Monday, February 24, 2020

Bloomberg vs Trump




In the words of Red Buttons: "Strange things are happening...".  We're 240-some-odd days from the election, 8 months or so, and we can begin to see the vague outlines of how it's going to shape up.

Joe Biden, who just a few months back was the Dem front-runner, has slipped to 4th place as his campaign collapses reminiscent of a slow-motion train wreck.  The DNC has changed the debate rules to allow Mike Bloomberg to buy his way onto the stage.  Even so, Bernie Sanders has surged to first place and the DNC is going to be faced with a plateful of unappetizing choices at the convention.  If Bernie is, by then, still the leader, the DNC is going to have to torpedo him because there is no way he can compete against Donald Trump in a bustling economy.  Only Mike Bloomberg stands a chance now.  It's a small chance, but that's all the Dems have at this point.

What's interesting is that Bloomberg is an inveterate gun-grabber, so the pro-gun electorate finds him abhorrent.  Trump has been, over the past few months, methodically alienating that same community.  If the contest in November is 'Bloomberg vs Trump', 120-plus million gun owners will have no place to go...

...except to a third-party.  Or just stay home.  What if the LP or the Constitution Party puts up a plausible candidate for the first time in 30 years?  The threshold for getting a podium at the Presidential Debates is only 5% of the electorate.  In 2016, almost 129 million votes were cast.  Were some third-party to gather 7 million votes, the FEC would be forced to include them in the 2024 debates or, like the DNC in 2016, to rig the rules to keep the debates a two-party affair.  Either choice would be 'good news': one would finally allow a fresh voice to be heard nationally, while the other would demonstrate once and for all how utterly corrupt the entire system is.

Strange things, indeed.




Saturday, February 1, 2020

The End Of The Affair




This is the situation as it stands now:

  • the House has voted to impeach Trump and sent the articles to the Senate
  • the Senate, after considerable debate, has voted against calling additional witnesses beyond those called by the House
  • a formal Senate vote to remove or acquit will be held early next week
  • everyone assumes the Senate will acquit Trump of wrongdoing.

The Democrats have been working to remove Trump from office since the instant he won the last Presidential election, and possibly before then, that much is glaringly obvious.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller spent $32 million on a team of Democrat-allied lawyers in a 2+ year effort to find high crimes or misdemeanors and found nothing even peripherally related to 'Russian collusion'.  The most serious result of that investigation was the indictment of General Michael Flynn on charges that — just this week — have resulted in a finding by a judge that the FBI withheld exculpatory evidence from Flynn's defense team.  That is: the FBI knew Flynn was innocent and went after him anyway.  In any ordinary criminal case, this would be enough to get any charges thrown out, and that is exactly what Flynn's team is asking for.  If they win, Flynn walks free, and what we got from the Mueller Probe, all that time, all that money, is 'nothing'.

Various employees of the FBI, CIA, and NSA and other TLAs have resigned or been fired for their related actions over the past 3 years.  At least one, Andrew McCabe, is in danger of going to federal prison.  Judges from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have put on their shocked faces and declared that, much to their surprise and chagrin, affidavits presented to them by the FBI (signed by Director James Comey) to obtain warrants to spy on American citizens have now been discovered to be faulty, a nice way of saying "the FBI lied to us and we weren't skeptical enough to ask any piercing questions".  This is 'rot', and it's all the way through most of the federal bureaucracy.

At some point, a reasonable person will look inward and ask:  "After all this time and all this money and all these blemishes on formerly-revered institutions, could it be possible that there really is no 'there' there?"  This is an important question and can't be safely brushed aside.  If it turns out to be true that Trump is guilty of nothing beyond being a jerk (of which he is certainly guilty), that same reasonable person is face-to-face with a bureaucratic machine that can and will deliberately destroy anyone that gets in its way.  Is that what we want from our federal government?

Brushing the question aside is an admission that the chasm between Republicans and Democrats is unbridgeable, and that means that we are — not 'will be'; are — currently in a civil war; that Democrats and Republicans can no longer share the same country.  Although I think 'brushing it aside' is a very bad idea, I fear there are far too many people who will do exactly that.  They hate Trump so much that even the looming specter of civil war is not enough to bring them to their senses.

There is one thing that may save us from the dangers of Trump Derangement Syndrome: the example of Czechoslovakia.  In 1992, Czechoslovakia's parliament agreed that on January 1st, 1993 the country would split into two countries: Slovakia and Czechia, a 'Velvet Divorce'.  No shooting, no dead partisans, just 'haul down the old flag and run up two new ones'.  It went off without a hitch.  Splitsville, amicably.

