Ah, Cassini, we hardly knew ye…but our understanding of the solar system will never be the same. When you look at the last trove of images taken by this satellite before its plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, its final plunge I think it’s been said, it’s hard not to be humbled by the results. Saturn’s rings were a complete mystery before the Voyager fly-bys decades ago, but still, questions remained. Cassini answered a few of those, but as is the case with many such things, these answers have only led to deeper questions. That’s the nature of scientific inquiry, I suppose.
And, I suppose, we could talk about the nature of scientific inquiry a bit more, but really, why? Science has been so thoroughly discredited by Trump and the Republican Party, what with all the new proof they’ve put up on Fox News in the past week or so – that God spared Miami Beach when Irma came ashore, and that hurricanes and climate change are unrelated, etc., etc., ad infinitum… So you see, case closed, and let’s close those minds before we get in trouble with you know who! Let’s keep on cutting humanities budgets around the country, and let’s keep creationism at the forefront of all our academic endeavors! What good will it do us to understand Saturn and its rings, anyway…? Because you know as well as I that someone made these images in Photoshop, and probably in the same studio where they faked the moon landings…
Oh, did I mention I like irony?
In the past week or so, since I restarted ‘Deep End’ in earnest, quite a few new subscribers have popped up here, and I’m grateful. One thing you may not be aware of, as a new reader, is this series of posts. Sunday in the Sun is my attempt at striking up a conversation about the current political atmosphere in the US, and by extension, around the world.
I (we, or those who like to participate) generally keep it clean and try to keep the shouting down to a minimum. Of course, I’ve lost more than one reader since I started these posts (right after last year’s election, as you might guess), but…c’est la vie. I was watching Salman Rushdie on Bill Maher last week (yes, I watch him…sorry…) and he voiced many of the same thoughts I had concerning why I started doing this, namely that “writers” have an obligation to voice an opinion during times like these. So…I have.
I make no claim to being a “writer” other than I write a lot, and I have an opinion. Trying to avoid an overtly political message is, these days, an exercise in futility, too. I’ve written stories that have a (somehow) “socialist” protagonist and then been excoriated for being a socialist. Semi-conservative protagonists, notably cops, have been similarly reviled. One common denominator I’ve seen reading these flamers? Somehow, when I create a character on the page he or she somehow becomes my avatar, or perhaps even a doppelganger. It’s odd, too, as few of the characters I’ve created are anything at all like me, and are as far away from who I am as I can create.
So, Sunday in the Sun is all about irony, but irony is in the eye of the beholder. I look at the gnews all week long, and the anti-gnews, and pick a few to post here that hit me just the right way. Music is often central to my stories, so we talk about that here, too. Flying, sailing, motorcycles…yup, all are fair game. About the only things we haven’t covered here are double headed sex toys and tiki torches, but hey, I’m game if you are.
And so, off we go, into the gnews.
Speaking of fake landings, it’s been a while since I’ve been in the cockpit but a friend recommended I try the latest version of the X-Plane flight simulator. And it’s not bad, if you happen to be into airplanes, that is. I downloaded a free 737-800 to plop into the sim and fired her up at DFW airport, then took her up for a spin. This aircraft file is pretty deep, by the way. You get in the cockpit and nothing’s running…you have to wake up the ship’s systems, follow the start-up checklists and all that follows, which can take more than a few minutes, then contact ATC and get permission to taxi the active, etc. For sheer entertainment value, not to mention the amount of time consumed therein, it’s fun, as it’s actually quite immersive and a good way to forget what’s going on in the world.
Anyway, sorry for all the airplanes in today’s post. If you’ve read an older story of mine, The Secret Life of Wings, you’ll understand flying, and airplanes, are pretty well fixed in my DNA. That said, here are some screenshots “taken” when I first took the Boeing out for a walk around the block…’
Taking off from DFW runway 17 Left, clear skies, light load. One of the neat things about X-Plane is that many airports, like this version of DFW, are included in the base package. There are a handful of decent aircraft included as well, including basic Cessnas and Beechcraft models, as well as more complicated beasts like airliners, There’s a Cessna 172 that’s perfect for learning to fly in, and even flying lessons can be had over at The Org. Actually, X-Plane is approved for use in flight schools, so this isn’t what I’d call a video game; it’s a viable substitute for the real thing – and perfect for old farts who can’t see worth a damn anymore.
(above) Climbing out with a light load, a ten-degree + pitch can be maintained. In theory, this is doable – yet if your friendly local jet-jok did this to you, you might have issues. Fear and anger come to mind…use of a sik-sak does, as well. Most passenger flights take-off and climb-out at a 7º positive pitch, and though it doesn’t sound like that much more, 10º will really get your attention.
