Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Month That Was - May 2018

It requires a small army of people to keep up the maintenance on my house, and my yard in particular. Lawn mowing, lawn spraying, tree spraying, gardening, bug spraying; all are needed constantly. Driveway recoating and septic pumping are needed every few years. Then there are the one-time items -- house painting, window replacements, well replacement. Ugh. Home ownership has been quite an adventure. A friend of mine once told me that owning a home is when you first start thinking of expenses in terms of thousands. At least. A fair amount of home drama this month; my adventure in mowing is described below.

Regular readers know I take every opportunity I can to run races on Mackinac Island. They used to have three every year up there, but they just added a fourth so naturally I travelled up there for the inaugural running. Also, below.

I had a minor breakthrough in writing, well, not writing so much as outlining, but I did get core plot finally sorted out on my current project. That is to say, I know where I want to go and how to get there. Now it's just work. Maybe I'll actually finish this before I'm dead.

[Books, Rant] Tom Wolfe, RIP
[Books] Tigers, Burning Bright
[Dexter, House and Home] Home Sweet Home
[Travel, Health and Fitness] Running the Island

[Books, Rant] Tom Wolfe, RIP

I once spent a summer reading everything he wrote (this was prior to his turn to fiction). He was not just one the most astute observers of the 20th century, he was also a great explainer and dramatic license was his tool of choice. Like many young adults, I was inundated in the binary -- the tribal conflicts of the moment -- Tom Wolfe showed me they were merely symptoms of something deeper in human nature, simultaneously less important but more troubling. If you've been following any of the commentary upon his death, you can see I am not alone in being greatly influenced by him.

He worked both a lesser and greater theme. The lesser one was subcultures. His early work marked the "discovery" of subcultures, from cars to hippies to the Manhattan art world. What followed from that was the larger theme: status. With ideas from sociologist Max Weber he saw human interaction as, after life-or-death necessities, a striving for status. Looking at his subcultures he saw how the people within jockeyed to impress others and increase their perceived value through their words and deeds. It jibed not only with his reading of Weber, but also his personal experience in academia.

From this realization, casting his eye about the world he found endless fodder. Everywhere he looked he saw straight through the elevated and the pompous to see their narcissistic motives. Moreover, he described it all in lacerating prose that, to my ear, cut as sharply as Waugh or Trollope. Needless to say, this did not endear him to those he skewered. (Interestingly, one of the things he never got around to skewering was politicians. As a result folks in political circles often commented highly on him since he was always pointing and laughing at other people.)

We now have something that we haphazardly refer to as the Rationalist Community or the Intellectual Dark Web. You can get a taste for it by visiting sites such as Slate Star Codex and Overcoming Bias
, where a good deal of time is devoted to understanding the source of our behavior beyond the surface explanations. Robin Hanson, of Overcoming Bias, recently co-authored a book entitled Elephant in the Brain, devoted to understanding the "real" motivations behind our behavior (it's on my reading list). I can see a pretty straight line from Wolfe to Hanson and many others of the same stripe, suggesting to me that as much has he has been acknowledged as an influence, he is probably still underrated.
His fiction sold well, and is quite infamous, but I would start with his earlier work. General consensus is that The Right Stuff is the pinnacle, but Wolfe himself said his favorite was Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. He said wouldn't change a word of it, so I would start there. In it, Wolfe made savage fun of the smug, oh-so-elite guests at Leonard Bernstein's party who, safe and wealthy on the Upper West Side, had adopted the loathsome Black Panthers as a cause du jour to demonstrate to the world their noble and progressive minds. Wolfe used them to turn his eye on how cultural elites were now using political extremists and screeching protesters, often violent, as status symbols. Hyperventilation ensued among the chattering classes. As cutting and foresightful as Wolfe was, it seems satire is not the deadly weapon it is made out to be. If you don't see the relevance to today's world you may be a lost cause. Now, you'll find the a lite version of the same behavior everywhere, from the boardrooms of multinationals to the PTO at your elementary school they find ways to link with fashionable sanctimony and victimhood through noble statements and activities. In some venues you will be punished for not displaying it such solidarity.

It tempting to say we need a new Tom Wolfe but like all phenomena, he was of his times. We no longer have time for satire and longer than a tweet or a snippet of newsertainment snark, or worse, a meme. Like Twain and Mencken before him, he used his gimlet eye to cast a light on humanity, and in his way, aided us in holding this cynical, subtextual world to some sort of standard of rationality. We were better for having him.

[Books] Tigers, Burning Bright

Suddenly I found myself reading about man-eating tigers. In my wanderings on the web I will occasionally encounter a conversation where multiple people chime in on the excellence of a certain book, often one I have never heard of. I will then immediately hit Amazon and read up on it. If it looks promising I usually add it to my wish list. When in need or reading, I'll revisit that list for ideas. (I should publish the list. It is remarkably eclectic.) Sometimes these finds don't pan out; I will forever be stunned at how many bad or pointless books get rave reviews. That was not the case at all with The Tiger, by John Valliant.

I did not realize there were any such things as Siberian Tigers left in the world. In fact, if you had told me they had not existed since the days of cavemen, I would not have doubted you. But there are. While not flourishing, they are not uncommon in the remote areas of Siberia, near the Manchurian border, and a reality of daily life in the hand-to-mouth villages that exist in their midst.

Valliant documents the story of one which had taken to not just opportunistically eating the local denizens, but seemingly stalking specific individuals out of malice and vengeance. A much-liked local, who often tested the poaching laws seems to have had an encounter with a tiger which appears to have angered the tiger to the point of stalking and killing him while passing up easier human prey. Of course, opinions vary as to whether the man brought on his own destruction or not, but in any case it is up to the local enforcers of environmental policy to deal with the situation. There is another kill, again with questions about cause and effect. In a dramatic finale, the environmental cops track and kill the tiger, but not without the tiger getting in a good lick or two.

It is within that skeleton of an outline that the magic happens. Valliant scores with this narrative on multiple levels. He nails the local flavor, highlighting the hard life of the people in this remote wilderness, who live and die with the land and for whom hunting is a matter of life and death. He nails the cultural conflicts of the desire of conservationist and the wildlife protection laws versus the poverty stricken who can make year's worth of income by poaching one tiger and selling it to the Chinese. He nails the politics and how perestroika effectively killed the mining in this region and the dismissiveness and contempt of the people towards a corrupt government half a world away. He nails the history with compelling profile of the early explorers and the sorts of circumstances that would cause people to settle in such a remote and terrible (though beautiful) land. He nails the psychology of man versus tiger by not just describing the terror of living amidst and man-eater, but also getting deep inside the tiger's head and it motivations. (It's worth noting that, although man, should he choose to, could easily wipe out tigers now, over the epochs back into prehistory, tigers have an insurmountable lead in the kill count.) He nails the tension of the hunt, the palpable fear of knowing the man-eater amy be lurking behind any bush or in any shadow and the incredible speed of their attack; less than five seconds can determine life or death. Lastly, he nails the aftermath, often tragic, of the people touched by the man-eater.

Should you read The Tiger? Yes, absolutely. It is riveting start to finish.

But that put me on a man-eating tiger kick, and it seems the classic of the genre is Man-eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett. Corbett was a legendary hunter operating in India betweens the wars. (Does it make sense to say "between the wars" anymore? For you young'ns, that's between WWI and WWII, or the 1920s and 1930s.) At this time in the remote areas of India, tigers were responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of human kills every year. Corbett was often called in to deal with beasts that had killed dozens of people.

Corbett himself, was one of those old school, understated, fearless subjects of the Crown that now exist only in stories found in used book stores. As a point of honor, he considered himself a sportsman and apparently an amatuer, taking pains to differentiate himself from a "reward hunter," saying he would prefer to be shot rather than hunt for reward. He wonders whether sitting up in wait for a tiger to return to a partially eaten kill is "cricket", i.e. unfair to the tiger. He regularly marches in to the jungle alone, effectively making himself bait. He sleeps in trees to the point of mastering the art -- in fact, killed a man-eater who attacked him after he had been sitting in a tree for over 15 hours waiting (I have trouble sitting still if a meeting runs longer than an hour). He lead a party to pursue a wounded bear, and after running out of ammo, killed it with rocks and an axe.

As riveting and compelling as Valliant's story was of the man-eating tiger in Siberia, such an escapade would have merited only a shrug and a footnote from Corbett. Dude was on another level. So much so that often his tales beggar belief. He writes of how he has developed instinct and intuition and occasionally "just knows" a tiger is lurking behind a certain rock. It sounds like witchcraft but the sincerity and authenticity of his voice makes you believe it. One assumes this intuition is nothing but reaction to stimulus such as scent or sound that is perceived subconsciously, thus it is perfectly possible. I mean, if anyone had hunting skills that transcend to objective and observable it would be Corbett. His understanding and application of tracking and hunting methods is masterly.

Should you read Man-eaters of Kuamong? If you ever want an example of totally unaffected prose, Corbett is your man. He puts on no airs and, apart from the understatement one expects from old, British adventurers, everything is face value. Stories are related in a straightforward way, without ornamentation or high-minded digressions. Corbett is truly authentic. That said, contemporary audiences will probably be looking for more bombast or for something to relate to great social themes or virtue signalling. You will find none of that. To me, that's a blessing.

