Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Problem with the Democratic Party

Can the Democratic Party succeed by appealing to illegal immigrants and convicted felons?

According to some Democrats, a convicted felon who assaulted someone or maybe even murdered someone, should be entitled to vote - even from prison!   But on the other hand, someone who said something offensive should be shunned from society and forced to shut up, forever.   If you even utter the "N-word" once in your life (and as we all know, no one has ever said that, ever!) then you need to crawl back into the racist hole you crawled out from and never be heard from again.

Say the wrong thing or say it the wrong way, and you are damned and shamed for life.  Meanwhile, we laud the accomplishments of an ex-con who "turns his life around" and should be given back his voting rights, because, well, he didn't do nothing wrong, really.  I mean, he didn't say any bad words about anyone while he was shooting them in the head.

I mentioned before how this "moral crusade" on the part of the Democratic party is going to backfire.  No one wants to vote for a scolding nanny or schoolmarm - and that is what the Democratic party is doing right now - putting up a roster of mostly female candidates, as some sort of apology for white male domination.  And most of this new generation of candidates seem bent on scolding the rest of us for our alleged misdeeds- or misdeeds of our ancient ancestors.  I am not sure that telling people they are pieces of shit is really a great campaign strategy.

Particularly when the other side tells people what they want to hear, which is that nothing is their fault, but rather some unseen others (Mexicans, Muslims, China, Elites, whatever) is causing the trouble in their lives.  Externalization always sells to the masses.

It seems that the Left has more sympathy for criminals than their victims.   The media loves to put up stories about the troubled backgrounds of youth who commit horrific crimes - but we never hear about the youth with the same backgrounds who graduate from school, get jobs, settle down, and raise a family.

The problem with the approach of the Democratic Party is that it has been shown, time and time again, to simply not work.  There are not enough convicted felons to elect a candidate in any district, or indeed, nationwide.   And by embracing and lauding criminals as unsung folk heroes, they are turning off the middle-of-the-road independent voters who are less sympathetic to the travails of criminals, as they are often the victims of such crime.

When I was young and stupid (as opposed to old and stupid today), I used to fall into that trap.   Back then, as teenagers, we were always causing trouble of one sort or another.   We were trying to buy beer illegally, or smoke pot, or get laid, or "hang out".  And of course, some of the crowd was always spray-painting graffiti (I never understood the profit in that) or vandalizing things (ditto).  So naturally, we tended to view the Police as "the enemy" as we were always worried about getting caught doing stupid teenage things.  Fast-forward 40 years, and "stupid teenage things" these days include dealing drugs, prostitution, and slaughtering your classmates with machetes.  Oh, and yea, they still spray-paint graffiti.

But a funny thing happens to most of us as we get older.   Like I said, I never saw the profit in wrecking stuff "for fun"or painting my name on the side of a railroad car.   And once I was old enough to buy beer, well, I didn't tend to look over my shoulder as much as when I was a teen.   I got a job, and it was hard work.  And I managed to save a few dollars to buy some nice things, like a bicycle and a stereo.  And yea, it would irk me that some jackass wanted to steal what little I had.   My sympathy for the criminal element started to fade quickly.

And then there was was being assaulted.  A friend of mine and I were chased by four angry black youth, who wanted nothing more than to crack our heads open with a steel pipe, "for the fun of it" - or at least that is what the Policeman we talked to told us when we reported the crime. "They're just having fun," he said.  Some fun.   And even though he knew who the perpetrators were, he refused to file a report or investigate further.  I got an inkling that something wasn't quite right with our system.

And yes, after that incident, I may have said something politically incorrect.   I know for sure I didn't say, "Gosh, those underprivileged African-Americans were rightfully outraged by our ostentatious display of middle-class social values!   It is perfectly understandable that they would want to inflict major brain damage on us and possibly kill us!   We should feel sorry for them!"

I think I may have said something else - which may have involved some "forbidden" words.

While delivering pizzas one night to the wrong address, I ended up in an alley behind a public housing building.  There were about 15 young black men there (none of them working nights delivering pizzas, while going to college and holding a full-time job) loitering - doing drugs and drinking beers.  Again, I was chased, and back then, I could run fast.  Today, I would be taken down like an aging gazelle by a young lion.

And again, there is little point in even reporting such things.  You will be found at fault, not the perpetrators.  "What were you doing in that alley, anyway?" (trying to do my job).   The victim is always blamed first.  You get bit by a shark, the shark is not to blame, but you for foolishly swimming in the ocean.   And of course, the shark gets sympathy for being "endangered" much as criminals get sympathy as their background stories are expounded in the press, when they are eventually caught doing something horrific.   The poor kid came from a broken home!  He can't help but murder people, right?

Of course, the reality is, kids from unbroken homes also become criminals as well, and kids from broken homes become successful doctors and lawyers - on occasion!   Who should we be lauding and supporting?  Who should we be making a hero of?

And this is not a "racial" thing, either.  Well, it is, but in a way that Democrats unintentionally make offensive.   The Democratic Party seems to think that appealing to convicted felons and criminals will bring out the black vote, because, well, that's what black people do, you know, steal stuff.   It is kind of a racist theory - that going soft on crime is something that will appeal to black voters.   It also is sort of totally wrong.   Blacks are far more likely to be victims of crime than any other social demographic.   They are the most fed up with crime of any group - but many in the inner cities have largely given up on the Police as enforcing any laws or convicting any criminals.   You cooperate with the Police in Chicago, you end up on a slab.   It is not difficult math to do.   And yet, the Democratic Party there seems more interested in reaching out to the criminal element than to the law-abiding citizens.  It just makes no sense.

