Goth on Ice: Serious Progress on Backward Crossovers.

First to start with, I used Shotcut to put together two videos of me working backward crossovers. The first part is from my first practice after my instructor started me on them. The second is from this past Saturday’s practice. It shows just how much I’ve progressed in that two weeks.

In addition to those backward crossovers, I’ve been working on forward outside three turns:

And hockey stops:

The big trick about learning hockey stops, for me, was starting slo-o-o-o-o-w. Get the movement down, the 90 degree turn of the hips, legs, and feet, while leaving the upper body facing in direction of travel, and get the blades angled to scrape rather than catch. Once you have the basics down you can then start working on increasing speed. This shouldn’t have been a revelation since that’s how I learned snowplow and “T” stop.

In Sunday’s class, I had the great good fortune to work with Trevor, the “coach’s coach” at Indy Fuel Tank (where I skate). Trevor is the guy who was the coach for a number of the other coaches back when they were actively competing. We worked on forward outside edges in an “S” across the ice. Apparently, I had been doing the arm position incorrectly (at least according to Trevor). On the circle we’d always done “hug the circle”. That means the outside shoulder and arm is forward and the inside shoulder and arm are back. For Forward Outside Edge, Trevor had the inside arm forward and the outside arm slightly to the back but more to the side. Then, a quarter of the way around the circle you scissor arms and legs, bringing outside arm and leg forward and the inside arm back so you’re positioned, once halfway around the circle, to switch feet, push off, and start the next lobe of the “S”.

The way I’d been doing it, and this is proper as a build-up to forward crossovers.
How Trevor wanted us to do it. This video includes inside edges which we didn’t get to.

We also worked on crossovers. Trevor noted I was still pushing a bit too much to the back with my back leg and reminded me to push to the side, towards the outside of the turn. Then we got into backward crossovers. Now, while I am rather proud of the progress I made (and, I am told, rightfully so), there is still considerable work to be done. One thing was that when I pick up the back leg and bring it in, I was bringing it too far in. This leaves my feet rather “splayed” and reduces how much of a pump I can get on the front foot, reducing the power and speed I can get or alternately, requiring more effort for the same power and speed. His suggestion is to bring it back right next to the front foot to what he called a “neutral position.” To help me get there, he suggested that when I pick up the back foot, to just hold it there, hovering above the ice for a couple of seconds and just glide on the front foot (backward inside edge), then bring it around. By breaking it up into two separate motions I’m not whipping the foot around to catch balance and I can better control where I put it.

The other thing he suggested was that it looked like I was clenching my toes. Not that he could see my toes through the boots but the way I kept getting my weight too far forward and onto the toe picks did suggest that. I can see it. While whether my toes are clenched or not are not going to have a significant effect on the position of the blade on the ice and where my weight will fall on the blade, it will be symptomatic of other things going on with my muscles that will affect that. That was at the end of class so I didn’t get to try explicitly keeping my toes open and see what that does. Will have to try it next time I get to practice.

Speaking of practice, I’ve settled into a routine in how I do it, breaking up the time I have on the ice into several things. Basically, I do the basic roundy-rounds but every five minutes I do drills on something I’m particularly working on. I have three techniques that I’m focusing on and cycle through so each one gets exercised every fifteen minutes. A typical session goes something like this:

  • Start, do a couple of quick laps to warm up.
  • Circle to work on backward edges, twice around the circle for each of the four edges.
  • Roundy-rounds
  • Five minutes in, either hockey stop (get a slow, stable, two-foot glider, then stop, repeat for one lap of the rink) or forward outside three turn (on a curved line on the ice turn, go back the other way and turn, back and forth for a couple of minutes). I generally do the three-turns in “public skate” where they have standard bright lighting. During “cosmic skate” where they have the main lights off and “disco lighting” I’m not about to try three turns so I do hockey stops then.
  • Roundy Rounds
  • Ten minutes in, forward crossovers in the clockwise direction. (Get plenty of practice counter-clockwise in the roundy-rounds.)
  • Roundy Rounds
  • Fifteen minutes in, backward crossovers, three times around the circle in each direction.
  • Repeat until done for the day.

Fisking “14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism.”

So there was this:

As it happens, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the actual definition of Fascism. Fascism is a totalitarian political system with complete state control of every aspect of the economy and daily life and usually headed by a charismatic supreme dictator. The above is just a list of things that Marxists (whether cryptomarxist or actually “out”) want to complain about. But let’s take them one at a time.

  1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism. You think this is a characteristic of fascism? Does the Russian nationalism of the Soviet Union make them fascist? How about China? Oh, sure the Soviet Union was always on and on about “International Socialism” but when you look at their actions what they meant was “Russian Supremacy and Suzerainty over the world.” Their foreign policy was all about making others follow Russia’s lead (and that included the other “Republics” in the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”).
  2. Disdain for Human Rights. You mean rights like free speech, the ability to buy and sell property as one will, the ability to use ones property as one sees fit? Those kind of rights? How about the right to worship as one sees fit? How about the right to defend ones life against those who would do one harm and the right to the most effective tools for such defense. How about the right to liberty? Yeah, I see a lot of disdain for human rights but it’s not by those being labeled “fascist” by folk who share things like the above. No, it’s by people like the antifa apologist who shared that (where I got it). It’s people like antifa.
  3. Identifying of enemies as a unifying cause. “Capitalists.” “The One Percent.” “Zionists.” Oh, and, of course, labeling anybody you don’t like and want to demonize as “fascist.”
  4. Supremacy of the Military.
    You mean like this (note, that video is more than an hour long):

5. Rampant sexism. Perhaps you should define your terms? Is it sexism when one group makes choices that lead to different outcomes? (Example: a degree in social work, let alone feminist dance therapy, will generally lead to a lower income in the work force than one in electrical engineering. And yet, more women go into one field and more men into another.) Is it sexism that taking oneself out of the work force for an extended period means that one is going to end up behind folk who didn’t do that. (Even if the reason is to have children and raise a family.) Is it sexism that never married women who never had children average 17% more income then men in the same category? Also, have you actually looked at fascist and Nazi society. They were perfectly willing to put women to work right alongside the men for the greater good of the state. The “fascism is sexist” is just something folk have made up because it suits them to claim that about their political opponents.

6. Controlled mass media. Well, maybe, but one has to look at just who controls the mass media. Hint: it’s not the people being called “fascist” by Antifa & Co. And controlling the media isn’t particularly a fascist trait.

7. Obsession with National Security. See video above with the Red Square parades. Or see the arms buildups of places like China, Cuba, or any place else that is communist run. They are seriously concerned about their national security. It’s our national security they want to fall by the wayside, them and their willing quislings in our media and politics (including the antifa crowd. But, again, it’s not something that’s particularly a “fascist” trait.

8. Religion and government intertwined. Um, that’s…bizarre. Musollini (the inventor of fascism) wasn’t particularly religious. Neither was Hitler. Some of the Nazi ruling council was, but others were…different. We had some obsessed with the occult. Others, didn’t particularly care one way or another. Either would cynically use whatever tools could be used to direct the people in directions they wanted them to go, whether it’s insignia saying “Gott mit uns” or inventing a history making Germanic pagan myths a national identity, or making “Aryans” (a root from which we get the word “Iran”) as an ethnic heritage. None of it has anything to do with anyone’s real religious beliefs.

