Monday, November 30, 2020

A Bridge Too Far

McCarthy went too far when he tried to go after the Army.  Trump is going one step too far when he started attacking the Republican Party.  The Governor of Georgia is now an enemy of the State!

The Trump Presidency has gone from merely embarrassing to farcical.  If you were to set out to destroy your own legacy, you couldn't have done a better job than Donald J. Trump.

His latest move is nothing short of treason or an attempt at insurrection. He literally asked the Governor of Georgia to declare a State of Emergency and overturn the results of the election.  This is the sort of thing that used to happen only in third world countries or Baltic republics.   Fortunately, our Governor, a died-in-the-wool Republican and vocal Trump supporter, declined this invitation to totalitarianism.

This goes beyond merely challenging the election results or claiming there was some impropriety and raising these issues in court. They have failed to do that because they have no evidence of such improprieties, only messages from "Qanon" on 4-chan, which isn't evidence at all.  Their vaunted "100 affidavits" are just submissions from a website which are not signed, notarized, or sworn.  And of those 100 so-called affidavits, only a handful actually allege that votes were changed or not counted, and the number alleged (2) isn't enough to turn an election.   The rest of the "evidence?"   Well, they won't show it to us, because everyone knows in the lawyering business you keep evidence secret until you get to court.  It's the law!

Well, actually not.  And in fact, if you really want to win your case, you'd "try it in the press" by bringing this evidence to light.  But like with McCarthy's "list of 130 names of Communists the State Department" we never got to see the list, because it never existed.   Knowing they can't win legally, the Trump team is now trying a bald-faced power grab, to declare martial law and merely take over the country by force.  The "ask" here in Georgia is a shot across the bow.  Will Trump try something more drastic, on the Federal level, after the Electoral College meets in December?  You wonder why he "cleaned house" at the Pentagon recently - if you declare martial law and send the troops in to "restore order" you want to make sure you have your ducks in a row, right?

Now that Governor Kemp has refused to go along with this raw coup attempt, he is branded a traitor, a RINO, a pseudo-republican, a member of the Illuminati, the conspiracy theory, or whatever.  Trump has now turned on some of his strongest and most faithful supporters for failing to go along with his blatantly illegal coup attempt.  Governor Kemp.  Of Georgia.  You've got to be kidding me. Who is more Republican, who is a greater Trump supporter than that?  I mean, it would be like him denouncing his son Eric.

It is only a matter of time before he alienates more and more of the real base of the party, and like Joseph McCarthy, he just fades away.  He may already have cost the GOP the Senate, as his deranged wing of the party calls for a "boycott"of the run-off election.   A more absurdist piece of political theater I cannot imagine. But for all you Republican readers out there in Georgia, please boycott away!  I mean, if you are dumb enough to be a Trump fan, well, you're dumb enough to think this "boycott" is a good idea, too.

There was an interesting piece, I believe in the Atlantic recently, chronicling the quick rise and downfall of this Sidney Powell character.  Like Rudy Giuliani, she too, was once a federal prosecutor and once thought highly of.  She finished her bachelor's degree in two years and was a "woman going places" but ended up here.  Apparently, she lost her mind about the time of the Enron scandal, suing the lawyers of one of the players in that drama, claiming they could have gotten more money for her client.  She lost, and rather than take it on the chin (you can't win them all, of course, particularly malpractice cases) she wrote a self-published book claiming the entire judicial system was corrupt.   A lot of people on the far-right seized upon this book, years later, as "proof" of the existence of a "deep state" that was trying to thwart the will of the GOP.

Of course, they are right.  There is a "deep state" of government career bureaucrats and appointed-for-life judges and justices who are more apolitical and see the larger picture. They tend to act as a flywheel, providing inertia that must be overcome, when trying to change the direction of our country. This is all a plot of a bunch of freemasons, who over 200 years ago, met in some sort of "Constitutional Convention" to create this secret document called "The US Constitution" which many on the far-right talk about, but few have actually seen or read.  It is buried somewhere in the Federal Archives.

The irony is, of course, that the "deep state" is now trending the other way.  Trump in four years has appointed more judges and justices than Obama before him, and is also taking steps to "embed" his supporters in career bureaucratic positions in the government that do not serve "at the pleasure of" the President.  You see how this works - Deep State for Republicans = good, Deep State for Democrats = bad.

Maybe the Democrats need their own Qanon!

But speaking of Deep State, you didn't see Republicans complain too loudly back during the FDR era, when the "deep state" including the Supreme Court, thwarted a lot of his more ambitious plans. And that probably was a good thing, too, as much of the National Reconstruction Act was probably a reach. Once again, the US Constitution comes to the rescue.  And no, packing the Supreme Court was a bad idea then, and a bad idea now - as bad as Trump's attempt to overthrow the election. Creating Constitutional crises because you don't get your way is never a good idea.

But getting back to Powell and Giuliani, it is hard to believe that both were once thought of as real go-getters and premier attorneys.  What the ever loving-fuck happened to them?   Late-life schizophrenia?  Drug use?   Early onset dementia?  What?   Because whatever it is, it seems to be affecting a lot of the country lately.  I understand how an 18-22 year old can go off his rocker, having seen this happen firsthand, with friends and family members.  Schizophrenia is no laughing matter, and it is sad to see someone so young and full of promise just lose their minds and spend the rest of their lives institutionalized or on medications.

But what about the rest of these Qanon nutjobs?  What's their excuse?  Well, for starters, it is no doubt that the vast majority of these postings and upvotes of this conspiracy theory are coming from the Russian Internet Research Agency, who wants nothing more than to disrupt and weaken our country - and thus our resolve.   A weak America will not challenge an ascending Russia, who wants nothing more than to re-take its cold-war prizes, such as the Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, et al.   We stood by and said nothing while they invaded the Crimea, it is only a matter of time before they take more - or try to spread their influence across the globe, as they are doing in places like Syria.

Another segment of these Qanon people are literally the mentally ill.  A friend of mine has a family member who is institutionalized because they are a danger to themselves and others  The first thing that had to do was cut off all Internet communications - no cell phones, no online presence, etc.  Turns out the mentally ill relative was online all the time, on conspiracy theory sites, diving deeper and deeper into delusion and mental illness.  It wasn't helping things, and in fact, making them worse.

And thus I think a third segment of this sort are people who are not mentally unhinged to start with, but have been driven insane by constant scrolling and screen-time.  They spend hours and hours on Twitter (e.g., as our President does) and on conspiracy theory discussion groups.   If you weren't a little crazy when you started, you soon will be, if you spend hours a day in this parallel universe where anything seems plausible and bad ideas are constantly reinforced.

Sadly,it seems that too late, social media is picking up on the idea that maybe they have a role in this. And the mainstream media, with its "present both sides and let the viewer decide!" mentality, which pits a holocaust survivor against some teenage basement nazi - as if they were equals - bears much of the blame, too.   This time around, though, the media - both mainstream and social - went out of their way to squelch stories that were just too far-fetched, such as these conspiracy theories and whatnot.  If such ideas were published, they were annotated as being disputed or outright fact-checked as false. It changed the tone of the debate, I think, and perhaps Biden wouldn't have won without this change in tone.

Of course, the real far-right nutjobs will have none of this."This is censorship!" they say, "an abridgment of my first amendment rights!" - again never having actually read this top secret document called the "Constitution".  So they have fled to marginal cable channels and quirky websites and discussion groups and off-brand social media - only to find that Hannity and The Odious Glenn Beck were already waiting for them there.   It isn't "censorship" for a private company to decide what and what not to publish, no more than The New York Times is obligated to publish a daily Qanon update section for its paper.

What I think really burns their toast is that these clunky, shitty, wanna-be, off-brand media and social media sites come across just that way - as some cheap knock-off of the real thing.  When Qanon and Trump dominated Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and the Nightly News, well, it gave them authenticity they could not have achieved otherwise.  When their wacky opinions were elevated next to rational thinking and "let the viewer decide" it made it seem that wishful thinking and cold brutal logic were the equivalent, and what's more, it was merely a choice of what you wanted to believe in, because, if enough people believed in it, it would come true!  Free Ponies!  Unicorns!  Yea!  Sadly, many on the Left harbor similar beliefs.

It could be - let's hope anyway - that in six or eight months, the Corona Virus is far behind us, as is Donald Trump, Trumpism, and Qanon.   People may turn away from this circus as Trump self-destructs and tries to tear down the Republican Party in the process.   Maybe by then, people will see the light.

