Forget The Shutdown, Dissolve The U.S.A.!

If you haven’t been paying attention to the recent hissy fits in Washington, the Republicans are threatening to shut down the government unless the Democrats commits hari kari by cutting sacred liberal cows from the federal non-defense discretionary budget, which is only one-percent of the overall federal budget and isn’t driving the deficits in the long-term. What would happen in a government shut down? Probably the same things that happened in the 1995 government shutdown: about 800,000 “non-essential” government workers will be furlough, national parks and museums will shut down, and all levels of government paperwork will stop being process (including tax refunds). If you read the comment boards for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, people are very vehement about shutting the down federal government.

Which begs the obvious question: If the federal government is so bad as so many people believe it to be, why not dissolved the United States Constitution and send everyone home?

Absolutely no one is calling for a complete and total shut down of the federal government. I think because too many powerful people are benefitting from the current status quo of a divided federal government. One of the two political parties will eventually cave in to keep the government running—probably the Democrats—and the other political party will pay the price at the 2012 polls—probably the Republicans. The lobbyists, lawyers and news media will continue to do business as usual. The military will grind on in their two-and-half wars with troops being paid later. Wall Street isn’t worried about the government shutting down since there is still money to be made, although that will change if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later on.

The dissolution of the U.S.A., however, would threaten the interests of all these powerful people because power of the government will go back to the non-federal government entities of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all the assorted territories. If power isn’t concentrated in one location, it’s very difficult for any power broker to exercise influence over multiple jurisdictions without it costing a pretty penny. Even Rome stopped being the world’s most powerful empire after everyone went home and the barbarians crashed the party.

What would happen if the federal government dissolved completely? The Balkanization of continental North America is likely.

  • The South will rise again with the Confederate flag flying over head and slavery re-instutionalized for all the sons and daughters of the Confederacy to reclaim their missing heritage, plantations and slaves.
  • The original 13 colonies—minus the southern states in the New Confederacy—will embrace the original U.S. Constitution to become a Tea Party haven.
  • The Midwest and Northwest will be absorbed by the Canadians to spread that wonderful health care around.
  • The Southwest will be absorbed by the Mexican cartels to expand production of America’s favorite white powder.
  • Alaska will be retaken by the Russians to build a Bridge to Somewhere.
  • Hawaii will become New Tokyo as the Japanese nouveau riche move away from the nuclear fallout and avoid having to take care of their irradiated elders.
  • Washington, D.C., will be maintained as a monument to a great nation that coulda, shoulda and woulda if the politicians elected by the people had the brain, heart and courage to acquire some backbone to do what is right for the people and not the special interest groups.
  • California, already the world’s eight largest economy and with one-sixth of the U.S. population, will continue to party on as if nothing had happen.

Does this all seem familiar? If you read “Damnation Alley” by Roger Zelazny (1967), “Friday” by Robert A. Heinlein (1982) or “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992), the Balkanization of North America is a common science fiction theme. I sometimes wonder if  the power brokers in Washington are deliberately hurling the United States into a bleak future to prove science fiction as reality. If the U.S.A. does split into so many factions, former banana republic dictators and Fortune 500 executives will be in high demand to consolidate power. If you can excuse me now, I got a dystopian novel to write about a once great nation.

The iPad Generation Rediscovers The Ancient Typewriter

Must have been a slow news day for both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times to feature articles about typewriters. Yes, Virginia, typewriters. Those ancient devices that physically impacted black ink on to white paper that supposedly were swept aside in the great digital age. Like vinyl record players in recent years, the typewriter appears to be making a comeback. Surprisingly, the biggest fans for typewriters might be the iPad generation that grew up in a mostly digital world. Maybe they are steampunk fans, where pre-digital computers in the 19th-century were mechanical devices and dressing up in Victorian clothing is a cool trend. Although a manual typewriter cannot compute, it does share the mechanical attributes of pre-digital computers. For those digital users who don’t want a typewriter to be simply a typewriter, there is a USB-compatibe typewriter to plug into the iPad. I’m sure the younger generation will get a kick out of famous writers in front of their typewriters. But those of us in the business of writing, a typewriter will always be a typewriter.

