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The Calm Before The Storm

My Rotary club's annual fundraiser, A Taste of Route 66, is tonight at 6 PM. (You can still buy tickets and attend or donate / purchase items online at the link.)

Setup for the event starts in little more than an hour. I'm helping at the event, and I've finished everything I can do in advance for that event. On the day job front, I deliberately kept my calendar clean, so there's not much I need to do. Basically, right now I'm just hanging out.

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Flim-Flam Men, Part Two

Lost in the hoopla about the Mueller report is another report on (alleged) malfeasance at another conservative institution. In the New Yorker there's a long article about organized looting at the NRA. I am a member of that organization.

Basically, the article alleges that various officers of the organization are also getting paid by the NRA's media relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. For example, Oliver North, current NRA President, is also reported to be receiving a million dollars a year from Ackerman McQueen. This company alone receives 40 million dollars from the NRA per year. It's also alleged that the owners of Ackerman McQueen have created other shell companies to funnel money out of the NRA. It's gotten bad enough that the board of the NRA or a part thereof is suing NRATV, an Ackerman-created entity, just to get contracts so they can figure out how badly they are being looted.

I've written before of the tendency of the American Right to follow obvious flim-flam men. Herewith I present another example, although in this case it appears that the rot has been going on for a while. This rot is also enabled because the NRA no longer spends money on gun safety, it's original mission. 90% of my dues are going to various media and political activities such as NRATV.

This scam is in part coming to light because, as in all games of musical chairs, the music eventually stops. The election of Trump has greatly reduced cash flowing into the NRA, and now that money's tight (coffee is no longer free at NRA headquarters) people are asking where did it go. As Lincoln said, "you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

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Keeping Them Down On The Farm

Dr. Sarah Taber, an agricultural specialist, has up a fascinating Twitter thread on agricultural farm labor. It starts with this note: the first mechanical cotton harvesters were invented in the 1830s. But because slave labor was so cheap, nobody bought them.

Other highlights of the thread:
1) The Great Migration of blacks from the south started in 1916. By the 1940s, (accelerated by the labor demands of WWII) there weren't enough people in the South willing to pick cotton, at least at the rates farmers were willing to pay. Therefore, mechanical cotton pickers became a thing.

2) A key part of the KKK was an attempt to terrorize blacks to stay put and work on the cotton farm. It was economic - an attempt to ensure a cheap labor source.

3) Now, we're seeing the same economic dynamics in fruit and vegetable farming. Immigrants really don't want to pick fruit; they do so because that's the job they can get. As immigrant labor dries up, now mechanical options become viable.

4) We have this myth that outside of the South, farms were mostly family-owned. Not so - in the early 20th century, tenant farm rates were the same nationwide. As tenant farmers moved to cities, mechanization became important. The self-same mechanization and depopulation helped dry up small-town America.

Fascinating stuff.

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Fail

Yesterday came news that Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. Apparently this was at least in part over her refusal to disobey the laws and the courts by forcibly separating illegal immigrants from their children. This does not make her a hero. After all, she was fine with the policy until it got stopped by the courts.

But it does highlight two somethings I’ve said before. First, Trump has no morals or principles. Least of all, he does not have the principle of rule of law. This rule is what prevents the US from becoming a banana republic. Simply put, the President does not make the law, he enforces the law.

Second, Trump is incompetent. He had two years of a Republican-controlled Congress, during which he could have changed the laws. But Mister "Art of the Deal" can't seem to cut a deal with, well, anybody. This means he ends up flailing about.

My question is at what point in this process of flailing do people see it for what it is?

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The Light Brigade

Over the weekend, I finished Kameron Hurley's new novel The Light Brigade. I found it very enjoyable although somewhat opaque.

The story is told in first person from the viewpoint of Dietz, a Brazilian and a new recruit to the "army." I put "army" in quotes because this future Earth was nearly ruined in a war and what's left is now ruled by six large corporations. Dietz is a Resident of one of those corporations, which gets him very little in the way of benefits but more than not being affiliated.

Earth, we are told, is at war with a human-settled Mars, and the war is fought by converting humans into light, shooting the light at a location, then reconverting the humans at the destination. Basically war by transporters. In Dietz's case, it appears that the transport system isn't working - he finds he's coming back from different missions than the rest of his platoon. Eventually Dietz figures out he's traveling in time.