9. Corporate power protected. If by “protected” you mean “completely controlled by the state. As Mussolini said: “All within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the stated.” Businesses are centrailly controlled and “managed.” It’s a centrally planned economy. Exactly. The. Same. As. Socialism. The only difference, and it’s trivial in its importance, is that “on paper” ownership remains private. The control, and with it the real ownership is by the central government, exactly as it is in socialism. Fascism is simply a form of socialism, retaining a few fig-leafs of private ownership to pretend it’s otherwise.

10. Labor Power Suppressed. Well, strictly speaking, all power other than the State is suppressed, again exactly as it is in socialist/communist governments. Oh, sure, various promises are made going in, but the end result is the same either way: All within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state. They are all built on a foundation and structure of central planning and control.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts. Ask Solzhenitsyn how much disdain Communism had for his intellectual status and art (writing in his case). And as for fascist/nazi disdain for intellectuals, who, exactly put the first jet fighter into operation? Who put the first jet bomber? Who developed new techniques which utterly revolutionized warfare? The first guided missile? The first ballistic missile? Who declared “Today, the space ship is born”? The military art and science is as much an intellectual endeavor as any other. But, in addition, both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy engaged and used many artists and intellectuals. The ideologies demanded it But, like all totalitarian societies, they required that the intellectuals and the arts adhere to politically determined standards. Thus we had Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union, and the bizarre “science” behind China’s “Great Leap Forward” and Cambodia’s “Killing Fields.” The problem is not that fascists disdain intellectuals and the arts, but that in totalitarian regimes the arts and sciences are shackled to “political truth” with any dissent ruthlessly squelched. Note that disagreement (even wrong disagreement) is not “disdain. It is the testing of idea against idea where truth truly emerges. People need to be free to say “I think that’s wrong and here’s why” to which others can reply, “no, you’re wrong and here are the reasons.” People need to recognize that the science is never settled, that there’s always the possibility that some new bit of information might come to light which sets everything we thought we knew on its ear (like two guys in Columbus, named Michelson and Morley, did with classical physics). Truth, real truth, will out in an environment of intellectual freedom. Suppressing ideas and thoughts and beliefs because “those guys are wrong” or worse, by challenging the presumed motives of someone making an argument rather than the content of the argument itself.

It’s not the presumed “fascists”, by and large, who are doing all that, but the supposed “anti-fascists” themselves.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Um, you think that’s a fascist trait? Have you actually looked at other even reasonably well developed societies, let alone the prisons and gulags of communist societies? All societies have penalties attached to those who break the rules. Thomas Sowell notes that a lot of the rise in crime, in victimization of people, in the US, can be traced to a move away from punishment to hair-brained schemes for “rehabilitation.” This is not to say that rehabilitation is impossible but basing it on wishful thinking rather than hard reality is a recipe for failure. In any case, “obsession with crime and punishment is hardly a fascist trait.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Okay, this is just ridiculous. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, with more cronyism and corruption than communist/socialist countries unless it might possibly be third world hellholes. The problems of fascist societies is less the corruption (except that a certain amount of corruption is necessary to work around the nascent disaster that any centrally planned economy will requrie) than it is the top down planning itself that, invariably, will create a mess that people will have to find “creative means” (i.e. corruption in the technical sense) to try to work around. See “The Nail” for why that might be.

14. Fraudulent Elections: Fraud by mail. Early Frauding. Same day register to Fraud and Fraud. The people caught voting multiple times have been, by and large, folk on the Left, not the folk antifa & co call “nazis” or “fascists.” No, what they object to are attempts to institute policies to prevent such fraud. Seems to me that what’s going on here is:

So some of these things are fairly broad in civilizations in general. Some are common to totalitarian societies of all stripes (fascist or otherwise) and generally accused by folk like antifa against folk to whom they don’t apply. None of them–not one–is specific to fascism.

If anything it’s groups like Antifa and BLM that meet the real definition of fascism–All within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state.

In the end, it really looks like “Antifa” is rather “ante-fa”–“ante fascist”, as in “preparing the way for.” They certainly aren’t fighting “fascists.” Bluntly, calling anyone who advocates smaller, less intrusive government and for more personal and economic freedom “fascist” requires a special kind of stupid.

But that’s something in which “antifa” seems to excel.

Money Supply in the Economy

I’ve talked about inflation and I’ve talked about deflation, two problems that arise from an imbalance between the money supply and the economic output (amount of goods and services produced) in a society.

At first blush it seems like it would be simple to keep the money supply and economic output balanced. You just keep a watch on what the economic output is doing and you print that many dollar bills (or stamp that many coins, or whatever). The government can increase the money supply by simply printing more or even more easily by simply making entries in computer records, however, as is often the case with economics, the reality is far, far more complicated.

First, you have to consider what money is. Put simply, money is whatever serves as an accepted medium of exchange in the sale and purchase of goods and services. It’s not a good or service itself. It’s certainly not wealth. After all, a person with a fifty trillion Deutschmark note in the 1923 Weimar Republic could buy less with that than a person with a 1000 Deutschmark note in 1910 (say). Money is not wealth. What you can buy with it is wealth.

One thing about this definition is that you can readily see that a lot of things other than just official currency serves as money from an economic perspective. Letters of credit. Checks. Banknotes. Even old-fashioned “company scrip”. All of those things count as “money” from an economic perspective.

So, just looking at the various things that can act adds complication to the idea of “money supply.” Let’s take a look at a particular example.

Back in the day when money was precious metals, chiefly gold, anyone with a supply of money (gold) would need to provide security to keep it safe from thieves. They would, perhaps, have to have some kind of strongbox, perhaps guards. Those cost. Indeed, the guards can be quite expensive since the temptation for them to take the gold themselves so you have to pay them enough to make the risk-reward for guarding your gold for you look better than the risk-reward for absconding with your gold themselves. You can soon end up spending all your gold just providing protection for the gold. “There has to be a better way,” you think.

What you can do is find someone who also has a lot of gold to guard. Since they already have guards, a strongbox, what have you to protect their own gold. They aren’t going to do that for free (just yet anyway: we’ll get to that in a moment) since your gold will take up space in their strongbox and having more gold means they’re a more attractive target for thieves so maybe they have to add an extra guard. Still, it’s cheaper for them to add capacity to what they already have than it is for you to build a new capacity from scratch so what they charge you to hold your gold for safekeeping is less than you’d have to spend to provide equivalent security yourself. And, once you add in not only your gold but other people’s gold, each individual’s cost to provide the security becomes quite modest. So, you hand over your gold and get a receipt saying how much you have on deposit. It’s a lot easier to provide security for that receipt than it is for the gold that it says you have. Winning all around.

That’s all well and good. Your gold is safe and you have a piece of paper (or parchment, or papyrus, or clay tablet, or carved piece of stone…whatever) that says how much gold you have on deposit. Now here’s the thing. You can use that piece of paper (parchment, papyrus,…) itself as a medium of exchange. After all, somebody can take that and go get the gold it represents from the gold guard company (let’s use a modern term and call it a bank). Even more, you can write a note saying “give this guy this much of my gold” and, so long as you have an appropriate agreement with the bank, they’ll give them that gold. This note now becomes money in the economic sense.

But what about the gold sitting there in the bank? It’s just sitting there but it doesn’t have to. The banker can take part of that gold and loan it to others at interest and use it to get even more gold. This puts the gold back in circulation as money (perhaps to be deposited by others into this, or another, bank). The banker can do this so long as not everyone who has their gold in the bank comes and demands it all as once. Indeed, the banker can end up getting enough money for interest from loans to stop charging people for storing their gold. More, the banker might divide up some of the interest he receives from those loans among folk who keep their gold in his vault to encourage them to encourage people to put and keep their gold there so the banker has more gold to lend, gaining more in interest.

