Happy Friday

It’s a slow day today. Just hanging around reading and doing minor chores. Feeling very retired…here are a few observations about the world today.

  • Kanye West has lost his mind. I know it’s a story, but media needs to just ignore him. And someone needs to commit him for treatment.
  • Georgians need to prove to the rest of the US that they’re sane by NOT electing Herschel Walker to the Senate.
  • Trump continues to lose legal decisions, one after another. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
  • Alex Jones declares bankruptcy to avoid paying legal fines. Shocker.
  • An official CA committee is recommending that CA pay $223K per person in slave reparations, to each of about 2.5 million people who identify as black or African American in CA. I don’t think that’s going to go over well in either political party.
  • I have my final board meeting as a 211 San Diego board member next week. Not happy to be leaving the board, but those are the rules. Term limits.
  • The FCC has released a national broadband map, showing what options are available for any US address. Pretty cool.
  • The rain forecast for today in Socal is not happening. Another shocker.
  • Our 2023 homeowner’s insurance quote is 4x higher than last year. We haven’t made any claims, so I’m not sure why. Gotta love the insurance business; it’s basically the Mafia with a lot of paperwork.

Like I said, a slow day. Happy Friday.

Best idea I’ve heard all year

Casey Handmer, big thinker, strikes again. He and I arrived at the same solution to the western US’s existential water problem (desal plus large scale PV), but Handmer has put some high-level numbers on the idea and added the refill the rivers twist. Back of the envelope, it all pans out. This should be the future.

The number that sticks with me is that we could solve the water problems of southern CO, AZ and CA with less capital than Elon Musk spent for fucking Twitter. That’s…amazing. And sad. Our national priorities are so screwed up.

Spend capital on gigascale PV and desal. Pump fresh water upstream and use the natural river systems and gravity to distribute the newly-created fresh water to all the places it needs to go; to the places it used to go. And mine the waste brine for badly-needed elements like lithium and rare earth elements. Genius. Think of the jobs these investments would produce. A generation’s worth of construction jobs, project management jobs, engineering jobs, safety and inspection jobs, legal and accounting jobs….on and on. And it doesn’t have to be a government program, for you let’s-drown-government-in-a-bathtub types – all this could be done by the private sector, with guaranteed rates of return on capital spent, just like we provide utilities.

I would join this project. I might even commute to the office to be a part of this.

Goodbye November

Lotta good news lately.

  • Trump’s tax returns are finally in the public record.
  • Marriage equality took a few steps forward.
  • Herschel Walker is his own worst enemy in the GA Senate runoff. Georgians seem to have noticed.
  • The DJIA is on the rebound, leading several gurus to proclaim that the bear market is over. I may be able to stay retired.
  • Madison Cawthorn is exiting the House of Representatives. One less shallow, hollow, wanna-be-celebrity in Congress.
  • Crypto investment gambling is collapsing, as any greater fool scheme should.
  • The Oath Keepers “leaders” were convicted of serious crimes. They’ll be in jail for a while.
  • The US beat Iran and moved forward in the FIFA World Cup.

All in all, a pretty good month, I’d say.

Commuting

I tried to go to a workplace close to downtown San Diego this morning, and gave up after a half hour or so. All the roads, freeways and surface streets, were clogged and crawling. I just don’t have the patience to do that commute any longer, so I’m not. I turned back and told my company friends that I would be remote today. It now seems that Wednesday is the worst traffic day every week.

Ironically, the meeting I was trying to get to was a discussion of bringing everyone back into the office at least three days/week. The management of this company (I’m an advisor) is hell-bent to re-establish an in-office culture. My situation is a bit unique, but there’s almost no scenario in which I would do a daily long commute again. Too stressful, too wasteful, too dangerous, too expensive. I think anyone who *can* say no financially *will* say no.

These days the only commute I have patience with is the flight from Socal to Kentucky. One of several good reasons pictured below.

