Happy 115th!

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Here he is, shoveling snow in 1939:

VV shoveling snow, 1939

I will not look that dapper when I am 39, nor will I shovel that much snow while wearing a suit, a nice overcoat, and dress shoes.

Grampa would’ve turned 115 today if he hadn’t died stopping that spatial-temporal rift from tearing the Sun apart.

Plug.

Just the first scene from last night’s epic road trip dream:

I am driving my old Corolla. The narrow road is carved out of a mountainside, a steep rise on my left and a steep drop into water on my right. The mountainside has been shaped into faux bricks, which means someone put some real money into making the road. So why didn’t they take the time to make the road wide enough that I don’t feel like my car’s about to topple over and tumble into the water?

So naturally my car topples over and tumbles into the water. I am uninjured in the crash. I roll down the window– I knew getting the manual windows would eventually pay off– and swim towards the far shore. I am not a strong swimmer, but I make it almost all the way over to a dock on the far side. I am almost completely drained, and the floor of the dock is just a few feet out of reach. I can’t summon the energy to kick my way that extra little bit.

My brother comes to the dockside. He reaches out, and I reach for him, but we can’t quite connect. I’m not going to make it.

He stands straight for a second and looks around. He runs somewhere I can’t see from my vantage point. He comes running back with a bottle of Pepsi. He reaches out to me with it, and it will be long enough for me to catch hold of. I’m almost saved…

…until he pulls back. He looks at the bottle with a hint of disgust, and runs off again.

I panic. I flail. I’m going to get him in the afterlife one way or another. And then I hear him coming back…

…this time with a bottle of Coca-Cola. He reaches out to me with it, and it will be long enough for me to catch hold of. I’m saved.

And then on with the rest of the dream.

Questionnaire 18.

The following questionnaire came from a website called PluginID. Click here for the link. The original questions are in all caps, my answers are not. Here goes:

1. IF YOU DISLIKE YOUR FAMILY, ARE YOU OBLIGATED TO SPEND TIME WITH THEM? Erm….
SHOW UP AT FAMILY FUNCTIONS? Well…
HELP THEM OUT IN THEIR TIME OF NEED? You know, I would, but there’s this thing on TV that night, so…
IS A FAMILY EVEN RELEVANT ANYMORE – ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE A CLOSE CIRCLE OF FRIENDS?
Because it’s late, I can only answer this question like so:
When I first read Brave New World, I could not bring myself to finish it. The abolition of family and monogamy horrified me. I’m sure there are convincing, compelling articles and books and speeches out there about just why the family is increasingly irrelevant, or why genetic attachments are instinctual rather than rational, but that horror remains.

2. IS IT BETTER TO EAT HEALTHILY ALL THE TIME, OR SHOULD WE ALLOW OURSELVES TO INDULGE ONCE IN A WHILE? SIMILARLY, DOES THIS ARGUMENT APPLY TO DRUG USE – EVEN ILLEGAL DRUG USE? You should allow yourself to indulge once in a while, if only for the same reason you get vaccinated: to get your body a little bit used to unhealthy food, in case the apocalypse comes and the power goes out and society breaks down and you have to survive on the Ramen noodles or Girl Scout cookies or Coca-Cola you found in the truck you hijacked en route to the Safe Zone. It was you or them, man.

3. WHY DO WE CALL SOME RELIGIONS “MYTHOLOGIES” (ANCIENT GREEK, NORSE, EGYPTIAN, ETC.) AND OTHERS RELIGIONS? IS THIS FAIR? WHAT DOES THIS SHOW ABOUT HOW RELEVANT CERTAIN IDEAS ARE AS SOCIETY PROGRESSES? Mythologies are religions people stopped believing in. Fair’s got nothing to do with it, or much else. It shows that whether they’re right or wrong to believe X, the fact that people believe X affects the world around them. This’ll come up again in the next question.

4. PEOPLE OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE GROWING GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND POOR. HOWEVER, TODAY’S POOR (IN THE UNITED STATES, AT LEAST) ARE MUCH BETTER OFF THAN MOST PEOPLE (NOT JUST THE POOR) WERE A CENTURY AGO. DOES IT MATTER THAT THERE’S AN INCREASING GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND THE POOR IF THE STANDARD OF LIVING FOR THE POOR KEEPS GOING UP? I started writing a few paragraphs in response to this, and thought I’d better make a separate blog post. In short: “Yes, but not for a good enough reason.”

