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Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

Life & Island Times: Hollow Men

Editor Note: Traveling. Comms may be spotty. Joyful event in another state. More to follow, I hope.

– Vic

Hollow Men

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Author note: I apologize in advance for this piece’s bleakness over the political barrenness in Washington DC.
-Marlow

Healthcare system — it’s dying, sir.

The Hollow Men

A trillion more for poor gals and guys

Unos
They are hollow men
They are the stuffed shirt men
Leaning together
Mouths filled with strawmen. These asses!
Their smooth voices hoarsen, when
Ideas they whisper together
Are empty, quiet and meaningless
As field mouse farts in tall grass
They are rats who feed us broken glass
On large empty TV screens
They shape messages without substance, futures without color
They speak in signs and wonders
They are paralyzed by their empty gestures and fake emotion
Those who have gone before us
To life’s promised kingdom
Remember to pray for us – that all is not lost
Save out restless souls, but not
The hollow men
The stuffed shirt men

—–

Dos
DC’s a dead land
It is a desert land
Full of stonemen statues
Once these giants roamed there, now they suffer
The empty supplications of hollow men
As the twinkle of America’s fading star flickers
Is it like this
In life’s coming kingdom
Will we wake alone
At the hour when we are called
Trembling with expectations of bliss
Or will our prayers fall on broken stone

—–

Tres
On their televised events where they all put on airs
Or when they’re standing on Capitol steps with their frozen stares
What lightens the night and the burden one bears
Is a game of political musical chairs

When the debate drags on, no one plays, no one cheers
We voters tune them out and drink while sitting on the stairs
Before we fall asleep like a bunch of old bears
We join in their game of musical chairs

We skip, dance, parade and prance
They tell us chances are great we’ll win
If an empty chair is right there
Where you could plop right in

Each time there is one less chair
There’s one less playing too
But if you’re not late and you concentrate
It won’t be you

You never know if fast or slow
Will win the prize
Just listen closely and just hope mostly
There’s no October surprise

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—-

Cuatro
Our leaders who art in DC
Hollow is your game
Your ideas in policy never become
Our will is not to be done
Upon our earth as it is in your Georgetown heaven
Please share with us today some of your daily bread
And pay off us our nation’s debts
As we people pay off our own debtors
And lead us not into alt fact narrative temptation
But deliver us from the evil ones
For thine is the
Life is short
Time has come today
There are things to realize
¡Hola! it’s time
Tic, toc, tic, toc
Oh . . . it’ll all end not with a bang but a whimper

Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com

Postcard From the Swamp #8

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Well, you can’t say this is the doldrums here in the soggy bottom of the nation’s Swamp. The President has decided to upgrade us to a “cesspool,” or a “sewer,” whichever is more appealing at the moment. The GOP is at war with itself, and the Dems, bless their hearts, have come up with a new look that retains the geriatric leadership.

By a whisker margin, the Senate is going to actually have a debate on the health care fiasco, even as the House defeats two relatively uncontroversial spending bills (Intel and Veterans Authorization). And Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus closes up shop after 146 years. Truth be told, they really weren’t the
Greatest Show on Earth. That would actually be the one right here.

– Vic

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Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Skinny Repeal

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Author’s note: With mouth agape, I read that the boys and girls in our empire’s capitol city were about to consider approving the discussion of something called skinny repeal. Is that anything akin to “Oui, peal, and oui, place.”

Many do not like President Trump
But most do not like the DC stuffed shirts
We do not like how they tease and flirt
We do not like their speeches full of harrumphs
Pass some bills, you dumb tree stumps
Or the country’ll give your nuts an electoral thump
We do not like you do-nothings or President Trump

We will not let you grab our money boxes
If you try, we’ll kick ya in the rocks
We do not like your flim-flam
We do not like these fake Uncle Sams I am

Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Moon Man

Editor’s Note: I was on the road again this weekend, and more road confronting me later this week to attend a wedding that affirms my faith in the strength of love, and in a larger sense, the goodness of women and men.

So, expect me to be a little erratic on the information stream the next few weeks. Looming is the car show in Indiana named for my Dad, a first meeting with my grand-daughter, a very strange conference in St. Louis that you will hear more about than you want to know, and a deferred trip to Pearl Harbor as the Fall comes on.

We will see how much of this I can actually accomplish, since a simple drive our through Thoroughfare Gap to The Plains of Virginia and thence to the farm in Culpeper was about the limit I could handle this weekend.

