Independent Country

James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

3 ways the Coronavirus will change us

Originally published at Medium.

Going the social distance

James Leroy Wilson
Mar 12 · 4 min read
COVID-19, aka Coronavirus. SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control
March 11, 2020 is a day I’ll remember. For the first time since September 11, 2001, I felt that the future would be very different from what I thought it would be the day before.
Before 3/11, I was of course aware of COVID-19. Nursing homes where loved ones live were refusing visitors on account of the Coronavirus, but they might have anyway because it’s still flu season. Also, overseas travel plans of extended family were impacted. I knew the stock markets were off the rails and international tourism was tanking. Earlier in the week, we learned that some government officials, in America and abroad, had the virus.
It still didn’t really hit home for me, however, until 3/11. That’s the day the NCAA announced that its basketball tournaments would be played to empty arenas. For the first time in several year, I turned on the TV to watch the national news.
That evening, it was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had COVID-19. Then we learned that a Utah Jazz player had it. Then the NBA suspended play, and President Trump spoke to the nation and imposed a ban on travel from Europe. (That I didn’t watch; since the mid-00’s, I’ve avoided Presidential speeches like, well, the Plague.) On the evening 3/11, I knew this was going to get huge.
Then on 3/12 (the day I’m writing this), the NCAA cancelled their tournaments entirely, all the major sports leagues have been suspended, and Disney World and other tourist destinations are temporarily closing.
This is the biggest disruption to the routines of national life since 9/11, and will last longer.
The big difference is, officials high up in our own government wanted something like 9/11, a “new Pearl Harbor,” to happen. They also had the means, motive, and opportunity to make it happen, which has led to innumerable conspiracy theories.
In contrast, nobody wanted a pandemic. At least, not Trump or his cabinet. If there is a conspiracy, they’re not in on it.
I don’t know if the political response to COVID-19 will undermine American liberties as it did after 9/11; most of the precautionary actions taken thus far have been by private organizations or local officials. But I could see the culture transforming organically — more or less voluntarily — regardless of the national political response.
I can think of three ways. First, telecommuting will spread more rapidly. Large call centers and endless rows of data-entry operators in cubicles will soon be a thing of the past. My own (admittedly uninformed) observation is that telecommuting is far more feasible in far more lines of work than what we’re currently seeing, and the transformation to a culture “working for the man,” but from home, is going to escalate. Why have your employees make each other sick? The Coronavirus is the major event to push the economy in that direction.
Second, the shift to online classrooms will accelerate. The concert and theater stages, the playing fields and gymnasiums, and the labs will still be part of education. Some things do require teamwork. But who needs the large classroom? Online courses and video conferencing can accomplish much. Why should large groups of students get each other sick?
Home-based employment and home-based schooling would go hand-in-hand, as parent and child could be more flexible in meeting the schedule of the other. Also, we could see children learn at their own pace at home, instead of being stuck in age-based classrooms where they could be teased or bullied when they fall behind.
Third, the talk of playing games in empty arenas will lead to surprising innovations: how can we make this work for the fans? If the population becomes more reluctant to go to large-crowd events, how can the events be presented electronically in a way that audiences get the energy and excitement of being there live? How can concerts and games become multi-media events that can engage an audience more personally and intimately than television screens currently do?
I have some vague, hard-to-explain ideas about that. The technology isn’t there yet. But the technology will come sooner because of the Coronavirus.
I’m assuming the crisis will eventually subside. The pandemic will come to an end sooner or later. Also, the workplace, classroom, and arena won’t ever completely disappear. But I do think one result of the the Coronavirus will be a greater demand for social distancing, and entrepreneurs will figure out a way to satisfy it.
I’m not saying this is good or bad. I, for one, don’t see anything wrong with people voluntarily looking for ways to stay safe and healthy. But who knows? Maybe we’ll be safest if we’re in pods like in The Matrix.
Hmm. Maybe there is a conspiracy.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Yankees, Cowboys, and Joe Biden

Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren are casualties in a civil war