5. HOW WOULD YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE IF YOU HAD A WEEK TO LIVE? HOW WOULD YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE IF YOU HAD 5 YEARS LEFT TO LIVE? HOW WOULD YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE IF YOU WERE GOING TO LIVE FOREVER? A week: ruthlessly. Five years: contentedly. Forever: patiently.

6. IS IT TRULY WORTH IT TO DIE FOR A FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND? YES, YOU’D BE A HERO, BUT THAT PERSON WOULD FEEL GUILTY FOR YOUR DEATH FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. IS THAT “BRAVE” ACT ACTUALLY COWARDLY BECAUSE YOU’RE TRANSFERRING THE GUILT THAT YOU’D HAVE FELT IF YOU DID NOTHING AND WATCHED THEM DIE TO YOUR FRIEND, WHO HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GUILT OF CAUSING YOUR DEATH? I’d rather them feel guilty than be dead, so nyah.

7. IS A DAY SPENT WATCHING MOVIES WHEN YOU COULD’VE BEEN WORKING A DAY WASTED OR WELL SPENT? That depends on the quality of the movies and the quality of the work.

8. WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO A RELATIONSHIP: COMMON VALUES OR OTHER COMMONALITIES (LIKE TASTES IN MUSIC, INTERESTS, ETC.)? Common values. We don’t have to like the same music; that’s why God created headphones. But if your values are too different, you occupy different worlds instead of the same space and you travel on tangents instead of the same path.

9. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON LOVE? ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES? CAN WE SEPARATE LOVE FROM INFATUATION? ARE THERE ANY QUALIFIERS TO MAKE LOVE “TRUE” (RATHER THAN “FAKE”)? Qualifiers? Ask a philosopher. My logic is uncertain where love is concerned.

10. CAN WE EVER BE SURE THAT OUR PERCEPTION OF THINGS IS RIGHT – WITHOUT CONSULTING OTHER PEOPLE?IF WE DO CONSULT OTHERS, HOW ARE WE TO KNOW WHETHER THEIRS IS TRUE OR IF WE’RE BOTH DELUDED? We can be sure, we might just be wrong. Do the best you can.

11. WOULD YOUR LIFE BE BETTER OR WORSE IF YOU KNEW THE DAY, TIME, AND PLACE THAT YOU WERE GOING TO DIE? Worse.

12. WHAT IS HONOR? DOES HONOR MATTER ANYMORE? Honor is integrity, which will matter as long as there’s even one person left with any. God help us if it ever ceases to matter.

13. IS IT REASONABLE TO HAVE A SENSE OF DELUSIONAL CONFIDENCE IN YOUR ABILITIES, OR WOULD YOU RATHER BUILD CONFIDENCE BY PERFORMING WELL IN THE PAST? IF YOU CHOOSE THE LATTER, DOESN’T THAT MEAN THAT A SINGLE BAD PERFORMANCE CAN SHATTER YOUR CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF? Isn’t “delusional confidence” unreasonable by definition? And of course a bad performance can shatter your confidence. Whether it does is up to you.

14. WHAT SHOULD BE THE ROLE OF SEX IN SOCIETY? IS IT A BIG DEAL? A SMALL DEAL? SOMEWHERE IN-BETWEEN? I can’t afford to lose any more sponsors, so I decline to answer this question.

15. WOULD YOU BE A MARTYR AND GIVE UP YOUR REPUTATION AMONGST YOUR PEERS TO DO WHAT YOU KNOW IS RIGHT? OR IS IT BETTER TO BE PRAGMATIC AND SIT AND DO NOTHING? It depends on the issue. Pragmatism means knowing when to martyr yourself.

16. WOULD YOU RATHER BE INSANE IN A FUNCTIONAL SOCIETY, OR ONE OF THE PEOPLE RUNNING A PROFOUNDLY DYSFUNCTIONAL SOCIETY? I’d rather run a profoundly dysfunctional society. It pays 400 grand a year, plus perks.

17. COULD YOU BE PERSUADED TO KILL? IF YOUR ANSWER IS NO, THEN HOW MUCH MONEY WOULD IT TAKE TO GET YOU TO CHANGE YOUR MIND? Yes. I believe everybody is capable of anything. Truly believing you could never do something horrible is a good first step towards demagnetizing your moral compass. It’s better to realize that you’re capable of horrible things, and to take care to avoid the near occasion of sin.

