Post 2000 and the blog continues

The Thinker by Rodin

I had to check. I reached post 1000 on August 29, 2009. Today on December 20, 2018 I finally hit the latest milestone, post 2000. My expectation was that maybe I could reach post 2000 on December 12, 2018. Then if I were to take the blog down, as I hinted I might, it would be after exactly sixteen years of blogging. Seemed fitting, somehow.

Happily, traffic has picked up just enough where I find the impetus to keep going. Most of my posts go into a backwater wasteland somewhere with zero likes or reposts, but some still seem to resonate. I’m not sure how they end up resonating. Maybe someone on my email list recommends them. It used to be that I could count on Google search to boost some posts. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. In any event, it makes no sense to blog if hardly anyone is reading. So, dear readers, if you want the blog to continue, simply read it and recommend posts to your friends when you think it warrants it. If this blog goes down, it probably won’t due to my disinterest, but only because no one seems to be listening. If blogging amounts to talking to myself online, it has no point.

What’s been resonating? The home page gets the most hits, about 26% of the total page views so far this year. Those pages that broke the twenty page views in the last thirty days include one on Trump’s treason, the beginning of the decline and fall of the Trump presidency, on the nature of reality and my Mike Pence tag for some reason. It may be that Trump sucks all the oxygen out of the blogosphere. It’s hard not to comment on Donald Trump given his disastrous presidency and its oversized impact on our nation. But of course even when I think I have a unique perspective on him, there is so much other content out there on him that it’s hard for anyone’s to get noticed unless you have a lot of followers already.

And that’s part of my problem. I suck at marketing, but worse, I don’t really want to market the blog. I don’t promote it with friends and family; in fact I actively discourage them from reading it. They know it’s out there but for the most part they don’t read it. I don’t post links to my posts on Facebook. I prefer anonymity but arguably it’s kind of pointless now that I’m retired. Not all my ideas are acceptable in polite society.

The blog’s decline has been exacerbated by the demise of Craigslist’s casual encounter’s section. I could count on my monthly reviews of these bizarre posts to bring in several hundred page views per month on average. Nothing has replaced it. Nonetheless, this 2015 post on Hartford’s section still gets regular hits. Maybe it’s due to nostalgia. For myself, I don’t miss reviewing these posts. While good for my traffic, there wasn’t much new in them. After a while, even the most bizarre posts seemed perfectly normal.

I restate myself a lot, with many variations based on topics in the news. With 2000 posts, of course you are going to find that you are repeating yourself. But since hardly anyone has read most of my posts (I mean who would be following me for sixteen years?) it doesn’t matter. Trying to make sense of the present is quite hard and feels kind of futile. Not all things that happen really make any sense.

Retirement has expanded my interests. In theory it gives me more time for blogging but in practice other hobbies and interests have taken up the time instead. I don’t want to post more than once or twice a week. There are plenty of other things to keep me engaged. My IT business keeps expanding. I revel in open source projects, teaching a class here and there, and the luxury of so much time in retirement. It’s time to do things like take daily walks; bikes rides; or simply slog through my favorite websites. I keep busy, mostly happily while our national nightmare continues to unfold around us.

So thanks for reading. I hope it is worth our time.

To EV or not-EV: that is the question

The Thinker by Rodin

EV = electric vehicle, of course. Next year I am planning to replace my semi-green 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, a logical choice as I noted at the time. So I’ve been poring over Consumer Reports, principally its last auto issue, studying all the cars on the market and trying to figure out the next one to buy. I want to buy one in 2019 not only because the Civic will turn 15 (it was bought in 2004) but also because it’s likely that its $3500 battery will need to be replaced in 2020. The old one died a week after its warranty ran out; I think they are programmed to die. I’d prefer not to have to shoulder that cost.

The auto industry is in a period of great flux; a problem brought home by GM’s recent plant closings and layoff announcements. The Trump Administration may believe that the oil era will last forever, but the more I study the auto market the more I am convinced the oil era is ending. This is great news if you believe oil use must be curbed to address climate change. What’s surprising is that our automakers have pretty much figured it out too. The electric car is coming and it’s going to kill the internal combustion engine.

This is not wishful thinking. It’s going to happen. There are a couple of major reasons why this will happen. As usual it will be less about the need to address climate change, as it will come down to simple pocketbook issues. Electric cars are an emerging market that you currently pay a premium to own. But that will change. When anything becomes widely mass-produced, it gets cheaper. Electric cars will get much cheaper in the years ahead. The real innovation is these cars in the battery technology.

Yet there’s another reason electric cars will become a no-duh purchase five or ten years from now: they should be much less expensive to maintain. Internal combustion engines are complex beasts. Electric motors though are dead simple. No pistons and cylinders to worry about. The car will not need a radiator or presumably much in the way of oil in the crankshaft. EV owners already know that when it comes to acceleration, EVs can’t be beat. Put your foot on the accelerator and you will find yourself pushed into your seat. And you will pass others by without the roar of an engine. For a while, it will seem surreal.

