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Here we are, another day with another piece of evidence that President Trump is a… sub-par President.

I could point to any number of things, but today I’m going to pick on his response to the allegations of child molestation of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Or rather, his lack of response.

The background to the latest example

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or not following US politics, Roy Moore is the former judge in Alabama who had a monument of the Ten Commandments placed outside his courthouse. He was eventually told to take it down (you can’t put a symbol establishing preferences for one religion over another in the United States federal building, it is unconstitutional because the the US constitution prohibits favoritism on the basis of religion). He eventually lost his position as a judge and got kicked off the bench.

But that wasn’t the end of his career. For you see, after Alabama’s Senator Jeff Sessions left his seat to become the Attorney General of the United States under President Trump, the governor of Alabama appointed someone else (Luthor Strange) to fill the vacant Senate seat until the next election which would be held on Dec 12. Luthor Strange was the incumbent, but he had to win a Republican primary first, and then win in the general election to officially take the Senate Seat. And that’s where Roy Moore comes in. Moore ran against Strange in the primary and won. So, he’s now the Republican candidate to become the senator of Alabama in a special election on Dec 12, squaring off against a former prosecutor running for the Democrats, Doug Jones.

Roy Moore was all positioned to win the election because Alabama elects Republicans. However, a couple of weeks ago, numerous reports of Moore committing sexual assault 35-40 years ago against underage girls began to surface. This happened while he was in his 30’s and was the District Attorney. Allegedly, he was well-known for dating teenage girls, was banned from a shopping mall for hanging out around there (as well as high-schools), and allegedly groped not just one girl, but so far six (!) have come forward. One was as young as 14 years old when the incident occurred. Moore has tried hard to deny the allegations as fake news, except that one of the women has his signature in her high school yearbook.

My view of Roy Moore is that he is an extremist (his political views are to the far right) and he is endorsed by far right publications. I never wanted him to win anything. Yet now I am disgusted by the reports of child molestation. That should disqualify him from office; and while I understand that these allegations are unproven, there are six different women and this shows a consistent pattern of abuse. It’s not fake news, it’s sexual abuse.

The background to the background of the latest example

That’s what gives these allegations authenticity, these types of abuse are never just an isolated pattern, instead they come up over and over again. I can think of countless examples of this over the years:

What’s in common here is that this behavior (unsurprisingly) was going down for decades and was overlooked, but now that it’s come to light, the perpetrators are paying the price. Not necessarily with legal trouble, but at least with career trouble and massive hits to their reputation.

It’s a big problem in politics, too

Hollywood is not the only place where this has gone down. But at least in Hollywood, actors are paying for their sins.

When it comes to politics, many powerful men have almost managed to squelch allegations of sexual assault. Fortunately, they failed:

  • Just this past year, the popular mayor of Seattle Ed Murray, who is openly gay, was positioned to be easily re-elected. However, reports started surfacing this year that back in the 1980’s when he was a youth worker (also in his 30’s, the same as Roy Moore), he committed sexual assault against troubled youth. Murray denied the allegations and that they were politically motivated, but more and more reports kept coming forward. Eventually the political pressure was too heavy and Murray stepped down, and did he did not run for re-election.
    .
  • For me, the coup-de-grace is Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You won’t remember this, but I sure do. Strauss-Kahn is the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and he was based in New York City. A few years ago, the state of New York was trying to prosecute him for the rape of a maid (an immigrant) in a hotel. They were set to take him to court when a couple of days before the trial began, it fell apart and never proceeded. I never found out what happened, but my guess is that he did it and paid off the woman so she would drop her claims and refuse to testify.That wasn’t the end of his career, though. He started to move up in the circles but a year or two later, he was busted again for taking part in a prostitution ring, and was known for having wild sex parties. He never was convicted of anything (he admitted he had a strong sex drive) but that seems to be the end of his career. For now, I guess.
    .
  • Where this hits closer to home for me is that way back in 1993, while I was still living in Canada, my parents were involved in the Reform Party. The Reform Party was a right-wing party based in western Canada that was effectively a protest party. The local candidate was Terry Lewis, and he was a Christian. My parents supported him. He ran (and lost) in 1993, and ran again (and lost again) in 1997.Several years later, he was convicted of sexual assault which he committed against a teen boy in the 1970’s, again while he was a youth worker (in his 30’s, just like Roy Moore). He was convicted of a second case a few years ago.When my parents found out about this the first time, they were angry and disgusted that he did these acts. I give my parents credit, they never would have supported Lewis had they known that this was in his background.

So you see, sexual assault by men in positions of power, whether it is in Hollywood or in politics, is common. And it’s also serial, they rarely do it only one time. That’s what I think gives reports against Roy Moore credibility – that there’s so many.

The famous counter-example

But serially abusing men don’t always get their comeuppance, and the most obvious example is Donald Trump. In 2016, at least eight different women came forward and alleged that he sexually assaulted or groped them. At the time, candidate Trump said all eight of them were lying, a claim he still makes today. He was also caught on audiotape making “locker room talk” about women, but dismissed it as nothing more than men making off-the-cuff remarks about their sexual prowess (and that it was not at all a reflection of his character and his views towards women, relative to his own position of power).

President Trump got away with it; and unlike my parents who turned on Lewis even though they agreed with his politics, Trump’s supporters did not turn on him because they agreed with his politics, and they still haven’t. Likewise, Roy Moore’s supporters have not turned on him because they agree with his politics. Apparently, to Moore’s supporters, you can be a child molester so long as you espouse the right political and religious beliefs. If you do that, you get a free pass and anything wrong you do is dismissed as fake news.

When I was on a jury earlier this year, the case was about sexual assault. During the jury selection process, the lawyers are allowed to ask the potential jurors questions in order to kick them out of the jury pool in order for their client to get a fair trial (or the prosecutor get rid of any lunatics). I forget which lawyer asked it, but he asked the women in the audience how many of them had ever been a victim of sexual assault. Many raised their hands, and I tried to do a quick count. I estimated that somewhere between 20-25% of the women in the room had raised their hands. Some even spoke about their experiences.

So as you can see, this country has a problem with sexual assault committed by men, and many women don’t bring their stories forward out of fear, shame, and the feeling of powerlessness. Being accused of lying, and of participating in fake news, doesn’t help and makes the problem worse because it scares victims into staying silent. Furthermore, seeing the perpetrators (like then-candidate Trump) get away with it is even worse because it sends a social signal that it’s possible to get away with it under certain circumstances. People watch for these social signals, and if Roy Moore gets away with it, then others will figure out that you can get away with anything if you subscribe to extreme politics but indicate you’re on the side of a certain group.

Thought Bubble

Before, I continue, let me go to the thought bubble. I’ve listened to the radio about why Moore’s supporters haven’t abandoned him. Some think the accusations are fake news, others will vote for him even if the allegations are true because they won’t vote for a Democrat, but the one that makes me roll my eyes the most are because Christians have the concept of forgiveness. You may have committed some evil acts, but forgiveness is available to you. Redemption is a common biblical theme.

I get that, and it’s a great concept. However, it’s entirely dependent upon your coming clean, confessing, and repenting. In other words, you must admit your guilt and promise to turn around, and actually turn around.

Roy Moore has not gotten past that first step – he hasn’t admitted what he has done, so I can’t see how forgiveness should be extended to him. Indeed, by refusing to admit what he has done (allegedly), he is making the situation even worse by indicating to future victims that their stories will not be believed.

Thanks Thought Bubble.

Finally getting back to the hypocrisy

With all that in mind, let’s turn our attention back to President Trump. When the news broke about Moore’s allegations, President Trump was silent. He didn’t say anything. No urges about showing caution, no threats that these better not be true, just a simple “I haven’t studied it, we’ll have to see what happens.” He was exercising caution, a character trait President Trump doesn’t actually have.

Yet in the past week, Senator Al Franken, a Democrat out of Minnesota (the same Al Franken known for playing Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live) had his own sexual assault allegations makes the news. During a USO comedy tour back in 2006 before he was a Senator, he took a picture with his hands on the boobs of a female colleague while she was asleep (she was wearing body armor underneath military fatigue). Franken apologized for an unfunny joke and called for an Ethics Panel investigation into his own behavior.

