Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Emergency, General Musings, George Orwell, Government, Heinlein, Paleo-Future, Politics, Predictions, Preparedness, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: 1984, Alzheimer's, America, blogging, care-giving, civil liberties, Civil War, civilization, Communion of Dreams, Crazy Years, dementia, Donald Trump, election, Heinlein, Her Final Year, Hilary Clinton, jim downey, luck, Nazi, NPR, politics, predictions, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, survival, technology, theocracy, Wikipedia, writing
The eighty-something man fumbled with the pocket knife he had carried his whole life. His hands trembled with age, rage, and fear, but if the hulking stranger refused to leave his house, well, then by God he’d force the man to leave!
The stranger easily took away the knife, and told the man to go back upstairs. Then he sat down on the mechanic’s stool next to his motorcycle and began to weep.
I was about 14, and had just witnessed age-related dementia for the first time.
The hulking stranger was my uncle, whom I had come to live with. The elderly man was his grandfather. We were at his grandparent’s home, using the garage under the house as a warm place to get a little work done on his bike. He and his grandparents were close, always had been. He had lived with them for a while when he was young.
* * *
President Trump is certain that he was cheated out of a popular election mandate due to voter fraud. Almost no one else agrees, and even members of his own party who are responsible for elections at the state and local level have said that there is virtually no evidence of actual fraud.
The President has also claimed that his inauguration had more people in attendance and watching around the world than any previous. The best evidence and estimates available from multiple sources do not support this claim.
I could go on.
* * *
I remember Martha Sr getting fixated on things which were weird, unpredictable. Fixated in such a way that no matter what we tried to say or do, she was certain that we were wrong. Or just lying to her. Or something.
It was almost always some strange idea or memory or object which would catch her attention seemingly out of the blue and often at the most inconvenient times. The idea that the strawberry seeds in her yogurt were necessary for completing a crossword puzzle, so she had to pick them out and keep them. Or that she was going on a train trip, and had to make sure to go get her tickets right now. It drove us completely nuts, and was one of the more difficult challenges of being care-givers. We’d try to distract her with other things, or explain that we already had her tickets and she didn’t need to worry. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes she’d go on and on and on about whatever it was which had captured her attention, returning to it for days on end.
* * *
In the aftermath of the presidential election, many people who had supported Secretary Clinton were shocked, stunned, at the outcome.
Some started looking for ways to challenge the results. First there was an effort to get the Electoral College to not affirm Donald Trump as the winner, on the basis that Russia had influenced the election. Then there was a hope that the House of Representatives would not confirm the results of the Electoral College vote. Then there were challenges made to whether President Trump could hold the office, since he was in violation of the Constitution.
I could go on.
* * *
It seems like the long-respected norms of civic behavior are finally starting to break down. They’ve been stressed for a very long time, like a marriage which has gone badly wrong, but is held together out of fear for what would actually happen if one partner were to confront the other over perceived slights or suspected betrayal.
But now someone has had enough, and said words which cannot be taken back.
The shouting, the screaming, the breaking of china in anger and frustration has begun.
Young children stand in the doorway to the kitchen, tears streaming down their face, unsure what this means or what will happen next.
* * *
Someone punched a neo-Nazi. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer when Nazis get punched.
The day after the inauguration, millions of people marched in protest of the new president and his administration. Plenty of people cheered. It’s hard not to cheer the affirmation of civil rights and political empowerment.
The day after that, a top-level presidential advisor ill-advisedly used the term “alternative facts” when disagreeing about the turnout at the inauguration. Plenty of people jeered at her for doing so. It’s hard not to mock something straight out of 1984.
The day after that saw the start of a number of Executive Orders and memoranda signed by President Trump, putting into motion the changes which he and other members of his party had promised. Plenty of people cheered to see the change they wanted starting. Plenty of people jeered both the spirit and the letter of the changes.
* * *
I’m not saying that President Trump has age-related dementia. Not even the first signs of it. I’m a bookbinder, not a doctor, and am in no way qualified to make such an assessment.
And I’m not saying that the rhetoric and actions from those who oppose the new administration are equivalent to the rhetoric and actions of those who have supported it.
I am saying that things have changed. I think that we are on the precipice of something akin to Heinlein’s “The Crazy Years”. Things have changed so much, and so quickly, that I have had to go back and make substantial revisions to St Cybi’s Well. Because what before was a challenge to the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ has been completely superseded by our reality. It’s not the president who is showing signs of dementia — it’s our society.
