Saturday, August 31, 2019

France ...

... is the Florida of Europe.

The Latest on Dorian ...

"Hurricane Dorian threat to Carolinas grows as likelihood of direct hit on Florida decreases."

Not out of the woods, exactly ... at the moment it looks like the eye of the thing will probably head north off the Florida coast, probably producing severe storms even as far inland as I am. But probably doesn't mean very much. I'm still well within the predictive "cone."

The difference I'm seeing at the moment is a slightly higher probability of one or two, versus four or five, days without electricity, a slightly lower probability of various trees crushing my trailer like a bug, etc. So we're still planning for living without electricity, possibly bugging out to safer shelter, etc.

This is actually the part I hate worst when thinking of hurricanes versus tornadoes or earthquakes. With the latter two, you don't have a week to prepare, but you also don't have a week to worry and ponder uncertainties. The latter two are over in seconds, minutes, or hours and if they do hit you chances are everything's just fine 20 miles away, instead of everything for 100 miles being dark.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Scott Horton Debates Dr. Strangelove ...

... just down the street from Dr. Strange's place!

Wish I could be there, but I probably can't. Maybe you can, though.

Could NPCs be self-aware/sentient?

These days, I tend to analyze my own existence on the untestable, but plausible, assumption that we live in a simulation.

I sort of naturally also assume I'm a "player character" who's immersed in that simulation to such a degree or in such a way that I can't know for sure that it's a simulation and have no way of exiting the simulation into the "real" world (which could itself be a simulation) other than (possibly) death within the simulation.

A third assumption is that at least some of the people around me are "non-player characters" -- existing wholly within the simulation.

But suppose I'm a "non-player character" myself?

It's not obvious to me that a technology capable of creating simulated realities couldn't also create self-aware/sentient NPCs.

Hell, maybe we're ALL NPCs and this simulation is a much more interesting version of an aquarium screensaver with all of us as the tropical fish.

I don't think it's a safe assumption that an NPC's only exit from the simulation would be the creation, within the simulation, of new simulations. Perhaps the reality or "higher" simulation with the technology to create this one also has the technology to pluck self-aware/sentient NPCs out of it and plug them into bodies in its own reality.

Hell, maybe it's simulations all the way down (or up).

So I guess my best bet is just to treat this likely simulation as the only reality I'm ever going to experience, and try to play by its rules as best I understand them. If I have any choice in the matter, that is. Could an NPC be self-aware/sentient, but also pre-destined?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Battening Down ...

As of the last time I checked (a couple of hours ago), we're at the center of Dorian's storm cone. That is, the percentages say that it's going to hit about 80 miles east of us and then head right for us. Earlier, it was going to do that as a Category 3 hurricane on Sunday evening or Monday morning. Now it's going to do that as a Category 4 hurricane on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

All of which means nobody really knows what it's actually going to do, but things could get interesting. More importantly as the blog goes, things could get powerless and Internet-less for several days. We'll be seeking a hidey-hole (a mobile home on a wooded acre is not ideal storm shelter), and I'll probably have another post or three before that happens, but if I'm incommunicado for a few days next week you'll know why.


Camera One: "Trump looked to the sky and proclaimed himself The Chosen One while talking to reporters at the White House."

Camera Two: "Hurricane Dorian to strengthen, slam Florida as major Category 3 storm on Labor Day"

Well, yes, coincidence ... but anyone dumb enough to believe the first one is probably also dumb enough to believe the second one could be related.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Well, That Doesn't Look Too Good

Sunday evening's forecast for my neck of the woods:

Irma brought trees down right into my kitchen a couple of years ago. Looks like Dorian could be worse. Fortunately, I think most of the trees within falling range of the house that are likely to come down already have come down. But I expect I'll find somewhere else to be that night.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Weekends Like This ...

... are why I try to blog a lot earlier in the month. Never know what's going to come up and I do want to manage 30 or more posts per month on average.