Originally published at Medium (paywall-free link).
I have two suspicions about national politics:
  1. Complicated federal laws are weapons that rival factions in the government use against each other. “You won’t play ball with us? We just might charge you with breaking campaign finance laws. We just might investigate your brother-in-law for securities fraud.”
  2. The chief reason for FBI and NSA warrantless spying is to blackmail politicians. “We saw what you did in that bedroom from your own phone. We heard what you said to your spouse. We just might take it to the press.”
The quick, sudden retreat of Joe Biden’s Democratic strongest rivals in the last ten days causes me to speculate: Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren withdrew from the Democratic race because they were coerced into doing so. They were each threatened with some sort of investigation or exposure if they continued.
They don’t have to be guilty of anything criminal or otherwise disqualifying. The point was to threaten them — to make life hell for them and ruin their careers — if they didn’t cooperate by withdrawing. A “Not Guilty” jury verdict three years from now on a bogus charge would be small consolation for a tarnished name and ruined career. By withdrawing, they each could survive politically to run again in four or eight years.
I don’t know for sure how often such coercion happens in Washington. But we’ve seen a generations-long civil war in what is now known as the Deep State in which neither side has any regard for human life, justice, or decency. I suspect both sides regularly use threats and blackmail.
This war, called the Yankee And Cowboy War by author Carl Oglesby, is between two sides of the nation’s elite. One side, the Yankees, want American global domination with the cooperation of European allies. The other side, Cowboys, don’t think America needs such cooperation and can “go it alone” in ruling the world.
While Oglesby’s book is now well over 40 years old, the war persists. Yankees hide behind NATO when they pursue unprovoked wars such as Yugoslavia and Libya, and are a little less chummy with Israel. Cowboys are extremely friendly to Israel, and didn’t think they required the blessing of the international community to invade Iraq.
Trump has taken the Cowboy side, to the dismay of some supporters who had hoped he’d get rid of all Cowboys and Yankees in government and end all the wars. Most mainstream Democrats are, presumably, on the Yankee side. Not that they ever want to discuss foreign policy.
But why would agents of the Deep State coerce Pete, Amy, and Elizabeth to end their campaigns, and are these agents Yankees or Cowboys? I have two theories:
  1. Pro-Israel “Cowboy” Deep Staters want “four more years” of Trump, and view Biden, who seems to have dementia, or the socialist Bernie Sanders, as easier pickings for Trump than more articulate and/or moderate contenders. They engineered the withdrawal of Biden’s rivals.
  2. “Yankee” Deep Staters want Hillary Clinton on the ballot as Vice President, believe she’s the best chance of getting the Democrats elected, and that policy could then be implemented from the Vice President’s office, as it was under the Bush-Cheney Administration. If this is true, then they’ve already persuaded the feeble Biden to partner with her, an arrangement the stronger, younger candidates would resist.
I am not new to this sort of speculation. Although Biden said of the 2016 election that he didn’t run because he was mourning the passing of his son, deep down I felt he was coerced into sitting it out.
In ordinary times, Biden was the more logical inheritor to Obama’s legacy than was Clinton in 2016, and had fewer and less-serious known scandals in his past. I suspect he was told not to run at the time, but could run in 2020 if Clinton lost.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a deal was struck and Yankee Deep Staters are anxious to get the old gang of Yankee politicians together again so they can run the world on their terms.
One may object: wouldn’t it be obvious to everyone that the purpose of Hillary as Vice President is to have her ascend to the throne? Wouldn’t Conspiracy World go crazy if Biden were to die, resign due to health, or be removed due to incapacity? Would the Ruling Elite be so brazen and blatant? Aren’t the people tired of the Clintons? Wouldn’t this be a cakewalk for Trump?
But remember that the Ruling Elite can be so brazen and blatant. Ask Jeffrey Epstein.
Also remember, 2016 was supposed to be a cakewalk for Clinton.
Just as 2016 defied expectations, so could 2020. This is the last shot for both Biden and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps Obama nostalgia, which they represent, is the only shot Democrats have, even as Trump supporters might think it would be the easiest ticket to defeat.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Bloomberg, Dolan, and money as power



