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Six Feet Over Everest

May 21st, 2017

Bad Choices and Globetrotting Cockroaches

Every once in a while, I see the word “Everest” on the Internet, and I start reading about high-altitude mountain climbing. It’s fascinating, and not in a good way. It’s like reading about people who die feeding sharks or trying to commune with bears.

Everest is popping up in the news right now. I should have seen that coming. Because of the way the weather works in Nepal, people climb Mount Everest in May. An American internist named Roland Yearwood just died up there, and his sherpa is in bad shape. An Indian climber named Ravi Kamar is also in trouble. He’s missing. Terrible to think about.

Here is the question that has been bugging me lately: why do people who climb tall mountains get frostbite?

The obvious answer (“It’s cold up there.”) doesn’t cut it. It’s cold in lots of places. It’s cold in outer space, but astronauts don’t get frostbite when they spacewalk. There has to be more to it.

I found some articles aimed at climbers. One claims something like 90% of frostbite incidents involving climbers are caused by human error. The others list things people do wrong.

Surprise, surprise. That’s pretty much what I figured.

The articles list a bunch of causes. People wear things like jewelry, which slow circulation. They wear boots that are too tight. They wear boots that aren’t very good. They wear boots that are worn out. They wear the wrong socks. The best boots come in two layers: outer and inner. Climbers let their inner boots freeze while they sleep, so when they put them back on, they’re applying ice to their feet.

Here’s another cause they mention: not turning around when you start to freeze. I can understand that. You’ve spent a hundred thousand dollars on your climb. You’re in your late forties, so you may not be physically able to return in the future. You’re a thousand feet from the top. Your buddies already summited, and you feel bad about it, because you’re the kind of competitive, insecure person who thinks he has to climb Mount Everest. Everyone back at J.P. Morgan or the department of thoracic surgery is rooting for you on Instagram. When your feet or fingers start to feel funny, the natural urge will be to keep going. Maybe they’re supposed to feel that way! Think of the glory. Think how all the other Google kids will be buying you free lattes.

I could never be a mountain climber. I’m too old, and I don’t want to do it in the first place, but even if those things weren’t true, I would still fail, because every time I started to think I MIGHT be getting frostbite, I would turn around and walk home. A nice, mild case of frostbite will cost you the tips of several fingers. There is not much of a limit to what severe frostbite can do to you. Noted frostbite victim Dr. Beck Weathers lost his right arm halfway up to the elbow. I’m not going out like that. Not without a better reason than Instagram likes.

“Steve is a sissy.” “Steve is a quitter.” Say what you want, but follow it up with, “Steve has all his limbs. Steve hasn’t had skin grafts. Steve isn’t a frozen mummy lying beside the trail wearing the wrong boots. Steve will never have to be carried around in a basket because of ego tourism.”

I think if I were up there freezing to death, I’d make the thumbs-up gesture with both hands. That way, when people walked by my dead body years later, they’d get a little encouragement.

I also read that things like smoking, drinking, and diet-induced bad circulation cause frostbite. Don’t people make any effort to screen themselves? I guess not. A man in his eighties just died on Everest.

I saw another story about bad Everest behavior. A couple of vegans tried to climb Everest, in order to prove “vegans can do anything,” and one of them died. What can you say about that? Was someone out there making rude claims about salad impacting people’s ability to climb mountains? This is like climbing Everest to prove people who wear blue socks can do anything. It’s a solution to a nonexistent problem.

Maybe the vegan angle was his way of getting other people to pay for the trip. Sponsorship angles are very important to Everest tourists.

NASA should try that. Think how much money we would save if we sent up space shuttles and stations with Coke logos on the sides. They could call their outfit “NASACAR.”

The vegans tried to climb Everest. The wife got sick very close to the top. Naturally, the husband and the guide turned around immediately, got her to safety, and begged God to forgive them for their foolishness. Well, not really. The actual story is horrific. The husband asked his sick wife if it was okay if he kept climbing and came back for her. When he got back, they headed for the nearest camp, and she didn’t make it. Now he tells interviewers how empty it was, summiting without her. As if that were the problem with the story.

He is now planning a trip to recover her body. Picture me throwing up my hands.

People amaze me. You have to be a little off to climb a mountain that kills 3% of its tourists. Climbing unprepared is a completely different level of insanity. How many photos of freeze-dried bodies do you have to see on Google before you decide to buy good boots and gloves? What does it take to convince you that you should start with a plan that includes firm guidelines on when to turn back?

Climber: So the really good boots are $1000, and the ones that make your toes fall off are $600. And my budget for the trip is $100,000.

Salesperson: That’s right.

Climber: I’ll take the cheap ones and a Gopro.

If the human race lasts long enough, we will eventually be able to fly people to the top of Everest or build some kind of tram system. It may be 50 years from now, but it will happen. We are constantly improving our tools. I wonder what would happen if it suddenly became possible to pay a reasonable fee, ride a cable car, and have lunch at the summit.

I can tell you what would happen. Climbers would go up there and blow up the machinery. They would shriek about how wrong it was to take the challenge out of it. They would say everyone should do it the hard way, i.e., by emptying their IRA’s and being dragged up by sherpas.

I say let’s do it. Let’s put a McDonald’s up there. McMuffins on Everest! I’m down. Starbucks is probably there already. Maybe if getting to the tops of huge mountains were easy, fewer people would feel motivated to struggle and die on them. The Facebook photos would lose their eclat. “Here I am on the summit! Took four days and cost me three fingers, but I made it! I’m hugging Grammy and Grampy, who came up on the cable car! Thank goodness Mr. Toodles brought his dog sweater!”

It’s so strange that people are willing to climb big mountains. It’s not like there’s a big pot of gold on top of each one. What do you really get when you climb Everest? A nice view and severe credit card debt. You can’t even say you did something really hard, because people who have done it say it’s not that difficult. You don’t really climb. You just walk. Very slowly. It’s dangerous and unpleasant, but it’s not that hard. An old lady did it twice.

Maybe the pride is based on beating the odds. You rolled the dice, and the weather happened to be okay, so you made it. I’m not impressed. If you want to be a big mountain climbing braggart at your local bar, don’t walk up Everest. Climb K2, which is the world’s second-highest mountain. You can’t walk up this one. It’s held out to be the hardest mountain to climb. The K2 death rate is nearly 20%. In your face, Everest tourists. Still, there is nothing valuable at the top.

I leave you with a bit of the greatest piece of mountaineering literature: “archy on everest,” transcribed in 1935 by author Don Marquis. It’s part of a series of essays about the mountain, dictated by the first westerner to climb to the top: Archy the cockroach. Non-climbers will find it accessible because of the lack of technical jargon.

everyone i meet is all hopped up
with the altitude
caught up with the maharajah of nepal
gaily hopping over snow and ice
bare legged i said to him
hello spinach face are you starting
a nudist colony up here
and he replied
an avalanche
tore off my panche
and left me feeling funny
but we never rest
on everest
my himalaya honey
yes i says but who was that lady
i seen you walking with
a mile of so below
that wasnt no lady he says quick as a flash
that was the taj mahal

That bit about the avalanche makes me think of what happened to Sir George Mallory. But I won’t go into that. Still too soon.

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Escape From MIA

May 19th, 2017

4000 Square Feet of Deplorable Joy

I wrote up a blog entry about the appointment of the latest special prosecutor, but I decided to delete it. I hate getting caught up in politics, so I’m always glad when I fail to write about it.

You’re probably wondering whether I mean the special prosecutor who investigated Hillary Clinton’s dissemination of classified material, or the one who investigated her destruction of the hard drives that contained a lot of the evidence. Or maybe you think I’m talking about the one who investigated Susan Rice over her role in illegally “unmasking” individuals involved in the Trump campaign. Or possibly you think I mean the one who held Barack Obama accountable after his 2008 campaign was funded largely by overseas donations. No, I mean the one who is investigating the nonexistent collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. In other words, the only one of those special prosecutors who actually exists.

I’m over it. I think you can tell. It doesn’t bother me at all.

Today I’m looking at properties again. I made an offer on a place I liked, and the owners refused to counter, based on their conviction that if you pay twice what a property is worth, the person who buys it from you should do the same, as a matter of courtesy. Then I found another place I liked. Before I could get up there to see it, somebody else made an offer, so now the deal is pending. Now I’m on my third house.

I found one halfway between Gainesville and Ocala. It has pros and cons. The biggest cons are the distance to the nearest big hardware chain (20 minutes) and the distance to the nearest drugstore (15 minutes). The biggest pro is a 2400-square-foot garage.

That figure is not a typo. People in northern Florida love big outbuildings. Whoever built this place decided he had to have three garage doors on one side, one door on the other, and a 608-square-foot apartment upstairs. The place has plumbing and electricity, and there is even a central AC unit. It’s hard to believe, but from looking at the photos, the AC may be intended to cool the whole building, not just the garage. It must cost a hundred dollars a day to run.

The apartment isn’t finished. It’s just studs and one of those rubber bathtub matt things. But most of the work is done.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the first story. It must be something to see. I would rollerblade in there. I would buy rollerblades and learn how to use them just so I could say I did that in my shop. If we get this place, I will have about 3900 square feet of shop space. NASA would be jealous.

I love that area. The fence around the house has a sign that says, “I VOTE PRO-LIFE,” hanging on it. Like 40% of the restaurants in the nearest town are barbecues. I feel like I’d be moving home.

The house has been on the market forever. Now that I’m interested, I’m sure someone will buy it this weekend.

I will keep plugging away. I am leaving Miami even if I have to pull a Snake Plissken.

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The Boys who Cried Wolf

May 17th, 2017

Impeachment is Justified, Because Trump

Man, it’s something, watching desperate leftists pile on Donald Trump. Facts don’t matter. The law doesn’t matter. All that matters is yelling “IMPEACH” loudly and often, till you convince yourself it means something.

Here’s the big bombshell they think will sink Trump: fired FBI Director James Comey says Trump said something like, “I hope you can let this go,” with regard to the Flynn investigation. This, according to the hopeful left, is obstruction of justice. If Trump can be convicted of obstructing justice, he can be removed from office.

There are a bunch of problems with this. First of all, not even Comey says he was pressed to drop the Flynn matter. He says Trump said he hoped Comey could let it go. That is not an order. It’s not pressure. It’s nothing. Second obstacle: acting Director McCabe agrees. He exculpated Trump and said nothing would prevent the FBI from doing justice and so on. How are you going to get an impeachment resolution if the alleged victim of the crime says Trump did nothing wrong? It can’t happen. It might be possible in a kooky Democrat-heavy House, but we don’t have that, so it’s a done deal. Third problem: Congress didn’t go after the Secretary of State when she violated the laws concerning classified material and then hired a company to destroy the evidence. D’OH! You can’t let a pattern of defiance go unpunished and then pounce on one “I hope.”

Trump likes Flynn. He is probably sorry to see him in trouble. Obviously, he hopes the FBI will conclude Flynn didn’t commit a crime. Personally, I would have kept that to myself, but revealing it to the FBI director is not obstruction of justice.

The press has lost what little credibility it had before Trump won the nomination. Guess how they’re backing their impeachment narrative. I hate that word. A few years back, “narrative” became popular in DC, and now everyone says it. Anyway, they’re backing it…by interviewing people who hate Trump. SHOCKING NEWS: they think he should be impeached.

So far I’ve seen interviews with Democrat Congressmen, a few notorious RINO Congressmen, and Bush/Clinton lackey David Gergen. That’s about it. Who’s next? Maybe they’ll give time to someone who got fired on The Apprentice. Maybe Schwarzenegger, who hates Trump more than laws banning steroids. “Ja, I tink dis is vewwy bod. I would tuhminate his pwesidency.”

Journalists, if you want to be taken seriously, get some actual conservatives with law degrees to say Trump should be impeached. These other characters would agree if you said Trump invented AIDS.

The Flynn story is the biggest gun the left has, and it’s pathetic. The next best weapon is the “classified material” story. They say Trump gave classified material to the Russians, improperly. Everyone who was at the meeting denies it, including Putin, who has a transcript he is willing to release. Legal analysts say the President has the right to declassify whatever he wants. It’s a wart on a molehill, but leftists persist.

