Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ceiling Fans

Prior to the 1970's ceiling fans were rarely seen in most homes in the United States.

Today, everyone has ceiling fans in their home.  Chances are you have several - maybe even some outside.   I just counted ours, and there are five in the house, two on porches, and two in Mark's Studio, making a whopping nine ceiling fans that we own.   They are so cheap today, they hardly cost more than an ordinary light fixture.   It is hard to believe that at one time, they were considered somewhat unusual in the home, if not a bit antiquated.

(By the way, if you put a ceiling fan on your porch, make sure it is rated for outdoor use.  As a friend of mine discovered the hard way, an indoor fan will droop like a wilted flower, over time, if mounted on an outdoor porch).

You may have seen a lot of old movies, like Key Largo, or Casablanca, or Night of the Iguana, where the camera zooms down on a scene from the slowly revolving blades of a ceiling fan.  Two ceiling fan companies are even named after two of these movies!    Back then, the ceiling fan set the tone of the movie - that it was set in some place with ungodly tropical heat, and not in the good-old United States of Central Heating!

Back in the 1950's and 1960's the only thing on your ceiling might be a centrally located ceiling light, which provided the worst sort of lighting in your home.  These usually had glass globes, or later on, wavy glass with little starbursts in it (mid-century modern).  The bulk of America lived in the Northeast, and few people needed or had central air conditioning.  We all had an oil- or gas-fired forced air furnace, though, and ceiling fans were some "old fashioned" accessory about as esoteric and scary-looking as antique dental equipment.

That changed in the 1970's.

The "energy crises" drove up fuel and electric bills.  A surprising number of power plants in the US were oil fired and thus even electricity was expensive.  People bought wood stoves to heat their houses and it became a bit of a fad.  There were even enthusiast magazines for wood stoves, and it became a bit of a hobby at the time.  And one "accessory" for the wood stove was the ceiling fan.  A ceiling fan would circulate the heat from the wood stove throughout the room and hopefully throughout the house.

They were ungodly expensive back then - in the hundreds of dollars, when a hundred dollars was worth what $500 would be today.   The old line ceiling fan companies like Hunter had huge, heavy, hand-wound motors that would rotate a fan very slowly with no noise whatsoever.   But over time, cheaper fans (from China, of course) using "vacuum cleaner motors" brought the prices down to where they are today - under $100 in many cases, which would be like $25 back in the 1970's.

They were featured on "This Old House" and before long, everyone was installing them in their homes.  "Makes a great Christmas Gift" like that shower massage wand from Water-Pik you gave Dad last year.   And before long, in new construction, it was expected that you would have ceiling fans, not just in the living room, but the bedrooms as well - maybe even the kitchen.   We've kind of gone ceiling fan crazy in the United States.  Like I said, I have nine of 'em, and that probably isn't that unusual.

What made me think about this was that since those days, ceiling fans are the norm, not the exception, and whole generations have been raised expecting to see ceiling fans in every room - and thinking of this as a norm and not some oddity or luxury item.  What is "normal" to us changes over time, and often these new norms - normative cues - slip in right under the radar without us noticing it.  Before long, we accept these things as background noise.

Are ceiling fans useful?   Well, I guess they help circulate air, and thus keep you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, by preventing air from stagnating near the ceiling.  In a way they remind me of these circulation pumps that people put in aquariums to keep the water flowing.  I am sure that if we were kidnapped by aliens and displayed in some celestial zoo, they would put a ceiling fan in our exhibit chamber.  "They need this to circulate their air - they breathe it!" the aliens would say.

They circulate the air and collect dust.  Twice a year, we reverse the direction of the fans - blowing downward in the summer, upward in the winter.  But before doing that, you have to wipe them down with a damp cloth, as they are covered with dust, which is mostly your old dead skin cells.  Yea, gross, I know.  The only thing grosser than that is living in a house with a hundred pounds of your dead skin laying about in layers.  Time to clean the fish tank.

Are they a good value?  Again, the are so cheap today as to be nearly disposable.  Three of the fans that the previous owner put in the house were used in Mark's studio and replaced with nicer looking fans.  Even those cost maybe $200 apiece or so.  And they seem to last nearly forever, if properly treated.

If you ever decide to move a ceiling fan, take it apart first.  I've seen people try to sell ceiling fans in garage sales that they took down in one piece.  Usually they break a blade or two, and a broken ceiling is worth nothing.  Yes, you might find a blade or irons at the local home improvement store, but likely they won't fit, and likely they will cost more than a new fan would.  Take the blades off first, put the screws in a ziplock bag, and put the whole thing in a box.  If there is a lamp assembly attached, remove the glass globes and wrap them in paper.

It is like IKEA furniture - if you try to move a piece of IKEA furniture in one piece, half the time the damn barrel nuts pull out.   If you can disassemble it, put all the fasteners in one bag (and you did save the instructions, right?) it might actually outlast the move.

Like I said, if treated properly, these things seem to last a long time.  I have yet to see a ceiling fan wear out - even a cheap one.   Maybe they go out of style or people want something better, but break?  Not unless you whack it with a broom handle!

Will Your Stimulus Check Get Stolen? Probably Not.

Another example of New York Times Gloom.  Talk about Weeping Willows!

The Times is not only gloomy with its photos, it is also gloomy with its articles.  No matter how positive things might be, the Times paints everything with an "ain't it awful" brush.  Someone really needs to buy those folks some Prozac.   But of course, this is all by design - to bring about the eventual downfall of capitalism so that we can all live in a Communist nirvana.   Well, that seems to be the message the Times is selling these days, anyway.

The latest alarmist article, selling fear, is that your stimulus check is going to be stolen.   All a hacker needs is a few bits of your personal information and they can steal your check!   All they need is your Social Security Number - which is readily available on "the dark web" from "past breaches" and your address - "and a few other pieces of information," right?

Well, not exactly.  In addition, you need the adjusted income number from your tax return - something that wouldn't appear on dark or light webs, unless you gave this information to someone else.   It is possible that someone might file a tax return in your name, if they had your social security number (and you didn't set up a PIN number with the IRS) and then use the phony number from that return.   Possible - provided you didn't already file your taxes.   Then again, if they went this route, chances are they aren't going after a lousy $1200 stimulus check, but are claiming huge withholding from fictitious employment and then having that "refund" directed to another account.

You can check the status of your stimulus payment at this IRS site.  That site also allows you to enter bank account information - and yes, it is pretty scary how easy it is to use.  You will need data from your latest tax return, however.  You can also designate payment data if you are a "non-filer" at this site.  The status site may give you a message like this, if your payment has been scheduled:
Payment Status 
We scheduled your payment to be deposited on April 30, 2020 to the bank account below.
Bank Account Number: **************** 
If you don't see your payment credited to your account, check with your bank to verify they received it. We will mail you a letter with additional information on this payment. 
If you need additional help or do not receive your payment, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Note that there are a lot of "lookalike" sites out there that are not irs.gov sites.  Unsophisticated people click on these, enter personal data, and end up scammed.  People are also being scammed out of unemployment benefits as well.

As you might imagine, with hundreds of millions of checks and direct deposits to manage, it is a daunting task for the IRS - almost like doing two tax seasons in a row.  There are bound to be mix-ups.    Tax checks will be sent to old addresses by mistake.  Direct deposits will go to the wrong accounts, if you slipped a digit when entering the data.   If you've closed your bank account and opened a new one, the check may go to the old account.    If you filed taxes through a "preparer" who took their fee off-the-top from your refund, they may have used a "temporary" bank account to handle those funds - and that account is now closed (Poor people do this all the time, convinced that filling out a 1040-EZ is beyond their capabilities).

