Thursday, September 30, 2021

I'll Take "Things That Don't Actually Exist" for $500, Alex

What is a "must pass bill?"

This One Weird Trick for Getting Free Audio Editions of Your Favorite E-Books

"Alexa, read Cryptonomicon from my Kindle library."

It's not a hidden feature or anything, and it's far from perfect, but I hardly ever hear it mentioned. So I'm mentioning it.

Some of the down sides:

  • Depending on formatting (it doesn't seem to happen with every e-book), you may end up listening to Alexa read long tables of contents, etc.
  • Don't count on it to reproduce the proper meter/scansion/rhythm/emphasis in poetry.
  • Inline footnotes get read, which tends to interrupt the actual work (I have an e-edition of Dante's Divine Comedy which seems to be mostly footnotes).
  • There are going to be occasional mispronunciations, e.g. /laɪv/ when "lives" should be /lɪv/. But not as often as one might expect. It does a fair job.
  • I was disappointed when I said "Alexa, ask Samuel L. Jackson to read Moby Dick from my Kindle library," and Jackson's voice only introduced the book before it reverted to the default Alexa voice. I could really dig having Samuel L. Jackson read some of my favorites.
  • So far as I can tell, there's no way to navigate by voice command, e.g. "Alexa, go back one page," or "Alexa, start reading at page 43." Since I usually have Alexa read me to sleep when I have "her" read to me at all, I have to get on my Kindle or the computer app and navigate to the place I want her to re-start at.
  • Captain Obvious reminded me to tell you that you have to have the book in Amazon Kindle format. Alexa's not going to read a paperback to you.
The BIG up side is that if you have an Echo Dot (or other Alexa-enabled device), and if you've already bought the Kindle version of a book, you don't have to pay extra to get an audio version from Audible or Chirp.

For straight modern fiction without a bunch of footnotes, it works quite well. The default Alexa voice is pleasant, and the reading pace/speed is reasonable -- not so fast that you can't understand it, not so slow that things drag.

You're welcome.

Well, SOMEONE Should Be Prosecuted ...

... and his name is Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo is whining that sources for a Yahoo! News story should face criminal prosecution.

What's that story about? Pompeo's participation (definitely as a, if not the, ringleader) in a criminal  conspiracy to abduct and/or murder a journalist.

Pompeo "makes no apologies" for his crimes. That absence of remorse should be taken into account at sentencing when and if he's brought to justice.

Speaking of which, given that the abduction part has happened, and that it happened in the United Kingdom, which is party to the Rome Statute, that brings the matter (and the matter's participants, wherever they may hail from or be at the moment) under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Assange's abduction, as a criminal conspiracy to conceal, and/or intimidate those who expose, war crimes, is itself a war crime.

Personally, I'd be happy to donate to a private bounty fund to finance the capture. and extradition to the Hague, of Pompeo and his co-conspirators.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

How Much Do I Love and Appreciate My Readers?

A lot. Really. There are never as many of you as I wish there were, but there have always been enough to make it feel worth my time to bother posting here, for 17 years now, and y'all seem like pretty quality people. Thanks to all of you.

In fact, I love and appreciate all of you so much that I would never dream of pulling some kind of stupid stunt like putting up a "How Much Do I Love and Appreciate My Readers?" post just to make up for some earlier-in-the-month laziness that's got me close to missing my "one post per day" quota for the month. 

People who do things like that really bother me, and I wouldn't want to be one of them, mostly because of how much I truly love and appreciate my readers. And to prove it, here's some actual content:


Thanks to some of you, I've made it past 15 referrals to the free Morning Brew newsletter, and now they're sending me a free mug so that I have something to drink coffee out of. I've always wanted to have something to drink coffee out of.

I also like pants, and I think I'm either one or two referrals away (that's a "just this week" thing) from getting a free pair of those (also, eight referrals away from a free t-shirt, 33 referrals away from a free pair of pint glasses, 83 referrals away from a free sweater, and 983 referrals away from a free "work from home makeover," whatever that is), so if you haven't signed up yet, please do.


Morning Brew is, as mentioned many times, free. It's a fun little morning email (only one message per day) with some business highlights (including the price of Bitcoin), fun-but-not-as-wild-as-Fark news items, games/puzzles, etc.. Like COVID-19, they have optional variants (for specific business sectors like Emerging Tech, Retail, Marketing, etc.), too.

I want those pants. I want that t-shirt. I want to find out what a "work from home makeover" is. So pretty please with sugar on top


and help me get there.

Have a wonderful evening, basking in the certain knowledge that I would never waste your time with throwaway posts just to meet a quota or score free merch.