Puttering along on an extended downwind north towards Denton, that’s Grapevine Lake out the captains window. I learned to fly in this neighborhood, so it’s fun to “see” old landmarks such as this again.
X-Plane models wing-loading and other aerodynamic properties quite accurately, which gives the sim an edge over other game-like products. Even NASA and the USAF use it for all kinds of training purposes.
That’s Lake Dallas ahead (above) and, as you can see, cockpit systems are nicely modeled in this file– and most systems operate just as they do in the real aircraft. If unfamiliar with Boeing’s way of doing things you’ll need a few days of study to get up and running in a simulation like this, while a Cessna 172 can be mastered quickly, especially if using available tutorials. Still, if I were to sit down in an Airbus simulation I’d be groping around in the dark. Airbus avionics and flight control systems are radically different from Boeing products, and so, for me anyway, they’ll remain a mystery. It’s kind of interesting to me that, being most familiar with older systems like those found in early 727s, this modern cockpit was recognizable enough to fly, as the new systems operate similarly to those from circa 1960-75. All in all, fun entertainment for old farts. Young ones too. Given that projections show a desperate pilot shortage within 5-10 years? Give a copy to your grand-daughter soon, would you? They even have a free demo (and no, I don’t work for the X-Plane folks…).
I actually didn’t want to write much about Herr Trump this week. I mean, really…at this point, why bother? Watching his speech at the UN was like watching yet another slow-motion train wreck, and is it just me, but what’s with his voice and mannerisms? He sounds like, and waves his hands around like a real weirdo, and yeah, his hands are weird looking, too. Overcompensation? Who knows, but after eight months of this stuff, who cares? I’d say, at this point anyway, that most of the people in this country think the whole Trump thing is a nightmare that will be over soon…
But guess what?
That’s not really likely.
Because this is a Republican nightmare, and they’re busy packing the courts and stacking the decks for the long haul. If you’re a Republican this is all good news to you, right? Because you probably really don’t give a damn about silly, outdated things like the constitution, or, indeed, about the welfare of little people in general. You’re a bottom line guy, aren’t you? That’s the paradigm, anyway, how labels are generated.
Doesn’t feel good, does it? This whole “labeling” thing is s big part of the problem, don’t you think? Anyway, ask yourself this: does this name-calling match between Trump and Kim really help? Rocket Man vs the Barking Dog? Really, is this what diplomacy looks like?
So, ever watch a Gregory Peck film called The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit? Here’s a paragraph from Wikipedia: “The film, like the novel on which it was based, became hugely popular. Historian Robert Schultz argues that the film and the novel are cultural representations of what Adlai Stevenson had described in 1955 as a “crisis in the western world”, “collectivism colliding with individualism,” the collective demands of corporate organizations against traditional roles of spouse and parent. That increased corporate organization of society, Schultz notes, reduced white-collar workers’ (represented by Tom Rath and the other gray-suited “yes men”) control over what they did and how they did it as they adapted to the “organized system” described and critiqued by contemporary social critics such as Paul Goodman, C. Wright Mills, and William H. Whyte, Jr.”
At any rate, as I’ve said recently I just don’t see Democrats changing their ways very much in the months ahead. The moral crescendo of Russia’s intervention in the election just hasn’t caught fire with the base yet, and Hillary’s re-emergence in the spotlight will likely torpedo any chance that the conversation can move forward to more relevant issues. Single payer has got to be the litmus test, or so sayeth the burned-out Bernie fans, but so far elite Dems have been reluctant to embrace an issue that has inflamed a large part of their base. Why? Are they really so beholden to corporate interests?
But, does Hillary have legitimate gripes? Well yes, of course, but as she noted this week, there’s absolutely no mechanism to undo the election of 2016, None. It’s over and done with, and she’s clear about that. Sure, as Clinton noted, Kenya’s Supreme Court invalidated recent elections over there and declared new elections would need to be held, but we simply don’t have the mechanism to do something like that in the US. Our founders never thought one political party would, in effect, try to engineer silencing the opposition through gerrymandering and by taking over local broadcast media (oh, surely you’ve heard of Sinclair Broadcasting Group? Well, John Oliver has, if you missed it.), while obstructing a valid Supreme Court nomination – not to mention other Obama nominations to the judiciary. Our founders believed in democracy, so would never have imagined one political party emerging that would, in word and action, actively working to undermine our democracy.