While Franken is not the biggest thorn in Trump’s side, he’s been very vocal about sexual assault. And now this image has been circulating on social media. Like clockwork, President Trump rage-tweeted about Franken, calling his behavior inappropriate. “And what about the (non-existent) even worse images in photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7!?!?”

Seriously?

The sheer size and scope of the hypocrisy of this tweet floors me. This is a man who committed sexual assault against numerous women, calls them all liars, and propagates the problem forward by sending signals to others they will not be believed even if they do come forward. He said nothing to the allegations of sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, even though other Republican leaders have condemned the behavior (for their own political reasons, of course) [2].

But the reason that President Trump condemns Franken is not because he is actually disgusted by Franken. Instead, it’s because he knows where his bread is buttered. Donald Trump always courts the extreme right-wing base of the Republican party. He eggs them on all the time, and exploits their support. That’s why he wouldn’t condemn David Duke (the alleged leader of the KKK), why he wouldn’t condemn neo-Nazis, and why he wouldn’t say anything about gun control even after the Las Vegas, Texas, and California mass shootings which have occurred in the past few weeks. It’s because there are too many far-right extremists that are part of that voting bloc, and he needs to shore them up regardless of whether or not they are harming the country.

I know that not everyone who supports Trump is far-right, or an extremist. But many, many do and President Trump is pandering to them.

So, the President condemns Franken because Franken is a Democrat; he doesn’t condemn Moore because Moore’s politics are extreme but align with Trump’s base.

That is the reason why President Trump does what he does.

He is not showing any type of moral leadership, but instead is exploiting divisions in the country to firm up his support [2].

And I predict he’ll do this over and over. When a white male commits a mass shooting, President Trump will be silent because gun control is a pet issue for many in his base and he won’t risk alienating them. But if a Muslim rents a truck and drives over people in New York, he’ll be tweeting about it within minutes, about how we need extreme vetting, because many in his base don’t like or trust Muslims anyhow [3].

And on and on it goes. And will continue to go until he either loses the next election, or is impeached (probably because of his dealings with Russia, although I think that is a long shot, perhaps 20% chance of success). The hypocrisy of calling out one set of behaviors when it is politically advantageous, and not calling out another – even when the other he is not calling out causes more harm – is not going to stop.

And I think that is damaging the country.


 

Update three days after I wrote this post

And just like that, we’re seeing the behavior of how politics overrides personal ethic.

1. The most disappointing example is Franklin Graham, the son of American evangelist Billy Graham and the person in charge of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charitable organization that runs Operation Christmas child. My wife and I have donated to this organization in the past, so it’s such a depressing example of how leaders in the church should know better, but don’t.

Franklin Graham posted this on Twitter in response to the coverage of Roy Moore:

Did you notice the “What about-ism?” This happens when you say “This guy is bad, but what about this other person who is bad?” This is a diversion tactic that you engage in when you can’t defend something or someone, so you try to shift the discussion over to something else which you can personally attack. It is a tacit admission that you lost that battle, so you try to engage in something you can win.

What-about-ism is used by the Trump administration all the time, and the media falls for it. They get into a discussion about other things, chasing the rabbit trail. But it’s a ruse, a canard. Regardless of whether or not that other thing is bad, we are discussing this thing right now.

Franklin Graham ought to know better. Yes, other politicians in Washington are bad, but right now we’re discussing Roy Moore and his sexual assaulting of underage girls. Don’t try to change the discussion just because you’re a conservative Republican and you think Roy Moore will support the policies you want him to support. I thought Franklin Graham ought to show some leadership by showing he has some skin in the game, and would denounce someone who has shown immoral behavior. I guess I was wrong about that.

2. Unsurprisingly, President Trump has endorsed Roy Moore. From The Hill:

President Trump on Tuesday appeared to throw his support behind Roy Moore (R) despite the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Alabama Senate candidate.

We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

The president slammed the record of Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, saying “it’s terrible on crime, it’s terrible on the border, it’s terrible on the military.”

Trump declined to say whether he believes the accusations against Moore, but stressed that the former judge has denied them. “He denies it. He totally denies it,” Trump said, noting the alleged incidents took place about 40 years ago. “Roy Moore denies it — that’s all I can say.”

As I explained above, it’s not surprising that President Trump would employ this tactic, he only speaks to his base and pushes policies for his extreme base. Roy Moore is part of it, and there’s no way Trump will abandon him no matter how bad Moore is, because…

3. The Hill also reports that Moore and his Democratic opponent are in a statistical dead heat, with Moore still slight ahead:

According to the Raycom News Network poll, 45 percent of respondents believe some or all of the allegations against Moore, while 34 percent said they don’t believe any of the accusations.

Twenty-one percent said they believe some or all of the allegations, but that it won’t change their vote.

Did you see that? 1 out of 5 voters believe the allegations of sexual assault are true, but still will vote for Moore anyway (I haven’t checked to see if those are all Moore voters, or split, or all Jones voters). This underscores my disgust that all you have to do is subscribe to extreme beliefs and signal to your extreme base that you’re on their side, and they’ll give you carte blanche to do anything you want so long as you vote their way when in power. Your moral character means nothing (and that’s what irks me about Franklin Graham, he should know better).

This sends a bad signal to everyone else who might be so inclined to abandon politicians who do grossly immoral things. If Side A (Republicans) won’t do it, or won’t do it in enough numbers to matter, than what motivation do Democrats have to abandon, say, Al Franken? It amounts to a unilateral disarmament. Votes can do the game theory, and abandoning their guy but knowing the other side won’t abandon theirs means that you either accept the other guy, or you stick by your own no matter how bad he is.

I know national politics is a blood sport, but this is starting to feel really slimy.


Addendum

[1] Some leaders in the Republican party have said they believe the women, and that Moore should drop out. I think they are saying this because it’s politically expedient. The Republicans are establishment Republicans, and Moore is an extremist outside that. They want Moore to drop out because they don’t want the problem that Moore would have brought to the party in power, even outside of these allegations.

Yet, because of my disgust of Moore, I have to align myself with Republican Congressional leadership, even if I understand that they’re only doing it because it aligns with their own best interests, and not because they are showing any moral leadership.

[2] This goes to what Nassim Taleb describes as having skin-in-the-game. If you don’t have skin-in-the-game, your opinion shouldn’t be taken seriously. For example, during the financial crisis, maybe Wall Street managers were criticized for taking on excessive risk and destabilizing the system, yet still profiting handsomely. They had no downside, only upside. They had no skin-in-the-game.

When President Trump refuses to criticize Ray Moore, it’s because he knows he might alienate his base if he does, even though charges of child molestation are serious. When he does criticize Al Franken (even though he himself has done far worse things), it’s because his base is fully on-board with him criticizing Democrats and there’s no downside for him. Democrats won’t vote for him, and he can shore up support within his base.

Thus, President Trump has demonstrated he has no skin-in-the-game when it comes to showing moral leadership, he only panders to his base.

It’s when you do things for which you might suffer adverse consequences that you should be taken seriously.

[3] The message coming out of the White House is that the reason the President has criticized Franken is because he admitted it, whereas neither President Trump nor Roy Moore admitted to these allegations.

Moore hasn’t admitted it because it would probably be political suicide. President Trump… probably can’t remember that he did it, or does remember but has convinced himself that it was perfectly okay.

But in either case, it sends a bad signal: rather than admitting when you’ve done wrong, deny it forever. Even if it results in long-term damage to real victims of sexual assault.

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For the first 30-some-odd years of my life, I never drank alcohol. I didn’t care for the taste, and found it repulsive. I sympathize with those who don’t drink.

That started to change in 2012 when the wife and I went to Argentina. We started to have a little bit of red wine when we went out to eat, but for the most part I stuck to water. I never really found myself enjoying wine that much.

My aversion to alcohol went away after we went to the Czech Republic in 2013 and I started drinking beer. It was there that I realized that I liked beer. I figured out that there are only certain types of beer styles that I like. I’ve kept a list of all the different types I like, and over the next four years I figured I was primarily a liker of beer, and not wine. If I was going to drink wine, I didn’t want to sacrifice a beer for it (my body has a limited budget for alcohol consumption, so I have to be selective).

But last year, we went to France and that started to change. I found some wine that I liked. And then this past year we went to Sonoma in California, which is wine country. I learned that I liked some wines from that region, too.

