Internet Freedom the Co-op Way

I pay $35.00 per month for unlimited Internet service. I get about the same speed as most of the corporate Internet Service Providers offer, for about half the price they charge. All the customers/members of our co-op get the same service for the same price, with no restrictions whatsoever on content because our ‘provider’ is a cooperative owned by its members. Its sole purpose is to provide ourselves with high-speed internet access. All ‘profits’ go to the members in the form of better service and price. For a small increase in the monthly fee, we can upgrading to a higher bandwidth.

We are all encouraged to contribute work in upgrading the equipment of the co-op as well as help set up new members’ receivers, etc. The La Canada Wireless Internet Co-op buys access to large high-speed optical transmission lines. It then transmits all Internet content equally to its members via its installations atop hills in the Santa Fe area. Members install their own transmission/receiving equipment on their rooftops. Usually, more technically knowledgeable members help them.

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Ethernet Cable

We members collectively own our own “pipeline” to the World Wide Web and all the information and communication that entails. We are, in effect, shareholders. Because we are our own Internet Service Provider, we do not have any interest in restricting speed and/or content in order to squeeze greater profit from customers – we are not customers, we are member/owners. Unlike Comcast, Time-Warner, or any of the few communications and entertainment giants, we have no conflict of interest between providing the “pipelines” of the Internet and trying to generate profits from particular “content” by giving preferential access to content we own.

When the same media giants control content and transmission, censorship is inevitable, if only a means to greater profit. But remember, political censorship follows directly from economic interest and power. We cannot achieve the democracy of Net Neutrality until Internet content and transmission functions are economically independent of one another.

It is no different from the public officials switching the source of water for Flint, Michigan to save money and poisoning the children of Flint in the process. The supposed beneficiaries of the service become its victims because they are subservient to the institution and have no control over its policies. Those in control had little or no interest in the wellbeing of the citizens/customers or their children, who as a result continue to suffer from lead poisoning. The managers of Flint acted in their own narrow economic/political interests instead of in the public interest. At least with the giant media corporations, the damage is merely cultural, not genetic.

One of the biggest problems with modern societies is that the most powerful economic institutions rule the society instead of the society managing the economy in the interests of the citizenry. That is why some call it the “corporate state.” If you think you need to “take back our country,” then you should forget about the minorities the demagogues encourage you to hate – as a distraction from their theft of our democracy. Instead, start by taking back control of the economy from those giant corporations that run it not in the public interest, but solely in the interests of the economic greed of the financial corporate elites that dominate politics and society alike.

Simple Complexity at ten thousand five hundred feet

I never stop marveling at the sophisticated complexity of modern technology. The fine performance of that flathead V-8 engine in my 1951 Ford when I was in high school was fully understandable by the average teenager at the time. Today, most of us do not have a clue about how the technologies we use every day actually work.

It is even worse than that. When I taught university students how to do research, I often gave them a “basic skills” test at the beginning of the semester. The test included a question asking where their water came from. Most were unable to describe much beyond the kitchen faucet. Some might argue that we don’t need to know the technical details, just how to turn the faucet on and pay the bill. Tell that to the children of Flint, Michigan. Complexity has power, but can be very dangerous.

The Simple and the Complex in Technology

I’ve always been curious about how the technology I use works. I learned to fly airplanes in 1976. I already understood aerodynamics and studied it further in preparing to get my pilot’s license. Decades later when I retired, I built my own airplane, a Glasair Sportsman II, with the assistance and direction of some incredibly knowledgeable mechanics. You could say that I know my airplane pretty well.

But there is so much more to modern technology than that. When the fuel pressure indicator on the flat-panel primary flight display went wild (see previous posts, “Up in the Air Again,” and “Decision to Land”), I could not determine with certainty the technical source of the way out-of-range indication while cruising at 10,500 feet. Normal fuel pressure is 25 psi; at one point, indicated pressure shot up to 107.

Information Determines Emergency

Was the fuel pump failing? If so, why would the pressure be so high, instead of lower than normal? Would excessive pressure burst a fuel line or connection, leading to a fiery crash? Or, was it just a false reading due to a faulty sensor? No answer to this “mission-critical” question was possible in the air. Even if a catastrophic outcome were unlikely, if it is possible why risk it?

