Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Eight Days of Winter (is almost over)


I am not a fan of the cold months. I do not ski. I hate snow. My skin gets dry and cracks. There's also this rash I get that does not bear a detailed description.

So, every year at this time, I prepare the schedule below, which consists of events marking the coming end of winter (or, if you prefer, the coming start of spring). No two of them are as much as four weeks apart, so whichever one is pending next can be thought of as, more or less, "not that far away." Each marks another opportunity to say, upon its arrival, that winter will be over soon.

I posted it to F__book a few years ago and got a surprisingly warm response. (Heh, see what I did there?)

So, since I am off of that service (and also off of Musk's train-wreck, preferring the revolutionary Mastodon instead), here it is on my personal blog. Hope you find it useful.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Where I Got The Question

I recently wrote that, when evaluating candidates for elected office, I only need them to answer a single question. It's not that I'm a single-issue voter, it's that a single issue correlates reliably with the other issues that I care about. (Reminder: candidates who are pro-choice swing my way on the other issues, while anti-choice candidates don't.)

To give credit where it is due, I connived the Just Tell Me This approach to political assessments from the writing of mediocre science fiction author L. Neil Smith. He was a lunatic about a single issue: guns. Here's his take:

If a politician isn’t perfectly comfortable with the idea of his average constituent, any man, woman, or responsible child, walking into a hardware store and paying cash — for any rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything — without producing ID or signing one scrap of paper, he isn’t your friend no matter what he tells you.

If he isn’t genuinely enthusiastic about his average constituent stuffing that weapon into a purse or pocket or tucking it under a coat and walking home without asking anybody’s permission, he’s a four-flusher, no matter what he claims.

What his attitude — toward your ownership and use of weapons — conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn’t trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?

Um, Mr. Smith? Since you trust everyone, why do you carry a gun?

Asking dead people questions is pointless and, really, kind of unfair. So let's put that one aside. The answer doesn't matter anyway because, of course, it is based on a false premise: Smith didn't trust everyone. That means his comparison of the voter to the politician is a classic example of the false equivalence. Smith asserts the voter should be given the unreviewable right to acquire deadly power over everyone around him, while ignoring the fact that the politician is asking for the consent of those over which he seeks to wield power. Smith's voter just buys power, while Smith's politician needs the voter's permission to get it.

It's a false equivalence to say the voter is being asked to trust the politician while the politician refuses to trust the voter, because the politician is presenting themself to the voter for the voter's evaluation. The politician has no access at all to power over the voter, unless and until the voter (and at least another 50% of the rest of the voters) finds the politician fit to have that power. A true equivalence would have the voter willing to condition their access to deadly power on the same review: are they fit to have it?

Returning, briefly, to the question I set aside: there is a difference between trusting one person and trusting everyone. Maybe Smith even knew that, as he referred to the "average constituent" being armed, rather than the outliers. Average folks don't commit mass murder. Outliers do that. So, sure, anyone who can show they are fit to have a gun, should be able to have a gun. Those who can't show it shouldn't have one.

I suppose Smith may have thought letting someone unfit to have a gun, have a gun, was still okay, since he may have been a quick-draw artist or something. But note that even Smith couldn't quite bring himself to say truly "everyone" should have a gun, because he qualified "child" with "responsible," which opens a can of worms Smith just ignored. For example, if he didn't think an irresponsible child should have a gun, was he okay with irresponsible adults having them? Again, was that because Smith thought he could shoot the irresponsible adults before the irresponsible adults shot Smith? I don't know. I just know I don't trust everyone, and neither did he or else, again, why did he want a gun?

Don't be a victim of a false equivalence. Smith didn't trust everyone, nor does any candidate for office. Nor do I. You don't either, I'd wager. Candidates must prove they're fit to hold power over others before they get any. Seems only reasonable that the rest of us ought to be held to that standard too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Best Not To Go There

 From an interview with some flight attendants:

What strange things do people leave behind in the cabin?

It's best not to go there.

Everything your imagination can drum up, we'll have found it.

Many years ago, I did an assignment for an airline. I was in the office of their head of security and needed to do a quick math calculation, but I didn't have my calculator (this was before iPhones). He asked me, "Do you prefer HP or Texas Instruments?" I answered and he handed me a device from a drawer in his desk.

"Do you have one of each?" I asked him. "No," he said, "not one." Then he pulled a box out of that drawer and showed me that it contained about a hundred calculators.