Some have compared Trump to Theodore Roosevelt.  I don't think it is an apt comparison, as Roosevelt actually accomplished some things and stood for more than just his own ego.  But Roosevelt, like Trump, felt betrayed by his own party, as populism was replaced by corporate interests, and his friend and successor, Howard Taft, undid a lot of Roosevelt's legacy.  Roosevelt later had his revenge, running against Taft as a spoiler, and handing the Presidency to Wilson, a Democrat.   He rapidly fell from grace after that fiasco.   But it is interesting that four years after he left office, he still commanded the loyalty of a sizable group of followers.  Will this be the legacy of Trump as well?   We can only hope Trump runs as a third party candidate in 2024.   We should, in fact, be encouraging him to do so.

In the meantime, the county sits on pins and needles, suffering from unnecessary stress, until January 20th.  What will Trump do in the meantime?  Will he convince some governor to declare martial law and invalidate the election results in their State as he has already tried in Georgia?    Why the lack of outrage over that (sound effect: crickets)?   Or will he declare martial law as President and "send in the troops" to force the electoral college to re-elect him?   Sounds implausible, but history is full of implausible moments.  Revolutions are usually accomplished not by an overwhelming majority of people, but by a small, well-armed minority who either intimated the majority, or gets the majority to just go along with thing.

This shit is far from over, not matter what the New York Times or the Washington Post say.  We are not dealing with rational people, here.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Device Enable

Computers have done a lot of good in the world, and a lot of evil.  But it is the people using the computers that determine how they are used.

About 40 years ago, I worked for a large air conditioning company, and we were in the infant stages of installing microprocessor controllers in big industrial chillers.   These were machines that were the size of a one-car garage, and cost tens of thousands of dollars.  So spending $1000 or so on a controller made sense at the time.  Bear in mind, this was an era where a basic PC with a 20MB hard drive and a 640-x480 VGA screen was $3000 - without a mouse, or "windows" whatever that was.  It was a pretty big deal.

Anyway, we had a number of optional features on this machine, including energy-saver modes and whatnot, and if the customer wanted these, they had to pay extra for them.   The deal was, all the hardware was already present on the machine, and if the customer wanted the feature, we would simply reprogram the controller (an Intel 8032 as I recall) to enable that feature.   At the time, I felt there was something wrong about this.  After all, the customer had already paid for the hardware and owned the machine outright.  Shouldn't they be allowed to operate all of its features?

But again, we weren't selling a pile of parts and piping, but in a way, a certain number of tons of cooling capacity, and how much you paid determined how much you got - and what features you got as well.  It is like the outboard engine business, as I noted before.   Johnson (OMC) made a V-4 outboard in 85, 100, and 115 HP models.  They were identical from the outside, and internally, only a few parts were different.  The 85 HP model was basically a detuned version of the 115 model - with different carburation, connecting rods, pistons, etc, but basically the same block and lower unit.  They cost the same to manufacture as the higher horsepower models, but the higher output models sold for more.  They were selling horsepower, not a pile of engine parts.

But this idea has its problems, as Boeing recently discovered.  Angle of Attack (AoA) sensors are well known in the aviation industry.    The IKON aircraft, for example, puts an AoA indicator front-and-center in the cockpit.  The idea is, it will warn the pilot of a possible stall.   Most airliners use multiple sensors - for example pitot tubes (which I am quite familiar with, having used them in the air handling lab - primitive devices!).   The righthand side of the cockpit uses one pitot tube, and the lefthand side another. And if they disagree with one another, well, a warning is sounded.  Ice can clog these, or even a piece of tape left on from washing - or wasps building nests in the orifices.   The results can be catastrophic.

Boeing put two AoA sensors in the 737 MAX jet, and installed a warning device so that the pilots would be warned if the sensors disagreed with one another (indicating a sensor failure).   But this warning feature was software enabled - for an extra fee - and third-world airlines wanted the cheapest price possible and didn't pay extra for the warning.   The results should have been predictable.  When the sensor went nuts, the "MCAS" system wrenched control of the aircraft from the pilots, who were mystified as to what was going on (no warning and no training) and people died.   If they had received the warning on their screens and knew how to react to it, they might have shut off the MCAS system and avoided a crash.   But the warning feature was optional.  A safety warning was optional.

Like I said, computers can be used for good or evil, and to make a few extra bucks, someone - likely in the marketing department - went evil.   But this sort of thing still goes on today.  BMW made headlines recently by proposing a system whereby if you want to use certain features in your car - even heated seats - you have to pay a subscription fee.   To a lot of people, this sounds ridiculous, because it is.  And it could backfire on BMW in a big way, as people would get "subscription fatigue" from having to pay all these fees to operate a piece of equipment they already own.

There is good news, though.  If you don't want to pay to use your heated seats, you can still use them, but you have to listen to a loud, 15-second advertisement played through the car's sound system, first.  Just kidding.  But it does raise a lot of interesting questions.   Could the heated seats also be sold on a "per use" basis?  "Don't touch that button!  It will cost me six dollars!" - you can see how this plays out.

Sounds silly, but we saw this in the past with phones.  Back in the day, they had 1-900 phone numbers where you would be charged a buck or two to make a phone call.  Ads on Saturaday morning would target children, telling them to call a 1-900 number to "talk to their favorite cartoon character!" and parents would be shocked to see their phone bill well over $100 at the end of the month - back when a phone bill was less than $30.

Lisa Simpson with her first bill for her "myPod"

Apple must have been paying attention, because when the iPod came out, many people were surprised to get bills in the hundreds of dollars when they started downloading songs onto it.  The smart phone posed similar problems, particularly for apps (and in particular garbage apps) that charged small sums of money.  If your account was enabled to allow such charges to your phone bill (mine is not, thank you), a child could end up adding hundreds of dollars to your bill every month - even more with "in game app purchases" or micro-transactions with "freemium" games.

Computers can be used for good or evil - it is the humans programming them, and the end users using them, that determine how.

Sadly, this seems to be a trend as of late, and this "right to repair" movement is a reaction to this.  So much of what we own today is "no user serviceable parts inside" and I have joked that in the near future, your car will come with the hood bolted shut and can only be opened by dealer technicians with special tools.   Al Goldstein, the late publisher of Screw magazine, claimed that his Rolls Royce silver Shadow was made this way - that the hood could only be opened with a special tool.  But it appears to be an urban legend.  Funny guy - he lived down the street from us near Pompano, Florida, and had a house on the ICW with a giant sculpture of a hand giving the bird to passing boaters.

As I noted before, printers have gone this route - requiring cartridges with special chips on them whose only purpose is to contained copyrighted code which cannot be copied without violating copyright law.  The printer is given away for free or at a very low price.  You end up spending more on cartridges in the first few months of use - and the cost-per-page skyrockets.   Of course, this just accelerated the trend away from printing - they killed off their own business.

I was at the Lowes the other day and they had a row of John Deere lawn tractors, advertising "cartridge oil changes"  - you bought a combined oil filter and engine oil cartridge from the dealer (or Lowes) and screwed it in place - no muss, no fuss, no spilled oil.  It meant you always put in the right amount of oil, too.  But it also meant that you had to buy a John Deere branded cartridge from a single source, who could change prices at a moment's notice.   How you could add oil to this tractor, I do not know.  Once it gets old and starts burning oil, that becomes an issue.

I recently got a letter from Ford Motor Company telling me that my navigation software was outdated but that for a low, low price of $149 they would update it for me.  Ouch.   Bear in mind you can buy a brand-new Garmin dashboard GPS for that amount - with lifetime updates for free.   Of course, today, people are using their phones for GPS directions, which we do on occasion.   It is funny, but despite all this talk about lack of infrastructure investment, there are a lot of new roads out there in America, even since 2016.  It is funny to see the GPS showing us flying over cornfields, as we navigate a new highway. Route 301 through Florida has been upgraded - no longer do you have to drive through Starke and its speed traps.

All that being said, it gives me a bad feeling about the Ford.  It is a truck we will have for another 50,000 miles or so and then sell.  Technology like this, when it gets old, gets expensive.  Already the main screen died on me twice.  I pulled the fuses for it and let it sit for a few minutes and it rebooted itself.  Bear in mind the HVAC, radio, and navigation will not work if the screen is off.   Progress!   A neighbor of mine has had three new screens installed in her Cadillac so far - the last time, it was in the shop for six weeks.  Fortunately they gave her a loaner car.  I am hearing similar things from other Cadillac owners - all this technology, well, if you don't have it in your car, don't feel left out.

