Thus Endeth This Cycle

 So the mid-term elections are over. We hear all of the pundits now either crowing about their prescience on their absolute knowledge of the coming lack of a red wave, or bemoaning the fact that the electorate did not wish to continue the trek towards authoritarianism represented by the MAGA wing of the Republican party.

Some trends continued. In North Carolina, which voted 50% Republican to 49% Democrat in the 2020 election for state legislators, but had a 69-51 margin in legislative seats, continued their trend of unrepresentative selections. Republicans won 71 seats in the North Carolina house in this election, although the actual votes for the two parties is not yet available. In my state of West Virginia, almost a complete wipeout of Democratic legislators occurred. 16 of the 17 Senate seats in this state went to Republicans.

But for those of us who like to live in a democratic republic, the national election results did provide some hope. We saw what happened when a drop of Trumpism was placed in a peach tree dish, causing the Republicans in the dish to flee. All Secretary of State candidates who pledged to overturn election results if they were not to their liking, ended up on the scrap heap of electoral losers. We shall see if the Democratic lead holds up for Arizona, where Katie Hobbs is holding on to a razor-thin margin over everyone’s favorite Trump toady, Kari Lake.

In the US House, Kevin McCarthy (or whoever takes the speakership) will find out how difficult it is to herd cats. The House under Democratic control was a messy place, but the Progressive Caucus at least found it possible to hold their noses and vote for policies which they disagreed with. Somehow, the Freedom Caucus does not seem inclined to follow the lead of the Progressives, and have pledged always and every time to put ideology over governing. Good luck on holding a majority together. Expect to see one or two changes in party over the next several months as it becomes evident how difficult it is to govern the rowdy crowd of Republican legislators.

It was in the US Senate where the most interesting results were recorded. Not only did the Republicans fail to take over control, they actually have the potential to lose one seat due to the “quality” of their candidates. It certainly appears that the only ability Herschel Walker possesses is his ability to hit the hole. We will find out in early December whether the Republican denunciation of intellect and ability will overcome the erudition of Rafael Warnock. I’ve had just about enough of the Republican’s overt campaign against people on the right hand of the intelligence bell curve. Republicans do believe in affirmative action. They gather as many as possible who lack mental capabilities. Witness Ron Johnson, Tommy Tuberville, Marjorie Taylor Green, and Matt Gaetz as poster children for needing affirmative action. It is only due to fortune that they will not have to share the stage with Louie Gohmert, and Madison Cawthorn.

So we will end up with nearly the status quo on the national level. Yes, the Republicans will likely have the ability to stuff the House agenda full of nonsense legislation and pointless investigations, but the flame of Trumpism does seem like it is flickering, threatening extinguishment. Just remember. The embers will stay hot for a long while, and it is very possible for flames to reignite from the remains.

Quiet Time In West Virginia

There are times when it is good to live in West Virginia. We are only subjected to the fringes of political advertising, mainly because there are no large-scale political contests within the state. The closest we have come to a political kerfuffle is the argument between two wings of a single political party over who we give power to in order to reduce our taxes. It is hard to believe the changes in legislative representation within the past 40 years. My wife worked for the Senate Republicans when there were exactly 3 members of the WV Senate who were of that party. Now, it is a super-majority of Republicans who have control of the Legislative agenda.

So we’ve been spared of the endless procession of political advertisements on television. We can still worry about the side effects (excuse me, contraindications) for the endless procession of pharmaceutical products we are supposed to pester our physicians into prescribing for us. I’m glad we don’t have to obsess over obvious falsehoods in the political ad landscape.

It is amazing how one party has rid itself of shame in lying about matters political. One party seems determined to spread as many falsehoods as possible, while distancing itself from all semblance of morality. Once upon a time, there was a serious discussion about whether the electorate could ever accept a divorcee as its choice for the Presidency. Now, we rhapsodize over a thrice married cad who found it necessary to pay hundreds of thousands in hush money in order to cover up yet another dalliance while his newest wife recovered from childbirth. Or, at least the followers of one party wax rhapsodic over this pitiful snowflake.

Anyway, in West Virginia, we’ve avoided all of these petty squabbles. We only have to determine whether we give the Legislature power over all matters scholastic, all matters judicial, and all matters concerning revenues for local services. Somehow, there is also a question about incorporation of churches on the ballot, but it has received no discussion. The only commercials this season has spawned concern the tax issue (follow the money). We’ve somehow avoided the culture wars over book availability, we’ve already cast out those who would change their gender in order to gain advantage in high school athletics, and our Attorney General has already been successful in telling the evil EPA to limit itself. So our airwaves remain relatively unpolluted, unlike our waterways which will continue to receive effluent from untreated industrial sources.

