Thursday, May 26, 2022

Thoughts and Prayers

There are things we could do to reduce mass shootings, but we won't.

If we did try to do those things, they wouldn't work.

Face it. This is America. We are going to live with this.

Americans are going through the stages of grief, and I am past Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. I have come to Acceptance. This is America. We are going to keep having mass murder events.

Democrats talk about "common sense gun regulation." They are Bargaining. They propose background checks. They propose changing the age for buying AR-15s from 18 to 21. They propose somehow "keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill." They propose banning "assault rifles" if they can define them. They propose banning anonymous gun sales at gun shows.  They propose banning ghost guns without serial numbers. The modesty of their proposals reveals their hopelessness. Can't we limit a magazine size from 30 bullets to 10? Can't we at least force a mass shooter to reload more often? 

No, we cannot. That proposal cannot pass. None of those "common sense" proposals will pass. The incentives for GOP officeholders are to hold the line and be all-in on gun rights. It's a litmus test for their voters, and even though Democratic proposals test well in polls, everyone knows that they are the tiniest of band aids. They wouldn't stop mass murder events at schools, nightclubs, concerts, grocery stores, places of worship, or any other place people gather. AR-15s are a slightly faster way to kill multiple people, but rifles and handguns do it about as well, as experience has shown. Democrats propose background checks on the mentally ill or people with a record of domestic violence, but we rarely know in advance who is crazy enough to do mass murder. The hints come from looking backward, with hindsight. We cannot lock up everyone who believes screwy things; too many people do.

Nothing will change. It will remain thoughts and prayers. The problem isn't the Second Amendment, nor the NRA, nor intransigent Republicans. The problem is us, the American citizen. We like our guns. By "we" I don't mean "gun nuts" or the mentally ill. I mean a vast number of Americans who want guns for themselves. Sure, they want them out of the hands of mass murderers, but they look like everyone else, right up until they start shooting. The genie is out of the bottle. There are some 400 million guns out there in circulation in America, with more all the time. As long as guns are ubiquitous and legal, people who want them will get them. If guns were illegal they would still be ubiquitous and readily available. 

Republicans deny. Governor Abbott said, "There are no words that anyone who comes up here that can do anything. We need to focus not on our agendas, but on the healing and hope we can provide to those who have suffered unconscionable damage to their lives." Thoughts and prayers.

For GOP officeholders, the problem is mental illness, not guns. Of course universal comprehensive health care, including mental health, would be socialism--so that is off the table. The real GOP solution is more guns.  Arm school teachers and store clerks and nightclub customers. Encourage a citizenry ready and able to shoot back if they identify the criminal shooter as contrasted with a fellow shoot-back defender. Meanwhile harden soft targets. Put solid fences around schools. Reduce exit doors. Put armed people on the doors of movie theaters, grocery stores, and places people gather. Protect ourselves. More TSA. 

Both Democrats and Republican have solutions that aren't solutions. Politicians hold guns in campaign ads because they know it will make them more popular. Americans don't want their guns taken away. Until that changes we will have mass shooting events because there are crazy people out there. A few hundred of us will die every year from mass shooters. It's America. It's who we are. It is our risk. Bad as it is, I am sure it is fewer than die from people who text while driving. 

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Election denial.

If elections are rigged, fraudulent, and unreliable, then Americans will confer legitimacy another way. 

Good news from Georgia.

COCID protocols gave cover and an excuse for Biden's "front porch" campaign. He spoke to a camera from the basement of his home in Wilmington, Delaware. His "events" were tiny, with people spread out at six-foot intervals. It gave thr impression that Biden lacked support from real voters. Below is a photo of a campaign event with steelworkers in Detroit. 


Trump's rallies were huge and enthusiastic. They were superspreader events and few seemed to care. Those rallies communicated that Trump is so popular people will risk death to see him--except that COVID is no big deal, just like Trump says and just like worrywart ninnies like Dr. Fauci deny. 

The disparity in campaign crowds had an unexpected consequence, which emerged as Trump denied the validity of the 2020 election. There were few visible signals of Biden's support. Had there been images of huge lines of voters at Democratic strongholds, then even Fox News viewers might see the support. Instead, there were huge bins of mailed ballots that arrived without fanfare.