Fraud will also occur, and most of will be unwittingly aided and abetted by the victims.   People answer phone calls, e-mails, and text messages from "The IRS Agency" asking for "confirmation information" about their refund or claiming there is a "problem" with their stimulus check.   All they want is you to "confirm" your name, address, social security number, phone number, e-mail address and the adjusted gross income from line 8b of your tax return.   And people hand out this information, too.   Hey, while you're at it, might as well give them all your credit card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV2 numbers, just so they can "confirm" all this information is correct!

That is a problem with handing out money to people - a lot of  people will not only squander it, but have it stolen from them.   There was a story a few years ago about a guy retired from the Navy.  Folks in the military often get a little too used to the cradle-to-grave protection of the government teat.  The military takes care of its own, but that often means that many in the military are not very sophisticated about money, particularly in the lower ranks.

Con-artists of all stripes know this.   Paycheck loan stores used to ring military bases, hoping to snare young soldiers who want-it-all-now and don't understand loans have to be paid back.  Cheesy used car dealers also abound near bases, offering clapped out but flashy-looking cars at inflated prices with murderous loan rates.

But that's the least of it.  Scammers used to target military retirees, offering them loans if they would guarantee the loan with their pension payments.  In one incident, a fellow sold off several years of his military pension in exchange for a one-time payment.   Sounds like a great deal, but once that money was gone, well, he literally had nothing to live on.  Yes, some folks are that dumb, or that far into dementia, once they get older.   And bear in mind the "scammers" who target members of the miltary and retirees are considered legitimate businesses.

You can put in all the technological checks and balances you want to, odds, are, some fellow is going to blab his identity data to someone over the phone, or by e-mail or text.   Or even if they get their check, odds are, they will get scammed out if they are not astute.

Even two-step authentication can be scammed.  The scammer logs onto your bank site, which doesn't recognize his computer.  It sends a text message to your phone.  At the same time, you get a call from the "bank" (the scammer) saying that they are confirming your phone number and would you please read them the code number from the text message that just appeared?   A lot of people fall for this, as how could someone know they just received a text message?   It must be someone from the bank!  And of course, that is how the scammer got their username and password earlier, calling to "confirm" this data.   It's pretty sad, but social engineering can outwit even the most stringent electronic counter-measures.

The Times repeats the same old saw about how prevalent "identity theft" is - but of course these specious statistics include ordinary credit card theft, which of course the consumer is not responsible for (and no one feels sorry for banks, do they?).   The idea is to crank up the fear, because fear sells - it sells clicks, it sells "credit protector" and it sells political narratives, as well.

The common denominator of these "victim" stories in the NYT wasn't that these folks who lost their stimulus check or unemployment checks won't eventually get their money - because they will.   But they do have to go through the process, filing Police reports and so forth and so on.  It may take weeks, or a month or more.   Unfortunately, these folks are living paycheck to paycheck and thus are sucking the well dry in the meantime.  The question is, of course, who's fault is that?   If it weren't the virus, it could be a general layoff, a decline in the economy (which we would have seen anyway) an illness in the family, a car accident - the sort of shit in life that happens and you have to be prepared for.  If anything, these tales of woe should be viewed as cautionary tales as to what happens when you stretch your finances that thin.  Sadly, most people living the "paycheck to paycheck" lifestyle aren't doing so by necessity, but by choice.

If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck and have cable TV or an Apple product, or a tattoo, I am not sure I feel sorry for you.   Financial priorities mean putting money aside for those "rainy days" before buying luxury items.  But few people see it that way.  I know I didn't when I was 20-something-years-old and spent every penny I had on crap I really didn't need, but wanted.   I was always one paycheck away from oblivion, and was fortunate that I never ran the well dry (this often meant working several menial jobs at once, however).

What struck me as interesting about this article in the New York Times was the tone.   It would have been a helpful article if they had said, "Don't get scammed!  Don't fall for these tricks!  Use only these official IRS sites!"   Instead, the official IRS site was only obliquely referred to in a link mentioning that such as site was set up.   But the URLs of the scam sites were spelled out in the article.   Ouch.

The tone was that we're all victims, here, and what's more, it could happen to you, buddy, so don't be so smug!   Sort of the same tone they have with the Corona Virus.   The NYT seems to want to incubate learned helplessness in its readers - nothing you can do will every change your life, so don't bother trying.  Even if you try to succeed in life, you'll just get knocked down, so let's elect Bernie and take away all the money from those 1%'ers and hand it out to the deserving needy - right?

It would all be irrelevant, other than I think this sort of narrative will backfire over time.  No one wants to be depressed, and while you can fool people for a while, eventually they catch on that they are selling and promoting depression to achieve other ends.  No one wants to vote for the candidate who tells them everything is awful.  That is how Jimmy Carter lost re-election - with his "national malaise" speech.   Reagan was selling "Morning in America" and Trump pushes his "Make America Great Again" nonsense.   It may be nonsense, but it is a positive message - a message that you are good, and you are great and that things will get better.

Sadly, it seems the left never wants to be happy.  Even when a Democrat is in the Whitehouse and Democrats control both houses of Congress, papers like the New York Times only want to sell sad stories, about how awful things are.  After all, both Clinton and Obama are still considered "too conservative" by the leftist press!  I would gladly trade today's situation for the "Bad old days" of the Clinton administration!

We need to move beyond this negative nabobism.   We need to stop selling depression.

UPDATE:  Despite all the warnings and scare stories from the New York Times, my stimulus "check" showed up as a direct deposit in my account this morning, mostly because I proactively went on the IRS site (and made sure it was the real IRS site) and entered my direct deposit information, checking the numbers three times to make sure they were correct and I didn't slip a digit.

Still not received is the self-congratulatory letter from Donald Trump taking credit for the check.   We just can't wait to get that - I collect autographs!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Givers And Takers

Do some States pay more in taxes than they get back in benefits and do other states receive more in benefits than they pay in in taxes? Does it really make a difference?  The real reasons behind this differential may surprise you, though.

Governor Andrew "I''m not affiliated with the Mafia" Cuomo  says the Federal government should bail out New York State and the Gambino crime family and the Teacher's Union (I repeat myself) because New York has been subsidizing other States for years!   Is this true?  And does it make a difference?

Well, be shocked - Governor Cuomo is lying. I am just shattered that my hero would resort to misdirection and selective use of statistics to try to get a point across.  Who does he think he is, Trump?  Hey, both are New Yorkers, right?

The reality is a little more nuanced.  The biggest "giving" State is Connecticut and the biggest "snout in the trough" State is... Virginia?   Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and his name is Uncle Sugar.

If you've ever lived in Northern Virginia or "NoVa" you know why this is the case.  The combined areas of Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria have a greater population than some States. Fairfax county is one of the wealthiest in the nation.  These three areas have a large enough population to outvote the rest of  Virginia and thus pledge its delegates to the Democratic Nominee.

If you thought Alexandria was some small, slow, Southern town, where the Sheriff sits on a rocking chair on the front porch of the courthouse with a shotgun in his lap, sipping sweet tea and drawling, "Boy, you ain't from 'round here, areya?" you've got another think coming.  This megalopolis stretches from the confines of DC to nearly Richmond, and is home to so many government agencies, army bases, and various government contractors.

Myself included.   Yes, I was a registered defense contractor and did work for the Army Research Labs, as well as Department of Commerce.  So some of my income in government contracts that I received while working in "NoVa" would be counted as "taking" by Governor Cuomo's standards.

But of course, my income was small potatoes.  Ringing the beltway for miles are industrial parks with companies with odd names or acronyms that do mysterious business, often for "the three-letter agencies" - CIA, FBI, NSA, and so on and so forth.  And yes, I worked for one of these contractors as well.  I can't tell you more about it, or I'd have to kill you.  Just kidding.  Or am I?

