Monday, April 29, 2024

Camping Is Not Protesting!

If this is protesting, then I am a full-time protester (no, just a camper).

There has been a lot of misunderstanding about recent protests at college campuses.  Some "media" outlets linked to Hamas are portraying brave protesters being assaulted by the Police for no reason at all.  Even "mainstream" media outlets are lying-by-omission by implying the protesters are being arrested for protesting.

They are not.  They are being arrested for camping out on private property.  Camping is not protesting!

We saw this almost two decades ago with the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd, who set up a drug-fueled orgy campsite in Manhattan.  People were assaulted, not by the cops, but by fellow "protesters" - many of whom were just there for the party or were, in fact, homeless drug-addicts.  The same effect happened in Seattle and Portland, when protesters declared "cop-free zones" and people were killed, beaten up, and raped, not by the Police, but by fellow protesters.

Similar tactics have been engaged by self-proclaimed climate protesters who chain themselves to roadways or glue their hands to the pavement.  They are more than just protesting, they are blocking the highway for other people to use.

That is not protesting, it is just trespassing.

It has long been held by the Supreme Court that the first amendment is not absolute.  The government can control the time and place of protests, require permits, security, and so on.  The first amendment does not apply to private spaces, such as a college campus (whether or not a State University is "public" space is a good question, however).  Occupying the Dean's Office was all the rage in the 1960's and 1970's, but it was, in fact, illegal trespassing.

And what colleges learned since then - or should have learned - is that if you allow people to "camp out" as part of their protest, things will get severely out of hand, very quickly.  I wrote before how Cornell, in the heart of ultra-liberal Ithaca, New York ("10 square miles surrounded by reality" - according to bumper stickers that liberals put on their Subarus) had major protests in the 1960s, where Black Panthers occupied the Dean's Office, demanding a "separate but equal" black dorm. Irony much?

Anyway, fast-forward to the 2000's and the school wants to bulldoze a forest to built a parking lot.  Students chain themselves to trees, and one even climbs up and lives in a tree for weeks.  The school curtly informs them that unless they leave, they will not get their diplomas, or even transcripts if they want to transfer to another school.  The protest collapsed and today, the forest is a parking lot.

At Syracuse, one of the Deans told me, "We learned something since the 1960's - students graduate every four years!  We can wait them out!"  So often they put up with these protests - up to a point - knowing that the students are a four-year blip on an institution that is over 100 years old.  They can play the long game.

Like I said, up to a point.  When tents start going up and people from off-campus start loitering around, hoping for some tender co-ed pussy or a bong hit, well, it is time to shut things down. The party can quickly get out of control.

This happened to my brother, whose politically correct puppet extravaganza started attracting dead-heads to their commune every summer.  Nearby farmers were happy to rent out space for the drug-fueled orgy and it quickly got out of hand with traffic jams, drug overdoses, assaults, and eventually, a murder.  These sort of encampments are not self-policing and what little self-policing there is, tends to sweep crimes under the rug - as we saw after rapes at "Occupy Wall Street."

The reality of these arrests is that the protesters are not being arrested for protesting, but for trespassing.  You are free to hold a sign and hand out flyers and even chant your slogans (sans megaphone, please!) on the public sidewalk, provided you are not blocking it or harassing pedestrians.

You are NOT free to protest on private property or pitch a tent on public property.  And THAT is what these "protesters" are being arrested for.

Sadly, I think a lot of these protesters are what they used to call, "useful idiots" as many of them are chanting slogans calling for "Death to Israel" or in support of Hamas, which is a terrorist group.  They make any legitimate protest look ridiculous, and no doubt the Republicans are eating this up - and using these protests on Fox Fear News to get the oldsters in The Villages to vote GOP (like they wouldn't already).  Vote for Trump or next they will be pitching tents in front of the Applebees!  Right where all the prime golf cart parking is!

The first casualty in war is the truth.  Most Americans discovered, only years after the Vietnam war ended, that we were propping up an unpopular dictatorship in South Vietnam - so unpopular that people were willing to gamble with Communism instead.  Today, many Americans still don't get it - and argue "we coulda won" if only we dropped even more bombs - after dropping more bombs in Vietnam than we did in all of World War II.

In Ukraine, it is hard for the average American to see what is going on. We see videos of Russian tanks being blow sky-high and assume Ukraine is winning.  I am sure Russians are seeing videos of Ukrainian tanks being blown up, instead.  Propaganda is always suspect.

In the current conflict in Gaza, Hamas has used the media to good effect.  They are touting casualty numbers that are not really backed up by hard data.  The UN blindly agrees to these numbers, but the people touting this are clearly biased.  The UN is hardly value-neutral.  Stories of atrocities abound, but I doubt we will know what really took place until years from now.

What is really going on?  Well, it is a proxy war between Iran (Shi'ite) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni) over control of the middle-east.  We lost in Iraq and the Iranians are expanding their influence there.  They are arming the Houthi rebels with anti-ship missiles.  The Iranian "Navy" is even kidnapping ships and holding them for ransom.  And of course, those thousands of missiles that Hamas has fired at Israel over the years were smuggled in from Iran (No, the Palestinians didn't make them out of old water pipes!).  This is just another bloody chapter in middle-east politics and citizens on both sides of the conflict are caught in the middle.

That is the messy, dirty reality that no one wants to confront.  Israel wants to wipe out Hamas, but to do so means wiping out a portion of the population of Gaza.  Iran hoped to rally the rest of the Arab world against Israel with this latest war, but like Russia in the Ukraine, they have found themselves in a bit of a pickle - perhaps over-extending themselves too far.  The rest of the Arab world seems uninterested in helping Gazans, or even allowing refugees into their country.  Maybe there is a reason for this.

If you can't win on the battlefield, win in the arena of public opinion.  Russia hoped to do this with their trolling wars about Ukraine and Hunter Biden - a "scandal" that even Republicans, after years of "investigations" and even impeachment hearings, have conceded were made-up stories planted by Russian agents.  They did manage to get their hooks into one Presidential Candidate, though.  Wonder what they have on him, other than financial blackmail?

The current protests are, I believed, part and parcel of this sort of public opinion campaign.  Useful idiots are out protesting for a terrorist organization that would kill every last one of them, given the opportunity.  You have to remember the people of Gaza overwhelmingly voted for Hamas.  It is akin to feeling sorry for Germans who were killed in American bombing raids during World War II.  Innocent civilians?  When they voted for Hitler, put the Nazi flag on their house, sent husbands and sons to war, and worked in war industries?

I noted before this is a tough question, and modern insurgent warfare is based on the idea that there are no "innocent civilians."  Terrorists set off bombs or gun down people in restaurants, discos, theaters, railroad stations, airports, airplanes, and even cruise ships.  Some sympathizers will even excuse these murders as "acts of war."  But military retaliation?  That's out of bounds, buddy!

The asymmetrical response is what the terrorists are hoping for, so they can be the victims on the world stage.

Yea, I get it. Some small child crushed in the rubble of Gaza City or Dresden or Hiroshima is an innocent who was blameless in those conflicts.  On the other hand, calls for "cease-fire" are little more than calls for surrender.  And quite frankly, Hamas does not desire any cease-fire, as each dead baby is money in the bank for them.  They know the value of good propaganda, and Israel is charging up their bank account quite nicely.

That's the problem with war - the people running it, on either side, really don't give a damn about the real victims of war.  And in a way, they can't.  A General who worries about casualties - military or civilian - cannot achieve military objectives.

