About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

The Third Inauguration

When I flew out of Portland International Airport before 2023, I usually stayed the night before at an airport hotel that provided free long-term parking and a shuttle to the terminal. It was a good deal and reduced stress.

But that was before Oregon had to pay for its share of the new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia. When the old bridge collapsed, the loss of commerce and reputation hurt the Portland / Vancouver area pretty badly. Truly Exalted said the federal government would help with 20 percent of the replacement cost, but only if Oregon and Washington came up with a “terrific” plan to pay the other 80 percent.

Washington added one percent to their sales tax. Oregon sold the airport to Koch Industries.

When I tried to reserve a room at one of the airport hotels just after Third Inauguration 2025, the Hotel Ivanka was booked for a Mary Kay convention promoting a perfume called “Melania.” Hotel Donald had tripled its rates except for corporate clients, who received a 70 percent discount. Hotel Eric was under extensive renovation after receiving a tax credit for coming out of bankruptcy.

So I was stuck with driving for five hours and long-term parking provided at Koch International for my old Taser, the first electric car I could afford. It’s not luxurious, but it’s real quick and I was able to hack the software so I can drive it myself some of the time, at least in rural areas where the Insurance Central Safety signal is still weak.

For the month I planned to be gone, the price for a space in “Blue Safe and Secure Parking” was more than my plane ticket, so I opted to take a shuttle from a space about two miles away in “Brown Open Park.” At least the shuttle waiting room was a Starbucks.

I bought a Coffee Mega and waited in line to buy a shuttle ticket. I had three choices. Actually, I had six. Each of the three shuttle companies had two levels of service, but it was like they had agreed on what they would offer. The fastest of each took about five minutes to the airport, but it cost $75V in Visa currency guaranteed against inflation. The slowest took more than an hour and cost $10V.

At&T’s shuttle kiosk was red, Verizon’s was white, and Comcast’s was blue. I couldn’t afford the faster service, so it really came down to whether I wanted to watch Disney, which Comcast broadcast to passengers through seat-back screen, Fox Real News on Verizon, or an abridged movie on the AT&T shuttle. It was a tough decision and took me a while.

“I don’t understand why we have to pay so much to get to the airport in a reasonable amount of time,” I muttered to the man waiting behind me wearing a red “We’re Still Great Again” hat left over from the Third Inaugeration.

“You have a choice,” he snarled. “Why don’t you make yours so I can make mine, commie libtard?”

“I’m not a communist. I was just wondering…”

“Shove it,” he said, pointing at my Lock Him Up t-shirt, and went over to the Comcast line.

“I heard your question and I have the answer,” said a very pretty young woman who looked like she was dressed for a beauty pageant in red, white and blue. She must have been employed by all three carriers.

“The prices are what they need to be so we can invest in infrastructure and keep shuttles running on smooth roads,” she said.

“Aren’t these public roads?”

“Well, yes, but we have an exclusive license to use them, and we own those licenses. We also have to paint lines on the road to separate the fast and the slow lanes.”

“So if you didn’t have to paint the lines, it wouldn’t cost so much? And why does the slow shuttle take so long?”

“I don’t think it works like that,” she said with a look of concern. “The slow shuttle needs to make up for its lower cost to you by carrying municipal passengers to their destinations all over town. It’s just the free market. You believe in the free market, don’t you?” The look of concern now furrowed the thin space between perfectly plucked and painted eyebrows.

“Okay, but why is the fast shuttle so expensive?”

“You just answered your own question!! It’s expensive so it can be fast! But the best thing is, you have a choice!” She laughed, flashed a brilliant smile, and gave me a coupon for free coffee sugar.

I finally bought a ride on AT&T Slow Red and got another coffee so I could use the free sugar coupon. I was looking for a place to sit when a man with an umbrella made eye contact and nodded at an empty chair at his table. When I sat, he moved the umbrella off of a ragged newspaper.

“Is that a newspaper? A real one?”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “From 2019.”

“May I look?”

“You know, that’s probably not such a good idea. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable these days. I like to keep it kind of out of sight.”

“You let me see it.”

“Yeah, but I heard your conversation with those two, and figured you were safe. It’s not illegal to own a newspaper, they just make people uneasy and that can lead to awkward situations. By the way, would you like to get to the airport a little sooner?”

“How?”

“I’ve got a ride out there in the parking lot. We can be there in fifteen minutes and it will only cost you $25V.”

“I already paid for the slow shuttle.”