So Virginia is the number one "taking" State, but only because it is home to so many government contractors, and only because it is so near the District of Columbia.  If some of those contractors were in New York State... the numbers might be different.  Of course, there are government contractors in nearly every State.  Senator Klaghorn promises to "bring jobs" to their districtHillary tried to do this with an overpriced Presidential helicopter (which no doubt, she was hoping to ride some day, as the "Hilly-copter" - a name she made up, not kidding).

In places like Syracuse, New York, Companies like Lockheed-Martin or General Electric had offices, so that  a portion of some government largess could be siphoned off and sent to the State, preferably with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the local pols present.  "We are pleased to announce that WilGroCo has landed a $5 billion government contract to supply ashtrays and liquor decanters for the new Presidential helicopter!"   You know how the game is played.

And New York and Connecticut are not playing the game well, lately.  Many government contractors have moved away from "Blue States" to less expensive and more expansive places where you can fly a Mach-5 hypersonic missile without people looking.   Again, they may throw a token at other States, in order to get a Senator or Congressman to vote for the funding, but the bulk of this stuff happens in places like Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Yes, California is a "taker" State, and likely because it, too, has a lot of skunkworks developing military hardware - one of the largest chunks of our Federal budget.

In terms of military bases, Blue States are losing out, and Red States are gaining.  While New York has West Point and a few other bases (Fort Drum, for winter training) the South and West have far more bases - and this has more to do with geography than anything else.   Real Estate in New York is just too dear to put in an airbase or a missile center.

But there are other things in the budget besides military spending - both government and private sector.  Social Security and Medicare are two biggies as well.  And not surprisingly, people in New York "pay in" to these systems while working and then retire to Florida where they are "paid out".  Does this mean Florida is a selfish pig? Hardly.  Or is Governor Cuomo suggesting that New Yorkers be required by law only to retire in the State they were born in?

And then there are other areas of "contribution" that really don't count in terms of dollars and cents.  New York, for example, gives us Wall Street - and what a treat that is, for the average investor, or those poor schmucks up to their eyeballs in debt with Student Loans.  Nebraska gives New York food - and is also a "giver" State, but you don't see them bitching about it, doya?

(But of course, Wall Street is why New York is a "giver" State, as the financial district alone generates huge amounts of tax revenue for the Federal Government, and, by the way, the State of New York.  When the recession hit, New York was screwed, tax-wise, which is why Cuomo wanted a bail out!).

A lot of these "taker" States end up being the largest sources of recruitment for our armed forces, as well.  Some, such as California and Texas, are high on the list because they are large States.  But in terms of percent, the West and South make up 64% of our military - and yet, you don't hear people bitching about that, doya?

This argument that Governor Cuomo is making is a non-starter, only because it is nonsensical.  Yes, New York "gets back" 94 cents on every dollar they spend on Federal taxes.  (Frankly, I was surprised it was that high).   But if Virginia were the financial center of the planet, and New York the capital of the United States, the roles would be reversed.   The "benefits" of those tax dollars are felt equally by all of us, regardless of where we live.  New York benefits from the protection of our military just as Iowa does.  New Yorkers collect as much on Social Security and Medicare (and likely more, in overall terms as well as per capita) as people from any other State.  The fact they are collecting this money in Florida is really irrelevant.

In other words, this is a specious statistic - a made-up number that means nothing.

The padded government jobs, government waste, corruption, and organized crime rampant in the Empire State, however, is a known quantity. New Yorkers don't mind "subsidizing" defense and retirement spending that they benefit from directly.   But New Yorkers are as fed up as everyone else is, of their five-figure property tax bills, as well as staggering income and sales taxes.

The question is, by bailing out New York, do we enable this drunken, drug-addicted brother who refuses to work? Or should we use "tough love" and maybe New Yorkers will vote corrupt, grandstanding politicians out of office (and slash padded government worker's salaries as they did in Wisconsin?).

You give a bum $5 at the stoplight, he isn't going to use that money to get a haircut for his job interview.  He's going right back to the liquor store for more Ripple.

Sometimes, it is a kindness just to say, "No."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

In the Mind of a Republican

Today, we don't try to understand why people have different opinions than our own - we just try to shout them down.   As a result, folks have retired to cubbyholes of belief, convinced the world is a scary, dark place full of enemies.

I recently had a nice conversation with a couple who are Republicans.   Believe it or not, they represent a significant portion of the United States.   Most Americans call themselves "independents" but on the whole are fairly conservative, and will vote for the candidate who they believe best represents their interests.  Funny how that works, eh?

Republicans have been winning a lot of elections lately - well, at least until recently.   And the reason they have won, time and time again, is that conservatives are more likely to "go along" with a candidate that they might not personally like, if they realize it is the candidate more closely aligned to their political and economic beliefs.

Liberals, on the other hand, hold out for "my way or the highway" and if their "perfect" candidate isn't nominated, they stay home and pout, like a small child.  "I'll show you!" they say, "for not letting Bernie win!"

And they showed us, alright.   But if Trump's policies negatively affected anyone, it was the Bernie supporters - the people hoping for free shit from the government.   They pretty much got the opposite of everything they wanted.

People, though, are pretty easy to figure out.   People vote for the candidate who they think will enact laws that favor them.   It is weak thinking, basically - believing in things that are convenient to you and also externalizing your problems.    Bernie supporters want free college, loan forgiveness, rent control, guaranteed jobs, and so on down the line.  This is convenient thinking to someone who racked up a lot of debt on a worthless college degree in Agitation Studies, and now has trouble finding a job.   And of course, they externalize their own problems by projecting them as society's problems - nothing they did was wrong, right?   After all, they went to college like "they" said they should.

Conservatives are no different, only that they have a different set of values based on a different life experience.   If you run your own business, for example, you may be a little weary of yet another government regulation to comply with, another government form to fill out, and yet another tax to pay.    As I noted before, one sure way to become a Republican is to become an employer - and find out that it is not a license to print money, but in fact a sure-fire way to go bankrupt in 2 out of 3 cases.  So as you might imagine, the conservative votes for the guy who will reduce regulations, lower tax rates, make it easier to hire and fire people, and so on down the line.

It is not that either the liberal or the conservative are "right" or "wrong" on all these issues, only that they have different perspectives.  The conservative who never went to college and runs his own business, doesn't understand why he should have to pay for the poor life choices of the liberal.  Why should he be subsidizing college degrees for the liberal elite?   The liberal, on the other hand doesn't understand why a system should be set up that entices people to ruin themselves financially at such an early age.

The problem, of course, is that neither side sees that benefits to society as a whole can benefit themselves.  You can pass laws that are draconian and allow people to be exploited by our economic system - and that might make a few people a lot of money in the short term.    But in the long-term, a society full of disgruntled people is not a stable one, and it could come back to haunt you.   And we saw this, in the 1960's with the riots in Watts and elsewhere.  Back then, life was a lot harsher for the poor than today - public benefits were not as generous, if they existed at all.  And racial prejudice was a dramatic and often legal thing as well.   Lyndon Johnson - a Southerner - pushed through his "great society" agenda not because he cared for these poor and mostly black folks, but because he wanted to defuse a bomb before it went off.

Similarly, on the other side of the coin, you can pass laws punishing businesses to the point where they decide to go out of business.   When you tax companies to death, they either move away or go out of business.   We saw this in the Northeast, where States and localities would tax factories - even the inventories of parts! - to the point where it was just cheaper to abandon the factory and move to Alabama  - or to India or China.    It wasn't like companies were doing this to "be mean" or to "chase profits" only that you can't keep losing money, year after year, and stay in business.   Eventually you run out of money.

The greater good often means understanding where the other guy is coming from, rather than depicting him as a caricature or Piñata to be whacked with a stick.