After I made an emergency landing, it took a couple of hours of disassembly and checking various potential sources of the aberrant fuel-pressure reading. A young A&E (Airframe & Engine) mechanic from Alaska diagnosed the problem. He determined that the fuel pump, with its reputation for being “bullet-proof,” was likely not at fault. Besides, producing such high pressure made no sense. Since there were no obstructions in the filters, the fuel-pressure ‘sender’ appeared to be defective (a $32- part). Lucas is a clever innovative mechanic. He used a pressure gauge from his air compressor to test the actual fuel pressure; he got a steady reading of 30 psi. The difference was likely due to the difference between how it read air versus fuel pressure. But it was steady and close to spec.

I had lots of time to contemplate simple complexity as we waited over the weekend to order the part for overnight shipment. In Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the nearest airport when I decided to land ASAP, we awaited shipment of a new fuel-pressure sender. The “overnight” shipment, ordered Monday, took two days to arrive. Due to the long wait, it cost about a thousand dollars in lodging, food, and incidentals to obtain and install that $32- part. The actual installation took about ten minutes.

No Fail-Safe Technology for the Planet

No matter how sophisticated human technology may become, it is never fail-safe. The ill-fated Challenger spacecraft had many redundant fail-safe systems when it exploded after launch due to a simple oversight. Teams of corporate engineers could not figure out the problem; it took famed physicist Richard Feynman to give a simple tabletop demonstration of the failure of an ordinary o-ring due to freezing weather. Bureaucratic inertia and profit motive were the culprits.

Systems-thinking-01_kindling.xyzThe culture of modernity is stuck in traditional thinking. We live in a world of complex adaptive systems within a vastly more complex Earth System. We must begin to practice systems thinking. No fail-safe technology protects the Earth System against the destructive effects of ever-growing economic production. But increasingly complex and wasteful technologies of extraction, manufacture, distribution, sales, and use devour depleting planetary resources and destabilize living earth systems. We must become aware of the possibility of all sorts of failures, from the smallest device to the planetary ecological and climate disturbances our technological hubris has now produced.

Ecological necessity now calls upon us to engage in a fix so large and complex that it is difficult even to imagine. Yet it is now imperative. “Houston, we have a major system failure,” which permeates our entire industrial economy. We must fix our planetary problem in the air. We have nowhere else to land.

Up in the Air Again, and Down

Another entry in the Mad Jubilado series.

I had not flown in almost four years. I recalled retired folks telling me that when I retire I would find myself with too much to do. I didn’t pay much attention. Not having to work sounded like not having much to do at all. Well, they were right. It’s hard to find time to do everything you want to do if you are interested in everything and have the time to choose more than time allows.

You Can’t Do Everything, but You can Try

I’ have nearly completed final revisions for my book, “At the Edge of Illusion.” Writing does take a lot of time. I had enjoyed the time I spent writing a blog, Diary of a Mad Jubilado, on aparallelworld.org, a site designed by Alan Hoffman to bring together environmentally conscientious consumers with vendors of products with small carbon footprints. The site went down after bots and trolls destroyed its fundraising efforts. The techs thought the bots and trolls were Russian. Who knows?

Solar.Wind_ShutterstockWorking with GotSol to bring greater awareness and adoption of renewable energy in New Mexico took a lot of time too; it was personally satisfying work. We established the annual “Renewable Energy Day” at the state capitol. Woodworking takes as much time as you put into it. So does flying. After a couple of cataract surgeries, travel to Scotland, Alaska, and Mexico, and the financial drain they caused, I found I was not flying much. Oh, I’d stopped altogether!

Up in the Air Again

After my flying hiatus,  I completed the annual inspection required by the FAA for all non-commercial aircraft (commercial aircraft must be inspected every 100 hours of flight). I was shocked to realize that it had been four years since I had flown. Flying had been a passion of mine my whole life; how could I have let so much time pass without it? Mad Jubilados can get very busy…and broke, very easily. Flying ain’t cheap.

