Off the Grid

Have you read The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks? He has written a trilogy of books in this series, all good. The first book is the best, however.

His hero lives “off the grid.” I always thought “off the grid” meant living without help from society – no public utilities, water, sewers, growing own food, etc. But the author’s hero lives “completely below the radar. He lives under a false identity. He does not keep a permanent job. He rents places that come with utilities included. He hides “in plain sight” in a way, but his life is anything but expansive. It is a secret life without materialistic or emotional connections. He does this because he is a “traveler” and travelers are being hunted.

The part I find so interesting, in a world where our privacy is disappearing, is the part about existing “off the grid.” I say existing on purpose because this is not anything most of us would call living. Although, maybe there are places where you can still live well and live “off the grid.” (Can you do this in Bali?)

How many places can you live off the grid? Osama Bin Laden lives off the grid. Actually Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan look perfect for living off the grid. Are there other pockets where people can live off the grid.? Are there places where Americans can live off the grid even if the citizens of those nations cannot. This would make an interesting article in a travel magazine – Top 10 Places To Disappear and Get Off the Grid.

Sci-Fi

Search Amazon.com for kim stanley robinsonI am feeling so cheated by those old sci-fi shows. There were so many things they promised us that we never got (yet!).

First it was air cars. The Jetsons had them. I always thought we would have air cars in my lifetime. Now someone tells me that we are not getting air cars ever. They tell me there are too many people and it would be chaotic and dangerous. All right, point taken. I will pout for awhile.

The second thing I’ve really been waiting for is that body scanner from Star Trek. They didn’t have to invade your body in any way. Not everyone lived but they could often cure you electronically. No shots, no pills, maybe you would have to drink something. After accompanying my Mom to the many, many tests she has had, some invasive, some not, but all unsettling, I can see that we are nowhere near totally electronic body scanning at a price point we can all afford. We may never be there. Boo hoo.

The third technology I craved from TV sci-fi was the teleportation device on Star Trek. The idea of my molecules separating and coalescing elsewhere did not really appeal, in spite of all the Carlos Castaneda’s books I read in the 70’s. What if there was some kind of cosmic interference in mid-transfer and you coalesced as someone else or simply vanished back into the cosmic molecular pool. But the immediacy of it, the here one second – there the next, was very appealing. I could handle being nervous for the few instants involved. After all, I do ride escalators which often are designed with no visible means of support.

The Jetson’s also had robots. Their robots were so benign. But we have also been visited by some very scary robots ( the Replicants from Blade Runner, the robot armies in I, Robot, the Surrogates). Even Hal, who was only a computer, became a malignant force. He functioned as a robot since he controlled the whole space ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I’ll stay on the line about robots. It might be good, especially for menial, repetitive jobs; it might be awful. We might really end up like the people on Wall-E. We’re already halfway there without the robots.

If I had to choose one, I believe I would choose the body scan, hand-held device thingee. I am probably too much of physical chicken to partake of the others. And we haven’t even discussed the space elevators from the Mars series (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson).

It’s Tough to Be President

Being the President of America is not easy. Everyone has something to say, much of it critical. The President is supposed to respond to all the advice, complaints, demands of all Americans. But we also expect the President to be more responsive to the people who elected him/her. Obama may end up with whiplash. Some people say he is “Hitler”, others that his is too milquetoast. Areas he never had to address while campaigning have taken over his own agenda and have driven the Presidency in certain problematic directions, like our economic issues and the tragedy of this Gulf oil spill.

Our government can’t afford to have duplicate sets of the technical equipment used to drill for oil, or to clean up from an oil spill. The law says that the company which makes the spill pays to clean up the spill and, we hope, for the fallout from the spill. Our problem is that right now, at this moment, we don’t care about what the law says. The clean up takes precedence over everything. If the company can’t do the job properly do we want the Gulf of Mexico destroyed over a point of law? Maybe everyone will have to extend both time and money and then charge BP for the cleanup after the fact.

Which brings me back to the President and his whiplash. In the months before the oil spill America was occupied by the Tea Party stumping against big government, and more deficit spending, and that our children’s legacy from us will be massive debt. In other words they wanted government out of the business of spending money and “entitlement programs”. Along came the Deep Water Horizon explosion and subsequent spill. If I am President, knowing what I know about people’s recently expressed feelings, knowing what I know about past practice and the law for environmental catastrophes, I believe I would have had no choice but to hold BP’s feet to the fire and not offer federal money. Apparently there is no federal money, there is only debt.

