Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Weather Is Broken

I've been going back & forth about writing this post, I've decided in the best Dumbass traditions to let 'er rip!

I have looked at weather maps every day for over 40 years. I think I could be a decent weather forecaster - but, I have never read a single book on the topic, oops - that might be a start.

My browser fires up with 6 tabs open to weather sites:

  1. NWS radar
  2. Current US Weather Map
  3. Wind map
  4. Global Jetstream Forecast
  5. Lexington KY 10 Day Forecast
  6. National Hurricane Center
I have been telling people for a couple of years now: forget everything you thought you knew about weather. Weather is changing. Weather has changed. It's a whole new world out there.

Case in point. On (?) Sep 23, Lexington had its 1st rain in 24 days: a totally weak-ass cold front finally came south, and generated < 0.1" of rain. The same occurred 4 days later.

So, after record rainfall in September 2018, record lack of rainfall in September 2019. After those 2 pitiful rainfalls, we went right back to the 3rd or 4th 5-6 day stretch of highs in the mid-90s.

The drought finally broke on October 6: finally, in late evening, a serious, drenching downpour, FTW!!!

Here's a pic of the NWS radar at 5:30 PM, September 27. Those dim blue areas are what the radar normally looks like at night. They basically mean there is no weather - you're just getting low-level scattering off of hills, etc.

What did the weather map look like? No weather - just 2 highs dominating the entire southeastern US.

The wind map confirms: no wind in the SE US.

Here it is 2 days later, after one of those weak-ass cold fronts came through: huge highs over the entire eastern US. No weather. Drought.

So glad we finally got a decent rain. But no rain in the forecast until Saturday, so I will have to go back to every-other-day watering of my vegetable & my wife's flower gardens.

Weather is broken.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Steven Mets Konopka, 1950-2019

Plus, A Brief History Of The Old Farts Blues Jam (OFBJ)

Steve Konopka, aka Fuzzy to musicians, was born May 14, 1950 and died August 28, 2019.

I met Steve playing at the OFBJ (Old Farts Blues Jam) maybe 10-12 years ago.

  • I first played at the OFBJ in January, 2006 at the American Legion off S. Broadway. I met Lindsay Olive, David Harrod, Donnie Crisp. Bob Hopps, Steve Moore (RIP).
  • Spring 2006 the OFBJ moved to High Life Lounge, formerly Lynagh's Concert Hall, later Cosmic Charlie's, on Woodland. I met Patty Butcher and others there.
  • After a couple of months it moved 3 doors to Lynagh's, where it stayed for 18 months.
  • Then it moved (in, what, Fall 2007?) to O'Neil's for 4.5 years. During that time, the house band was the Here For The Party Band: David Harrod on harp & vocals, Lindsay Olive on guitar, Erik Shields on drums, Bob Hopps on keys & vocals, and Michael Anderson or Matt Noell on bass & vocals.
Here's the oldest picture I can find of Steve at a jam: O'Neil's January, 2012. Steve Parrish on drums, Steven Poe on guitar, me on guitar & vocals, Fuzzy on Harp, Keith Hubbard on keys, and that looks like Jimmy Olive on bass?

[Note, I loaded all these pictures in X-large size so you could make out the faces. Most of them got cropped on the right. So please click on a photo and look at them in camera roll mode to see the whole pic.]

Here's another pic from March, 2012. Lindsay Olive on guitar, me on guitar & vocals, Erik Shields on drums, Fuzzy, Michael Anderson aka Cheesehead on bass, and the OFBJ long-time keyboard player, Bob Hopps. Bob is also an excellent blues guitar player and harpist.

  • After O'Neil's, the OFBJ moved downtown to Cheapside for a few months.
  • It was at Paulie's Toasted Barrel downtown on Main St. for a year or so around 2013.
  • Then it moved to Patchen Pub for maybe a year?
Here's a pic from Patchen Pub, October 1014. Brent Carter (playing Johnny Cash) on my Flying V, Mighty Joe Linville on sax. Gordon Parks on bass, probably SkyJack Miller on drums, Fuzzy, most excellent young guitarist Jeff Adams, and Jerry Woodyard playing the flattop.

