Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Paradox of the McMansion Versus the Tiny House


Few things signify the gross excess and outright waste of our current society like the modern suburban home. There are entire industries catering to the American middle class desire to own the biggest house possible along with a yard that usually must look like a miniature copy of an aristocratic English estate. The only purpose for this waste of resources and abuse of the land is for a shallow pursuit of status among equally superficial individuals.

The term “McMansion” was in fact coined to signify a house considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity. The lack of architectural integrity coming from the addition of secondary spaces that are essentially empty voids, internal areas of the house that serve no purpose other that an attempt at decoration. The best example off the top of my head would be a house I saw once with a foyer that had twelve foot ceilings. Right next the ceiling were three windows that had absolutely no useful purpose. Yes, they let in extra sunlight but with the ceilings in the rest of the house the normal distance from the floor the “grand foyer” as the homeowner described that space was utterly ridiculous to me.

The same goes for another McMansion I visited once during a pool party my family had been invited. The party had already started by the time I arrived with my wife talking to the hostess and my son playing in the pool with other kids. The husband of the hostess came over and greeted me and for some reason ushered me up to the master bathroom so I could change. Yeah, everything about that house screamed useless space designed to give the impression of a grand palace from the outside and inflate the importance of the owners inside. But it was the master bathroom that defied normal standards. The total square-footage of the bathroom was easily greater that my living room. Now it did have and oversized bathtub and a extra-large shower stall, and of course a toilet but the overall floor space was ridiculous.

It has been my observations that these McMansions tend to breed a contempt in their occupants towards anyone else not perceived to be of equal status. My recent post about the utter panic that erupted in local McMansion dwellers around me about the proposal to build affordable Section Eight housing in the general area shows how much humanity has to be surrendered just to protect things like a “grand foyer” and a master bathroom larger than living room.

It's a given that one of the worst problems we have here in the United States is the lack of affordable housing. Billions of dollars are spent annually to build these suburban McMansions and other houses that sit just under this definition. But actual homes that the poor can afford, allowing them to break the cycle of poverty, are exceedingly rare jewels. Such people are supposed to hide away in Sections Eight apartments deep inside the darker corners of cities whose only real purpose to allow rich developers to get even richer off government subsidies.

Even when something like Sections Eight housing is available, there are still legions of homeless men, women, and families floating around our streets like human flotsam in a vast ocean of apathy.

Here's where my bewilderment at our stunted society reaches critical mass. A type of residence that has become popular among some people are called “Tiny Homes.” These structures have an internal space ranging from one-hundred square feet to around four-hundred. But they can still provide the comforts of larger homes like full or even queen-size beds, a bathroom, along with a kitchen and living room.

While houses greater than four-hundred square feet don't technically fit the description as a tiny home, going up to eight-hundred square feet to accommodate families don't break the spirit of the idea.

Here's part of the problem as to why we're not solving the affordable housing problem by building whole villages of these tiny homes.

First is the obvious zoning issues, especially when upper scale neighborhoods just happen to be relatively nearby. The right-wing, self-righteous zealots in my area lost their tiny minds at the idea of affordable housing in the form of apartments being built. I can only imagine what they would think if a subdivision or two made up of Tiny Houses were proposed.

More than likely since Tiny Houses are required to be mounted on wheels, like trailers, they would be equally upset saying such residences draw crime, drops in property values, and overburden already crowded schools. Now it would be great if Tiny Houses could be built on permanent foundations but there are scores of vague regulations that prevent the creation of such villages. I'm sure some of these regulations stifling Tiny House creation have solid, legitimate reasons but I can't help to think some of them exist because typical homes owners fear their property values being hurt. And from my experience absolutely nothing defines the perspective of the vast majority of middle class Americans than how something or someone might hurt the property values of their houses.

Sliding slightly into the metaphysical but McMansions to me violate basic decency and shows an almost malevolent disregard for other human beings and the environment. The amount of resources in lumber and wiring and plumbing used to build such monstrosities could have gone to several much smaller houses. And as for the beautifully green lawns the chemicals used to create and maintain them have severe environmental problems that literally flow all the way down to the ocean.

I love how conservative suburbanites lament about “the good old days” were so much better all the while forgetting that their grandparents homes had a square-footage running around fourteen-hundred square feet at best. Full disclosure here, my current house (money pit) is a hair or two under twenty-one hundred square feet and I pretty much despise it.