Eventually, if self-driving cars are indeed a thing, we might not own cars, or as many.   But that might not be a bad thing.  If there is competition in the marketplace, people will compete on price.  We don't own an airliner, yet we get decent prices on airfares, right?

Of course, there are workarounds. I recounted before how I met a young man who has a Ford truck similar to ours. He added a new brake controller he had bought online for $30. It was an original Ford part but the dealer wants $70 to reprogram the computer to recognize it. He found a New Holland tractor dealer - who uses the same engine computer as Ford - to reprogram it for $30. But that's still $30 too much.

We did the same thing with the BMW's. They use a lot of proprietary parts and of course a proprietary computer system. But you can buy a simple code reader online and if you can figure out what the error code is and search online for solution, chances are you could repair the car inexpensively yourself. But this was not with the assistance of BMW but in spite of their lack of assistance.

I mention John Deere tractors, but that problem extends to far more than just oil cartridges in lawn tractors. The big tractors used by farmers, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, require John Deere parts which again require programming the tractor computer to recognize the new parts. It's similar to the printer cartridge deal, where you can make a cartridge that fits the printer but it won't work because it doesn't have the correct chip or something to make it work. And of course even if you had an OEM part, you have to go to a dealer to have their computer program your engine computer to recognize the new part.

Some manufacturers are arguing that their products are so complex now that only the dealerships should be allowed to repair them. Thus, they make the products difficult to repair so you are forced to take them back to an OEM dealer. Apple, of course is famous for this, bricking people's phones if they use a third-party battery.

These so-called "right to repair" laws perhaps are one answer. But another answer lies with the user. When you buy a product, you have a choice of whether to buy a product that's  in a proprietary ecosystem or in one with open architecture. Oddly enough, the loudest voices crying for this "right to repair" law are often the same people who own Apple products. But perhaps that's not as ironic as it may seem, as these are people who are forced to deal with closed architecture on a daily basis.

Others propose using older technology which is open-source architecture. The problem with this is, often  older technology will not fully function in the modern world. I noted before that older cars are not even compatible with today's gasoline which can wreak havoc with the fuel system and engine.

Not only that, but cars from just a few years ago were very primitive compared to the ones today.  I suppose I could have kept my old 1995 Ford F150 and put a rebuild engine and transmission in it, and we still be driving it today. But compared to today's trucks, it was very primitive and uncomfortable. After all, it came with a cassette deck, manual seats, and cloth upholstery. Yes, you can reprogram an older computer to run Linux, but it won't run any of today's high-tech computer games.

The other choice is to consume less or consumed cheaper products. You won't see me buying a $1,200 Apple Smartphone when I can buy $150 phone on eBay that works perfectly fine.  Maybe someday Samsung willbrick my phone or it will be so outdated as to not be usable. That, in fact is what happened to my older phone which I paid $99 for. It wouldn't run some of the newer apps. But since I only paid $99 for it and got several years of good use out of it, I didn't mind so much. Where people get upset is when they spend huge amounts of money, like my friend with his Cadillac, and the stuff doesn't work as advertised.

If people stopped buying into proprietary ecosystems, maybe they would go away. But so long as people place a premium on having a BMW roundel on their hood of their car, or an Apple logo on the back of their phone, proprietary hardware will continue to exist.

Once again, we're not entirely without choices.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Knowing When To Walk Away

Some folks like to nail themselves to the cross.

I wrote before how a person can squander their lives trying to "fix" other people, or make themselves miserable by hanging out with mentally ill people.  People try to "fix" a hoarding relative by cleaning out their house, only to find it filled to the rafters with junk, by the time they get back from the dump.  Hoarders are evil people - just walk away from them.

Reddit recently made headlines by banning its Qanon subreddit, which probably will have little effect. They banned "the_donald" but let r/DonaldTrump stick around - same shit, different subreddit.  Instead of subreddits spreading Qanon conspiracy lies, they have Qanon "recovery" subreddits where people go online and complain about relatives and loved ones who got sucked into the Qanon bullshit.

It reminded me a LOT of the "children of narcissists" subreddit, or any of the many sites for ex-scientologists and whatnot.  These are people who are spending a lot of their time - their lives - trying to fix other people, or obsessing about how they were snookered into a bad deal.

One lady was complaining that her fiancee was sucked into the Qanon rabbit-hole.  Everyone was sympathetic and talked about how to "cure" him of this malady (good luck with that - if you try to challenge someone's belief systems, you are basically attacking them, or so they feel).  No one bothered to mention the obvious - that maybe this was a blessing-in-disguise, as he was only her fiancee and not her husband or father of her children - yet.  Hey, maybe there are other men out there who are not insane - maybe try marrying one of them, instead?  Nah!

Others, like in the "Children of Narcissists" site, were adult children living with their parents. The parents watched Fox news all day long and visited Qanon websites. These "kids" try to argue with their parents and end up creating a toxic environment.  The idea of moving out of their parents' house is alien to them.

If you have friends who believe in Qanon or are otherwise mentally ill, don't try to "fix" them.  Just walk away, slowly.   Slowly - no need to make dramatic pronouncements that you are "cutting them our of your life forever" or whatnot.  Just see less and less of them until you see none of them.  If they somehow pull back from the brink of Qanon, the door is always open, but don't get your hopes up.  Crazy runs deep.

You see, people who get sucked into crap like that get sucked into other crap. Some have noted that Qanon "supporters" are often also anti-vaxxers, or "new age" people who believe in notions and potions, balms and ointments, "essential oils" and chankras and whatnot.   Even as they pull away from Qanon (and they will - these things are like evangelical churches - everyone leaves, eventually), they will latch on to something else - Scientology, or some guru, or some evangelical church even, or perhaps an MLM scheme.  In fact, I predict they will contact you for that very purpose - to apologize for being a dick about Qanon, but hey, have you heard about The Money Tree System?  Sign up now!

There are people out there who are just followers, period.  They lack an internal compass or sense of direction, so they follow the first person who comes along who sounds like he (or she) knows what they are talking about.  And perhaps society needs a lot of people like this - blind followers who latch onto causes that are not their own, and often to their own detriment - but to the advantage of others.

That's sort of the funny thing about it.  The followers of Qanon and other conspiracy theories destroy their own lives in the process.  Following a conspiracy theory never profits one personally (you have to be leading the conspiracy, selling the chumps books and seminars to make money at it). Yet the conspiracy theorist calls the folks who work for a living and save their money and accumulate wealth, "sheeple".  Like I said before, if you want to get ahead in life, just become one of the Illuminati.  It's simple - just "buy in" to the "myth" that hard work and thrift will get you ahead in the world.   Well, it worked for me, anyway.

But you can't fix stupid, as they say, and as I say, if you see someone about to drive their car off a cliff, first make sure you are not in the back seat when they do!  Too many people try to "save" others and end up only destroying themselves in the process.   What is the profit in that?  You can't save the other person - he thinks he knows what he is doing.   You only create a second victim - you.

That is the problem right there.  We all like to think we know what is best for ourselves.  We don't want outside intervention in our lives - and in fact, strongly resent it.  So if someone comes along and says they know what is best for you, odds are, you are going to reject their advice.   And most of the time, these do-gooders don't even have their own shit together.

"Oh, but that's selfish!" they say.  But it is not.  When you try to "help" someone and destroy yourself in the process, you are not being selfless, but creating an additional victim for society to support.   Your first duty in life is to support and take care of yourself - this is not "selfish", is it your obligation to the rest of society, the rest of us.  You are doing me a big favor by not going on welfare.  You are doing me a big favor by being a contributing member to society and not a drag on it. You see how this works?   It is a win-win situation for all of us.  You get a job and you pay taxes - and we're all happy.

You go down the rabbit-hole of Qanon or any other conspiracy theory, cult religion (a redundant term), investment scheme, MLM scam, or whatnot, you will make society generally unhappier and yourself very, very unhappy.  "Happy Conspiracy Theorist" is an oxymoron - these are depressed people, and depressed mostly because they believe in conspiracy theories.   If you are depressed, try not believing in conspiracy theories for a change.

