The Prototypical President

16 Feb

During presidential elections, there is always discussion about what qualifies someone to be president. Is it more important to have someone with governing experience, or is it more important to have someone with business experience? Does a president need to have experience in the military?

First of all, a prospective president’s race and gender are immaterial. We should be beyond that by now. If beauty is skin deep, it is certain there is nothing shallower than someone who sees race or gender.

Governing experience is important in itself, but it is also a matter of trust. Donald Trump, for example, may do an excellent job of governing the nation, but voting for him is risky. How can we know that when he gets into office he won’t completely change his allegiance or, worse still, have no allegiance at all? Someone who has governed a state for at least one term has demonstrated what they will do when they get into power. It is extremely unlikely that someone who has governed a state in a certain way will govern the United States in an entirely different way. It is important that they actually govern a state. A governor is someone who has made real decisions and been held accountable for them. Senators and representatives can vote for things like going to war or raising taxes and later deny that they are responsible. Governors have to execute the decisions they make and answer for the outcome.

A president who has never run a business cannot understand the problems of a business man. How can a person who has never made actual business decisions know what it takes to make a business succeed? How can he know the effect of more regulations, expanded medical insurance requirements or higher business taxes if he has never had to make payroll and still make a profit? How can he grasp the experience of working 80 hour weeks…staying at an office or a desk after hours doing his bookwork? A politician can philosophize indefinitely about the likely effect of a policy. A business man has to subtract expenses from income, balance a checkbook and pay bills.

Tax Burden

A president who does not have direct military experience may be an excellent commander in chief. The problem is that he will have no legitimacy. When a man or woman who has no military experience sends troops into combat, there is a natural objection: how can someone who has never faced an enemy in a life or death struggle make such a decision? How can he order someone to do something that he might be unwilling or incapable of doing himself? Is he leading the troops or is he actually hiding behind them? Great military commanders from Alexander the Great to George Washington literally lead troops into battle. Alexander is often described as having been his own best soldier. A commander in chief must have military experience.

Here is my ideal résumé for someone who aspires to the presidency. It is unlikely that anyone will ever have these exact qualifications, but the closer someone can come to this the better. This is not the résumé of an ordinary person. No ordinary person should be President. A president should be a superman:

0-18 years of age:

Excellent student and athlete. Reads everything. Sincere but not obsessive Christian. Skeptical of religion, but never cynical. He loves life and does not struggle with meaning, so he does not need pat answers to complicated questions.


Joins the Marines just because he is curious and patriotic and he admires the Marines. Ideally, he will experience some combat. Honorably discharged.


Goes to college. Majors in physics and minors in economics. Gets a PhD in computer science. Always reads difficult science, history, economics, philosophy, etc. He can practically recite the Great Books.

Great Books


Officer in the military. Gets married and stays married. Is 100% loyal to his spouse. Ultimately works in the Pentagon as an expert in computer science.


Lives off his pension while building a successful business.


Sells his business for at least a billion dollars. The best test of the success of a business is what someone will pay for it. Runs for and is elected as state senator or representative in his own state.


Runs for and is elected as governor of his own state. This is probably the most important qualification. No one should be president who has not governed a state.


Serves as Secretary of State for the United States. A prospective president must have national experience and foreign policy experience.


Runs for President of the United States. By this time, he is so knowledgeable and experienced that any decision he is confronted with will be nearly automatic. While he will have lived 70 years, he will still seem young and alert. I have met plenty of 70 year-olds who suffer no infirmity. This is what I expect from a president.

Like I said above, this is not the résumé of an ordinary person. This is the résumé of a superman. There are over 300 million Americans. Out of these 300 million, it is not unreasonable to demand such a person for our leader. The résumé of a prospective president should not be complete. It should not be merely exemplary. It should be vast.


Letters to Santa

29 Dec

Recently, I came across an internet page written by Doctor of Theology Terry Watkins. He explains, in no uncertain terms, that Santa is actually a representative of Satan and that having anything to do with him is intrinsically evil:

Santa Claus, The Great Impostor

Children think they are associating with a jolly old man with a good heart but, according to Watkins, “there [is] something or someone else hiding behind jolly ol’ St. Nick”. Interestingly, while this page eventually acknowledges that Santa, otherwise known as Saint Nicholas, was an actual historical figure to whom many miraculous acts and the origin of the Santa stories have been attributed, Watkins quickly dismisses this by claiming that there probably never was such a person. At this point, I am forced to remind Dr. Watkins that the very same kinds of arguments have been used to show that Jesus was not a historical figure. Interestingly, while we have absolutely no reliable relics to prove that Jesus lived, we have a hand-written transcript and the actual bones of Saint Nicholas. Since these bones were separated at one time into two lots and the lots have been compared to confirm that they are from the same man, they are even more compelling evidence that the man actually lived and that these are his actual bones.

The original Saint Nicholas was a broad dark-skinned man about 5 feet tall. As was the fashion for men in his station, he probably had a full white beard. If you were to put him in a modern Santa suit, he would probably look very much like the modern notion of Santa Claus. He had somewhat darker skin than most Caucasians tend to visualize, but skin color is relative; and to people of his time, he would have appeared to be your typical broad, jolly, white-bearded old man. By analyzing his bones, scientists have reconstructed his face:


Nicholas is most often depicted as wearing the robes of a catholic bishop, and if you Google his image, you are met with a sea of red. I am somewhat skeptical as to whether a bishop of his nature living at that time actually had such elaborate garments, but I could be mistaken:


The stories of Nicholas and the miracles he performed are diverse. However, he is most fondly remembered as a giver of gifts who famously dropped a bag of money down the chimney of a dower-less girl so that she could be married. The money bag landed in her recently washed stocking, thus giving rise to the stories about Santa leaving gifts in stockings. Of all the stories attributed to Saint Nicholas, this one is considered to be among the most likely to have some historical basis. Note that Santa preferred to give in secret, though he was occasionally revealed by accident.

