Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Modest Suggest for Improving the Impeachment Process: Voir Dire

Quoth US Senator Lindsey Graham:

I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.

Well, OK, then.

Conviction in the US Senate requires "the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present" (emphasis mine).

Assuming the House does vote to impeach, the presiding judge in the US Senate trial (Chief Justice John Roberts) should take note of Graham's unambiguous statement of prejudice in the case and excuse Graham from "jury duty" as one of the first orders of business in the trial.

In fact, Roberts should have all his clerks working hard right now to identify every US Senator, of either party, who has  publicly expressed any opinion on the president's guilt or innocence in the pending case. He should then excuse all of them.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Remarkable Agreement Between Comey, Horowitz, GOP on Definition of "Criminal Intent"

If you commit a crime and are investigated/arrested/prosecuted/impeached, the question of "criminal intent" will boil down to this:

Did you intend to commit the act which constitutes a crime?

That is, did you intend to shoplift that DVD? Did you intend to fraudulently write "office supplies" next to the petty cash withdrawal at work but to actually spend the money on heroin? Did you intend to plant that ax in the head of your wife who just told you she's filing for divorce?

If you're Hillary Clinton, or the FBI, or Donald Trump, however, James Comey, or Michael Horowitz, or [insert random Republican flack's name here] will confidently assert that you only can only be demonstrated to have had "criminal intent" if you are proven to have laughed maniacally and yelled "yes, yes, I intend to do this because it violates [insert applicable US Code section here]! Wheeeeeeee! I am acting criminally, hahahahahaha!" as you committed the act which constituted the crime.

I call this the Steve Martin defense:

Story of my life ...

So I ordered a lawn mower for delivery (I'd have bought one locally, but the deal was too good to pass up -- cheaper and I don't have to haul it home myself).

If it seems like a strange time to be doing that, well, I live in Florida and have some grass I'd like to get cut down before spring comes and it starts growing again. Also, this is the time of year when they're on sale.

Anyway, it was supposed to be here on Wednesday, and wasn't.

And then it was supposed to be here yesterday, and wasn't.

I see that it's actually on the truck for final delivery as of early this morning.

So, you guessed it -- we're getting rain today and all weekend.


File Under "Do As We Say, Not As We Do"

Camera One, December 11:

The U.S. ambassador also said the Trump administration seeks to make it "crystal clear" that continued tests of ballistic missiles [by North Korea] would be "deeply counterproductive to shared objectives" of the two countries.

Camera Two, December 12:

The U.S. Air Force tests a medium range ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base over the Pacific Ocean, Thursday, December 12, the second such test of the country's nuclear missile force in less than three months.

Not Quite There ...

Season 4 of The Expanse (not an affiliate link!) is out on Amazon Prime Video as of this morning.

But I'm not watching it. Yet.

I watched the original three seasons some time back, loved the show, and it took me a little while to get Tamara to re-binge it with me (I think noticing that Shohreh Aghdashloo is in it probably tipped the balance there). We're somewhere in the middle of Season 2 at the moment, and she's into it. So hopefully we'll get to Season 4 before the new year.

The first three seasons aired on Syfy. After they dropped it, Amazon picked it up.

My understanding is that this decision was personally made by Jeff Bezos, who announced it at the 2018 International Space Development Conference.

When the wealthiest man in the world, who in addition to Amazon also happens to have major financial interests in space travel enterprises and has been known to publicly muse about space colonization, personally intervenes to save a show about space travel and space colonization, my ears perk up.

And it's a good show. I wouldn't call it a "libertarian show," but there are definitely some things woven into its theme that libertarians will likely find appealing.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Well, I Knew It Would Happen Sooner or Later

I ordered a shake from a fast food place, and it came with a paper straw.

Idiotic. Of all the things I've ever been interested in trying just to see what they would be like, trying to suck liquefied ice cream through a paper straw has never made the list. It's exactly as unpleasant as it sounds like it would be.

A Public Note to a Sender of Confidential Email

At least twice now, I've received an email with the subject line:

"Confidential email from [pseudonym redacted]"

It's via a service called Tutanota (not an affiliate link). Included in the email is a link to view the message.

But when I get there, it asks me to "Please enter the password which you have agreed upon with the sender."

The problem is, I can't remember agreeing on a password with anyone for receiving messages via Tutanota.

I'm not saying I didn't do such a thing. Just that I can't remember doing such a thing -- or, more importantly, if I did do such a thing, can I remember the password in question.

So I can't read the message. Nor do I have any idea who the person is behind the Tutanota pseudonym.

If you're reading this, person who's sending me confidential messages, I guess we need to find a way to agree on a password if you really want to use that service to send me a message. Sorry for the inconvenience.

I'm Beginning to Think It's Not Meant to Be

A little while back, I ordered this ...

... from Amazon via Purse (affiliate link).

It's an Applecreek mountain dulcimer (not an affiliate link).

Price (before my Purse discount), $48.

It arrived. Damaged. Headstock completely broken off.

When you return items purchased through Purse, Amazon refunds the price directly to you in US dollars to your Amazon balance, rather than in cryptocurrency via Purse, so I actually made a buck or two on the transaction.

But what I really wanted was the dulcimer. So  when I saw this morning that my refund had been processed, I went to re-order it.

"This item is only available from third-party sellers."

From $119.

I want the dulcimer, but I don't want it $119 bad, just $48 bad.

I don't know if they're just temporarily out of stock or if they've decided to stop carrying it. I do see the same instrument elsewhere for about the same price, but my money isn't elsewhere, it's at Amazon.

I guess I'll wait and see if they get it back in at the regular price. If not, maybe I'll buy a decent ukulele or something with the money.

Word PSA: "Austerity"

Per Al Jazeera:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party have offered starkly different visions for resolving the impasse and rebuilding the UK after a decade of austerity.

austerity, n. Difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure.

Between 2009 and 2018, annual UK government expenditures rose by more than 20%, from £671 billion to £842 billion, at no point in between ever falling as low as that 2009 figure (in fact, falling in only one year -- and the year after that rising to higher than before the one-year reduction).

UK government expenditures grew more slowly over the last decade than they grew the decade before that (in which they grew by about 45%) but slowing the rate of increase of something is not "reducing" that thing.

If I go from weighing 165 pounds to weighing 195 pounds over ten years, and then over the subsequent ten years go from 195 to 215 (falling from 210 to 208 during one annual period), an increase of "only" 20 pounds instead of 30 pounds, no, that second decade was not a decade of "losing weight."

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Android is Cancer

Not on smartphones, I guess (I don't have anything to compare it to -- never had an iPhone or Windoze phone).

But on the Lenovo Chromebook with 4Gb of RAM and a 2-core 1.6GHz Celeron CPU that I'm using as my desktop machine, it was slowing everything down.

You'd think it would only use resources when you were, you know, running Android apps. But nooooooooo, unless you uninstall the Google Play Store, there's always a bunch of Android crap running in the background.

Since I didn't have any Android apps installed that I couldn't live without, no biggie. But  a machine that isn't supposed to need a lot of CPU power or RAM for most stuff can't have a bunch of extra CPU/RAM-intensive crap running on it all the time without getting a stomach ache.

Well, Yes, of COURSE I want the SOB Impeached

Not because I dislike him in particular. I would retrospectively be happy to see any president of my lifetime impeached, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter (and that's just because I've never dug into his record enough to find out what he did that merited impeachment).

Nor because I'm particularly interested in seeing  the system "work" by "serving justice." I don't like the system (the Westphalian nation-state), and in principle I consider anything that weakens it to be a good thing.

I believe that impeaching Trump but not removing him will weaken the system.

Senate acquittal will be more than just the increasingly common injection of congressional steroids into the arm of the imperial presidency. Given the format of a trial, coupled with the complete absence of reasonable doubt that he did what he's accused of doing and the fact that what he did was political in nature rather than along the lines of lying about a hummer from an intern, acquittal will amount to a formal declaration:

Ave Imperator!