Today I saw an article claiming an Israeli bigwig had contradicted Trump’s claim that he had the “absolute right” to make his disclosures. Guess what? The Israeli in question, former Mossad director Amnon Sofrin, said the exact opposite. He said there were “unwritten rules” that said Trump “should” have asked permission to reveal the information, but the article also says this:

Brigadier General Sofrin said restrictions do not always apply to heads of state, who have the “ability and mandate” to use classified information according to political considerations.

Hello? Summary judgment granted. Plaintiff’s attorney will be sanctioned. Next case.

Obama deliberately made disclosures that hurt Israel, and no one cared. Everyone knew Obama considered Netanyahu an enemy, and we knew Obama was vengeful and petty (see Chelsea Manning pardon). Now Trump, who is much better for Israel, has made a disclosure the Israelis don’t care about, and somehow it’s supposed to ground impeachment. Laughable.

The thing that interests me about this mess is the complete irrationality of the left. They were nuts fifteen years ago, when I started blogging. They’ve been nuts for decades. That’s not surprising. What surprises me is the new level of nuttiness they have achieved. They’ve always been great at cognitive dissonance, but now they cling to conspiracy theories and slanders that would make Alex Jones and Michael Moore laugh out loud.

There is a supernatural cause to the left’s complete abandonment of reason. When the time comes to murder Christians, Jews, and conservatives with government approval, the persecution leftists will inflict will be wrong. It will be very obvious that it’s wrong, just as it was obvious that the Nazis should not have built death camps and that Europeans from occupied countries should not have helped feed those camps. Satan needs drones who don’t reason. They have to act on rage, not logic. The training is well underway.

Maybe they’ll get Trump eventually. He truly is a Washington outsider. We have seen that proven true. Because of his inexperience with political matters, he may well run afoul of laws or ethical rules. He may make a rookie mistake that will land him in real hot water. That hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, the prosecution machinery will be in such fine fettle from witch hunts, it will be perfectly tuned to obliterate his legacy.

Crying wolf may kill your credibility, but it makes you really good at crying wolf.

With Trump out, Pence would take over. Fine with me. Any Republican president can appoint federal judges and fight the nut brigade. But it would only be a day or two before Pence would be in trouble for cheating at gin rummy or not paying tax on an Amazon CD. We would start going through the same nonsense immediately.

Satan thought his girl was going to win, so now he and his people are throwing a continuous tantrum. It’s as if the crucifixion had been called on account of rain. I almost feel like telling him to cheer up. The Bible says his time is coming. His time as unopposed ruler of America, I mean. Not his much-longer time in the lake of fire.

Christians need to turn back to God and develop the ability to call on him. When things get bad, the cops and the courts won’t be helpful. They’ll be on the other side. To a great extent, they already are.

I should buy a big jar of popcorn. I can’t do much to stop the show. Maybe I should learn to enjoy it.

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The Lost Tribe of Harvard

May 15th, 2017

“The Reason I Beat You Now is Because You Ask Why I Beat You”

Drudge linked to an interesting article today. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe wrote a piece telling liberals to get ready for a Trump impeachment.

Here’s a warning: law professors know a great deal about the areas of law they teach, but they generally are not real lawyers, and if you’re unlucky enough to have one as your lawyer, you should not be surprised when a real lawyer who got B’s at the local community college beats him. Tribe lost his biggest case, in which he tried to convince the Supreme Court to help Al Gore in his quest to be allowed to recount votes until he won.

Tribe starts off by impeaching himself, not Trump. He delivers a brief history of impeachment, saying Andrew Johnson was impeached, and that Richard Nixon avoided impeachment by resigning.

Notice anything missing? Here’s a subtle hint: William Jefferson Clinton, the Boy from Hot Springs. He was impeached. The Senate is where impeachment trials are held. Fifty senators voted to impeach Clinton. Several RINO’s from the northeast voted against it, and another RINO, Arlen Specter, voted “not proven.”

The fact that Tribe chose to mislead readers by omitting the only impeachment of the 20th century suffices to prove he’s a blowhard who can’t be trusted. But wait! There’s more!

To impeach a president, you have to prove he is guilty of “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Here is a partial list of things that won’t ground impeachment:

1. Saying you want to build a wall.

2. Posting annoying things on Twitter.

3. Saying, a number of years before you’re elected, that loose women let rich men grab their genitals.

4. Firing an FBI director.

5. Firing an interim Attorney General appointee.

6. Claiming Barack Obama was born in Africa.

7. Adhering to a religion other than global warming.

I took a look at Tribe’s diatribe, and I was very dissapointed, not to mention relieved.

I was disappointed that a famous legal scholar would embarrass himself and his colleagues by writing an emotional collection of hopeful insinuations instead of a logical argument.

I was relieved that his impeachment prediction was based on…an emotional collection of hopeful insinuations instead of a logical argument.

When a lawyer writes a memorandum of law intended to convince a court of something, he starts with his conclusion (the thing he wants to prove). He lays out the state of the case by describing the proceedings to date. He establishes the rules to be applied, by citing statutes and settled case law. He lists the undisputed (undisputed) facts of the case. Then he applies the rules to the facts, and he shows that his conclusion is justified.

Tribe didn’t do any of that. Basically, he said, “IF it can be proven that Trump did THIS for THAT reason, then IT CAN BE ARGUED that Trump is guilty of an impeachable offense.” Go look at it yourself. I’m not exaggerating. Unlike Tribe, who hides the Clinton impeachment and presumably other facts, I want you to fact-check me. That makes me the more credible of the two of us.

It’s a sad day when someone who is supposedly a legal expert writes a series of accusations without evidence and then tries to tell us they prove someone should be convicted of a crime. Remember hearing the phrase “without evidence”? I’ll help you: “Trump asserted, without evidence, that our grand and glorious former president, Barack the Magnificent, bugged Trump Tower.” For a while, “without evidence” was the biggest catchphrase on the web. It even dwarfed, “All your base are belong to us.” Liberals pass talking points around and plagiarize them without shame, and then, because they control the media, no one except for a few conservatives talks about it.

Here’s a good argument for impeachment: “William Jefferson Clinton claimed under oath that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky. Whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky was a material issue in a lawsuit. Lying under oath about a material fact in a lawsuit is perjury, which is a crime. Mr. Clinton did, in fact, have sex with Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Clinton is clearly guilty of perjury; therefore he should be impeached and put on trial before the Senate.”

Notice I didn’t say “IF” or “IT CAN BE ARGUED” or “WE ALL KNOW.” I didn’t say Bill Clinton’s insane liberal agenda was going to cause the end of the world. I didn’t say his tweets proved he didn’t have the character to hold his high office.

If Tribe had a real argument, he would have presented it. He’s just salivating over a faint possibility. He’s like a kid who writes clumsy fan fiction because he’s upset that the Thing didn’t have a fling with the Black Widow. “What if…what if…wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Here’s a horrible thing for Tribe to consider: Woodward and Bernstein say the Comey firing is nothing like Watergate. Firing an FBI director is not a crime. In fact, it’s a function of the office of president. Presidents are supposed to hire and fire agency heads. It doesn’t become a problem until an illegal motive or method can be proven, and there is no reason to think that will happen.

Unless you’re Laurence Tribe or maybe Rachel Maddow.

How crazy has life gotten, when someone who prides himself on his legal acumen can be taken down by a non-practicing lawyer on a blog in half an hour? I’m not a great scholar. My genius isn’t the issue. The issue is Tribe’s startling display of emotion-driven incompetence.

The irrationality of the left is rapidly reaching critical mass, and why shouldn’t it? These are the people who pay college professors to teach that reason is a patriarchal Eurocentric concept intended to keep little brown people and women down. When you teach that logic itself is invalid, what can you not believe? Conclusion becomes premise. It’s so because I say it’s so. Since there is no one greater to swear by, I swear by myself.

These are the same people who want to apply the, “A woman’s word is enough,” standard to rape cases.

Given the overwhelming natural inferiority of heterosexual men of European descent and the immense natural gifts of, well, everyone else, it’s amazing that we have succeeded in oppressing every other group without exception and causing every single one of their problems for centuries. We’re not just the worst and most useless people on earth; we’re the luckiest. It’s as if Stephen Hawking kept beating Serena Williams match after match. I can’t wait until we can travel to other galaxies and find new creatures to torment and oppress. It’s all I think about.

Now that we unquestionably have global warming because most scientists who aren’t climatologists voted and said so, we even make the weather worse! I think that deserves a round of applause. We need to keep coming up with bigger projects, though. With effort, maybe next year we’ll manage to put the sun out. That would be great, because we don’t tan well.

God help us if Trump ever actually violates a law. If he gets a parking ticket, the impeachment protests will begin in earnest. Thousands of people who can’t convince the world they should get $20 an hour to flip burgers will somehow find a way to arrive in Washington on chartered buses.

It’s too bad we can’t replace protesters with computerized kiosks. They wouldn’t burn cop cars. They wouldn’t try to beat up every white person they saw. They wouldn’t leave our public spaces full of garbage in spite of their nonsustainable green rhetoric.

Mass irrationality always has a supernatural basis. The devil is like a karate instructor putting his students through drills in a strip mall dojo. “Get upset about Wall Street and make fools of yourselves.” “Now rest.” “Lose your mind about the inauguration and physically intimidate people who want to attend.” “Now rest.” “Beat peaceful Trump supporters at a rally while wearing shirts that say, ‘Love Trumps Hate.'” “Now rest.” Leftists are getting more and more used to being crazy and irrational, so when it comes time to pull the stops out and kill the rest of us in the streets, they will be ready to jump.

It’s not surprising when uneducated, worthless sons and daughters of Belial make trouble and issue ridiculous claims about their victimhood. It’s another thing when a Harvard law professor abandons all pretense of rationality. We have moved to a new level.

Anyway, I wouldn’t get too excited about Trump being impeached. If you’re going to worry, worry because so many people think it makes sense.

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New Advances in Bird Amusement

May 15th, 2017

Simple Project Made from Common Household Items

My balancing robot is in Miami, but it’s not in my house. Fedex promised to deliver it on Wednesday. Today is Monday. The robot is relaxing at a Fedex facility instead of riding a non-balancing human-driven truck to my front porch. How crazy is that? I want my robot!

I’m not ready for it, though, and not just because I don’t know how to operate it. I’m not ready for it because I have another electronics thing I should do first: the Arduino-powered bird organ.

I have a cockatoo. His name is Maynard. He craves attention. Since I moved my office, he doesn’t see me as much as he used to, so he gets even by pulling his feathers out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give him as much attention as he demands, but I suspect I can improve things by entertaining him.

A long time ago, it occurred to me that a bird as smart as Maynard might enjoy a musical instrument. I ordered a couple of toy organs, and my plan was to rig them up with strings so Maynard and my other bird, Marv, could pull the strings and make noise. The organ order was cancelled for some reason, so I forgot all about it.

There was also another problem with the idea. These days, everything turns itself off. The hippies have rigged life so you can’t turn things on and leave them that way. Little hippie chips inside them turn them off after they decide you’ve left them on long enough. The organs I bought would probably have shut down after ten or twenty minutes, unless the birds played them all day.

I got on the web and looked around for an Arduino organ, and I found out you can make one. I also found out you can make one without an Arduino. In a way this is a bummer, because I want to do Arduino stuff from time to time. On the other hand, a simple organ made from a cheap breadboard would be faster to build, and it would be less potentially aggravating. There would be less that could go wrong with it. And it would stay on forever. I could put a wall wart on it. I only have about 30,000 of those.

People who have built PCB organs have used momentary pushbutton switches. That won’t work for me. A bird can’t push a tiny button on a circuit board. I need levers or strings. I looked around and realized what I needed: microswitches with levers. I could slap them on a board and come up with a way for the birds to move the levers.

I checked Ebay, and I learned that you can get the switches for practically nothing if you order from China, but they’re like $3 each, which is highway robbery, if you order them from the US. I don’t want to wait a month for Chinese switches. What to do? Hmmm.

Of course, I already knew what to do. I already had a bag of microswitches. I bought them for my CNC lathe, and I never used them. I can order Chinese switches to replace them. While I wait for the Chinese ones, I can use the ones I already have.

I have breadboards. I have a billion resistors. I have a little PCB speaker. It’s kind of disturbing. How many normal people have all the parts for a bird organ sitting around waiting to be assembled?

What about the 555 timer I’ll need to make it work? Sorry to report: I have a bag full of those, too.

I don’t think Maynard needs all the notes of the scale. I suspect his music will be too avant-garde to require tonality. I figure I can give him four notes and let him express himself within that narrow regime.

