Friday, April 30, 2021

Trying to Identify My New "Service Niche"

Yes, it's another bicycle / "now that I'm a GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL" post.

Upon closer examination, I understand now why I didn't notice my appointment to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board by the Alachua County Commission. I don't think I was appointed by the Alachua County Commission. Rather, I think I was appointed by the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization for the Gainesville Urbanized Area, which in turn is part of the North Central Regional Planning Council. Pretty byzantine, eh?

The board is composed of 13 members. The city of Gainesville gets five -- four "regular" members, plus one slot specifically reserved for a student. The county gets four. And MTPO gets four. Here's the boilerplate on "mission" from the city's site:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (BPAB) makes recommendations (serves as advisory) to the City of Gainesville Commission, the Alachua County Commission and the region's transportation authority concerning federally funded projects and resources, the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO), on all matters concerning planning, implementation, and maintenance of policies, programs, and facilities for the safe and efficient integration of bicycle and pedestrian transportation into the Gainesville Metropolitan Area and Alachua County transportation systems. This includes, but is not limited to, the design of roadway bicycle facilities, shared use paths, sidewalks, jogging paths, hiking trails, bicycle parking, and the enforcement of motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle safety regulations. The Board makes recommendations to the Commissions and the Metropolitan MTPO regarding budgetary matters in connection with its duties. The BPAB consists of citizen volunteers who have a special interest and expertise in bicycle and pedestrian issues.

Since I haven't met the other board members yet, I can only speculate as to their personal interests and focuses, but I've got a pretty firm handle on mine, and it looks something like this:

Gainesville and Alachua County are very bike/pedestrian oriented areas, and I divide the biking/walking into three types:

  1. Exercise and/or athletic training: I see lots of people out on the streets, highways, and bike trails who are clearly training, either for competition or just to get in shape. That's a good thing.
  2. Recreation: On any given sunny afternoon, it's not uncommon to see family groups -- e.g. one parent pulling a stroller behind a bike, another parent on a bike, and perhaps a couple of kids who are old enough for their own bikes -- out for a leisure ride to the park or whatever. There are numerous "green space" areas with trails for mountain bikes (and, in some cases, trails that street bikes can handle).
  3. Practical transportation. People walking or biking to the grocery store. People walking or biking to work. People walking or biking to get to the gym or to the club or to class.
The niche I plan to focus on as best I can is a sub-niche of that third one: Practical transportation between the "inner Gainesville" area and the outlying towns and points in between.

The town of Archer is ten miles out of Gainesville, and fortunately has a very nice bike/pedestrian trail covering most of the distance. On any given day, in addition to the exercise/athletic bikers, the joggers, and the "it's a nice day, how about a stroll or ride" crowd, I see plenty of people who are obviously going somewhere because it's where they need to go.

The little old lady on her beach cruiser bike with a basket full of groceries and more grocery bags hanging off the bike, or pushing along a walker with a grocery bag hanging from it.

The guy in jeans and work boots riding his Walmart Huffy into town with his lunch box hanging from the handlebars.

Some of these people may be riding bikes or hoofing it because they want to -- it's exercise or recreation in addition to practical transportation.

But I suspect most of them are in some other categories. They're living paycheck to paycheck, their old beater of a car broke down and they can't afford to fix it, or perhaps to insure it. Or the single family car went with the ex-spouse in a ruinous divorce. Or they blew a 0.2 on the breathalyzer one too many times and lost their drivers' licenses. Whatever the reason, they're making do with shoe leather or a bicycle.

Any way you cut it, if the government's going to be providing roads, trails, and sidewalks (and that's exactly what it's going to continue doing, at least for the moment), I think it's important that those roads, trails, and sidewalks serve these people's needs. Not because I'm a bleeding heart (guilty), but for two practical reasons.

  1. As I point out in a recent post, each pedestrian or cyclist reduces motor traffic congestion (and, for those concerned about pollution, point emissions from exhaust pipes*) on the roads. If accommodating them is cost-effective versus widening roads, building more roads, etc., it just makes sense.
  2. Roads, trails, and sidewalks that are poorly designed vis a vis pedestrian and bicycle traffic lead to dangerous interactions between that traffic and motor traffic. People end up in the hospital, or even dead.
Part of my near-future agenda includes spend some time riding between Gainesville and other outlying communities (Micanopy, Waldo, Alachua, Newberry, High Springs, Hawthorne et al.) to get a good idea of how well the road system accommodates bicycle and pedestrian traffic. I've biked to several of those towns and back before, but not with the issue I'm talking about in mind.

So anyway, that's where my head is on this new mission.

* Whether bicycling and walking really address carbon emissions as they bear on climate change is an interesting question. That really depends on where the calories (or battery power) comes from, doesn't it? When I charge my e-bike battery up instead of driving a car, if the electricity is from a coal-fired plant, all I've done is move the emissions.

1970 Album of the Week, April 30-May 6: Poco, by Poco

I really don't listen to enough Poco. While I don't have a real "loyalty" thing for any one side of post-breakup-recombobulation bands, I do tend to go in one direction when there's a fork in the road, and following the Buffalo Springfield breakup my feet are pretty firmly on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fork. When it comes to "country rock," my thru-line is Gram Parsons and his all-too-short Byrds / hanging out with and influencing the Stones / Flying Burrito Brothers / solo career.