Since going to Sonoma, I have increased my consumption of wine while decreasing my consumption of beer. I haven’t been keeping track, but I estimate that since June of this past year, I’ve probably had more wine than beer. I’m still a noob when it comes to different styles of wine and estimating what they will taste like, but I think part of the reason that I never liked wine in the past was that I wasn’t drinking good wine. It has to cost at least $10/bottle otherwise it leaves a sticky, cotton-mouth feeling in my mouth.

I’ve told people that one of the best things about wine is that it isn’t mass-produced. It’s made by small-to-medium size wineries by families or small businesses that care about their product.

Big business that mass produces things are in it for the money. And when you scale up, the quality of your product goes down. That’s just the way it is. But when you do things on a small scale, of course you are in it for the money (you have to be, otherwise you’ll go bankrupt) but you’re absolutely in it because you love the product and want to make something people will enjoy. You take pride in your work.

Wineries are like that. If you get too big and the wine gets too corporate, the product quality suffers. I don’t think you can make a quality bottle of wine for less than $3/bottle, because the bottle itself costs $2.

So yes – wine has not yet suffered the same fate as beer where a few large corporations dominate the beer market with an inferior product. When I was younger, I didn’t care as much about supporting small business because I was a strong believer in capitalism, and the market would sort out the winners and losers according to whoever had the best product.

But now, I’ve gained some skepticism about the market. Big business can sort out winners and losers not because they necessarily have a better product, but because they have a better business and distribution channel. They can scale up and get their product out to more people. Quality is a concern, but it’s not the concern.

That’s something that is not the case in wine.

Not yet, anyhow. And hopefully never.

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This past summer, in August, the wife and I headed down to Hood River for a special event. In case you don’t know, Hood River is in Oregon and is one of the beer capitals of the state. There are five breweries in a town of something like 7700.

Seattle-to-MtHood.PNG

But that’s not what I am here to talk about. We didn’t just hang around Hood River, but instead did a hike around Mt. Hood. The wife and I have hiked around Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and Mt. St Helen’s, all in Washington. This is the first (or second) time we’ve hiked around Mt. Hood.

I’m not sure how many trails there are around Mt. Hood, it doesn’t seem to have as many as Mt. Rainier or Mt. Baker. The one we went on started around 5800 ft elevation, and went up 3000 feet (to 8800), and was around 3.5 miles one way. I also forgot my boots, so I had to hike in my runners.

MtHood_4

But the part I thought was pretty cool is where the hike ended. Mt Hood is only around 11,250 feet. When we got to the end of where we were going, I looked to the end and realized that we only had another 2450 feet up to go if we wanted to get to the summit.  From where I was standing, it didn’t look too far of.

The below is a photo looking up to the top of the mountain:

MtHood_2

The next picture is me looking down from the mountain, back the way we came. On the way up, it seemed like it kept going up and up and up…

MtHood_3

But to put all of that in perspective, when coming down the mountain I looked back and snapped a picture just to see how far I really was from the top. As it turns out, I was a long way off:

MtHood_4a

So while was there at the end of the trail, I was thinking “It wouldn’t be too bad to keep going” even though I intellectually knew it would be.

But taking a step back and getting some perspective, it would be a difficult climb to go the rest of the way.

You win, Mt. Hood.

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I don’t know what it is, but I really like fancy doors.

A couple of years ago when the wife and I were visiting Budapest, we had the chance to walk through one section of town where I took a photo of a fancy door and said “That’s the type of door I want on our house.” Of course, I’m never going to get a fancy door since they cost more than I am willing to spend on one.

Be that as it may, I like looking at fancy doors.

Last month (in September 2017) we were visiting the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was there on a work trip and the wife came along. We really seem like visiting art museums, having visited the Orsay Museum in Paris last October (the wife also went to the Louvre), the British Museum this past May, and a copper museum in central Arizona this past April.

Anyhow, we were in the Metropolitan Museum when I came across a door I really liked, so I pulled out my phone and snapped a selfie:

Me_with_a_door_in_NY_Met

You can’t really see the entire door, but you can see the intricate carvings on it. I like the fine attention to detail doors like this. I don’t know why but I think part of the reason is that it’s non-utilitarian. Doors are for getting into and out of buildings, so you make something that’s secure and attach it to the frame of the house.

A fancy door is about so much more than utility; in fact, it’s non-utilitarian. That is, it doesn’t add any functionality whatsoever, it’s just there to look nice. You’ve now put in time and effort into decorating a door beyond it’s original function.

And this door fit that description.

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I’ve been fortunate this year to have traveled for work to a number of different cities – Cologne, Germany; Toronto, Canada; New York City, New York; Sonoma, California; and San Francisco, California.

Because I’m reasonably well-known in the antispam filtering space, and because I work for a big company, I’m often taken out for lunch or dinner (along with many other people). This past week, I was in San Francisco and got to go dinner to Gary Danko, one of San Fran’s premier restaurants.

I had never heard of the place before. Of course, why would I? I don’t know that many restaurants in any city other than Seattle (and maybe Winnipeg). But Gary Danko is close to the waterfront, just across the street from the Ghiradelli chocolate factory.

I’m not a food connoisseur, but I do enjoy fine dining. The portion sizes are smaller but they are cooked with more spices and less salt/sugar/fat meaning that it’s not as bad for you as, say, McDonald’s. McDonald’s makes food you like only because it has so much salt and fat. Without it, it simply doesn’t compete with fine dining.

My meal was three courses. It started with appetizers and while there were several things on the menu I could have selected, I went with the bisque.

GaryDanko-Bisque

I don’t often get soup with my dinner. I will eat it if it comes with it, but I usually don’t select it over other things. I decided that since I had a salad for lunch, and I was getting meat for my main course, I would go with the bisque. I was glad I did, because it was really good.

For my main course, there were many different selections. Duck, lamb, steak, quail (I think… I can’t actually remember now) but I decided to go with bison. Why? Well, I never have bison in real life so I figured I would give it a shot now.

GaryDanko-Bison

I didn’t have the option of picking how I would like it. If I did, I would have picked medium-rare. But the way they cooked it was between rare and medium-rare, so it was rarer than what I would have selected.

That’s a good thing, because it turns out that bison is a tougher meat than regular steak.

On my plate, the thing on the right is a portobello mushroom, while the green things underneath the bison are not vegetables but instead a type of soft egg noodle called spätzle. I had never had it before, it was kind of chewy.

For dessert, there were a lot of different sweet things on the menu, and from what I know about fancy restaurants and dessert, they can go all-out. I opted instead to go with the cheese-tasting menu. I like cheese, and I knew it wouldn’t be too sugary.

My plate came with some grapes, four different types of cheeses, and then some raisin bread (yuck!). I strongly dislike raisins, but I finished most of the cheese and the grapes.

GaryDanko-Cheese

There was an extra bonus dessert plate afterwards, so I snagged myself a chocolate treat.

GaryDanko-BonusDessert

My group was pressed for time so we were in-and-out in 1 hour and 45 minutes. But I enjoyed my time there. If I had to do it again, I’d probably get the lamb instead of the bison. But nevertheless, no regrets. Any time I can go for fine dining, I jump at the chance.

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The wife and I have done a ton of renovations to real estate this year:

  • The wife replaced the bathtub walls and counter in her rental condo
  • I replaced the tub and tub-walls in my rental condo
  • We replaced the master bedroom’s bathroom in the house where we are living
  • The wife’s parents sold a house and the wife is acting as the power of attorney, and had to oversee a whole bunch of required upgrades before we could sell
  • I am on the Board of my condo association, so not only do I manage my own property but help manage the entire complex
  • We are looking to do some more renovation work of the main bathroom in the house where are living, not mention fixing up some drainage issues (and not to mention taking care of another drainage problem earlier this year, as well as adding insulation to the undercarriage of the house)

Whew. That’s a lot of work.

However, what I’ve found is that I’ve gotten good at noticing when something is done well and when it’s done cheaply, and not been impressed with expensive housing.

Across the street from Microsoft, there’s a $1.7 million house for sale. It sold last year, and the wife and I went to look at it. At the time, we were like “Wow! This is a nice place! We’ll never afford it of course, it’s way too much money.”