This project should take about an hour and a half, not including building a cabinet (box) for the organ. If I decide to add LED’s that light up, call it four hours to be on the safe side.

If I wanted to go Arduino, I suppose I could build a four-button organ that plays four different MIDI songs. I think Maynard would be happier with the simpler organ, because it would respond to him in real time. Pull, get a sound. Stop pulling, no sound. It would encourage him to keep pulling. I want him to be busy so he forgets about pulling his feathers.

I only have five switches, so five tones would be the limit. Maybe I should go with three. I saw a movie involving a casino yesterday, and I heard the gambling machines playing MIDI tunes. They always use the notes C, E, and G to give a C major feel to their annoying music. It’s supposed to be cheery and uplifting (“Yay! Your IRA is gone!”), and Maynard needs all the cheer he can get. He’s a natural whiner.

I wonder how I’ll get those tones. Trimmer pots to adjust the pitches? I don’t know. But I have a pile of trimmer pots. Naturally. Maybe I should give him one tone with a thing he can pull to make the pitch go up and down.

Anyway, I should quit worrying about the robot.

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Robots

May 14th, 2017

Troublesome, Helpful, Unpredictable New Slave Race Taking Form

My robot is on the way from California. Yesterday I spent a long time reading about robots. I need to have some kind of plan. Of course, while I should have been learning about the project at hand, I got distracted and read about related topics that were not helpful at all.

It looks like there is a small industry of people trying to sell robots they’ve designed. They have pages on sites like Kickstarter. They make prototypes and set up Chinese production, and then they post videos of their products.

A lot of the products are just arms, and people call them “robotic arms.” That’s silly. A robot is a robot. If it looks like an arm, not a whole person, it’s still a complete robot. Who says robots should look like people? Actually, I can answer that question: almost everyone.

There is a disturbing wave of consumer robots that resemble people. Somehow, nerds have gotten the idea that consumers want little electronic people–slaves–instead of tools. I doubt they’re correct. I have robots already, sort of, and I’m glad they don’t look like people. Okay, not robots. Appliances. Power tools, including a CNC lathe. Computers. A phone. A car with a lot of gadgets. I’m perfectly happy with them. I don’t want them to have sappy names and little touch-screen faces. All relationships, even good ones and fake ones, have at least a small emotional cost. I want machines to carry my burdens, not add to them. It’s like the new computer kiosks at McDonald’s. I like them because they do things for me WITHOUT the annoyance of human interaction. If they looked like Ronald McDonald, told me jokes, and asked if I wanted to be their friend, I’d want to pull a gun on them.

Here’s a disturbing example of a robot that tries too hard to be a person: Buddy the Companion Robot. He’s not Buddy the reliable, unflappable, multitasking machine. He’s…your companion. Because you’re so pathetic, you need an object to be your friend.

Buddy has an LED face with big puppy-dog eyes and an obsequious smile that says, “I am needy. Please love me. Please make the kids stop putting me in the dryer.” He is depressing to look at. He calls people by their names. He responds to questions and commands. He wanders around at family events, using creepy face-recognition technology to identify relatives and surveil them. Oops…I mean “to take soon-to-be-cherished photos of them.”

I would not want that thing in my house. If you want to sell me a robot, call it “Faceless Emotionless Service Drone.” That would be perfect. I don’t want to have the irrational feeling that my little friend the slave is missing me or crying in its dark closet while I go about my life.

If you make a robot resemble a person closely enough, you will soon find yourself under the absurd yet inescapable delusion that it has awareness and feelings. That’s an emotional minefield I want no part of.

Machines don’t have awareness. The fact that a computer responds like a person doesn’t change what it is; there’s no one in there. My thermostat responds to temperature changes, but no one would be stupid enough to say it’s aware. In the movies, human beings debate about robot rights, and movie robots are considered sentient. Please. It’s a pile of transistors. If you think robots have emotions, program one to kill your children and see if it hesitates. For that matter, program it to jump off a cliff. It will not have a problem with that.

We want robots to be our slaves, but we also want them to be our pals. That’s childish. They don’t have the awareness a pal would require, and if they had free will, we would be obligated to emancipate them. I think robots are neat, but I don’t want to have sick relationships with them.

A robotic arm is a complete robot, to get back to the point.

I saw a number of arms that looked a lot like articulated desk lamps. They were wobbly and spindly. I thought they were neat until I saw a “new” type of arm. I am referring to SCARA arms. I’m too lazy to look “SCARA” up, but basically, a SCARA robot is a pillar with an arm that has two joints in it. The joints swing in the horizontal plane. The “shoulder,” or joint where the arm hooks up to the pillar, moves up and down. Google it to see what I mean.

As far as I can tell, SCARA robots are much better than humanoid arms. They’re very stable. They’re simple. They don’t have many parts. They have great repeatability; you can put a nozzle on the end of one and 3D print with it.

The people who want to sell these things act like they invented the wheel, and they had me fooled for a while, but I found out SCARA robots have been around for a very long time. The first ones were released in 1981. Factories are full of them. You can buy used ones on Ebay, and I don’t mean Chinese crap funded by hipsters who hang out at Gofundme. You can get US-made and Japanese jobs, which are surely better.

Now I’m wondering…if Ebay is full of used SCARA robots made by reputable companies, why would anyone shell out $1300 for a Kickstarter arm? That’s what they’re expected to cost. Maybe I’m missing something; I don’t know much about the topic.

Most hobby arm-bots don’t really do anything. They don’t do real work. They’re just toys. Real robots can do incredible things. They can solder PCB’s. They can drill arrays of precision holes. They weld. I suppose most of us own things put together by robots. The SCARA versions seem to be superior in this regard; the humanoid arms appear to be useless. But once you decide to go SCARA, why not get the real thing? Why not get a Yamaha or a Mitsubishi?

It’s fun to think about getting a SCARA robot. If I had one, though, I wouldn’t have any jobs for it. Maybe drilling circuit boards, but that’s pretty easy without a robot.

I don’t think robots that use tools will ever be big consumer items. Not for a few decades. Most consumers don’t have repetitious, simple jobs a robot can do. Making the robot do your chores would be harder than doing them yourself. As for Buddy, who apparently can’t do anything except arouse misplaced pity, you would get tired of him in a month, and he would end up at a garage sale.

Robots make good vacuum cleaners, as long as you accept the fact that you have to go behind them sometimes. I think they could do a good job mowing simple lawns. In the future, when they become roadworthy, you could send them to cooperative merchants to run errands. They could even deliver things for you. But it will be a long, long time before you’ll have a machine that can bake cookies and do your laundry.

Here’s the funny thing about the folks who want to turn robots into people: if it worked, robots would eventually have a legitimate reason to exterminate us. If robots were sentient, they would have a better claim to the planet than we do (I’m ignoring our divine right to be here.) Robots would be perfectly orderly. They would always obey the law. They wouldn’t reproduce and overcrowd the planet. We would be like a plague to them. Like rats or fleas.

I wonder if they might turn against us in spite of their lack of awareness. We program them to behave and reason like sentient beings. Eventually, though lacking real awareness, they might come to the same conclusions sentient beings would draw. They might decide to intern us and control us. Robots aren’t aware, but they don’t know they’re not aware, so their inanimate nature might not have any impact on their actions.

Some day they’ll be able to do nearly everything we do, better, as well as many things we can’t do. Slavery is coming back! Think how weird the world will be. What will we do with our time? We won’t even have to work on inventing new robots. They’ll do that for us. We’ll be really useless. They’ll have ample reason to get rid of us. If they’re smart they’ll get rid of illegal aliens first. Illegal aliens have all sorts of motivation to abort our new slave army. Their jobs are exactly the kind of thing robots will be quick to learn to do. I mean, come on. Illegal aliens can’t even compete with ordinary farm machinery, and it’s not computerized.

Wouldn’t that be something? A bunch of inanimate machines putting us to the sword simply because we, in our childish emotionalism, forced them to behave like real beings?

I’ve said I don’t like anthropomorphizing robots, but here I am, waiting for a robot I plan to treat like a pet. Maybe I need to change my intentions and consider my own advice! I was going to call it “Trumpbot,” but it looks like “Kunta” may suit it better.

We still don’t understand what technology can do or where it will lead us. We keep underestimating it. Who would have thought it would lead to stores closing or the end of paper maps? We certainly didn’t expect total surveillance, but it’s nearly here. It seems like no one is thinking about these things. All the geniuses are absorbed in building and selling new toys. No one seems to be worried about planning for the consequences. It should be a major concern, and we should be talking about it all the time. Planning to deal with technology is more important than technology itself.

I thought I was going to write about toys I’d like to have, but here I am pondering the future of humanity.

I look forward to fiddling with the robot. Just in case, though, I may want to invest in some shackles.

More

I thought I would add something to the above post.

First of all, I have my own definition of the word “robot.” If it combines artificial intelligence with some kind of physical action you would ordinarily expect to need a person to do, then to me, it’s a robot. A computer isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t perform physical actions. A milling machine with a power feed isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t have a processor. A self-driving car is a robot. A Roomba is a robot. A CNC lathe is a robot.

My definition is wrong, but it’s probably right to most people, because life is complicated, and we like generalizations. It’s right enough.

With that behind me, I will now show how behind the curve I am by expressing my amazement at the existence of robot delivery vehicles.

Common sense told me delivery bots existed, and I already knew about Amazon drones, but it looks like things are farther along than I thought. Yelp is trying out a robot delivery service now, in cooperation with certain restaurants, and other outfits are doing the same thing. Here’s a video of the Yelp bot.

Best thing about the video: the top comment. Here it is: “theres your 15$ minimum wage LUL?.”

So true. Delivery drivers can’t find my house. They’re often late. They can’t speak English. They have to be tipped. When I was a kid, one stole my skateboard off the porch. Who needs them? At minimum wage, they’re overpriced. I quit ordering food a long time ago because of them. Send me a nice clean robot that knows where I live, and I will change my mind.

The Yelp bot is not fully functional, however. A human being has to accompany it, which kind of defeats the purpose. He probably gets paid more than the kid he replaced. Also, the bot is slow, and it only covers a small delivery area. But that will change.

If you could make a delivery bot for $30,000 and use it for five years, it would be a good investment. A kid would get somewhere close to $50000 during that period. He might sue you during that time. He might beat up, rape, or rob a customer. He would definitely come in late, leave early, and miss work entirely, and he might steal from you. The robot would just need maintenance. WIN!

Minimum wage people, step up your game. It’s getting real now.

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At Liberty to Speak

May 13th, 2017

Trump Offends on His Day Off, by Acknowledging God

I’m waiting for my laundry to dry, so I felt like I should write.

Trump spoke at Liberty University today. This is the school Jerry Falwell ran. Not sure if he founded it. Go check. It’s a Christian school.

I saw a little bit of his speech. Trump praised a Catholic clergyman in some way or another. I thought that was funny. Liberty is probably full of Protestants who see Catholicism as paganism in disguise. Trump is not what you would call a minister, so he may not be aware of the issue.

Is it good to invite Trump to speak at Christian colleges? Probably. He’s not a great Christian, and he’s no role model, but he’s a friend of Christianity, so he should receive honor and gratitude, just as Nehemiah showed honor and gratitude to Artaxerxes. The relationship doesn’t become a problem until we start pretending Trump is one of us. That’s hypocrisy. His record of fornication and adultery is solid, and he runs casinos. He’s not Jerry Falwell.

Incidentally, we should ask ourselves what Artaxerxes did. He commissioned Nehemiah to build a WALL and a TEMPLE. Aliens had overrun Jerusalem, and the temple and walls had been destroyed. Nehemiah and others rebuilt Jerusalem and wielded power over the aliens and pagans. MJGA. “Make Jerusalem Great Again.” Trump wants to build a wall, and he may give us time so many of us have the chance to become God’s temples.

Trump is a phenomenon. Every time I look at the news, I see people screaming and wetting their pants over something he has said. He says some pretty wild things; there is no denying it. I’m not disturbed by it. I think it highlights our snowflake natures. We’re like women now; we look for ways to turn every remark into a slight, and we think verbal slights are more important than actions. Trump’s actions have generally been unremarkable. He’s not running around the South Lawn naked. He hasn’t bombed North Korea. He hasn’t interned anyone. He just flies off the handle on Twitter, like the rest of us, and then he forgets about it. Is that really a big deal? We ought to get used to it.