So now you have the same gold being represented twice in the economy, both as the gold itself, loaned out by the bank. That’s an increase in the net money supply. The same principle applies to anything that can be freely traded that stands as a proxy for value for other things.

Note that I said above “so long as not everyone who has their gold in the bank comes and demands it all at once.” Well, when that does happen, then bad things happen. The first people to demand the gold, get it, of course. But soon enough the gold runs out (because much of it has been loaned out) and the folk who come later find the vaults empty. This has several bad effects. One thing that happens is all those “receipts” and notes end up being worthless. The extra money supply caused by counting the same gold twice (once in terms of the receipts/notes and once in being loaned out) vanishes. The money supply contracts drastically, and deflation ensues.

Another factor that can reduce the money supply is foreign trade. When people in the US (since I’m in the US, I’ll use it as the example) buy foreign goods, with US dollars, the result is that folk in the US have goods and services. Folk in the other country have US dollars. Temporarily, at least, those dollars are out of circulation in the US reducing the money supply in the US. Now, normally, those dollars aren’t any good to the foreign individuals themselves. You can’t eat them. They don’t provide transportation. They make horrible clothing. So, those foreigners generally want to either spend or invest them which brings them back into the US economy. However, sometimes a nation will, for reasons of its own, want to accumulate US funds and hold onto it for an extended period (usually banking on the US economy remaining more stable in times of global uncertainty). The result is, again, a reduction in the money supply and deflation.

The same thing I just described can also apply to individuals who hold onto cash with no intent to invest or spend it. And by “hold onto cash” I mean stuff it into a mattress or fill a swimming pool with gold coins (a la Scrooge McDuck). Putting it in the bank or any kind of investment account does not count, as I have just illustrated above.

“They’re hoarding cash” some say.
“How?”
“By putting it in the bank and not spending it.”
“But the bank then turns around and lends it…that’s what banks do and how they make their money.”

Where things get “interesting” is when you have both inflation and deflation at the same time. You have some forces busily increasing the money supply (the Federal Reserve Board and Quantitative Easing as an example) while other forces are busily decreasing it (foreign acquisition of cash). The twin forces can keep an uneasy balance and look like stable economic growth but it’s anything but stable. Sooner or later those folk holding onto cash (and not investing or depositing it) will want to do something with it. If not the individual miser with a mattress full of bills, then said miser’s heirs. And that will mean a sudden influx of cash into the economy. And while an individual miser is unlikely to have accumulated enough uninvested cash to significantly effect the US economy, a foreign government is a different matter entirely. And so the inflation from increasing the money supply faster than the growth of economic output is not eliminated, just deferred.

These are just some of the reasons why “money supply” is a far more complicated problem than many people realize and that attempts to “tune” the economy by manipulating monetary policy can easily backfire. Better, I think, to have a stable monetary policy, say a fixed percentage rate of addition to the money supply annually. (The late Milton Friedman advocated such a policy called a “k-percent rule”).

You’ll still get economic ups and downs, but you won’t add to them by attempts to “fix” them that backfire.

Deflation

Previously, I have talked about inflation, what causes it and why it’s bad. Most people intuitively grasp the problem with inflation, particularly when it’s rapid. Prices are higher. Everything costs more. And because pay tends to lag prices, you end up being able to afford less of the things you want.

Deflation is the flip side of that coin. Now, it’s tempting to think that if inflation is bad, that deflation must be good. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.

Remember what I said earlier that inflation was what happens when money supply grows faster than economic output (the production of goods and services)? Deflation is the reverse. Money supply gets smaller relative to economic output.

What happens when the money supply shrinks (or economic output grows faster than money supply)? Well, in inflation, a growth in money supply mean people buy more stuff, retailers order more from wholesalers, who order more from manufacturers, who end up wanting to ramp production and so bid up the price of raw materials (including labor), and then the prices work their way down the chain. This process can masquerade as economic growth. But prices catch up and in the end you have the same goods and services, the same real wealth, being produced, just at a higher price point.

Deflation works the other way. People and businesses have less money. They buy less stuff. Retailers order less from wholesalers, wholesalers buy less from manufacturers. Manufacturers have less need of raw materials, including labor. Producers of raw materials can’t sell so they end up being forced to reduce prices in order to recoup anything. If allowed to run its course, you, again, end up with the same goods and services, just at a lower price point.

There are two problems, however. One is the time taken to run its course. Time matters, particularly with things like credit and debt and on things that require considerable time between when expenses are incurred and when returns are received. Consider a couple of examples.

Few people are able to buy a home outright. Most have to take a mortgage, a long term loan with the house as collateral. In a deflationary economy, the income of the person holding the mortgage falls. The mortgage payments, however, are based on the pre-deflation value of money. So the mortgage payments become a larger portion of the homeowner’s income. And since that income is a “scarce resource that has alternative uses” the other things the person could have done with that income–new shoes, the kid’s braces, dance lessons, nicer meals, whatever–must fall by the wayside. In some more marginal cases, the homeowner will end up defaulting on the mortgage losing the house. All of this means a reduced standard of living for the people in the economy. If the deflation rate is small, this effect will be modest and, perhaps, not even noticed. Things won’t be quite as prosperous as they would otherwise have been but people are rarely very good at judging how prosperous they would have been and so the negative effects of deflation remain unmarked.

Another example is farming. Farms are an excellent case of the time lag between the inputs–seed, water, land, fertilizer, all the myriad activities involved in producing and raising a crop–and getting the crop to market. This can be enough time for deflation to reduce the sale price of the crop relative to the cost of producing it. The costs are at pre-deflation prices while the crop sells at post-deflation prices. The result is less money in the farmer’s hands at the end of the year. And, again, in some marginal cases the farms fail. The farmers go bankrupt and are no longer able to continue. However, that cannot continue too far because people still need to eat. And so prices on food don’t fall quite as much as other prices because, since people do still need to eat, resources (in this case people’s spending money) will be shifted from other things to food. Food will become relatively more expensive meaning, once again (“scarce resources that have alternative uses”) people will have less to spend on other nice things they want.

In addition, the farms that will be better able to survive the deflationary times will be the more economically efficient ones–generally the big agribusinesses. The small family farms tend to be more economically marginal and will be the hardest hit.

These examples illustrate the problem which will be echoed all up and down the economy in greater or lesser magnitude.

The problem is made worse by many attempts to mitigate the problems of deflation. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 caused a major contraction in the money supply. Businesses, right along with everyone else, did not have cash to spend. They had to reduce costs. The problem was there was strong government pressure starting with the Hoover administration to keep wages at pre-deflationary wages. The result was rapidly rising unemployment that turned what could have been a simple, albeit large, economic correction into The Great Depression.

Both inflation and deflation cause harm to the economy. When the rates, whether of inflation or deflation, are small, the harm is usually small enough to be ignored, generally expressing in the form of somewhat reduced economic growth. What matters most is a stable money supply that grows at close to growth in economic output. Vary much from that in either direction and things get bad.

It’s like walking a tightrope without being able to see the rope.

My Life Part 11: Friends and Neighbors, (and a Budding pyromaniac?)

This is a “catch up” on some things I have recalled that are part of earlier “parts.” A lot of old memories are coming back to me as I put these together.