Yesterday's post noted Trump's costume plays with the trappings of being king. Monarchs are not always wise leaders, but they exist in human history because they can bring stability and order--at least on the issue of succession. Dictatorships and Strong-Man governments are proto-monarchies, formed the way the original European ones were, by support of enough people inside and outside the military. Then control is passed from father to son. 

Trump found a weak spot in America's democracy. He attacked elections. Americans were ready to hear it. (Bernie Sanders' supporters did as well, after the Iowa caucuses in the 2020 election. How could that young gay twerp Buttigieg possibly do as well as our wonderful Bernie?  Bernie himself did not sign on to the conspiracy, so it dropped out of sight.) Trump attacked the legitimacy of the Iowa caucus that Cruz won in 2015. He then attacked the 2016 November election. Trump posited a different confirmation of his legitimacy, the size of his rallies and then inauguration crowd. Don't believe the popular vote totals, he said. Those are corrupt. Millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary. Trust instead the size of my crowds. Trump criticized the 2020 election, before, during, and after. It was rigged, he said. And now, in Pennsylvania, he urges his favored senatorial candidate simply to "declare victory" and stop counting votes.

Elections need not be overturned by crowds. It can be done under a veneer of Constitutional law. There is one Justice--and perhaps more--within the Supreme Court who takes the position that state legislatures--not state governments or the voters in a state--have plenary power to choose the electors. Even if a legislature establishes laws for voting in a state, and even if a state's constitution and its courts provide for a voting procedure, a state legislature has complete power to name presidential electors. They do not constrain themselves by earlier promises or laws. Clarence Thomas openly supports that position. His wife, Virginia Thomas, publicly urged the legislature in Arizona to exercise that presumed power, notwithstanding the Arizona election result, and to bring the issue to the Supreme Court. 

Is this crazy? Not if elections aren't credible and legitimate. There are Republican majorities in the legislatures of swing states.

Election legitimacy is on its sickbed. Trump openly criticizes elections and most GOP officeholders mumble along in general assent.  In Pennsylvania, the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate race is too close to call. The result may depend upon whether absentee ballots that were signed, but not dated, by the voter are legal ballots. The law in Pennsylvania said voters must put in the date beside their names. However, Pennsylvania courts have ruled that "immaterial" errors that do not bring into question voter intent do not disqualify a ballot. Issues like this make the whole election thing seem arbitrary to voters. 

Amid this, there is good news. Last night we learned the results from Georgia. GOP voters re-nominated the three incumbent officeholders who oversaw the 2020 election, audited it, investigated it, and recounted it, and then certified it for Biden in the face of huge pressure. They didn't cave. GOP voters rewarded them.

Leadership conveyed by democratic process is not a sure thing, even in America. Legitimacy is fragile. If elections don't seem legitimate, alternative methods will take their place. Close elections, and flawed ones like the one taking place in Oregon's Clackamas County, give credence to those alternatives.



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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The MAGA King

The 7%--38%--55% Rule.

Meaningful communication is 7% the words themselves, 38% the tone of the speaker, and 55% the body language while speaking.

Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA, made this allocation of what registers in human communication. His formula became famous, and he with it. 

Mehrabian's Rule seems oddly precise for something so subjective, but generally I think it is about right. Policy is not irrelevant, but most voters are not looking at a checklist. They are trying to infer who is on their side and will protect and represent them. The personalities and mannerisms of Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrate Mehrabian's Rule. Joe Biden says the right thing but he sounds old, weak, and hesitant saying them. Strongly partisan Democrats take comfort in Biden's denoted words and tell me that Biden is just fine. They tell me his low-drama, low-impact communication manner is a feature, not a bug. "He says all the right things," they tell me. They are 7% right.

Trump presents himself to the public in a way that reminds me of stars in silent films a century ago. He makes big unmistakable gestures. He speaks English, of course, but his bombastic, domineering, ultra-confident style is unmistakable. He could be speaking a foreign language and we would absorb the big message: The man-in-charge.

Trump established a social medium platform, Truth Social, www.truthsocial.com. It is Trump's alternative to Twitter. It is a soap box and fan club for Trump, and as such it reveals an unmediated Trump. He is on home turf and among cheering supporters. He doesn't get cautionary cues from third parties. We get to see who he is and what his supporters like. Truth Social is a public service to voters.

He likes to playact being King. 

