Handmaid’s Tale – Just Fiction?

June Osborne – Lead Character in Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale

In the Hulu television series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margret Atwood’s 1985 novel, environmental pollution started a precipitous decline in birthrates worldwide. The United States then descended into a bloody civil war. The winners were religious fanatics who dissolved the United States and replaced it with the new country of Gilead, a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

In this theocracy, women are brutalized and suppressed, not allowed to read or write, and are forced to work as slaves in the homes of the leadership caste, known as the Commanders. The tiny fraction of women who test as fertile are forced to become Handmaids, and are assigned to the Commanders’ homes. There, they are subjected to ritualized rape two or three days a month when they are ovulating, in the hopes of giving the Commander and his wife a surrogate baby, conceived and gestated by the hapless Handmaid.

The series follows the life of June Osborne, captured while attempting to escape to Canada. Since June tested fertile, she was pressed into Handmaid service and her five-year-old daughter, Hannah, given to another Commander. June sees and endures indescribable horrors. Homosexuals are called “gender traitors” and shot on sight. Handmaids that break the rules are stoned to death, usually by the other Handmaids. There is military everywhere; Gilead is awash in guns. The character June Osborne, brilliantly portrayed by Elizabeth Moss, fights to escape, get revenge, and find her daughter.

Is there a crisis that will lead to a civil war?

While there’s no fertility crisis, Global Warming is coming at us like a runaway train. Doomsday warnings, by respected climate scientists such as NASA’s Dr. James Hansen in 1988, were ignored. Today, the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting, the ocean is warming, and hurricanes, cyclones and derechos are becoming more energetic and damaging. Arid places on the planet will worsen, leading to massive migrations of desperate people seeking jobs and food. The current hatred of immigrants, fostered by Donald Trump, will probably get worse.

Think I’m an alarmist? The warming planet means less snow on the mountaintops, which feeds our rivers and streams. For example, have a look at Las Vegas’ Hoover Dam in 1983 and the water levels this year (2021). If this continues, Hoover Dam will have to cut back on its power generation, resulting in serious economic consequences for Nevada and California.

Still not convinced? California, Oregon, and Washington are on fire. Rains brought by Gulf of Mexico hurricanes flood mountain states like Tennessee and urban areas such as New York City. There is destruction everywhere, with no signs of it letting up.

A Rebel Army?

To overthrow the government (state or national), you need a rebel army to jail and assassinate the current leadership. Look no further than the Proud Boys, an all-male white supremacist militia boasting 6,000 members nationwide. These fellows hate everybody: liberals, Democrats, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, anyone who is non-white, and so on. Trust me; you’re on their list. Add to the Proud Boys the many copycat militias sprinkled all across the country; you’ve got a rebel army. The FBI director, Chris Wray, has observed that “the greatest domestic terrorism threat are white supremacist groups.”

The Proud Boys are a Hate Group with Guns

The current leader of the Proud Boys is Miami’s Enrique Tarrio, a walking contradiction. While he claims that he is not a white supremacist, he leads a militia banned as a terrorist group in Canada. He worked as an informant for the FBI a few years ago, then ran for Congress as a Republican in 2020 but dropped out before the primary. He’s a friend of Trump fixer Roger Stone. Tarrio and the Proud Boys have been banished from all the major social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others.

The name “Proud Boys” was taken from a song in the Disney Aladdin movie (“Proud of Your Boy”). Tarrio was not involved in the Jan 6th insurrection; only because the FBI prevented him from coming to Washington that day. Tarrio was sentenced to 155 days in a DC jail on theft and weapons charges; he starts his sentence after Labor Day.

Public Support

To properly stage a revolution, there has to be some public support. It does not have to be a majority. Election results nationwide and polling show about 40% of the United States support Trump and the morphing of the Republican Party into a Q-Anon witch’s brew of religious zealots, conspiracy lunatics, and gun fetishists. That’s not enough to win a national election, but more than enough to stage a coup d’etat.

Imagine getting a million Trump supporters into Washington, guarded by 10,000 Proud Boys and other militias armed with AR-15 rifles and body armor. They could quickly overwhelm the Capitol Police and Secret Service, then declare themselves in charge.

So 40% of the country wants to overthrow the government? They tried on January 6th, but failed because they weren’t armed. The next time, the Trump supporters will bring guns. So the burning question is “what happened to them?”

Melissa Thinks the Lee County School Board are Demonic Entities

While much of this ultra-right-wing rage is simply leftover Civil War animosity in the states of the Old South, more interesting is the role played by extreme conservative Christianity. Those churches that teach every word in the Bible (Old and New Testament) is accurate. Unfortunately, Trump has given respectability to these lunatics, and they now invade School Board meetings, Town Boards, and State Legislatures, threatening anyone who is not a “believer.”

Here in Fort Lee county, Florida, alt-right fanatics took over a recent School Board meeting and threatened the members’ lives. In the five-minute YouTube video of what transpired, note the last speaker, Melissa, calls the Board members “demonic entities.” People in her town reported that she is an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) with one year of training. However, she has failed four times to pass the RPN exam (Registered Practical Nurse), which requires four years of education. So her claim to be an expert on infectious diseases is bogus.