So GM is actually playing catch up. It’s killing many of its sedans basically because these will eventually be replaced with EVs. Right now, their electric car lineup doesn’t have much to show for it: just the Bolt and the Volt, last I checked. They can’t mass produce a whole bunch of new EV models yet because the demand isn’t there. But that will change as costs come down. People are already deferring car purchases, waiting for the price of EVs to come down, which largely explains the slowdown in car manufacturing. Meanwhile, the EV charging infrastructure is quickly coming together. Long distance travel is no longer much of a concern with EVs because super charging stations are becoming easy to find. We already have a Tesla supercharging station right across the river in Hadley, Massachusetts, about five miles away. You can fully charge your vehicle at these stations in about ten minutes.

Right now the cost of using a supercharger is less than buying the equivalent in gasoline. Most people will charge their vehicles at home at the going kilowatt-hour rate. Add in enough solar panels to your home and after the investment in the panels much of the time you can run your EV for free. Of course, if you don’t choose green energy at home, your EV may not be that good for the environment. But that’s changing too. Here in Western Massachusetts all sorts of megawatt solar farms are going up. And we already buy energy from offshore wind farms.

Spending $100K for a Tesla is out of our budget, but spending $37K or so for a Chevy Bolt is probably not out of our budget, if I assume the $7500 tax credit. To get it though I have to be one of the first 200,000 EV owners and hope the Trump administration doesn’t kill it altogether first. We could buy another hybrid car, but its cost of maintenance over the 10-15 years would make it competitive with a low maintenance EV like the Chevy Bolt. I like EV’s being so much more mechanically simpler and thus cheaper to maintain.

So the EV trend is inescapable. Car manufacturers don’t want us car buyers to focus on this right now because it reduces car sales. There’s a lot of profit as long as car buyers don’t catch on. However, a carbon-emitting SUV you buy today is likely a purchase you will rue five years from now. You will look like a hopeless Luddite. Good luck trying to resell those suckers.

One approach we could use is what a lot of Americans are already doing: defer buying a new car until EV prices go down. I may have to pay another $3500 for a new battery for my Civic, but the car is paid for and it is reliable while being reasonably green. It may be cheaper in the long run. I have yet to test drive the Chevy Bolt, the only EV I am likely to buy. I may not like it. I’ve watched test drive videos of the car and it looks pretty good, but I’d prefer something better but as affordable. It just doesn’t exist yet.

So I might end up with a Toyota Camry Hybrid instead. 48 mpg is nothing to sneeze at, but even with its advanced hybrid technology, it’s clear to me that EVs will displace hybrids too. If I am going to join the 21st century car technology, I’d best do it right with an EV.

Chasing savings

The Thinker by Rodin

Well here’s something I didn’t think we’d be doing again: chasing higher interest rates.

For the last ten years, savings account interest rates have been hovering around zero percent. This was by design after the Great Recession. The Fed wanted to stimulate the economy. The natural tendency of Americans in a recession is to run toward safety. Savings accounts offer that if you have enough money in them to live on. But that’s all they offered. They were not investment opportunities. By cutting interest rates to basically nothing, the Fed was encouraging us to invest in the market. And it worked, although it took a long time.

It is only now a decade later that the Fed is raising interest rates again. Still, most banks are stuck in 2009 and offer virtually no interest on their accounts. But there are others that have gotten with the times, including our bank, Ally Bank. Their savings account now offers 2% annual return regardless of its size. It’s not quite enough to meet inflation, but it’s better than 0.1%. Their money market account is less generous: .9% on balances below $25,000 and 1% on balances above it. Its 12-month Certificate of Deposit though will earn you 2.65% annually. A five-year CD earns 3.1% annually. Ally Bank is an online-only bank, which in part explains their ability to offer these rates. With no brick and mortar buildings to maintain except one headquarters building in Philadelphia, their operational costs are low.

Nonetheless, old habits die hard. I am so used to getting virtually no interest that I’ve maintained our checking account where it’s been for nearly thirty years: Pentagon Federal Credit Union. I still haven’t severed my relationship with PenFed, but the time may be coming. However, I have moved the bulk of our money in PenFed to Ally where it at least earns a good interest rate.

Traditionally we’ve dumped paychecks into a checking account. That’s because most of it was gone by the end of the month, so interest on the account was kind of pointless. Now that we are retired though, it makes no sense. The house is paid off. We have zero debts. What makes sense now is to take our income, mostly pension income, but also 401K and other income from teaching and consulting and stuff it into savings accounts, where the balance earns 2%. Now we have a monthly automatic transfer from our savings account to our checking account based on how much we are likely to spend in a given month. This way most of this money earns interest. This monthly automatic transfer into checking mainly involves figuring how much we will spend monthly on the general cost of living. The idea is to keep our checking account balance low, but not so low as we are likely to overdraw it.