All pilots must complete a Biennial Flight Review every two years with an FAA authorized examiner. who enters an endorsement in the pilot’s logbook if demonstrated skills in the air are satisfactory. In an hour and a half or so, he signed me off, authorizing me to fly. I did so for several days straight, practicing “slow flight” (the configuration used in approaches to landing), power-on and power-off stalls, and of course, takeoffs and landings. As they say, “Every landing you walk away from is a good one.” My standards are higher than that. With consistent practice, my skills improved rapidly. I felt good.

Down Again, by Diversion

However, I was getting intermittent erratic readings on the fuel pressure indicator. Sometimes, on starting the engine, it would surge into the ‘red,’ as high as 50 psi (normal is 25 or 26), but it usually returned to the normal range. Sometimes it would surge during normal flight. I checked with my mechanic, who had no answer.

Two more flights and the ‘anomaly’ did not reappear. The next day, we packed up and began our flight to a small airstrip in the Gila National Forest for a weekend of “airplane camping” in the beautiful mountain wilderness of southern New Mexico with a dozen or so members of the New Mexico Pilots Association, their families and friends.

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TCS from the air

Within a few miles of our remote destination, I made an abrupt left turn, direct to Truth or Consequences, NM, Municipal Airport, TCS, where I made the emergency landing. The indicated fuel pressure had risen to over 100 psi. I believed that the reading was due to a defective sensor, but in mission-critical situations certainty is a necessity. Maybe the fuel pump was over-pressuring the lines. A blown fuel line in the engine compartment would have produced a fiery end to more than one flight. That was certain.

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The Answer was mounted on the Firewall.

The ‘inadvertent adventure’ continued after a safe landing at TCS, the nearest airport when I determined that an immediate landing was necessary. Finding a mechanic at this small-town airport was not easy, and was followed by several days of technical and organizational struggles, punctuated by a little recreation.

The complexity of resolving logistical problems of parts acquisition in a remote location became very apparent and required a lot of waiting time. I began to think of the relationship of “get-there-itis” to not only aviation safety but to the headlong rush of industrial society to the modernist dream of a utopian destiny fueled by impossibly endless economic growth, a future that will surely disappear in flames before we ever get there.

The Poverty of Environmentalism: I

Environmentalism is stuck at a crossroads. A couple of years ago, I went to Denver where I presented a paper titled, “Calculating Survival: The Role of the Social Sciences” at the Summer Seminar of the National Social Science Association (NSSA). In the paper I argued that the biggest problem with climate change is not technological, it is sociological. We have all sorts of technical means of reducing carbon emissions, But we seem at a complete loss regarding how an entire society could possibly implement them.

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Rocky Mountain High

The green slopes of the Front Range near Denver contrast strongly with Santa Fe’s sparse green of our late summer “monsoon season.” Neither will survive our failure to attack accelerating climate disruption aggressively to achieve net-zero carbon in the biosphere. Everyone seems to think “they” will take care of the problem.

 

The NSSA is an association of social scientists most of whom teach in community colleges and universities. They work on diverse problems in the social sciences and emphasize effective teaching and learning strategies. My paper argued that the problem of mounting an adequate effort at climate action is not really a matter of technology; it is essentially a problem of societal transformation. That is the purview of the social sciences, which have not done much at all to illuminate this issue. How can we instill widespread recognition of that fact if the public discussion of climate policy focuses on pie-in-the-sky new technologies?

Stagnation of Vision

Nothing much has changed in the last couple of years, except for more dire warnings from the IPCC and from diverse scientists studying various impacts of climate destabilization. Environmentalism is still mostly in bed with the Corporate State. Most climate-crisis discussions focus on new energy technology and ignore the deep changes in society and culture needed to reach critical emissions reduction targets.

Some supposed environmentalists call themselves “eco-modernists” because they believe that we can have our modern industrial economy and “manage” the environment too. They emphasize replacing carbon-intensive purchases with products that have a low carbon footprint. They imagine that we can “decouple” modern economic growth from the climate the same way the industrial system sustained its growth for 200 years: technological innovation, new materials, and new product development. I don’t think they pay much attention to the numbers. Such sci-fi technologies are long-shots with little prospects for success. Even if they could be developed, we just do not have time to wait. Climate chaos is now and it is rapidly accelerating.