The open and unabashed elevation of the office of president to the institution of Caesar,  god-emperor, above and immune to all law and custom, is a pretty big step down the path of political disintegration.

Which is also a bad thing in the short term. It's going to be ugly and it's going to be dangerous. But it's coming sooner or later in any case. Might as well enjoy the show as it approaches and hope we can build something better where the former United States once stood.


Matt Welch takes on "populism" at Reason. The piece's tag line: "Roughly five times as many people live under populist governments now compared to ten years ago."

But multiplying any number by zero returns a result of zero.

There's No Such Thing As A Populist State

Populism as a political theory, in all its variants, pits the righteous masses against the power elites.

And monopoly political government, aka the state, is always run by, and for the benefit of, a political class, aka a power elite.

Yes, a genuinely populist upsurge may unseat and replace the membership of the existing power elite, but the replacements will quickly constitute themselves as a new power elite (and/or be re-overthrown by, or infiltrated by, the previous power elite).

So no, there are not, as Welch quotes the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change asserting, 21 populist governments ruling 2.8 billion subjects. There are no populist governments. Those 2.8 billion subjects are ruled by power elites just like everyone else.

But Welch's piece is still interesting and worth a read.

Yes, Pete Buttigieg is Doing Better Than I Expected

In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, he's on top of the pile in Iowa and in second place in New Hampshire, behind Bernie Sanders but ahead of Joe Biden (and Elizabeth Warren, whose prospects seem to be fading slowly away, as I had not predicted).

The main thing I've been right on so far in this primary cycle has been predicting (from at least as early as her busing-based attack on Joe Biden) that Kamala Harris wouldn't be the nominee. She finally dropped out recently.

I've pretty much consistently predicted that it will be Biden, Warren, or Biden/Warren, and that's looking pretty dicey at the moment.

A commenter on this blog -- I think it was Thane Eichenauer, but I don't remember what post it was on and haven't found the comment -- suggested some time back that Buttigieg may well be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. I disagreed.

I still disagree.

He's in kind of a weird pocket. He has just enough of a political record to be both minimized and savaged, but not enough of one to run on.

In 2016, the US elected a president with precisely zero political experience.

Usually, the US elects a president with quite a bit of political experience, the main exception being successful generals like Grant and Eisenhower.

The last time I can think of offhand (I haven't carefully researched it) where a candidate quickly ascended from local office to the presidency was nearly 140 years ago when  Grover Cleveland went from mayor of Buffalo in January of 1882, to governor of New York in January of 1883, to president of the United States in March of 1885.

That governorship was an important step. The US elects governors, Senators, and generals. The last time someone was elected from the US House to the presidency was 1880, and the only time someone went from having held no elective office at all to the presidency and from not being a general was 2016.

Even Barack Obama took a short victory lap in the US Senate after his Big Speech before successfully running for president.

We're living in strange times, but I still don't think the mayor of a city of 300,000 is going to go directly to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without passing a governor's mansion or Capitol Hill. And I don't think the Democratic Party will try to make that happen.

But as we've seen, I can be wrong, and when I am it's usually about nominations.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Here We Go Again With the Unconstitutional Fake "Trials"

Per US state media:

"[Genaro] Garcia Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from 'El Chapo' Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel while [Garcia Luna] controlled Mexico's Federal Police Force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico," U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue wrote in a statement. "Today's arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes."

The article says that "The government wants Garcia Luna moved to New York to face the charges."

But the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution requires that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed ..."

Which, with these allegations, would be some state, district or other political division of subdivision of the country of Mexico, not the US state of New York.

They did the same thing to "El Chapo" himself.

The Funniest Thing About Scott Adams's Meltdown Today ...

... is that after a couple of years of getting his supporters to yell "MIND-READING" to shut down any discussion of motive or intention or feeling vis a vis Trump, he spends the first several minutes of his podcast ... mind-reading the motives, intentions, and feelings of congressional Democrats and throwing a temper tantrum rivaling even me for vulgarity over what his psychic sixth sense tells him they really intend and feel.

He even calls Nancy Pelosi a See You Next Tuesday for saying she feels/believes one thing when he has read her mind and determined that she feels/believes otherwise.

The second funniest thing is that the ScottBot I know best was spitting about the evil of "mind-reading" vis a vis  Trump within MINUTES of extolling Adams's tour de force  today.

I'm ambivalent -- or at least apathetic -- about the impeachment circus in general, but I have to admit watching Trump's defenders fall completely to pieces as they realize they can't re-shape the fabric of reality through sheer force of denial is great fun.

One of the Few Times I'll Thank a Politician ...

... is when he or she keeps a promise to "self-term-limit."

"My" US Representative, Republican Ted Yoho, announced today that this is his final term in office, in keeping with a "no more than four terms" promise he made when he first ran for the seat.

I'm not as big on term limits as some libertarians. Nothing against them, but I also don't see them as a major solution to problems I care about.

But when a politician who claims to support term limits and promises to serve no more than X terms actually keeps the promise, I'm favorably impressed.

Thank you, Congressman Yoho.

"I would like you to do us a favor though"

I guess it's reasonable to argue over whether that's an offer of a bribe ("military aid and maybe a White House visit in return for investigating my political opponent") or an attempt at extortion a la the "encrypted your files and you have to send Bitcoin to me to get the key" cyber attack trend ("I've stolen your stuff, you only get it back if I get what I want").

But it's clearly one or the other, not to mention a separation of powers foul (Congress appropriated the aid -- the job of the executive, absent a successful veto, is to execute Congress's instructions, not to alter them for his own political benefit).

The evidence is airtight (including but not limited to a public confession from the president himself, corroborated by an official document he authorized the release of), so I'm puzzled to hear that House Democrats don't intend to include it in the articles of impeachment they'll be introducing later today.

From what I'm hearing, the articles will be two in number: "Abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress." Which are fine, I guess, but they don't seem likely to be as compelling to voters as the personal corruption angle.

Do they think that not charging that part of the matter will reduce the heat on Joe Biden? If so, they've got another think coming. "But Democrats are corrupt tooooooooooooooo" is really the only card Senate Republicans have to play, and that's the card they'd play even if the charge was nuking Baton Rouge.

Monday, December 09, 2019

'Round Midnight ...

... the share price of "yes" "Will Donald Trump be impeached by year-end 2019?" hit 79 cents and my sell order went through. I deposited a little less than $20 at PredictIt to buy those shares; now I have a balance of $40.01 in my account.

I thought about rolling the whole amount over to "no" shares in "Will the Senate convict Donald Trump on impeachment in his first term?" but those are already selling at 88 cents so there's not much profit to be made.

I haven't found another bet to make yet.

I'm tempted to buy "no" on Pete Buttigieg for "Who will win the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses?" but it's at 64 cents and I'm not completely certain -- I expect something to come out about his NDA-covered consulting work that will crater his popularity between now and mid-January, but I could be wrong.

I'm also tempted to buy "yes" on Bernie Sanders, but I'm concerned he'll keel over with another coronary before February and not get up and keep going next time.

I'll probably go with "yes" on "Will the winner of the Iowa Democratic caucuses also win New Hampshire?" if the price doesn't jump before I make up my mind.

We'll see.

Shocked -- Shocked!, Afghanistan War Edition

Houston Chronicle version, since many people don't like having to mess with WaPo's paywall idiocy:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. ... With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

Hmm ... the people running a $1 trillion (so far) project that furnished them with salaries, authority,  excuses for other things, etc., lied about the fact that that project showed no likelihood whatsoever of delivering on its publicly announced objectives?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Lyrics: Five-Finger Discount on Love

I haven't recorded this yet, both because I'm awaiting some recording facilitation gear and because I'm still messing with it -- but since I put out everything I write under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication, feel free to do your own thing with it if you like (yes, pun intended). My conception of it is either 8-bar blues or vocal over a drone blues riff.

I'm putting it behind the "read more" wall because, as you might guess from the title, it's a bit racy and not intended for the children.