Sadly, it seems that our culture itself rewards criminality.   An entire generation has been raised - perhaps two generations - on the idea that being a "gangsta" or some other sort of criminal, is a laudable thing.  We have embraced the culture of belligerence, with a duly elected belligerent-in-chief, who coincidentally enough, views the law as something only chumps have to obey.

And we are all to blame to some extent.  Think about it.  In the "news" on your phone, do you click on the story about the noble achiever who overcomes adversity to succeed in life?  Of course not.  Do you click on the story about the victim of a mass-shooting and how they were going to do missionary work in Africa?  Of course not!  Do you click on the story that expounds on the background of the shooter, his mental health history, his "motives", how he bought his guns, what guns he had, and of course his "manifesto"and social media postings?   You bet.   We all are fascinated by the criminal element, which is why almost all television shows today are, in one form or another, about crime.

But that doesn't excuse the Democratic Party for embracing criminality.

50 years ago, the Democratic convention in Chicago devolved into a riot.   And while the Democratic party wrung its hands about what to do, most of America watched what was going on and voted for Richard Nixon, who promised a return to "Law and Order".  People were tired of violence and protest, and also dirty unwashed hippies stealing all their shit.

Since then, crimes rates have indeed dropped - and incarceration rates have risen to record levels.  No one seems to know why crimes rates have dropped, but it can't be because we are putting more people in prison, can it?  Nah.  Must be a demographic thing.  Or maybe people are just too mellowed out on legal pot to commit crimes anymore.  That sounds plausible.

Funny thing, but in California, penalties for a "property crimes" were reduced, and not soon thereafter, the rate of such "petty" crimes rose.  Hey, that's just correlation, not causation, right?  And besides, it's your fault for not locking your stuff up!  I mean, it wouldn't make any sense that if you reduced or eliminated the penalties for crime that crime would go up, or vice-versa.   I mean, that's just crazy talk, right?

The mantra that the Democrats are using is "compassion" - compassion for criminals and compassion for illegal aliens - neither of which vote, either because it is illegal, or because criminals don't tend to vote anyway.   It just seems like an idiotic demographic to pursue in order to win elections.   Why not go after the mainstream of America - who does turn the electoral tide?

The problem is, going down this rabbit hole, the Democrats will keep losing elections at both the local and national level.  Oh, sure, they will win a few seats in the House in the coming Democratic Blue Puddle, but the Senate and the Presidency are safe (for Republicans) for now, and the Supreme Court safe for the Republicans for decades to come.  You can only win so many seats by stoking hatred of the other side.  Eventually, you have to come up with a platform that people will positively support.  And "free money for everyone" only sells to people who are already on welfare, who are in the minority and largely don't vote anyway.

If the Democrats keep this up, we may see Trump re-elected.  Or even if they can impeach Trump or force him to resign, a re-elected President Pence in 2020.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Story Doesn't Sell? Change the Title!



All news is fake news these days - designed to sell you something.

The Left seized upon the term "fake news" to describe the outright falsehoods that the Right was throwing around, in terms of conspiracy theories and whatnot, such as Alex Jones' Infowars, which even he admits (in his divorce proceedings) is just a persona he adopts for entertainment purposes.  No one was expected to take these things seriously!

But today, the right uses "Fake News" to describe any news story that they don't like.   But there is sort of a kind of left-wing fake news that I have addressed before, and the New York Times and The Washington Post are both awash in it.   Every time some event or even rumor occurs in the Mueller investigation, these tabloids (which is what they are today) do breathless stories that, this time, for sure, the Trump administration will topple and we will all be lead to a nirvana of peace and prosperity lead by Nancy Pelosi - or something to that effect.   What it ends up being, though, is just rumor-mongering and sensationalism, that really has dragged the Post and the Times down to the level of, well, the level of President Trump.   You can't fight fire with fire, or a shitstorm with another shitstorm.

But that's not what I am talking about today.   All news, even "impartial" news stories (Do they exist?  Really?) were designed back in the old days to "sell newspapers" and today to "sell eyeballs to advertisers".   If you don't click, they go broke, so the idea is to create a sensationalist headline that gets you to click on the story.   A banner ad appears, and they make 1/10th of a cent from your clicking.

In recent months, I have noticed a trend on MSN news, which aggregates news stories from a number of sources, of headlines that change in real time.    For example, there was recently a headline about "Warren Buffet decides to invest in India for the first time!" which wasn't really all that interesting to me.  Another article on another site mentions the name of the company he is investing in, in the title (bad move, amateurs!).

What was funny was that a few hours later, I load the site and the same article appears with different headline.  This time, the headline is more click-bait:  "Warren Buffet invests in this country for the first time!"    But since I saw the headline a few hours ago, I already know that "this country" is India, and I don't need to click on the story to find out.  Again, amateurs!

The point is - and I did have one - is that all news today is fake news, in the sense it is not designed to inform, but to titillate.  The name of the game is to generate clicks, so they concentrate on sensationalist stories and click-bait headlines to get you interested in something that, in real terms, is of no consequence to you.

For example, where Warren Buffet is investing is really not much concern to me, even if I owned some stock in his company.   So they gin up the headlines to make me click to find out where - as if whatever he was doing (along with "Cramer" who they trot out with regularity) is of some consequence to my daily life.

The variation of this is, of course, the "You'll never believe....!" headlines, which of course turn out to be things that are quite believable, but again, they get you to click.    The corollary is Betteridge's law of headlines, which basically states that any headline (on the Internet, in particular) that ends in a question mark, can always be answered by the word "NO" and thus saving you a click.

The worst, of course, are the "paid content" click-bait stories on Reuters (shame on them) which, if you click on, will present you with the story laid out over ten pages, each with at least five to ten slow-loading animated ads on them.   They use the click-bait "You'll never believe!" headlines and after ten pages of clicking (think of the revenue!) you find out it was something that was quite believable after all.  Oh, and the ads are for the worst sort of cons and scams.  Again, shame on Reuters.   So much for professionalism.

