Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Rise of the Robber Barons

When I talk about Florida, having lived there for a few years, I typically refer to it as a 3rd World Country. Florida lost it’s 1st world status a while back--if it ever had it.  For me, Florida fell into 3rd world status right about the time the “hanging chad” entered our vernacular.  Oh it’s fine to vacation in Florida, but don’t travel too far outside one of the major cities or resort areas.  Make no mistake, it’s 3rd world. Yes, I have many friends and family in Florida, so hope they will forgive me.  Please know that this is nothing personal and if you don’t agree with me, that’s fine.  I’m just basing my opinion on my three years of observation, not a lifetime of living there.  Many people love Florida. And in the end I’m just using Florida as a metaphor. Hopefully the rest of the country will understand.

I always think that Florida residents will eventually lift themselves up and out of their 3rd world status...but then something happens to make the news and the entire world watches as Qurans are burnt, vigilantes shoot neighbors,  alligators the size of small dinosaurs march the street, and of course terrorists are trained at local airports.  I realize that the Floridians who live there may actually like it that way.  It’s exhilarating to live in the wild wild west.  It’s exciting to never know if you are actually involved with organized and trained law enforcement or just part time, small town militant thugs hired to keep the peace.    It possible that more than a few American’s, perhaps just over half, may actually want live on that brave frontier.  Hey, let’s abandon law and order, holster a revolver and head into town.  Not all of us, however, have that cowboy spirit.  Many of us simply want to live in peace, stay healthy, raise our kids, tend to our hobbies, and have a beer on the weekend. Politics never enters that equation.  Sure, I’m joking, but not by much.  I’d like to shrug off my problems with Florida with a laugh, but it’s a rather nervous laugh.   And again, at the risk of being accused of hate speak, I’m not writing this post is simply rag on Florida.  I’m writing it to sound a  warning to the rest of the country.  If we behave like we are a 3rd world country we will become a 3rd world country. It’s a self fulfilling prophesy. Ironically, one of the current heros of conservative thought,  Rudolph Giuliani,  learned this rule in New York City of all places. And he did something about it.  If you let your citizens break windows and write on subway cars they will break more windows and write on even more subway cars.  If you keep your house clean and in good repair, people who come to visit your house will keep it clean and in good repair.  If you disrespect your own house, everyone will disrespect your house when they come for a visit.  There are many more analogies in this lesson and perhaps I will list them later...but the real story awaits...

For the longest time, we have been, or the United States has been,  heralded as the fabled city upon a hill.  We should be proud of what the entire world thinks of us.  Not arrogant, but proud. It’s different.  Regardless, the vision of what we represent (life, liberty) and the opportunities (a chicken in every pot) have long been the attraction of the US, the land of milk and honey.  Perhaps we no longer present as much liberty, as say in Europe, or as much opportunity, employment (it’s now technology vs industry) as a country, but we still are held in very high regard.  We are still great, to suggest we are not great, is an opinion I find hard to understand.  But, friends, we’ve been fooling ourselves into believing that we will continue to be that fabled city.  In fact, if we follow the script, the current recipe, for making America great [again], we will do just the opposite.  We will no longer be the city upon the hill. We will become Florida.  Countries like France will invite our best and brightest to come live with them (that just happened).  And sadly, of course,  in about 50 years, Florida will be underwater.  That’s still a metaphor.   And remember, not everyone in Florida will be underwater. Those who can afford it will simply  lose their investment and live elsewhere.  A few resort cities will build huge walls and become resort islands. The rest of the Floridians will become refugees or will be sorted out of the gene pool.  Can you say Great Flood?  These poor souls will only be remembered as sinners and referenced only in some parable about God some 20,000 years from now.  Meanwhile, the true sinners, locked behind the walls of water and debauchery that is Palm Beach, will live on.

For the longest time most of us in the United States has seen only 1st world problems.  Many of the problems that plague the 3rd world, are now right on our doorstep.  Corruption. Pollution. Failing infrastructure. Divided classes.  The list goes on.  Again, we need only look to Florida to find representation of what this grand social experiment of making us great again will look like in the future.  In Florida, the haves will still have.  Everyone in Palm Beach will continue to have their vacation home cleaned, their pools vacuumed weekly, their lawn mowed, and their trash removed.  They will have access to clean water, abundant power, and a guard at their front gate.  The have nots, will have much less. I hope the have-nots are listening because it’s the haves that are now running our country and they want even more. They are a new breed of Robber Baron and they will want an even bigger share of our American pie.  Perhaps you haven’t taken a trip to Palm Beach and driven through one of their exclusive neighborhoods...oh wait, unless you are one of the have-nots that work for less than minimum wage on the inside you are not getting through gate because another have-not is standing guard, at less than minimum wage.  