Words Mean Things, NAS Pensacola Edition

On Friday, a Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant shot and killed a US Navy ensign and two US Air Force airmen at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he "can’t say [the attack was] terrorism at this time."

Well, duh. In US law, "terrorism" means "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

This was an attack on military personnel, by military personnel, at a military base. The targets weren't noncombatants. QED, the attack was not "terrorism."

Harmonicas: Inexpensive versus Cheap

Recommendation: If you're looking for an inexpensive harmonica, go with the Fender Blues Deluxe line (not an affiliate link).

I don't play harmonica often enough or well enough to be willing to fork over for, say, a Hohner Special 20 or Marine Band (not affiliate links). I have a couple of (inherited/gifted) Marine Bands, but you know me -- until this last week, I hadn't paid more than $100 for a guitar in nearly 20 years. Unless I take the time to get a lot better, and start playing the harmonica in public, I'm just not going to pay $40 or so for a harp.

On the other hand, the sub-$10 harmonicas I've bought in the past have uniformly been complete wastes of money. If they're even in tune when they come out of the box, and that's a gamble right there, they require more forceful breathing to get an audible sound out of, aren't very accommodating to "bending" notes, and are likely to blow a reed in the first few minutes of playing.

I'm not just talking about off brands here. Hohner's Piedmont Blues line is just complete crap. A set of seven harps will only set you back $25 (I got mine on sale for $15 on Black Friday a few years ago), but the nice nylon zipper case they come in is the only thing of any real value in the collection. Two of them were unplayable (not in tune) when I pulled them out of the case, I had to huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf to get them to make noise, and none of them lasted more than a few songs without blowing reeds.

I've purchased two of the Blues Deluxe harps (in G and B-flat). Metal cover plates, not plastic. They feel substantial and seem well built. They're in tune. I can easily bend notes when playing blues cross harp (which is pretty much all I use a harmonica for), and they produce a big sound without me leaving me gasping for air. I haven't blown a reed on one yet.

They'll set you back $12-15 each, or $60 for a set of seven (A, B-Flat, C, D, E, F, G) in a nice case. That's a little bit more than the cheapest harmonicas, but the difference isn't just big enough to matter, it's too big to ignore.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

It May Be Close ...

This is my 315th post of 2019.

That means 50 posts to go if I want to make my goal of averaging one post per day in 2019.

I promise that I won't just continue with "this is my nth post of 2019 ..." to make the goal. But I figured one update was reasonable if for no other reason than that maybe I'll get some encouragement from y'all over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Update on my Impeachment "Investment"

I'm the proud owner of 53 shares of "yes" to the question "Will Donald Trump be impeached by year-end 2019?" on PredictIt.

I paid an average of 37 cents each for those shares. They're currently at 70 cents.

I've got a sell offer in at 79 cents per share.

Why am I not riding it out to the full dollar per share on a successful impeachment vote in the House before December 31?

Because there's still some hypothetical risk that the vote will fail, or for some reason won't occur at all, or will occur after December 31.

I think that risk is minimal -- the only event I can think of offhand that might stop or significantly delay the vote is a mass casualty attack on the US itself or on US military forces in areas of the world where they have no business being -- but I have to acknowledge that the risk exists.

That being the case, I figure that doubling my money or better is a reasonable outcome -- not too risky, not too greedy -- so I picked the first prime number above 74 (prime numbers are a thing with me) and set my shares to sell at that number.

Maybe I'll change my mind before it gets there. If it gets there. Or maybe not.

Enough with the "Racing" Talk

I don't think a week goes by that I don't see a headline telling me that Congress is "racing" to do this or that. Yesterday's version: "Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown."

They passed a continuing resolution two weeks ago, and have until December 20 to pass another one to prevent some stupid "shutdown" theatrics.

The Hill piece linked above calls this a "tight time frame."

On December 7, 1941 -- 78 years ago tomorrow -- the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

On December 8, 1941, Congress passed a declaration of war on Japan.

In what universe is a month to pass yet another "kick the budget can down the road" bill a "tight time frame?"

And how is sitting around arguing about it "racing?"

Platform Crowd-Sourcing Project: "Unreasonably"

Over at Facebook, Mike Shipley writes:

The immigration plank’s conditional language (“unreasonably”) is a loophole so big you can drive a wall through it. Who is on board with closing this loophole in Austin?

The Libertarian Party's 2020 platform committee is not yet fully assembled -- the Libertarian National Committee has filled its quota, but several states also get to send representatives -- but I don't see any reason why I shouldn't get to work listening to suggestions from, and discussing those suggestions with, party members (and non-party libertarians).

Here's the back story on the plank in question.

As of 2016:

3.4 Free Trade and Migration

We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.

Current version, following amendment at the 2018 Libertarian National Convention:

3.4 Free Trade and Migration

We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.

The platform committee, on the basis of strong arguments from several of its members, recommended that change to the convention, a delegate (Starchild) successfully moved on the convention floor to have it be the first recommendation considered from the committee's report, and the convention delegates overwhelmingly approved the change.

Obviously I didn't get it done all by myself, but I do like to think that I helped at least as much as any one other person. As friends and readers may remember, getting that change accomplished was the top item on my "campaign platform" when I sought selection to the 2018 platform committee, and it was the first (non-procedural/organizational) item I moved to consider on that committee.

So why did I not move, at the same time, to strike the word "unreasonably" from the plank? Two reasons:

  1. The more changes a proposal seeks in a plank, the less likely it is that any of those changes will be adopted. Each and every change presumptively puts more people on the "no" side. Each and every change adds to debate time (during a time-limited platform session). Each and every change invites further amendments from the floor to change that change. And so on and so forth.
  2. I wanted to leave "soft" non-open-borders supporters an out that would allow them to support the change we did make. The removal of that final clause took the positive general argument for government control of borders out of the platform, but left room for immigration restrictionists to argue that any specific restrictionist proposal was "reasonable." I don't know of any such proposal that would pass muster with the party's Statement of Principles in particular, or with libertarian thought in general, but hell, let them try, right?

Was my approach on the word "unreasonably" cowardly? I won't argue the point. I wanted to get the one thing done badly enough that I was willing to let the other thing go ... or at least leave it for another time.

Mr. Shipley appears to believe that that other time is now. So do others in the party whose opinions I share and/or respect, at least one of whom (Josh Barton) has already sent me some sample language for a complete re-write of the plank.

I'd like to hear other opinions.

By way of disclosure, let me make it clear up front that in my opinion "open borders" is the only libertarian position on the subject and ought to be the Libertarian Party's position on the subject. So I'm not looking for opinions on why the plank should be more restrictionist. I'm looking for opinions on whether I should pick this next fight and, if so, how to win it.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

I Seldom Do Two Nancy Pelosi Posts in One Day ...

... but when I do, one of them usually features this quote:

Reporter: "Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?"

Pelosi: "Are you serious? Are you serious?"

Which is pretty much a more brusque and dismissive congressional version of Nixon's "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

Why does that moment come to mind today?

Well, all of a sudden, and quite possibly for the very first time, it seems to have occurred to Pelosi that Congress might have some kind of obligation to take the Constitution seriously: "The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution. Our democracy is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act."

Translation: Pelosi-ese to English


“There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial ... liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in U.S. law,” said a spokesman for [US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi], according to The Wall Street Journal. ... the inclusion of the immunity language in the trade-pact could make it more difficult for Congress to remove the current federal online protections for internet firms in the future, said some lawmakers, according to Wall Street Journal.


Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act makes it harder for us to censor the Internet and punish companies who let people say things we don't like. We're trying to get rid of that barrier to our exercise of  unbridled censorship powers here at home and certainly don't want it incorporated in trade agreements or treaties.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Rescued Facebook Comment About Trump and the GOP

Because it seems worthwhile:

If there's one good thing coming out of the Trump presidency, it's that he's re-made the GOP's political approach in a way that's going to be hard to un-re-make.

From the Reagan era (and to some degree since Goldwater) until recently, Republicans campaigned in drag as libertarians then contentedly governed like FDR/LBJ Democrats.