  • The jam then morphed into Sherman House Presents the Lexington Blues Jam booked by Matt Noell. It was at Shamrocks on Patchen outside Sunday evenings for 2 years.
Here's a pic of Steve (& me) at Shamrocks July 2015. Great shirt!

Spring & Summer of 2013 I ran the Tuesday Night Rock & Roll Party at Henry Clay Public House downtown on Upper. Here's Steve playing with Lexington blues legend Teedee Young - & his son, who is now part of his band. Logan Lay is on bass.

After Fall 2016, there was no blues jam in Lexington for 10 months. I was missing my playing time, so I approached Steve about doing a duo, me on guitar & vocals, him on harp. He had played a few duo gigs before with Richard Mattingly. I chose Steve because of the 10 or so harp players I had played with, Steve was by far the most versatile. He could find a harp part on almost anything. No offense, but most harp players want to play nothing but blues.

A Digitech Vocalist Live 3 sang harmony with me on 1/3 of the songs (and did autotune on all the songs). I also used a Boss RC-30 Looper on a few songs.

We named ourselves, very imaginatively, Steve & Chris. My older brother is named Steve, so I had heard "Steve & Chris" for all my young life.

We pretty quickly got 50 songs - enough for a 4 hour gig. That grew to 90. So we moved 45 to a Duo Other book. But Steve and I were both horrible about holding the list down. The final count was 122, ha ha!

We rehearsed in the music area of my basement. We tried songs out live at Coralee's Open Mic, which was at Willie's Locally Known on Southland, then Cosmic Charlie's on National, and then The Burl. Coralee was always very encouraging and supportive. After Coralee moved to Nashville, we switched to the Red Barn Radio Open Mic, now Listen Locally Open Mic, at Twisted Cork off of Clay's Mill, Sunday, 5:30-9:00. We played there lots of weeks - 25 set lists in my app - until Steve started to weaken in Summer 2019.

We also played at LexJam, the 2nd Saturday of the month, 1-5, currently at Ranada's on Old Vine. Steve played at LexJam for ~15 years. Steve loved LexJam and LexJam loved Steve. Rennie Neubecker who runs LexJam seemed to be hit particularly hard by the loss of Steve. Steve & I last played at LexJam July 13, 2019.

Here's the poster Rennie made for the memorial they had for Steve.

We played our first gig at J. Render's Southern Table & Grill May 2017, thanks to the GM there, my musical friend Josh Brown. They were having a special fixed price dinner paired with local Alltech beers, with master brewer Ken Lee - "The Beer of Bourbon Country". We got the dinner and beers for our pay, yay! We passed the audition, and played J. Renders several more times. Here's a pic from that 1st night.

We decided that Steve would wear a baseball cap rather than going with 2 straw hats. LOL! Here we are playing indoors there in November.

We also played Grillfish and Patchen Pub, and here's a pic from Big Blue Martini.

The next year, 2018, we played J. Render's, Shamrocks, Squires, and The Cellar. They liked us everywhere we played, but the same thing happened at Patchen Pub & The Cellar: their in-house music critic, a 30-something dude probably in a band, noticed that we were old! Need younger blood!

Here is the link to the Steve & Chris YouTube channel. 7 videos, 2 of originals from the basement, 2 from Big Blue Martini, 1 from J. Renders, 2 from Grillfish.

Meanwhile, Matt Noell got Sherman House Presents (formerly known as the OFBJ) started again Spring 2017.

  • It was at Life Brewpub off of Richmond Rd. for a couple of months maybe. I remember my daughter Erica who lives in Brooklyn came out and got to talk with Steve.
  • It then moved to Lynagh's and stayed until December 2018. The original house band was Roger Barber on drums, Matt Noell on bass, David Ponder & Brent Carter on guitar. I took over for Ponder in Spring 2018.
  • In Summer 2017, Dane Sadler started the Blues & Groove Jam at Squires, Sunday 7:30-10:30. So we had 2 jams/week for a while, yay! That jam is still going strong. Boogie G. (George Burdette) and J.J. Davis alternate weeks on bass. Both are monster players on bass & vocals, & J.J. also is an unbelievable lead guitarist - Hendrix + Van Halen licks. I've filled in for Dane a few times.
Here's 2 pix of Steve at Squire's playing with Teedee again on June 23, 2019. Teedee is playing my St. Vincent Signature. Dane on guitar, Mighty Joe Linville on sax, and Erik Shields on drums.