Some clever wanker posted today that Napoleon spent two decades at war, but never suffered from PTSD.  Well, duh, he was a General, ordering others to their death, not his own.

But getting back to "encampments" - no, we cannot allow that.  It is not protest, it is trespassing and intimidation.  We have learned over the last two decades that allowing people to camp out as part of a protest, never ends well.  These folks are not being "terrorized by the police" but arrested for trespassing.  The first amendment doesn't apply here.

Camping is not protesting!

UPDATE: I am losing no sleep over the Police evicting protesters from occupied buildings and encampments.  Trespassing is illegal and not a legitimate form of protest.  The protesters have undercut their cause by such actions.  One wonders if they are even false-flag operations fueled by outside agitators to discredit the protests, as these occupations are so over-the-top.

Ditto for "climate protesters" who block off highways.  But then again we don't truck in conspiracy theories here!

Sunday, April 28, 2024

"bOth PArTiEs aRE THe SaMe!" No, They're Not.

Young people are being trolled into believing that change isn't possible - at the same time change is happening.

If you read online, which is bad for your mental health, you will see postings from supposed young leftists who chime, "Biden is no better than Trump!  Might as well not bother voting!"  But of course, this nonsense isn't from Americans, but our friends in Russia, who are hoping to elect Trump, so they can win the war in Ukraine.  Right there is a good reason not to vote for Trump.  America should not be a puppet state for a failed Communist country.

Granted, there are some on the far, far left who really believe this nonsense.  Unless student loans are forgiven right away and we have nationalize health care right now, there is no point in engaging in the system - just overthrow it!

But the history of revolutions is spotty.  The Russian revolution was supposed to liberate the serfs and make everyone equal.  Tens of millions of the "liberated" people either starved to death or were lined up against a wall and shot. We are still dealing with the fallout from that "revolution" today. No, revolutions never quite work out the way you think they will. Even Robespierre had his turn at the Guillotine.

Our own revolution promised freedom for white male landowners - and no one else.  It took another 250 years of incremental change to get us to where we are today.  And Republicans want to reverse a lot of these changes, too!  Meanwhile, Democrats keep chipping away at things, slowly bringing about change in a manner that most don't notice. Young people, not having lived as long, don't see the dramatic changes of just the last few decades.  To them, things are as they always have been - and not changing fast enough!

But we are making progress, in dribs and drabs - and this is far superior to revolutions or Trumpism, either of which would destroy our country.

President Biden is said to have a low approval rating and isn't getting anything done in Washington. But most of his agenda so far has been slowing down and reversing the "changes" enacted during the Trump administration - hampered in part by the judiciary which has been stacked with far-right judges with questionable legal credentials.

But a lot of important changes are taking place.

Just last week, the "net neutrality" regulations were reinstated - ensuring that your internet service provider won't slow down streaming services from competing networks - forcing you to watch their drivel instead.  A big deal?  Maybe not, but it is one of those incremental changes, undoing a small piece of evil that Republicans fought for.

Similarly, the FTC banned "non-compete" agreements for ordinary employees. Again, Republicans wanted to enslave workers, preventing them from taking a better job at better pay (or just getting away from an abusive boss).  Unless you changed careers or moved far away, such agreements could lock you into one job for life.  For an ordinary employee, such agreements make no sense - but some employers tried to use them to keep hourly employees captive. It just isn't right and the Biden administration fixed that.

If  you've been reading my blog, you will know that I am ambivalent about student loan forgiveness.  So much is left unsaid. Would we forgive loans going forward as well?  What about those who struggled to pay their loans back?  Is it right to bail out specific groups, whether they are students or banks?  Maybe forgiving loans is attacking the symptom of the problem of higher education, and not the underlying cause - the staggering increase in the price of college in the last 20 years.

All that being said, you can't blame young people for feeling put upon by staggering student loan debt, which they want forgiven now.  Biden tried, but the Supreme Court - stacked with Trump nominees, shot him down.  But every month, it seems, Biden has found a way to wipe out the debts of more and more borrowers.  Yes, it is an incremental approach, but it is yielding results - just not as fast as some people would like.

Bear in mind the alternative is no results.

The list goes on and on.  A few regulations here, a scant few new laws there (that were not shot down by Republicans, even if they agreed with them!) and change occurs, gradually.  Being older, I can see how these cumulative effects result in major changes.  Legalized marijuana?  I never thought I would see that in my lifetime!  Gay marriage?  Try explaining that to me back in 1990, and I would have laughed in your face.  In America?  Right, Buddy!

National health care isn't a thing just yet, but during the eight years of the Obama administration (which Republicans call "failed") Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act was created. Perfect? Hardly. But it was a start - chipping away. Trump promised - and still promises - to abolish it and replace it with nothing. He was even petty enough to narrow the enrollment window to make it harder to sign up. The guy just hates ordinary people, it seems.

Attempts to fix the flaws in Obamacare have been stymied at every turn by Republicans, who will vote down a bill they like just so Democrats can't score a "win."  In the mail today is a postcard from a far-right Congressman seeking re-election, claiming Biden has "done nothing" to stem the "invasion" at our border (even though border crossings are far lower today than under Trump).  Not mentioned in his screed is why this Congressman voted down the border bill.  The reason is, so he can claim Biden "did nothing."  Meanwhile he takes credit for infrastructure improvements and new semiconductor plants that are the result of the Infrastructure Bill and the CHIP act - both of which he voted against.

Biden is getting things done, and when he does, Republicans take credit for it.

Apparently, Republican voters are just too damn stupid to figure this out - their candidates flatly lie to them - lies that are easily checked, too - and they just believe the lies, anyway.  I guess you can expect that - from Seniors in The Villages who are halfway into dementia and spend all day forwarding memes from facebook.  Or the redneck in the trailer park, putting straight pipes on his Harley and his RAM truck, mumbling about his "free-dum" as he polishes his AR-15 and pines for civil war.

But young people?  People who claim to be liberals or even leftists?  They are willing to see a fascist get elected, even though they themselves profess to be "Antifa" or anti-fascist? The cognitive dissonance of the far left is the same as the far-right - which is often why, I guess, people say if you go far enough in one direction, you end up on the other side.

We saw this last time around, with "Bernie Bros" turning into Trumpers, because they thought it was "edgy" or something.  This time around, though, it isn't funny.  Republicans are flat-out saying that if you elect Trump this fall, you'll never have to worry about voting again as they will install a dictatorship and start assassinating anyone who opposes them.  This is not far-fetched rhetoric, it is exactly what they are saying.  Believe them!

They already tried to overturn a fair election - once through deception and illegal acts, and once again by brute force.  Fortunately, calmer heads - among them, traditional Republicans - prevailed.  Most of those calmer heads have been voted out of office or have retired.  What happens next time around?

The reason "not much gets done" is that people don't vote, particularly in local elections and in off-year contests.  Many people only vote once every four years, if that, during Presidential campaigns.  But who is elected to your State legislature and Governor's mansion is as important - if not moreso - than who is in the White House.  State legislatures determined districts - by gerrymandering - which insures that Republicans, who are a minority party have a majority in the House of Representatives.  The Electoral College gives more Presidential races to Republicans than the popular vote would have allowed.

And once in power, they can stuff the courts to insure their policies will remain unchanged, even when out of office.  Remember how Mitch McConnell denied Obama a chance to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, perversely citing the "Biden Rule" (which never existed).  That is outright subversion of Democracy.  Too late, McConnell is having second thoughts about the monster he was partially responsible for creating.  Frankenstein's monster has left the building.