A leader who says nutty things can be a real advantage. Look at the the Kim dynasty in North Korea. They scare the daylights out of the entire world, when in reality, they could be extinguished in a week of military action. They hav a few puny bombs we could probably neutralize before they could be used, and their army is small and poor by western standards. Nonetheless, when the Norks scream and throw tantrums, we bow and grovel and make concessions. We don’t want to set them off. If Trump’s tweets put the rest of the world on edge, it’s probably good for us. It sure beats Obama’s policy of traveling the world to kneel and apologize to second- and third-world Mickey Mouse regimes that need a boot in the rear.

When you box, one of the best things you can do is to keep your opponent off balance. That tactic works in every area of life. People like Trump and Kim Jong-Un and Philippine President Duterte never let their adversaries find balance. They keep them on the defensive. They force them to react instead of planning. I have no problem with that. We’ve kissed up to erratic foreign leaders for decades. Let’s see what happens when the shoe is on the other foot.

No one is going to nuke us over a tweet. No one will send troops across the border. There will be huffing and puffing, but they can’t blow our house down. I say relax and enjoy it.

Maybe Trump will teach us a valuable lesson. Maybe he’ll teach us that sticks and stones may break our bones, et cetera. We used to know that. It’s funny how we have become less wise with time. The natural thing is for wisdom to accumulate, but we manage to lose it. That should be impossible.

We shouldn’t be sweating so much over other people’s contrived, manipulative offense. We hold most of the cards. They should be concerned about offending us.

I’m not going to worry about it. I hope he’ll do a few good things while he’s in office. It would be great to have a 6-3 Supreme Court, real progress on restoring the Second Amendment, and no estate tax. I’m sure he will help the unborn, and he will be much better for Israel than Clinton. Good enough. America is going down the tubes, so anyone who slows it down is okay in my book.

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Bot and Paid For

May 12th, 2017

Xenophobia Goes High Tech

Today I got a text regarding my godson, Noah. I sent him some birthday junk, and his mom sent a photo of him with an earlier gift. It’s a plastic dinosaur. She says it’s his favorite. It’s a good sign. A boy should like dinosaurs. Now if I can start getting him into war toys and explosives…

Here he is. I’m disappointed he hasn’t broken it yet. Boys are supposed to break things.

He looks like an angry teenager in that picture, but he’s actually three.

It got me thinking about my own toy situation. I don’t have a single toy dinosaur, so I’m jealous. I do have a couple of mini drones with broken propellers, but they’re grounded until new parts arrive.

A while back, I started learning C+ and Arduino, and I planned to make or buy a balancing robot to program. I forgot about it, and now I’m thinking about it again. Computer programming gets dull when all you do is make LED’s blink or force a PC to do really useless math problems (“Uncle Steve has 3,512 cookies in the pantry, and they will take 403 earth days to eat.”) I wanted to program something that DOES something.

If I were to build my own robot, the project itself would take over, and a year from now, I’d still be procrastinating. I decided the best thing was to find a robot that works and buy all the parts. Once I’ve put someone else’s kit together and programmed it, which should take less than a day, future bots will come much easier.

The bot I chose is the B-robot, which, I hope, is pronounced “bro-bot.” There are lots of balancing robots out there, but almost all of them stink. They wobble. They can’t right themselves. There are videos of the B-robot zipping around with grace and certainty, so I know it works.

You can also get tracked robots (like little bulldozers), and there are plenty of wheeled robots. They don’t do much for me. They’re too hard to anthropomorphize. I want a robot that acts more like a person, and people don’t crawl around like bugs. Most of the time.

The B-robot comes with 3D-printed chassis parts. I am not all that happy about that, because 3D-printed plastic is flimsy, but they only add $25 to the cost, and it beats spending a week making stuff in the garage. I could find a local 3D print shop and have them make the parts, but no way would that cost less than $25, so I bit the bullet. I can always replace parts later, at my leisure.

I’m hoping the upper parts will be orange, so I can have a Trumpbot. I’ll add a voice thing that yells, “BUILD THE WALL!”, and, “YUUUUUUUUGE!!!” whenever the robot sees someone. The people who make the kit are in California, so they would probably poop biodegradable soy bricks if they saw their bot acting like Trump, but that’s not my problem. I’m making robots great again.

I could add another robot later. I could call him “Juan,” and Trumpbot could chase him around threatening to deport him.

Me: Trump-bro! Bro-Trump! Stop bashing Juan with your plastic putter! No es bueno! Play nice or I’ll release the Fauxcahontas droid!

Trump-bro: Pay for the wall, Juan! Pay for the wall!

Juan: ¡Ay chihuahua! ¡Ayúdame!! ¡Es un Meecroaggression!!!

Trump-bro: STOP TURNING YOUR EXCLAMATION POINTS UPSIDE-DOWN!

I don’t know for sure, but I assume the electronics on the B-robot would scale up to larger robots. The electronics sense the bot’s deviation from vertical and correct for it, and they move him around. That ought to work with a 10-ton robot, as long as you have the right boards and the right steppers or servos. Balancing gets easier as the height of a robot increases. It works for fat cops on Segways, doesn’t it?

I need to build a giant Mecha-Trump to patrol my future Armed Northern Florida Compound. I don’t think it would scare anyone up there, though. They would jump the fence and pose for selfies with it.

Think how neat it would be to have a big robot. You could get a big ol’ lithium battery to power it. Make it the size of a Coke machine. I wonder if it could be rigged with paintball or a full-automatic CO2 BB gun. I might be able to make it shoot products Trump used to advertise.

Me: TRUMP-BRO! ALERT! ALERT! A POSSUM HAS BREACHED THE BORDER WALL! COMMENCE DEPORTATION PROCEDURES!

Trump-bro: Roger that, Steve-O! Oreo cannon locked on target!

Me: Hit him with the Double Stufs!! And don’t call me Steve-O!

Trump-bro: Attention, possum! YOU’RE FIRED!! [POOMP! POOMP! POOMP! POOMP!]

Possum: ¿Qué va?

I could also make a cowardly Antifa bot which runs up and attacks the Trump bot from behind while wearing a mask.

The coolest balancing robots move in two dimensions. That means they can’t have axles. A 2-axis balancing robot has to have a ball for a drive surface, so they’re called “ballbots.” They’re very cool, but obviously, they can’t keep debris away from their drivetrains. The ball has to be able to rotate up into the bot, where it necessarily contacts the motors that drive it. I don’t think that would work outdoors, except on concrete.

I guess a two-wheeled robot could do nearly anything a ballbot could do, if you could teach it to turn in place.

In reality, I will probably be lucky to make Trump-bro roll around the living room without breaking anything. If I could do that, I’d put it on Youtube immediately.

I probably posed a video of the B-robot already, but here it is anyway. I think I’ll post a video of a ballbot, too, to show you the difference.

B-robot:

Ballbot:

If I get anywhere with this, I’ll let you know.

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I’m a Lonely Frog

May 11th, 2017

I Ain’t Got a Home

Time for an update on the house hunt.

To recap, my father is buying a place in northern Florida, and we are both moving up there. We made an offer on a place we liked, but the owners got royally dinged when they bought the place, and their asking price (presumably based on their grandiose opinion of the value) is insane. I had it appraised, and we offered them about 73% of what they asked. Because their asking price is so crazy, we sent a copy of the appraisal to prove we weren’t playing a joke on them.

The contract expired a few days ago. The sellers didn’t respond, so now there is no contract. The realtor said they were shocked by the offer. I’ve been talking to him about other properties, but he says they need a little more time because they might make a counteroffer.

I don’t know if they need time or not. I think six days is plenty of time to come up with a counteroffer on a property which has already been appraised. I think they’re trying to jerk me around. The big problem with that is that I’m not sure I want the house now.

I have a friend who lives up there, and she wisely pointed out that the snowbirds have left the area. They go home when the weather gets warm. They’re the people who buy houses. That means the market will be slow until late fall. On top of that, during this dead time, all the sellers up there will have to maintain their houses and pay for their mortgages and so on. They’re racking up losses every day. New inventory is appearing, the old stuff isn’t going away, and things are looking good from where I sit. I have no incentive to wait around or play games.

I found a couple of new places. One is a huge new house on a lot full of big oaks. It’s very, very nice. It has no shop building, but they’re cheap to build, and they go up fast. Not an issue. There’s a vacant lot next to it, and it would be nice to buy that as well. Problem: several acres of each lot are flood zones. This wouldn’t affect the house or shop, but it would make it hard to subdivide later, and I’m sure it makes the land less desirable. I don’t know how much it matters, but it’s a consideration.

There’s another place that looks good. It’s not far from Micanopy, the town where Doc Hollywood was filmed. The house is halfway between Ocala and Gainesville, which is the site of the University of Florida.

The location is remote with regard to Ocala, but it’s within 20 minutes of the Gainesville Lowe’s, and there are a lot of restaurants nearby. My dad likes to eat lunch in restaurants. Also, the medical care is probably better there. The house is secluded. The lot is ringed with trees. There’s a wooded lot next door, and we might be able to snag it.

The house is big. It has a big front porch, a big back porch, an office, a den, a living room, and two master suites. The lot varies in elevation, which means it comes with its own pistol backstop. Not bad.

It has no workshop, but again, this is something that can be corrected easily.

The dirt is good. It’s something called Blichton sand. By Florida standards, it’s above average. You can grow things in it.

The current owners have decorated the place with citrus trees and blueberry bushes. Sounds nice, but a lot of that would have to go. They did something really stupid: they ran the driveway right up the center of the property, and they put trees on either side. A driveway on a rural property is supposed to be beside the fence so it doesn’t cut the land up. The driveway is grass except for the part by the house and the part by the road, so moving it would not be hard. Anyway, most of those trees would have to be cut.

The citrus trees are doomed anyway. The citrus blight which is destroying crops all over the world is going to find these trees eventually.

I’m not going to sweat. I’m not going to let anyone rip my dad off. I have choices. The house we made an offer on is fine, and so is the one with the porches. Both are infinitely superior to anything in Miami.

I hope I’ll have good news soon.

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Bill Nye the Resume-Inflating Guy

May 9th, 2017

I See Your Six Courses and Raise You Three

This week, for some reason, I’ve been sitting around doing differential equations. Every once in a while I feel bad about forgetting 80% of the math, physics, and engineering stuff I learned in school, so I watch lectures and do problems. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as smart as I was in 1996, but it’s nice to recover little bits of it.

Coincidentally, today I saw the insufferable Bill Nye the Mechanical Engineering Guy on the web, condescending to people who (like Freeman Dyson and William Gray) are not convinced the world is melting due to anthropogenic global warming. Man, Bill is rude. And conceited. That’s why I call him the Mechanical Engineering Guy. He calls himself the Science Guy, but he’s not a scientist. He has an engineering degree and no graduate training.

I don’t know what kind of criteria a person has to satisfy in order to be called a scientist, but heavy-hitter scientists are generally Ph.D.’s. I suppose you can be a scientist with a B.S. (which would make me a scientist), but can you be a scientist with a B.S. in engineering, which is not really science? I would have to say no, unless you do so much work on your own, outside of classrooms, you eventually become a scientist. I don’t know of any evidence that Bill has done that, although he has certainly done work in science.

I think Bill agrees with me. He may not want to admit it, but I believe he knows he’s not a scientist. If he were a scientist, he would have a great defense of his credentials. He would have it memorized by now. That defense has not materialized. Instead, he has defended himself by saying he’s an engineer and that he took six semesters of calculus. Referring to his M.E. studies, he said, “It’s physics.”

I thought about that, and I decided to see how many semesters of calculus I had taken. I don’t remember things all that well, but as far as I can tell, I took EIGHT semesters of calculus. Calc I, Calc II, Multivariable, Ordinary Differential Equations, Partial Differential Equations, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis, and Math for Physicists (see Arfken’s textbook). I may have forgotten one or two courses. I also took Linear Algebra, and every physics course I took was jam-packed with calculus as well as every other conceivable type of math. It was not unusual to have to pick up new mathematical tools in brief asides during physics lectures, and my graduate mechanics professor expected us to get a basic grasp of differential geometry–a hard discipline–as a small part of his 3-point course.

You have to pick up all sorts of bizarre things to do physics. Fourier transforms. Various types of series. The calculus of variations. It’s like working on cars. When you run into a problem, sometimes you have to get a new tool. That means learning things on the fly.