I’m not a fan of violence and reactionary opposition to these events, but I read an essay this week that posits, through examining the historical record (or so it’s claimed), that non-violent opposition simply doesn’t work out all that well in most instances. That, in the long term, violence is often a more effective agent of change than passive resistance. Well, yeah, I can see that’s possible, especially given where African-Americans are today versus where they were in the 1960s (private prisons?). And I can see why Martin Luther King’s moral idealism has been a boon to certain people in this country, too, and not necessarily African Americans. Obviously, with Republicans actively trying to undermine civil and voting rights through extremely deceptive legislation, things just ain’t working out the way MLK thought they would.
But what happens if thirty million very pissed off African Americans take to the streets? With AK-47s? Toss in another forty to fifty million Hispanic people, and why not throw in a few million from Southeast Asia, too. Then what? We’ve seen previews of this in St Louis over the last week, not to mention a couple years ago, and I think it’s worth thinking about. Republicans seem to be afraid of what will happen when whites are a distinct minority in this country, but why take action now that will only turn non-whites violently against whites? Seems, well, kind of stupid to me.
And yet, as more and more studies of the 2016 election emerge detailing that racism, not middle-class under-employment, led to Trump’s election, it becomes more difficult to see a peaceful solution to this problem going forward. Racism is an issue that won’t simply go away. We the People are going to have to deal with it, one way or another. Peacefully and non-violently sounds preferable to me, but hey, that’s just my stupid opinion.
Unless the Democrats get off their duffs and get to work, that is. Which is kind of ironic, because Democrats seem to be focusing on race and “multiculturalism” – yet they’re getting flamed for it.
Also interesting, white supremacists seem to admire countries like Japan, and predictably, because such cultures are racially “pure”, in their eyes, anyway…so they’re working on softening their message, making it more palatable to other, less radical, disaffected whites.
Democrats have their work cut out for them, but splintering the base through overflowing narcissism ain’t going to get them where they need to go. They’ve got to get on message and keep the discussion laser-focused on one or two core messages, or they’ll go the way of the Whigs – and we’ll be left sucking fumes in the moral vacuum of Republican-sponsored corporate fascism.
Did I mention I went to Berkeley, where I majored in underwater basket-weaving and choked the chicken while reading Marx? And don’t get me started on the whole police academy thing…
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Haven’t we been here before? Like…a month ago?
“Bipartisan talks to stabilize Obamacare appear to be over, and Republicans are now threatening to let health insurance markets fall into “chaos” if their new repeal bill does not pass Congress next week.
The moves raise the real possibility that by the end of next week Republicans will either have repealed Obamacare, or set it on a path towards rising premiums and, potentially, collapse.
Senate Republicans had been weighing two separate Obamacare approaches — passing a repeal bill on their own, or working with Democrats on a bill to stabilize insurance markets for a year or two, while they work out a plan that can actually pass. (Currently, Republicans are short of the votes they need to repeal Obamacare by next week’s deadline).
But Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, who was leading the bipartisan talks, said Tuesday that he was ending them. Alexander said the discussions were doomed by a lack of “consensus among Republicans and Democrats” to craft a bill “that could be enacted.” This comes after both Alexander, and his Democratic counterpart Sen. Patty Murray, confirmed that the Democrats had made significant concessions in the talks, that would have allowed states to waive certain Obamacare rules, in exchange locking in market subsidies. .
According to several Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan has told senators that he would not put a bill to stabilize Obamacare up for a vote in the House. That decision essentially leaves the Senate with one option: repeal Obamacare, or let it collapse.”
One of the most interesting essays I read this week came out in New York Magazine. Talking about tribalism may seem irrelevant in today’s kultur, but read the following passage, then, if interested, tackle the whole essay here.
Tribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life. For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. We lived for tens of thousands of years in compact, largely egalitarian groups of around 50 people or more, connected to each other by genetics and language, usually unwritten. Most tribes occupied their own familiar territory, with widespread sharing of food and no private property. A tribe had its own leaders and a myth of its own history. It sorted out what we did every day, what we thought every hour.
Tribal cohesion was essential to survival, and our first religions emerged for precisely this purpose. As Dominic Johnson argues in his recent book God Is Watching You, almost all indigenous societies had a common concept of the supernatural, and almost all of them saw their worst threats — hunger, disease, natural disasters, a loss in battle — as a consequence of disobeying a god. Religion therefore fused with communal identity and purpose, it was integral to keeping the enterprise afloat, and the idea of people within a tribe believing in different gods was incomprehensible. Such heretics would be killed.