It’s the latest of a series of public relations disasters for Dolan, the most unpopular personality in the NBA. Until recently, I wondered why a rich guy like that would endure the criticism. The Knicks are valued at $4.6 billion; why not just sell the team?
Eventually I realized: well, I wouldn’t sell. I think back to 2014, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver forced the sale of the L.A. Clippers over the resistance of the owner, Donald Sterling. Steve Ballmer eventually bought it for $2 billion, a record price for an NBA team at the time, but Sterling still contested the sale. While Sterling loved his lavish lifestyle, the Clippers were at the center of his identity.
A major-league sports franchise isn’t like real estate or stock. While the majority owner certainly wants to make an operating profit on the team, it’s not an investment so much as a prized possession.
And unlike mansions, private jets, yachts, and other possessions a billionaire enjoys, a sports team is an instrument of power. Tens of thousands of fans purchase game tickets hoping for no return on their investment except happy memories. The civic pride of countless more are tied to it. While the games are seemingly fleeting, the emotions tied to sports run deep.
After all, what do you think of first when you hear “Buffalo, New York?” Probably the Bills, and either snow or the Sabres next. Compare that to what you think of when you hear, “Virginia Beach, Virginia?” Because it has no team, I know nothing about the city, except I surmise by the name that it’s on the coast.
These sports teams are rare, and owning one gives you a lot of power.
And if I had one, I’d hang on to it, even if the team kept losing and I disappointed fans year after year. Who’s to say they’d be better under new ownership? I’d want to be there and oversee the reversal of the team’s fortunes. I’d be the one to bring the city a championship.
That must be one of the lures of power: when so many people have to depend on your decision-making, you get the credit when things go right.
You see it in philanthropy. It’s why the rich put their own names on the foundations they create. And, it means they get to decide exactly how their money will be spent on their noble causes. They get to decide which hoops others will have to jump through to get the money.
Politics is another way billionaires try to exercise power. While it’s self-evident that many rich people donate to campaigns and spend money on lobbying to further their own financial and business interests, I do believe many also do so for ideological reasons. Sheldon Adelson, Charles Koch, and George Soros do have deeply-held convictions, and their contributions to campaigns, causes, and think tanks is, in their own mind, a way of “giving back” to the society in which they prospered so tremendously.
But, this “giving back” is really the purchase of influence. Like owning a sports team or founding a charity, it’s a way to wield power. And as we know, some “self-made” billionaires from Ross Perot to Michael Bloomberg, have tried to purchase the Presidency itself, believing the country and all the world should be blessed with their hands-on managerial brilliance.
I don’t always agree with author and commentator James True, but I heard him say, “Millionaires collect assets, billionaires collect people.” And he’s on to something.
It’s one thing to desire to be so rich that every desire is fulfilled instantaneously. If you want 37 Rolls Royces at your 37 mansions, that’s your fantasy. I see nothing wrong with it.
But there’s a word for the desire to be so rich that you control other people: greed. It’s one thing to want more money for the greater freedom to do or have what you want, but greed comes in when you use it as leverage against others.
I had once thought the only reason I’d want to be a billionaire would be to own a sports team. But I now realize that it’s just an exercise of power in the service of fame.
I likewise dismiss the ambition of becoming a philanthropist. I’d rather my charitable giving be ad hoc, without a bureaucracy. Help a person, not the abstraction called “society.” My political activism would more likely be donations to legal defense teams instead of think tanks and campaigns. Serve the cause of individual justice, not the abstraction called “the people.”
I believe that having good time is the best thing one can do to “change” the world and “improve” society. Letting go of the sense of obligation to “give back” means you’re actually relating to others as equals, not as poor souls whose lives could be greatly improved with your “generosity” and instruction. Desiring the gratitude of other people is the vainest of all vanities.
Earn and receive as much as you can, spend and give as much as you want. Just be yourself. But forego the temptation to power that comes with great wealth. You won’t be happier with power, and nobody else will be either.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Beyond Liberty

My latest, originally published at Medium

To define a word is to make it finite. I’d prefer to say that words have meaning, but the meaning can vary according to situation and individual perception. Words, like individuals, may have infinite possibilities. Nothing’s “finite” in an infinite universe.
To illustrate, I’ve identified as libertarian for nearly 20 years. It started as voting for the Libertarian Party in protest of the sheer cruelty of the Democratic and Republican parties, particularly their War on Drugs.
The word “libertarian” means different things to different people. For some, it’s a bundle of policy prescriptions they recommend. For others, it’s moral code. Some call themselves libertarian because they’re “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” Others associate libertarianism with the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP): Don’t threaten or initiate force.
I agree with the ZAP, but some self-described libertarians don’t think it’s practical as politics or policy, and prefer a utilitarian approach. In any case, from the specifics of policy reform to the strategies informing political coalitions, no two libertarians will agree on everything. No two people ever think exactly alike.
I think there is, however, one broad statement that can bring all libertarians to agreement. It’s from Lord Acton. I’m not talking about his most famous line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Libertarians certainly agree with that, and take it to heart more than most, but many non-libertarians are also capable of grasping the obvious. I’m referring, instead, to this: “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.
John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton — First Baron Acton of Aldenham
To say that liberty is the highest political end means we aren’t here to live in service to the political order, but rather that the political order exists for our liberty. And liberty isn’t the end-in-itself, but a means to life’s highest end.
But what is that?
Acton, a devout Roman Catholic of 19th-Century Anglican England, viewed liberty in terms of duty.
Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.
Liberty enables us to do our duty unhindered by the state, by society, by ignorance and error. We are free in proportion as we are safe from these impediments…
That “duty” is unique to each individual according to her gifts, which is exactly why liberty is necessary.
But what is that duty? Why are we here? What is my purpose?
What is the meaning of life???
And why shouldn’t doing as we like be the same as our “duty?”
I like what the 20th-century philosopher Alan Watts said:
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
The quote suggests, Let’s not overthink this. Let’s enjoy ourselves.
I believe it was Robert Ringer, in a book or essay, who described happiness as simply “feeling good.” Watts’ lecture The Spectrum of Love suggests that we love whatever (or whomever) makes us feel good. One could say “I love ice cream” or “I love my spouse” and it’s all the same thing, though of different degree. Loving another person is to feel good being with them, helping them feel good, or, when apart, hoping that they’re feeling good. We also want to feel good ourselves, and feel good about ourselves. That is, we love ourselves.
I’d suggest, then, that love is the end, it means the same thing as happiness, which is the same thing as “the good.” But we each love different things and different people.
That’s why we require liberty: to find that which we love.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Why I chose to get spam a lot