Next election cycle, we will reenter the noise of the election cycle. No, not from the elections for the two representatives for the US House, where our illustrious representatives will undoubtedly continue their content-free reign as our anointed choices. No, we will be subjected to a US Senate race, a Governor’s race, and our Attorney General and Secretary of State offices. Maybe we can do as well as Arizona is now, with armed “patriots” guarding all of our early voting locations, in order to prevent multiple ballots per person. Having voted in the dense urban environment of South Charleston for 30 years, where I at least recognize the poll workers as the same ones who have been there forever, I somehow doubt that we are capable of election fraud. However, that doesn’t seem to matter to one party, they are more than happy to make claims about election fraud even when their side wins by 30%. I can’t wait till then.

Nobel Prizes for 2022

The week is over. That first week in October when the world celebrates achievements in certain scientific fields through the awarding of the Nobel prizes. The week when stories of scientists living in the US being awakened by phone calls from Stockholm announcing the prize get their obligatory mention in the US media. The week when esoteric concepts are recognized for their impact on physiology, chemistry, and physics. All those who are not experts in the field nod in understanding, then silently acknowledge with gratitude that at least they didn’t have to really understand the achievements leading to the prizes. And then it is over. The nation’s attention span can morph to considering what the Kardashians are doing, or how the latest football sensation is making a fool of themselves on social media, or how the national political discussions have taken yet another turn towards nastiness.

In 2022, the awards in these areas showed that ongoing trends in diversity are not going to change soon. There was only one woman honored as part of a triumvirate for chemistry. Carolyn Bertozzi joined Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless for their contributions on implementing “click” chemistry. This is a way to create molecules which normally would not exist in nature. Meldal and Sharpless tried to get two types of molecules to react, molecules that act like a loaded spring with much energy to release, and found that using copper as a catalyst would cause the reaction to take place without excessive heat or other reaction conditions. Bertozzi wanted to use the reaction inside of cells, but copper is toxic. So she used a method that cranked up the spring-loading of the molecules further, and enabled reactions to take place inside of a biological cell. The application of this discovery has led to the development of a potential drug for cancer, now in clinical trials. But these discoveries have also led to development of a wide range of materials, including antimicrobials, herbicides, corrosion retardants, and many other potentially useful products. One never knows what will result from a new basic discovery.

The Nobel prize this year in Physiology, or commonly known as Medicine, went to Svante Pāābo. Normally a prize is awarded to multiple recipients, but Svante’s discovery was deemed so consequential that the prize went to him alone. He developed the methods and techniques to allow DNA to be sequenced from ancient fossils. Single-handedly he developed these techniques, ensuring that modern DNA did not contaminate the ancient bones he worked on. Now, you often may read that humans contain certain genes from Neanderthals. It was Svante’s techniques that have allowed for full expression of Neanderthal DNA from the remaining bones discovered in caves and other pre-historic sites. His contributions in this area are used by many researchers today, so eventually, it may be possible to reconstitute ancient animals from limited remains. Jurassic Park, anyone?

The prize in Physics this year went to John Clauser, Alain Aspect, and Anton Zeillinger for their work on quantum entanglement. Let me say that in college, I studied quantum effects. Nevertheless, I share many feelings with Albert Einstein, in that I find it weird that pairs of electrons can be linked at a distance, and determining the condition of one electron automatically determines the state of the second electron. But that is exactly what these physicists determined, quantum effects are real, and can lead to such things as eventual development of a quantum internet. This work spanned the decades between the 1970’s through the 1990’s, based upon the thought experiment developed by John Bell in the 1960’s. If John Bell were still alive, he undoubtedly would have shared in this prize. But the Nobel committee will not honor someone who is already dead. The implications of this work? Still in development, but eventually we will have quantum computers capable of solving problems a digital computer is not able to resolve. Much like fusion energy, quantum applications seem like they are always just around the corner, but this is an area I am confident will remake our lives in the decades to come.