Jesus said the poor will always be among us.   There will always be people sucked into scams and cons and whatnot, and there isn't much we can do about it.  You can try to throw a drowning man a life-ring, but if he throws it back at you and tries to sell you on the idea that drowning is fun, what do you do?  Suppose he rejects your life-ring because the color clashes with his bathing suit?   Maybe you can walk away and say you did what you could.  Risking your life to swim out and save him is a bad idea.  Drowning people, as we learned in Red Cross lifesaving, tend to drown their rescuers as well.

Today is Thanksgiving.   A lot of people go to visit relatives today and eat turkey.  Many dread this, as their relatives may be quite insane and blather on about conspiracy theories or what was on Fox News or whatnot.  What on earth to do?   Well, this year, the Corona Virus gives you the perfect excuse to just not go, or if you go, to limit contact with toxic relatives - who maybe literally toxic this year.

If you are still in college or a minor, well, it gets a little trickier - you may not have as many choices, or so it would appear.   You can, however, always choose not to engage people when they try to trigger you (and they will - conspiracy theory people are all passive-aggressive).   When Dad blathers on about how the Illuminati are stealing the election for Donald Trump or whatever, you can just keep quiet and go off and do something else.   Getting into an argument with people rarely results in anything construction happening - you are not going to convince them you are "right" and vice-versa.

Remaining sober is probably a good idea around people like that - it allows you to more rationally assess the situation and skedaddle when it gets toxic.  Just keep in mind the prize - eventually you will leave home and have a life of your own and not have to deal with these people ever again, unless you choose to.  When it is a choice, it is much better - and you can choose to do other things with your holiday time, as I noted before.

Don't be like my late sister - who wanted to use her precious vacation time to stage an "intervention" (read: revenge) for Mother.   Not only is this a strange idea as to what constitutes a vacation, it is an utter waste of time.   Even as far gone as she was, she had this crazy idea that what she was doing with her life was right for her.   And she was right about that.   What is really sad about that whole situation was that my sister had a short life, and spent much of it in futile endeavors like that - trying to "fix" others.   Maybe it is a way of drowning out the deafening silence, I guess.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Be kind to yourself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

At Long Last...

Trumpism, like McCarthyism, might fade away faster than we think.

People remember history as it is convenient to them.  The McCarthy era, we are told, was an aberration of a few deranged people looking for Communists under every rock.  The odd thing was, of course, that there were a lot of Communists in the government and Hollywood - some just people who joined the cause in the 1930's when everything was falling apart.  Others were merely "useful idiots" who inadvertently helped the cause of Communism.  Still others, actual Communist agents, which we didn't discover, in some cases, until the fall of the Soviet Union, where KGB files were available, for a brief period of time.

McCarthy, of course, exposed none of these spies or agents.  Like with Trump's "100 affidavits of fraud," McCarthy would wave around a piece of paper with the names of  "130 Communists in the State Department!" - but never showed this paper to anyone.  The young attorney advising McCarthy - Roy Cohen - would go on to advise Donald Trump later in life.  So it is no wonder the tactics of McCarthy and Trump are so similar in nature - wild accusations, but no real evidence or action.

What we conveniently forget, however, is how many people "went along" with McCarthy's pointless witch hunt, which destroyed some people's lives and damaged others.  McCarthy "outed" gays from the government - forcing many from their jobs. At the same time, he tried to pull strings to get his boyfriend out of the Army.  Hypocrisy much?

We might not be surprised that a young Nixon might go along with McCarthy's nonsense - but the Kennedys?   Being anti-Communist in that era was a prerequisite to a political career, so people "went along" with McCarthyism, until it all spectacularly fell apart - almost overnight.  And almost overnight, people distanced themselves from McCarthy and McCarthyism, claiming they were out-of-town that week or feigning memory loss.

Today, people are claiming that Trumpism will live on - that Trump will "control" the Republican party for years to come and run again for President in 2024!  His daughter-in-law, Laura, with no political experience, will run for the Senate in 2022!  And this could all actually happen!   Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

What is interesting about both McCarthy and Trump is that they were both creatures of the media. The media, to some extent, created them, because it sold newspapers and was good for ratings.  And when the ratings flagged, they destroyed them - because that sold newspapers and was good for ratings.  Yes, even though I voted for Biden and am glad he won, I do realize the media was a bit too happy to report him as the winner, very early on.  The turnabout by Fox News is particularly startling - but again, I suspect this is driven by the business case.  Not only are MAGA-hat wearing folks a distinct minority in this country, most of them don't have enough cash or the credit rating to buy a new Ram pickup truck.  So what's the point in catering to them?  Might be good for ratings, but it drives away the high-paying advertisers.

You may recall the brief period of time in the 1960's when every network had a hillbilly show - Green Acres, Petticoat Junction or The Beverly Hillbillies or the like.   They had solid ratings, but were all canceled after a few years - and no hillbilly shows replaced them. The simple reason was, that while the ratings were solid, they were solid among a group of people who didn't buy anything because they didn't have any money.  So while Ford might sponsor Green Acres and Chrysler The Beverly Hillbillies, the viewers weren't trucking down to the car dealer the next day to buy a brand-new car, because they couldn't afford it. 

The demographic might have skewed too old as well - advertisers want young males, age 16-35, for whom brand loyalty is easy to instill.   They are dumb enough to sign up for car payments that are dwarfed by the insurance payments.    Kind of hard to sell a Mustang or a 'Cuda to someone watching Petticoat Junction - better off to snag them with something like Hawaii Five-O or Mannix.   Something with at least a car chase now and then!

And perhaps that is the problem for the media with Trump supporters.  They tend to skew older, and the ones who are younger have no money, and what little they have, they spend on an assault rifle or survivalist gear.  Not the sort of crowd the car companies and lite beer makers want to cater to.  And then again, there is the "dirty halo" aspect as well - you advertise on Hannity and you end up soiling your own brand.   That, in short, is the problem for these obscure right-wing "news" sites and social media - you can't make much money hawking gold and penis enlargers as the odious Glen Beck discovered the hard way.

But the big problem for the media was that there are just not enough MAGA-hat wearers to make it worthwhile to appeal to that demographic.  And what few there are, aren't tuning in to the "MSM" channels.

Seriously though, while the MAGA-hat people are loud and visible, a lot of this visibility is due to the media.  If you figure out that only about half the people in the USA voted in the last election, and of those, only half voted for Trump, you can figure out that Trump supporters - at least the rabid kind - are less than 1/4 of the population. Why would a rabid Trump supporter not vote?   And of the people who voted for Trump, I suspect fully half (or more) are not enamored of him, but merely are voting to support standard Republican values.  I know a lot of people who voted for Trump - none of them own a MAGA hat.  So at most, the people with the giant Trump flags on their pickup trucks and giant Trump signs on their lawns (in front of dilapidated trailers), are maybe - at most - 1/8th of the population of the USA - and I'm being generous here.

Let me digress further a bit here and address the "Classism" argument.  People might say what what I put forth in the previous paragraphs is "classist" - that somehow we need to embrace and celebrate ignorance, racism, poverty, stupidity, and other forms of weak thinking. There was some stupid "controversy" (again, generated by the media to sell eyeballs) about a Netflix movie (and the book it was based on) called "Hillbilly Elegy" - about a young man who escapes poverty by leaving Appalachia and moving to the big city and becoming a success.  He goes back to his hometown - much as Thomas Wolfe did in "Look Homeward Angel" and realized "You Can't Go Home Again."  It is a story told time and time again.

I mentioned before my friend who left the projects in Philadelphia to become a lawyer.  I mentioned my friend who left the trailer park in West Virginia to become a celebrated Interior Designer. Should they go home again to celebrate their "roots" - teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, low expectations, laziness, poverty, and lack of imagination?  Or should they move on with life? And shouldn't we, as a county, decry slovenly social values and celebrate the more advanced?   It is like I said before, back in the day, if you called someone a "Redneck" they would hang their head in shame.  Today, they talk about "Redneck Pride" as if it was some sort of desirable trait to be poor, ignorant, and belligerent.  We should strive for more than that in life.

But I digress.

Trumpism is a form of mental illness. We were in New York State this summer - a State where being a Trump supporter is just a waste of time.  The electoral college cuts both ways.  A wealthy friend of mine in Oregon said, "I hope you don't mind, but we are voting for Trump!" I didn't have the heart to tell them that, well, in Oregon, that didn't make much of a difference.   My vote here in Georgia, did - at least this time around.  Anyway, we drove by this house on a residential side street in the North Country, and saw a guy with all these home-made Trump signs on his lawn - made of 4' x 8' sheets of plywood and covered with hand-written text.  All over this lawn.  All of it.  Sort of like those creepy old school buses that people live in and drive around, covered with bible verses. This is not mentally healthy - nor is it a good use of your emotional energy or free time.

