Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bravo Edward Snowden

The man who leaked the documents revealing the absurd NSA surveillance has more integrity than James Clapper (who lied to Congress), President Obama (who lies to the American people) and EVERY last Congress-critter that voted to authorize and re-authorize this obscenity.

and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched

Do you see in there where it says "except for warrants issued in secret by a secret court not under the authority of the Supreme Court"?  Or where it says that not only the court's decisions but the very law it is ruling on is held to be a state secret shielded from the knowledge of the American citizenry?  Me neither.

Searching billions of call records amongst millions of American citizens - exactly how is that not an invasion of The People's houses, persons and effects?  Where exactly is the Federal government authorized to do this - beside in the made-up doctrine of National Security (as catalyzed and metastasized by Cold War paranoia).

Obama wants to soothe by saying we weren't listening to what you said - as if that excuses doing something that the Constitution does not allow.  This is the ultimate outcome of Progressive disregard for the strictures of the Constitution.  Unbounded exercise of naked power not only lacking regard for The People, but openly contemptuous of them.

We have to wait until next year to truly hold Congress accountable.  You have no excuse for re-electing anyone who voted for the last re-authorization of Patriot/FISA.  Any excuse you make up to avoid getting rid of that person - no matter your partisan stripe - is an excuse to ALL of Congress.  You must hold Congress accountable, you must remind them that you elected them and they swore to defend the Constitution, not to upend it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Time, time, time...

Standard Time in a Fictional Universe - what the hell is that supposed to mean?

First is the obvious: STFU.  Although rude this is often the sagest advice that a person can hear.  You need to listen and you can't do that if you don't stop running yer yap.

Second, is my utterly amateur interest in the physics of time.  Time is something like gravity - at once obvious and immediately accessible, but the deeper you delve into it, the more puzzling it becomes.

I read A Brief History of Time some years ago not long after it first came out.  More recently I've been chewing on, slowly, Time's Arrow & Archimede's Point.  In the former, one of the great minds of our era allowed himself a single equation in his book (in order to maintain accessibility of his subject to a non-specialist audience): the equation of course being e=mc2.  This is the touchstone of modern physics.  You can play with it in many ways, altering one variable and reliably deriving another, except for one.  The speed of light.  That is a constant.  Which is strange because in virtually all other contexts speed isn't constant.  But the really curious part isn't that the speed of light is constant, the curious part is time.  After all speed is nothing but distance divided by the time to travel that distance.  For our everyday life this is quite unremarkable.  But in physics in general, equations are supposed to be symmetric.  I can travel from point A to point B in a given time.  And I can travel from point B to point A.  Direction doesn't matter - except for time, at least as we perceive and experience it.  And that is the question at the heart of the latter book.

Standard physics shouldn't allow for such non-symmetric characterization (in contrast to distance which can be traversed in either direction), and Price explores the various ways physicists have tried to sweep that problem under the rug.  No one has cracked the nut.  Considering that some folks have pondered if we aren't approaching the summit of understanding the cosmos, it becomes apparent that they aren't accounting for all of what we don't know.  We once thought of space in Euclidean terms - three dimensions.  Einstein added time as a dimension, yet as far as we understand you can only traverse time in one direction (unlike the other three).  Physics doesn't like special cases - they tend to be less than satisfactory explanations, and yet that seems to be exactly what we have here.

Of course, if you try to think of time just like the other three dimensions of space, your mind gets really twisted - because our reality just doesn't allow for examples of time running in any way but from past to future. Then again, who are we to say that reality is only limited to what we can perceive - for if it is, that quickly leads us to an anthropocentric cosmos.  Imagine that, man at the center of the universe!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The more things change...

So, Obama sets a new standard - winning re-election with less votes than when he won the Presidency the first time.

Romney collects 3M less votes than McCain - does any Republican wonder why they aren't winning the Presidency given these past two nominees?

But the bitter pill to swallow is that with some 13M less voters than in 2008 and still Gary Johnson and the Libertarians can't break above 1% of the vote.  Clearly there is no more clear message delivered by this election than that the Libertarian view in this country is doomed to permanent irrelevance.

Of course Progressives/Liberals will delude themselves that they have had a great victory in the Presidency while ignoring that the House remains in Republican hands.  That must be some mighty tasty Kool-Aid - huh kids?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Social Security Con Game

Some critics of Social Security have used the analogy of likening it to a Ponzi scheme.  This is as incorrect as the belief that you are getting back from SocSec what you paid in.  Oh, wait, people - especially older people - do believe they are collecting some kind of pension from 'contributions' [yes, the SSA does call them that] to some 'account' [you do have a SS number, right?] that has been held in trust [ah, behold the magic of the Trust Fund] for them.  If you believe the basic (and invalid) premise that you are collecting on what you put in, then SocSec is a LOT like a Ponzi scheme.  Because current payees are not getting back what they put in (plus interest) - they are getting benefits paid out of the 'contributions' of current workers current wages.