I’ve done this with our Money Market account too. Even at Ally, it was only earning 1%. The account exists basically as long-term savings, but it was really an escrow account. It holds funds that we are accumulating to pay for future long-term expenses, stuff like buying a new car or replacing the roof in fifteen years. But there was no point in taking the hit on interest. So we’ve reduced the balance there to $5,000 and moved the rest into savings. I figure $5000 is the most we are likely to ever write from the account quickly. If we need to write a check for more than that, there will be time to move it from savings.

Oddly enough, this approach is amounting to real money, to the point where when I estimate our income for the year it’s becoming a not insignificant portion of our income. With 2% interest, it amounts to more than $150 per month in interest. Do the math and we should net at least $1800 annual income just from interest, most of it from savings. Granted that our cash reserves are now flush where they weren’t ten years ago. But by simply rethinking how we are managing our money, we’re bringing in this extra money every year, with zero risk to our portfolio. The only real risk is that the Fed will drop interest rates again, which certainly could happen. Markets are definitely in correction territory, suggesting that if things go awry again like in 2008, zero interest rates and more “quantitative easing” may be in the future.

So this is good for us, but not so good for the rest of you who I assume are borrowing a lot of money. It’s pushing up interest rates in general, but home mortgage interest rates in particular. For ten years the economy has been propped up by super cheap interest rates. That’s changing, which will put more stress on borrowers, perhaps adding to our risk of recession.

Still, these higher interest rates are notable. Savings accounts pay real money again, at least if you are using the right bank. It should reshape thinking in the way things are normally done. It has certainly reshaped our thinking. It’s always good to keep a healthy amount of your assets in safe forms like savings accounts. It’s just that now it is beginning to pay to do so again.

Trump won’t escape justice this time

The Thinker by Rodin

Karmic payback is a bitch. Donald Trump has spent a lifetime avoiding accountability. He got out of serving in Vietnam by having the family doctor write letters saying he had bone spurs in his foot. He escaped poverty by being born into a rich family and by having a father who made him a millionaire (in today’s dollars) at age three.

Letting others take the hit for him cushioned most of his failures. His father bailed out his failing businesses at least three time. When his businesses failed, fellow investors often took it on the chin instead of him. He also stiffed lots of contractors. When things got tight financially, he found people and institutions willing to bail him out.

It’s pretty obvious now why he has refused to release his tax returns. They will show he is not nearly as wealthy as he claims to be. Investigations seem to be showing how he really got his money during the last decade or so: loans from Deutsche Bank, which were probably underwritten by Russian oligarchs. There was also lots of money laundering: selling condos for inflated prices, disproportionately to Russian oligarchs and always in cash.

For Trump, it’s always about the money. He’s assumed that money buys privilege. Wave enough green stuff under their noses and he can make affairs with Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy bunnies disappear. And to his credit, between this, his late father’s money and lots of suspicious money laundering, it’s worked for him. All his life he has taken huge risks, but most of them were cushioned. It’s given him a brash and oversized obnoxious personality. Trump has always stayed one step ahead of the game. However, he’s going to find out that he can’t escape consequences and justice this time.

Trump will be able to postpone a lot of the accountability that is coming at him. His best strategy for holding on is to win reelection in 2020 or die in office. Because of a Department of Justice regulation that declines to prosecute presidents while in office, holding onto power is essential to continue his no-accountability lifestyle. He’s also hoping his latest Supreme Court pick, Justice Kavanaugh, will go to bat for him in a future ruling. The question likely to make it to the court: can a sitting president be indicted while in office for state crimes if federal regulations won’t let him be prosecuted for similar federal crimes? A decision by the court there might expand protections to exempt these as well as long as he is in office.

So far it’s not looking too good for Trump. A federal judge has allowed an emoluments lawsuit by Maryland and the District of Columbia to go forward; subpoenas of the Trump Organization will soon be issued.

It’s hard though to see a scenario where charges are not filed after he leaves office. There is one really wacky outlier possibility: Trump decides to pardon himself for any crimes he may have committed. A president’s pardon power in the constitution is not explicitly limited to prohibit him from pardoning himself. That’s because the constitution assumed that the president would not be wholly corrupt. It appears that a president cannot pardon crimes explicitly specified in the constitution itself. Ultimately it would be up to the Supreme Court again to decide if Trump could legally pardon himself. As stacked as the court is with right wing judges, it’s hard to see how even a court full of “strict constructionists” could uphold such a pardon. It would make a mockery of the rule of law. Trump of course has explicitly said he has the power to pardon himself.

So in early 2021 or early 2025 at the latest, the game is up for Trump and his accountability moment will finally arrive. Fortunately for prosecutors, Trump has left numerous breadcrumbs that will make documenting his complicity and intentions a no brainer; his Twitter feed is an obvious place to start. Trump is his own worst enemy, a condition due to his obvious case of malignant narcissism. Far from being a stable genius, he is an impulsive dumbass instead.