Change is occurring - and in fact, it is what is fueling the fires of discontent on the far-right.  And by far-right, I don't mean political parties or politicians.  One problem we are facing are people who are scared by the thought that a woman is more than a baby-maker or sex-toy.  The idea that a woman should be paid as well as a man - and have similar opportunities - scares them to death.  What's next? Equal rights for minorities?

We are seeing a push-back by people who subscribe to "red pill" thinking, or "second amendment rights" or whatever.  People who are leaning into violence, racism, sexism, and a whole host of dark thinking.  Sadly, these folks are openly calling for civil war and the armed overthrow of the government.  And who's to say they might actually do it.

People talk about going back in time and smothering baby Hitler in the crib - or somehow turning the tide of public opinion in Germany long before 1939.  "If only..." they say, "history would be different!"  Well, here's a chance to make a difference - change the world, avert disaster, and smother baby Hitler in the crib.

And yet, some folks say that it makes no difference.  Why bother?  Trump isn't all that bad!  Biden isn't any better, they claim.  Similar things were said in Germany back in the 1930s.  Hitler will solve the crime problem and put those commies in jail!  The end result, a decade later, was utter ruin of their country and millions wiped out.

We can stop that from happening again - if we choose to.

Again, I suspect a lot of these "people" posting these messages that "bOth PArTiEs aRE THe SaMe!" are Russian trolls or even bots.  But as we have seen in recent years, a lot of people are influenced by influencers online.  I am not sure why people believe every word of some dork staring into their phone and blathering on about how vaccines are fake or whatever, but they do believe it.  I have to keep an eye on Mr. See as he watches YouTube videos which are little more than plugs for commercial products (and pretty obvious ones at that).  We are all susceptible to influence.

So it is likely - certain - that at least a few people out there are buying into the "both sides the same" argument and are not thinking of the real differences in the parties and the changes that have occurred over the years.  More change will come, if the right people are elected.  If the wrong people are elected, well, the change we have seen will be undone.

And you don't have to believe me about this - they flat-out have promised to do this.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Don't Engage!

You are never going to "change someone's mind" by arguing with them!

I was reading a rant online from a young woman who was upset that her boomer grandpa keeps sending her offensive facebook forwards about "politics."  They really aren't about politics per se, they are just insulting diatribes about how "young people" are deluded and "no one wants to work anymore!" - you know the trope.

One in particular went on for pages about a young college-age woman who comes home from school with her head all full of crazy ideas.  It is sort of a parody, almost, as it is so over the top.  One semester of college and she's gone full commie!  But then gentle, wise, grandfather explains to her the folly of communism and she sees the light!  "Thanks, Grandpa!" she says.  And no doubt the next day she drops out of college, marries her "High School Sweetheart"  (who never went to college but has a "real job") and becomes a "tradwife" and has five kids.  And they all lived happily ever after.  The End.

It is a typical boomer facebook fantasy - telling those kids "what for" by beating them over the head with facebook memes.  Facebook memes like that are not intended to "educate" young people, but are designed to amuse older boomers, who read them and say "right on!" as they commiserate about how awful "young people" are today.  Why just today I was at Denny's and the young waitress with the tattoos and piercings was giving me lip! Well, I told her off!  And she cowered in defeat.  And then everyone stood up and clapped.

Of course, that shit never happened.  It is just a fantasy devised by a bored troll at the Russian Internet Research Agency, designed to divide us as a nation - old against the young, left against right, black against white, women against men, and so on and so forth.  Divide and conquer is the oldest and most effective play in the book.

But old people gotta old, so there is no point in expecting Grandpa, who is halfway into dementia - or all the way, perhaps - into "changing his mind" about these things or having him stop forwarding this nonsense to you.  Just hit the "delete" key and move on with life.  He'll be dead soon, anyway.  Worse comes to worse, you can always "block sender."

Instead, this young lady wasted a lot of emotional energy and her precious time trying to argue with Grandpa via e-mail and then sending him a 16-page letter (single-spaced, no doubt!) going through his facebook "meme" line-by-line and trying to debunk it, as well as arguing why these straw-man arguments are so offensive.  Needless to say, Grandpa didn't read any of it but rather shook his head and said "kids these days, taking offense at every little thing!"

Arguing with nonsense is pointless and that is the point of propaganda.  We've had a few years or even decades under our belt dealing with online trolls, who have gone pro.  They make nonsense arguments knowing they are nonsense, unsupported by any facts.  If you try to logically address them, they ask you for citations to authority. "Do your research!" they say, while doing none of their own, other than to parrot things they read online.  By the time you respond to their first nonsense argument, they have already piled-on with ten more, in a technique known as "gish-gallop."

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

To an observer, it looks as though the trolls have "won" the argument, as they are spouting all sorts of "facts" and issues, while you are fumbling to cite to authority to rebut their first ridiculous proposition.  This is why "fact-checking" doesn't work, as the other side doesn't bother to read your fact-checking or, in fact, care.

I was at the Dentist's office yesterday and they had an actual local newspaper (all six pages of it) with a comic section.  The author of the "Mallard Filmore" comic has gone off the MAGA deep-end and was doing "fact checking" in a comic.  It must be true because he said so!  I think I trust Alley-Oop or Mary Worth more for fact-checking.  But it illustrates how fact-checking has failed - the other side can say bullshit and call it "fact-checking" which sounds much better than "alternative facts."  It is, in a way, how the far-right tried to co-opt "Fake News" (once used to describe things like Breitbart or OAN) and applied it to the "mainstream media" - a term that they managed to turn into an epithet.

You have to fight fire with fire, and as unseemly as it seems, you are better off insulting your opponent than trying to argue with them.  If she just sent back a one-sentence reply along the lines of, "Oh, Grandpa, you and your silly facebook memes!" maybe he would get the message.  If you make it appear that only stupid people believe such arguments than maybe they will be shamed into reconsidering.  But if you send a 16-page letter with point-by-point rebuttals, well, you have legitimized their argument and they will simply retreat into their belief system.

I think we are perhaps turning a corner on this.  The newly unleashed "Dark Brandon" is a step in the right direction.  The name itself is taking a page from the far-right playbook, co-opting their "Let's Go Brandon!" meme and turning it on its head.  Dark Brandon doesn't try to react to right-wing nonsense arguments with point-by-point rebuttals that no one reads (and rightists never believe anyway) but instead gets down to their level of snarky insults - usually backed up with one simple, easy-to-digest, fact.

And it works, too.  Suddenly, it is no longer "cool" (if it ever was) to profess support for Trump, who is caricatured as an obese, smelly old man who farts a lot and shits his pants.  In the match-up for who is hip and who is not, it is an easy win for Biden, even if he is five years older than Trump.  Trump comes across as the angry boomer forwarding tired facebook tropes.  Biden is the hip grandpa you always wish you had.  You know, the one who doesn't want to cut your Social Security or outlaw abortion or take over the government by force.

For the policy geeks, the facts speak for themselves.  But for the hoi polloi, facts are like garlic to a vampire.  You lose an audience with facts, early on.

And lest you think this is some sign of the decline of American politics, bear in mind that the history of our country - and indeed the world - has fallen along similar lines.  Name-calling and cat-calling opponents has a long and tortured history.  Our "Founding Fathers" had a nasty habit of distributing anonymous pamphlets which spread all sorts of nasty rumors and falsehoods and also engaged in name-calling.  Go overseas and you see more of the same - even worse!  Ever watched the "proceedings" in the UK Parliament?  They just shout over one another.