So why did the media breathlessly report every Trump rally and every stupid, stupid thing a Trump supporter blurts into the camera?   It was good for ratings.   And it was good for ratings back in the 1950's when McCarthy was running his circus as well.  And when people got bored with it, well, it was good for ratings to tear McCarthy down - which wasn't hard to do, with someone so self-destructive.

This is not to say you will see a landslide of Republicans denouncing Trump - not just yet.  No, rather, down the road, they may claim they were out of town that week or something to that effect.  There is no profit in denouncing, but they just may conveniently forget about that time when they had a photo-op with the President.

Is Trumpism dead?  It is probably too early to write the epitaph just yet.   But the three-ring circus that was Trump's "fraud" allegations and meritless lawsuits would seem to be the "At long last, have you no shame, sir?" moment, which may play favorably to that less than 1/8th of the population that still wears Trump hats (but not Trump face masks), but was a turn-off to the mainstream Republicans who were willing to put up with his nonsense - up to a point. I notice most of my Trump-supporting friends are kind of quiet these days.  Trump yard signs have disappeared from the yards of all but the most hard-core supporters.

For those worried that Communism or Socialism will take over the country in the next four years, I would say, relax. If history is any guide, the Democrats will screw this up big time, even if they manage to win the runoff elections in Georgia on January 5th.  There will be holdouts in the party who think policies are too liberal or too conservative, and in fact, it already has started. Ms. Alexa O'Malley O'Cortez and the rest of "The Squat" have already come out with guns blazing, claiming that Joe Biden isn't liberal enough and that he should have put more leftists in his cabinet.  For some reason, Joe Biden being a centrist comes as a major surprise to them.  So expect her to fuck up a wet dream for the next four years.

And it won't be long before the New York Times and the Washington Post run editorials about how Biden is screwing everything up - just as they ran down Obama and Clinton before him.  It's not that they have strong political convictions one way or the other, only that attacking and tearing down is good for ratings and sells newspapers.  And they sold a lot of newspapers with the Biden election - they will sell a lot more destroying him as well.   You see how this works.   You live by the media, you die by the media.   You would have thought Trump of all people would have understood this.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Belief and Stories

For God so loved the world, he sent his only begotten son to re-boot the franchise.

In my previous posting, I noted how people get caught up in these stories - in comic books and movies - and take then literally, rather than just as good story-telling.  Story-telling has a long history, as pre-historic (irony) people sat around the fire and an elder would keep them enthralled with his stories of derring-do and days gone by.  Probably a good thing for him, too, otherwise the rest of the tribe would see him as a useless parasite and sacrifice him to the Gods.

Storytelling back then - and today - was designed to foster belief, and belief cannot be dissected and analyzed and placed under a microscope. When you do, it falls apart. Just as the young man questioning the consistency of Star Wars mythology finds major plot holes, anyone who questions the tenets of the Bible or any other religious document ends up frustrated, as often these documents are internally inconsistent - and full of plot holes.

In the comic book and movie world, when these inconsistencies grow too large to accommodate with plot devices or McGuffins, you simply "reboot the franchise" and create an alternative universe or timeline so you can start over with a fresh sheet of paper.

Perhaps the New Testament is the first example of this.  The Old Testament - the foundation of Judaism - was so rife with internal conflicts and contrary messages that they needed not just an update, but a do-over.  After all, how can you have a message of "thou shall not kill" in a book filled with scores of murders - often by the almighty himself?

So you send in Jesus with a new message of love, understanding, stealing horses, and giving financial advice.  Bible 2.0 overwrites version 1.0 and inconsistent parts are wiped out, or at least negated. This is lost on most "fundamentalists" and "full gospel" followers, who spend a lot of time rummaging around the Old Testament, looking for trouble and trying to find excuses for their hateful behavior.  They don't get the fact that the whole point of Christianity is that God sent Jesus down to correct all the bad stuff that was going down in the Old Testament.   For a Christian, the Old Testament is context for the new, but when it comes down to old versus new, the new over-rides the old.   Period, paragraph, end of story.

Of course, it didn't end there. You might argue that Islam is another "re-boot" as well - treating Christianity as one of those side-stories that is not relevant to the canon.  Christians and Jews might view Islam as one of those spin-offs that isn't really part of their "universe".   Prequels!  Ugh!

And when it comes to religion, well, there is no greater source of "fan fiction" out there.  Everyone has their own interpretation of the Bible, and it has spawned a number of spin-off franchises, such as Protestantism.   Not canon!  Well, at least in some people's minds.

By the way, where do you think the term "canon" or "canonical" came from?  Yup, religion.  Which is why it is scary this term is bandied about when talking about SciFi movies and comic books. It's bad enough that one religion is already based on science fiction - we don't need another!

But what it all comes down to is stories, as I mentioned before. Belief requires the suspension of disbelief - which seems pretty obvious when you state it that way.   You can't get drawn into a movie or a novel if you constantly pick apart the threads of a story.  And this is why it is so jarring when actors break the fourth wall, or an author leaves a very obvious and unforgivable plot hole in a book that "takes you out of the story".

But no one expects you to literally believe the story in Star Wars, or Batman, or Spiderman, or even in an adventure novel.  You suspend disbelief, but you don't believe, either.

With religion, it gets trickier. You are expected to believe, but in order to do so, you have to suspend disbelief, which means in part, not nick-picking the stories to pieces. Because if you are going to go down that route, well, it leads to disbelief.  And that's OK, too.  You aren't going to go to Hell because you don't think the Galactic Empire is real, or that everything set forth in the Bible is actually the way it happened (even the parts that disagree with one another).

There is, however, a special place in Hell for people who cherry-pick individual verses and then twist them around to advance a particular politcal or monetary agenda here on Earth.  Belief is a fine and wonderful thing and all, but it can get in the way of rational thinking - and by hijacked by people whose interests are adverse to your own.  And you need not be strapping on a suicide vest to figure this out. When someone tells you the Bible says to give them 10% of your pre-tax earnings, it pretty much is financial suicide as well.

But some of us don't need stories to have faith.  Sure, the stories are fun - and sometimes instructive. Although I still don't get the stealing the horse bit - but that just illustrates that sometimes writers put in stuff that doesn't fit the rest of the story.  And let's be real here - the Bible was written by human writers, not etched in stone by God - even the Bible admits that (other than the ten commandments).

So whether you are sucked "into the Spider-verse" or "into the Jesus-verse" the answer is the same.  Enjoy the stories, but don't take them literally.  Belief is a fine and wonderful thing, but like all things, should be used in moderation.

It's Just a Fucking Movie or Comic Book - Not a "Universe"!

If you start questioning the plot lines of movie franchises, maybe it is time to move out of your Mother's basement.

I was online last night, as I woke up and couldn't sleep.  I was surfing the Internet and came across a discussion about Star Wars.  The thread was about some internal inconsistency in the plot lines of the movie.  How could the Jedi Knights be called only a "legend" when they were a major political force only 20 years earlier?

What followed was an intense discussion about the various plot lines, the politics of a fictitious empire, and so on and so forth.  At no point did anyone just come out and say, "It's just a fucking movie people!  The plot is whatever the writers say it will be!"

You see, Star Wars and Indiana Jones were originally one-off throwaway films.  They were an homage to the Saturday matinee "Serials" that an earlier generation watched - Westerns or SciFi thrillers like Tom Mix, or Buck Rogers. "Come back next week for Chapter IX!"  Star Wars also recycled the plot of a famous Samurai movie (another homage from a film school graduate).  There was no "universe" or over-arcing story line. In fact, some writing decisions in the first film became awkward in the second - Princess Leia being the sister of Luke (and not a potential romantic interest, as in the first film).

What ruined Star Wars was when it became a "franchise" and they tried to explain everything and tie up all the loose ends.   Movies are all about suspension of disbelief, not about creating an alternate history.  Sure, the sequel was fine, and maybe the third one. But when the prequels spent more time on developing the "universe" than in story-telling and character development (and lots of real action, not CGI nightmares) it all came apart.  The end, of course, was when they tried to "remake" the original by adding scenes and CGI crap and thus destroyed what little was left of the magic.