The tribes that best survived (and thereby transmitted their genes to us) were, moreover, those most acutely aware of outsiders and potential foes. A failure to notice incoming strangers could end your life in an instant, and an indifference to the appearances of other human beings could mean defeat at the hands of rivals or the collapse of a tribe altogether. And so we became a deeply cooperative species — but primarily with our own kind. The notion of living alongside people who do not look like us and treating them as our fellows was meaningless for most of human history.
Comparatively few actual tribes exist today, but that doesn’t mean that humans are genetically much different. In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger relates a little-known fact about the Americans who pioneered the frontier. In the centuries in which white Europeans lived alongside Native American tribes, many Europeans split off from their fellow colonists, disappeared into the wilderness, and joined Indian society. Almost no natives voluntarily did the reverse. “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European,” wrote one 18th-century Frenchman. “There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.” That “something,” Junger argues, was being a member of a tribe.
Successful modern democracies do not abolish this feeling; they co-opt it. Healthy tribalism endures in civil society in benign and overlapping ways. We find a sense of belonging, of unconditional pride, in our neighborhood and community; in our ethnic and social identities and their rituals; among our fellow enthusiasts. There are hip-hop and country-music tribes; bros; nerds; Wasps; Dead Heads and Packers fans; Facebook groups. (Yes, technology upends some tribes and enables new ones.) And then, most critically, there is the Über-tribe that constitutes the nation-state, a megatribe that unites a country around shared national rituals, symbols, music, history, mythology, and events, that forms the core unit of belonging that makes a national democracy possible.
None of this is a problem. Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies. And the most significant fact about American tribalism today is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government.
So, take the trends espoused above, namely that non-violence is a dead end and that we are, at heart, easily differentiated into tribal groupings, AND that political entities may indeed encourage such differentiation in order to exploit the resulting divisions, and what do you get?
Social cohesion? A functional democracy? Nope.
Civil war? Well, maybe.
Yet no one wants war, so why start down that road? Is it easier to maintain control if people are scared of the unknown?
What is it that got us into all this fear, anyway? Ignorance? Hubris?
A failure of critical thinking skills? The collapse of Enlightenment thought in our schools?
Or is it a structural problem within capitalism itself? What I’ve called predatory capitalism vs stewardship capitalism.
Or…is simple tribalism reasserting itself as the grand experiment in democracy winds down, soon to be replaced with profound dystopian entropy?
How does living in the woods sound to you, leading the life of a simple hunter-gatherer?
On second thought…don’t answer that one.
Confused about the latest ObamaCare repeal and replace measure? Click here.
So, to end up this post and not to plug X-Plane too shamelessly, here are some more images of aircraft included in the base download, such as a 747-400 and an MD-80 series aircraft that I’ve fiddled with this week. First up, the 744, taxiing off the active runway at EDDM Munich, Germany, which is rendered nicely, as well. Kind of hard to see among all those lights, isn’t it? That’s the point, I think. Airports at night are confusing places!
Two images of the 747s cockpit, below, at night, while approaching EDDM. This is a realistically modeled environment capable of challenging even experienced commercial pilots, yet it’s also quite possible for a ten-year-old to fly and enjoy. When displayed on a hi-res, large screen monitor, the “Wow factor” is right up there.
Below, on short final at Munich.
And another cockpit image, below, with a view from the front office at about the same point on final approach as above, and again, at EDDM-Munich.
Next, a few more shots around Dallas, this time in a Beech Baron out of KADS Addison Airport, where I soloed on my fifteenth birthday.
The cockpits in smaller ‘private’ aircraft are somewhat simpler than what’s found in a commercial airliner, but note that Lufthansa uses the Baron in its primary flight school out in Arizona. X-Plane is also very good at simulating turbulence and other gusty wind conditions, making handling more realistic; also, consider that NASA and NOAA have used the program to simulate extreme conditions when prepping hurricane hunter crews.
My dad and I used to fly from here to Aspen 3-4 times a year, and in a Baron that looks a lot like this simulated aircraft, so it brings back memories. Below, up front in an MD-80, coming into Boston Logan.
(below) On final approach at Logan. Again, systems are quite realistic, so things can be a little daunting if unfamiliar with the basics.
And note some of the detail modeled into the wing of the MD-80, here over Boston. Programs like X-Plane have come a long way since Atari-level graphics first put such simulators on the desktop, back in the 1980s.
And finally, another view of the MD-80, this time departing Boston/Logan.
Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got today. See you at Lambeau Field with the Packers and the Bengals on Sunday – for some tribal ceremonies involving malted beverages and mystery meat…y’all have a nice weekend and we’ll seeya later. A