Again, they are not trying to educate or inform you, but rather just sell you something.   They likely don't have a political agenda, as President Trump alleges, but rather a simple financial one.  And today, with a majority of people disliking President Trump, it is a no-brainer that stories that sell are stories that paint him in a bad light - something that is easy to do, as he paints himself this way.   So no, Donnie, the media and Google are not out to get you, it is just that people don't like you.  Not much has changed since 3rd grade for you, has it?

People don't like you, and you do and say stupid things, so you generate a lot of negative attention.  Google is merely reflecting both popular perception (which is your fault) and the stupid things you do and say (which is also your fault).   The news media prints what sells.   And what sells today is yet another "You'll never believe what Trump did today!" (which again, turns out to be entirely believable).

This is not to say the media is not biased against Trump or against the Left or Right, but biased against your own self-interest and your own pocketbook - in favor of their own. (If more people clicked on "Trump is Great!" stories than not, I suspect the Washington Post would change its motto to "Democracy does just fine in the darkness - besides it's over-rated anyway!")   At the very least, the media will waste your time and energy getting you to click on nonsense stories or irrelevant bullshit.  At the worst, they will sell you toxic ideas that cause you to go out and squander your resources.

But either way, the media is not on your side.   And yes, in three hours I will change the title of this blog entry, if it doesn't generate enough hits.  Just kidding!

Monday, August 27, 2018

I'm Only One Man!

A blogger is not an expert on anything!

I chuckle every time I hear the media refer to someone as a "blogger" as if it were some high-level job that requires years of training and expertise.   Let me tell you the truth - all it requires is a Gmail account and the ability to type.  And even the latter is not really that necessary.  Go to Blogger, set up an account, name your blog and... start bloviating!

I have never said I was an expert on anything from finances to politics.  Indeed, the older I get, the more I realize how little I know.  And over the years (nearly 10, as one reader points out) I have changed my mind on a number of things.  I started out this blog trying to figure out how I could "hang on" to all my toys and still keep my head above water.  Over the years, I have shed "things" and become wealthier, happier, and able to retire.

Having "stuff" and debt is just pain dumb.  The "stuff" depreciates in value every second you own it.  The debt stays around forever.   Seems kind of simple in retrospect, but when you are at ground-level, sometimes it is hard to see.

A reader writes:
1. A “Dutch uncle” does not mean a rich, generous person, but a very frank person who gives harsh, but still basically benevolent, advice. (Something like you to your readers.) Not sure where the phrase came from, but I have noticed that people from the Netherlands tend to be like that — basically nice and kind people, but speaking their minds even when what they have to say is not pleasant. 
And of course she is right.  Which is maybe where Mark gets his acerbic common-sense from, his Dutch ancestors.  But this illustrates how we all use phrases improperly, sometimes as malapropisms.   For example, when I was a kid, they had the "Art Linkletter Show" and he had a segment (which became a book and I think even a newspaper column) entitled "Kids say the darndest things!"  Bill Cosby later took it over.  I think it was discovered later on that kids say the darndest things that you tell them to say, because when you have to make a television show on schedule, you can't sit around and wait for the little darlings to come up with a bon mot on cue.

But one think I remember from the Linkletter book was a kid saying something along the lines of a famous person "spinning in their grave" which induced guffaws, as everyone knows the correct phrase is turning in their grave.

Fast-forward a few decades, and the phrase "spinning in their grave" is commonly heard, in the press, and indeed perhaps even by expert bloggers - maybe even myself!   What was once considered a gaffe, has entered the common lexicon.

Another reader corrected me on the use of "zero-sum game" (which would make a good title for a Bruce Willis action-adventure movie) which again, has sort of become bastardized in our culture - including by me.  It is akin to these rednecks who say "beau-koo bucks!" to describe a large sum of money, or talk about "intensive purposes".   It may sound stupid today, but in a decade, it will be part of our language.

The reader also writes:
2. The widely misunderstood Heisenberg uncertainty principle is not about the means of making measurements interfering with the measurements themselves. If you look at the equation for it, you will see that it is strongly scale-dependent. There is no uncertainty principle on the scale of galaxies, or even at the scale of humans. It is basically a statement that the universe has graininess and that below a certain scale of precision (the scale of subatomic particles), it is not only not possible to make a measurement, it is not even meaningful to talk about making the measurement.
And I publish that correction here.  But I think we are talking about the same thing.   Quantum theory, as I understand it, posits that you cannot measure some things, such as the position and velocity of an electron at any given moment, with precision, but rather you can only understand a probability of where that electron is (and again, I am probably mis-stating this).  The point is, we build our models of the universe, and then refine these models.  We do not understand the universe directly - on a grand or small scale, including our ordinary lives, but rather through perception of our world, as we view it through models created in our heads.

It is like vision - it does not take place in the eyes, but in the brain.  Our brains assemble images from the data from our eyes.  And in the field of image processing (such as image compression) you can use this neat feature to compress the crap out of a video image, as the brain doesn't "see" a lot of an image, but rather concentrates on portions of it, and "fills in the blanks" from what it remembers or expects to see (the latter being problematic in court, with "eye-witness" testimony).   We have a model of the world in our minds, and it is not always an accurate model.

This is not to say reality is perception-based, but rather is constant.  It is only our perception than can change, either for better or worse.

But getting back to blogging, what you are reading here is my perception of the world, right or wrong, often wrong, and always changing as my own models of how the world works are altered by experience - as my neural network is re-programmed and re-weighted by experiences over time.   I never claimed to be an expert on anything, so if you disagree with what I have to say, that is fine.  Maybe your model of the world is better and more accurate than mine is.