18. IF SAVING THE HUMAN RACE REQUIRED THE SACRIFICE OF YOURSELF AND EVERYONE YOU LOVE, WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO SAVE – YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES OR HUMANITY AT LARGE? I’d save myself and my loved ones, but only after announcing that humans only have so many hours or days left to become my loved ones.

19. WHAT IF YOUR GOD DOESN’T EXIST? Hopefully I wouldn’t behave any differently.

20. ARE THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES ABOUT OUR PAST TRUE, OR DO WE BEND THE TRUTH SO WE CAN CREATE OUR STORIES? IF THE LATTER IS TRUE, THEN WHAT WORTH IS THERE IN THE STORIES IF THEY AREN’T TRUE? The answer to the first question is both, depending on the beholder. Whoever lies to himself about his past sees value in doing so– ask him. I think and hope I’m honest with myself about my past, or at least that I bend the truth as little as possible.

21. WHAT IS TRUE STRENGTH? The quality or condition of being truly strong.

22. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU NEVER WASTED ANOTHER MINUTE OF YOUR LIFE? WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE? I’d either be perfect or dead.

23. SOME SAY THAT STRIVING FOR PERFECTION IS UNHEALTHY. WHAT IF STRIVING FOR PERFECTION MADE YOU IMPROVE FASTER THAN YOU WOULD HAVE IF YOU HAD LOWER EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF? WHICH WAY WOULD BE BETTER? Striving for perfection would be better. I think you’re begging the question. Hopefully the rhetoricians and logicians in my readership can chime in.

24. WOULD YOU RATHER LIVE FOR 10 YEARS IN EXCELLENT HEALTH, OR 30 IN “AVERAGE” HEALTH, ASSUMING THAT PERIOD STARTED ON YOUR 18TH BIRTHDAY? Would I still be alive at the end of those years? If so, what sort of condition would I lapse into at the end? There’s a lot missing from this question. That said, I’d probably have to take the 10 years in excellent health. It’d be a good start on the rest of my life.

25. IS OPEN-MINDEDNESS REALLY A VIRTUE IF TRULY DESTRUCTIVE IDEAS ARE SPREADING IN SOCIETY? Open-mindedness does not preclude rejecting stupid and/or evil ideas. Would that more people understood that.

26. WHAT WOULD CRUSH YOU MORE: SEEING THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE DIE BY GETTING HIT BY A CAR, OR GETTING THE CALL FROM YOUR DOCTOR THAT TOLD YOU THAT YOU HAD CANCER AND HAD 6 WEEKS TO LIVE? The former. As Steve Dallas would’ve said, a man can pack a lot of living into six weeks.

27. HOW DO YOU THINK OF YOURSELF – HERO OR VILLAIN? IS THE WORST IDENTITY TO HAVE NOT THE VILLAIN, BUT THE PERSON WHO IS POWERLESS? I try to be more heroic than villainous. No one whose mind works is powerless.

28. HOW MUCH CONTROL DO YOU REALLY HAVE OVER YOURSELF? Enough that I have no excuses.

29. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WHITE LIES? WHY DO WE TELL OTHERS THEM? WHAT IF WE WENT WITHOUT THEM? I have never, ever told a white lie, so I can’t really say.

30. WHO ARE YOU? NAMES, NATIONALITIES, AND VIRTUALLY ANY OTHER SOCIALLY-DEFINED ATTRIBUTES DO NOT COUNT. DEEP DOWN, WHO ARE YOU? I am the man who wrote this.

Ismism.

Today, in a conversation with an Anonymous Friend Who Is Definitely Not Dr. Hmnahmna, I asked if he was as excited as I that Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for President. He responded that he was, and that he looked forward to Bill turning the White House back into a bachelor pad.

I then opined that I was looking forward to being called a sexist throughout 2016 and probably beyond, because it would be a welcome change from being called a racist since June 2008. Anonymous Friend then rightly pointed out that I’ll be called cisgendered and heteronormative regardless.

I’ll probably also be called ageist, and possibly heightist if I’m taller than Mrs. Clinton.

I look forward to the next 19 months of rational debate and calm discussion.

Now that I think of it, I wonder what I was for opposing John Edwards.

On the RFRA kerfluffle.

A few thoughts spring to mind regarding the controversy surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, largely informed by my background in econ:

1. What is the difference in principle between the refusal to buy a product and the refusal to sell a product, or between a boycott and a refusal to serve customers?

2. Is offending people’s sensitivities by refusing to trade with them worse than forcing people to violate their consciences?