We do not have the time to do a lot of high tech research and development. We must reduce carbon emissions and restore diverse ecosystems around the world within the next decade if we are to have a chance of at least partly re-stabilizing the climate and the ecosystems that depend on it. If we do not, widespread crop failures, starvation, climate-refugee migration, resource wars, and societal collapse will follow.

Societal Change Like You Would Not Believe

To get there from here will require deep societal change, not new technology. In fact, we must rapidly revive and update a wide range of technologies that do not rely on heavy energy inputs, while we quickly “shrink the technosphere,” as Dmitri Orlov puts it.

What we need is exactly the opposite, for example, of Bill Gates’ imaginary new-technology, some “energy miracle” he wants rich nations to invest in order to keep the pace of the high-energy globalized economy. Actually, neither we nor the planet can afford such utopian dreams. Gates has assembled a collection of some of the world’s richest billionaire “entrepreneurial philanthropists.” I call them “Bill’s Billionaire Boys Club.” He wants the 20 richest nations to collaborate with them to fund research and development of new high-tech energy production systems. They are way off base. [See my article on Bill Gates’ Big Mistake, for the details.]

We will resolve the climate crisis not by racing further down the same energy-intensive path that caused the problem. We have appropriate technologies; we must conserve energy, consume less, and reduce our carbon footprint now. We are unlikely to achieve the necessary deep cuts in carbon emissions unless we face the fact that it will require comprehensive changes in how we live, work, and produce, profound changes we have still not yet acknowledged. The “Green New Deal” is at least a conceptual step in the right direction.

Intermediation Blues

As commonly used in finance, “intermediation” refers to banks and other financial institutions borrowing from savers/investors and lending to companies that need funds for investment in operations and new projects. I will look at the idea more broadly here.

Intermediation occurs in countless ways in our industrial-consumer society. Most of the time, we do not even notice the indirectness of our mostly transactional lives. When did you last buy a product directly from the person who made it?

About the only way you can make a direct purchase from the producer of food is to buy those organic carrots or tomatoes from your local farmers market. What percentage of your food purchases are those? Most likely, very small. In most other cases, a direct transaction with no intermediation is impossible.

Dependency and Distance

The more distance between you and the other (if there is a singular other involved), the more dependent you are on a process beyond your reach. When did you last negotiate what characteristics your iPhone would have? To do that you would have to contact the maker, but like so many other products, smartphones result from thousands of makers producing countless components for assembly somewhere you have never heard of.

A team of people whose criteria result from complex sets of information from engineering and marketing studies designs the product. The design criteria and information intermediate between the revenue goals of the giant corporation controlling the process and estimates of how large a market their advertisers can influence to buy the product. Who decides what use-value an object may have for the end user? And who, exactly, is the end user? That is not always clear either.

Intermediation of Communication

When inventions like the telephone and telegraph became available for use by consumers and businesses, many praised their power to facilitate long-distance communication. Messages were sent directly from one party to another by telegraph; people talked directly to one another on the phone. The mail service provided delivery of direct written communications from one party to another. Today, people use their smartphones and computers to engage with social media or to send texts or email more than to communicate directly to anyone. Their calls to businesses are intermediated by complex, often dysfunctional telephone menu trees leading to recorded messages, not to humans.

Social media may be the most obvious technology of intermediated communication. How many Facebook friends do you have? How many have you actually met, face to face? People have “meetings” over Skype because it intermediates in a way that simulates face-to-face conversations. But face it, you are actually looking at an electronic image approximating the person you are talking with. The same process is involved when your geographically dispersed committee or board of directors meets via Zoom. You are replicating the experience of direct human communication.

Dangerous and Deadly Intermediation

People rightly complain that the use of drones such as the MQ99 Reaper in warfare feels in ways unseemly. A drone operator commands the aircraft from afar. He drops its bombs somewhere in Pakistan or Yemen by viewing images on a screen and receiving “intelligence” reports in his air-conditioned office near Las Vegas. He has no direct way of knowing whether the targeted group of people in a village or on a road consists of a terrorist group or a wedding party. Intelligence reports are often sketchy or based on false data. Combat drone operators experience PTSD at equivalent rates as troops on the ground.

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Lion Air ~ the First of two suspiious crashes.

