SocraticGadfly

January 24, 2022

Dear elected county officials: Be careful about putting up campaign signs

Specifically, be careful about WHEN you put them up, as in 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, unless on or around lunchtime.

If not? The burden of proof would be on complainants, but the Texas Ethics Commission has a word for you. Per the burden of proof, you might claim you're taking an early lunch, or on comp time or whatever, but it's probably still not good optics for you yourself to be helping to erect re-election signs, or election to a new office signs, during normal work hours.

Let's just say that it's bad optics. And, if a friendly local newspaper editor sees it, especially in a smaller, very "red" county, someone else surely saw it too and may be wondering the same thing.

January 22, 2022

Quo Vadis Albert Pujols? Likely not St. Louis, as we look at Cards' batting needs

As free agency waits in limbo after a hot pre-lockout start, even though the Cards primarily need pitching, some fans are speculating about hitting as well.

And, their thoughts have turned to the Phat Albert guy.

Albert Pujols is one that many Cards fans are saying "bring him back." And, in doing so, bringing yet more derision to the "Best Fans in Baseball" moniker.

First, if there is no NL DH (let us hope), he's only coming back on a one-day retirement deal. And, even if there IS an NL DH? Paul Goldschmidt is a righty first baseman and the team might do the common AL route of giving starters a blow from fielding. Especially if all outfielders are having decent batting years, that would be likely. And, would Albert take a contract at little more than the minimum? Beyond that, he's almost certainly at least one if not two years older than he claims.

Phat Albert, when he announced he was planning to play Dominican winter ball for the first time. told Red Satan and the Orange County Register he's ready to play next year. And? For how many dineros and how much playing time. He swallowed some pride to go to the Dodgers and platoon, but I still wonder if part of that was a "fuck you" across town to the Angels. And, let's not forget that his actual age next year will almost certainly be 43, maybe 44, and not 42.

There's one other reason he won't go to St. Louis. 

And, that is that the Cards are righty-heavy in the infield, especially if Matt Carpenter doesn't come back after the team declined his option. Tommy Edman is a switch-hitter. Everybody else is straight righty. Of outfielders, Dylan Carlson switches and Justin Williams, outrighted to Memphis and eligible for minor league free agency, per MLBTR, is the only actual lefty the team had there this past season.

The lockout has likely further complicated things for Pujols, and will do so more and more the longer it lasts. That's if he's actually signed to a real contract versus the old "invite to spring training."

There are several reasons for this. 

First, free agent movement of players who are a bit younger and more spry than Pujols, but still near the bottom of the free agency spectrum needs to sort itself out, after whenever the logjam ends.

Second, teams need to learn what sort of ask Albert and his agent have. Could be realistic. Could be ridiculous, as noted above.

Third, and probably intertwined with the lockout, is whether the NL adopts the DH for the coming year or not. That changes the needs of NL teams.

Fourth, Albert needs to show what he's got in Dominican winter ball. He HAS, while not gotten fat, "thickened" since he left St. Louis, and especially in the last three-four years.

So, Cards fans chanting "Pujols"? The only way he comes to St. Louis is on a one-day "retire as a Redbird" contract. Or, it SHOULD be.

So, No. 2, who "should" the Cards get on the bat side.

Jonathan Villar. Plays all three IF positions besides 1B, and switches. Now, is he willing to play less than full time, especially if the NL doesn't have a DH? Good question. But, allow for him starting a dozen games at each of the three infield spots, a dozen at DH against AL teams under the current structure, for about 50 starts or 200 PAs, and picking up 50 PAs elsewhere, and he might settle for that. He is coming off a one-year FA contract after having been traded one year before that, and again one year before that. Sign him for two years and you can probably get him for decent money.

MLBTR suggests Brad Miller but I'm not sold. He's a defensive negative, doesn't play 3B, though he does play first, and is a straight lefty. (In a new piece, MLBTR says Villar is probably past his best days at short, but since the Cards would be signing him as a utility infielder, that wouldn't be a deal.)

Do that, then focus on the pitching I mentioned before the lockout. The team still needs to upgrade, and with Carp and Dexter Fowler both off the books now, it can afford to do so.

January 21, 2022

COVIDIOTs, Darwin Awards, and alleged vs actual learning moments

On Twitter, on MeWe, on Hucksterman, and on a private Fuckbook group, I posted a blog taeoffs about someone who I said already seemed to be the grand champion for the 2022 Darwin Awards. Original story from the Beeb is here, but, as you'll see below, the blog post is my takeoff. All quoted material, unless otherwise noted, is from the blog.