The answer is no

Is an evening enjoying a bottle of wine worth the pain, the absolute misery, of a scheduled workout with a trainer the next morning?

This is not a hypothetical. And the answer is no, it is not. In my youth I could drink the night before strenuous exercise, but no more. This getting old shit is getting old.

The Interregnum

Today in the US we start The Interregnum – my name for that short three week period between the end of Thanksgiving weekend and the start of zero productivity as Christmas spins up. In corporations, this is the last chance to get anything done before everyone checks out for the year. At home, preparations are made for holiday celebrations and travel. Gifts are purchased, the house is decorated and everyone is in a high state of anticipation for the two weeks at the end of the year. At least that’s how it is in the middle class US.

I’m sad but thankful that The West Wing TV marathon is over. I spent every waking minute not otherwise occupied glued to the TV, reliving how that show always entertained and inspired me. It’s like a drug, I can’t not watch it if it’s playing. Those characters, that dialogue…it’s a masterpiece. But now I can get back to wasting time in other ways.

Big news from Hawaii – Mauna Loa erupted, first time in 40 years. The last time we stood close to the massive rim of Mauna Loa, we were busy buying a house in KY, sight unseen, doing the deal via iPhone atop the volcano. I still think that’s a cool story.

Speaking of cool stories, on Saturday I witnessed Chris Rodriguez breaking the all-time UK record for 100-yard games, passing Bennie Snell and Alfred (Sonny) Collins. That’s quite an accomplishment for Rodriguez, but the story revolves around Collins. I played against Sonny Collins when I was a sophomore. Boyd County played Madisonville in the Recreation Bowl to start the season, and Collins was a nationally-recognized talent – the best running back in the country.

I found an obscure article on the KY High School Athletic Association website, chronicling that game

— In 1971, UK Coach John Ray attended the Rec Bowl for the second year in a row to watch Madisonville running back Alfred “Sonny” Collins. In 1970, Collins rushed for 106 yards and a TD, but he also fumbled four times in a 28-14 loss to Highlands. He didn’t fumble in ’71, however, and rushed for 170 yards and three TDs in a 27-7 victory over Boyd County.

https://khsaa.org/granddaddy-rec-bowl-has-unmatched-history/

My part of the story is that I was starting my first varsity game as a sophomore – I played defensive back and on special teams. So I saw a lot of Collins – mostly as he ran past me. But one time in particular, early in the game, I got a clean shot at him. He was coming at me impossibly fast, but I kept him in my sights and ran at him, anxious to take him down. He hit me so hard I couldn’t believe it. I had never felt anyone with the power he delivered – he ran right through me. I was lucky I didn’t get knocked out. For the first time I realized that there was a whole different level of athlete, a level that turned good, strong players like me into also-rans. Collins went on to become an All-American college player at UK and had a good pro career.

Collins and Madisonville beat us handily, and I tackled Collins several times, but I’ll never forget that first one-on-one collision. It was an education.

Big questions

Woke up feeling philosophical today. Spending the morning exploring two big, interesting questions:

  1. What is memory, and how does it actually work?
  2. Is there any validity to the idea of quantum consciousness?

Consciousness and memory – what are they exactly, how do they work? The more I read, the more questions I have.

A TV show that made a difference

One of our cable channels (HLN, whatever that is) is running nonstop episodes of The West Wing, my #2 all-time favorite show. #1 is The Expanse, then The West Wing, and it’s a little murky after that. Maybe Yellowstone, maybe Breaking Bad, maybe the original Star Trek. Requires more thought than it’s worth.

But back to The West Wing. I hadn’t realized it until yesterday, but TWW is the thing that turned me from somewhat conservative, somewhat apolitical, into a card-carrying liberal. Watching just a couple of episodes, it was so obvious – all the thoughts and feelings I originally had came rushing back, and I remembered those times when I heard or saw something on the show and realized “yes, that’s the way it should be”.