For a Minute There, I Thought Maybe They Got My Memo ...

The Hill: "Progressive Democrats seek to purge the term 'moderate'

As I've pointed out many times (most recently here), there's no such thing as a "moderate" in Congress, any more than in the Ku Klux Klan or the Weather Underground. Such organizations by definition select for extremism.

But no, that's not what's going on here. It's just so-called "progressives" calling out "centrists" as "conservatives."

NFL Picks: Holding My Own ... Sort Of

In week one of FiveThirtyEights's NFL forecasting game, I picked 11 of 16 NFL matches correctly, racking up 69.9 points and establishing myself at 62nd place (99th percentile) out of 4,764 players. FiveThirtyEight's own model picked six games correctly and scored -36.3 points.

Last week, I again picked 11 of 16 games correctly, but scored only 66.6 points and fell to 98th percentile and 93rd place out of 5,654 players. FiveThirtyEight picked nine games correctly and scored 40.8 points.

This week, I picked 11 of 16 games correctly for the third week in a row, scoring 88.3 points and maintaining my 98th percentile performance, but falling to 132nd place from among 6,231 players. FiveThirtyEight's model seems to be adapting well to whatever reality it measures. The model picked 10 games correctly and put up 68.7 points.

Naturally, the biggest hit I took was on the Kansas City Chiefs. I gave them a 93% chance of beating the San Diego Chargers. Their loss cost me 61.5 points. FiveThirtyEight also blew that pick, but only lost 31.2 points as they set KC's chance of winning at 75%. That was the model's worst outcome as well.

Of course, FiveThirtyEight is betting its data-driven model, while when it comes to the Chiefs I'm betting my religion. So I think I've got a better excuse where they're concerned.

The picks that I got right and FiveThirtyEight got wrong: I picked Green Bay to beat San Francisco and Cincinnati to beat Pittsburgh.

The single pick that FiveThirtyEight got right and I got wrong was the Washington Whatchamacallits to beat Buffalo.  But I bet small on Washington and only lost two points. FiveThirtyEight bet big on Buffalo and won 22.8 points.

I did change one pick last week, before the games were played. I initially followed my "never bet against Tom Brady unless he's playing against Patrick Mahomes" rule and picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the Los Angeles Rams. Then I happened to notice a news article mentioning three positive COVID tests on the Tampa squad that might result in players missing the game. Adding that to the Rams beating Tampa Bay last year, I went for the Rams with a 53% chance of winning, and of course they did.

ADDENDUM: I'm changing my strategy this week, and that change is: BIG bets. A big bet wins more points if I'm right, but loses a LOT more points if I'm wrong. So far I'm right more often than I'm wrong, so I'm going big where I'm sure or where my religious beliefs mandate. Among the big ones, I've got four 100% bets in -- the Bills to beat the Texans, the Buccaneers to beat the Patriots, the Packers to beat the Steelers, and of course the Chiefs to beat the Eagles. Each of those bets will knock down 25 points if I'm right and lose me 75 points if I'm wrong. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

One of My Few Strengths is Also One of My Many Defects

I don't panic. At least, I don't recall panicking, ever, in my adult life.

As a kid, yes. I could get scared and freak out and get stupid quite easily. For example, I once ran into a strand of barbed wire, 1/8th of an inch below eye level, when it was getting dark and I didn't really know the terrain I was running across very well. I was maybe eight or nine, and I thought I was going to die. I screamed in panic all the way to the ER, although I did calm down for the 80-odd stitches required to sew my face and ear back together, because that was, well, interesting.

When I joined the Marine Corps, but before I went to boot camp, it occurred to me that there was one particular fear I was simply going to have conquer: Heights. Get me more than about 10 feet off the ground without walls around me, and I simply panicked and had to get the fuck down.

It also occurred to me that it would be better to conquer it before getting to boot camp instead of freezing up or freaking out on e.g. the "confidence course," where I'd be expected to go down the "slide for life," a diagonal rope, face first for a bit before kicking around, from 50 feet up (some recruits in my platoon did freeze up or freak out; I got an interesting story out of the deal, but it was a victorious one instead).

So, the spring before boot camp, I climbed a tower. It was one of those conservation "fire watch" towers in a nearby state forest.

I started going out to that tower almost every night and climbing the stairs, in the dark, as high as I could stand to go before I had to get the fuck down.

Over time, I managed to climb higher and higher, until one night I reached the top accessible part of the tower (there was a little cabin on top, but it was padlocked when the tower wasn't manned, which seemed to be all the time).

Then I started doing it during the daylight hours.