Maybe he still suffers from delusions that he can get the justice he wants by appointing people who will stifle Mueller’s investigation. That horse is already out of the barn. Mueller’s final report may be squelched by a new Attorney General (who won’t recuse himself from the Mueller investigation), but Mueller has already written de-facto reports. They are called indictments. Moreover, Mueller has smartly decentralized parts of the investigation, for instance, turning over the prosecution of Michael Cohen (Trump’s late personal attorney) to the Southern District of New York. It’s unlikely that whoever oversees Mueller will do much to restrain him. The political costs are too high.

Trump is stuck, but so is the nation. I’ve suggested before that Trump might just resign. A more reasonable president would when he saw the odds against him. But in Trump’s case, a resignation opens the door for prosecutions against him to start. Trump is obviously not playing with a full deck; he may be too stupid to realize this and resign anyhow. But he has every incentive to hang onto power simply to avoid the accountability that has always been chasing him. The House may impeach him, but he’s unlikely to be convicted in the Senate, even though the legal case for his corruption is overwhelming. So likely we have two more years of struggling with a slowly dissembling Donald Trump instead.

Given Trump’s obesity and the psychological stress he is obviously under, it may kill him first. As he gets loonier and loonier, a 25th amendment remedy could be triggered. Given though how much lunacy he has already inflicted on us, and Pence has not triggered the 25th amendment, it’s hard for me now to see how this can happen. But it certainly could. There may be some limit to his lunacy that those left in his administration simply can no longer tolerate.

Ultimately justice should be served, in the courts if not from his premature death from a stroke or embolism. It remains to be seen though whether there will be much left of our democracy at the end of this national trial. But while our courts at least seem to remain largely uncorrupted, there is plenty of reason to feel confident that justice will eventually be served on Donald J. Trump.

The Tumblr brouhaha shows again that the Internet is not free

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter and spouse both have Tumblr accounts. In case you weren’t aware, Tumblr is a blogging/social media site. Both my wife and daughter are LGBTQ-friendly but I had not really tuned in that people like them haunted Tumblr because it is, or was, LGBTQ-friendly.

All that changed Monday when Tumblr announced that effective December 17 the site will permanently ban explicit adult content. This caused a great furor amongst the LGBTQ Tumblr community, who apparently make up much of the site. Tumblr is full of risqué content that does not appeal to its corporate overlords, Verizon, but does appeal very much to people who post and hang out there. Verizon owns Yahoo, who bought Tumblr. And Verizon is controlled by people who frankly largely don’t understand this universe and how important is for these marginalized people to have a safe space to be themselves.

In the future, having a safe space on Tumblr will include not allowing a lot of erotic content. It will keep many sex workers from having a place to rant. For those into Slash (erotic fan fiction) like my spouse and daughter, simply sharing these erotic stories that often go into dark areas like bondage and domination on Tumblr will get dicey. The service’s automated algorithms will decide if content is too racy or not and if it is, snip!

This decision seems motivated by a rare case of obvious child pornography posted on the site, which was quickly removed. But the main issue was that the LGBTQ community, sex workers and all these alt-blank people were too weird for the corporate masters that run the site. It didn’t look good in Verizon’s report to shareholders when they had to report they were facilitating the exchange of such socially unacceptable behavior. So Tumblr will effectively be neutered and these communities of people have to figure out — again — where to hang out online. The irony is that a lot of these people migrated from Reddit, which became overrun by the right wing. Reddit too has changed policies to clamp down on things, but not to the extent that Tumblr has with its draconian action.

So it sucks for members of these communities. They keep looking for the Promised Land on social media only to be ultimately disappointed. Twitter looks like their next place of refuge, but Twitter too is not beyond censoring or removing content. They recently removed millions of fake accounts. In any event, violate their terms of service and unless you are the President of the United States you too could be cast adrift. Ask Alex Jones, who is finding it hard to find any place in social media to broadcast his racist, hate-filled stuff.

All is not entirely lost. For the Slash community, there is still Dreamwidth, which caters to those who like to write erotic fiction oriented around existing TV shows and movies, often with heavily homosexual-ized story lines. It’s not the same thing though as Tumblr. While many of these writers are LGBTQ (or at least LGBTQ-friendly), the focus of the site is fan fiction.

Social media sites are of course costly to set up and maintain, which is why major companies like Verizon own the popular ones. All those server racks, software and site monitors don’t come cheap. Moreover, it seems impossible to create one of these public sites that won’t eventually censor some content. Some stuff like child pornography is clearly crossing a line, at least by 99.9% of us. Invariably though people like those on Tumblr will test the boundaries of how much freedom these social media companies will allow. And eventually they will discover they will transgress a boundary, largely because the needs of large corporations diverge from the social media people they attract.

So I don’t expect this problem to get any better. These Tumblr denizens will be forced to move elsewhere, but they will probably be evicted there at some point too. There will always need to be some policing of these sites. There will always be some limits on just how much freedom you are allowed on these sites. Where they are owned by large, profit-making corporations, the limits of these freedoms are bound to be more curtailed, and more prudish, than the people who will be using it.