SocSec recipients generally do not like the idea that they are actually recipients of an income transfer from current workers.  This was the great lie used to sell America on SocSec - that it was a pension or insurance, and you don't need some right-wing crank to tell you this, you can get it from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones,
It's easy enough to see why people believe this: it was, basically, the way the program was initially sold. And politicians ever since have found it convenient to continue this fiction. Seniors today are all convinced that the money they paid into the program during their working years was somehow saved up for them and now they're getting it back.
So what harm does this little fiction cause?  First off, it ensures that recipients believe they have a reasonable and valid claim to benefits - after all, isn't it what they put in?  It isn't of course, but rarely will any conservator of FDR's legacy ever admit that - because it undermines the popular support for collecting the benefit.  Who really wants to face up to the fact that they are living off someone elses money?

Then things get even more interesting, when progressives defend SocSec despite the incredibly regressive structure - paying benefits to middle and upper income retirees on the backs of poor to middle class workers.  Any discussion of modifying SocSec to reflect the reality of 3 workers (and shrinking toward 2) supporting 1 retiree (as opposed to the 16 to 1 ratio in earlier times) is met with a rock-ribbed conservatism that would make Calvin Coolidge smile.

Just don't call SocSec a Ponzi scheme.  It is much more appropriate to call it a Shell Game.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Series of Very Fortunate Events

Normally, such an image as the above might be taken as a harbinger of doom, given that it happened less than a half hour into vacation.  Curiously, such was not the case, and to understand that you must know the full tale; a story at least slightly more strange than fiction.

It began with our annual preparation for Burning Man, that festival of arts, bacchanalia, mischief and chaos to which we have committed the week before Labor Day these last 9 years.  My dear wife (aka Ranger Beauty) had noticed that the tire cover on the spare trailer tire was in need of replacement.  After she had removed the cover we noticed that the spare tire itself was in no better shape.  We hadn't replaced it since we bought the trailer (used of course) - a bit over 6 years ago.  Fortunate event number 1 - we had never needed it, followed by fortunate event number 2 - it could be replaced before we had need to use it.

However despite the considerable array of wrenches I was able to muster, the nut holding the spare to the mount would not budge.  Figuring that the tire shop had pneumatic wrenches (which I did not), I removed the arm of the mount from the bumper with the tire attached and threw the whole shebang into the back of the truck and off we went.  As expected, the tire shop was able to separate the nut from the bolt and it turns out it was a common plastic-lined 'lock' nut - that in the desert heat had fused to the bolt and was only removed through substantial mechanical torque.  In short, I never could have freed the spare from the mount had I ever needed it.  Fortunate event number 3!  We return home with a new spare and re-attach the mount to the bumper (and the spare to the mount with conventional lock washer).  Then we awaited the arrival of the new tire cover - which landed a mere two days before the day we left.

We departed for the Black Rock desert on the morning of the last Thursday of August.  As we merged onto I-15 I asked my wife if Thanksgiving had been moved up to August.  She replied that as far as she knew it had not.  This puzzled me due to the number of turkeys that were operating motor vehicles on this particular Thursday.  There followed a point where the freeway narrows and we were obliged to merge with traffic in the neighboring lane.  Just behind me was a commercial truck - not a semi, but still larger than our truck and trailer.  He graciously dropped back and allowed me a comfortable merge and I mentioned this to the wife and said that one act of courtesy had just expunged in my mind all the idiocy we had been subjected to up to that point.  We rolled on down the highway waiting for him to pass us, as we were well laden and in no particular hurry.  He eventually did, passing us on the right and giving us a friendly wave (which we returned).

Not two minutes later a semi passed us on the left, honking and gesturing and I knew something was wrong.  We immediately pulled off to the side of the freeway, flipped on the warning lights and both hopped out to inspect.  My first suspicion was with the bike carriers on the camper shell - but all was well there.  We then continued back when she called to me "do you smell something" just as I spied the shredded tire you saw at the start of this post.  Fortunate event number 4 - the trucker had seen it blow and was able to signal us - I hadn't felt it go.  Fortunate event number 5 - the other tire on that side held despite the blowout.  We got back in the truck and limped up the off-ramp we had stopped just short of, turned and found a spot to change the tire.  With the new spare on the mount that was now usable.  Fortunate event number 6 - a convenient and safe place to do this.  I was able to change the tire while she phoned a friend for a quick computer search and the nearest tire shop - which turned out to be an outlet of the company from which we usually buy tires.  By the time we were ready to roll again, she had us an appointment less than 5 minutes up the road from where we were.  Fortunate event number 7.