I am not saying one has to stoop to the level of lying to respond to lies, only that trying to debunk lies is something that only the faithful will actually believe, and they've already come to that conclusion independently.  To reach the average smooth-brained voter, you need something more catchy.  The guy who buys into Trump's name-calling routines isn't going to be persuaded by some long-winded fact-check.  All that does is rally the troops already on your side.

Democrats, it seems, are finally figuring this out, and it shows in the polls.  Independent voters are starting to turn on Trump.

Getting back to our young woman, her long-winded 16-page letter isn't going to "convert" Grandpa or suddenly get him to "see the light."  A better solution is to simply ignore him, as there is little to be gained in getting him to "change his mind."  Disengagement is the best approach (and requires the least effort).  His road-to-Damascus experience is something he has to come to on his own - if he ever does.  Arguments won't persuade someone whose idea of "clever" is a forwarded facebook meme.

But failing that, just make fun of his memes.  Maybe he'll get the point.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Yet More Home Appliance Follies! (Microwave Edition)

This time, it is microwaves!

I noted before that our house was remodeled 18 years ago before we bought it, so all the appliances are about 18 years old.  So far we have replaced:

  • Ice Machine
  • HVAC System
  • Washing Machine
  • Dryer
  • Garage Door Opener

That leaves the kitchen appliances (I repaired the refrigerator with a used control panel, so it might go a few more years), and the hot water heater.

The kitchen microwave died about three months ago at least.  Mark is not a microwave cook and we use it mostly to heat water or reheat beverages.  So it was not missed much when it died.  We thought (briefly) of replacing all the kitchen appliances at once, but the cost was pretty staggering and, oddly enough, the stores seemed less-than-interested in selling them to us (some sort of reverse psychology gag, no doubt).  So we took a pass.

A recently widowed friend of ours lamented that his microwave was broken as well.  So we decided to go to Home Depot and buy two of the cheapest microwaves possible (GE, $198) and install them in both houses.  We got a stainless steel one for his house, a white one for ours.

An older "associate" in the appliance department told us at first that nothing was in stock and we would have to have them delivered (??).  And all the guys working in the appliance department were old - older than I am, and I'm 64!  What's up with that?  Why pushing for home delivery?  He didn't want to take them down from the racks?  They want to sell installation services?  What?

I pointed out that they have them in the racks and they were a "cash and carry" item and he demurred, roping in a second and third senior citizen to work the vertical lift to get them down.  The second fellow was quite knowledgeable about appliances, I'll give him that!  We were talking about the trend toward stainless-steel appliances (and how white is now a "special order" color!).  The irony is, kitchen appliances were once referred to (and still are, in some circles) as "white goods" because of their color, but obviously that ship has sailed.

"Stainless" steel appliances today are made with low-grade stainless steel that would rust like a Tesla if not for the clearcoat paint applied to them.  That is how they get away with using cheap steel, but also how they can claim the appliances are "fingerprint" proof.  The original, high-quality bare stainless appliances would leave fingerprints (much like a DeLorean) which you would constantly have to remove with Windex.  The fellow warned that if you scrub a "stainless" appliance with any kind of abrasive cleaner or scrubbie, it would remove the clearcoat and the thing will look like hell and start to rust.

Maybe Mr. Musk should have spent some time at the Home Depot appliance department before they came out with the childishly named "cybertruck."  Of course, clearcoat does yellow over time, particularly in the sun.

Anyway, he got the two boxes down, and $400 later we are out the door.  Prices on under-cabinet microwaves are all over the place.  In 1992 or thereabouts, we paid the staggering sum of $500 for one (special order!) as they were a "new" thing at the time and expensive. That would be over $1100 in today's money.  The least we paid was $99 when remodeling the condo - it was cheaper than an old-fashioned vent hood (you know, the kind with scalloped edges!) which was a staggering $139.  So we've installed a few over the years.  And given inflation, $198 is pretty reasonable.

At the lake house, the previous owners had a microwave shelf installed in the cabinets, and an inexpensive $79 tabletop microwave sat there.  That really is the cheapest way to go, and if it dies, well, with $79 and ten minutes of your time, you are back in business.  We never saw a need to change it, either.  In fact, an under-cabinet job there would have required we replace the cabinet over the stove, as it would have left less than 10" of cooking height.  Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone and kitchen remodeling returns only 50 cents on the dollar - if that - in terms of immediate resale value (after a few years, this drops to zero).

Anyway, we went to our friend's house and took out the old microwave and put in the new one, which took about two hours.  The new bottom bracket (rail) was almost identical to the old one and it wasn't too hard to find studs to screw it into.  Of course, the upper mounts (through the bottom of the cabinet) were completely different (figures) so we had to drill new holes for the plug and mounting bolts.

Speaking of which, that $500 microwave in 1992 had a totally different mounting system.  Instead of a lower rail, it had a large plate (like a split-system) and did not physically attach to the cabinet above. Instead, insanely long captive bolts extended through the microwave itself and were screwed in from the front, into the mounting plate.   The new technique, using a lower "rail" and bolts extending through the upper cabinet, is much cheaper to make, I think.  But you have to make sure your cabinets are properly attached to the wall, or the whole thing will fall down.

As we are replacing an existing installation, it was a lot easier, of course.  And once we had the lower rail installed and the upper holes drilled, it was a matter of wrestling the machine in place and then securing the two upper screws.  Pro tip: Put an old blanket or towels on your stove, lest you scratch or damage it (as one installer did, repairing our old microwave) if you rest the microwave on the stove.

Yes, over the years, our old microwave has needed service.  Within a year, under warranty, the magnatron was replaced (essentially the guts of the machine).  Later on, they replaced the control panel when it began starting the microwave by itself, which was scary.  Membrane-switch appliances!  You have to treat them gently.  Well, now it is going in the trash and I have an extra control panel (they sent two) still new-in-the-box.  Sadly, it only fits an 18-year-old microwave.  Maybe I can sell it on eBay.

I also had to repair the handle - twice - using superglue and baking soda (The Marty Matchbox Makeover Method).  So after 18 years, this microwave was ready for the trash.

Speaking of which, how do I dispose of the old machine?  We put our friend's old machine in his rolly-bin. It will be interesting to see if they garbage man takes it.  I guess we could do the same as well.  Old appliances are difficult trash to get rid of!  I guess that is why so many people prefer delivery and installation and "remove your old appliance" as well!

Coming up next: Yet another split system!  And readers said I would be bored in retirement.  I wish!

Saturday, April 20, 2024

More Appliance Follies

Split-system A/C units, like toaster ovens, might get disgustingly dirty before they actually wear out.

Now that the split-system A/C unit is running in the studio, I decided to attack the one in the garage that is eight years old and recently started throwing an "E1" error code.  Documentation that came with the unit is scant - the only thing it says it to "call for service" if you get an error code.

The unit has had it share of small problems.  The display (for temperature setting) is missing a leg on the LED display, so "72" and looks like "73" sort of.  Also the small stepper motor that moves the distribution vane back and forth (and neatly closes up when shut off) died and the vane stays in one position.

The good news about that is a whole new display board is only $25 and an easy, one-screw installation.  The stepper motor is only $6.95.  So some parts are available - from Midea - and cheap, too!

But the main control boards (inside and out) are like $150 each or "NLA", along with something called a "reactor" which is NLA.  A new unit (like the one I just bought for the studio) can be had for about $700 delivered.  So it obviously isn't worth "throwing parts" at an eight-year-old unit, even if I expected a longer lifespan out of this unit.