The last time Steve played out was at Squires on July 28, 2019, 1 month to the day before he died. I think this pic is from the month before. Erik Shields on drums.

Here's a couple more pix from those last few months. I love this selfie that Haywood Ferguson took. You can clearly see Steve projecting harpiness into Jerry Mayfield, who's projecting it on to Haywood.

Haywood greatly respected Steve's playing and had been learning from Steve for the last year or so. Steve told me several times, he couldn't believe how he would show or tell Haywood something for the harp, and next time Haywood would be doing it. Haywood did Steve & Chris songs with me at LexJam, Twisted Cork, and Steve's memorial. Thanks Haywood!

Here's 1 from April. A good pic of Steve IMO.

My wife & I had both picked up nasty colds on Tuesday, so when Julie called on Wednesday August 28, 10:30 am to tell me Steve had died at 6 am, I could not offer to come over. I went by the following Monday, & Julie asked me to put together music for Steve's memorial - it is what he would have wanted. "How big a band?" "The bigger the better", Julie sez.

I told her 20-25 musicians, we got 19 signed up. Plus, King William Allen was there but did not want to sign up and play. We had 2 electric guitar + 1 acoustic electric amps, 5 mics on stage. We didn't get the 4 piece horn section we were shooting for (the fuzzyhorns), but the 2 horns we got, Mighty Joe Linville on tenor sax and Kevin Sparks on trumpet, acquitted themselves famously.

The memorial was Saturday, September 21, 3-5. We started setting up at 2 but still started 15 minutes late. We went a little over. It was at Clark Legacy Center, 601 E. Brannon Rd, Nicholasville. Past all the Brannon Crossing development, on the left.

Here's a pic without the horns. Len Wujcik on harp, Vanessa Davis on my electric classical + vocals, Ron Northrip on my bass, David Ponder on my Strat + vocals, Brent Carter on his Les Paul. David & Brent totally helped out playing guitar for the last hour. They love to play together, having played in Thirstin Howl with Sherri McGee & Matt Noell. Ron did me a double solid, taking over for me on bass (our planned bass player was a no-show) so I could work the list, and finishing out the afternoon without getting to play any guitar. Thanks David, Brent, & Ron!

Steve & I knew Vanessa from the Twisted Cork open mic. She has a fabulous voice, has written many most excellent original songs, and is a great guitarist. She is a star at the Twisted Cork open mic. It was really nice of her to come out and get that side of Steve's recent music represented.

Here's the full effect, with the fuzzyhorns on the left. That's Randy Ethridge aka Woody on drums. He was from Richmond, moved to FL 4-5 years ago. He was back up for the funeral, that same day, of his 25 YO daughter claimed by the opioid epidemic. A completely tragic loss. He came out to get some musical healing, I think he did.

Here's everyone who signed up. The original list got soaked & smeared by the 1/2 pint of Maker's Mark in my gig bag that decided to sacrifice itself to the gods, so I had to recopy it.

From the time Julie appointed me music director I was sweating bullets that it would go well. But it did go well, Julie, the kids, and her family all enjoyed it. We finished with all the musicians, including 4 harp players trading off riffs, on stage, doing "I Shall Be Released". Brent Carter told me he had to put his sunglasses on during the song, because he was tearing up. I saw Julie singing along, and many others.

Another thing at the end that was completely heart-warming was David Harrod giving out 3 harps to young ones there. Haywood was trying to get them all playing in the finale.

Here's what I posted to Steve's Tribute Wall.