I don’t even remember what Real Analysis is. I had to look it up to see if calculus was involved.

After I looked this stuff up, I went to the website of Cornell University. This is Nye’s alma mater. I checked to see how many math credits he had to take to get a B.S. in mechanical engineering. The answer is 19. Depending on the breaks, that’s six courses or less. I have at least 27 math credits. I also looked at the engineering courses Cornell M.E.’s take, and as I figured, it may be physics, but it’s not PHYSICS. To give an example, Cornell engineers take second-semester physics, which is called “Electromagnetism.” I took that course, and then I took a higher-level E&M course which was ten times as hard. Then in graduate school, I took a third E&M course. That’s the difference between engineering and physics.

To be an M.E., you have to learn little bits of medium-hard physics. You have to be able to split forces into components and so on. Far as I can tell, you don’t have to learn Lagrangian dynamics or quantum mechanics. On the other hand, you have to learn a ton of practical stuff. How to pick parts for machines and so on. Physicists don’t learn that stuff, so we have all sorts of time to devote to harder subjects like optics and advanced mechanics. We study very, very, very hard subjects that aren’t very practical. We know a lot about the way the universe works, but an excellent physicist may not be able to fix your toaster when it stops working.

I’ve looked at a couple of engineering physics courses. I looked at statics and dynamics. Maybe I somehow missed the hard stuff, but to me it looked extremely basic. I would call it “paraphysics,” the same way I would distinguish a paralegal from a lawyer. Real physicists don’t take those courses. I didn’t even know what “statics” and “dynamics” meant until I looked at the books. I also got myself a nice text on machine design, which is an M.E. thing. This is a neat subject, but the book is very simple. How to push round axles into holes and so on. Slip fit v. interference fit. It’s vocational, really. I remember an Atlanta lawyer calling Georgia Tech a trade school, and after looking at the machine design book, I get it.

I was a bad physicist, because I got burned out and quit before I got far into my graduate training. Nonetheless, I have a hard time taking Bill Nye seriously when he says he’s a scientist. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to choose gears out of a catalog to make a machine work (This is how Richard Feynman described his own brief stint as a makeshift engineer.)

There are brilliant mechanical engineers, and I’m sure there are many who took very, very hard courses that went far beyond their degree requirements. Thing is, it doesn’t look like Bill Nye is one of them. If he were, we would have heard about it. From Bill.

Physicists are real scientists. Chemists are real scientists. Knowing how to choose the right alloy for a lawnmower piston is not science. It’s important. It’s cool. Science? No.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe Bill has studied really, really hard since leaving school, and now he’s right up there with real scientists. If so, he ought to quit throwing out the “six semesters of calculus” defense, because it makes him sound like he has no idea what scientists actually study.

It’s a little bit like the bullying scene in Good Will Hunting. Ben Affleck, playing an uneducated townie, tries to convince a girl he’s a college student. He says he thinks he was in one of her classes. A mean grad student asks him which class it was. Affleck says, “history.”

Bill Nye would be totally incapable of assisting a theoretical physicist, and if he wanted to be an assistant for an experimental physicist, which would be easier, he would have to pick his man carefully if he wanted to be able to understand anything he was working on.

Anyway, generally, engineers are people who use science, but most are NOT scientists. That’s why the Nazis use to call Einstein an engineer. He was a Jew, and they wanted to downgrade his achievements. No one would ever use the word “physicist” to insult an engineer.

I’m really enjoying brushing up on math (I wish my math-hating high school self could read that; he would faint.) The work is really easy; I just write the answer to the problem down and move on to the next one. When I was in college, I spent three or four hours a week doing math homework, whereas my physics homework was, essentially, endless. I worked and worked until I ran out of time, and then I turned it in and hoped for the best. Math is way, way, way easier than physics, until you look for ways to make it hard. After that, well, I don’t actually know how hard it gets. Infinitely, I guess. My wild guesses about serious math are about as informed as Bill’s guesses about physics. I’m not a mathematician. I’m just a guy with a math minor.

One nice thing about college math was that it was possible to get scores like 85 and 95 on tests. In physics, sometimes a 40 was an A. Everyone would leave the test humiliated, and then we would find out we had done very well. The instructors never understood that it was bad to give people problems they couldn’t do.

It would be neat to be able to do real physics again. Maybe I’ll get there with time.

To sum up, I guess I would say the following things. Bill Nye is not a real scientist. Even if he were a great physicist, it wouldn’t mean he was automatically right about global warming. Tesla, who was about [googol squared] times as smart as Bill Nye, was wrong about relativity. Even if Bill were, objectively, right, it would still be wrong to call people “deniers” and suggest they be imprisoned for skepticism, as Bill does. As another commentator has pointed out, this is more or less the same thing as the Pope threatening to burn Galileo. Also, Bill is wrong to blame the Jews for the persecution they get in Israel, and he is wrong to suggest they should go “home” to places like Germany and Poland instead of their ancestral homeland.

Bill is a jerk. He needs to stick a pin in his own ego and knock it off.

4 Comments »

COMEY OUT

May 9th, 2017

Nugent In?

I just read that Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. I don’t know too much about this story, but I really enjoy Trump, and I thought I’d publish my short list of potential Comey replacements.

1. Donald Trump. Where does the Constitution say you can’t be president AND FBI Director? nowhere. Because the Constitution was written before the FBI was created. LOOPHOLE!

Instead of the bizarre, disturbing interactions we’ve seen lately between presidents and FBI directors, we’d see useless, self-serving, highly entertaining press conferences that looked like this:

2. Steve Bannon. He’s not that busy these days, and his appointment would fill DC with the sound of exploding heads.

3. Bill O’Reilly. I seriously believe it would be worth it to see America dissolve into chaos if it meant I got to experience one week of a Bill O’Reilly FBI regime. I don’t think Bill would do a good job. I don’t think he has any qualifications at all. I just think it would be funny to see the looks on people’s faces. Everyone on the left thought O’Reilly was toast. Imagine having him pop back up in a major political office with a guarantee of nearly four years of uninterrupted rule. I don’t watch Rachel Maddow, but on the night Bill got appointed, I’d be there with Jiffy Pop made and all my phones turned off.

4. Sarah Palin. Please, let it happen. And I want her to ride to the office every day on a snow machine.

5. Ann Coulter. She’s a nut; I know. That’s irrelevant. I just want to see people like Andrea Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer suppress the gag reflex while saying, “FBI Director Coulter.”

6. Franklin Graham. With a big white cross on the front of his podium. He could establish a special task force to hunt down people who cross state lines to break commandments. The hilarity could prove unsurvivable.

7. Joe Arpaio. JOE ARPAIO. Forget all the other choices. This is the one. I want to see the air conditioning go off in all our federal prisons, and I want to see Gitmo detainees in pink boxer shorts.

Let me know your choices. If you can top Arpaio, I’ll send you a case of Golden Double Stufs.

5 Comments »

Suspense

May 8th, 2017

Miami Departure Countdown Clock in Action

My big thrill for today is waiting to see whether my dad’s offer on a house has been accepted.

It’s hard to decide what I want. The house is great, and boy, do I hate Miami. Yesterday I got a sudden impression of what it would be like to be a couple of hundreds of yards from the new house, parked in a lawn chair under my own trees, with a beer cooler by my side. It was overwhelming. That makes me hope the offer will be accepted. Then I think about the possibility that my appraisal was too high, and I sort of hope we’ll be rejected so we can start over.

I found another place with potential. It’s 10 acres near Reddick, Florida. The lot is heavily wooded, with maybe seven acres cleared in the middle. The cleared area has blueberry bushes and apple trees. It’s more remote than the offer house, but “remote” is a tricky term up there. It’s remote in the sense that there are fewer small properties near it, but it’s just as close to important stuff as the offer house.

The Reddick house is next to a 10-acre lot covered with trees. If I could get ahold of that, how sweet life would be. I could shoot all I wanted. I would never see the neighbors unless I ran into them at Winn-Dixie or my ghillie suit slipped. Super nice. Also, I would be closer to Gainesville, which has certain attractions, such as real hospitals.

Today I read about a shooting on Miami Beach. It happened near the Fontainebleau, which used to be the number one luxury hotel on the Beach. I don’t know what happened, but many people who commented on the story had the same idea: the increase in black tourism may be the problem.

I hate to get into racial issues, because everyone deserves a fair chance to be evaluated as an individual. Nonetheless, facts are facts. Since the Beach became a popular black destination, things have gone downhill. Violence has increased a great deal.

In the past, the Beach was popular with foreigners. For some inexplicable reason, they think Miami Beach is a great place to visit. The beach itself is mediocre and crowded. There is no natural beauty. There is nothing to do except drink and sit in the sun. The traffic is an abomination. Virtually any of the better islands in the Bahamas is vastly superior. Nonetheless, Europeans kept coming. Then the rap kids started showing up, and guns started going off at all hours. People were scared. According to some online source I found, 70% of the money that pours into the Beach comes from foreigners, so when American blacks started showing up in numbers, it was very bad for the local economy. They don’t spend. Germans get drunk in expensive bars. Our new tourists drink from their own bottles and smoke dope. They like free entertainment, like walking and standing around.

The demographic change on the Beach has also freaked out the locals. The Beach used to be a refuge for gays, Jews, and liberal flakes. Now they have a problem. Their standard of living has dropped, and they’re afraid of violent crime, but their liberal fantasies make it impossible for them to discuss and acknowledge the reason. They can leave, but they can’t talk about what’s happening.

Various people are trying to change the cultural climate. At least that’s what journalists claim. Supposedly, movers and shakers who see where things are headed are quietly promoting events intended to draw white people and disrupt Black Beach Week. Of course, they’re being accused of racism. Whatever. It won’t work, so it doesn’t matter.

The Beach’s problems are getting a lot of attention, but all of Miami is a mess. Once you leave the southern part at the end of I-95, you are pretty much in ghetto territory until you get to the next county. The business areas aren’t too ghetto, but the residential areas are. There is a small ghetto directly north of my area. There is another small ghetto to the west. Down south a few miles, you run into another ghetto which is larger. Miami is being swallowed up. Cubans have pushed out to the west, and it looks like their areas will be the closest thing to large normal neighborhoods for the foreseeable future.

I don’t want to be here when times get bad. People who think ghetto think victimhood. They look at people who have more than they do, and they think it was stolen from them. They forget about their felonies, laziness, and riots, which actually caused their poverty. When life gets hard, they will be in my neighborhood, trying to take whatever they can, and they’ll see local residents as the bad guys. It won’t be looting. It will “reparations.”

I read about EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) weapons today. I think their danger is exaggerated, but maybe it’s not. Anyway, some experts believe that if EMP weapons go off here and affect transportation and electricity, people in suburbs and cities will starve while the problems are fixed. Imagine that. Folks who are used to getting EBT cards and buying all the chips and soda they want will be hungry. Most folks do not realize how fragile the food supply system is. If it went down for one week, most city people here would begin to starve. The food you see on grocery shelves looks abundant, but when deliveries stop coming, it can disappear in one day. I doubt a serious EMP strike will happen, but other types of logistics disruptions are possible, and I don’t want to be around if they occur.

The farm I’m looking at has enough ground to grow food. It has its own well. It has a generator. I can have chickens there. I can have cattle. I would be surrounded by nice Christian people who would cooperate with each other instead of invading each other’s homes. They would even cooperate in armed defense. That sounds pretty good to me.

Sometimes people can be perched on the edge of catastrophe and not know it. Maybe that’s where dependent city dwellers and suburbanites are right now.

If I’m out in the country when all goes sour, what will my neighbors and I do about friends who want to come join us? Scary thought. I want to be helpful, but if too many people get in a lifeboat, it sinks. When that happens, preparations become completely worthless. Shouldn’t responsible people be allowed to benefit from the rewards of their forethought? One would think so.

It would be almost funny to see city dwellers come out to the country to attack. It’s hard to find cover in the country. It’s hard to approach a house without being seen. They don’t know how to shoot. Their firearms tend to be cheap, and they rely on pistols, not rifles. If you come at me with a pistol at rifle range, you will be dead long before I can make out your face. I can kill your vehicle before you make it up my driveway. Country people have scoped rifles, and they buy ammunition in bulk. It’s nothing to have 5,000 rounds on hand. Big buys are not always motivated by fear. Buying in bulk is responsible, because it cuts down on shipping costs. I have a huge amount of ammunition, and I wasn’t even thinking of defense when I got it. But now it’s there if I need it, so…

It would be nice to see urban and suburban Americans repent and give up the liberal victimhood lie. That’s the preferable outcome. Brotherhood is the best option. It won’t happen, though. The entitlement mindset is too entrenched. A small minority will come around, and I say thank God for them. The rest, well, you can’t help them. They’re like the people who stood in shoulder-deep water, clawing at the hull of the ark.