Those who pay the bills ultimately win. It’s true for my blog too. If you post what I consider to be an offensive comment I will delete it. It doesn’t bother me and I don’t see it as a free speech issue because I pay the bills. This has occasionally bothered a commenter. Apparently they figure it’s my responsibility to host their disagreeable contents forever at my expense.

And I can’t post anything I want even on my own blog either. At the moment this blog is hosted at Siteground, and when you host with them you agree to their terms of service. This essentially prohibits me from posting pornography or doing things like inciting hate speech on my site. Essentially you have to be independently wealthy enough to create your own hosting center to have entirely free speech online. But even then you are subject to local laws. I might need to host my server in some place like the Cayman Islands to post content that would be considered illegal in the United States, but it’s likely even the liberal Cayman Islands has some standards I would have to adhere to.

What’s happening at Tumblr is unfortunate for this community who is already highly hassled and marginalized. But it’s hardly unexpected. The Internet is not free. It just offers to illusion of freedom. Unless your content is forever milquetoast, it’s always susceptible to being banned.

An appreciation for George H.W. Bush

The Thinker by Rodin

There is perhaps some irony in the passing of our 41st president and the sad sack of shit we currently have as president. I loathed George W. Bush as president, but his father was a good president, which is hard for this Democrat to admit. George H.W. Bush was a moderate Republican from a different era, and one of the few Republicans that I genuinely respected and whose presidency was effective and well managed. In the future, if Republicans want to have any hope of having their nominee elected, he or she will have to act and look a whole lot more like 41 and a whole lot less than 45.

That 41 (I will use his number for convenience) did not win reelection was something of a fluke. He should have. It’s just that the 1992 election was weirdly complicated. Specifically, it had a viable third party candidate, Ross Perot, who managed to siphon off 19% of the vote. Most of Perot’s votes came from Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. Both parties learned from Perot’s candidacy. Mainly they learned to nip these in the bud and not let an independent candidate get in an official presidential debate in the first place. Perot was in many ways a harbinger of Donald Trump: plainspoken, rich but unlike Trump transparently honest. Tea-partiers to be found a lot to like in Perot: something unconventional and different who was also very concerned about spending and outsourcing. So did some Democrats, who didn’t particularly like Bill Clinton as their nominee.

41 was an effective president for many of the reasons that disqualify nominees today: he was one of those elite insiders. His father was a senator from Connecticut who groomed him for public life. 41 was thrown at a variety of bureaucratic roles and mastered them all from U.N. Ambassador to CIA Director. Bush was basically a stereotypical New Englander: born in Massachusetts, residing in Connecticut through his childhood years and spending summers in Kennebunkport, Maine. Officially he resided in Texas, but he never really seemed Texan. He was a New Englander in spirit, and that included his moderate Republicanism. New England is one of the few areas of the country where you can still find moderate Republicans.

Of course he was not a perfect president. It’s not hard to find things about him that rankled me, such as his cutting of funding for AIDS research. But he was unusually sober, and fully versed on the complexity of the modern world from having experienced it in so many roles in service of his country. He was perhaps best as Commander in Chief, assembling a coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, doing it at a modest and shared cost, and mindful (unlike his son) of the complexity of politics in the area, and the danger of removing Saddam altogether.

He was wise enough when running against Ronald Reagan to declare that Reagan was a believer in “Voodoo economics”, a term I’m pretty sure he coined. He was proven right; both Reagan, his son and now Trump ran up disastrous deficits. His attempt to stem the federal deficit by increasing revenues in a compromise with a Democratic congress earned him heaps of scorn from fellow Republicans, but it was a smart approach. Unfortunately this, plus an ill-timed recession largely due to the Gulf War ultimately doomed his reelection prospects.

In 2006, I rated our 20th century Republican presidents. George H.W. Bush is my pick as the best of the lot since Teddy Roosevelt. Pragmatic, world-wise, affable, sober and serious, he turned out to be the president we needed, just not the one we wanted.

History will treat he and his administration very kindly. It has already rendered judgment on his son’s, and it’s not flattering.

The nature of reality isn’t what you think it is

The Thinker by Rodin

The answer to the universe may not be 42 (hat tip to the late Douglas Adams), but its unreality.

That is, it is unreal in the way that most of us think of reality. For example, we perceive that the universe unfolds in a linear fashion, that we exist in corporal form, and that the future cannot influence the past. But that’s not my impression anymore. It’s based on reading a lot about physics and quantum mechanics and more recently from watching a lot of YouTube videos on these topics.

In many ways I believe that we actually are living in the matrix, but not The Matrix presented in three movies of the same name. These movies fancifully depict our lives as hallucinations controlled by machines. If I sound like a raving lunatic, then there are a lot of physicists who agree with me. Physics is revealing certain things about our universe that cannot be explained by the way we think we perceive reality.