I met Steve 10 years ago playing out at blues jams. He and I started playing in a duo around 3 years ago. My concept of our collaboration was: I would play guitar and sing and keep the songs going so Steve could play beautiful blues harp over them. He could find a beautiful harp part for pretty much anything. Everybody at the jams loved Steve; he was very encouraging to the less experienced players and was happy to act as a mentor - although he was surprised when they actually used the things he taught them. He did not have a mean bone in his body. I still several times a day think "I need to ask Steve about that" or "Steve needs to hear this song". I hope he stays with me for a long time - he will be a good influence. My deepest condolences to his family.
I had not thought of this beforehand, it just came out as I was writing it. But I've thought of it several times since then, and discussed it with people. When someone dies, as we all do, we still have them in our minds. I still think several times a day, "I need to ask Steve that" or "I bet Steve likes this song, I can't wait to hear what he does on harp with it." After people like this die, I think we sometimes try to let our recognition of these occurrences time out, because they make us sad when we realize the person is gone.

But, I think I will try to keep Steve alive in my head. He was one of the nicest people I ever met. He didn't have a mean bone in his body. I think he was always a good influence on me, so I will try and keep that influence around.

But NO Ancient Alien Astronauts! Steve loved that show, I finally watched an episode and, no way!

I have a Steve-shaped hole in my life. I can't imagine how big that hole is for Julie & the kids, Jesse & Rose. But I think his presence in our minds will be a positive influence for as long as any of us can remember.

Penultimately, here's 1 final pic of Steve: from the album cover of "Come Round Baby" by The Stella-Vees, 2007, 16 tracks. Steve was joined by Steve Parrish on drums, Jason Lockwood on guitar & vocals. Lindsay Olive told me he played bass on the album, I have no idea who the bass player in the picture is.

I burned 6 copies of the album and took them to the memorial. 5 were taken, yay! Anytime a track from this album comes up on shuffle play out of 20,000 songs in my iTunes, I immediately recognize Steve's harp.

And finally here is the song about Steve that Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson wrote in 1 day. Dr. Kevin is a regular & star at Twisted Cork, and a prolific songwriter (and a UK music professor and a member of The Twiggenburys). He woke up in the morning with 2 lines about Steve and wrote 5 verses that day. It was very moving, both at Twisted Cork and LexJam.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Music In Is Broken

Well, processing the current Music In has been problematic.

Amazon used to send me weekly music recommendations. That is now monthly, oops! That & word-of-mouth were my main sources of new music.

Trying to get more coming in, I started getting a bandcamp weekly newsletter. This normally has 5 new albums or EPs featured.

I got several of these - alternative rock, indie, with nice melodies and good female lead singers - stuff I am a sucker for.

They are all good, but, the problem is, after 5-10 listens, I can't particularly tell most of them apart. So in this emptying of the pending music in tunes, lots & lots of 3 stars, and very few 4 stars.

Is this a function of my aging brain struggling to assimilate too much new content? Or maybe the music on bandcamp is just a touch below being catchy, to where it would stick better?

Inquiring minds want to know. Here we go.

  • Van Morrison, "Moondance Expanded - Sessions, Alternates & Outtakes (All Previously Unissued)", 1969, 11 tracks, and "A Night in San Francisco (Live)", 1994, 14 tracks. These were both recommended by my friend and blues harpist Steve Konopka (fuzzy). I enjoyed them more than I expected. The "San Francisco" 1 features other band members singing lead. 1 thing I definitely got out of these is both have versions of "Moondance" with the vocals done in 3-part harmony. That song gets performed fairly often, I'm kind of tired of it, but next time it gets called I may try and sing some harmony with it. 3 stars.
  • The Jayhawks, "Mockingbird Time", 2011, 12 tracks. Starting to work backward through their catalog. Not a bad album, but no standout songs. Somewhat disappointing, should I keep going back? 3 stars.
  • Ra Ra Riot, "Beta Love", 2013, 11 tracks. This is the 4th of their albums I have, probably my least favorite. Nothing particularly catchy. They just put a 5th album out in August, I think I will check it out. 3 stars.
  • Hop Along, "Bark Your Head Off Dog", 2018, 9 tracks. Bandcamp. A Philly indie band that's been around since 2004. Good tunes, good female singer, no standouts. 3 stars.
  • Maria Taylor, "In the Next Life", 2016, 10 tracks. Bandcamp. Taylor has been around for 20 years. Good tunes, a variety of instrumental backing, no standouts. 3 stars.
  • Petal, "Magic Gone", 2018, 10 tracks. Bandcamp. More rockish than the rest. Chanteuse & guitarist Kiley Lotz plus studio musicians. Nice tunes, no standouts. 3 stars.
  • Barrie, "Happy To Be Here", 2019, 10 tracks. Bandcamp. More indie rock, a little better engineered and more dancable. Debut album of what appears to be 5-piece indie band from the Northwest with an alto lead & harmony singers. Finally, 4 stars! Here's "Dark Tropical".