It probably took me a month of going out there nearly every day to get to where I could climb the stairs all the way to the top, in daylight, and look down without freaking out, hyperventilating, and having to get the fuck down. I was still scared. But I wasn't panicked any more.

And that ability to suppress panic took. For heights -- I've climbed and rappelled off 120-foot cliff faces, rappelled out of helicopters, etc. without losing my shit -- and for, so far as I can tell, everything else. 

I've been shot at, and kept my cool. I've had what I plausibly believed might be a suicide truck bomb driver coming directly toward me, and kept my cool. I've had stuff blow up near me that wasn't supposed to blow up near me, and kept my cool. I've accidentally sliced my leg wide open, requiring (IIRC) 17 staples to close, and kept my cool. And so on, and so forth.

I think not panicking is a strength.

But it's also a defect.

Why? Because somewhere along that line I lost a certain amount of capacity for understanding or empathizing with other people when they panic.

I have (literally) put out fires, etc. because I kept my head, acting while other people within a few feet of me were still milling around freaking out. And I've felt anger toward them, when I should have simply understood that not everyone has had experiences which required, or led to, mastery of panic.

As you may have noticed, there's been a lot of panic this last 18 months. And my response to that panic, where I've encountered it on an individual basis, has not always been helpful. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better in the future.

Because Really, Wouldn't You Rather I Wore Pants?

I woke up this morning thinking about inflation, which quickly led to me thinking about pants.

Why did I wake up thinking about inflation?

Well, because I think about inflation a lot lately. Prices seem to be going up faster than the "official inflation statistics" of "worrisome" rates of 5%-ish indicate. Unsurprising:

In the last 18 months, the US “M2” money supply (coin currency, physical paper, central bank reserves, demand deposits, travelers’ checks, savings deposits and money market shares) has increased from about $15.4 trillion to nearly $20.4 trillion.

That’s a 24% increase, annualizing to an inflation rate of about 16% — if production of goods and services kept up. But it didn’t. US Gross Domestic Product dropped from more than $21.4 trillion in 2019 to less than $20.1 trillion in 2020.

Why did this lead to thinking about pants?

Well, because on of the things I purchase on a fairly regular basis, online via Amazon (making it easy to go see what I paid for it and when), is Thai fisherman pants.

I own a pair of jeans, a couple of suits, a few pairs of shorts, and a pair of swim trunks, but mainly, on a daily basis, I wear Thai fisherman pants. They're light, they're comfortable, they accommodate my weight swings ... and when I first started buying them a few years ago, they were cheap.

The first pair I ordered, in 2017, came to $8.70. Those were plain black ones. Later, I started getting more gaily colored ones, but no real price difference seemed to obtain.

Last September, I purchased a pair of red RaanPahMuang brand pants. Price: $8.99.

This May, I purchased a pair of purple RaanPahMuang brand pants. Price: $8.99.

Current price for that brand in red (purple seems to be out of stock) (not an affiliate link): $26.79.

It's not just that brand or that color or that size. All Thai fisherman pants seem to have doubled or tripled in price over the last few months.

Of course, not all of the increase is necessarily due to monetary inflation. There could be supply chain problems, etc. keeping supply down, tariffs pushing prices up, etc.

But I'm starting to worry that I may have to abandon Thai fisherman pants for something cheaper. The one down side to those particular pants is that they tend to last maybe a year (given the frequency with which I wear them) before hems start to fray, pockets start to tear, and already thin fabric starts to become sheer. Basically, I order a new pair every 3-4 months and throw an old pair (one I've been wearing only around the house so as to avoid arrest) away when the new pair arrives. I try to keep seven wearable pairs on hand.

Why am I boring you with all this?

Well, because I'm two referrals (to a free daily email newsletter chock full of good information and fun stuff) away from getting a free Morning Brew coffee cup.

But more importantly, if I refer five new subscribers this week, I get ... you guessed it ... a free pair of ("jogger") pants!

You wouldn't want to see me wandering around without pants, would you? Please subscribe to Morning Brew (that is an affiliate link) today!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Yes, "Wokeness" is Compatible with Libertarianism ...

... just like, and to the same extent as, any other form of bigotry is.

Which is: Until and unless you use it to justify the initiation of force.

And whether "wokeness" or any other form of bigotry is compatible with libertarianism is a different question from whether "woke" bigots or other kinds of bigots are assets to a libertarian movement.

I'm Surprised There Are Any Left

"Social media influencers" -- including popular YouTubers, famous TikTokers, etc. -- that is.