But Poco (not their first album, that was Pickin' Up the Pieces), released on May 6, 1970, makes a good  case for paying more and closer continuing attention to them.

Sad side note: Poco guitarist / vocalist Rusty Young died of a heart attack two weeks ago.

I don't agree with Robert Christgau's characterization of the band as "[a]ll of CSNY's preciosity with none of the inspiration, all of bluegrass's ramifications with none of its roots." Maybe Christgau was just having a bad ear day, but I hear the inspiration and the roots in there.

Speaking of roots, I find the album's cover of "Honky Tonk Downstairs," first recorded by George Jones but written by Dallas Frazier (who also gave us, among other songs, "There Goes My Everything" and "Elvira"), more "rootsy." and just plain better, than Jones's version. Which is saying a lot. George Jones sat at the right hand of Hank Williams in my childhood household's country music shrine.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Second Thoughts on Tenet

I saw (and blogged about) Tenet on the big screen shortly after it came out and before Regal Cinemas shut down all their American theaters (they're re-opening at the moment, and I'm planning to go see something Real Soon Now).

I knew I'd want to see it again (and again), but I wasn't going to pay $19.99 to rent it for 24 hours, and didn't really want to pay $19.99 to buy it. Fortunately I found it on sale for $9.99 over the weekend, bought it, and watched it again.

I won't say that the difficulty I had understanding the timeline as applied to the plot is gone, but on a second viewing informed by some good backgrounders it's at least reduced. I recommend this one, but consider yourself forewarned of considerable spoiler content. A non-spoiler quote that summarizes things:

Nolan once again recruited theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who served as a consultant on Interstellar, to advise on the script and ensure that Tenet was anchored in the real laws of physics and time, while also taking some creative liberties with them.

I don't find Tenet's major premise as easy to suspend disbelief on as, say, Nolan's own Inception, or the Wachowskis' Matrix films. But Nolan does use that premise to do a lot of cool things with and I'm still not wanting my time back. I don't expect Tenet to make my "view at least once a year and usually more often than that" list, but I do expect to watch it several more times.

If you still haven't even noticed Tenet, this trailer should give you a reasonable idea of whether or not it's your kind of movie.

The Guy Seemed Angry. Maybe He Didn't Realize the Benefit He Was Receiving.

Note: Now that I've been appointed to a local bicycle/pedestrian advisory board, you can expect to see at least occasional posts from me on, you guessed it, bicycle/pedestrian subjects. Not just because I hope you'll find my ideas interesting (although I hope you will), but because getting my thoughts down in writing will make it easier for me to bring those thoughts to the board when they're relevant. Writing is what I do anyway, and it helps me anchor ideas in my brain for later recall. So that's what's going on here.

A couple of years ago, I rode my (pre-electric, single speed commuter) bike into Gainesville one morning for reasons I don't recall. I live right off the Archer Braid Trail, a bicycle/pedestrian trail that runs alongside NE State Road 24 / SW Archer Road between the town of Archer and the city of Gainesville. My home is at about the middle point of the trail's length. I was riding well past the trail's end, which entailed using a bike lane for a little while and then riding on a sidewalk for several blocks.

It just so happened that I was riding during morning "rush hour," when cars are stacked up and moving slowly into Gainesville. IIRC, I set off at about 8am.

Each time I arrived at a stop light (some of which I had to stop for because the road intersected the trail, others which I could ignore because the road made a three-way "tee" that didn't), I noticed the same car on the road next to me. And I noticed the driver becoming increasingly agitated, seemingly because my bicycle was getting somewhere as fast as his car was. He stared. He occasionally pointed and yelled stuff I couldn't hear.

OK, well, I felt for him ... little. He was driving a fairly nice, late-model car, and here I was getting from Point A to Point B as fast as he was, on a $200 bike.

While it hasn't been frequent or problematic, I've noticed similar attitudes before and since. For some reason, some motorists resent cyclists, even when those cyclists aren't in their way.

What they apparently don't realize is that by riding my bicycle, I  make things easier on them.

Every person walking or biking down a roadside trail, or using a bike lane or sidewalk, is one less person congesting the roadway and slowing automobile, motorcycle, and scooter traffic down (yes, scooters are a fairly big chunk of traffic in the Gainesville area -- far more so than in any other city I've spent much time in).

That's not the whole big picture, obviously. Among other things, there are cost/benefit ratios to consider. How much does the bike trail / bike lane / sidewalk cost to build and maintain, and does its usage reduce congestion (and collisions!) enough to make building additional lanes for car traffic less urgent? Also, who's paying, and who's going to be paying?

But the basic takeaway here is that a trail, lane, or sidewalk for cyclists and pedestrians doesn't benefit only those cyclists and pedestrians. It benefits motorists as well.

As a libertarian, I'd rather have government completely uninvolved in building and maintaining roads, streets, sidewalks, and trails. Since it is involved in those things, my goal as an advisory board member is to help it figure out how it can do what it does in a way that works well for everyone who pays for and uses those roads, streets, sidewalks, and trails. Some libertarian theory says that's a fool's errand. I intend to find out for myself how correct or incorrect that theory is.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You May Kiss The Ring


I learned today that I've been appointed to the Gainesville / Alachua County Bicyclist / Pedestrian Advisory Board.

And Saturday I've got a public ride with the mayor. How cool is that?

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Tentative Conclusion About Coursera

I'm going to start off with an affiliate link. It gets you 50% off either a course or the first month of a specialization (and gets me 50% of one or the other as well).