  • Britt, "Kill the Man", 2019, 6 tracks. Bandcamp. A bit more ethereal and conceptual than some of the others. Soprano lead singer. 3 stars.
  • Great Lake Swimmers, "New Wild Everywhere", 2012, 13 tracks. I have enjoyed their tunes when they come up on shuffle play, so I decided to get more. No standouts on this album, 3 stars.
  • David Bowie, "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)", 1980, 10 tracks. The song "Ashes to Ashes" came up somewhere and I discovered it was not in my collection. So I bought this album to get it - and of course, it is the only good song on the album. So 4 stars for "Ashes to Ashes", 3 stars for the rest.

  • Tal Wilkenfeld, "Love Remains", 2019, 10 tracks. I of course greatly enjoyed Wilkenfeld's work as the 15 YO Australian immigrant playing bass for Jeff Beck. When I found she had an album singing & playing guitar, I had to check it out. Somewhat interesting blues/rock, but nothing really standout. 3 stars.
  • Mavis Staples, "We Get By", 2019, 11 tracks. Mavis keeps on keepin' on. This album was written and produced by Ben Harper, and it is excellent. I gave it to Steve to pick the tracks he liked best for us to perform. He picked "Brothers and Sisters", and "Change". 4 stars.

  • The National, "I am Easy to Find", 2019, 16 tracks. I think their 1st in a while. I like the baritone lead singer, who is joined by an alto on several songs. 3 stars.
  • Children of Zeus, "Excess Baggage", 2019, 7 tracks. Bandcamp. Some nice electronica/dance for something different. 4 stars. Here's "Vibrations (Short Edit)"

  • Christelle Bofale, "Swim Team", 2019, 5 tracks. Bandcamp. Austin TX based singer-songwriter. Nice arrangements. No standouts, 3 stars.
  • Rick Howard, "Lil' Noir", 2019, 10 tracks. Rick is the most excellent guitarist of the most excellent SW Florida band Mudbone, live album blogged here. He is the nephew of Moe Howard of the 3 Stooges (?!?!?), and I take guitar lessons from him, so far working mostly on 1930's standards. Plus, neat new chords! I love that I have been playing guitar for over 50 years and still learn new chords. This album is 10 original jazz tunes, played with a 4 or 5 piece combo. Mudbone blues harp player Jerry Fierro plays on a couple of the tracks and acquits himself well. A very professional effort, 3 stars.
  • Santana, "Africa Speaks", 2019, 11 tracks. Some world music from Carlos, assisted by various African artists. Some great grooves and rhythms. 3 stars.
  • The Appleseed Cast, "The Fleeting Light of Impermance", 2019, 8 tracks. Bandcamp. A bit more abstract than some of the others. Out of Lawrence KS, apparently these guys have been around for 20 years. 3 stars.
  • Market, eponymous, 2019, 4 tracks. Bandcamp. Australians, yay! Just over the catchiness threshold, 4 stars. Here's "Circles"

  • Black Pumas, eponymous, 2019, 10 tracks. Bandcamp. Yay, some good modern R&B! Why isn't there more of this? This is 2 guys out of Austin. 4 stars. Here's "Black Moon Rising".