You can't over-analyze entertainment or turn it into a religion. Like I said, movies (and books and whatever) are all about suspension of disbelief to get you to go along with the story line. You start picking apart plot details, it ruins the fun.  For example, in the original Indiana Jones movie, they show Harrison Ford riding on top of a Nazi submarine for thousands of miles, only to appear in a submarine pen in the next scene.  Not explained is why no one saw this stowaway who apparently lived on the deck of the sub for days or weeks with no one noticing (for some reason, no one manned the conning tower?) and the sub never submerged the whole time.  Also, he somehow jumps off the sub as it enters the submarine pen, without being seen by the dozens of Nazis manning the place.

You're suppose to ignore this glaring error and go along with the plot and enjoy the ride.  Dissecting movies like this is like trying to analyze the "plot" of a roller coaster ride.  "I understood the first climb, and the first hill, but the second curve before the inverted loop seemed forced, and it didn't seem to jibe with the rest of the ride."  It's a fucking roller coaster!  You ride it and scream and have fun. You don't over-think it.

So the idea of trying to "make sense" of the Star Wars "universe" is just nonsense - it is just stuff a writer wrote, and it doesn't have to be internally consistent, as it is just a roller-coaster ride.  But of course, sometimes writers write themselves into a corner, and at that point, they do a "reboot" of these franchises, which is to say, they throw away the "canon" and start over with something new.  Batman now has dozens of different "Robins" and Star Trek has had more than one "reboot" over time.  It is an implicit way of saying, these are just stories, folks!  But the die-hard fans consider them "alternative universes" and take this all deadly seriously.

Of course, comic books have gone the same route, and people take this way too seriously - whether they are followers of the "DC" or "Marvel" universes. And sadly, they have stronger opinions about these things that they do about their own religion (which comic books may have replaced, in their lives) or indeed their own national politics.  People know more about the politics of the Star Wars Empire than they do about their own country.   I don't think this is healthy, on a number of levels.

Again, these are just stories, people, not actual events.  Taking this stuff so seriously is, well, idiotic. The stories have no deeper meaning or logic, as they are whatever the writers want to write at a particular time.  Fan fiction is clear evidence of this.  The other thing is, well, this stuff is pretty juvenile, and while there is nothing wrong about an adult visiting an amusement park on occasion, there reaches a time in your life that you have to grow up and put away childish things and take on adult responsibilities.  This obsession with movie franchises and comic books is just another example of the infantalilization of America, where grown adults act like big goofy children - and have serious discussions about minutiae of comic book franchises.

This is good for the movie studios and the comic book companies - the latter of which have gone from relative obscurity into money-making machines that are even listed on the stock market. Back in the day, being a comic book publisher was a pretty seedy, low-rent kind of business, selling ten-cent comics to pre-adolescent boys.  Today, there are tie-ins to movies, television shows, and of course, "merch" in the form of action figures, games, clothing, branding, cosplay, and whatnot - sold more to adults than children. It is a billion-dollar business.  And by obsessing about cartoon characters, well, you are making a lot of other people very wealthy, but impoverishing yourself a little more.

Of course, maybe this is the new norm.  I was reading Litter Box Comics, which is a very well-done strip written by a woman who draws her family as cats. What is interesting about the strip, is that the husband and wife are totally into Sci-Fi and comic book characters. Grown people with children, obsessing about Star Trek and Batman.  Maybe this is the new norm.  My parents' generation read books and went to serious adult-themed movies.  Sure, they watched television with us - but they didn't dress up as characters from the TV shows, collect figurines, or go to comic book conventions. Life was a lot more serious for them.

This is not to say the lady who draws the Litter Box Comics is a bad parent.  Indeed, from what I can see, it sounds like they are great parents.  I am just pointing out that, well, our world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years or so. We seem to be embracing childhood, not only well into adulthood, but perpetually.  Maybe that is why people today act so goofy and weird - from the President on down, from Antifa to Qanon.   You can believe whatever you want to believe, and being a perpetual kid is no longer viewed as a bad thing, but a desirable outcome.

I dunno.  Maybe this goofiness is a good thing.   But I am not so sure.   Maybe we need more "adulting" in the world - a term that has come into vogue as of late, as people more and more abdicate adult responsibilities.

But I think this much is true:  If you are struggling in life, with debts and job worries, or finding a place to live, or if you are an adult living with your parents - and yet can tell me the names of 50 Star Wars characters - maybe, just maybe, it is time to grow up a bit and put away the toys and start "adulting" in life.   Because collecting the whole set never amounts to much later on.

Why Cowardice is Rampant in the GOP

People get the government they deserve - when they don't vote.

Cowardice runs rampant in the GOP and many in the Democratic party fail to understand why - and why they have a similar problem.  Few Republicans have yet to pressure Trump into conceding the election, and the real reason isn't that they are scared of Trump, but worried of losing support of his followers - support they need to win their primaries in less than 24 months from now.

About 150 million people voted in the last election - a new record. This is only about 50% of the overall population of the US, and about 65% of the eligible voters (according to some sources) as you have to be 18 to vote.  So while a lot of people expressed support for Trump - and quite a few more for Biden - the election is hardly a mandate for either candidate, when nearly half the population can't be bothered to make a selection.

Therein lies the problem.

Republicans break out into three groups - the folks who were never-Trumpers, the folks with nothing to lose, and the folks who want to get re-elected.   The folks "doing the right thing for the country"?  I doubt they exist.

The Never-Trumpers can afford to be Never-Trumpers as they either live in a State where they are highly regarded and will win re-election either way (think: Mitt Romney, Susan Collins) or they live in a fairly liberal State where being far to the right might cost them re-election.  In a way, they have nothing to lose as well, and actually something to gain by going against Trump, as their electoral base either doesn't care about Trump that much, or actually dislikes him.

The folks with nothing left to lose are the ones retiring or not running for re-election.  They don't have to worry about the will of the voters, so they can take whatever stand they want.  You would think this would include Mitch McConnell, who was just re-elected for six more years.  I doubt he will run for re-election after that, if he lives that long.  But for some reason, even though he has nothing left to lose, he has yet to find a backbone.   Or maybe he's drank the Kool-aid and really believes in Trumpism.

But the last group - the largest group - has a real fear of a primary fight in 2022. This includes most Republican House members and about 1/3 of Republican Senate members. The GOP has already elected one rabid Qanon-believer to the House - so they see the writing on the wall. Just as radical leftist AOC unseated a long-time centrist Democrat in the primaries, far-right tea-party, Trumper,  and Qanon types are challenging "traditional" Republicans for their seats - and many more will challenge in 2022, arguing (as AOC and her ilk did) that the reason their party lost elections was because they were not radical enough.   It was the same argument that brought us the tea party in 2010.

If you come out against Trump now - even to mildly suggest that the election is over - it will be used against you in a bitter primary battle in 2022.   So it is better to be a coward and remain silent - so you can appeal to the Trumpist base in two years - by alleging your fealty to the great man.

The problem is, of course, the primary system.  In many States, primaries are "closed" and only people who profess to be members of a party can vote in the corresponding primary.  In Georgia, we have open primaries, which is a good thing, as voting in the Democratic primary here - as I noted before - is essentially throwing your vote away.  There is usually only one Democratic candidate for each office, and in many cases, no one from the Democratic party bothers to run.   In the GOP primary, you at least have the choice of the far-right nutjob versus the slighly more centrist nutjob.   You can also vote as a "spoiler" and pick the far-right nutjob and hope he is so out-of-touch that  people will elect a Democrat.  That strategy could backfire, however.  At least it has yet to work in Georgia.

But the real problem with primaries isn't the open or closed feature, but that most people don't bother to vote in them. You've heard, no doubt, time and time again, every four years, from morons, the nauseating statement that, "I don't like the choice from either party!  I may not bother to vote!  They both look the same to me!"   When you ask these knuckleheads who they voted for in the primary, they give you a blank look  They might not even know what a primary is. They never vote in non-Presidential elections.

The primaries are, in a way, more important that the general election.  Once the candidates are selected, the outcome of the general election could be preordained, in some circumstances.   If one party picks a radical - because the primary voters tend to represent the extremists of the party more - the other party, who picks a centrist, might win.  If the Democrats had nominated Bernie Sanders, I suspect there would be no "controversy" about this last election - Trump would have won every State except Vermont (and I would question even Vermont, which has a Republican governor).