In a way, it might be a good thing, all things considered, for the United States to become 'the Disunited States', for the left and right to 'dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them'.  Several quite nice things would happen very quickly if we were able to disunite the way Czechoslovakia did in 1993.  For one, Red America and Blue America would stop paying for each other's pet projects.  Blue America would stop funding seemingly-endless foreign military interventions; Red America would stop supporting a host of progressive giveaways.  Because both factions would get to write new Constitutions, other hot-button issues could be handled expeditiously:  the 2nd amendment, the hottest of hot-button issues, might exist in one and not in the other.

We should think about maybe having a 'Velvet Divorce' of our own.  What do you think?  Good idea or bad idea?


Friday, December 6, 2019

Another reason to oppose war.




An army — all armies, not just yours — selects for robust men because in conflict, robust men are generally more successful.  Bear in mind throughout this that "men provide muscle mass and DNA; women create civilization".  That last is, however, only part of the equation.  While women create civilization, only men can create men, and only robust men can create robust men.

Along comes a war, where — as George Carlin used to say — rich old men send poor young men to fight and die.  And, of course, it's robust poor young men who do the fighting and dying.

The inevitable result is that succeeding generations are increasingly the product of those who weren't robust enough to be selected to fight and die (the un-robust) or who were able to game the system to avoid selection (the young rich).  If this pattern is sustained long enough, the result is what we see now on American and British college campuses:  the snowflake culture.  Our future leaders will come from a population so un-robust that they feel threatened by opinions.  This is unsustainable.  It is a strategy that will lead inevitably to a failure of the species to thrive, and if continued long enough, will lead to extinction.  Its cause is 'too much war'.

Europeans (and we’re part of that, culturally) have a long history of imperial expansion justified under the assumption that 'bigger is better’.  Such expansion almost surely requires wars of conquest that, like any war, requires robust young soldiers and that, like every other war, results in dead robust young soldiers.  Britain lost the bulk of two generations of robust, adventurous young men for being at the center of two world wars, and is now at the point of being conquered by unarmed third-world barbarians because there are too few offspring of robust, adventurous, risk-taking men who take after their fathers.

Luckily, here at the start of the 21st century, we’re beginning to understand that bigger is not better, and the justification for another war is being questioned by those who pay the bill either in taxes or with their lives.  China, Russia, and the United States, the three largest modern nations, are all showing signs of weakness at their seams.  China’s totalitarian government is each year forced to clamp down ever harder on dissident voices;  Russia, which should have a booming economy given its phenomenal natural resources, is struggling to keep its own people fed;  the United States is watching its politics devolve toward looming civil war.

In the case of the U.S., our Congress seems intent on provoking another war with Russia or China, as if another war is just what the doctor ordered.  The solution to all these problems is two-pronged:

One:  It is a fact that in all of human history, no nation has ever gone to war with a major trading partner.  The best way to prevent war is to engage in commerce.  When all your probable enemies are busily making money from the interactions between your economy and theirs, war becomes an unnecessary complication.

Two:  Recognizing that bigger is not, in fact, better, we need to seriously reconsider the notion embedded in our brains that our union is indivisible.  (This is also a valuable lesson for other countries similarly constructed.)  The greatest failures in our history are marked by those times when we 'made a federal project out of it’, when we concluded (almost always incorrectly) that one size could fit all.  It’s often hard in retrospect to see that such actions were errors because we have no contravening examples to show us that we picked a sub-optimal solution.  All we have are the long-term consequences (of the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, to cite but a few examples) to tug on our sleeves and ask 'was that what you intended?’.  If we are honest with ourselves, if we put away rabid partisanship, we can readily admit that most of these 'one size fits all’ solutions do not, in fact, fit very well anywhere, much less 'everywhere'.

For the case of the (increasingly dis-)United States, it's time to give up the demonstrably incorrect idea that Uncle Sam knows best.  In the education department, for instance, we have spent trillions to improve student performance and we have no statistically significant change to show for it.  Although we have a cabinet-level Department of Energy, we have not built a single new nuclear reactor in thirty years, relying instead on becoming the world's leading producer of petroleum.  Climate alarmists are even now working to undo that success and intend to leave us shivering in the cold and grubbing for insects.  That is: a proto-hominid, paleolithic existence.  Talk about your 'existential threat'!

If we're to survive into the 22nd century, we have to adopt the attitude called 'isolationist' by some, 'non-interventionist' by others: we care that you're having problems, but we have problems of our own to solve, and those problems come first in our list of priorities.  When we have our own house in order, we may be able to help you out, OR you may profit by our example and solve your own problems.

We've had far too many wars of liberation, and far too many dead children that might one day have grown to be fathers of a generation we could have been proud of.  Instead, we have college seniors that are triggered by ideas that offend them.