This particular Pandora’s Box of sorrows has been opened. We have to throw a lot of money and resources at the Gulf. It was our beautiful southern coast. But we know the truth. There is no quick fix unless one of the 40,000+ ideas from people is a real gem. Only time will really repair the damage, and consistent efforts by experts to restore the health of the Gulf and the ocean beyond.

No, I would not want to be President. First we insist that the President not spend money, and then we turn around, at what is admittedly a crisis, and get rabid because he is not spending money. Whiplash! We seem unreasonable and demanding lately and no one could possibly satisfy us all, or even satisfy us from moment to moment.

Little Murders

There was a movie released in the 70’s called Little Murders and I remember it affected me so strongly when I saw it. The entire movie took place inside a city apartment. Someone is shooting people, a sniper it is believed. The shooting escalates. There is speculation about whether there is a single sniper or multiple shooters. Is it a conspiracy, or is this like the ripples spreading on a pond – just a matter of random individuals who do not want to be passive victims, who arm themselves for purposes of defense? People, especially the men, come and go from the apartment, but we only see them at home. They are an upper middle class family at the beginning of the film. By the end of the film they have purchased weapons to defend themselves with. They eat in their shirtsleeves and they tear into their food like animals. Although they look quite satisfied and empowered, we see society slipping back into the dark ages. Cheerful, huh? Not – I felt like running into a bridge abutment on my way home.

But this does not seem so different from what goes on in certain neighborhoods in my city where young people regularly attack each other with guns and knives, sometimes from the relative safety of cars, sometimes face to face, sometimes in the back. Then other groups of young people seek vengeance and the dying just goes on and on, so many promising young lives wasted. It’s not all childish stuff, some of it is very adult and very dangerous. As fellow residents we are all affected by these “nightmare” activities. We grieve everyday with the families and the community. We lose the freedom of our own streets, the “quiet enjoyment” of our city. And everyone’s spirits become infected with that same depression I felt after watching that Little Murders movie. Saddest of all we don’t seem to know how to stop it.

Too Far Already

Government and big business have always been involved in each other’s “business”. As soon as taxes were collected by government from business these entities became interconnected. After all, governments need money to operate and businesses have more money than most individuals. As soon as regulations began to be written and enforced by the government, businesses had to push back in order to keep as much control as possible. They also wanted to keep as much money as possible. I am not sure we can keep business completely out of government. Politicians are human. Humans like money. Therefore politicians are vulnerable to those who offer them money. We have ethics rules but the temptations are still very great, loopholes are found, ethics rules are broken. So we have individuals dipping into the pot for personal gain, as well as exercising their more altruistic goal for keeping our government solvent.

How can we keep big business from exerting undue control over our government and our politicians. The issue is not yet quite as blatant as in Rollerball. We haven’t started turning our trees into fireballs just for the entertainment value. However, countries need finances and they need the businesses which generate them. With all the businesses we have lost we can see this loss is making our government less prosperous. Yet we cannot let big business take over our governance regardless of how needy we get. Have things gone so far in America that the corporations are ipso facto in charge of our politicians and therefore our government? Can we afford to make an issue of this right now? Can we afford not to? Some people believe that big business is already so entwined with government that our government just jumps when big business shouts. Perhaps we are at a crisis point in the relationship between big business and our government and perhaps it is good that we are taking a look at this issue now when it might be possible to back up a bit and achieve more balance. We don’t want big business to keep pulling up stakes the way they have been. We don’t want them to take all their “toys” and go home, but we don’t want to have to let them run amok and take whatever they want.

The environmental impact of big business is probably one of the biggest issues between the American people and our businesses. If other countries do not put too fine a point on clean air, water, and land, then businesses will go there because we are making all kinds of environmental rules that are expensive to comply with. Add to this high wages and corporate taxes and we get the exodus we have been experiencing. Corporations can be culturally aware and they can police themselves on these and other issues (like product quality and worker salaries and benefits), but it seems that they have not exercised their humanity in these areas but have, instead, been concentrating on huge profits. Trying to force big business to consider the planet and their country is like trying to arm wrestle with an octopus. We can keep trying to appeal to their “better” instincts, but it is unlikely that we will get a positive response when it is so easy to just pull up stakes and move on. It will continue to be a complicated process until the whole world is a level playing field and by then there may be no “fields” left and we may each belong to a “corporate team”.

Obviously there are more complicated issues here than just getting rid of “special interests”. The skills of some really smart people are required to guarantee that our needs for a strong economy, a “clean” government, and for the survival of our planet are all being met.

More Books – Summer Reading

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch is a thriller. There are several normal plot variations for thrillers. All of them have you turning pages madly, sitting at the edge of your seat on occasion. Richard Doetsch has come up with a new plot variation. You have to experience it. It engenders as much frustration as it does anticipation. On this occasion the frustration is intentional and part of the overall effectiveness of the book. Oh just read it and see!