But this year it was up for sale again. The previous owner who bought the year before had to move back to the east coast, and put it on the market for $100k above last year’s price. The wife and I went to check it out again.

We were not impressed.

While some parts of the house were nice, the walls had been drawn on by kids and it wasn’t totally cleaned up. The master bathroom was nice, but it gigantic. It was the size of a large bedroom, and the walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom. I said to myself “What a waste of space.”

But it’s not just that, the other bathrooms had cheap plastic tubs installed. The counters were okay, but just… okay. Indeed, most of the house was adequate, but for $1.7 million I expected way more. We remodeled our own bathroom this year and were trying to keep costs down, and all bathrooms in this $1.7 million house – except the main one – were no nicer than our new one.

Even now when the wife and I go snooping in open houses during the summer or fall, we’ve started getting pretty good at seeing if something is well-built or not. And there’s a lot of overpriced junk out there. It’s pretty clear that real estate prices are driven primarily by location, and not by quality. This is doubly true in Seattle where houses go for even more than they do on the east side of the lake.

I feel like if I wanted to go into real estate development, I could be pretty good at it since I have some experience at it now. For sure, I’d need to get a lot more training under my belt, but if I’ve gotten this far just doing it haphazardly, I could become a real expert if I did it full time.

Of course, if I get a degree in diplomacy, when exactly when I have time for that?

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I’m currently writing this on a Tuesday, and two weeks ago on a Wednesday, I got sick. That means it’s been 14 days. It started as a sore throat, and then a stuffed + runny nose the next day, and then a cough two days later. The sore throat and stuffed/runny nose went away the same day.

The cough has lasted 11 days so far.

When I first get sick with a sore throat, nobody notices. And when my nose is stuffed and runny, because I’m at home or at my desk at work most of the time, no one notices. But I’m feeling pretty miserable. However, after the sore throat and runny/stuffed nose go away and the cough moves in, that’s when people start getting concerned about my health because that’s when they notice. But I’m feeling much better in this state despite having a cough.

I get offered cough candies, tea, and other home remedies now that I have this cough. I could have used those before, actually. I’m not convinced they help, either. When you get sick, your body responds by lining your throat and nose with lots and lots of mucous. That’s why your nose gets stuffy and runny. After the virus has been killed, your body is still producing it in lower quantities, but it all runs down the back of your throat and makes you cough. It’s your body’s way of responding to its own defenses.

But it’s still annoying.

 

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About a year and a half ago, we got Esmerelda, the younger cat in the household. When she first arrived, she was super needy. She kept crawling into my lap while I was eating, she kept shoving her face under my hand at night, and she meowed around the house when she wanted attention.

Well, that didn’t last.

Nowadays, she doesn’t need attention at all. In fact, she requires so little attention, I’ve nicknamed her “The Hermit” because she mostly stays in an upstairs bedroom and lazes around under a chair. She only occasionally comes out for attention, and that’s late at night (and maybe in the morning while we are eating breakfast). Otherwise, she pretty much hangs out there and we don’t see her unless we go in there to bug her. Contrast that to Ruby who almost always has to be in our vicinity, and there’s a strong contrast between the two cats.

Of course, it’s not always that Zelda doesn’t want attention. Once in a while, she will jump onto my lap and stay with me. Usually it’s for less than five minutes, but in a blue moon she’ll stay for about 40 minutes. In addition, roughly 2 days out of 7, I’ll wake up in the morning and she’ll be sleeping on our bed.

Finally, late at night, she’s figured out that when the wife comes home, she starts meowing loud, as if to say “Let’s play with the stick under the blanket!” She has figured out that I’ll play with her at this game after the wife comes home. She starts to meow at roughly 9:50 pm.

So, she still likes attention some of the time. The below pictures are four separate occasions.

Beaners_collage

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Remember that episode on the Simpsons when Homer went to clown college?

It all started when the first day of the month, Homer declared it was new billboard day! He sees ads that he found desirable (such as for food), but then saw one for Clown College. He says in disgust “Clown College? You can’t eat that.” He then drives off, determined to ignore the billboard.

Yet he can’t get it out of his head. In everyday situations, Homer images himself at Clown College, taking the classes to become a clown:

Homer_Simpson_Clown_college

Even when eating dinner with his family, he images them not as table mates, but as clowns:

Homer_Simpson_Clown_college_eating_dinner

Homer_Simpson_Clown_college_eating_dinner_family_clowns.PNG

Finally, he gets up from the table and declares – seeming out of no where to the rest of his family – “You people have held me back long enough! I’m going to Clown College!” He then gets up and leaves the table.

I bring this up because over the past few months, I’ve been getting more interested in politics. I’m not sure what the catalyst is for this upsurge in interest [1], but here we are. I try to stay away from editorials, and instead I’ve done a few things:

a) I started subscribing to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) daily newsletter, and I browse through the articles. The CFR is mostly non-partisan and provides a roundup of news from around the world. I even play to join the CFR if I can get a few members to recommend me (Note: I currently know nobody on the CFR).

b) I subscribed to Foreign Affairs, a newsletter and website that discusses foreign policy as it affects the United States. They are articles written by industry people with a lot of expertise. It cost $40 to sign up, and I read it most days

c) I listen to the podcast The President’s Inbox. This is put on by Foreign Affairs, and every 2-4 weeks they have a new episode of issues facing the President of the United States. One episode was on North Korea, another on jobs training, another on the impact of the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and so forth. The President’s Inbox is also non-partisan.

d) I clicked on an ad from Norwich (online) University about getting a master’s degree in diplomacy, or perhaps in international relations. I had no interest in this until a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been poking through it. I thought to myself “Hmm, it could be interesting to be a diplomat.” This is especially true when I saw that you could specialize in cyber diplomacy. I’m like “Well, I like geo-politics, and I’m skilled with cyber-space, and now they’ve merged these two together and created a course about it?” There’s a big need worldwide for cyber diplomacy because cyber security is such a difficult topic, and there aren’t that many people in general with the necessary skills. There’s even fewer who would want to do government work.

The drawback of this is that while the course can be completed in 18 months, and is done on your own time and is online, for me to go into diplomacy would be a pay-cut, probably 25-40% (I don’t know why the software industry pays me so well, but they do). And that’s for a mid-career level diplomat, not someone who starts from the bottom which I would probably have to do. Another drawback is that the tuition for those 18 months is $30,000. That’s a lot to shell out. While I could afford it, it would be a big investment for a repayment that is less than what I get now. And getting the wife to sign off on it is another big challenge.


So, it’s (d) that keeps sticking in my head. I’m like “A masters in diplomacy? How is that going to help me? This advertisement has no effect on me whatsoever!”

I just hope I don’t make an outburst like Homer Simpson during a meeting at work one day.


[1] Just kidding. It’s the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

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Today, I went to a church picnic, and afterwards a group of about 12 of us went to play a game of ultimate frisbee. We played for a bit, and after about 30 minutes when some of the other players dropped out, I was the oldest one playing – at the ripe ol’ age of 38.

If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s fast-paced like soccer or hockey. But the rules are kind of like football. You have two teams, and you advance by tossing the frisbee to each other. You have to stand still when you throw it, and if the frisbee hits the ground the other team takes possession. The object is to get the frisbee into the other team’s endzone. There is a lot of running back and forth with little stoppage in play, you’re moving around for most of the time.

I gotta tell ya – I hike as much as I can ; I walk 10,000 steps (at least) every day; I take 11 flights of stairs at work and sometimes do the entire 28 while on a break without stopping; I watch what I eat; but this game was something else.

I was able to run back and forth at full energy for a couple of end-to-ends, but it wasn’t long after that I started getting tired and couldn’t go full out. I could stay on my feet, and didn’t black out, but my body was not letting me sprint back and forth to get open and cover people.

Ultimate will do that to you, because there’s so much turnover in play, and it’s not like football where the play ends after every one. It’s continuous, so it’s more like soccer, but faster paced so it’s more like hockey. But whereas hockey has substitutions of players and stoppages in play, ultimate doesn’t so in that regard it’s more like soccer.

My team was playing against a couple of people who played in college, so that team destroyed us. I was no competition. I am not an athlete, and I never was, but that was clearly obvious this time around, too (as usual). The only sport I’m decent at is floor hockey, and to a lesser extent football, and to a lesser extent badminton, but to a great extent hiking (which is an activity, not a sport).