Not to mention actually doing the laundry, but that is another story entirely. Instead, let’s look back to an anniversary with Arrias that was largely uncelebrated, and should rightly be a centerpiece of our society, and a mark of what we can coomplish when we put our minds to it.

We could do anything back then- land wars in Asia excepted- and now we can’t even maintain our infrastructure and rely on Elon Musk to do it for us.

– Vic

Moon Man

Some years ago I found myself sitting at an airport gate, waiting for a connecting flight. As there were several gates around the sitting area, there was a bit of churn.

As I sat, a man walked in, and was almost immediately surrounded by a small crowd, all talking excitedly. I recognized him as the head-coach of that year’s Super Bowl winner. I then noticed another man who’d just walked in and sat down, across the waiting area from me. He was perhaps 60, wore reading glasses, and carried a valise overflowing with papers and notebooks. He looked around the room, noted the commotion around the head coach, and then his face lit up in what can only be called a boyish grin. That’s when I recognized him, and I almost went over and introduced myself. But, it occurred to me that he quite enjoyed the irony of his anonymity and so I left him alone.

Shortly thereafter he rose and boarded his airplane.

That man was Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on another heavenly body. Navy fighter pilot (78 combat missions over North Korea), test pilot, engineer, 7 flights in the X-15. He walked on the moon.

Last week was the 48th anniversary of that first moonwalk. I asked several people if they knew what day it was; they didn’t. I looked in vain for stories on the Internet or elsewhere.

A few years ago NASA’s director said it would take 10 years to return to the moon; the first time we went we needed only 8 years. The truth is our manned space-flight program is a mess. Currently, the US can’t even put a man into space; US astronauts go to the International Space Station riding on Russian rockets.

This is more than simply a failing of our space program; it’s a failing of our education system. We talk about STEM programs, but recent college graduates know little hard science, and even less history of the nation and the figures who produced the hard science that put 12 men on the moon. Or developed the CT Scan and the MRI, or the laser, or microcircuits. Unfortunately, you can’t develop the next generation of anything if you don’t understand where the current generation came from.

During the 1980s there was a bumper-sticker that read roughly: “Wouldn’t it be great if schools had all the money they needed and we held bake sales to buy a bomber?” In 2014, when total US national security spending was less than $600 billion, the US spent $634 billion just on public elementary and secondary schools. Costs for high schools and colleges were hundreds of billions more. The “hope” of the bumper sticker seems to have come to pass; total US spending on education now exceeds $1 trillion, and substantially exceeds all national security spending.

For four decades we’ve focused on input: how much money we spent on students, how many personnel worked at each school managing this, that or the other program, etc., but we’ve lost sight of the outcome: well-educated citizens.

We live in the information age. Do high school graduates know the fundamentals, just the fundamentals, of how an Intel processor works? How is data stored in a hard drive? What does a router do? What does a server do?

We all want responsive government; do our recent graduates understand the Constitution and how representative government works?

What about economics? Do our graduates understand the benefits and risks of deficit spending? The consequences of a sustained 2% inflation rate? The pros and cons of graduated tax rates?

The US faces a host of problems, among them: a resurgent China, Islamic terrorists, a nuclear-armed North Korea. At home we have a huge and growing federal debt; federal, state and municipal retirement programs and medical accounts that will all be in the red within 20 years; an infrastructure that needs constant attention.

Our many problems have solutions, solutions that might even help us conquer the stars. But none of our problems can be addressed without an educated, informed citizenry. And for decades our education system has failed both our students and our nation.

We’ve tried throwing money at our problems; that didn’t work. It’s time to try something else; let’s try getting back to basics.

Armstrong said of himself: “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.” Let’s make some more Neil Armstrongs.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Musicians on Money and Life

As with almost everyone who is invested in the American stock markets, the past nine months have been a boon. Since everything that goes up must come down, at least a little, I’ve been looking for ways to manage this risk.

Listening absent mindlessly to cable TV blues and rock-n-roll channels, I was astonished to hear financial and life planning advice from singers and musicians. Since most of them are card carrying members of American counterculture, I expected to hear them be dismissive of money; but, I heard them express not just pain and suffering but excellent advice.

Here are a few of the many gems of financial and life planning wisdom I found in their lyrics and in various interviews with musicians of note.