3. It is often said by self-congratulators that “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Would they do the same for any other rights, say, your right to give your money to whom you want, or your right to give your property to whom you want?

4. Public servants, officials, employees, whatever you’d like to call them, should not be permitted to discriminate based on race, religion, sex, orientation, etc., in the performance of their duties. No RFRA should protect that sort of discrimination.

5. It bothers me that a private business owner might refuse to serve someone for shallow reasons. It bothers me more that that business owner might face fines, lawsuits, or even get shut down by the city or state for that refusal. It would not bother me at all to see negative media attention and boycotts eventually run them out of business. Let the media and the marketplace work their magic.

6. I have heard comparisons between the various RFRAs and the Jim Crow laws. They are largely invalid. There is all the difference in the world between allowing businesses to pick and choose their customers (RFRA) and mandatory segregation of private property (Jim Crow).

7. I think the right to trade gets short shrift in American legislation, jurisprudence, and culture. It would’ve been nice of Mr. Madison to enumerate it back in the day. Two consenting adults should have the right to love each other, and to live together, and to marry. Those protesting the Indiana RFRA would certainly agree. I just wish they’d also envision and support the right of consenting adults to trade– or to choose not to trade.

On mandatory voting.

President Obama recently floated the idea of mandatory voting. For the man’s sake, I hope there’s some larger context here that justifies his otherwise tyrannical proposal. But since we’ve already established that you can be forced to buy stuff or else pay a tax– which may not actually be a tax, it depends which judges you’re trying to win over– he probably actually means forcing people to vote.

Why? Apparently because in the wake of the Citizens United ruling, money has too big an influence on the electoral process. Somehow, all that big bad evil money keeps people from voting, so Obama wants to make them vote in spite of all that big bad evil money.

Some thoughts:

1. If you have to be forced to vote, I don’t want you to vote.

2. If campaign ads and media bluster can convince you not to vote, I don’t want you to vote.

3. If you can be convinced to vote for a particular policy or party, why is paid campaign advertising a less valid method of doing so than, say, media bluster, or endorsements from fawning celebrities, or flattering coverage from talk show hosts, or free viral videos, or educational indoctrination, or religious indoctrination, or writing an op-ed, or simply talking to somebody? (An aside: more than a few of those alternatives are also paid for; we just don’t normally think of them that way.)

4. When the Constitution refers to citizens’ right to vote, it specifically uses the word right. Not obligation. Not requirement. Right. And a right that people are forced to exercise is not a right.

5. Speaking of which, what other such rights are you required to exercise?

6. If you think the campaigns are superficial and negative and obnoxious and just plain bad enough now, think about how bad they’re going to be when the campaigns have to go after the votes of people who don’t vote because they don’t care or because they don’t want to.

The long and short of it is that the government doesn’t have as much control over political speech as it used to, and Obama thinks the way around that is to force you to vote. If they can’t control your vote, they’ll control your speech. Since they can’t control your speech anymore, they’ll control your vote. This idea won’t come to fruition anytime soon, but oaks start off as acorns.

On the GOP Letter to Iran.

Say I were to publish the following as an open letter:

Dear Government of Iran,

Here’s the United States Constitution: http://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm.

Please pay special attention to Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 (click here; it’s the paragraph starting “He shall have power…”), which is about treaty stuff. Also have a look at Amendment XXII (click here), which is about how long Presidents serve. Note there’s no mention of term limits on congressmen.

Then, click here for a Wikipedia article about the Treaty Clause, with some explanations about how treaties are different from executive agreements. And then click here for some stuff about filibusters in the Senate.

Finally, President Obama has to leave office no later than noon, January 20th, 2017. At 12:01 PM that day, you could be dealing with President Hillary, or Walker, or Warren, or Rubio, or O’Malley, or Jeb, or God-Knows-Who. Two-thirds of the current Senate will still be around, though.

Sincerely,

Vincent D. Viscariello

Set aside for a moment the wisdom of typing such a letter and publishing it in a forum that has as many as thirty-seven viewers per day, worldwide.

My question is: Did I just violate the Logan Act or otherwise commit treason?

Congressmen, Supreme Court justices, and the President are welcome to follow the above links as well.

“Never rains, but it pours.”

Harve Bennett, producer of The Greatest Film Ever Committed To Film, passed away yesterday. And by producer I don’t mean “some guy with enough pull to get a credit,” I mean “the guy who came up with the idea of putting Khan in the movie.” The film ended up much different from what he originally envisioned, but he got the ball rolling and the end result was powerful. What a sad week for Trekkies and Trekkers alike.