Going full metaphysical, along with bleeding heart, high spending liberal. But with millions of folks in America going homeless, I can't help but think that with Tiny Houses we are looking at one facet of a solution for huge chunk of our society's problems. I actually believe we should build entire villages of Tiny Homes and give them away to homeless families, at first, and eventually down to single individuals. Payment for these homes would require troubled individuals to be part of anything and everything from mental health counseling, job training, substance abuse treatment, and basic upkeep of their homes. That failure to actively participate in treatment and training and upkeep would mean eviction.

The problem with my proposal is twofold. First being the mindless conservative reaction at the idea of their precious tax dollars being wasted on some liberal program. These God fearing, gun-toting real Americans have priorities and helping those less fortunate is just socialism.

The second being the mindless liberal reaction that the poor are just victims and shouldn't be expected to focus on their recovery and development. There's a great documentary on YouTube about Seattle's response o the homeless crisis is how it is actually hurting the people they are supposed to be trying to help.

I simply do not believe the conservative conceit that poor folks are lazy, useless parasites looking to suck the life blood out of hardworking folks. Yes, I'm sure on an individual basis such people exist but there isn't any perfect answer when it comes to humans and the institutions they create to help govern society. Personally I'm sick of our society both ignoring our problems and refusing to do anything constructive to help fix things.

One of the reasons I question the very nature of whether or not humans are an intelligent species is our inability, or even desire in many cases, to solve the problems of poverty that has been plaguing us since our ancestors decided to give up the hunter-gathering life.

Poverty breeds suffering for which all the other corrosive agents spring forth to eat away at a functioning society. For me more importantly, Americans disregard for fellow Americans makes everything we say we believe not just a lie, but a dangerous delusion. For if whole poorer segments of our population can be written off as lost causes, there is nothing stopping the rich elites from abandoning the middle class folks if they become inconvenient.

That may have been a little too abstract for some folks so to make it clear, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires don't give a fuck for you suburbanites living in your McMansions. Bezos wants to build space colonies off Earth and every other billionaire and multimillionaire I've ever heard of has a Doomsday plan that at a minimum gets them out of the country should it collapse.

You McMansion folks keep ignoring the growing poverty here in America and one day the angry mobs could be all over your green lawns with torches looking to cook you and your family. All the while Bezos will be in orbit and the other rich folks will be in their luxurious underground bunkers sipping champagne.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Things Never Seem to Change


Usually I have a strong opinion whenever the subject deals with the military or politics. Combine the two and if someone asks me a question on them I can easily give a fairly accurate history lesson on how we got there and how the situation reached its current point.

My one caveat on saying I can give a “fairly accurate history lesson” is that in a country filled with experts on sports statistics and what Hollywood celebrity is sleeping with whom, I excel at knowing the past. I admit that's not hard given the idiocy running rampant among the fat, distracted masses. But by all appearances as common layman go, I'm pretty good if not respectable at understanding just how stupid and self destructive our species can be.

That being said, I'm pretty much at a loss in trying to give an opinion on the final result of the United States involvement in Afghanistan. Was the “war” worth the cost in national cash and lives? Should we have withdrawn earlier say during the last years of the Second Bush Administration or Obama's? And finally, the big question is was President Biden correct in withdrawing troops now?

If the objective of invading Afghanistan in 2001 was weeding out terrorists, then I would say yes. The leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was being allowed refuge in the country by is Taliban buddies. After the invasion, The Taliban went running for the hills and Al Qaeda was ran out of the country. The fact that Osama slipped out of the country and spent years living in plain sight in Pakistan is a whole other issue.

But as for occupying Afghanistan and spending several trillion dollars on building its military and infrastructure, our involvement was such a catastrophic failure I'm sure it will take decades if not a century to understand its scope.

Here in the United States during all those years on involvement many called for a national health care system, A massive infrastructure project to fix...well everything that has been ignored for decades. It literally pains me to think of the Americans that money could have lifted out of poverty and put on a path to self-sufficiency.

But no, the war hawks and leaders on the right screamed. Such projects here in the United States would be disastrously wasteful, it would be far better to cut taxes and let the poor bootstrap themselves out of poverty. As for the crumbling roads, collapsing bridges, schools that look like ancient ruins, not to mention out of date airports, the rickety electrical grid, and numerous other national embarrassments well, those on the right either want to ignore it or say it can wait.