If any of the stories about Nicholas are true, he was undoubtedly a good man who believed in the spirit of giving. He was certainly a Christian who believed in salvation through the blood of Christ. He was one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed. Due to the miracles attributed to him, he is officially recognized as a saint by most Christian denominations.

Something of which many non-Catholics and most non-Christians are unaware is that Catholics believe in the intercession of saints. In other words, they believe that it is proper to make prayers to saints in the hope that they will intercede on one’s behalf to invoke God’s favor. Many people, to this day, pray to Saint Nicholas for such intercession.

So, now I am going to play the same “what is really going on” game that Dr. Watkins plays. Children write letters to Santa. However, if his place as a traditional Saint is properly understood, these letters may be considered as prayers to a saint for intercession. Parents, who are aware of the contents of these letters, can be seen as acting on behalf of the Saint. They may believe they are acting on their own behalf for their children, but as every Christian knows, all good emanates from God. Thus, from a purely theological standpoint, this can all be seen as a very holy act of formal written prayer followed by the Saint ostensibly interceding through the parents to bring about a positive response from God.

Do saints actually exist in the sense that some religions believe and do they actually intercede? Is this interpretation of what is taking place endorsed by God?

Assuming that Jesus actually existed and actually said the things that are printed in the Bible, he is quoted as saying, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Unless Jesus was a fool or nonexistent, there is no mistaking his meaning. So let us take a look at the fruits that Santa has borne.

Many stories are associated with Santa. Some, such as the Rankin/Bass “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” swing wide of the historical mark. In the Rankin/Bass version, Santa is portrayed as an orphan abandoned to a bunch of elf toymakers and raised by the elves. Some, such as the more recent Tim Allen movies, completely replace him with human stand-ins. However, nearly all of these accounts have certain elements in common. They portray faith and generosity as powerful forces that can overcome adversity. They demonstrate that giving is more important than receiving. They emphasize truth, love and loyalty. One of the most common themes of such stories is that asking Santa for meaningful gifts such as healing a friend or rescuing a relative from desperation has greater power than asking him for expensive toys. If the concept of Santa Claus is to be judged from its fruits, I would have to say that it has borne positive fruit.

Naturally, I am taken aback by implications in some accounts that Christmas is overly dependent on Santa. In the Larry Roemer “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Santa suggests that Christmas might have to be cancelled if he cannot make his rounds. However, there are just as many accounts to the contrary. In the Dr Seuss poem, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the clearer lesson is that Christmas will come without Santa’s gifts and that it has a much higher meaning. Even the stories that suggest that the meaning of Christmas is closely tied to Santa have plenty of other strong spiritual messages.

Is Santa real? Does he actually intercede on our behalf?

If you are a Christian and do not wholly reject the concept of the intercession of Saints, it is very reasonable to believe that he is and does. Personally, I like to think that God is OK with other spiritual beings acting on his behalf as long as they do not take all the credit. If he is not, then we are all fools whenever we do a good deed.

I choose to believe that Santa is real. Like all real things, he is not quite like we typically imagine him. However, we are used to that. Most of us realize that nothing in the real world is as simple or straight-forward as our visualizations. Atoms are nothing like little solar systems, and the solar system does not have little rings showing the paths of planets that are close enough together to be seen in a single view. Similarly, Saint Nicholas may not operate in quite the fashion that children are presented with. However, if Nicholas really is with us, he really does listen to our prayers, and he really does intercede on our behalf, I like to believe that he is pleased with the depictions of him as a wise and jolly old elf that rides in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. Possibly, he even had a hand in their invention. If nothing else, it obscures him as the intermediary of giving which, if the legends are correct, he would greatly prefer.

Maybe, sometimes, the jolly old saint manifests in the form of the man in red just to satisfy naïve believers. Like all miraculous spiritual phenomena, his manifestations in this form would be fleeting and subjective…possibly even illusory. Such is the way of the spiritual world. Such is the way of Santa Claus.

President Zero

23 Nov

With the recent attacks on France and Mali and people talking about memorizing lines from the Quran before going abroad, it is time for Americans to take another look at our current President.

For years, conservatives have believed that his policies are not good for the country or the world economy, but very few have outwardly considered the possibility that he is not working for our benefit. No person of reputation has dared raise the specter of actual disloyalty.

We were always aware of the lingering doubts associated with his attendance at the Trinity United Church of Christ and his apparently close relationship with the seditious Reverend Jeremiah Wright. We always winced at the video of him failing to cover his heart at the national anthem while other candidates faithfully and instinctually covered theirs. It always seemed like there were things about his past and his books that did not sync well with the concept of a patriotic American working for the benefit of the United States. However, there were no decisive observations on which to base our uneasiness. It was all circumstantial.


When the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin came up, and he seemed to put a wedge between justice and public perception by declaring that “if [he] had a son he’d look like Trayvon,” everyone in the nation was taken aback. Wait a minute, isn’t he supposed to be the president of all of us? Why does he seem to be taking sides in this instance? However, that still was not decisive. After all, if the President did have a son, he would very likely be the same color as Trayvon Martin. But wasn’t that kind of obvious and sort of the wrong thing to say? Why draw our attention to his own blackness when the issue at stake was trust and justice? Whatever happened to the notion of a “colorblind” society?

However, there have been other instances that are not so easily dismissed. Why does it seem like he is tying the hands of the Pentagon when it comes to ISIS and Syria? If his approach is best, why is ISIS spreading across the world like a cancer? Why does he seem to be in such a hurry to bring people here that have proven to be a danger to the west?


Maybe the President really is concerned for the welfare of people fleeing the Middle East. However, if that is the case, why was he not more urgent to protect them when he could have made a real difference? Maybe he really does think it would be cowardly to not bring the refugees here. However, if that is the case, how much braver would it have been to ensure that Neda’s death was not in vain?


Maybe the President simply does not want to entangle us in a war that would put the sons and daughters of Americans in harm’s way. However, if that is the case, why did the White House leak information that resulted in the slaughter of Seal Team Six? Why is the President not concerned with improving the care of veterans?

