Wednesday, December 27, 2017

State of the me: 2017-2018

Well, I'm not out of the woods yet, but I've found the path. I guess that's my theme for this past year.

You may recall that this time last year was a pretty low point. Unfortunately, the big, overarching problems seem as intractable as ever. We're heading into a climate catastrophe, and -- while some are trying -- humankind is really not on track to solve this problem in time. Probably not ever. The thing is that you just can't convince people to just stop consuming the resources until they're all gone -- whether it's burning fossil fuels, eating meat, eating the last fish, or burning the last forest for farmland. I've thought about this problem from every angle, and I conclude that it's just simply not possible to convince everyone to do the selfless thing. Too often it's a question of asking people to sacrifice their own livelihood for abstract goals.

We can try, of course. The fact that I've taken a job in the rolling-back-climate-change industry is a sign, I guess, that I haven't given up hope. But people don't realize how quickly things can and will go from "our problems are more-or-less tractable..." to a runaway temperature feedback loop that we have no hope of managing. The possibility that we will succeed in creating a sustainable human society is an incredible long-shot. It's more realistic to see our future as a question of "do we have fifty years or do we have five...?" I hope that 50 years from now other people will be saying "I told you so" to me on this one...

The recovery of US democracy would help -- and there have been some positive developments -- but it's far from clear that the arc of history will bend toward justice. The fact that the Internet has basically killed the journalism industry (especially local journalism) is a major problem that people don't have the faintest clue how to solve.

So where's my path out of the woods? Well, I guess it's more personal than political. Specifically, I started 2017 looking for a job, then I found one and spent the whole year working like a maniac in order to get to the position where I'm in charge of the IT department. And now, starting in January 2018, my path is finally clear to begin fixing the problems. It won't be easy, but I think/hope I am up to the task.

I also finally finished part 1 of my comic book at the end of the Summer 2017:
I really hope that in 2018 I'll have time to finish part 3 and to begin real dealings with a publisher -- plus I hope to have time to work on other projects like Mormon Alumni Association Books. And maybe I'll even have time to do some fun projects with my kids.

So, yeah, 2017 has meant some progress, but the situation is still uncertain and precarious. I have a steep climb ahead of me in 2018, but I hope that by the end of the coming year, I'll be in a more solid position with respect to all of my goals.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A New Hope...

Mitt Romney released a statement yesterday calling out Donald Trump by name and forcefully denouncing his shameful response to recent Nazi events in the US. Romney's position is correct and his statement hit all the right notes.

Was it politically expedient for Romney to release such a statement? Possibly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Strategic skills are important in a leader.

The problem with Trump goes far beyond the question of ideology. I disagree with Romney's ideology. I'm bringing up Romney to illustrate that -- ideology aside -- there's a big difference between someone who is qualified to be president and someone who, fundamentally, is not.

The endless stream of verbal diarrhea spewing out of Trump's mouth and Twitter feed is, unfortunately, one of his selling points in the eyes of some (very stupid) voters. Because he speaks his mind; he doesn't play games like a politician. But those supposedly positive qualities are just symptoms of Trump's underlying problem:

He's an idiot.

Trump does not have the faintest clue how the government works, and he is, frankly, too stupid to learn it. His skill level is not in the same universe with competence.

Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush unfortunately convinced the American people that it's not important for the president to be a smart person; that as long as he shares your ideology, it's OK for him to be a drooling moron -- because he can always delegate all that "knowing stuff" and "running the country" to underlings. This is a deadly belief because it has led the country to elect a man who is a full order of magnitude stupider than either Reagan or GWB (astonishing as that is).

At least Reagan and GWB recognized the need to delegate tasks to more competent people. Trump is so dumb that he believes his own bullshit. He sincerely, Dunning-Krugerly believes that he is a smart, savvy guy.

And now we are seeing the entirely predictable consequences of this deadly mistake. Hostile authoritarian regimes easily manipulate Trump with flattery. Crucial allies are at a loss as to how (and whether) to continue working with the US. Homegrown violent extremists receive encouragement from the highest level of government. Decades of delicate diplomacy over nuclear arms have been undone -- we're now one tantrum away from seeing millions of innocent people get killed by a nuclear bomb. In the space of a few months we've gone from relative stability (for those in the global North, at least...) to the most dangerously precarious situation we've seen in half a century.

Fortunately, the quality that makes Trump so dangerous may be his undoing.

Serious political commentators are finally starting to predict that Trump will be removed from office soon. Up until last week, it was still reasonable to dismiss that idea as wishful thinking, but the whole Nazi straw finally broke the camel's back. It's not just the that the statements themselves were so much more horrible than all of the other shit he's done -- it's also the weight of the accumulation, plus the fact that he has alienated essentially all of his allies.