I just started my second course at Coursera. The first one got me a certificate in COVID-19 contact tracing (speaking of which, I have some thoughts I need to blog some time on why that never took off and why it was probably never going to work) via Johns Hopkins University.

The second one is a basic course in Epidemiology via the University of North Carolina.

The first course was quite straightforward. The information was presented in a well-organized manner and the quizzes/tests stuck closely to that information and how it was presented. Its estimated completion time was 5-6 hours, and that's about how long I spent on it.

The second course suffers, so far, from one problem that I've always found annoying when it presents itself. There are inline single-question quizzes in each video lecture, and some of those questions are "gotcha" questions, in at least one case with a "correct answer" that appears nowhere in the lecture itself, and in another with the "correct answer" being one not nearly as correct as another answer option. I passed the week one quiz fairly easily, but it had a couple of questions of similar construction.

It seems to me that the point of the quiz questions should be to test whether the student is paying attention and learning/retaining the information, not whether the student is good at guessing.

I must tentatively conclude that Coursera's offerings are inconsistent in quality.

Fortunately, most if not all courses can be audited for free, with a charge only if the student wants a certificate of completion for use on a resume (or, in some cases, for conversion to credit in a degree program).

Friday, April 23, 2021

Just as I was About to Enroll in @RegalMovies's "Unlimited" Plan ...

... I discovered that there's no monthly subscription plan, at least for the first year.

No, they're not engaging in false advertising. They don't try to hide it. In fact, they mention it prominently during the signup process.

They do have a monthly PAYMENT plan, but "[e]ach Subscription has an initial, non-cancelable term of one year, subject to certain limited exceptions set forth in the Subscription Rules."

The number of "limited exceptions" seems to be one, and that is "if you are unable to use your Subscription for three consecutive months as a result of a medical condition."

Moving to an area not convenient to any Regal theaters? Too bad, pay up. [Note: That happens to be a distinct possibility in my case, something I may do a blog post on soon]

Theaters remain open but for whatever reason there just aren't enough releases in the genres you prefer to justify going to the theater the 1.x times per month that would make the subscription a savings? Too bad, pay up.

So for the first year, anyway, it's not a monthly subscription, it's an annual subscription being paid for in 12 installments.

If it was month-to-month, I'd have been signed up as of a few minutes ago.

If it was just, say, a three-month commitment, I'd probably have pulled the trigger.

But I'm not sure I want to commit to $276, even if I get to pay it in installments, and even though Regal's sole remedy for non-payment seems to be canceling the deal from their end.

I may reconsider after taking a look at the year's anticipated movie release schedule and deciding whether I trust that schedule (remember, Dune and Black Widow and the new James Bond flick have been delayed multiple times already). But given both that uncertainty and the ability to rent most new releases and have my whole family watch from home for less than the price of two tickets, I doubt that my decision will change.

1970 Album of the Week, April 23-29: I Looked Up, by The Incredible String Band

This is one of those weeks with no specifically dated 1970 album releases, so I'm filling in with a non-specifically-dated April release: The Incredible String Band's sixth studio outing, I Looked Up.

The ISB was never really very popular in the US. When their albums charted here at all, it was in the sub-150 area of the Billboard 200, while they fairly routinely broke into the top 40 on the UK Albums Chart. I Looked Up topped out at #30 in the UK and #196 in the US.

Band member Robin Williamson described I Looked Up as a "quickie" album, recorded while rehearsing for an upcoming stage show. That doesn't mean it's a bad album, though. Sometimes just whipping something out quickly gives it an extra energy. I especially like "Black Jack Davy," a take on the timeless "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" (Roud Folk Song Index song #1! Wow!).

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Bit of a Contradiction ...

A few hours ago, I saw someone arguing both of the following two points in close order:

  1. "Derek Chauvin didn't kill George Floyd, George Floyd died of coincidental heart attack or possibly a drug overdose!"
  2. "If George Floyd had just complied with Derek Chauvin's orders, he'd still be alive!"
Seems to me you kind of have to pick one of those two.

Poll (Possible New Blog Feature)

Some time ago, I flogged a possible new blog feature -- then the pandemic intervened and Regal closed all of its theaters. They're re-opening in Gainesville tomorrow and Regal Unlimited memberships are available (I'd need the "Plus" to do this at my nearest theater). Since I now have non-Tamara-dependent transportation, it looks like all systems go, but of course there's still the question of interest.

More details for the undecided:

I like to go to movies, but at $12.50 a ticket I don't go that often. With a Regal Unlimited Plus membership ($21 per month plus tax), I could see as many movies as I like.

My plan would be to see at least one movie per week (probably on Friday) and put up a spoiler-free mini-review (probably over the weekend).

Would I spend the $21 a month (plus the occasional very over-priced popcorn and soda) if I wasn't reviewing the films for you? Maybe, maybe not. Your interest or lack thereof is probably going to be the deciding factor.

So far as I can tell, the 1970 Album of the Week feature isn't that popular right here on the blog, but usually gets some Facebook and/or Twitter interest. And I like doing it. But it doesn't cost me $21 a month and a bunch of time away from home to do it. So I'd want to see more interest in this than I have to see in that (and I'm considering dropping that).

Vote your preference, and thanks!