Here's the background on the story of Czech folk singer Hana Horka and her death:

A well-known Czech folk singer has died after intentionally exposing herself to Covid-19 in a bid to gain greater access to venues and events.

Her family has shared her story as a cautionary tale...

Here's the Darwin Award details:

Horka, a well-known Czech folk singer, died after a short but difficult battle with the virus. 

Horka’s son, Jan Rek, reported that his mother intentionally exposed herself to him and his father, Horka's husband, when they were sick with Covid-19 in order to obtain a recovery pass.

This pass would allow Horka to access venues and shows that she would otherwise be barred from due to her vaccination status.

Though her husband and son were vaccinated, Horka had no plans to get the vaccine and wanted to get a recently-recovered certificate to bypass vaccine regulations. ...

Rek also discussed his mother’s decision not to get vaccinated, saying, “Her philosophy was that she was more OK with the idea of catching Covid than getting vaccinated. Not that we would get microchipped or anything like that.”

OK, you can read the rest of the story at the link. That's a good stopping place right there. Per the son's last comment, it appears he was saying his mom wasn't one of "those" COVIDIOTs, as in she did NOT believe in conspiracy theories. 

(But, in reality? Sorry, son, but she DID believe in something besides science. And the Beeb says she didn't believe in "some of the more bizarre theories." She apparently did believe in so-called "natural immunity," and touters of that usually believe in BigPharma type conspiracy theories.)

There's one other point, lower in the story, to take note of, re the "alleged vs actual learning moments," that ties in with the cautionary tale above, and that's this editorializing by story author Dan O'Reilly:

This isn’t a time for “I told you so” or demeaning comments. This should be a learning moment so that we can stop needlessly losing grandparents, parents, spouses and children.

Someone in the private Facebook group quoted that and chided me. Because it's private, I'm not telling you the name of the group, person, etc.

I noted two things.

One? Per the old adage, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink," in today's world, we have, "You can present a person a learning moment but you can't make them learn."

That's especially true with the son's observations. 

Pre-vaccination, but after the reality of COVID was apparent six months in, a poo-pooing relative got sick. That's all I'm going to say to note that I have personal experience on this.

Had said relative, 14 months later, done what Ms. Horka did (not that most US states have the same restrictions as most EU countries), and died, I wouldn't have personally mocked him. But, if he was famous enough for this to become a story, I wouldn't object to other people making Darwin Awards cracks.

This also leads me to the difference between liberals and leftists (well, non-horseshoe theory ones) in dealing with larger American societal issues. I was prompted to think of Arlie Russell Hochschild, her listening tour ideas and her book about that.

(Given that O'Reilly has verticals for "zodiac" and "horoscope," and yes, two separate ones, on his website, I'll classify him as liberal, woo world.)

As a leftist, I note there's no "reciprocal altruism" behind Hochschild's ideas. Short of a semi-sensibile national conservative opiner who writes for The Bulwark, or somebody like that at the local level, no conservative, even if not full wingnut, is going to reciprocate. 

In fact, I consider her listening tour touting to be virtue signaling as much as anything. I gave her book 4 stars rather than 3 primarily because of what it told me about her. Per the above paragraph, I explicitly cited Charles Murray and "The Bell Curve" as an example of a winger sociologist who didn't do listening tours.

So sue me.

And, sidebar? I don't think Hochschild did a listening tour of Blacks in Cancer Alley in Louisiana after doing one with White wingnuts in the same state. She might have gotten even more of an eye-opener had she done so.

Back to Horka and COVIDIOTS, and contra my respondent? The Daily Mail's piece on her death sums it up:

Half of American adults who were unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in spring 2021 said that nothing could change their minds, according to survey data released in November.

Couldn't say it better myself.

But, I don't want to end there. 

Let's go beyond COVID to the whole idea of Darwin Awards.

To me, laughing at the foibles of human stupidity that end in death are no worse for one version of foibles than another, in general. Those disagreeing on this, especially as good "librulz," are the subset of liberals that make the stereotype of liberals as humorless look more like a generalization and less like a stereotype.

January 20, 2022

Taking a deep dive on Paxton, the border, gov's race nutters

Shock me both that Kenny Boy Paxton is trying to hide his cellphone texts related to Jan. 6, 2021, when he was in DC, and that the Travis County DA's office has found that this this violates the Texas Public Information Act. (That said, given Paxton's history of stalls in legal issues and the second fact that the Tex-ass AG's office is usually involved with Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act issues, how this plays out is your guess as good as mine.) Since first blogging this, Kenny Boy has rejected the Travis DA and claims that all the information Texas media outlets want is "inconsequential."