I was planning to get quite a bit of writing done this weekend -- a couple of blog posts, Monday's column, some work on another project I'll be telling you about eventually. I also expected to have time to bike 10 miles on Saturday and maybe even finally get to the theater to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Then things just started drifting south in a big way.

First the neighbor's dog died.

Good dog, Pepper. About a year ago, the neighbor took her to the vet with a swelling in her right jaw. Cancer. Incurable. No point in operating, it will just come back. Here's some anti-biotics for a related infection and some anti-inflammatories for the pain and swelling.

I've been visiting next door twice a day for months to help get pills down her gullet, etc. And she seemed to have a pretty good quality of life until late this last week, when she started to have trouble getting up and walking. Yesterday, Tamara and I dropped by. Pepper gave her usual greeting bark, wagged her tail, and headed for the back door (her owner has trouble getting around, so Pepper would wait for one of us to come by before asking to be let outside).

Maybe 15 minutes later she was dead. Went outside, did her business, lay down on the grass. I went out to see if she needed help getting up. She couldn't get up at all. I carried her inside, and by the time we got there she wasn't breathing.

So, I buried her, got a nap (it was hot and I was tired), and then Tamara and I went out to do some household shopping. During which time we got the call: My daughter's 1998 Volvo S-90 had been rear-ended by a pickup truck at a red light. No major apparent injuries, but a few hours at the ER awaiting examination, CAT scan, etc.

I'm glad she was driving a Volvo. The car is basically gone from its rear end to its rear axle, but both occupants walked away with minor visible scratches.

So, how was your weekend?

Friday, August 23, 2019

So I'm Doing This Thing ...

I've walked and biked hundreds (heck, maybe thousands by now -- I got my "500 Mile Club" t-shirt a long time ago) of miles to raise money for charity using the Charity Miles phone app. Every time I log a walk or cycling session, a sponsor donates.

Now there's an additional "pledge tool." My friends pledge some amount per mile, and if I make the goal by the deadline, they contribute that amount to Habitat For Humanity.

My goal is to bike 500 miles before the end of the year. I'm at 32 miles at the moment, and starting to pick up the pace (I need to average around five miles per day by the end of the year to make the goal; my exercise goal is to work back up to 10 miles per day, five days a week; so if I make the latter, I'll certainly make the former).

If you support Habitat For Humanity's mission -- building homes for the poor, more than 800,000 of them so far -- you can help with that commission AND motivate me to exercise more by pledging a few cents per mile (a five cent per mile pledge would come to $25 total).

Here's where you go to pledge.

Thanks in advance.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Nuance ...

... may be pleasing in art, but when applied to politics or policy proposals is either a catastrophic flaw or a mendacious dodge.


Friday, August 16, 2019

How You Know Most Americans Have Surrendered to the Terrorists (and the Establishment's Panic-Mongering)

New York Post:

Police are questioning a man who was allegedly seen leaving at least two rice cookers in a subway station, and sparking an evacuation in Lower Manhattan Friday morning, law enforcement sources told The Post.

spark, v. put in motion or move to act

Even the cops admit they don't know "whether it was to breed fear and alarm the public, or whether he was discarding items he was no longer interested in."

But they're already blaming him for the panic and police response.

People see a rice cooker lying around and lose their minds, and it's someone else's fault?

It's Alive!

I'd been mulling the possibility of converting my busted-screen Lenovo Chromebook into a desktop machine for a little while, but the "Your Chromebook has received its last software update in accordance with the Auto Update Policy" situation with my Asus Chromebox pushed me over the edge.

The problem: The Chromebook only has one video out port, and I must run dual monitors.

The solution: Either get a USB monitor, or find a way to hook another video type to USB.

Hello, eBay: "USB 3.0 to DVI Video Adapter."

And it works. HDMI out to my HDMI monitor, USB out to my DVI monitor, lid shut so it isn't trying to display on the broken screen. I'm in business.