Republicans have been loath to raise doubts about Obama’s loyalty to the United States. The reasons for this are many fold. First of all, they cannot imagine a person who would go to the trouble of ascending the ranks to the Presidency of the United States who does not at least wish to protect his own legacy. Second, they cannot afford the political fallout of being labeled crackpots. Most importantly, they simply do not want to consider the idea. After all, if they conclude that the President is not working for our side, what then?

Democrats are trapped. If they pursue the idea that Obama is not working for our benefit, they will jeopardize their party and their own prospects for the foreseeable future. Better just to keep an eye on him and wait him out.

But let us consider this from the other side…the side of a prospective leader with ulterior motives. If you actually planned to become President with the intention of bringing about the destruction of the United States, how would you go about it?

A scheme like this would take decades to plan and execute. There would be only a minuscule chance that you would ever be in a position to implement it or that circumstances would be exactly right for it to succeed. You would have to count on the media to gloss over questionable elements of your pre-planning past. If you ever wrote a telltale paper, belonged to a subversive organization, or had a questionable mentor, you would have to hope these things will be obscured or ignored. Such a plan would require uncommon patience and perseverance and relentless pushing. Only a handful of famous personalities have exhibited the fortitude to carry it out. Only a person sufficiently narcissistic to imagine themselves one day becoming the leader of the free world would have the audacity.

First, you would have to work your way up the political ladder. This would require that you align yourself with accepted institutions like the Christian Church and get experience working in communities. You would want to develop your speech writing and delivering skills. Anyone who has analyzed American society realizes how much Americans are influenced by presentation. You would never want to be in a position where your actual governing abilities and agenda could be called into question. A good job for a future covert President would be as a representative or senator. While in office, you would want to avoid adopting any positions or voting on any bills that could cloud your prospects. You would want to be something of a “ghost” senator. Of course, you would conspicuously avoid any personal scandals.

Once you were President, your plan would be multi-pronged. You would cultivate external insurgents while simultaneously weakening the local economy and cultivating internal strife. To provide future cover, you would establish a reputation of over-stepping your authority while claiming that you are completely within your bounds. In doing so, you would exploit the naturally slow progress of the legal system.

Here is what you would not do. You would not pass laws that clearly and directly damage the economy. Such laws would simply be overturned and you would quickly be driven from office. You would not do anything like launch nuclear missiles or initiate a world war. There are undoubtedly safeguards in place to prevent these from being done if there is not at least a credible threat. Besides, if you attempted something like this and failed, your tenure would be over. More importantly, if you succeeded, you might ruin the economy and ecology of the world for generations. No one pursuing a new power structure would be interested in this. Most importantly, if you initiated something like a world war, you might start something that the United States would take it upon itself to win, thus accomplishing the exact opposite of your objective.

Here is what you would do. To begin to corrode the economy, you would pass gradually unfolding laws like a giant universal healthcare program that create dependency on the laws themselves so that they are unlikely to be overturned while driving up insurance and drug costs and increasing the national debt. There is a well established precedent for this kind of law.

You would signal potential insurgents by traveling the world and deliberately showing weakness…a sort of world apology tour. When the time is right, you would whisper to the Russians (America’s number one geopolitical foe) that when you are reelected you can make more concessions so that they will know when it is time to advance. (Imagine the confusion of Dmitry Medvedev upon hearing such a revelation directly from the President of the United States. Imagine the dark progress of Medvedev’s gradual comprehension.) If you are ever caught whispering to the enemy, you will have to deny it and pretend it means nothing. To cultivate foreign insurgents while also antagonizing them, you would adopt a semi-anti-war policy. You would withdraw ground troops from critical areas and refuse to redeploy them but step up mostly impotent airstrikes. You might chose a Secretary of State who is beholden to you politically and will say or do anything to make you appear beneficial to the Republic.

You would do everything in your power to ensure that you are reelected to a second term. To this end, you would weaponize government institutions like the IRS. You would attempt to increase your voting base by emboldening illegal immigrants and covertly granting them voting rights by challenging any legislation requiring voter identification. You would have an attorney general who refuses to prosecute voter fraud.

Once reelected and relatively safe from domestic challenge, you would concentrate on dividing Americans along racial and religious lines and encourage minorities in small towns and students at universities to begin radical and irrational protests to destabilize society. To ensure their success and the success of later insurgents, you would tie the hands of the police.

Finally, you would import the insurgents you cultivated with your world apology tour and your semi-anti-war stance. To accomplish this, you would exploit your established practice of overstepping your authority. You would have to coerce the defense department into covering up military intelligence. If anyone suspected the truth, you would ridicule and belittle them.


That is how it would manifest to the perpetrator.

Of course, there would be telltale signs detectable to the public. A person who could commit to such a course would come across as single-minded and rigidly idealistic. They would seem petulant and dismissive when questioned. They would be detached, aloof and impenetrable. They would profess openness while practicing pathological secrecy. They would occasionally betray an attitude of being persecuted and exhibit outbursts of irrational resentment.

Is any of this actually as it appears?

Some would say that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. However, in the words of the recent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make? If the United States falls and American society is replaced by something else or a lot of something elses, the most noticeable thing to Americans will be that the good times have ceased to roll. The only thing that will be clearly understood by historians will be the point in history when the end began…a point in history that may properly be called President Zero.

Falling Leaves

1 Nov

Yesterday, during a discussion-based class I team-teach every Saturday, I was not getting any questions from students. I walked out the door and stood on the fourth-story balcony of the building I was in and looked out at the world around me. The balcony overlooks the roof of an adjoining building with all its vents and skylights. There are trees between and around the buildings that are starting to turn brown as we enter the fall season.

The wind was blowing hard and leaves were falling. As I watched some of them fall to the ground, I immediately realized how pretty they are.