  • Kate Bollinger, "I Don't Wanna Lose", 2019, 5 tracks. Bandcamp. This indie rock somehow managed to hit my sweet spot. Interesting instrumentals & alto vocals. 4 stars. Here's the oxymoronically titled "Untitled".

  • Morley & Friends, "Borderless Lullabies", 2019, 21 tracks. I'm not sure where this came from. It is a collection of lullabies, by many different artists, in different languages and different styles. I burned a copy for my grandsons, maybe they'll like it to go to sleep by. 3 stars.
  • The Soft Cavalry, eponymous, 2019, 12 tracks. Bandcamp. The debut album of a husband/wife duo. Very well done. Somewhat reminiscent of early Coldplay. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track, "Dive".

Phew, 24 albums! But things have gotten a bit sparse again, the Unrated smart playlist has only 64 songs in it. Guess I need some new acquisitions.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Reality - Who Needs It?

Continuing with all sci-fi and fantasy, all the time.

1st up, "The Reefs of Time", Jeffrey A. Carver, 2019, 539 pages, #5 of "The Chaos Chronicle". After a hiatus of 11 years, Carver returns to this series. The 1st 4 books are blogged here. This book is billed as Part 1 of 2 in the "Out of Time sequence", with the 2nd part coming in October. We merge a couple of plot threads, plus the universe of Carver's 2 Starstream novels. The team gets split into 3 groups, 2 rejoin, the big reunion presumably coming in book #6. They continue fighting the hostile AIs bent on wiping out organic life so it will quit wasting resources. This is 1 of those transition books that mostly just sets the table for the grand finale.

Next, "The Expert System's Brother" by Adrian Tchaikovsky, 2018, 139 pages. I liked the title. An interesting little novella, a tale of bioengineering humans so they can survive a foreign ecosystem. One of the plot elements I found somewhat unbelievable.

Next a fantasy, "Travel Light", by Naomi Mitchison, 1952, 136 pages. I think this was recommended by Tina Eisenberg (@swissmiss) or Maria Popova (@brainpicker). I figured that any fairy tale with Odin All-Father as a character deserved a look. I bought a paperback copy for my 8 YO granddaughter figured I'd read it before sending it on to her. I read about 1/3 of it and then went on and bought the eBook as well - it was what my old eyes wanted. Mitchinson definitely knows how to write a fairy tale - the prose has that numinous quality that makes you feel like an old, old story is being recounted to you. I was a little disappointed when christians were part of the plot as well as norse pagans, but they weren't portrayed very sympathetically. The heroine's adventures make for an interesting story. I have purchased the eBook of what appears to be Mitchinson's most popular work, "The Corn King and the Spring Queen".

Back to sci-fi and another short read, "Phoresis", by old favorite Greg Egan, 2018, 143 pages. Egan again builds an interesting world - and this time without particularly altering the laws of physics! The story moves along well. In what appears to be a definite trend, the characters are all women. The male role in this book is pretty creepy: women all have 1-3 horny little 6" guys in their womb, who fight to get to emerge and impregnate other females?!?!?

Last Tuesday my wife and I both came down with colds, apparently from 2 different sources. So time for rest and fluids. My sophomore year of college I remember getting sick and then spending 4 days in bed rereading "The Lord of the Rings" cover to cover. At the end of that, I couldn't walk through the woods without expecting to see elves, ents, orcs.

So in a similar vein, I decided to reread the Philip Jose Farmer "World of Tiers" series as I recuperated. I had picked up "World of Tiers Volume 1" - "The Maker of Universes" (1965), "The Gates of Creation" (1966), and "A Private Cosmos" (1968) - 820 pages, I think from BookBub for $1.99. I went on and bought "Volume 2" - "Behind the Walls of Terra" (1970), "The Lavalite World" (1977), "Red Orc's Rage" (1991), and "More Than Fire" (1993), 1200 pages.

The 1st 5 I had read before and were as I remembered - rollicking adventures on unusual worlds. Farmer wrote forewords, in a few of which he complains that title changes and edits were made with his being consulted - oops. There were some funny moments in the 1970 novel - Farmer reacted to the counterculture of the time about as you would expect a 52 YO white male to react.