I do need to grab a USB hub, because I don't have any ports left (one for the video out, one for a wireless keyboard/mouse dongle), but now I'm running a newer ChromeOS hardware platform (this one supports Android apps -- last time I checked, it didn't handle native Linux apps like some newer Chromebooks, but I haven't checked recently and there have been several OS updates) on the same amount of RAM (4Gb) and IIRC similar CPU type and  speed (Intel Celeron @ 1.x where x > 5 -- GHz).

But I'm still thinking about that Pi 4. The Chromebook takes up more space than I like and I haven't set my mind to figuring out a better place to put it where all the cables will still reach and so forth.

UPDATE SHORTLY AFTER POSTING: Bam! It does support a Linux virtual machine now! I'm rusty on my command line skills, but plan to try a few things.

Kimmel/ABC Should Fight This

Per BBC News:

ABC talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! has been fined $395,000 (£326,000) for mimicking a presidential alert on the programme, a US regulator has said.

The show replicated the alert tone three times, which is illegal, during a sketch mocking the warning system.


By simulating the alert tone, the Jimmy Kimmel Show! breached broadcasting rules, said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates television in the US.

Under FCC rules, broadcasters are barred from mimicking the warning system "to avoid confusion when the tones are used, alert fatigue among listeners, and false activation".

"Copyright protection ... is not available for any work of the United States Government," defined as "a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties."

In other words, sights, sounds, words, tones, etc. produced by the federal government are in the public domain.

Using the Emergency Alert System's tones to commit fraud might be a crime, but so would be using the word "the" to commit fraud. Freedom of speech, not to mention absence of copyright protection, trumps the FCC's power to demand that others "avoid confusion."

Which Free Daily Newsletters do the Publishers of Free Daily Newsletters Read Other Than Their Own Free Daily Newsletters?

One free daily newsletter I read when I'm not putting together Rational Review News Digest is Morning Brew.

And if I get 10 other people to subscribe to it in the next few days, I get a free Morning Brew beer glass.

I want a free Morning Brew beer glass.

Please help me get a free Morning Brew beer glass.

Did I mention that this free daily newsletter is free?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Well, I'm a Little Peeved at Google Right Now

My Chromebox informed me that a new update was available. So, as usual, I re-started my machine for it to take effect at the first opportunity.

Hmm ... "Your Chromebook has received its last software update in accordance with the Auto Update Policy."

My Chromebox model was released in August of 2014.

Google's Auto Update Policy: "Google provides each new hardware platform with 6.5 years of Auto Update support."

They're short-changing me by about a year and a half.

I'm considering a Raspberry Pi 4 instead of a Chromebox for my next desktop machine. I got the 3 to play around with, and it's cool, but the 4 sports up to 4Gb of RAM and two HDMI ports for dual monitor mojo, which I consider essential for real work. I could probably make a go of that.

On the other hand, I have cables and adapters on the way that should let me use my busted-screen Chromebook (newer platform, supports Android, etc.) as a dual monitor desktop. So I may hang with ChromeOS a little while longer. But I'm becoming increasingly disinclined to spend money on ChromeOS hardware.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Grinds My Gears: Actual Allegations versus Ignorant and/or Dishonest Name-Calling

In 2008, Jeffrey Epstein took a plea deal on charges involving sex with females below the legal age of consent, with prosecutors claiming victims as young as 14. In 2019, Epstein was arrested, and again the stories/allegations involved victims as young as 14.

It looks like Epstein did a lot of bad things. None of the bad things he's publicly accused of doing, so far as I can tell, entail pedophilia -- sexual attraction to and/or sexual activity with prepubescent children.

Yet I see the p-word thrown around quite a bit vis a vis Epstein, including in reasonably "mainstream media" headlines.

Beating someone up is bad. Calling the person who beat someone up a "murderer" is inaccurate.

Robbing a liquor store is bad. Calling the robber an "arsonist" is inaccurate.