However, upon further reflection, I realized how sad they are. These leaves blossomed in the spring, grew, absorbed sunlight, and were a part of the community of leaves that made up the leaves of the tree. They were alive and vital. But fall came, they turned brown, and they were now falling to the ground. I anthropomorphized these leaves, and imagined that they were aware of their surroundings and the passage of time. I imagined how they must feel as the excitement of life gradually turned to the realization that they would inevitably turn brown and die.

I was reminded, as I have been reminded many times before, that all the beauty in nature also has a dark side. Tweeting birds are desperately looking for a mate. Blossoming leaves are the beginning of a cycle that must inevitably end in death. The trees they hang from are in a desperate battle for resources against every other life form. We are surrounded by beauty that represents a harsh reality.

This observation could have made me sad. It had an easy opening. I recently learned that my sister has cancer that is probably incurable. My 90 year-old mother, who has only a few years left, was depressed over my sister’s condition. A girl in our class had just confessed to me that her grandmother, who she was very close to, had died and that it was making it hard for her to concentrate. I had just been kicked off of a forum that I sort of enjoyed, although it was a doomed affair. It was cold, windy, wet and dark outside. I was definitely in the right mindset to be down. But I went in another direction.

I realized that my anthropomorphization of the leaves was, after all, just an illusion. Leaves are more like the skin cells of an animal that it sheds when their usefulness has expired. They are not aware of their surroundings or the passage of time. They are not really part of a community. I realized that everything we see around us can be interpreted in myriad ways…including our own lives.

Still, life can be sad. Whenever I see someone walking a puppy down the street, I imagine what life must be like for it. Everything is new. The world is old, but it is all unexplored. What is that over there? Who are those people? What are those things? What new game can we play? Of course, puppies do not have words for these things, but their thinking is evident from the way they bounce down the street wagging their tales and seeming to smile. Yet, puppies grow old and eventually die. They live for only 10 to 20 years, depending on their size and breed. I wonder how much living a dog is able to squeeze into that roughly decade and a half of life?

Life is neither inherently beautiful, nor a sad cycle of life and death. These are all illusions that we print onto it like we print words and images onto a piece of paper. Life may actually have a meaning, but we have no idea what it is. As someone who believes in God (most of the time) I have an easier time believing that life is inherently meaningful, but I never fool myself into thinking I have it all figured out.

I had just given some very good and hard-earned advice to the girl who had told me about her grandmother’s death. I had told her that there was no solution to what had happened, but that there would eventually be acceptance; that no religious idea or philosophical rationalization in the world would make it OK; but that she would notice one day that she was thinking of her grandmother more as history than as a lost friend; and that when that day came she would be able to accept her death. One must appreciate that I do not go around advising people about death. She asked me and I told her what I thought. I pointed out that, as far as her school work was concerned, all she had to do was get through it. I assured her that I would help in any way possible to lighten her burden.

But that is advice for me and all of us. I do not understand life or death. I do not know what they mean. I do not have a solution. But the thing is, I do not have to have a solution. None of us do. We can try to explain life, but we are not obligated to get it right.

When bad things happen, we find ourselves looking much harder for solutions. However, we seldom move closer to the truth. More often than not, we invent useless or even harmful rationalizations. I imagine that much religious dogma has been invented in that way. However, there is something I have learned through the course of living. When Christians describe the phenomenon, they say, “When God closes a door, he also opens a window.” What I have observed is that when one thing ends it is usually accompanied by the start of something else. Years ago, when I was more or less fired from a job, I was suddenly needed at another better job. A friend and colleague of mine, the person who I team-teach with on Saturdays, frequently observes how she was sad at losing her condominium when she did, but that it put her in a position to make a killer deal on a better one. The transition does not always happen like that, but it happens so often that it is difficult to dismiss as mere coincidence.

I am a little sad now but, possibly for the first time in my life, I am not fooled. I know that something new is coming along. I do not know what it is. I do not even know that it is positive. Maybe it will be the Technological Singularity that many of us have speculated about. Maybe it will be a terrible war. Maybe it will be something extremely personal like finding new love or even stumbling onto that long sought after item that never seems to turn up on eBay. Maybe I will get some incredible inspiration that leads me to an explanation of consciousness or the nature of matter. Maybe I will just have a long period of relative personal silence that leads me to some subtle but transformative insight. It is out there. I can feel it coming.

And so, another Sunday goes by. Another leaf falls. The Seahawks will play another game. They will finish another season. My sister may live or she may die. My mother may last for another day or another decade. A terrible war may start tomorrow. The Singularity may come tonight. Today, November 1, 2015, I got it right. Today, I saw life for what it is. I will get my work done, and I will get on to the next day.

Behold the Hero

17 Sep

Last night, I happened to wander into our living room where my sister and mother were watching Dancing with the Stars. I had heard that Alek Skarlatos, one of the American heroes who stopped a terrorist on a train in France, was performing. My sister told me that he had already performed and had done very well. She asked if I wanted her to back it up so that I could watch, and I said yes.

I watched him dance with a beautiful blonde professional dancer. Indeed, he did very well. The lights played over him and his beautiful partner. The camera occasionally panned over the adoring audience. He looked handsome in his tailored suit and reminded me somehow of the beast from Disney’s animated feature Beauty and the Beast. At the end of the dance, the judges could not pour out enough praise for him. They seemed genuinely impressed with his foxtrot.

As I watched all of this unfold, a slight tear came to my eye. I envied him, but I also admired him. Yet, there was another emotion that seemed to take precedence over all the others. I also felt sorry for him. How could one man absorb all that adoration? He was not just a hero of TV or film like Tom Cruise, Matt Damon or Liam Neeson. He was an actual real live hero who had done something almost unfathomably brave and possibly saved the lives of dozens or hundreds of people. He was the very definition of a hero. He had gone, unarmed, against a man with several guns, disabled him, and lived to tell about it. He was not an actor who played a hero in films. He was the hero that those films are about. And there he was, on national television, being thanked in person by celebrities, as bright lights played over him and cameras panned to the faces of his proud parents. How could one man stand it?