When we were living in the pink house on Greenwood drive, my mother shared the house for a while with another single mother who had two daughters. One of them was about my age, the other younger, probably about my sister’s age or maybe a little younger. We spent a lot of time together, the four of us, roaming the neighborhood, particularly the huge field back behind the house (now a housing development).

We had a neighbor around the corner and down the street that we were also friends with. They had a swing set in their back yard. (We would get one in ours some time later.) Once, one group of friends and I had a “falling out” with that particular friend (I’m sorry, but I have no clue about names at this late date). So, when they weren’t home the group went over and did some minor “vandalism” of the swing set. We disconnected the seats. I tried to “tangle” the chains for the swings. “I’m good at tangling things” I said. Of course I couldn’t tangle the chains when I wanted to so I ended up just winding the chains around the top bar of the set.

I don’t know what the issue was, why we were on the outs on that particular day but we were all friends again before too much longer.

Eventually the other mother and her daughters moved out. For a while, it ws just the three of us, my mother, my sister, and me.

Halloween came during this time. My sister and I were strictly enjoined by mother to only go to the houses on either side of us. We managed, however, to cajole the babysitter (mother had to work that night) to let us roam a little farther so long as we didn’t cross the street. We were good. We didn’t. Once we came back, I helped give out candy to kids who came to our door. In time, we ran out. So, wanting to be helpful, I started handing out candy from my own haul so the kids coming to our door could get something. As you can imagine, that didn’t stretch far and to try to make it last and give something to everyone who came, I, well, I would drop a single piece of candy corn (Hey, say what you will but I liked candy corn) into a trick-or-treater’s bag. The babysitter thought this was hilarious when she related the story to my mother.

To this day, I buy lots of candy to hand out on Halloween–and note that I can’t eat it myself. It’s really my favorite part of the holiday.

When mother married Bruce, he set up his ham radio station in the house. Part of that was an antenna on a mast. One of the guy wires for the mast was secured to our swingset. I remember while climbing on the swingset (just swing? In the seats? Are you mad?) I touched the guy wire and received a mild electric shock. Just a light “buzz”, nothing dangerous or even painful. I only mention it here because the memory is quite vivid. I’m not sure why there was a current through that wire. There shouldn’t have been.

Also about this time I developed a fascination with fire. I would often steal a pack of matches and light them just to watch them burn. Sometimes I would use them to light small fires which I would then quickly stamp out.

Time passed and we moved up the street to the new house. One day, at school, while I was still in first grade, while hiding it behind my desk I lit a match intending to watch it burn for a second then shake it out. Only I dropped it. Into my desk. The contents went up like a Roman candle. End result was that I got in serious trouble but that did not end my fascination with fire. It just meant that I was more careful about where I lit fires–just not careful enough, not yet, as we will see.

At the same school, I had a friend in class who I found in the back sitting with a girl and trying with…something, I don’t remember what…to make a small cut on his arm. He said they were trying to become “blood brothers.” You know the old thing in the movies where two people cut themselves and press the cuts together with some degree of ritual to swear that they are brothers? On reflection I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t just a made up excuse and, well, as someone who has suffered from lifelong depression starting from a relatively young age, I wonder if he weren’t getting a head start on my own issues.

But, I didn’t realize that possibility then and so I decided to “help” them. I had heard that a razor blade can cut painlessly. Later, when I started shaving, I learned how…incorrect…that claim was. Sure, under some circumstances you can nick yourself and not even notice until you see the blood or when soap and water gets into the cut and starts to sting, but mostly it hurts. May only hurt a little bit, but it hurts. So I went into the bathroom and stole one of Bruce’s razor blades. (He used a double sided safety razor, very common in that era.) I stuck the blade in my pocket.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

I was out and about, visiting friends and, without thinking, I stuck my hand in my pocket. Oh, yeah. Blood everywhere. And yes, it hurt. The neighbors were great. They got the wounds (several fingers were involved) cleaned, painted with Mercurochrome (the antiseptic of choice at the time, much less painful than rival tincture of iodine) and bandaged. They didn’t give me the well-deserved mocking for my silly “it cuts painlessly”, simply pointed out that perhaps I should rethink that position.

I graduated first grade and went into 2nd (See “The Teacher Bitch and One Small Step“). Remember a bit ago I mentioned that fascination with fire? Well, I still had it. I still would steal matchbooks and light small fires which I would quickly stamp out. Well, one day, things went awry.

I was with a somewhat younger friend, up the street a bit from where I lived. We were kind of in a back area between houses. There was a chain link fence separating the yard we were in from the yard of the house behind. There was a raised bed on both sides of the fence which was full of dry leaves.

Again, I think you can see where this is going.

I wanted to show my friend how I could start a fire and stomp it out. I lit a match, ignited a couple of leaves at the edge of the raised area and…the fire spread too fast for me to stomp it out. It crossed the fence and was heading toward the tree. My younger friend ran towards the houses screaming “fire!” I just ran. This was not exactly my proudest moment. Ever since then, I have been scrupulous about fire safety. So call it being a stupid young kid having a learning experience.

Later, at the houses on Garfield Ave I had a friend who lived with extended family up the street, big house with a big yard on the corner. We never played at his house. Part of that was that they had two dogs chained up in the back yard, one a German Shepherd, the other, I think a Bulldog in a black and white pattern very similar to that typical for a Boston Terrier. Neither of these dogs were “family pets.” They were completely unsocialized and downright vicious.

One day the bulldog got loose. I was on the porch playing with something, toy cars maybe? when this dog suddenly came over the side of the porch barking and biting. I got bitten several times as I backed toward the front door of the house screaming for mother. She came out and managed to drive the dog off then got me cleaned up and taken to the emergency room. No stitches, just cleaning and bandaging and a tetanus shot. The dog, apparently had been vaccinated against rabies so there was certainly that. However the owners of the dog, despite early protestations that they would, refused to pay the out-of-pocket for the ER visit. I don’t know why my mother and/or Bruce never sued, perhaps the cost of a suit would have been more than they could have expected to recover. I don’t know. But nothing ever came of it.

The owners of the bulldog were part of that “extended family”. This issue with the dog didn’t come between me and my friend. My friend had an…active imagination let us say. One day he told me that he was actually an Indian (as in Indigenous American People). He offered to make me a “blood brother.” Well, we didn’t have a knife, not a sharp one (and see above about the incident with the razor blade, so I wasn’t about to try to steal one of those). Well, after much figuring I scratched open a small scab and got it to bleed. I was a very active boy and pretty much always had a few nicks and cuts in various stages of healing. He scratched at a spot on his arm and claimed he’d got it bleeding. I didn’t see a bit of blood, but he said that I wouldn’t because “Indian magic.” So I pressed my bleeding spot to his “bleeding” spot and wouldn’t you know it, when we separated, I could see blood on his arm “proving” that I was now part Indian too.

Yeah, I was pretty gullible as a ten or eleven year old. Part of that was that I wanted so very much for it to be true. This convincing myself that I was now “part Indian” would come into play in the next couple of years.

Uncle Denny had a lightweight recurve bow. Maybe 20-25 lb pul. I had, in the past, tried to make “bows and arrows” from sticks where the bows were little teeny things that you could maybe pll back to your elbow at most. Seeing Denny’s it finally clicked the actual size they would need to be. In the years to follow I’d develop an interest in archery and, somehow–I’m not quite sure how–I ended up “inheriting” Denny’s bow.

And that’s the high points that I missed in previous segments. More to come.