Word PSA

retaliation, n. action taken in return for an injury or offense

A couple of headlines:

Bloomberg: Syria-Fired Missile Strikes Israel, Triggering Retaliation

US News & World Report: Syrian Missile Explodes in Area Near Israeli Nuclear Reactor, Israel Retaliates

From the US News & World Report story:

"An Israeli military spokesman identified the projectile as an SA-5 surface-to-air missile fired by Syrian forces against Israeli aircraft. He said it overflew its target to reach the Dimona area, 200 km (125 miles) south of the Syrian border. ... In public remarks on Thursday's incident, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the anti-aircraft missile was fired from Syria during an Israeli strike there against 'assets that could be used for a potential attack against Israel.'"

The Israelis weren't "retaliating" for the missile that landed near Dimona. There was no "injury or offense" by the Syrians to "retaliate" for. The Syrians were doing the retaliating, and the Israelis were punishing them for having the gall and temerity to defend themselves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Am I the Only One ...

... who puts The Smiths near the bottom of any list of important 1980s bands, and not at the bottom only because Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce actually went on to do some stuff that wasn't boring and trite after they split up and their massively over-rated singer went off to brood and gripe for decades on end?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Well, I was Wrong

I expected a hung jury in the Chauvin trial, with at least one juror buying the defense's bizarre claims as "reasonable doubt." Breaking news says there's a verdict.

What is that verdict? Guess we'll know any minute now, but I expect it to be guilty of something. Based on the evidence presented, let alone the near certainty of a city in flames if they do so (and no, I don't support that as an incentive), I don't see any way 12 jurors vote unanimously to acquit.

But I could be wrong again.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Because I am a Cheapskate ...

... I don't want to pay transaction fees to move my cryptocurrency from the wallet I use now (Coinomi) to the wallet I just installed (Edge).

It seems to me that as long as I'm using non-custodial wallets, my seed phrase and/or private keys should be usable to simply make my coin balances appear in the new wallet. In fact, I think that's exactly how it worked when I moved from Jaxx to Coinomi a long time ago.

But I've forgotten exactly how that worked, and damned if I can find an easy tutorial on it now.

Anybody got simple, easy to understand info on that?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

People in Glass Houses, Etc.

Joe Biden might acquire some standing to talk shit about the Russian regime's treatment of Alexi Navalny when and if he pardons Ross Ulbricht, withdraws the US regime's extradition request for Julian Assange, tells the US Justice Department to knock off their persecution of The Crypto 6, etc.

Until and unless he gets started on that, he's just quacking "do as we say, not as we do."

Friday, April 16, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, April 16-22: Benefit, by Jethro Tull

It seems like a lot of my picks for "1970 Albums of the Week" owe a lot, as Ian Anderson says of Benefit (released on 04/20), to things like "the pressures of an extensive U.S. tour and frustration with the music business." Not a lot of debut albums on my "of the week" list. Many were recorded in a kind of hangover period as the '60s drew to an end with lots of competition to get the next big album out, the next big tour in motion, and the next big niche or craze into the public ear.

Those pressures ended up crushing some bands and transforming others from lumps of coal to diamonds. Jethro Tull's next two albums -- Aqualung and Thick as a Brick -- fall into the indispensable category, and there are definite echose of Benefit on both.

Here's "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me":

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna at WaPo:

President Biden’s announcement of a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, is a courageous step ....

Er, no ... it's the US government reneging on its obligation -- undertaken more than a year ago by Biden's predecessor, and nearly completed by the time he took office -- to complete a full withdrawal of troops by May 1.

As I note in my latest column at the Garrison Center:

Nearly a year later, with the withdrawal nearly complete and only 2,500 US armed forces members remaining on Afghan soil, incoming President Joe Biden took the oath of inauguration and instantly began complaining that the May 1 deadline would be “hard to meet.” The claim is silly on its face. The US military is great at moving people. Eight months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Marines waded ashore at Guadalcanal. Five months after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the US had moved 697,000 troops to the theater of operations for what became Operation Desert Storm. For any competent commander, moving 2,500 troops from Point A to Point B is a weekend hobby project, not a major undertaking. All Biden had to do was give the order.
In my opinion, Biden has no intention of completing the withdrawal by September 11, either. I think he picked that specific date so that when he reneges yet again and the Taliban launch an offensive (if they don't just go ahead and do so immediately after the May 1 deadline is missed), he can try to link that offensive to the 9/11 attacks and lay some "they hate us for our FREEDUMB" bullshit on us.

An Addition to the List of Things I Might Do if I was Young and Single*

* Or had a living or romantic companion in a similar situation to split housing/bills with.

West Virginia is offering remote workers $12,000 to move there

Quick note on the details:

  • The government of West Virginia is offering the money and administering its disbursement, which would normally be a no-go thing for me ... but the actual funding comes from  "a $25 million donation from former CEO of Intuit Brad Smith and his spouse, Alys, who wanted to invest in Smith's home state."
  • You have to commit to living there for two years.
  • The money is disbursed monthly and front-loaded -- $10k the first year, $2k the second. So $833.33 per month the first year, $166.66 per month the second year. Presumably they'll go to court to recoup the first $10k if you pack up and leave after the first year.
  • "Also provided is access to coworking space, continuing education programs and a year of free passes to hiking trails, whitewater rafting, skiing and rock-climbing routes -- 'no strings attached.'" Kinda cool ...
  • Only one city, Morgantown, is included in the program at the moment, but more are to be added.
It's hard to make an apples to apples comparison with my own situation, since I have a family, etc., but let's try.