If I were in his position, I would go through a period of mania in which it seemed like anything was possible. Afterward, the period of mania would be followed by a period of depression. During my period of depression, I would recall something I had said during my period of mania that might have made me seem phony, immodest, or self-absorbed. The feeling that I had let people down would make me much more miserable than if I had never experienced any of it at all.

As I pondered these things, I realized that Alek Skarlatos is a hero in a second way. He stood up for the people on the train by taking down a terrorist. However, he is standing up for all of us again. He is standing in the bright lights and taking in all that glory so that we do not have to do it ourselves. We can watch his experience as a real life hero from a safe distance and relate to him without having to deal with the intense emotional baggage that is likely to ensue. We do not have to wonder if something will happen to embarrass us, like some thug attacking us or challenging us to a fight to prove to the world that we are not so heroic after all. We do not have to risk a slur from some jealous actor who is sitting next to us on a talk show who realizes he is being out shown. We do not have to worry about some famous person offering us drugs and taking offense if we refuse. We do not have to worry about being asked to sponsor a product or a political campaign in a way that seems overtly boastful. We do not have to worry about making any of the mistakes that someone who is new to celebrity is likely to make in a world that is full of people who secretly want to see every hero unmasked.

I admire Alek Skarlatos, and I envy him. However, I would not quite want to be him. I simply could not deal with what he is going to have to deal with. Every night that he is on Dancing with the Stars people will be reminded of why he is there. His celebrity, after all, is not actor, or activist or politician. It is “hero”. Every time he is in the spotlight, literally millions of people will be studying him to see how a hero dresses, when a hero smiles, how a hero responds to complements and how a hero reacts to criticism. They will be watching in anxious anticipation to see if he makes a misstep or if someone else makes a misstep for him. They will be wondering where he will go from here. He seems OK as a dancer. Maybe he could play a hero in a movie or TV series. What if he is a lousy actor? Maybe he should become an inspirational speaker. Maybe he should write a book. What if he writes a book and it is boring?

We should all thank Alek Skarlatos for saving those people on the train. However, perhaps we owe him a greater debt for the sacrifice he I making now. Like Jesus, who died on a cross to save us from our sins, Alek is bearing the cross of standing in for all of us and taking on the role of a genuine action hero. He is standing in the bright lights and absorbing all the accolades so that we can feel closer to that role without being close enough to get hurt.

Thank you Alek Skarlatos for the risk you undertook. However, thank you even more for the greater risk you are presently undertaking. I realize you did not ask for any of this, but it is your burden to bear. I will pray that this goes well for you and that you find your way down this road in peace.

I Remember it in My Dreams

23 Jan

So, you want to know what a day was like in my life after the Singularity. Let me see…

I had just awakened from a terrible dream. It was a nightmare from before the big change…but I will get back to that later.

I was refreshed and alert. It was another new morning in the new world. I looked out the window across the Sound. There were not nearly as many houses on the other side of the water as there once had been. It had mostly been cleared and replanted.  There were two sailboats on the water. The sun caught one of the masts and made the whole boat look like a Christmas spire. I could smell bacon coming from the kitchen. Our service robot, Mable, probably knew I was about to wake up and started preparing breakfast.

I crawled out of bed and went into the bathroom. I took care of my business in the way I had always done it, but my irritable bowel syndrome was long gone. My poops were firm but smooth and slid out with a satisfying plop. I washed my hands. It was unnecessary, but it was normal.

When I got to the kitchen, Mable was setting the table. She looked just like Flo from the old Progressive commercials. A lot of people opted for super sexy robots or ones that looked like famous celebrities. Some opted for ones that looked like alien sea monsters or golden age automatons. I liked my robot that looked like Flo and was named Mable. She made me feel at home.

Indeed, I was at home. Unlike my family, which was off seeing the world, and so many people who had left the world and were seeing the solar system, I lived right where I had lived back in the day. There were other people that had joined expeditions and were well on their way out of the solar system. Unless the big AIs found a way to travel faster than light, we would probably never hear from them again. Faster than light travel no longer seemed like a real possibility. The mathematics just didn’t work out. Now that we had the machines to make those big calculations, there was little room for doubt.

As I sat at the kitchen table, I turned to our Amazon Echo sitting in the center. “Alexa,” I said, “could you turn on the news.” It had been prescient for Amazon to place these little black cylinders in every home before the Singularity. After it came, they all became a million times smarter, but everyone took the presence of the little black cylinders for granted and few thought to replace them. Mine had actually been replaced with newer models twice, but it still looked the same and it still did basically the same thing. It made it easy to buy everything from or through Amazon. No one called it Amazon-dot-com any more. The old protocols were no longer in use, so only the first parts of online names were retained.

The TV came to life. A handful of newbies did the reporting. Most of the old celebrity reporters had better things to do. The newbies did it out of a sense of public service and some ancient grandiose notion of becoming famous. As I listened, the image on the screen changed from a group of people sitting on a couch to an image somewhere in space. The cameras panned around a strange looking object as the commentators explained that it was a new “fulfillment unit” that would help to process the many orders people were placing. Was it Amazon, Google, Facebook? I missed that part. If I had asked, Echo would have replayed it and even edited it for better clarity. Echo could even have replaced the newbie reporters with simulated ones who answered my questions, but I didn’t like to do things like that. The more normal everything was, the better. I had come to cherish the ordinary.

I asked Echo to turn off the TV and switch to mood music. Of course, it knew my mood.

As I drank my coffee and ate my bacon and eggs, I thought about the people leaving the solar system. I wondered how long it would be before I joined them. They weren’t really leaving anything behind. They would take with them all the comforts of home. The giant O’Neill cylinder transports they occupied created an environment that was indistinguishable from home. Unlike the cylinders depicted in science fiction films, these had relatively low ceilings over the habitation levels that created the illusion of a sky. Except for the slight curvature of the terrain, they seemed just like living on earth. I thought about how ironic it was that, as people left for the stars, what they cherished most was living just like they were still back home.