Why was I not surprised when in a very short period two Boeing 737 Max-8 airliners crashed shortly after takeoff, one in Indonesia and the other in Ethiopia? Numerous pilots had complained of a tendency of the new autopilot software to force the aircraft into an abrupt nose down or nose up attitude. If any human technology epitomizes intermediation, it is the autopilot.

Software designed to control aircraft flight is extremely complex. Airborne situations are also extremely complex and diverse. I do not know what exactly went wrong and killed all those passengers and crew. But I do know that in automated control systems, the more complex the system, the more statistically susceptible to catastrophic collapse it is.

When I got my new small airplane in 2008, equipped with a basic autopilot, I was amazed at its ability to fly the aircraft in light to moderate turbulence better than I could. Its electronic responses were faster than my own in responding to change. But on a couple of occasions, the aircraft began to oscillate to the point where I had to hit the autopilot master switch and take manual control. Those 737 Max pilots didn’t have a chance since the defective software had been designed to override “pilot error” and drove the aircraft into the ground.

Disintermediation Rising

Intermediation has its advantages in complex systems, as long as it works. But there are limits to its benefits and there are dangers in its over-use. It appears that in several ways we have already reached the limits of utility and risk.

In the coming decades, deteriorating economic and ecological conditions will force industrial-consumer economies to contract for their societies to avoid suffering the most extreme consequences of climate chaos and the other converging catastrophic crises. Disintermediation must be part of the process of mitigating these crises.

We must examine many processes as to whether to disintermediate them. Many of the solutions to the converging crises at the end of the industrial-consumer era will involve returning to direct human interaction to accomplish tasks for which intermediation poses too many costs.

In the Air Again: Expectations and Complications of Global Travel

I was not ready for more travel, though I had to go to L.A. for a doctor’s appointment a couple of days ago. An airline ticket was actually cheaper than a half-hour telephone consultation, which insurance does not cover. Not that I don’t like traveling; I do. But it is, after all, part of that middle-class and above, often excessive, “lifestyle” subsidized by debt, both personal and national.

As I have said before, somewhere, I don’t like the term, “lifestyle.” It seems to convey a sense that one’s life is merely a fashion statement. It implies that we are all free to choose whatever “style” of life we want. It also assumes that “lifestyle” choices entail no costs beyond the credit card. Only our economic success limits our ability to “choose our own lifestyle.” Culturally, it has become a matter of “consumer rights.” After all, with the inevitable march of “progress” as endless economic growth, we will all be middle class or even super-rich someday, right? Well, not so much, if you are a realist, however hopeful.

Old World and New

In Europe and other ‘older’ societies, families have lived in the same place for centuries. Who of us can say that? Most Americans move at least once every ten years. If you are a Euro-American and living in Santa Fe, NM, for over ten years, many transplants from California, New York, or Texas, will consider you a virtual native. Yet Native Americans or the heirs to Spanish conquistadors of four hundred years ago, would disagree. But that’s another story.

Commercial aviation is becoming a complicated affair in the twenty-first century. Yet it remains affordable for many among the shrinking middle class. Plans for expansion

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Popular Airliner ~ source: cnn.com

abound. The executive elite of the increasingly infamous one percent travels bi-coastally and internationally on a regular basis. The rest of us travel occasionally, relying on credit cards that many rarely pay off. All this is possible because of heavy public subsidies of companies like Boeing and Airbus. We all pay for the aviation infrastructure that makes the FAA’s Air Traffic Control system and National Weather Service work so well. Who would fly if it were all rolled into the price of a ticket from L.A. to Paris?

Externality and Ecological Costs

Like so many other industries, aviation “externalizes” the social and ecological costs of its operations to the people and the planet in the form of disease and climate chaos. As a general aviation pilot, I find it difficult to face the fact that aviation is generally an ecological disaster. At least aviation does not have the biggest industrial carbon footprint. No matter the relatively small ecological damage from small planes versus big jets, the total carbon emissions from the industry are huge. Yet, the status of “frequent flyer” is widely subsidized.

