Archive for October, 2012

Still Here

Okay, so the storm went past on Monday.  Very heavy winds on Monday afternoon, but we retained power throughout the day.  Around 7PM, the winds had slacked off considerably and we were having dinner, when the lights went out.  Just as well, we caught up on three or four nights of not enough sleep.

Some trees went down and we lost a piece of siding.  Nothing worse than that.  We got our lights back after dinner on Tuesday night.

Father-in-law fared less well – the bay flooded over his lawn again, killed his freshwater fish, and flooded his crawlspace.  He is still without power.

The dunes on the barrier beach have been flattened – the ocean must have been coming right over for a wide swath.  Not much damage to structures out there, so far as I know right now, but a major flattening, like this area hasn’t seen since the hurricane of 38.

My brother, who lives thirty miles west of here, had more damage and may be without power for some time.  The tales get worse the farther west you go.  The city took it pretty bad in parts and the Jersey shore is, reportedly, devastated.

We really lucked out here.  We did not get the day and a half of heavy rain that was forecast for just before the storm, so the trees had a little more solid dirt to hang onto.   The storm also went a little south of what was forecast, so we did not quite get the sustained winds we expected.  But, again, the farther west you go, the worse it gets.

One oddity of note: I do not seem to have the ability to start a generator.  Not sure why – no different than a lawn mower, in the important respects.

The fire whistles (for you city people, these are large sirens used to summon volunteer firemen, who all carry pagers anyhow) have been non-stop since three days before the storm.  Lots of people having lots of trouble, which happens when roads turn into ponds, candles are used for illumination, and electrical wires become something less than horizontal.  And, as people clean up storm damage, accidents happen.

It is going to be a couple of weeks for things to get back to normal around here.  Folks to the west have got a bad couple of months coming.


Categories: Oddities

More than a Shrug

Got to watch Atlas Shrugged, Part Duex a couple of weeks ago, the one week it was in the theater, but didn’t have time to write about it then.  All in all, not so bad.  Better than Part One, in my opinion.  Better cast, more going on, some of the subplots starting to resolve themselves.  Still low budget, to be sure, but not horribly so.  The man playing Rearden had real presence.

Yes, much was left out.  This is always the case with movies.  Turn a movie into a book without expanding it and you would have less than a two-hundred page paperback.  Turn an 1100 page book into a movie without editing it and it would be an eleven hour experience.  At least.  Even Peter Jackson hasn’t quite managed that, even with expanded editions.

One real perk in the movie: you get to hear Teller speak.  Not much, just a throwaway scene, but it was cute.  (Trivia: the only one to say a word in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie was…  Marcel Marceau)  Oh, and they sort of lampoon the Occupy movement along the way.  D. B. Sweeney is credited as John Galt, but you don’t really see him, just a silhouette, leaving open the opportunity to recast him, even if the rest of the cast stays on.

In any case, if you didn’t get to see it in the theater, go buy the video when it comes out.  I really want to see a Part Three.


Storm Warnings

Not that I’ve had much to say lately, but I will probably be off the air for a few days.  Sandy.

Right now, the worst looks like Monday night, with winds tapering by Tuesday afternoon.  But we have three days of heavy rain forecast, which should soften the ground for any trees that want to relocate.

Got get going with prep.  Gasoline, money, nailing down the chickens, taking down my wonderful gazebo tarp.  Rain starts in six hours.  Will try to write tonight, if time and power permit.


Categories: Administrative, Pet Peeves

Means Tested

Russell Means has passed away at age 72.  He was an activist on Native American issues (he called himself an Indian) and had some involvement with Wounded Knee.  He was also an actor, playing the titular Chingachgook in “The Last of the Mohicans” in 1992, as well as some other roles over the years.
I met Mr. Means at the state Libertarian convention in Denver in 2001, where he spoke.  In what became my last official duty as Public Information Director for the state party, I moderated Mr. Means’ press conference, not that he needed much moderating.  He was, if I remember, strongly considering a run for governor (New Mexico?) under the LP banner, though it eventually fell through.