"I have at least one of every calculator, cell phone, PDA, and pager that's ever been made. If it can fit your pocket, it's been left on our planes." They do try to return them, he said, but if no one asks about a particular type of gizmo on a particular flight within some number of days, it just goes into a big pile where the employees take what they want. There are just too many of them to keep track of each one's origin for very long.

And here I thought I was a clever boy for realizing my dad left nickels underneath the couch cushions.

Mastodon Rocks

Just FYI to anyone passes by: I'm three weeks into Mastodon and loving it. The whole "fediverse" concept is cool and solves a lot of the problems Twitter (and Facebook) have had (strikethrough there because I terminated my Twitter account and I haven't used Facebook in almost three weeks).

Mastodon is not a service. It's a software package anyone can use and run on a server of their own. A  Mastodon server is called "an instance." An instance can connect via the internet to others, allowing anyone on any of them to follow and be followed by anyone else. It works rather well, which each instance having its own local culture and policies. To follow someone on another instance you need to know their full Mastodon identity, but that's no harder than knowing an email address. Mine, for example, is this:

You can use that to follow me from any Mastdon instance that is part of the same federation of systems (which, as far as I can tell, is any of the ones you might want to choose to use, unless you are a racist gun-nut, which means you'll likely use an instance that is connected to other instances with people, uh... such as yourself).

I do believe the decentralized, local-culture/global-connectivity model Mastodon uses represents the future. This may be a real turning point in the history of mass social media.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Never Again?

I’m proud of the accomplishments [during the Trump administration] – of the tax reform, the deregulation and criminal justice reform – I’m really excited about the judges we got on the bench, not just the Supreme Court, but throughout the judiciary. But I am a Never-Again Trumper. Why? Because I want to win, and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in ’18, in ‘20 and now in 2022.

Paul Ryan, former Speaker of the House, Republican 

What utter bullshit. There are people who say "never again," but the folks I am thinking of actually mean it. Sure, Ryan thinks his party loses with Trump and the evidence is on his side. It stands to reason that he'd prefer another nominee. But "never" is a long time. Certainly, it exceeds beyond the primary season.

When Ryan says "never again Trump," does he "as our nominee?" Or does he mean "in office?" Because, without any further words, "never again" means "never again." As in "ever." Which sounds very dramatic. It sounds powerful. It sounds noble, coming from a life-long Republican who rose to the highest office in one branch of the federal government. Kind of inspiring and worthy of a little respect.

Except that it is utter bullshit, because Ryan will vote for whomever the Republicans nominate, rather than for whomever the Democrats nominate, even if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump.

Reporters are lazy, often timid. One of them needs to rise up and put the question to Paul Ryan: When you say "never again Trump," does that mean you will vote for Joe Biden in 2024 if Trump is the Republican nominee? A true Never-Again Trumper would give the truly noble answer. Ryan would probably say, "I'm focused on making sure he isn't the nominee," to avoid answering the question (and to leave his options open, when his feeble influence fails to achieve what he's focused on).

Don't be fooled. Don't think he's noble. "Never again" means something. Just not to Paul Ryan.

Monday, November 21, 2022

FIFA vs. Love

Love loses.

In an increasingly embarrassing display of where its priorities really are, FIFA has capitulated to Qatar's demand that football ("soccer") team captains not wear armbands showing support for equality. It has directed those captains to leave their ethics in the locker room and help make wealthy bigots richer by playing on the field without them.

In a word: disgusting. Specifically, each of the following:

  • Disgusting that FIFA would agree to hold its championships in a nation where being gay is a crime.
  • Disgusting that FIFA has specifically told its players to hide their support. Some of those players are gay.
  • Disgusting that football fans are going to watch the games anyway.
  • Disgusting Disturbing that the players will take the field. Some of those players are gay.

(I demoted that last one because the players aren't all in positions of power that give them much in the way of options.)

Here's a line from the CNN story on this announcement:

France has been part of the season-long campaign but last week captain Hugo Lloris told reporters that he would “respect” the local culture during the tournament.

The local culture? Seriously? The test here is the same as it always is: would he feel the same way if the local culture made it a crime to be Black? I don't know Hugo, but I will credit him with an answer of "no" on the general belief that the right answer comes naturally to fully accredited members of the human race. Alas, it ought to come as easily to our members when the question is about being gay. But it doesn't. Somehow, some way, it still just doesn't. FIFA is going to hold its main event in a country where it is a crime to be Black. Okay, gay. Same thing, for moral purposes. Isn't it?