Now they're campaigning like Peronists or Gaullists (minus having a leader figure who's ever shown any personal courage or other redeeming personal characteristics) and governing like FDR/LBJ Democrats while they try to figure out a way to successfully implement North Korea's Juche or Albania's Hoxhaism in the US.

That should make it hard for them to pivot back to "we're libertarians at heart, but it's just never reached our balls"* after the Trump era ends.

* That's an apocryphal David Bergland reference. A Republican once told him "I'm a libertarian at heart." Bergland's reply: "Let me know when it reaches your balls."

Pardon Me, Trump, is That the Fool The Yokels Choo Choo?

All aboard the Trump Peace Train! Er ...

The Trump administration is looking into sending as many as 14,000 more troops, as well as dozens more ships and other equipment, to the Middle East in the face of a[n always supposedly imminent, but never actually eventuating] threat from Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported. ... The Pentagon’s No. 3 official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said Wednesday that the Pentagon [wants Americans to believe] that Tehran may soon attack U.S. targets or interests in the Middle East.

Larry Beinhart's novel American Hero (on which the film Wag The Dog is loosely based) should be required reading in every high school civics class (including homeschool equivalents -- suggested rather than required for unschoolers, I guess).

Why Kamala Harris Dropped Out

Ultimately, because she just wasn't a very good candidate. I've seen all kinds of excuses from the usual (racism and misogyny) to the weird (billionaires don't like her -- as if they like Bernie Sanders any better), but she had chance after chance to excel and bobbled them all.

She didn't perform well enough in debates, media appearances, and other activities to increase her initial base of support and keep those increases.

She enjoyed a short (and IMO undeserved) spike in her polling from kicking Joe Biden in the nuts in public over, of all things, busing in the early 1970s, but for the most part she just hemorrhaged support every time a camera got pointed her way.

She froze and/or stumbled any time she got a question that wasn't a softball. Anything more complicated than a smirking one-liner was just too much to ask of her.

She fell completely to pieces when Tulsi Gabbard pointed out that as Attorney General of California she WAS the law enforcement establishment that real advocates of criminal justice reform have been fighting for decades.

She looked like an idiot when she came back at Gabbard later with the Clintonite "being groomed by the Russians" nonsense.

When a US Senator and former Attorney General of the most populous state in the US enjoys a big campaign launch but then eventually falls behind the mayor of a midwest city of 300,000 in the polls, it's clearly time to pack it in.

Who knew that climbing the political ladder at the sub-gubernatorial level in a single state, through unthinking party loyalty/soldiery, wasn't nearly as difficult or complicated as trying to appeal to millions of primary voters nationwide?

Harris just wasn't ready for prime time, and kept proving it over and over.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Why Can't It Be Both?

"Will impeachment hurt Democrats or Trump?" Niall Stanage asks at The Hill.

The eternal third party hope is that large numbers from among both notional "independents" and the less dedicated partisans on both sides of the duopoly will pronounce a pox on both houses.

Maybe they will in 2020, but if so I expect the symptom to be depressed turnout, not a strong third party performance.

The kind of independent or third party candidate who could and would provide a rallying point for those who can't stomach either the "don't even bother to hide it" banana republicanism that the GOP under Trump has completely given itself to, or the barmy tinfoil-hat McCarthyist  "everyone we don't like is a Russian asset" mania coming from the Democratic side, would probably have had to start making his or her public moves by now to come anywhere close to matching the duopoly's vote totals next November.

That's if such a candidate exists, and I'm not certain one does -- especially if we exclude from consideration the rare sociopath who thinks the likelihood of the system's collapse justifies the risk of tearing into that system from the outside rather than taking the usual sociopathic route of working it from the inside.

Thanks For Asking! -- 12/03/19

Yes, it's monthly AMA thread time again, thanks to Free Pony Express ...

Ask (me anything), and ye shall receive an answer (in the comments below this post, or in a stand-alone post, or via some other as yet unspecified medium).

My Black Friday Online Spending was Below Average

Maybe just because I was out of town, camping in the woods away from such temptations, that day?

Shoppers spent $7.4 billion online during Black Friday sales.

That comes to about $22.75 per American.

I only spent $19.99 -- Inoreader had a "buy one year of upgrade, get six months extra free" sale and started running it a couple of days early. I was nearing the maximum number of feed subscriptions for their "free" tier, it's an essential work tool for me, and upgrading also means the ads go away without me having to use uBlock Origin to suppress them. I was waiting for a Black Friday or Christmas sale, and voila, one showed up.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The Other Case for a Four-Day Work Week

The usual case I see is that people "deserve" fewer hours and more time off, as with this column. But jobs aren't about what people "deserve." They're about supply, demand, cost, etc.

Back in the late '80s or early '90s, the factory I worked at had a suggestion box, and a program that offered the employee 20% of whatever he or she saved the company in the first year his or her suggestion was implemented.

I suggested a four-day work week, and made an economic case for it.

This plant built boat trailers, and one place that it could save money by going from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days, two shifts was with the cost of running the giant oven that was used to dry the paint on the trailers.

Working two 8-hour shifts (17 hours total due to a half-hour lunch break), the oven was turned off for three hours at the end of the night shift and turned back on four hours before day shift started to get it heated back up, which used a lot of electricity. With only three hours between shifts, it could just be left on and stay hot. My back of the envelope calculation was that this saved the plant about $106,000 a year. That didn't count the costs that were saved by a full per week of not having to have every light in the plant on, etc.

Then there were the drivers who transported trailers to the boat plants. The distances to two of the three plants was such that in an eight-hour day, a driver could make two trips. In a ten-hour day, three trips. So 12 trips per four-day week (unless the management wanted to pay overtime) or 10 per five-day week.

And of course the workers got three-day weekends -- or, if an overtime shift was needed, it at least didn't cut into their two-day weekends.

My suggestion was adopted (a month after I made it, even though fellow employees had been grumbling for it for years, so yeah, it was my argument that made the case) ... but I was never paid the bounty for it, and when I asked, was told I wouldn't be. From what I understand, the plant manager sold the idea to the company owner as his own. And after six years of never getting caught in a lay-off, I suddenly did. So I went and found a different job.

There's probably a lesson there on how to go about making suggestions. I probably should have sent the entire argument to the company owner directly instead of putting it in the suggestion box.

Anyway, in many specific cases, a four-day work week makes business sense, and it seems to me that's a more likely sale to business owners than "workers deserve more time off."

Danksgiving was Dank and Giving

Best weekend in a long time.

Lots of great bands (and lots of picking around the fire when no one was on stage).

Lots of friendliness and mutual assistance, including in the area of entheogenic facilitation.

I gotta do this hippie music festival stuff more often.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

What the "War on Terror" Will Look Like if Trump Adds Mexico's Drug Cartels to the Mix

Washington Post, February 26, 2014:

The cartels move drugs from Mexico to the US, where they have extensive networks to distribute/sell the drugs. Those networks necessarily include enforcers who are willing to threaten, intimidate, injure, or kill anyone their bosses decide needs to be threatened, intimidated, injured, or killed.

The reason those networks and those enforcers don't wage any kind of general war on the US government or the US populace is that it doesn't make good business sense.

They're doing just fine at getting the drugs in and selling them profitably without gunning down cops, bombing government buildings, etc. Law enforcement activity, to the cartels, is just a cost of doing business, like the inevitable shoplifting losses in normal brick and mortar businesses. If they picked an all-out fight instead of relying on avoidance and bribery, it would get a lot more expensive, a lot more dangerous, and a lot less profitable.

But what happens if the US unleashes its drones and special operations forces on Mexican wedding parties, or even sends in a conventional ground force to play Tora Bora "root them out" games in this or that area?

Well, maybe some of those enforcers get orders to buy some timers, pack some vans full of ammonium nitrate and nails, and leave those vans parked across the street from police stations.

Or, for that matter, middle schools.

This is not a fight any sane or moral human being would want to pick in the first place, let alone continue after the first mass killing or two.