Originally posted at Medium (free friend link).

You’re in a conversation, and when it ends you check your phone, and there is an ad for something that was mentioned in passing.
Or you’re doing something around your house. An ad comes up relating to your activity.
This has happened more than once. One time, I used the plunger on the toilet. My phone and laptop were two rooms away. First thing I saw when I was back online was, “Need a plumber?”
No, thank you.
Scratch that. No, and NO THANKS for asking!
I really don’t want my laptop or phone knowing what I’m doing, or guessing what I’m thinking. I feel like my privacy is invaded, and would feel that way even if it was only Big Tech watching us. What’s worse is that the FBI and NSA are watching as well, which can really put a chill on what I’m doing, saying, or browsing.
But there is one area where I wish technology was smarter: email. The spam filtering is becoming worse than useless. It’s not serving me. In at least one of my email accounts, about half of the spam folder emails isn’t really spam.
It’s not always the mail server’s fault. Let’s say I’m at an event, and I want to support the organizing group. There’s a form I’m given where I voluntarily give my email address to receive updates.
Days later, I find out the group did send an email, but it was in the spam folder. I don’t mind that; the email server shouldn’t be aware that I signed up in person. My server’s algorithms had marked it as spam because it assumed the email was unsolicited. Nobody’s fault.
Here’s what I do have the right to expect: when I mark the email as “Not Spam” or “Not junk,” then subsequent emails from that same organization should end up in my inbox. Always.
That’s not what happens. They often end up right back in the spam folder.
Apparently, the emails go there because of group behavior. Lots of other people had marked it as spam, so “obviously” it must be spam.
But it’s not spam to me, and I had specifically said so.
What’s even more frustrating is when I subscribe to a list online, and the emails still go to spam. If my laptop knows, from two rooms away, that my toilet isn’t flushing properly, why can’t it figure out that emails I subscribed to on that very laptop can’t be spam?
In the past, this had been frustrating for me from the other end as well. The non-profit I worked for sent out information 3–4 times a week and didn’t sell products, and it was impossible to unknowingly subscribe to our list. But subscribers who lost interest would mark our emails as “Spam” and then our emails were sent to the spam folders of other subscribers who still wanted our material.
Those subscribers who lost interest should have clicked “unsubscribe” instead of marking as spam because they has initially agreed to receiving the emails, and spam should be reserved for unsolicited mass emails. But I don’t blame them. Marking as “spam” is the quickest way to make unwanted emails disappear.
I’m just saying that if I mark something as spam, that doesn’t mean it should go to your spam folder as well. It should be up to you.
My spam filters have captured personal replies from friends, family, and businesses that should have gone to the Inbox. I shouldn’t have to be constantly checking the spam folder just to see if I’ve missed anything.
A couple of days ago I decided I’d to have no spam box at all and just receive everything to my inbox, deleting unwanted emails as I go. One server allowed me to do this pretty easily. In another, I had to create rules that I hope will prevent any email from entering the junk folder.
I probably wouldn’t mind that the spam filtering is as inefficient and “dumb” as it is, except my devices are otherwise “smart” to disturbing levels. Receiving email is the one activity in which I want Big Tech to know my activities, habits, and preferences online.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact James for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.