Religious Extremists Threatening a Florida School Board

Sorry to rain on Nurse Melissa’s rapture training; there has never been a scientifically verified appearance of creatures called Angels, Devils, or Demons. That goes for Leprechaun, Fairies, and Dragons too. The real question is this. Do you want raving lunatics like the people shown in the Lee County School Board meeting running your town, State Legislature, or the Federal Government? How likely are they to further subjugate women, mandate prairie dresses as their approved costumes, force them to be pregnant nine times in their lives? How likely are they to reject science? How likely are they to arrest and kill anybody who doesn’t fit into the white supremacist utopia they seek?

Amy Coney Barrett

One final point. Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment, Amy Coney Barrett, is a member of an ultra-conservative religious cult, The People of Praise. Her title in that cult is Handmaid.

Trump and his Handmaid

So is the United States on the verge of becoming the Handmaid’s Tale?

Damn close, I’d say. Praise be.

1984 – A Dystopian Fantasy?

When I was in High School (1960), we were required to read the George Orwell novel 1984. As summarized in Wikipedia:

“The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual waromnipresent government surveillancehistorical negationism, and propaganda.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

So, has our nation succumbed to any or all of these four dystopian maladies? Spoiler: YES, all four of them!

Perpetual War

Chaos at Kabul, Afghanistan Airport as United States Evacuates its Forces

Since the end of World War 2, the United States has been almost continuously at war. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War all failed and cost us trillions in wasted taxpayer money. The military budget in 2020 was $778 billion.

It’s not that our Army is incompetent; it’s the impossible missions we give them. Nation-building in a country whose culture is radically different from our own essentially guarantees failure. The US military is good at winning a battle, but they’re lousy nation builders, and they are a terrible police force.

Historical Negationism

White Supremacists and Nazis Protest in Charlottesville, Virginia

Historical Negationism refers to the revision of history in order to omit something that actually happened.

Sadly, the United States was established while committing two crimes against humanity: the selective extermination of native peoples, and the enslavement of Africans to work the southern colonies’ cotton fields. Denial of this has been a part of American life for a long time.

In 1953, when I moved from Peru, Indiana, to Clifton Forge, Virginia, I was shocked when my 3rd-grade teacher mentioned in history class that the Civil War was not about slavery but it was about State’s Rights. Today, right-wing fanatics, like the Nazis in Charlottesville, deny the real reason for our Civil War, and for added measure claim that the Holocaust never happened. (Anne Frank would like a word with them)

Propaganda

Fox News has raised lying to a new art form

For sheer propaganda, look no further than Fox News. Owned and operated by Australians Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, they are the closest thing we have on planet Earth to Bond villains (all that’s missing is the white cat). Their lies about mRNA vaccines and sensible measures like wearing a mask have caused countless Americans to lose their lives to COVID-19. Rupert Murdoch got vaccinated as soon as it was available, yet he allowed his network to cast doubt about the Pfizer/Moderna shots.

Omnipresent Government Surveillance

One difference from the George Orwell novel is that the United States is run by a cabal of affluent people and their corporations. The late comedy genius George Carlin thought it was twelve wealthy families. Instead, it is a consortium of oil billionaires, Wall Street hedge fund managers, tech billionaires, and war profiteers who actually control the Government.

Oil billionaires such as the Koch brothers started buying off state legislatures forty years ago. Their targets were the Old South states and the rural farm states, like North and South Dakota. Once their candidates got majorities in those states, they used redistricting and gerrymandering to make it impossible to lose. Similar gerrymandering gave them a block of safe seats in the US House of Representatives. Seats in the US Senate, though, require lots of money to win. But the billionaires now can spend like drunken sailors, thanks to Justice John Robert’s Citizen’s United ruling that allowed corporations to finance candidates.

The billionaire class has used this advantage to block any attempts to reverse global warming by switching to renewable energy. The also use this political power to reduce their taxes, and seek eventually to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. Corporations in the United States are now all-powerful, fueled by unbridled greed.

Typically, to surveil someone, the Police or FBI must obtain a Search Warrant. But corporations can surveil you on a whim. They can also force their morality on you. Let’s look at a couple of disquieting examples.

Apple Snooping

Apple’s New Headquarters in Cupertino, California

Apple designs and manufactures some of the world’s finest smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. So they surprised everyone a few days ago when they announced that they would be adding software to their iPhones to look at your stored photographs, ostensibly to detect child pornography.

https://apnews.com/article/technology-business-child-abuse-apple-inc-7fe2a09427d663cda8addfeeffc40196

In my forty years of using the Internet, I’ve never encountered an image depicting child pornography. It must exist somewhere in the darker reaches of the Internet. I support stamping out the production and distribution of such vile material, but shouldn’t that be the Police and FBI’s job?

Here’s the problem with this. Apple could use its pattern recognition software to scan your photographs to see if you were at a demonstration they didn’t like. For example, let’s say you attended a rally against methane release at a nearby fracking site. Apple could sell that information to oil companies who, in turn, might retaliate by coercing Experian to lower your credit rating.

Several days ago, I transferred all data I had stored on the Apple cloud to Microsoft’s cloud server. When my Apple iPhone’s lithium battery gives out, I will probably buy a new smartphone from Samsung.