However, if what I have to say makes you angry or upset, maybe that is your brain's way of saying your model is inaccurate.   As I look back on life, the times when people say things that piss me off are often times when people say things I don't want to hear but should.   Often these are people telling me unpleasant truths, such as I am being foolish with money or acting stupid.

Just a thought.  It could be wrong, too.

But after ten years and nearly 4,000 posts (this will be 3,990!) maybe it is time to pack it in.  After all, I have accomplished much of what I set out to do - gotten my finances in order, cut back on my spending, and now have time to enjoy the fruits of 40 years of labor.

But then again, we'll see.  There is always a new chapter in life (although they get shorter and shorter!) and our next big financial adventure will probably be figuring out the end game - where to land for that last messy chapter in life.

Unless we are lucky, and like my neighbor just did, keel over dead without much fanfare.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Alaska - A Living Experiment in Guaranteed Annual Income

Folks on the Left have posited that we should give everyone a sum of money every year, regardless of their circumstances.  Suppose this was actually done?  Turns out, it already has been.

Alaska is an interesting place in a number of ways.  And one of them is that instead of paying income taxes to the State, the State pays you.  It is called the Alaska Permanent Fund, and it is based on investments from oil revenues, the dividends of which are paid to Alaska residents.  If you are an Alaskan (by dint of living here for x years) you get a check every year.  Pretty sweet, no?

Of course, the problem is, the cost of living in Alaska is like the cost of living in California, plus some.   Yes, houses and land are somewhat cheaper here, but gas is at least 50 cents to a buck-a-gallon more than in the "lower 48".  And things like eggs and cheese are at Canadian-like prices.  We crossed the border in Minnesota and bought 18 eggs for a dollar in the US.  In Canada, it was more like $4 a dozen, and in Alaska, perhaps $3.   Everything is a little more expensive here.   Not a lot more, just a little more.

How much more?  About as much as the dollar amount of your Alaska Permanent Fund check you receive every year.  You see, by throwing "funny money" (free money) into the economy, it doesn't make Alaskans richer, it only raises the prices of everything, since everyone can afford more.  It is the same reason why housing prices skyrocked in Fairfax county in 1989 and why they are skyrocketing in San Francisco today.  You throw money at people (in the form of high salaries for tech jobs) and prices of everything rises as a result.  People can afford to pay more, so prices rise accordingly.

While various Canadian provinces and some Scandinavian countries "experiment" with ideas like "Guaranteed Annual Income" (for a random sample of the population), Alaska has been implementing this idea for decades, and not for a sample population, but for the entire State.  Yet, decades later, poverty exists.  Homeless addicts still loiter in Anchorage.   People still live at "subsistence" levels.  There are still homeless people in Alaska (an awful lot, even in small towns!) and there are still poor people or people living at "subsistence" levels, who are allowed to hunt and fish out of season as some sort of consolation prize.

Why didn't this guaranteed annual income solve these problems?  After all, Leftists argue that if crack whores were given $10,000 a year in guaranteed annual income, they would stop being prostitutes and apply to Harvard - and become lawyers or something.    The truth is, the amount of money this scheme provides isn't enough to change anyone's life.   In fact, since the economy is flooded with such money, it merely means that "zero" has been moved up ten grand.

And that is exactly what is happening in Alaska.   You can't buy basic grocery items in this State at all.  For some reason, Swiss cheese is almost impossible to find here.   Why not?   Well, since the cost of everything is so high, it is easier to import things from California or Washington State, and then just raise the prices.   And since prices are so high, competition is nil and selection is low.  You want cheese, be prepared to pay - and get a brick of orange cheese in the deal.

So why wouldn't Alaskans import cows and make their own cheese?  They make their own micro-brews (boy, howdy, do they!) and their own marijuana (a dispensary in every town!).   But cheese?  Well, it seems that the locals are content with their "subsistence living" and Permanent Fund checks, and don't seem motivated to start a dairy in this State (the weather being the other reason).   The Permanent Fund ends up being a dis-incentive to work.   Why work, when you get a check for free?

So when you go to a bar, or a restaurant, or a tourist attraction, you meet servers and waiters and tour guides who are not from Alaska.  They work a few months here in the summer, and then go to Hawaii or Arizona or Florida for the winter to work the tourist trade there.  Why?  Well, that's where the tips are, and you can make a lot of money on tips if you hump, and if - as the Hooter's employee manual famously suggests - "pretend to take an interest in the customer's life and stories".

These out-of-staters don't get a free check from the government.  They haven't been Alaska residents for x years - and never will be - so they don't get a free check.  So they work, and they migrate with the seasons, which is good, because the thriving tourist town in July is a snowed-over wasteland in February.

The other problem with this "free money" experiment is what happens when the money runs out?  This is a real concern, as last year - for the first time - the government of Alaska had to cut the amount paid to each resident.  You are born and raised to expect a check from the gub-ment for $X, and then you get one for $Y, where Y is far less than X.

The same problem would occur if this cockamamie scheme were enacted for the entire USA.   We would run out of money rather quickly, and either have print more (which has worked out so well for Venezuela) or cut back on payments, as has happened in Alaska, as the tar sands and fracking fields of Canada and the lower 48 cut into oil revenues up here.

The Alaska Permanent Fund was funded by oil revenues, which everyone thought would go on forever - even though the oil from Prudhoe bay was thought to last 20 years at best.  When the oil goes away, the money goes away as well.

And maybe that would be a good thing.  Since people would have less money, prices would drop down to normal levels.  Since people would have less money, they would be incentivized to work more - jobs that typically go to out-of-staters might be filled by locals.  Locals might decide to start businesses to provide the products and services which currently are imported at high prices.

