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.

Friday, November 08, 2019

"... to be confronted with the witnesses against him ..."

One of the more pathetic arguments I keep seeing among Republicans' attempts to pull Donald J. Trump's ass out of the crack he's got it in goes something like this (it's Ron Paul's site, trying to justify his son's Senate histrionics):

[Y]es, whistleblowers should have better protection whether government employees or contractors, but, he said, legislation and statutes cannot supersede the US Constitution, which gives everyone the right to face their accuser.

OK, so what does the Constitution actually say?

In 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 district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Emphases mine.

The obvious first problem with the Republican argument here is that an impeachment probe is not a criminal prosecution. It's the first, investigative stage of an employee disciplinary process. The maximum penalty here is that Trump gets fired, and that would only happen at a different, later stage involving upper management and, in some workplaces, the accused employee's union steward.

But sure, let's set that aside, frame impeachment as if it was a criminal prosecution, and see where that takes us.

Suppose a passerby notices three men, wearing ski masks and carrying Uzis, walking into a bank. The passerby dials 911 on a disposable phone, not publicly linked to her identity, to report a possible armed robbery.

The police respond.  Upon their arrival at the bank, they find three men, wearing ski masks and waving Uzis around, filling bags with cash while the bank employees and customers lie on the floor with their hands visible, quietly crying.

After a brief standoff, the suspects are taken into custody.

The matter is referred to a grand jury, which will decide whether or not to indict the suspects for armed robbery, etc.

The prosecutor plays the 911 call for the grand jury. He brings the responding police officers, the bank manager, the tellers, and several customers in to tell the grand jury what they know. He shows the grand jury security camera footage of the events, including footage of the suspects removing their ski masks and looking directly at the cameras after placing their Uzis on the floor. And so on and so forth.

At some point during this process, the suspects' attorneys object:

Unless the prosecutor publicly identifies the 911 caller and brings that caller in to testify, and releases the 9/11 caller's testimony to the public, they say, the suspects are being denied their right to be confronted with the witnesses against them.

Presumably the prosecutor would respond as follows:

  1. The point at which defendants are entitled to be confronted with the witnesses against them is during the trial, if they are indicted. It's not a prosecution until and unless the grand jury tells the prosecutor "go forth and prosecute." Right now, it's a different thing entirely -- an investigation. It could conceivably end without ever becoming a prosecution.
  2. It is, at this point, by no means obvious that the prosecution will use the 911 caller as a witness against the suspects at trial, if there even is a trial, and there's nothing requiring the prosecution to use the 911 caller in the grand jury process. The prosecution's case may start with the bank manager seeing the suspects enter the bank and pressing the bank's silent alarm button.
  3. If there is a trial, the suspects will be entitled to compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, which means their attorneys will be able to compel the 911 caller to testify and be examined and cross-examined, if they believe the caller's testimony will benefit the suspects.
Sorry, Republicans: Even if impeachment was a criminal prosecution, there's just no constitutional "there" there for the claim that the prosecutor and the grand jury must talk to the "whistleblower" at all, let alone publicly.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Inconvenient, Maybe, But I Do Love to See the State Behind The Times

My copy of my DD-214 is a horrible-looking rush job that I paid money for so that I could get the damn thing quickly pursuant to getting government ID that I urgently "needed" (according to the US government, because I needed to fly and couldn't get on a plane without their permission, a few years ago).

I want a better copy for my files in case of future situations where it might prove useful, so I decided to go through the official government service -- the National Personnel Records Center.

They accept applications by:

  • US Snail; and
  • Fax
Email? Guess they never heard of it. Although they do have a web site. That looks like it was designed circa 1993.

I printed the form as a PDF, signed it online using Hellosign, and found a "free" online fax service to send it.

No, I'm not complaining. If it was up to me, all US government agencies would be strictly limited no technology more powerful than old 8-bit computers, pulse-operating dial telephones, and horse-drawn transport.

I Don't Take Advantage of "Veteran Discounts" Very Often ...

... both because they're usually a pain in the ass to claim, and because I don't buy the idea that I'm "owed" anything for having been a well-paid government employee for 10 years.

But I noticed some news stories this morning:

Amazon is offering veterans one year of their Prime service for $79. That's good for new Prime members, or for a one-year extension for existing Prime members.

I've been a Prime member for several years, and I pay monthly ($12.99). Even at that price instead of the regular annual rate ($119), Prime is a great deal for my household. It probably pays for itself with the free shipping alone, which makes the large streaming video and music catalogs pure gravy.

But hey, if Amazon wants to give me $76.88 off a year's worth of Prime, yeah, I'm going to take it and I don't particularly care why they're doing it.

Disclosure: I Just Doubled Down (More or Less) on Impeachment

When I make a "political" bet in a prediction market (PredictIt being my chosen venue), I disclose it here so that you can judge whether that bet is influencing my judgment (or causing me to become a megalomaniac who believes his small blog can influence the prediction market).

In September, I bought 29 shares of "yes" to the question "Will Donald Trump be impeached by year-end 2019?" at 33 cents per share. The market has never closed as low as that price since. It's gone up and down, closing at as high as 59 cents and as low as 35 cents.

Today I bought 24 more shares at 42 cents per share.

Both of those amounts represent a $10 deposit divided by the current share price (this time including a small remainder from the first $10 deposit as well). I have 36 cents left in my PredictIt account now.