Later in life, Corbett, who even in the course of his hunting years was often accused of preferring to photograph wildlife rather than shoot it, became a strong advocate of the preservation and protection of tigers. Valliant, for his part, after examining the terror a man-eater can inflict, took time to write an epilogue that is a strident plea for tiger conservation and the man tasked with killing the man-eater in his book expressed similar sentiments. I would guess that is probably the case more often than not: Surviving a deadly encounter with such a predator inclines one to want to preserve it. The psychology and science of that reaction are worth an essay in itself. Homo Sapiens has been relating stores of man-eaters for all of our existence. It seems even though we could end that, we don't really want to.

[Dexter, House and Home] Home Sweet Home

The latest drama was when my lawn mowing service (really just one guy) just decided to quit. No warning. No return of calls. He just ghosted me for some reason. After a week of this I finally realized the guy was not just behind schedule, he was not going to show. I thought about trying to fire up the old mower and do it myself like the old days, but my mower hadn't been started in three or four years and it was 50-50 whether it would start at all, and if it did it was 50-50 whether the engine would explode.

It has been a wet spring and the grass was growing half-and-inch a day. Many parts of the yard had reached 6 to 8 inches and I was expecting a harshly worded letter from the Homeowners Association any day. I posted a desperate plea to the local facebook group and managed to find a fellow who was trying to kickstart a lawn service in tandem with his 13-year-old son who was willing to come out on short notice, that very evening in fact. Of course, before he got there the rains hit hard, so it was put off a couple more days, but at least I'm not living in a jungle anymore.

It's interesting to note that previously I had contracted some work with a local firm that was run by a particularly entrepreneurial high school student who had built up one of the top local landscaping firms while he was still in high school. Apparently this kid intends to be the next in line.

Dexter is an excellent place for this sort of thing. There are plenty of big old exurban lots that need yard work and it's fairly wealthy these days so you can set a decent price and expect to get paid, which is a big concern when you are shoe-stringing a business. (You might be surprised at how often folks will arrange to have a small business do work and then simply not pay them, knowing that in a practical sense there is little recourse.) Dexter is also really focused on the local kids. The public schools are among the elite. Not only are they well funded, but there is a foundation that solicits donations to supplement their funding with private grant money (lately focussed on robotics, it seems). So there are quite a number of folks who will pick the local kid over a professional service on principle.

Really, if you were to picture a perfect example of the good, affluent, suburban life, you would probably picture Dexter. To read the police blotter is almost comical: a tool was stolen from an unlocked shed, a mailbox got knocked down, a bike was stolen. The worst things are DUIs, usually by barbarians from Ann Arbor, or an occasional domestic violence incident from one of the few remaining tiny pockets of lower income.

The various local social media (Facebook, NextDoor, etc.) are delightful, filled with announcements of local events and people reminiscing, "Why yes, I remember so and so, I used to live two doors down from them...", missing dogs found, chickens or cows that have gotten loose. On the latter, Dexter still has a sizeable rural component to it.

The intertwined issues of traffic and growth are the biggest complaints. Gentrification continues although sentiment to put the clamps on growth is waxing. A couple of new condo developments right in the heart of the village were controversial, but there is no arguing with their desirability; planned to sell at 400K they have been offer in excess of 600K before they are even built. As a homeowner, I am deeply prejudiced towards my property value increasing like that, thus my incentive is to fight these insurgent savages and their evil developments and keep housing supply limited.

The list of benefits is long -- outdoor activities abound on the trails and lakes nearby. Ann Arbor is 15 minutes away, itself often rated one of the best places to live in the nation. One hopes Dexter can stay just like it is forever, but nothing does. Disruption might come from hard times. It might come from a complete loss of rural hospitality and turn into one of those places where you can't live without a net worth of $10 million and everyone sues each other and all the kids are on oxy. Trouble, as they say, always comes around.

For now I'm just going to be happy to live in a place where if I'm in a tough situation, some 13-year-old kid and his dad will step up. Kudos to the is kid for getting (as Nassim Taleb would put it) skin in the game early in life. And kudos to those who created the environment where the kid can do it.

[Travel, Health and Fitness] Running the Island

I have previously gone into detail about how much I like Mackinac Island, so I won't go on about it at length. It is a delightful combination of family-friendliness, romance, history, and bars. If you're new here, just google it for the details. What is also has is some very cool races. (If you're not a runner, you can skip the rest of this post.) There are four races a year, all worth running. The official site to visit is Run Mackinac, but let me give you my overview. The races are always on a Saturday and they ascend in distance (and attendance) over the season starting with:
  • Fort-to-Fort 5-Mile Challenge -- The inaugural race occurred just this year. I think it's planned for the second Saturday in May, which is roughly when the island opens its season. The race starts inside Fort Mackinac, one of the island top attractions and winds through the interior of the island circling a second, smaller fort, Fort Holmes, then back to the start. You start from inside the fort to a musket salute (or maybe a cannon) then the route runs along beautiful wooded paved streets. It is very hilly. Not much flat at all, you are either climbing or descending pretty much the whole time.

    This is a good time to be on the island. All the shops and restaurants are just opening for the season and it is relatively uncrowded. Key word: relatively. But be advised, it is not summer, just barely spring, and you are in the north woods. You could be facing quite cold temps. Check the weather ahead of time and bring the right gear. Early in the season also means probably it's your best shot at a reasonably priced room on the Island.
  • The Lilac 10k -- This is scheduled shortly after Memorial Day during the Lilac festival. (There are lots of Lilac bushes on the Island.) This race starts at the west end of "town" and heads east on a flat stretch on the main road then turns inland climbing a very steep road to the highest point on the island. The steepness should not be understated. The first quarter mile after you make the turn has most people walking. It continues to be uphill, though less steep for another mile or so. When you reach the water station you know you are at the top. Your reward for making it up is a long lovely downhill stretch, bisecting the island N/S such that you come out to the shores of Lake Huron almost directly across the island from where you started, you are now about half way. From there it's a flat half-circumnavigation counterclockwise on the shore road to the finish, about 500 yards from starting line.

    The race itself is most notable for the uphill struggle and downhill reward. Barring strange weather patterns, this is usually in the heart of spring and the Island will be at its most lovely. The flowers on Mackinac Island are legendary. Weather should be good, but note: tourist season is in full swing at this point. Rooms will be dear, especially if you don't plan ahead.
  • The Eight Mile Run -- This race is always the Saturday after Labor Day. It is an eight-mile circumnavigation of the Island along the shore road. You will run the entire length of M-185, clockwise, with Lake Huron on your left the whole time. You start at Mission Point, the big resort just east of town and run the circle from there. Simple. You'll pass through town, have terrific views of the Mackinac Bridge as you turn to run up the west side. Best of all, it is blissfully flat for the entire distance (well, there may be a brief undulation here or there but nothing to concern yourself with).

    I love this race and I run it every year. I think this upcoming one may be my 10th. To me, it is about the perfect distance. Once you are comfortable with a 10k (6.2 miles) your next step up in distance is a Half Marathon (13.1 miles). I have never gotten to the point where a Half is not a struggle, and I've done quite a number of them. Usually around mile 9 or 10 I'm thinking, "this race is too long", and it becomes a question of pain endurance rather than fitness. This eight-miler is just about the perfect distance for me. I can really put everything I have into it without it become a question of survival.

    Anyway, your weather issue here is potential heat. Rare, but it does happen. Usually if it doesn't rain, it's perfect. However, despite the fact that it's after Labor Day, rooms are still going to be dear -- plan ahead. If you like college football this is a good one, because after the race, everybody congregates in the bars to watch the games.
  • The Great Turtle Half Marathon and 5.7 Miler -- This is the last race of the season, always the Saturday before Halloween. It's also the only one with a shorter option. The Half starts at Mission Point and runs a couple of miles counterclockwise on the shore road before turning up a trail towards the interior of the island. Much of this race is on dirt -- either trails or dirt roads (there is a web of hiking/biking trails that criss-crosses the Island). The interior is hilly but I don't recall it being as hilly as the route of the Fort to Fort; that may be poor memory though. This being fall, the leaves are turning and the woods are bug free. Just a great trail run, if nothing else. The route provides you with stunning views from high above the town and harbor.

    I have never done the 5.7 but it looks like you go from Mission Point straight up into the interior and barrel along a trail the runs along the east bluff, then plunge back down to the shore road for the last couple of miles.

    This late in the season, as you would expect, the risk is cold weather, although that is somewhat mitigated by the mid-day starting time. You might think this late it would be easy to get a room, but Mackinac is a minor destination for Halloween parties also, so rooms will be high this weekend. That said, feel free to bring your costume and join the other dressed-up revelers is you have any energy left in the evening.

    This is literally the last weekend the island is "open". The next day shops are closing up (you can find some good sales) and seasonal help is bugging out. Winter is coming.
My only other piece of advice is, if at all possible, try to stay on the island. There are inexpensive hotels by the ferry docks on the mainland and they make it easy to get a ferry ride over in plenty of time for the start of the races, but after the race you are a sweaty mess and you need to clean up and change clothes so you can enjoy the Island. You can bring a change of clothes and clean up as best you can, but then you are hauling your dirty gear around with you and depending on your success at cleaning up, possibly offending those around you. You can ferry back to your hotel, clean up and ferry back over but that is pricey and inconvenient. I have not found a good way to stay off-island and do the race while still enjoying the rest of the day on the Island. But yes, such convenience is pricey.