Anyway, talking to this nice couple, it wasn't hard to understand where they were coming from.  They ran a business and had to hire people to work for them and try to get some actual work out of them.  Funny as it may seem, people when hired, do the least amount of labor required - without getting fired.  Or in some instances, not even that.  Again, this is not surprising, just human nature.  When I was an employee, my performance was always just slightly above what was expected - they hold the bar this high, and you jump over it.   There is no benefit to leaping over it, as it is not your business.

As you might expect they were also fans of fewer rules and regulations affecting their business - particularly rules and regulations that seemed arbitrary and capricious or served not even a societal function.  So as you might expect, they tended to vote Republican.

He told me a story about one of his employees who was caught up in an ICE raid.  The fellow was in the final phase of obtaining his green card, but his ex-wife had destroyed the paperwork and actually called the ICE on her ex-husband.  Talk about a messy divorce!  Anyway, this fellow drove all the way out to the other end of the State and hired the best immigration lawyer he could find and after more than a month, got his friend sprung.  Unlike most of these stories, it has a happy ending - the fellow got his green card and shouldn't be deported.

ICE was playing the usual game here - offering to deport the fellow immediately if he would sign papers "admitting" he was in the country illegally.  If you don't sign the papers and don't have a lawyer, you may wait a year or more in detention before seeing a judge, and without a lawyer, you likely will end up deported.  Many sign.

My friend was pissed at this waste of taxpayer money.  "It costs them thousands of dollars a month just to detain these folks!  What a waste!"   I asked him, "Say, that wasn't one of those private prison companies, was it?" and he got a far-away look in his eye and then said quietly, "Now that you mention it, yes, yes it was!"

Maybe that will stew in his brain a bit.   This immigration thing is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

But even assuming that there is some sort of backdoor deal here between Trump and Prisons-R-Us, he still is going to vote for Trump in November, as Trump more aligns with his philosophies than the Democrats - who seem to be going out of their way to paint themselves as radical leftists.  The GOP has done a good job of painting the Democratic party into a corner, and Comrade Sanders, who is not a Democrat at all, has managed to conflate his socialist agenda with that of the Democratic party.

On a personal level, my friend and his wife dislike Trump - admitting that he is boorish, ugly (in a physical and mental sense) and inarticulate.  They would not have him over for dinner.   They are not MAGA-hat wearing Trump-rally attenders, which the left uses as a caricature of the Trump voter.  Piñatas, again.  There is a lot not to like about Trump and his policies, even for conservatives, but they "hold their nose and vote" and have no trouble doing this.   Ideological purity is not high on their agenda, policy and positions are.

And that is where Trump succeeded where Hillary failed.  Hillary's slogan was "Better Together" - the idea that she could stitch together a coalition of different identity groups, from trade unionists, to racial minorities, to women, gays, socialists, and whatnot. Often these identity groups are at odds with one another or with Democratic policies and positions. The Southern Black Baptist isn't interested in transgender rights.   The trade unionist isn't interested in free trade.

Trump and the GOP, on the other hand, presented a cafeteria-style smorgasbord of tidbits that a panoply of conservatives could select from. There is something for everyone at the Country Time Buffet - even vegetarians.   The stale bread of the Democratic party, served Soviet-style (wait in line and get a crumb) wasn't nearly as enticing.

The fundamentalist Christians voted for Trump in spite of the fact he is hardly a Christian man or even religious.  They got what they wanted - a Supreme Court stacked with anti-abortion justices, who are willing to revisit Roe v. Wade. A Federal Judiciary stacked with conservative judges is a bonus as well.

The business people are getting reduced regulations (or abolished regulations) as well as weaker enforcement.  They are getting tax cuts, capital gains cuts, one-time repatriation of foreign profits, and a whole slew of what they perceive as benefits to themselves. Again, of course, some more farsighted business people have sounded the alarm about deficit spending and the overall effect of some of these changes on society as a whole - which may be of detriment to business people in the long run.

The MAGA-hat wearing rally-attending Trump fans (who would love to have him over for dinner in their trailer) are getting what they want - their xenophobic tendencies validated, and anti-immigrant measures enacted.   Trump skewers the coastal intellectuals who have been talking down to them for so long - and the crowd eats it up.  Again, it is essential to understand where they are coming from with this, instead of blindly hating or dismissing them as unsophisticated.

America is changing in recent years, and to someone growing up in a small town, it may seem alarming when all the stores on main street close, only to reopen years later with signs all in Spanish - or another foreign language.  Multiculturalism is fine an all, but to many folks, they feel their own culture is being edged out.  You talk to these folks (and again, you have to actually talk to them to understand them) and most are not the racist buffoons portrayed by the media.  Most actually like latinos and blacks, and have friends and coworkers of different races.  It is the unsettling change they see happening that unnerves them.

This is the same effect that pushed Brexit through.  You grow up in a small town in the UK, and now the shops have signs in Polish and people are wearing hijabs and babbling in foreign tongues and you wonder what happened to your twee village.  Or like a lady in Italy (who was castigated for being racist - more than a decade ago) wondering whether Italy could remain Italian, when Catholic church bells were replaced by badly recorded "calls to prayer" five times a day.  Multiculturalism sounds like fun, but in formerly mono-cultural societies, can be a bit of a shock - as many of our Nordic friends are discovering.

But getting back to Trump rallies, the Trump faithful really plug-in to what he is saying, even if it is a turn-off to the Christians or the business folks.  He gets people riled up and motivated in a way Hillary - or even Biden - could not do.   He makes them feel proud of their country and tells them how great they are.  Democrats tell them they are the problem for not allowing their child to "transition" while in Kindergarten, or how the school cafeteria committed a "micro-aggression" or "cultural appropriation" by serving poorly-made tacos or "Mexican Hat" on Tuesday.

You could argue that is merely perception, but it is a perception they've made stick. It doesn't help any that some people on the left actually believe this shit.  The GOP has done a better job at keeping the far, far right at arm's length - decrying and denouncing the neo-Nazis and other nutjobs that make up the fringe.  Maybe we don't believe this, but at least they are on record as saying it.

On the other hand, the Democrats are falling all over themselves to court the vote of the far-left, and doing so unashamedly.  Nancy Pelosi, who has two $30,000 refrigerators, is trying to court Amelia Island-Carshow who thinks owning a garbage disposal is bourgeoisie.   I wonder if she and Nancy have had ice cream together - I kind of doubt it.

The problem for the Democrats is that the smorgasbord they present isn't palatable to a large enough group. The vegans, for example, won't even touch any of the food that may have been "contaminated" by being next to a meat dish.  So everyone has to have separate tables, and separate service à la carte.  This works if you are trying to elect a conservative Democrat in Virginia, or a "Democratic Socialist" in Vermont, but it fails miserably on a national stage. The Democratic "circular firing squad" kicks in every four years, it seems, destroying their own candidates.

If you look at the history of successful Democratic Presidential candidates, you see a pattern.  The "good old days" of the Clinton administration saw the deficit reduced and even the national debt shrunk - to the point economists were worried there would be so much surplus in the budget the government would become the largest investor on Wall Street.   That never happened, of course, and the GOP tried to take down Clinton for his sexual indiscretions.

Today, it would be the Left who would have taken down Clinton - and have taken him down - as part of this #metoo movement which some are saying has gone from raising social awareness to becoming a witch hunt.  And Clinton's policies are roundly condemned by the far-left today. Things like welfare reform and other compromises Clinton had to make with a Republican Congress are decried as cruel and unfair.

Even Obama is roundly criticized by the left as "too conservative" in his fiscal policies and too hawk-like in his foreign policies.  If he ran for President today (if it were allowed) the Bernie faction would tear him apart.  Bernie himself has already done that.