Perhaps.  Or perhaps Alaska is a special case, due to its remote location and climate and whatnot.  Although, in terms of location, it really isn't that far from Seattle, or indeed, Hawaii - whose hurricane weather has socked in most of its sister State to the North (and direct North).

It does seem odd, but Alaska is due North of Hawaii and parts of it are further West.  Indeed, parts of Alaska - the Aleutian Islands - stretch across the 180ยบ line of Longitude, into the Eastern Hemisphere, and thus Alaska is the most Western, Eastern, and Northern State in the Union.  It is far away, but not all that far away - it is part and parcel of the Pacific rim.  Hence all the Chinese tourists.

But I digress.   The point is, this "guaranteed annual income" concept and other ideas of the "Socialist Democrats" are going to ruin the Democratic party.  If the election in 2020 comes down to Trump versus Bernie Sanders, who are you going to vote for?  Or will you just stay home in disgust?

Socialism - paying people not to work - is an idea that has been shown, time and time again to destroy countries and economies.   It creates distortions in the marketplace.  In the case of Alaska, these distortions can be propped up by oil money - up to a point.   For the rest of the United States, we don't have a Dutch Uncle named "Exxon" to pay the tab.

Life is Temporary

Life, it turns out, is a very temporary thing.

I received an e-mail from a neighbor. She went out in the yard to check on her husband, and found him laying dead on the lawn, behind the lawnmower - an apparent heart attack.  He was about 18 months away from retirement from the utility company.  He had it down to months, days, hours, and minutes, if you asked him.

This is yet another reminder to us as to why we retired early and why we are in Alaska right now, even if it is pissing rain from the fringes of that Hawaiian hurricane.  You have to do it now - because there likely won't be a later.  And living on "retirement island" we see a lot of our friends leave feet first, or like our neighbor, were 18 months shy of arriving.

In the Netflix comedy "Grace and Frankie" there is a line in the first episode that is priceless.  The two husbands announce they want a divorce, so they can pursue their gay relationship.  "we are ready to start the next chapter of our lives!" one says.  Grace replies, "You're 70 years old, the next chapter is awfully damn short!"

And that is the key - once you round the corner on 60, the "next chapter" is awfully short.  And I explained before how time is non-linear.  As you age, each year is a smaller and smaller percentage of your life.  When you are ten years old, a year seems like an eternity, as it represents 10% of your life, perhaps 20% of your conscious existence.  By age 50, it is 2% of your life and shrinking each year.  The years do fly by faster and faster - you are not imagining this.

Another neighbor, also in their 60's, has decided to divorce her husband.  This is so sad to me, as they both seem like nice people, and I am not sure what she hopes to find in this "next" (and last) chapter in her life.   Sadly, she is hanging around with divorced woman who is whispering into her ear that she should join the misery club as well, and dump her husband, even though their relationship (or lack thereof) seems to function just fine.   Misery loves company, and a word to all you married women out there - do NOT take relationship advice from other women, particularly from bitter, angry, divorced women, who want to drag you down to their level.   Women can be very cruel to each other - be aware of this.  (And I am sure men do this as well!).

Life is a very temporary thing.  You are born, you work to make enough money to not work anymore, and then maybe you enjoy a few years of reflection and relaxation.  Then "ding-dong!" it is death at your door.  And we all have our own messy, personalized death awaiting us.  As Woody Allen said, "I don't mind death, I just don't want to be there when it happens!"

Some have accused me of being too morbid and concentrating on death.  But as I have noted before, death gives meaning to life.  The promise of "eternal life" is a raw deal - it would suck completely.   A better deal is to live your life to the fullest, and stop worrying about petty things and stop putting off things you really want to do with the idea that you can "get to that later".

The problem we have here in the USA is that we are insulated from old age and death.  Retirees pack off to Florida and see their kids (and "the grands!") once or twice a year.  The are old relics - fossils - hauled out at Christmas and Thanksgiving as an example to the kids of what happens to you if you don't obey the rules and foolishly grow old.

So the retired become the infirm and end up in "assisted living" which is a nice word for warehousing people - like in The Matrix, but a lot less glamorous.  And then we die and are carted off to a "funeral home" where the entire death experience is carefully insulated from the living as much as possible.  A few tears, flowers on the casket, and... back to work on Monday!   Sheesh - what a waste of a weekend, eh what?

I am having the opposite experience, living amongst the "newly wed and nearly dead" (our island is a wedding destination, as well as pre-mortuary).  So I see this "end game" being played out again and again, with people I know.   And the only thing I have learned is to not wait for "the next chapter" but assume the book can end at any time.

And maybe living with Mr. See has brought this home.  He watched his Mother die when he was 14 years old - an experience that traumatized him to this day.  But he realized, seeing how his Mother made so many plans, and how so many plans were thwarted by well-meaning relatives who said - in the Maine way - "you don't want to do that!"   And as a result, she never did a lot of things she wanted to do in life - always assuming there would be more time past age 53.   There wasn't.   And there wasn't for my sister, either.

If you find yourself "stuck in a rut" or depressed or unhappy with life, sit down and figure out why.  Because you have a very finite time on this planet to enjoy things, and there will likely not be a "tomorrow"for you to do the things you have put aside today.  This is not to say you should do something stupid like quit your job and end up destitute, only that the time for experiences is now, because there may not be a later.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Externalizing Alaska


Blaming all your personal problems on the governments or political opponents is pointless.

We are in Valdez, Alaska, which is a nice town.  The weather finally broke and we saw more than just fog for a change.   Went on a glacier tour, which was nice, but the captain of the boat kept up a commentary about nearly everything that came into his mind, and apparently he's been listening to Infowars a lot, lately.