That brings us to the wall.  The current haves seem to want all of us to live inside that gated community.  A country that is gated.  Except the gate is an illusion.  Don’t think for a second you are actually going to live inside a real gated community, or will even want to.  Right?  You live in Florida, it’s paradise, right?  No, it’s paradise if you live in Palm Beach.  The rest of Florida is a hot, sweaty, sandy place, with bugs, and alligators.  There are also sinkholes, hurricanes, and far more snakes than cows...and there are a lot of cows in Florida, just under 2 million.  To live in Florida is to pretend you are a part of the dream. And perhaps twenty or thirty years ago, you were a part of that dream.  But the rising tide didn’t lift all boats. The rising tide only advanced the rich.  Slowly but surely, your piece of Florida was eroded.  And that’s not a metaphor.  Most of the beaches are rebuilt, year after year.  Beaches attract the money.  Meanwhile,  the haves continue to take and the have-nots continue to be took.  And the sand is pumped back every year.  Floridians are waiting, hoping, and praying, for the tide to rise and lift them too all.  That water is still rising friends.  But it’s not lifting you up.

We own this country.  We the people.  We own the park land.  We own the infrastructure.  We own the education system. And we own a lot more...but that’s true only if we own the government.  We no longer own the government.  That wall that the government wants to build across our border, or the executive order to keep immigrants out, is not just a wall to keep "them" out.  It's a wall to keep you out.  That wall stems the coming tide of immigrants that will continue to keep our country democratic. Diversity built this country...literally, not figuratively.  Talk to any ethic group about their role in the American story and you will gain an understanding of how diversity built this country. The wall, on the other hand,is a last ditch attempt at the most sinister gerrymandering one group in power will ever dream up.  And it’s not the republican party, by the way.  It’s the party of the rich. The party of the have’s.  It’s the party of rich white men.  It’s a party I aspire to be in, it’s the American dream, except I would never do so on the backs of the less fortunate.  And I’ll caveat that by saying it’s the party of the unselfish rich white men that I aspire to.  Not the ones who have just taken over. 

Although their interests are similar, the unselfish haves would rather see the individuals they exploit living healthy and above the poverty line rather than, sick, impoverished, and used up. There will always be more cheap labor to exploit, why put one extra cent into a labor force than you have to? This is the struggle.  Back to the robber barons from history class.  They still exist and they will always refuse to show you their their tax return.  Of course they will want to see your tax return to know exactly how much they can take from you and ensure can’t make any significant gains on them. Try to remember the USA is our brand.  We represent the American dream.  We are real and our dream is real.  Our brand, however,  was stolen by a developer named Trump. Who’s not even a developer.  He’s a con man delivering the American dream through his name.  He sells his brand, which is really our brand, worldwide.  Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, all names of Robber Barons, and you can now add Trump.  Except these other men, actually built something, actually made the country rich and productive, as they feathered their coffers, on the backs of our diversity. Trump is only interested in his own enrichment.  He is exploiting the American dream and want’s to control our part of it within the walls of the  theater of his making.  With a lot of help from Twitter.  It is a puppet show at best.  It will weaken us.  It will not make us stronger.  That’s not his objective. Think about it.  Making America great is his brand, it makes him rich.  Making America strong is us, we the people. That’s to be avoided at all costs when you are the one in power.  
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To my friends on the left I say embrace this theater of democracy and protest peacefully.  To my friends on my right I say embrace this theater of democracy for what it is, a puppet show.  Think of what comes next and let's move there quickly.  At no time in our history has the United States of America been so alive and also so near death. These are exciting times.  Our democracy is either stronger than it’s ever been...or it’s buckling at the knees.  This is a true test of our strength so long as we can recognize that it’s We the People who own it.  Not those who run it, or those who would like to own it.  That’s Russia.  We are heading in that direction.  And while we are at it, remember there is no need for violence of any kind.  Political violence belongs to the third world.  The third world creates it.  The third world is what many are trying to escape  when they see our beacon of light upon the hill.  If you struggle to make ends meet.  If you wonder how you are going to pay the rent or put food on the table or take your kids to the doctor.  Think about the 11 million in this country who are already here illegally.  What do you think they are eating?  Where do you think they are sleeping? How are they paying the bills?  They don’t seem to be complaining.  That's because they have no time.  They are trying to make a better life for themselves. They are chasing the American dream. You can too.  It doesn’t start by keeping them out.  It starts by recognizing that it is you that is being kept out.  There is nothing to fear. We are in the majority.  We are the 90% of the population, the have-nots.  Although we are legion, we have no power if we cede ownership of our Country over to this new generation of robber barons...the ones that are corrupt, pollute, exploit, divide us into classes, and fail to fix our infrastructure.  At least the robber barons of yesterday fixed our infrastructure. Think about it.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Virtual Reality, Adrenaline, and a Day in Sin City