This event turned out to be very important in my life, because since I was in one room running a press conference, I could not be in another room where they were taking nominations for party officers.  That is how I became state chairman.


Yet More Transit

Saw a quick article last week where our newish county executive (Suffolk, NY) is pushing for improvements to bus service in the busier western third of the county.  Fast Buses, I think he said, as opposed to the apparently slow ones we have now.  Sounds nice, of course.

Naturally, when you look at what he is proposing, one sees the flaws.  He is trotting out the tired old idea of dedicated, segregated bus lanes.  That is, they build lanes behind partitions – or, more often, just partition off existing lanes – letting the buses float along as if they were light-rail trains running on tracks, without any traffic worries.

What always happens, of course, even if they actually do build completely new lanes alongside the existing roads, is that the new lanes end up restricting car traffic, making it harder to make turns and such.  And if they take over existing lanes for this, that compresses all that car traffic into fewer lanes or, at best, narrower lanes.

What they will tell you, of course, is that with dedicated bus lanes, fewer people will drive themselves, opting for the comfort and convenience of rapid mass transit.  That may be true, but the exact figure is very important, because history  has shown that improvements to mass transit only manage to pluck a few people out of their cars.  So, when you constrict auto traffic and only lose, say, five percent of the cars, you have a recipe for gridlock and longer commutes.

I have said if before: mass transit is a religion, relying on faith and not fact, and most people support mass transit because they want EVERYBODY ELSE to get off the road so that they can drive faster.  It is cars, freely chosen and purchased by the people, that put the original private mass transit providers out of business.  It is what people want, it is what they find more convenient.

So, Mr. Supervisor, if you think you can find the space and the money to build new lanes, then do that.  Don’t build bus lanes, just build more lanes.  Or, better yet, don’t spend the money – let private concerns build private toll lanes and charge for their use.  More lanes means less congestion, less pollution, less fuel usage, faster commutes, and happier constituents.

Or does that just seem too un-American?


Categories: Pet Peeves

Asking the Wrong Questions

October 7, 2012 1 comment

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”  – Thomas Pynchon

So, surfing through the internet the other day, don’t remember where, when I saw a headline.  It was the link to a poll or to an article or to an article about a poll – don’t know, didn’t click on it.  But the headline intrigued me.

Do you believe the future will be like Star Trek or like Blade Runner?

Well, full disclosure here, I am a Star Trek fan.  No, not a Trekkie or a Trekker, but a definite fan.  As to Blade Runner, it is one of the greatest films in history.  Well, the Director’s Cut is, anyhow.

So, to paraphrase the question, will the future consist of great technology in clean, bright environments with self-actualized people doing great things?  Or will the future be dark, dank, miserable cities, where the rain never stops, environmental and economic disasters the norm, where the rich live in their enclaves, high above it all, while most people suffer through?

That may be the question the author intended.  But when I thought about it, some hours later, what I realized was that the two visions presented had much in common.  They are both leftist fantasies, with little grounding in reality.

Blade Runner is the leftist fantasy of what will happen if they lose in their quest to… whatever it is they intend to do.  If they lose, then the world will become a horrible place, where most people are miserably poor, a world run by corporations and capitalists that care for nothing but themselves.  Dark.  Miserable.  Unfair.  A distopic nightmare of global proportions.  A world that you would never choose to live in.  That is how they see the world without their guidance.

Which leaves Star Trek – especially as presented in The Next Generation – as the leftist fantasy of what will happen if they win.  A bright, happy future with perfect people, living in a thinly-veiled communist utopia.  It shows a future with promise, one you would actually want to live in.  All worldly and humanistic problems have gone away, because we have, as a race, purged ourselves of bad thoughts like self-interest and discrimination.  Long live the Federation!