Democrats have a harder time wrapping their head around a simple idea: That no candidate is ever perfect, and that political maturity means voting for the candidate whose ideology is the closest to your own, and not holding out for a perfect match. The last time around, a lot of "Bernie Bros" threw a temper tantrum and decided that if they could not have Bernie, they would stay home and pout - and get the exact opposite of what they wanted.

Of course, one wonders how things would have played out if Hillary had won.  There would have been huge Republican gains in the House and Senate in the mid-terms, and gridlock in Washington for four years - and endless Congressional investigations of Hillary's e-mails.  In other words, maybe a lot would be the same, sans the wall.

A lot of folks are assuming that Trump will be a one-term President - that the Democrats will sweep into office in the fall, perhaps taking over the Senate as well. The response to the Corona Virus (which the Post and Times have been hammering into our heads for months now, was "botched") and the poor state of the economy would make it seem like a no-brainer.   "It's the economy, stupid" was the mantra that got Clinton elected, defeating another one-termer.

In order to win, though, we have to get the votes of more than just committed liberals - who have shown, time and time again to be an unreliable voting bloc.  A better approach is to go after those middle-of-the-road people who want logical, rational government, and are tired of the Trump drama going on.   Like my friends in Northern Virginia who voted for Bush - twice - and then turned around and vote for Obama.   You need to convince them.

In searching for the image above online, I got a number of hits for paperback books for sale on Amazon, or for websites and blogsites with titles like, "How to win an argument with a Conservative!" or "How to win an argument with a Liberal!"  These sort of sites and books and videos illustrate exactly what the problem is.  You can't "win" arguments with people - you only drive them further and further into their ideological cubbyholes.  This idea that you can beat people down with your ideas and have them come whimpering back to you saying, "Gee, you're right!  Please forgive my transgressions and allow me to join your political wing - but only if I am worthy!" is just a sick, sick fantasy.

But a popular one.  A far better approach is to try to understand where people who are different than you are coming from and learn to work with them, or, if it seems you are that far apart, to simply walk away. It kind of irks me that Democrats are trying to be so "inclusive" to people of all races and colors and orientations and religions (even religions that are intolerant, except of course, for Baptists) but cannot tolerate people of different political ideologies - even those whose beliefs overlap with their own.

A lot can happen between now and November.  The economy may really crater in the next quarter, as more and more companies go bankrupt - many actually dissolving rather than reorganizing. The extensive layoffs will really start to be felt.  And since Bernie is technically still in the race, if Biden were to catch the Corona Virus..... I think this is exactly what some on the far-left are hoping for. Because radical politics aren't enacted and radical politicians don't come to power, in times of plenty and peace.

On the other hand, if the virus fizzles out, and the economy does recover somewhat, Trump might just squeak by, for another four years on the merry-go-round.  As in 2016, it is the Democrat's election to lose.  Trump didn't win in 2016, Hillary lost.  She lost because the party stopped listening to people whose opinions didn't mirror their own.   You need those folks to get elected.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Science versus Faith - Again

You can never "disprove" a conspiracy theory to a conspiracy theorist, so don't bother trying.  People who don't understand the difference between science and faith never can be convinced of anything.

I always get a kick out of people who are trying to "reform" religions such as the Catholic Church. They are kind of annoying, actually.  During the AIDS crisis, there were some "activists" who would disrupt church services by screaming and yelling and waving signs and whatnot.  I am not sure what this accomplished, other than to make the activists look stupid.  I am sure that their energies could have been put to better use.

Private organizations like the Catholic Church or the Masons are entitled to believe what they want to believe. And faith-based organizations rely on credentialism and faith as part-and-parcel of their structure and beliefs.   If the head Mason or the Pope says this is the way it has to be, that's the way it works.   You don't get a vote in the matter.   If you don't like it, leave and don't look back.  I have no time for whiny ex-Scientologists or disillusioned Catholics who think they can "expose" or "reform" their former religions.  Start a new religion  - that's how Protestantism got going.  Frankly, there are so many flavors of religion out there, chances are it is easier to find one that fits your beliefs, rather than try to change one to suit you.    But I digress.

The scientific method, as I noted before, is to create a theory or a model of how things work - whether it is how a bridge beam bends, or how particles in an atom behave, or how a virus attacks the body.  You design experiments to prove or disprove your theory or model, and then perform them.  If they agree with your theory or model, then you can cautiously argue that perhaps your model or theory is correct.  You publish these results for others to review and criticize (and they will) and they will try to replicate your results.  Over time, if the results of your experiments are repeatable, and other experiments designed to test other aspects of your model also fall in line, then your theory or model may become generally accepted by the scientific community - you may win a Nobel Prize, even.

But even then, years down the road - maybe after you're dead - people will come up with new theories - often because a new experiment doesn't quite jive with your model - and your theory or model may be modified or entirely thrown out  Science is never finished and there are no "final answers" - only theories and suggestions.

Science is not a democracy.  Many global warming "activists" like to posit something along the lines of "9 out of 10 respected scientists believe global warming is real!" That's not how it works. Scientific theories are not decided upon by a popular vote of the "Scientific Community" - another example of the word "community" being used to describe a non-existent community.  Frankly, it sounds like a Gary Larson cartoon - a neighborhood in every city populated by nerds in white lab coats.  It doesn't exist.

Science is evidence-driven, and as such is never finished, as there is always more evidence to consider and process.  Over time, you eventually figure out which theories have more weight than others, based on the evidence, not on popular vote.   Global warming, for example, has a lot of data driving it.   I wrote Patents for NOAA on some of the equipment that is used to log this data, and it is amazing how much data we gather, from remote sensors scattered across the globe, to satellites in space, to aircraft sampling the atmosphere, just to name a few.   And we do this at no charge to the rest of the world, just as our GPS system is free, and our tsunami warning system is free.  We try to be the good guys - most of the time.

Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are driven by opinion and faith.  There is a theory, yes, but no experiments to prove the theory.  Rather, the conspiracy theorist uses "evidence" which is selectively chosen from newspaper articles and online sources - or just made-up in many cases.  If something seems coincidental, that is bootstrapped as "proof" of the conspiracy.   Evidence to the contrary, of course, it simply disregarded or not noticed in the first place (if you set out to find evidence of your conspiracy, you naturally tend not to find evidence to the contrary).

The conspiracy theorist gets the first part of Science - they develop a theory.  But they never do the rest of the messy business of science - developing a test to prove the theory, publishing the data for peer review, and seeing whether others can replicate the test results. Of course, the conspiracy theorist - living in his Mother's basement - has neither the expertise or resources to perform any such experiments, and the lack of data to support his theory merely being part of the conspiracy itself.  It is a perfect feedback loop.  Any time you try to explain to someone why their conspiracy theory is weak, they just shoot back that any attempt to disprove the conspiracy is evidence of the conspiracy itself - and perhaps you are in with the conspirators.

So it isn't worth arguing about.

And it is one reason I am reluctant to address the next topic.  Once you mention something, it tends only to add to it.  For example, this whole non-existent "toilet paper shortage" deal.  When articles appeared in the press about it, and people started doing funny political cartoons about it, it only made it worse.  When a columnist would exhort people not to hoard toilet paper, it only raised awareness among people that hey, maybe there is a toilet paper shortage, let's go buy some today!   It is an aspect of the Barbara Streisand Effect - drawing attention to something best left alone.

