Monday, December 18, 2017

Holiday Horror Classics

The recent real-life horror of the ATL power kerfuffle reminds us of what can (and will) happen when a complex system is confronted with the prospect of what in isolation seems like a simple, single failure. The entire house of cards collapses and the KaseemKeishaKingdom has more than a little difficulty sorting Humpty's mess. The problem is of tragic proportions when a company secondarily noted for being closed on Sunday delivers food to stranded travelers. On Sunday.

But it is also a time to reflect. On what is. What was. And what just might be. In the spirit of the season TOD will offer some reading recommendations to scare the bejeezus out of you this holiday season.

Topping the list has to be Ted Koppel's Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, a well researched treatise on the fragility of the nation's electrical grid. While the title focuses on the prospect of a cyberattack which resonates with today's "the Russians are coming! the Russians are coming!" terror-mongering the author does reflect on lower-tech approaches to flip the switch on our darkest days. No high tech, no frightening assault rifles required. Nor commandeering of any fuel laden transports. Just a few disgruntled bubbas (aren't they always bubbas?) with deer rifles, decent aims and a middling, operational understanding of the magic of PGP and we could see the grid dropping like pine trees after a blizzard. The ease of creating the calamity is just a tease as the real horror is our country's inability to survive for more than a few days without power. "What do you mean you cannot pump gas without electricity? Who knew?" He offers one ray of hope for those who want to survive: become a Mormon. THEY know.

For those a little more into Charles Manson than Hitchcock there is the legal thriller from Timothy Sandefur: The Permission Society: How the Ruling Class Turns Our Freedoms Into Privileges and What We Can Do About It. This is a story about how you, the reader, may think you are a prince when in fact you have become a frog. A slowly boiled frog. Unlike Lights Out, religion offers no refuge. You're screwed. Your parents were screwed. Your grandparents were screwed. And it is only getting worse. It becomes like a twisted version of bells and angels' wings from It's a Wonderful Life: whenever you hear "there oughta be a law" you know someone is getting screwed. More times than not that someone is you. While the title promises a way out it only raises false hope. There is no way out. You cannot even chew your arm off to escape this one.

While fact is often more frightening than fiction and some say fear of the unknown is greater than any other, it is Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 that will scare your mule. This dystopian novel set in the not so distant future depicts a United States after the Social Democrats have their way. Based on simple economic truths running headlong into persistent political expediencies the US economy and social fabric collapses like an imploded 20 year old football stadium. Virtually nothing in Shriver's novel stretches credulity leaving the reader convinced that this future is highly likely, if not entirely unavoidable. Spoiler alert: there is a wall on our southern border; Mexico did pay for it; and they built it to keep us out.

You may think these are fairy tales where bad children get baked in a witch's oven. But look around. We've got electrical infrastructure so fragile that a City Councilman felt compelled to dress down company managers in a public meeting (to be fair that was probably just political grandstanding) and parts of Dunwoody did indeed lose power in the recent snow storm. The very existence of the City of Dunwoody is an affectation of a ruling class benefiting from more government, more restrictions, more regulations and more permits, all at your expense. If recent run-ups in gold and bitcoin haven't convinced you that the value of currency is NOT the full faith and credit of a government and its bureaucrats but instead the faith of those holding that currency then you really haven't been paying attention. For those thinking real estate is a safe repository of wealth you might ponder that it is the most heavily taxed vehicle for holding wealth--until the government comes to get it.

So if you have the courage and would like some good reads these should find their way onto your list.