Trump’s Maginot Line

As we enter the longest shutdown of the U.S. government in our country’s history over the building of a wall spanning the US-Mexico border one wonders how shutting down the government and causing so much pain to almost a million Federal employees is going to force Mexico to pay for this wall as was promised on the campaign trail by Donald Trump.  To be sure, in classic Orwellian fashion, Trump, while admitting he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall in the same breath denies that he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

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But what is this wall Trump is so hellbent on building no matter how many Americans he hurts in the process?  The wall has gone through various iterations and as of this writing it has become a fence built with steel slats.  Its purpose is to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs, and human trafficking from Mexico which now, according to Trump, have reached emergency proportions although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS Border Security Metrics Report says otherwise.  Quoting the report, “Figure 2 depicts available data on estimated undetected unlawful entries for FY 2006 – FY 2016, the years for which data are available. As the figure indicates, estimated undetected unlawful entries fell from approximately 851,000 to nearly 62,000 during this period, a 93 percent decrease.”

figure 2

Trump is proposing building a modern day Maginot Line, a multi-billion dollar wall  rather than investing in the technologies and methodologies that, as anyone can see, works in reducing the amount of illegals successfully getting across the border.

The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a 943 mile long wall of fortifications built along the French-German border in the 1930s intended to deter German aggression against France.  As history shows, specifically images of German troops marching as conquerors past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was considerably less effective than was originally thought. It has become a metaphor for expensive efforts that offer a false sense of security.

Trump, ignoring all factual evidence, is proposing to build a modern day version of the Maginot Line on our Southern border claiming it will work where all other attempts to use a wall on scales such as this have not worked. What has worked is an investment in the most modern technology and efficacious methodologies that employ them.  Opponents of the Maginot Line, most notably such as Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle, argued for investments in other technologies such as armor and aircraft to repel the German forces and the war against Germany may have had a different outcome had their suggestions been heeded.  The historical legacy of the Maginot Line was that it was an extremely expensive way to provide the French people a false sense of security.  Trump’s wall, a modern day Maginot Line, will do exactly the same.

Review | The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten AmericaThe View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

This book is a collection of essays written between 2012 and 2014 covering subjects including the collapse of the US economy, the loss of opportunities, the shrinking middle class, and the transformation of higher education into a debt trap by the super rich. While the book is focused mainly on ‘flyover country’ also called the mid-west or the ‘rust belt’ it will also ring true with those in such places as Williamsburg and Greenpoint Brooklyn, where gentrification has pushed out middle class families some of which had lived there for generations. The author successfully predicted the election of Donald Trump and each essay describes the angst that motivated disillusioned voters to cast their vote for him. To be sure, his populist rhetoric set fire to the simmering anger you could easily see at his rallies but populism is a plant that can only grow in a specific type of soil. These essays describe the soil in which his message took hold.

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Review |Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book the author delves into the perilous depths of predicting the future. Regardless of where you come down on the issues and his prognostications you will be thinking about this book long after you have put it down. The author takes two technologies still in their beginning stages, biotechnology and data processing coupled with ever more powerful AI algorithms and extrapolates the impact these two fields will have to economics, humans and the value of human life. The author uses a broad brush so the reader gets everything from the ‘rose colored glasses’ scenario to a bleak dystopian future chronicling the last days of the human race. One comes away with the impression that both scenarios are possible; it all depends on who gets their hands on the technology first and their subsequent ability to control it.

Of particular interest to me were the authors treatment of two subjects: free will and Humanism. Discussions regarding free will have become increasingly popular with a number of authors such as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett recently releasing books on the subject. Dr. Harari’s treatment of free will is as good an introduction as I’ve seen to the subject. His treatment of Humanism is even better and, while I still have some issues with specifics he has forced me to rethink some of my assumptions and change some of my views. I would love to see Dr. Harari’s next book delve deep into Humanism. His historical approach to understanding a subject would work quite well with Humanism and add a great deal of value to the current discussions.