The critical point is that the Republicans in Congress are finally starting to turn on him. Trump doesn't seem to understand that those Republicans in the House and Senate are currently the only people standing between him and jail. And he is just too. damn. stupid. to do a bare minimum of maintenance on those alliances that are so critical to his survival. Instead he has repeatedly demonstrated that teaming up with him is the fast track to finding yourself under a bus.

The thing is that -- regardless of what Muller's investigation turns up -- the things Trump has already done out in the open are sufficient to convict him. He is openly profiting from foreign governments through his hotels and other businesses, and he has admitted to firing James Comey for the express purpose of stopping an investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia. Muller's investigation will almost certainly turn up extensive money laundering and other crimes, but it's kind of the icing on the cake. The Republicans in Congress have more than enough evidence already to put him in jail -- the minute they decide it's in their interest to do so.

A Facebook friend recently made the astonishing claim that people have been trying to link Trump to Russia for nine months and have yet to turn up any "real evidence." In reality, the fact that Trump isn't standing before a court of law (yet) has nothing to do with lack of evidence. You've heard the expression "possession is nine-tenths of ownership"...? Well, we need a similar expression for the law. Nine-tenths of it is what those in power choose to enforce.

The Constitution of the USA does not automatically enforce itself. It is not going to magically come to life, jump out of its display-case, and snatch those foreign emoluments out of Donald Trump's thieving hands. People have to enforce it. And if Trump leaves office without facing justice for his crimes, then the United States of America will have a new precedent: the USA will simply become a country where the president is allowed to openly abuse his office to line his own pockets. This is why it is so critical for Trump to be impeached rather than simply voted out of office at the end of his term. The USA needs to establish a clear legal precedent regarding this type of corruption.

As an example of what I mean, consider the USA's current informal precedent with respect to torture. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are known to have had a hand in it. Torture, BTW, is a war crime, and they still need to stand trial for it. But instead of pursuing justice, Obama chose to merely issue an executive order that his administration would not torture people.

The problem with that choice is that Obama transformed torture from a crime to a choice that a president is at liberty to make. Thanks to that precedent, Republican candidates (including Romney) have promised to bring torture back. Naturally Bush/Cheney's choice to torture is worlds worse that Obama's choice to look the other way, but Obama's choice was nonetheless unacceptable. Torture is not an issue where it is OK to be the "compromise guy."

My hope for the United States is that Trump's flame-out will be so spectacular that the mainstream of US society will finally insist on fixing that legion of grotesque problems with the current American electoral system: gerrymandering, Citizens United (and all other legalized bribery), voter suppression, the Electoral College, electronic voting machines, unequal representation among the states and territories, etc., etc.

The only thing that could possibly redeem this monstrous nightmare reality show we've been living since January would be if the country learns something from it. And I mean really learns something.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Last Fish

Why shouldn't I be the one
to eat the last fish?

Do you think
that all these people
will all let it be...?
Let it swim away and restore the sea?

No, that will never be.
Someone will catch it
and kill it
and eat it.
It might as well be me.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

"A second homeland..."

Well, at least Trump has succeed in uniting people. Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

He has succeeded in energizing people; in convincing people that they can't just sit around assume everything will turn out OK. He has totally discredited the (popular but wrong and dangerous) belief that rich businessmen must be competent and intelligent and deserve their wealth and power.

I hope it will be enough....

I agree with the author of this Mary Sue article that it was totally inappropriate and horrible of Susan Sarandon (and others like her) to encourage people to allow Trump to win because that would energize people and "bring on the revolution" faster. That is a deadly gamble, and one that someone of her level of privilege has no business making -- considering that she's betting other people's lives, not her own. If Trump's incompetence leads to nuclear war and/or if our inaction leads to climate change becoming irreversible, it's today's kids who will be paying for that with their lives. Anyone who has led a long, full life and then went ahead and bet our kids' future on Trump should be deeply ashamed.

But since we're stuck in this mess, let's hope this new-found unity and purpose will be enough to get us out.

France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, just got a softball opportunity lobbed at him for his first big photo-op as president: the meeting with the G7 leaders, including Trump. Your mission is to meet with Trump and look good by contrast -- kinda hard to mess that one up. But he took that softball and hit it out of the park!

First Macron beat Trump at Trump's own stupid handshake game. Then he took a walk in a lovely flower garden with Trudeau, whom everybody loves -- prompting even some serious news outlets to cover the question of who's handsomer. Then he wrapped up by giving a forceful speech about how the Paris accords will go forward -- and not be watered down -- including this awesome special bit directed to the American people, in which he brazenly poaches America's smart people for France:

Apparently Macron figured out that nobody but nobody hates Trump like America's smart people hate him. 

