Going Colin One Better

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling During the National Anthem

Why does our beloved country have such a stupid and unsingable national anthem? Whenever I hear it, I not only take to my knees, but my head hovers within ralphing distance of a toilet bowl.

The tune itself comes from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th century English gentleman’s club of amateur musicians. Just to show you the high quality of the original source, here is the first stanza—sung, of course, to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

To Anacreon in heav’n, where he sat in full Glee.
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be,
When this Answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot
And, besides I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Francis Scott Key, the Perpetrator of Our National Anthem

The only question I have is: Was Francis Scott Key drunk when he wrote the gosh-awful lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and possibly stoned as well for using the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”?

Compare the barroom ballad that is our national anthem with the Hungarian “Himnusz,” composed by Ferenc Kölcsey:

So pardon me if I continue to take to my knees.

Crypto-Economics

Stack of Cryptocurrencies Including Bitcoin and Others

Today was my day downtown. After my mindful meditation session, I took the Dash B bus to Chinatown and had a delicious lunch of Beef in Black Bean Sauce at the Hong Kong BBQ on Broadway. As I ate my lunch, I read a long article in The New Yorker about cryptocurrencies. It was entitled “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of” and was by Nick Paumgarten. I have held back from the subject because I used to be a computer programmer myself and know how tempting it can be to game whatever system I am designing to my advantage.

People are so mesmerized by the concept of a blockchain because it is something new and edgy. Therefore it exercises a powerful attraction, especially to people who are not quite conversant with the technology.

Do you know what a blockchain is? One can’t advance far into the subject without coming to terms with the concept. Here is a link to a graphic presentation from Reuters entitled “Blockchain Explained”: Click Here. I am familiar with hash codes in search algorithms, so I feel somewhat familiar with the ground. What disturbs me is that human nature keeps rearing its ugly head and leading to the system being easily scammed. Also, I am not happy about ransomware from hackers demanding payment in cryptocurrencies, because the transfer is untraceable by law enforcement.

I am always suspicious about economic activities that require more faith than I am willing to repose in them. There is such a marketing aspect to the whole technology that one feels one were being assailed by timesharing condominium salesmen, as I was when I landed at the Cabo San Lucas airport a couple years ago.

What if cryptocurrencies became more popular than the 1% share of the global financial services market they currently occupy. Even at the current level, blockchain software requires incredible computer power. According to the Paumgarten article:

This year, it is said, the Bitcoin network will use as much energy as the nation of Austria, and produce as much carbon dioxide as a million transatlantic flights. Mining rigs—computers designed specifically to do this work—are thirsty machines. Mining farms tend to sprout up where juice is cheap (typically, in proximity to hydropower projects with excess capacity to unload) and where temperatures are low (so you don’t have to burn even more electricity to keep the rigs cool). There are open-air warehouses in remote corners of sub-Arctic Canada, Russia, and China, with machines whirring away on the tundra, creating magic money, while the permafrost melts.

I can foresee Thomas Pynchon writing a sequel to his Bleeding Edge about this activity. It’s almost as if the subject of cryptocurrencies and the high priests who run them were made to order for him.

As David Chaum, one of the pioneers of cryptocurrency software, once said, “There’s never been, in the history of civilization, this much money aggregated as a result of doing nothing.”

Why New Cars Tend to Look Alike

Maybe You Can Personalize Your License Plate

When my cousin Ilona visited me from Communist Hungary in 1974, she marveled at how our car models were so differentiated from one another. There was even more variation in color. The Ladas, Skodas, Zhigulis, Tatras, and Trabants of her own country struck her as comparatively grim.

Well, times have changed. Now most new cars from Japan, Europe, and the United States resemble one another more than they differ. There even seem to be fewer colors. Even my 2018 Subaru Forester, which I love, has a hard time competing with my old 1994 Nissan Pathfinder in terms of styling.

You can see this video from CNET on the top five reasons why new cars look alike. (It blames most of the changes on the survival of pedestrians who are hit head on.) Writing for the Mother Nature Network, Jim Motavalli adduces several other reasons as well. These are, in no particular order:

  • Government requirements relating to fuel economy mean that all cars try to wring every bit of aerodynamic efficiency possible
  • This means very uniform front ends ending in what CNET calls a “Mrs. Doubtfire” boxy butt
  • Big door pillars protect drivers and passengers when the car rolls
  • In most cars, you feel as if you were sitting in a bunker due to higher door sills and smaller windows, especially along the sides
  • It is possible that, in future, aerodynamic efficiency will involve the loss of outside rear-view mirrors (I certainly hope not)

Cars do seem safer today, and I am rather fond of having 100% all-wheel drive on my Subaru.

 

 

 

 

 

Crimes Against Women

I, Too, Have Been Affected by All the News of Crimes Against Women

I am just now beginning to realize that, being born male, I have lived a privileged lifestyle—without fear of being physically and emotionally violated. The closest I ever came was in the late 1960s, when I was on crutches and hitchhiking on Santa Monica Boulevard. One guy who gave me a ride attempted to fondle me, until I jammed one of my crutches hard against his throat and demanded to be let out immediately.