Words mean things. On the basis of the public allegations/evidence, using the word "pedophile" to describe Epstein can only be explained by either ignorance or dishonesty.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Things I Wish I Could Remember

Starting in 2009, I set up, hosted, and provided basic admin help for two blogs on subdomains at Rational Review:

A Passion For Liberty -- Tibor R. Machan @ Rational Review
J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review

Neither of those bloggers are with us anymore -- Neil died yesterday, Dr. Machan died in 2016.

I suppose at some point I will make sure the final states of the sites are archived at The Wayback Machine and remove them from my hosting space, but there's no hurry. Heck, I may just leave them running in their current state. Both bloggers did agree to give me ad space. Haven't used that space in a long time. Maybe I'll start.

What bugs me is that I can't remember just why and how it came to be that I hosted Neil's blog in the first place.

Dr. Machan was having some kind of problem with a different pre-fab blog site, and also received frequent typo corrections from me (via email) on material that went up on that site, for which he expressed gratitude. Eventually I offered him a blog directly on my site. He was happy to have someone do the set-up work on a "real" blog and do very basic editing (spelling corrections, etc.) for him so that he could focus on the writing rather than on administrative BS.

But I can't remember what the deal with Neil was, and that bothers me. I have a policy of deleting emails that are more than a year old, so I can't go back and find out.

He knew basic HTML, and he maintained several sites of his own for e.g. his Pulpless e-book operation. Maybe he wanted to use Wordpress but didn't want to be bothered with learning yet another content management system or something.

The "intellectual property" status of content on both those blogs is a matter for the authors' estates, by the way. I don't accept the premise of IP, and I agreed with both of those bloggers beforehand that I would assert no IP claims on whatever they chose to publish on the web space.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

J. Neil Schulman, 1953-2019

I do not have 100% confirmation on this, and I hope it's not true, but based on the best information I have:

J. Neil Schulman died earlier today in Colorado Springs after a day or two in the hospital. He suffered a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest, then multiple organ failure.

I never physically met Neil, but I've "known" him for about 20 years or a little longer, and hosted his blog for about 10 of those years.

Best wishes to Neil's loved ones. I'm sure that I'll be sharing some Neil memories as time goes on, and that others will too.

If I Wrote a Thriller Based on Jeffrey Epstein ...

... the people he supposedly "belonged" to would have either killed him in jail or faked his death and hustled him off to a facility geared more toward continuous waterboarding than to pre-trial detention with poor suicide watch surveillance practices.

Why would those be the two plot possibilities?

Well, if he did indeed "belong to intelligence," presumably the objective was to gather information on powerful people for purposes of blackmail.

That kind of information is only useful for that kind of purpose if it remains secret (from the public, that is). Files were starting to be un-sealed by judges. There was always a possibility Epstein would decide to start talking, and not necessarily just to prosecutors who could be pressured to "leave it alone."

If he's dead, he can't talk -- and judges can probably be persuaded to keep remaining files sealed on the claim that there's now no public interest served by revealing the names of people who haven't been charged with crimes.

If he's thought to be dead but actually at some CIA black site, they can torture more information out of him than he previously gave them "voluntarily." Everything he ever saw, or did, or heard.

Those two plot possibilities seem to me to be both sufficiently titillating and sufficiently believable to make good fiction.

Of course, I'd spice the thriller up with the possibilities that he was killed by someone working for one or more of the people he got video of in flagrante delicto, or that he put his own considerable assets to use faking his own death to cover an escape from a federal detention facility, or that the intelligence agency running him helped him pull that off and took him first to a safe house and then to another, more off-the-books private island to live out his life in luxury.

But those possibilities would eventually crumble before my intrepid investigator's awesome skills and powers of deduction. And then ...

... then, nothing. Everyone but the investigator (and his or her client, maybe) would still be left wondering and speculating. Because even if the true story came out, not that many more people would believe it than if it hadn't come out.

It probably wouldn't produce a bunch of casualties among the rich and powerful.

It probably wouldn't bring down governments.

It would probably go down as just one more Paul McCartney died in a car wreck, Jim Morrison is raising horses in Oregon, Elvis is alive and living in a cabin near Mauna Loa with JFK story.