I demoted what it means for the players to play, because of what it would cost them personally. But consider this: it doesn't have to be personal. It could be all involved. It could be this:

  • FIFA refuses to hold events in countries that make being gay a crime.
  • Fans refuse to watch games in countries that make being gay a crime.
  • Players refuse to play games in countries that make being gay a crime. All of the players.

If the association, the fans, and the teams all said "no, our sport has no place where hate is the law," this wouldn't be happening, no single player would lose a thing, and Qatar wouldn't be getting anything out of it. But that's not what's happening. What's happening is that people from all over the world, who have been showing their support for love and equality, are being made to hide it by a wretched place with lots of oil, all because of money. That calls for just one word.


Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Wealth and Power I Never Knew I Had

From an interesting article about the effects resulting from the post-pandemic practices of some colleges making submission of SAT scores optional:

Hannah Wolff, a former college counselor at Langley High School, a top-ranked high school in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C., heard from admissions counselors at several public universities that a few Langley seniors who were rejected might have been admitted if they had not submitted their SAT scores, which were in the 1350 range. While a 1350 would have been considered a good score in the past at those schools, now, when the only applicants submitting scores are mostly those well above the average, the expectations of admissions officers have risen with the scores — especially for applicants from wealthy academic powerhouses like Langley.

Wealthy academic powerhouse? I went to Langley, class of 1976 (yes, the American bicentennial, which nonetheless ended with The Beautiful Popular Kids Who Decide Such Things naming us "the class with class" in the yearbook; pathetic). It was dreary, doctrinaire, and overcrowded (2,400 students in a square two-story building, surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire that was angled in towards the school, not out, and what's that tell you?). Students who valued scholarship were reminded of their place in society by cute cheerleaders in short skirts decorating the lockers of football players whenever there was a home game that night (there were only five minutes between bells, so the cheerleaders were allowed to leave class early to go decorate the football players' lockers, of course).

As a local elected official in the neighboring county of Loudoun, I heard over and over from our public school administrators that "ninety percent of success in school is determined by what happens at home." Now, it's true that some people with money and power do live in the "wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C." My father was a senior military officer, so he did have a certain kind of power, though not really the kind people think of when they contemplate power in the context of the nation's capital. Wealth? He drove a ten-year-old Mustang to work every day. The old man spent at least a couple of hours every month, on his back, underneath the thing, replacing and resetting worn-out parts. We had more copies of the J.C. Whitney catalog in our home than most people had of the Sears Christmas wishbook. He called the continuing process of torque-wrenching the old Ford's greasy bolts his "hobby."

As a military brat, I did not grow up in the "wealthy suburbs" (or, as the press still likes to call the specific census designated place we lived in, "affluent McLean, Virginia). By the time I got to Langley, I had lived in a half-dozen other places. But, of course, I had always lived in just one: my home, with my family.

Now, I did get to submit a SAT score with my college applications. In those days, it wasn't optional. Mine was higher than 1350 and, in all humility, if you Google this you will find out that scores today are on a different scale, such that any score today would equal a score about 20 points higher back then. So my SAT score was pretty dang good, to be quite blunt about it. But, to be equally blunt, it was not the result my being a student at a "wealthy academic powerhouse." Those school administrators knew what it was a result of: what happened at home. My home, with my family, and my military officer-and-spouse's personal philosophies about what mattered. I will also credit a program that rescued me from failure at, yes, Langley, called ALP ("Alternative Learning Program"). It was mostly for hippies and slackers, but it embraced the identity of the individual, which helped me score a bunch of As and Bs in my last two years. It is important to know that the vast majority of Langley students, teachers, and administrators detested ALP and frequently tried to shut it down. Without ALP, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere, certainly not the wealthy powerhouse college I did get into. But Langley itself would rather not have had ALP at all. Today, I believe, it is long dead.

Perhaps Langley is a wealthy powerhouse today. Maybe (who knows?) it was back then, too. But you wouldn't have been able to prove its goal was to do anything for a person like me by either whose lockers the cheerleaders decorated, nor by which programs it supported. What you could prove is that academic success happens mostly at home, no matter where that is, nor how often it changes. That's where my SAT score came from, and nowhere else.