1 thing that surprised me: I really liked the concept of "temporal fugue", I thought introduced by Roger Zelazny in "Creatures of Light and Darkness" (1969). Basically time-travelers getting ready to go mano-a-mano send multiple (1000s) of copies of themselves back through time to the time & place of the big battle. Then it's 1000s vs 1000s. I thought Zelazny had invented this, but there are time-traveling creatures who basically do this in the 2nd Tiers book, which came out in 1966. So Farmer was 3 years ahead of Zelazny.

The 6th book "Red Orc's Rage" is kind of weird. Apparently some psychiatrist came up with a therapy based on having the patient read the 5 World of Tiers books and then becoming 1 of the characters?!?!? Apparently this is a form of projective psychotherapy. The 6th book is about a teenager undergoing this therapy - but it fills in a lot of Red Orc's back story that gets used in the 7th book.

By the time I got to the 7th book, I was definitely ready for it to be over. Also somewhat annoyingly, the main character of the 1st 2 novels, the lord Jadawin / Robert Wolff, and his girlfriend Chryseis (of The Iliad) are left in limbo - missing for the last several books, still missing at the end.

On to the magazine stack. Then probably more of the same. I don't know if I'll be ready for reality until Agent Orange leaves office.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Progressive {$everything}

This past Friday we drove from Lexington KY to Durham NC via the West Virginia Turnpike. What had been 3x$3 tolls was now 3x$4 tolls. This disappointed me, as tolls are a regressive tax - one that affects poor people much more than rich people. In the US, since 1913 the progressive income tax has been 1 of the only things countering the natural tendency of capitalism to produce runaway inequality.

A natural next step is a progressive wealth tax. aka capital or Piketty tax. That is why proposals like the Green New Deal include such a tax.

Further afield, I have recently been thinking about promoting (voluntary) progressive tipping. My wife & I got to visit France 6 years ago and both liked the "no tipping" of servers in France. Pay the people a living wage, what a concept!

Meanwhile, back in the United States of Capitalism, even though trickle-down economics is, per Krugman, a "zombie" economic theory - one that is known to be wrong, but that refuses to die - it still has influenced a lot of the US economic system for many decades. So I try to actually practice it via aggressive tipping: 100-33%, $5 minimum tip. All 3 of my daughters worked as servers (my son was a very good dishwasher), and for every 1 who over-tips, I guarantee there are 5 who under-tip.

A progressive tipping policy might look like:

  • if you're in the 0-50th %tile financially, you tip 15%;
  • 50-60, 20%
  • 60-70, 25%
  • 70-80, 30%
  • 80-90, 40%
  • 90-99, 50-100%
  • .01%'ers, 500%
  • .001%'ers, 1000%
I think this should be a no-brainer for the better-off. But, unless you are in the 0.001%, you probably don't think of yourself as "better-off". Maybe this would be another form of tumbrel insurance for rich folk besides UBI?

Note, someone told me that "tips" stands for "to insure proper service". Whatever. If service isn't great, I don't know what that server is having to deal with, so I support them regardless.
Then I got to thinking, tips are a "cost of goods" - a price. Why not have progressive pricing on everything, on a scale similar to the tipping? The rich are willing to pay big bucks for exclusive/rare/top-shelf products - how about they pay big bucks for everything, and subsidize purchases by the less well off?

Or, maybe even better and easier, expand the really inventive concept put forward by Karl Schroeder in "Stealing Worlds". There Schroeder posits that the emerging dominant cryptocurrency automatically distributes coins from wallets with too much to wallets with too little. This idea reflects one of my mantras: that money is software. How about a cryptocurrency that implements progressive pricing? A progressive cryptocurrency.

What is the range over which this adjustment should run? Why, the range that keeps the world in Kate Raworth's Doughnut, of course! I would guess that the upper limit on income/wealth would be greater than, say, the 9:1 ratio which limits the wages of executives based on the lowest paid workers' wages implemented by the Spanish Mondragon Coop. I suspect we can stay in the doughnut and still have filthy rich people - but maybe not the 182,000:1 wage ratio of Jeff Bezos to a $15/hour worker.