All of the work of the Nobel team, and those who win the prizes, is reliant upon the statistical principles developed in the 19th century. Since Alfred Nobel did not see fit to recognize this field of study when he endowed his awards, it has fallen upon another person to set up an award for statistical methodology. This is a new award, and there were five collaborators who won the prize for this year. Eventually we may see the Rousseeuw prize as significant as a Nobel, but until that time comes, this is a simple shout-out for a new award. Statistical methodology is fundamental in all fields of science, and is used to determine whether observed effects are real, or potentially due to chance. When we say believe the science, it is because the effects were statistically significant.

Sources:  Science magazine, 14-Oct. and 7-Oct. issues.

It Is Happening Here

Original gerrymander

I will admit I am more than a bit puzzled over the direction politics have taken in this country. Not just since 2015 when Trump rode the escalator down to begin his campaign, but beginning back after Barack Obama was elected. I saw the Rick Santelli rant live in early 2009 that began the tea party movement, and realized at that time how prescient and how divisive his words were. They were prescient since they acknowledged this country was not of one mind, but had become a bimodal distribution, where one group had grabbed all of the growth in the economy, and one group had lagged behind, suffering competitive disadvantage as the world’s manufacturing was reconfigured to arbitrage labor and regulatory costs. The words were divisive since a sub-group of Republicans used the energy released from Rick’s rant to grab onto elective power, leading to such eminent personalities as Marjorie Taylor Greene.

We now have one of the two political parties in this country who have completely adopted a nihilist philosophy. This party believes our federal government is totally broken, and violence is justified in breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces, leading to its dissolution. That is why so many folks do not recognize 1/6/21 as an insurrection. To true believers of this philosophy, they internalize what Barry Goldwater claimed nearly 60 years ago.  “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!” were the words Barry said in his acceptance speech for his presidential nomination in 1964. It has taken nearly 60 years, but that is now the mantra shared by far too many of the followers of Donald Trump.

What is worse, this philosophy has been successful at the state level far too many times. While Democrats were congratulating themselves over their success at a national level, the real power was slipping between their fingers at the state level. Indeed, we are about to see the fruits of two rounds of redistricting solidify control of Red legislators at the state level. You now have states like North Carolina, which had a 50% (Republican) to 49% (Democratic) result in voting for state legislative seats. Due to just one round of gerrymandering, this resulted in a 69 (Republican) to 51 (Democratic) margin in the North Carolina house. What will happen this year after a second round of gerrymandering? It will probably increase the margin of Republican legislators despite what the voters of the state really want as reflected by their votes.

So the Republican Nihilists are not yet resting on their laurels. They have discovered another tier of government they can eat away at like termites chowing down on a stack of 2×4’s. The down ballot races at the state level, like Attorney General, and Secretary of State, are actively being devoured by deniers. Soon these false prophets will have us writing out our choices for any office in cursive, and woe be to those whose script is deemed illegible. These luddites do not accept that machines have an error rate orders of magnitude less than humans. They realize they only need one cycle of elections to break the habit of citizens to vote. So much of our democracy rests on the premise that our votes count, even if candidates we support are unsuccessful. If an election cycle goes through where it becomes obvious that inconvenient votes do not count, millions who are only tangentially connected to the voting process will make the decision to skip any future elections.

That is when the Republican Nihilists will have truly won. What travesties they will attempt to institute when there is no one to provide a counterbalance, one can only guess. All I keep thinking about is the question I heard growing up – how could the Germans have supported a system that led to Hitler taking power? In future years, after I am gone, I can only hope we do not have future generations asking how we in the United States could have gone so wrong. It can indeed happen here.

Washed in the Bodily Fluids of The Man

Let me introduce myself. I am the newly anointed nominee for Senator in this state. Why, the big man has approved me because I was willing to lick his boots in exchange for his endorsement. And once I’ve gotten the endorsement for the nomination from The Man himself, I’ve been forgiven of all of my sins in the past.

What sins, you may ask? Well, let me go and summarize just a few of them. But it is important to note that all of my sins are now washed away in the blood of the lamb, or whatever bodily fluid happens to emanate from The Man.

There was the time I may have paid for one of my many admirers to have an abortion. It is important to note that now I am totally against any abortion at any time, no matter the circumstance. But in my past, my sinful past, I had many admirers, and one of them seduced me in a moment of weakness. Wouldn’t you know it? The condom broke, and this admirer found herself in a state of pregnancy. Well, I couldn’t allow that to happen, could I? A good family man like myself carrying on like a teenager? I was much older than that, and I knew better. And I knew there was a way out of this dilemma. I took it, and I’m not proud of it. But you already knew about my sinful past, now that I’ve been totally forgiven for all my earlier transgressions.