If you're a runner should certainly try one of these races. They offer something for everyone and you get to be on Mackinac Island for a while which is the best reason.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Month That Was - April 2018

A couple of trips this month, so travel, travel, travel below. It was, in a way, nice to get on the road again. That and house prep are about the sum of my activities for April. Winter has passed and I'm quite happy about that. It wasn't the coldest or the most snowy, but it did manage to rear its head at the most inopportune times.

I am still struggling health-wise. I brought some sort of desert bug back from Moab that I am fighting. I believe I have been battling congestion on and off for about most of this year, and even when I'm not I don't feel at full strength. I'm having a terrible time getting my endurance back up. And I've taken to feeling dizzy when I stand up. I strongly suspect I have some sort of mild virus that's draining me and my immune system can't seem to rid me of it. Time will tell. (And don't tell me to go to the doctor. I have. The doctor can see nothing, but all that means is that I don't have a commonly observable ailment. The doctor isn't going to do anything for me except give me a preventative round of antibiotics -- useless against a virus -- and treat the symptoms. I can do that myself.)

With any luck. I will get back to writing in May. I did get through a revision of my latest manuscript so I haven't totally wasted April.

[Travel,Rant] Vacation Life
[Travel] Marco and the 'Glades
[Travel] Again to Moab

[Travel, Rant] Vacation Life

There is always a certain stress to travel. There are so many systems to keep track of: the system that gets you to the airport, the system that allows you to park your car, the system that gets you through security, the system that gets you on the plane, the system that gets your luggage loaded, the system that gets your biological needs attended to in the air, and then all that in reverse at your destination. Then comes the system that gets you lodging, the system that gets you transportation (car rental for newbies, ugh), the system that keeps you fed and entertained while you're gone. For the most part these can be mastered through experience, but I would hate to have to try to master them all from scratch. There is so much to know (much more than when I was young) and only so much that signs, warnings, and instructions can clue you in on. A young, pliable mind of average intelligence can probably handle it, but to an old or substandard intellect, less prone to quick and accurate observation and inference, it must be horrifying, especially when so much of the process is filled with strident commands from punitive authorities and dire warnings about the failures to comply quickly. And let's not forget the ever present impatience of the skilled travellers you might be holding up. I have friends who are knocking on the door of 60 and never travelled significantly. I cringe at the struggle they are facing when they decide to finally take that dream trip. Even if they manage to adapt to all the norms, the rush-and-wait rhythm is exhausting until you are used to it. Inexperience both in the planning and performing of vacationing will almost certainly swamp that dream with disappointment.

But even if you have all this down pat, like Yours Truly, there are unknowns. In part or whole, all these systems involve humans in some capacity and that introduces random variables. As a result, these systems can change subtly and without warning -- one plane leg might be enforcing the carry-on limit and another may not; one security line might tell you to remove your watch, and another may not; one hotel might let you check in early, another may not or try to milk you for money to do so; one tour guide may be brilliant, another full of shit.

Even more uncontrollable is your personal situation. Are you travelling in a pair, or a group? If so, then every decision on what to do is a negotiation. There are people who are very happy ordering room service and watching pay-per-view movies in their room in paradise. There are people who will fly thousands of miles and then go to a mall and eat at Red Lobster. There are people who will pick fights with everyone in the service industry and believe they are being cheated at every turn. There are people who will happily sit on the beach for twelve hours a day. There are people who will plan everything down to the minute. There are people who madly rush to see everything they possibly can for 30 seconds, as if they are bagging sites like coins in a video game. There are people who wander aimlessly and settle for the entertainment comes to them. There are people who are prompt on the dot, and people who linger and wallow in minutiae until you are late for everything. (In my experience nothing is more dangerous to enjoying a trip than an incompatible group of personalities.)

Maybe you should travel on your own, you say? It does have its benefits, not the least of which is doing what you want when you want without explaining yourself. That said, are you prepared to join, say, a catamaran snorkeling tour with nothing but families and couples and you on your own? How about asking for a table for one? You must realize that often, when you travel alone, the people you encounter regard you with a mild form of pity -- will that bother you? More importantly, can you live inside your own head, with your own thoughts, for extended periods if you need to? To many, this challenge is insurmountable.

What I'm saying is that vacationing, like life, is a complex activity, and needs practice to get right. Bad trips are learning experiences, both about the external forces and yourself. In time, it can become a great pleasure; your vacations can form some of your most treasured memories and can mark the phases of your life, but if you push it off and wait until you are older to take that one dream trip -- your sense of optimism will be tested, even on something as innocuous as a Caribbean cruise.

[Travel] Marco and the 'Glades

I have been to Florida more times than I can count. There is little new there for me. I used to wander all around, but now I pretty much stick to the southwest Gulf Coast, anywhere from Anna Maria Island all the way down to Key West. I used to like Miami Beach, but I'm too old and too straight for that scene. Going north from there are some wonderful places but there is a preponderance of glitz that I am not comfortable with. Most of north Florida, from say Orlando north is fine, and there are some especially nice places in the panhandle, but a lot of it seems to be trying too hard to be something special. The southern Gulf coast is special, they don't really have to try. Or maybe it's just that I feel so comfortable there that everywhere else doesn't quite measure up. Who knows?

This trip started with a couple of days in Sarasota visiting my brother. Then a couple hour drive down I-75 targeting Marco Island. On the way I took a short detour through Bonita Beach and up through Estero. Once again, I found a new and lovely beach area I had never known about. It has the same beach town vibe as the rest of the area, with a large state park and a huge expanse of beaches. The sight of the beaches and boats and blue water surrounding the gulf islands was heady. There appear to be plenty of rental properties and beach bars; I need to do a little more exploring here in the future.

Marco Island is about the final point on south on the Gulf coast before you have to turn east and swing across to the State to catch A1A to the Keys.The island itself is almost entirely covered in buildings -- homes, shops, condo towers, there are canal like estuaries where folks can have their boats docked at the back of their homes, but there are no open or wilderness areas per say, except the protected areas by the beach.

It sounds like ugly sprawl, but it's not. It's really quite nice. The homes are in tasteful neighborhoods, there is no obnoxious signage, and one of the benefits is that you are much more self-sufficient on the island rather than having to cross back to mainland for a grocery store or other conveniences like you do on other Gulfside keys. If it sounds like I am scouting for retirement properties, I am. I have been for years. Marco moves high on the list. It appears to have a strong combination of infrastructure and beachy goodness. It is, however, like all these other towns, not cheap for real estate.

The beach itself is exceptional. It has the standard powder soft gulf coast sand and extends up and down the southwest coast. The killer Gulf sunsets come along for the ride. But Marco's beach seems much broader than many of the others I have explored. That gives it a sense of being less populated (even though it probably is just as busy others).

Marco's positioning gives it a couple of advantages. First, there is no fee to access the island, like there is on Sanibel/Captiva or Boca Grande. Being as far south as it is can insulate it from the occasional cold snap that occurs every few years in the middle and north of the State. I know that sounds lame, but if it happens to coincide with your long-planned beach vacation it becomes a sign that God is angry with you. There is a shuttle ferry from Marco to Key West. That means anyone living here has easy access to a quick getaway down to the Conch Republic. Also, the heart of the Everglades is a couple hours down US-41.

I have been to great number of national parks, and when comes to viewing wildlife, Everglades takes the prize. The Shark Valley entrance is in the heart of the swamp off US-41 in the untamed land between Marco and Miami. Here they have installed a paved 15-mile loop that runs deep into the 'Glades, the midpoint harbouring a large modernist spiral observation tower. There are a couple of ways to travel the loop. One is to take one of their tour trams where a guide will give you the low down on the Everglades and everything in it. The other is to rent one of the beat-to-hell bikes they have available. (I suppose a third would be to hike the whole thing.) Any way you do it, you are going to get up close with gators. Some really big 10-12 footers. They will have pulled themselves up out of the water, and occasionally right on the path, to bask in the sun. You will be within 10 yards of some seriously toothy wild animals. You might wonder, given that this is not Disney, if anyone has been eaten. The answer is no. There is only one record of an attack, and that was when some kid apparently ran his bike directly into one some number of years ago. It is remarkable that no one has been eaten, but then I am reminded the most creatures will flee from humans, and the gators will too if you approach them. Most gators will bolt at the first sign of people. The ones in Everglades NP have never associated man with food so they really have no attraction to people, on the other hand, they have never been disturbed by people so they really have no great fear either. Humans are just random objects to them. It's only when you seem to be getting too friendly that they take off into the swamp.

In the course of biking the loop, I bet I saw 30 gators of varying size, many within a few yards of me, ignoring me as I rolled by. You become so acclimated to them that it's easy to forget this is not a zoo. You are in their domain. And even though they don't eat you, they could.

Beyond the gators you will also get close up with turtles of various species, huge fish in the deeper wetlands, and more cranes than you will see in the rest of your life. If you want to view wildlife, the Everglades is the place.

Back to Marco. As I mentioned it is almost fully developed but a walk on the beach will remind you how close nature is. I came across a poor puffer fish, dehydrated and sitting serenely at the high tide line. Gulls dived. Geckos dodged. Clams ducked. Even in a place as developed as Marco you must realize that Florida is a veneer of civilization over the primal swamp. I just hope the veneer holds up well enough for me to retire there.