“And you can wait for it, and maybe you won’t miss your plane. The slow shuttles aren’t very dependable, you know. Sometimes they just stop, and they’re never on time. The carriers says its because of congestion, but I think they slow shuttles down so they can sell more tickets on the fast lane.”

“I don’t know. Is it legal to go with you?”

“Mostly. If we get hit by Curbies, just say we’re friends and I’m dropping you off.”

“Curbies?”

“Guys looking for curb bounties. They get a cut of every fine. They’re real good at recognizing cars they’ve seen before, but the Jeep I got now is pretty new, at least to me. It should be okay for a while, then I’ll get it painted again.”

“Okay,” I said at last, and pulled out my credit card to give him $25V.

“Oh, dude, I can’t take those. It’s not like I’ve got a sign on my door.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” I said and pulled two worn $20 bills out of my wallet. “Got change?”

“Um, you know, those might not be worth $25V by the time we get you to the gate. You got any Bitcoin on you?”

Thank you, Alabama

Dear Grady, Connie,
and other friends in the State of Alabama;

Thank you.

I believe you Alabamians have put at least a speed bump, if not a road block, in the effort by the powerful and wealthy one percent to slurp up America’s resources, destroy the vision of our founding fathers, and damage institutions that made America great.

This vote was not easy and you experienced tough conflicts in coming to the decision you did. During our conversations last summer and this fall, I developed respect for you conservatives from the very conservative State of Alabama, as different as your beliefs are from my own, a liberal from the very liberal State of Oregon.

In recognition of the difficult aftermath of yesterday’s election in your communities, I’d like to personally make a few promises to you.

First, I do not gloat. The fact that Moore lost does not represent a moment of celebration for me, especially since I know that some values he claimed to represent are values you hold dear, and some of the values I share with Jones anguish you. I’m relieved, certainly, but when you see others gloating, please do not think I’m among them.

I promise that when I speak out for the right of two people in love to get married regardless of their sexual orientation, I will also speak out for the right of a baker to bake a wedding cake for whom he alone chooses. It gets difficult when civil rights bump against rights of an individual, but this is not the only bus to the other side of town.

When I speak against the wall, I promise to recognize the impact of immigrants on your home town. Americans need to speak the same language for the melting pot to blend. Immigrants made this country great, but there is a reason that community and communicating share the same root. It’s important.

When I say every American should have quality health care, I promise I’m talking about insurance, and that you can choose your doctor and pay as much more as you want. But insurance only works if we all buy in at some level. That’s what insurance is. The free market does not work well in health care, and we don’t want our neighbor’s child to suffer.

While some need public housing, I don’t think it should be better than your house, and every able-bodied person who receives free health insurance or subsidized rent payments should do something in exchange for our support.

When I speak out for a woman’s right to determine what happens with her body, I will point out there is a point before birth when abortion is not a trivial decision. Science has changed the debate in the last 50 years, and travel down the birth canal does not magically confer the status of human being. At the same time, there are fewer unwed mothers and fewer abortions in states where contraception and family planning are available. Maybe we can make incremental changes instead of fighting for all or nothing absolutes?

That’s it for now. Again I’d like to thank you for sharing your point of view on these topics with me, and thank you again for what you did for America yesterday.

~ Erik

No longer a Democrat

I was an Independent once, and it’s that time once again — I’ve had it with the Democratic Party.

Democrats lost their base of working Americans not because of Russia or working class ignorance, but because the party is run by coastal elites who don’t understand working Americans nearly as well as a corrupt big-city President Plutocrat.

While arguing over budget deals with Republicans, the Democrat’s stated priority is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It may be laudable to protect 700,000 Hispanics from deportation to countries they’ve never known, but millions of working men and women see Democrats putting the needs of non-citizens over the needs of Americans without jobs.

Why aren’t Demorats making affordable health insurance the one priority they will force Republicans to accept in exchange for a budget compromise?

Advancing their self-assigned role as the party most pure, Dems shoved one of their more effective senators, Al Franken, out the door for boorish behavior. It may be laudable to take an impassioned stand against harassment, assault, and retribution, but American working men and women know the difference between tacky and rape, and they know how to deal with loutish and offensive behavior. They also understand the power of sexuality, and see the current flat spin of sensitivity as just another example of effete elitism.

Why aren’t Dems demanding work for those who can’t find jobs, as bridges crumble and roads lie in ruin?