Here I am atop the Stratosphere in beautiful downtown Las Vegas. Just off my left shoulder, if you are unfamiliar with the city, is the Las Vegas White House. See how gold and shiny the building looks in the setting sun. If you happened to have orange hair and observed your reflection in the glass you would almost think you look normal...almost. Architecturally speaking, apart from the gold glass, it’s actually not that interesting of a building. Scan the city. There are so many other properties that someone took some financial risk or added a few extra bucks during the design phase of their construction. The Trump Tower is a simple golden monolith in the vast valley that is Sin City. I guess I should check to see if Trump actually owns this tower or if it’s just a purchased licence to use his name at the top before I speak too harshly. Nah, that would be a waste of my time today and it’s not the point of this post. If you happen to know the truth please speak up.

Let’s get back to the top of the Stratosphere. Do you know you can jump off from way up here? That’s actually why I ventured up to the top to begin this adventure. I wanted to assess exactly how brave I would have to be in order to jump. I’ve heard various things about the plunge. It’s a bungee jump...which would be a terrifying free fall. I’ve also heard it’s a Hollywood stunt using a cable to slow your descent. As it turns out...it’s more like the stunt, and perhaps even less so. The mechanical set up appears to be more akin to a very fast moving elevator. You are attached by body harness to a cable and the cable plays out from a drum (similar to an elevator sheave that a cable wraps around). It still looks like it take major balls to step off the platform, but it’s a fairly controlled descent (not free fall, about 40 mph). So you could close your eyes the entire way down and pretend it’s just a bad dream. At the bottom you unhook from your thin cable elevator. It’s definitely a thrill ride to consider...and I will be returning to Vegas frequently. It’s all about having the nads to step off the platform and into thin air for the first time. When I conquer that fear I’ll be back to take the step. Stay tuned.

Moving on. So after deciding not to jump off the Stratosphere, literally, and not figuratively, after throwing up in my mouth having viewed the gold monolith that symbolizes our next four years, and seeing that I was still hours away from my midnight departure on the red-eye back to IAD, I decided to go see the Star Wars movie “Rogue One”. Why not? Go to Vegas and see a show...even if this particular show is available everywhere else. Also, the guys with me were unencumbered from the necessity to ask their wives if they could go. So we were all in. We headed down Las Vegas Boulevard to the Town Square where there exists a rather large AMC theater. Showtime was 7:15 pm.

We still had a few minutes to kill, so what better place to spend some geek time then inside the largest electronics store I have ever seen. Fry’s Electronic's sits right there in the Town Square. What an amazing place. It’s like a Best Buy, MicroCenter, and Radio Shack, all packed under one huge roof.  It would take days to explore everything, but we only had 30 minutes. How do you decide? Drones, 3D Printers, or Oculus Rift. Those were the three things I thought would be perfect to check out. I also knew I wasn’t going to take anything back on the plane so chances of me buying something large and expensive was remote. Turns out Fry’s doesn’t carry Oculus Rift. Instead they carry the HTC VIVE - Virtual Reality System. This is a must buy. After donning the headset the salesman handed me the two largest weapons I have ever held, of course I was already viewing them through the headset. And as I took a step back, and lifted up my head I was standing in the middle of the Star Trek Holodeck, except completely white like the Matrix, but with the Holodeck grid lines. I had arrived. I was standing in huge white room with large square grids surrounding me...there was no doubt I was there. I heard the salesman tell me to select the option on the menu in front of me by firing at it with one of my huge weapons. I did. Immediately the game was on. The holodeck disappeared and I was in a gigantic battle arena. Flying orbs began firing at me. I lifted my weapons and returned fire. I instinctively dodged, ducked, and dodged again as incoming fire rained down.  I was completely immersed and completely fooled into believing I was actually there.  I didn’t feel any waves of motion sickness. I think because I was on my own two feet. Had I been moving around in a vehicle or spacecraft, perhaps, or spinning, things might have been different. When the game ended, I was once again standing in the large white Holodeck, wondering why I already didn’t own one of these amazing systems.  I’m not gamer. Why do I need one? I need one because the virtual reality of doing battle and firing weapons against monsters or flying robots is but a small aspect of VR. I need one because I want to jump off of the Stratosphere without fear that the single carabiner that will attach to my harness has been properly tested. I want one because should I care to climb Mt. Everest this year, I don’t have to foot the bill or spend several years planning and training. I want one because Virtual Reality is teetering on the brink sensory reality. What is sensory reality if not our brain experiencing all the stimulus of the real world in real time. This opens up medical science, an in particular, mental health research.  The bandwidth to fool our eyes, ears, and brain, is already here. Why not use it to stimulate our brain into health rather than by taking drugs or medications.  I want to own the type of band width that can create those types of effects. I’ve already set up my home computer to be VR ready...with Oculus Rift in mind. That was the first step. The jump into full VR is now only $800 dollars away. It would be foolish not to go.