I don't mean to beat George W. Bush again, but there was no way in Hell he would have pulled out of Afghanistan. That was his one confirmed “win” and with him calling “Mission Accomplished” way too early in Iraq, he wasn't about to screw himself over.

Poor President Obama, I've read enough to suggest he wanted to withdraw the troops but politically it would have been suicide. He was barely able to end our active involvement in Iraq but had to recommit when Isis formed and about took over that country.

So we were stuck in Afghanistan, at least it was a slow bleed. But while most of the American money went to training and arming the Afghan military, some did trickle down to the common folks. Schools were built, roads paved, and a population that was living in the Middle Ages got a glimpse of modern life. There was gross waste and extravagant corruption but I have to believe some Afghans were helped.

So after twenty years President Biden pulls the plug and in less than two weeks the entire country falls apart with the Taliban once again calling the shots. Dammit, I know it was almost a certainty that the Afghan government would fall but to collapse in two weeks is something from a bad international spy thriller.

So was the Afghanistan Conflict worth the money and effort? My gut feeling is no. We did accomplish the initial mission but with the Taliban now back in charge the coming months and years are going to be just as problematic as it was before 9/11.

We did help a lot of common folks but the endemic corruption of the government and large portion of the population eager to remain in the Middle Ages, we only put those who worked with us in mortal danger.

My little essay here isn't meant to be thorough, people smarter than me will be debating this clusterfuck for decades. From the moment Bush gave the order to invade Afghanistan, there were undoubtedly thousands of decisions made that set us on the path we find ourselves now. But given Afghanistan's past history with invaders the end result would have certainly been the same.

Here's some idle speculation, but given the level of untapped resources in Afghanistan and China essentially next door, it will be interesting to see if they can resist falling into that trap.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Section Eight Housing and the Incredible Absence of Integrity


Shock and near panic rippled through my section of Lexington County recently with the news of a Section Eight housing project being built in an area surrounded by upper middle class subdivisions. I learned of the news from the “Nextdoor” social media app, something akin to Facebook but emphasizing local neighborhoods. Two or three years ago my subdivision's Home Owners Association started pushing for all the residents to join so we could communicate faster. Prior to last Tuesday when the Section Eight panic began I strictly limited my participation to receiving email alerts in case something other than asinine bullshit was ever shared.

What I mean by asinine bullshit involved countless garage sale notices, inspirational writings of a religious nature, along with the expected hyper-patriotic posts involving shrill civilians all wanting everyone else to know how much they truly loved America. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing for the most part. You would be a fool to expect a duck not to quack and a cat not to go meow. It's what they do and comfy, fat American civilians who live in McMansions love their miniature English estates and get teary-eyed about a country the vast majority have never lifted a hand to serve in any capacity.

I was already at work Tuesday morning when I started checking my email and saw the fearful subject lines of the disaster that was going to befall on the perfect subdivisions near the purposed housing project. Crime, property devaluation, unruly elements that would make it unsafe for families to walk the streets at night were all common comments by the people up in arms that their area would be saddled with poor folks trying to find a decent place to live.

I'll give a few of the scared locals a little, backhanded credit. Some did couch their complaints in semi-reasonable areas such as the schools are already overcrowded and that local traffic is a damn nightmare. But the area schools have been overcrowded for literally decades with some already pushed beyond capacity the same years that start operation. The summer my daughter's middle school opened for the first time the tar on the roof wasn't even dry and the school district was already buying portable classroom trailers because they had too many students.

Describing the local traffic congestion would have me devolving into fits or rage best left untouched. Just understand it's bad and every addition of a new fast food joint, strip mall, or convenience store/gas station makes everything exponentially worse. Throw in an ambulance trying to save someone's life or a fire truck in route to an emergency and the already slow traffic can come to a confusing, messy stop.

But I'll be sickeningly honest, the majority of people against the section eight housing wrote their comments in such as way that it was painfully clear that they had particular worries about the future residents living in the housing project. I'm sure they had poor redneck white folks at least partially in mind as their fingers danced in fear over the their keyboards. But it was obvious that there was some racial and ethnic fears being stoked by those opposing the project.