On the other hand, I calculated that my little 180 horsepower airplane consumes about the same amount of fuel per mile traveled as a standard American automobile. I don’t fly it all that many hours per year, so I can rationalize my hobby as having a relatively small carbon footprint. But then, American cars get terrible gas mileage compared to cars driven in Europe. I don’t have aggregate numbers, but the anecdotal evidence is consistent. Last time we were in France, we rented a little diesel Mercedes mini SUV, drove it all over, and rarely needed fuel. That car is not available in the U.S. However, the only viable future for the automobile industry is electric.

Airline flying for business or pleasure has a huge carbon footprint when considered as a whole. Yet the middle and upper-class American public considers it virtually a civil right to fly around the nation or planet at will. How can this conflict between species survival and the consumer culture of personal privilege be resolved? The increasing chaos of the living Earth systems will resolve it for us, in a very bad way, if we do not change our ways. As we move through the new era of the Anthropocene, we must harmonize with the ecosystems upon which we depend for our lives, or our lives will be lost in the consequent chaos.

Messy Democracy vs. Painful Plutocracy

Wake up call for federal employees: In the era of Trumpery, life is really lived on the edge of insolvency and pain. Forty percent of the American people cannot cover a single $1,000- emergency. Most federal employees, though slightly better paid than their counterparts in private industry, live maybe a couple of paychecks ahead. The cost of living is much higher than the bogus government calculation of low inflation. Like most Americans, they have little savings to tide them over during a government shutdown.

No Respect

FAA air traffic Controllers are some of the most competent and dedicated professionals I have ever met. They operate in a high-stress environment where the “clearances” they issue to pilots in the national airspace routinely carry life and death implications. Especially during high traffic periods and under rapidly changing weather conditions, their prowess in skillfully coordinating the flight paths and altitudes of multiple high-speed jet airliners and slower small planes is amazing.

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Near Miss. Photo: JetlineMarvel.net

As a long time pilot, I understand the “mission critical” character of the everyday work of these federal employees. I remember distinctly when Ronald Reagan busted their union resulting in the loss of some of the best most experienced controllers then operating. I noticed immediately thereafter, an unmistakable drop in the quality of air traffic control operations. I felt I had to be extra careful to maintain a reasonable level of safety in the air.

Many other federal employees live with far less daily stress on the job. I have envied the National Park Rangers for the serene environment of their work out there in the beautiful National Forests that the plutocrats would privatize for oil and mineral extraction. Most people take federal workers for granted or just dismiss them as “bureaucrats,” especially if things don’t go well when they interact with overworked IRS agents or Social Security workers processing their paperwork.

Yet, the work of these diverse employees of the nation is important to one or another element of the everyday operation of the society itself. That importance becomes ever clearer when an arbitrary demand by the president forces a government shutdown because the Congress will not roll over to the bully who’s pretensions to power cannot grasp the basic concept of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Moreover, these folks have been arbitrarily made victims of the “government shutdown” that Trump forced by demanding the Congress pay for his ill-conceived and poorly defined wall along the Mexican border. It is especially disconcerting when we find out that the “border wall” meme originated as a mnemonic device conjured by his campaign staff to help him remember to talk about immigration to better pander to his xenophobic base.

Illusions of Border Security

In various places along the border, walls already exist because federal agencies deemed them effective, particularly around urban ports of entry. The Congress voted to fund them as part of prior border security legislation. It is widely known that most trafficking of drugs, about which Trump feigns such concern, cross into the U.S. through the busiest border crossings in passenger vehicles or trucks. Is a wall going to have any effect on that? Of course not.

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Trump’s Border Wall could waste Billions. Photo: New York Times

Never mind the fact that illegal crossings from Mexico have steadily decreased for decades. Never mind that Trump violates the federal laws that allow applications for asylum by the victims of ruthless gangs and bloodthirsty dictators that U.S. foreign policies have caused or supported. However, let us not ignore the vicious persecution of children and their families that the obsessive xenophobia and demagoguery of a rogue president and an unhinged federal agency called ICE have caused.

Some say Trumplandia is the natural progression of the growing plutocracy in the U.S. since Reagan. True enough. But plutocrats abhor the messiness of democracy and care little about the pain they inflict on the people. When narcissistic sociopathic politicians have pretensions of authoritarian rule, as does Trump, the pain inflicted upon the people within and at the border becomes intolerable.