Archive for October, 2015

Benefits of The Donald

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I missed the first Democratic debate of the 2016 election. I wanted to see it and being stuck on an airplane, with CNN, while it was on, seemed a fine coincidence. Except my Virgin America flight from LA to Boston was missing a quarter of the channels it was supposed to have, including CNN. And they didn’t want to reset too much of their entertainment equipment because the Dodger’s playoff game was coming in loud-and-clear and for some reason my fellow passengers seemed more interested in that.

From what I gather, the dog didn’t bark: Hillary is alive and Sanders is real. But that’s news. Likely it keeps Biden undecided until it is too late to get in.

Oh, and the guy from Maryland maybe has some bite.

The other two?

I’ve always liked Chafee, but he is disqualified for being funny looking, he can’t be elected president in 2016 without being more attractive on TV. A shame. I also saw a spin-room photo where he was being interviewed, surrounded by…one lone reporter. In the same room where Bernie was mobbed. Sad.

I used to like Webb, but I forget what earlier silliness from him was my letdown. But I am over him.

On to The Donald

As I have often repeated, I don’t dare root for a crazy-but-weak GOP candidate because in a two horse race the most embarrassing and lagging nag can win–if the other horse trips and falls. But that reticence doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some aspects of GOP infighting and stunts.

In this case The Donald is taking on W’s reputation. It has been almost as if George II wasn’t even president on September 11th, 2001. Until Jeb! said “At least he kept us safe.”. A few liberals jumped on that and no one notices them.

But now The Donald is hitting Jeb! with the fact of what his brother’s job was at the time: President of the United States of America. And in true Donald-style, he isn’t being gentle about it. Legions of Ignorant Americans (who think the movie The Martian is based on a true story) are learning that George W. Bush maybe was a bad president. (“Really!?”)

Now if The Donald would only take on W’s torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary imprisonment.

Okay if he wants to leave alone W’s hollowing out of the federal government by driving scads of competent talent into retirement. (A dozen or so years from now, ask Barack about the consequences of that–he might not give a straight answer, but watch him take a deep breath and try not to roll is eyes.) Also okay if The Donald doesn’t want to touch W’s horrible deficits, before he very nearly plunged us into another Great Depression.

At some point it becomes implausible that George II was that bad, so best keep it believable…

But I would like the torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary imprisonment trotted out by a showman of The Donald’s calibre. Please?

©2015 Kent Borg

How Political “Red Meat” Works (and Isn’t Necessarily Bad)

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

[Sorry I wrote this back at the end of July but didn't post it then. Silly me. Maybe I never finished it. Does it look complete to you?]

I am sure political scientists have fancy names for this and organize conferences about it, but it is new to me, I just figured it out: how “red meat” works, and how it is made.

A freaky part of living in these times is that someone like Donald Trump can toss ridiculous “red meat” to the Republican base, and millions fall for it! How does that work? Today I spotted a rare attempt at left-wing “red meat” (What do we call left-wing “red meat”?) and it got me thinking in a little more depth.

It seems to be a three-part recipe:

1. Select a complicated problem, a problem that we must solve.

This needs to be something controversial–we can’t have a bipartisan solution or the result won’t be ideological red meat. And if you want traction with your public, it should be a familiar and topical problem.

2. Select a tenet of ideological dogma.

Something that is obviously true to anyone who looks at it, yet something that your political opponents inexplicably won’t see. How can anyone be so blind!? Some things are obvious!

3. Apply the dogma to the problem for a simple solution.

Simple solutions are naturally better than complicated and red meat needs to be simple. And if you want to really juicy, dripping red meat, it is better if it outrages your opponents, that helps solidify the distinction between good and evil. The solution doesn’t have to be practical nor make sense, it doesn’t have to actually address the original problem, but it does have to fit with the dogma chosen above.

If anyone argues against it, the true believer can easily dismiss any logic or facts, and see the complaint as a rejection of the dogma. It doesn’t matter if the objection is from the opposition or from the same side, the very fact that there is an objection is all one needs to know, only a non-believer could think such a thing. A valuable litmus test can be built this way.

A little marketing savvy helps in selecting and packaging the solution, but if done right the result is emotionally satisfying to the core of your ideological group and they won’t be able to resist it.