MasterCard and Visa Thought Control

MasterCard wants you to behave!

We’ve always had a straightforward relationship with banks and credit card companies. We give banks our money each month, and they use it to make loans. As a result, they keep our money safe and enable us to pay bills, and send money to family, stores, and charities. Likewise, credit card companies provide a convenient way to buy things, and for that privilege, they get 5% of the purchase price.

Now, banks and credit card companies have decided that it’s within their purview to ban your use of their services if what you are buying contradicts their moral standards.

OnlyFans is a British website that allows content creators to sell their material to subscribers, with OnlyFans taking a small cut (20%) of the subscription. Many of the creators are benign, producing things like cooking shows, educational material, and whatnot. However, a vast amount of OnlyFans was sex workers creating pornography. MasterCard and Visa laid down the law: “No porn can be purchased with our cards.” So OnlyFans announced that all sexually explicit content must be removed from their website by next month.

Update: a week after making that announcement, OnlyFans reversed their decision and told the sex workers that there would be no change to their service.

https://www.engadget.com/onlyfans-big-banks-war-adult-content-174041161.html

Just like the Apple case, what’s to prevent banks and credit card companies from banning their use in other goods and services they dislike. For example, they could restrict their services for ActBlue, a paysite for progressive causes. What if ActBlue was raising money to lower banking fees for consumers? What’s to prevent banks from attempting to wipe ActBlue out? 

Banks had better watch out. A new player is percolating out in the financial sphere, called Digital Currency. Examples are BitCoin and DogeCoin (Elon Musk’s favorite). These blockchain currencies could eventually wipe out all traditional banking services. Remember, DogeCoin doesn’t have somebody on staff trying to pay for a $5 million mansion, a mistress, and a yacht.

Big Brother is Already Watching You

Are we already in the dystopian hellscape predicted by George Orwell? I think we are.

The ownership class has already won. Do you think I’m Chicken Little bleating that the sky is falling? OK, run this simple experiment. Click on something for sale on the Internet, say navy blue sweat pants. Don’t buy it; just click and look. For the next several months, you will see ads for sweat pants pop up on your smartphone, tablet computer, and laptop. That’s called targeted advertising, and it’s a highly lucrative business.

They know everything about you. Big tech (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, et al.) have seen every click, every website you’ve visited. They’ve created a digital profile on you. They know your political leanings, your buying habits, what you’re reading. Now they think your photographs are a resource to exploit. Sure, the trial balloon is always couched as an attempt to do something honorable (stopping child pornography, sex trafficking, etc.), but it’s all about getting control of your lives.

They will force your compliance.

Look to China to see where this is heading. China is building an enormous database on their people so that they can give each citizen a “score.” If you attend a street demonstration or get involved in some public ruckus, banks of surveillance cameras will identify the participants with facial recognition software. If your “good citizen” score goes down, the government will put you in a higher tax bracket. It’s punishment without a jury trial.

So yeah, I think Big Brother is already here and we are currently powerless to stop it.

That said, my advice is this to all the oil barons, tech billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers who engineered this demolition of our representative democracy:

“Read a history book. Study something called Bastille Day.”

Transistors

My father, born in 1902, lived his life during the vacuum tube era of electronics. Vacuum tubes had many progenitors, such as Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and other pioneers, instrumental in getting this technology off the ground. For example, Britain’s Sir John Ambrose Fleming invented the first diode tube in 1904, while American Lee de Forest invented the first practical amplifier vacuum tube in 1906.

The idea is quite simple. A tiny electric current from your microphone can control a heavy current going to your loudspeaker. That’s called an amplifier. Unfortunately, the vacuum tubes required a red hot heating element to function, and that was their Achilles heel as these tubes tended to burn out and require replacement. Every drug store had a “tube tester” and a supply of vacuum tubes for those who wanted to do their repairs. Regrettably, this flaw (burnout) precluded their use in the design of computers.

On December 23, 1947, three Bell Telephone Labs scientists (William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain) invented the first solid-state transistor. It was an amplifying device that didn’t require the heating element or high voltages needed by the vacuum tubes. They won the Nobel Prize for this discovery.

According to a book authored by Bardeen and Brattain, the size (active area) of the world’s first solid-state germanium transistor was about .025 cm or 250,000 nanometers (nm). For comparison, that hair on the top of your head is 100,000 nm.

It took about a decade for manufacturers like Raytheon to mass-produce a working transistor. Just like the Bell Labs prototype, Raytheon built the transistor on a tiny slab of germanium. The transistor they designed for hearing aids was the CK718. Fortunately, Raytheon sold CK718 transistor fall-outs to the hobby electronics market as the CK722. They still worked but didn’t quite meet the CK718 quality tests. The price was 99 cents in 1956.

In 1956, I was 11 years old, living in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, and fascinated with electronics. I had a paper route and used the money to buy tools (soldering gun, screwdrivers, long nose pliers, headphones, and solder). I saw this construction project in a magazine, maybe Popular Mechanics.