This would be silly, goofball image-making, except that Trump-as-King is congruent with Trump's understanding of the limits of the presidency in a constitutional republic. Trump openly and unapologetically mixed personal and family interests with the office. He thought laws regarding conflicts of interest, emoluments, record-keeping, and the Hatch Act didn't apply to him. His "perfect phone call" with Zelenskyy, in which he asked for a political favor as condition of getting Congress-approved arms, was indeed perfect in his mind. Trump is the state. His interests are the country's interests. This isn't an unpopular view. He has a huge fan base. Monarchy and strong-man dictatorships have appeal when people feel worried or threatened.

Joe Biden criticized the "MAGA King" role that Trump was presenting on Truth Social. Possibly he thought Americans would recoil from monarchy. Trump did not deny it. He embraced it. Trump "re-Truthed":

Trump, in laurel leaves, armed, clawed, imperious.
 

Trump in Truth Social published a variety of similar images, without apparent irony or reservation. Muscular, decisive, stern-faced Trump. 






The role of king is hereditary.



It makes sense for Biden to think to mock the meme. It is so un-American, so contrary to the Constitution. However, I think Biden misunderstands the American mood. Gridlock in Congress, and Democrats with a stalled agenda, have fostered the worry that Constitutional government just doesn't work very well. It is good at stopping things but not at doing things. Kings can get things done. Strong men have appeal.

There will be another election in 2024, and Democrats will have 2023 to select an alternative to Biden, if they choose to do so. Democrats do not need to replace Trump with a Democratic look-alike to Trump. Indeed, they must not. But they need to pick a person who looks and sounds like a leader.


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Monday, May 23, 2022

Non-Fungible Tokens

I don't understand NFTs. I think they are Ponzi schemes, and they are ready to go bust.

I may be wrong.  I am OK with with being wrong. I don't mind missing out. 

Sometimes there are legitimate booms, with demand far greater than supply. Prices go up. I am experiencing this right here in my home town. It is hard to find a tradesperson. A hot dry wind blew a fire from house to house in September of 2020 and destroyed over 2,000 homes here. Today if one has an emergency water or electrical problem, a desperate homeowner pays dearly to get a tradesperson to show up. This boom make sense to me.

The prices I see for classic cars sometimes seem crazy, but there is some sense to them, too. There is an unquantifiable foundation that underlays the demand for old cars. Yesterday I saw a spiffed up Ford Maverick in a parking lot. A guy was standing next to it. I learned his was a 1976 model. He let me look inside it. It looked like this:



The '76 Maverick triggered memories of my very first car, a 1972 Maverick, bought when I was 22. It is long gone but not forgotten, not when I saw the '76 model. My '72 was green. It looked like this:



My car was nothing special. It was an economy car, cheap to buy and operate. It was the stripped-down version. Seeing the '76 Maverick triggered memories. I will never be 22 again, but I could own a car like the one I had then, and reverse time. 

I understand the foundation for the market in old cars. There are people who want them for sentimental reasons that have nothing to do with objective value or drivability. That very real foundation supports an industry of people who buy, fix-up, advertise, and sell cars. That industry supports people whose interest is speculative. They are watching price. Speculators have value. They provide liquidity and price discovery. I could probably buy one like the one pictured for $9,500. If there weren't speculators and an active market I wouldn't know that.

I don't see the foundation for NFTs. Most of them are for items of no value, one of essentially-identical billions of similar ones. NFTs created a speculative market without foundation. Yes, items are unique because they can be identified and numbered. Uniqueness does not create value. A scrap Post-it note on my desk is unique. It does not gain value by my having written on it "Number 4072" and offering it for sale. Nor does it gain yet more value by my writing "Number 14 of 12,000." Still, it could be assigned a price, which it would have if someone offered me $20 for the one numbered 4072 and $200 for the one numbered 14 of 12,000. If the prices of buys and sells were published, and if those paper scraps were resold for $40 and $400, and then $80 and $800, we would now have a red hot speculative market. My sense is that the NFT market is just that and nothing more. People are betting on price. Some will make money; some will lose it. It is a zero-sum game without foundation. It is ripe to collapse.

Maybe it is already doing so. We have been in an era of zero interest rates at a time of low inflation. People had money they desperately want to put to work somewhere, anywhere. It found its way to speculation based purely on price movement.  Now interest rates are going up. People are getting serious again. Back in 2007, just before the great financial collapse Citibank president Chuck Prince led his company to near bankruptcy by playing a speculative game too long. He said:

“When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing,”

He didn't realize the music had already stopped.