According to the AdvisorSmith Cost of Living Index, the cost of living in Morgantown is 88.5% of the national average. Gainesville is at 97.3%.

According to CNN's calculator, groceries are 19% cheaper in Morgantown and housing is 31% cheaper, and I would only need to make $16,376 per year in Morgantown to live as if I made $20,000 per year in Gainesville.

A quick look at Zillow says I could probably rent a studio or small one-bedroom apartment for $600 per month or less.

So my guess is that for the first year, that $833 a month would cover my rent, utilities, and Internet access, maybe with a little left over for groceries and entertainment. If it was one bedroom, I could stick a sofa bed in the living room and split rent with someone (or, if the relationship was romantic, forget the sofa bed), too and then the grant would be covering my groceries and the occasional meal out as well.

Of course the second year wouldn't be nearly as easy, but perhaps I could swing a deal with the landlord where I got a lease for two years and I just signed the entire check over each month, bigger payments the first year, smaller the second, but they know for sure they're getting something that averages out to $500 a month for 24 months. I'd have to fend for myself on groceries, utilities, etc., but roof over head would be taken care of.

And either way, I'd be making as much as I make now on top of the subsidy. I can do the work I do from anywhere with Internet access, and that's kind of the whole point of the program, I guess: Get people to move in and generate income that is spent in the local community, and hope they stay after the subsidy drops off.

Seeing as how I've spent months living in the desert and weeks at a time living in a tent without major physical or mental damage, I could probably do two years standing on my head in West Virginia pretty easily even if I didn't like it that much -- but in fact, it's on my list of states where I'd definitely consider living. I've only spent a little time there, but it's beautiful country and fairly cheap on the living expense end.

Alas, I'm not young and single, so if I ever do move to West Virginia it will probably not be a matter of snapping up this subsidy.

I Wonder if the Two Could Possibly be Related ...

Item #1:

Item #2:

During the CARES Act in 2020, eligible Florida unemployment recipients could receive $600 on top of Florida’s standard $275-a-week unemployment assistance, leaving some people with $875 per week. The second and third iteration of the CARES Act (the latter of which was President Joe Biden’s American Family Rescue Plan Act) slashed the federal unemployment assistance to $300 on top of the state average, leaving unemployed Floridians with $575 per week. ... If a kitchen cook or dishwasher in Santa Rosa County starts at full-time making $8.65 per week [the state's current minimum wage] at a minimum, they would make $346 per week -- well under the $575 that same cook could make sitting at home.

At the moment, if you are unemployed in Florida, you're making $14.38 an hour -- and you're not spending eight hours a day plus commute time away from home, and shelling out gas money, etc. doing stuff other people want you to do instead of what you want to do.

Given all that, it seems to me that people with IQs above 50 and without strong moral or ideological aversions to accepting "gummint benefits" wouldn't even consider applying for jobs that start at less than, say, $20 an hour.

And even at that rate, I suspect "get up early in the morning and go mess with other people's garbage" is low on most people's "wow, I'd really like to do that" list.

According to Glass Door, the average WCA driver makes $19 per hour. The "hauler/helper" jobs presumably pay even less since they don't require special driver licenses and qualifications.

Go figure.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Poor Speech Recognition or Selective Bad Bot Hearing?

I got a robocall today, from a company representing a congresscritter who isn't "mine" (Vern Buchanan, in whose district I do not live).

Naturally, the robocall posed as a "one question poll," wanting to know (everything in this post is paraphrased as I didn't record the call) if I knew that Joe Biden and the evil socialist Democrats in Congress are trying to pass a bill that would give amnesty to up to 20 million "illegal immigrants."

I answered "no" for the simple reason that I don't know that. I've heard it from some faux-"conservative" "news" sources, but that doesn't mean it's true.

The bot asked me the question again, apparently not getting my answer the first time.

Naturally, the bot did not ask me how I feel about such a bill. I'm all for it, other than the premise that immigrants require "amnesty," given that the US Constitution (Article I, Section 9; Article V; and Amendment 10) explicitly forbids the US government to regulate immigration in any way, shape, manner, or form and all laws purporting to do so are therefore void.

The "poll" being over, the bot proceeded to assert that I certainly agree with yada, yada, yada vis a vis immigration (none of which I agree with), and asked if I'd commit to making my best contribution to Buchanan's re-election campaign when they send me something in the mail.


Well, how about $20?


Great, the bot says, I'll forward you to our confirmation guy.

Which, of course, is another bot.

Can I confirm my address for them?


No problem, we'll just send out the contribution envelope to the address we have on file for you, which, by the way, is confidentially stored in a database we're forbidden to look at.

Which tells me something I hadn't known: They're renting a list that they can call to and mail to, but that they can't see. If I had "confirmed my address" for them, then it would have become part of their own list, a list they wouldn't have to pay to use in the future.

So now they're going to spend money sending me stuff that will not result in a campaign contribution, and they'll probably have to pay to rent my name, phone number, and address sight unseen again later too.

Good. I wish there was a way to get these guys to spend enough money bothering me to break them. And Buchanan.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Man Bites Dog (or, Democrats Oppose Soaking the Rich)

Back in 2018, I pointed out that Donald Trump's tax policy included the only "soak the rich" scheme that Democrats don't like: Capping the State And Local Tax (SALT) deduction.