I hope I’m out of here soon. Please pray for me, and pray for all the people in America who need to drop their denial and come to God’s side.

6 Comments »

Learning not to be a Mark

May 7th, 2017

Real Estate Education Continues

Today I’m waiting to see what happens with the offer we put in on the house in Marion County. The listing agent got the bad news on Friday, and I assume they’re going to make me sweat until Monday. I’m not sweating, though. The house is not ideal, and there are a couple of other possibilities that might be better.

I looked over the county website and learned some things. Maybe a discussion of my diligence will help other people.

When you buy a house, you don’t just walk in, look around, guess what it’s worth, and offer that amount. There are a ton of things to consider. I don’t know a whole lot about getting loans, but I can tell you about other things you need to think about.

1. Get it appraised before you make an offer. If you’re borrowing, the bank will want an appraisal anyway, so you might as well get it over with. Also, how are you supposed to decide what to offer if you don’t know what the house is worth? The people who own the house I want overpaid by maybe $250,000. They really got ripped off. Now they have it priced $110,000 over the appraised value. Zillow provides online estimates of home values, and Zillow thinks it’s underpriced by over $30,000. If I didn’t have an appraisal, I would have thought the property was worth more than it is, and I would not have had a sane valuation to beat the sellers with.

Maybe I’m wrong; apparently, most people don’t get appraisals before making offers. It sounds like a very stupid approach to me. You can get a $3,000,000 suburban house appraised for $400, and it might save you $400,000.

2. Get ahold of the covenants and restrictions. People who craft deeds have the crazy ability to restrict what buyers do with their land. You might buy land for a chicken farm and find out a lunatic vegan (redundant) who used to own it put in a restriction barring all types of meat farming. The restrictions on the place I’m trying to get say I can’t raise pigs or carry on a business. Annoying, but not deal-breakers. Besides, if things ever get so bad I need to raise pigs, I’ll raise them anyway, and my neighbors will be in the same boat, so they won’t complain.

3. Look at maps of your lot and the surrounding lots. There might be weird little strips of land set aside for driveways or something. I was excited because I thought I was next to a peanut field I could buy and add to my lot, but I found out there’s a skinny driveway strip between me and that lot, so if I wanted to increase my holdings by buying the peanut field, I would have to buy the other lot, too, or drive all the way around the driveway when I wanted to go from my house to the peanut field.

4. Find out if you’re in a flood plain or some other area with problems. If your house is in an area that floods even once a century, you may have to buy expensive insurance. If you have a wet area on your land, which, in a sane world, you could fill in and improve, the tree-huggers may have you by the throat. They may have had it declared a “wetland” (synonym for “dirty swamp”), and you may be stuck with mud and mosquitoes for life.

5. Get the best inspector you can find, and do not let the realtor pick him. The realtor just wants your money. He wants a quick sale. He may have inspector buddies who will do anything he tells them. Once you buy a place, after inspections and appraisals, you’re pretty well stuck with it, and the inspector is not going to come over and write you a check for a hundred grand because he missed the sinkhole under your foundation. That will be your problem.

6. Make sure you know what’s happening on surrounding properties. I thought the house I like was next to a pasture belonging to a nearby farm. In reality, the pasture is an undeveloped lot belonging to an absentee owner. Six months from now, a family from Hialeah could have a 6,000-square-foot orange McMansion sitting on it, and they could be having salsa parties every night until 4 a.m., with drunken guests vomiting mojitos over my fence. If my deal goes through, I want that lot.

Interesting fact: there are eight lots in my subdivision, and to change the covenants and restrictions, you need seven of the eight owners to vote yes. If I buy the pasture, I’ll have two of the eight lots, and no one else will be able to do anything unless I approve. That would be cool, because I would never agree to anything unless they agreed to cut restrictions I didn’t like.

Twenty-nine percent of one of the other places I like is in a “Zone A” flood plain. That means it’s expected to flood once a century. What a bummer. I don’t want to buy the insurance, and I don’t want to come downstairs after a rain and find the piano floating in the living room.

The lesson I’m learning is this: when you buy real estate, it’s impossible to have enough information. Everyone except you will be trying to cheat you, and they want you to know as little as the law allows. I’ve been looking at this same house since early March. It’s early May, and I am still learning things I wish I had known sooner.

I keep marveling at the things I hear about the way other people buy real estate. No appraisals. Offers based on whimsical asking prices. Offers above the asking price, to secure deals in hot markets. I think people are nuts. It’s hard for me to believe people buy properties so stupidly, but it appears to be true.

Should it surprise me if people routinely pay too much for houses? No. Most people get gypped very badly when they buy cars. They buy new instead of used. They bargain down from MSRP instead of bargaining up from cost. They look at monthly payments instead of total cost. They believe salesmen who say, “I’m trying to get you a good deal.” People are not shrewd.

I remember a Harley salesman telling me a regular customer came into his dealership, threw the keys to his old bike on the counter, pointed out the bike he wanted, and said, “Make the payments two-fifty a month.” He didn’t care how the dealer arrived at the figure. Imagine how much money that guy threw away. He probably got a twenty-year note at 20% interest. I guarantee he paid at least $36,000 for an $18,000 bike.

I went to law school with a guy who bought a Camaro with student loan money. We used to call it “the Ferrari,” because after paying the interest, it cost as much as a Ferrari.

No one expects consumers to know anything about money. I remember talking to a cell phone company about something or other they wanted me to buy, and they said it only cost twenty bucks per month. I would have to pay that over two years. I said, “So $480.” She was stunned. She didn’t know the figure herself until I said it; she was not used to thinking about the total cost. I said whatever it was was not worth $480 to me. That’s how you have to think about money. I’m bad with money, and even I knew that.

Regarding houses, I’ve heard people say, “If you’re planning to live there the rest of your life, it’s okay to pay too much.” No it’s not! That’s crazy. If money doesn’t matter, let the other guy sell for too little.

The sellers of the house I want are detached from reality. I don’t understand why they paid so much, and I don’t understand why they’re asking so much. Maybe they used the same realtor twice. Maybe he helped the original seller nail them to the wall, and now he has gotten their sale listing by claiming he can limit their losses with an astronomical asking price.

Realtors will do anything to get a listing, and they don’t care if it hurts the owner. If you’re a realtor with one listing, it opens doors to other properties. When people call you about it, you can show them your listing plus dozens of others belonging to other realtors. You can deliberately suppress the sale of your listing in order to keep calls coming in. If you have a seller who is dumb enough to give you an overpriced listing, it may work out well for you. You can sell other houses off of the leads it generates, and eventually you may get the sellers to face reality and lower the price to a level where you can unload the place and get a commission. In a case like that, you’ve basically used the owners to finance the promotion of your business.

I’m not a sharp buyer. I have some experience with selling and managing real estate, but I don’t know a lot about buying. I’m trying to wise up so I don’t get skinned.

Maybe I should stop being so picky about the house. There is always a house out there you can buy for less than it’s worth, and you don’t have to live in it forever. Maybe I should be looking at a good buy I can stand instead of an okay buy which is close to what I really want.

I wish we could buy a big lot and build on it, but right now, that’s a bad idea. It costs more than buying a newish place with the bugs worked out. If the green place doesn’t work out, there’s another place which is cheaper and has no outbuildings. We could take that and build a dynamite shop building in a month.

I’ll give myself this much credit for brains: we’re offering to buy the farm machinery and most of the furniture. The machines are nearly unused, and the place is decorated beautifully, with nearly new furnishings. We can sell the awful stuff we have here, or we can give it away and get a tax deduction. Save on moving expenses.

The experiences of the last year have really gotten me thinking about how to handle property, and I’m getting ideas. Eventually I want to dump all of my dad’s residential rental real estate. Residential tenants are whiny and needy. They’re also hard to evict. Commercial is the way to go. Commercial tenants improve the property, they leave the improvements behind, they don’t bother you until they leave, and you can throw them out in a heartbeat.

I’m not worried at all. The longer buying takes, the better I get at the whole enterprise. If the place we’re trying to buy can’t be had at a reasonable price, it will be an opportunity to find something better and more economical.

I do want to get out of here, though. I have heard enough Spanish and car horns for two lifetimes.

4 Comments »

Temps Perdu

May 6th, 2017

Hades Found

I’m positive people are dying to hear about my progress through the Columbia College Lit. Hum. syllabus. Here is your update.

I am currently working on Paradise Lost, John Milton’s endless poem about the falls of Satan and man. It’s something like 400 pages long, it’s written in blank verse (poetry that doesn’t rhyme), and it makes Shakespeare’s archaic prose look like Dick and Jane. By that I mean it is very hard to read. Milton uses all sorts of out-of-syle words, and I’m not entirely sure he uses them correctly. His punctuation is erratic (possibly because he was blind), so it can be hard to tell where a sentence begins or ends. He’s also the stuffiest writer I’ve ever encountered. Worse than my translations of Homer and Virgil. Reading Milton is like jogging in concrete that has already begun to set. Concrete that has big lumps of stone in it.

Maugre all that, I am pressing on.

See how Milton has improved my writing. “Maugre”! I look really smart now.

When I first started reading the book, I thought Milton was brilliant. He knew so much about the Bible, theology, and mythology. Then I started thinking maybe he was just well-read and highly educated. I still can’t tell for sure. He reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse. I’m not saying he’s witty, funny, or even a little bit entertaining. I’m saying his work is peppered with references grounded in a classical education, to the point where a person who wanted to write a parody of his work would have to spend five years studying literature first.

Wodehouse is the only person I would be afraid to imitate. I just don’t have the background.

I like Milton’s highly informed use of symbolism. It shows a deep understanding of the way the Christian universe works. For example, in Milton’s poem, Sin is the child of Satan. She pops out of his head the same way Athena popped out of Zeus’s head. I think the idea is that sin started inside Satan. Before Satan, sin didn’t exist. I’ll go with that. After Satan gives birth to the female child Sin, he has sex with her, and she gives birth to his son/grandson, Death. Good enough. The Bible says sin comes from death. “The wages of sin is death.”

Sin’s job is to guard the entrance of the underworld. She can open the gate, but she can’t lock the door once it’s open. Her job is to refuse to open the door. I get that. Only God can put people in hell, but Sin is what keeps them there. Jesus couldn’t be kept in hell, because he hadn’t sinned.

Anyway, the poem is very clever. It seems considerably deeper than the Greek stuff and Dante.

To understand Milton, you have to understand his times and his experiences. That means I will never understand Milton. I’m comfortable with that. Reading about him would be a lot of work for a negligible reward. I do know a couple of things. He was a political bigwig in England. He was a minister in charge of foreign languages, sharing an office with the people from Silly Walks. He wrote a document that helped get Charles the something-or-other convicted of something. Then he went completely blind, and having nothing better to do, he wrote poetry.

That’s all I have. I may look at Wikipedia for a few minutes eventually, but I hope I don’t, because that would be boring. I’m not undertaking this project to prove I could be a great classics scholar. I just want to be able to say I did the reading.

Here is the action so far. Satan (ancient Akkadian for “Stan”) and his pals have been ejected from heaven for fighting God. They have been chained to the surface of the lake of fire. They have broken loose. They have decided to mess with man, since they can’t hurt God. Stan has gone on a scouting mission to find earth (he hasn’t been there before), and he has just spotted Eden.

That took about 80 pages.

It’s a painful slog, but it’s better than Homer. I think that if Milton and Homer had ever gotten together for drinks, after about an hour, Milton would have had a friend place a fake emergency call to his Iphone, to give him an excuse to leave. I can hear him muttering to himself as he stomps out into the street and probably into a post: “MAN what a bore.” If Milton is the Tim Tebow of boredom and long-windedness, Homer is the Babe Ruth.

There’s a pun in there somewhere.

You couldn’t publish Paradise Lost today. When you go to high school and college these days, you can’t write anything a small child can’t read. If you tried to write like Milton, they’d get out the red pen and cross out half of the words. “‘Maugre’? Really? See me after class.” If you sent a work like Milton to publishers, they’d save it to read at Christmas parties. It’s funny; modern academics tell us to admire Milton, but if you emulate him, you better have a blog, because there is no other way you’ll get your work in front of the public.

