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Fourteen years ago, in a basement in St. Louis, I had a personal epiphany while playing Gran Turismo 2. 

Gran Turismo 2 was a racing game, in which you would race cars around various tracks, from tiny, sluggish vintage Fiats to rally racers and super cars. 

Absolutely the most frustrating part of the game was acquiring these racing "licenses" to allow you to race in higher brackets against tougher competition for more money. This was blood-boiling, controller throwing, rage-quitting frustration of the highest order. If you had to complete a section of track with a Peugeot in 30.000 seconds, and you completed it in 30.001 seconds after trying several hundred times in a row, you had to do it again until you hit the magic number. There wasn't the first shred of forgiveness, and until you completed the license tests, you were stuck. And the tests were nearly impossible. As many times as I cussed Sony for making that game, the lesson it taught me has paid me back many times over again.

So, I was racing some 1970's Alpine Berlinette with god-awful tires through a winding course, over and over again, for hours. I would get frustrated, my friend would get frustrated. I would get frustrated again, and pass it off to my friend.

And then the epiphany hit.

Watching the results, the actual times we got on the track after each failed attempt, it seemed like we were most likely to succeed when we were least frustrated. When our shoulders were relaxed, and our movements smooth and calm, we turned in our best times. Success often came in moments of clarity, while failure and frustration didn't necessarily come in that order. Frustration itself was causing us to fail.

At that moment, I realized that if I wanted to beat these driving tests as quickly as possible I needed to control my frustration and instead, as I came to call it, "Gran Turismo." Instead of viewing a long string of failures as pointless torture, I made the conscious choice to analyze and learn from each failure and develop a concrete strategy to avoid each previous pitfall. Acting out and verbalizing frustrations only interrupted the learning process and distracted from the goal. To Gran Turismo properly, I had to void all of my preconceptions of instant gratification, and understand that the task was going to require a certain amount of time: time that I was willing to dedicate, and understood plainly was going to be consumed by the task. To Gran Turismo was to make peace with myself, understanding that I would calmly sit there and fail, and fail, and fail, and finally succeed.

And so, in the fourteen years since, I have Gran Turismo'ed car repair, home improvement, patting new babies to sleep past midnight, dealing with stubborn situations at work, and anything else that threatens to drive me to spitting and swearing. 

Whenever I feel frustration overcoming me, as my efforts rack up and my results stay at zero, I start thinking "Gran Turismo," and I do everything I can to separate my emotional response from each successive failure, knowing that the tension and anger will only ensure further failures. If I can analyze the failure, I steer my efforts accordingly. If I can't, I just try something, anything, different from the previous attempt.

And, eventually, I succeed, all the sooner because of Gran Turismo 2. 

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The Pentagon and their vendors of ultra-expensive superweapon systems (General Dynamics, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, etc.) are a hammer searching for a nail.

Having rediscovered the theoretical impossibility of winning a guerrilla war in the Middle East, after first discovering this fact in Vietnam, they are turning their attention to the tried and true enemy of the 20th century: Russia. Fighting a regular army that can issue strategically valid surrender must seem fresh and invigorating to the planners and politicians that are guaranteed to do exactly none of the fighting and dying on the battlefield. Russia is a respectably scary enemy, and if they are portrayed as threatening the livelihoods of Americans by the US body-politic, then there is no doubt that more tax money can be squeezed from a spineless Congress, into the coffers of the war machine, and onward into their campaign coffers.

Exactly nothing geopolitically has changed since 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed as far as our relationship with Russia. They have enough nukes to destroy the United States, and we have enough nukes to destroy them. This same stalemate has existed since approximately 1965, and no useful means of defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles has been deployed. Simply enough, each country mutually assures the other's destruction.

Despite no change in the strategic landscape, newspapermen and politicians wonder aloud how we will contain the Russian threat to Europe, and wax hysterical about conventional weapons systems and whether or not ours measure up to theirs. Is there a plausible scenario in which a Russian tank will actually be forced to fight head to head with a US tank? Would this happen before nuclear weapons are falling? After? If nuclear weapons fall at any point, does it matter what kind of fighter jet anyone has? 

Seeing no need to consider these questions, the US government contracted a stealth destroyer be constructed, and has been in the midst of an enormously expensive procurement project for the F-35 joint strike fighter for as long as I can remember. It's operational effectiveness is questioned by everyone, and its usefulness claimed by no one. It is an albatross, and may end up costing the taxpayer a trillion dollars. Even a good jet is useless in a nuclear war, much less a bad one.

It is an atrocious case of normalcy bias. The Air Force buys better planes that its stated enemy. The Navy plans for battle with the ships belonging to its stated enemy. The Army plans for battles involving tanks and men because they have tanks and men to fight with. If either the US or Russian government ever face an existential crisis, where the politicians themselves face annihilation, the nuclear weapons will come out. Everything else is a sideshow.

There is no point in fighting a war where there is no chance of winning, and if, after 40 years of the Cold War the US and Soviet Union never crossed swords, what is the likelihood that the tinker-toy weapons systems of today will ever be used against the Russians in the future? Cold War doctrine was always calculated based one-hundred percent on nuclear capability, and nothing has changed since. A tank is like a dust-mite in comparison to an H-bomb; an aircraft carrier a match box, still.