[Travel] Again to Moab

My third trip to Moab. If I could fly directly into Moab, I would probably visit every year. Instead, the closest major airport is Salt Lake City, yielding about a four hour drive to get in. Since it's also a four hour flight, it pretty much kills a day for travel on either end of the trip. Too bad, because Moab has so much to offer I could spend weeks. There are two National Parks within shooting distance, one just outside town, so hiking is de rigueur. It is a mountain biking Mecca -- I am barely a dilettante mountain biker but on my second trip there I spent multipole days on the trails to the point of exhaustion. You can rent those ATVs (or they call them OHVs now I think) or jeeps and barrel or crawl around some very remote backcountry. Rock climbing -- you bet. Moab correctly bills itself as America's outdoor playground, and they ain't kidding.

That's not to say it's without issues. A visit to Arches National Park highlights just how busy it can get. Arches is one of the most popular National Parks, and visitors have doubled over the last few years. By late morning, waits to get into the park are over and hour. Wait times in excess of 2 hours have been clocked. It's easy to see why. Arches is chock full of 1-3 mile hikes to, well, arches, of all shapes and sizes. Magnificent red rock formations everywhere. It is paradigmatically beautiful and something you can do without any particular skills or athleticism. Families abound. The flagship hike is a three miler round trip to Delicate Arch (uphill there, downhill back). It's a wonderful hike, but you will not be alone.

When a National Park starts to get too busy, something has to be done. At Zion, once the season starts, they institute a shuttle service. You can drive in the park, you have to park your car and take the (free) shuttle anywhere in the park. It sounds inconvenient, but it works very well. Arches is planning on taking a different tack. They are going to have scheduled entry windows. You will have to reserve your entry window ahead of time. It will be interesting to see how this will work out and how behavior will change to accommodate it.

I will make an unpopular statement. Price would be another way to modify demand. Some of these parks could use surge pricing of some sort to smooth the demand curve. That would be grossly unpopular, but it would almost certainly work in an economic sense. For the time being, most parks are in the $20-25 range for a three-day pass. The deal of a lifetime is $80 for an annual pass that gets you into any park, anywhere for a year. I picked one up in the Everglades and I intend to use the hell out of it.

Politically, the Park Service itself is peopled by folks who wear their Progressivism on their sleeves, thereby righteously alienating half their customers with the tone and tenor of their displays and discussions. On the other hand they take hits from the Left because there are not enough black people as either rangers or visitors. They make enormous land grabs against the wishes of State and Local interests because they see themselves as a bulwark against evil corporate polluters, yet they can't afford to manage the land they have and can't raise prices without making the parks even richer and whiter. In short, they are a thoroughly contemporary institution.

And yet, despite the crowds and the controversies, they are wonderful. Spending time in a good cross-section of them should be on your to-do list for life. I'm glad I have been able to to that and hope to continue. If they want to charge me to line-skip like Disney, I'd happily pay the cost.

Like they ask at the beginning of every Tough Mudder, "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" Well for me it was the next day, when I went whitewater rafting. The Colorado river is the essential water source for the entire Southwest. I have seen it in various places -- Lake Havasu, Lake Mead, through the Grand Canyon, Lee's Ferry, Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam, through Canyonlands and Moab -- but this was the first time I would actually ride it.

For a daily whitewater trip from Moab you generally have two options. One is the Fisher Towers stretch of the river, maybe 20-30 minutes out of town. This has Class II-III rapids and is a great family adventure with opportunities to swim and picnic lunch. A bit more intense is a trip through Westwater Canyon, which Class III-IV. The Fisher Towers trip can be done on a half day basis, but Westwater is a full day affair. Of course, I chose Westwater. You will take a bright and early tour shuttle nearly to the Colorado border to put in. The first half of the day is generally easy floating along with some light rapids. You stop on the banks for lunch and once you put back in, you get to the bigger stuff. You will get wet. You might fall in. It's like a series of short choppy roller coaster segments in a water park.

River rafting is truly a good time, although guide-dependent. To navigate among the rocks takes skill and experience. Using oars, the river guide directs the raft to the most propitious channels. He (they are exclusively men as far as I saw) is also you tour guide, and social director. There will be 8 people in your raft and for the course of the day you will be close friends. The guide needs to manage the personalities as much as the river. If you had fun, you should tip big.

I got a big kick out of rafting and I hope to do it again, maybe an overnighter down a more challenging river. I'd also like to try a paddle raft where everyone is involved in maneuvering. It goes on the list for future trips.

The last day in Moab was a jeep tour up through the backcountry of Canyonlands National Park (CNP). The first time I was in CNP, nearly a decade ago, I remember as I was leaving the park looking off to the left and seeing a steep jeep trail of switchbacks going down into the canyon and thinking how cool it would be to take that back to town instead of the highway. Well, I finally got to that trail (called Shafer trail) but this going up instead of down. From just outside Moab there is a road called Potash, which, not surprisingly, runs past a Potash plant. It runs, like many things in the Southwest, along the Colorado river for a while, passing a huge red rock wall on one side with elaborate petroglyphs, then turns into the a canyon jeep trail.

Interesting story: Along the way you note and enormous excavation site. This is the location of a former uranium mine. Many years ago, when the price of uranium dropped, the mine shut down. In time people came to the conclusion that the leftover dust from the mine was getting into everything everywhere and potentially responsible for a number of cancer cases. So there is now a 300 million dollar effort underway to literally dig up all the dirt, load it on to trucks and ship it out in railroad cars to a place 30 miles north, where it will be dropped in a hole and covered with some concoction of shale and sand that will prevent it from contaminating the planet. The things we get ourselves into.

Alrighty. Further up Potash Road you come to the actual potash plant, which given the state of affairs, has to be one of the most closely environmentally monitored facilities imaginable. After that you come to the trail proper. The first thing to note is that however high you think you are you can still go higher. You can inch your way up the trail to magnificent overlooks (including the spot where Thelma and Louise went into the "Grand Canyon") only to realize you've got a long way up to go.

Another thing you realize is how astonishingly stupid people can be. This is a real 4wd trail. In dry weather I might attempt it with 2wd, but I would at least want a high-clearance vehicle. You will however, encounter people taking their rental cars through -- just your basic Chevy Malibu -- causing untold stress and damage and, if you do get stuck, you might be looking at a couple of grand to get your car out. Also, if your rental car had a GPS tracker or you did any damage that was obviously from off road, it may be even more expensive than a tow. That rental agreement specifically forbids you from taking the car off road.

It is not hard to imagine how people get themselves into this. I am given to understand they are often foreigners who just think it's a dirt road until they get in too deep. Admittedly the only posted warning is a sign that says "High-Clearance, 4wd recommended" but there is no policing whatsoever. But the rock crawling is real, and the heights and cliff edges can be knuckle-whitening. You would think folks would turn back when they realize this, although maybe they just keep thinking the worst is over. It isn't. Whatever the case, if you make it through, there's a real sense of accomplishment to it.

And that was that, yet there is still more to do and see in Moab. Three times is not enough. I can't wait to go back.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Month That Was - March 2018

There are markers of Spring. In my beloved town of Dexter, MI, one of the earliest is the opening of Dairy Queen, usually on the first weekend of March. Had you visited Dairy Queen on opening day you would have had to trudge through the snow to get there. The next one is, of course, the vernal equinox -- the astronomical moment of Spring. This was a little better. There was still some snow on the ground, but also a bit of sun. Of course, it was accompanied by a warning that the next couple of weeks could still bring snow. Then comes Oberon Day. This is the day the Bell's Brewing Company (of Kalamazoo) starts shipping the spring wheat varietal called Oberon. It is a reason to hit the bar. Oberon day was cold and gray. Opening day for the Tigers follows. Also cold and the game was rained out. Now comes the news that the real break in the cold won't come until as late as April 10th. Not great, but it's been worse in recent memory. Life in a northern town, I suppose.

[Movies] Flick Check: Tone Opposites
[Books] Book Look: The Second World Wars
[TV] Toob Notes: Sneaky Pete

[Movies] Flick Check: Tone Opposites

Two big-budget sequels to sci-fi icons, Blade Runner: 2049 and Alien:Covenant, had stunning visuals, especially Blade Runner, but both left me cold. They are unremittingly grim.

Blade Runner: 2049 is a masterfully crafted film. Cinematography is unparalleled. But plot-wise, it treads well-worn ground. Once again we are in the future where everything is awful except for a wealthy elite. I am so deeply weary of dystopian visions. Even more so of dystopias that are kept in place by a corrupt and ruthless elite. Honestly, it's like sci-fi filmmakers can picture no possible futures for the world except to become North Korea writ large.

The plot revisits the themes of what it means to be human, what is the value of non-human life, or almost human life, etc. Essentially a more elegant take of various Star Trek episode themes. Yawn. But it is truly a feast for the eyes, and it's always good to see Harrison Ford in the old roles, which he still carries off like a true pro.

Alien: Covenant is less high-minded and less extreme in it's visual mastery, but still striking. Technically, it is both a sequel (to Prometheus) and a prequel (to the original Alien). It, too, trods well-worn ground. Two robots, one has turned against humanity, symbolize the discourse on whether humans are good or evil. Of course, all this was set in motion by wealthy elites in their greed to use the aliens for their own nefarious purposes. The scares of the original Alien are not approached. The crew characters can't hold a candle to the original, or Aliens either, or even Prometheus for that matter.

Honestly, despite the undeniable craftsmanship that went into both movies, the adolescent philosophizing and class-warfare dystopianism doom them. And really, would be impossible to inject a bit of levity here and there. There is barely a smile, never mind a laugh, wedged into all this gloom. I'm reminded of the Joss Whedon quote: "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke."