Democrats don't want Washington soaking the rich in ways that might cause the rich to flee second soakings in their home states , e.g. moving out of New York and California to lower-tax states.

Interestingly, Joe Biden's tax proposal apparently doesn't do away with the Trump SALT cap, and now he's got a rebellion in the US House over it.

Cue world's smallest string section.

"Folk" Music, "Intellectual Property," and Bob Dylan

I'm a huge fan of Bob Dylan, and don't begrudge him one red cent of his wealth. Net worth: Probably around $800 million after the recent sale of his songwriting catalog for, allegedly, north of $300 million.

That sale did, however, start me thinking for the nth time about the relationship between "folk music" and the statist anti-concept of "intellectual property."

Trying to define "folk music" is complicated (here's the Wikipedia article on the subject), and virtually anything is contestable, but I think there's a strong case against copyright in folk music even if one accepts the idea of copyright at all. Folk is supposedly "the people's music," music that spreads and mutates through oral tradition, with no "owner" as such.

Woody Guthrie, Dylan's early idol/model/mentor, expressed a clear view on the subject (a view his publisher doesn't share):

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

Dylan's first album consisted mostly of his own arrangements of traditional folk songs, and his breakout (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)  freely co-opts tunes, themes, and lyrics from older folk songs ("Girl from the North Country" is clearly based on "Scarborough Fair" and "Bob Dylan's Dream" on "Lady Franklin's Lament;" "Talkin' World War III Blues" is a gloss on Guthrie's "talkin' blues" style; "Corrina Corrina" is a mashup of a 1928 Mississippi Sheiks tune with some Robert Johnson lyrics; "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" is an 1890s folk ditty; and "I Shall Be Free" is a re-write of a Lead Belly / Guthrie recording).

For several years -- until he went electric and scandalized the Newport Folk Festival -- Dylan wasn't just a folkie, he was the top dog folkie. He didn't make folk music big, but he made it much, much bigger ... and it made him, period.

Like I said, I'm happy that Dylan is coming up on billionaire status (and I hope he tours through my neck of the woods at least once more so I can pay to see him live a second time).

But, having made his fat stacks of cash, I wish he'd taken a cue from Guthrie and put at least some of his stuff (the "folk" stuff, say everything before Bringin' It All Back Home) in the public domain when he got ready dispose of his "intellectual property" catalog.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Zoom vs. Live Meetings: The Big Up Side

Gainesville, Florida mayor Lauren Poe tweets (above a retweet from Andrew Yang on "9 Reasons Zoom is Not Our Friend"):

I feel his pain. Yes, Zoom is a giant pain in the ass for 1) large bodies 2) making lots of decisions.

Last year, Zoom played a large role for me in two related activities.

One was serving on the Libertarian Party's platform committee, with more than 20 members, working through numerous proposals. We did that through a combination of Zoom meetings and email discussion/balloting.

The other was the Libertarian Party's national convention, which was an absolute technological nightmare despite several people doing heroic work to make it functional, and not just because of the mutiny against the party conducted by a delegate minority at the physical meeting portion of the convention.

But there's one huge up side to Zoom (and similar "online meeting" products), and that's the cost savings involved for groups made up of people scattered over wide geographic areas.

If the platform committee had had a physical meeting, 20-odd people would have been expected to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel and lodging, and to spend at least two or three days away from their homes and their "real" jobs, in order to meet for 8-16 hours.

For the national convention, expand those costs to more than a thousand delegates (of which several hundred invested that time and those expenses because they chose to, not because it was required).

Does Zoom suck? For large meetings with complex agendas, yes.

But there's a cost-benefit calculation to be made.

In the case of the platform committee, several members offered to make triple or even quadruple digit contributions to the party if we decided to not meet physically (I was one of them), and followed through on those pledges.

The party made money instead of spending money (on meeting room rental, etc.).

The committee got its work done for, almost certainly, tens of thousands of dollars less in personal expenses incurred by its members.

Yes, the meetings were more difficult and less pleasant on Zoom than in person. But I think they were also worth it.

Hopefully Zoom and other "online meeting" software will continue to improve in functionality, and hopefully thousands of organizations and their members will save millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses that can be used on things other than flying back and forth across the US to drink bad coffee and sleep in strange beds.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Look What I Got ...


Picked up the Epiphone Hummingbird a couple of hours ago.

I was planning to give up a little Bitcoin to buy it when the price went over $60k, but instead I literally bled for it -- yesterday, I got my first check for participating in the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial, and spent much of it on this.

Thanks to Maalik Simbi Makaya (bassist for The Good Voodoo, who also works at Guitar Center). He very correctly told me this was the guitar I should get when my wandering eye and tight fist started nudging me toward a cheap Telecaster clone. I'll get one of those eventually, but this is the guitar I've always wanted, pretty much (it came to less than $450; the actual Gibson would have been cooler, but would also have set me back an additional $3,000 or more, and is, IMO, not $3,000 more valuable).

Friday, April 09, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, April 9-15: Remedies, by Dr. John

The word most often associated with Dr. John seems to be "flamboyant" ("tending to attract attention because of their exuberance, confidence, and stylishness"). And the locale associated with Dr. John is, quite justifiably, almost always New Orleans -- as much for its own flamboyant influence on his flamboyance as for its obvious influence on his music.

All of that tends to distract from what a damn fine musician he was.