Right Wing Examples

Taxes. To the political right taxes are bad by definition. This dogma has been used to cut taxes. The slight detail that Republican presidents like Reagan or George W. Bush who put in big tax cuts had enormous deficits is a bit of reality that doesn’t need to be worried about, at least not on the Federal level where we have good credit and can run deficits. States don’t have this flexibility. Consider Kansas, the enormous GOP tax cuts have been a big problem, but as it is a red state, the Democrats can’t take over and take the heat, instead the GOP needs to fix it, so they make a point of not saying what they are doing is taxing. It is okay to defy reality, but never defy dogma.

Regulations. Regulations are almost the same as taxes, bad by definition to the political right. It doesn’t matter if the world is coming to an end, dogma can prompt one to deny it. In fact the more extreme the situation, the greater importance to preserve the dogma, for the dogma will save you.

Military might, we can’ be weak. More is better, we need to support our military. Even if this means starting wars that kill and maim our own and leaves us weaker, any argument against belligerence must be an argument for weakness.

Left Wing Examples

These are harder to come up with in 2015. Ronald Reagan did such a good job of changing the very agenda questions from not whether to cut socail programs or taxes, but how much to cut. He crushed the left and the Democrats have been marching to the right ever since. It it hard to throw read meat to the left when the crowd is constantly ambling to the right.

What’s left of the right today?

There’s Bernie Sanders! But he’s blast from a distant past. He has been a refugee who years ago found asylum in a distant and mythical place called “Vermont”. Pinko world he grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. He is one of the last isolated individuals of a species that looks as good as extinct. Maybe he can “breed” more political socialists, but it would be a dodo-back-from-the-dead miracle.

Isn’t there something newer available? Something with a glint of new?

There is (was?) the occupy movement. It had a lot of buzz and support and momentum…but I don’t remember those crowds getting any good red meat thrown to them. Why not?

What would it have taken?

Step 1: choose a complicated problem. That’s easy, we hate the big banks and WTO, get rid of them!

Good start! Almost there, now hit that over the head with an appropriate tenet of your dogma, see what pops our, and you’ll be done. There’s no right answer, pick any core article of your dogma and it can probably be applied. I can wait while you think it over. If you don’t like the word “dogma” think “philosophy” or “principles”; just pick one…


The occupy movement had no overarching principles to guide it. No pocket-sized crib sheet to remind the followers what they were there for. People have said that the occupy movement didn’t have any leaders, but had they had some coherent doctrine, leaders would have naturally arisen as the ones who could select some nice red meat and organize around it.

Left Wing Attempt I Saw

Today there was news of Obama visiting Kenya, and it seems he was railing against corruption as a way to address Africa’s chronic poverty. Someone I follow on Twitter said that African poverty has “more to do with global trade structure than misbehavior”. And in in another tweet said: “If you’d sunk 1/5 of what went towards bailing out U.S. Banks to infrastructure in Africa it would change the continent, corruption or not.”

Sounds like the complaints from occupy, but then what? Where’s the meat?

I compare this to red meat because this person is not objecting to fighting corruption but, if I may put words into his mouth, he seems to be longing for something bigger and better–though international development is tricky, it is never clear whether any specific bigger and better project by outsiders helps more than it might unintentionally hurt. And this person knows more about foolish development projects in Africa than I do.

But I think a good piece of red meat is longed for by much of the left: some satisfying, simple solution, to a real problem, a solution that grows from guiding principles.

When Making Political Movements: Red Meat, Not All Bad

You can’t have a political movement without someone articulating some direction, something to organize how the movement should move. Present a problem, apply a dogma/principle/philosophy, and let your follows see the inexorable logic in your solution. Let them go forth and repeat the argument to others, throw your followers some red meat.

When Red Meat Goes Bad

Why does “red meat” have such bad connotations? Because in recent years it has been a cynical way rally the right wing base with extremism that (1) isn’t practical or even based in reality, and (2) leaves the party estranged with some important voting blocks.

The Republicans have so alienated blacks and Hispanics that they can’t win the White House any time soon. Not unless the Democrats throw a presidential election: say, nominate someone clunky, lacking in charisma, with her own accumulated negatives (plausible?), who then has a big stumble and fall, letting even the lamest Republican nominee to win.

Political Predictions, Red Meat or Not

The GOP is in trouble and will stay that way until the last of the gone-rabid Greatest Generation dies off, and the GOP drops the race-bating, and quits with the culture wars which they have lost. Then they can maybe drift back to something my grandfathers would have recognized.