The One-transistor Radio Project – 1956

So I took the bus across the Ohio River into Cincinnati, where my Father worked. He was a Division Superintendent of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O). Using a city bus to get to a Radio Supply store listed in the phone book, the sign over the store said: “Wholesale Only.” Hesitating to go through the front door, I wasn’t sure if they would even talk to me.

Quite to the contrary, they were fascinated with the very young kid wanting to build a one-transistor radio. I mispronounced everything. “No, son, that’s capacitor, not capaci-tater.” “No, son, that’s diode, not dio-dee.” The store had everything I needed: the vari-loopstick adjustable inductor, the adjustable capacitor, battery holder, resistors, capacitors, diode, transistor, Fahnestock clips, and so on. So, I went home and built the thing. It probably looked something like this.

1956 One Transistor Radio Project

And it worked! By adjusting the inductor and the capacitor, I was able to tune in to Cincinnati’s most powerful radio station. I still remember how exhilarated I was when I first heard the music on my headphones. This moment was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with transistors, computers, and electronics.

So, just how big was that 1956 CK722 transistor? While not specified on the Web, I suspect the CK722 transistor to be at least 250,000 nanometers (nm), just like the Bell Labs prototype. That’s pretty big, by today’s standards.

In the years that followed, semiconductor companies were created to make even more complex transistor-based devices. They learned how to put multiple transistors, resistors, and capacitors on a silicon slab (substrate) and wire them up. These were called integrated circuits, and the race was on to make them more and more complex. In addition to applications in radios and televisions, transistors were perfect for the logic elements required to build computers (logic gates, flip-flops, adders, shifters, and so on).

When I started my first job in 1968 at the Boeing Space Center in Kent, Washington, they were building a spacecraft attitude control computer with these new “integrated circuits.” Boeing hired me to work on this experimental computer and thus gave me my start in programming and digital logic design.

Flash forward to 1985. I worked for my 3rd company, Mennen Medical, in Clarence, New York (a suburb of Buffalo). Herb Mennen was a business partner with Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker. Mennen took me to lunch once with Wilson Greatbatch; he was a gentle, soft-spoken genius. Today, a Medtronic pacemaker is keeping me alive. It’s a small world!

Wilson Greatbatch Inventor of the Pacemaker

My job was Head of Software Development for the Mennen Horizon 2000 Patient Monitor, the first digital patient monitor that used a color display.

Horizon 2000 Color Patient Monitor

This Horizon 2000 monitor can be seen in the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Red Heat.” It replaced a Mennen Medical analog heart monitor that appears at the very end of the 1985 “Re-Animator” horror movie.

My boss, Yossi Elaz from Israel, designed two computer boards for the product. One would collect the signals from the ECG pads, blood pressure sensors, saturated oxygen detectors (SAO2), and so forth. The other computer board would create the color displays and the menus (as dictated by the marketing department).

For these computer boards, we decided to use the Motorola 68000 microcomputer chip. This chip was the best available, capable of doing 32-bit arithmetic and addressing 16 megabytes of memory. OK, in the interest of full disclosure, we had to add eight memory chips and a couple of input/output port chips to make a working microcomputer. Still, these boards were pushing the state-of-the-art.

So why was it called the 68000? The chip had 68,000 transistors! Each transistor (MOSFETS in this case) was 3500 nanometers (nm) in size. Do you see where this is going?

Many companies designed and fabricated computers on a chip in the eighties and nineties, but they also had to provide software tools to program these devices. Those software development tools were very expensive. Eventually, in 2011, a British company called ARM developed an efficient microcomputer design plus all the open-source (free) software tools needed, which they then licensed to everybody. As a result, there are today over 180 billion ARM-derived computer chips in use worldwide.

Flash forward again to today (2021). I retired from engineering six years ago and am now living in Florida. If I were to buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max, the 256-gigabyte model would cost about $1099. As an example, the size of the Wikipedia database is about 20 gigabytes and could easily fit on this phone.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone 12 Pro Max uses the Apple-designed A14 Bionic chip. It’s an ARM 64-bit system-on-a-chip that has a six-core processor (means it can execute six algorithms simultaneously). In addition, there are two other processors, a graphics engine and a neural network engine. The transistors are 5 nanometers (nm) in size, and there are 11.8 billion of them. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company builds these chips for Apple.

Two years ago, Elon Musk’s company, Tesla, built a similar supercomputer-on-a-chip for the Full Self Driving (FSD) system for Tesla vehicles. It’s also an ARM 64-bit system-on-a-chip that has multiple core processors and neural engines. Samsung built the Tesla FSD chip with transistors that are 14 nanometers (nm). So the Tesla chip has only 6 billion transistors. There are two of these in a Tesla vehicle, running the Full Self Driving software.

Tesla Full Self Driving Computer

IBM creates some of the world’s most sophisticated computer systems. They also design remarkable semiconductors and integrated circuits. Oddly, they’re not interested in mass-producing these advanced semiconductors. Instead, they first develop the breakthrough transistors, integrated circuits, and the industrial equipment needed to fabricate them. Once they prove that the new design works, they license the technology to Samsung and Intel. These partners integrate the IBM equipment into their factories and supply IBM and other customers with the new generation chips.