Which is exactly how the actual theories are likely to go down.

If I had to bet money on whether Epstein is alive or dead, I'd bet he's dead.

If I had to bet money on whether Epstein killed himself or was murdered, I'd bet he's murdered.

But right or wrong, I wouldn't expect to collect any winnings.

Friday, August 09, 2019

#GreenShirtGuy is Fun, But #BanjoGuy ...

About 1:50 into the video ...

I've always suspected that Jerry Garcia faked his own death. But I kind of pictured him settling in Oregon, maybe hanging out with Jim Morrison.

Guess he likes Tucson better. Glad to see he's still picking a banjo.

Fare thee well, Captain Trips!

So ... Who's the Bad Guy Here?

In Springfield, Missouri, a guy walked into a Walmart wearing a rifle around his neck.

Which, according to the accounts I've read (here, here, and here), he neither shot anyone with, nor threatened anyone with, nor pointed at anyone.

Panic ensued. The manager hit the fire alarm. People, including the guy with the rifle around his neck, exited the store.

At which point someone else pointed a pistol at him and held him at gunpoint until police arrived.

So, once police did arrive, who do you think they arrested? The shopper who apparently threatened no one, or the off-duty (non-cop, if it matters) government employee who waved a gun in the shopper's face?

To ask the question is to answer it.

I lived and/or worked in Springfield for about 15 years, until 19 years ago.

Based on pictures of this guy, if I had seen him in a Walmart back then, I'd have assumed he was dropping by for some more ammo or maybe for stuff to put in a cooler for a weekend camping/hunting trip. Everyone else would have probably assumed the same thing.

Apparently Springfieldians have lost their damn minds, or at least their gonads, since then. Twenty years ago they wouldn't have panicked in the first place, if they had panicked they wouldn't have blamed anyone but themselves for their irrational panic once they calmed down, if someone had called the police about a guy walking around Walmart with a rifle the response would have been "um ... so?... this phone line is for reporting crimes, idiot," and an off-duty firefighter who decided it would be fun to draw down on and threaten a shopper would have been looking at assault charges and probably unemployment, if he lived.

Here's what Springfield was like 25 years ago: Circa 1994, a couple of guys tried to mug me in a gas station parking lot. One of them brandished a stun gun at me. When I brushed back my jacket and they saw the .45 pistol in my waistband*, they decided to leave, quickly. Went inside, paid for my gas, and went about my business. No panic. No cops. No "situation."

* No, I didn't normally walk around with a .45 in my waistband. I've never even owned one. That night I was on my way to a remote and plausibly dangerous area where I expected to be handling significant quantities of cash, so I had borrowed it from a friend. It was in my waistband because I didn't want to leave it in the car where it might get stolen. Not the best neighborhood, as you might surmise.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The First Five (of Six Total) "Headlines" on my Google News Page ...

... are specifically about, or related to, last weekend's mass shootings. The sixth is about House Democrats trying to get SCOTUS justice Brett Kavanaugh's records.

Pakistan and India on the edge of war over Kashmir? Suicide attack in Kabul? North Korean missile launches? Turkish moves in Syria? Unrest in Hong Kong? Bombing in Copenhagen?

According to Google News, all of that is small potatoes compared to two incidents in two cities (El Paso and Dayton) in which fewer people were shot over the same time frame than were shot in another (Chicago), and the political hysteria over them.

Yes, I know, if it bleeds it leads. But the bleeding stopped days ago and now it's just theater. Which doesn't really strike me as above-the-fold news.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

One Reason I'm Not That Good at Predicting Presidential Nomination Winners ...

... as opposed to general election winners, is that there doesn't seem to be as much state-level polling.

Keep in mind that, like the general election, the primaries are not a "national election." They're 50 separate elections, with delegate rules similar to, but not exactly like, the Electoral College system. That is, not every primary or caucus is "winner take all" for delegates, but it's still possible for a nomination candidate to get the most votes nationally yet lose the nomination.