So the problem comes down to us, the voters.  Few Republicans are going to risk their seats by going against Trump.  If you look at the decision matrix, it is apparent that being silent has the best personal outcome for them - calls by Op-Ed writers for Republicans to "do the right thing" and sacrifice themselves for their country, to the contrary.   In fact, a moderate Republican, by going against Trump at this point, probably won't persuade Trump to step down, but would in fact, cause the moderate Republican to lose his seat to a Qanon nutjob in 2022.   Which is really better for the country?

We shouldn't act shocked that people - including politicians - act or vote in their own self-interest.  This isn't a Republican thing, either.  There are many instances of Democratic cowardice, where Democratic politicians fail to denounce radicals sufficiently enough, because they are afraid of alienating the far-left wing of their party and thus not be re-elected.  You do remember the riots this summer and the "CHAZ" or "CHOP" or whatever the fuck that nonsense was.  The political leaders let that go on for weeks,, because they were afraid of members of their own party.  It wasn't until they realized that "Anarchy" was getting people killed that they shut it all down.

Cowardice, indeed.

The sad thing about all of this, is that although the mainstream media has been predicting that Trump will lose all his legal battles and that eventually he will concede the election, it still could go either way.  If enough fence-sitting Republican officials (including election officials) start to believe that Trump might actually pull off a coup - and win - they might decide that going along with it, as it is in their own best interest - rather than be lined up against the wall in 2021. This, in turn, could result in elections not being certified, and electors appointed by courts, governors, or legislatures, with dire results.

That, in short, is what "raw political power" is all about - not getting people do to the right thing, but intimidating people into doing the wrong thing or indeed, just doing nothing, so as to hang on to their own personal fiefdoms.

It is a pretty sad thing to watch.  But not entirely unexpected.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Why Amazon Prime is Worthless

Whenever you enter into a business relationship predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial, the relationship will go downhill from there.

I was typing on my computer the other day and my phone lit up.  I use the phone as WiFi hotspot, something I tried to explain to a friend the other day - it was like teaching a dog Esperanto.  They just didn't understand it.  The Internet was created by Comcast!  You have to have cable TV to get the Internet - or maybe that service from the phone company.   What do you mean it comes through your cell phone?  Witchcraft!

It was comical - trying to tell them they needed to turn their WiFi OFF in order to turn their Hotspot ON.  "But don't you want the WiFi ON in order to get the Internet?"   These are folks paying over $70 a month for voice-only phone with no data plan.   Oh, well, Apple people - so insulated and protected from mean old technology that they never learn anything about it.

But anyway....

I look over and my phone screen is on, and the Amazon app is running.   Funny, I don't remember turning it on.  Worse yet, it is displaying a screen asking me to sign up for Amazon Prime.  WTF?  So I nope out of that and close the app.

A few minutes later, I get an e-mail on my laptop.  "Welcome to Amazon Prime!" it says.  WTF - Part II!   So I go onto the Amazon website and UNSIGN up for Prime, which, thankfully it does (without having to call a call center and wait on hold for hours) and says I still have free Prime until December 20th.

OK, I guess they signed me up in a sneaky, underhanded way, but at least - this time around - they let me un-sign.   Good thing, because otherwise I would have to cancel my credit card to keep from being charged $12.95 a month (!!!) for the rest of my life.  That's a lot of money for Amazon, for basically doing nothing. As I noted before, how long it takes to get things from Amazon really doesn't change much with or without Prime.  Free shipping isn't much of a perk, when almost everything on their site offers free shipping.

That's the first scandalous lie that Amazon tells - when you check out, it says, "Do you want fast, free shipping?"   That sounds fine and all, but in teeny, tiny print, it says you are clicking to join Amazon Prime.  If you nope out of that, you get a second page saying, "What are you, a fucking moron?  We're offering you free shipping!  All you have to do is click here and you get it (and are signed up to join Scientology - no obligation, of course!).   That's a lie - a small lie - but it illustrates how sleazy Amazon is.

Even the product listings are full of misinformation.  When I buy something online, what I want to see is the description of the product - what is included in the sale, what the specifications are, is it new or used, and so on and so forth.   All that messy data, however, might disincline me to buy, so instead, Amazon puts up all sorts of crap to distract you:

ME:  I want to see the product description.

AMAZON:  No, you'd rather look at this hugely blown-up corner of the product photo.

ME: Product description, please!

AMAZON:  People who bought this item, also bought these other items!

ME:  Just the product description, PLEASE!

AMAZON:  See other products you might be interested in!

ME:  NO!

AMAZON:  How about a snippet of a five-star product review from a shill?

ME:  Just what the fuck are you selling here?

AMAZON:  Would you like to see other products from this seller?

ME:  NO!  JUST THE PRODUCT DESCRIPTION!

AMAZON: (sigh) OK, just scroll down.  Further.  Further.  Further. Whoops, too far!  Back, Back, that's it!

ME:  This is just a listing of the UPC code, the shipping weight and the product dimensions!

AMAZON: Well, technically, that is a product description, right?

You see how this works - they want you to buy a pig-in-a-poke.  No wonder their return rate is so high.

Warehouse clubs, it is said, make a huge portion of their profits on the annual membership fees.  There are people, I am sure, who belong to multiple warehouse clubs, pay the annual membership fees, and then shop at only one of them, occasionally.   It is like the Parcheesi club here on the island - we have members who never show up or do anything, but pay the membership fees every year (when someone gets around to sending out reminders) and the coffers are overflowing with cash (or were, before Karen spent it all on a private party for her and her friends).

I am sure Amazon works the same way - $12.95 a month for nothing - a pretty sweet deal for them!  No wonder they are constantly trying to trick you into joining.

Well, anyway, I had this 30-day free membership, and they kept telling me about all the great movies on Amazon Prime.  I mentioned before I tried this, and most of it was come-ons to buy streaming services from other companies - of which there are many.  So many in fact that if you signed up for them all, you've have a streaming bill well over $100 a month!  A better approach, if you "have to have" a streaming service, is to sign up for one of them, for one month, and binge-watch The Crown or The Mandalorian or whatever, and then cancel the service and move on to another one.

So I checked out the Prime streaming service.  Problem #1 was our screen.  We have an older SHARP that is programmed to play Netflix, VUDU, and YouTube, as well as a couple of other obscure streaming services that never went anywhere.   In the middle of the remote is a huge NETFLIX key.  Nowhere is there a "AMAZON" key - nor any Amazon link on the menus.  This leaves me two ways to play PRIME on the screen.  First, I can use my phone as a hotspot and then load PRIME on the primitive browser they provide.  It is so painfully slow I cannot even type in the URL to load Amazon Prime.

Second, I can load the Prime app on my phone and then use screen mirroring to watch on the big screen.  We tried this and it worked, sort of.  As I noted before, screen mirroring uses a lot of battery power and actually makes the phone hot.  And for action movies, it can cause "jitter" in the screen image.  So to watch many of these newer streaming services (Disney, Amazon) I would have to buy a new television.   I searched the owner's manual and it said that if I updated the software, it would add new streaming services as they become available.  So I did that, no joy - the same services were listed, and there is no way on any menu to install an "app" on this Smart TV.

But the point is moot.  I searched the scanty Amazon Prime listings, and the results were pretty much the same as I see all day long on every streaming service, cable TV, and whatnot:  Movies I don't ever want to see, movies I have already seen, and made-for-network programming that is episodic in nature and caters to the addiction compulsion in all of us (e.g., the Sopranos, Downton Abbey, etc.)

They had an old Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" movie on there, and it was mildly interesting for nearly two-and-a-half hours of explosions and car chases (and little dialog - the foreign market!).   Tom Cruise looks more and more like Dustin Hoffman these days - what the fuck happened to his nose?  Anyway, it was two-and-a-half hours I will never get back.

The rest of their offerings were "Amazon originals" and didn't look all that appealing.  So we went over to Netflix. We cancelled our membership there back in June before we went on vacation (why pay for something when you are not home?).   Sadly, not much had changed since we left - the same old movies we already saw years ago, or would never want to see.   They had a new season of The Crown, which is OK, I guess.  We will watch that and then cancel the membership again.  There is something disturbing about that series - it must have been financed by the Queen herself, as it is very pro-monarchy.  I have only watched one episode of this season so far, and already I hate Diana Spencer - they have made her out to be a calculating bitch who is trying to weasel her way into the monarchy.