This time travel results in a non-linear story, which requires some work on the reader's part. It's worth the effort. The book has been compared to The Forever War which is a fair comparison. Both stories take place in worlds that don't look like they are worth fighting for and much of what is happening is not what it appears to be. The book is definitely one you'll find yourself thinking about afterwards.

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Public Service Announcement

If you have a minor fender-bender, please move completely off of the road to exchange details. Do not sit in the turning lane of a major intersection during rush hour, especially if you are 10 feet away from a store parking lot. That is all.

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Mid-week update

Various short notes:

1) I mentioned that I had read and enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night. What is still sticking with me 3 days later is that Bear has two characters spend a lengthy period debating politics. There are good and sufficient plot reasons for that to happen, so it works. What I remember is that one of the characters is the "modern" equivalent of your typical libertarian. Many of the arguments they have are strongly reminiscent of Internet debates I've had.

2) Here in Illinois, we had a consolidated local election yesterday. One of my friends, Maureen Dunne, won her bid to be on the Board of Trustees of College of DuPage and a badly-needed school bond referendum passed. Finally, most of my candidates won. It was a good night.

3) I had a writing group meeting last night. We lost our room (we don't pay, so when a paying group shows up we get the boot) but it was still a good meeting. In a rarity for me, I submitted a re-write of a scene to the group. It's the novel's climax, so I felt it was important to get right. Generally it appears I did.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/721990.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Ancestral Night

Over the weekend, I read and enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night. It's a honking big space opera, both in terms of page count and ideas. Set 500+ years in the future, the novel stars Hamley Dz, a human woman and one-third of a space salvage team. She's paired with Connla, a human male, and Singer, the shipmind / AI. The three of them "stumble" upon alien tech that's well-advanced from theirs. They also stumble upon pirates, corrupt bureaucrats, and mysterious aliens.

Bear has created a fascinating and well-crafted world, one that's as different as ours as our era is to Shakespeare's. But one can see the through-line from us to them, and it's an interesting line indeed. There's also a very interesting political and cultural interaction between Dz, our heroine, and the pirate Zenda Farweather. This interaction, while interesting, did run a bit long, which was my sole complaint about the book. Overall, I found it highly entertaining.

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Jussie Smollett, Take 2

Comes news yesterday that Cook County prosecutors decided to drop all charges against Jussie Smollett relating to his false story of being attacked. Thoughts:

1) I'm sure a sizeable factor in the decision to drop charges was due to the idea that this would be a long and expensive court case and that, even if convicted, Smollett wouldn't do any time. That's not fair or right, but a fact that has to be considered.

2) On the other hand, charging and trying people for false police reports in which nobody is actually hurt does send a chill to other potential crime victims. This is especially so if those victims know their attackers, which most of the time they do.

3) On the gripping hand, it's not like Smollett is walking away clean. He's going to have a difficult time getting acting jobs and will suffer other career problems.

I've not been real happy with any part of this snafu, which includes this latest development. But now it at least looks like the story is over.

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Bringing Food to Those Who Need It

Yesterday afternoon, several of my fellow Rotarians and I helped feed people right here in DuPage County. Specifically, we worked with the West Suburban Food Pantry to help staff their community mobile pantry. This is a custom-built truck that goes out to various places in the service area, sets up and delivers free groceries to people who need it.

The specific vehicle we used was owned by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, and apparently is scheduled out to this pantry for three Mondays a month. Northern Illinois Food Bank does "food rescue" which is getting food from grocery stores and distributors which is safe and edible but not salable. For example, at the event I saw a lot of frozen boxed meals where the box had a bit of wear or tear on it. We had a skid full of oranges in bags. We had bags of very small onions. Again, it was edible but most of us wouldn't buy it in a store.

Our event was held locally, at the Hinsdale Lake Terrace Apartments. Despite the ritzy name, it's a sprawling lower-income complex in unincorporated DuPage County. There's no grocery store nearby - in fact there's very little retail of any kind nearby. Most residents have cars because they have to, but getting to a store or a pantry could be an issue.