For one thing, it's not "winnable." Even if these particular organizations were "defeated," new ones would spring up to take their place (Colombian cocaine production has, according the US government, tripled since the Medellin and Kali cartels were "destroyed").

For another, the "terrorism"-related body count inside the US would make the period starting with 9/11 and running through now look like the good old days. We're talking about people who stack pyramids of severed heads in town squares when the Mexican government pisses them off.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Can Intent Ever be Plausibly Inferred from Action?

"My client didn't intend to rob the bank. He walked in wearing a ski mask, waving a Glock, and yelling at the tellers to stuff the bag he was carrying full of cash because he wanted to help them improve their security procedures."

That's the approach Victor Davis Hanson takes vis a vis both the current impeachment probe and previous accusations of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump in the Mueller investigation.

That is:

There's no way to prove what Trump had on his mind when he asked the president of Ukraine the "favor" of investigating one of his most likely 2020 presidential election opponents, and therefore intent can't be established; and

There's no way to prove that when Trump acted multiple times and in various ways that frustrated Mueller's attempts to interview witnesses, etc., he did so because he intended to keep Mueller from finding out things. Maybe all that was completely unrelated, just coincidence. This guy couldn't talk to you because we had a tee time we didn't want to miss. That gal, well, I planned to grab her by the pussy that night and didn't want you ruining the mood, Bob.

If you wake up and discover me in your bedroom, rummaging through the safe you keep your cash in, is it reasonable to assume that I'm trying to steal your cash?

What if I say I just wanted to count it and make sure it was all still there?

What if I say the reason I turned off the lights and took off my shoes before doing so, and am using night vision goggles, is that I didn't want to disturb your sleep and make you cranky in the morning?

Is assuming otherwise "mind-reading?"

If so, pretty much every criminal prosecution goes out the window.

But that's what my Rational Review News Digest colleague Steve Trinward, having fallen completely under the spell of Scott Adams's "persuasion" parlor tricks, has convinced himself is going on with Trump.

I think it's bullshit. Disagree? Prove me wrong.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Consistency is the Hobgoblin ...

The Forecast for Thanksgiving Weekend in my Neck of the Woods ...

... is relatively sunny days, highs in the high 70s, lows in the 50s.

Perfect camping weather for Danksgiving!

Tent -- check, but need to set it up and Scotchgard it tomorrow or Wednesday. No rain doesn't mean no moisture.
Dollar store tarps for ground cloth, etc. -- check
Camp shower, just in case -- check
Sleeping bags washed and ready -- check
Cooler -- check
Tiny pellet powered camp stove -- check
Pan for boiling water/light cooking -- check
Travel mugs for coffee -- check
Coffee -- check (haven't decided between instant or the real thing and my cheap but durable plastic French press, but both are on hand)
Sundries (toilet paper, etc.) -- will do a layout and pack tomorrow
Ice, food, coffee creamer for cooler -- Friday morning
Instruments for the youth music donation drive -- considering what I'm willing to part with. I initially thought I could give up my Hohner Melodica, but then I played it a bit and, well, you know. I think I may hand over my inexpensive Rogue dreadnought. I have the Epiphone and can always grab another flat-top on sale later.

I'm not sure this qualifies as "camping." My version (outside a military context) used to involved disappearing into the woods for several days with what I felt comfortable carrying on an extended hike. In a military context, tent living in isolated areas for extended periods but with massive support infrastructure.

This is  driving to a place, getting out of the SUV, setting up a tent amongst a bunch of other tents, and hanging out for three days.

But it still feels like it's going to be fun.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

America's Greatest Debt to the British Invasion?

In my opinion, it's that they saved the blues as a distinct and popular musical genre.

In the beginning, there was Elvis. And others, yeah, but Elvis is the "big name" of early American rock'n'roll. His debt to the blues was obvious early on. But his music swiftly started merging back into the pre-rock'n'roll "mainstream pop" area in lots of ways.

But over in England, people like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards and Jimmy Page and a bunch of others were all about the blues. And they became big enough names that they were able keep Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson looming large in our collective memory and help blues-verging-into-rock'n'roll musicians who were popular but treated suspiciously because of their skin color and might otherwise have faded -- the two that come immediately to mind are Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley -- remain "relevant."

No, I'm not saying I don't love me some of the pop-ish (and later, psychedelic) British Invasion music, and that those guys didn't do some damn good stuff that was all their own. But if I was only allowed to give them credit for one thing, it would be for introducing me to the blues. If not for them, I'm not sure anyone else would have done so.

I Think There's a Case for an Additional Impeachment Article ...

... unrelated to Ukraine, Burisma, Biden, etc. To wit:

Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. -- 18 US Code § 2339B

As Major Danny Sjursen, US Army (retired) writes:

War crimes cases aren’t supposed to be popularity contests; they are careful legal processes with specific purposes: to enforce discipline and humanity, as well as to avoid alienating the indigenous population. That’s the cardinal rule in counterinsurgency (COIN): Don’t do anything to reinforce the enemy narrative and thereby fill their ranks with new fighters. Some guerrilla war aficionados within the military have even taken to calling the concept COIN math.

Seen in this light, as a result of these pardons (and other actions), Trump acts as an unpaid “terrorist” recruiting sergeant.

Specifically, a recruiter for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which appears on the US Department of State's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, via his pardon of convicted US war criminal Edward Gallagher.

That's a crime under the aforementioned US Code article ("service" is one of the categories of "material support"), and since the particular form it takes is something only the president of the United States can do, it's by definition a "high" crime.

I Waited Around for a Long Time for the @PopeyesChicken Chicken Sandwich so You Wouldn't Have to

I didn't really mean to wait around for a long time for the sandwich. It didn't seem like I was going to have to.

The drive-thru was waaaaay busy, so we went inside because that didn't look particularly busy at all.

There were several people standing to the side waiting on food they had already ordered, but only one  party ahead of us in line. After about ten minutes, a guy ambled up to the counter and took their order.

Then he stared down at the register for about a minute before suddenly realizing we were there to order too, and took ours.

Then we waited.

Since I was sitting around waiting (except for a short break outside to smoke a cigarette and chat up another waiting/smoking customer about some cool boots she was wearing), I watched.

One guy was working the drive-thru, and seemed to have one other person backing him up with occasional help stuffing food in sacks to hand out through the window.

Another guy seems to have been the main cook. He was back and forth quite a bit putting e.g. sandwich patties and stuff in a heat box (they didn't seem to be selling much fried chicken by the piece; the orders I heard, and the food I saw people eating, ran more to sandwiches and tenders).

A third guy was mopping up a spill on the floor when we came in, then he disappeared entirely. My guess is that he was in back washing dishes or some other non-cooking, non-customer-service job.

There were three other employees visible for the most part.

Two of them took turns staring off into space, occasionally taking an order (perhaps as many as five times between the time we arrived and the time we left) or  grabbing sacks off the surface behind them and calling out names of people to come up and grab the food they'd ordered.

The third was the one who occasionally helped the drive-thru guy. In between doing that she messed around with her phone, chatted with waiting customers she seemed to know, and once went to the back and came back with one dollar bills for the register at the request of one of the other two.

Once, the manager came out from the back, yelled "welcome to Popeye's," announced the weekend special (X pieces of chicken, Y sides, $Z), stood there smiling for a few minutes, then disappeared again.

After about 15 minutes three or four people in Popeye's shirts entered the store, went behind the counter, milled around like some kind of "be a crowd scene" thing in a theatrical production for a minute or two, then disappeared (where to, I don't know -- at the end of that event, the people I describe above were all still there and still doing what they were doing, and there weren't any more people visible doing that stuff).

Somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes after we ordered, the party ahead of us were called up to get their food, and ours came out a couple of minutes later.

My verdict on the chicken sandwich (I got the spicy variety):

Pretty damn good. Not worth waiting nearly an hour for, especially when there seemed to be no real reason for the wait. But I'd eat it again if I only had to spend a couple of minutes getting it.

My verdict on Popeye's:

Inconclusive, since there could well have been stuff going on I didn't know about, out of sight.