"A republic, if you can keep it." —— Benjamin Franklin



Friday, November 22, 2019

I love my GPS





In ages past, people getting ready for a long trip would visit their local AAA office to get a customized 'Trip-Tik'.  These were ring-bound 5"-by-8" strip maps each showing 50 to 300 miles of major travel roads.  AAA travel consultants would select the proper set of strip maps for the journey you had in mind and stripe them with highlighter pens to show the recommended route.  The back of each sheet listed recommended hotels, motels, restaurants, and service stations related to the route on the front side, each with its AAA-rating.  It was a complete, coherent collection of all the information you would need for that trip segment.  Together with its accompanying maps, it was everything you needed to know from leaving home to getting back home again.  Pretty neat, but labor-intensive, and when your plans changed mid-trip, useless, unless you could find a nearby AAA office to give you an update.

Automation has come to the rescue, thanks to a cluster of 69 satellites being used by three different positioning systems.  31 of them are what enable the GPS in your car.  As long as your GPS can 'hear' at least three of them, the built-in software can tell you where you are within about 50 feet anywhere on the surface of the planet.

We got our first GPS in 2009 in preparation for a road trip into the American Southwest.  We used it for a few weeks to get used to it before we left on vacation, then used it in our rental car when we got there.

Our first stop was at Canyon de Chelly (shay-ye) in Arizona.  The canyon has a 'v' shape with the two legs of the canyon extending generally east from the town of Chinle, AZ.  There are 'rim roads' along the south rim and the north rim.  On our first half-day there, we explored the south rim road.  The next day was spent taking guided tours into the canyons.  On our last day, we drove out along the north rim road to catch any sights we might otherwise have missed.  When we were satisfied that we had seen everything there was to see, I programmed the GPS for the next leg of our trip: to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado with an en route pass by Shiprock, an ancient volcanic basalt core whose cone has eroded away over the eons, and which became a sort of 'mile marker' for pioneer wagon trains as they headed for California.  The GPS ordered me to turn right (east) out of the parking lot.

"No," I thought, "that's not right.  I have to go west into Chinle to pick up US-191 north."  My second thought was that this was a vacation and that I should go where the GPS pointed.  We turned east through rough wilderness via BIA-64 and BIA-12 and BIA-13 and BIA-33.  It was some time before I realized that these were Bureau of Indian Affairs roads, and the GPS was taking us directly through the Navajo (I presume) Reservation.  At one point, we were zig-zagging our way up the side of a mountain when we reached the high point and could see, straight ahead 30 miles away across the plains, Shiprock standing there like an obsidian ax blade sticking up out of the desert.  The GPS had given us a magnificent view as our reward for having faith in its ability.

You know how a GPS picks a route, don't you?  It has a vast encyclopedia of roads and facts about those roads.  It knows that from here to there, the speed limit is v and the distance is s, so the time to get from point A to point B is t.  It picks your route by adding up all the times from each possible route and selecting the smallest of those.

There are downsides to placing too much faith in a GPS, however.  Sometimes its advice is just plain wrong.  Usually this happens when you're in the vicinity of a city or metropolitan area.  The GPS may give you directions that seem to take forever!  The reason for this is simple, so simple that I'm amazed GPS-makers haven't added the SMOP (Simple Matter Of Programming) to their software that would correct it.  The mis-routing happens because the GPS doesn't allow for the time your speed will be zero because you're waiting at a red light.  The simple 'fix' is to charge 25 or 35 or 45 seconds to the route-time for every traffic light along the way.  You won't get stopped at every one of them, (unless you're on State Street in Erie PA) but when you do get stopped, it will be for several minutes.  Charging the route-time this way operates to make certain routes poor options for through traffic, and the normal GPS software will usually, then, de-select such routes even if they are more direct.

For road trips, however, most moderns have given up using AAA Trip-Tiks, and now rely exclusively on their GPSs, whether built-in or added-on.  Don't leave home without it!


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Stop+Space+Space




In ages past when adolescent women took a 'business track' in high school, they studied stenography (Gr.: short writing) usually referred to as "sten and transcription".  'Stenography' is the art of quickly writing dictated words by recording their sound patterns.  'Transcription' was the process of re-converting all those mysterious cryptic squiggles back into something legible.  In general, that meant typing it onto paper.  Naturally, one also had to become proficient at typing.  One of the first lessons in typing class would have been 'double space between sentences', or 'double space after a full stop'.

The reason for the double-space was to give a visually-clear indication that one sentence was ending and another beginning. In the age of word processors, the habit of 'double space after a full stop' has become deprecated. That is, it is no longer taught, and is now considered improper. We live in a world of 'single space between sentences'. Most word processing software will actually remove what it considers 'extraneous blanks' between sentences. Even if you deliberately period-space-space as you type, MSWord may just erase all those 'errors' the first chance it gets. Well, really, does it make any difference? Let's see. To illustrate the change in visual clarity engendered by that change in policy, this paragraph has been keyed as 'single space between sentences'. All the others are keyed 'double space between sentences'. Can you detect the difference?