Oh, and about the school set up in my name, that seems to have been totally a scam? I can’t believe I could convince so many people to grab another mortgage on their house just to hear my words and learn my tricks. Of course, talking a foreign bank into taking yet another flyer on me and my wonderfulness for a high-rise development is so different from convincing a local bank to allow you to leverage yourself further in order to buy another rental home. But the rubes just kept coming. I couldn’t believe it when the state required me to desist and broke up my school. I even had to refund a portion of the fees! Imagine that. I was held responsible for my actions! Never happened before, never will again. Remember I’ve been forgiven of all of my previous transgressions.

Then there was the time when I used my own weapon to put down some of those rioters way back in 2020. See, I was only trying to protect the law-abiding property owners from the potential harm from the sea of protestors marching down the street. What else was I to do when some of them actually tried to pry my gun from my twitching fingers. Yeah, I’m sorry that two of them were killed, but all of that was in my before times. All of that has now been forgiven.

Look, I know some of the lamestream press went off when they saw those pictures of me in a confederate uniform. For God’s sake, I was at a battle reenactment and you needed some of those taking part to be on the losing side, even though their cause was just. And the uniform fit so well, I just had to wear it for Halloween, and that fancy costume party I went to. And can you imagine someone took pictures of me, and tried to show I had a pattern of only wearing the greys?  Just because I made some posts during the early days of social media wishing wistfully for the return of the previous era, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been totally redeemed and forgiven. I’m a changed man now.

As far as my beliefs go, I will admit that I dabbled in Q-anon, but all of that is now behind me. Just because I have called for my state to reverse its actions in the election two years ago, it does not mean I really believe a group of Democrats are kidnapping tens of thousands of babies, and draining their blood in satanic rituals in order to extract the youth-restoring compounds. Who in their right mind would believe that? And after all, this all occurred in my before times, before I found forgiveness. My past does not matter.

I will admit I had to grovel in front of The Man and proclaim him the rightful winner of the last election. Of course, that means the person in the White House is a usurper, and any actions taken to remove a usurper are perfectly in line with the moral compass of the universe. I do believe we will be able to reinstate The Man to his rightful role, and ignore that stupid clause in the Constitution limiting the terms in office. Why, I see no reason ever to limit the length that The Man can serve in office. And as healthy as he is, he should be able to drive that golf cart down the fairway of life for a long time. Not like that relic usurper, pretending that bike riding is morally and physically better than golfing. You won’t find me doing useless exercise. I don’t want ever to take away from my lifespan by breaking a sweat.

Well, there you have it. I hope you now know much more about me, and you will certainly want to vote for me instead of that Nobel Laureate I am running against. What do those folks on the Nobel committee ever do? Just keep rattling on about contributions to humanity. Well, I have so much more to offer than one of those fakers the Nobel committee chooses to honor. I don’t see that my opponent has ever been forgiven by The Man. That is the highest honor in the world to me.

Are You Calling Me A Socialist?

I’m doing something I’ve not done before in this blog. I am reprising one of my old posts. I wrote this back in May of 2017, but it is still valid. Some of the figures may have changed over the years, but the sentiments are just as valid today as when I wrote it.

Disgruntled Republican Voter: I’m sure glad that I’m not one of those takers who expect the government to subsidize their health care. Everyone who takes a subsidy from the government is lazy and needs to get a better job that covers them.

Disembodied omniscient voice from above (think James Earl Jones): I’m glad you don’t want your health care subsidized by the government. So you will be in favor of having your health care from your employer being declared as income, and then you can pay taxes on it, right?

Disgruntled: I say – what are you talking about?

Disembodied: Health care benefits have never been considered as taxable income. This is a historical artifact from the time that health care was first provided to employees in WWII as a way to skirt wage controls.

Disgruntled: So what difference does it make who pays for it?

Disembodied: If businesses had to declare the value of health care as income for their employees, then the employees would be liable for taxes on this income. You just said you’d be happy to pay the taxes, right? Just so you wouldn’t be taking a subsidy from the government.

Disgruntled: I’m not sure … how much are we talking about here?

Disembodied: Let’s just use average figures here. You have family coverage, right?

Disgruntled: Yeah.

Disembodied: Average employer cost for a family policy last year was $12,600 per year. Now you are pretty successful, you make between $19,000 and $75,000 per year, right?

