Add It Up

The story is so old and weathered it pains me to have to recant it again, but we have to go back to the beginning don’t we? 

A craftsman builds a beautiful chessboard for a king, in return he asks only for a grain of rice on the first square, twice that number on the second, twice the second on the third and so on. The amount of rice, of course, grows exponentially and the king is unable to pay as the amount of rice necessary would be roughly the size of Mount Everest. More grains of rice than insects on the planet earth. More grains of rice than possible ways to fill out a 64 team NCAA tournament bracket.

If that helps you.

But it probably doesn’t.

No fault of yours; we just aren’t built for this. Although we have trained our minds to follow strict rules of calculation to solve complex mathematical problems our brains are analogy engines. They runs on comparisons. Ideas, people, concrete objects, trajectories, tastes of foods, aesthetics; in the end are all just by products of a brain that is built to fire neurons linked to memories of these items. These neurons are linked to other neurons and thought centers and the way these pathways are similar and different determine how we see things. We have each spent a lifetime comparing things and building metaphors in our brains. This is a natural limitation of a brain that has evolved. If we were a construct we would have a brain based on math like a computer’s and would probably see the world very differently. In the end, large numbers perplex us and lead us to poor decisions and distorted world views. 

A favorite story of the futurist Ray Kurzweil involves our problems with such numbers. Kurzweil recalls that when the human genome project was half way through its 15 year budget it had only decoded 1% of the human genome. Many said it would take another century to complete, but Kurzweil and many scientists understood that the genome project was based on information technology and that the speed with which the project progressed was doubling every year or so. The project was finished on schedule. 

Without the knowledge of the behind the scenes numbers the problem seems simple, but with exponential growth and large numbers our brains get easily tricked. If big numbers were the worst of our problems than there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but in 2016 we are being purposefully fed bad math.

Any fool can look around them and see that the world is in crisis. People are being killed around our country on a daily basis, terrorists are striking the innocent around the world, the end is near, etc. But if that fool happened to look out his front door and not to the internet for his information he would see the world looking the same or better than it did in the past. Violent crime in America is down, as is worldwide terrorism. 

But, but, but…

What has changed is how we consume information. In the 80’s and 90’s Americans received most of their information about the world outside their own life from the nightly TV news, a radio station here and there and a smattering of newspapers and magazines. A well informed American might take in 20 news stories a day on a very busy day of watching, listening and reading. 

Today we are bombarded by news on a constant basis. Facebook, twitter, reddit, TV news channels with a constant crawl of sensationalist headlines that they down have time to cover. Headline after headline. With so much information coming in, not only do we not have time to read much if at all past said headlines, but we also fall back into our cave man math. 

“Today I hear about 10 times as many depressing news stories than I did in the 90’s so obviously the country is 10 times worse.”

Death sells; and we are getting sold into a false reality with every click of the mouse or the remote control. The crime, the pain, the hurt. These things have not increased. What has increased is the access we have to this information. 

We read the article and our empathy kicks in, then our fear response, and suddenly we are ready to ban people of a religion from entering our country because a tiny percentage of them might do something violent. 

It is this wave of information overload that our modern Authoritarian Western Politicians have ridden to election. They have discovered that this headline consuming populace is a perfect breeding ground for fear. And fear is their fuel. 

Maybe someone far smarter than me will look at this problem and find a solution, but in all likelihood we are too late. We can not put the genie back in the bottle. If we kill the internet the Authoritarians win. If we censor the internet the Authoritarians win. If we leave things the way they are The Authoritarians win.

Trump was right. The game is rigged. And the Authoritarians of the world are the ones pulling the strings. 

We are in familiar territory here. 

For years the political strategy of attacking the opponent for your own weakness has been on the rise. The GOP has becomes the party of large corporations, oil companies, and banks and attacks the Democrats for being in Wall Street’s pocket. Trump has made it an art form. Trump is a compulsive liar so he calls his opponent Lying Ted. Trump acts like a child so he calls his opponent Little Rubio. Trump is surrounded by scandal so he taunts his opponent with Crooked Hillary. Trump is a criminal so he has his supoporters chant lock her up. Trump claims the ellection is rigged and when the results are in and he wins he chastises the opposition for asking for recounts. And so on. 

In Mein Kampf Hitler wrote about The Big Lie. He claimed that it was a tool used by the Jews to control public opinion. Then he turned around and used it himself to bend a nation to his will. Attack your weakness. 

