Smokey 4/1/07 to 5/7/21 RIP

Smokey with the Chisos Mountains of the Rio Grande Valley behind her.

It is hard to know where to start in eulogizing Smokey. Simply put, she was a dog’s dog. Whether fighting with a rattlesnake, herding cows through my campsite, falling in the Kern River, meeting alligators, climbing trees, canoeing 350 miles down the Missouri River, or any other number of things; that dog could create an adventure out of an otherwise boring day.

Getting Smokey was an impulse decision, it was early Summer 2007 and my life was in flux. I already had a dog, did I really need a puppy? I senselessly got one anyway. She was only 8 weeks old and already a lightning bolt.

Smokey at 3 months.

She was a terror from day one. I started hiking Tilden Park every day before and after work in an effort to wear that dog down. There are about 30 miles of dog friendly trails in the park and Smokey had hiked them all within a week. We did puppy school together. Although she was intelligent she was also wild and head strong.

Within months I both loved and hated that dog, and for the very same traits; strong willed and brave. She would meet any perceived threat head on and she barked…a lot.

At about 8 months I sent her to boot camp, a 30 day board and train program. While most of the training did not stick, she was much more bearable after that. And since she was pinch collar trained she understood the word “no”.

Enjoying the Sierra Mountains.

Shadow was 4 when Smokey came to join us. When Smokey was about a year old her and Shadow had a six month period when every interaction had the potential to turn into a fight. Shadow managed to resist Smokey’s status seeking beta behavior until the end. The two ended being stalwart friends until Shadow’s death in 2019.

Shadow and Smokey were inseparable for many years.

The three of us would road trip a few times a year. Like Shadow, Smokey hit all the great National Parks; from Glacier to Big Bend and from Yosemite to Everglades and most of them in between.

Smokey enjoyed the travel, making it to 32 states, camping in the national forests in most of them. In 2009, Smokey and I took a 350 mile canoe trip on the Missouri River. She was a great companion on the trip and I think it was one of the high points of her life (not to mention my own).

Canoeing the Missouri River.

Smokey split her life almost evenly between Berkeley, CA and Columbia, MO; spending the first half of her life on the West coast and her latter years in the heartland.

If I thought about it, I am sure that there are nearly a hundred anecdotes that would illustrate Smokey’s intense ability to grapple with life. I am only going to share one here, this is one that I wrote about elsewhere. This happened back in 2014 when Smokey was 7.

Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.

Smokey with cow.

And that look is what I am going to hold on to.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. Still, it would be nice to imagine The Smokester in a meadow somewhere with a bunch of cows to push around. Perhaps reuniting with Shadow for some grand adventure.

Smoke leaves an outsized hole in this world and it will take some time to heal. I am going to miss that dog.

Leaving Facebook, Again

As  regular readers know, I deleted my Facebook account back in 2011. However, this past January I set up a new account, the plan was to eventually run some campaigns to support a project that I am planning.

But like everything else in 2020, those plans went out the window with the entry of the virus. Still I found Facebook useful for organizing some projects that I am working on with the local homeless population.

Despite what follows, not everything about my dalliance with the social network was negative, I enjoyed catching up with old friends and even making a few new friends. But the impacts on my own mental health and the quite obvious deleterious societal effects far outweigh any positive outcome.

“The most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.”–Jaron Lanier

It now seems obvious that most of our present problems–from race riots to white supremacy, from  divisive politics to science denial,  from virus denialism to Trumpism–are being exacerbated by social media in general and Facebook in particular.

Facebook’s algorithms, designed to draw you in and increase your interactions with the service are amplifying messages and doing the following: 1) taking something good and pushing it far past its logical conclusion and turning it into a negative and/or 2) taking something good and creating a backlash that does much harm.

Facebook’s algorithms took something good, Arab Spring, and transmogrified it into ISIS. Facebook’s algorithms took something good,  Ferguson protests of 2014, and mutated it into something terrible,  Charlottesville 2017.

At its heart, Facebook is an ad machine and data aggregator. To enhance this it has to constantly increase interactions and get you to spend more time within its gated walls. This is accomplished through algorithms which decides what you will see during your interactions with the service. These algorithms are soulless equations which do not care about family, country or planet and will happily destroy all 3 in its quest to increase its master’s profits.