Myths about Libertarianism and Libertarians

There are a lot of myths out there about libertarians and libertarianism. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of people, with a lot of different views, who go by the name “libertarian”. A lot of those myths can be summed up in the Bastiat quote up above.

For a lot of these myths, you’ll probably find someone, even a lot of someones who fit the “myth” so this is more a matter of general principles.

Myth One: Libertarians want poor people to starve.

Libertarians tend to be opposed to government welfare programs. This is usually interpreted to mean that they just don’t care about poor people, and indeed, are perfectly happy with people starving in the streets.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Libertarians want everyone to be able to live happy, prosperous lives. And most are very much concerned with the plight of the poor. Where they differ from those who make the above accusation is that they don’t believe government is the best, or even a particularly good, way of “helping” the poor. Government, like any other bureaucracy, is subject to the Iron Law (Iron Law: No Exceptions). The bureaucrats who will take charge, write the procedures, and control promotions within any bureaucracy dedicated to helping the poor will be those dedicated not to helping the poor, but dedicated to the bureaucracy itself. It will happen every time. And when it’s government there’s not generally competition to help keep a close match between “dedicated to the organization” and “dedicated to the goals of the organization. And being government, and thus having force of law to provide its funding, they don’t have to be beholden to donors being satisfied that the organization is effectively accomplishing its goals.

Libertarians, in general, are among the kindest and most generous people when they believe someone actually needs help. A friend of mine, who self-describes as “an anarchist of the bomb throwing variety” (and is not far off–he makes me look like a moderate) was there with considerable help available when I was in a bind where I needed moral and physical support. It’s not a situation I’m entirely free to talk about, but he was there for me where folk talking a lot about government “compassion” simply were not.

So, no, Libertarians to not want poor people to starve. They want a strong, healthy economy that spreads prosperity, where anyone who’s willing to work for it can at least provide a comfortable living. And when someone, through no fault of their own (or even as the culmination of errors they made, but are trying to get out of and do better going forward) they will bend over backward to help. They don’t need government to extend a helping hand. It’s just who they are.

On the other hand when somebody continually screws up, relies on others to bail them out, then screws up again, repeatedly, then maybe the best way to “help” them is to let them experience the full consequences of their pattern behavior to give them the motivation to make the changes they need to make to get out of the rut they’re in. As Samuel Johnson said, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully” often paraphrased as “The prospect of education concentrates the mind wonderfully.” Now, “execution” might be a bit much, but a pinch of hunger or wondering where one is going to sleep might be a different matter. But taking away the negative consequences of bad behaviors removes the incentive to learn better behaviors.

Those, however, who can’t do better however, who are doing the best they can in a situation beyond their control? Again, most libertarians I know will bend over backward to help them. They just want to be able to decide the help goes to those and situations they agree with.

Myth Two: Libertarians are just Conservatives who want to Smoke Dope

Okay, there’s some truth to this, not because it’s libertarian philosophy but because of two reasons. One is that Conservatism itself (as outlined in Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Concervative”–yes, I am told it was ghost written, but he put his name on it giving his “seal of approval” as it was to it) is pretty libertarian. This is not to say that the Republican Party is libertarian, far from it, for it encompasses a broad spectrum of beliefs and positions–that Mitt Romney and Rand Paul could both be part of the same party illustrates that.

The other reason is a corollary to Niven’s Law: There is no cause so right that you won’t find fools following it for foolish reasons (often described prosaicly as “there is no cause so right it won’t attract fuggheads”). The corollary is that in addition to the stupid, even the most “right” of causes will attract its scoundrels and ill-workers. There are some people out there who are not really “conservative”, let alone libertarian, who are “there ought to be a law” types (the particular anti-liberty view of the right), who nevertheless want their weed and see libertarianism as a way to get it.

In libertarianism, you own yourself. If you want to screw up your own life and body with what are currently illicit drugs (or legal ones like alcohol and tobacco), that’s on you. As long as you’re willing to accept the consequences of doing so as also being on you (not expecting me, at gunpoint which also means by government force, to protect you from the consequences of your choices), then the choice should be yours.

However, we run into a lot of people who are quite content to ban this, prohibit that, restrict this other thing (all choices that should, per libertarian principles, be individual choice), but they want their weed and see libertarianism as a possible way to get it.

One might claim I’m using “No True Scotsman” here but words. have. meanings. Libertarianism is a philosophy. A person who picks one tiny little piece of it but doesn’t hold to any of the rest of it is not a libertarian (they may be a Libertarian, as in a member of the Libertarian party, but I’ve largely decided Libertarian is no longer, if it ever was, libertarian).

Myth Three: Libertarians are just Leftists who want guns.

See above. Everything I said about “Libertarians are conservatives who just want weed.” applies here. In this case it’s Leftists who are all “goodies that other people pay for” (the particular anti-left view of the Left–yes both Left and Right do both, but this is predominantly a Leftist issue) but they want their guns, dammit, and see libertarianism as a way to accomplish that.

Myth Four: We Hate the Government

Once again, there is a slight degree of truth to this. “Libertarian” covers a broad range. There are some who think the government, or more specifically the “State” (although the difference between the two appears to be a bit fuzzy, “State” often simply means whatever they don’t like about government) should be completely eliminated. Others recognize that this is, in fact, completely unachievable. Whenever you have a group of people willing and able to organize to impose their will on others, you have government. And, barring a complete rewriting of human nature there will always be some who are willing. With some willing, the only way to stop them is to likewise organize in opposition, to form a government of ones own.

Government will be. There really is no way short of that rewriting of human nature to make it completely vanish. Thus, most libertarians, in my experience, are less of an “anarchist” variety than of the “minarchist” version–reduce government to its minimum, necessary level, restrict its function to that bare minimum necessary to keep others from imposing force upon the population at large and, thus, maximize liberty. I have argued elsewhere that government exhibits the property of “hormesis”–toxic to the principle of liberty in large doses but actually beneficial in carefully controlled, limited realms.

Libertarians, for the most part, don’t want to completely eliminate government, but to restrict it so that it furthers, rather than opposes, the cause of human liberty.

Myth Five: We Don’t Want Anyone to get Healthcare.

This is similar to the problem of Myth One. Libertarians want people to have affordable, widely available, healthcare. However, we point out that government, generally speaking, is truly awful when it comes to providing healthcare. I have talked in the past about Socialized Medicine and the troubles it has (compared to a more free-enterprise approach).

Look, simply declaring something a “right” does not make it immune to the economic principle of scarcity, that there’s never enough of anything to satisfy everyone who wants it. There will always be rationing. It might be rationing by prices. It might be the State deciding that you will not be saved. But it will happen.

The simple truth is that the idea of government providing healthcare scares the willies out of most Libertarians. Some faceless bureaucrat, subject to the Iron Law (mentioned above) decides who does, and who does not, get healthcare. IF that doesn’t scare you, it should. In a private, free-enterprise, system, one can at least attempt to find alternate funding, someone willing to do charitable work on their behalf, or in extremis to use bankruptcy to get out from under medical debt. People forget that bankruptcy, is not a punishment but a fresh start. Yes, it takes time to rebuild credit after a bankruptcy but it reduces debts to manageable levels and gets you out from under them.

It takes the State to say “no, you won’t be treated here, and we’ll prevent you from seeking alternatives.”

The other factor is that free enterprise and the profit motive encourages medical innovation. It’s no coincidence that the US, despite a lot of government interference in its medical system, is both the “freest” system in the world and also the one that produces the most new medicines, no treatments, and all the way up to the most Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology (as many as the next ten nations combined).