In contrast, Thor: Ragnorak was a joke a minute. One thing Marvel has never had trouble with is putting humor into their movies. It is the thing that sets them above the imitators. Ragnarok pushes that capability over into outright farce. There was a thread of a plot here regarding the destruction of Asgaard and a bit of work forwarding the grand epic of Marvel, but it was all in service of the goofy fun. Even the characters changed to fit the script. Thor is not the mighty, noble, hammer-worthy god of thunder; he is hapless and desperate. Loki is not an evil mastermind, but petty and wagish. Hulk is not the uncontrollable beast, but a pouting child. It works because, as I have harped about before, Marvel casts actors that can do comedy. It is their (not-so) secret weapon. That said, it the larger scope of things, it has to be viewed almost like Deadpool: a one-off with little relevance to the big picture. When we get to Infinity War next, these guys are going to have to go back to their old characters (I assume).

And it's not without its shortcomings. Interestingly, the actions scenes lack some snap. They seem a bit pedestrian -- designed to generate still visuals for the posters. The plot is uninteresting and contrived. But that's OK because it was fun. Which is the point of farce: everything is in service of the gags and laughs. As fun as it was, it is ultimately a less satisfying movie that one that hits the killer balance of humor and drama just right. The previous Avengers movies and Spiderman: Homecoming come to mind as just about perfect in that respect.

Now there is a thing a never thought I would say: a movie is too funny. And it's not really, it did what it was supposed to. If every once in while, in middle of a major mythological epic you want to let your hair down, you should. (Trouble with Tribbles, anyone?)

[Books] Book Look: The Second World Wars, by Victor Davis Hanson

The plural in the title is telling. In this 20,000 foot overview, Hanson sees very the various conflicts of the collective idea of World War 2 as more distinct than the popular imagining. The variations came over time, technology, and ideology as opposed to simple geography. Hanson starts with the fact that in any rational estimation of the situation, the outcome of the war was foreordained. Had anyone sat down in 1939 and tried to determine if the Axis powers could fight a war as it was to be fought for domination of the world it would have been objectively impossible to see them succeed.

Of course, no one did such a thing. Decisions were made based on delusion, many of them were in fact racist delusions. Axis powers often fell into the trap of believing their opponents were inferior in mettle and so a temporary tactical or niche strategic advantage would be enough to secure victory. After a few early victories by the Axis it became apparent that the Allies would readily adapt, and anything they couldn't adapt to they would just outproduce into oblivion.

Hanson shows how this played out thematically in chapters on air power, naval power, infantry, artillery, leadership, etc. and gives the numbers, sometimes exhaustively, to back up his ideas. He is also a classicist, so as an added bonus you get comparables from history for many battles and concepts, pointing out nuances in the historical effectiveness of siegecraft or the primacy of infantry no matter how strong your navy (or air force).

When it comes to leaders, he weighs in as pro-Patton, down on Bradley and MacArthur and Montgomery to some extent. Churchill comes out well, Roosevelt and Stalin (as war leaders) did OK if not stellar. Hitler was, of course, a disaster.

Like virtually every popular historian I have read he engages in judgements that can seem arbitrary. One campaign is faulted for being too timid while another for being too aggressive. One leader should have paid more attention to details while another could not see the big picture. There may be valid reasons for the judgments that time, word count, or narrative limitations do not allow, but in the absence of explanation these can see like simple ex post facto rationalization. Like I said, I have yet to read a popular history that doesn't involve this to some extent.

Hanson writes in a very clear, forthright style -- perfect for history or non-fiction in general. Should you read The Second World Wars? Yes, if you are curious about the topic or are steeped in it and want to know how the winds of opinion are blowing. WW2 was the most monumental event in human history and it is slowly vanishing from living memory. Even those who heard stories of it from their parents, like Yours Truly, are sliding into old age. The great mass of Millenials will be unable to distinguish it from any other war from the olden days, never bothering to wonder of the source of the epithet "Nazi" that they fling wantonly at each other over Twitter. One can only hope that in each succeeding generation there will at least be a few folks who maintain a weird interest in this obscure historical topic. I suspect The Second World Wars will be on their core reading list.

[TV] Toob Notes: Sneaky Pete

Sneaky Pete is sourced from folks in both the Justified family and the Breaking Bad family so you know the quality will be first rate. That is to say, these people know what they are doing. They know how to plot. They know how to dramatize. They know how to build characters. They know timing and pacing. They know good actors and casting. Naturally, they turned out this a top notch drama; probably the best one I know of right now (until Better Call Saul returns).

Marius Josipovic is a con man who assumes the identity of his cellmate, Pete Murphy, upon release from prison. The Murphy clan into which he is welcomed is a hotbed of secrets and shadiness themselves. Between the family bail bond business, Marius' (Fake Pete) con-man ways, and real Pete's history of criminality, there is enough fodder for an endless supply Elmore Leonard-y capers and characters.

The appeal here is the combination of crime capers and family drama. It works well, as you would expect of anything backed by the top-drawer talent behind it. It is not pantheon level. For the time being -- the first two seasons anyway -- it is plot-driven. Plot twists and hidden motives can only go so far. By the end of the recently released Season 2 we are starting to see some character's arcs begin, but they are still not driving the action. That may come. For now, it's just a top quality show that's worth binging. Enjoy it for what it is, and hope they are able to level-up going forward.

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Month That Was - February 2018

I suppose the best thing that happened is that I finally got over being sick. I had what seemed like a fairly severe cold from early January to nearly mid-February. I had an annual check-up scheduled so I used it for an exam but there's nothing they can do for a virus, so they threw a z-pack at me "just in case" and said keep treating the symptoms. Of course, in the process of reviewing my blood work they discover my PSA had doubled over the past year. March will bring a biopsy. Joy.

More joy: I have apparently turned into one of those old people who kicks off every conversation with a summary of his current medical issues.

On the upside, I have been writing. I'm working to recapture some of the discipline I was able to achieve in my early writing days. I've also found help from a little gimmick they call Pomodoro Technique. It's a simple time management technique. Essentially, you work for 25 minutes straight, the take a five minute break. After you do that four times, you get a fifteen minute break. I can rarely create a two-hour time block for one task, so I never get to the 15 minute break, but I find the 25/5 split good when I have an hour for a coupe of sequences. Naturally there is an app for that (actually there are probably dozens of them, most are free). I think 25 minutes is a good selection because it's long enough to be productive but psychologically it doesn't seem like much since it's not even the length of a sitcom. Anyway, it seems to be working for me.

[House and Home] Home, Bittersweet Home
[Rant] Rules for Life from Jordan Peterson and a Jerk

[House and Home] Home, Bittersweet Home

I have now been a homeowner for over seven years. I've noticed an uptick in unsolicited mailers from realtors which is likely the result of some research suggesting it is at seven years folks start thinking about relocating. I'm not. One of the great blessings of owning this big, comfortable house has been being able to help out my friends who, either short-term of long-term, need a place to stay, without having them crash on a couch or in a sleeping bag, or park half a mile away, or fight over the shower. I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in a quiet exurban private subdivision. I have huge tracts of protected lands to the rear including walking trails. Really it's one of the best places in the world I can think of to live. So much so that I often muse how different my life would be had I grown up in such a place, rather than low-end, nondescript suburb on the northern border of Detroit.

That said, it has been enormously expensive. I have four services just to deal with the grounds: lawn cutting, lawn spraying and feeding, tree spraying and feeding, landscaping. The septic system needs to pumped. The driveway needs repaving. It's close to twenty years old so things are starting to fail, like most any exterior part made of wood; windows are surprisingly costly. I don't have city water, I have country water -- that is to say, a well. While it is appealing to have all the water you need without worrying about paying the city, it does require you maintain what is essentially a personal water treatment plant in your basement: brine conditioner, iron and rust removal, reverse osmosis filtering for drinking water. It's quite an operation and it works nicely until it doesn't, then you have no water and have to get the well pump replaced for $1200. You get the picture.

Then there are the problems for which there is no monetary solution, of late that includes insects. Dexter, and apparently a lot of spots in Michigan, have been overrun with a couple of scourges: Boxelder Bugs and Stink Bugs.

Boxelder bugs are black an red, fingernail-sized, beetle-like entities. Near as I can they have no purpose in life other than to swarm. During the summer they are fairly innocuous, but when the weather starts to turn they seek warmth any way they can. As the sun hits my house and heats up the exterior they swarm, literally covering the entire south wall to gather maximum heat, and a good bit of any other parts of the house that catch some solar warmth. It's like some sort of insect apocalypse. They do not bite or eat plants or carry disease, they are just a hideous nuisance to any efforts to enjoy the outside. Of course, being bugs, they also frequently find their way inside. During the worst times, I probably kill five or six a day just aimlessly wandering about the house.

The prescribed action to take is to just kill the ones you find inside, and leave the outside ones be until the first frost finally rids you of them. If you want to try to kill a swarm, it's recommended that you spray them with soapy water. I have tried that with virtually no success. This year I have no intention of letting them swarm unimpeded, though. It's chemical warfare for me in spring and fall this year. Probably the smartest course of action would be to locate their favorite boxelder tree where they feed and breed and cut it down, but I'm pretty sure it's on public land which might get me thrown in jail.

