Paranoia or Pattern Recognition?

Last year, I wrote this post about the increasing danger posed by fundamentalism in the U.S.A. — not Islamic fundamentalism, but so-called Christian fundamentalism, and its threat to science. (And here are some supporting thoughts published via Scientific American and the UK Guardian.)

This morning, as I finished my second gallon of coffee :-), this post set me off: Blind, severely disabled boy forced to take standardized test. That was on top of the news from yesterday that Senator Coburn had finally succeeded in getting one of his attacks against NSF included in a funding bill.

I can’t help but wonder if these kinds of things aren’t continuing salvos in a deeper agenda — one that not all of itds supporters may have even thought about. Then again, maybe I’m feeling especially paranoid and caffinated today, but….

First, think about the ideological attacks on public school teachers as moochers and incompetent (think: Wisconsin as a glaring example, and here’s a good explanation of the phenomenon). The thrust of these efforts is to drive their pay and benefits so low that the profession is completely unattractive to anyone with competence (let alone, excellence). Coupled with this are passage of laws that threaten their pensions and prevent them from using unions to resist.

More or less concurrently, the laws have been set up to penalize schools based on testing — forcing every student to take tests that they are set up to fail, thus depressing the scores to provide “proof” that public schools are “failing.” (As an aside, if only we had similar evaluation of the legislators passing these laws based on scores rather than financed, partisan elections…..)

Another step is to open up voucher programs and make them easy to get for parents who want to opt out of public schools. This further erodes the resources for public schooling. It also boosts the attendance at schools that teach crap creationist “science” and revisionist history (think: the fairy tales that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin spout). The adults educated as children in these schools will almost certainly tend to vote for the know-nothings who are engineering the destruction of real education, and will want their own children to attend these New World madrassas rather than be exposed to reality.

So goes the spiral as secular, scientific, reason-based education circles the drain.

Couple this with the mantra of “must eliminate the debt and big government” that are used as excuses to cut research (Senator Coburn’s vendetta against NSF is one example, and shuttering NASA programs another), cut early education and child support, continually reduce higher education support and scholarships, and block appointment of any Federal judges many of whom show evidence of understanding separation of church and state,… hmmm, what else? Concentrate the wealth and thus much of the political power in the hands of an elite that are largely separated from average people. Mix in the advocacy of increased military spending. Paint Islam and China as looming threats. Extrapolate from those data points, and many more you can add in.

Let’s see. Cut away at good secular education, deny advanced education for any but the dogmatic, undercut chances at economic freedom, the privileged are “more equal than others because they work harder,” promote an agenda of extreme ideals, and beat the drum for “vigilance” against heretical foes. What comes to mind? Orwell’s 1984, Nazi Germany, the early Soviet Union, North Korea… and the USA of 25-35 years from now? Foster ignorance, economic stagnation, and rabid ideology, and it is simple to move to totalitarian control.

All this is coming from one end of the US political spectrum, and one political party. Is it surprising to anyone if they might have delusions of the US as a sectarian military power dominating the world with their ideals? If not, ask yourself — what threatens that vision? What is “under attack” according to their rhetoric? How could they change the U.S. to be more suitable to their view of domination? And is that inconsistent with what has been happening?

Am I getting all that from 1 report of insane rules overapplied to a child in Florida? Nope. But I’ve seen so much of this in the last few years, and especially this week (the Coburn move against NSF being the most irritating) that, coupled with too much coffee, here’s my rant.

I can guess at some of the people who will read this far and who will denigrate everything about it. Sadly, those people are almost certainly aligned with the ones helping perpetrate the decline, perhaps even without thinking about where it all might lead. The most dogmatic are the ones who are most easily misled and who most quickly rise to their defense.

If we care, we need to push back. Push back against Senator Coburn, and Governor Scott Walker, and Reps. Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann, and all the other demagogues who would happily push us into the world of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even if I’m not paranoid it doesn’t mean that the know-nothings aren’t out to destroy all teaching of science and history they don’t like (which the rest of us can call “reality” for short). It doesn’t mean they won’t try to push their religious views on us. And it doesn’t mean they won’t seek to hobble — economically and politically — everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

All it takes for those ideals to win out is for the rest of us to allow those demagogues to keep getting elected and spouting their nonsense on radio and TV without correction (e.g., that “reality” stuff). Does it matter to you, or are @lolcats, “The Batchelor” and “Jersey Shore” all you really care about? Based on response from three different classes this week, less than 10% of even the best educated are bothering to keep up with the news — they didn’t know about the cyberattacks in South Korea, that the President was in Israel, that China had elected a new premier, the financial crisis in Cyprus…. but wow, several of them certainly knew about who was on “Dancing with the Stars” and which teams were in the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m beginning to wonder if the forces of ignorance have not already won. 😦

Musing on the Near Future

I read an interesting article online today. It is simply the latest in a long set of articles on related topics that have sparked some discussion with people over the last year or so.

I want to give this a little spin that I haven’t seen in the news or commentary, simply to provoke some thought. That, and I’m getting tired of all the Chik-fil-a discussions and yet more evidence of politicians being less concerned with the people than with (re)election. Here’s a chance to get some discussion on something else. (Yes, I suppose that makes this a long-winded troll.)

First, it is clear that Iran’s leadership is trying to push things as far as they can. In some senses, they do indeed have a right to enrich uranium so long as they allow international inspections and don’t head towards weaponizing it. After all, they have signed the non-proliferation treaty. However, statements and actions by the government there do not lead to any sense of calm and confidence that they would abide by the treaty, and to date they have violated it in several ways. They’ve repeatedly rejected attempts to resolve some of the issues.