Did you know Hillary Clinton was fired from a fish cannery in Valdez, after she tried to unionize the workers?   Did you know that global warming is a hoax?  The glacier we toured - which has retreated five miles since the tour captain started doing this tour 40 years ago - has retreated not because of global warming, but because of "cracks" that "let all the water in and melted it".   No word on what caused all the other glaciers in Alaska, and indeed, worldwide, to retreat as well.


And the endangered species act!  What a lot of hooey!   We were treated to a rambling discourse on sea lions and how "those government people don't know anything!" and instead of just shooting them (the sea lions that is) all in the head, they floundered around trying to figure out how to keep them out of the fish ladders in Washington State.  What that had to do with Alaska, I do not know.

Of course, we were treated to an extensive lecture on the Exxon Valdez.  Turns out that all that "environmental damage" was just a media hoax!   Not much oil leaked out, and what did leak out, well, that all washed out to sea, without ever touching land.

Despite that nonsense (and it was pretty easy to ignore and just talk over) it was a spectacular tour, even if the captain has lost his marbles.   But it got me to researching, and all I could find out about the Hillary thing was that, yes, she did go to Alaska after graduation and got a job at the "Mt. McKinley" hotel as a dishwasher.   She claims she worked in a fish cannery but that it was "gross" and when she complained, they "disappeared overnight".   No word about organizing the workers into a union - something I think Ms. Clinton herself would champion.   And no one Valdez at the time seems to remember her being here at all.   I think there is a little lying going on, on both sides.

That evening we went to the local fried food emporium, where the 20-somethings hang out and drink beer and eat what I can only describe as Poutine on steroids (gravy, sausage, fried eggs, jalapenos).  It was open mike night, and the bartender sang a few songs he wrote, including "what it means to be an Alaskan" - based on people (tourists mostly) asking him that question over the years.

While his song was sarcastic and biting (describing tourists as "walking advertisements for REI") it was spot-on.   We've driven by countless "compounds" out in the country, with ramshackle shacks surrounded by decaying trucks, cars, and other machinery, often with signs or flags decrying the government or declaring their independence.   And we've met city folks who are on the other end of the spectrum, who condescendingly talk about their rural brethren as "subsistence living" - which many of them are, by choice.  It seems each side wants to blame the other for "what's wrong with Alaska" and of course, both sides want to blame the government, State, Federal, and local, for everything else.

It is, of course, externalizing.   If you are living in a shack with particle board covering the windows and insulation hanging out - surrounding by a field of 30-50 abandoned cars and other vehicles - I think your "problems" have less to do with government agencies or political opponents than with your automotive hoarding disorder.   Sell the cars for scrap, buy some siding and new windows, and see how much better life could be!

But of course, folks like that are never going to change.  These are the kind of people who refuse to mow their lawns or put junk cars around their house, and then act the martyr when the "big government" in the suburbs fines them.  They move to Alaska simply because there isn't any zoning and no one cares if they want to live in squalor (hint: When traveling in Alaska, never look out the side windows when travelling by car).
And oddly enough, they are even more unhappy here, I think.   Since no one cares about how they live in squalor, they are even more upset.  No one is paying attention to them anymore!   So they have to do more and more outrageous things in order to be martyrs to some sort of "lost cause" or whatever.

Whatever the cause - and whatever the political views involved, Left or Right, centering your life around injustice and grievance is a shitty way to go through life.   Why?  Because the injustices you rail against will never be resolved.  The folks who live this way intentionally seek out injustices that cannot be fixed overnight, or indeed, if ever.  And the politicians like to nurture these sort of things along - never seeing them fully resolved - because it "gets out the vote" at election time.

The biggest problem the NRA has isn't school shootings and the outrages that attend them.  Their big problem is they have been too successful and as a result, people are complacent about their gun rights (which in our country, are in no danger of going away!).  So they have to resort to alarmist language to get people motivated - today claiming that since banks won't issue a "School Shooter Frequent Rewards VISA" card, the NRA will go out of business!  Forever!  Oh me, oh my!  I don't buy a word of it - they have millions, indeed maybe billions - and that's just the Putin money.

Again, externalization at work.  If not for those evil bankers, the NRA would be safe and secure!  After all, nothing they've done, such as promoting weapons for felons, the insane, and even the blind, could have lead to their alleged "problems" today - right?   It has to be someone else's fault.

That's just an example, of course.  Externalization exists all over the place - among politicians, governments, organizations, friends, neighbors, and ourselves.  A Republican legislator, running on a platform of "fiscal responsibility" incurs over a thousand overdraft charges on his checking account which has a balance of less than $100.    He dips into campaign funds to live a lavish lifestyle.   And it isn't his fault - other people are out to get him, it's all politically motivated!

And yet, I am sure that many voters will believe just that - because the "evil bank" also charged them a bounce fee, and that's just how life works, right?   It can't be the fault of the politician - people are out to get him!  It's all a vast conspiracy!

It is sad, but the reality is that people who live this way - externalizing - end up living far less of a life than they could.  And I realize this, having spent most of my life externalizing, myself.   We all do it - and we all continue to do it.  The best we can hope for is to minimize externalization in our lives and look inwardly as much as possible and own up to our own mistakes.

There really is no other choice.  Really.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Democrats got some 'splaining to do.

Exactly how were campaign finance laws violated and why would the GOP base give a damn?

Yesterday was a "triumph" for Democrats, and the NYT and Washington Post fell all over themselves - for the umpteenth time - claiming that this time, for sure, the Trump administration was going to topple and fall.  Keep resisting, folks, it's gonna happen any day now!