Stink bugs are another story. They look like some sort of alien monstrosity, albeit penny-sized. An invasive species from the Far East, they are not as numerous outside as boxelders, but they do take up residence indoors over winter. They don't bite and don't appear to be a source of disease, but they are disgusting. You just quietly sitting on the couch watching TV and you glance over an one is six inches from your face just looking at you like you owe him money. Like the boxelders, they are stupid and just wander around the house without even trying to hide. Also, like the boxelders I can kill four or five on a heavy day. Hopefully, since these are invasive and eat crops, somebody somewhere is trying to figure out how to get rid of them.

Tangential: I have a halogen lamp in my basement, it gives off a lot of heat and almost daily one of these critters flies into it and incinerates itself. I spent weeks trying to figure out where the roasted smell was coming from until I saw it happen in real time.

The point of all this to say that even though I might have wonderful images in my head of endless days of repose in my big, comfortable house -- it can never work out that way. Even if I had endless money for maintenance and could renovate to perfection, there is a always something to disrupt nirvana. Even if I master the civilized world, nature is still there supply an insect plague to keep things in balance. Like the great P.G. Wodehouse wrote, "it's always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping."

[Rant] Rules for Life from Jordan Peterson and a Jerk

Up until a few weeks ago I had never heard of Jordan Peterson. Then all of sudden he was everywhere, being declared one the most influential thinkers of our time which either thrilled people or made them froth at the mouth in anger. All I could do was furrow my brow and say, "Who?"

I am avowedly opposed to following the latest deep thinkers in ethics because in my experience 99% of the time they amount to little more than a passing fashion and they turn out to mostly be repackaging concepts that have been around since Aristotle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Everybody needs a doorway into thinking deeply and if Jordan Peterson is yours, more power to you.

And that is, I think, exactly what he is. I have read a couple of interviews with him and read reviews of his books and it seems he has synthesized and very reasonable and constructive worldview that counters the pop culture-centric, eyeball-maximizing, transient mythologies that dominate contemporary life. Instead he offers a view where "likes" don't matter; where following your dream is not the ultimate joy; where identity doesn't come from your race or political tribe; where happiness is not promised; and most of all where your humanity is not unique to your generation. In other words he's telling you there is something more than the existence you get spoon fed to you from all quarters. You should accept that as truth even if you don't buy his depiction of it.

So in my time-honored tradition of expounding on things I know nothing about. Let's walk through his 12 rules for life and see what we have:

Rule 1 - Stand up straight with your shoulders back
No harm in good posture. Still, I think the point here is to be open and alert, to actively engage the world and ready to accept what comes.
Rule 2 - Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
Notice it is not someone you like, but someone you are responsible for. Taking care of yourself is an obligation. That is to say, save yourself from the self-destruction that can come from your bad habits. Good thought, but depends on you recognizing your own faults.
Rule 3 - Make friends with people who want the best for you
Absolutely. Your peer group has enormous effect on the quality of your life. How are you evaluating your friendships, by how they treat you individually or by what level of status they give you?
Rule 4 - Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today
To do otherwise leads to resentment, which contemporary culture turns into moral outrage, which leads to righteous hostility, which is responsible for more harm than anything in human history. As they say in yoga, "Stay on your own mat."
Rule 5 - Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Setting boundaries for kids is more important than their test scores. Amen. (Not that I would know.)
Rule 6 - Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
...he replied when Harvey Weinstein applauded feminism.
Rule 7 - Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Yes, of course. It's harder and less fun, but you still have to do it.
Rule 8 - Tell the truth - or, at least, don't lie
Of all these this is the one I struggle with most. Humans lie. Humans have to lie. Without lies there would be no civilization. I would alter it to Do not lie out of self-interest or cowardice.
Rule 9 - Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
To actually listen, you HAVE TO do this. I would link this up with Rule 3 and suggest this is closely allied with positive friendships
Rule 10 - Be precise in your speech
Please do. And writing. And listening. And reading.
Rule 11 - Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
Children need to learn how to cope with failure and evaluate risk. And they need to do it on their own, through experience, not through beneficent instruction.
Rule 12 - Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
Having not read the book, I'm not sure where he went with this one. It's a fine sentiment, although I am personally acquainted with a cat that will shred your flesh should you try this.

On the whole these are excellent, although perhaps further from groundbreaking than I had supposed. From interviews it's clear that Peterson is deeply conservative and anti-postmodern progressive, but not in a negative way. It's hard for me to imagine a reasonable person, however liberal, who would think young men in general would be worse off by taking this advice to heart. Many folks philosophically invested in the common precepts the-culture-of-now, to the exclusion of all else, are shocked that anyone might disagree with them. One of my personal advantages in having no idea what is going on in the world is not being particularly inflamed at either side.

Contemporary cultural values aside, at his philosophical core, despite an affinity for the Western tradition, he seems to have a streak of Buddhism in him. His message indicates that life is a never-ending struggle, but must be engaged forthrightly and positively: the joyful engagement of suffering, and so forth -- straight out of Gautama. In any event, were I a man of the left, I might secretly be glad for such a reasonable opponent.

Nassim Taleb is a jerk. Well, that's what everyone says anyway. He would describe it as not suffering fools. It makes sense that people in public life would think he's a jerk, because most people in public life are fools. He has taken to calling out book reviewers for their poorly reasoned critiques which has caused them to gripe, but in private I am sure there are many who are delighted by it. He has picked a fight with Steven Pinker over his latest book, but public slap fights among authors are more farce than hostility. He's also very sharp and thoughtful and holds the conventions of the-culture-of-now in contempt, which would qualify even the kindest soul for derision from said culture. None of this is here or there, I just find it interesting.

I have not read his latest book, but I've been following the chatter. And although not expressly trying to mold youth, he, like Jordan Peterson, offers some advice on how to live virtuously.
Finally, when young people who "want to help mankind" come to me, asking: "What should I do? I want to reduce poverty, save the world" and similar noble aspirations at the macro-level, my suggestion is:
  1. Never engage in virtue signaling
  2. Never engage in rent seeking
  3. You must start a business. Take risks, start a business.
I should explain these a bit.

Virtue Signalling is when you perform actions with the intent of showing others your nobility rather than actually doing good for good's sake. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest this is the bulk of good acts you hear about through the media, just by virtue of the fact that you heard about them through the media. Ask yourself if a thing actually causes change. That "Coexist" bumper sticker -- has such a bumper sticker ever actually changed anyone or anything or are you just advertising you goodness, signalling your virtue? Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with Virtue Signalling. It's essentially just an announcement of your identity to an audience. The problem comes when you delude yourself that your virtue signalling counts as "doing something". It does not. It is useful in certain circumstances, but can't really be called virtuous. That includes that meme you just posted on facebook.

Rent-Seeking is a term in economics that effectively means gaining advantage by changing the rules. It is most often used in a political sense, especially with respect to lobbying. If firm or institution lobbies the government for a change in laws that gives it an advantage, it has profited but not by getting better at its job. This advantage has added (probably temporarily) to their bottom line, but it has done nothing for the world. In fact, it probably encourages inefficiency with respect to the performance of the organization.

Start a Business is a handy shorthand for take a risk with your own well-being or, as his book is titled, put Skin in the Game. Don't think critiques and opinions get you anywhere. Those are zero cost. Start a business and make a fortune, then you can actually do actual good beyond adopting the proper pose.

Taleb and Peterson have provided wonderful advice; no "do what you love" or "follow your dreams" or clouds and unicorns. This is the hard stuff, there will be sacrifice, loss, and no guarantees. Good to know there is this truth out there, however unappealing you may find the messengers.

...said the guy who hasn't read the books and is just speculating on hearsay, something they would both decry, I'm sure. But hell, I'm older than both of them so they can get off my lawn. You young'uns, on the other hand, should do as they say, not as I do.

Tangential: Clayton Christensen, most famous for The Innovator's Dilemma and other books on business, once noted that if a young person asked him what was the best way to do good in the world he would suggest go into corporate management. Don't laugh. A manager has tremendous influence over 1/3 of the life of every employee he supervises. He has to balance all sorts of demands -- financial, functional, personal, political -- and if he can do that while seeing that the people who work for you are getting fair treatment and an opportunity for growth he has done inestimable good. The specific quote: "Management is the opportunity to help people become better people. Practiced that way, it's a magnificent profession." This is what I hope I have been able to do in my 20+ years of management.

Friday, February 09, 2018

The Month That Was - January 2018

I don't make New Year's resolutions. If it is important to do something, why wait until 1/1? Just start doing it. Waiting until some point in the future is just rationalizing procrastination. If it's a bad habit you are going to quit, I seriously doubt whether giving yourself a some cushion time to continue your bad habit before you go cold turkey on 1/1 is going help at all.

On the other hand, it's just a harmless little cultural touchpoint and I should stop being such a wet blanket.

I've pretty much distilled my plan for good living down to two principles:
  1. 1) Whenever possible, enhance the lives of the people I care about.
  2. 2) Fight sloth (the Deadly Sin, not the adorable forest creature).
If I do those things, most everything else falls into place. I've been fairly successful at #1, I think. Probably less so at #2. In any event, they will remain for now.

Like many people I spent the bulk of January sick. I only had a head cold of sorts -- no flu -- but it was a doozy and while a standard cold lasts four days with me, this one hung on for a full two weeks. Then, after a couple of days good health, I caught another cold which continues to this day (which is why this is so late). I can barely remember what it was like to breathe freely.