Otherwise, I have never been molested; nor have I ever attempted to molest any woman against her will.

Yet as the #MeToo news continues to unfold, I wonder what percent of women have had to fend off the advances of men who have felt they were in a position to have their way with a woman who was drunk or stoned or somehow in their power. If that percent is as high as I think it is, I feel abashed for my previous lack of understanding.

And that does not even include the women who were abused as minors.

I hope that, somehow, some good will come from all of this. Unfortunately, I am a pessimist. My view of the human condition tends toward darkness. This thing has been going on since man first came down from the trees, and perhaps even before.

 

Billionaires Are No Heroes

They Love Themselves Too Much to Deserve Your Love

The 2016 election of the Trumpf showed me that, to an increasing extent, Americans are enamored of their billionaires. They are called “job creators,” when when they fire thousands of workers after their failed mergers and acquisitions. Even though some of them have proved useful to their fellow Americans (notably Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), most are not worth spit. We are currently watching one of them, Elon Musk, become unglued, risking his former godlike status.

In last week’s edition of The New Yorker, there is an almost book-length profile of Mark Zuckerberg of FaceBook, a man who would sell his mother to a Russian glue factory just for the lulz.

I was at the Farmers’ Market with my friend Robert today. We both agreed that part of Trumpf’s popularity is due to the fact that even the most idiotic, toothless redneck thinks he or she can become a billionaire—just so they can tell everybody off who ever dissed them, or even looked as if they might diss them. Also, maybe they would like to have a go at their favorite porn stars, even if they have nothing but a pathetic little stump for a weapon.

In time, a few of the most astute of them (there must be at least or or three spread across this great nation of ours) will figure out that they have been had. This is a president whose policies help billionaires, but no one else. The others will continue to be raped at their leisure until they die, get thrown out of their hovels, or succumb to a lack of reasonable health insurance.

 

 

No, Don’t Ask Your Doctor About Abflubimadab

You’ve Seen the Drug Ads … Everywhere

Do you know why prescription drugs cost so much? No, forget about development costs. Just turn on your television and look at all the glossy commercials requesting that you ask your doctor about their pricey pharmaceuticals. You’ll see a whole lot of healthy looking older couples doing fun things together while a voice in the background warns that if you take Abflubimabad (I invented this drug name, so don’t try to buy it or even ask your doctor about it), you may suffer from St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. But you’re not listening to this voice droning on, and those old couples look so happy.

Wait until you find out how much Abflubimabad costs: Just finding out may cause St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. It costs a whole lot of cash to place ads on prime time TV, especially the cable channels that old people like to watch for their retro programming.

For one thing, the U.S. is only one of two countries that allow this type of advertising. (The other is New Zealand.) Could this be why American drugs are so much more expensive than Canadian or Mexican equivalents?

Whereas the market for TV advertising in general has been flat for the last few years, the direct-to-consumer drug ads have grown 62% since 2012. The pharmaceutical industry is one of those industries where marketers could call a meeting at the beginning of year and pretty much decide what their profit is going to be. (The insurance industry is in the same category.) So it doesn’t matter what these drugs cost. They want to create a buzz, so that viewers will directly participate in their doctors’ decisions, which, of course, they are clearly not qualified to do. Then Big Pharma just raises the prices by astronomical amounts.

Guess who pays for it in the end.

 

Talking About the Homeless

Homeless Encampment in Los Angeles

There are several ways of talking about the homeless. For one thing, I do not think they can be all lumped into one category. Therefore, I rarely speak about “the homeless” as a whole. Some are temporarily without an address and have some reasonable hope of finding one, especially if they are a family. One does not usually encounter these transient homeless on the streets. More likely, one runs into a mostly male population of homeless that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • The mentally ill, estimated by the City of Los Angeles to comprise some 40% of the total.
  • Veterans of the armed forces who were unable to make the transition to civilian life. As I live within a couple miles of a large Veterans Administration hospital, I see quite a few of these.
  • Hardcore bums who like living on the street and are unwilling to have any of their perceived rights and privileges abridged. Some of these are involved in drug dealing and theft.

There is a tent encampment right across the street from my apartment consisting of some ten hardcore bums. They usually do not bother the street residents unless to steal a bicycle or small grill, or to beg for cash. Since there are a number of charities that provide meals, I almost never give cash to a street person. Cash received by the hardcore homeless usually falls in the category of CBD money: in other words, for cigarettes, booze, and drugs.

I have seen a few hardcore female bums, mostly on the bus, and usually find them to be sad cases, frequently mentally ill and fiercely unapproachable. Martine saw one of them defecate on the sidewalk of our street in the open. Seeing Martine’s facial reaction, she called her a racist.

Given the variety of motives that moves this population, I shake my head in despair when journalists persist in talking about “the homeless” as if there were a single solution for all. There just isn’t.