So last May, IBM shocked the semiconductor industry by announcing that they had developed a “nanosheet” transistor that was only 2 nm in size. It also had an operating voltage of less than 1.0 volts (the Motorola 68000 chip in 1985 ran on 5 volts). IBM showed circuits on a fingernail-sized chip that have 50 billion transistors.

The big breakthrough was building the transistor taller with fins (and using some exotic coatings such as Hafnium).

Is a 2 nm transistor a big deal?

Consider what happens when you look for a picture on Facebook or make a query to Google. They’ll tell you that it goes to the “Cloud” for processing, but the request is sent to a Data Center. The Data Center is just a warehouse full of PC-class computers holding the data. Yes, they call them “Servers,” but these are just personal computer (PC) motherboards with hard drives optimized for Internet connectivity and rapid look-up of stored data (photos, movies, facts). It’s estimated that there are 1.4 billion servers in these Data Centers worldwide.

These “Cloud” data centers generate so much heat that many are near the ocean or lakes where cooling water is plentiful.

The amount of data stored today on all these “Cloud” data centers is 44 zetabytes. One zetabyte can hold 1,320 billion 4K movies. These servers usually include a ten terabyte hard disk drive, which adds to the heat generated. If solid-state transistorized memory chips can replace that mechanical device (hard disk drive), the power consumed in the data center can be significantly reduced.

Researchers have suggested that developing a 1 nm transistor using bismuth as the substrate might be possible. However, it will probably take ten years to perfect this technology.

Will these 2 nm transistors effect your life in a positive way over the next decade?

Your laptops and smartphones will run four days before recharging. Your smartphone will be able to do perfect language translation when you’re traveling abroad or viewing a foreign movie. Your digital watch will alert your physician if your vital signs deviate from nominal. Your Internet response will be nearly instant; your 4K movies will never pause to catch up. Arrays of these supercomputers on a chip will be the basis of powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) engines that will help find messenger mRNA-style vaccines for cancer, AIDs, and other disorders. Automobiles will do the driving for you using the onboard Autopilot software. We’ll start to see humanoid robots doing menial tasks around the house, such as cleaning up, taking out the trash, clearing the table, helping the elderly in and out of bed.

Do you think that last one is pure science fiction? Yesterday, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would be building a humanoid robot. It will be powered by the same computer system used in Tesla electric cars, enhanced by software from his AI team. Remember that the New York Stock Exchange floor is littered with the bodies of hedge fund managers who bet against Musk’s genius.

Tesla’s Humanoid Robot will do Simple Household Chores

In 1956, I bought the first transistor available to the public. Soon there will be integrated circuits with 50 billion transistors on a sheet of silicon the size of my thumbnail.

The CK722 Transistor (blue) that started my career in computers and electronics.

The most important invention in the 18th century had to be the steam engine. It revolutionized agriculture and manufacturing. However, for the last 75 years, the most critical development has to be the transistor. It enabled the Internet, flat-screen televisions, smartphones, and many other life-changing devices that we take for granted.

To borrow a phrase from the seventies: “Transistors, You’ve come a long way, Baby!”

Cyber Warfare

The Colonial Pipeline Running Through North Carolina

On Friday (May 7) a Russian hacker group named Darkside penetrated the business computers of the Colonial Pipeline. They encrypted the firm’s files and data and demanded a $5 million ransom to unlock the files. Colonial Pipeline moves 45% of the East Coast gasoline, oil, and jet fuel. Here’s a map of the pipeline’s service areas.

States Served by the Colonial Pipeline System

It’s important to understand that the Darkside hackers made no attempt to tamper with the pipeline’s pumping stations, to cause a spill, for example. But in an abundance of caution, Colonial Pipeline stopped pumping for a week, paid the ransom, and just last Thursday brought their system back online.

Unfortunately, news of the incident caused many people to panic and rush the gas stations to fill up their cars and gasoline cans. This created an unnecessary shortage at many east coast gasoline dealers.

Panic Hoarding of Gasoline Created Shortages

As of today (May 15), Darkside announced that it is shutting down because they lost access to the Internet server that held their ransom money (in Bitcoins). While that sounds like the FBI and CIA may have retaliated, it could be just a bogus claim allowing them to abscond with the money and reappear later with a new moniker. The Darkside digital blackmail is a twenty-first century form of piracy. Is the Russian Government involved? Hmmmm, probably!

This digital looting, which you and I will pay for with increased gas prices, is not what really worries me. I’m concerned that one day one of these hacker operations will intentionally cause massive loss of life or property damage by tampering with the control systems of power plants, chemical plants, pipelines, water treatment facilities, and so forth.

We all remember the human cost of runaway power and chemical plants. Examples are Bhopal, India (3787 killed, 558,125 injured) when a Union Carbide pesticide plant accidentally released poisonous methyl isocyanate gas and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown (4000 dead) in the Ukraine, and so on.

While there was no loss of life, an interesting example in the United States was the Merrimac Valley gas explosions north of Boston. A monumental screwup by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts on September 18, 2018 caused the natural gas pipelines to the towns of Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence to overpressure from 0.5 psi (normal) to 75 psi (very bad). The gas company’s pipes and valves handled it, but the little valves and flexible pipes in people’s furnaces popped open – filling the houses with natural gas. Forty homes caught fire or exploded.