The West Wing was wholly the product of Aaron Sorkin, and all the ideas and dialogue that came out of the characters’ mouths was his. So I guess Aaron Sorkin turned me into a liberal. This would have been in the late 90s and early 2000s, a period when I was doing a lot of soul-searching (longer story, not for the blog). Sorkin’s dialogue was smart, witty, fast and interesting. Watching it now, it still is captivating. And his vision for the role of government was, and still is, inspiring for me. Watching that show, for the first time I thought logically about the role of government, what it should and shouldn’t be. And it’s so simple. For a wealthy country like us, a country with massive resources, here are the simple instructions:

  • If people are hungry, get them some food. Don’t debate, don’t delay, get some food to them.
  • If people are sick, get them some health care. Don’t argue about whether they deserve it or can afford it, just get them access to care.
  • If people are scared, do your best to reassure them. Give them facts, be straight with them.
  • Do everything in your power to educate the country’s citizens.
  • If people are at risk because their air or water or food or drugs are dangerous, fix that. Don’t let stupid/greedy/evil decisions by individuals or corporations put citizens at risk.
  • If people are homeless, get them housed. Give them shelter.
  • If the nation is under attack, defend it. And that includes borders – manage and control your national boundaries firmly but with compassion.

We don’t need government to stir us up, to pit us against one another. We don’t need government to define our culture for us. We don’t need government to build empires on other continents.

The West Wing was a fictional government with fictional politicians, but it’s still my ideal of how things could work. I know it’s a silly, somewhat naive dream, but I’m holding on to it.

There *is* something that can be done

I love data, and yesterday I wrote about the ongoing national disgrace of gun violence. Here’s some data to use with your gun-loving friends and relatives. Maybe it won’t change their minds, but it helps me be certain that gun control is a big part of the solution.

Thanksgiving 2022

I probably knew this, but among his other great achievements, our nation’s Thanksgiving tradition was created by none other than Abraham Lincoln. What a wise, wise man. I was reminded of this by reading today’s Letters From an American.

Lincoln would be appalled at our national culture these days. But that’s a story for another day. Today’s a day for positive thoughts.

We’re taking it easy today and breaking with a lot of tradition. Prime rib roast rather than turkey. No cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, or oddball casseroles. A tiny gathering rather than a large one – no parents (none left, sadly), no kids, no siblings, no local couples or gaggle of friends. Just the two of us plus one friend. A meal that’s easy to prepare instead of a relentless cooking frenzy during the day. It’ll be the smallest Thanksgiving in my memory, by any measure. It just kinda turned out that way, appropriate for 2022.

Today’s menu at Chez Nichols:

  • Smoked and slow-roasted prime ribeye
  • Pan-roasted vegetables with gnocchi (one of my favorite recipes – easy and delish)
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Stuffing/dressing (even though there’s no turkey to stuff, we just like stuffing)
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Butternut squash with brown sugar and cinnamon
  • Our estate olive oil with some good bread
  • Pecan pie and whipped cream
  • Your selection of over-the-top wines, starting with a 2014 Quintessa Cab

So I guess we won’t go hungry. Walk-ins are welcome.

The weather in Socal is cool and sunny – it would be perfect if we didn’t need rain so badly. Having said that, the greenery on our property is really looking great now that we have the well water all filtered and pure. Should have made that investment in filtration years ago. Better late than never, my motto.

Here are a few interesting things I read this morning via Hacker News:

I enjoy my morning reading sessions quite a bit – it’s become a solid habit. There’s a lot to learn about the world, and here in the golden age of online publishing there’s almost no limit to what you can explore via your laptop. I’m thankful for that.

It never ends

A mass shooting at a Walmart in VA last night. A mass shooting at a gay nightclub in CO a couple of nights ago. Five shootings with body counts at schools in November, so far. On and on it goes, and our “leaders” do nothing.

This Wikipedia page chronicles the school shootings in the US since the turn of the century. It lists 394 incidents over 22 years.

To all my crime-hating conservative friends, get off your asses and do something about this. Reject the NRA, shut them down. Support gun control laws.