Headlines-in-my-inbox-wise, it feels like at least four or five of them die -- fall off cliffs while taking selfies, get shot in theaters, crash their cars, etc. -- every day.

At this point, if they had all lived in Brooklyn, the borough would have been completely depopulated by now.

Not that I wish them gone, mind you. I'm just weirded out that there are so many of them.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Yang, Key Doodle

As you may or may not have noticed, Andrew Yang's next big project is forming a new political party, the Forward Party. Announcement, of course, leaked from his forthcoming book, Forward (not an affiliate link).

The party's six planks (according to Dave Weigel) include one that I half-support and half-oppose (ranked-choice voting and open primaries), one that I oppose ("Universal Basic Income"), and four that are just gooey hints at kinder, gentler technocracy rather than actual policy positions.

It also sounds like the Forward Party will be set up to embrace non-exclusive membership and possibly endorse or cross-nominate candidates of other parties, like, say, the Working Families Party in New York, or the old Boston Tea Party, founded by some guy whose name escapes me at the moment.

As a long-time third party activist and founder of a third party, not to mention an ideologue, I expect to have some opinions on it.

I haven't pre-ordered the book (it comes out on October 5), and probably won't spend the money on it at full price ($14.99 Kindle, $25.20 hardback). Like most political books, I figure that within six months it will be on frequent $1.99 (if not "free") sale in Kindle format, and crowding every other title off the shelves of Dollar Tree in hardback.

But just in case one of you would like to see it reviewed ASAP, I've put it on my Amazon Wish List. If someone grabs it for me, I'll move it to the top of my reading list and share my thoughts on it within a week or so of getting it. 

I've included both Kindle and hardcover editions on the wish list. I'd prefer the Kindle version, and not just because it's cheaper (I can keep it open on one monitor to consult while reviewing on the other, I'm trying to get rid of paper books rather than accruing more, etc.), but if someone has a religious objection to Kindle or something, they're covered.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Happy Birthday to KN@PPSTER

This post is scheduled to go up 17 years to the minute (although I'm not sure if time zone differentials are accounted for) from the time/date of my first post at this blog.

Fortunately, the blog is not old enough to vote. Yet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

One Word: Plastics

One day several years ago I got in the shower and noticed that someone in the household had purchased a new-fangled kind of body wash that was ... well, scrubby. It had tiny little beads made out of plastic in it.

The first thing I thought was that that sounded like it might be a pretty good exfoliating kind of thing.

The second thing I thought was "in what universe do those tiny little pieces of plastic not go down the drain, out through sewage treatment, etc., into the food chain and end up back in my intestinal tract?"

And then I pretty much forgot about it until something caught my attention the other day -- I don't remember exactly what -- and kept niggling at me until I did a little Googling, and voila:

[A 2019] study, "Human Consumption of Microplastics,” looked at the presence of microplastics in fish, shellfish, sugars, salt, honey, sugar, beer and bottled water, as well as air intake. Microplastics refers to tiny pieces of plastic that range from a single nanometer to about five millimeters. Sources include primary microplastics that are manufactured as microbes, capsules, fibers and pellets used in cosmetics, personal care products, abrasives and textiles. ... Researchers evaluated about 15 percent of American's caloric intake and estimated that annual microplastic consumption ranges from 29,000 to 52,000 particles, depending on age and sex. The estimates increased to 74,000 to 121,000 particles when inhalation was considered. Further, the researchers said individuals who meet their recommended water intake through bottled water alone could be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 for those who drink only tap water.

And that's when a third thing occurred to me:

I'm not likely to ever make the short list for a Nobel in any of the sciences. If I understood what was going to happen within a minute of first noticing the damn things, is there any chance whatsoever that the people who created and deployed them hadn't figured it out long before they put those products on the market?

Anyone want to suggest an over/under on when we'll start seeing "if you have blah-blah-blah cancer-stuff that may have resulted from ingestion of microplastics, call 1-800-AMBULANCE-CHASERS -- you may be entitled to compensation!" ads on TV?

NFL Picks: Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen ...

Last week, I picked 11 of 16 NFL matches correctly, racking up 69.9 points and establishing myself at 62nd place (99th percentile) out of 4,764 players in FiveThirtyEight's NFL forecasting game. FiveThirtyEight's own model failed miserably, weighing in at negative 36.3 points.

This week, the wheels came off --  I only scored 66.6 points, falling to 98th percentile and 93rd place out of 5,654 players.

I am humiliated and discredited.


Once again, I predicted 11 of 16 outcomes correctly. My big fail was going heavy on the Kansas City Chiefs, giving them an 83% chance of beating the Baltimore Ravens. Their one-point loss to the Ravens cost me 43.9 points. If I had picked the Ravens by even a little bit, I'd have stood a good chance of ascending into the top 10 predictors.