Libertarians want the best possible healthcare not just for ourselves but for those to come after us. And so we promote the system that produces the most advances in the state of Medical Science, by a huge margin over everyone else: Freedom.

Myth Six: Libertarians want to get rid of the Police and Military

What I said above about government? That applies here. Police to help keep local crime in check and a military to ward off attempts by other nations to come here and take what we’ve got (and especially take our liberty) actually serve the cause of liberty. Both, however, can be extended far beyond their valid roles in serving the cause of human freedom so the wise libertarian, far from wanting their abolition, instead seeks to limit their size and scope to proper bounds.

This is actually to the advantage of both police and military as limiting their scope and roll both reduces the need of each to go “in harms way” but also reduces their conflicts with the citizenry at large. “Officer Friendly” working with the community to help keep it safe from internal predators, and “GI Joe” standing between his beloved nation and those who seek to do it harm are generally loved by their communities. The JBT intent on imposing arbitrary and multitudinous (and often self-contradictory) rules while attempting to cow the populace and a Grande Armee intent on extending national rule abroad can be as despised by their fellow citizens as by the so-called “enemies” they face.

Mind you the latter can be quite complicated. Do third parties attacking our merchants, simply seeking to do business to mutually acceptable terms, justify using military force (the example of the Barbary Pirates comes to mind)? That is a question for philosophers of liberty to debate. I have my own view. (I am in favor–so long as the merchants are going business peacefully, even in if being shrewd, sharp businessmen, then attacks on them are attacks on us). If a nation decides not to do business with our merchants, that’s fine, their choice. If some third party decides to interfere with our merchants going business with a nation that is willing to do business, and do so militarily? Send in the marines.

Myth Seven: Libertarians Want Completely Open Borders

Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to this, but that’s more a matter of the Libertarian Party (big “L”) rather than individual libertarians. Yeah, there are some who, naively thinking that a desire for liberty is a universal human trait, believe that being in favor of liberty also means that we must accept anyone who wants to come here for any reason.

Sadly, however, most people simply are not all that in favor of liberty. Oh, they may want the “liberty” to do the things they want to do, but those other people? How can you possibly conscience something so obviously wrong?

Like it or not, we have a representative government in the US. And as a representative government, it will be swayed, slowly, and often imperfectly, by the aggregate desires of the people represented. People complain about Congress. But the problem is not Congress. It’s the people who keep sending those folk to Congress. The people in Congress make the decisions, promote the policies, that they do because that is what plays well to the people who send them to congress. If the people sending them to Congress wanted different things, those politicians would promote those things instead. If they didn’t, they’d be replaced by someone who would. As the late Milton Friedman said, “The way you change things is not by electing the right people. It’s nice to elect the right people, but that’s not the way you change things. No, the way you change things is by creating a climate of opinion so that it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.”

A lot, “most” I would venture to say, of the people who come to the US, particularly those who come illegally, are not seeking Liberty, not as libertarians view the term. They may come seeking to do what they want, but don’t, generally, extend that to people who want, and believe, other things. They might not be actively opposed to liberty in others, but they don’t support it either. And there are plenty who are actively opposed to the concept of liberty.

Note that in most of the world, through most of history (the US Revolution is very nearly unique in being an exception) revolutions were not to overthrow tyranny to establish a free society. No, they were to overthrow “their” tyrant to install “our” tyrant instead.

The simple truth is, in a representative government you cannot keep importing people who don’t believe in the ideal of liberty and keep a free society. In an ideal world one could simply let people come who choose to come and trust in our own ability to demonstrate the value of liberty to convince at least the majority of those coming (if not them, then their children) that a free society is vastly preferable to other forms. Sadly, we do not live in that ideal world. Entirely too many of our own, native-born individuals and institutions are opposed to the idea of liberty and, thus, importing a great many others also so opposed is to simply bring about the end to liberty in our nation.

Myth Eight: The Libertarian (Big-“L”) Party Represents all libertarians (small-“l”)

Sorry, but it doesn’t. I’ve alluded to this above. The Libertarian Party represents only a tiny fraction of people holding libertarian views and, frankly, has gone oddly astray in recent years. The 2016 Presidential slate was particularly egregious in that regard. Gary Johnson, the Presidential candidate, went on record claiming that it was proper for government to force a baker to custom bake and lend his artistic skill to decorating a cake for a cause that he was morally opposed to. (Full disclosure: I have been pro “marriage equality” for, literally, decades.) The actual libertarian view would be to note that absent government force, a bake deciding not to bake a cake for a particular customer is simply a business opportunity for someone willing to do so. (The problem with the Jim Crow laws was less that businesses discriminated, than that the law required them to discriminate.) After all, somebody will be willing to take that person’s money. It spends just as well as someone else’s. Worse, his running mate Bill Weld, was all about banning certain classes of firearms from private ownership. Neither were actually “libertarian” views. Yet both of these men gained the nod from the “Libertarian” party.

A lot of libertarians, myself included, were disgusted by that.

Myth Nine: Libertarianism Means no Roads

Okay, can we put this one to rest? Traders were laying out, improving, and building roads long before any governments were involved. It is true that governments have certainly been big about road building. That was one of the “peacetime” activities of the Roman Legions back in the day.

And, yes, a libertarian argument can be made for using government to build roads. In other posts I’ve talked about “external costs”, that is costs imposed on parties other than those that are party to a particular transaction, and how that can be an area where government can, with advantage, intervene (however, just because government can intervene with advantage doesn’t mean that government won’t end up fouling it up even worse; considerable care must be exercised). The flip side of that is “external benefits”, benefits received by those other than the parties to a transaction. You will generally end up with more of something that has large external costs than you would have if all the costs were paid by the parties to the transaction. Similarly, you will generally get less of something with large external benefits than you would have if everyone paid for the benefit they received.

Roads are something with large external benefits. A business might build a road to a concentration of customer because it benefits from the access to markets. It can adjust its prices so that the customers end up paying for the road that made more goods and services available to them. However, once the road is there, other people are more than willing, more than able, to use it. They receive benefits for which they do not pay. If they did, then more roads could, would, be built, carrying more goods and services to more people in more places. This would benefit far more people. The use of tolls can help tie the benefit to the cost, but only imperfectly–a truck carrying expensive electronics gains more benefit, in terms of profitability, than one carrying cabbages. Assigning tolls based on the actual benefit to users of the road becomes a particular challenge.

Thus, roads is an area where government can intervene with advantage, where some form of government power can produce results to advantage over the free market. However, as economist Thomas Sowell is wont to say, just because the government can exceed the free market doesn’t mean that it will. Thus, arguments about roads and other items must be looked at with an extremely jaded eye, and a ready hand to curb government intervention at the slightest provaation.

This is a libertarian view.

Myth Ten: Everybody is Really a Libertarian

Okay, this one is actually a fallacy presented mostly by the Libertarian Party. You see it in highly slanted “political position tests” which are designed so that the vast majority of people, regardless of their actual overall position on politics will choose “reasonable” answers which “prove” that they’re really “libertarian.”

The blunt truth is, most people are addicted to some combination of two anti-liberty propositions:

  • There ought to be a law. This thing that I don’t like should be prohibited and government, with force, should stop people doing it.
  • Goodies that other people pay for. I (or someone else) am entitled to this stuff/benefit and government, with force, should collect the resources from others to provide it to me (or the someone else).