“All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true in itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

-Adolf Hitler

The big lie is even easier when an army of loyal and often cruel followers are constantly restating the lies to the world. If you have the stomach you can take a read through Donald Trump’s twitter output. You will quickly find, that not only does he tell lie after lie, but that a band of thousands of followers quickly agree with everything he says giving the appearance that the whole of America is behind him. On closer inspection you will find that many of his top twitter followers started their accounts around the same time he decided to run for office and have been making time to post political tweets backing up their candidate 50 to 100 times per day. Who needs Brown Shirts when you have a paid twitter army to brow beat your opponents verbally with untruths and insults in the comments section of every news article that even hints at politics. 

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. 

Hitler rose to power on a tide of fear, economic depression, and nationalism. 

This is not Facism; this is Facism 2.0.

Stronger, sleeker, Less visible, less messy.

Instead of embracing the fact that America has steadily been moving towards being a nation with no clear cut racial majority, in this election White America has chosen the path to go kicking and screaming into the night. And night will come. Faster than you think. We live in an information age, an internet age, and when culture becomes an information technology it is subject to Moore’s Law just as much as computer processors and genome mapping. 

Over the next generation we will see the decline of Western democracy. In two generations The dominance of the west will be a memory.

Save that sticker. It will serve as a reminder that you voted in the last free American Election.

No Authoritarian regime lasts forever, but they are not voted out. They are removed. And the system of government that put them into power is removed with them. What the next step will be I can’t pretend to guess, but brace yourself, because this is going to hurt.


Every 80 Years

When Donald Trump tapped Steve Bannon to be his top Counselor there was outrage on the left. The guy is an Anti-Semite. He’s a Racist. A Misogynist. He kills puppies and down-votes cat videos. Right?

Well, maybe, but the evidence is spotty.

Most of what we know about Bannon comes from his tenure at Breitbart News. By all accounts, Bannon is incredibly intelligent, and I seriously doubt he believes half of the conspiracy riddle crap spewed from that cesspool of a news rag. Breitbart serves a purpose: Bannon’s own personal conspiracy theory touting Megaphone to the Alt-Right. But Bannon is the head of Breitbart not its leading contributor. Just as Trump never really believed that Obama was born in Kenya, I assure you Bannon knows the difference between fact and fiction. This is the era of the New Big Lie. So what else do we have to give us insight into the mind of the Leading Architect of this Nationalist Presidency?

One oft touted talking point is the testimony of his Ex-wife during their divorce detailing anti-semitic statements Bannon made regarding which schools their children would attend. Again, we have to be realistic. Divorces are messy. I can’t say that he did or did not say these things. So we are left wondering again.
Google “the writings of Steve Bannon” and you will come up empty. Publicly, he has not provided us with many clues. Except one. One big one. Buzzfeed recently released a transcript of an interview Bannon gave to a conservative Catholic group at the Vatican, and the content turns out to be more serious than anything that has come out of the Trump camp so far.

(You can read the transcript here)

First we need to go back a step.

William Strauss was a Harvard trained sociologist and staffer to Rockefeller-Republican Senator Chuck Percy. While working for Percy, Strauss wrote some satirical songs for the an office party, and they were so successful that he started a Music and Theater group that focused on political satire with over 40 members performing around the country. Remember the Simpson’s episode with “The Deficit Rag” and “The Trading Gap Shuffle?” No?

Still No?

We’ll get back to that.

Neil Howe was the son and grandson of physicists. He attended both Berkeley and Yale where he received graduate degrees in both Economics and History. A professional advisor by trade, he was a longtime consultant of the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), a highly ranked, centrists, think tank in the realm of defense and national security. There is no evidence that he wrote silly political songs.

If that had been the extent of things Strauss and Howe would have been quickly lost to the march of History. Footnotes of footnotes in the grander scheme of things. If that was all there was to the story I wouldn’t be telling you about these two men now, but around the early 90’s Howe began collaborating with Strauss.

Their first book Generations (1991) looked at the biographies of Americans from Plymouth Rock to Modern day in an attempt to show the changing mindsets of our people over the years. This work lead to what would become known as the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. The team looked at the History of America and saw a generational pattern. When you looked at generations as roughly 20 year periods of youth to adulthood, patterns seemed to form. There were distinct cycles of four generations. Generations that fell in similar phases of the cycle would have similar characteristics, and every 80 years…

Well, in 1776 America fought a violent revolution, Turned the world on its head, and started a nation that would be the gold standard of what a democratic republic could be for generations to come… four generations to be exact.

Four Score and Seven Years later and America was tearing itself apart and once again reinventing itself. Doing away with its slaveholding past, suffering the assassination of a president, and the loss of over half a million American souls.

80 years later and the stock markets went tumbling leading to the rise of FDR in the US and Facism in Central Europe, setting the stage for the all encompassing upheaval of World War II. 80 years later…

You get the idea. Some hopped that the great change that was about to come, The subject of Strauss-Howe’s second book “The Fourth Turn” (1997), would be an Obama lead New Deal. A reinvesting in America and new age of American Peace and prosperity. Alas, Obama spent his time and political capital in the first two years of his presidency on Health Care and that was all she wrote. The Republicans regained the Congress at the midterm elections of 2010. Faced with a GOP plan of obstructionism Obama would never be able to pass legislation again.