Like I said before, maybe they should just end the monarchy on a high note.  Liz had a good run to be sure - but it will be hard to follow that act.  So why not just dump this antiquated idea of kings and queens and leave them on the chess board and be done with it?  I mean other than the fact that Americans follow the antics of the Royals like their favorites soap opera.   BINGO!  Just turn the monarchy into a reality television show (programme) and license it and make billions - it would pay for all that royal overhead many times over.   You can thank me later.  Or has this already happened and no one has noticed?

Amazon Prime has a long way to go to catch up in content even with Netflix or indeed, YouTube.  There still is no compelling reason to have Amazon Prime, in my opinion, in terms of buying things from their site, "free" shipping, or their online streaming service.  And since you can sign up (and then cancel) Prime once a year (at least) without paying a cent, why would anyone pay for it?  Trust me, in 30 days, you could easily watch all they have worth watching on their streaming site.   I was able to do this in one night.

I am still trying to figure out how they signed me up for it, though.  This has been happening a lot lately - I find my phone on, with some app running, usually a commerce app, such as Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, or whatever.   Is there a ghost in the machine, or are they doing this on purpose?  I can only hope my phone isn't shopping online without me, during the night, and the next day, 200 toilets from Home Depot end up on my doorstep.   Maybe I need to uninstall some of these apps.

But getting back to Amazon, it is everyone's favorite online site to hate.  Journalists use it to explain the demise of "brick and mortar" stores.  The latest alleged casualty is The Guitar Center, which went Chapter 11 the other day.  It was the same old story - the company was loaded up with billions in debt it could not service.  They over-expanded too quickly with hundreds of stores, and not enough foot traffic to justify its size.  Think about it - how many guitars can even a musician buy?   I mean, other than Eric Clapton, and I'm betting he isn't going to the Guitar Center.  Billions in debt and its all Amazon's fault!  Not.

Other despise Amazon because of alleged abuse of workers - but it isn't hard to see where this is coming from. Unions want a taste of Amazon's money, in the form of union dues.  So they are pressing to unionize the company, and Jeff Bezos, left-wing liberal, is proving to be an effective robber baron and union buster.

Still others loath the Washington Post and want to hang Jeff Bezos in effigy (or literally, if you are at a Trump rally).  And yet others lump Amazon in the pile with "big tech" which is allegedly too big and too powerful and too liberal (again, maybe in theory, not in practice!).  Oddly enough, Republicans are talking about "breaking up" big tech "monopolies" using anti-trust laws or legislation.  Republicans!  The party that used to be all about big business, monopolies, and "moats!"   How times have changed. What a weird world we live in nowadays.

For me, it is just that Amazon is annoying and confusing to use - the layout of the pages is intentionally designed to obscure product details and trick you into signing up for things you don't want.   The only easy part to use on the site is the "One-click buying" - which you should never use, as it tacks on shipping charges.   The prices are usually "meh" compared to other sites - I can get better prices directly from manufacturers in most cases, eBay or Walmart in others.   And then there are the weirdly overpriced items on Amazon, which is just kind of creepy in some cases (shades of the Qanon Wayfair conspiracy theory) or just a way of ripping people off (again why I want to see the product description!).

The upshot is, the first workable alternative to Amazon that comes along will have no trouble succeeding int he marketplace.  The market abhors single-source solutions and monopolies and will seek out alternatives, no matter how costly or less efficient.  The trolleys and railroads died in America not because of some grand conspiracy of the oil companies or the car companies, but because citizens were tired of poor service, high prices, and inconvenience.  My parents' generation couldn't wait to get their hands on a Model-T Ford so they could tell the trolley company to fuck off.  Decades later, the Interstate Highway system allowed them to tell railroad monopolies to fuck off. In both cases, the overall costs were much higher, caused a lot more pollution, killed an awful lot of people, and were far less efficient.   But people craved the freedom of the car over the efficiency of the train or trolley.

So, even a less-efficient solution to Amazon may succeed. Companies like Amazon have warehouses loaded with inventory all over the country.  Maybe someone could put products in a building like that, with a showroom, and then let people come look at the products and buy them on the spot, without having to wait days for shipping and without having to wonder about the product quality.  Even with higher prices, people would appreciate the convenience.  It could just work, provided the enterprise wasn't loaded up with billions in debt from a "venture capitalist" company!

Just kidding.  Brick and mortar is dead, right?  Killed off by Amazon.  Get with the program!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Sweepstakes!

Should you enter a contest?  Maybe not.

I was perusing the BJ's wholesale catalog and as usual there was some sort of come-on for tires.  One thing that is tiring (sorry, pun) about BJ's Wholesale is how they use coupons and sales and discounts to distract you from the underlying bargain.  Although sometimes you score on this - I bought two cases of Juame Serra Cristalino for $5.99 a bottle on sale.

Anyway, I saw a promotion for Michelin tires.  The tires on the truck have about 45,000 miles on them, and they will need to be replaced fairly soon.  Sure, you can run them down to the wear bars, but when you wrap your car around a tree, the "savings" are pretty nil.  Anyway, the 20" Michelin tires (!!) on the truck are "only" $220 apiece (as opposed to $500 for the M Roadster) and I guess that isn't too bad.   Of course, the standard tires on the Nissan were under $100 apiece, and that's a better bargain.

The come-on this time around, in addition to a sales price (buy three get one free or some such nonsense) was to enter a contest to win a $500 gift card.   You are automatically entered when you buy a set of tires.  But of course, that would be considered gambling, so most States require that if you want to have such a contest, you have to offer another way to enter for free.  In the past, this meant mailing in a coupon or other type of entry form.  Today, you can do this online.

Turns out, Michelin has a number of contests at their site.  One lucky guy won a new mid-engine Corvette.  Of course, he would have to pay income tax on that, so unless he could get a loan from his credit union, he likely would have taken the cash equivalent or sold the car right away.   You don't want to be the idiot who won the Lamborghini and then wrecked it the same day.  Even with the insurance "repairing" the car, odds are, it is now worth about half what he could have received by selling it right away.  And the car was worth more than his house - far more.   Not a car for people who don't own a garage!

UPDATE:  Turns out the repair cost for that Lambo was more than the car was worth, so they cut him a check, which makes better sense.  His insurance rates must be murder though.  Who in hell drives a Lamborghini in the snow?

Some of these contests have odd prizes.  I am not sure what I would do with a surfboard, other than sell it on Craigslist.  But since it was easy to click and enter (and Google Chrome auto-fills my name and address) it was pretty easy to enter all the contests for both myself and Mark.  I made sure NOT to click on the box allowing them to send me tire SPAM.

Years ago, I recall reading an article about someone who made a hobby of this - and I am sure there are plenty of people who do this today - perhaps even forums for such folks.  I suppose it is a harmless hobby - like genealogy, just boring and a time-waster.   Maybe, like clipping coupons, you might make a few bucks here and there, but not enough to buy a yacht.   Again, like with the Corvette or the Lamborghini, even if you won a yacht, you'd have to pay taxes on it - and it would know you into a very high tax bracket (and I would lose my Obamacare subsidy!).  You have to be careful what you wish for.

I guess that is the worst of it - the time-bandit nature of such contests. And if you made a hobby of it, well, you'd waste even more time.   It also plays to the something-for-nothing mentality of it all, the idea that you can get ahead in life by "winning" rather than working.  Of course, these companies don't give away stuff for "goodwill" - they want to raise your brand awareness and be able to market to you.

The article I read many years ago was interesting.  The fellow noted that in many of these contests, few people enter and win, as they don't think the odds of winning are very good - because so many people enter, right?  So they don't enter and the fellow profiled in the article won a lot of stuff over the years.

But today?  When you can enter with the click of a mouse, there is no longer a monetary barrier to entry (postage stamp).  And with online discussion groups bringing new contests to the attention of more and more people, well, the odds of winning diminish accordingly.

Speaking of time bandit, many of these "Sweepstakes" require more than filling out a form.  One for LG laundry machines requires you photograph your "Laundry routine" and upload it to their site. Another requires you visit a company's social media site for an "unlocking code" to enter - effectively getting you to watch an advertisement for their product.   They ain't giving out free money samples this week, kids!

And it goes without saying that some of these "Sweepstakes" could be fraudulent, trying to harvest credit card numbers or whatnot, or just harvest personal data (phone number, e-mail) to sell online.

And it goes without saying that if you get an e-mail claiming you won a contest you never entered, you should not reply, and never hand out banking information, credit card information, or send money to someone who claims you won a lottery or contest or whatever.

I entered the Michelin contest on a whim.  I will probably regret doing so when my SPAM inbox fills to overflowing and the junk phone calls start.