I consulted Echo about my stock portfolio. All my stocks were up. If you had a reasonable spread, and you waited a day, they were always up. Everyone was getting richer by the minute. The only way you could not get richer was if you had zero capital or you refused to invest. If you had zero capital, someone would loan it to you. If you refused to invest, you would be institutionalized and treated while someone did it for you.

I decided to spend the day walking my dogs on the beach. I had some new boots I had ordered (from Amazon, of course) and I wanted to try them out. They were supposed to be the ultimate in comfort. Certainly, they would be. Why wouldn’t they? Everything was comfortable then. If it could not be made comfortable directly, one could always have some physiological alteration.

The dogs and I were getting regular health treatments from the health bed I had ordered a year or two ago. I had told Echo what I wanted, and shortly after I placed the order, it announced that delivery robots were waiting at my door. I had said, “Come in.” and two utilitarian looking robots had carried it in and put it where I wanted. The same bed worked for humans, dogs, cats, mice, you name it.

My dogs were already getting fidgety and barking. I wondered what technological marvel might take care of that, but decided not to pursue it.

I got dressed and headed down to the beach. There weren’t any flying machines or odd sights. Everyone who stayed on earth had agreed that, as people left for space, earth would be kept in a natural state and reclaimed. The world government implemented the wishes of the extant population. I never gave the world government much thought. They were undoubtedly people like the newbie news reporters. They were stationed in orbit somewhere, constantly passing legislation of one form or another. They took care of all the governing. I guessed that lately they were mostly involved in minutia. We had pretty much settled on this well-known compromise as to how the earth would be managed.

My boots proved to be as comfortable as Amazon had promised. They were warm, but light. They made me feel like I could skip over the rough rocks as if I had adapted to it through epochs of evolution. I wondered if I should get something similar for my dogs. Of course, if they were injured, the health bed would repair them. If they were seriously injured, an ambulance drone would arrive in an instant. Would they be happier if their feet never felt the course surface of the barnacles and sand? Would dogs appreciate that kind of unnatural luxury? Perhaps, I thought. I knew they liked to run on smooth sand bars when the tide was out more than they liked to run on the rough stones. I would give that some more thought when I got home. For now, they were enjoying fetching and retrieving the balls I threw into the water.

I thought about how much further I was able to throw the balls. That was the work of the health bed. I no longer had that aching sensation in my joints. The bed had repaired my damaged joints and tendons without me even noticing. I no longer needed my glasses.

My dogs had changed too. They went after the balls much more aggressively. The cold Sound water barely slowed them down.

There was no garbage on the beach. There had not been much before, but now there were none of the familiar damaged pieces that floated in from passing boats and ships. There were not even the old creosote treated beams with nails sticking out. The beams were still there. They just didn’t have any creosote or nails sticking out. Nor did they have any holes where the nails had been. Had tiny robots come by one night, cleaned the beams, extracted the nails and repaired the holes? What else had they done? How odd it was to wonder if the very stones beneath one’s feet had been carefully reconditioned and replaced as if they had never been disturbed.

When I got down the beach to my familiar park, the changes were more dramatic. Gone were the barren areas from the old stone quarries. The ground had been carefully conditioned and treated. Where there had been brush, there were now flourishing plants and trees. There was no longer any sign of ancient human habitation. Birds of every sort had returned to the park. It was like a wildlife preserve.

I went up my usual hill. During the ascent, I did not get out of wind as I once had.

When I got back to the bottom and was near the water, I saw something odd in the distance. It was moving over the hills on the other side of the Sound and growing larger. It looked like one of the flying saucers from pre-Singularity conspiracy magazines. It was oval shaped and glowed an even yellowish-red. It was coming toward me. As it landed on the water about 50 meters out, I guessed that it was about 100 meters in diameter. An opening appeared toward me, and a person began to walk across the water.

I was reminded that not everyone had my peculiar notion of normalcy. Many people opted for far more exotic fare.

The person walking across the water was my oldest friend Kyle. He came toward me waving his right arm and yelled, “I was wondering if I would find you here.”

“What’s up?” I yelled back.

“We invented this new drive that goes faster than light. Want to go for a spin?” Kyle was not known for subtlety.

I experienced an emotional brushfire. What would become of the people who were headed out to the stars at sub light speeds? Would someone fly out and inform them that their whole plan had suddenly and completely become obsolete? What of the rest of the universe? Was it ready to be invaded by this species that had barely shed its fur coat?

“Can my dogs come on-board? Can we swing by my house to drop them off? “

“Sure, why not.”

My dogs and I were floated into the ship. That was a bit disconcerting. Once in, it was as if we were standing on a disk with an unobstructed view in all directions. My dogs didn’t like it, but at my behest and my friend’s mental command, they immediately saw something more to their liking. I never learned what they saw, but I guessed it was some natural scenery.

Kyle explained that we would need to be gone for at least two days.

At home, I instructed Mable to care for the dogs and walk them as long as I was gone. She had done this for me before and I trusted her judgment.

I returned to the ship. As it lifted into the air, I felt no sensation of acceleration. First, the beach and the landscape fell away. Then, the earth fell away. I wondered if this was an actual image or some kind of illusion created to provide a visual reference. I did not see any other planets close by, but as the sun grew smaller, I noticed some faint stars moving against the background.

Where was he taking me? Was this the end of the normal little life I had carefully reserved for myself? Had he, in one spontaneous abduction, stolen away my marvelous little corner of complacency?

Almost as quickly as the sun had disappeared, I saw another star growing larger in the distance; then we approached a planet. It looked a lot like earth, but of course, the continents were different. As we descended to land, I experienced the reverse of what I had seen as we left the earth. Finally, I saw indescribable monsters diving in and out of a nearby sea and a strange looking palace in the distance. The sky was light pink with white clouds that looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book. I guessed that the atmosphere somehow dispersed red light.