I could  not find the exact service manual for the MCHS-12AVH1 unit, although Midea has some manuals for similar units (there are hundreds of variations, based on capacity, voltage, country of use, refrigerant, etc.).  This unit is 110V, 15A, R-410a, 12,000 BTU.  It is similar to the one I installed in Mark's studio except that unit is rated for 20A (obviously less efficient).

I find the diagnostic page for a similar unit and the process for diagnosing an E1 code is as follows:

The diagnostic involves throwing parts - expensive parts - at the unit.

As you can see, the problem is either in the wiring, or the inside and outside PCBs are faulty.  I presume the wiring is OK (although I will run a jumper wire around and see if that fixes the problem - I have plenty of control wire left over from the previous install).   But I doubt it - wires don't just decide to disconnect themselves.  The other two "solutions" are to replace the indoor or outdoor control units.  (I am not getting the +/- 25V on the signal wire).

I suspect it is the outside control board, as the inside unit seems to work OK in fan-only mode.  The outside unit made a frightening "pop" noise when I turned on the power.  The inside control board is NLA anyway.  Do I replace the outside control board and hope I didn't throw $150 away?  Or just buy anew.

I noticed there was detritus on my workbench under the unit.  It looked like mouse poop.  Were mice living in the unit?  That would explain a lot - but where would they be living?  Turns out, they weren't.  It was just eight years of debris accumulating inside the unit.  I had cleaned the filters regularly and flushed the condensate pan periodicaly with hot water and soap.  But the fan - a long cylindrical deal - was covered with what appeared to be black fur - mildew and dirt, I guess.

I tried cleaning it off with a soft brush and black dots of filth rained down on me.  I then tried a spray bottle with soap solution. with similar results.  Finally, out of frustration, I used a garden hose - after laying down some old towels to catch the water and debris..  Little black dots of filth rained down on me, yet again.

Here is a picture of the first round of black plague (I had to stop to vacuum this up, several times):

Ugh, this is worse than a toaster oven!  Little black chunks of debris everywhere!

I suspect the problem is related to the fact it is in the garage and exposed to a lot of dust and debris, as well as hot, humid air, whenever the garage door is opened.  The unit in Mark's studio, with all that clay dust and glaze, will no doubt have similar problems - the window units not only had rusted out, but their guts were filled with dried-on clay dust, which I discovered only after taking them apart.

I finally got all the detritus cleaned out of the fan, cleaned the drain pan and coils, and flushed out the condensate line.  It was pretty bad.  And do to all of this, I had to remove the vane and diffusers, as well as the entire cover (which has eight snaps and as many screws) to expose the "guts" of the unit.  It didn't solve the problem, of course, but illustrated to me that these things need to be cleaned regularly - like a toaster oven - or they get gross.  Legionnaires' disease anyone?

But speaking of toaster ovens, I took the thing apart (again) and removed the rotary switch which I then disassembled.  The main power contact wasn't making contact and had signs of being overheated.  Poor design or defective switch?  But I was able to pull a part number off it and found the same switch online - although with a different shaft (the shafts appear to be interchangeable).  It was only $13 by China Post, so we should see it by August.

If that unit can be repaired, we'd have four toaster ovens! (someone died and left us theirs - the heirs were going to throw it out it was so gross, but Dollar Tree oven cleaner to the rescue!).

Yes, it is possible to fix things, provided you (a) have the skills, (b) have the tools, and (c) have a source of inexpensive replacement parts.  Usually one or all three are deal-killers.  There is always (d) your time is not as valuable as the cost of replacing the unit.  Don't forget (e) - bothering to fix an end-of-life product.

Spending time repairing a $59 toaster oven is sort of pointless, but if I do it, it will be for the experience, not to save money.  Spending time and money repairing an air conditioner that has most of its life behind it, is probably pointless too.  But I'll check the wiring before I throw it away.  I already checked the charge level (OK) so that is not the problem.

Toaster ovens should last more than eight months, though.  Air conditioners should last longer than eight years!  Should, anyway.


UPDATE: I disconnected the control wiring from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit and ran a jumper wire in its place. I had so much wire left over from the previous install that I was able to run it through the doorway. The same thing happened, the E1 error occurred.

So I believe the outside control board is bad. I disassembled the outside unit and it was filled with filth and the control board looks like it's fried. I ended up just buying a new unit to replace the whole thing. I also bought the wall bracket to keep the outside unit off the ground.

A friend of mine is installing a split-system unit in his garage and asked if I would do it for him. I explained to him that it was a difficult process and he withdrew the suggestion.

His local HVAC guy wants $1,500 to do the entire install (not including the cost of the unit itself which was about $1,000) which, from my perspective, is pretty cheap given that their hourly rate is over $100 an hour and it can take the whole day to install one of these, especially if you have to drill holes through brick walls.

He plans on using a wall mount and also building a small roof over the top of the unit to keep the rain out. Of course, you have to follow the instructions in the manual to make sure the roof is far enough away from the unit to insure proper air circulation.

On our conventional air conditioning system, we put a diverter on the roof to keep the rainwater from rushing into the unit. One of the technicians also suggested putting a fine chicken wire over the top to keep the pine needles out. I noticed in Florida people have plastic covers look like garbage can lids, that are attached with a tether. When the fan turns on, it blows the cover up allowing air to go through and then when the fan shuts off the cover flops down keeping debris and dirt out of the unit.

Some people report replacing their air conditioners here by the ocean every 5 years or so which seems kind of extreme to me. I notice our unit which is 5 years old is already showing signs of rust on the fan motor. I periodically remove the top and fan and vacuum out the inside of the unit. The next time I do that I'm going to give the motor a coat of black paint.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Small Appliance Follies (And Right to Repair?)

When small appliances break, they are often not worth fixing!

When I was a kid, they had articles in Popular Mechanix and even the Boy Scout Manual on how to fix your toaster.  Back then, toasters were pretty simple appliances and only made.... toast.  The heating elements, as they aged, would break, and it was possible to disassemble a toaster and crimp the broken heating element back together.  Of course, if the heating element was so old and brittle that it was breaking, chances are, the repair would only be temporary in nature, as it would break at another point shortly.  Such is the nature of repairs, which is why it is smart to think hard before trying to repair something near the end of its design life.

On the other hand, a new appliance should last more than a few months, which is why we have warranties.  Last June, before we went away for the summer, we bought a new toaster oven.  This is likely the fourth or fifth one we have bought - they do not live long.  Not only do they break down, they get disgustingly dirty, as baked-on grease and nonsense becomes impossible to remove.  Even using oven cleaner doesn't do much, after a while (and indeed, can cause more problems than it solves).

I wrote before about infant mortality in machinery and appliances.  In electrical gear, this is particularly a problem.  You put in a new light bulb, turn it on, and poof! it blows out right away.  In any batch of product, there are bound to be a few bad apples that fail early.  The rest will run for their design life until they fail late.  Responsible manufacturers use "burn-in" to cull the herd of the bad boys who would have failed early.

The term is confusing as nothing is "burning" during burn-in.  Instead, the product is simply run for a number of minutes, hours, or days (depending on the product and how much the manufacturer can afford).  Out of say, 100 products, maybe five will fail.  The reliability of the remaining 95 units is that much higher.  So you ship out the units that "passed" burn-in and have fewer complaints and warranty repairs from customers.