"Nationally," Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic nomination contest, and to lead in various sub-demographics (black Democrats, female Democrats, "somewhat liberal" Democrats, and "moderate/conservative" Democrats), the only exception being "very liberal" Democrats according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Biden dropped from 34% to 32%. Elizabeth Warren is gaining on him versus a week ago (up from 15% to 21%), Kamala Harris is fading (down from 12%  to 7% -- THANK YOU, Tulsi!), Sanders moved from 11% to 14%. Fourteen of the also-rans are at less than 1%.

The reasonably current (last two weeks) state polls at RealClearPolitics also have Biden leading in every state polled -- New Hampshire, Texas, Nevada, South Carolina, and Ohio.

1) It's early days and 2) I'd be more confident if there were 50 state polls every week. Among other things, that much information would make it worth digging into how delegates are distributed, who's doing well with the "superdelegates" (I hear Buttigieg is pushing hard on that front), etc. The state-level snapshots are too few and far between. The last California poll I see has Biden only edging out Harris by 1% there, and it's from nearly three weeks ago.

Based on the available current information, it still looks like a Biden/Warren race for the nomination and my best guess is a Biden/Warren ticket. But there's no way to be really confident about that yet.

Is This Starting to Sound Familiar?

From Wikipedia:

Leaderless movements may have a symbolic figurehead. This can be a public figure, a multiple-use name, or an inspirational author, who picks generic targets and objectives, but does not actually manage or execute plans. Media, in this case, often create a positive feedback loop: by publishing declarations of a movement’s role model, this instills motivation, ideas, and assumed sympathy in the minds of potential agitators who in turn lend further authority to the figurehead. While this may loosely resemble a vertical command structure, it is notably unidirectional: a titular leader makes pronouncements, and activists may respond, but there is no formal contact between the two levels of organization.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Ah, I'm Not the Only One Who Noticed!

The day after Burger King introduced their new taco-like product, I read a review claiming that the reality, unlike the purty pictures of, well, tacos in the ads, was that the BK taco-like product is just meat shoved into tortilla and deep-fried with maybe a spray of wilted lettuce thrown on.

This is what Burger King says their taco-like product looks like. This is not what Burger King's taco-like product looks like.

At which point my mouth began to water. That sounded suspiciously like the two-for-a-dollar taco-like product I used to buy at Jack In The Box back when I lived in a city with JITB (last time I noticed, the state of Florida has yet to join the modern world in that respect).

I had to have them!And I did have them. Not quite as stomach-turningly addictive as the JITB taco-like product, but close enough for the hinterlands, I guess, at least until I next travel through an area with the real thing.

Kevin Pang at The Takeout concurs.

Avoid the Kitchen Sink Op-Ed!

I write op-eds at The Garrison Center. I write them with an eye toward newspaper publication, but I submit them to a number of web sites as well, and I frequently get comment replies to the effect of "you left out [insert angle or sub-issue here], which I consider essential. Why?"

In my replies, I generally point out that I'm writing to a specific short word length -- 400 to 500 words -- because that seems to be the "sweet spot" for potential publication in the most newspapers.

Some newspapers will go as high as 800 or even a thousand words. I suspect that in the Internet Age, some of them are quietly doing away with length limits altogether since they no longer have to shoehorn everything into a certain number of column inches on real paper. But 400-500 words is long enough to not be a mere "letter to the editor" and short enough to appease editors who still ruthlessly enforce guidelines written back during the wax-backed paper and Zip-A-Tone manual layout days.

As I noted in my old book on writing op-eds:

If you submit your article to a newspaper as is, at 500 words versus the 400 specified in the newspaper’s guidelines, it may still be published. In those guidelines, you’ll likely have noted that the editor "reserves the right to edit for length."

You can cut it down to 400 words. Or the editor can cut it down to 400 words. Who do you trust to know your thoughts and priorities better? Yourself or that editor? Do you want the piece to reflect your priorities, or his?

Cut it until it bleeds. Someone is going to.