Russians may have thrown the election, Jerusalem may be erupting, places they’ve never heard of may be descending into chaos, but a baker in Colorado can’t refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple? Many American working men and women could not care less if their sister’s son is straight or gay, but don’t want someone in Washington D.C. telling them they have to do something they feel is wrong. Land of the free!

Racists? Many working men and women voted for Obama and don’t like Trump, but they see Democrats in backrooms focused on demographic calculations that leave out most of the nation’s geography, they see Hillary still whining about being a victim, and they listen to Fox News at least validating their knowledge that something terribly unfair is happeneing and it’s wrong.

What about American working men and women growing old, cold and hungry and alone, while watching their children struggle with addiction to opioids pushed by corporations that will never face criminal prosecution? Banks that gamble with dwindling retirement accounts and slurp up tax dollars to fatten balance sheets while paying bonuses of millions? Oh, what it must be like to be too big to fail!

While Democrats eat their own or insult those they pretend to represent, Republicans inch their way closer to an oligarch’s dream of destroying opportunity for those who would oppose them, selling the primary source of information, Internet, to soulless corporate oligopolies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, and forcing state governments into bankruptcy so Koch Industries can buy highways on-the-cheap and charge the working class a toll to drive on pavement they used to own.

American working men and women know it’s class warfare, that they didn’t start it, they still have no champion and they never had a chance. Yes, I’m leaving the Democratic party, as so many others already have, but perhaps I’m not leaving, perhaps the party left me. By what they’ve done and not done, they’ve declared I’m not a Democrat. I now accept this. They shall not have one more of my dollars, not one more party-line vote.

Self-evident truths

Democrats need to quit pointing out hardships faced by so many ordinary people. They act as if hardship and despair is a byproduct of greed. It’s not. Hardship is itself a goal of the Republican Party, the means to an end.

Oh, I hear the snarls and howls of outrage coming from the right. “Class warfare!” they exhale with feigned shock and dismay. Yes. And they started the war. But for a very good reason.

The GOP believes if they make life frightening, lonely, famished and cold for those not in the top one percent, society will return to a holy, orderly and value-based future. Not values-based, but value. You are what you own.

Since the GOP is the party of the ruling class, it creates laws that protects their ownership.

“But not ALL the people who voted for the half-smart, very cunning, pathological liar and malignant narcissist who occupies the White House is a member of the one percent!” foolish liberals exclaim. True enough. Many of those who voted for President Trumpkin are good, decent, hard working or decent and unemployed Americans who are angry that undeserving people are getting more than their share.

By undeserving, they mean someone who is not them.

Conditioned with fear and outrage by Fox News, the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, those good people often still believe that a serial bankrupt who cheated in business, defrauded those who sought to better themselves, who abused women, who still hides his tax returns and flaunts his horrid ignorance, has their interests at heart. Seriously.

Democrats colluded in this, by the way. As towns and small cities across the country were being hollowed out by the offshoring of industry so Home Depot could sell cheap air conditioners to people losing their jobs, the Democrats were arguing among themselves about how many colors should be in the LGBTSQRXZEP flag.

Yeah, yeah, I know you Democrats think this is important, but that’s because you have a job and live on the Left Coast surrounded by people who agree with you. I think it’s important, too. But please… the house is burning down. Now is not the time to debate into which closet the photo albums should go. Because you’re so passionate about what doesn’t really matter in a time of crisis, you’ve lost so big it will take generations to clean this up.

Shut up. I don’t want to hear it. Go take an Econ 101 course and quit hating other people’s money. When Main Street was forced to bail out Wall Street a decade ago, you failed in your mission to support the working class and lost your moral authority.

The story of how Republicans seized control of the country using poor white people to vote against their interests is one for history books when they are written, if anyone has the education to write them, if anyone has the attention span to read them, if and only if control of the media by the ruling class is not yet absolute.

The Russians are thrilled.

It’s about to get much worse this year as the tax code is rewritten and deficit explodes, ownership of the Internet is handed over to AT&T and Verizon, and health insurance becomes such a heavy burden that everyone below the top 40 percent will have to choose between health care or college for their children.

What’s important to realize is that for the GOP, that’s a good thing! The evils of public education, hardship housing, choice of sexual identity, free flow of information, minimal standards of living, and social security, will be banished not by passing laws, but by freedom of choice!

Hardship will clean up society! Hardship will restore the work ethic, put people back in church pews, reduce crime, keep families together, promote proper values! Because people will be forced by hardship to choose the right thing!

When the economic crisis comes, because it must, from budget deficits so large that cuts will have to be made, taxes won’t go up on the wealthy. The ruling class will have shielded their income in loopholes or offshore accounts where it can’t be touched.