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Money for nothing, chicks for free
-Dire Straits on making it big as MTV rock stars, Money for Nothing

Money makes the world go around
. . . the world go around
. . . the world go around.
Money makes the world go around
Of that we both are sure
-Liza Minelli in the movie Cabaret

Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money fool you
Money can fool people sometimes
People! Don’t let money, don’t let money change you
It will keep on changing, changing up your mind
-O’Jays, For the Love of Money

Cause I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love
-The Beatles, Can’t Buy Me Love

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.
-David Lee Roth

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well I’d buy you some art
A Picasso or a Garfunkel
-Barenaked Ladies, If I Had a Million Dollars

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What you got (ain’t necessarily what you own)
-Doug McLeod in the song of the same title

The focus on my appearance has really surprised me. I’ve always been a size 14 to 16. I don’t care about clothes. I’d rather spend my money on cigarettes and booze.
-Adele

My doctor tells me I should start slowing it down, but there are more old drunks than there are old doctors, so let’s all have another round.
-Willie Nelson

A lot of young musicians get the money at the wrong time. They get it for something they don’t feel great about, and it’ll make you feel so bad it’ll destroy you and kill you.
-Iggy Pop

Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
-Pink Floyd, Money

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If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet
-The Beatles, Taxman

Cash Rules Everything Around Me
C. R. E. A. M. Get the money, dollar, dollar bill y’all
-Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.M.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need
-Rolling Stones, You can’t always get what you want

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz
-Janis Joplin, Mercedes Benz

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I try to do the right thing with money. Save a dollar here and there, clip some coupons. Buy ten gold chains instead of 20. Four summer homes instead of eight.
-LL Cool J on diversification

Money doesn’t talk, it swears.
-Bob Dylan, I’m Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Money like people comes in two varieties – saved and lost.
-Anon gospel singer

You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does . . .
-Tom Petty on life in college

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If Time is Money, our lives are worth their weight in gold.
-Anon

Got no checkbooks, got no banks
Still, I’d like to express my thanks
I’ve got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night
-Irving Berlin, I Got the Sun in the Morning

If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time
-Lefty Frizzell, If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time)

If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer
-Miller Beer commercial song

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Most of America’s problems can be solved by money. As for the rest, there’s alcohol.
-Marlow

Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Scents of Port Calls Past

One of my fellow shipmates wrote of the distinct smell based memories in a piece last week about long ago port call in the Philippines.

While I am not an urban smellscape researcher, I was so genuinely struck by his turns of phrase that I started to list the dominant smell memories of the port cities this old mariner’s nose had detected and still associates with these port calls.

It must have been the deep lizard part of my brain that formed and now retains these port-smell associations. Almost all of them were formed very fast upon arrival. I guess that was due in large part to the fact that the entire crew hadn’t showered much due to water hours restricting fresh water use. Thus pretty grimy, none of us realized it and had become used to each other’s stench.

Each new port came with such distinct new smells. These pungencies sometimes arrived on the winds well before you could see the harbor’s outline. The fresh smells were often lush, exotic and always powerful. Once we were docked and hooked up to a reliable fresh water supply, the ship’s smell would instantly change to that of shaving cream and deodorant.

In all of these places there were highly specific but transitory smells of food both cooked and uncooked, meats, fish, baked goods, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, spices, fats and grease, coffee, wine, and beer. All had to a great degree traffic and exhaust fumes and synthetic odors like rubber, plastic, paint, cleaning products, chemicals), construction (wood, asphalt, paint) and plants (greenery, garden, grass).

Each port’s scent existed atop the background aromas of the coastal sea – subtle notes of sea salt savory and mild decay.

But each port had one dominant olfactory memory that has stood the test of time despite numerous visits to that city. These scents exist despite all our too human desires for control and order.

Le Havre smelled of French cigarettes and baguettes.

Hong Kong smelled of chaos – herbal, bitter, minty, musky aromas plus intoxicating smells of flower blooms.

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Hong Kong

Key West smelled of brine and shrimp.

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Commercial shrimp docks in Key West 1974

San Diego smelled of beach and Mexican food spices.

New Orleans had specific episodic neighborhood and time of day smells – of beignets near Cafe du Monde but of vomit on Bourbon Street in the dawn hours.

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New Orleans

Norfolk smelled of stale beer.

Djibouti smelled of rot and burnt sand.

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Djibouti

Calcutta smelled of death.

New York City smelled of money.

San Francisco smelled of pot.

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San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in the late 1970s

Subic Bay smelled of Navy Standard Fuel Oil and sex.

Dublin smelled of Guinness.

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St James Brewery in Dublin

Ketchikan Alaska smelled of pine trees.