I think to myself “Could I have played continuously back in my twenties?” And the answer is “I don’t know.” As I said, not only am I not an athlete, I never was. But over a decade ago I feel like I was able to go longer without getting tired. Or maybe I never played a sport where I had to be on the entire time (the exception is sponge hockey where there were some games where I had to play the entire time, and during those games I got just as exhausted).

Still, playing with friends was a lot of fun and I would do it again. Anytime.

Even though I’m still the oldest guy on the field.

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The wife and I the other day went down to Mt. St Helen’s. This is about a 3-hour drive from where we live.

The city of Seattle is heavily Democratic (capital D). Yet once you get out of the city and drive in any direction for an hour, the political orientation changes. There are lots of Trump supporters.

Along the way down, we saw a big billboard (privately owned, I think) that said “Higher taxes create jobs how?” The unstated argument is that raising taxes is bad for the economy and doesn’t create jobs, and lower taxes is a good idea and creates prosperity.

So I thought I’d take a stab at answering this question.

First of all, nobody who wants higher taxes wants them at 100%

So let’s throw that away. Everyone knows that if the tax rate is too high, the economy stops because no one will work.

Second, it’s a matter of who is being targeted with the higher taxes

In any economy, there is the poor, the working class, the professional class, and the rich. We’re not just talking about the 1% who have incomes starting over $450,000, but the highest sliver of that whose incomes are over $5 million per year. That’s usually who is being targeted for higher taxes although typically it applies to earners over $450,000.

Third, it has to do with increasing consumer spending

The United States’ economy, and most western economies, is built upon consumer spending. Someone has to sell stuff, and someone has to buy the stuff that’s being made. If I build 10,000 widgets, but nobody buys them, that’s bad. It puts no more money in my pocket, and if nobody can afford my widgets, then they can’t take advantage of my widgets’ awesomeness.

The theory behind tax increases

The idea being tax increases is that you take some money from the wealthy and give it to the poor, working class, and professional class. This could be in the form of a direct transfer payment, but usually it’s in the form of services. So, a government might take the additional revenue from taxes and spend it on improving public transit, or on roads, or on daycare, or on health care.

The result is that a poor, working class, or professional class person that normally would have spent an extra $5 on a subway ride, or $1000/month on day care, has extra money in their pocket. They decide to spend it on something else, be it goods that are necessary (household items) or luxury goods (mid-to-upper end vehicles).

The net result is that because people are spending less on one area because the government is subsidizing it, they get to spend more on another area. That means the people that sell stuff have more customers to buy their stuff.

The theory behind tax cuts

Tax cuts have to go to the wealthiest people. The belief is that a wealthy person will take the money they receive in tax cuts and invest it to start new business and generate more wealth for everyone – new jobs, new innovation, new spending on business.

A poor, working class, or professional person doesn’t get enough back in taxes to be able to invest it. For the poor and working class, any new additional income is likely to be spent on consumer goods and services. For a professional person, the money will either be spent, saved, or invested in the markets depending their financial situation. This is similar to a tax increase on the rich in that both are intended to be stimulative. But in these cases, the tax cut money has not gone to creating more wealth in the economy by starting a new business.

No, only a wealthy person who gets a big tax cut can take it and invest directly in the economy. For you see, a wealthy person already has all (or nearly all) of their needs and luxury items. This is because of the decreasing utility of money. All of us need a certain amount of money to buy food, shelter, transportation, cat food, and other requirements. Then we all buy some luxury items. But eventually that tapers off and additional money doesn’t make us happier, that is, we don’t spend it. But given enough additional money, and then maybe a wealthy person decides to take a risk and start a business to grow the economy. It takes a certain amount of money to get started, running a business isn’t cheap. It’s difficult and requires a cushion.

That’s why you have to give tax cuts to the rich if you want them to grow the economy.

Which one is better?

Economists have measured both of these. Both are intended to stimulate the economy. A tax cut does put additional money into everyone’s pocket, and they spend it – but not equally.

The poor and working class spend their extra money. The professional class frequently does, and the wealthy sometimes do, but sometimes they save it. If someone wants to save their extra money, that’s fine. It’s a smart thing to do, Americans don’t save enough. But from macro-economic perspective, it’s bad. Our economy is built on consumer spending, not consumer saving.

If the government now suffers a reduction in revenue, it either has to cut services or run deficits. If it cuts services, then the poor and working class who were using them now have to use the small bit of money from tax cuts to spend on those cut services whose fees have increased. They have no additional money. So the government has to run a deficit and sells bonds in order to finance itself, but as the deficit grows, it can increase inflation. That, too, can erode the buying power of consumers whose incomes have to grow fast enough to keep up with inflation. In 2017, that’s happening for the professional class, but not the poor and working class.

So, if you compare the two:

  • A tax increase on the wealthy that results in the government providing more services for the middle class gives us more consumers who can spend money. Because of the marginal utility of money, the wealthy don’t experience a noticeable degradation of their lifestyle
  • A tax cut on the wealthy does not necessarily result in the wealthy creating more jobs. Much of the time, they save it which is good for them but not for the economy as a whole. The middle class does notice a degradation of their lifestyle as they now have to spend more money on services that they previously didn’t have to spend on

Therefore, as long as it is done right and the rates are not too high, a tax increase on the wealthy does more to stimulate the economy than a tax cut for the wealthy.

And that’s how I would answer the billboard’s question.

 

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Am I seriously doing another blog post? Yup, I guess so.

Myself and some friends were talking about President Trump the other night, I just can’t help myself. I articulated why I have problems with him.

There are many dozens, or even hundreds of reasons to oppose President Trump. But there are two meta-issues that I think undermine the United States in particular, and western society in general.

1. The refusal to divest himself from his business interests

Before the election, then-candidate Trump took a lot of heat from his business interests, and he said he would divest himself from them. But he never did; he said he would let his sons run the day-to-day business, but that he would remain invested. Unlike other members of cabinet who put their interests into a blind trust (e.g., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson), Trump did not.

This is problematic.

The office of the presidency in the United States is not supposed to be used to serve your own personal interests. The president has a lot of power, and therefore can use his office to enrich himself – at the expense of the nation.

For example, he owns a suite of hotels all across the United States, and internationally. He could push for hosting conferences, and foreign governments who travel to the US, to stay in his hotel. He can imply unfavorable treatment if they don’t. And if others want to play ball, they’ll do it. In this way, President Trump would have leveraged his position of power for personal gain, regardless of whether or not his interests align with the United States’ interests. The office of the president is supposed to align first with the US, regardless of whether they are in the interest of the office holder. In fact, even if they are opposed, the president is supposed to put the interests of the country first, not his own. Can you imagine a foreign government offering to spend a large chunk of money on Trump’s hotels in return for favorable treatment by the US government?

This is double confounded by the fact that President Trump refused to release his tax returns, and only leaked the ones that were favorable to him (the 1995 return which shows him declaring a $1 billion loss, and the 2005 return where he paid about $35 million in income tax [mostly due to the Alternative Minimum Tax which his first budget proposal wanted to do away with]).

But because he refused to release his tax returns, we don’t know all of his financial holdings.

And this sets the stage for future presidents to refuse to divest themselves of their financial interests and truly abuse the office of the presidency for personal gain. The precedent the president has set has lowered the bar for future behavior that will be more shady and nefarious. The abuse of office in this manner is how dictators in banana republics operate.

I think this is why President Trump never released his tax returns; it will show that there is something shady going on, and mostly like there is Russia involvement in some way. Perhaps it’s due to financing and special deals (as his sons have said in interviews), but my hypothesis is that the reason Trump is acting all weird when it comes to Russia (e.g., giving them favorable treatment in return for nothing geopolitically), and not disclosing his tax returns, is because he is planning to personally profit during his time in office and that he has to pay Russia back.

2. His administration’s undermining of the geopolitical order set up after World War II

The United States was viewed as isolationist – or at least non-interventionalist – during the first part of the 20th century.

And in Europe, the force driving the continent was a mixture of nationalism (“my country is better than your country”) – and the concept of the balance-of-power.