Corporations won’t have to pay because they’ll scream “Job killer! Job killer! Job Killer!” to the unemployed as they turn robots into truck drivers, servers, health care workers, taxi drivers, retail clerks, back hoe operators, doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians and maybe policepersons, too.

Through those corporations, the ruling class will own these robots, by the way. Public services will be privatized because The Free Market shall provide! and the rest of us will have to pay even as those services are cut because our nation can’t afford it! after tax cuts the ruling class will have given themselves in a free kleptocracy.

The Boston Tea Party may have been a protest of taxes to the king, but the tea was owned by the East India Company. We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Lawyer bots

A friend, a lawyer and a judge, sent a link about a company in San Francisco trying to replace lawyers with robots. A professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said artificial intelligence couldn’t tackle more than 10 percent of legal issues with today’s technology.

I wrote back saying that I didn’t think the law would be that difficult, since law was encoded in words with rules applied that resulted in patterns of outcome. I envisioned case studies and decisions, the history of law in the U.S. going back to the Constitution, being fed to the machines which would learn it in about five minutes.

”… it is just a bit more complicated than that!” the Judge replied.

He pointed out that judges and lawyers often bring more than case law and rules to their arguments. They think about how a decision might affect society, bring inputs from their lives that are not part of any legal history.

To my statement about law just being language, he pointed out that language is not always clear. When teaching, he used to show pictures of a stump. a stool, a kitchen chair, a toilet, and a throne. Which was “chair?” he would ask his students. Where did “chairness” begin?

One of my favorite arguments also involved “chairs.” Is it a kitchen chair, or is it “legs, seat, and back,” or is it “steel, wood and plastic,” or is it “carbon, iron-nickel, and heterochain polymers?” The answer is, yes.

So the simplicity of “chair” quickly becomes more complicated. To say that “The Law” is just words and rules was an oversimplification.

And yet…

An article in Quanta Magazine covers research at University of California Berkeley to give AI “curiosity,” or a “reward which the agent generates internally on its own, so that it can go explore more about its world,” according to one of the researchers.

One problem was that the AI could get “stuck” in an environment that offers too much stimulation. So researchers engineered their AI to “translate its visual input from raw pixels into an abstracted version of reality. This abstraction incorporates only features of the environment that have the potential to affect the agent…” wrote author John Pavlus.

I suggest that human intelligence does the same thing and among our primary mechanisms of abstraction, or filters, are… words. Words describe not just what “is,” but “what is not.”

When we teach infants to speak, we teach words, but also contexts and associations. The wiring of the brain forms patterns that associate the feeling of hunger with the word “breakfast.” We associate furry with dog. Some patterns are reenforced, others wither. The word “dog” is not associated with pancakes.

Repetition of words create “fields of context.” Listeners bring unstated contexts, conscious and subconscious, to conversations about things even as simple as “chairs.” This unstated understanding between speaker and listener allows one to understand what is meant by “chair” in different conversations without elaboration.

It’s also a source of friction, when the context brought by listener is not the same as that of speaker, such as when discussing “love.”

As we extend the reach of AI’s by giving them “curiosity,” and perhaps someday “love” and “lust” and “fear” and “anger,” along with tools to seek and avoid, these entities will need to abstract their environment with ever more effectiveness. Some of the filters  will be words, which will reference “things” or patterns or contexts and allow them to read and understand the entire history of law by comparing inputs to outcomes.

The judge points out there may be difficulty with irony, and I admit there is one arena that may elude Artificial Intelligence longer than others. This was illustrated by the philosopher Marx in the last century, when he said, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

According to Dolson’s Theory of Comedy, all humor is based on something being “out of context,” and humor is our way of communicating to each other similarities in intelligence. But patterns of brain activity are becoming ever more accessible to scientists who may soon be able to “see” brains work and predict thinking. In other words, read minds: Will they see the joke?

While the law may be accessible to machines in the not-to-distant future, we’ll know machines really “think” when they’ve learned to laugh.

* (Groucho Marx, 1965?)

Winding it up

Whew! The new / old Jessica book is finished!

It’s new because it went from 50,000 words to 80,000 words, which is insane for the genre. Which genre is a key question. The book may fall flat because it breaks all sorts of rules and bends into different genres, and readers really like to know what they’re getting after they’ve judged a book by its cover. Continue reading

Where to start…?

