Why I’m shutting things down

I’d again like to thank everyone for the support over the last few days. While I considered just removing everything and leaving it a mystery, on further reflection I’ve decided to post the full reason behind this decision. As noted, time and resources are a factor, but those are solvable. However, the main reason isn’t fixable, at least not by me: I’ve received a number of physical threats over time, and recently those threats have escalated. While most of them involve the geopolitics posts, a surprising few also involve mundane topics like hurricanes. So I think it best to move on.

I’ve never been comfortable with public attention. People who thrive on it might find this unbelievable, and our celebrity obsessed culture doesn’t understand my point of view at all. Although it was never really a secret, and easy enough for someone to find out who I am, I don’t think I ever actually posted my name here on the blog – it was always a source of amusement when my wife would be asked if she followed “that Enki dude” to get hurricane advice. Partly that’s the old-school scientific approach – third person, keep personalities out of it. I absolutely hate doing interviews, and media attention literally upsets my stomach. Then there’s social media …

Between Facebook, Twitter, and direct blog links, when I do a post roughly 30,000 people get it more or less directly, and a popular (or unpopular!) post is often exposed to 200,000 individuals. A few have been several times that number. Now, in internet terms, that’s borderline trivial. But in sociological terms it’s a problem. According to some research, depending on how you define it at least 0.5% of Americans suffer from AntiSocial Personality Disorder, and while it’s not in the DSM, levels of ASPD that result in what is commonly called psychopathic behavior (that leads to the anger, etc. expressing as physical violence) is probably on the order of 0.1% or one in a thousand. So that means given that audience size, there are at well over a thousand jerks out there who will be disruptive, and at least a dozen or more for whom that might tip over in to them taking action to some degree in the real world. At least one of these individuals lives in my own neighborhood, which is concerning.

I think the political (and overall) culture in the US has been devolving for some time. Many have expressed concerns about it, usually in reference to the “other” side, but a neutral perspective would probably hold that everybody is sinking to the lowest common denominator which, as noted above, is psychopathy. Everybody is amped up, be it from COVID, the economy, or the increasingly angry political discourse. I wrote much of the following back in January, but I think it needs repeating here:

I almost never get a reasoned argument or discussion with someone who disagrees with a blog post; it almost always starts with some kind of ad-hominum attack and accusation. Yes, I could just block comments, and ignore the emails, etc. but part of the reason to do this is education – both the readers and me. I’ve gotten GREAT questions over time, and that makes doing commentary worthwhile. And, like Dr. House, I freely admit the theoretical possibility of error 😛 (and for typos and phrasing for early morning posts it’s often more than theoretical!). Feedback is essential for the process to work. But, even aside from the threats, the feedback process is broken.

It’s horrifying scanning social media these days. People who I know to be compassionate and reasonable in person are re-posting and echoing vitriolic links that are destructive to the fabric of our society. This phenomena was well described in the recent documentary, The Social Dilemma. Please watch it before you go down this road, and I beg everyone to please think before you echo some snarky political post that converts complex issues into some meme.

Take almost any issue today, and the opening salvo starts with accusations that anyone who disagrees is evil, uninformed, or both. Debates are almost never over the substance of an issue, they are straw-man arguments over caricatures of the other side. Yet take almost any of these issues, and if you dig down you find that each side is usually just worried about different, yet valid, aspects of the same problem, and a solution that makes things better is readily obtainable, if only the “sides” would recognize that each has a point. Unfortunately, as I often rant, that approach doesn’t fit into a political and media environment that thrives on confrontation, and real solutions to problems are actually “destructive” to the engine that drives their profits and votes: your outrage.

So, as we go forward with multiple challenges ranging from the ongoing pandemic, a major confrontation between nuclear armed adversaries, an economy teetering on the edge of collapse, an election that is nastier than the last, and other problems we don’t even know about yet, please don’t make things worse. Certainly the problems we face are serious, in many cases they hit emotional triggers. But we will solve them using rationality and empathy in equal measure, not by spreading anger and division. If you feel you can contribute to a discussion, make civil arguments that appeal to reason and our shared humanity, and recognize that the “other” might have a valid point that needs consideration. Don’t just try to score points with people you agree with by denigrating the “other.” You and your tribe might think it’s funny, but it is just making things worse.

Please resolve to think before you comment, repost, retweet, or forward an email that is toxic.

This environment that is being created by otherwise “nice” people is especially dangerous in that it gives those who are truly disturbed more of a reason, and agency, to act out on their violent impulses. Your on-line personas can have real-world consequences for others.

So that’s it. In brief, I’m not going to expose myself or my family to the risk someone decides to act out against me just because they don’t like my opinion about something, or associates me with some point of view that I don’t actually have, but am trying to convey is in some ways valid and needs to be considered in constructing our response (such as Russia’s view of the situation in Ukraine). I think we are losing a lot of voices that probably should be heard. I’m not saying I’m one of them, but I’m also not alone in leaving or avoiding public commentary, and unlike mine some of those lost voices are important.

In conclusion, I am going to leave the FB page, blog, and twitter live, if mostly inactive. If something serious comes up like a landfalling storm I’ll probably do some limited posts, so if you would like to get them leave your likes/follows or blog registrations in place and you’ll get them.

Nuclear Weapons: what you need to know

After thirty years in hiding, the possibility of nuclear war is back in the news. You’re hearing about Russian threats and the Chinese build-up, while minimizing our own problematic actions such as the W76-2 program. Over the last 30 years there has been an under-the-table arms race while at the same time the arms control framework of the late Cold War has been abandoned. I’ve done another podcast with Nate Hagens you can find here, this time discussing in more detail why nuclear weapons are so dangerous, and most importantly what we can start to do about it. This post is an introduction to the subject and preview of that discussion.

I worry that the general public (and many of our political leaders) seem to have lost touch with just how different nukes are from conventional bombs. The days of “duck and cover” exercises in schools are long gone (even before my time!), and if you’re much under 50 you never saw movies like War Games or The Day After, or recall the scares when President Reagan joked about bombing the Soviet Union (or know why that rhetoric was suddenly toned down). I would also guess that there is “doom fatigue,” between COVID and Climate Change, as well as the constant drumbeat of disaster news of various kinds. Nuclear war seemed, until the Ukraine SMO/invasion, a problem of the past. Another factor is complexity. The topic of nuclear weapons can’t be separated from a discussion of doctrine – how these weapons fit into our war plans and their intended use, and involves a topic many Americans don’t know much about and mostly don’t seem to care: foreign policy. So this is a difficult-to-understand interplay of physics, military strategy and tactics, politics, international relations, and of course morality and ethics. And like most complex subjects, the news media, increasingly fueled by social media, oversimplifies, dramatizes, and politicizes stories to “engage and enrage” viewers. So concise information is hard to find.

What follows is a bit of an introduction to this horrible topic. I’m sure subject area experts will find simplifications and interpretations to disagree with, and of course this area is obscured with security aspects that are often used to hide issues that should in fact be publicly disclosed and debated, like doctrine. But here’s a “short” 😛 introduction from my point of view.

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