Disgruntled: Yeah.

Disembodied: Then you are in the 15% tax bracket. So if you had to declare $12,600 more in income, that means that the federal government is giving you about $1900 in tax subsidy for your policy from your employer. The one that distinguishes you from the moochers who get a government handout, right?  But then there’s more.

Disgruntled: More?

Disembodied: You live in a state with an income tax, right? Say the tax bracket for your state is 5% for your income. Then the state is giving you a tax subsidy of over $600.  That brings your total tax subsidy to about $2500 per year. But then, there’s the FICA tax to consider.

Disgruntled: What?

Disembodied: Since your taxable income just went up, you owe social security and medicare tax on this new income. So for $12,600, your tax that you don’t have to pay at all is almost another $1000 per year.  And your employer also avoids another $1000 per year that they’d have to pay to match your contribution.

Disgruntled: Ouch!

Disembodied: I calculate that due to the way that health care is accounted for in the tax code, your avoided tax is just about $3500 per year, and your employer avoids paying an extra $1000. So I’m glad that you’ve decided not to be a taker of government money, because your government could sure use the extra $4500 that you said you’d be willing to pay.

Disgruntled: Now wait a minute, I never said …

Disembodied: Oh yes you did. You said that you’d never want to be one of the takers who takes a subsidy from the government. That means you want to correct this problem in the tax system. Of course, if you were in a higher tax bracket, like 25%, you’d be getting even more free money from the government.

Disgruntled: You’re using fake facts. You’re probably part of the lying media. I’ve never seen anything about this on Facebook.

Disembodied: Believe what you will. Reality does not change based upon your beliefs. The facts are that you get money from the government to subsidize your health care benefit that you earn. Of course, you still pay all of the out-of-pocket and shared premium as well.

Disgruntled: And they keep going up and up. It’s all due to Obamacare.

Disembodied: Health care costs have been going up faster than inflation for decades before the ACA came into being. One reason is due to the screwy way health care gets paid for. We spend over 25% just on the administration. Funny thing is, when you have a single payer system like Medicare, that administrative burden goes down to about 5%.

Disgruntled: You mean single-payer would cost less? Why don’t we consider it?

Disembodied: Because the 1% class you put into the government believes that only moral reprobates who have immoral habits get diseases or have accidents, and they are the ones who drive up costs for the superior class of folks who have employer-paid health care. Besides, the 1% gets a hell of a lot of tax cuts when the taxes that supported the ACA are backed out.

Disgruntled: Yeah, but isn’t single payer socialism?

Disembodied: You mean the current system that gives free money to taxpayers and employers to have employer-based coverage isn’t socialism? Isn’t that government picking winners and losers? You’re a loser if you work three part time jobs and 60 hours a week but none of your employers provide health care and you don’t deserve any government subsidy? You’re a winner if you work for someone who provides health care as a benefit?

Disgruntled: Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature

When I entered this world, in the mid-1950’s, the earth held about 2.7 billion people. This is the wondrous time people are calling for the US to return to, since we were “great” then. As of today, we are nearing and may have gone over 8 billion people on this planet. Unfortunately, the rules that were possible with a population of 2.7 billion, become unmanageable when there are 8 billion people on the planet.

Just think of the issues we face now which were not problems in the mid-1950’s. We now face many existential crises, and even still face the one we thought we had put behind us, that of nuclear conflict. The seas are becoming deserts as huge trawlers scrape all living creatures into their maws. The lungs of the planet are now succumbing to clear-cutting and soybean cultivation in Brasil, led by a mad-man who refuses to acknowledge the limits of our planet. In the US, population pressures in distant lands have led to an unstoppable tide of those wishing to claim refugee status within our borders. And everywhere we suffer from the natural byproduct of civilization, that is carbon dioxide, along with a refusal by many to believe in the laws of thermodynamics. So be it. Those who claim college educations are worthless deserve to come up against the inexorable power of nature, and suffer the inevitable horrible consequences. All that is left is for those of us who are educated to say “I told you so”. A poor response to deal with the human carnage set to come when the effects of global warming become more pronounced.