(Read more about the Strauss-Howe connections to Bannon in This Piece in Time Magazine)

Say and think what you will about the Strauss-Howe theory. Whether their theory was correct or not is no longer important. Because Steve Bannon believes it, heart and soul, and that’s really all that matters now. Not only does Bannon tout Strauss-Howe, he believes that the next turn will be a world war. A Judeo-Christian War against Islam. Here it is in Bannon’s words:

“we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 year”

This statement was made in 2014, After 13 years of bloody conflict in the middle east that claimed not only the lives of thousands of American servicemen and women, but millions of Iraqis and Afghans. Yet Bannon feels that this is just the beginning:

“I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was — and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them — we have to face a very unpleasant fact: And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act”

World War I began on this very imperative: Act first or perish. This is a man with a mission and a belief.  Bannon is no mere peddled of half-truths. He is a man convinced that the time for world war is now, that the west must strike first if we want to survive, and he is pulling the strings behind the most powerful man in the world. I leave you with one last quote, again from 2014:

“It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians. Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.”

Hope for the Best.

Prepare for the Worst.



What Will it Take?

Over the last two weeks we have all found our narratives. The reactions on the left and right were predictable. The left has protested, ranted, withdrawn and cried. Real tears. A large segment of our population now believes that this administration will be the downfall of our country. A rutgers professor talks about burning the American Flag and is taken to Bellevue. A teacher of holocaust studies in California asks students to compare and contrast Trump’s rise to Hitler’s and is suspended. The cast of Hamilton politely welcomes the Vice President to their performance and tells the audience not to boo then asks him to take all Americans into account in the coming years, and thanks him for attending and is lambasted for days by the president-elect for “attacking” “The Great Vice President Pence.” His words. The left sees our great nation on fire, our people in danger, and the great potential for our way of life to change quickly for the worst and is rightly outraged and devastated.

The far right has celebrated every move of the Trump administration and taunted the left for being a bunch of crybabies that lost and need to get over it. Treating the election and our nation like a reality show or a sporting event. No time for healing. Contrasting ideas and pleas for decency are seen as attacks by the administration and its followers, but what did we expect?
The third narrative comes from the middle. The Libritarians, the moderates, The GOP voters that held there nose while voting trump. Here you will hear over and over, “wait and see,” and “he’s not really going to do all that stuff.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were right? Four years and we can just move on as a nation. Embarrassed, yes, but the only damage done being to our pride. What an amazing and unexpected turn of events that would be. Unexpected because the future administration is giving no signals that this will be the case.
So, what will it take?
What will it take for those in the middle to admit that this is happening?

The far right and far left had their candidates. Their votes were set for months before the election. The middle elected Trump to office. The moderates that never realized that the smoke of investigation after investigation of Clinton by republicans didn’t mean there was fire. It wasn’t even real smoke. Just hot air. The people that voted Johnson and think the world would be even closer to World War III if Clinton had been elected. The long time GOP voters that felt they were voting for a party and not a man. the progressives that stayed home. They all played their small part in this. And I ask the question again.

What will it take? What will it take for them to realize what is happening? What they’ve done?

It is incredibly hard for humans to admit they are wrong, doubly so for Americans.

So what has to happen? How bad will it have to get for America to wake up?

Trump has appointed Brannon to a newly created, highest position in his cabinet. Trump continues to tweet lies on a daily basis from his personal twitter account. He continues to slam the media and The New York Times. There is no indication at all that he is not exactly who he presents himself to be: An Authoritarian. A man that believes that the answers to all of our problems are simple and that he alone can fix them. A man who doesn’t think before he speaks yet people expect him to think before he acts. This is the man we elected. And nothing we have seen in the last two weeks has changed minds.
But he is still president-elect. The real fireworks will come in January.

Be prepared for increased surveillance of citizens. Be prepared for Dark Wars, wars we might only see on the internet and Al Jazeera because the administration will deny they are taking place. Be prepared for intolerance and hard times. Be prepared for American’s to fall in line behind this new form of government and believe the lies, because that is what got us here.

A man that has made a life of lying says, “trust me” and millions of people say, “why not?”
Why not?

I ask again what will it take? Blood? Disaster? Destruction?

How bad will it have to get?

Will it ever be bad enough for people to not only tear themselves away from the lies and misinformation, but also admit they were wrong?

Bad enough that no one would even have the heart to say “told ya so?”

That threshold exists somewhere out there in the ether of American Politics, but where? In what nightmare of a world will it get that bad?