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A wonderful holiday gift.

I’ve been asked and am honored to have accepted the position of International Editor for Nastik Nation, India’s online forum for atheism and free-thought.  Why the name ‘Nastik Nation’?  As the website explains, “The word nastik generally stands for an atheist in the main languages of the Indian peninsula, except in Tamil. In Tamil it is naathigam, that too is a word derived from the same Sanskrit word nastik.”

The website publishes a monthly newsletter which can be accessed from their website which, in addition to being very well written, is also didactic for the secular community.  The issues facing the secular movements in both India and the United States are fundamentally the same though the particulars differ.  The insights that our secular brothers and sisters in India provide on these issues are invaluable.   More importantly, there is an instant connection you feel between yourself and the writer; the power of ideas to unite groups and cultures moves from the theoretical to the visceral. Seeing the ideas we both espouse at work changing the political, legal and cultural landscape in both milieus shows the power these ideas have. The power of these enlightenment ideas are still as strong as the day they were born and this gives me hope for future generations.

Most importantly, I will be able to have a hand in helping to bring attention to the work that is being done and difficulties our brothers and sisters are facing because of the ideas they hold.  These difficulties are far more strenuous than anything we face here in the States and as such each and every one of these brave men and women are inspirations to us all. A quick Google search will turn up articles such as this which illustrate the risks of being charged with blasphemy, or as I like to call it, thought-crime, by the religious fanatics.  I am constantly inspired by the bravery of the people who make up the Indian secular movement and am honored to be working with them.

Review | Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American DemocracySuicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
― John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife

This book is a great conversation starter and conversations are what are sorely needed at this point in our country’s history. Casting aside the “it can’t happen here” head-in-the-sand position the author shows that yes, Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics can and are happening here and, more importantly gives a lucid and powerful explanation why this is so and what we need to do to counter them.

This is first and foremost a secular argument; the author states plainly in the beginning of the book that you will not find God in these pages. This is befitting for a number of reasons. First, it puts the ideas of casting people in the “good” and “evil” camps, which is the surest way to end a conversation and start an argument, on the shelf. Secondly, a secular nation such as ours deserves a secular argument when defending the principles it is based on. These principles are the principles that came out of the enlightenment and are a scant few hundred years old. In contrast, our species is tens of thousands of years old and the societal systems we have evolved under are what we call Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics. They “feel” right to us. In contrast, the Enlightenment values of inalienable rights, democracy and the rule of law are foreign to our intuitions and, as such, take work. Work to understand them, work to implement them and work to keep them as the principles of our society. The arguments put forth in defense of this conjecture are lucid and powerful. One may not agree with everything but you will have your work cut out for you rebutting them. Sophistry and jingoism won’t do.

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Review |The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and FreedomThe Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read/listen. Shermer presents a number of arguments to show and explain the apparent correlation between the advance of science and the advance of our moral sensibilities. Having considered Shermer’s arguments I am still not fully convinced that it is the rise of science and reason that is informing and driving the moral insights of society and is the prime mover of ‘bending the moral arc’ as Shermer calls it. We have had science and scientific progress in any number of societies over the course of history; the Chinese and the Arab world are two that come to mind yet there was no corresponding rise in either the standard of living or moral sensibilities which mimic Western society over the past 100 years. While I would agree that science is a necessary condition for moral progress to occur I don’t think that Shermer makes the case that it is a sufficient condition.

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Review | LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social MediaLikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LikeWars is a well written, well researched and penetrating analysis on how powerful social media has become in influencing society, politics and our perceptions of what is real and what is not. More importantly, it attempts to chart a trajectory of how social media will evolve in the future and powerful role artificial intelligence (AI), specifically neural networks, will play in determining that trajectory. The solutions presented by the authors to the issues we are facing and will face are as insightful as their observations. I would hope that every educator and policy maker here in the United States would read this book and be motivated to take action.

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