I did outperform FiveThirtyEight's model again, though, just not by nearly as much. That model only picked 9 games correctly. It picked six incorrectly, and set the odds for Buffalo vs. Miami at 50/50. On points, it did much better than last week's fiasco, with 40.8.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

I've Been NOTICING that THIS is a THING!!!

Putting a few words in ALL CAPS in, and dropping multiple exclamation marks at the end of, headlines, that is.

I guess it's supposed to make me think the story must be exciting so I'll mash the mouse button on that link.

But usually the story isn't especially exciting after I do.

Really, referencing totally nude olive oil wrestling, even if there's none in the story, seems like it might be more effective.

But hell, what do I know about that one weird trick, and then THIS happened?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Maybe I Have a Future as an NFL Odds Picker!

I'm playing FiveThirtyEight's NFL forecasting game.

In week #1 results, I racked up 69.9 points for my predictions (better than 99% of players -- 62nd place out of 4,764 players), while FiveThirtyEight's model came in at -36.3 points. I picked 11 of the 16 outcomes correctly. FiveThirtyEight picked six. Each of the games that I blew, FiveThirtyEight blew as well. But they blew twice as many as I did.

Unfortunately, I don't really have a model. I just went with my gut. But hey, if it keeps working, I'll stick with it!

A Couple of Matrix Theories

Matrix Theory #1: Christopher Nolan's sophomore outing, Memento (not an affiliate link), is a Matrix prequel. Trinity and Cypher are there (as is Hugo Carlaw, a Realist fighter from Existenz -- another cross-world tie-in!), presumably to help Leonard escape the Matrix (his inability to form new memories is obviously some sort of rejection phenomenon in which his brain can't accept and assimilate to the simulated reality).

Matrix Theory #2: The John Wick (not an affiliate link) films cover Neo during the time between the third and fourth Matrix films. After his duel with Agent Smith, he didn't die. He was plugged back in -- not into the Matrix, but into a new prototype Matrix, with his memory wiped, and used as an agent by the Source ... until his retirement and the subsequent triggering event that turned him back into Neo, only Neo without Neo's memories. Morpheus is there too, as the Bowery King, perhaps having undergone some similar type of experience.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

I Don't Really Have a California Recall Prediction

The polls seem to say Gavin Newsom won't be recalled.

But, then, the polls have been moving for a little while to get where they are, and I'm pretty sure early voting started before the biggest shift.

And I'm not sure the polling captures the enthusiasm factor -- that is, how many Republicans are really motivated to vote to recall him versus how many Democrats are in "meh, not really for it, but maybe I'll bother to vote against it, or maybe I'll mow the yard and binge Portlandia again instead" territory.

I'll be mildly surprised if the recall succeeds. But not gobsmacked.

Here's the prediction I do have for you:

If the recall succeeds and Larry Elder becomes governor (he looks like a lock as replacement if the recall passes), he won't be re-elected and there will be an all-out and probably successful effort to get rid of the recall mechanism. He's neither as popular nor as "moderate" as Ahhhhhnold.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez IS "the Rich"

The AOC legend goes something like this: Working class Bronx native, bartender, elected to Congress on "progressive" values of aiding the poor, etc.

The legend always was a legend, mind you. She's actually the daughter of an architect, who grew up in suburban Yorktown Heights (median family income of $137,580 versus the US median family income of $68,703) and interned for US Senator Ted Kennedy while in college.

But she still tries to pull the "working class woman" schtick, even calling herself that in an interview at Monday night's Met Gala where she showed off a custom-designed white dress with "Tax The Rich" emblazoned in red across the back.

As a member of Congress, AOC knocks down a measly $174,000 a year (versus US median personal income of $35,977). Yet somehow she was able to spend an evening out with a ticket price of only slightly less than that median personal income -- $35,000.

Now, she either bought that ticket, or someone bought it for, or gave it to, her.

If she bought it, she either thinks an awful lot of that particular event to spend 20% of her annual pre-tax salary on it, or she has income sources that aren't general public knowledge.

If someone bought it for, or gave it to, her, what do they expect to get in return for the bribe?

And either way, she's clearly one of "the rich" whether her declared income indicates it or not. Lots of very wealthy CEOs take salaries of a dollar a year. You can tell they're wealthy because of the Met Gala tickets, yachts, etc.

Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson: An Attempt to Do Justice with a Spoiler-Free Review

As mentioned in a recent post, I was one of the Very Special Important People who lucked into an advance reader's copy of Neal Stephenson's forthcoming novel (available November 16), Termination Shock (not an affiliate link -- I won't belabor that further, none of the Amazon links in this review are affiliate links).

So far as I can tell, there were no strings attached to the freebie. I wasn't required, for example, to commit to reviewing the book positively, or for that matter at all. Since you guys know that when I don't like something I either say I don't like it and why, or else just go with "if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing" (my usual practice with review copies of books), you should have already figured out that I like it. A lot.

A TL;DR for those of you who are going to read the book no matter what I say: If you loved Cryptonomicon, you are going to at least like, and probably love, Termination Shock. [Note: If you don't love Cryptonomicon, there's something wrong with you; if you haven't read it, I strongly suggest doing so between now and November 16).

The long version:

Stephenson's work covers a lot of ground (including, in Anathem, faraway planets, and in e.g. Snow Crash and Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, worlds located partly or entirely inside computers), and a lot of time (from the 13th century in the Mongoliad series to the 17th century in the multi-volume System of the World, to World War 2 and the late 20th century in Cryptonomicon, to futures ranging from the day after tomorrow to presumably far, far away as in e.g. The Diamond Age).

Why do I specifically class Termination Shock with Cryptonomicon? Two reasons:

  1. Although the events in the novel take place in one time setting as opposed to two, and although that time setting is not current day, it's close enough to current day for most of the setting to be very recognizable. Social media are still a phone/computer thing, not a cerebral implant thing. People are still hung up on memes and influencers. COVID has become basically an endemic inconvenience, but it's still around. And anthropogenic climate change -- which I understand some of my readers don't really buy into -- has continued on the current "consensus" course, raising temperatures, playing hob with weather, and most of all (key to the novel) raising sea level.
  2. The characters are not Waterhouses and Shaftoes and Hacklhebers and Kivistiks, but you can see all that literary DNA in various aspects of the dramatis personnae.
Let's start with the characters. Just a few of them, since you know Stephenson 

There's a reigning European monarch, from a country (the Netherlands) with a big stake in the rising sea level thing, who develops a relationship with a non-royal but very influential family from another place with a similar stake (Venice). 

There's a retired-US-Army African-American-Comanche dude, from a simultaneously very pragmatic and potentially hell-raising extended family and friend circle (in other words, Shaftoes in everything but name), who brings an Ahab-like obsession to his specialty, which happens to be wild pig mitigation (for tragic reasons).

There's a Dutch eurocrat/bureaucrat of cosmopolitan/colonial ancestry (pre-World-War-II Indonesia).

There's a Canadian son of immigrants who, for various reasons, decides to get very, very, very much in touch with his Sikh origins, especially on the martial arts count.

Those are the main viewpoint characters.

There's also a not exactly inscrutable, but definitely ubiquitous and involved, Chinese operative who, other than offering no evidence of being immortal, sports an unmistakable Enoch Root aura.

And there's a Texas oil billionaire with a big idea for cooling the planet and a ... let's say cavalier ... attitude toward political obstacles to implementing that idea, and the possible political consequences of doing so.

Plus a cast of dozens, all of them interesting but not interesting enough that I'm willing to turn this book review into a book to include them.

Speaking of Stephenson covering ground, this story plays out everywhere from Texas to Washington (state) to Canada to the Netherlands to Venice to Albania to Saudi Arabia to the Punjab to the Line of Actual Control (look that up if you want; it's interesting; I'll wait) to Indonesia and points in between.

There's intrigue. There's violence. There's science (duh). There's sex and romance (mostly less emphasized/problematic than in Cryptonomicon). There's political intrigue, of course, but of types that advance rather than bog down the story. There are wild hogs and rogue waves and meth gators and trained eagles and drones and one of the largest moving structures on Earth.

Most of all, there's story.

Stephenson delivers. Again. I mean, he always does, but Termination Shock weighs on the heavier end of the Stephenson scale in terms of carrying the reader along on a bumpy, but never boring and always believable in spite of its facial unbelievability, ride.

I'm not going to try to tell you that this is his best novel, because I don't know that it is. He's written so much that's so great that trying to rank his works is a fool's errand. And different readers like different plots, themes, and milieus. But I'd personally put it in his top five (along with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, the System of the World cycle, and maybe Anathem, a list which reflects absolutely nothing more than my personal "wowser!" reactions in chronological order of publication, not anything I'd try to pass off as an objective evaluation system).


Monday, September 13, 2021

Hear That, Mr. Anderson? That is the Sound of Inevitability ...