By the way, a reader writes that maybe the toilet paper shortage is real - that people, staying home, are using more toilet paper that ordinarily would have been used at work or at a store.  Perhaps, but when I was in Ft. Lauderdale before the crisis went full-blown, I saw the feeding frenzy in Walmart, where people had three, four, or five of those huge jumbo "Sam's Club" mega-packs of toilet paper stacked up in their cart.   This is a year's supply of toilet paper, even for a family of four.  Since we had bought one mega-pack at the wholesale club a week before, I felt no need to hoard toilet paper - that was enough to last me months, based on experience.   The toilet paper thing was basically human hoarding creating a shortage which in turn lead to more hoarding.  It is like the artificial change shortage.

Over time, people realize that the staple in question is not in short supply and they stop buying.  It seems to have cycled through sugar, flour, meat, and so on and so forth.   Pallets of flour and sugar were placed in the aisles of the Winn-Dixie, and oddly enough, no one was buying.  At the Walmart "Ghetto Gourmet" they had nearly empty shelves of flour and people were desperately putting sacks of it in their cart - a perceived shortage.  Much of it will get thrown away, I think, as this whole thing winds down (and it is winding down - sorry apocalypse fans!) as they discover later on that bags of flour left sitting around get bugs in them.  Flour - use it or lose it.  We've been making bread, in an old bread machine someone gave us.   It's something to do.  And we already had flour - sealed in airtight containers to keep the bugs outBut I digress, yet again.

Thus, I hate to even mention the next topic, lest even mentioning it sort of bootstrap the whole deal. If you say something is false, then folks wonder whether it is, in fact, true.   In recent weeks, some people having nothing else to do, have been setting fire to cell phone towers, convinced that "5G" technology is somehow connected to the Corona Virus.   The towers they burned, of course, were 4G towers, as 5G really is only rolling out just now, in limited areas, mostly in Asia.   I was planning on writing about this, but gave up.  A reader asked about it, convinced their children would end up sterile or something.   Probably would be a good thing.  Maybe there is a reason we put housewives on tranquilizers in the 1950's.   But it probably was a bad idea, though.  Just as obsessing about your children's health can, oddly enough, make them less healthy.  Thanks, Mom!

The theory behind all this is that somehow the electromagnetic radiation from a 5G tower is "different" than 4G and 3G towers, and this, in turn, can affect your health.  And this is an example of where there is a tiny nugget of truth behind this, which can be distorted all out of shape.  Yes, electromagnetic radiation can kill you.   So can water, if you drown in it, or drink so much you end up with a condition called hyponatremia, where your sodium levels drop too low.  But in moderate amounts, it is relatively harmless.

Radiation is all around us, and comes in a number of forms.   Sunlight is a form of radiation that acts as both particle and wave, and yes, exposure over time can kill you by causing various forms of cancer, or just burn your outer layer of epidermis.  Our sun gives us life, but also blasts our planet with a lot of radiation.  Fortunately our magnetic field shields us from a lot of this (as well as cosmic radiation) sort of like a giant Faraday cage.   The Moon and Mars don't have these magnetic fields, and hence are not as well-suited to life.  Still sure you want to colonize lifeless, radiation-blasted planets?

Even with this nice magnetic field shielding us, we are exposed to all sort of "EMF" or "RF" on a daily basis.   The levels are low enough that they are not of any great harm to us, just as going out in the sunlight for ten minutes isn't likely to give you skin cancer or even a sunburn.   The key word here is "likely" as this is all based on probabilistic distributions.  If you go out and lay on the beach every day without sunscreen, you will get sunburned and the odds of a melanoma later in life are pretty high.    On the other hand, if you only go occasionally and use sunscreen or cover up, the odds decline.  They never go to zero.

It is akin to arsenic and other poisonous materials.  Chances are, you ate arsenic today, as well as lead, and a host of other toxic or dangerous metals. You most likely inhaled poisonous fumes as well.  Why aren't you dead?   The answer is, there is a "safe" level of exposure to most of these things, and the level you are experiencing is far below that safe level.  The EPA and the FDA, among others, establish "safe" levels of exposure these various materials.  And yes, periodically, some hysterical so-and-so goes on television and claims that the local water supply is poisoning their children.  Remember the whole fluoride thing?  The John Birch Society was convinced it was turning America Gay and Communist.  Frankly, though, I appreciate not having all the tooth problems my parents had.  Yes, fluoride can kill you, if you drank a gallon of it. straight.  At lower concentrations, though, it is generally safe.

It is akin to this virus thing - you can take precautions by using a mask, gloves, social distancing, cleaning surfaces, staying at home -  and still get the virus.   It's unlikely, but it could still happen.  You have to look at the relative odds and figure out what your best probable outcome in life is.  And like it or not, we do this every day in every human activity we engage in.  The "if it saves one life it's worth it" crowd fails to understand this.  If their philosophy was enacted, we would immediately abolish all automotive transportation, airplanes, and even staircases (not to mention bathtubs - they are deadly!).  It is a ridiculous argument, of course.  If you are too safe you ironically become unsafe.  Because if we all started walking tomorrow and outlawed any type of machinery that could harm us, we'd all starve to death in short order.  But I digress.

Radiation from cell phones is indeed regulated by government agencies such as the FCC here in the States.  And there are limits on the power of phones.  As I noted in a very early posting, the old-style "car phones" were legally allowed to transmit about 4.5 watts of power.   Handheld cell phones were limited to 500mW (which sounds so much cooler than a half-a-watt) of power.  Why was this?   Well, it was felt that having nearly five watts of RF next to your brain was, well, a bad idea.   A half-a-watt on the other hand, was acceptable.  Even back then, people questioned this, and the whole "cell phones cause brain cancer" scare started.

500 milliWatts was considered sufficient for a handheld phone because by the time they became popular, more cell towers were installed, reducing the need for more powerful "car phones" of the early era.    But clearly, there was a threshold where the power of these devices was deemed unsafe.  and a half-a-Watt was deemed to be that threshold.  No doubt some poor bunnies or dogs were blasted with cell phones to see if their brains cooked - that is how these things are done.  Yes, it is awful.

Once these things were in circulation, the urban legend or conspiracy theory started to spread that cell phones cause brain cancer.  This article from the Mayo Clinic addresses the issue.  Once these phones were in circulation, it was possible to do statistical studies to see if brain cancers were more likely than not with hand-held cell phone users.  Recall back then, not everyone had a cell phone, so it was possible to compare cancer rates with handheld users versus a "control group" of non-users.  The results were mixed, which is to say, no real correlation one way or the other.  Increases in brain tumors since the 1970s seem to have occurred - but that was more than a decade before cell phones were even in use.

Since those days, people talk on cell phones a lot less and text more (maybe they will get finger cancer).   And even when talking, people use Bluetooth devices (which also generate RF signals, but a very low power).  Since legions of people haven't dropped dead of brain cancer, it seems the 500 mW level has turned out to be pretty safe, after all.   Odds are, you'll die of something else.   Very good odds, too.

So what about 5G?  Well, like any radio signal (radiation source) if you put your head right next to the broadcasting antenna, it probably isn't a great idea.   But this would also be true for other types of radio signals.  It all depends on the power of the signal, of course.  Your WiFi router isn't likely to give you cancer, nor is your garage door opener, or your Bluetooth headphones.  But try telling that to some people.

This is not a new issue, either.  I recall many years ago (decades in fact) reading about a cult in Germany that believed (and the key word is "believed" - faith) that EMF was bad for your mental and physical health.  Not only did they live in houses without electricity or any electrical devices, they built the houses without nails, claiming that even having metal around would attract radio signals.  They oriented their beds with the heads facing North, convinced that this "aligned" them with the Earth's magnetic field and somehow helped their holistic spirit or whatever.

It was a cult, and all of these beliefs were based on faith not science.   They had no proof that any of their actions made their lives better, other than perhaps, the placebo effect.   Whether they were really insulating themselves from electromagnetic radiation is a good question - after all, radio stations and powerlines generate lots of radio signals that permeate  just about everything.