While I was distracted by the view, someone from behind put their arms over my shoulders and around my neck. I smelled delectably erotic perfume. A beautiful contralto voice whispered into my right ear. “Hi, I’m Shara.” I turned and fell into deep aqua colored eyes that must have been the invention of some curiously gifted adolescent boy. Full red lips seemed to wait in anticipation. She had long, full, golden hair that danced around her shoulders—a Breck shampoo commercial!

Well, it would have been a Breck commercial. She was not wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans. She was dressed rather like one of the muscular vixens from any of Frank Frazetta’s paintings: basically naked, with something like a silk cape and some elaborate bangles. She was very sexy.

I didn’t like it. The whole experience was just too rich and campy. It reminded me of eating too much birthday cake. I would go along with this for a day or two. Then, hopefully, I could get back to my beach house, my dogs, and my normalcy.

I was actually there for 23 days. That was 23 days of exploring strange labyrinths, fighting dragons, and having sex with exotic women that I assumed were automatons or some such thing, although I never cared to inquire. I was, after all, a guest. If this kind of thing was happening on Kyle’s world, it must be happening all over the universe, and I was not in the mood to lead a social crusade.

Obviously, there is a lot more to describe about those 23 days on Kyles’s world. Maybe I will tell that story some other time. For now, it is just a sidetrack of my present account. After all, I am really just trying to describe what a day was like.

Kyle was enjoying my company, and that made me feel guilty about leaving. Often, after a day of exotic undertakings, we would sit around a campfire, reminisce, and talk about endless possibilities. His bimbo manifestations seemed to listen intently, as they snuggled and feigned adoration. Finally, during one of those evening chats, I convinced him that I had to get home and care for my dogs.

The trip back was nearly instantaneous…basically a repeat of the trip out.

It took me about a week to get the strange taste out of my mouth. I mean that figuratively, of course. Eventually, I got back to watching the news, walking on the beach with my dogs, and eating the ordinary food prepared by Mable.

The television news got much more interesting after that. Stories came back about every manner of strange world and scientific discovery. The AI and its operators that had developed the faster than light drive had apparently informed the government. The government had, in turn, apparently informed all the outbound expeditions. I never got involved with that. I tried to think of the news as somehow not involving me. That got increasingly easier as time passed, but it never got easy.

Kyle’s little sidetrack and the change it represented had disturbed my peace. I didn’t resent him for that. I did resent the reality it represented. Someone or something out there in the expanse of space must be working on a way to completely dismantle and rearrange the universe. That evoked in me a curious and novel tension. That is another story for another day.

Did I mention the nightmares? They were invariably about pre-Singularity times. I never wanted to live like my friend Kyle, but I could not imagine returning to the days before the Singularity. Back then, we had to work. We had to eat. We had to breathe. Our hearts had to keep beating. A million things could go wrong at any second, and sooner or later one of them usually did. Any one of them could lead to an instant and horrible death. We lived in constant fear back then and didn’t even realize it. How odd to think that a normal life had actually been one giant bout of managed fear. It had been a life so alien to how I lived now that I could barely remember what it was like.

Yet, in my nightmares, that life was as real as if it were today. The nightmares were curable, of course, but I never had them cured. I dreaded them, but I loved waking up from them. How nice it was to live full-time in a world of dreams come true and only be reminded of hardship in nightmares. How nice it was to live a life that was the complete reverse of the time before.

Eventually, people like me, who had lived before the Singularity, became a kind of international treasure. We were almost a protected species. That made it much easier to maintain my little shell of normalcy. Younger people who never knew the time before the Singularity would seek audiences with us. I felt it was my civic duty to cooperate with that sort of inquiry on occasion, although I refused to let it run my life. When I met with younger people I never told them about the nightmares. I’m surprised I’m telling you now. I did not worry that they would think I was disturbed for retaining them. I was more worried that they would manage somehow to take them away from me. My biggest worry, however, was that they would find some way to emulate them. I did not want to turn PTSD into a fashion trend. I noticed that other old-timers were equally reticent about exposing their deepest feelings, although I never knew for sure if they hid them or had eradicated them. In a way, I felt sorry for young people. They would never know the pain that I and a relative minority had endured back then. They would never appreciate, by contrast, how wonderful everything was today.

Ah…I have digressed. I meant to describe one day, and I ended up wandering off into a space expedition and then into a bunch of philosophical musings about dreams and a description of what unfolded years later.

So, I guess that really explains it. Days seemed like years and years seemed like days. It all runs together in my memory now. It is all a strange blur.

The most curious thing is not how I recall the time after the Singularity but how I recall the time before the Singularity. I can remember the kinds of things we did before the Singularity, but I can no longer remember what they were like. I remember them as if they were scenes on a movie screen experienced by someone else. Perhaps that is a result of the constant retelling. I can no longer remember the sensation of constantly being afraid. Yet, I know from the cold sweats I sometimes awaken from that the terror has never truly left me. I can never remember that terror when I am awake. I remember it vividly in my dreams.

Well…I hope that was helpful. At least you have some notion of what a day was like back then. Really, no two days were alike, unless you forced them to be. I did that a lot. Like I explained before, I came to cherish the ordinary.

Seed Loans – the Solution to Technological Unemployment

30 Sep

As technology advances, some futurists are raising concerns about something they have labeled “technological unemployment”. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have written an entire book on the subject entitled Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy:

Book Cover

Economists tell us that technological unemployment is impossible:

Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s mistake comes from considering only first order effects of automation where the machine replaces the worker. But when a machine replaces a worker, there is a second order effect: the organization using the machine saves money and that money it flows back into to the economy either through lower prices, higher wages for the remaining workers, or higher profits. In all three cases that money gets spent which stimulates demand that other companies respond to by hiring more workers.

In fact, the whole concept of technological unemployment has been classified neatly under the category of what is called the Luddite fallacy. Based on this categorization, it has been summarily dismissed:

Historical concerns about the effects of automation date back to the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when a social movement of English textile machine operators in the early 19th century known as the Luddites protested against Jacquard’s automated weaving looms. The Luddites destroyed a number of these machines, which they felt threatened their jobs.