Can a hacker intentionally cause disasters like Bhopal, Chernobyl, and Merrimac Valley? Yes, they can.

Plants, be they electric, chemical, or water treatment, are typically operated by industrial PCs running SCADA software. SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) is a fancy software package that presents factory controls as a computer screen with digital buttons and knobs, graphs, meter readouts, and so on. An example of SCADA displays is shown below.

SCADA Systems allow you to control the factory with a keyboard and a mouse.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) have connections to the process’s valves, motors, and sensors and a set of instructions as to how to sequence the factory’s controls properly. A big factory might have many of these PLCs. The point is that all the PLCs are connected to the SCADA package via private industrial networks with names like ModBus, ControlBus, and so on. Here’s a typical PLC with screw terminals for sensors, motors, and electric valves.

Typical Schneider Electric PLC (note screw terminals for sensors and actuators)

The point of all this is that if you can break into the factory’s industrial computer (PC) running a SCADA system, you can command the PLCs to do dangerous things, like over-pressure a tank of poisonous gas, or shut off the Northeast power grid.

So you might say, “Just disconnect the factory and its SCADA system from the Internet.”

The problem is that companies like Colonial Pipeline prefer to control their factories from their Headquarters. In the case of the Colonial Pipeline, there are over 27 pumping stations with a Headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Is there a solution that might work?

In an article “The Connected Factory” by Jim Pinto, he provided a nice summary of how modern factories are designed. https://www.intel.com/content/dam/doc/solution-brief/connected-factory-solution-brief.pdf

Typical Factory Organization

If we disconnect the Internet from the Industrial PC above, we thwart potential hackers from triggering disaster. So, how do we provide the Home Office with at least the SCADA display data?

Provide a “mirror” industrial PC that runs the SCADA software, but it gets it’s data from a continual one-way data stream from the “real” industrial PC. Since the data streams one-way, the “real” industrial PC is isolated from the Internet. The factory now looks like this.

Isolating the Industrial PC from the Internet

Management can still see everything in the home office, but they must call or email the desired change (e.g. reduce pump speed by 10%) to the Pumping Station manager, who will make the adjustments at his SCADA screen.

If we don’t disconnect our critical factory control systems from the Internet , it’s just a matter of time before some hacker from Russia, North Korea, or Iran will intentionally cause a disaster. People like Maksim Viktorovich Yakubet are patiently waiting to teach us a lesson, and he has lots of friends.

That is all for today, CLASS DISMISSED!

Socialism?

In my Information Theory class in engineering school, one of the final exam questions was: “Is the English Language a good language in terms of Information Theory?” The answer, of course, is a resounding “No” since, especially in the spoken format, a word may have multiple meanings, and analysis of context is required to understand the word’s usage.

The word “see” may refer to optically processing your environment, or it could refer to the ocean (the seven seas), or refer to the third letter in the English alphabet. Context is everything in our English language.

Karl Marx, Father of Socialism

Socialism is one of those words that have multiple meanings and requires a study of context to parse and understand its usage. Let’s look first at the Merriam-Webster definition of Socialism. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism

Definition of socialism

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

2b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Putting that into plain English, Socialism is a form of government where the state owns all the land, farms, factories, and stores. You work for the government; they pay your salary. Since you can’t own anything, there’s no incentive to work hard; it simply won’t improve your standard of living. In Socialism’s most extreme form, the Prima Ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet makes the same salary as the Novice. This political movement, Socialism, was proposed by the German philosopher Karl Marx, who died in 1883.

Socialism has been tried twice on planet Earth. In Russia (USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and China (PRC – People’s Republic of China). In those early days, Socialism and Communism meant the same thing.

In Russia, at the end of World War One in 1917, the Romanov family ruling Russia was overthrown and killed by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. They instituted a socialist government called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). It lasted until 1991, when unrest and economic stagnation caused the Communist government to collapse.

Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai

In China, revolutionaries led by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai waged a thirty-year civil war against nationalist warlord Chiang Kai-shek. They set aside their differences to fight the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, but the end of World War Two resulted in the resumption of the civil war. In 1949, Mao and the Communist Party prevailed, and Chiang fled with his followers to the island of Taiwan.

With firm control over mainland China, Mao instituted the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1960s, an audacious plan to convert China from an agricultural state to an industrialized one. The plan resulted in mass starvation and the loss of millions of lives from famine. But today, China is the industrial powerhouse that Chairman Mao wanted. Mao Zedong died in 1976 at the age of 82.

After Mao’s death, the Chinese Government dispensed with many of the precepts of Socialism, allowing private ownership of property and businesses. Today, there are many billionaires in China, while the one-party Government enables the country to advance quickly in our modern world, to plan for decades ahead. They are rapidly overtaking the United States economy and will surpass us in just a few years.

So, Socialism has been a flop in Russia and China. The question is this: Is anybody proposing Socialism here in the United States? Again, the answer is a resounding “No” if you understand what Socialism is.

Paul Krugman – Nobel Prize in Economics

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics and a New York Times columnist, describes the United States government this way, attributing the quote to Peter Fisher, undersecretary of the Treasury, in 2002.