It's mostly just that simple. I can't think of a single issue for which it's possible to cram all the relevant facts and arguments into a 500-word op-ed.

You can pick a couple of facts and a couple of arguments, and work hard to make those arguments compelling to the reader, or you can offer that reader a laundry list that gives him no reason to change his mind about anything.

Anyone Know of a Good @Cloudflare Alternative?

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince cut off his company's services to The Daily Stormer in 2017. Here's how he described that decision:

Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power. ... It’s important that what we did today not set a precedent. The right answer is for us to be consistently content neutral. But we need to have a conversation about who and how the content online is controlled. We couldn’t have that conversation while the Daily Stormer site was using us. Now, hopefully, we can.

Now we know the result of whatever "conversation" took place -- this morning, Prince pulled the same shit with 8chan that he did with The Daily Stormer.

I don't like either one of those web sites. What I do like is reliable service from providers who should be (and pretend to be) content-neutral. And Matthew Prince keeps proving that his service's reliability is a function of which side of the bed he wakes up on each morning.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

I Didn't Expect to Like This One ...

... but I did.

While I was on the road and in places without Internet access, my handy-dandy $5 garage sale Kindle allowed me to read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (not an affiliate link).

The only reason I even bought the book was that I caught the Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. Otherwise, it might have been years while I awaited a 25-cent garage sale paperback edition find. I'm glad it worked out that way.

My people are hillbillies of a somewhat different sort than Vance's.

His ancestors (and many people like them) moved from the Kentucky hills (and coal mining) to the Ohio lowlands circa World War 2 (for factory work).

My ancestors (and many people like them) moved from the eastern Tennessee/West Virginia hills (and coal mining) to the southern Missouri hills (for farming, and for some eventually factory work) after the Civil War. There was a second migration before World War Two (to the west coast because of the Dust Bowl, Depression, etc.), of which my maternal grandparents and some of my dad's uncles/aunts were briefly a part but from which my maternal grandparents quickly returned to the Missouri hills.

Vance joined the Marine Corps right out of high school to get the hell away from where he was from. So did I. Vance ended up graduating from college and then law school and going into venture capital work. I went back home and worked "blue collar" (mostly in factories) for 15 years before becoming a full-time writer and editor.

We have enough in common that I find Hillbilly Elegy and its cast of characters quite familiar and touching.

The biggest differences are probably:

  1. A matter of time. I'm 22 years older than Vance. At the point in life where he was watching people kill themselves with booze and prescription opiates, I was watching people kill themselves with booze and methamphetamine (booze and both other drugs were around at both times, it's just that one or the other was the "bigger problem" at any given time).
  2. A matter of luck. By the time I was in elementary school my dad had given up booze and I was raised in a pretty strait-laced Christian home. So in terms of family and friends, I saw the substance abuse stuff from a distance instead of up close and horrible. But I had plenty of relatives and friends, some closer and some more distant, who drank or drugged themselves into bad situations (up to and including death), wouldn't or couldn't hold down jobs and relied on "public assistance," etc., not unlike those Vance knew.
Some of the proposed or implied solutions are things I don't agree with (Vance is more of a "moderate conservative" to my "libertarian"), but they're not really what the book is about. Hillbilly Elegy is a rewarding read that I expected to hate. You might find it worthwhile too.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Thank You For Your Service, @MikeGravel

Well, the only presidential campaign I've donated to so far this election season is over.

Yes, I knew from the start that Senator Gravel wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee or become president of the United States.

That's OK. The last time I voted for a winning presidential candidate was ... well, never.

Senator Gravel and a campaign team of youngsters with fire in their bellies did a great job of pushing an anti-war message just a little further into the public spotlight than it would have managed to get on Tulsi Gabbard's work alone, and he represented the possibility of a more trustworthy anti-war candidate than Gabbard (who was a darling of GOP hawks, neocon think tanks, and the Israel lobby at least as late as 2016). Their work was well worth the pittance I contributed.