But it just didn't look to me like the long drive-thru line, or the demand for sandwiches, was to blame for the long wait.

For one thing, the drive-thru line was moving, and the one guy working entirely on drive-thru was clearly busting his ass. The drive-thru seemingly got big-time priority such that people who hadn't even been in the drive-thru line when others entered the store were driving away with their food tens of minutes before those inside customers got theirs.

For another, it's not like they don't know to expect lots of sandwich orders. They had piles of regular and spicy fried chicken sitting there waiting to be ordered, and I noticed precisely one order for it (my son got a drumstick in addition to his tender combo).

Granted, I've eaten at Popeye's many times and in many places over the years, including this one, and only once since the sandwich mania broke out, and I've never had this kind of experience before. My recollection is that I've had to wait for more than a minute or two precisely once when ordering inside, that that wait was about five minutes, and that one of the employees personally and almost apologetically brought our stuff out to our table instead of calling us up for it (that would have been in Wisconsin, not quite a year ago).

So I supposed the sandwich craze to wait time correlation COULD indicate causation.

But in the seven years I've lived in this city, I've had several unsatisfactory visits to this Popeye's. Every time (granted, that's only been two or three times) I've pulled up to the drive-thru and asked for the TV-advertised box special that made me think of the place (the one that comes to mind was "ghost pepper" chicken tenders), they've been "out of" it.

In St. Louis, we lived near two Popeye's stores for 12 years, ate at both at least occasionally, and I only remember one time they were ever "out of" anything (red beans and rice, and that was about 10 minutes before closing time). And I don't remember the wait between getting to order and getting the food ever being more than a few minutes, drive-thru or inside.

I won't be visiting this Popeye's again, at least while Sandwich Mania continues.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Well, One Anyway, Maybe

Ever since the last ChromeOS update, instead of going to "sleep" when left running while I'm afk, my Chromebook stays awake, but when I come back I can't move the mouse onto the leftmost of my two monitors. The only way to fix that (short, I guess, of restarting the machine) is to unplug my USB hub and reconnect it.

I don't blame Google. It occurs to me that I may be the only person on the planet who has that specific problem, because I am probably the only person on the planet using the specific model of Chromebook I'm using, in the specific way I am using it (internal screen went bad, so I'm running it as a desktop -- lid closed, HDMI out to one monitor, USB out through a hub, which also powers my mouse and keyboard, to a USB to DVI adapter, to the second monitor).

Friday, November 22, 2019

It's Been So Long Since I Camped ...

... that I don't have the gear I used to keep around.

Got a cheap new tent last week. Already got sleeping bags.

Since I'm not sure what facilities will be available at Danksgiving, I bought a cheap "solar shower" (aka a black 5-gallon bag with a hose attached to it) and because it's a three-day festival and I'll want to bring some of my own food and don't expect a hike (the tent sites are supposedly right next to the parking lot) a cheap 40-quart wheeled cooler (the cooler I've had for 20 years or so is cracking, etc., and I really should have a good one around for hurricanes and such).

Next step: Remembering whatever it is I'm forgetting. Mosquito repellent, flashlights, etc. I think I've got around the house (and a solar lamp). Oh -- toilet paper. That's probably a good idea.

Anyone got a perennial "I always forget to take X when I go camping?" story?

Tamara's not into camping. I'm hoping she has a good enough time that I can talk her into the real thing instead of the somewhat different "it's a music festival where you sleep in a tent, and close enough to home that if you really want to you can drive 45 minutes each way and sleep in your own bed." My plan is to camp for two nights, even if she heads home on one or both.

I'd really like to get her to Yosemite for a multi-day camp in the Ten Lakes area. Nice hike, 3,000 foot elevation gain from the trailhead, etc. Swimming, too, if you don't mind doing so in water that just melted off a glacier.

Then again, the last time I did that I was in my 20s, and in shape. So maybe a slightly lower elevation and a slightly shorter hike. But I do miss the woods.

Update: Note to self -- don't forget the union suit.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What Happens When @RealDonaldTrump Helps Shitbirds Get Over

National Review reports that President Trump is intervening to stop the US Navy SEALs from ejecting a convicted war criminal from their ranks. Quoth Trump on Twitter:

The two convicted war criminals Trump recently pardoned were reported by their military peers. They were charged by their military peers. They were convicted by their military peers. Why? Not just on behalf of their direct victims, but because war crimes endanger, and stain the reputations of, the units whose members commit them.

Trump's pardons encourage war crimes.

And more than that, they tell America's sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines that if they notice a war crime, they have to handle the situation themselves because if they handle it through "proper channels" the shitbirds won't just be pardoned, but also returned to the units they dishonored and endangered whether those units want them or not.

Trump is pre-emptively sentencing future Gallaghers and Lorances to die in "friendly fire accidents" instead of getting their day in court.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Pressure Gauge: What a Weird Republican Impeachment Argument

The latest Republican argument against impeachment, summarized (h/t Steve Trinward):

If the Ukrainian government didn't feel "pressured" to investigate Crowdstrike and/or the Bidens in return for some Javelin missiles and/or a White House promotional event, then by definition there wasn't any "bribery" or "quid pro quo" stuff involved.

If I go to the store, hold out a dollar, and ask for a loaf of bread in return, I'm only trying to get a loaf of bread out of the deal if I stand next to the store window holding a hammer, right?

From the White House memorandum on (not "transcript of") the Trump-Zelensky call:

Zelensky: I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

Trump: I would like you to do us a favor though ...

In what universe does that not come across as a request for an exchange of some kind?

I can understand Republicans arguing "no pressure" as evidence that the offer was not extortion (whether there really wasn't any "pressure" is a different question).

I can also see Republicans arguing that, "pressure" or not, Trump was trying to get additional concessions out of an aid deal out of genuine concern for the interests of the United States rather than for his own personal/political benefit, and that he was therefore neither offering nor soliciting a bribe (whether anyone would believe that is, again, a different question).

But exchanges of all kinds, including bribes and non-bribe "quid pro quo" agreements, occur without "pressure" all the time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Interesting Illustration of Differences

Per USA Today:

Three people died in a shooting outside a Walmart in Duncan, Oklahoma, when a man shot his wife and her boyfriend before killing himself, police said Tuesday.

Response from people who have to persuade customers to voluntarily give them money in exchange for goods or services:

Walmart spokesman Payton McCormick told USA TODAY that no staff members were involved in the shooting or injured, and the store was not evacuated. Police said Tuesday that one exit to the store had remained open and the store had continued to do business.

Response from people who get money from people other than their "customers," whether the payers want to pay or not, and whose "customers" have to accept the goods or services whether they want those goods or services or not:

Schools in the city were briefly locked down following the shooting.

Two Phrases I See Used a Lot, with Related Questions

I come across each of these two phrases at least once a day in op-eds, political speeches, etc.

Phrase 1: "[insert person or entity here] is out of control."

Phrase 2: "[insert person or entity here] needs to be held accountable."

Question 1: Out of whose control?

Question 2: Accountable to whom?

A third question, in any given instance, is why X being out of the control of, or not accountable to, Y is necessarily a bad thing, as the normal usages seem to assume.

Informal Survey: How Bad is YOUR Phone Spam/Scam Problem?

I really don't know if I'm better or worse off than other land line phone customers.

Of the land line calls that come in each day, usually one or two are from my wife, and the rest -- once a month or so, I answer the calls for a day to check -- are some combination of:

  • Spammers telling me that our credit card rates can be lowered (we don't use credit cards), that we're eligible for a personal loan (we don't deal with e.g. "payday loan" companies), that our car warranty is expiring (our current car is 13 years old and we've never owned a car new enough to have ever been under warranty when we got it), etc.
  • Scammers telling me (live) that my computer has a virus and they need access to fix it;
  • Scammers telling me (recorded, usually with Asian accents) that they are the Social Security Administration Department (yes, they always add that last word) or the IRS and that unless I call this or that phone number (presumably a "1-900" equivalent) I face "imminent criminal process" or some such;
  • Scammers telling me (recorded, always with an Asian accent) "welcome to the Chinese Department" and asking me to hold (a little online searching says that if I did hold, I'd be told that the "Chinese Department" in question is at Bank of America, where we do not and to the best of my recollection never had accounts, and that they want routing numbers to fix a supposed problem);
  • And so on and so forth.
Sometimes, ten or more such calls a day.