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I fell in love with the typewriter when I was in kindergarten. My parents were attending a conference to discuss my future, the principal rolled a piece of paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter, showed me what keys to press, and the little silver ball spun to type out my name like magic. Fully distracted by this wonderful device, I kept typing out my name as the principal and my kindergarten teacher erroneously inform my parents that I was MENTALLY RETARDED (which was how it was stamped in my records that I saw ten years later) and needed to go into the special education program. Actually, I wasn’t. I had an undiagnosed hearing loss in one ear that made it difficult for me to distinguish between similar sounding words (i.e., glass and grass) and skewered my speech patterns for years. Learning how to read and write made it easier for me to distinguish the differences between similar words. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

When I grew up in the 1970s, typewriters were still king of the technological hill. When my family shopped at Gemco at Hillsdale Avenue and Ross Avenue in San Jose, my father and I would moon over the 20 typewriters on display, starting with the cheap manual typewriters and ending with the electric typewriters. Alas, no IBM Selectric typewriters since they were business typewriters sold only at business stores. Gemco went out of business to be replaced by a string of similar stores until Target came in. Typewriters were soon phased out when home computers became king of the technological hill.

Over a handful of birthdays, I got a toy typewriter that typed in ALL CAPS, a blue Brother manual typewriter with a black-only ribbon, a white Brother manual typewriter with a black-and-red ribbon that I kept for a dozen years, and, in the early 1980s, I got an electronic typewriter with film ribbon, correction tape and daisywheel cartridge that I also kept for a dozen years. I was still using my typewriters in the early 1990s while in college even though I had a Commodore 64 and a near letter quality dot matrix printer. When Macs and laser printers became more prevalent at the college library and computer labs, I would enter my final draft into the Mac and print out a clean copy since instructors were threatening a failing grade for handing in a dot matrix print out. I eventually gave away my typewriters because I kept moving around too much and relied more on computers to get my documents done.

My father and I parted ways when home computers came around in 1980s. He was strictly an analog guy and I became strictly digital guy. Later, when he gave me his old car as a birthday present several years ago, he grew frustrated at my apparent lack of mechanical knowledge when repairing the car. I had to pointedly remind him that my brother became the auto body specialist and I became the computer tech. After my mother passed away from breast cancer in 2004 and I saw a counselor a few years later, he was amused that I got a new manual typewriter that was identical to my old white manual typewriter (except the new one was made in China and a piece of junk). I was rediscovering my passion for writing and spent many evenings typing away on my balcony. Surprisingly, the neighbors didn’t complain about the tat-tat-tat and ding noise. Then again, they were too stoned to care.

Although two-thirds of my first novel was written behind the steering wheel of my car, the other one-third was written on a Brother GX-6750 electronic typewriter. I still use the typewriter for writing the rough drafts of manuscripts. If I’m having a problem writing a short story from beginning to end and have an outline of all the scenes, I would use the typewriter to write the scenes in reverse order. As most writers who uses typewriter knows, you really have to think before you start typing. Writing scenes in reverse order requires some serious thinking. After all the scenes are written and revised with a red pen, the pages are typed into the computer for further revision.

The typewriter is dead, long live the typewriter!

All Those Little Nuclear Reactors In The San Francisco Bay Area

After the earthquake and tsunami damaged the nuclear reactors in Japan, the safety of the nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California became an immediate concern. KGO Radio had Dr. Bill Wattenburg and other leading nuclear experts on the air for one hour in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for the first several weeks of the crises to reassure listeners that what happened in Japan couldn’t happen in here in California. I’m not sure if that reassured anyone or not. No one cares about nuclear power when its produces electrical power without incident. But once an accident happens because of an unexpected eventuality—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima—everyone goes into knee jerk reaction mode and run screaming for the hills. What many people don’t know is that there are many smaller test nuclear reactors tucked away in plain sight, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Indeed, the most common type of test reactor – called TRIGA, for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics – was designed to be safe enough that university students couldn’t screw it up. Nuclear engineering students often train on the small reactors before landing jobs at big commercial power plants.

When I was attending San Jose State University in Fall 1994, I took an introduction to chemistry class and the instructor gave us a tour of the science building. Down in the basement behind these locked doors, we were told, was a small nuclear test reactor. We joked about the possibility of the nuclear reactor blowing up or melting down. The instructor reassured us that the test reactor would shut down long before reaching dangerous conditions.