Of course, burn-in costs money, as you have to take up space in your factory with burn-in stations and people to plug the product in and monitor them.  In a factory making thousands of product a day, this simply is not feasible.  So to cut costs, many modern factories simply test the unit for functionality - if that - and then ship it.  The consumer becomes the burn-in tester or Beta tester as they call it in the software world.

Our toaster oven, Black and Decker model TO3217SS was pretty neat.  It had an "air fry" mode that cooked almost microwave fast.  We liked it, until about two weeks ago when it started acting up - not turning on sometimes, unless you played with the main switch.  Then finally, it stopped turning on at all.

There are three knobs on the toaster oven.  The top knob selects between toaster modes and oven modes and also sets temperature (in oven mode).  The bottom two knobs are timers, one for oven mode and the other for toaster mode.  Most toaster ovens have one knob to select mode, a second knob to select temperature, and a third knob for the timer.  So this is a somewhat unusual arrangement compared to other toaster ovens.

So, I look in  my four ring-binders of appliance manuals and I can't find one for the toaster oven - this is not like me.  Fortunately, I could download the user manual from Black and Decker or from Manuals.lib (the latter presenting a confusing "abridged" version as well).  By the way, Black and Decker is just a brand name these days (at least for some products), owned by something called "Spectrum Brands" the successor to "Ray-O-Vac" which is an ancient name for a battery company that only Boomers would remember.  Everything is made overseas.  Guess where?

Turns out, there is a two-year warranty on the toaster oven, as listed in the back of the service manual, so I log on to their site and start a warranty claim.  They want a copy of the original receipt.  No problem.  As a near-boomer, I keep paper receipts and throw them in a big cardboard box and when the box is full, I tape it shut and store it.  After seven years or so, I burn the box in the fireplace.

So I dig through the box and find it.  Actually, I already knew which layer of receipts to look in, as Quickbooks told me I bought it at Walmart on June 22, 2023.  Yes, it is handy to log these things!  So after 15 minutes of digging, I find the receipt, scan it in and upload it.

Turns out we only paid $59 (exactly) for the unit, which is below MSRP.  I get a response back from Spectrum Home Appliances (via Brand Protect Plus) the next business day.  They agree the unit is under warranty, but want a photo of the plug cut off with the date code which is stamped on one of the prongs of the power plug. That, and they want a check (OK, boomer!) for $7.50 for shipping and handling.  So I cut the plug off and take a photo and mail off a check to the company and they send another e-mail saying they will ship me a new unit.

By the way, I realized that the switch will probably last longer if we don't switch between modes with either timer "on."  When you switch a "live" switch, it will arc, which can leave a deposit of oxide on the contacts which can act as an insulator.  Better to select "mode" and then activate the timer, although that just moves the point of arc-ing to the timer switch.  Sadly, with the price of copper these days, so many switches now use aluminum contacts and aluminum oxide is an excellent insulator.  Switches don't last as long, as a result.

Of course, a lot of people would just say "forgetaboutit!" and buy another toaster oven.  Who saves receipts, except cranky old retired gay men?  Who has the time and energy to jump through these hoops and pay $7.50 for a $59 toaster?  Ditto.  They count on most people not being willing to take the effort and time to do this.  And if the toaster failed early-on, most people would put it back in the box and take it back to Walmart.

But of course, being a (retired) Electrical Engineer, I had to take apart the old toaster oven to see what was what. 32 small screws later, it is laid open for me to examine.  The main rotary switch is not showing continuity in any position, while the timer switches are.  The switch seems to come apart, but I have not examined it in that detail.

The devil in me thinks, "Cutting off the plug?  No big deal!  I have several replacement plugs in my box 'o electrical stuff!  Why not put a new plug on it, repair the switch and have two toaster ovens!"  All I need to do is find a replacement switch, right?

Uh, yea.  Nothing is repairable anymore and parts - other than cooking racks and pans - are not available, it seems, anywhere.  I can't even find a parts diagram or parts list so I can search by part name.  Even the cooking racks and pans are priced such that, for a $59 toaster oven, they are not worthwhile buying.  Unless I could find a switch for ten bucks or less, the deal is off.

Sadly, this is the norm with so much of our technology today.  Things are so cheaply made as to be disposable.  Technology becomes outdated so quickly there is little point in making something last a long time or be repairable as it will be outmoded so quickly, or repair labor costs will exceed the value of the item.

With our split-system A/C unit, for example, the labor cost (at over $100 an hour!) to install one can easily exceed the cost of the unit itself.  We have cheap labor overseas, not so much here in the USA.  Time was, the "mending man" could fix things, but then again, he wasn't driving a $100,000 pickup truck or had expectations of doing so.

No, nothing is made to last anymore, and in a way this is a good thing.  We don't keep things around for very long, but constantly upgrade to "new! New! NEW!" every few years.  Even when they don't break, we end up getting a new toaster oven every five years or so - they just get gross after a few years.

Maybe that is why Toshiba went bankrupt - not because of their nuclear power plant deal with Westinghouse, but because they over-built their laptops so they would never break.

I guess I am officially an old boomer!

Monday, April 15, 2024

I Swore I'd Never Install Another Split System A/C!

They're quiet, they're efficient, they're a pain-in-the-ass to install!

I wrote before how I tested a split system A/C unit back in the 1980s when I worked for a large air conditioning company.  They offered us a license to sell them under our own brand name, but we turned them down.  As one executive put it, "Americans want window units!"

And there is a certain logic to that.  A simple window unit A/C system can cost only a few hundred dollars and can be installed in an afternoon, if not in fact, under an hour.  They are ugly and block a window, and the seal around the window leaves a lot to be desired.  But they are cheap and easy to install.

A split system, on the other hand, can cost about $1000 (although I paid a lot less than that for my grey-market Hitachi systems in New York, that ran on R-22 as I recall).  Installation is another thing, though.  Expect to pay as much to install as you would for the system.  I've had HVAC techs quote me $5000 just to install one system, and in some cases, that might be justified, particularly if you are on a second storey.

It ain't easy.  Mounting the inside wall unit seems easy - "you hang it like a picture!" people crow.  True that, but you have to make sure the mounting bracket is screwed into studs, or the whole thing will fall off.  Sort of like mounting a microwave under-cabinet.

But that's the "easy" part.  You have to have a hole going out through the wall for the refrigerant lines, the condensate line, and the electrical connection.  For a wood-framed house, maybe this is not such an issue, other than when you hang the bracket, you have to make sure the "hole" isn't going through a stud. Fortunately, they give you a large cardboard template to work with.

In other cases, it may not be so easy.  The units I put in the basement of our lake house required that I drill through nearly 10" of hard solid concrete. I bought an impact drill and two bits and basically wore all three completely out by the time I was done.

By the way, did I mention that everything is metric?  They kindly stamped "US ONLY" on the wall bracket next to the holes that were on 16" centers, which is pretty standard spacing for US wall studs.  This will come into play later on.

So you get the inside mounted and feed the pipes, cable, and hose through the wall.  Some kits come with a sleeve to put through the hole - and even an escutcheon.  Make sure the hole angles down so the condensate will drain out.  This latest unit had no sleeve, so I put a 2-1/2" piece of PVC pipe through the wall, cut it flush, and caulked it in place.  Maybe this will keep the termites at bay.

Yes, termites - a horrific discovery that delayed the project by a week.  We had the studio and house treated and traps installed.  We'll see where that goes.  Termites are a way of life in the South.  We have them in our historic Goodyear Cottage which is rented by the Arts Association.  Our historic preservationist wasn't too worried about them - "they are a slow-moving hazard" he said.  And I guess they have a lot to deal with.  We regularly go through their dumpster for scrap lumber and other choice things and recently we saw a set of beams from another historical cottage, riddled with termite holes. So it ain't just us!