Just to make things that more ridiculous, a few even began bringing up conspiracy theories involving the usual suspects on the left. One person wrote about how this was an attempt to change the voting population of the county. That person's point being that the area is so deeply politically red that some nefarious group or individual was trying to throw political blue into the area mix. Another spoke openly of another conspiracy that someone was purposely trying to damage the property values.

Just understand, the sharing of possible conspiracies got deep as the comments began to pile up in number. Not that it surprised me, for a couple of years I had a certain local lawn irrigation company help me with my troublesome sprinkler system, that is until the owner in a offhanded manner back in 2008 said he knew for a fact that Barrack Obama was a Muslim. I may live among the crazy, but I don't have to do business with them.

What actually depressed me though, was the total lack of empathy the vast majority of people writing comments had for anyone they perceived as outside their suburban socioeconomic level. From their point of view, everyone who would be living in the section eight housing would be a drag on the upper middle class area. Now about four or five brave individuals challenged the majority in the comments essentially saying, “poor folks have to live somewhere too.”

That's when the accusations of being a liberal/”libtard”, Marxist, socialists troublemaker began flying. This might make a few people reading this angry but you can't throw a rock in my area without it coming close to numerous upscale churches that in my opinion act more like country clubs and whose parking lots overflow with luxury cars. I scanned pretty hard but failed to find any individual oppose the majority and agree with the section eight housing project on the grounds of the teachings of Jesus Christ. You know, the love thy neighbor angle that was drilled into my head during Sunday School.

The few individuals standing up for the poor were strictly social justice warriors on the secular end of the political spectrum.

The only conclusion I can take away from this disgusting situation is that we have degenerated into tribalism. America and Americans don't really exist in this day and age of paranoia and extreme gaps between the rich and poor. We've long since successfully balkanized the country between the elite rich and those living in abject poverty. But the fractures have spread to the middle class with those living in comfort already turning on those who can't purchase their way into McMansions.

Hey, I don't agree with it but I can understand billionaires or multimillionaires acting like old English aristocrats consisting of dukes, earls, and barons. But it seems clear to me even a lot of middle class folks have an irrational animosity towards poor people.

Affordable low-income housing is difficult to find in the best of times. And while there would be issues with the construction of section eight housing what are poor folks supposed to do? Conveniently retreat deep enough into the shadows of society till they can't be seen by the easily disturbed middle class?

I didn't want to bring myself into this rant but I didn't spend twenty-one years in the army and National Guard to be a part of some bullshit experiment in social Darwinism. I'm no saint, but I have enough of a conscious that I can't ignore those less unfortunate than me. I just there was an easy way for me to flee this chicken shit county. 


 Here's an edited screen shot of one small segment of the comments

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir--A NO SPOILER REVIEW

It goes without saying the movie version of The Martian was a brilliant piece of hard science fiction. I was literally in awe of the actors performance, the real science involved in the story, along with the basic concept of a lone individual marooned on a planet. Because I enjoyed the movie so much I naturally bought the Andy Weir novel which I found surpassed the movie. It was true “hard science fiction” in the sense that there was no magic gadgets that defy known physics used to save the day. Everything in the movie and novel is technologically possible.

Even growing potatoes in martian soil, the only show stopper being the weird type of salt in the martian regolith that Mr. Weir didn't know about when he was writing the book. Called perchlorates, this type of salt would make growing plants in Martian soil difficult, to say the least. But this doesn't derail the use of martian soil as material for growing Earth plants. Such salts could easily be washed out of the soil as it's put into greenhouses.

So when I learned of the basic plot of his latest novel, Project Hail Mary, I was like a kid waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. I ordered the book off Amazon and had a fit when the United States Postal Service failed to deliver it in the required two days. But it did arrive and I have to go ahead and say Project Hail Mary is one of the best science fiction books I have read in my life. Now, understand it's the best science fiction books I've read, but it's not HARD science fiction.

The book opens in more or less in the present day with a probe being sent to Venus and discovering an alien single-cell lifeform reproducing uncontrollably around the sun. Yes, its definitely growing around the sun and causing significant dimming that will plunge the entire Earth into an ice age in thirty years.

This of course sends all rational countries into terror because while the sun will not be extinguished the percentage of dimming will cause massive crop failures resulting in billions dying around the world. Needless to say an ecological collapse will also result in a mass extinction event as well for most plants and animals. So it's the end of the world and no amount of climate denial and anti-science rhetoric will stop the advanced rational nations from a crazy project to try and save it.