What of the other side? The left is maybe terribly disorganized, but it might find focus by simply drawing on Democratic principles. Bernie Sanders might look like a longshot for being elected president, but he is drawing crowds with his consistent old message. And, though not running for president, Elizabeth Warren is making pretty good hay doing a “Democratic-wing of the Democratic party”-thing, and doing something pretty occupy-compatible in the process.

©2015 Kent Borg

Which Gadgets Do I Need, Again

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

Four-years ago I asked the question “What gadgets do I need?”, and it seemed time to revisit the question.

First, what gadgets do I have?

Pebble Watch

This is my most-present gadget these days. I like that it is limited, it is too small a screen to offer a rich experience, and it is too small a case to have a large battery. So it is limited in its ambition and achieves that goal beautifully. It is an accessory to my phone.

Smart Phone

My Android phone (Nexus 4, soon to be Nexus 5x) is my next most present gadget, it is pretty much always on me (I am not a “set it down”, user, I have it on my belt). I am paranoid about keeping it charged, so not only do I charge it at night, I charge it in the car, I charge it at my desk at work.

But I don’t use it as much as I used to. I do not obsessively check it a hundred times a day, I let my Pebble let me know if something notable has happened, the battery life has gone up since I got the Pebble. I also use it less because of my next gadget, my tablet.

Nexus 7 Tablet

I now have the “2013″ version of the Nexus 7, which was a nice improvement on the first one (that I broke), and it is a shame they don’t sell something like it anymore.

It took me a while to figure out what it is good for, but I finally realized it is good for everything. I have it in my “purse” which is always close at hand, or I have it in my hand. It is also small enough to fit in most of my back pockets, I don’t sit down with it there, but I can free up my hands. I don’t have cellular data service for it, but wifi is common, and I can turn my phone into a wifi hotspot when I need to.

Notebook Computer

I don’t use it as much as I once did. I don’t carry it around as much as I did. But if I need to do “computing” or writing or real web surfing, it is critical. A real keyboard, a lot of capacity and power, and–notably to me–a computer that I largely control. I run Linux on my notebook and I can do what I want with it. On my other devices someone else is pretty much in control and I am just a user.

It is also a nice way to read the replica version of the New York Times. A big enough screen to handle the current physical layout of the real paper.

The old Thinkpad X230 I bought shortly after my earlier gadget post is getting physically tattered, but it is still a nice machine. The addition of an SSD and more RAM have kept it very useful. And the “Displayport” jack that I didn’t appreciate at first (“What’s that?”) is useful now. And the two USB jacks that are the newer “super speed” flavor (“What’s that?”) are even more useful now. The PCMCIA slot has been useless and the missing modem I might have once wondered over has not been missed–it has been a very nice computer.

I carry it in a bag to and from work everyday, I always bring that bag with me if I travel, and even on a day trip I usually bring it, but I don’t just carry the computer alone with me anymore, I have other toys, the computer has been displaced somewhat.

E-Book Reader

I have a Kindle “Paperwhite”, the second version of that. And it fits nicely in my purse. I can use the Kindle software on my phone or tablet, but they have disadvantages:

  • Distractions, the Paperwhite is limited in a good way (see Pebble Watch);
  • Battery life, my Android gizmos can’t touch the battery life of the e-reader;
  • Better display, easier on the eyes, good in bright light;
  • Better user interface, the builtin dictionary works better.

One shortcoming: The Kindle is slow and has a more limited display. If I am reading something that is not just linear text, something that has layout and pictures and charts that don’t reflow well for the Kindle screen, it doesn’t work so well. So where a given recipe might work well on a Kindle, cookbooks do not. And anything much like a textbook that is more than just text also does not work well.

I do sometimes jump from device to device, and having my reading synchronized is nice. I will read the bulk of a book on the Kindle but read bits here and there while waiting for the washing machine to finish, maybe–because I have my phone on me when I don’t have the Kindle.

I wish I made more time to read.


Poor Ipod, I still carry it around (in the same bag as my notebook computer) but I don’t use it so much anymore. Why? Two reasons: Streaming radio stations on my Android devices (not streaming services, I actually like real radio stations from around the world) are my more common choice for music.

The second reason is the rather limited user interface on the Ipod. It has a lot of capacity and battery life, but it is hard to find things. One of my pet peeves is it is nearly impossible to listen to anything that came on more than one CD, because the persons who did the data entry were not consistent, and it is really hard to find the other discs of the opera, say. Further frustrations come from Apple neglecting their Itunes program on the Mac, they have made a ton of stupid changes that make it really hard to use.