==

The Borderlines blog takes a deep dive into the ongoing failures and snafus of Operation Lone Star, triggered by a state district judge saying it's unconstitutional — NOT Texas unconstitutional, but US Constitution unconstitutional, namely, the arrests being made. The blog also sets this in backdrop of Biden's continued enforcement of Trump's Article 42 (190-proof BlueAnoners won't like this and other aspects of the site) and how this ties in to what is actually NOT a new "surge" of crossings. Borderlines also puts this all into larger political context not only of Strangeabbott's current gubernatorial race but also his possible 2024 presidential interest. Borderlines ALSO notes that Biden continues to #BuildTheWall, and calls bullshit on Biden Administration claims that it's just making Trump's wall "more secure."

==

Speaking of Strange and politics, the Observer takes a deep dive on the GOP guv primary. It starts by reminding us that in addition to Abbott and the other two oxygen-suckers, Allen West and Don Huffines, talk show dude Chad Prather is also running. The piece is right about extremism.

Prather claims that "god wouldn't tax his own people," ignoring that the Tanakh MANDATED tithing. And, in the New Testament, as the Observer notes, Jeebus himself said, to quote the divinely inspired King James Version: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Allen West, not to be outdone, claimed Marx invented the idea of property taxes. Hey, West, if Karl Marx wanted to eliminate private property rights, he'd start with eliminating private property, which would mean there WOULD BE NO private property for him to invent private property taxes. Don Huffines, among other things, explicitly rejected federal constitutional supremacy, which means that he couldn't lawfully be sworn into office without being a rank hypocrite. At the event from which the Observer reported, West had a slight edge in a straw poll. Strange, in case you can't tell by now, didn't show up.

Now, what's this all add up to? I still think odds favor Strange getting 50 percent plus 1 and avoiding a runoff. But, the odds of that aren't that much more than 50 percent plus 1.

Texas Progressives look at Kenny Boy, voting and more

Off the Kuff notes Ken Paxton's latest legal problems, which he will surely act in an expeditious manner to correct.

The state's new voting law is leading to the rejection of many mail ballot applications.

Lupe Mendez notes that the Lege's attack on books mirrors that of Arizona a decade ago.

Meet Tiffany Kersten, the Valley woman who set a big birding record.

Noble Research Institute, among others, has touted the environmental value of regenerative agriculture and regenerative ranching in particular. The Monthly asks if it can be profitable. Answer? Possibly — with a lot of elbow grease (and marketing your meat as environmentally friendly; the Monthly doesn't talk about direct-to-consumer sales).

Is a geyser near Crane the sign of more to come in the Permian, a belated gift from a pre-fracking technique to boost old well production?

SocraticGadfly talks about getting to an all-electric-car future in light of discussing, or not discussing, "the environmental N-word."

Steve Vladeck highlights the problem of "judge shopping" in federal district courts, and a simple step to fix it.

G. Elliott Morris calls out a particular problem with political coverage of America’s democratic decline.

Your Local Epidemiologist reminds us that the flu is still a thing that is happening.

Emily Eby shows how the new voter suppression law will affect your voting experience.

Common Cause urges you to be your own advocate for the freedom to vote.

Paradise in Hell shows that he is still one of our foremost interpreters of The Former Guy.

The Current breaks the news that a Buc-ee's in Tennessee is about to become the world's largest gas station, dethroning the Buc-ee's in New Braunfels.

January 19, 2022

A word about "classism"

I have long, per the head of this blog, called myself a "leftist of some sort, at least for America."

In other words, while not an intellectual descendant of a 1968 French New Leftist, I am, and remain outside, at national (and more and more at state) voting levels, the two-party political box. I also call myself a "postcapitalist," in part as an invitation to debate and Socratic dialogue about just what capitalism is, and in part a rejection of the term "anticapitalist," in large part because of its Marxist implications.

With that said, two relatively new books I read in the last month both talk about class issues in America, but both end up being at least bits of disappointment, or in the first case, a fair amount of disappointment.

I offer expanded versions of Goodreads reviews of both, tied together.

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West by Justin Farrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good book, but could have been better in a few ways, even as an academic book, without going over the bend into polemics.