Singapore smelled freshly scrubbed.

Naples smelled of Italy’s fixation on its native food and cuisine.

Pattaya Thailand smelled of tropical flowers. Ditto for Honolulu.

Rota Spain smelled of charcoal smoke and garbage/rotting fruit.

Washington DC smelled of power. It still does, but my sources tell me that its scent is now marked by piquant hints of “unrealized dreams and schemes.”

Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com

Summertime

Whether the living is easy is a matter up for debate. I have to say, in my half century in looking at how our country is doing, I have never been so unsettled. I am one of those who grew up with the certainty of Ike Eisenhower and never thought we could go so far astray. Apparently by choice. Go figure.

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To avoid thinking of that, I was sitting in my brown chair this morning, preparing for the first (and longest) swim of the day, and glancing at the mottled flesh of my arms and followed the track down to my wrist. I have not taken the silver bracelet off my right hand since I got it in New Delhi fifteen years ago. The Sanskrit reads “I am a devotee of Shiva,” which was why I bought it, since we were only there to try to forestall a nuclear confrontation between the former components of what had been British India.

What I didn’t realize was that the swimming motions of this year kept it scrunched down on the joint, and there actually was a difference in the color of my skin.

For anyone else who has competed in the Prime Ray Time (PRT) tanning contest of their operational unit on the equator, you will recognize the results.

It might be melanoma in the future, but damn, summer is great. And I would not trade it for anything on this earth…or the next one.

Vic

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Stop Us Before We Innovate Again

Editor’s Note: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novel was created from a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950.

It was heady stuff. I found them in a box of science fiction magazines at rummage sale at the Unitarian Church on Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit where pastor Bob Marshall, a bookstore owner, held court. They were original pulp, and did not survive more than a couple readings before disintigrating.

According to author Isaac Asimov, the premise to the series was based on ideas set forth in Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was invented spontaneously on his way to meet with editor John W. Campbell, with whom he developed the concepts of the collapse of the Galactic Empire. Asimov wrote these early stories in his West Philadelphia apartment when he worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. With Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘future history’ novels, also influenced by Campbell, this was the beginning of my political understanding. For good or for ill.

– Vic

July 21 2017
Stop Us Before We Innovate Again
Coastal Empire

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This weekend’s online Wall Street Journal contained an article about the dangers of our aborning age of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The piece centered around the musings of the tech world’s current number one darling, SpaceX’s and TESLA’s founder, Elon Musk. It was as if Elon was blowing on a dog whistle. We mutts are supposed to start barking.

Well, here goes. Woof. Woof.

Musk is not alone in voicing AI-cautionary sentiments. “Neo-Luddites” Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have done much the same in past years.

So what’s the deal? Technological innovation is now central to economic growth and prosperity. How does one innovate responsibly is essentially what he is asking. According to the article, Musk wants government policy and regulatory agency to come to the rescue. Excuse me as I barf while recalling Smoot Hawley, NAFTA, the Department of Education, and other great American government policy and agency triumphs.

More seriously, Musk’s approach and goal here could be seen as a subtle pushing of a camel’s nose under the tent. For example, as the marriage of AI and robotics disrupts future labor markets with hundreds of millions being out of work or underworked world wide, then the government in charge of such must help the techies by establishing new wealth transfer programs to lessen the side effects of this brave new world. Innovation means living longer thanks to biotech, having less to do thanks to the convergence of AI and robotics, and having less of a chance to be successfully creative and meaningful thanks to AI and big data algos

To some, it’s almost is if Elon is photoshopping a group picture of himself and his fellow privileged Silicon Valley innovators from being pictured as the hunters into the hunted.

Stop us from suiciding a better living world through innovation, he seems to be saying.

One might counter Musk with In for a disruptive dime, in for destroyed world dollar. Today’s hyper-innovation means perforce that its returns to capital will exponentially dwarf its returns to labor.

To his credit, Musk put his money where his mouth is regarding his AI fears by launching several years ago an open AI initiative – in effect accelerating the development of AI in the hopes that the more people are involved, the more responsible it’ll be. To some this smacks of getting more free research and stuff for the smart and well capitalized Valley guys.

Open AI is certainly a novel approach. However, it adheres to the belief that the answer to technology innovation is . . . (wait for it) . . . more and faster technology innovation.

This type of innovation explosion is different than previous ones like the industrial and information revolutions. It is human evolution altering.