But even fake wars have real costs. Another Cold War with Russia will waste the labor of untold millions, and worst of all it will be labor of our best and brightest. Scientists and engineers who could otherwise be building bridges and eradicating diseases will instead be tasked with designing glorified fishing boats and ATVs for a generation of men trained to fight a war that cannot possibly occur against an enemy that will vaporize them or be vaporized long before the two sides ever meet. The material and genius already wasted in fighting the Soviet bogeyman is practically incalculable, as the progress we would have enjoyed daily is instead locked up in a boneyard of rusting airplanes in Arizona. The life's work of thousands of brilliant minds, brilliant airframes with fabulous designs, never used, wasting away in the desert. Another Cold War will cost us the billions it cost before, but it will also cost us in the peacetime technological advances that bring us all a better life.

No nuclear power has ever been invaded, and it is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which a nuclear power would tolerate defeat when it could be avoided at the touch of a button. To envision a second Cold War to be any different is absurd, and to waste the labors of the United States in preparing for an imaginary conventional war will certainly cause more damage to the country than it could ever prevent.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

I have Facebook. I've "unfollowed" about two thirds of my friends to avoid a constant barrage of complaining on my newsfeed. I spend about ten or twenty minutes a day seeing what everyone is up to, then I move on.

I put a hammer to nails, spend time with my family, pet my dog or make dinner. Leaves sprout out of the hardwoods in my front yard, the sun rises and sets, and rain feeds my tomatoes and strawberries. 

The real world seems to operate smoothly without social media. All of the plants and animals and natural processes continue completely uninterrupted despite the latest trend on Snapchat, and the world very much resembles itself in spite of trending topics on Twitter. 

A general sense came over me as I looked out a tree full of cherry blossoms that the real world couldn't care less about social media, and that perhaps, nothing actually happens on social media. If something important happens, you'll hear about it elsewhere, and won't be able to avoid it, and for everything else there is social media.

Rather than an industrial revolution that changes the patterns and habits of everyone everywhere, or the creation of the internet that allowed all information to be accessible to everyone at all times, social media creates a parallel universe that has practically no effect on the real world. Real events happen, and are subsequently reflected and distorted fun-house-mirror-like in the world of social media.

And so, people who spend a large quantity of time on social media aren't actually participating in real life; rather, they exist in the alternate universe of social media, where nothing actually happens, and nothing actually matters. Some people still say, though, that they can't live without Facebook or whatever other platform is their favorite, but the truth of the matter is they can only live without social media, life only happens outside of Facebook. 

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Imagine if our lives depended on continued military intervention in the Middle East. If the troops came home, there would be no food on the table, and the lights would go out. We would die, cold, starving and confused.

Fortunately, this is not the case.

In fact, there is really no traceable benefit at all from the continued military occupation of various spots in the Middle East. Every now and then, there is a London beheading, Paris shooting, or a Brussels bombing in retribution for the ongoing war, and this is the only identifiable impact that the ongoing war has had on everyday life in the West. Politicians and other cheerleaders for the war will say it would be so much worse without the ongoing air strikes, but this cannot be proved. What can be proved is that the stated motive of all recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States is the Western intervention "over there."

If this were the first time this had ever happened, I could understand the reflex to continue fighting.

But anyone over 40 has already seen this movie, and it was called the IRA. The Irish Republican Army waged war against the British as they occupied Northern Ireland under Operation Banner. Banner ran in earnest from 1969 to 1998. 30 years of arrests, fighting, and policing by the British Army did practically nothing to end the carnage, as thousands died in mass killings that continued into 2002. 

But suddenly in 1998, the British left, and people under 30 scarcely remember that there was a terrorist organization of Catholics setting off truck bombs in Western Europe on a regular basis. The Irish Car Bomb is now just a drink, and no one at college knows where the name came from. After the occupation ended, they faded away and all but disappeared.

It is likely that we will see Operation Banner unfold again, over and over, until the West withdraws its own troops from the Middle East. If the prize for staying were more precious, if continuing to fight meant continuing to survive, it would be worth the destruction at home. But, it is nearly impossible to justify even one Belgian or American death for all the benefit of this endless war. Death, it seems, is the only fruit that this particular tree seems to be capable of bearing.

Even after we leave, the attacks will likely continue for years, as was the case in Ireland, but eventually they will stop. If we continue to fight, however, the fighting and killing will never end, as was also the case in Ireland.

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Donald Trump famously praised himself for his "great relationship with the blacks", and was almost universally ridiculed for it. Maybe it was the perfect ridiculousness of this statement that brought a larger societal problem into focus for me.

In his magnificent crassness, Trump highlighted the issue of lumping together every individual of an enormous group on the basis of gender, skin color, religion and a host of other identities. Maybe it was the article "the" that made it so clear. "I have great relationships with many black people" wouldn't be nearly so tin-eared as saying you have "a" single great relationship with "the blacks".

His exact words aren't clich├ęd and well-used, so they rang loudly. However, we hear the exact same statement from supposedly sensitive types referencing "the black vote" or "minorities" and tend to think nothing of it. But, say something like "the red-headed vote", and you immediately identify the problem. 

Expecting all people with black skin to think, vote, and act alike is the pinnacle of racism, in the sense that it strips a person of their personal identity, and applies in its place a prefabricated racial identity. Or gender identity. Or national identity. Or religious identity. Or sexual identity.

Cementing a fixed identity based on inborn traits to everyone but white males creates a caste system, and predetermines to a large extent the opportunities allowed to each group (of course, with the exception of white males, who can do whatever the hell they want until they break off into one of the typecast subgroups). Allowing this typecasting to take place is toxic to everyone except white males, and everyone but white males stand to gain a great deal by asserting their individuality and rejecting the idea that "the black vote" or "women's issues" define them  perfectly.

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