Facebook is free because you are the product, they make money by selling little tiny pieces of your soul every minute every day. The pieces are tiny so you hardly notice that they are missing, but compounded over time, you still end up being soulless.

This is why a dear old friend posts Trumpist memes every day, day after day, despite having no idea what they mean and what the outcome will be.

This is why a family member posts about confederate flags and heritage despite being as Yankee blooded as can be.

This is why a community activist whose real world actions I admire, posts memes glorifying violence for other people while she lives peacefully  in an unscarred quiet community.

This is why old friends post mindless anti-trump memes day after day after day, mindlessly clicking like and share and not ever wavering.

Because their souls have been eaten by the algorithm. They have lost the ability to act differently. I love each of these individuals, but due to the amplification and distortion of the algorithms, I can’t stand who they become.

It is extremely important to not confuse Facebook’s fun house mirror version of reality with the true reality that takes place in the real world, many of us are not capable.

When I re-engaged with Facebook in January, I promised myself that I would only post positive things, I would somehow use my life energy to push back against the machine. That promise proved to be short-lived and I did not keep it very long. The algorithms are like a strong tide, impossible to fight.

Soon after making this post I will delete my Facebook account again. I urge every reader to consider doing so also. I assume everyone sees the bad that is being done to society by Facebook, although many might think the good outweighs the bad. I ask you to read Joran Lanier’s “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.”

Our country is on the path to civil war, we need to act immediately to stop this. Part of stopping it is to free ourselves from the algorithms designed to amplify divisiveness and to begin to seek out commonalities instead. There is no money for tech monopolies to make in promoting our  vast similarities in needs and beliefs, they can only sow discord in thier mindless efforts to increase profits at any cost.

Unfortunately, that cost is your soul. I can not take part.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” –Mario Savio

Facebook as Plato’s Cave

Forgive me if I butcher this badly, I have not read the Republic in 30 years. Since this analogy seems so obvious, I am sure that I am not the first to make the link.

Is Plato even part of our shared heritage at this point? Is our education so debased that one would need to explain it before referring to it? These are the questions this soon-to-be 55 year old wonders. Since I don’t have the answers at hand, here is the Wikipedia entry.

I find Facebook and Facebook culture to be abhorrent. I deleted my Facebook account in 2011 and only created a new one this past January.

I am constantly surprised by the fact that some people seem to think the grotesque shadows of the real world that are filtered and reflected by Facebook are actually representative of the real world. Plato thought that folks would only live in the cave if they were prisoners and some entity had shackled them there. In reality, many folks purposely shackle themselves inside this virtual cave.

I was part of a Facebook flareup last night, and it struck me…all this person knows is what she reads on Facebook. She has mistaken the fantastical shadows for reality. Now I feel like the escaped prisoner, whose eyes have adjusted to the daylight, and has returned to the cave to inform his fellow prisoners of the real life outside the cave. I don’t remember if the shackled prisoners killed the one who returned with tales of the real world or only wanted to.

But I get it. The real world is bright and painful, it hurts after being shackled in the cave so long. However, crawl out of the cave we must, or spend our lives looking at the grotesque reflections and mistaking them for the real life that is taking place outside.

 

Student Debt Forgiveness

I plan on voting in the Democratic primary, providing we still have a choice on March 10–a week after super Tuesday.

I will not vote for a candidate who offers across the board student debt forgiveness. This is simple bribery and shows a lack of presidential character. It is also fundamentally unfair. More on that in a minute. First, why are college costs increasing so quickly? Mostly due to cheap and easy student loans, backed by the government. The government handing out “free” money to students made colleges hike fees, increase administrative costs, and generally grow their budgets to absorb all of the money the government is artificially pumping into the system. This has served to push many, otherwise deserving, folks out of the educational system. Government policy created the problem. Want to decrease the costs associated with higher education? Remove the artificial bloat that poor planning has created.

Back to that fairness issue. So, what if your parents worked 2 jobs so that you could go to school debt free? Many do. All the while the neighbor lived profligately, taking vacations, working a single job and saddling their children with debt. Now we are going to bail them out? That is ridiculous.