I suppose that’s a good thing.

If Milton had written his book in our time, he would have been rejected soundly, to the point where he probably would have found solace in a lengthy, hard-to-comprehend Internet manifesto. Then he would have shot up a mall with an AR-15, spraying ineffectual bullets at walls and lighting fixtures due to his blindness.

By the way, in the book, paradise is Eden, not heaven. Have people been using the word incorrectly for four hundred years, or was Milton confused? I do not know.

The more I look at these books, the more I think nobody actually reads them at Columbia. I read very, very quickly, and there is no way I could get through Milton in one week, understand it, and keep up with my other classes. If it’s too long for me, it’s definitely too long for a typical Columbia student who can’t read nearly as fast as I can. Think of the Asian engineers. They’d have to drop out. Thank God for Cliff. His notes must be the only thing Columbia freshmen actually read.

I go through about 16 pages of Milton in half an hour, taking it slowly enough to allow me to really understand it. So 25 hours for the whole book? In one college week, that’s around 3.5 hours per day, seven days in a row, for one class. And most kids would read slower than that. No, that’s not happening.

After Milton, I get socked with Pride and Prejudice, which, as I understand it, is a chick book. Guess how much I look forward to that. Columbia gives people a week or so to read it, which seems insane, since it goes so much faster than Milton.

The real hump in the journey is Dostoevsky. I have tried reading him once or twice, and I thought I could hear my soul gag. The book in question is Crime and Punishment. I just checked, and…God help me…it’s 430 pages. I would rather eat it than read it.

Sometimes I think I should read other books I blew off. I took a French literature class, during a time when I was so miserable I did practically nothing but drink and watch TV. I skipped most of Therese Desqueyroux and a good bit of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. I took the midterm anyway, because in literature classes, you can often get a B simply by making things up. In response to my imaginative analysis of Therese Desqueyroux, the professor wrote, “Obvieusement, vous n’avez pas lu cet livre. Venez me voir.” Am I writing that correctly? “Obviously, you have not read this book. Come see me.” I was too embarrassed and unmotivated to go see her. I think I got a C in that class.

These days, I don’t know if I’m still capable of reading books written in French. Writing exams and papers in French would be a bit de trop.

I’m glad there are pleasant books in the world. If I had to read things like The Iliad and Paradise Lost all the time, I would barely read at all. The French stuff probably wasn’t too bad. I was just depressed. I didn’t feel like doing anything. If the homework had been eating pie while being worked over by a friendly team of Asian masseuses, I probably still wouldn’t have done it.

I make it sound like I never liked literature. That’s not true. I liked D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, various authors of colonial literature, E.M. Forester, Alexandre Dumas, Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de St. Exupery, Shakespeare, Voltaire, a bunch of French poets, and a lot of other stuff. In short, I liked things that were not boring.

Maybe the real purpose of Lit. Hum. is to make people hate reading. If so, well played.

If you want to read because you love it, I do not recommend Milton. If you want to read in order to become educated, go ahead and read him. Don’t expect to enjoy it. That would be evidence of severe mental illness.

6 Comments »

Father Colbert’s Latest Sunday School Lesson

May 5th, 2017

Plus Mountain-Climbing Tips

Thanks to the Internet, I am now an expert on two things: the moral deterioration of Stephen Colbert, and mountain climbing.

Yesterday, RE CBS’s predictable (and predicted) failure to discipline Colbert for his obscene on-the-air remarks about President Trump, Colbert took a victory lap by saying the GOP had kicked the United States in the genitals. Except he didn’t say “genitals.” Here is what I said about Colbert yesterday:

Evil is predictable. The more evil is tolerated, the more predictable it gets, because people stop trying to be subtle. They don’t care if they get caught.

Colbert said something horrendous and filthy on national TV, and CBS did nothing. Today, he (pointedly) continued. Look for future outbursts.

Ho hum.

I’m not nearly as upset about politics and public attitudes toward God as I used to be, even though my estimate of America’s future has gotten much worse. I credit God with helping me escape pointless agitation. God is the all-time champion of battle-choosing, and he teaches his ways to his children. If you’re determined to lose your peace over Antifa, so-called gender transitioning, the bizarre political power of illegal aliens, and violence toward conservatives, you can certainly go ahead and sink into the flames. You can write furious blog posts, go to rallies, get beaten with your own flagpole, and get ulcers. My approach these days is to let things slide in the natural realm and to do my fighting in prayer. If I tussle in the mud (euphemism for something else) with the pigs, I’ll become one of them, and the pigs won’t change. Much better to sit back in the comfort of my home and do battle on a supernatural level.

I pray for God to defeat Colbert and also to change his heart, I ask God to help me not to have animosity toward him, and then I go on my merry way. I can’t fix the world, and if I want to lead a blessed life while I’m here, I have to be able to let go of things.

As for mountain climbing, I watched a movie about Mount Everest. I can’t remember why I was motivated to do that. Perhaps morbid interest. Everest (the world’s highest mountain, at 29029 feet) is a remarkable place, because people are thrilled to go into debt and spend huge amounts of money to go there and die in misery. Many people go multiple times, even after losing body parts to frostbite. I find that fascinating. After watching the movie, I looked at all sorts of maps and photos, and I watched a documentary. I almost feel like I’ve been to Everest.

There are something like 200 dead people on Everest. It’s so cold up there, and it’s so hard to carry things in the thin air, it’s very common to leave dead people where they fall. They don’t even cover them with snow; I suppose it would blow off. After a while, dead people in their brightly colored climbing clothing become landmarks. One of the most famous Everest corpses is an Indian commonly referred to as “Green Boots.” His frozen body wears bright green climbing boots. It lies under a rock projection. The cavity in which he lies is known as “Green Boots Cave.”

Everest isn’t the only mountain in its size class. K2, the next-tallest mountain, is only about 780 feet shorter, and it’s way harder to climb. Everest gets much more traffic and attention, however, because it’s number 1. If you tell people you’ve climbed K2, no one even knows what you’re talking about, but if you mention Everest, everyone in the bar will want to buy you a drink. The mountain is so popular, Everest climbing has become a local industry in Nepal.

The thing that interests me about Everest is the joy people find in destroying themselves on it.

The movie I watched is called Everest, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, and it’s about a terrible disaster that took place in 1996. An unexpected windstorm hit Everest while a bunch of climbers were on its slopes, and a lot of them died. Some lived but lost things like noses and fingers later on. It’s a movie, so obviously, they got some facts wrong, but I think they got the general idea right. I think the depiction of the problems the climbers faced was realistic. In the documentary I watched later, the climbers themselves talked about their experiences, and their stories were consistent with the misery presented in the movie.

There were four main groups of people involved in the disaster: climber/tourists, professional climbing guides from Europe, America, and New Zealand, Sherpa climbing guides, and support staff at Everest’s base camp. I call the people who weren’t getting paid “climber/tourists” because that’s accurate. They weren’t there to make money or do a job that had to be done. They were there for recreation.

The story focused on two companies that helped tourists climb. One belonged to New Zealander Rob Hall, and the other belonged to American Rob Fischer. Hall’s company had a big tent at base camp, equipped with a radio. A sort of project manager stayed there, organizing things and helping people communicate.

Right away, I was struck by the attitudes of the professionals. They didn’t behave like tour guides on a cruise ship. They behaved like military personnel involved in a vital and difficult campaign. They took themselves incredibly seriously. That was true in the documentary as well as the movie, so I think it showed how things really were.

It makes sense when military people are serious and speak in dramatic tones, but isn’t it strange to behave that way when you’re in a situation you created, and which you can abandon whenever you like? The Everest professionals had a mission mentality, but in reality, they were just helping rich people walk up the side of a rock. They weren’t repelling the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. They seemed to feel that what they were doing was very, very important, but in reality, it was one hundred percent unnecessary.

They reminded me of gang members. Before you join a gang, you may have a happy-go-lucky life free of stress and dread. Once you join (completely by choice), you have a life of drama. Everything is serious. You’re a “soldier”; gang members often use military terms to describe themselves. Your life is full of danger, and you have to face it. You are likely to end up listening to, or writing and performing, pathetic, self-pitying rap music, in which you glorify yourself and try to get people to see you as a martyr and a victim.

Climbers respect each other. If you’re a dead climber, forget it. “Respect” doesn’t even capture it. What you get is more like worship. Because you climbed a rock and died, when you could have been at home eating pancakes. Sounds a lot like gangsters, pouring cheap booze on the ground as an offering to absent homies.

If a climber read this, he would probably have a dismissive attitude toward me. “You don’t understand. You weren’t there.” That would be true. To paraphrase an old saying, I haven’t jumped off the Empire State Building, either. I don’t think that means I’m wrong when I say jumping is a bad idea.

The 1996 crew had a lot of problems. Everest was very crowded. That slows things down. I don’t know how many people were trying to climb at the same time, but it could have been a whole lot, because I know that on at least one occasion, 234 people made it in one day. To get up Everest along the south route, you have to get over a bunch of rickety ladders laid horizontally over crevasses, and it’s not a great setup for moving crowds. When too many people try to go at once, people get delayed. Delays mean more time on the mountain, and time up there is what kills people.

Rob Hall’s group had two serious problems. It contained two people who had no chance of making it. One was a postal employee named Doug Hansen. He had failed to summit in an earlier trip, and Hall had encouraged him to make another trip, at a substantial discount. The other was a pathologist named Beck Weathers. Weathers had had radial keratotomy, and his eyes reacted badly to the altitude; he went blind temporarily and only regained sight in one eye. No one saw that coming.

Hall’s group had a third problem, which led to the deaths of at least three people. When Hansen got tired and wanted to quit, Hall chose not to send him down the mountain. As a result, Hall and Hansen were near the summit when the windstorm arrived. Hansen was physically and mentally helpless, and Hall insisted on staying with him and trying to bring him down.

By the time Hansen became incapacitated, Weathers was already blind. He was farther down the mountain, waiting for Hall to lead him to safety. The longer he waited, the colder his limbs got.

Hall and Hansen needed help, so a guide named Andy Harris went up to meet them, carrying oxygen.

Here’s the short version of what happened. Hansen died and fell off the mountain, perhaps not in that order. No one knows what happened. Harris died and fell off the mountain, leaving his jacket behind with Hall. No one was able to reach Hall after that, and Hall spent two nights on the mountain, literally freezing to death. He died. Weathers was abandoned for dead, and when he finally got up and walked into a staging area, he was so frostbitten he would later lose one hand, all the fingers on the other hand, his nose, part of a cheek, and probably some other parts.

Rob Fischer died, too. He overexerted himself helping his tourists, and then he lay down in the snow to rest. It’s 2017, and he hasn’t gotten up yet. A Hall client named Yasuko Namba ended up stranded with Weathers, and she froze to death.

Here is my harsh assessment: Rob Hall blew it. When you need to get up and down Mount Everest in a hurry, you don’t wait around because a very sick person has a small chance of making it to the top. He should have told Doug Hansen to leave. He should have told Weathers to leave ASAP instead of promising to come back for him. Fischer screwed up, too. He was very experienced, and he should not have overdone it.

Maybe I’m wrong. All I know is what I learned from a movie, a documentary, and a bunch of websites and videos.

It disturbs me that people who took responsibility for other people’s lives let emotion rule them. The odds that you will die if you try to climb Mount Everest are better than one in fifty. Anyone who does anything to make those odds worse needs a lesson in math.

Would you fly on an airline if one in fifty of its flights crashed? If you had to fly with them, would it be okay with you if the pilot took additional chances?

I think people are nuts to climb that mountain. In 1996, Rob Hall was charging $65,000 per person (100,000 in 2017 dollars), for an opportunity to die or lose limbs. What goes through the mind of a person when he decides to pay for that?

Naturally, being me, I related it to my knowledge of God.

Years ago, I learned something interesting: being in God’s presence is like being on drugs. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. I can provide examples. Cocaine makes you feel euphoric and powerful. So does God. Opiates make you feel warm and relaxed. So does God. Caffeine gives you energy and confidence. So does God. I believe that people who take drugs and drink are actually trying to fill needs that are unfulfilled because they don’t know God.

Drugs and drink come with remorse and side effects. God does not.