The balance-of-power was (formally) set up after the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon changed the continent by mobilizing all of France and steamrolling over Europe before finally being defeated for good in 1815. To counter that, at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers (Russia, France, England, Austria, Prussia) established a system where entire countries would ally with each other to balance out the other, so any country that tried to invade another would be forced to deal with the other country’s allies. That is, if England and Prussia were allied with each other, then France couldn’t just invade one – they’d have to fight both. This system worked reasonably well because each country knew that a war would require massive resources and victory would incur heavy losses, making the cost/benefit ratio look unattractive.

But in the late 19th century, countries started devolving into nationalism. First Germany reunited with a series of wars, culminating with the Franco-Prussian War where they became the leading power of the Europe. The balance-of-power still held until World War I when Germany, buoyed by nationalism, instigated the war to end all wars. Which it was, until nationalism reared its head again, and World War II claimed 50 million lives.

After World War II, the world powers decided that the concept of the balance-of-power wasn’t good enough, so they instituted a system of integrated alliances. By creating trade unions based upon political and economic interconnectedness, it would create less hostility between countries. Countries are far less likely to go to war if they are both part of a political union that encourages trade; why would Country A invade Country B and incur the price of war, when they could just trade for the goods they want?

This is the foundation of the United Nations, but more importantly the European Union. Greater integration has increased the unity of Europe where the two worst wars of the past 100 years started, and also increased its stability. Nationalism doesn’t make sense, and that’s why it’s important to keep the EU together. The United States helps guarantee global stability by supporting the EU.

Yet President Trump and Co. are actively undermining the European Union:

a) He has clearly preferred to align with Russia whose geopolitical goals are to be a regional power, and their geopolitical goals are to weaken Europe so they can’t be a counterbalance to Russian influence

b) He has (well, had) undermined the Europe Union by endorsing hardline nationalists like UK-independence leader (at the time) Nigel Farage and saying he should be the UK’s ambassador to United States, and endorsing French nationalist Marine Le Pen. Both of those individuals are actively working to break up the EU.

If the EU does break up, then what happens next? It means we revert back to divisions based upon national borders, which leads to nationalism in place of greater political and economic integration. And that’s what led to the last great war in Europe. Peace is not achieved lightly, and undoing one of the things that led to it (another being more democracy) is a negative.

I think that’s bad for global stability; it’s bad for Europe, and therefore bad for the United States.


And those are the two meta-reasons why I oppose President Trump’s agenda.

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The wife and I hand wash our dishes.

This means that instead of using the dishwasher, we pop them in the sink and do them by hand. I don’t mind doing this, it only adds perhaps 10-15 minutes to clean up. Plus, the dishwater often leaves ugly water stains which don’t come off.

The drawback of hand washing dishes is that we break a lot of them. I’ve broken several plates and glasses, and so has the wife. But it accelerated this past week.

I was washing a plate in the sink when it slipped out of my hand and fell against the bottom of the sink. It didn’t drop far, maybe 3 inches. But it left a chip and a crack in the side of it, rendering it unusable because it could cut you if you weren’t careful (most people won’t be careful).

Then a few days later, I was washing a wine glass. We had bought two inexpensive wine glasses from an estate sale a few weeks ago to replace the previous wine glasses that we had broken. Well, the wife broke one of those. So anyhow, I had the other wine glass in the sink and was washing a frying pan. It slipped out of my hand and landed on the wine glass, breaking it.

Argh!

The next day I decided to head down to the store to pick up two new wine glasses to replace the pair that we had broken. I went after work and had my backpack with me. I bought the two glasses and the clerk wrapped them in paper and put them in a shopping back (I didn’t put them in my backpack). I headed to my car and tossed in my backpack. I then got into the car, and brought the other bag into the car… and whacked the bag of wine glasses against the side of the car, breaking one.

I had broken yet another wine glass on the very same day I bought it!

Argh, again!

Washing dishes by hand is getting more and more inconvenient the more clumsy I get.

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I’ve loosely been tracking the trial of Bill Cosby – the TV star from the 1980’s and 1990’s. He’s had a whole stack of sexual harassment allegations spanning multiple decades, and his accusers have accused him of giving them drugs and engaging in unwanted sexual acts with them. There’s not just one or two women accusing him of this, but dozens.

Cosby’s on trial, but because so many of the cases are so old, he can’t be prosecuted for them due to the statute of limitations (or so I’ve heard). Instead, he’s being tried for one incident that occurred in 2004.

The prosecution brought multiple witnesses, whereas the defense wrapped up their case in a few minutes, only bringing in one witness (a police detective). They went to closing arguments, and the jury went into deliberations. That was last Monday or Tuesday (it’s the following Sunday as I write this).

There’s still no verdict, and the jury has asked to review lots of the evidence presented at trial.

I’ve read some commentary by so-called jury experts who say that it’s not indicative of it being either good or bad (for Cosby). But in my view, I think it’s bad news for the prosecution and good news for Cosby.

Now, personally, I think Bill Cosby is guilty. I know he has a wholesome image, but he’s had dozens of accusers come forward and say more or less the same thing. Why he would ever feel the need to give these women drugs – relaxants – to get them to agree to have sex with him is beyond me. He’s a rich and famous celebrity, I would think he wouldn’t have had that much difficulty in finding willing participants. And the circumstances of the story being told is suspicious.

I think he did it.

But I don’t think he’ll be convicted.

For you see, a couple of months ago I was on a jury, and it was a sexual assault case. In the case, it resulted in a guilty verdict. But I feel like the case was really obvious that the guy did it. There was evidence that was too strong to ignore.

In this case, there are a bunch of complicating factors:

First, it comes down to he said, she said

This is unfair, but this ultimately comes down to a he said, she said debate, and which one has more credibility. There isn’t any physical evidence, so the jury has to decide which one they want to believe. Both agree that there was a sexual encounter, and both agree that there was relaxant drugs involved. But one says it was consensual while the other says it wasn’t.

Secondthe prosecution has to prove that Cosby is guilty; the defense doesn’t have to prove he is innocent

This is a high bar to clear in a case like this where there is no physical evidence. As a jury, you can’t just say “Well, she said it so it must be true.” The jury has to find that Cosby is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This doesn’t mean that there can be zero doubt, but rather that a reasonable person would find the defendant guilty given the evidence and that alternative explanations are simply implausible.

Third, I suspect that the jury does not know that much about Cosby or the other allegations against him

When I was on the jury, there is a pre-trial process where the lawyers will weed out any juror who they think should not be on the jury. This includes people who have heard about the case on the news, and you are given strict instructions to not read about the case in any way, shape, or form; or to discuss it with anyone in any detail. When you go home for the evening, you can’t discuss what case it is or even what it’s about.

During the trial I was on, we were only given the facts of the case in isolation. I had heard that Cosby had numerous sexual complaints against him, but this probably didn’t come into the trial because it’s not part of this particular case. I say that because the defendant in the case I was on had a long criminal history. That didn’t come up during the trial since it was outside of the context of the case, and I’m sure the defense lawyer argued that it shouldn’t be part of the evidence the prosecution could bring up (and he succeeded).

Cosby’s lawyer would have argued the same thing (if he didn’t, he’s a bad lawyer and there’s no way Cosby would have gotten a bad one). That means that the trial jury would most likely be made up of people who weren’t that familiar with Bill Cosby (celebrities are not universally known) and were unfamiliar with all the other complaints against him. Or, if they did know about Cosby, would have been instructed to put all of their biases aside. But anyone familiar with Cosby’s other sexual misconduct allegations would probably have been excluded from the trial jury.


So with that out of the way, why do I think Cosby will not get convicted?

Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is hard to define, but it can be attained with the word of a credible witness. That’s the one thing this entire case likely rests on. Is Cosby’s accuser credible?

There will be some on the jury who think she is, but some who don’t. The reason the jury is asking to review her testimony is because they are trying to see if there were any inconsistencies in it. Did all the facts line up? Do they contradict at any point? Because if they do, that will undermine her credibility. There are going to be some on the jury that don’t think her testimony is credible enough to secure guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I say that because it’s what happened in my jury room. I’d say between 1/2 to 2/3 of us believe the defendant was guilty, even though the accuser had some minor gaps in the testimony. But the jurors who were unsure were not that willing to find a guilty verdict because they knew the implications, and believed that there was room for reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt differs from person to person.