In any event, the truck rolled in at 3:30, we set up tables and food, and residents started getting stuff at 4. The West Suburban Pantry has a go-shopping program in which clients are allowed to select what they want and need from what's available. We had a rush right at 4, then it died down enough we cut some volunteers loose at 5:15. Finally we closed up shop at 6, having fed 40+ people. It was a good event.

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Captain Marvel

Over the weekend I finally went and saw Captain Marvel. Yeah, I'm a bit late to the party but I'm not a fan of massive crowds. As it happens, the 6 PM Saturday show on this the third weekend of release was basically full. Granted, my local eat-and-drink movie house only had one theater set up for the show but still that speaks well to the audience interest.

I am not particularly a comic book fan and I know exactly as much about the characters as I saw in the movie. Having said that, I found the movie highly entertaining. Much stuff was blown up real good and action abounded. There was also a lot of nice characterization of both the title character and Nick Fury, for whom this is somewhat of an origin story.

The lead-line of the plot was Carol Danvers coming to the realization that she'd been manipulated by her bosses the Kree. One of the best bits of the whole movie was almost at the end where Jude Law, playing her boss / head manipulator, tries one of his old mind-games. It doesn't work, resulting in him having a high-speed impact with a nearby mountain. Danvers then tells him "I have nothing to prove to you." Nice bit of work.

Overall, Captain Marvel is a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

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Metra

This week, I spent four of five working days attending a training class in downtown Chicago AKA The Loop. Since it was a 9-to-5 kind of thing, I took the train in, specifically Metra's Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) line. It is the busiest Metra line in the system, and runs (in my case) from Westmont into Union Station.

Back in the late 1990s, I was a consultant and had a multi-month contract downtown. While on that contract, I rode the same route over the same tracks. Given that Metra hasn't bought a new railcar in 30 years, I probably rode in the same cars. A few thoughts on the difference between Then and Now.

Then: Metra's communication sucked. The loudspeakers at the stations didn't work and if you got a car in which the loudspeakers worked, the conductor was making the announcements and thus frequently incomprehensible.

Now: Loudspeakers work fine everywhere, some stations have electronic signage, and the announcements are recorded and thus professionally enunciated.

Then: Everybody riding in had a book or a newspaper.

Now: iPads and laptops. A lot of the iPad folks are watching video with a headset on.

Then: The BNSF never had bar-cars, but Union Station in the afternoon had several pop-up stands with people selling cans of beer for the train.

Now: You can still find a beer to go, but it's not nearly as prevalent.

Then: talking on the train tended to get some dirty looks.

Now: they have specific "quiet cars" so if you don't get one, talk away. Although most non-quiet cars are pretty quiet.

Then and now: at least nine times out of ten you get where you were going within five minutes or so of the scheduled time. The tenth time is usually a big hoopla.

It's fashionable to bash Metra. However, in my experience, they really do offer a good service at a fair price.

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Reality - It's not just for TV

I was the subject of an open letter yesterday in which I was told that "the leftists" were working day and night to stuff me in a concentration camp. I was also told that this fate awaited me no matter how supportive I was of the left. As "proof" the post had a picture of a somebody desperate enough for money to hold a sign saying "Paypal me."

While this was being written, a group of right-wing extremists were busily shooting up mosques in New Zealand. Vox Day, AKA Wily Coyote, International Super-genius At Large, delivered a rant on the attack in which we were told that it was both the inevitable outcome of "invasions" and a false flag operation. All this in only ~500 original words.

On a related topic, our resident International Super-genius had spent months assuring us that the new movie Captain Marvel would be a bust. When it turned in a $400 million weekend, he then ran an article which claimed that somebody was buying thousands of tickets online as a way to artificially boost sales numbers. It ran with pictures of late-night and mid-week theaters that were not packed with people.

There's a T-shirt frequently seen at geek events. On the front it says, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." The t-shirt is intended to be a joke. Sadly, it's not.

The reality is I have a much better chance of being shot by a right-wing nut then put in a camp by a leftist. The reality is most "leftists" want what I want - a good life for the middle class. The reality is Captain Marvel is a very successful movie being watched and enjoyed by a lot of people.

Reality - it's not just for TV.