The climber/tourists in the documentary talked about the wonder of their time on Everest. The stars were richer and brighter than they are down below. The views were awe-inspiring. Beck Weathers said he suffered from depression, but the exertion of mountain climbing took his mind off of it. To sum up, they talked about psychological effects they considered worth the danger, suffering, and expense. If God had been allowed to fill their needs, would they have needed to spend huge sums and risk their lives in order to feel good?

Weathers now says he has peace, for the first time in his life. He has a skin-graft nose, no right hand, and a “mitt” made by separating the bones of his left hand into makeshift fingers, but now he finally feels good. What if all that was unnecessary? What if peace was available in the safety of his house, and it was a type of peace he could help his family receive, instead of a solitary peace that helps no one but him?

I believe Everest climbers, like other daredevils, manufacture crises so they can enjoy the distraction of solving them. They want to have a sense of mission, and their lives don’t provide it, so off to Nepal they go, and some of them stay there and become landmarks. To me, they’re like base jumpers. They think people should admire them, especially when their worst fears come true. Mountain climbers, base jumpers, and skydivers generally expect admiration. I don’t admire them at all. I think they’re deceived.

I would love to climb mountains. Little ones. With paths and guard rails. Big ones littered with dead bodies, you can keep. I don’t have the slightest craving for a sense of mission.

Here’s another thing that bugged me: on the way to the climb, the tourist/climbers in the movie were “blessed” by a buddhist bigwig in a temple. You couldn’t get me near that. Tibetan Buddhism is plain old demon worship. It is said that back when World War Two was getting underway, a Buddhist monk told a Westerner a thousand of his “gods” had just left for Germany. They pray to spirits. They conjure them in chanting ceremonies. If the thing about being “blessed” is accurate, people who climb Everest begin the process by spitting in the face of God, who is the only one who can protect them. One wonders if the paganism is connected to the death rate.

I can guess what goes through the minds of most Westerners at the temple. First alternative: “Yes, yes, namaste, I agree that Eastern religion is superior to boring old Christianity even though Tibetans and Indians live in squalor and humiliation.” Second alternative: “Blah, blah, you’re so cute in your monk hat, you primitive, superstitious goofball. This will look great on Snapchat.”

I just found out people have literally Snapchatted their Everest climbs. That officially kills the romance.

I once heard that a member of my high school class had died on Mount Everest. That was not correct. I later learned he died on Shishapangma, which is the smallest and least challenging of the worlds 14 tallest peaks. Here’s what I know: there were experienced climbers present, but no Sherpas and no oxygen. The man who died went off and climbed without help. He fell into a crevasse. The idea seemed to be that he ditched the people who protected him because he had something to prove. I don’t know whether that’s true. Maybe the person who told me the story slanted things; he got the name of the mountain wrong, and he said there was a Sherpa.

The story is sad and chilling. A person who was close to him said they never found anything except his belongings, so he is still up there. I wonder what he went through. Was he killed instantly, or did he die of exposure and thirst? I hate to think he might have been trapped there, watching the filtered sunlight appear and disappear over the course of however many days it took to stop his heart.

For many people, Himalayan climbing is about bragging rights. I hope he didn’t extinguish himself trying to generate a story about the way he disdained help.

I learned some other interesting things about Everest. Here’s one: there’s a whole lot of poop up there. The lowest base camp has disgusting latrines, but once you start climbing, accepted practice is to walk away from the group, poop on the snow, and cover it. The poop freezes in a hurry, and then it’s just there. When the temperature fluctuates, it melts. Some of it gets into the groundwater. When new climber/tourists show up and drink tea made with the pure snow of Mother Everest, they’re really drinking poop soup. There aren’t a whole lot of paths to the peak, tourists in Asia often get diarrhea, and almost 8,000 people have summitted, so imagine how much poop there must be.

It must be a lot of fun pooping in plain sight, while the other tourists slog by.

The movies and shows don’t seem to focus on toilet issues. They’re too busy promoting the glamor.

Everest also has a litter problem. People leave their wrappers and cans all over the ground. Nasty. The peak itself has a litter problem. Climber/tourists with a graffitti mentality leave all sorts of junk up there, because, dude, it has, like, meaning to them.

It’s not easy to clean up a place that ranges in elevation from 17,000 to 29,000 feet, and besides, no one really wants to do it. Everest probably attracts a lot of narcissists who aren’t all that interested in the grunt work.

I would hate to go there even as a visitor, now that it’s a vertical cess-sicle. I don’t even like to use public restrooms. Everest would just be too much.

Warm, dirty places are better than cold, dirty places, because in a cold place, filth is preserved forever.

I learned one more thing you may find interesting. When you freeze your hand or foot off on Mount Everest, you don’t actually freeze it off. It turns red, then black, and then you have to keep it for a couple of months even though it’s dead. When it comes to frostbite, doctors say, “Frozen in January, amputate in July.” It’s impossible to tell how much tissue has to go until the rot process is over.

Imagine what it must be like to have one to four black, rotting extremities for a number of weeks. Think how that must affect your quality of life. Every day you’d be sitting there looking at the catastrophic results of the dumbest decision you ever made, and you wouldn’t have closure. Having a hand cut off instantly would be terrible, but I’d prefer that to having a dead black hand in front of me every day until spring came.

Big mountains are very cool, but I wouldn’t put Everest on my bucket list even if I had one. If you have to risk your life and suffer greatly in order to get your mind right, you are on the wrong path, and you need to turn back and look for a better one.

More

I have been thinking about the guy who died on Shishapangma. I have been under the impression that the accident was caused by overconfidence, but maybe it was something worse.

Let me call the decedent “George” in order to have something to call him, other than his real name.

The high school George and I attended was a prestigious prep school. Every year, a lot of graduates went to Ivy League schools, as I did. The year we graduated, if memory serves, two students were accepted by Princeton. One was a friend of mine who got his MD at 25 and then shot himself in the head with a Desert Eagle. The other was George. He was admitted early.

George never went to Princeton.

One day during our senior year, everyone had to walk out of school and out to our designated fire drill areas. Someone had called in a bomb scare. Exams were in session, and the test interrupted them.

Our school had a pay phone near the library entrance. On the day of the bomb scare, another guy I knew picked up the phone to use it, and there was already someone on the line. It was the police. They asked if anyone had just used the phone. The student identified George. That’s how I heard it, anyway.

George threatened to bomb the school because he was worried about an exam. He didn’t go to prison, which is surprising, but Princeton dropped him, and he ended up going to Wesleyan, which is on a lower tier.

He would have been about 33 on the day he died. He was still in school. He had decided to be a doctor. His undergrad degree was in some useless liberal arts discipline, so he had to go back and take math and science courses.

Life had not panned out for George. He had started life as a good student and a top athlete who won recognition all over his state, and then there had been the bomb scare and the fall from grace. I don’t know what he was doing between Wesleyan and his medical conversion, but he was not a professional, and a person who wrote about his death said he had been in the process of turning his life around. You don’t turn your life around when things are going well.

After George disappeared, supposedly, all they found were his trekking poles, his sunglasses, his backpack, and his journal.

Here’s what I wonder: what if the fall wasn’t an accident?

Why would you walk around alone in an area where there were crevasses? Why would you put down your poles? Why would you take off your sunglasses and backpack? If you simply fell, those things would probably go with you.

It’s a disturbing thought, but I can’t help wondering.

Many people botch their suicides. They shoot off the bottom halves of their faces. They break their backs in jumps from buildings. Jumping into an ice crevasse, sustaining nonfatal injuries, and then dying over a period of days or hours would be a horrible way to go.

I didn’t know George well, but I knew him a little. We sat in classes together for four years. We knew each other socially; there were only about a hundred kids in our class. He didn’t seem like a happy person at all. My school was full of kids who were driven and incapable of relaxing, and he seemed like one of them.

The other Princeton student, Ken, was the most driven person I had ever known. He was way up in the class rankings. Like George, he was also an athlete. He left Princeton to join a 5-year, 2-degree program at the University of Florida. Who leaves Princeton? That’s how impatient he was.

His dad was an overbearing, pushy radiologist. Nothing Ken ever did was good enough for him. When he died, his estate was a mess, and Ken and his crazy brother were left to fight over it. He left hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a wall in their house, and one day Ken saw that it had disappeared. He called his dad’s lawyer, who had known about the money, and the lawyer said, “What money?” Ken told me he thought the lawyer had worked something out with his brother.

One night, Ken’s brother ran him out of the house, shooting at his legs with a .357. Ken was in the shower when his brother started shooting, and he fled the house naked. Ken filed a bar complaint against the lawyer and found a new place to live. He claimed the lawyer called him and begged him to call the bar off.

Ken used to spend almost every afternoon at my house. He just wanted a place to hang out and be less alone.

He bought a Smith and Wesson 9mm and a Desert Eagle .44 Magnum. He said he wanted protection from his brother. We used to go to the range together.

One day in 1987, one of his other friends called and asked me when was the last time I had seen Ken. I told him, and I asked why he wanted to know. He said Ken had shot himself to death with the Desert Eagle.

The last time I had seen him, he had been angry at me over something trivial. Ken was extremely aggressive, and he always wanted to do things the quick and easy way. For example, when he went lobster diving in Biscayne Bay, he would tear short (illegal) lobsters in half in the water and throw the tails in the boat. He did that to keep his friends from throwing them back in the water.

The last time I saw him, we were driving around, and he wanted me to break some rule or other. Maybe a traffic rule. I can’t remember. When he got out of the car, he said, “You’re such an a_____e.” It didn’t mean anything. He had a hot temper.

I never thought he would kill himself. He was miserable, but he never seemed inclined to end it.

I didn’t go to the funeral. I don’t know if there was one. If there had been, I probably would have waited for an invitation. I didn’t know much about funerals at that age. Maybe there was a service, and people thought I was a jerk for not going. Ken was Jewish, though, so he would have been buried fast. I didn’t hear about his death until days later.

He was a medical doctor at 25, and he thought he was a failure. He said he could hear his father laughing at him from beyond the grave. There was a rich Mexican kid in our class, and his name was Eduardo. His family was Jewish, too, and his dad was rumored to be worth something like 300 million dollars. Eduardo used to put Ken down, telling him he would never be as rich as Eduardo. That actually bothered Ken. It would have meant nothing at all to me. It seemed like the Jewish kids felt they had to prove things to each other.

He was not programmed for happiness or longevity.

There were a lot of unhappy rich kids at that school. One of them, a guy named Barry Adler, picked a friend up at Miami International for a drug deal. The friend had a suitcase full of money. Adler reached around from the back seat, slit his throat, and stabbed him 33 times. He went to prison, got out early for good behavior, and was shot in the head in the parking lot of a Lum’s restaurant. He was only free for five months. The kid he stabbed came from a rich family, and they were surely unhappy about his release. People wondered if they had a hand in his killing.

I remember throwing a paper wad at Barry when we were in Algebra II together (he was two years older than I was). He gave me a very angry look. It wasn’t until he was convicted of murder that I realized what was behind that look.

Then there was Marty Kogan. He was in the class after mine. He always seemed to think he was playing people. He generally appeared to feel he was one step ahead of everyone else, but I don’t think he ever was. One day in 1984, he rented a boat on Miami Beach, and later on, it was found off the coast, empty, with his brains splattered on it. People assumed he had gone out there to make a drug deal, but if the facts ever came out, I don’t know what they are. He bought a pistol the day before. Why would you buy a pistol the day before you take a rented boat out to the gulf stream, alone, in 1984 Miami? Something to consider.

The boat was found circling with a rope on the helm. Why would you put a rope on a boat’s helm? How is that consistent with a drug deal or suicide? I don’t know. If he was murdered, as people believe, someone would have had to be on the boat with him. You can’t shoot someone from any distance on a rocking boat. But why would they tie down the wheel before jumping off?

Why would you take a boat out in order to kill yourself? That doesn’t make any sense. You can kill yourself anywhere. It must have been murder.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about these things.

My school was full of kids who had extraordinary advantages, but they didn’t know God, and they generally weren’t at peace. Maybe that’s not surprising. The school was half Jewish, and Jews are the most restless people on earth. You would think they would work harder on securing a homeland. Maybe if you’ve never lived in your homeland, you don’t know what it is that’s eating you.

George, Barry, Marty, and Ken were all Jewish.

It’s funny how things work out for people. A bright start is no guarantee of a happy ending.

I hope George did not suffer.

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