Enter the main character Ryland Grace PhD, a humble junior-high school biology teacher who was forced to leave advanced molecular biology research because he wrote a controversial paper proposing that life could exist without using water.

The almighty overlord of project Hail Mary, Eva Stratt picks Grace to study the samples of the lifeform being brought back to Earth. Mainly because everyone was assuming that since the organism was growing on the sun that it couldn't possibly contain water. But also because of the fact that Stratt wanted a competent, but highly replaceable, scientist to look at the organism first. In other words if the organism killed Grace while he was poking it with a stick there was essentially no loss to humanity.

Well Ryland Grace makes significant breakthroughs in classifying the organism he names “Astrophage.” It uses the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Venus to reproduce then emits huge quantities of light energy to get back to the sun to hang out. Astrophage's ability to emit light as a form of propulsion is discovered by other scientists and they begin figuring out a way to build a sub-light starship using it as fuel.

Why build a starship when Earth is about to become a global icebox? Because every astronomer in the world is looking for the origin of Astrophage and they discover all the local stars in our stellar neighborhood are dimming the same way. The conclusion, Astrophage has infected them all except one, Tau Ceti, a star a little under twelve lightyears away.

Project Hail Mary is an attempt to build a Astrophage-powered starship to reach Tau Ceti and hopefully find out why the single-cell assholes aren't causing it to dim. Dr. Ryland Grace end up on the three person crew of the Hail Mary, who are put into a medically-induced coma for the four-year journey to Ta Ceti. Four year journey, when you said Tau Ceti is twelve lightyears away????

Relativity my friends, old Albert Einstein isn't a character in the book but his ideas about traveling close to the speed of light means our intrepid crew will only experience four years of travel time. Why put them in a medically-induced coma? Because the Hail Mary isn't the spacious Starship Enterprise, the three-person crew would go insane living in such a small container. Plus it saves on the use of food and life support during the voyage. Of course while the crew will only “experience” four years, time dilation means those left on Earth will experience more and with only a total of thirty years left before Earth goes full dead block of ice the possibility of success is remote.

Oh yeah, the crew on the Hail Mary are all on a suicide mission. To save Earth they have to reach Tau Ceti discover why that star isn't dimming. If they find a solution they will launch four small probes back to Earth that will carry the information on how to solve the problem. After that all three have ways to painlessly end their own lives.

It simply wasn't practical to build a starship with enough fuel for a return voyage to Earth.

Needless to say like any battle plan going to shit when opposing forces make actual contact, lots of crazy, scary, unplanned events happen to those aboard the Hail Mary. Small spoiler here but the star 40 Eridani, another in the local neighborhood that is also dimming plays a part in the novel.

Project Hail Mary isn't hard science fiction, but it an excellent novel in its own right. “Astrophage” naturally doesn't exist and along with a few other created elements prevents this novel from being hard science fiction.

Another curious thing about this is book is the seemingly lack of direct American involvement with the Hail Mary Project. That why I said all 'advanced rational nations' at the start of my review. Of course Ryland Grace is American but during the construction of the Hail Mary every major spacefaring nation including the multinational European Space Agency (ESA) seem to have far more involvement than NASA. One example, after the Hail Mary is built and in orbit around the Earth, it is astronauts of the ESA that crew the ship during during testing. The reason why Andy Weir wrote the story that way is unclear.

Personally, the first thought that came to my mind is that I could easily see the antiscience dumbasses here in the United States denying that any problem with Astrophage and the sun existed. I could easily see dozens of right-wing religious extremists and libertarians saying Astrophage was all an evil globalist plot to undermine the United States. Those same individuals say the same thing about climate change, pollution, and numerous other real issues the world and our nation faces.

During the book I began to feel for the character of Ryland Grace and his situation as he attempts to save Earth. His situation gets extremely dire several times with only luck and pure intelligence saving the day. Grace is a true hero but he's no Captain Kirk nor Picard by any means. He has a serious flaws and they are exposed during the course of the novel. But I also felt his excitement as he made numerous discoveries trying to get to the ultimate goal. The fictional Ryland Grace is a twenty-first century man who truly got to voyage, “where no one has gone before.”

I highly recommend Project Hail Mary.