Camera, Little

I no longer carry a little camera. My Android devices have pretty good cameras in them.

Camera, Big

Still photographs aren’t going away, but “still photography” is. That is, a conventional exposure, with a specific shutter speed, lens opening, focal length, focus distance, “film” speed–these are going away. There is a lot of much richer data collection that can produce a still picture with much more power–but that is another post I might get to later. In the mean time, I do have a big, old fashioned-ish, DSLR that I  needed for a specific project (35-mm slide digitizing, but that’s another post, too), and I sometimes get exercise by also carrying this camera.

This is not well resolved territory. It weighs a ton, but it has marvelous resolution and can see in the dark better than I can.

Hiking GPS

My old Garmin is feeling lonely, who buys a hiking GPS anymore? For about a year there I couldn’t even find it and feared I had left it on an airplane (I hadn’t). The point is it is at risk of being pointless. But it is not obsolete yet.

It works offline, when I am without cell coverage, where Google Maps becomes worthless. But I also have on offline map program that works well on my Android devices. Recently on a hike I pulled out my Nexus 7 several times for a good map of where I was, and finding where the trail we wanted branched off. No cell coverage, but it worked anyway.

I still carried the Garmin on that hike, it is much tougher, much better battery life (replaceable batteries!), and has a screen that works in sunlight. And it is small enough to have out and recording where I have gone, willing to help me retrace my way back to civilization. I also still use it in the car, knowing I can leave the main road and explore and it will show me a dotted line of where I have been.

But I also lost it for about a year and got along quite well without it.

I haven’t quite resolved where I keep it, hence my ability to lose it. Interesting how this will turn out.

I do worry that Garmin will lose interest in this model and quit selling maps, I should update my current North America maps if I can, my current data is starting to get obsolete. But I think Garmin isn’t interested in this business model, I think they want to sell me an expiring subscription, they want me more online. At that point they will lose me, maybe a find some armored “phone” with long battery life and use it as my new hiking GPS.

Extra Ipod Nano

It is the larger model Nano, not the really tiny square one. I won it in a drawing at some seminar. It has a fair amount of capacity–many, many hours of music. And it has an FM radio. And it is tiny enough to keep in my purse. But I seldom use it.

It does not have great battery life, but it is a different battery from my phone, I can wear it down without worry. I just have to remember to recharge it occasionally. I forget I have it.

Smart phones should have FM radios in them. Some have the hardware but the software is missing. For me it is worth carrying, but I don’t know that this device really has a niche that will last, I suspect not.

Missing Item: Big Tablet?

There is one thing I fear I need to add to my load: a large tablet computer. I want a big and very detailed screen for looking at detailed information: Maps and pictures and other graphics. Google announced one for later this year that might be tempting. I think this would go in my heavy bag with my notebook computer. I seriously doubt I would carry it around as I do with my Nexus 7, but I think it would be nice for specific purposes.

Hey! New York Times: I want the replica edition for Android!


Something I didn’t really talk about in my previous gadget post is a radio. I listen to the radio a lot and I think 4-years ago I was still carrying around a portable radio, listening to NPR. Now I use my Androids for that. It worries me that I can’t easily listen to local radio if something goes wrong with larger technical infrastructure, and that is the real reason I try to keep that Ipod Nano charged.


In the bag with my computer (a bag that is seldom far), I have a dual USB charger, and a reasonable collection of cables, including a short AC extension cord with three outlets on the end–very hand in airports when I would like to share a rare outlet. And an external USB battery pack so I can revive a phone, or run that Ipod Nano for hours on end if I need to. In my purse I have tiny car and AC to USB power adapters, and a couple USB cables. Oh, and don’t forget a little flashlight on my keyring, so much better than using my phone as a light.


Though my Android devices fill a lot of functions, they haven’t completely displaced that many gadgets: the Ipod, hiking GPS, and radio are endangered, but not yet banished. Good thing I am still young enough to haul around so much crap.

Something this technology has displaced: a lot of paper. We still buy travel books but we don’t carry them around much. We very seldom buy paper maps. (And when I do get a paper map I sometimes photograph it with my Nexus 7 and use it that way. I also photograph the big maps at the trail head instead of trying to just remember them.) Highway maps are long gone from our routine. And I miss them, spreading out a big map is still nice. That is why I want a big tablet, I think it will fill that desire.

There is still a lot happening in the gadget department. I wonder whether 4-years from now a followup posting would show more or less change? Will my load finally start to shrink?

©2015 Kent Borg