The United States Government is an insurance company with an army.

Is Paul Krugman correct? Here’s a pie chart of government spending for 2018.

Add up the Defense (21% for tanks and aircraft carriers), Pensions (25% for Social Security), and Health Care (28% for Medicare and Medicaid), you get 74% of the government’s spending for insurance programs and the military. That leaves just 18% for Education, NASA, IRS, and all other government necessities. Yeah, Krugman’s right – we are an insurance company with an army.

Senator Bernie Sanders

What about this guy, Senator Bernie Sanders? Is he proposing Socialism in the United States? Again, the answer is “No.” Sanders has never proposed government ownership of all land, farms, factories, and stores. He proposes increasing the 28% we currently spend on Health Insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) to a level high enough to insure everybody in the country. That’s not Socialism, as outlined in Webster’s definition above. It’s just decency, pure and simple.

Unfortunately, Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist.” That confuses many people, making them associate “Medicare For All” with Socialism, which it is not. I’d prefer that Bernie identified himself as a “Democratic Progressive” or “Liberal Democrat.”

It’s all a matter of semantics. A social worker is not a Socialist; they work with people. Social Security is not Socialism; it’s just an insurance program, and so on.

So when you hear a Fox News host or a conservative commentator rail about the Democrats trying to impose the evils of Socialism on the country, they don’t understand what Socialism is.

Frozen Wind Turbines

Helicopter Attempts to De-Ice Wind Turbine Blades

Massive wind turbines have blades carefully shaped to cause them to spin as the Earth’s winds stream across them. This rotational motion turns an AC generator which sends, on average, 1.67 megawatts to your house. If the blades ice up in freezing temperatures, they stop working. They slow to a stop.

Off-shore wind turbines and those operating in northern climates are fitted with heating elements that melt off the ice before it can retard performance. Such modifications are costly but necessary.

Texas, currently suffering from massive electric power outages, gets about 7% of its power from wind turbines. The power grid in Texas is operated by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT foolishly decided to install wind turbines without the heating elements, because “Hey, it’ll never get that cold down here!”

Well, Karma’s a bitch and this week, it came to Texas, the state most responsible for America’s contribution to global warming. Texas’s unchecked production and distribution of petroleum and natural gas has created the extreme weather events we are experiencing, and this week it came to bite them in their collective asses.

Now, to be fair to the wind energy business, 93% of Texas’s electric power comes from natural gas fired turbines. Texas is unique in that they don’t store their natural gas. They pump it directly from the gas field to the power plants. Just like the wind turbines, Texas’s natural gas pumping equipment wasn’t designed to operate in extreme freezing temperatures. These natural gas wells froze up, and the power plants went offline. This week, Texans had to endure rolling blackouts, deep freezing cities and towns for days at a time.

The Shape of Wind Turbine Blades is Crucial to their Performance

So, why would the government of Texas be so foolish, be so unprepared for a cold weather emergency as this? The answer is simple: Republicans.

Republicans have been in control of Texas politics for many decades. The Republican Party caters only to the rich – the billionaire class. Their mantra is low taxes, no regulation, and minimal spending on infrastructure, etc. The billionaires who have bought off the Republican Party operate on this singular financial principle: “What have you done for me this quarter.

That short-sighted view has damaged the United States. The Republican leaders play only the short game, never looking to future needs (what have you done for me this quarter?). That kind of leadership would be prone to buying the wind turbines without the blade heaters, because it enhances the short-term profits, keeps taxes low.

The Republican promise of lower taxes and no regulations sounds seductive. But, when you vote for that, just be prepared to endure more power blackouts. These extreme weather events are going to get worse.

Profiles in Cowardice

So, Trump was acquitted.

43 Republicans voted not guilty. The evidence against Trump was overwhelming. The mob, attacking the Capitol on January 6th and egged on by Trump, intended to kill any Senators and Congress Members attempting to do their duty and count the Electoral College votes.

So, why would anybody give a pass to the man who encouraged a violent mob to attack them?

The answer is simple: abject greed. The Senators love their vaunted position, the staff that comes with it, the PAC money, and the bribes from the rich to keep them in their seats.

Both of my Florida Senators voted “Not Guilty.” Senator Rick Scott, the giga-criminal who stole nearly a billion dollars from the Government in a Medicare Fraud scheme, is now one of the leaders of the Republican Sedition Caucus. Senator Marco Rubio has the spine of a jellyfish and the taint of hypocrisy that will never wash away.

These 43 Republicans are saying that your vote doesn’t count. If they don’t like the election result, they claim the right to simply overturn the election, by violence if necessary.

If you you voted for these 43 Republicans, or intend to vote for them in the future, you share in their treason.

Trump Impeachment, Part 2

Donald Trump Whipping the Crowd into a Frenzy on January 6, 2021

Disgraced former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial begins today. I’m a realist; he’s going to be acquitted again in the Senate. I’m not OK with this, but I won’t be disappointed.

The situation is kind of like my beloved Buffalo Bills. I knew that the thuggish Kansas City Chiefs would eventually prevail and win the game two weeks ago. But I also realized that the Chiefs would get their comeuppance someday. Karma’s a bitch. It came Sunday night at the hands of football’s most skilled and successful quarterback, Tom Brady, and an inspired team who chased the Kansas City quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, all over the field.