Does everyone get that many, or am I just a very special individual?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Strings Attached

A year or more ago, I bought a Rogue RA-100D acoustic guitar [Musician's Friend | Guitar Center | Amazon -- NOT affiliate links!] to replace one of the same model that I'd given to a friend who needed a guitar for a trip to detox. I may have bought it as part of a 2-pack with the mandolin I also have, I can't remember.

The previous guitar had been one of my favorites. In fact, I played it in preference to my nearly 20-year-old Epiphone PR-100. It was lighter, for one thing, and it had great tone.

The new one, well, just didn't sound good and wasn't pleasant to play, so I just didn't much, and that's how it stayed for a long time. The other day I found my favorite strings on sale at my local brick and mortar Guitar Center, buy two, get one free, and decided to re-string all three of my non-cigar-box acoustic guitars with Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Lights [Musician's Friend | Guitar Center | Amazon -- NOT affiliate links!].

The Rogue actually advertised that it came with Martin strings, so it hadn't occurred to me that the strings could be part of the problem with the Rogue.

World. Of. Difference. In both tone and feel of the neck when playing. I'm not sure what Martins went on that guitar at the factory, but they just weren't in the same league as the relatively inexpensive Ernie Ball stuff. I've tried other strings, but I keep coming back to the Earthwoods. They're just good. But of course your mileage may vary.

As I've said before, I've also generally found Rogue instruments to be quite good, especially at their ridiculously low price points. I've had three of their flat-tops (the two RA-100Ds, and an acoustic electric version that is now my daughter's),  a mandolin and a lap steel, and they've all seemed to be well-made.

I've got the strings off the Epiphone, awaiting a sound-hole pickup that I'll be putting in it, as well as some new pegs for the strings. It's had a good cleaning, including a going over with GHS Fast Fret [Musician's Friend | Guitar Center | Amazon -- NOT affiliate links] while it awaits its re-stringing.

The Libertarian Party Has Taken a Three-Election Vacation

A comment of mine from Facebook:

[Gary Johnson and Bill Weld] ran a campaign against the platform of the party that nominated them in significant respects, including but not limited to plainly stating that they only wanted to legalize marijuana and not other drugs, Johnson's proposal to put every man, woman, and child in the United States on a monthly federal welfare check for life, and Weld's advocacy of suppressing the gun and due process rights of people on secret government enemies lists.

For that reason, their campaign should be treated neither as a test of the [Libertarian Party]'s potential appeal, nor as something the party is entitled to credit for. We handed our ballot access over to two big-government Republicans, and that's about all we had to do with what subsequently happened.

We did the same thing in 2012, and before that in 2008.

I've already commented often on the poor branding involved: The LP nominating Republican has-beens over and over brands it as the shuffleboard court at the Home for Old and Cranky GOP Pols.

But it's also a bad idea from a "product testing" standpoint. If Coke runs a focus group on how well people like its product, but has the focus group members drink Pepsi instead of Coke, they don't get any information on how well people like Coke, just on how well people like Pepsi.

If we're going to bother running a presidential slate, we should run a slate that campaigns on what the party stands for, not on something else, and that slate should preferably be composed of candidates whose prior reputations aren't inextricably linked to their association with some other party.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

On the Road ... er, On the Platform Committee ... Again

The Libertarian National Committee just counted its votes, and I've been elected to a second term on the Libertarian Party's national platform committee.

THANK YOU to the fellow party members who asked their LNC representatives to support my candidacy, and to the LNC -- not just the nine LNC members who voted for me, but to the others, who presumably took time to consider my application even if they found it wanting.

As with the last time around, I'm sure I'll come to my friends who are interested in this particular type of political activity and ask them to help me cover the costs of traveling to any physical meetings, and to the national convention next Memorial Day weekend.

As with the last time around, I'll carefully and frugally budget for those costs as they become apparent, and accompany those requests with justification for why they're necessary. I don't spend other people's money frivolously. Last time around, I managed to save money AND work in a visit to my mother by spending 14 hours (supposedly -- IIRC, it ended up being more like 17) on a Greyhound bus, finding a better deal on a convention hotel room a 15-minute walk away from the venue, etc.

But all that is in the future. For the moment, I'll be asking questions like these:

  • Is there anything in the existing platform that should be changed from the standpoint of spelling, grammar, style, readability and brevity?
  • Is there anything in the existing platform that should be changed or eliminated for ideological reasons vis a vis its conformity with the party's Statement of Principles?
  • Is there anything that should be added to the platform, and if so, why (both ideologically speaking and as a matter of making the platform responsive to likely 2020 voter concerns)?
Please let me know of any thoughts you have on those subjects, in the comments here, via the contact form, etc.

In The House ...

The song I'm working on recording a version of, "The House of the Rising Sun," has a long history.  In fact, some think it may date back to as early as the 16th century as a riff on "The Unfortunate Rake."

I recently put out, for public appraisal, a very bad recording of the guitar and drum line to my arrangement, just to demonstrate technical problems I'm having (volume drop-off somewhere between guitar and recording software).

Among the comments was one from my friend "Tony from Long Island," suggesting I use a better drum machine.

But I'm actually re-thinking things entirely and considering dropping the drums entirely, getting rid of the fuzz guitar effects, and not adding a bass line at all.

Just "clean" (or possibly light chorus or slapback delay effect) acoustic three-string guitar (not, strictly speaking, a cigar box guitar, but a $2 garage sale guitar I've three-stringed and enjoy playing more than any other instrument I own), vocals, and possibly harmonica and/or mandolin. I may change the tuning to a higher GDG variant, or go to Open E.

With a view toward that, I'm re-listening to a bunch of prior recordings. My current arrangement falls somewhere between the Animals and Frijid Pink versions. Melodically it will likely continue to do so. But instrumentally, I'm looking back at (in reverse chronological order) Dylan, Van Ronk, Guthrie, and Leadbelly.

What do you guys think? Here are the versions referenced above.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Sauce for the Goose ...

Recently, I explained why the US House of Representatives isn't violating President Donald Trump's "Sixth Amendment Rights."

Short version: The impeachment inquiry isn't a criminal prosecution. There are no criminal "charges" for him to be informed of, and if he is "charged" (which would happen at the end of that inquiry with a vote to impeach for X, Y, and Z), he faces no criminal penalties. Impeachment is a politicized workplace discipline process, not the Manson Family trial.

Now House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) is quacking about "witness intimidation," because Trump said some mean things on Twitter about an impeachment inquiry witness, Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine.

Um ... no. This works both ways. Trump may not have "Sixth Amendment rights," but he still has "First Amendment rights." Publicly saying mean things about a disgruntled former underling who's publicly criticizing you is free speech, not "witness intimidation."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

So I Had to Order a New Tent ...

... my old 7x7 dome tent had become aged and decrepit enough that I threw it away some time back. Found a cheapie on Amazon and ordered it through Purse (affiliate link!). Came to $26.18 including tax after my 5% discount:

Why did I need to order a new tent? Because ...

At least three bands that I really want to see (Free Range Strange, Billy Gilmore and Friends -- he's the frontman for The Grass is Dead -- and the Walkers, one of whose guitarists I met at Guitar Center the other day).

And I love to camp (Tamara doesn't, and may drive home one or both nights).

I'm in a drawing for free tickets as well, but it's hard to beat that price for the lineup with camping included.

Time to start digging out sleeping bags, solar lanterns, etc.

A Request/Reminder for my Libertarian Party Affiliated Friends

I'm seeking selection to the Libertarian Party's 2020 platform committee.

The Libertarian National Committee will select five members for that committee this weekend. The larger states also receive apportioned seats on the committee, but I am not seeking to represent a state on the committee. If not selected by the LNC, I'll stand down on the ambition.