Now for the outside part.  You need to run electric - 110V or preferably 220V.  I had a 20A 110V line installed for the window unit, so I drilled through the back of the box and through the outside wall and ran the power to a disconnect box.  You need to have a disconnect so you can work on the unit without being electrocuted.  Most electrical codes require this.

The company I bought the unit from (Alpine) offers these things (disconnect box, refrigerant lines, electrical cord, condensate line, outdoor mounting bracket) a la carte.  Turns out, the unit comes with a condensate line, so now I have two.  But figure two or three trips to Lowe's to get other bits and bobs to finish the project.

In New York, I poured  concrete slab for one outside unit and built a small wooden deck for two others (using scrap deck boards).  My garage unit is bolted to the concrete sidewalk.  A neighbor asked me to install a unit for him (and later, a second unit) which I am loathe to do as working on other people's stuff is stressful.  But he had bought wall-mounting brackets which appeared flimsy until you tighten up all the bolts.  It held my weight which is far more than the weight of the unit.

The bracket just "hangs" from the wall with lag screws.  It did support my weight which is 3x the weight of the unit, though.

Ground mounting is problematic as leaves and debris accumulate in the unit. My friend had a "professional" install a unit for him and they left it on the ground, unbolted.  When I found it, it was half-buried in dirt and debris and no doubt not long for this world.

So wall-mounting is really the way to go.

But again, metric.  The screw holes were on approximately 18" centers so I had to drill holes at the 16" mark for the lag screws.  The mounting holes for the condensing unit were "off" as well and I had to drill two holes for the 1/2" head quarter-twenty bolts that hold the condensing unit to the bracket.  No doubt vinyl siding is not popular in Japan, so I had to use rubber blocks between the uprights (which I lad-screwed in as well) to make up for the gap from the vinyl.  Oh yea, I had to space out the top bracket with some plastic blocks to clear the vinyl siding further down.

The bracket, by the way, comes with a bubble-level built-in, so you can easily level the top bracket when installing.  The "arms" have adjustable pads to level in-and-out.

You realize you are working with a technology not designed with American building codes in mind.  Hooking up the electric is like working on a car, not a house.  The electric enclosures are tiny and hard to work with if you have big hands.  It is like wrestling a pig in a phone booth!

The main power goes to the condensing unit outside and then a "control cable" feeds power inside to the evaporator, running the fan and electronic controls.  And yes, they all have remote controls, even the one I tested back in 1982.

Now the hard part - refrigerant lines.  I cut mine to fit, but others don't and I don't suggest that.  Some units come with "precharged lines" that have fittings that pop open when you connect them.  Some claim this causes a loss of efficiency, as there is a restriction in the line. If you don't cut the lines to length, what do you do with the excess? Some neighbors coil this up and even put it on a hose holder (!).  Problem is, there is oil in the refrigerant and it accumulates in these loops and can starve the compressor (at worst) or just decrease efficiency (at best).

So you have to cut the lines and flare them (be sure to put the flare nut on the line before flaring! - I've done that more than I care to admit) and carefully flare the copper.  In traditional American HVAC, compression fittings like this are not favored - we silver-solder lines for a permanent leak-tite seal.  Flare fittings?  For amateurs!  But it is the norm for split systems.

I broke down and bought a new pipe cutter and a new flaring tool (trip to Lowe's #3) as my old tools were worn and making bad cuts and bad flares.  You don't put pipe dope or tape on flare fittings of any kind - the compression is what seals it.  But in my friend's install,the provided a small disc to put on the male fitting to seal, and lately, they offer this goop to put on the fittings.  I used it, but not sure if it helped or not.

For a change, there were no leaks in the system when I pumped it down.  Yes, you need a vacuum pump and manifold gauge set (or at least one gauge, as there is generally no high-side tap on these things).  I pumped it down and it held vacuum, so I opened the low side valve and... promptly pumped out most of the refrigerant!


Leak-checking is a two-stage process. If the system holds vacuum, that is a good sign.  Once evacuated, open up the low-side valve (the condenser is precharged with refrigerant) and let some gas into the system and use a soap solution to check for bubbles.  Make sure the manifold is disconnected or the valves are firmly shut, or that precious refrigerant will back-flow through your vacuum pump!  Duh.

If you do this for a living, you get used to doing it. If you do one every five years, you forget and make mistakes.  Professionals also have a big tank of R-410a in their truck.  I had to order it.  Funny thing, but you can even buy "illegal" refrigerants online if you represent yourself as EPA certified.  So I recharged the thing and it works perfectly.  Supposedly, R410a is being phased out soon.  Oh, well.

I used ordinary plastic gutter downspout (with the back cut out) to cover the refrigerant and condensate lines.  Note the hole where the window unit used to be.

The units in New York I had evacuated and charged by a local HVAC tech, as I didn't own a vacuum pump.  I think he charged less than $300 to do all three, which was cheaper than me buying a vacuum pump and manifold gauge set.

Oddly enough, the present unit ran with a very low charge, it just didn't cool.  Most units will shut down if the charge is too low (or too high) and generate an error code.  I guess it wasn't that far off.  32 ounces later, it runs like a champ.

All that being said, I am not sure I want to do another one, even if I am getting the hang of it after seven installs.

The end result, though, was worth it.  No noise, no vibration (even with a wall-mount!) - just quiet, steady cooling (and heating, it is a heat pump).  Plus, no puddle of water inside some window unit to act as a termite drinking fountain.

All I have left to do is remove a second window unit (also rusted through).  Hopefully the termites haven't made a home there, as well!

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Plagiarism is Only an Academic Crime

Attributing ideas to others is required in Academia, but not elsewhere.

A recent article online describes the trials and tribulations of a Harvard professor that is being accused of falsifying data, and now, plagiarism. I am not sure what the former is about, as the "science" involved seems to be one of these soft sciences, such as surveys and the like, which are hard to quantify in any event.

But the plagiarism accusation is interesting and perhaps is an example of "piling on" against a woman professor.  If you haven't been paying attention lately, Harvard has been the ground-zero for attacks by the far-right.  Alumni are withholding donations and professors and administrators being sacked for being too "woke."  And in some instances, maybe these removals or resignations are justified, maybe not. All I can see is the school being put under a microscope by the far-right for any evidence of infection by the "woke" virus.

And I think this latest Academic bru-ha-ha is an example of this.  A professor is accused of "plagiarism" for paraphrasing things that, in themselves, are not really ideas.  As one expert quoted in the article, the whole point of citation of references is to allow other academics to see what the original quote meant and in what context - otherwise, people could use a quote in a context completely the opposite as intended by the author.  Sort of what so-called modern "Christians" do with Bible verses.

The thing about plagiarism is that so long as you attribute an idea or quote, you are not plagiarizing. But whether an a quote or paraphrase rises to the level of an idea attributable to another author is a good question. For example, the article uses this example of a paraphrasing that they claim is plagiarized:
Even though the capital of Italy is Rome, Milan is the center of fashion and design.

One of the city’s noblest areas is the “fashion quadrilateral” comprising four streets: Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia.
Supposedly, the professor "copied" this "idea" in her book without attribution. Now, if this was a PhD dissertation, then plagiarism is a real issue.  But the description of these four streets comprising the fashion district wasn't published for peer review, but rather in a book sold in bookstores.  Granted, the professor could have merely added a footnote along the lines of [1] article (2014) and avoided any claims of plagiarism.  But on the other hand, is a mere description of the fashion district an "idea" that is being promulgated by another author?  Maybe she should have changed the order in which she listed the streets!