It was Albert Einstein who first coined the term space-time. Basically, he discovered that space and time do not exist separately, but they are one thing, whose shape can be perturbed by gravity (which turns out to be a much more mysterious force than space-time.)

On the other end of the spectrum is string theory, the study of the extremely small, which tries to explain just what matter and energy are. We are enmeshed in the fabric of the universe, the physicist Brian Greene wrote in a book of the same name. It was largely his book, which I read back in 2004, which has kept me engaged in this topic since then.

Just as a TV screen consists of pixels, the fabric of space-time appears to have a fundamental unit much, much smaller than an atom. It’s Planck’s constant, which is not a measure of a distance as it is a constant used to express the energy carried by a photon in relation to its frequency. Its value, by the way, is 6.626070150 × 10-34 Joules per second, exactly. The International Standards Organization formally refined its value just five days ago. As best we can tell, it defines the reality we experience, or more specifically an “atom” of space-time itself, something that cannot be further subdivided. This is the stuff that we, but really everything, are made of.

If there is anything apart from the universe, it may be consciousness itself. As best physicists can tell us, time is an illusion, perhaps a mechanism created by consciousness itself to make sense of the universe it is either placed in or observes. Given that space-time exists, but neither space nor time exists as a separate entity, then past and present are permanently linked, and what we perceive as the future influences our past as much as our past influences our future. Who we are is really some subset of space-time. At least in theory it can be played like a recorder, or even played backward.

The more I study quantum physics, the more what appears to be wacky stuff seems to be merging with our “reality”, such as it is. Atheists believe there is no afterlife and there is no soul. It’s a reasonably inference given that most of us don’t see ghosts. If we witness a car running into a brick wall at 100mph, we feel certain its driver is dead. And I won’t argue that that driver is indeed dead, at least as we are bound to perceive him or her in a linear time frame. I think it’s more accurate to say that because we experience the illusion of time, they are dead to us. Yet there they remain, like in indelible ink, caught forever in the matrix of space-time. Our inability to not experience the universe as it actually is, but only linearly, is a deficiency. It’s also an illusion; our shared illusion. Or perhaps more accurately it’s our shared delusion. If souls exist then almost by any definition they travel independent of linear time.

Birth, death and likely living itself are illusions. While ultimately illusions, they are also indelibly real, which makes them hard to figure out. If you are a prisoner traveling in a linear time frame, then they cannot seem to be anything but real. But now physicists are telling us that because space-time is a thing, that our experience of time is indeed an illusion.

I prefer to think of a life as a path, or perhaps a journey, one of an infinite number of paths that can be chosen through space-time. Consciousness itself appears to choose the path we are on. We experience what is before us and react to it as best we can within the limits of our ability to perceive, understand and choose. It may be that we can experience many “lives” through space-time through this thing called consciousness. Hopefully with each reincarnation we do a better job of it.

So everything we experience is both real in a linear sense, yet surreal based on our understanding of the nature of the universe. This is why for me understanding physics is the ultimate head-trip. It describes the nature of reality and what we perceive as reality. It’s clear to me that we are part of a vast and seemingly infinitely complex virtual reality where the perceived and very real (to us) linear parts are very slowly being revealed, thanks to the physicists studying our universe.

Still confused? You have every right to be. But for me this understanding makes more sense the more I study it, and makes me realize certain things. For example, there is no more reason to fear death than birth. We should not fear the escape death might bring us from this experience of linear time that we are trapped in. Death may be the ultimate liberation. Soul may be nothing more than our eternal consciousness as we experience it in a space-time universe.

You may find this video by Quantum Gravity Research to be helpful in getting your mind around this:

The decline and fall of the Trump presidency has begun

The Thinker by Rodin

One thing is pretty clear to me as a result of the 2018 midterms: the decline and fall of Donald J. Trump has started in earnest. Most likely it will quickly pick up speed.

The phases are a lot like dying, except Trump is unlikely to ever reach the final stage: acceptance. If he’s still around on January 20, 2020 when a Democrat is inaugurated president, it will probably be up to the Secret Service to bodily remove him from the White House. I doubt he will show up for the inauguration of his successor, breaking with a long precedent. After all, he couldn’t be bothered to show up for two Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. I don’t think there’s a back door on the White House, but I think there is an underground walkway to the Executive Office Building. That’s probably how he will sneak out of Dodge.

We’ve hit peak Trump, at least as far as Trump’s political power goes. Granted he can still wreak a lot of damage and do other crazy things like getting us into a new war. But he’s reached the point where any action is ultimately self-defeating and only his base believes he is truly working in the national interest. If Trump’s past is any guide to his future, he may cash in his chips and resign, particularly if Mueller’s report ever gets released. The only part of being president that he likes is the attention it gives him, and lately it’s been a lot of negative attention. No fun in that!