Admittedly, the change may be hard to detect, but as you read the text with your eyes there's a voice in your head that 'reads the text aloud' to you.  It has a different pacing and you may be able to actually feel the presence or absence of a... pause?... between the sentences.

I am a great fan of that old double-space.  Everything I write uses it.  It's old-style.  Why would anyone be such an old stick-in-the-mud?  (Aside, that is, from enjoying being a curmudgeonly fuddy-duddy.)

When writing fiction (as I often do) control of pacing is something greatly to be desired.  I want my readers to hear, to feel that pause between thoughts that often accompanies dialog between characters.  Similarly, when writing a letter to someone who will personally read it, one may also want to control that pacing.  That might mean eliminating that pause between thoughts to transmit a sense of urgency, or to include the pause to gently nudge the reader into a thoughtful mood.

Thankfully, in recent times it has become possible to customize one's word-processing software settings to prevent it eliminating all those laboriously typed spaces.  For those who (like me, occasionally) write in HTML, there's a way to prevent the HTML processor from compressing the text: the non-breaking space.  A non-breaking space is never eliminated; it is always kept.  Its symbol is ampersand-nbsp-semicolon ( ).  Each place where your eyes detect 'too many spaces' is the probable result of a non-breaking space after a period plus a regular space such that the reader software is forced to insert an empty character after the period and before the single space character that cannot be further compressed.

I hope that your own eyes will urge you to the position that the second paragraph here is the least easy to read, and that you'll come to value an extra space here and there in your own writing.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Hunter Biden, Director




Why all this focus on Hunter Biden?

Some people have a tendency to not 'connect the dots'.  They may look at all the attention paid to Joe Biden's son Hunter and his employment on some obscure Ukrainian energy company's board (Burisma) and jump to the obvious conclusion:  the Republicans can't find anything on Biden, so they go after Biden's family.  If that's true, it would be despicable, and we would all be justified in heaping scorn on the GOP for such dirty politics.

There's a spare dot in the middle of this picture that's hidden from view.

Ukraine, like many other countries, is a recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  The threat of withholding that aid can be used to move their politics in any desired direction.  "Aha!" you say, "so Ukraine leans on Burisma to put Biden's son on their payroll and pay him a pile of loot so that they'll have an 'in' when it comes time to collect some more foreign aid!  That seems like a sound business decision!"  and you just missed the hidden dot.

The hidden dot is that Burisma has deep connections to the Ukraine government itself, the same government that gets all that foreign aid.  Burisma can pad its invoices to cover Hunter Biden's hefty (and likely unjustified) directorial 'salary' and Ukraine winds up paying that bill.  Burisma just passed Hunter's salary through to the Ukraine government which paid that salary using U.S. foreign aid money.  Hunter Biden is not being paid by Burisma, he's being paid by you.  Foreign aid money is being 'laundered' from your pockets right back into the pockets of the Biden family.

Hunter sits on several such boards in several similarly-situated countries despite the fact that Hunter Biden has no experience in the workings of the oil and gas industry.  His only 'experience' is as the son of a long-term U.S. Senator and Vice President.

Who wants to bet that if the U.S. cuts off aid to Ukraine, Hunter Biden would be flushed from Burisma's board within the week?

Lord Peter Bauer once pointed out that "Foreign aid is an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries, to rich people in poor countries."  And to rich people in rich countries, too, it seems.

 

P.s.:  Paul Pelosi, Nancy's husband, just resigned from a board in a country that looks very much like a laundry.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

Riqui — May 15, 2006 to October 4, 2019




Norene and I both expected to be emotional basket cases when the day came, and I'm not saying we were not sad, but...

Riqui (Suncatcher's Periquita, officially) had a bout of congestive heart failure on January 3rd and the vet told us then "3 months... maybe 4" so this wasn't exactly "a surprise".  With excellent care, she lasted through October, but in recent days she started huffing more, not exactly a cough, but respiratory.  She also started getting foggy.  She'd go outside on the lawn and seem not to know exactly why she was there.  She was becoming incontinent, but... knew where the Puppy Pads were and what they were for.  Friday when we took her to see the vet again, her tongue was purple.  She was visibly struggling to breathe.

You always wonder "Am I doing this for my convenience?" but there's a flip-side to that coin: "Am I keeping her alive so that I, myself, won't feel pain?"  In the end, we opted to take the pain to save her from it.

I suspect it's going to hurt a long time.  Memories are like that, damn it.