The problem with this sort of nonsense is that you can use online tools to scan any article, book, or paper and look for identical or similar text online. You can "find" plagiarism where there really is none.  Taking a passage from another source and paraphrasing it, particularly when it is not expressing anything really original, or in this case, merely descriptive, isn't really an academic crime - and certainly not a real one.

For example, suppose I said, "Washington, DC is the Capitol of the United States, but the fashion capitol is really New York City, particularly the Garment district in Mid-town Manhattan..."?  No doubt, if  you searched online, you would find a similar sentence expressed elsewhere in the billions of articles published over the ages.  I am not expressing an original idea, thought, or thesis, merely describing a location.  Is that a crime?

Maybe in the ivory tower of Academia, but not under the law.  Yes, Copyright protects the expressions of an idea, but not an idea itself.  So you can paraphrase something someone else said, and it is likely not to be infringement.  Similarly, while attribution may insulate you from accusations of plagiarism, it is no defense to Copyright infringement.

That being said, short phrases or slogans are not really deemed Copyrightable. It is hard to claim Copyright to a slogan on a T-shirt, but you might be able to claim it as a Trademark - if you use it in commerce.  So if you sell T-shirts that say "Just Do It!" you likely will get a letter from my friends at Nike, as they claim that as a Trademark for their goods.  But Copyright?  Less so - unless you want to go down the road of the "artistic" merit of the font selection and layout as being an artistic expression.

Under Copyright law, there is a thing known as "fair use" and one of the exceptions in particular, is for educational purposes.  You cannot lay claim to an idea, or claim that no one can quote you without violating your Copyright, if they are critiquing your quote for educational purposes. If that were the case, well, no one could every contradict you. Of course, the "fair use" doctrine is a defense to an infringement claim - someone can still sue you and bury you in legal fees, if they are particularly vindictive.

Speaking of which, the whole nub of this thing is a $25M lawsuit filed by the professor against Harvard and a blog called "Data Colada" which claims to debunk falsified and exaggerated data in the psychology field, particularly when dealing with statistical data.  You know how I feel about surveys and statistics.  Apparently, one of the professor's assistants contacted that blog with evidence that some data may have been altered.  They, in turn, contacted Harvard, and four of the papers were withdrawn from publication and the professor placed on administrative leave.

Is Data Colada a group of truth-seekers or a "Republican police" engaged in a "Witch hunt" as alleged by some other psychologists.  Beats me, although this sort of smacks of Project Veritas kind of vibes.  It just seems odd to me that so many at Harvard are under attack these days.  Maybe these are justified attacks, maybe not.  But in most cases, it seems, they are against left-leaning professors and administrators.  And no doubt the Harvard Business School has a lot of conservative donors.

Demonizing and eventually exterminating the intelligentsia was a tactic of both Hitler and Stalin.  It worries me that we seem to be demonizing education in general, as of late.  Granted, there is a lot of leftist claptrap being promoted on campus these days.  And a lot of "social science" is anything but science.  Those on the right complain that young people are being indoctrinated into leftist thinking.  But of course, what they want is a chance to indoctrinate people into rightest thinking. Yea, they have Fox News, but that only works on the over-60 set.  They want to snag the youth of America.

So one wonders, is this an isolated incident, or part of some scheme to discredit left-leaning academics - and by extension, create a chilling effect in Academia so that other professors will temper their language and instruction, lest they be next on the tenure chopping block.

I don't know.  But it seems these claims of "plagiarism" are a bit of piling-on in this case.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

It's Not Your Imagination - The Universe Is Out To Get You!

Conflict and controversy are the not an anomaly, but the norm.

Disband NATO?  Whodya think is behind that?

Peace activists complain about war.  "Why can't we have peace, man?" even if it means to surrender.  From their point of view, peace is the default condition of the world, and conflict and war are some sort of aberration.  The opposite is actually the case.

I wrote before how there is a war in your backyard, with termites trying to kill off carpenter ants and vice-versa, the winner getting to eat a tree.  Trees stretch skyward to hog the light, leaving lesser plants to deal with permanent shade.  Of course, wily vines will let the tree do the heavy lifting and then climb up for a free ride - often blocking the sunlight from their host and eventually killing it.

In your lawn, weeds vie for space, nutrients, and water with your precious grass.  The moment you stop spreading weed-killer, they take over - and kill off most of your fancy-pants grass.  Down below, grubs gnaw at the tasty roots, killing your precious lawn, while moles and opossums dig down to eat the tasty grubs.  Eat or be eaten is the law of nature - we are just too used to not being eaten to notice.

As you move down to the microscopic or even molecular scale, the law of survival persists.  One form of bacteria eats another - or eats you.  And even fractions of life - viruses - multiply and spread and often kill off their hosts, who have an extensive array of defenses against such viruses.  Your whole body is at war with its environment at any given time.

Even atoms steal electrons from one another or smash together to form molecules.  Oxygen attacks everything, causing corrosion - entropy must be appeased, everything breaks down over time.  Even tiny photons (particle or wave) wear down everything from the paint on your car to your own human skin, turning healthy tissues into cancerous ones.

Peace?  It really doesn't exist, so get used to that.

In recent years, it seems like we are more conflicted and antagonistic than ever before.  Politics are polarized and war is breaking out all over the world.  As the world population increases, we fight for resources - land, minerals, oil, and even water.  Precious water.

But the idea that humans should be at "peace" seems to negate the pattern of life or even physics, of our entire universe.  We are a warlike species because we evolved from warlike animals.  The lion does not lay down with the lamb, except in the Bible.  In real life, the lamb is eaten - otherwise the lion would starve to death.

This may sound depressing at first - and hopeless as well.  How can humanity survive if the norm is strife and violence?  The answer is, in part, that we have survived so far with our base human tendencies, albeit with a lot of unnecessary suffering along the way.  Of course, in the last 80 years or so, we have devised ways to lay waste to the entire planet - either through war or overpopulation and the resulting pollution.

The good news is, that, we seem to be on the cusp of an historic change.  Part of humanity looks at the way things are and says, "we can do better!"  These are the voices arguing for peace and logic in our lives.  Sadly, they are often drowned out by the warmakers and the selfish who want power and to keep everything for themselves.  And they do this by programming a vast number of uneducated or under-educated people to believe in superstition and lies.

Those under-educated folks believe the latest war will somehow bring them prosperity, even as their son comes home in a casket.  Or that billions more for the rich will somehow "trickle down" to them, even as the rich get tax breaks and the minions get their Social Security cut.

It is an interesting divide - between those who want a new dark ages and those who hope enlightenment will somehow save humanity.

Of course, even if we follow the path of enlightenment, it is assured that someone, somewhere, will start some kind of conflict as there is a lot of profit in conflict, both for the warlords and their weapons suppliers.

Maybe that is the problem right there - war is just too damn profitable!

And thus, maybe inevitable.

UPDATE:  This posting may seem depressing - after all, there is no hope for mankind!  Or is there?  Peace means nothing without war to compare it to, just as "pleasure" means nothing without pain to compare it to.  There are a lot of bad people in the world, which makes us appreciate the good ones so much more.  If everyone was good, what would "good" really mean?

We have to embrace the good parts of life and of people - while expecting the norm to be bad.