Trump is such a child that this latest phase was entirely predictable. He tried to spin his midterm losses as a great victory at first. A few days later it finally dawned on him that he was, well, largely trumped. Then of course he started pointing fingers because of course he couldn’t possibly be to blame. The most recent one was that these defeats were because he was not on the ballot. How strange! One of the few joys he gets from the presidency is holding rallies. He went all over the country to stir up his base and repeatedly told them they had to show up. And they did, but there’s just a lot less to Trump’s base than there used to be and they did not show up in the numbers that Democrats showed up. He held three rallies in Montana trying to defeat Democrat Jon Tester and failed.

The nation has been onto the disaster that is Donald J. Trump for a long time. Trump still hasn’t figured it out; at least it’s not something he can admit to himself. But emotionally he knows he’s been whipped. You can see it in his poutiness and isolation, but also by his reflexively defensive positions. He knows he can’t keep House Democrats from investigating him next year. He’s tried putting in a lackey, Matt Whitaker, as Acting Attorney General to blunt the Mueller probe, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to work. Before November 6th, he had Congressional Republican majorities to protect him. Starting in 2019, House Democrats are going to strip him metaphorically naked. We’ll see his tax returns. We’ll learn how much the Trump Campaign was in bed with the Russians. For the next two years, his life will only continue to get more hellish. This is why I think there’s a significant probability he will simply resign at some point.

Even Fox News isn’t reliably parroting his talking points anymore. Actually it’s been Fox News that has set most of his talking points. That is principally Trump’s source of news and opinions, but Fox News’ listeners are predominantly rapidly aging senior citizens. With all the younger people of color coming into Congress, it’s pretty clear that changing demographics are finally reaching critical mass. What eventually emerges won’t necessarily be blue states from sea to shining sea; most likely there will always be plenty of red states in between. Before 2020 though it may finally dawn on Republicans that Trump is a dead man walking and it’s in their best interest to cut him loose. They probably won’t summon the nerve to find a primary challenger to Trump, but they should field someone. As he continues to dissemble, it will be easier for some Republicans to summon some courage in the hopes of beating the long odds. Suddenly, Jeb Bush may not look so bad anymore.

Trump was never great at picking people to work for him. Mostly they are incompetent but sometimes he picks someone actively malicious and effective. Most quickly flame out. His White House is chaotic with no one really in charge. The most recent prominent example was picking Matt Whitaker as acting Attorney General. It’s unclear whether his legal staff first looked into this. I doubt they did because any competent attorney would have warned him picking Whitaker was probably against the law. Most likely Trump just decided impulsively to pick him and left it to staff to deal with the wreckage. This just goes to show his utter incompetence.

Trump certainly excels at keeping the focus on feeding his own ego, and the media is likely to keep dancing to his tweets in the hope of continued advertising revenue. While the general rule is that even negative attention is better than no attention at all, Trump will discover that when attention only generates bad press that it can cut him, make him bleed and perhaps fatally wound him too. Stay tuned.

The bluing of America continues

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m still not done analyzing Election 2018. With each passing day as more races finally get called, it’s absolutely clear that the Blue Wave arrived on November 6th.

In the U.S. House, Democrats have picked up 36 seats officially. They lead in three others. Republicans lead in three others, but by tiny margins: less than 1000 votes in GA-7, 3000 in NY-27 and 1200 in TX-23. Right now this looks like a 39 seat gain for Democrats. Considering how gerrymandered districts are, this is astounding. Republicans would have been routed much worse if districts were drawn fairly. However, had districts been drawn fairly, it’s not clear that Republicans would have had a majority of seats in the current House at all. After the 2014 election, Republicans had a 30 seat majority; and after 2016, a 24 seat majority. Since 2014, it’s likely that Republicans maintained control of the House only because so many districts were highly gerrymandered.

November 6th has resulted in some amazing shifts. For example, Orange County in California has six U.S. house seats, now all filled by Democrats. This was where the Reagan anti-tax revolution was born. Before it was 4R-2D. Two of Nevada’s three seats are now blue. In Iowa, it was 3R-1D and is now 3D-1R. It shouldn’t be too surprising the California added six Democratic seats and New Jersey added 4. What’s more surprising is that Texas added 2 Democratic seats, Florida added 2, and Pennsylvania added 3. There were a few genuine surprises: a Democrat won OK-5, considered likely Republican district. They won one in nearby Kansas too. Utah looks likely to place a Democrat in the district containing Salt Lake City. The only place where things turned into a real fistfight was in Minnesota, which turned into a draw: Republicans flipped 2 Democratic seats while Democrats flipped 2 Republican seats.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats are likely to lose a total of two seats, reducing their share to 47-53. They had to defend 25 of 34 seats, four of which were in deep red states (North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia). Of those four they kept just West Virginia with Joe Manchin’s win. But Democrats defeated Dean Heller’s reelection bid in Nevada, and flipped retiring Jeff Flake’s Republican seat in Arizona giving it to a bisexual woman, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Republicans picked up no seats in states that were not already crimson red. Arizona is now a purple state, Texas is looking a bit purple with Ted Cruz’s narrow win and now Nevada looks reliably blue. In Florida, Democrats may have been their worst enemy thanks to a badly drawn ballot in populous Broward County where the Democrat Bill Nelson’s name appeared in a small box in the bottom left corner of a very tall ballot. Many Democrats who voted Democratic for governor missed this entirely; possibly resulting in what looks like Nelson’s loss.