The Luddite events of 1811 were the beginning of humankind’s analysis of whether it is possible for technological unemployment to be other than temporary and confined to particular industries and firms. Contrary to the Luddites’ fears, technological advancement did not ruin Britain’s economy or systemically lower standards of living throughout the following decades of the 19th century. In fact, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the opposite happened, as technology helped Britain to become much less impoverished than before. For this reason, some economists think that the general Luddite premise is fundamentally flawed, and thus they apply the term Luddite fallacy to it. (Wikipedia, Technological Unemployment)

However, economists have never clarified exactly how we will make a transition to an economy where no human physical or mental labor is required for production. What, exactly, will ordinary people do to secure an income when their services are no longer required?

A solution that is often discussed on far-left forums is a universal basic income:

However, there are nearly insurmountable obstacles to this proposal. A large percentage of the population views a guaranteed income as a giveaway that will damage the personal values of industry and independence. I.e. they are afraid it will create a population of slackers:


There are also systemic problems. A basic income would require that taxes be raised substantially, thus tying up investment capital. Moreover, any nation that implements such a program would probably drive industry offshore. The result could be that they have no domestic product to tax. A solution to this problem might be to implement a global tax that industry could not run from, but such a tax would require international cooperation that is unlikely in the foreseeable future. A universal basic income does not appear to be a viable solution to technological unemployment.

One of the problems that may result from technology replacing people is dramatic deflation. When people are not needed to manufacture products, the cost of production will go down, leading to lower prices:

Deflation involves a fall in the price level –  a negative rate of inflation. From a very basic standpoint, there are two main potential causes of deflation:

  1. A fall in aggregate demand (AD)
  2. A shift to the right of AS – i.e. lower costs of production through improved technology.

This deflation may be exacerbated by newly unemployed people having no money to spend on these products.

deflation can occur because of a combination of four factors:

  1. The supply of money goes down.
  2. The supply of other goods goes up.
  3. Demand for money goes up.
  4. Demand for other goods goes down.

The easiest cure for deflation is to increase the money supply:

Of the four factors listed, the easiest one to control is number 1 “The supply of money”. By increasing the money supply, we can cause the inflation rate to rise, so we can avoid deflation.

I propose a solution to the problem of technology replacing human labor that addresses every concern at once. It solves the problem of people making the transition to an essentially jobless economy while also solving the problem of the deflation that is likely to result from completely automated manufacturing. I call this solution Seed Loans.

A seed loan is a loan that is made to almost anyone who seeks it with the stipulation that it be invested in a prescribed selection of rapidly growing industries. Possibly, to keep the money supply from increasing too quickly, these loans can be made only to people who have recently been displaced by automation. These loans will be guaranteed in a manner similar to how student loans are guaranteed so that banks can make them without incurring any risk.

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of constantly being offered loans in the form of credit cards. Banks like to loan money because that is how they earn money. A little understood fact of banking is that when banks loan money, they do not loan money that is on deposit from customers. In fact, as unbelievable as it may seem to the unsuspecting public, when banks loan money, they invent the money from thin air. They simply write the money into existence by getting someone to agree that they are “borrowing” the money from the bank with the expectation that they will pay it back according to an agreed upon schedule:

For many, the way that banks create money through the process of making loans is reprehensible and a flaw in our economic system. However, it may be helpful to give some attention to the reason why this process came into existence in the first place. At about the time that this practice began, Europeans had commenced their exploration and colonization of the world. It turned out that this process of banks conjuring money through the making of loans provided capital to finance these adventures. At the time, the apparent weakness of this system was actually a strength.

It is once again time to turn this apparent flaw in our system to our advantage.

Investors are starting to look to what appears to be a new gold rush and a new period of exploration and colonization: the mining of asteroids:

When robots are able to do most or all jobs done by people, it should be possible to set up mining on asteroids throughout our solar system. Since robots do not need an atmosphere, they can work without spacesuits. Since they are not biological, they can endure cosmic radiation without shielding. If robots are able to do any job a person can do, they should be able to mine asteroids and set up in situ manufacturing on them. These robots will not only be able to secure materials and manufacture goods. They will be able to manufacture more robots; thus initiating a feedback loop of unprecedented industry. I have described this plan in detail:

colonizing space

The result of this extraterrestrial industry will be unprecedented growth. Since the universe, to our knowledge, has no boundaries, it may even be unbounded growth. However, this growth will require investment capital. It will require investment capital from anyone and everyone who is able to invest.

As the economy expands, banks can get everyone involved in this expansion by making the afore mentioned Seed Loans. Anyone will qualify for a Seed Loan as long as they meet certain need criteria and agree to invest it in the rapidly growing new industries. By granting these loans, banks will make their own money in the usual way. In the process, they will also prevent deflation by constantly increasing the money supply.

Seed loans are not actually a new concept. There is a longstanding precedent for banks loaning money to start new businesses. In this case, they will be loaning money to invest in businesses, probably through the purchase of stock.

Due to the nature of a completely automated economy, the return on investments of Seed Loans will be astronomical, making it easy for borrowers to pay back their original loans. Moreover, the borrowers will earn enough money to support themselves while being transformed into entrepreneurs that will never be a burden to the system. No one has ever accused an entrepreneur of being a slacker.

In the United States, the Fed can encourage banks to make these loans in the usual way:

The Fed encourages banks to loan more money by:

  1. Reducing the Cash Reserve Ratio (Money that needs to be deposited with the fed by every bank) This way banks have more cash to lend and hence they loan it to customers
  2. Reducing Interest Rates – By reducing interest rates, loans become cheaper thereby prompting customers to take new loans which encourages banks to lend more loans in order to gain new business

As explained above, governments around the world can encourage banks to make Seed Loans by guaranteeing these loans in a manner similar to how they guarantee student loans. Banks will have no objection to loaning money when they know it will be paid back.