“To Boldly Go Where Liver Never Went Before.” A Fable

Liver cells have aspirations too, you know.

Once upon a time, two liver cells suddenly became self-aware. They soon found they had a lot in common — boredom with their dead-end jobs (making bile and filtering blood), contempt for liver cells from the other lobe, and a burning desire to better themselves. Their ardent conversations about how they saw the world, now that they were self-aware, awoke nearby cells, and soon they were a colony.

With breathtaking speed, they developed a culture. They posited evolution as a way of explaining how nature, over millennia of selecting the fittest, came up with, well, them — and then stopped selecting, its job complete. They invented a religion to explain why God, having all the options that He had, decided to establish communications with, well, them. And they never missed an opportunity to praise God for His good judgement. Continue reading

Technology Oncology Now At Stage Four

Like all the new updates offered constantly for all the machinery of life, it seemed at first like such a good idea: using the technology of “smart” phones to provide an instant, universal warning of impending nuclear attack. What a great idea! A lifesaver, as long as you make several unwarranted assumptions about the size and target of the nuclear strike, and ignore all the questions that arise, such as what do people actually do when they’re been warned, and if you save their lives just so they can crawl out of a shelter onto a radioactive rubble heap, what have you accomplished? Never mind. Great idea. Continue reading

How to Identify a “Shithole” Country

If you look around your country and see a lot of these, that would be one clue. But there are others.

It’s important in national and international affairs that the terms of statecraft be precisely defined. When making policy and alliances, the parties must at all times be rigorously clear about what is meant by such labels as “nuclear power,” “developing country,” and the like. Now, a new term of art just introduced by the President of the United States, “shithole country,” begs a proper definition. Let us fix that for ya. Here is how you tell whether a country qualifies for the new designation.

Exhibit One — Airports. If you have an airport, named for one of your most popular presidents, located just outside your largest city, in which earlier this month:

Then you might be living in one of those countries the President was talking about. Continue reading

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Debt. Pick One.

The flag maker got it wrong: It was supposed to say, “Don’t lend to me.” (Wikipedia Image)

In September, the national debt of the United States passed $20 trillion for the first time in history. Three months later, it  passed $20.6 trillion. That’s $600 billion in debt added in three months. The tax cuts just passed by Congress will shortly add another $1.5 trillion.

In the past two years, corporate debt in America has increased by over $568 billion (pikers — Congress did that in three months!).  And all the lines on all the graphs charting the borrowing of money are pointing at the sky.

In September, the total debt owed by American consumers approached $13 trillion. Consumer debt set a record in the third quarter of 2008 and has topped the record every quarter since. The world economy crashed and burned in 2009, but consumer debt never went down. Now, household debt is rising 60 percent faster than incomes are rising. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Continue reading

Here Be Dragons: Succumbing to Magical Thinking

A dragon used to be the worst thing we could imagine. It often still is.

Medieval maps of the world showed what was where to the limits of what was known, and having a good deal of space left on the page filled it in with drawings of great beasts. “Here be dragons,” some of them said, implying that if you went there you would be eaten. From the dragons at the edge of the world to the monsters under the bed, magical thinking has always had a strong grip on humans desperate to understand what is happening in the world and predict what will happen next.

Spoiler alert: magical thinking doesn’t help. Continue reading

If Climate Change is a Joke, Who Is It On?

The state of Louisiana is planning to abandon settlements such as this one, Leeville, as rising seas submerge the coastal plain.

While the President of the United States makes ignorant jokes about climate change — in which he does not believe — one of the United States is preparing to abandon a chunk of land the size of the state of Delaware to rising sea waters, an effect of climate change. The state of Louisiana is preparing to abandon its entire coastal plain to the sea, to forbid new building there and to buy out and move tens of thousands of people who are at risk. Any people or businesses stubborn enough to stay would be taxed heavily, and required to post a bond to pay for the eventual demolition of their property.

