SocraticGadfly: 12/22/19 - 12/29/19

December 28, 2019

Big Bend: First visit in 8 1/2 years

I was a "regular," a "veteran," even, in the previous decade, but hadn't been to Big Bend National Park in 8 1/2 years. I was enough of a veteran, and early enough of one, to have been out there before the Park Service closed the crossing at Boquillas (and Santa Elena, where Mexicans crossed to our side) because some dumb ass in DC thought Osama bin Laden or minions might invade the US from Boquillas, Cohuila, Mexico.

Here's a link to my overall photo album. I'm going to extract just a couple with comments. (All photos embiggen in their album location.) Let's start here:

Living as far away as the Metroplex, I normally drive to about 15 miles south of Marathon (pronounced with a schwa last syllable, unlike the normal) on US 385. Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park and the darkest national park in the contiguous 48. Even before officially getting into the park, this picture of Orion at top right and Canis Major at lower right should make that clear. I will have more on this in a separate post.

Big Bend has three ecotones: desert, montane and riverine. This photo illustrates two of them: middle-altitude Chihuahuan desert surrounding the Chisos Rim.

The riverine is best capped, by those who know, with a nighttime soak in the 104°F hot springs immediately adjacent to the Rio Grande. I'll have more on this in a future post, too.

This diversity makes it a hot spot for birding, even though it's not on one of the three main north-south migrational flyways. The photo at left, I'm keeping small, so that it doesn't appear too pixelated. This is of an acorn woodpecker. Among new sightings for me that, for various reasons, I didn't glass in my camera, were a lark bunting, a ruby crowned kinglet and a vermilion flycatcher.

As I note, I'll have a couple of more posts in weeks ahead about various issues.

The first of those is now up, as I ponder if Millennials are ruining Big Bend.

Because things have changed in 8 1/2 years. Both posts will address a couple of bigger — one to me, one in general — of these changes.

The Park Service itself has changed some things. It now charges a fee for backcountry camping permits, whether backpacking or primitive car camping. That has been a flat rate, but is scheduled to go to a per-day system next year. Thanks, both Trump and Obama, and both R's and D's in Congress, for failure to adequately fund the NPS. Thanks Obama and Kenny Boy Salazar Shrub Bush (forgot it was that long ago) for the head fake of replacing the old Parks Pass with the new Access Pass, which likely gives only $50 of its $80 to the Park Service, like the old Parks Pass, and instead bribes BLM and USFS with most of the rest to continue to undercharge miners, drillers and loggers. Here's a 2010 story on how the new Access Pass fees split out in the early years after the transfer; the NPS got no extra money, and yep, the other agencies got some. The Park Service itself, and its partner nonprofit, the National Parks Foundation, have themselves become more capitalistic, too.

So, the human hand on the park has changed indeed.

What has not changed is the desert itself. As this slightly stylized photo below shows, hiking back down the Marufo Vega trail, Big Bend is one of our most existential national parks. (Cactus Ed Abbey made one visit here before setting up permanent shop further west.)


December 27, 2019

Phat Albert still standing as other 1B start slipping

If you had told me four years ago that Albert Pujols would have a better 2019 at age 39 (let alone possibly age 40 or even 41) than Miggy Cabrera but also not that far off from Joey Votto, I would have laughed my head off.

But, here we are.

Pujols is at league average on OPS+ and still logging 80 percent of his game time at first and NOT DHing. Hell, he even played at third this year!

Cabrera's slippage started showing up three years ago, a bit later into the age cycle than a reported-age Pujols but maybe the same as an actual age Pujols.

The biggie is, especially this year, his power stroke seems to be gone. And, playing primarily DH, he has a heavier dWAR burden to carry, putting him in negative overall WAR this year.

Finally, his contract, with four years left vs Pujols' two, and at higher AAV by a million or two, is looking like it could be about the worst in baseball.

That said, he was already having some "core" related nagging injuries four or five years ago, so this isn't totally unexpected, just a sharper drop than Phat Albert.

That said, while El Hombre has always had an edge of "thickness," Miggy looked almost svelte when younger:

Votto? Many of us, including myself, may forget that he's just a year younger than Cabrera. He is a touch ahead of Pujols on OPS plus and almost a full point ahead on WAR. But, for the second straight year, his BA, OPS, and SLG have all dropped, and dropped, not just slipped. In addition, his Ks are well ahead of his BBs, indicating, like Pujols and Cabrera, he's losing bat power and trying to cheat with more early pitch guessing.

He like Miggy has four years left, but at more than $5 million per year less. That said, the Reds are a smaller market team. Add in 5-and-10 rights, and both are pretty immovable. Also, with him still below 40 WAR, Votto's shot at Cooperstown is starting to fade away.

Of course, NONE of these three may actually be the biggest albatross contract at 1B.

That likely belongs to, and will continue to belong to, the Orioles' Chris Davis. By virtue of swinging his bat one-third less this year than in 2018, he managed to "improve" from -2.8 WAR to "just -1.0. He's all Baltimore's for another three years at $23M per. Having just three years left is the one thing that might make this no worse than Miggy's deal.

With an expiring contract, and not likely to get a new one, at least not a big one, Ryan Zimmerman, between apparent age-related decline and injuries, is also behind Pujols though not as old. Zimmerman has said he'll either stay with the Nats or golf more. Zimm hasn't had 600 PAs since 2013, the last time he broke 3 WAR; whatever contract the Nats offer will be cheap on the base, albeit perhaps with some incentives.

Not an albatross, but ... worrisome for his team? Brandon Belt had only 0.6 WAR this year at 31. He has two relatively inexpensive years left, but barring a turnaround, might not have another big payola.

The St. Louis Cardinals hope that this year's decline of Paul Goldschmidt at age 31 was more a blip than a precursor of his future. He still had nearly 3 WAR, but it was his worst full season in his playing history.