A question about net neutrality.

By “a question” I actually meant “two questions with opportunity for further elucidation”.

Since the advent of the internet, books, songs, movies, TV shows, and every other form of entertainment have become more accessible. Culture, whether pop or sublime, is more widespread. Friends and relatives can get keep in touch more easily than ever before. It’s easier to follow sports, or fashion, or science, or any interest you can think of. Businesses can advertise and communicate more easily. Political parties and interest groups can coordinate campaigns and build membership more easily. Religious groups can proselytize more. Atheist and agnostic groups can proselytize more. Mainstream viewpoints of history and current events receive more exposure. Alternative viewpoints of history and current events receive more exposure. People in different countries can communicate more directly and frequently. More journalists are investigating, questioning, and, when necessary, mocking the rich and powerful. Governments and businesses are under more scrutiny.

Simply put, information is more widespread and less expensive than at any point in human history. Communication is easier and cheaper than ever before.

Challenge my premise if you’d like, but otherwise please answer these questions:

1. Is there some brand new threat that is going to jeopardize the thus-far unfathomable progress of the internet?

2. Is there some pre-existing problem that has hobbled the progress of the internet, but we haven’t noticed because we’ve been hypnotized by glowing rectangles?

If the answer to either question is “yes”, then please explain to me how net neutrality (roughly put: treating the internet like a public utility) will help solve the problem.

If the answer to either question is “no”, then please explain to me the problem that net neutrality is supposed to solve.

I really hope to hear that net neutrality somehow protects property rights, or clarifies them, or removes pre-existing legal or regulatory barriers to internet startups. I don’t expect to hear any of that, but I’ve been surprised before.

If the answer to 1 or 2 is “yes”, is giving more control of the internet to the feds worth it?

Harrumph.

Not too long ago, I heard about a parent-teacher conference that I wish I’d sat in on. The story goes that this parent-of-a-struggling-student kicked off the conference by explaining how he, the parent, would teach the class.

The first suggestion was that the teacher should make the class interesting. The second suggestion was that the teacher should show how the class material related to the students’ everyday lives. Both were brilliant ideas that had never ever occurred to this teacher in all his years of teaching. And yet the third took the take:

The teacher should explain how he wished he’d worked harder in school so that he didn’t have to become a teacher. That would inspire students to hit the books, pay attention in class, and perform well on assessments.

Upon hearing this story the first time, several barbed responses occurred to me. My favorite of the bunch was “Sir, I retired when I was 28. I teach because I love teaching children.” Why? Three reasons. First, both statements are technically correct, which is the best kind of correct. Second, “I teach because…” is a positive statement that hopefully will segue into a positive, productive discussion. Third, it makes the jerk a little more insecure about his own accomplishments in life, or lack thereof.

Actually, if I’d heard that third suggestion in person, my eyes would’ve bulged out, my jaw would’ve dropped, and I would’ve been too shocked and insulted to respond right way. I’m told that the teacher kept his composure, wisely let the comment slide, and went on with the conference, which was probably the most professional way to handle the affront.

While it is true that we want our students and our progeny to have better lives and careers than we had, there are probably better ways to articulate the thought.

“The mains are back on line.”

Re the issues mentioned in my previous post:

1. After careful consideration of sage advice from Aabrock, I went with Option B. Given what I do with this blog, which is mere and mild blogging, it makes sense to go with something simple and secure. If I were to flood the market with branded merchandise like VDV coffee mugs and VDV action figures and VDV lunchboxes, then Option A (plus a lot more time, money, and effort put towards the website) would be in order.

2. It’s secure. Trust me.

3. I’m going to stick with the original title, last used in December 2007, which was the first time I screwed up my blog.

4. Sadly, simplicity and security come at the cost of being unable, for now, to make this thing look the way I want it to. I really liked the clean, three-column Thesis theme. I’d like to replicate that appearance as much as possible given the constraints of wordpress.com hosting. That said, I have decided that if and when the day comes that I go back to self-hosting, Genesis is the logical choice. Aabrock mentioned it to me, I did a bit of research of my own, and it seems more user-friendly than Thesis. Anything would be more user-friendly than Thesis 2.x, which I hadn’t been using anyways because it was byzantine without any accompanying beauty. I’d been using 1.8.x instead. Of course, it could well be that that was the source of the security problem, in which case… whoops.