Electromagnetic radiation is all around us - natural and man made.   You can make a radio from a "crystal set" that requires no batteries (back in the day, it was something boys did as a coming-of-age activity).   The power of the radio waves in the air was enough to drive it.  Those RFID chips you see on products are powered by the electromagnetic fields generated by those loops that are on each side of the exit at your local big-box store.  There is enough energy there to activate a chip and have it send out a coded radio signal in return.  Really black magic kind of stuff - and it isn't a very powerful signal, so no, RFID isn't giving you cancer, either.

Therein lies the real "connection" between the Corona Virus and 5G cell service.  To the cargo cult population, both seem like mysterious, unknowable, invisible threats, that that they have no control over.  They are afraid, and fear is not an emotion to be trusted.   People bought toilet paper, some say, because they felt powerless over the virus, and buying toilet paper - as idiotic as it was - was something they could do.   It is the same reason people freak out over nuclear power, even if they don't understand the first thing about it (Most people, if asked, think that the hyerboloid cooling towers that accompany many kinds of power plants are "nuclear reactors").   Statistically, even taking into account Chernobyl (Russian technology, best technology!) Nuclear power has been far safer than coal-fired plants - or even hydroelectric power.  Coal has killed millions over the years, though pollution, not to mention the dangers and illnesses caused by coal mining.

Of course, power in general is unsafe.   Your car gets into a wreck, whether it has a gas tank or a lithium-ion battery pack, there exists the possibility of fire or explosion.   But that is the key - power concentrated is always dangerous if handled improperly - whether it is a dam full of water or a gas pipeline under pressure - or a microwave antenna aimed at your crotch at full power.

We've had a lot of experience with radiation of different types over the decades, and learned a lot - often by painful experience.  Madame Curie discovered radiation - and then died from it.  Early experimenters with radar found out the hard way you can microwave your brain if you stand in front of a radar antenna (hence the invention of the microwave oven).  Over time, appropriate levels of exposure to all types of radiation have been developed (even, as I noted, sunlight).  Obviously, "zero" would be the best level of exposure, but that is physically impossible unless you built an underground shelter with a Faraday cage and never left it - but even then, you'd be shot through with hundreds of trillions of neutrinos per second - they blast across the universe passing through nearly everything.

Cell phone towers and systems are designed according to these accepted norms - the power levels are set according to what has been tested and deemed to be "safe" levels of radiation.  And these levels were determined based on testing, as noted above (Poor bunnies!  They died so you can text!).

But what is the "evidence" behind the 5G conspiracy?  There really is none.  It is just utter made-up bullshit.  The theory goes something like this - the Corona Virus developed in the Wuhan region of China which is a hotspot of 5G technology.  Unfortunately, Wuhan isn't some 5G wunderland, any more than any other part of China is.   And even if one assumed this to be true, then why is Northern Italy and Spain the real hotspot for this virus? Places where 5G technology hasn't even been implemented yet?  

In reality, 5G really has yet to roll out anywhere in the world, other than parts of China and South Korea.  Which is why when idiots in the UK burn down cell towers, they are not 5G towers.  It has been delayed in the US because of a dustup over using Chinese-made chips, which many believe have a "backdoor" to phone home to the mother ship with sensitive data.   That is perhaps the biggest hole in the 5G conspiracy theory - how can a technology that hasn't been rolled out yet, be causing a virus?

Then there is the the theory itself.  Somehow radiation causes a virus?   This defies explanation, even as a theory.  Cancer would make more sense.  Proponents argue that these non-existent towers are generating some sort of special radiation (unlike 3G and 4G?) that  depresses the immune system to allow just one kind of virus to attack the body.   To quote Jerry Seinfield, "That's one magic loogie!"

So where did this whole crazy theory come from?  The same place the anti-vaxxer theories came from, as well as the whole flat-earth deal - The Russian Internet Research Agency.  They are trying to spread fear and paranoia in the West to create destabilization.  This is not some wild conspiracy theory, either, but the conclusion of every single security agency in every Western country.  They tried to spoof the 2016 election, and they have been at it every since.

It isn't like they are obvious about it, either.  They don't put up a website with a name like "5G_bad_for_you.ru" or something dumb like that.  Rather, they like and upvote comments on Facebook, or make snarky comments on Reddit or YouTube.   Often, they take destabilizing trends that developed organically (there are plenty of crazy people in the world with crazy ideas to riff off of) and amplify them.  In some instances they may provide original comments or videos, but once the rumor they want to spread takes off, they wipe these and allow the "useful idiots" to take over.

Don't be a useful idiot.

But why 5G?  Russia is behind the West, in terms of technology, and if they can derail the latest technological innovations in the West, so much the better.  Hence you see comments online creating divisiveness about electric cars, wind and solar power, or whatever.  Again, the idea is to create chaos, not necessarily achieve "goals" and take objectives.   This is indeed the problem for Western powers, used to fighting battles and winning wars - our opponents in the world, be they middle-eastern terrorists or Russian hackers, don't have specific goals or objectives.  They just want to spread fear and distrust, ennui and loathing.

This is why North Korea fires off missiles periodically.  They know it will get great press in the West and spread fear.  The idea that somehow North Korea is a significant nuclear threat to the United States is, of course, overblown.  Before a Korean missile even reached the United States, Pongyang would be a smoking hole in the ground.  We have nuclear submarines.  Lots of them.  And unlike Russian technology, it works.

It is why the Iranians harass our ships with speedboats and make loud and empty proclamations about "death to America" and fund annoying insurgencies all over the world.  They don't want to win wars in Yemen or Iraq or Lebanon, but just keep stirring the pot and creating a shitstorm and baiting the West to respond, and get us dragged into a long drawn-out civil war.

On the Sunni side of the street, that was the whole idea behind 9/11 - and it worked.  Bin Laden had no plans to "win" with that attack, and he didn't realistically expect that we would withdraw our military bases from Saudi Arabia (his alleged grievance).   No, what happened was really what he wanted - the US being dragged yet again into unwinnable Vietnam-like experiences.  Decades later, we are getting out of Afghanistan and letting the Taliban take over.   We are leaving Iraq even less stable and more violent than before.   Meanwhile, anti-American sentiment in the middle-east is higher than ever.  Mission accomplished, indeed.

I digress, but not by much.   It is easy for people, groups, and even entire countries to be baited by others.  And we are being baited here with this stupid 5G conspiracy theory.   Just walk away from conspiracy theories - not only are they a time-waster, they will make you toxic to friends, family, and employers.   If you want to get fired from your job or lose that promotion, just bend your boss's ear about the latest conspiracy theory.  Over time, you will find yourself alone, depressed, and further and further drawn into mental illness.  Just say no.  Mental hygiene is like personal hygiene - you have to work at it.  Please do so - for the good of humanity.

Our reader wonders, however, how they can protect their family and young children?  And the answer is, for the most part, to be a good parent, teach them good diet and exercise habits, and for the most part other than that, leave them alone.  Obsessing about your kids is one sure way to alienate them or make them go crazy.  Yet it is a popular trend these days.

The real health threats to your and your family?  The CDC has them listed in order of probability:

  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
  • Diabetes: 83,564
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
As you can see, "5G radiation" isn't even on this list - in fact it isn't on anyone's list.  And even the Corona Virus isn't, either.  It might make the list for 2020, but not beyond.

If your kids are overweight and sit around all day watching video games and drinking soda pop, the biggest threat to their lives isn't cell phone radiation.   But try telling that to some folks.  Obesity is an epidemic in the USA and spreading to other parts of the world, but no one seems to notice or care.

Meanwhile, weird conspiracy theories that have no merit, they top everyone's list!

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Digital Divide

In terms of data, there are haves and have-nots.