But of course, another day, and Trump is still around - like a bad penny.   The problem is, of course, that as President, he likely can't be indicted for violating campaign finance laws (irony alert - you become President by violating the very laws designed to prevent you from illegally becoming President, and then are immune from removal from office!).   Maybe after he leaves office, they will charge him - but by then, who would care?  And if Hillary had won - would any of this investigation be taking place?

It is like the "lock her up!" chant - largely meaningless.  Since Hillary lost, there is no point in investigating further.  If she had won - well, Mr. Mueller would be leading a different protracted investigation and Bill would have to start hiding the interns again.  So maybe it is a good thing Hillary didn't win - for her sake.  Republicans would have no problem with the appointment of a "special counsel" if she had, and they would not be crying "witch hunt" nearly so loudly - in fact, not at all.   The Clintons have been through this before, of course, so maybe they wouldn't be bothered by it.

But getting back to Trump, the big problem that many folks have is understanding exactly why paying someone "hush money" is illegal.   In fact, it probably isn't.  The crux of the matter appears to be whether campaign money was used to pay off these accuser(s) and whether this was designed to "alter the outcome of the election".  Both appear to be thin reeds.

To begin with, unless a check was cut from the campaign checking account, I don't understand how it can be automatically assumed that the money paid to hush up Stormy Daniels was campaign money.  Or was Trump dumb enough to use his campaign account and in the "Memo" section, write "hush money"?

The second part - affecting the outcome of the election - seems also thin to me.   Granted, some explosive "October Surprise" revelation of a torrid affair with a porn star might have changed the minds of some voters.  But after the revelation of the "groping" tape and the GOP's decision to not give a damn, it is questionable whether it really would have many any difference.   Trump could have an affair with a hooker in the middle of 5th Avenue, and no one would give a damn.   We all understand that he is even more morally challenged than Bill Clinton.   Hell, at least Bill was embarrassed by it all, not proud.

Don't get me wrong.  I despise Donald Trump and his ilk.   The kinds of guys who think that anything gold-plated is "classy" and send away for mail-order wives from foreign countries kind of make me ill.  It is the worst sort of Nouveau Riche trash there is.   And that is one reason Trump has a chip on his shoulder about old-money liberal "elites" - they wouldn't let him into their little country clubs, which is probably why he keeps buying his own.

But getting back to the media and the Democrats, they have to do a better job of explaining this to the people.  There is a lot of innuendo and conclusory statements made in the press, but not a lot of explanation as to what crimes were committed and why they matter.  And the press, particularly the  Post and the Times, have been crying wolf for so long, it is hard to take them seriously.

And why Democrats would cheer the downfall of Trump and the rise of the Pence Presidency is beyond me, quite frankly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reality Versus Modeling

H-L-Mencken-1928.jpg

We use models to understand how our world works.  When our models are accurate, they produce data which allows us to make informed judgments.  When the models are inaccurate, disaster ensues.

I was reading about H.L. Mencken, the famous journalist for the Baltimore Sun.  It seems that his personal diaries have been published after many years, and it turns out that like many people of his time (or indeed ours) he was a closet racist and anti-Semite.  This sort of puts a damper on enthusiam for his works.  Indeed, a Jewish friend of mine was very fond of quoting Mencken - a decade ago.  Today, I am not sure he is such a fan.

Mencken was a fan of Ayn Rand, whose name is made-up.  I always have been skeptical of people with made-up names, whether they are "Faith Popcorn" or "Suze Orman" or "Ayn Rand" - there is something suspicious about someone who changes their name - what exactly are they hiding or ashamed of?

Rand promoted the theory of "individualism" which Mencken apparently subscribed to.  Rand posited that there were "great men" who deserved success because of their superb abilities.   The rest of us were mere plebes who should be grateful for the crumbs we are handed.   While there is a nugget of truth in this (as indeed, there is in anything) it is an over-simplification of the world.   Indeed, many of the "greats" of our world are not superb people, but often right-place-right-time people, or just people who are willing to do anything whatsoever to succeed.   The villains in Rand's novels are usually not "great men" but succeed in an imperfect world.

The theory of individualism is often used by people who are unsuccessful or are only somewhat successful, as a crutch to argue that, in a perfect world, they would be entitled to great riches, "but for" the plebes and the rabble "taking away" their opportunities and wealth.  And probably Rand and Mencken fall into this category.  Yes, they were both successful, up to a point.  But if they were so damn smart, why weren't they running the world?    Maybe they should have tried Scientology instead.

But I digress.

One interesting comment in the Wikipedia entry linked above, struck me:
Mencken was scathing in his criticism of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, whom he described as "an extremely dull author" and whose famous book Philosophy of 'As If' he dismissed as an unimportant "foot-note to all existing systems."
This struck me as interesting, as Vaihinger promoted the idea that we, as human beings, use models of reality to interpret reality.  The more accurate your model is, the better off your interpretation is.  Act rationally in an irrational world, as I tend to say.   Let others get carried away by the television and e-z payment plans.  Do the math and figure out that owning money is better than owning things (particularly when you are borrowing money to own things).

But it also struck me that Mencken really didn't understand the Scientific Method - which is to develop a model of a system to understand how it works, test the system to see if it conforms to the model, and if it does not, modify or throw out the model and start over.

This is an entirely different way of using models and perception than, say, some philosophy professors do.   If you take a freshman course in philosophy or psychology in college, some blowhard professor may try to convince you that reality is subjective - that we each perceive reality in a different way, and thus my reality may be different than your reality.

Mencken was having none of that.  Reality was reality, despite how you choose to perceive it.  And in that regard, I agree with him.  But this does not negate that the fact that each of us perceives reality in a slightly different manner than others.  And in addition to luck and circumstance, the people who are successful in this world are those who perceive reality closer to what it actually is.    Those of us who live in a fantasy world, whether it is fueled by sub-prime financing, alcohol, drugs, or just plain mental imbalance, tend to do less well.