Don't get me wrong about Gabbard. She's not all bad. Her kamikaze run at Kamala Harris the other night was a great thing, an act of prospective self-sacrifice for the greater good. She threw away any chance of a cabinet appointment in a Harris administration, as well as support for future campaigns from Harris or the DNC if Harris does go all the way. But in doing so, she probably made sure that Harris won't go all the way, and that's a good day's work right there.

But Gravel was the real deal. Even where I disagree with him (and I do, a lot), there's no doubt about where he stands, or that he'll keep standing right there.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Well, Back to the Democratic Primary Prediction Drawing Board ...

I'm fairly good at predicting the outcomes of presidential general elections. In 2012, I predicted the outcomes in 48 states and got all of them right; in 2016, I predicted the outcomes in all 50 states and got 48 of them right.

Party primary outcomes, not so much. Early on in 2008, I expected Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination. In 2016, I didn't expect Trump to be the GOP nominee.

This year, I thought I was on track when I very tentatively predicted that the Democratic ticket would be Biden or Warren in the top slot, likely with Warren for VP if Biden won the presidential nomination.

But now this:

Ben Shapiro summed up the two nights of Democratic presidential debates by declaring Sen. Kamala Harris'[s] "moment" has ended and predicted a two-person race between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

One of my many argument/claim sorting shortcuts for both issues debates and political predictions is:


No, he's not always wrong.

But assuming he's going to be right is like sticking a bunch of monkeys in a room with a stockpile of amyl nitrite and a movie camera, then betting money that they'll emerge the next day having created a startlingly true-to-the-original remake of Behind The Green Door.

So what are we looking at here -- Williamson/Yang? My confidence in Biden, Warren, or Biden/Warren is shattered.

The Problem with US Military Adventurism Abroad ...

... is not which side the US regime picks in this or that conflict between other regimes (or would-be regimes).

The problem with US military adventurism abroad is that the US regime thinks other regimes' fights are any of its business at all.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

I'm Liking Lyft Quite a Bit

Until my trip to Missouri a few days ago, I'd only used Lyft once. No particular reason -- it was just Uber that I thought of first when needing to hail a ride, except for the first time I decided to install the Lyft app on my phone.

But, money being tight and all, and nobody having responded to my plea for Uber gift cards to help out, I noticed that I'd received a "$1 off all rides through July 31" offer from Lyft, so when I arrived at the Springfield airport, I checked both apps.

Lyft was about $3 cheaper than Uber even before the dollar discount to get from the airport to the nursing home my mother lives at, and the estimated wait time was about the same, so ...

Altogether I needed three rides in Springfield -- from the airport, to the airport, and one in between to go meet friends (who dropped me off after). Each time, the Lyft fare was cheaper than Uber even before the dollar off. Each time the car arrived in a timely manner and was clean and comfortable and had a courteous driver who got me where I needed to go in an efficient manner. I spent about $75 total (including tips). With Uber, it would have been $85-$90.

I'm not saying you should use Lyft rather than Uber. I'll probably continue comparing prices each time I need a ride myself. But I'm not seeing any reason to arbitrarily go with Uber as a default. Both services have worked well for me, so price seems like the only reason to pick one or the other.

And by the way, isn't this "hail a ride with your phone" some gooooooood stuff? I remember the days when I had to call for a cab well in advance, talk to a human being about scheduling, and then cross my fingers and hope the driver arrived in a timely manner without a lot of confidence that it would happen. Now I press a button and if the app says the driver is x minutes away, he or she usually arrives within x-1 minutes of the estimate, and I can "see" where the car is at on a map on my screen.

What Elizabeth Warren Can't Do and Shouldn't Fight For

Warren, admonishing John Delaney:

I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn't fight for.

What she wants to do -- what she is openly fighting for -- is the power to run virtually every aspect of every American's life.

I suspect many voters, including many Democratic voters, might think that they can run most aspects of their own lives better than Elizabeth Warren can.

If they think about it at all, anyway.

The political danger for her is that many of them just might think about it.