In so many ways, we are dealing with national governments which refuse to take a holistic view of the world situation. So many folks still believe we live in a world with only 2.5 billion people, rather than the real world which holds 8 billion humans. Whether it is the retrograde Republicans in the US, or the near-sighted populists of Brasil, or the newly-minted electoral majority in Italy trying to channel Mussolini, political movements across the globe are imitating flightless birds sticking their heads in the sand. By refusing to admit the world has changed, they are subjecting their followers towards the inevitable crisis as they drive their car off of the mesa and do a swan dive towards the ground below. So where do we find those who are really trying to deal with the problems of the present which will make our future untenable?

First, we must begin to listen to those of us who are screaming about physical limits inherent on the earth. There are certainly folks who recognize limits to systems on the earth, though their voices seem swallowed up by those who preach the gospel of prosperity. Many people renounced the mantra of bigger is better, and have gone towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Back in the 1970’s, those folks were characterized as tree-huggers, since they advocated and lived a simplistic lifestyle off of the grid. Now it is possible to be off-the-grid, yet still be connected to the world through solar cells. Yet we still see those new subdivisions built in places never intended to house large numbers of humans, places where the first unpleasant reality is a lack of water. A small encouraging sign has appeared in states like Arizona and Nevada. There legislation was enacted which removes the abilities of Home Owner Associations to require grass lawns. Note there is nothing that requires a more sensible landscape for desert cities, just that people may not be compelled to use immense quantities of water to maintain grass. I am quite certain that those who opt out of a green lawn still may face peer pressure to keep up their conspicuous consumption of water, and their spigots turned on.

If we are having to fight for common sense through legislative actions even for a resource as limited and as visible as water, what hope do we have in convincing large segments of the population to repudiate ongoing use of fossil fuels? Well, we can try to educate. At least some people may be convincible, especially since the world is changing in more visible ways. People look at fossil fuels as being the only effective sources of energy for humanity. But those who claim that do not have a clue that any combustion process has a thermodynamic limitation of efficiency. No combustion process can have an efficiency much greater than 50% due to the laws of nature. Therefore, in all combustion processes, whether an internal combustion engine used for transportation, or a steam power plant, fully half or more of the energy of combustion gets transformed into waste heat. Maybe you can harness some of that waste heat for other human needs, but that costs additional money, and is seldom used on a year-round basis.

Renewable energy is decried for being unreliable and diffuse, and requiring energy storage devices in order to ensure energy availability when needed. Maybe so, but an electron generated from a solar cell does not have the same thermodynamic limitation as energy from fossil fuels. And when it is produced at the same location as it is consumed, transmission losses become minimal. Only the inverter loss (about 10-20%) represents energy lost from solar cells vs. 50% from combustion. So solar energy has a head start on other energy sources used in mass plants and then distributed.

Wind energy is truly variable, and at the scale it is built at, either large energy storage systems are required, or alternative sources of energy aimed at load leveling are required in order to take advantage of this energy source. Once more though, electrons produced through wind energy are fully available to the electrical grid after going through an inverter.

Yes, but fossil fuels are macho! That seems to be the argument underpinning many of those who champion continued and unlimited use of fossil fuels. I don’t know about you, but climbing up some of those 300’ towers to service a windmill seems macho enough to me. Fossil fuels are somehow viewed as our right to use, regardless of any ill effects. Well, it seems we now know it is not a good thing to rejigger our atmosphere and reintroduce all of the carbon sequestered over the millions of years in a blink of a geological eye. But to those who say, we were given dominion over this planet, I say, I agree. And it is about time we use what we have learned to prevent a giant bollocks while we still have time.

Money Makes the World Go Round

And now it is clear what the economy of the US depends upon – it is advertising. Ad revenues drives the internet, it has caused newspapers to be bereft of sustenance, and it will inexorably be withdrawn from television once streaming becomes an unstoppable force. Those who have the highest profit margins appear to advertise the most. Hence the proliferation of pharmaceutical ads intended to draw consumers to the latest pill or injection allowed by the Federal regulatory bodies. You also see advertising for automobiles blanketing the airwaves. That is due in part to the business model requiring local dealerships. The local dealerships keep trying to wrest market share from other dealers (and car brands). Of course, the ads for the car brands are meaningful reflections of the American public. Who doesn’t want to be highlighted as the most masculine consumer out there, and the high energy products of the Dodge division will be sure to rub off on you if only you buy our cars.

Now, we see the next phase of advertising. All of the sports betting sites are showing off how much fun you can have by throwing your money down a black hole by selecting their site as your bookie of choice. I feel sorry for the underworld. One by one their markets are being usurped by legal ways to lose your own money.