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Not Really

Comes news today that US Senator Rand Paul is upset that the US military buys lobster dinners for its troops. I note that he has not actually served in the US military. Having served, albeit many years and many pounds ago, I have thoughts.

First, given that much of our military spends significant amounts of time away from home and hearth, an occasional nice meal is very appreciated. And to be clear, the $4.6 million quoted in the article is not buying anything more than a very occasional lobster dinner. Second, I find it odd and puzzling that a member of a political party that claims to support the troops is begrudging an occasional small token of support for said troops.

Actually, I'm not really puzzled by Senator Paul. His party doesn't actually support the troops. His party wants the troops as a prop to help them with their constituents back home. They don't want to actually spend money to help them - they want to pay lip service to the concept. This is among other things that lip service is paid to, but that's another discussion.

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Manafort Gets the White Male Sentence

The headline really does say it all: Manafort Gets the White Male Sentence.

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The Orville

I've been following the new TV series The Orville. This weekend, I watched two episodes in a row, courtesy of DVRs. The first episode was the second part of a two-part episode in which Earth Must Be Saved and ends in a epic space battle. It was epic and a lot of people died.

I would have hoped that the following episode would handle some of the fallout from that event. It largely didn't, deciding to go back to an alien plant where the race is entirely men. This has been a recurrent theme for the show, and the writers tend to bang pretty hard on the aliens.

I was a bit disappointed that this episode didn't deal directly with the war. However, given that the writers seem to like to circle back on themes, I have some hope that they'll revisit what they started.

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Trainwreck, Brexit Edition

There are a lot of trainwrecks to watch in the news of late. One of the ones I'm watching is Brexit. It has become apparent to any rational observer that if Britain leaves the EU, they will do so without a deal. Such a departure will be an economic disaster which could easily turn into a humanitarian one.

As a result, even some of the dimmer politicians in Britain (and they prove that the US does not have a monopoly on dimwits) are thinking that maybe they ought to not leave. The apparent way to prevent a departure would be to have a second referendum now that it's clear what leave means.

Various alt-right commentors, including Wily Coyote, International Super-Genius at Large, are arguing that any re-vote is treason (his words) and that Britain should just leave Immediately, Right Now and Forthwith. Deal be damned - full speed ahead.

This illustrates the problem with dealing with nihilists. If "burn it all down" is an acceptable alternative, negotiations become impossible.

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Anecdote is not the singular of data

Found on this site and quoted as truth:

"[The US conservative movement] is made up of anecdotal arguments, so of course they’re going to make a big deal out of Smollett. Most right wing policies cannot be justified using empirical evidence. Thus, they justify their policies based on anecdotes. The evidence is clear that human activity is warming the planet, so they cite cold spells as evidence to the contrary. There is no evidence that we have a border crisis (illegal crossings are down, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, etc.), so they use the Angel Moms as a way to drive their preferred policies. There is no evidence that guns make you safer (quite the opposite), so they hype the anecdotal stories where a gun owner prevented a crime. There is no evidence that voter fraud is a big issue, so they hype any anecdote they can find to justify disenfranchising thousands of voters. So naturally, in a society where there is all manner of statistical evidence to show that there are pervasive racial biases throughout (starting with policing), they’ll latch onto this one story to say “see, complaints of racism are made up!”

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Two Quick Thoughts, Thursday Edition

Two quick thoughts:

1) I've always been confused about why, when you point out that various Trump supporters have strong ties to Russia, that people don't immediately back away. Then somebody pointed me to this quote by Noam Chomsky. "I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting."

2) While we wait for Trump's great infrastructure bill (remember that?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come up with her own. Money quote from the article: "The economic thinker who most influenced the Green New Deal isn’t Marx or Lenin. No, if you want to understand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bid to remake the economy to fight climate change, you need to read Hamilton."

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Yeah, Like She Said

Tamara Keel has a post up entitled Damnit Jussie. This is in reference to the actor Jussie Smollett, who claimed to be the victim of a racist attack. Although nothing has yet been proven, it is looking strongly like the incident was a hoax staged by Jussie to get attention. As Tamara keenly points out, the next ten black guys who get curb-stomped by white bigots will now have to overcome the doubt about false allegations planted by Jussie. So, like she said.

This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/718644.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Comment Policy

This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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