[TV] Forehead Sweat of the Flukeman
[Ann Arbor] Stupid Drunken Kids, Yesterday and Today
[Travel] Messin' With Texas

[TV] Forehead Sweat of the Flukeman

In a thousand years, when the bizarre cyber-humans look back at these times, they will sneer smugly at the pathetic ignorance of the last millenia, just like every generation of humans before them has, but not without pausing to observe: "But Darin Morgan sure was great, though."

Many years ago I wrote an appreciation of Darin Morgan's work on the original X files and it's short lived spin-off, Millenium, which has, remarkably, totally vanished from the Internet. I didn't think you could make something completely disappear from the internet if you tried, but I can't even find it in the Wayback Machine. I originally published it on blogcritics.com. (The happy, friendly old site, not the new slick one, from which it has been summarily removed along with apparently, virtually all articles from that time. Or at least all my articles. Somebody should open an X-file.)

The good news in that I get to write it again for you now, in honor of another brilliant effort from Morgan on the latest X-files, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat". Before we get to the resurrected X-files, let's review what he wrote for for the original series and Millenium.

Humbug -- Set in an encampment of carnival freaks, Mulder and Scully investigate the Fiji Mermaid which turns out to be a parasitic twin. Extended ruminations on the nature and desirability of normalcy and abnormalcy. Also self-impalement and cannibalism, all in good humor.

Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose -- an Emmy winner. Clyde Bruckman can see your death when he touches you. So naturally, he's a life insurance salesman. The topic here is free will versus determinism. Also autoerotic asphyxiation is no way to die.

War of the Coprophages -- A lighter theme of how we react to perceptions rather than reality. Robot cockroaches cause mass hysteria, an entomologist named Bambi and a Stephen Hawking doppelganger mix it up with Mulder and Scully.

Jose Chung's From Outer Space -- Quite possibly the finest teleplay ever written. Seemingly about the way reality can be shaped by second-hand description, the episode is exceedingly technically adept. There are moments where you are three flashbacks deep, yet you never lose your place. The step-by-step plot of is almost too complicated to describe. Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek are Men in Black. Charles Nelson Reilly is Jose Chung. You will fear Lord Kinbote. Just an tremendous accomplishment all the way around.

Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense -- Jose Chung returns, this time to Millenium and in a battle with a Cult of Selfosophy (probably meant to parody Scientology) and its founder, failed writer Juggernaut Onan Goopta. Fun is made of all the trouble that comes from worrying about being "too dark," a criticism leveled at the series itself.

Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me -- Another from MIllenium. Four demons share coffee and recount their adventures that brought them into contact with Frank Black. The dark comedy of the stories only serves to reveal the pathos of the demons.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster -- From the first season of the reborn X-Files, this seems like a standard issue b-movie horror film from the 50s, but a twist at the end makes you wonder who the monster is. Also, Mulder is confounded by his iPhone. (Probably Darin's weakest work, but still head and shoulders above the rest of that abysmal season.)

The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat -- Which brings us to the latest and a brilliant return to form. A strange man appears and tries to convince Mulder and Scully that all their memories are fake, that he was their partner in the X-files over all those years and that there is one man out their, Dr. They, altering everybody's reality with impunity. This is Morgan's take on the "post-truth" world (and he does take a cheap shot or two at Trump, specifically). Whatever the reality, at least we know it's not parallel universes -- that's just crazy. This episode should have been the series finale, since it appears there will be no more episodes after this season.

In all of these scripts, Morgan uses self-referential parody to break the show's tone, opening up his own canvas. His characters then spin in a blender of existential moral and philosophical conundrums, which remain unsolved and broken, leaving them with only their humanity to hold on to. At the end of Jose Chung's From Outer Space, all the supernatural and conspiratorial machinations are for naught and we are left with the bewildered adolescent who started it all, sadly declaring his unrequited love. In Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me, when the demons are done cackling and bragging about all the chaos, sorrow, and pain they've sown, Frank Black looks at them and hits home with, "You must be so lonely." In The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, once all the surreal upending of the truth has passed, Scully yearns to hold on to it saying, "I want to remember all of it. Exactly as it was." This is where Morgan suprasses the crowd. In the end, it all comes back to simple heartfelt emotions, often elegiac. In the face of the mad and the madcap, when all is said and done, what remains is humanity.

My words do not do justice to the supreme irony, humor, and structural elegance of these stories. You should binge them. You're welcome.

[Ann Arbor] Stupid Drunken Kids, Yesterday and Today

One of the first things I did when I left for college was get drunk a lot. The year was 1978 and the drinking age was 18. The following year it would be raised to 21, without a grandfather clause. Thus I was legal to drink for a year before the privilege was taken away. Like everyone my age, I was righteously indignant and saw myself as horrible repressed. The fact is, it was probably the right move for the State of Michigan, at least based on my performance during my year of legality.

The place to get drunk for me was an Ann Arbor bar called Dooley's. It was an absolute zoo. Surly, power-drunk bouncers mixed with pompous, trouble-seeking frat boys in the land of 2-for-1 pitchers of Budweiser. The place was two levels tall, reeked of mold and vomit, and was packed Thursday through Saturday nights. Many nights were spent there downing cheap and horrendous lagers with assorted groups of my dorm floor buddies. The epic drunken stagger back to the dorm could involve anything from lewd behavior to public urination to property damage. One thing it never involved was women. We skillfully avoided harassing women by being pretty much invisible to them. We also never got our asses kicked by equally drunken athletes, though we might have deserved to now and then.

I don't recount this in the spirit of laughing at the folly of youth as a warm memory. We were idiots; myself most prominently. Stupidity and waste are nothing to celebrate even in youth. It's tempting to say that I had to spend some time as a complete fool to learn how not to be one, but there are plenty of people who manage to be solid citizens without a long and glamorous stage of asshattery. Be that as it may, it is factually the path of my life. Hopefully I can laugh about it without taking pride in it.

All this comes to mind because after the drinking age was raised, Dooley's became the place you knew you could probably get a drink without getting carded. I do not know if this was intentional or not; whether the bartenders chose to ignore the law or if they were just as stupid as the patrons. Sited many times for violations of the years, Dooley's closed its doors and after an incarnation or two as an unsuccessful restaurant the building re-opened a few years ago under new, but like-minded management, as Scorekeepers. Turns out, some things don't change. Here are a smattering of Google review quotes:
  • What a terrible place for anyone over 20. I totally advise against even thinking about entering the premise. It's full of frat boys and college girls with little else to do than drink. Terrible.
  • Probably the filthiest place in all of downtown Ann Arbor. Just walking by it smells horrific.
  • Like the atmosphere but got kicked out after some kid was trying to start stuff for no reason
  • Smells like hot garbage and raw sewage every day walking past this place. The city ought to shut this place down.
  • Best college bar in existence. Debauchery, babes, cheap drinks.
  • Staff is very rude and banned me for something that makes no sense after being a loyal customer each week for years and causing no issues. Tap lines are never cleaned is why the draft beer tastes bad. They also pack the bar to over double the recommended capacity so many fights result.
Ah, yes. Those brought back memories. But under the heading of Deja Vu, it looks like the same story line from 40 years is replaying: The cops want to shut 'em down.

The business model of Have a Slimy Bar that No One in Their Right Mind Would Go To and Make Profit on the Underaged Who Can't Go Anywhere Else is a time honored one. So sure close 'em down. Another one will rise in short order, probably in the same building. Demand dictates supply and as long as the kids want to drink, some place will come along to fill the bill and make a quick few years of profits before getting shut down.

It's the circle of life in a college town.

[Travel] Messin' with Texas

I was in Texas. I've been to Texas before. It's a bit of an odd place to a Great Lakes boy.

Dallas is like any other big city, although the lack of zoning gives it an unusual flavor. Residential areas and commercial areas are deeply intermixed.

Austin is, of course, a one-off. It's really a displaced coastal town with a western theme.

I once drove Carlsbad NM to Las Cruces NM on I-62 which is a stretch of freeway that runs through West Texas and El Paso. I stopped for a hike in the Guadalupe Mountains (lovely, and sparsely visited). I was stopped at a border patrol station and quickly scanned for illegals. And I was stunned by the endless strings of used car lots along the border.

This time I was in Houston, about which there is little to say. It seems like a decent place. Folks there are proud of their reaction to the recent hurricane and their resilience, and rightly so. I remember how the hand wringing in New Orleans went on for years. There was no such reaction from Houstonians. For the fourth largest city in the nation, it's remarkably unremarkable (that's a compliment). And it's growing enormously. Houston is growing at a rate of 9-ish percent since 2010, but that is obscuring the fact that the surrounding cities such as Pearland and College Station and are growing at rates beyond 20%. The area in what is probably a four hour drive radius including San Antonio, Austin, and Houston is just exploding. One suspects it will overshadow L.A. and D.C. given time. The country will be the better for it.

Texans have strong identity. It waxes and wanes in different parts of the state though. Houston and Dallas I saw little of it. I saw some in Austin, although there it is tinged by hipster irony. It is pretty prominent in San Antonio (notably, the seventh largest city in the U.S.), home of The Alamo, and the target of a side trip. The Alamo is a fine place to visit. It strikes a good balance of history and curiosity. It is one of the rare U.S. monuments that is clearly geared toward Red Staters; most such places hold the mainstream leftish-progressive line in their tone. It's just off the famous Riverwalk, which is also a fine place to visit and a unique social center. Luckily it was chilly and off-season, otherwise I it would have been packed to the gills, and rightly so. The bars and restaurants on the Riverwalk proper are not particularly outstanding, but it's the setting that counts. Well worth a visit.