Another area of the economy where money appears to be sloshing around is in the world of Medicare supplemental insurance. How many older celebrities can be resurrected on ads convincing gullible seniors to turn all of their health care needs over to a local HMO, who will be sure to have your best interests at heart as they try to glom onto yet another sucker. This is one where both the advertising dollars are at work, and the phone banks work actively too. We are some of the rare individuals who will answer calls on our landline for unfamiliar numbers. Since my wife is just about to become Medicare-eligible, we are receiving a large number of calls offering to assist her in her choices. My experience has shown the more effort made to separate you from your money, the more money is available to be made. With the plethora of people actively involved in trying to steer your decision, it is obvious Medicare is a gold mine for many companies.

For decades, the American economy has been dependent upon consumer spending. It was things that drove the economy, things manufactured in this nation. Now? As much money is spent on transient things as is spent on real items. Look at cell phones. The service that is sold can afford to underwrite the hardware (actual cell phone), and you end up paying the service a multiple of the price of the physical hardware. Of course, you are also paying for the signal being available, so energy and materials are used to build and maintain transmission towers. This is the hidden portion that backs up the handy signal you depend upon.

Just this year, we’ve seen the first crumbling of the “everything is available whenever you want it economy”. We’ve all been exposed to the barren shelfs in supermarkets, where product is totally unavailable at any price. From cream cheese, to canned cat foods, to infant formula, and toilet paper, we’ve seen what can happen when demand exceeds the ability of companies to deliver product in an efficient manner. In our spoiled society, we grow petulant when we are told we can’t have something the instant we want it. We look for scapegoats, and often it is the politicians in power who are blamed for any and all failures in supply chains. It is surprising how much we are in favor of free-enterprise solutions up until the time of a failure. Then we expect the government to have been anticipating problems, and are ready to throw the rascals out of office if they failed in their response.

In the coming years, many more things will either be unavailable, or only available at a price well above what we remember. We will see more things manufactured in the US, but will find out the cost is greater due to the higher costs in this country. The short-term memory of the US consumer and voter will once more blame the government for the higher prices, blissfully ignoring their previous desire to locally source the manufacture. We will have many chances to learn patience, and learn to be grateful for what we do have. I’m afraid, though, that we are so spoiled we will strike out in anger if we are told something is not available, or is much more expensive. Look at our experience with gas prices. People were not willing to take responsibility for their decisions to buy ever-larger vehicles. No, it became a huge crisis when the price of gas deviated from what people viewed as their right – to keep consuming energy without dealing with the true costs. We in the US are particularly spoiled – we view the rest of the world as our pantry, and expect all others to bow down before us since we are so exceptional. Except we are no longer that exceptional nation sharing our cornucopia with the rest of the world. No, we view it as our due to be able to consume on demand with no limitations. It will be difficult to adjust to a world with limits, but that is where we are.

It Was A Perfect Raid

So, it is possible that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were correct back in 2016. Donald, for his infamous claim about being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any followers. And Hillary, for her astute observation about the nature of many Trump followers – that they were truly deplorable people. Of course, being as that statement came from the enemy, it was adopted as a badge of honor. I still remember middle-aged women wearing Adorable Deplorable t-shirts to announce their affiliation. In the end, it was a statement that undoubtedly contributed to her defeat. It doesn’t detract from the veracity of the observation.

If nothing else, the events of this past month show that Donald truly does not care about anything but himself. No one else would take the issues about secret files and weave them into a conspiracy blanket of victimhood for himself. As Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Donald Trump has shown himself to a national audience since the 1970’s. The prime example of someone who has failed upwards, he never has had to face consequences for his actions. His multitude of business failures occurred upon piles of borrowed money, so once the debt was restructured, Donald ended up in a nominally better position than when he started. That the epitome of his success is a private club in a soon-to-be submarine barrier island is fitting. He doesn’t even realize his peril in the future. Of course, for him the future is irrelevant.

What we see in his frenzied communications is a refusal to accept responsibility for any problem he faces. In fact, he seems bound and determined to deny he has transgressed at all. And his quislings are more than happy to provide ever more fantastic justifications for his actions. No, there is no problem with storing top secret information next to a country club ballroom. What could go wrong? And in legal filings, we see that we should consider the entire matter as nothing more serious as overdue library books. Gaah!