It made especially good optics considering that many of Macron's political rivals were pushing to exit the EU. But the recent rottenness of the US and the UK makes Germany look like the most awesome best friend ever! (Points to Merkel for her courageous statement that Europe can't count on those guys anymore.)

So President Macron is off to a good start with people like me -- people who didn't know much about him, and only voted for him because he was the "not Le Pen" candidate. Yes, it was my first vote as a citizen of France, and now I'm feeling pretty good about it! (Though I assume he'll do something to piss me off soon enough, like Trudeau with those oil pipelines -- grrrr!)

I especially loved this part of Macron's address:
To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the President of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland. I call on them, 'Come, and work here, with us, to work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you, France will not give up the fight.'
This part is personal to me because I left the US to settle in Europe and become a French citizen (though I am currently living in Switzerland, an adjacent, also awesome country). I also recently quit my job in educational software and took a new job in climate-change software -- specifically, I'm working with scientists and fellow engineers on software to compute the carbon footprints of different meals (for restaurants). 

Sure, I don't need to have the President of France give a speech welcoming me and affirming my personal life decisions, but, hey, it doesn't hurt! :D

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Last two puppet shows of 1990!!

Here are the last two in the series, "Three Silly People Save the Kingdom: And the one we made about us and our blue-and-pink castle-shaped puppet theater! This was probably the funnest summer job I've ever had. It's unfortunate that I didn't make videos of the shows from the other two years I did this...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

State of the me 2016-2017

Since 2011, I've been writing these yearly posts about where I'm at with my life and my goals. This year I've got a lot going on in my personal life -- in particular, I didn't quite finish part 1 of my comic as planned (there's still the difficult stretch from page 5.5 to page 9 remaining), but I got quite a lot done, and it looks good. But, unfortunately, my personal life has to take a backseat to the tragic state of the world that has arisen this past year.

Specifically, critical amounts of Arctic ice have melted, which means that the feedback loops for catastrophic runaway global warming have begun. The amount of methane frozen in the Arctic absolutely dwarfs the amount in the atmosphere right now. We are dangerously close to having an atmosphere that the ecosystems we rely on can't survive in (and from there, potentially an atmosphere that is too hot for humans to live in at all, even if they had something to eat, which they won't). We are very likely facing extinction within the next twenty years.

The one thing that could potentially halt this deadly course would be if the industrialised world were to recognise this for the international emergency that it is and drop everything to stop it. Unfortunately, the United States has just elected a facist monster who is reigniting the nuclear arms race by conducting foreign policy by posting nuclear threats on Twitter (not to mention defunding NASA's climate research and looking to increase fossil fuel extraction). As the increasing climate catastrophe causes more situations like Syria worldwide, it would take a genius of diplomacy to maintain any kind of global peace. As it is, we will likely be heading into WWIII at this critical moment, and then it's probably curtains for us.

Interestingly, when I mention this situation to friends, I've gotten reactions like, "Back in the 80's, people said acid rain would be a big problem," or "People said we'd run out of fresh water..." But none of these past scares are things that even had the potential to kill everyone. This one can, and if we don't stop it, it will. It's happening -- the global temperature rise is already off the charts.

Naturally, this leads me to a bit of an existential crisis. All my life, I had just assumed the human race would continue long past the end of my expected lifespan, and that I (and my husband and children) would all likely live to old age. Now it's looking possible, but decidedly unlikely.

Is life worth living if we have maybe only another ten years or so of things being more-or-less normal, and then another ten or so of war/starvation/terror, and then death? And not just for me, but for everyone and everything I have ever cared about? As a humanist, I would generally say that my life has meaning due to the positive impact I can have on others' lives and on society, but... it's kind of not the same if all others and society will all be dead too. Now as I look at all of the wonderful things I love about humanity and about life, I feel like I'm saying goodbye.

More than anything I hope we can solve these looming disasters. My deepest wish is that I'll be rereading these words in 2040 or 2050, looking back on how we made it through the critical moment and created a more sustainable society. Alternatively, it would be great if I were simply wrong and delusional -- I'd rather spend the rest of my days locked up in a mental hospital with my drawing tablet than have the situation be as dire as it appears to be.

I'm planning to write another few posts in the coming month or so, to discuss what we're up against, and what we have going for us that may allow us to survive this. I'm not going to sit back and wait for this to happen. We'll succeed in rolling back climate change or die trying...

Happy New Year. :'(