How about the students that put themselves through college? Working the whole time, their grades suffering because of it. Perhaps taking extra time to get their degree? All to avoid burdensome debt. Compare this to someone who lived off their loans, spent their weekends drinking and lived profligately (there is that word again). Now we are going to reward the second? This is ridiculous (and there is that word again.)

Besides having a loose relationship with the truth, Warren’s debt forgiveness plan rewards the profligate and does not pass the ridiculous test.

Sure, college is expensive and it saddles folks with debt. But the sad fact is that we are a service economy and there are not enough college level jobs for all. So free college is just more government debt, with no real benefit except for rewarding the profligate.

A better plan would be to increase the Pell Grant to make community college free for all. Meanwhile, help fund trade school. And simultaneously start making it more difficult to obtain student loans (these are essentially unsecured debt, no better than credit card debt).

But what about the 1.5+ trillion dollars debt already out there? There can be some forgiveness, but with a cost to the borrower. Enter a field that we struggle with finding enough employees for, get some limited debt forgiveness. Volunteer to work with under-served populations, get some debt forgiveness. Re-locate to an area that needs your skills, get some debt forgiveness.

Got a degree in art history? Get a job at McDonalds and pay your fucking loan back.

We also need to start cracking down on the scofflaws who choose not to pay their debt back. Start taking bank accounts and cars from those who are in arrears.

I cannot consider voting for a candidate that offers bribes for votes. That would be both profligate and ridiculous.

Profligate: recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources.

Ridiculous: absurd, inviting or deserving of mockery.

 

Cooking Challenge 2020

Last year was one of the first New Year’s Resolutions that I made, I vowed to make 20 soups from around the world. I made the first one shortly before the new year and finished the challenge on May 19th. When I was finished I summed it up in a blog post.

The purpose of last year’s challenge wasn’t just to make 20 soups, it was to learn new techniques that I could ad lib with in my day to day cooking. On both marks, the challenge was a success.

After I finished the soup challenge I got into fermentation. That lasted most of the summer and I’ve learned good techniques for that too. As Winter moved in I kind of stalled out. So I started thinking about a new cooking challenge for the coming new year.

I’ve settled on making 17 meals from 17 different countries chosen almost randomly. That is one approximately every 3 weeks, if I move more quickly I can get back to fermentation when the summer heat rolls in. I will give a brief sketch of each one here as it is completed, so I get 17 blog posts as a secondary reward.

I’ve chosen the following 17 countries: Algeria, Viet Nam, Brazil, Slovakia, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Portugal, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Uruguay, Estonia, Namibia, Taiwan, Guatemala, Croatia, and Qatar.

This is more of a challenge than last year’s because that was just making a dish without any context. This challenge involves understanding the local cuisine and making a representative meal.

Stay tuned to see how it goes.

Climate Nihilism: Late to the Party

So last night, in a fevered state, I posted a despondent piece about the recent UN climate report. To sum up that rant: we are at the point of no return and we are not acting like a crisis is taking place, the only logical response is to live it up before they burn it up. I dubbed this response climate nihilism.

I woke up this morning to two comments on that post, one on the post itself from a stranger and another in an email from a friend and former housemate. It appears that I am late to the nihilist party and others have seen the writing on the wall for some time.

In last night’s fevered post, wanting to be fair to the climate optimists, I stated that we had made some gains in energy related greenhouse gas emissions. A commenter pointed out that:

[I]t is a fiction that “in the US energy related releases have been on decline.” Manufacturing got outsourced to third world countries, just as Lawrence Summers called for, so that others could suffer and die so that our Happy Meal toys could arrive across the plasticized oceans.

This is surely a good point, any releases in emissions is more than correlated with outsourcing of manufacturing. Consumption has not declined, auto travel has increased, and the easy fixes and outsourcing have been made. This is why US emissions are expected to be flat through 2050. This is why 4 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures are inevitable by century’s end.

In an email, someone commented that others are surely suffering from climate nihilism, he used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example. Driving his humvee to a private airport to board his private jet to fly half way around the world to rail at us about climate change. If this isn’t nihilism, then what is it?

I want to add one more example of climate nihilism to this emerging puzzle. I use my local city as an example, not to single it out, but simply as an example of how business as usual is hastening our path to that 4 degree increase in temperature. There are nearly 300 cities in the US with population exceeding 100,000, and over 4,000 of them globally. So take this example and multiply it 4,000 fold. I use my local city as an example only because it is the one that I am most familiar with.