That is the gist of the question.  Do you want to live in a world where the communitarians have won?  Or where they have lost?

They are, of course, asking the wrong question.  It is the wrong question because it assumes both fantasies are true.  Much as I like the source material, I don’t believe either is close to a true future.

The world shown in Blade Runner assumes that old doggerel that says “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  That is, the rich keep the rest of us down in the cold, dark ghettos, while they feast on what we make.  That poetic view of the world just doesn’t stand up, however.  Yes, the rich do get richer.  We all get richer.

Technological progress and increasing personal freedoms has, for centuries now, created prosperity wherever it is allowed.  We in the US have the richest poor people in the world, with cars, televisions, air conditioning, and cell phones, never mind food, while the Rising Billion poorest people on Earth are indeed rising out of poverty and creating huge new markets for goods in the process, all thanks to the kind of technological progress that lets them bypass levels of previously necessary infrastructure.

Yes, all that provided by people who were looking out, primarily, for their own self-interest.  Nay, provided by people who improved their self-interest precisely because they helped others improve theirs.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the Federation obviously believe in the power of enlightened government initiatives and projects.  The Federation, along with their non-military military, Starfleet, terraforms whole planets into livable paradises, creates huge cities in orbits, builds powerful starships, explores new worlds and new civilizations, and provides a civilization with no privation and no wants, while, at the same time, not interfering in the internal politics of member worlds or in said new civilizations.  In other words: magic.  Fantasy.

Yes, of course I can believe in a world with no wants or desires, where all are happy most of the time, excepting the odd Romulan invasion or two.  But I do not believe that any government will ever provide it, because a simple reading of history shows that they never have.  Program after program fails – or barely limps along under staggering budgets – because the perverse incentives of politics, where the providers fare best if their clients never live long or prosper, makes it impossible to succeed.

So, if you want me to believe in leftist fantasies, tell me how you or the Federation will ever solve this one basic character flaw in the foundation of government.  How do you keep your politicians satisfied and your bureaucrats feeling secure if you do not give them unending clients in need?  Solve the client’s needs, you see, and they don’t need you anymore.

Instead, they ask us the wrong question.  A “false choice,” as the president is so fond of saying, although he offers as many false choices as the other guys.  Would you choose Blade Runner or Star Trek?  Misery or happiness?  Dark or light?  Tough question, that.

So what would the right question be?  Well, it wouldn’t be choosing between two fantasies.  It wouldn’t be choosing between Future A and Future B.

The question should be: HOW do we create a tomorrow that is better than today?

That’s all.  Not a rigged choice between Utopia and Distopia, with the assumptions behind both left intact.  Just a very simple question.  How do we improve on today?  One step.  Then after we have improved on today, we can look again and improve upon tomorrow.  Rinse and repeat.

And if that question seems to imply a curious lack of vision – you can’t navigate if you don’t know where you want to end up – then I will plead guilty, because the visions of tomorrow that we are usually given, like the two above, are  dripping with implications of how we got there, most of which do not pass the chortle test when they are actually dragged out and studied.  Instead, I offer a question that allows the answer to be validated in the short term.  “How do we create a better tomorrow?  Really?  You think so?  Okay, try it!  You done?  Okay, are things better?  Yes, you succeeded!  No, you failed.  Okay, next answer, please.”  Like that.

Yes, I have some thoughts as to what the future will look like and I have a few thoughts as to how we will get there.  I may present some visions of the future from time to time.  I may even imply that certain decisions made today led – will lead – to that particular future.  The difference is, I hope, that you will know I am doing it, that I am fanning out the deck in front of you and picking the cards to make a royal flush.  Or something.

Meanwhile, I firmly believe that, barring thermonuclear war or plague, the world is always getting better every day, for you, me, and everybody.  Health gets better, lives get longer and have more meaning, prosperity increases, and the breadth of human knowledge gets wider and more accessible.

Yes.  No question about it.


Categories: Pet Peeves, Trends