We must keep in mind that this is a draft plan, that will have to survive a tsunami of opposition in order to take on the force of law. We must keep in mind that governments have tried before to do the right thing, without effect. Why, even the Congress of these United States, not long ago, actually began to fix the National Flood Insurance Program so it would make sense [“Wait, What? Congress Fixed Flood Insurance?”], but that’s just a misty memory now. Continue reading

The Accidental Narcissist: A Fable

It’s one of the oldest stories of human association — a viral meme, if you will, that predates Facebook. Things are going well in the camp/village/pueblo/kingdom, and the family/clan/tribe is prospering. Before long, somebody — a priest/shaman/elder/king — takes credit for the good times. “Yes,” he/she/it says demurely, “It’s all my doing. I control the weather/game/crops, and if you want the good times to continue, you’d better keep me happy.”

It starts with a few extra sandwiches from a few dubious neighbors — “what the hell, just in case, what could it hurt” — and if the weather holds, proceeds rapidly to absolute power, virgin sacrifices, massive demonstrations of loyalty, and crushing taxes for the multitude to provide unimaginable luxury for the top guy. Continue reading

The Farm is Dead: Long Live the Farm

By almost all accounts in the industrial media, this is the best, indeed the only, way to farm. The problem is, it’s suicidal.

Two remarkable dirges for American agriculture appeared in print during this last month of 2017. They were remarkable on several counts — the quality of the writing and research; the pessimism of their tone; the places in which they appeared; the things they got right; and their shared, glaring error of omission.

The first, titled “Why Are America’s Farmers Killing Themselves in Record Numbers?” drilled down into the shocking statistics on suicides by farmers, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are more numerous than in any other occupation, double that found among military veterans, and in in 17 farming states is five times the rate among the general population. Nor is the affliction limited to America; the farmers of India are famously suicidal, and those in Australia, France and the United Kingdom are increasing their rates of self destruction. Continue reading

America: You Fogged the Mirror. Carry On.

Trust us, America, you’re going to feel a lot better soon. We’re going to elect better doctors. (Wikimedia Commons image)

Many years ago, as a young soldier (in civvies, but somehow they always knew) quaffing a few beers in a Georgia bar as far from the post as I could afford to get, I saw a young black soldier (in civvies, but I could tell) come through the door with a lovely date on his arm. She was white. Actually, blonde. I was sore afraid, and looked for a table to get under, envisioning the bar existing only as a pile of kindling when the riot was over.

As far as I could tell, not one person in the bar — remember I said it was far from the post, so it was not an all-Army crowd, but mostly locals — no one gave the couple a second glance or seemed to comment on their presence. That was in 1968, and it was then I began to rethink my easily-acquired caricature of Southerners as racist hicks. Having rethought it, and having similar Southern epiphanies many times over the years, I retained some faith in the decency of Alabamans, and became convinced they would not elevate the odious Roy Moore to the Senate of the United States. Continue reading

America, Please, Fog This Mirror

“Sir, I know you’re not feeling all that well, but we need you to get up and go back to work.” (US Defense Department photo)

Please, America, I know you are not well, but open your eyes just a little and listen to me. I know you were too weak to fend off Trumpicitis a year ago, and that it left you too weak in the aftermath to do much except marvel at your own ensuing insanity. I know your doctors have been trying some untested experimental treatments on you — the 25th Amendment, the Emoluments Clause, probiotics, that sort of thing — without any success. But dammit, sit up and listen to me, and stop mumbling “Do not resuscitate.”

You used to be “the last, best hope of earth,” for a lot of good reasons. I can remember when you still were, although you started to lose it in the 1960s. It was understandable; you lost three of history’s finest public figures to assassination in just a few years, and you became ensnared in Vietnam. But it was in the 1980s that you became really sick. That’s when the awful, metastasizing cancer of greed overwhelmed your defenses and began turning you into a pathetic shadow of your former self. Continue reading