I am at least as convinced now as I was in September that the House will vote to impeach Trump before the end of the year.

In fact, if I was betting on exact dates, I'd probably put a little money on a theatrical "get this done just as it's time to leave for Thanksgiving break" production. As of last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to agree, and expected to wrap up the post-impeachment trial by Christmas.

Am I going to talk up impeachment for purposes of turning my ~$20 bet into a ~$50 payoff? You be the judge, but I don't think it will skew my analysis.

As brief an explanation as possible as to why I'm confident in this bet comes from Anton Chekhov:

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Politicians are playwrights of sort. Nancy Pelosi wouldn't have hung the impeachment rifle on the wall of the House chamber if it wasn't going to be fired.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Thanks For Asking! -- 11/05/19

Another month, another AMA thread sponsored by Free Pony Express ...

So, ask me something (anything) in the comments below this post, and I'll answer in those comments, in a stand-alone post, or in some novel way that I haven't thought of yet.

Monday, November 04, 2019

My Liver Really Seems to Confuse Medical Researchers

Last year, I was contacted and asked to join a study and drug trial. The criteria had to do with "fatty liver" in Type 2 Diabetes patients.

I ended up being rejected from the study for several reasons, one being the amount of scarring on my liver. I was referred to a hepatologist who did an ultrasound and found nothing amiss except some asymptomatic gallstones, but still wanted to do an ultrasound "just in case." Never have got around to that.

So last week, I was contacted by another researcher in the same group for another, similar study/trial. This time I got rejected after some blood work, before we even got to the point of scanning my liver.

It seems my ALT score is just too ... normal. They wanted at least a 30, I only got a 26 (both are well within normal range but apparently lower is better).

My personal theory about the scarring on my liver is that it occurred during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I was exposed to a number of weird things:

  • An anthrax vaccine from tubes marked EXPERIMENTAL! DO NOT USE ON HUMANS (I had to be threatened with a court-martial before I let them stick me with it). 
  • Smoke from thousands of burning oil wells in the Burgan Field (I spent about two months within sight of the flames and within a constant soot cloud).
  • Some weird yellow powder that locally sourced contractors spread all over the place to keep flies down.
  • Probably sarin.
  • Probably PCBs from used motor oil that was poured on in-camp roads to keep the dust down.
But I could be wrong about that. Apparently the damn thing is still ticking within normal human function range, so there's that, anyway.

And Yet More Wordpress Woes

I'm rebuilding Rational Review News Digest from scratch at another URL. Everything has been going swimmingly until ... this.

RRND consists of excerpts/blurbs for various news, commentary, and audio/video items each day. The post format, both on-site and in the email editions, looks like this:

Trevor Timm on The Scott Horton Show
Source: Libertarian Institute

"Trevor Timm talks about the inhumane and potentially life-threatening conditions Julian Assange is being held in as he awaits trial for violations of the Espionage Act." [various formats] (11/03/19)

The new Wordpress installation is publishing this:

Trevor Timm on The Scott Horton Show
Source: Libertarian Institute

"Trevor Timm talks about the inhumane and potentially life-threatening conditions Julian Assange is being held in as he awaits trial for violations of the Espionage Act." [various formats] (11/03/19)

11/1/19 Trevor Timm on Julian Assange and the Threat to Press Freedom Everywhere

That doesn't work for me. At all. I generate my email newsletter from the web site content, and I need the URLS, not the titles of the pages the URLs lead to, to display.

I can't seem to find any setting to make it knock that shit off, nor are web searches for similar problems turning up anything useful.

My assumption is that Wordpress has recently (very recently, within the last 48 hours) updated, and that the update includes another horror show feature similar to, but not exactly like, one I've already disabled with a plug-in -- a "preview feature" that embeds actual videos instead of links to videos, etc.

Anyone got any ideas?

I'm near the point of looking for a more stable content management system to run my sites on. It feels like Wordpress issues updates every week and a half, and each one includes some new feature to fix stuff that isn't broken. In addition to a "disable embeds" plug-in, I also have to run one to let me use the "classic" editor instead of that idiotic new "block editor" that came in with the Gutenberg release.

UPDATE: Fixed. I think what happened is that when I enabled the "don't show previews" plug-in, it stopped doing that stuff, but that it did not automatically stop doing it for the first couple of posts that had already published. When I re-created the posts, they displayed correctly.

And People in Hell Want Ice Water, Trump v. House Edition

Camera One:

Camera Two:

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings ... -- US Constitution, Article I, Section 5

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Sometimes Wordpress (or Something) Just Pisses Me Off

So we had some problems at Rational Review last week.

After creating a Wordpress post, when creating a SUBSEQUENT Wordpress post, the new post would overwrite the previous post as an revision.

I spent all week trying different things both obvious and suggested in seemingly related search results -- turning off plug-ins, turning off Cloudflare caching, etc., adding something to .htaccess, etc. with no luck.

Then, just as I was about to burn the site to the ground and rebuild it entirely from scratch, the problems disappeared. Over the weekend, we got most of Monday's edition entered.

Then this afternoon, the problems came back, with new twists.

First it started doing the overwrite thing.

Then it just switched to telling me "The link you followed has expired. Please try again" when I tried to save a draft, or publish or schedule a post.

Which is where it is now.

Better if it hadn't started working right again in the first place, since it worked right again right through the period when I would have been dicking around nuking a Wordpress installation and creating a new site where the old one once stood.