On the way home from the market yesterday, the phone buzzes - a NOAA text message warning of a tornado.  Then the phone rings - a recording from NOAA with the same warning, in a synthesized voice.  We get two messages and two phone calls, each.   We hurry home in time for a downpour of a storm, preceded by a lot of wind, but no tornado, fortunately for us.  Oh, and while we're at home, we turn on our NOAA weather radio and follow the storm warnings - which automatically set off the radio every time there is a new one.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has its shit together.  Like I said before, their hurricane storm tracking site is the best.  I go to the CDC hoping for similar enlightenment on the virus, and all I get is confusion. Not every government agency is run as efficiently as the others.

The system works well - although it is a little scary when a robotic voice tells you that you are in a "life-threatening situation" which was the case for folks North of us.

It is not just NOAA, of course.  The emergency notification system is used by the State Police for "Amber Alerts" and "Silver Alerts" for missing children and seniors.

Of course, this whole system assumes we have a cell phone, and a cell phone with a texting plan, which until fairly recently, I did not have.   Texting is odd.  After all, if you think about the progress of electronic communication, it seems regressive:
Samuel Morse:  "I've invented the telegraph!  We can send text messages over wires!" 
Alexander Graham Bell:  "I've gone one step further - now you can talk over wires!" 
Guglielmo Marconi:  I've have gone even further - now you can talk over the air! 
Samuel Morse:  "Really? Great! Might as well throw away all this telegraph equipment.   No one will go back to text messages if you can communicate by voice!"
How wrong he was.  My parents took me to the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, and we saw the new Ford Mustang, rode in the back of an engine-less '65 Impala through General Motors'  "Motorama" and saw the demonstration of the new Bell Picturephone   In a few short years, we were told, we would all talk to each other and see the other person via flickering black-and-white video.

It never happened.  While the technology was there - and got cheaper and cheaper over time - it just never took off.  People didn't want to see each other when talking to them.  When online versions of "picturephone" became available, the same thing happened.   We all wanted to Skype each other, but then it sort of fizzled out.   Video conferencing was sort of a thing, for business, but even then, people sort of lost interest.   Today, with the pandemic, it is Zoom, with its creepy echo-y "hollar down the well" voices and stop-jerk delayed video.  A lot of people find it tiring - quite literally.

It seems people want simpler forms of communication - which is why texting has become so popular.  You don't have to answer a text right away (although some immature people get bent out of shape if you don't) and you only need say what you want - as much or at little at necessary.   It doesn't require any energy - or as much as you want to give to it. Some people text obsessively - usually dumber and poorer people.

I am still not a big fan of texting.  I do it once in a great while, and I get notices from the bank once a day with my balance.  But on the whole, obsessive texting is just not my thing.

Other people make different choices.   We see it all the time - people texting while driving.    It is insane.

Not only is texting a thing, but text-based social networking is, too.  Facebook is mostly text-driven, as is Twitter.   It is just assumed that you are on all of these platforms - that you receive texts, tweets, and Facebook posts.   No one assumes anymore that you have a landline, answer voice calls, or even respond to e-mails.  The world has moved on, electronically.

This was driven home recently by a mass-shooting incident in Canada, where they don't have mass-shooting incidents.  Well, not generally, but they do occur.  Canadians do own guns - mostly long rifles for hunting and whatnot.  They just don't make a fetish about it as we do in the US.   But all it takes is one insane individual with a gun to muck things up.  I am sure the NRA is already trying to make hay out of this, too - "If only those other people had guns, they could have defended themselves!"

But some of the victims probably had rifles in the home.   When an RCMP officer comes to the door armed, however, you don't gun him down - and thus the perpetrator was able to surprise a lot of folks and keep this shooting spree going for hours.

That, and the fact the RCMP decided to use only Twitter rather than text messages, phone calls, and other extant warning systems, to warn the citizens.  As you might imagine, not everyone got the message.  One fellow lost his wife to this murderer, and as he put it, he wouldn't have let her leave the house if he knew the 13-hour-long shooting spree was still going on. But since he wasn't on Twitter, she died.

I am not taking a piss on the RCMP - they seem to do a good enough job of that, themselves, with various scandals over the years - including this most recent one.  Someone needs to lose their job over this - the ninny who said, "Oh, why bother using the million-dollar alert system!  I'll just post it on Twitter!  After all, everyone is on Twitter and Facebook, right?

What got me thinking about this was a friend who no longer lives here texted us saying "it looked pretty bad" here on the island with "all the trees down" - which left us scratching our heads.  She is still on in "Island Residents Public Facebook" group, which is an interesting misnomer, as it is a private group limited to "residents only" but has over 1300 members - a neat trick for an island of 600 homes.   A lot of vacationers and former residents (such as my friend) are apparently honorary "residents".

But like everything else on Facebook, it was misleading and overblown.  Things are fine here - the tornado didn't strike, and trees are not "down all over the place".   A truck (shown above) tipped over on the causeway of a neighboring island, but ironically hours before the storm struck.   Yes, it is likely that some dead tree somewhere dropped a branch or tipped over - if you don't cut these fuckers down, they will fall on you even in a light wind and kill you.  But the authority is hesitant to issue permits and it can cost thousands of dollars per tree to have them taken down.   We've spent close to $5000 so far and still have end-of-life pines, full of carpenter ants and pine beetles, that are three to four feet in diameter, at the base, and over 100 feet high, ready to drop.   But I digress.

What is interesting to me, is that information is being parsed based on where you get it from.  And unless you are willing to be advertised to and have your personal information sold to the highest bidder, you don't have access to much of this information.  With social media, there is the additional burden of always having to check your Facebook page or your Twitter account for "tweets" or set your notifications to buzz you every time there is an update - which is why a lot of drivers are distracted these days.  In order to get this information stream, you have to consent to information overload.

In a way, it is akin to television.  Television promises to give you up-to-the-minute news and entertainment, but in exchange, you have to watch endless hours of adverts, programming your brain to think that Coca-Cola tastes good, McDonald's food is yummy and a good value, and that leasing a brand-new car every three years is a sound financial proposition.

As I have noted before, just turning off the television is a better idea.  The "news" is repetitive and misleading, and the "entertainment" is banal and idiotic.   Have you ever tried to watch any of the old television shows of yesteryear on YouTube?   Painful to watch.   You wonder what you ever saw in them at the time.   I am sure that goes double for modern fare - how well will "Reality TeeVee" play in re-runs, particularly once you know who was voted off the island in season 20 of Kung-fu Warbling Chefs Dancing Contest Motorcycle House-Flipper Makeover.

The same is true of Facebook.   I find Facebook people not only are not more informed, but often less so.   My friend in New York is convinced a Tornado has wiped every home off the island after seeing a few pictures.   But such is not the case.

Similarly, people who "keep up on the latest" on Facebook often tend to believe odd things, such as that the world is flat, or that vaccines cause Autism.  Often, Facebook people go off on tangents - damning and shaming people in public virtual lynchings.  Long before this virus, people's lives and careers were destroyed by a few self-righteous people online - the mob is angry.   And then, of course, are the young people shamed into suicide by online bullies.   What the fuck is not to like about Social Networking?

All you ever hear about Twitter or Facebook is how someone's life was altered for the worse - careers ended, marriages ruined, lives destroyed.   As the example in Canada illustrates, these platforms are not a place for serious business.   Posting a tornado warning on Twitter or Facebook isn't an astute move - it will get lost in the sea of dreck that overwhelms those platforms, and not everyone will get the warning.

Sighting of the Day:  In an article entitled "Hunger Spreads Across America and Food Banks Run Out of Food!" the accompanying photo shows a group of people who are not only fat, not only obese, but morbidly obese.   Only in America!    Those starving African kids don't know how lucky they are.