In the trial I was on, there was physical evidence on the victim, and there was security footage that caught the two on camera about a half hour after the incident took place. And, there was testimony from friends of the victim. But, the friends’ testimony was not enough to convince the jury, only the physical evidence on the victim and the video camera footage. Had it not been for that, I don’t think we could have gotten a unanimous verdict.

And that’s what I think is happening here. I think that 1/2 to 2/3 of the jurors think Cosby is guilty, and the rest do not – at least not beyond a reasonable doubt. Those jurors will want more than he said it was consensual, she says it was not, in order to say guilty unless they find the accuser credible.

There will be an internal debate going – why would she make it up? The defense argued that it is grandstanding, or trying to get revenge after a consensual sexual encounter, or something like that. And some jurors will hold out that possibility even though it’s not that plausible. It’s true that some men will be falsely accused of sexual assault, but it happens far less than they actually commit sexual assault, and far less than they are accused of it but are acquitted.

So I think that the jury will probably come back as a hung jury, or return a verdict of not guilty, and that’s why it has taken so long. The jury I was on took about 5 hours, and this one is now at least four days (maybe three). They will review the testimony, but you can take notes during the trial and everyone can discuss it. You can bring your own personal experience into the trial, too.

But I think Cosby is, unfortunately, going to get away with it.

Update – June 20, 2017: I found out on CNN today that the result was a mistrial, just like I predicted.

 

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In May (I’m writing this a little after the fact), the wife and I took a trip to Cologne, Germany where I had a conference to attend. But before the conference, we were going to take a few days in eastern France in the Alsace region, which borders Germany. Historically this was a disputed region between the two countries. We were planning to wander around several small towns, and then perhaps also Strasbourg before heading up to Germany.

The plan was to fly direct from Seattle to the Frankfurt airport, rent a car, and then drive ~3 hours to the small town where we were staying. Then, we’d drive back the day before my conference to Frankfurt, and take the train up to Cologne.

The plan started off well. We don’t check any bags when we travel (if we can), and with our TSA pre-check we got through security in around 5 minutes. Then, we headed to the Alaska Airlines lounge where we hung out because we have a Passport card which gets us access to various lounges around the world.

It was pretty sweet.

And that’s when things started to go awry.

First, the airline we were traveling on – Lufthansa – delayed the flight. Then they delayed it again. And again. Finally, they announced that because the PA system on the plane was broken and they couldn’t fix it, they were cancelling the flight. We were now 3 or 4 hours later than our originally scheduled departure time.

We had to rebook.

We called up British Airways and got scheduled onto their next flight to London. We figured we’d catch a flight there, and then take a connection to Frankfurt. We had to reschedule our rental car at the Frankfurt airport and that took forever. We also had to recheck through security, but this time couldn’t use our TSA pre-check. The second time around through security (just heading back, rechecking in, and then getting back to almost the exact same gate) took an hour.

This time the plane took off on time, and we arrived in London just fine. Then we got on our connecting flight. But we learned about arrival that our next flight to Frankfurt was going to be delayed due to weather. And it got delayed again. And then we were going to get bumped. For you see, there were thunderstorms in the Frankfurt area that shut down the airport. So even when the airport re-opened, we were going to be delayed because all of the other planes whose flights were delayed would have to have their queues cleared.

And then there was no guarantee we’d even catch a connecting flight.

So we said “Forget it. How about if we cancel our reservations in France and just stay in central London for a few days?”

The wife and I talked it over, and we agreed. I looked up a hotel online and booked one using credit card points in downtown London, close to London Bridge. The wife cancelled the rental car and AirBNB in France, but surrendered some of the charges due to late cancellation.

Oh, well.

But London was neat. We wandered around the city for the first couple of days, checking out the bridges, the museums, some of the art galleries, and the Shakespeare Globe outdoor theater. The third day we went to Windsor Castle, and the fourth day we went to Kew Gardens which I had never heard of but thoroughly enjoyed.

The trip to London completed, and then we made it to Frankfurt. I was holding my breath because I didn’t want yet another cancelled flight. But it didn’t cancel, the weather was great, and we made it to Cologne. I went to my conference, while the wife wandered around the city.

And then we were done.

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Well, I finally did it.

In 2011, I got a Windows Phone because my company paid for it. In Jan 2013, I upgraded to a Windows Phone 8 because the company paid for it again. I’m all for getting free phones. I was happy with my smart phone.

But over time, my Windows Phone started to have major problems:

  • For some reason, after a few days, the screen wouldn’t rotate when I rotated the device. I don’t know why it would do this, it just wouldn’t.
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  • For some other reason, after a while, the volume wouldn’t adjust up or down. I’d be listening to a podcast and try to make it louder or quieter, and it wouldn’t change. To fix both of these I had to turn the phone off and turn it back on.
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  • The phone wouldn’t upgrade to the newest operating system, Windows 8.1.
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  • I couldn’t install new apps. It would always say it couldn’t connect to the App Store to verify my account.
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  • The phone got really slow when loading apps, and the apps wouldn’t even load 1/4 of the time.
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  • I dropped the phone and cracked the screen, leaving a huge thumbprint-sized blob of dead (black) pixels in the corner.

So yeah, it was time to get a new one.

I had delayed getting a new iPhone for years. In fact, the first time I went to the AT&T store, they wouldn’t let me pay for it all at once. The only option they had was to finance it over two years. Huh? That’s ridiculous.

I went to the Apple store a few times to buy it outright, but it was never in stock. I had to order it online and wait a month for it to arrive.

But finally it did. And I’m like “What was I think waiting so long?”

I love my new iPhone. It works so much better. The apps load fast. The app store works. The screen rotates. The volume adjusts. There are plenty of apps. And it has fingerprint unlock for my thumb!

I didn’t think there was that much of a difference between the iPhone and the Windows Phone. But there is. I never thought I would be a believer but I have been swept away by the device.

It’s not perfect, there are things I don’t like about it and were better on Windows Phone (e.g., figuring out my contacts was better on the Windows Phone, the stopwatch apps in the App Store are worse than the simple one on the Windows Phone), but I am happy with my purchase.

So much so that I am writing a blog post about it. I can’t believe I’m shilling for Apple. Blargh to that.

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You know, technology is great… most of the time. It’s great at making things easier, and over the past ten years, it’s been great at connecting me to other people with social networks. This blog gets almost no traffic, but on the other hand sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been fantastic for letting me keep up-to-date with others. It wouldn’t be possible to not feel a little homesick if it weren’t for those.

But lately, I think that the geeks designing the technology have gotten things wrong. Almost totally wrong.

Why would I, a geek, say that?

One of the things I value is diversity of experience. We have a diverse group of people at work. I like going to new places and trying different restaurants. I listen to people who think differently than I do because they think differently than me, not in spite of it. If I were to do the same things over and over, I would get stuck in a rut and think the same things over and over again.

I bring this up because of my belief in technology’s complete and utter failure – despite the promises of the technoclass (of which I am a member) – to deliver on its promise of an enlightened utopia based on knowledge. People would shed their shortsighted opinions and beliefs, do a little research on the Internet, and come to a correct understanding of everything. Ignorance would slowly, slowly fade as people who don’t use it would eventually give way to the next generation.

Yet that hasn’t happened.

Why hasn’t technology delivered the enlightened utopia Silicon Valley keeps promising? I think it’s because even though we have all this fantastic technology, it’s still being used by people. And people have inherent biases and make all sorts of cognitive errors. I don’t have time or energy to describe them all.

You see, if we hold a strong political belief, even if it’s wrong, we don’t browse the Internet to find out the truth of whether or not something is correct. Instead, we seek out the websites and articles that confirm our opinions and discard the evidence that contradicts it. This is how we resolve our cognitive dissonance – with confirmation bias (the tendency to believe the evidence that confirms our beliefs and disregard the evidence that contradicts it).

Technology has made it easy for small fringe groups to spread their message. Lesser fringe groups can do the same, and people who believe all these things can easily find it. Thus, the enlightened utopia will never occur unless the motivation to stop believing wrong things is stronger than the reinforcement people get by believing them. That is a tall order.

And that brings me to technology.

When I click ‘Like’ on someone’s comment, or their status update; or, when I click on an article to read like Business Insider, what does Facebook do? They show me more status updates from those people and more links from Business Insider. In other words, Facebook thinks “Well, since you like it, we’re going to deliver more of it to you.”