Terrorism wasn’t a consideration back then as it is now to worry about the 500 or so pounds of spent nuclear fuel being used for a “dirty” nuclear bomb. For many of us who grew up during the Cold War, we had long lived with the fact that Silicon Valley was a secondary target for a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union, either for a ground burst to physically destroy military infrastructure and/or an air burst to fry out the electronic industry with an EMP blast.

During the introduction to chemistry class, I learned about half life and isotopes. I never got far enough in chemistry to conduct nuclear experiments with the test reactor. I made the mistake of enrolling in general chemistry the following semester. Everything I knew about chemistry was reviewed on the first day. I was totally lost within six weeks and eventually kicked out of the university for having a lousy semester. (If you’re junior or senior, you are not allowed to have a lousy semester; the university changed this policy a year later when 20% of the student body was at risk and threaten to significantly reduce the university’s income.) When it came to mathematics and the sciences, I could only go so far before hitting a wall that prevented me from going further.

I had a friend who worked in 13 years at the General Electric plant at Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue in San Jose (now the location of The Plant shopping center) in the nuclear division. He never did say what he worked on, or if he had a government security clearance. When pressed on the subject, he would say nuclear medicine and leave it at that. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Another friend told me he was hiking through the Mount Diablo area in the east bay when he stumbled upon a top secret government nuclear research facility. He noticed that the radar equipment was oriented differently to track intruders on the ground, and wasn’t surprised that a squad of soldiers showed up to escort him off the premises under  gunpoint. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Military installations are everywhere in Silicon Valley. Besides the more obvious Moffet Airfield and the Cold War-era radar building on top of Mount Umunhum, the famous Blue Cube (an Air Force satellite tracking facility) was visible from the 101.

When I worked in construction with my father in 1989, we built some block walls at a building next door to the Blue Cube. It was a very tense work environment. We were searched at the gate under gunpoint and armed military police with German shepherds patrolled the perimeter a dozen feet from where we were working. My father, a former Army captain who babysat tanks in West Germany in the early 1950s (the engines had to be turned over every four hours in the winter to avoid freezing over), thought building sound walls on the 280 with cars whizzing by two feet away was safer in comparison. A recruiter told me last year when I interviewed for a Lockheed position in that same area that the military was long gone after the base was decommissioned in 2007.

What’s the going to happen to nuclear technology after the disaster in Japan?

Probably the same thing that happened for the last 30 years: the nuclear industry will stay at standstill with no new major design breakthroughs for smaller, safer and efficient nuclear reactors. The environmentalists will scream, the politicians will knee jerk, the people will worry. Within 30 years there will be another crisis point when gas becomes too expensive to import and non-nuclear electricity won’t keep up with the demand to power electric cars. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood remakes all the disaster movies from the 1970s. The only reason that nuclear power is unsafe is because the electrical utilities and government regulators allowed safety to be compromised to save money in the short term. Until safety becomes the cornerstone for nuclear technology, accidents will continue to happen.

The Governator Vs. G.I.R.L.I.E. Men

He’s back! Entertainment Weekly reveals that California’s most beloved Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Stan Lee are teaming to create a new comic book and animated TV series called, “The Governator”. Based on early drawings, the series will revolved around an older, out-of-shape Ahnold hiding out and frequently exercising inside his elaborate Man Cave underneath his sprawling Southern California mansion, while a team of unpaid young people run around in rubber suits pretending to be a slimmer, younger version of the Ahnold to save the world from the G.I.R.L.I.E. Men.

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Boy oh boy, does California need the Governator more than ever!

The G.I.R.L.I.E. Men (a.k.a., The Republican Party) are holed up in the state capital, doing nothing except collecting paychecks and accumulating generous pension benefits. They are supposed to represent ALL the people in their districts but seem to represent the 30% of the state population known as angry white men. Their overlords are two conservative radio DJs in Southern California who are accountable to no one but themselves. When they say jump, the G.I.R.L.I.E. Men wet their panties to jump higher. The state budget negotiations recently failed with Governor Moonbeam because the G.I.R.L.I.E. Men insisted on giving tax breaks to corporations that send jobs out of state.

The Governator needs to come back to Sacramento to twist the panties of the G.I.R.L.I.E. Men!

Note: Since the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly is being published today with The Governator on the cover, this may be an elaborate April Fools joke. However, the G.I.R.L.I.E. Men and their DJ overlords in Southern California are a serious threat to the fun-loving people of California.