The story of my life:

  1. I find an online service that works for me. It does what I need it to do. Maybe not perfectly, but at least passably and probably well, and it's either "free" or the price is right.
  2. I use it. I like it. I get used to it.
  3. I receive an email with EXCITING NEWS!!!
  4. Shortly thereafter, things start changing. They don't work as well as they used to.
  5. Shortly after that, the price goes up.
  6. After a bunch of tedious fucking around, see Step 1.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Well, That's Kind of Dumb ...


If Facebook is going to enforce its guidelines -- like, say, banning me for 24 hours for "inciting violence" by posting a YouTube clip from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle* -- why doesn't it let everyone (or at least everyone who views my profile) know, not just me?

That way, they'd be giving other prospective evildoers a warning about the wages of Facebook sin, and letting my friends know why I'm not responding to their comments.


Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Late Adopter, Later Aficionado

My Twitter profile says that I joined in December of 2007, nine months after what Wikipedia characterizes as "the tipping point for Twitter's popularity" -- the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive conference. Even at that point, I confess that I expected it to be a flash in the pan and gone Real Soon Now.

Since then, I've mostly used it as a way to flog my blog posts and Garrison Center columns, run an automated real-time edition of Rational Review News Digest on the platform, etc. To start/participate in extended conversations, I've tended to stick with Facebook.

I'm not sure what triggered the recent change, but lately I'm making time at least once a day to dip into the Twitter river, find something interesting that's not necessarily from my "friends I know and follow closely anyway" circle, and maybe get in a conversation about it. And hey, it turns out to be pretty fun.

I have a feeling that the discipline imposed by the length constraint may also improve my op-ed writing chops, which would be a nice fringe benefit.

On the other hand, I may get tired of it and go back to paying little attention. I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

I was Kind of Expecting Things to Go in the Opposite Direction

Regarding the day's cryptocurrency "flash crash," I'm interested in what the cause was (apparently a bunch of "whales" decided to sell off?) and whether it was some kind of collusive market manipulation play ("our sell-off will ignite a bigger one and then we can buy the dip we caused"), or just a massively coincidental "it's at $50k, good time to sell some ... oh, shit, broke something there" moment. My Spidey sense says the former, but but my Spidey sense tends toward undue suspicion and I'm just not well-informed enough to say for sure.

On the up side, I'm not big on legal tender laws for obvious reasons. On the other hand:

Friday, September 03, 2021

Concerning SCOTUS and the Weird Texas Abortion Law

A whole lot of people have their undies in bunches over the Supreme Court not immediately quashing Texas's "anyone can sue anyone who has anything to do with an abortion" law in its handling of Whole Women's Health v. Jackson.

Those people should calm down. Or, rather, if they're concerned about the availability of abortion in Texas, they shouldn't necessarily calm down about that, but they should calm down on the idea that the court just overturned Roe v. Wade and needs to be packed to produce the "right" result or whatever.

The ruling was procedural.

Some high points of that ruling:

The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden. For example, federal courts enjoy the power to enjoin individuals tasked with enforcing laws, not the laws themselves. ...  it is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention. ... The State has represented that neither it nor its executive employees possess the authority to enforce the Texas law either directly or indirectly. Nor is it clear whether, under existing precedent, this Court can issue an injunction against state judges asked to decide a lawsuit under Texas’s law. ... Finally, the sole private-citizen respondent before us has filed an affidavit stating that he has no present intention to enforce the law.

How many times have you heard of a court rejecting a case over "standing" -- the idea that the plaintiff needs to be someone involved and subjected to, or threatened with, some harm that said plaintiff claims is unconstitutional?

This is the flip side of the "standing" coin. You can't just assert the harm, you have to name a defendant who is causing or threatening to cause the harm, so that SCOTUS can tell that defendant to knock it off (or not).

If I think the Constitution guarantees me free ice cream, I don't get to just go to the Supreme Court and expect them to serve me a hot fudge sundae. I have to assert that the counter person at Dairy Queen denied, or threatened to deny, me my free sundae and that they should order him to hand it over pronto.

Whole Women's Health, in the SCOTUS majority's view, didn't convincingly name anyone who was suing, or threatening to sue, them under the new Texas law. And even if they had, it also seems that the SCOTUS majority believes such a suit just might need to work its way through the Texas courts before even getting to SCOTUS on appeal.

More from the ruling:

[W]e stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.

Which doesn't mean that SCOTUS won't overturn Roe when a case with its procedural ducks in a row reaches them. That remains to be seen. This ruling was a matter of "you don't have your shit together, and the whole thing is weird enough that we're not even sure it's possible at this time for you to get your shit together. But feel free to try again later."