And I am saying that when you accept and embrace the use of violence against a political opponent, you open yourself up to the use of violence against you by your political opponents. Because there are always justifications and rationalizations for such use, and human history is filled with the resultant wars civil and decidedly uncivil. Be very careful what you wish for.
Filed under: ACLU, Amazon, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Fireworks, George Orwell, Government, Humor, movies, NPR, Paleo-Future, Politics, Predictions, Preparedness, Science Fiction, Society, Violence | Tags: 1984, ACLU, George Orwell, Guy Fawkes, humor, investments, jim downey, literature, money, movies, NPR, police, politics, predictions, protest, Science Fiction, Wikipedia, women's march
Even better, we can set up an investment fund which holds stock in companies which make yarn, knitting needles, Maalox, poster board, magic markers, etc. Just to hedge our bets, it should also look at firms which deal in security consultation, drones, police & military equipment, private prisons, and so forth. Pity there’s no way to own stock in the ACLU.
Oh, and I wish I held the copyright on 1984 …
Filed under: Babylon 5, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Failure, Gene Roddenberry, J. Michael Straczynski, JMS, Predictions, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech | Tags: ars technica, Babylon 5, blogging, David Kravets, Delvon King, jim downey, predictions, Robert Nalley, Science Fiction, Star Trek, technology
One of the oldest Science Fiction tropes is the development of technology intended to enforce compliance through pain. Two notable examples: the ‘shock collars’ used on members of the Enterprise crew in The Gamesters of Triskelion and the ‘pain givers‘ first depicted in the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams.
In both cases, and typically through most of the SF I can think of, this is meant to be a cautionary tale, to show how even a nominally benign or at least non-lethal technology can be perverted. The lesson is that the intentional infliction of pain is itself a bad thing, whether or not it actually causes real corporeal damage.
So, naturally, we have drawn exactly the wrong lesson:
A Maryland judge who ordered a deputy to remotely shock a defendant with a 50,000-volt charge pleaded guilty (PDF) to a misdemeanor civil rights violation in federal court Monday, and he faces a maximum of one year in prison when sentenced later this year.
* * *
The deputy sheriff walked over to where Victim I was standing and pulled a chair away to clear a place for Victim I to fall to the floor. At this point, Victim I stopped speaking. The deputy sheriff then activated the stun-cuff, which administered an electric shock to Victim I for approximately five seconds. The electric shock caused Victim I to fall to the ground and scream in pain. Nalley recessed the proceedings.
* * *
The authorities are increasingly using stun cuffs, which are about the size of a deck of cards, at detention centers and courthouses. They are made by various companies and cost around $1,900 for a device and transmitter. Some models can shock at 80,000 volts.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Flu, Government, Harry Potter, Pandemic, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Terrorism | Tags: Bend the Arc Jewish Action, blogging, civil liberties, Communion of Dreams, Constitution, Darnell Sidwell, excerpt, fire-flu, flu, influenza, jim downey, pandemic, predictions, religion, Science Fiction, society, St. Cybi's Well, Stonehenge, terrorism, writing, Yahoo News
I wrote the following for Chapter 12 of St Cybi’s Well some months back. It’s set near the visitor’s center at Stonehenge, and occurs just as the pandemic influenza* is getting started in the UK, when people aren’t quite sure yet what is happening. The main character, Darnell Sidwell, sees a group of protesting people, and finds out that they’re members of the ‘British Defense League’, my fictional version of this group.
Before he got to the front of the protest, he looked over the fence, saw something of a party going on. People drinking, dancing to music from a portable sound system, standing around smoking. A couple of young men were standing beside the fence, watching the crowd flow by, passing a bottle back and forth.
One of the men saw him looking at them. “Wotcha lookin’ at?”
Darnell walked over to them. He stopped a couple of paces before the fence. “Nothing, really. You?”
“Oh, a Yank, are ya?” The man seemed to relax a bit. His friend, who had been looking down the road, turned to look at Darnell as well. “Jus’ watchin’ this lot go by. Havin’ a bit of a laugh. You got any cigs?”
“No, sorry, I don’t smoke. Yeah, I’m a Yank.”
The friend spoke. “Your lot got the right idea, I say.”
“‘Bout the illegals.” He turned to his mate. “We should do that.”
“Yeah, kick ‘em all out,” agreed the friend. “All the Pakis and Blackies. They the ones what got this flu goin’. ‘Cause they’s dirty.”