The concept, brought forth by Schroeder, is that, rather than trying to address inequality with band-aids after the fact, we should build more equality directly into the infrastructure. And while we're at it, this gives us a throttle which we can use to get us and keep us in the doughnut.

Hopefully food for thought. What else could you build into a cryptocurrency?

Monday, August 12, 2019

That Didn't Take Long

So after establishing a reading heuristic, no books with "empire" in the title, I nonetheless decided to read "Empress of Forever", by Max Gladstone, 2019, 655 pages. I liked his Craft Sequence, and this book had great reviews.

Bad behavior rewarded! There was 0 feudalism, just an insanely powerful Empress of the Galaxy, who got her job by taking control of The Cloud on earth - which expanded to be The Galactic Cloud - at a very early stage ?!?!?

Very engaging writing, a memorable fellowship established to fight the Empress, including a character who is gray goo. A very good read. Note, the fast majority of characters are female, & I think all the romantic relationships in the book are female-female. A lot of this lately in sci-fi. Male geeks aren't offended, & females are empowered, FTW!

Next up, non-fiction?!?!? "Rising Tide", by John M. Barry, 1998, 653 pages, subtitled "The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America". It was recommended to me several years ago by Michael Boggs of Carmichael's Bookstore in Louisville. It is: a history of flood control theories from 1870 to 1930; the story of the 1927 Mississippi flood which put 1000s of miles^2 underwater; and the tragic tale of LeRoy Percy, friend of Teddy Roosevelt, boss man of Greenville MI, in the heart of Mississippi delta.

Very informative. I sometimes find it hard to read historical stuff when the real people being followed are total assholes. The main lesson from the book: aristocratic/oligarchic noblesse oblige will fall by the wayside when greed/capitalism dictate. Percy was very progressive in his treatment of blacks - but because economically, he needed their cheap labor. He kicked the klan out in the 1920s as his father had kicked them out after the civil war.

But when it was time for the blacks to be taken off the levy and to safety in the worst of the flooding, Percy undermined his son's decision to evacuate the blacks along with the whites because he was afraid the labor would not return. His son, the county disaster manager, reacted badly to his father's betrayal and his relationship with the now imprisoned blacks became increasingly bad, and a national scandal. Oof!

#3, "This Is How You Lose the Time War", by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, 2019, 136 pages. I enjoyed the other Max Gladstone a lot. This one not so much. I like the title, and it has an interesting plot: (female) time warriors/fixers, 1 from the Red civilization - computers, VR, the cybernetic singularity - and 1 from Blue - bioscience, genetic engineering, Avatar (the movie) type sensibilities - battle each other across the ages, trying to change various events to favor their side. They start corresponding, fall in love, etc. Romeo & Juliet I guess. Somehow it just didn't work for me. It was short though.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Plant Trees!

Writing a letter to the editor:
The climate crisis - climate change, global warming, ocean acidification - is the greatest challenge human civilization has ever faced. It is very daunting to address as an individual, particularly when our government is currently doing the completely wrong thing: continuing to subsidize fossil fuels.

Years ago I read that the #1 thing an individual could do to help fight the climate crisis was to buy a more efficient car. We bought our 1st Prius in 2005; my current 2016 Prius gets ~55 mpg driving around Lexington.

Just recently, tho, there was another idea. A July 4 Scientific American article discussed a study which concluded that planting trees everywhere possible could offset "two thirds of all the CO2 humans have generated since the industrial revolution".

Wow! Plant trees! Surely all of us love trees! Plus, planting trees near your house will eventually shade your house and cut down your summer air conditioning bills.

We should all get behind efforts like our own Reforest the Bluegrass and Branching Out programs.

Lexington housing developers are currently doing a great job of infill development; please look at adding as many trees as possible to your developments.

On July 31, I read that Ethiopia set a new record by planting 350 million trees in 1 day. How about we establish a competition, who can plant the most trees?

On bad days, I figure it's too late - greed/capitalism will trump the survival of the human race.

But, maybe not! Pitch in, plant some trees!

Chris Heinz