He was performing professionally at 13, signed as a songwriter and recording artist by Aladdin Records at 15, then as a producer at Ace Records at 16.

And all that was before he took up piano as his main instrument! Guitar was his thing, until he got shot in the ring finger at a 1960 club gig.

It was also before he did two years in federal prison on drug and brothel operation charges.

And before he became a first call session musician, part of the iconic "Wrecking Crew," in Los Angeles.

And before he came up with the idea of "Dr. John, the Night Tripper" as a one-off concept idea and ended up sticking with it for the rest of his life (before that he was Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr.).

The literally thousands of recordings he appeared on included 39 albums -- 30 studio and nine live -- of his own. If he kept a trophy shelf in his home, it boasted six Grammy awards.

Was Remedies (released on April 9, 1970) his best album? I don't know. I haven't heard all 39 of his albums. Of those I've heard, I'd have to flip a coin to choose between this one and his debut, Gris-Gris.

The feature track can't possibly be anything but "Angola Anthem," which takes up the entire second side of the vinyl version, but let's talk about that before cutting to it. Here's what David Gancher of Rolling Stone had to say about it back in the day:

Side Two consists of a 17-minute voo-doo aria called “Angola Anthem.” It is a long, meandering lyric on top of some good but aimless Afro drumming. The instrumental parts are sparse, weak, and easily lost. The lyrics, where they can be heard, do little to redeem the piece. They try to invoke the terror of living under a fascist regime in Angola, but the piece fails. And in a 17-minute piece, if you do not succeed, you really fail. Despite an occasional interesting part, the piece lacks drama, lacks words, lacks music. You can’t listen to it, and you can’t even dance to it.

 But here's what Dr. John himself had to say about it in 2012:

My managers put me in a psych ward. These guys were very bad people – I had gotten busted on a deal, and they got me bonded out of jail, and so when they did I could have got a parole violation. All of this stuff was so unconnected to music that it’s hard to relate it. A friend of mine had just come out of doing 40-something years in Angola [the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary], he was just someone special in my heart – called Tangleye. And Tangleye says, ‘I’m gonna sell you this song. Got it in Angola, but ain’t nobody ever cut this song …’ Even now guys I know getting out of Angola know this song.

The moral of the story: Never trust Rolling Stone's reviewers to know what the hell they're talking about. Apart from R.E.M.'s Murmur, I can't think offhand of an album review of theirs that's matched my own experience with a record. I mean, I'm sure there are some. I just haven't noticed them.

As for dancing to it, well, I can't really dance to anything. But if I could dance, I could find a way to dance to this.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

A Pump, with Intent to Dump

BTC is selling for about $57,800 right now.

I'm using the awesome power of my blogging presence to pump it -- bid that price up, folks!


If it hits $60k in the next 24 hours or so, I plan to spend a little (file under "Guitar, Daddy Needs a New").

The Road to Hell is Paved With Actual Belief

In the debate over "vaccine passports," I detect an implicit belief on the part of those who express outrage at comparisons of the scheme to e.g. requiring Jews to wear Star of David patches in Nazi Germany.

That implicit belief is that the Nazis didn't actually get high on their own supply -- that they were just snake oil salesmen who concocted a crazy sales pitch for the purpose of exercising power, then did so in a genocidal way because ... well, just because.

I disagree.

Oh, I'm sure there were some mere opportunistic hacks who didn't really believe in the Nazi pronouncements on race, etc., and just grasped those pronouncements as rungs up the ladder of power when they otherwise would have found different rungs. Goering, probably. Goebbels, maybe.

But so far as I can tell, others -- Hitler and Himmler, for example -- really, really, really believed their own guff. As did millions of their followers and supporters.

Ditto the early 20th century proponents of eugenics in, among other places, the US. And the early 20th century proponents of Marxism in, among other places, Russia.

And all of them, of course, loudly invoked "science" as a basis for their beliefs.

Con artists are dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as people who really, truly, honestly believe in something, and who believe that that something is so important that it must be implemented even if implementing it requires the use of state force to impose it on the unwilling.

"But they really believe it" is not a sound criterion for trusting anyone with the power to force their stated beliefs on others.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

A Fundamental Misunderstanding ...

At American Consequences, Corey McLaughlin discusses the now-iconic 2010 "Bitcoin for Pizza" incident:

[Laszlo] Hanyecz wanted to show that you could buy something with bitcoin. So one night, from his home in Jacksonville, he logged on to the BitcoinTalk message board, a place for early bitcoin enthusiasts to talk online. And he made an offer Hanyecz would give 10,000 bitcoins to anyone who would send him two large pizzas. ... 
Hanyecz got his pizzas -- two large pies with all the fixings from retail chain Papa John’s. In exchange, he sent 10,000 bitcoins (then worth about $41 in total) to a 19-year-old American named Jeremy Sturdivant. 
The obvious punchline to this story is that those pizzas turned out to cost more than $530 million.

That "obvious punchline" is simply incorrect.

At the time of the transaction, 10,000 BTC was worth a little over $40.

If you've ever found an old coin that's worth more than its face value, no, losing that dime that now sells for $10, back when it was worth ten cents, didn't "cost" its previous owner $10. It cost that previous owner ten cents.

Anything you exchange for something else could turn out to be worth more later. If your goal is to hold on to things and hope you can sell them later for more than you're paying for them now, that's a fine idea that may or may not work out for you. But right now they're worth what they're worth right now, not what they might be worth later.