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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Stuff: "Keepers" and "throwers"

Some people like to keep stuff. "It might come in handy someday." They are keepers.

Some people like to de-clutter. They are throwers.


I am helping a friend downsize his home. It means stuff has to be discarded. The husband is a "keeper" and the wife is a "thrower," so the situation is bad but not extreme. They live in a very nice neighborhood. They put stuff out onto their lawn alongside the street and put a sign on it: "FREE." It all disappeared within a day. People wanted their stuff.

By coincidence, someone else sent me this joke:


I am a thrower, but I am married to a keeper. I get the joke.

There are categories of stuff.

   1. Stuff we need and use, like this computer I am typing on. This includes seasonal stuff that is put away.

   2. Stuff we sometimes use, because we own it. This is the slightly-less-comfortable chair in rooms we don't go into very often and the back-up coffee maker that we have put away because it works great, but we have another one we like better.

   3. Keepsake stuff, like old photos and impractical wedding gifts like silver coffee servers. We put these things away safely on shelves and in boxes. We want those.

  4. There is stuff we happily throw away, like shattered glassware and packaging from Costco. We put these into the trash for weekly pickup.

  5. Then there is the Zone of Contention. This is stuff the thrower wants to discard and stuff the keeper wants to keep. This is stuff that isn't good enough to use but is too good to throw away. These include clothes you would never wear, even to do a sloppy painting job. These include a bedside lamp that is attractive, but it has a fussy on-off switch. It is usable, but we don't like it, so we store it. These include leftover building materials. 

The Zone of Contention is finessed in long term marriages between keeper and thrower by having space. You kick the can down the road to the heirs. What do you do with 11 perfectly good leftover bricks that match the brick on the new patio wall? If you ever need a brick you could buy it easily and inexpensively. But throw away 11 good-as-new bricks? This is what garages are for, then on-site storage sheds when the garage is full, then $70/month storage units, then second homes for category-2 furniture and storage sheds for category-5. 

People my age--72--face the simple reality that sometime soon we won't need stuff at all. We will be dead. We stay put in houses because we cannot bear to part with stuff, especially the stuff in category-2 and category-3. Category-1 stuff would fit nicely in a one or two bedroom retirement facility. My son might want the photo of Debra, me, and Barack Obama because my son is in the photo. There is no way he wants the four-by-seven-foot painting of me in a business suit looking like a financial advisor. The portrait is too big to hang, too big to move, too big to own, and worthless to sell. It is a snapshot of my life, not his.

This is a political blog, so I will make a tiny political point. There is a housing shortage. This house could be lived in by a big, bustling family with teenagers, which was my circumstance when I bought it. But I like the house I live in and the walls here are big enough to display the family portraits I have accumulated over the years. I don't want to give them up. I am staying put. Plus I have 11 bricks in the storage shed that could come in handy.


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Saturday, May 21, 2022

John Fetterman is very tall.


"I yam what I yam, and dats what I yam!"


John Fetterman has presence. He is quirky. He wears shorts and hoodies. He has tattoos. He shaves his head. He seems authentic.


Jamie Mcleod-Skinner has presence. She is quirky. She has a rugged cowgirl vibe. She seems authentic.

McLeod-Skinner, left, with wife Cass

They both won. 

I watched commentators on cable shows get it right about John Fetterman. They said he was a Democrat and progressive but that he had appeal to blue-collar Trump voters. It was a matter of style. He was authentic, they said. Pennsylvania voters had a chance to elect Conor Lamb, a polished, supposedly-electable Democrat. Conor Lamb was the strategic choice. He is supposedly positioned right on the issues, at the balance point of left-right politics in swing-state Pennsylvania.

They chose the outspoken character instead. 

Fetterman has a brand, a blue-collar, Hell's Angels machine-shop style. He supports fracking in Pennsylvania. Oil development is popular with blue-collar rural people in Pennsylvania. Controversy over that position makes it memorable. He is choosing rural economic development over the priorities of climate worries. It defines him as being courageous and a defender of rural people. He didn't just look he part. He acted the part and pays a price for it. Commentators understood this as the appeal of authenticity.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner upset incumbent Democrat U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader in Oregon. TV pundits described the contest as a battle between the electable moderate Democrat versus the presumably less-electable progressive. They saw a rematch of Bernie vs. establishment Democrats. Their analysis also cited the familiar idea of extreme primary voters who push candidates too far to right or left.

