and would have done so very early. This crowd has handled the way it was because it was largely White.[3]

At this writing, Donald Trump has been permanently banned from most social media platforms. The consensus is that he is likely to use them to inspire more violence, and his historical pattern supports that. He seems to thrive on conflict, especially when the conflict is about him. His narcissistic need for constant adoration thrives on such behavior.

At any rate, I don’t really know how to finish this piece, other than by posing some general questions. Could something like this happen again? Have we learned anything about ourselves? What do we have to change?

Most importantly, where do we go from here?

  1. Some instances of voter fraud were found, but the numbers were very small, and in no case required a recount. This actually happens with most elections in the United States, especially when older tallying methods are used. Such as hand counting paper ballots.
  2. The Washington Post often does have a noticeable liberal slant, so I use it with caution and generally only view if for headline briefs and regional stories.
  3. A better term might be European-American.

Image credit:


Chen, Shawna. “National Guard, state and federal police deployed as mob breaches U.S. Capitol.” Axios, January 6, 2021. Hyperlink.

Gardner, Amy. “I just want to find 11,780 votes: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor.” Washington Post, January 3, 2021. Hyperlink.

Petras, George, Janet Loehrke, Ramon Padilla, Javier Zarracina and Jennifer Borresen. “Timeline: How a Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, forcing Washington into lockdown,” USA Today, January 8, 2021.Hyperlink.

“U.S. Capitol put on lockdown as pro-Trump demonstrators storm the Capitol.” Reuters, January 6, 2021. Hyperlink.

Weaver, Stephanie. “Timeline of the pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol: How the chaos unfolded.” FOX TV Digital, January 8, 2021. Hyperlink.



Sick of it

It’s official. I am sick and tired of guns.

I’ve talked about the Second Amendment before. It has been taken out of context for a very long time, the prevailing legal interpretation of it needs to be re-evaluated, and the bylaws related to it need to be updated. However, the social and political climate of this country is such that such changes aren’t likely to happen. (Well, at least it was unlikely until the past week or so.) I have had my fill of news stories describing mass shootings in various places around the country, and the apparent unwillingness of the government to really do anything about it.

In an earlier essay I described what I called the “price of freedom” for gun ownership. The second amendment clearly states that citizens have the right to carry weapons for self protection. Fine and good, says I. But that right comes with a price. If a nation is going to allow easy access to guns, and place few if any restrictions on the types of guns that can be acquired, then that nation is going to have problems related to gun owners. In the case of the United States, those problems have recently included people going on a rampage and killing people at random. The most recent of those victims were school children.

It’s a very simple equation, as far as I am concerned. Loose gun laws will bring about random acts of mass violence. That is the “price of freedom” related to gun ownership. I was intrigued to discover that I am not the only person who sees it this way. In fact, one of those people is political commentator Bill O’Riley. After the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas last fall, he wrote about it on his blog, and it was in turn carried elsewhere. He also makes valid points about how polarizing the issue of gun control is, and that any real progress is unlikely as a result. He also seems to be of the belief that the rights guaranteed by the second amendment are so important as to be almost sacred, and that we need to simply accept mass shootings as part of everyday life. A lot of people, especially the NRA and their supporters, seem to believe that.

I, for one, do not. I can see the logic behind the argument, but I do not accept it. For starters, I can’t accept the “reasons” for gun ownership that are championed by the NRA and its supporters. Most of those arguments boil down to fear of the government. Granted, this was a legitimate concern for the founders of this country, because the European powers were eying the young United States the same way vultures eye a sick animal. Today, fear of a foreign invasion has diminished, but fear of an oppressive government is alive and well. Conservatives seem to think that the only form of oppressive government is a Liberal one, while Liberals fear a Conservative one. (Currently, given the historical pattern that President Trump is following, I think the Liberals are justified. But that’s another issue.) Personally, I believe that if the government is turning oppressive, it’s because we as a nation haven’t been using the tools we have to keep it under control. If you don’t like the direction a government is going, then vote for different leaders. And if they don’t improve the situation, then vote for a different group. And keep voting until we have a bunch of leaders who can “do it right.” If things get to the point where the government starts sending agents to people’s homes to confiscate their guns (or anything else), then it’s too late. Ownership of a gun, even a powerful one like a Colt AR-15, will only hold them off for a short time.

I could ramble on about the NRA, especially now that many people are labeling it a terrorist organization. But I don’t want to go down a road that others have already paved. I don’t have that kind of stamina tonight. I’ll let others make this point:

Over the past two weeks several corporations have started severing ties with the NRA, because they have become so controversial. Some of these corporations, including Delta Airlines, are facing legal retaliation by Conservative lawmakers, who see this as a violation of the free market. I must be missing something here, because that sounds more like pettiness than concern for the market.

Whenever there is a mass shooting, or some other gun-related tragedy, we hear all kinds of people offering up their “thoughts and prayers.” A lot of people are enraged over this, and are claiming that thoughts and prayers aren’t helping. I don’t entirely agree with that, because prayer can be a very powerful force. But, it works best in conjunction with other methods, and it can be an effective way to galvanize people. So don’t write it off entirely.

In the case of gun control, and speaking only for myself, I have given the issue a lot of thought, and I’ve even prayed about it. My thought process has concluded that we need tighter gun laws, and that doing so will answer a large number of prayers.

So there.

I’ll end this disjointed rant by mentioning the school protests that are taking place around the country. Many of them are school children, not unlike the ones who were caught in the massacre in Parkland, Florida. They are making it clear to lawmakers that they do not feel safe, and that they demand changes. This has been a dividing issue in the United States for several years, but thus far the lawmakers have lacked the will to do anything about it. I suspect there is more demand for tighter gun control than the gun proponents realize. This “student uprising” is a good indicator of that. These same school children will be of voting age within a decade. I strongly suspect that we start seeing stronger gun laws by that time, if not sooner.

To close this out, here are two other interesting takes on this sordid topic.

Perhaps the price of freedom, at least this particular freedom, has gotten too high.