The biggest takeaway? Land trusts are generally the devil! I've long known how much environmental groups are in bed with money, but this with land trusts, primarily the local ones, but probably indirectly, more and more, involving groups like The Nature Conservancy across all 50 states, is now more stark.

Beyond that?

The good, is above all showing the huge income gap and the even more massive wealth gap in Teton County, Wyoming, followed by multiple hypocrisies of these "malefactors of great wealth." One of them is how they claim to be conservationists, but not only burn massive amounts of money on 10,000 square foot, or MUCH larger McMegaMansions, but much worse, how many of them made their bucks in things like planet-raping oil and gas. The second biggest would probably be that they think, per Trumpianism, that transactional relationships with the hired help really are friendships. Third is probably that they probably truly believe that their conservation based philanthropy, which ignores the local food bank, crisis center and rent hikes, really shows their charitable nature. Fourth is their obliviousness to the realities of Nos. 2-3.

Other good things?

Good in repeatedly noting the self-delusions. However, this is one of several failures to connect the dots better or follow up more. Are those self-delusions always unconscious? Were they at the start, at least? A couple of the ultras indicate that for them personally, they may partially realize they're self-delusional and thus it is conscious to a degree, but that's as far as it knows.

He's on noting the dressing down to "be like the natives." Somewhat notes this reduces in-group competition. Would have been a sidebar, but could have had more on that aspect of the costume wearing. If that particular aspect of sociology isn't his strong point, he is at Yale; get help!

But, Farrell then follows up with the established saying the nouveau riche for Teton are making Jackson Hole another Aspen. Well, there was a time that Aspen wasn’t that.

Good on noting the “ladder-puller-uppers.” Like that above.

But, there are times that, even as an academic, not a polemicist, he either doesn't connect the dots enough, or gave me other hesitations.

One hesitation was near the start. He had me worried at first when he favorably cited Arlie Russell Hochschild. And, no, I'm not a fan of her listening tour book, in part because she seemed totally unconscious to the idea that conservatives would never do such a thing. And, that good non-liberal leftist types know this.

Other missed dot-connecting?

Surprised he didn't explicitly note the ultra-wealthy look at working poor and lower middle class, at least Anglo ones, as "Rousselian noble savages." And, he's a sociology prof. He knows the idea and phrases like that. Why he didn't delve into that explicitly, I don't know. Maybe Yale domesticated him a bit already.

Later in the book, he didn't note that during the "robber baron" era, academics said these robber barons proved the truth of Social Darwinism. It’s even more interesting that he doesn’t mention that, because at places like page 223, when the plutocrats talk about why they’re resented, some go straight to Social Darwinism. Again, he's an academic sociologist; these missed dot-connectings start to look deliberate when repeated. See Hochschild, and liberals vs leftists.

Cites a Rockefeller scion by name early on, but anonymizes another "whose last name is nationally famous and perhaps has exposed him to more public scrutiny about his family's wealth." Why is this one anonymous? That said, is it the same person and was this a slip?

Another not-so-good? Farrell never talks about what not being born “affluent” means to the ultra-wealthy who claim they weren't. Does he have family histories on any of them? From the amount of research he did, with multiple helps, presumably from graduate assistants, I presume he does, and this is another deliberately missed dot connection.

Farrell's lucky, in the end, to get 4 stars instead of 3 and I reserve the right to change this.

==

Update: Michael Mechanic's "Jackpot" (of which I'll have a review in a few days) DOES connect these dots, including explicitly using the phrase "Social Darwinism." He also notes that, contra insinuations by Farrell, the rich, and the children of the rich, have been studied plenty enough in the past for their attitudes toward charity, attitudes toward other people, and more. As for "interviews," well, Mechanic does enough of them himself, and relies on some from the past.

My review of this book, as previously hinted, gets cut to three stars.

View all my reviews

And, with that tagline update at the end, here is "Jackpot":

 

Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All

Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All by Michael Mechanic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An anecdote early in the book explains what we’re up against.

Nick Hanauer, self-appointed plutocratic scold of present plutocrats, says, in essence, that he can’t be a truly effective scold until he’s a billionaire. The approximately $500 million he’s worth now isn’t enough.

Reality? Billionaires like Bill Gates have long been saying that things like the estate tax and top marginal rates need to be fixed, Nick.

From there, Mike Mechanic gives us chapter and verse on many important issues.