Democrats look to pick up five governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin. Three are particularly notable but today I’ll concentrate on Maine, where Janet Mills won convincingly, ending Paul LePage’s deeply divisive era (he left due to term limitations). This plus the pickup in of a house seat in Maine makes Maine less red and a bluer form of purple. One Republican “win” in Georgia looks highly suspicious. Brian Kemp oversaw his own election, disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters and set up fewer machines in heavily Democratic districts. It’s probably more accurate to say he would have lost if the election had been run fairly, as the margin of his victory was less than 60,000 votes.

Some other metrics are interesting. The U.S. House for the first time will have over a hundred women: 103 total, 4 of whom are nonvoting (delegates). Three members are Muslim, 2 are Native American, at least 11 are of Asian ancestry and 48 are black. So women are about 25% of the House now, nowhere close to the 51% of the population they represent but a sizable improvement. These statistics mirror the Senate’s, with 22 out of 100 senators women. Two are Asian, 3 are black and 4 are Hispanic. Overall the Senate does not look like America, with 88% of senators’ white.

Democrats now control 14 state legislatures. Republicans control 23 legislatures. Republicans flipped only one chamber: the Alaska House. Democrats picked up two state supermajorities. Perhaps more importantly than what Democrats gained was what Republicans lost. They lost supermajorities in the Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, Republicans lost supermajorities in both the state house and state senate.

In short it was an impressive election for Democrats by almost any metric. Republicans have plenty to fear in 2020. The nation is bluing up.

Election 2018 – Curiouser and curiouser

The Thinker by Rodin

I woke up Wednesday morning and wrote my last post thinking the midterms were over. Two days later it’s clear they are not. They are still unfolding. Each passing day suggests that this was indeed a true wave election for Democrats, not the high tide as I suggested on Wednesday.

In that post, I had originally thought Jon Tester had lost his Senate race, but when all the votes were finally counted, it turns out he won convincingly, by nearly 3% of the vote. Similarly, last night in Arizona Kyrsten Sinema pulled ahead of Republican Martha McSally by half a percentage point, or about 600 votes, as absentee ballots were counted. In Florida, just .2% of the vote (or about 18,000 votes) separates Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson from Rick Scott. A recount is likely. But it’s not over in Mississippi either, where a runoff will be held. There were actually two senate elections in the state, one a special election. On the second, two Republicans were on the ballot so these votes were split, but Democrat Mike Espy was only .9% behind front-runner Cindy Hyde-Smith. It’s possible but unlikely that Democrats will flip this deeply red state too. Remember a year ago no one believed that Democrat Doug Jones would win his special election in Alabama either. So the best case for the Senate would be 51R-49D, which would leave the Senate unchanged. As I noted, given the dynamics, just holding on to their 51R-49D minority would have been a major accomplishment for Democrats. Right now a 53R-47D Senate is looking most likely.

In the House, it looks like there will be 230D-205R. I thought a ten-seat majority was most likely, but Democrats look to actually have a 25-seat majority. Without question, the House election was a blue wave. These numbers are all the more surprising considering how deeply gerrymandered these voting districts are. You have to go back to the 1974 election to find Democrats picking up so many seats in one election. The 1974 election of course was just after the crest of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. And in 1976, as a result of Watergate (and President Ford’s deeply unpopular decision to pardon President Nixon), Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency. Given Trump’s decision yesterday to fire Jeff Sessions and install his lackey as Acting Attorney General, history could well repeat itself in 2020. Trump may be destroying the Republican Party. Nixon and Ford only gravely wounded it.

In the governors’ races, it sure looks like Brian Kemp’s win in Georgia is a direct result of voter suppression. Not only did he as secretary of state rigorously cleanse the voter rolls, in some minority precincts voters waited more than four hours to vote. According to the Washington Post:

Another problem was the limited number of voting machines in some locations. More than 1,800 machines sat idle in storage in three of the state’s largest and most heavily Democratic counties. In Fulton County, according to figures provided by elections director Rick Barron, the ratio of machines to registered voters was lower than it had been in 2014, despite predictions that turnout was likely to break records for a midterm election.

It’s also possible that voter suppression was a factor in the Florida governor’s race too, still under dispute but with Republican Ron DeSantis officially ahead by .4% or about 36,000 votes. One thing is clear: since Florida voters approved an amendment granting voting rights to ex-felons, future elections like this will be harder for Republicans to pull off.

In short, this turned out to be a wave election for Democrats using pretty much any metric. Only the U.S. senate races broke for Republicans, which was to be expected since Democrats had to defend 25 of 34 seats. And day-by-day, their win looks less impressive.