Libertarianism really cannot begin to make headway until they/we recognize this and start working at the bottom end. It’s not Presidential candidates we need. It’s convincing more people that what other people do is not our business to interfere with (less “there ought to be a law”) and that voluntary compassion is better than government mandated theft and redistribution combined with the overall economic improvement that comes with economic freedom (less “goodies that other people pay for”) is better for everybody.

Entirely too many “Libertarians” are more interested in virtue signaling how “pure” and “no compromise” they are than in actually advancing the cause of human freedom.

And that, perhaps, is the biggest myth of all.

Be Excellent to Each Other

I have, of late, become something of a fan of Keanu Reeves, not the actor so much as the human being. Every story I’ve heard about him. Every. Single. One. Demonstrates that he’s just a kind and compassionate human being.

Well, as a result of that I finally (finally) watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I didn’t watch it when it first came out because, well, I had a stick up my ass when I was younger. I didn’t care for the kind of music that was being used to promote it (this was before my “musical awakening” so it’s no great surprise). And, well, it just did not look interesting to me.

That was then. I just finished watching it (yesterday evening as this posts) and it. was. awesome.

No, let me rephrase that. It was excellent.

But I had a thought about it. In their future world, as “silly” as it might seem, the “philosophy” they took from Bill & Ted was summed up in two things:

  • Be Excellent to Each Other
  • Party on, Dudes.

It seems like silly, 80’s corn but if you think about it a moment and interpret “Party on, dudes” as something like “Enjoy life as it comes” and, well, that’s not a bad philosophy for life. Be excellent to each other. Treat each other well. And while you’re doing that, focus on the good. Take the time to enjoy what you have. Life, to a large extent, is what you make it. And while some ascetics will object to the whole idea of taking pleasure in things, believing that life must be full of suffering and angst if it’s to be “moral”, I do not think that there’s any shame, any crime, any sin in taking joy in life, provided that you don’t do harm to others in the process. That, however, is covered in “be excellent to each other.”

Indeed, when looked at that way it, frankly, is a better philosophy of life than has come from the pens of many people considered great philosophers and moral thinkers. Mind you, there is a great veil of uncertainty in what truly constitutes being “excellent” to someone else. Aiding someone in pursuit of self-destructive behaviors may be what they want, but is it what they need? Feeding into someone’s addiction, say, is that truly being “excellent” to them?

And yet, is it any better to let a man starve because the root of his inability to procure food is because of an addiction? By refusing to “help” them from belief that it just encourages them in self-destructive behaviors. And sometimes that is the truth. It can be hard to determine what “be excellent to each other” truly means in a given situation.

All we can do is do our best. Make the best choices we can and hope that, somehow, our best will be good enough.

Several times in the past I saw someone with a sign “will work for food.” I had offered them work in which I would feed them, allow them access to my washer and dryer (so they could clean their clothes), access to a shower. And a few bucks of cash on top of it.

Every time, I was turned down.

They didn’t want to “work for food.” That was just words on a sign. What they wanted was a handout.

For a long time, I simply would not give any money to such people because I was so jaded about folk asking for money or other help. But then one day it occured to me: it wasn’t about them. It was about me. What kind of a person am I. Am I a person who sees somebody in need, is able to help, and just walks away, or not?

Mostly, I prefer to donate to charities where I know the resources will go to people who truly need it, and who will put it to good use. But sometimes, when I see one of those streetcorner beggers, sometimes I’ll have an extra dollar or two and I’ll kick it in. Maybe they’ll use it to buy booze or drugs. Maybe they’re a “professional beggar” pulling down more than I make in a year. And maybe not.

In any case I’m following the dictate, to the best of my ability, to be excellent to each other. The risk, I think, is worth it for my own clarity of spirit.

And so, my friends, be excellent to each other. And take what joy you can in life as it comes to you. In other words, “Party on, dudes.”

Goth On Ice: Backward Crossovers, Hockey Stops, and Three Turns

I made some major, major breakthroughs in last week’s and today’s classes.

Last week, my instructor introduced me to backward crossovers. Now, this is a move that I really wanted to be able to do because it’s just so beautiful even as a fairly “basic” move–before we even get into figure skating type stuff.

You can see how they look, “properly done” here:

I, however, am not doing them anywhere near that well at the moment. (You think?)

Yesterday afternoon was my first chance to get on the ice after last week’s class. (Weekday public skate sessions are mid-day so day job gets in the way.) After going around the rink a few times to warm up, I started with some more work on backward edges. They are improving:

This was also the first time I started practicing what I am told is the correct way to do the back-to-front two foot turn (I use it to turn around after each set on a particular edge). It’s still kind of shaky but should improve with practice. In this set, I’m still not getting up the speed I should be getting as I go around the circle for those edges. It really is easier to hold them at speed than going slow. But “at speed” requires a level of confidence that I’m still working on. Going backward is just scarier than going forward. And at my age, you worry more about falls–it’s just easier to get hurt and injuries take longer to heal. That’s one of the reason I wear the knee and elbow pads every time I get on the ice.

Previously, Every fifteen minutes or so during the public skate session, I would stop my ordinary skating around the rink and go to the big circle at the center to work on my backward edges. This time, I just did backward edges that first time. Additional technique drills were all working the backward crossovers. I recorded the first one. Remember, after about a five minute introduction in class, this is my first time ever trying it.

Yes, it was awkward and clumsy. No, it didn’t look anything like Kseniya and Oleg’s graceful moves. Nevertheless, the basic movement was correct. I need to work on getting farther over in the cross and on having better control of my balance but the basic motion is there. So, yes, I was stoked at the end of that set.

And, indeed, over the course of the skating yesterday and today, it did improve. Going forward it’s practice practice practice practice. Indeed, in class today while working on it with my instructor (a different one from last week–who I work with is often a matter of who’s available at the time) she noted that I was actually doing a fairly advanced form, working both legs in the cross–outside/front leg moving forward and in while back leg pushes out. And indeed, at least occasionally I would manage to get a “full cross”.

An amusing side note: Someone was having a birthday party at the rink. I saw one woman and her daughter struggling at the entrance to the rink, the little girl clinging to the wall so I skated over and asked if it was the little girl’s first time on the ice. Turned out it was both of them actually. I pointed them at the skate rental counter and explained that they could get a stack of buckets for the little girl to use. Some folk don’t like the buckets because they teach bad habits, but I like them because they help build confidence on the ice and that’s really what the absolute beginner needs more than anything else.

Fast forward to forty minutes or so later. The mother approaches me on the ice (I’m guessing she has experience roller blading or at least roller skating given how well she’s doing at this point). She asks me how to do that “leg crossing thing you do.” (I do forward crossovers at both ends of the rink to turn around.)

Um.

I explain that before you can learn forward crossovers, you have to first learn forward edges. And before you learn forward edges, you really need to learn forward one foot glides. I go after with her a bit on the one foot glides and explain to her that if she’s interested, for herself or her daughter, the new round of classes were about to start (today’s was the first of the eight week session). And if you take classes, you get free public skate sessions.

And then I left her to practice and continued my sessions.

One of the other techniques I needed for my current “level” in the Adult progression is a forward outside 3 turn. This is like that “two foot turn” I showed in previous posts only it’s done on one foot rather than two. Like this:

It’s called a “3 turn” because, notionally, the skate traces a “3” on the ice.

Well, during the “practice session” before my class (when the small kids and the lower “Basic” levels had their class) I tried it a bit. And, well, I was surprised. Very hit-or-miss but the surprise was that I “hit” at all. This is one of those things that you need to be confident in your edges, both forward and back. I’m pretty confident with my forward edges, but not so much on the backward, although they are getting better.