There is some truth in that analysis. Schrader was vulnerable on policy. Schrader opposes the $15 minimum wage. He was one of two Democrats to join Republicans in voting against the the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, i.e. the COVID relief plan. Schrader is one of nine Democrats to vote to separate the infrastructure bill from the rest of Build Back Better, blocking its passage. He voted against allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. He originally called the impeachment effort following the January 6 insurrection, a "lynching." That was more than enough to get him into trouble with Democrats. He backtracked. He apologized for the "lynching" comment. He explained his Medicare drug vote as a strategy for a different plan that would pass the Senate. Schrader had an argument for voters being sensible and strategic. He was moderate enough to hold the seat for Democrats; McLeod-Skinner was too liberal.

McLeod-Skinner has something going for her. She doesn't look or sound like an urban woke culture warrior progressive. She  has a style that immunizes her. She has a wife, to whom she makes frequent reference. She dresses way down--pants, tee-shirts, vests. She is the scrappy outsider. She is the one who looks totally at home in rural Oregon. She appears not to be bending to be a "normal politician."


Thirty second ad

Stylistically, Democrats abandoned rural America. Democrats in Oregon talk about bicycles, light-rail public transportation, and preserving pristine open spaces. McLeod-Skinner seems just fine with bicycles but she herself drives an old jeep--and not for show. It is what she drives for real, and she uses it to pull a tiny trailer that she sometimes sleeps in when she campaigns. It is rough, inexpensive, practical and rural. It is all congruent.

Fetterman and McLeod-Skinner have the Popeye immunity from the arrows of opposition. They seem comfortable with who they are. People like and trust that.


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Friday, May 20, 2022

How a medical abortion works.

Some forms of birth control stop fertilization. 

Some forms stop the implantation of a newly fertilized egg. 

Some forms expel an implanted fertilized egg.


The distinctions are becoming important as a legal and practical matter. 

I am not a doctor and I have never experienced menstruation. I write a political blog, not a medical one. I have "done my research" in the way a hundred million Americans did their research about COVID vaccinations. That means I consulted sources that seem credible to me. The graphics below come from Scientific American, which has an explanation I could follow. Their information was consistent with other sources I consider credible, like those from Planned Parenthood. Here is a link

Everyone old enough to read this blog knows the basic facts. Barriers like condoms and diaphragms stop sperm from meeting egg: No fertilization means no pregnancy. Hormonal birth control stop ovulation: No egg means no fertilization means no pregnancy. It gets complicated with IUDs because depending on the material in the IUD it may stop implantation of a fertilized egg. However, if the IUD is made of copper, it may mostly work by killing sperm and therefore stopping fertilization, although it also stops implantation of a fertilized egg if the copper didn't kill all the sperm. Some states may allow copper IUDs but outlaw ones made of other material. 

There is also an over-the-counter drug called "Emergency Contraception" or "Plan B."  This does not cause an abortion although it is sometimes confused for doing so. The name implies that it is a problem pregnancy. No. It is used after contraceptive failure. The drug stops ovulation for that month. No ovulation, no fertilization, no pregnancy.

Some ways of stopping pregnancy openly acknowledge that a pregnancy is being stopped and an implanted fertilized egg is to be expelled. This is the "Medical Abortion" protocol. In 2016 the FDA approved a two-drug combination of Mifeprex and Cytotec to be taken within seven weeks from the start of a woman's last period. Mifeprex (also called RU-486 or mifepristone) can work on its own, but the two-drug combination is shown to be about 99.6% effective in large trials.






Medical abortions are at risk of being banned in states that define abortion as acts that stop the natural development of a fertilized egg. Oklahoma's governor is preparing to sign a bill banning all abortions after fertilization. It uses a Texas-style enforcement mechanism through private lawsuits, and therefore does not need to wait for the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade. Oklahoma's law may become the pattern. It makes the distinction between "Plan B" emergency contraception pill and the "medical abortion" pills. Plan B is allowed. Medical abortions are not. Plan B stops ovulation. Medical abortions expel an embryo.

Who needs to know this stuff? Voters do. These distinctions will be at the center of the national debate over abortion.


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