I will also be reading Beatrice and Virgil because it is by Yann Martel (born in Spain) who also wrote Life of Pi. Mr. Martel writes allegories, not a common form in modern literature. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory. Mr. Martel’s allegories are more moral in nature. You have to read them to see. Start with Life of Pi beause being trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger is too interesting to miss. If you like it move on to Beatrice and Virgil to see if he could pull it off again.

I ordered CD’s for The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga because I feel like drowning myself in the accents of India this summer, but even if the reader does not have “the accent”, I believe I will enjoy the book. This is a book of modern India, specifically the city of New Delhi.

Two more fiction titles:

Long Lost by Harlan Corben – Thriller in Paris
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan – Three generations of women
My nonfiction selection are:

True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy
Bobbie and Jackie: A Love Story by C. David Heyman
This will be my Kennedy summer.

Books – “Sweet” Mysteries

Search Amazon.com for the no 1 ladies detective agency seriesAlexander McCall Smith is a Scotsman who writes mysteries that take place in Scotland. They’re not gory, but they are good. He also writes a wonderful series of books that are set in Botswana (Africa) at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency with a delightful group of characters. These are usually gentle mysteries which look for an unfaithful spouse or right a wrong, although occasionally there is danger for our leading ladies.

These books are so beloved that they have already been made into a PBS series. If you have read them you already know how enjoyable they are – like a sunrise before a hot, dusty African day. If you haven’t I recommend that you check out the first one which is called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and go on from there. They may not be your “cup of tea” After all, not everyone likes “red bush tea”. (inside joke) The current title, which will be completed all too soon, is The Double Comfort Safari Club.

Nanny State

Alexander McCall Smith in his newest book The Lost Art of Gratitude says, “our ordinary freedoms are being eroded by the nanny state.” I don’t know if he coined the term but it struck a perfect note with me. I always wonder how much freedom we will be willing to trade off for safety. Of course, we must protect our children so all the rules about car seats and shots and “Purell” dispensers everywhere make sense. Drunk driving laws, speed limits, air bags, side airbags, full body scans, new passport rules – all useful, especially in a crowded world. Law after law gets passed. Whenever a risk is identified a law soon follows. So far, not completely unreasonable. Smoking laws, food rules are all justified because they protect children as well as adults. Perhaps we will be subject to exercise and calorie requirements. How far do we want to go? I guess we can never expect everyone to be responsible so we legislate to protect ourselves. My lunch companion reminds me that this is really all about money, somewhat cynical, but most assuredly true. Every time, whatever the rationale, we lose a little freedom. Will we eventually say enough?

Roll Back Time

I keep picturing the America some people seem to want. Roll everything back to the 1950’s and you have it, almost. What I hear the Conservative Right saying is:

they want America to be a Caucasian country, minorities can stay, if they a act Caucasian
they want only English spoken in America
they want all illegal immigrants sent home
they want America to be a Christian Democracy
they want totally “laissez faire” capitalism with no interference, read regulation, from government
they want to end all social programs run by the government which would include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability, Unemployment Insurance, and Welfare
they want us to close the doors of America so that we do not accept any goods from outside
we would manufacture everything we need
we could send things out but not bring things in
we would be the richest nation in the world forever
we would be the most powerful nation in the world forever
no foreign entity could hold property in America
almost anyone who wanted to keep their native traditions could go back to their native county
all gun regulations would be tossed out
abortion would be illegal
smoking and drinking would be fine
churches would take care of the needs of the poor and the sick
This list may not exhaust all the conservative possibilties, and I am not saying whether I agree with these “wish list” items or not because I don’t have to. These options are so unrealistic. They will not happen, they are not real possibilities. They are just attempts to recapture a simpler way of life that seems ideal only from a very narrow point of view. Unless there is a planet changing event that drastically lowers the world population, things stand to get even more complex. Maybe we will colonize space. That would be a real game changer.

Fundamentalists

It seems to me that whenever religious fundamentalists hold sway it is the worst of news for women. Women face the most serious limitations. I know the intent of many holy books is to protect women, but we cannot afford to force women in the 21st century to conform to the rules of antique societies. We cannot really intend to force women to stay home and to stay uneducated. We cannot intend to subject women to the private cruelties of some men who are dangerous to the women in their care. Any religious fundamentalist is the same in these respects.

I personally fear that some day we will let a fundamentalist group govern America because they “seem” to offer some things we do want. Perhaps I would be more amenable to conservative political ideas if they didn’t come married to fundamentalist Christian beliefs.