Because “that bad” is our only hope.
Pray for the best.

Prepare for the worst.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

On election night 2016 I sat beside my wife waiting for the results to start coming in, digesting chinese takeout, and hoping my most dire predictions were not about to come true. Over the last two years the rhetoric, name calling, and general unpleasantness had reached a fever pitch. Forget the national news media and the army of pundits from both sides citing skewed facts and barefaced lies, this war of words had become personal. Families worried, and still worry, about what Thanksgiving will be like with Uncle Redhat and Aunt Safetypin having to share a table and some polite conversation. It was the natural outcome of a political party foresaking the normal “gentlemanly discourse” of politics and embracing a strategy of outrage, fear, and disruption. The only result imaginable for an over yearlong campaign that saw an entire party fall in line and lionize a candidate that until his nomination was considered a trumped up internet troll. I lost friends. I lost family members. I lost a good deal of hope. You were there. You saw it too.

Over and over I heard the same thing, “at least this will all be over on Tuesday, one way or the other.” This sentiment always stung me. “You poor fools,” I thought. “Nothing changes on Tuesday. If Hillary wins the Trump campaign continues against her. For impeachment. To stymie her at every turn. To be the ever present, post-truth thorn in the side of progressive politics for years to come. And if he wins, he will continue to tweet, and Conway and Giuliani will continue to convince Trump’s followers that he is fulfilling each and every one of his campaign promisies while he isn’t and blaming every failing on media meddling.”

I had my preditctions. My worst case scenarios also happened to be the ones I though most likely and went something like this:

On election night 2016 nothing would be decided. The Senate and House would stay in the hands of the GOP. The election would be very tight with an initial call by the media for Hillary Clinton. This would be followed by an intense legal fight over recounts in multiple states that would keep the election results unclear for months. Trump fans, enraged by warnings of a rigged election, would stage major protests and riots and occupy buildings in far flung municipalities a la Cliven Bundy. The GOP would refuse to concede and would block all appointments by Clinton’s White House. The final result would be one of three things. (A) Trump would sue his way to the Whitehouse and the Democrats would wither citing the best interests of the country or (B) Trump would start a multimedia conglomerate with his face and Bannon’s brain pushing the country towards fear and hatred from both sides and continuing to divide us for years to come. This would result in a Trump puppet being elected in 2020 after 4 years of a presidency that the GOP would obstruct at every turn as if it was Obama’s third. The least likely scenario, (but one I had unscientifically put at probability of 20%) was much darker. Scenario (C) would see the Democrats win the electoral college and lose the popular vote leading to widespread civil unrest and a divided nation. I was worried enough about the fallout of this outcome to pick up a weeks worth of canned food and bottled water on Tuseday morning just to be safe.

I put on my election night play list. One that now looks rather prophetic. It started with “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and The News, “Is this the 50’s or 1999? Don’t put your future on the roll of the dice. Take me away, I don’t mind.” Seemed fitting enough. The Cubs just won a World Series after all. But, it quickly devolved into Elbow’s “The Leaders of the Free World,” and “Freedom” by Rage Against the Machine by way of “The Bomb Song” by Darwin Deez. It ended with the epic whimper of “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” by Grandaddy. My music selections were preparing me for an outcome that my brain would not accept.

None of my predictions hit the nail on the head, but there are hints of all three wafting around this post election America. I am fairly sure that the Trump campaign was banking on option A or B and sweating option C. The post election scramble to make an attempt at a transition and Trumps panic stricken face in every photo op this week seem to confirm this. There were rumblings that some sort of “Trump TV” were in the works. It doesn’t appear that Trump’s election was on even their radar, but hell, good problems to have, right? The GOP should be so lucky.

So we watched, and waited, and it looked bad for Clinton, it looked bad for all of us. The writing was on the wall. I went to bed long before the news media called it and Trump gave his speech. We sat in stunned silence. We ranted about what would happen next. We worried for our LGBTQ friends, our black friends, our Latino and Muslim friends.

The final maps were not just blue states and red states. It was blue city-states in seas of red. A country truly divided, but without the convenient borders that set up our Civil War. Neighbors hating neighbors for yard signs. As many hate crimes reported in the week after the election as in the prior 6 months of intense fighting. Families unable to talk civilly about politics. So many people on both sides utterly confident that they are in the right and the other side is either evil or stupid.

As we prepared for bed in silence I looked at my wife and said, “Our nation has seen this before. This hate. This outrage. This division. Brother against brother. This is the election of 1860 all over again. Seven states seceded before the inauguration.” My wife looked at me and with a straight face quoted the last line of the auto-tuned theme song to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “This is going to be a fascinating transition…” We both broke into defeated, manic laughter.