If you support my candidacy, and have not yet expressed that support to your regional LNC representative (and, if you wish, the officers and at-large LNC members), I humbly request that you do so in the next 36 hours or so.

If you have questions for me regarding why I would represent you well on the platform committee, by all means throw them at me.

Thanks either way!

I Guess I Just Don't Get Expensive Hair Snobbery

"In its filings with the Federal Elections Commission," Christopher Beam of Slate reported in April of 2007, "John Edwards’[s] campaign disclosed that the candidate received two $400 haircuts from a Beverly Hills stylist this year. What do you get for a $400 haircut?"

The answer, above and beyond a haircut: A house call. The stylist, Joseph Torrenueva, charges (circa 2007) "only" $150 for a haircut if you're willing to go to his salon, and other stylists at the salon charge "as little as $60 or $75 for a trim."

Maybe I'm just a spending curmudgeon -- okay, I am a spending curmudgeon who still grouses about ground beef selling for more than the highest reasonable price (97 cents a pound) -- but I didn't see anything in John "Breck Girl" Edwards's hair that looked like $400, or even $150, worth of stylist attention.

Edwards and his $400 haircut came to mind the other day when I noticed some fashionista pundit sneering at, verbatim as best I can remember it (I forgot to bookmark the link), "people who get their hair done at Supercuts."

I'm not a hair expert. When I was a kid my dad either cut my hair himself or sent me to his own preferred barber. My style choices ranged from "crew cut" to "flat-top." Then I went into the Marine Corps, which offered a similar range of styling options. After that, I experimented a bit but mostly stuck to shaving my head entirely. Nothing to style, nothing to mess with. If I got a haircut, it was at the oldest-looking barber shop I could find in my area, or at a local barber/cosmetology school. And it was all good.

Now I'm growing my hair out and taking a more studious approach than "let it grow and see what happens." Because my wife and daughter go to Great Clips, one of the larger chains, that's where I've been going.

At first, I just took whichever stylist wasn't busy, explained what I thought I wanted, and got, basically, what I thought I wanted.

Then my wife and daughter prevailed upon me to specifically seek out the services of a stylist I'll call Carol, because that's her name.

Carol asked me what I was trying to accomplish.

My answer: A pompadour.

Carol: A real pompadour, or what they call a pompadour these days?

My answer: Make me look like Young Elvis.

Carol: I'm all out of magical powers today, but okay, we're talking about a real pompadour, not just a high-top fade without taking any off the top.

Carol, who started cutting hair around the time I was born and when the classic pompadour had not yet exited stage bald, explained the intricacies of that haircut to me (among them, a little "shelf" on the right side of the head to pile all that top hair over onto).

She explained these things as she cut my hair, as she styled my hair, and as she showed me how to style my hair. I've been very happy with the results so far.

The cost, with a coupon: $7.99 plus tip (you're damn right she gets a tip).

Not 50 times as much.

Not 18 times as much.

Even at full price of $14, before tip, it would have come to less than 1/10th the price John Edwards's meh haircut would have cost if he had gone to the salon, and about 1/28th what he paid to have the stylist come to him.

And based on the way Edwards looked on the campaign trail, in my estimation Joseph Torrenueva is no Carol.

Unfortunately, Carol was in an automobile accident recently and I've been getting kind of shaggy awaiting her return. Enough so that when she gets back and I go to see her, I may talk with her about the Brian Jones look circa Aftermath.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Cool ...

My copy of The Chocolate Watchband's recent release, This Is My Voice, arrived this morning on very pretty "Coloured/Splatter Vinyl." And inside, a card with a Bandcamp link and code so that I can stream, download, etc. as well. There's even an embed function, which presumably only allows partial streaming for people who haven't purchased the album:

The Double Standard in a Nutshell

Peter Beinart at The Atlantic:

What the Ukraine scandal reveals about Donald Trump is by now well known: He elevated his political interest above the national interest and demanded foreign interference in an American election. What’s received less attention is what the scandal reveals about Joe Biden: He showed poor judgment because his staff shielded him from hard truths. If that sounds faintly familiar, it’s because that same tendency underlay Hillary Clinton’s email woes in 2016. Clinton and Biden differ in many ways. But beneath each candidate’s marquee scandal lies the same core defect: insularity.


"When Republicans act criminally and/or corruptly, it's because they're criminal and/or corrupt.

"When Democrats act criminally and/or corruptly, it's because they're just poor, temperamental, out-of-their-element naifs who of course had no criminal or corrupt intent, but whose staffers -- whether negligently, or out of concern for feelings or fear of offending -- didn't button their winter jackets for them, take them by their little mittened hands, and walk them across all those busy, dangerous legal/ethical streets."

There are a couple of obvious problems with that narrative.

One is that in the case of Trump vs. Biden and/or Clinton, the latter two are the two with decades of experience in government behind them, while Trump is the one who never held appointed or elected political office until 2017. If there's an argument from lack of experience/knowledge of the rules, it favors Trump, not Biden and/or Clinton.

The other is that the "just a poor, temperamental, out-of-my-element naif who wouldn't remember that it's wrong to murder a kindergartener with an ax unless a staffer got in my face about it" descriptor is an argument against, not for, entrusting considerable power and authority to the person it describes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

I Know I'm Getting Old, But ...

... I just don't get this special categorization of "senior citizens" or "the elderly" when it comes to legal matters.

I understand "senior discounts." Americans over 65 have lower mean and median incomes than Americans between 35 and 65, but presumably more of those incomes are "disposable." Hopefully their homes are paid off (they have higher net worth than other age demographics due to home equity), they're no longer raising kids, putting lots of miles on a car is optional instead of a matter of getting to work, etc. Businesses want that money, so 10% off at the buffet or whatever makes sense (especially since people eat less as they get older).

But I occasionally come across stories like "Houston-area woman arrested for allegedly using pepper spray on 80-year-old man," in which an alleged assailant is charged with e.g. "injury to an elderly person."

Why on earth would aggression against an 80-year-old be considered worse than aggression against, say, a 53-year-old? The couple who reported the attack were presumably not disabled. They were out and about in a car, anyway.

I can understand the "particularly vulnerable" category as an "aggravating factor" in aggression. That is, I can see why people would find it more morally repugnant to attack a baby in a stroller or a stroke victim paralyzed in a hospital bed than to attack an able-bodied adult. But that doesn't seem to have been the case here. Just being old doesn't mean being "particularly vulnerable." All it means is that the guy managed to avoid coronary arrests and off days at the World Trade Center for 80 years.

Political Sexism?

Geoffrey Skelley writes at FiveThirtyEight:

So what do we know about [Tulsi] Gabbard’s base? For one thing, it’s overwhelmingly male -- in The Economist’s national polling average, her support among men is in the mid-single digits, while her support among women is practically nonexistent. This trend is evident in other recent polls as well. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll of Iowa found Gabbard at 5 percent among men and 1 percent among women, and Quinnipiac’s new survey of New Hampshire found her at 9 percent among men and 4 percent among women. A late October national poll from Suffolk University found her at 6 percent among men and 2 percent among women.

While all the numbers are fairly low, it looks like men are anywhere from twice as likely to five or six times as likely to support a woman -- a particular woman, anyway -- as women are. Even with small samples, the divide seems stark and has occurred repeatedly across polls, so it's presumably real.

My question: Is the sexism at the high end of that divide, or the low end, or both? That is:

  • Are men supporting Gabbard because of her sex -- in particular, perhaps because she's a reasonably physically attractive woman by conventional standards, and they like to look at her -- rather than for policy reasons?
  • Are women not supporting Gabbard because of her sex rather than for policy reasons? If so, does her physical attractiveness by conventional standards have anything to do with it (e.g. jealousy, or assuming an attractive woman is just eye candy instead of a serious candidate)?
Or could it be something else -- for example, contra the conventional wisdom, perhaps women are more supportive of US military adventurism than men are and don't like Gabbard's anti-war positioning?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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