As it was, the tires on the trailer were old, and I was pushing it planning on another 1200+ mile trip on them.  We replaced the full set, which Discount Tire did - pulling out four floor jacks and popping the trailer up like a Formula 1 pit crew.  And they were almost as fast.  Fortunate event number 8 - we hadn't even damaged the rim with the shredded tire, no doubt thanks to the prompt signaling of a semi driver whom I wasn't even able to thank.  Had any of these fortunate events not happened, the whole thing would have unraveled, and me - being the ever-patient and even-keeled soul that I am [not]... well, let's just say it wouldn't be unexpected for my head to explode in reaction to such.

With the spare back in its proper place, and four new tires on the trailer, we continued our journey - which was entirely uneventful.  And that is always a fortunate event.  As for the week at Burning Man, I may post on that - though it was such a smooth and easy year that there isn't anything dramatic to talk about.  I can say that we fared much better than many in getting there and back.  Funny, but every trip there has some thing that goes wrong, some thing that needs to be fixed, some thing that gets forgotten on the way out and has to be replaced or lived without.  Considering how badly this could've gone I am nothing but thankful that fate was so gentle with us.

As a coda, we returned to Southern California during the black-out, and arriving home pulled the generator out of the trailer so we could power the house fridge and freezer until electrical service was restored (about 4 or 5 hours later).  Another fortunate - if tangential - event.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fourth of JuPlaya recap

I spent the 4th of July weekend up on the Black Rock Desert with my wife and a collection of well armed folks.  Had this actually been the Zombie Apocalypse - we were in the right place with the right people.

With the dramatic intro out of the way, what on earth was I doing there.  There was a Ranger Orientation Meeting (annual training if you will) for the Black Rock Rangers - however I had already attended an earlier ROM.  So Saturday for me was spent mostly in the shade, drinking plenty of water and beer (but never watery beer) and acclimating - which didn't take all that long as had I spent the better part of the previous week in New Mexico for work.  We did a little recreational shooting in the late afternoon and then had a potluck dinner.  Sunday was my serious day, as we prepped to take the test for the ham radio technician license - which I passed thank you very much.  We drank more beer (and water) and then enjoyed the infamous Frog Bat and the impromptu fireworks - from folks within our camp as well as those scattered around the playa (that is "ply"-"uh" to the non-initiated; the vast dry lakebed remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan).  Monday we broke camp and drove down to Sparks where we checked into the Nugget and got to see the professional fireworks from Victorian Square - a great show.

The rest of the week was intended to be spent in various High Sierra points of interest that I had not yet taken in - Saddlebag Lake and Horseshoe Meadows in particular.  We left Sparks and cruised up to and around Lake Tahoe then south on 89 to cross Monitor Pass.  We had on previous occasions crossed Tioga and Sonora passes, so this completed the trio of Southern Sierra crossings.  Anyway, Saddlebag ended up a scratch as the road wasn't yet open due to this past winter's bounteous snow.  So we headed south and made camp on Rock Creek (where we had planned to stop and take in a trail ride).  Can't say enough good things about the folks (and horses) of Rock Creek Pack Station - who guided us up to the Hilton Lakes where the trout fishing was something between spectacular and insane.  Having had our fill of voracious mosquitoes, some of which were only mildly annoyed by 40% DEET, we skipped the next questionable high camp (Horseshoe) for this trip and headed home.

Since it didn't happen if there aren't pics...

One of our camp-mates, stylin' with an eeeeeeevil assault weapon (the folding stock was removed and the original put back on and the firearm was returned - legally - to California).

Our camp.  Aluminet provides great shade when you really need it.

Yours truly in desert zen, some other folks on the firing line, and everybody post-shoot.

Hope you had a great Fourth as well.  Next year you can always consider a desert get-a-way (assuming lack of amenities and lots of dusty people with guns doesn't scare the holy crap out of you).

Saturday, July 9, 2011


After years of yakking in other people's parlors, porches, what-have-you, I'm thinking it is time to set up my own place to plop my ponderings and hopefully to engage in some interesting conversations.  This blog won't be very thematic as my interests are varied and somewhat random.

My handle may be familiar to you from any of the blogs where I habitually comment: Reason Hit 'n Run, Volokh Conspiracy, The Smallest Minority, Notes from the Front, amongst others.

Oddly enough I wasn't able to use the abbreviation of the title as the site name, as I had hoped.  Oh well.  There are greater disappointments in life.