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.

Feast week is off to a rough start

I showed up for the game last night with UK colors on, ready and enthused. Pizza, check. Good bottle of wine, check. DVR on, check. I showed up but unfortunately, the team didn’t. Even the game announcers noted how lackluster UK played in the first half. To be fair, Oscar T showed up and had another Big Game, but he was one versus five. Another crushing disappointment.

I’ve said enough, Here’s a great, thoughtful comment from A Sea of Blue that sums it up nicely:

Mark Few put on a clinic in regards to a modern basketball team (and program). Zags took highly efficient shots all game and let Kentucky shoot its long pull up 2’s. Few almost broke out into laughter when the subject of Toppin getting “hot” on semi-contested 18-footers. The entire point of their defense is to get the opponent to take such a shot. Few’s team is made up of skilled basketball players from 1-5. They have shooters at nearly every position. They space the court. They know how to move without the ball. They don’t depend on “plays” instead running actions that can be dynamic depending on how they are defended. The roster is intelligently built. Gonzaga minimizes their number of ball dominant slashers.

Cal has built a roster and program on ball dominant slashers. The dreaded HS scouting report “…great in the open floor and slashing to the basket. Shot and ball handling are a work in progress.” Kentucky’s rosters skill distribution and offense does not space the court. Notice how far under a screen Gonzaga went vs Wheeler. They would have let him shoot wide open 3’s all night. The Cats routinely have 2-4 players on the court that lack high level basketball skills; that do not play well off the ball; that do not stress a defense and therefore can not space the court; that can only score on drives/posts. The Cats do not run actions that open up shots for the few people that can shoot. (Sprinting 60 yards back and forth on a court and catching a pass while running full speed away from the basket does not help one’s shooting %.) Note how many NBA draft steals have come from Kentucky in the last 5-7 years (are better in pros than at UK); how much UK players shooting %’s go up when they are in the league. All the offensive problems also show up in defense as Kentucky routinely surrenders efficient shots and over relies on switching screens.

BTW whoever coined the phrase “NBA shot” for Toppin’s pull up contested 18 footers needs an irony award. Those are exactly the shots that NBA teams hate.

Back to politics. Recently elected Arizona House Republican says she will not do her job unless the 2022 election is redone. That’s 100% OK with me – you won’t do your job, so you’re fired. Swear in the runner-up and move on. There’s gotta be some recourse to childish, irresponsible politicians.

This is a terrible idea. With computers, you buy the hardware and software once, you’re entitled to the software upgrades. The auto industry is trying to change that. Asshats.

Here’s another potentially terrible idea. New Zealand considering lowering the voting age to 16. I don’t know about the rest of you, but at 16 I wasn’t interested in anything remotely resembling politics and real-world issues. I was the complete opposite of thoughtful and well-informed. Sports, music, sports, girls, sports – those were my priorities, in that order. Perhaps New Zealanders raise more fully-formed teenagers, but I doubt it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Sports Sunday

Big day today – UK basketball goes up against the #2 team in the nation, Gonzaga. The game is at a “neutral” site in Spokane, WA. Neutral, really? The game venue is in the same damn town as the college – it’s essentially a home game for them, just in a bigger arena. But after a little research, it makes sense. From Bleacher Report:

The series entails two games played in Spokane, two played inside of Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center, and two neutral site contests. A full breakdown of the series:

2022 – Spokane Arena
2023 – Rupp Arena
2024 – Seattle
2025 – Nashville
2026 – Rupp Arena
2027 – McCarthey Athletic Center

So next year we play them at Rupp. OK then.

And this is a day after UK football played the #1 team in the nation, Georgia, and came out of it pretty well. I figured we’d lose by 50, but the football Cats played tough and made it a close game.

In political news, I’d like to think that the appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee the two major criminal investigations involving Trump is a good thing. The guy who was appointed looks like a solid choice – looks more like a Special Forces dude than a judge, and has a great CV. Time will tell, but I see this as a positive development – I think Garland was smart to delegate this.

And here’s a great little website that chronicles the daily fuckups of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover. I have a bet with a friend who thinks Musk is just smarter than everyone and has a grand plan for Twitter, while I think Musk is not right in the head and headed for disaster. This website agrees with me. It’ll be interesting; pass the popcorn.

Better days

Starting the day off with some Tame Impala over the Airpods. So addictive, so cool, so calming. It’s hard to stop listening once you start. Puts a smile on my face every time. Kevin Parker is a gift.

The last few days have reminded me what it feels like to be healthy. It’s shockingly good. The previous months really knocked me out, and now that I seem to have recovered, it’s *wonderful*. An almost manic feeling.

I’ve reconnected with several good friends over the last 2-3 days, by phone and in person. Chuck, Art, T2, Rick – so good to catch up. Always makes me wonder why we wait so long.

Last evening I had a long conversation with one of them. Like many of my friends, he’s a fairly hard-core conservative. Voted for Trump and programmed by his media intake to hate Biden and crew. I’ve never let that get in the way of friendship. He asked me honestly how I could be so liberal, and we had a great chat about that. I told him I had 3-4 big issues that keep me on the liberal side of things:

  • Any civilized, rich country should provide healthcare for all. No one should have to suffer when we can afford to care for them.
  • Same for hunger and homelessness. It’s tragic and unnecessary at our stage of wealth and technology. I know, some people aren’t able to be regular citizens, but having them camp on our city streets isn’t the answer. Spend some real money on fixing that problem.
  • I want clean air and clean water. The EPA makes that happen, and the fact that corporations don’t like the EPA’s regulation is just tough. Shut up and have a glass of clean, lead-free water.
  • I want our tax dollars spent on useful things – roads, bridges, drug and food safety, airline safety, etc. Not BS cultural issues.

We found so much that we agree on. Term limits for all politicians and judges, a stronger and more rational border policy, small nukes as a replacement for fossil fuel energy, let the teachers be teachers and stay out of their business, “Defund the Police” is the stupidest and worst slogan ever, etc. It turns out that when you really sit down and talk through the details with reasonable people, there’s a lot to agree on.

He agreed with my big 3-4 issues, and said he wished the conservative party would just adopt those and we’d all be on the same side. Unlikely, but I’d be fine with that.

One tough area is that this friend is susceptible to believing conspiracy theories, and the right-wing media is great at creating them. The latest is that somehow the Biden administration used FTX (the now-defunct crypto exchange) to covertly funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to the Ukraine. I patiently took him through my thinking that (1) big conspiracies require hundreds of people to keep secrets, something that almost never works, (2) it’s much easier to believe that we simply are sending stockpiled weapons to them (truth) and those weapons will be replaced within next year’s 700 billion-ish Defense budget. Nothing covert about it. And we’ve done this for decades – we’ve sent weapons all over the globe in support of one faction or another, so why is this one so egregious?

I’m not sure I talked him off this particular ledge, but he listened. All in all, it was a great chat and I think he was satisfied that I’m not some crazed lefty, just a person who has some core beliefs that line up best with liberal leaders.

Crazy dude

I’m really worried about Elon Musk. Actually, I’m worried about the impact on SpaceX. I’ve had high hopes for SpaceX’s progress in rocketry, but with Musk melting down over something as stupid as Twitter, his other more useful endeavors – SpaceX and Tesla – will inevitably suffer. His moves with Twitter over the last 72 hours are insane. These are not the actions of a rational person – they’re the actions of a megalomaniac who is way, way out over his skis.

Twitter can burn to the ground for all I care. Just don’t take SpaceX with it.