Monday, April 05, 2021

I Don't Know if I'm in Love ...

... or just an obsessed stalker.

I've visited my local Guitar Center several times lately to visit this:

It's an Epiphone Hummingbird studio. $369, plus whatever they charge for one of those "if anything happens to this, we fix it or replace it" plans.

What I probably really ought to get is a solid-body electric, since I don't have a working one (my $95 Epi Les Paul II has electronics problems which I may or may not be able to fix).

But damn, I want this guitar.

As the only one of my father's sons who learned to play guitar, I was supposed to inherit his Gibson Hummingbird, but that ended up going to a nephew who richly deserved it and whose use of it ran more to Dad's liking (playing in church).

I keep visiting the store to noodle with this one, and it plays beautifully -- perfect intonation right off the rack, sweet, easy action, that definite "woody" country tone, etc. It's far nicer than what anyone could reasonably expect for the price.

I just need to figure out where the $500 or so to do it right (guitar, protection plan, and maybe a gig bag for my 20-year-old Epiphone PR-100 so that I can give this its hard case) comes from. And I think I will figure that out eventually.

How Derek Chauvin's Defense is Shaping Up

Chauvin's current defenses, as manifested in opening arguments and cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses:

  1. I didn't do what you saw me do
  2. If I did do what you saw me do, what you saw me do did not kill George Floyd.
  3. If I did do what you saw me do, and if what you saw me do did kill George Floyd, it was the crowd's fault for distracting me.

None of those defenses seem very likely to fly, so I have a couple of suggestions for changes in defense strategy.

  1. A M'Naghten "insanity" defense: I suffer from schizophrenia, and the voice in my head told me to get down on one knee RIGHT NOW and talk with Mugaga, the astral being who visits me occasionally, for nine minutes about how to bring about whirled peas.
  2. A better variant of the existing "I didn't do what you saw me do" defense: Those videos, 911 calls, etc. are all deepfakes and the supposed witnesses are all crisis actors. In reality, what happened is that we got a call about a guy who had collapsed. When I arrived, I briefly knelt down to check his pulse (there wasn't one) and someone modified the video to extend the incident from a few seconds to nine minutes, tweaked it to make it seem like Floyd was still alive and talking to me, and  green-screened in all the people yelling at me to stop killing the guy.

Maybe one of those would work.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Yes, I'm going to keep talking about whether "vaccine passports" are like past authoritarian schemes to ghettoize scapegoats. And in this post, I'm going to ask a simple question:

Does anyone arguing otherwise even remember what life was like in the United States a year ago?

Remember when many, maybe even most, Americans were told they couldn't travel outside their homes except for specific reasons and to specific places?

I do. Even in relatively liberal (COVID-speaking) Florida, my county's government listed particular reasons I could leave my home and threatened me with arrest if I did so for other reasons.

Even in relatively liberal (COVID-speaking) Florida, my state's government set up highway roadblocks at the state's borders and stationed state police in the airports, decreeing that people from other particular states could not enter Florida without being imprisoned for two weeks.

And yet, only a year later, with such restrictions STILL in place in at last some states, I'm hearing people -- even Libertarians, who have sound ideological, as well as well-known historical, reasons for opposing these schemes -- say that no, of course, AMERICAN governments would never use authoritarian schemes like "vaccine passports" to control internal travel and ghettoize scapegoats, that's just silly conspiracy theorizing and that the comparison between the current authoritarian scheme and past similar authoritarian schemes is invidious.

Friday, April 02, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, April 2-8: Burrito Deluxe, by The Flying Burrito Brothers

Wikipedia doesn't show any 1970 albums released for this week, but one of its non-exact-date April releases is the second Flying Burrito Brothers album, Burrito Deluxe. Week or month, there's no way it doesn't make top cut.

Top cut for TFBB? Not according to guitarist Bernie Leadon, who said "the stuff that we did were not Gram's best songs. ... Burrito Deluxe was recorded without any of the feeling and the intensity of the first album."

Top cut for Gram Parsons himself? Not according to me. Although I'd be hard-pressed to pick between solo albums GP or Grievous Angel, or his Byrds masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo, for my "take to a desert island" collection, any of those three would come before either of the Flying Burrito albums.

But easily top cut for April, or some part thereof, of 1970. Parsons on a bad day disposed of about a hundred times as much "feeling and intensity" -- not to mention pure talent -- as most musicians, and the rest of the band had plenty to brag about themselves in those areas.

Of course, the pick track here -- and it's just flat no contest, even with a Bob Dylan song also appearing on the album -- isn't, supposedly, by any of them. It's officially by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. But I suspect Parsons deserves some co-writing credit -- he spent a lot of time hanging out with Richards between his Byrds and Burritos work and Jagger says of the song "I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons ..." And it sounds like Cosmic American, not Cosmic British, Music.

It is, of course, "Wild Horses," and The Flying Burrito Brothers released their version more than a year before it appeared on the Stones' Sticky Fingers:

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Thanks For Asking! -- 04/01/21

Time for the first post of April and the 100th post of 2021 -- the monthly "Ask Me Anything" thread! Interrogate me in the comments below this post while I sweat profusely beneath the single swinging light bulb, beg for water and cigarettes, and tell you anything I think you want to hear in the comments or in some other venue/format (with link from comments).