Dawn in my Treehouse feels warm, secure, and surreal. A mile away, wind generators roar with the pulsing beat of helicopter blades from a neighbor’s marijuana field fending off frost. I hear the fridge humming and the coffee pot clicking with heat while sending a fat burbling steaming stream into the glass carafe.

My ears also ring from damage by 427 inch motors howling too close, or the squall of a 4-cylinder diesel engine inches from my head in the confined space beneath the cockpit of the boat. Or maybe from chainsaws while cutting up firewood decades ago. Or rock concerts from decades before that.

Or maybe my ears just echo with waves of compressed time. It’s that kind of morning.

It’s good to be back in the Treehouse. No, it’s not really a treehouse, but the living room on the high second floor is mostly windows that look out into green branches of juniper and pine on a hilltop surrounded by mountains. It feels to me like a treehouse so that’s what I call it. The outside is built of rusting steel, the inside done in golds and yellows and copper. I was cold when I built it a decade ago so I built it warm in fact and in feel.

It’s been almost a year since Irish and I took the boat north to Victoria, spent most of the winter there, then on to Alaska and back. An intense, at times frightening, awe-inspiring, cold, frustrating, rewarding, year. The boat now sits on her buoy, rotating on twice-a-day tides, drawing one and one-half amps an hour from an 800 hour battery bank.

I need to get some solar panels so that I don’t kill the batteries. But to do that I need a place to put the panels, and so I need to build the hard-top, which I’ve designed and redesigned and then redesigned, but to install the hard top I need to move the boom up eight inches, which means I need to get the sail cut …

The coffee pot just beeped three times to tell me it’s done keeping the coffee hot and if I want another cup, I’d better get a move on. That’s a good reminder about being in the moment, this moment, here in the Treehouse.

Alaska was tough on Irish, but she was tougher. She not only had to deal with the fear of being on the boat that tried to kill her last December and took her right eye, but then had to leave the Alaska trip for follow-up medical visits back in Oregon. While she was gone there were two different female crew members on board she had never met and no way to communicate assurances and all that. It was tough. Then the push back to Friday Harbor, almost a thousand miles, to see my daughters off to Japan.

Social Security denied her application for benefits. Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, nor the loss of an eye and inability to read did not convince the agency that Irish was disabled. They assert she should continue as a project manager running multi-person teams developing assessment data for America’s students. They understand neither her condition nor her work, or don’t care.

There were times I didn’t think Irish would make it on the boat. When she didn’t seem to remember that she was not supposed to get off the boat while it was moving. When she set the fender too high and we hit the dock — a depth perception problem from having only one eye. When she couldn’t see the log we hit that took out our water speed gauge, the result of seeing through a cloud of what she called her “starlings,” the mass of floaters in her good eye.

She’d been complaining of seeing spots. We had the eye examined in May before leaving, didn’t get many answers but some assurances they would fade with time. The eye was examined again in July when Irish was in Portland for an eye “realignment.” Again, nothing serious.

But Irish was concerned enough when we got back that she moved an appointment set for the end of October up to the middle of September. Good thing. “Cobblestones” at the edge of the retina. Cloudiness around the optic nerve. “So much different than July!” said her doctor, who then referred us to another doctor, who then referred us to a third, all in the same day. Glad we were at Casey Eye Institute where there were many experts.

The chance was only .05 percent that her body would try to reject her good eye after the damage from the fall, but that’s the most likely explanation of what’s going on. They’re going to rule out TB and other diseases that could be the cause of inflammation, but it seems that rejection is most probable. Now she has eye-drops, next week huge doses of systemic steroids, then immune-suppressant drugs probably for a lifetime.

No tears, no panic. We’re both probably in a state of shock. But this could change a few things. We’ll be doing a few calendared events a little sooner. A birthday-present trip to New Orleans may be celebrated a little earlier than planned.

But right now, she can still see and is on a couch not far from this chair. Outside some birds are loudly cheering the 30 pounds of feed I hung in the juniper below the huge windows that let warm sun pour into this room. I’ll ask Irish if I can get her another cup on my way to the coffee pot.

 

IT’s here.

Let’s dispense with some hair-splitting right up front. What follows lumps “machine learning” and “cognitive computing” and “artificial intelligence” and “advanced robotics” into one box that from here on shall be referred to as “Intelligent Technology,” or “IT.”

IT includes self-driving cars, robots building those cars, computerized doctors, advanced game-playing algorithms, Amazon or Google or Apple or Facebook centers that parse “big data … all of it. All of IT. Continue reading