Of course, the world view of the cult leader and his followers is totally consistent. When you look back at the pitched battle to gain access to the Capitol Building on January 6 as normal political discourse, then seeing top secret information stored at a country club is nothing more than an overdue book. At least he is consistent, although many view him as a self-caricature He thinks he is an alpha male, and his strutting and preening emphasizes his manliness to his fallen admirers. They are the ones with the Rambo images, that head affixed to an assault-weapon wielding savior of the race.

All of these admirers are so far beyond the pale that they perceive any criticism as “divisive”. As if his words and actions brought people together. No, these people not only do not accept criticism, they have convinced themselves that criticism is blasphemy. How do you reason with people who share no elements of rationality with you? You can’t, that’s how. The only way this cult will go away is through repeated repudiation at the ballot box, though the stage has been set for the cult members to reject any such repudiation as just another stolen election.

Indictment is coming. Like it or not, the event that can draw his followers into forming an army of brown shirts with MAGA lettering is just ahead. We know what actions his deluded followers will take, they’ve announced their intentions on all media forums where they hold sway. Those in charge at a Federal or State level must hold firm to their convictions so that we can finally get a conviction for the egregious behavior we’ve seen over the past 7 years. His true followers? They are so far gone it may take a generation for the damage wrought by the orange one to disappear. After all, we have a world full of real problems to face as a nation.  We’ve lost far too much time worrying about the actions of the unhinged. It is time to move on.

Hummer Court Is In Session

Hummer is at lower right

 Zip! Zip! Zoom! The hummers swerve around us in their aerial battles for supremacy. Their distinctive wing sounds, coming from flapping literally hundreds of times per second, coupled with their chirping sounds, alert us to their presence. We put up two feeders, both on our front porch. Early on in the summer, a single male takes charge, but there’s not a huge rush on the feeders. Somewhere in July, though, competition sets in. A second male hummer dares to drink from the feeders. Well, the alpha male hummer cannot stand for that to happen. We begin to have hummer wars on our front porch, with two and sometimes even three hummers chasing each other. The original alpha male drives off the interlopers, and he goes to perch on a bare branch of an apple tree, or on the wires leading to the house. It is amazing to see the degree of competition we have for our sugar water. Best way to use ½ cup of sugar ever! Cheap entertainment. I must say I would not want to have a hummingbird attorney to ever argue a case of property rights, though. They are quite capable of putting on an effective defense among their peers.

We once put a feeder out in the back off of our deck, figuring a single hummer couldn’t observe both sides of the house at once, and thus we could support more hummers. What we hadn’t figured out was that raccoons could reach the backyard feeders, and we awoke to empty hummingbird feeders after a single night. We knew no birds could do that, and we did make an inference on the raccoon, but the image of a raccoon on a sugar high, bouncing off of the trees below was too good to forget.

Our summer outdoor living room is shared by many other life forms. This year we’ve had a bumper crop of skinks scurrying across our space. Not just the ones with neon blue tails, but another type with brown coloration. And we have had flickers at the hummingbird feeders, who are free from hummer raids. They seem to know it would not work to challenge such a large animal. They wish only to intimidate their own kind.

We even had another reptile pay us a visit this summer, and it provided quite a counterpoint to the frantic aerial pursuits of the hummers. A box turtle showed up, and we always are glad to see the slowest of animals still managing to survive in our urban environment. I say urban, because we do live on a city street, with a few thousand cars passing by daily. But when I look at the deer population, it becomes clear we only are the temporary residents, and the wildlife is the true inhabitants of our space. We do our best to welcome as much as we can, offering a multi-cultural lawn for any herbivores, and keeping our crab apple tree available for the squirrels.

I may have an argument or two with the squirrels, though. I have seen half-eaten tomatoes littering the back deck. I’ll be willing to fight for the tomatoes. Unfortunately, they won’t touch the excess of jalapenos growing in the same space. But watching the acrobats of the mammalian world stretching out on flimsy branches to grab a crab apple, scurry to a more secure perch, and just sit there gnawing at the bitter fruit. To them it must be a welcome change to their diet of nuts.

Soon enough the bounty of summer will be replaced with the need to stock up for winter. The chill of the fall evenings will cut through even the fur coats of all of the animals, and we’ll see the suicide squirrels who don’t make it successfully across the street. One day, our hummingbird feeders will be silent, as only the wasps still seek concentrated sugar. And wasps don’t make much noise. When we move the plants indoors, seeking to avoid the killing frosts, we will bid adieu to our outdoor living room. Until that time, though, we sit and watch the natural world intersect with us.