Reality is what it is.  But this does not mean than modeling reality is futile.  Indeed, it is the only way we can perceive reality, is to build a model of our world in our heads and then try to figure out how it works - and predict successfully the correct course of action to take.

Take, for example, President Trump.  The Times and the Post like to paint him as mentally unhinged - a man whose model of the world is so skewed from reality that he is hallucinating half the time.  Yet, whether we like it or not (and I for one, don't like it) he correctly perceived that there was a groundswell of support for a candidate such as himself - a reality-show candidate who said outrageous things and kept the plebes entertained with one drama after the next.   And that, in short, is how he won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio.

Now, granted, the people who voted for him - the rabid "base" who turn out at rallies and believe in things like "pizzagate" and "Qanon" are living in a fantasy world.  Their model of the world is so skewed from reality that they continually fail at life.  But like Ayn Rand, they believe themselves to be superior men entitled to success - but who are thwarted at every turn by "welfare queens" or "the Federal Reserve" or "China" or "Immigrants".   The idea of getting better job skills or moving to a place where better paying jobs are available are alien to them.   Again, their model of the world is skewed, and thus they fail at life.  Sadly.  But Trump accurately perceived their weaknesses and exploited them - and continues to do so.

What is ironic to me about Mencken, is that he breathlessly and sarcastically reported on the Scopes "Monkey Trial" (a term he apparently coined).  The trial pitted religious fundamentalists against scientists who advanced the theory of evolution as described by Charles Darwin.  Like all scientific theories, it can never be irrevocably proven (but perhaps disproven) and is always subject to alteration and change.  It is a model of how our world works, and it has been tested and refined and developed over the years.  But no one can ever say, with 100% certainty, that it accurately reflects reality, as it is only a model of reality.  So here is Mencken, defending the scientific method, while decrying a philosopher who advances the same idea - of perceiving our world through the use of models.

So what is the point of all of this?   Well only that we all have our own models in our mind of how the world works.  And to a large extent, how successful you are in life will depend by and large on how accurate your model is.  If you spend a lot of time and effort (mental, physical, emotional, and financial) chasing oddball dreams, you will likely end up poor and destitute.   People who proclaim themselves to be "sovereign citizens" are not poor because the "gub-ment" is out to get them, they are poor because their model of reality is so badly skewed.  It is a lot easier (and more profitable) to work with the system than to fight it.  And the money you "save" by not registering your car, pales in comparison to the hassles you create as a result.

In a more prosaic scenario, the same situation applies.  When you live in foreclosure mews estates and go to cocktail parties and talk to people who profess to being "serial refinancers" who are hopelessly in debt, you may start to think that is a "normal" thing to do.  And before you know it, you are also hopelessly in debt and are totally dependent on your "job" to pay the interest on your debts.   And when they "take away" your "job" maybe you start to go further down the rabbit-hole, in one direction or another - either claiming "China" or "Immigrants" took away your entitlement, or that maybe Elizabeth Warren should be President, so everyone would be entitled to a job.   Either way, the skewing of your world-view from reality is not going to end well for you.

You see, no matter how many immigrants we throw out of the country or how many tariffs we place on foreign goods, you are not going to become wealthy by working at a "job" and going hopelessly into debt.  And waiting for a leftist government to hand you some sort of make-work low-paying job isn't an answer either.   We've seen how that worked out in the Soviet Union (or today in Venezuela).

The idea, as Warren proposes, that we should be like European countries, and let the inmates run the asylum, has been proven wrong as well.   GM sold its European subsidiary when it was hemorrhaging cash.  They could not close the money-losing factories without permission of the unions and local governments.  Even the customers of the company were supposed to be consulted in the operation of the factory!  Well, all that is very nice and all, but somewhere along the line, the company has to earn a profit, and no, profits are not inherently evil.    Well, they are, when you don't have them. Then the factory has to close its doors and people can then whine about how someone "took away their jobs!" (and how a "job is a right!).

Again, a skewed perception of reality, but a popular one as of late.

If you look through history, you see trouble arising when reality and modeling diverge too greatly.   Nazi Germany used a model of racial supremacy and a destiny to rule the world.   Reality seemed to think otherwise, and in retrospect, it is hard to conceive how leaders in Germany and Japan thought they could get away with as much as they did.

Our problem in Vietnam wasn't that, in reality, we could have won the war.  The problem was our model of limited warfare and our propping up of crooked governments in the South.  The model that the Vietnamese would fight to the death to support corrupt leaders installed by our CIA was flawed.  And as it turned out, the "domino theory" - itself another model - was inaccurate.

And so on down the line.  We postulated that we could liberate Iraq and the Iraqi people would welcome us with bouquets of flowers and instantly embrace democratic institutions.   Missing from this model was the influence of Iran - and the fact that a majority Shiite country had been brutally run by a minority Sunni government for decades.  We are now seeing that our model was seriously flawed.

Human nature being what it is, we never will come up with a model that describes reality in a way that is 100% accurate.  In fact, in quantum physics, there is a theory to this effect - when you try to measure something, you affect what it is you are measuring, and thus can never measure it accurately.  And since humans are so notoriously inefficient (I suspect we operate at a 2-5% efficiency, in general), our models of reality and the universe will always be seriously flawed.

The sad thing, to me, is that from a political standpoint, it seems the Democrats are going off the deep end with this socialist model.  When Donald Trump has a better grip on reality than this new breed of "Socialist Democrats" we all should be very, very worried.   Or at least I am.  When he sounds like the most rational guy in the room, I get scared.

Very scared!