When I browse for something on Amazon, they send me an email the next day with “We think you’ll like these products because you previously searched for a similar one.”

Twitter and Gmail give me ads based upon what I like, although Facebook is the worst offender.

I bring all this up because all of these services, while claiming to give me more of what I demand, are just reinforcing what I already believe. They are making my exposure to the outside world less diverse, not more diverse. They are feeding into my confirmation bias and resolving any cognitive dissonance by showing me the same thing every day. I don’t get to see the status updates of other friends because Facebook thinks I want to see the same people. I don’t, I want to see them all. I can change Facebook’s settings but they still reset it every once in a while.

I think technology is failing us that way.

Just now, I went to Bing images to do a search and it said “Sign in to build a customized experience just for you.” I said no. I don’t want a customized experience because while they are trying to tailor it for me, that’s what I want to avoid. I need a different point of view in order to expand my mind. Otherwise, I just do the same thing over and over.

I think that’s where tech companies have gone wrong. In the race to deliver the customized experience and make people feel warm and fuzzy because of familiarity, they (we) are doing a disservice to people by not showing them new things.

And new things is how we broaden the mind.

The last thing I want is for mine to get too shallow.

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I recently read an article somewhere (I forget where) that if you want to look at someone’s future 10 years from now, look at what they are doing today.

If I look at myself and where I am now, would 10 years ago have predicted where I am currently at?

First, let’s look at where I came from. I grew up in a middle class household, but that’s not enough of a description. The province in Canada where we lived – Manitoba – is not one of the wealthier provinces but at the same time, we did not live in a poor community. If you map out people’s classes the following way (using this article as a basis, you should read the whole thing), starting from the bottom up:

  1. The lowest, poor class – chronically unemployed, generationally poor
  2. Labor class level 1 – unskilled labor, work at fast food restaurants
  3. Labor class level 2 – assembly line work
  4. Labor class level 3 – pilots, plumbers, and small business owners
  5. Gentry class level 1 – schoolteachers and starving artists
  6. Gentry class level 2 – professions like engineering and law
  7. Gentry class level 3 – scientists and entrepreneurs
  8. Elite class – Although you can get a job in finance and make a few million and kind of get into this class, you’re mostly born into it. These are families with “old” money. They don’t work unless they want to.

Don’t confuse social class with economic class; you can be a wealthy plumber yet still be labor class because social class is more than money. Instead, it’s about economic opportunity, the people around you, your political beliefs and attitudes, your social beliefs and attitudes, and so forth.

My family was either Labor class 2 or Labor class 3. We weren’t poor, but we did live on an acreage out in the countryside about five miles outside of the nearest town of about 2000 people, and 20 min outside the nearest big city (of about 600,000 people). I can tell we were Labor class 2 or 3 because the families that we were friends with, and made up most of the other families, were the same as us. My friends’ parents had similar jobs with some variation. Our cousins’ families were similar to us, too, again with some variation.What cements the fact that we were Labor class were the things we enjoyed – my brother and I liked watching professional wrestling. Those are Labor class leisures.

I, along with my two siblings, went to university. I got a degree in computer engineering. For all the talk about how university isn’t worth the cost, the one thing it does teach you that you can’t learn in online courses is how the gentry class thinks. That was a big part of what I learned, especially when I took a class in sociology (half of which was wrong, but at least I know how they think).

Fast-forward to today, and I am in Gentry class 2. I somehow got and kept a job at a large tech company for 12 years. I am paid well and many days (most?) I wonder how I manage to have landed a position where I am overpaid as much as I am; I do feel guilty sometimes when I look back at the friends with whom I grew up and I out-earn all of them, and even some of my smarter classmates in high school, too.

I sometimes map myself along the household income scales you can find by doing web searches, and the wife and I – combined – are in the top 10% in the country which isn’t unusual for people living in Seattle, especially when one of them works in the tech industry. I am not complaining about how fortunate we are, nor bragging. It just is, and it contrasts with where I came from.

By the way, the top 10% sounds impressive but it isn’t. The top of the economic scale doesn’t get exorbitant until you get to the top 1% and even then, not until the top 10% of that 1%, that is, the top 0.1% of the country. But we are still doing fine.

So returning to my question from the start of this post – could 10 years ago have predicted where I am now?

10 years ago was 2006 and I was working back in Winnipeg for the same company I work for now, and I wasn’t getting paid that much money. However, there were a few things I was doing right:

  1. I had started a few side businesses and failed at all of them. I failed in at least 3 network marketing businesses the five years prior to 2006.
  2. I practiced researching and trading stocks. I spent a ton of time doing this. I got good at outperforming the market in up-trends but losing most of it in down-trends, and that’s why I quit. I did better doing passive trading.
  3. I did some part-time gigs performing magic. These never paid a lot but I worked at it.
  4. I did a lot of programming in my spare time while I was unemployed, I developed my own stock market trading simulator.
  5. I read a lot of books on personal finance and got into Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of books, among others. So I was well aware of what it took.
  6. In 2001, I was working for a tech company in the UK when I was laid off but got a pretty good redundancy payout. I invested £3000 into an investment account for long term retirement. It lost about 25% in a year, though, so I withdrew half.
  7. I was cheap. I rarely spent money on frivolous things. In fact, after I moved back to Canada from the UK, I lived at home with my parents because it was cheaper.

So looking back on my habits from 10 years ago, it’s not that surprising that I am doing reasonably well now. I was good in school (but not university) and liked to read, was good at math and programming, and I was interested in finance. Today, I am in a stable position.

I look at some of my friends who are not in as good a position as I am. Some of them would spend money far too easily for my judgmental eyes and today, they struggle to financially get ahead or even to keep their heads above water.

I am fortunate to be in the position that I am in. It is a lot of luck that I was born in the family I was, that I was born in the country I was, in the time I was. But that is also augmented with some early habits I developed that have so far paid off such that I can do many of the things I want to do.

It is true that money does not buy happiness. However, what it does is allow you to do the things you like to do and pay to not have to do the things you don’t like to do.

The wife and I read a lot of books on personal finance. We are aggressively paying down the mortgage on the condo I bought in 2008, we put a lot into retirement savings, and I have a large chunk in regular savings. We have met with a financial adviser, we take financial planning classes, we have a will (!), and the strangest thing is that now we get invitations in the mail to attend free dinners put on by people trying to sell us things. So far, we’ve done one for solar panel installations, and then I went to another one for learning how to invested in Fixed Index Annuities. I think we’re going to one or two more in the next couple of weeks.

So, what will things look like 10 years from today? Will the things we’re doing now pay off then?

We’ll see.

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Another description of the social classes and labor classes can be found here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20151006183427/https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/the-3-ladder-system-of-social-class-in-the-u-s/

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The two cats of ours – Ruby and Esmerelda – are a couple of sleepy heads, like all cats are. But the two of them have different habits.

Both cats will sleep in the bedroom at night. However, Ruby (the fuzzy orange one) will usually sleep on a chair off to the side and will jump onto the bed in the middle of the night and sleep by my feet. She loves to sleep by my feet. She doesn’t put up with movement, though. If I nudge her or roll around, she jumps off. She says “NO MOVING!” That one has no patience for anything else.

Esmerelda (Zelda), by contrast, likes to sleep between either me or the wife. Or, sometimes she’ll sleep on me, or sometimes on the wife. Most days when I wake up, Esmerelda is on the bed between us, frequently all stretched out. Ruby, on the other hand, is only sometimes on the bed.

The one thing that they both have in common is that they like to sleep on me from time to time. Ruby will only sleep by my feet, but Zelda will sleep on my lap. When we first got Zelda, Ruby would steer clear. But now, so long as Zelda stays out of her face, Ruby will tolerate her just fine.

Sometimes in the middle of the night Zelda will get a whacking and I’ll wake up, but for the most part it’s okay.

They both like being our cats.

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Just a quick picture for your viewing pleasure, here I am at the ancient city of Tlos, part of the Lycian empire which was in southwest Turkey for several centuries before being conquered by the Greeks, and subsequently the Romans, then the Byzantines.

In a few days I’ll post some explanations about the four different types of architecture you can see in a single city.

 

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