Rational, practical, and effective gun control is a moral imperative. Let’s get on with it.

Thoughts on Twitter

I’ve been thinking about the Twitter saga, as I have a bet with a friend on how it will turn out. As someone who has never had a Twitter account, I’m perfectly suited to opine on the ongoing drama. So here goes.

On one hand, Twitter has become the national platform for commentary on most any issue. For better or worse, it has become our digital commons, and we need such a place. Celebrities, sports stars, “influencers” (gag me), politicians, and regular people all get to interact. And across national boundaries, a great thing. For a while Facebook served that purpose – perhaps still does for some – but these days a mix of Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are where we hold our open conversations. Each of these are international, diverse communities of people who like interacting with each other, and that’s usually a good thing.

On the other hand Twitter followed Facebook into the gutter, where a small but vocal minority of bad actors drive hatespeech, conspiracy, misogyny, and abuse in general. You either allow the bad actors to poison the well for everyone, or you attempt to manage (or moderate) their voice. Someone has to decide what will be allowed and what will not. That’s called content moderation, and that’s the issue at the heart of Musk’s Twitter takeover. Twitter had a very active content moderation team – too active, in Musk’s humble opinion.

Musk got bent out of shape by what he considered to be excessive content moderation that silenced voices he believed should have been left alone. The First Amendment right to free speech, a wildly misunderstood right, was being violated according to Musk and some of his fellow libertarians. So he spent $44 billion and bought the platform from shareholders, and now is in the position to right the perceived wrongs of the previous management.

What has ensued is instructive. Musk has stripped out 75%-ish of the company’s employees in the quest for efficiency and profitability. Whether that alone destroys the platform (big websites require a LOT of engineering talent to keep running), time will tell. The other thing that Musk has done is to appoint himself the sole decider of content moderation. Who gets to have a voice on Twitter, and what then are they allowed to say? Where Twitter previously has dozens (hundreds?) of people working to police the platform in the quest to be a good steward of our digital commons, it now has one – Musk. Who has a couple of other day jobs.

So Donald Trump and many other destructive forces/voices are being re-enabled on Twitter. Predictably, all manner of unfriendly and unhelpful speech is now growing, rapidly. School’s out, no teachers to keep the kids in line, so the bullies are running amok. And corporate sponsors/advertisers, the veryt heart of Twitter’s business model, are running for the exits. Corporations have become *extremely* sensitive to being associated with any non-politically-correct activity, and Twitter has now become a risk.

One inescapable conclusion from Musk’s actions is that there’s no argument about whether there should be a line that can’t be crossed. Musk has a line, albeit a crooked one. For example, he has declined to reinstate Alex Jones to the platform, as Musk has sympathy for anyone who has lost a child. That’s a good reason, and the right decision – Jones is evil. But it proves that the argument is simply where the line should be and who gets to decide its position.

What else can we conclude from this?

Same as it ever was, the wealthy can and will purchase and influence our national means of communication – newspapers, radio stations, TV networks and now digital platforms. Nothing has changed about that.

Digital platforms are, however, two-way communications platforms. Anyone and everyone can have a say. That’s new.

Digital platforms are susceptible to software bots masquerading as humans and flooding the zone with specific messages, information or disinformation. That’s also new.

Republishing (or retweeting) a particular thought is easy, fast, and magnifies a popular or interesting meme by thousands or millions of times – whether it’s true or not. Not possible in traditional media, so that’s new too.

Musk can’t alter any of these basic facts about digital platforms – he can only nibble around the edges of content moderation, performance, and identity management (bot control). Was that worth $44 billion and time away from his more important ventures? I think not, but then I’m not the richest guy in the world with a bad case of something on the spectrum.

The best case scenario is that Musk makes Twitter more efficient and then allows some trusted person(s) to manage it on his behalf. The worst case is that Twitter loses its position as a popular digital commons and the world moves on to other, newer, cooler platforms. Twitter joins Facebook as a has-been. My bet is on the latter outcome.