Eric Hosmer continues to not justify what the Padres are paying him. Bright side? Just three more years at $21M per and then it declines to $13M a year, unless he's dumb enough to opt out.

Daniel Murphy, though he managed to get back in the plus side of the WAR column this last year, is toast at any infield position. Fortunately for the team, he's a small contract for the Rockies and has just one year left, outside a mutual option year.

December 26, 2019

Texas Progressives say Season's Greetings

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes you have, or had, a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Krunk Kwanzaa, Splendiferous Saturnalia, Sunny Solstice (I did in Big Bend) or Festivus for the Rest Of Us.

This corner of the TPA also reminds you that Laplace is the reason for the season.

With that, we offer you a related music clip while we dig into the roundup. 

Criminal justice and philosophy

SocraticGadfly, with a background on the recent Muenster teacher-relationship conviction and other such cases, talks about how issues of philosophy play out in the courts.

Texas politics

David Bruce Collins updates the list of state Green Party candidates. 

Michael Hall reports on Pedro Villalobos, a Travis County prosecutor whose immigration status is in peril.

Off the Kuff published three interviews with SBOE candidates: Michelle Palmer, Kimberly McLeod, and Debra Kerner.



Stace discusses a Harris County Democratic primary filing failure.

John Coby wraps up the Houston elections.


Jim Schutze calls out Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on wanting to keep his official scheduling calendar secret. He also salutes the half the city council for not caving into capitalists on Reverchon Park.


The Observer notes that TCEQ let fossil fuel companies pollute more in 2018, and that if three of them have their way, the end of the Valley, where the Rio Grande hits the Gulf, could have a lot more pollution. Worse, this would only further encourage fracking for natural gas.

Jessica Shortall dissects the "Olympic podium of abuse" metaphor.

The Current provides sold advice about tamales.


Brains tackles the most recent Dem debate.

The Bloggess is starting a book club.
Juanita provides a welcome update on her health and well-being.

December 24, 2019

Katharine Hayhoe and the climate change spin cycle

The Texas Observer recently interviewd Katherine Hayhoe. And? It's "meh" what the climate scientist famous for trying to convince fellow evangelical Christians that even her slightly-squishy level of concern is anything more than socialism has to say.

First of all, IMO, she's a bit squishy about the severity of climate change. I've thought that for several years and tangled with her and others on Twitter, summing that up in this blog post.

Let's not forget, as I said then, that she comes off as a nice polite Obamiac, and considering she's from the Great White North, she's surely a nice polite Canadian. And, she and co-nice polite climate change scientist Bob Kopp fellated the Paris Accord.

IMO, as of right now, we have 50-50 odds of hitting 5C by 2100. And, as I've said repeatedly, the Paris Accord is little more than Jell-O.

Within the interview, she spins, about how Texas is decarbonizing about as fast as any other state, among other things. Untrue. Until the Lege adopts a feed-in tariff system for rooftop solar, this will surely remain untrue. Until Texas joins many Western states with a fixed target for renewable energy, this will remain untrue.

As for Texas' energy resilience? It was less than a decade ago that, because ERCOT is largely disconnected from other portions of the US power grid, that it had to get electricity from Mexico in a severe cold snap.

(Update, April 4, 2022: Hayhoe got away with saying this bullshit because it was before Winter Storm Uri. And, I just Tweeted the Observer asking if they asked her for a "retraction." And yes, that's the word I used; those aren't scare quotes, they're quote marks regular style.

Specifically, she claimed that the Texas electric grid was "resilient." AND, good neoliberal, said that this was because it's independent of the rest of the nation's electric grid.

And 19.2 percent of the power on the [statewide] ERCOT grid last year was wind and solar. This is all happening because of the state’s energy policy, not because of our climate policy. Texas’ independence has actually made it more resilient

Seriously. This is the person that Texas librulz hold up as a Texas exceptionalist exemplar of what Texas could really do on climate change.

She's got the goods, squish level of climate change aside, on what's going to happen to Texas. She's just spinning on how she claims Texas is already adapting.

As for the Observer? Why? Is this one of those pieces where it dives into a defensive version of Texas exceptionalism?

(Update, April 4, 2022: She's also wrong about the role of fear, and emotions in general, in human living. She needs to read some Hume, among other things.)

December 23, 2019

Neo-geocentrism and mysticism

John Horgan, author of Rational Mysticism, continues on his quest of putting mystical experiences in a logico-empirical framework.

Recently, that led him to a conference at Esalen.

And to the coinage of a neologism that I am copying.

Neo-geocentrism. It's the idea that, as with pre-Copernican geocentrism, a mystically metaphysical approach to the universe is based on a version of geocentric, or, better, anthroprocentric thinking.

Here's John's nutgraf:
Geocentrism reflected our innate narcissism and anthropomorphism, and so do modern theories that make mind—as far as we know a uniquely terrestrial phenomenon—central to the cosmos. The shift away from geocentrism centuries ago was one of humanity’s greatest triumphs, and neo-geocentrism, I fear, represents a step back toward darkness.
Well put.

He notes that methodological materialism of the scientific method can be stretched in more "insufferable" science types. He doesn't mention the word scientism, but that seems clear.

He also wants those of mystical mindsets to focus on enchanting everyday life. With the start of a new year coming on us, nothing wrong and much right with that.

Another example of neo-geocentrism may be seen with the treatment of Fermi's Paradox.

Otherwise, I told John I was copying the phrase, putting it next to my "salvific technologism," which is akin to Morozov's "solutionism."

The broader idea also seems akin to my take on how conspiracy thinking is the new gnosticism. Not all gnostics of centuries past were mystics, but ... the driving mindset seems to have overlap.