Nowhere in Texas have I ever stayed long enough to get a real feel for the place. But, as is clear, it's not just one place. Visiting for a day or two here and there and then passing judgment on Texas is like visiting Hong Kong and Beijing and claiming you understand China. My guess is that it's just fine, and while I wouldn't go out of my way to live there, I would be disappointed if I found myself a resident. Judging from its population and economic growth, the market thinks it's one of the best places. That's a more valuable recommendation that my opinion.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Month That Was - December 2017

Wow is it cold. My latest heating bill was $333.00. The furnace is running pretty much non-stop these days, what with me having a house guest and all. We have had week long stretches on sub-zero lows, which terrifies me when I think of whether all the ridiculously expensive landscaping I have had done will survive.

Apart from the cold, everything is going fairly well. I need to start planning my 2018 adventures; they will be scaled back this year, since last year was pretty much spent spending, if you get my drift.

I have done no fresh writing but have worked on a revision of my existing partial manuscript in the hopes that it will kickstart me. The good news is I like what I've written so far, the bad news is I'm still stuck on how to proceed. This is not writer's block. I have plenty of possible paths to take it, but none of them cohere. Can only hope it will come eventually, as it always has in the past.

[Travel, Florida] Ave Anna Maria
[Rant, Tech] Homo Technologus
[Movies] Flick Check: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
[Books] Book mlook: Malice

[Travel, Florida] Ave Anna Maria

Every time I stay in a Florida Gulf beach town I think to myself, "Yeah, I could live here..." Anna Maria is no exception. But we start with an interesting AirBnB.

Normally, a trip to the Gulf means renting a room in a small beachside hotel. But as it turned out, for less than the price of a serviceable hotel room, I could get an entire house on AirBnB. Essentially I got a two bedroom/two bath home (part of a duplex), a five minute walk from the beach on the north end of Anna Maria, just around the corner from a string of shops and restaurants. Five star ratings from previous renters. All for about 70% of the price of a wee hotel room. I went for it.

This was not my first AirBnB. I rented one for my Idaho/Eclipse trip back in August, but that was managed by a rental house agency. This house was one of what I guess to be a set of three, owned by a guy and his two sisters. I think they list them all on AirBnB and just move around to stay whichever one isn't occupied for any given time. In any event, I met the fellow at his house -- nice, good natured guy -- he showed me around briefly and was about to be on his way when I asked, "What about keys?"

"Oh, I lost them a while back. Just leave the door unlocked. There's no crime here and the guy who lives downstairs is ex-Marine special ops."

Alrighty.

So I wasn't really sure what I was getting into here. A part of me felt like I was a character in an Elmore Leonard novel, about to find myself entangled with highly colorful kooks in some sort of shenanigans. But realistically, I had nothing all that valuable. Visits to Florida generally involve two pairs of cargo shorts, a couple of ratty old t-shirts, bathing suit, sandals, and sunglasses. My laptop wouldn't get me $50 on Craigslist, and its contents are backed-up. My phone is always with me, and I could lock the door from the inside so personal safety wasn't an issue. The former special ops Marine turned out to be a touch over 60 with a startup that was about to go Series A. So, yeah.

And it was fine. I never saw either the owner or the special ops guy again. I gave them 5 stars and they gave me five stars so my AirBnB cred is now perfect. And I gained a genuine affection for Anna Maria Island.

To get to Anna Maria Island from Sarasota you can do a lovely hour-plus drive at about 25 mph up through longboat key, or you can drive through the next city north, Bradenton, and save about half the time. Since I have driven the keys more times than I can count, I chose the short route.

Bradenton is downscale from Sarasota -- filed with weatherbeaten old strip malls and chain restaurants. It's not the best place to live in Florida but it may be one of the cheapest. There are a couple of areas in town that are coming along -- a historic downtown area that has some old, character-full buildings and commercial activity, like one those officially designated revitalization zones you see in struggling cities, and as you move west toward the water there a lot of nice looking gentrified gated communities for snowbirds and such. For the most part though, Bradenton is on the low end. They have a problem with opiates and crime/gangs associated with them, like every other working class city, although not so bad as to make it unliveable.

In my travels I have seen a large number of places like this. Cities that end up as the functional back rooms for primarily tourist enclaves. The people here constitute the underclass of the service industry. What, in less abiding times, we would have called menial labor. They wash dishes and bus tables, clean the grounds and the rooms, work the convenience store counters and souvenir shops, wash cars, haul trash. They have no job security and no growth opportunity but, as long as the tourists and retirees keep coming, they can generally stay employed with a couple of part-time jobs at a buck or two over minimum wage.

Cross the bridge from Bradenton to Anna Maria Island and things are different, of course. That said, Anna Maria isn't the tightly controlled environment of say a Sanibel or Boca Grande. It doesn't cost anything to get on the island and it's easily accessible to many Gulf-area cities so the tone of Anna Maria is somewhat different from the truly high end places. More commoners -- proles, if you will -- hit the island, so right at the point of crossing there is an ugly shopping center area right near the largest public beach, Holmes Beach, which like the whole island has that perfect baby powder sand that the Gulf is famous for. The beach is lovely, but on the the immediate area surrounding it is generically commercial and as such, an inexpensive area. That is to say, it fits the likely clientele.

Not surprisingly, as you move away from this area, either north or south on the key, things get more hoity-toity as the upstairs cushions itself from the downstairs. My AirBnB was in the farthest north neighborhood, entirely residential, just past a string of tastefully done shops and restaurants.

I know I sound awfully snooty as I write all this. I don't mean to. The proles who visit seem just as happy as the petty bourgeois in the upscale areas. I'm sure they are. But to pretend there are not clear class distinctions in some of these places is to ignore the obvious. Also to deny that I prefer luxury and exclusivity in my vacation locales is to ignore myself.

It startlingly easy to fall into an island rhythm. The house I was in was delightfully shaded, so it never got too hot and I didn't turn on the a/c, just had the windows open and breeze going 24 hours a day. Wake up mid-morning, slip on a pair of shorts, t-shirt, and sandals then walk down the street for something to eat. Or don my running shoes and go for a beach run. Come back, change into bathing suit for a swim in the Gulf. In the evening walk down to a restaurant on the pier on the sound side for the fresh catch, or a beach bar for some peel 'n' eats and a beer and watch the sunset.

I've been coming to this area for over 20 years and I've seen and done most everything touristy around the area, so the only significant excursion was to Mykella State Park, an interesting stretch of swampy wilderness -- plenty of wildlife and history (including gators, of course). A fine low-key day trip. But in truth, there is little new in these parts for me to see.

All Good Things... I returned north on Christmas day to record cold and had to get up the following day to run the snow-blower so I could get out of my garage. I love Michigan, I love the area where I live, but really need to be snow-bird. Bug out after Thanksgiving and not return until April. That would be perfect. Now I'm thinking of buying a place and just letting AirBnB rent it out when I'm up north. I'd make sure I had keys as special ops Marines are in short supply.

[Rant, Tech] Homo Technologus

Well, well, well. There are so many possible angles to take on this assessment of facebook, by one of it's own (formerly). He points out that facebook fosters an inane form of communication. He also highlights instances where social media has been instrumental in horrific deaths and even genocide. He slaps down a culture in thrall to the quick dopamine hit from a "like" or a "mention".

He's right about all that, of course. On the other hand, the same can be said of 30-second sound bites and they've been around since the dawn of mass media, not social media. As far as the dopamine hit, for that we can blame evolution for giving us something called the Coalitional Instinct.

At some point in our evolution some humans developed a mutation wherein our brains released dopamine (feel good juice) when we bonded with others into a group. Groups were better at hunting and gathering and providing and also better at protecting themselves from the terrors of the primitive world, so people with this mutation thrived relative to loners, and pairs, and simple family units. Groups became clans became tribes became nations and so forth.

That biochemistry is so powerful that we will readily engage in terrible behavior in the service of our group. It can range from simple hypocrisy and little white lies to outright atrocity. And we will use every trick in the book to delude ourselves that we are acting nobly no matter what. This behavior is hard wired into us. We probably engage in this charade multiple times every day. And when I say "we" I mean you, me, and everyone else. Everytime you link to some news article that demonstrates how your side is right about some issue or another, and you convince yourself that it amounts to some sort of clear, objective fact, you are engaging in this activity. When we are in thrall to this Coalitional Instinct, we literally do not see or hear information that would result in cognitive dissonance, our brains erase it from perception.

This is what the internet and social media have unleashed. All the information in the world is at our fingertips, yet rationality and thoughtfulness are swamped by that ancient, primal dopamine hit from demonstrating a righteous, loyal connection with our tribe. And for all it's complicity in this, facebook is a poor second to Twitter in this game. Have you ever been on Twitter? Yikes.
Anyway, this is the generalization of what the facebook exec in the article, Chamath Palihapitiya, is talking about, although he loses sight of the core problem and decides it's really just that people aren't sufficiently devoted to the progressive issues that he thinks are important.

None of this is new, but like everything else in the world it is faster and easier than ever before, and the genie is out of the bottle. We'll never go back, we had better learn to deal.

Personally, I'd be happy if facebook would just stop presenting me ads for "male-enhancement pills" and "50+ dating" sites, although I understand them thinking that is my tribe. There are are worse tribes.