Back in June our city adopted a Climate Action and Adaptation plan. The plan calls for a 17 fold increase in public transit usage by 2035 and a 40 fold increase by 2050. Sounds good right? But here is the kicker, the very same week that they voted to adopt the plan, they also moved to further gut our already gutted public transit system. So, simultaneously stating that we are going to increase public transit by a fantastical amount while slashing public transit and all of this while a massive expansion of our airport is ongoing. Once again we can ask, if this isn’t nihilism, then what is it? I am pretty sure that at least 6 of the 7 city representatives would agree that climate change is an existential threat.

Now multiply this by all the places, all over the world, where similar things are taking place.

Lets project forward, we have already raised temperatures nearly 1 degree and we are seeing floods and droughts and storms and decreased farm output and all manner of effects. Two degrees isn’t just going to be twice as bad, it may very well be 10 times as bad or worse. And it has become clear that we will not move to stop it at 2 degrees. Then we have potential runaway effects, permafrost melting and releasing all the trapped methane, ice caps disappearing and reflecting less heat, increased water vapor trapping more heat, etc. If we stopped emissions today, it still may not be enough. And we are not going to stop emissions, while we are making some progress toward slowing the increase, every year sets a new record in the amount of emissions.

So as I awaken to climate nihilism, I also find that I am quite late to the party.

Climate Nihilism

This post was prompted by the release of the 2019 Emissions Gap Report put out by the UN recently.

It does not matter one whit what we do individually, we are fucked. Collectively there is a slim chance that we could save ourselves, but we are nowhere near meaningful collective action. And we are fast running out of time.

It has been common knowledge all of my adult life that climate change is real, and that if we want to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius that we must drastically cut emissions. Regardless of who has been in office, we have not made meaningful cuts. We are already half way to that 2 degree threshold.

According to the recently released UN report, we must achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to stay within the 2 degree temperature rise. To achieve this we would need to cut global emissions by 7.6% per year starting in 2020. No one believes this is going to happen. Sure it is doable, but it will not happen.

80% of all releases globally are by the 20 most industrialized countries (G20). The remaining 175 countries release only 20% of emissions. This is a first world problem, we created it, we perpetuate it.

Here in the US, energy related releases have been in decline. But this decline is now being offset by increases in transportation related releases. Between 2000 and 2017 we made incremental improvements, but that has now stopped. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to remain constant through 2050.

I don’t know if any of the climate deniers actually disbelieve the science or if they just say they don’t to pay homage to the ever expanding market. What I do know is that many who profess belief in global climate change are either lying or are outright evil. If those with power believed in catastrophic climate change would they be continuing to promote consumption and growth at any cost? Would they be building even more roads and airports? Or would they be pushing for a vast increase in mass transportation?

80% of emissions come from electric power, transportation and industry. While the remaining 20% are from agriculture, residential, and commercial. So even if we all made drastic personal lifestyle changes and reduced our personal impact by as much as half, it would not be close to being enough. Our elected officials fiddle while the planet burns, and no amount of personal responsibility will make a difference.

The only rational response at this point is nihilism, our personal choices are meaningless. I find this sad and troubling. But just because it is sad and troubling does not negate the fact that it is indubitably true.

Sylvesta Schock, My Grandmother

Our family history on my mother’s side has always been severely lacking. In the absence of information, we have made up legends. A little research generally disproves the family legends.

Six years ago I posted about my research into my maternal grandfather. At the time I parenthetically wrote about his wife:

It is difficult to find much information on Grandma Allen as her name is spelled differently in each text consulted [i.e. Sylvesta, Sylvestia, Sylvester; and Schouck, Schock, Shock, Shouk, Shouck, Shak] we do know she was born 12/3/03.

And that was pretty much all I could gather.

Until today. Today I had breakthroughs in my research and have found her ancestors.

Grandma Allen was born in 1903 to Benjamin and Mary Ann (nee Meyer) Schock.

Benjamin, in turn, was born to Blasius and Mary (nee Liller) Schock in 1864. It was Blasius (my great great grandfather) who migrated from Germany, having been born in a region near the French border named Baden in 1836.