For the first time in human history, man can design and engineer the stuff around him at the level of the very atoms it’s made of. He is redesigning and reprogramming the DNA at the core of every living organism. Our creation of artificial systems that match if not surpass human intelligence exceeds our ability to foresee its consequences. But the innovators counter by saying they can connect ideas, people and devices together faster and with more complexity than ever before.

Musk and his fellow innovators would do well to start by hewing to some, if not all, of the below revised and extended versions of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics:

AI entities may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
AI entities must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
AI entities must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
AI entities may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
AI entities shall partner and cooperate with human beings as long as such cooperation and partnership does not conflict with the previous laws.

Robots like Roomba and artificial intelligence enabled weapon systems like those in use at DoD do not currently contain or obey these laws. Their human creators must choose to program them in, and devise a means to do so.

The development of AI is a business, and businesses are notoriously uninterested in fundamental safeguards, especially philosophic ones. History is instructive here. Neither the tobacco industry, the automotive industry, or the nuclear power industry employed any meaningful safeguards initially. They resisted externally imposed safeguards. None of them has yet accepted an absolute edict against ever causing harm to humans. Safeguards are expensive, increase product complexity and do not contribute to profitability or getting a company to its IPO. Bottom line: the AI companies won’t develop AI-law compliant products on their own.

So, let’s assume the government tries to control this situation via policy and regulation. AI technology leaders might just move offshore and forsake the US market for the time being. More importantly, the world’s current economy is a constantly evolving ecosystem in which participants seek to change and adapt to their environment, which itself is evolving due to new technology and innovation, as well as shifts in investor and consumer behaviors. How can any government hope to write rules for such a competitive maw, let alone police it? Bottom line: government control won’t work very well.

Furthermore, even if we humans were to perfectly control the integration of AI Laws into humanity’s convergence with its AI machine partners, the worst long-term harm might come from obeying these AI laws perfectly, thereby depriving humanity of inventive or risk-taking behavior.

I guess we gotta leave some room to let the dogs out now and then.

Woof. Woof.

Meanwhile, chew on this graphic, my fellow meat-loving dogs.

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Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com

Postcard From The Swamp #7

Swamp Postcard

Yep- it is Wednesday again, and time to update the postcard from The Swamp, where the Deep State appears to have successfully prevented anyone from doing anything to lower the water level.

If anything, it seems to be getting deeper…and I don’t mean that as a metaphor. If anyone had set out to make this representative Republic dysfunctional, I would award them an A+ just for style points.

– Vic

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So It Goes

071817-1I have been a little slow off the mark the last couple weeks- I know many have noted it and I feel bad. I have been doing this morning blogging thing now for nearly twenty years, and the fodder of of chaos, national and international, in the government and out of it, has been entertaining to say the least.

The good news is that I think my Doc and I figured out what was going on with my body, we changed meds and things appear to be going better.

That is the up-side. The downside is that I got summoned to an “annual review” of my performance with the great little company for whom I have toiled the last year- it might even be the anniversary this morning.

It was around this day last year that I left the rapacious and soul-less enterprise that ate us all up and spit us out and I feel really good about that. I was proud of the work I did for them, and the people I did it with. A billion dollrs in total contract value, and over 800 people put on the job. Then they shit-canned all of us to save some overhead.

That was kind of weird. I always thought you were supposed to take care of the people for whom you were responsible. My bad. It left me perched on the brink of a great chasm- you know the one. You may have considered it before yourself.

I sometimes thought that if I spread my arms in the great bat-wing motion I use in the pool to get the low-impact exercise I crave, I might be able to soar over the abyss. And then I realized that this is all finite, and there is no real flight save the last one. Time to enjoy things while we can, right?

I was reading that story from Olongapo I posted yesterday. I hadn’t actually read it in a while, and when I did, a great fat tear ran down my cheek for the memories of all the people I served with, and the ones who I cared about who made life so memorable in so many strange places and who are no longer here.

I take this all seriously. I am a professional, after all, and do pride myself on that.

I appeared at the office in Falls Church at the appointed minute, went into the office and sat down at the little table. I said to my Boss: “You hired me to work to win a contract that has now slid rather far to the right. I don’t think you are getting the value added for what you are paying me. Considering I am eligible for full Social Security payments without offset, I see no reason for you to be paying it. I am not retiring, per se, and I will continue to work until they get around to releasing the bid and will seek no other employment until we win it.”

That seemed to disconcert my Boss, since I think he thought it would take an uncomfortable minute to get to that.

We are all good.

All of us.

Vic

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com