“Uncivilized,” added his friend, taking a long pull on the bottle, then handing it over to the other.
“Flu?” asked Darnell, feigning ignorance.
“Yeah, the flu. What’s got ever’one comin’ here.” He gestured towards Stonehenge. “All the nutters lookin’ like Druids or Harry Potter. Ain’ you heard of it?”
“Um, no, I was just coming over to visit Stonehenge. Isn’t it always like this?”
“Nah. There’s a flu goin’ ‘round. Bad one,” said the man.
“People dyin’,” said the other. “Gov’s tryin’ to hide it, but word’s out.”
“Me aunt’s a nurse o’er London. She tol’ me mum.” He gestured behind him, towards the party going on. “Others heard ‘bout it too. Then some heard th’ nutters were coimin’ here, thought that we’d have a chance to make th’ telly.”
The first man tilted up the bottle, drained it. “Say, got anythin’ t’ drink in your bag, there?”
“Just water.” Darnell smiled. “It’s a bit early for me.”
“Yeah, well,” said the second man, “ain’ for me. Drink’ll keep the sickness out. Alcohol kills it. Ever’one knows that.”
“Sounds like good advice,” said Darnell, turning to walk away.
“Hey, Yank,” called one of the men.
“Yeah?” asked Darnell, pausing.
The two men exchanged glances. The first one said “You seem OK. Word to th’ wise: don’t stick around too long.”
From the news yesterday:
Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Following that news item, Bend the Arc Jewish Action issued the following statement:
“Registering everyone of a certain religion to a list? We’ve seen that. It doesn’t end well.
“There is no way American Jews will ever find it acceptable for anyone – anyone – to be registered, singled out, profiled, discriminated against, or in any way mistreated by the government on the basis of their religion in this country. Mr. Trump’s suggestion is as terrifying as it is abhorrent.
“This runs counter to everything we believe in as Americans and Jews and we will not stand idly by as fear and bigotry are used to dominate our politics.”
St Cybi’s Well is set in an alternate time-line to our own, where the United States has become a ‘Constitutional Theocracy’ in part as a response to the 9-11 attacks. It’s fiction.
At least, I intended for it to be fiction …
*What is referred to as the ‘fire-flu’ in Communion of Dreams, set 40 years later.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Gene Roddenberry, General Musings, MIT, NASA, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Star Trek, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Challenger, inspiration, jim downey, NASA, Open Culture, Ronald McNair, science, Science Fiction, space, Space Shuttle, Star Trek, video, writing, www youtube
… how what you write, or say, or do, will inspire and encourage others:
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Augmented Reality, Ballistics, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Fireworks, General Musings, Government, Guns, movies, Nuclear weapons, Predictions, Preparedness, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, Space, tech, UFO, Violence, Wired, YouTube | Tags: ammunition, augmented reality, ballistics, blogging, Boeing, Cold War, drone, drones, guns, Guns.com, jim downey, laser, movies, North Dakota, predictions, Science Fiction, space, technology, The Thing, USSR, video, Watch the skies, www youtube
That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.
It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.
So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?
Here’s the first:
It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.
With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.
And here’s the second:
Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.
The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.
* * *
Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.
I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.
“Watch the skies!”, indeed.
Filed under: Apollo program, Brave New World, Buzz Aldrin, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, General Musings, Government, NASA, Neil Armstrong, Society | Tags: 1776, America, Apollo 11, blogging, Buzz Aldrin, Civil War, Fourth of July, history, jim downey, Kitty Hawk, Moon, NASA, Neil Armstrong, space
Tomorrow I turn 57. Yeah, on the Fourth of July.
That might seem a little weird to someone who doesn’t have a birthday on the Fourth. Not to me. I’ve grown up with it.
But you know what seems weird to me?
That I’ve been alive for almost one-fourth of the entire time that the United States has existed. Run the numbers, and you’ll see.
It’s very odd to realize just how young our country is in some ways. And how much things have changed just in my lifetime.
And I remember growing up with casual racism of the worst sort. When homophobia was so deeply ingrained and widespread that the word itself didn’t even really exist. I remember using words like n***** and f***** without a trace of embarrassment, because they were so common.
Things have changed somewhat. Not enough. But still, too much for some people. Because change can be scary. Threatening.
The length of my life will take you to the time of Sputnik. The length of another such will take you back before Kitty Hawk. And just one more will land you well before the Civil War.
Change can be hard. And the fight never ends. But have hope: progress can be made. Both for individuals and for countries. Perhaps, even, for the whole world.