Mary Ann Meyer’s father Heinrich Joseph Meier was born across the Rhine in France in 1821.

Even though they lived within 50 miles of each other, it is highly doubtful that they knew each other as their families did not intermarry for 2 more generations.

Tracing back matri-linearly my great great grandfather Nahum Cobb was born in 1833 in Ontario New York, this is his image:

nahum_cobb

He died in Council Grove Kansas in 1895 after siring 3 daughters, my great grandmother Nettie Cobb being the youngest.

I Hope Tulsi Gabbard Runs 3rd Party

I would vote for her.

Last election I sat it out.  Of course I found Trump abhorrent. However, Clinton’s record was terrible. From years of scandal to advocating war in Libya, she left a lot to be desired. Probably the deciding factor in deciding not to vote for Clinton was her touting the support of Henry Kissinger, America’s most despicable destroyer of human rights.

Tolstoy taught me that choosing the lesser of 2 evils is still choosing evil. I voted for Bill Clinton his first term, he bombed Iraq within hours of taking office. I have not chosen evil since then.

I find the 3 leaders of the Democratic pack to be too old for the presidency. The two oldest presidents ever were Reagan and Trump, both of whom showed marked mental deterioration while in office. Warren, Biden, and Sanders all would be older than either of these two when taking office. I like Mayor Pete, if he is the nominee I would vote for him.

However, even with a large field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, only one is anti-war, Tulsi Gabbard. Ending American Empire is my single biggest issue, no other candidate has come close to addressing it.

This is not to say that Gabbard is a perfect candidate. But she has not promoted the extra-Constitutional overreach of executive power, she supports all of the Bill of Rights, and she genuinely seems interested in drawing down American Empire.

For those reasons I would not hesitate to cast a 3rd party vote for her. I can think of no stronger message to send to the criminal duopoly parties that business as usual must end. I feel strongly enough about it that I would do so, even at the risk of giving Trump a second term.

Conspiracy, anyone?

Hey, can you handle one more vape post?

What I’ve found here, with the help of Wikipedia, is a news articles that tells us pretty clearly where the ongoing crackdown on vaping is coming from.

June 24, 2014 Yahoo financial posted:

The rapid growth of electronic cigarette sales poses a rising but under-appreciated risk to holders of as much as $96 billion of bonds tied to payments tobacco companies make to U.S. states from a sweeping legal settlement in 1998.

Cigarette consumption has dropped an annual average 3.4 percent since 2000 while many bonds were structured to withstand consumption declines of only 2 to 3 percent.

[A]s smokers swap traditional cigarettes for tobacco-free e-cigarettes and other vaping products, the smoking rate is declining even faster and analysts now predict some bonds could go into default before the end of this decade.

Last year, cigarette shipments dropped by 4.9 percent, the biggest decline since the government passed a federal excise tax in 2009, a drop some blame on the rising popularity of the industry’s new tobacco-free alternatives, such as e-cigarettes.

Wells Fargo Securities predicts the pace at which consumers switch from traditional cigarettes to e-vapor alternatives will surge in the coming years. It estimates that sales volumes for traditional cigarettes in the U.S. will decline by 68 percent over the next 10 years, while vapor cigarette sales will soar by more than 13-fold in the same period.

I live in Missouri, we get $130 million annually, we don’t try to stop smoking and the funds go straight into the state’s general fund. I can’t find any info on if the state sold bonds based on future income from the settlement.

According to the American Lung Association, Missouri takes in $259 million per year in tobacco blood money. That is money from the tobacco settlement and taxes on tobacco. How much does the state spend out-of-pocket on tobacco control? $48,500.

The point being, that our state budget depends on people continuing to smoke cigarettes, and we are not doing much to slow it down. Vaping is a threat to our state budget, just as it is in every state.

So when the Feds or your state move to slow the uptake of vape alternatives to smoking, remember it has nothing to do with health and everything to do with maintaining a smoking pool to keep the revenue flowing. They will appeal to emotion and wail that it is for the children, but that is a red herring, it has everything to do with money.

Black market thc cartridges are the cause of the recent vaping deaths, but government can’t help but use it as an excuse to slow the spread of a nicotine replacement that is 80 to 98% less harmful that smoking.

I’m not usually inclined toward conspiracy theories, but following the money generally points you in the right direction