First, it’s not those lazy sluggard poor people who buy the most lotto tickets, though that fits the narratives of both poor and middle class. Rather, it’s the middle class. Although Mechanic doesn’t spell it out, it’s probably because the middle class still believes in the myth of mobility and is trying to get a quick realization of it. (Truth? Old Europe, as he notes later, has more mobility.)

Then, it’s off to the bulk of the book: How the megarich winning the jackpot plays out in so many ways, most of which hurt the rest of us.

A lot of it, Mechanic notes, is tax and investment related. That includes 529 accounts for kids or grandkids to go to college, with enough of it tax-free to fund a Stanford or Harvard education. Sure, the middle class can use the same accounts, but they simply don’t make enough to contribute that much.

Or, the alphabet soup of different trusts that can be used to escape gift taxes.

Outside of taxes, the rich can buy health through living in better places, and when health does become a problem, in our capitalist Merika without national health care, buy “concierge” health services.

In fact, the idea of “concierge” type services for the ultrarich pops up in a number of places, Mechanic shows. Bespoke tailoring. Personal assistants.

And, what that really means is buying time, ultimately. Money is time.

Even their charitable giving, to expand beyond Justin Ferrell’s “Billionaire Wilderness,” is self-centered. If not land trusts that actually cut their taxes, it’s classical music and museums that benefit their lifestyle, or universities that benefit their kids. (Like Jared Kushner’s dad, cited in the book.)

Sidebar to the land trusts and Ferrell’s book, yet other research (again showing how Farrell either was sloppy in not looking to connect dots or else pulled some punches) shows that climate change ranks much lower with the plutocrats than with average Americans.

And, it’s not just for those reasons that the rich, and even more the ultrarich, don’t contribute to what you and I would call charity — food banks, battered women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc. Rather, Mechanic shows that their riches have made them benumbed to caring about the less fortunate, even a bit sociopathic about it.

But, they’re not happy, or content, in many cases. Insecurity fears fueled by their wealth is one reason. Dick-swinging (and yes, Mechanic uses the phrase) is another.

But, even in their darkened corners of plutocratic unhappiness, they still believe themselves to have been “chosen.” Mechanic misses a bit of a point here by not looking more at the “Success Gospel,” or “The Secret,” for Oprah-like New Agers. But, he does talk directly about how the plutocrats cite Social Darwinism ideas to justify their wealth.

Again, we pay the costs for this, with increased social stratification and more.

Speaking of? Mechanic gives us chapters on Blacks and wealth and women and wealth.

Not every plutocrat is like this. Mechanic cites a number who have taken the “Giving Pledge,” based on ideas of Andrew Carnegie. But, many of them aren’t giving it away THAT radically. A few are, and Mechanic discusses them at the end.

Problem, though: They’re, in essence, the exception that proves the rule.

And, that leads to the one weakness of the book: It’s great on analysis, but lacking in prescriptiveness, even as Mechanic notes that, at the national political level, Democrats in general vote AGAINST constituent desires on fiscal issues, with some exceptions, such as a friend of his now in Congress. I mean, it seems clear that 97 percent of the 1 percent, 98 percent of the 0.1 percent, and 99 percent of the 0.01 percent, even if their money doesn’t make them happy, aren’t going voluntarily lessen it either by the giving pledge or by following Hanauer and Gates and pushing for more progressive taxes.

Maybe that’s because he doesn’t know. Or maybe, like Justin Ferrell with “Billionaire Wilderness,” he’s “connected enough” in a small way that he doesn’t want to propose solutions. Mechanic, per one reviewer, has “a master’s degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard.”

HARvard! And a graduate degree to boot! I'm not saying he's a sellout. But, he may be more of an incrementalist than I'd like. (I criticized Thomas Piketty's "Capital" for coming from a Frenchman who managed almost never to talk about unions, so I know whereof I speak.) If nothing else, having the resources to do Harvard grad, he has the breathing space to be the iconoclast he professes himself to be on his website.

Also, with all the social psychology research he presents, Mechanic doesn’t address a chicken-or-egg question: Did becoming wealthy make many of the wealthy sociopathic, or did being sociopathic first make many of the wealthy wealthy? (I think of our most recent past president vis-a-vis his one brother, and that brother's daughter who has now written two books about him.)

So, that dropped it to four stars.

I don't know whether this, although having an extra star, was less or more disappointing. I had built up more hopes than I had for "Billionaire Wilderness." (That said, I had originally four-starred it, per the end note.)

That all said? I'd openly read another Mechanic book. Don't think I'd read another Ferrell without eyes wide open and some advance grokking.

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