Thursday, September 02, 2021

That Sounds Like a LOT of Litigation ...

 Under the new Texas "fetal heartbeat law":

Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who .... knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.

If I sell cars or build roads (or, as a legislator, appropriate money for those roads), I can't help but know that some people are going to drive down those roads in those cars to get, or perform, abortions. And now I'm personally on the hook for $10k in civil damages for facilitating every abortion involving any car I sell or any road I build (or that is funded by a legislature I'm a member of).

Most appointments for abortions are presumably scheduled, or at least confirmed, via phone, email, or web interface. Doesn't look too good for ISPs and other telecommunications companies, does it?

And God help the people who sell those comfy shoes healthcare workers tend to buy so their feet don't ache after a whole day of standing up performing abortions.

I have to say, I'm not sure the legislature thought this through too well.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

I Am Such a Very Special Important Person ...

... that a package arrived on my porch yesterday.

The package contained an "advance reader's copy" of Neal Stephenson's forthcoming novel, Termination Shock. Which you not so very special unimportant people can pre-order (not an affiliate link) if you like, and get on November 16.

Me and Neal, we're tight, see?

OK, so actually I just belong to an email list (I think I've mentioned this before) where I'm occasionally offered free books, if I get my name in quickly enough or win a drawing or whatever.

I'm experiencing a bit of trepidation. I've read most of Stephenson's novels, and I've loved every one of them I've read. He's definitely on my Top Five Favorite Authors of All Time list, which has a rotating membership of (probably) less than ten.

But this "sweeping, prescient new novel transports readers to a near-future world in which the greenhouse effect has inexorably resulted in a whirling-dervish troposphere of superstorms, rising sea levels, global flooding, merciless heat waves, and virulent, deadly pandemics."

Kim Stanley Robinson used to be a charter member of the rotating (probably) less than ten. Then came Antarctica (not an affiliate link) which I found ... underwhelming. Not bad, just ... meh. It also has an environmental theme.

Nothing against environmental themes. I'm just more of a The Monkey Wrench Gang / Hayduke Lives! (not affiliate links) type than a near-future enviro-novel type.

But then, I can think of one near-future enviro-novel that I liked a lot: Zodiac (not an affiliate link), by ... Neal Stephenson.

So maybe I shouldn't worry so much.

I'll try to get this thing read before November 16 and tell you what I think.

First World Problems ...

I usually leave my cell phone on the bedside table. That's where the charger is, and it also keeps the phone 50 feet or so from me while I'm at my desk working, so that I'm not distracted by every bing and bong the damn thing makes to let me know there's a sale at Amazon or someone replied to me on Twitter or sent me a Facebook message (Twitter and Facebook are almost always open on my desktop anyway).

The down sides:

  1. If it rings, and if I hear it ring, I have to dash 50 feet across the house to find out whether someone's really trying to call me, or whether it's just "the warranty center" calling to let me know that the warranty I don't have on the car I don't own is about to expire, etc.
  2. Some people insist on texting me at my actual phone number, rather than at the Google Voice number I usually give out. Texts to Google Voice come to my email, which is also always open and glanced at every few minutes. Texts to my actual number don't.
There are respects in which I miss the days when someone who wanted to get in touch with me had to hope that I was home and that my phone line wasn't busy, or else physically come over or put a stamp on an envelope.

Update: Got My Platform Boots On ...

With Chris Rose as chair (and workhorse), the Libertarian Party of Florida's 2022 platform committee (Chris, vice-chair Omar Recuero, myself, Jonathan Loesche, and Josh Hlavka) are working through the platform (not necessarily in plank order) to produce a good set of suggestions for the delegates at next year's convention.

I can't speak for anyone else on the committee, but my goals include:

  1. Getting similar subjects into the same planks;
  2. Imposing rational order within those planks (e.g. right to trial by jury would logically precede the right of juries to nullify bad laws in those trials);
  3. Reducing references to transient court rulings, statutes, etc. in favor of general principles;
  4.  Improving the writing and making the writing uniform with respect to spelling, grammar, and style;
  5. Brevity within reason (that is, not using 50 words where five words are sufficient).
LPF members can follow our deliberations in real time in a sub-channel of LPF's Discord channel.

Anyone who'd like to see the recommendations we've actually passed, in situ in the existing platform, can look at this Google Doc.

I'm always looking for advice, so fire away in the comments if you have any.

Thanks For Asking! -- 09/01/21

But enough about you -- ask me anything! In comments. I'll reply in comments or, if I reply elsewhere, I'll link the reply in comments.