Trump is guilty of treason (trying to overthrow the government). The evidence is overwhelming. He incited a riot. He urged a mob to attack the capitol and stop the usually perfunctory tabulation of the Electoral College votes. Below is an image of them swarming the Capitol building, looking to hang Vice President Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and anybody else that was chastised daily by Fox News.

Trump Supporters Looking to Kill Mike Pence and others.

As former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on January 10th:

“I think if inciting to insurrection isn’t [an impeachable offense], I don’t really know what it is.”

So I expect the Republicans (most of them traitors) to say. “Why are we bothering with this? Trump is out-of-office,” or resort to a laughable technicality like “He didn’t exactly say ‘Go Kill Mike Pence.'”

No, this impeachment trial is for the history books. Trump is the worst President ever elected in the United States, hands down. He will be the only President impeached twice. Like Lady Macbeth’s bloodstained hand, two impeachments are a stain that cannot be erased. The Republican Senators who vote to acquit will be seen by historians as the unprincipled and traitorous fools who hastened the end of the Republican Party.

And to all you people who bought MAGA hats, attended Trump rallies, and then voted for this liar, you’re now circling the drain as history flushes Trumpism down the toilet.

Enjoy the ride, fools and traitors!

The Last Gasp of White Supremacy

Thomas B. Edsall, a political journalism professor at Columbia University, wrote this analysis of the January 6th Trump riot.

“There is no question that out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy were high on the list of motivations of the pro-Trump mob that ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, January 13, 2021

So the MAGA insurrectionists wanted to return us to the days of Ozzie and Harriet, a lily-white utopia where people of color are relegated to a permanent status of second-class citizenship? Good luck with that. For like the Confederacy, this is a lost cause. In fact, it is already game-over.

When I went to college (Ohio University) in the early 1960s, the Engineering Department required all students to take two years of Liberal Arts courses to broaden our perspective, so to speak. I signed up for history, philosophy, speech, and social studies, among others. I still remember one lecture in a Sociology class; the professor’s analysis stayed with me all these years.

He explained that the media drives change. The example he used was cigarette smoking for women. Initially frowned on by polite society, the movies turned out to be the prime mover for glorifying women smoking. Specifically, he mentioned Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – the song-and-dance darlings of 1930s movies. In one of those movies, Fred lit up two cigarettes and handed one to Ginger. It wasn’t long before the cigarette brand, Camel Cigarettes, included him in print advertising.

Movies and Advertising Encouraged Women to Smoke in the 1930s

In hindsight, cigarette smoking turned out to be a very bad idea. It killed both of my parents and to some extent my brother, Tim. I have never smoked, but grew up in a house that was filled with smoke.

Fast-forward to today. Is the mass media advocating a return to white supremacy?

The answer is a resounding NO. Look at the movies on Netflix and other streamers. Pay attention to advertising on regular television and streaming channels. All you see today is mixed-race couples and families.

Old Navy advertisement featuring an interracial family

Once again, the movies and media are driving public opinion, just like my professor suggested in 1964. Is the media doing this because it is the right and just thing to do, or is there a profit angle involved? The answer is probably a little bit of both.

The younger demographic is the one doing all the buying in today’s society, not the over-fifty crowd that ransacked the capitol. The movie, streamer, and advertising business all recognize where the country is heading (a multi-racial society), and that’s where the money is.

Pretty stark choice, isn’t it? Do you want the Trump reality show (white supremacy)?

The Trump Show

Or do you want the Netflix show “How to Get Away with Murder,” with a racially diverse cast.

Netflix Series “How to Get Away with Murder” (84 episodes)

My Sociology Professor was right. The media makes it pretty clear that the nation is rejecting white supremacy, gravitating inexorably to a racially diverse society. The MAGA crowd can’t stop it. They just don’t know it yet.

Wednesday, we swear-in the first woman-of-color Vice President. Twelve years ago, we swore-in the first mixed-race President. I’m still hopeful about this country.

Jail Them All

Trump Fanatics Attempt To Overthrow The Government

Wednesday, January 6th, 2020 was a date that will live in infamy.

A mob of Trump supporters, stoked into a volcanic rage by Donald Trump, his family, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and a phalanx of other Republicans, attempted to enter the US Capitol, murder and kill Vice President Pence, House Speaker Pelosi, and any member of Congress doing their Constitutional duty to count and certify the Electoral College votes. Fortunately, they did not succeed.

There should be no mercy for those who traveled to Washington, DC to overthrow the government. Fortunately, there is a mountain of video and social media evidence showing the faces of those who assaulted our seat of democracy. The most severe penalties should be meted out to those who actually entered the Capitol.

Maximum Sentences For These Murderers

The FBI should patiently analyze every video clip, every social media post, of those who attacked our Capitol. Offer a reward to people who identify these criminals and extradite them to the District of Columbia for booking and prosecution. There has to be severe consequences for these acts of sedition.

Next in line for legal scrutiny will be the media giants who stoked this rage (Rupert Murdoch and Fox News). More on that in a later blog post.