Yet again I digress. Now it’s time to talk about Rogue One. Here is where everything comes together in one big attempted rush at adrenaline. Advanced  weapons, computer generated imagery, fear of high places, and of course, rogue rebels fighting an imperial force bent on taking over the galaxy. Forget, for a moment, the adrenaline rush of explosions, speed, drama, and of course the fear of falling from ridiculously high places, while hanging on by one's fingertips.   It’s funny when you think about it since we love this movie and in general all the movies in the Star Wars franchise.  And we do so for one reason and one reason only (maybe a few more but I’m trying to make a point). Adrenaline aside, we love it because we love the underdog. It’s ironic to think that we, as Americans, believe we are the underdog. We are not. This has been said before, it’s not intellectually insightful. What is more insightful, however, is to really understand who is the underdog. And if they were to watch the movie, whilst out on their date night accompanied by their pet goat, would they naturally sympathize with the Empire and their  Imperial Death Star or the unrelenting, unabashed, rebellion that unfolds throughout Episode IX?  I’m thinking the terrorist see themselves as the rebels in this one.  In fact, with the clear alien invasions we witness in Independence Day, War of the Worlds, Aliens, etc, Star Wars remains the subtle spokesman for armed rebellion worldwide (Avatar being the spectacular spokesman for open rebellion). Success of the franchise appears to be due to a yet heretofore undefined physiological condition I’ll refer to as “Stickin it to the Man Syndrome”. It’s the slogan of choice for the oppressed.  The irony here is that somehow, someway, at some point, the Man in our country began to feel oppressed.  Picture legions of Stormtroopers commiserating together about how poorly they are being treated by the Empire and their deep desire to make change in leadership.   That’s not what’s happening.  Instead, rather, the Stormtroopers have come to believe that they are the rebels, they are the oppressed.  Power to the people.  Stick it to the Man is what they must be thinking. They stuck it to the man for sure. They have failed to recognize that they remain the Empire, they remain the Stormtroopers, they are, in fact, and will continue to remain, the Man.  Electing, Darth Vader, for instance, doesn’t change that fact, nor does it highlight this important reality.  I think ultimately that important message gets lost in the search for adrenaline.  The search for a movie that takes us on that virtual roller coaster of action and emotion.  That is what we are after, not the political commentary, regardless of who is right and who is wrong.

OK, to wrap this up.  My next trip to Vegas I will jump from the Stratosphere.  Rather than proving that I have large huevos, I will, perhaps demonstrate only that I am dumber than a box of rocks. However, I will assess my adrenaline level directly after the plunge. That’s what it’s all about, after all.  Will the adrenaline stay with me?  Can I invoke another surge of adrenaline simply by thinking about the plunge?  Will I have nightmares? Will I want to do it again?  All of this leads to the determination and efficacy of current Virtual Reality systems.  If the VR can lead your brain into releasing vast stores of adrenaline, in the same way jumping off a building, or out of an airplane (to do it right), we have arrived.  This is science.  This is important. This will affect the evolution of the human brain is ways we have yet to conceive. We are not there yet but it’s time to start taking notice. I will do so in the near future with the coming purchase of the HTC VR system.  I can’t wait.