So, the international community has pushed sanctions. The U.S. just ratcheted up the issue by setting indirect sanction in place on banks and firms in countries doing business with Iran.   

Some critics of the current U.S. administration have been claiming that the sanctions aren’t working, and we need a military option. In fact, reports out of Iran are that the sanctions are increasingly degrading the quality of life for common Iranians, and that is increasing their dissatisfaction with the government. That is precisely the plan. The more unrest and discontent in the populace, the more the government has to beat the drums about being under siege by the rest of the world because of their “righteous cause.”

OK, this isn’t news to anyone who has given it some thought, or thought about prior instances of countries under sanctions. However, given the sanctions, one wonders if they are likely to achieve the desired goals. The question is one of “what goals are those?

Here’s where some interesting events could come about, and may be the actual intent.

There have been repeated public claims by the Iranian government that it views the sanctions as hostile acts. There have also been statements about how they aren’t afraid to go to war and close the Straights of Hormuz, and will do so if provoked. There has been a fair amount of sword-rattling. This is one of the few ways they can really do anything militarily, because they really don’t have a strong navy or a lot of resources to employ.

Closing the Straights — or even trying to — would raise some panic among shipping companies that transit oil tankers through there. Loss of a big tanker would be very expensive, and insurance doesn’t normally cover acts of war. It would likely stop some of the tanker traffic, which in turn would raise the market price (and some availability) of oil, thus leading to strain on Western economies. The Iranians — and everyone else — knows this. That is why the threat has some impact.

However, quietly over the last year, various western powers appear to have been building up bases and anti-mine capabilities in the region, and are well-equipped to counter any Iranian moves to interdict naval traffic. There have also been some moves to change oil usage and flow, including a new Saudi pipeline that bypasses the Straights.

So, here’s how the scenario might well play out:

  • the new sanctions really hurt and the Iranian people are even more unhappy with the government
  • the Iranian government feels forced to make a public move to consolidate its position
  • the Iranian government makes some move in the Straights of Hormuz, and/or the Revolutionary Guards, under pressure, make some error that results in apparent hostilities in the Straights
  • given the excuse of threats to shipping in International waterways, NATO and/or other powers intervene
  • there is escalation until there is an actual shooting conflict involved

Again, that isn’t overly surprising. What I want to suggest, however, is that when this happens, it will also be perfect cover for launching an offensive against the nuke plants. Iran will have proven itself an aggressor, and will be in a pitched fight at sea — that will be perfect political and tactical cover for airstrikes, and maybe even deployment of some special ops teams to get things that airpower can’t.

The question is whether or not the Iranian leadership is crazy enough, defiant enough, and/or desperate enough to create the incident. The problem is, they don’t have many options. If they don’t do something, it threatens long-term support from within. And ideologically, it seems unlikely they will back off on enrichment because that would show the world they submitted to demands from both the Little Satan (Israel) and the Big Satan (USA).

My prediction: conflict by early October.

As with anything else, however, there are secondary effects to consider. If the above scenario plays out in any way similar to the above, there are at least three probable secondary effects:

1) North Korea occupies a roughly similar political position as Iran in the world: nuclear capabilities, pariah state, erratic political behavior, population under stress from sanctions. There has been some apparent thawing beginning with Kim Jong Un’s consolidation in power. If shooting breaks out with Iran, expect North Korea’s military to gain ascendency. This is not likely to trigger a crisis, per se, but it will wipe out the chance of some reconciliation that appears to be appearing.

2) Any threat of conflict in the oil production zone or the shipping lanes will impact oil prices. If that happens for more than a few weeks, it will have a negative impact on many economies — especially within the EU. It will hasten defaults by several governments and the probable breakup of the Euro zone. (If there is no conflict, I expect the same to happen by the end of the year anyhow. Spain and Greece are going to go into default, and France and Italy may join them. The debt loads are unsustainable and default is inevitable. It is simply a matter of time, and an oil crisis would move it forward.)

Fallout of European defaults will not be pretty. It will cause significant hiccups in both the Chinese and US economies. It might be enough to trigger a slide into a global depression.

3) Depending on timing, this will have an effect on the US elections. Late in the fall, it will likely aid in Obama’s re-election as the decisive commander-in-chief will be the image voters will have going to the polls. Between now and late September will give time for the economy to slide, and that might well be in Romney’s favor.

Black swan events could change a lot of this, of course. My personal “favorites” involve major earthquakes (California, New Madrid fault, Istanbul, China); major eruption of Katla in Iceland, shutting down air travel across Europe; conflict involving Pakistan (accidental war with India or internal rebellion); major solar storm that damages electrical transmission systems in North America or Europe. There are undoubtedly others (that is part of the definition of Black Swan!), but any one of those would be sufficient to make the world situation much more complicated.

There are also the troubling issues of what happens if the al Assad regime uses its chemical weapons, or allows them to fall into the hands of jihadists. Or any scenario with Iran where they start lobbing ballistic missiles into Israel, even if only armed with conventional warheads. The results of either would be very ugly: Israel does allegedly have nuclear weapons, and the hardliners in charge will strike back, hard, at any perceived existential threat. The follow-on to something like that would be very bad.

Overall, I expect the rest of this year to be interesting.

My sincere hope is that I’m totally wrong. After all, my day job is computing. But if not, you read it here.

You may now return to your lolcats, Pinterest, and competing rants about the economy. 🙂

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