The final thing I did new this week was the hockey stop.

Now, I can do snowplow and “T-stops” readily enough. The reason hockey stops intimidated me is that they tend to be all-or-nothing. You get them right or or you fall on your face. At least that was my impression. So, my instructor worked me with it today, starting quite slow.

In the end, I was doing them, still very going very slow but it will take time and practice to get to the point of doing them at speed. Still, I think I got them well enough to count as closing out “Adult 4”, meaning I’m now working fully at “Adult 5” with one technique, the “T-Stop” an “Adult 6” technique.

To finish out Adult 5, I need to get that Forward Outside 3 Turn relatively reliable, get a technique called “Swing Rolls”, and a two-foot spin (at least two-turns). And at this point, I can see myself getting there. It will take time and work yet, but I can see but it no longer seems an impossible challenge.

Go me!

Do We Need To Change the Two Party System?

People say we need to have more than two viable parties but, well, I look at countries that do and have to ask myself “does having multiple parties produce better results in anything that is important to me?” Looked at that way, I really don’t see the advantage.

The alternate of “remove parties entirely” raises the question of how? People organize. They group. Without violating pretty several provisions of the 1st Amendment, how exactly do you prevent parties?

So parties are going to be with us no matter what we try to do and adding more parties doesn’t seem to help in terms of improving human freedom, so what can we do? Well, one thing to remember is that the problem isn’t “the two party system.” We muddled along reasonably well for for over a hundred years counting from the last big replacement of one party with another, leaving us with the current Democrat and Republican parties. It’s not that we have two parties that’s the problem, but the changed character of those parties. For example, John F. Kennedy would have been, at most, a “moderate Republican” if not outright “far right” as things are counted today. So it’s not the mostly two-party system that’s the fault. (“Mostly” because their have been minor third and other parties right along.) Looking at what’s happening it seems clear to me that the problem is that we’re reaching the culmination of a century of Soviet agitprop–agitprop that ironically has long outlasted the Soviet Union itself. Agitprop that has marched through education, entertainment, and the news media, filling them with true believers in Marxist-Leninist doctrine (even if not so named) and indoctrinating our young into those philosophies.

We don’t need to change the party system so much as we do to work to create a groundswell of support for liberty and especially to work counter to that indoctirnation. As Milton Friedman said, we don’t need to change Congress. We don’t need to elect “the right people” (of whatever party). It’s nice to elect the right people but what we need to do is create a climate of opinion so that it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

Sarah Hoyt is big on “build over, build around, build under” to work around the Leftist control of things like the Media and education. Modern technology is making that possible. Back in the day Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America” which simply meant he could lie through his teeth with a straight face and nobody would gainsay him. Today we have alternate channels of information that allow people to gainsay the lies. Imperfect those alternate channels may be, and still at a tremendous disadvantage when compared to the entrenched media, but they are there…and growing.

It’s this ability to challenge the official narrative that’s behind a lot of the current troubles. The Left is getting effective pushback for the first time in living memory. Their lock on information is cracking and so they’re doubling down. Other folk are starting to say “enough.”

Births are generally accompanied by pain and blood. What will be born out of the current chaos, I don’t know. I have my hopes, but I also have my fears.

So it’s not the two-party system we need to change. It’s the people we need to convince of the values of living in a free society. Convince the people and it sill become politically profitable for even the most ardent “statist” politician to promote policies that favor freedom and he’ll either do so or be replaced.

And I really don’t care what they want or believe so long as the policies they enact favor freedom.

The Deceptive Lure of Grimdark: A Slightly Updated Blast from the Past

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I look around at fiction and so much of it seems be be trapped in unrelenting darkness, the crushing distopia, heroes you can’t tell from villains (except by whose name is on the title page maybe).  Some folk have told me that this is a reaction, an introduction of “realism” to other fiction that is more Pollyannaish.  More real?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  As I have quoted elsewhere “the passionflower is as real as the potato.”

Now, I’m Goth.  I appreciate darkness in storytelling and strive to find beauty in darkness even in the real world. (There’s a saying I saw:  “if you don’t find joy in snow, there will be just as much snow, but less joy”,  Same thing with darkness and beauty.)  It’s nihilism, the absolute and complete descent into hopeless darkness that I despise.  There’s no beauty in that.

Stories of unrelenting darkness have a long history to them:  The Volsung Saga begins with the tale of how Andvaari’s Ring becomes cursed, and the rest is the horrible working out of that curse on the various possessors of the ring over time (and unlike another cursed ring, there’s no Mount Doom to see to the destruction of this one).  The various tales of the Greek Heroes are mostly tragedies, where despite initial successes the Heroes almost inevitably come to bad ends.

More recently, Le Morte de Arthur, the collection of tales of the legendary King Arthur and his knights, is well named: “The Death of Arthur” for it all builds to the destruction of the Round Table, the fall of Camelot, and the death of Arthur.

And so on.

In all these cases, overwhelming forces beyond the power of mortal men to overcome end up crushing the aspirations of mere mortals.

However, to a certain extent from that, but also in parallel to it we’ve also seen the rise from this, a different literary tradition, tales of folk who rise above the forces opposing them and opposing, overcome.

I think part of that, not all certainly, but a large part, comes from the ideals of the Enlightenment.  New understanding of the natural world, new technologies that new knowledge.   This period saw the Age of Exploration and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, bringing with it the idea that we were not helpless before incomprehensible forces but that we would instead overcome them. (Note:  Not all the things to come out of the enlightenment were necessarily good things, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

Even then, much literature was, like the tales listed above, about the inevitable fall of its heroes.  The D’Artangnan Romances (“The Three Musketeers”, “Twenty Years After”, and “The Viscount of Bragalonne:  Ten Years Later”–this final one often split into three or four parts of which the last is titled “The Man in the Iron Mask) is very much in that mold.  Don’t rely on movie versions for these.  They often–particularly in the case of “The Man in the Iron Mask”–retain nothing but titles and character names.

And don’t get me started on “Frankenstein.”

But there were other tales as well.  Any of Shakespeare’s comedies (with The Tempest being my favorite) generally have the main characters emerging happily however daunting their trials before might have seemed.  Jane Austen is reputed to have things work out well for her characters in the end.  And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre even pulls in a bit of a miracle to allow Rochester to witness the birth of his son.

However, I’ve never been much for 19th century and earlier literature.  I’ll read it from time to time, but generally prefer more recent items.  Indeed, we’re well into the 20th century to get to the stuff that I read, and re-read, for enjoyment.  And in particular, early in life I discovered Science Fiction.

And here, I think is where things went off the rails.  While Science Fiction has always had its cautionary tales (going all the way back to Frankenstein), a lot of it made certain assumptions, particularly about the supremacy of, well, not always human life but intelligent mortal life in the Universe.  We had writers who based their stories on the presumption that if we encountered alien life they would be so beyond us that we would be nothing but gnats to them and any attempt by a human to comprehend them would drive one mad (H. P. Lovecraft).  But we also had others who presumed that even if the aliens were more technologically advanced than we were, we could learn what they had and, eventually stand up to them as equals if not superiors.

As an example of this, the late Isaac Asimov in his autobiography told of the also late John W. Campbell had a policy that for a story to be acceptable to Astounding Science Fiction humans had to be superior to any other life forms.  This was why the Foundation stories were set in a humans only universe so as to avoid the need to have any aliens be somehow inferior to humans.

Along about the time I was getting into science fiction, reading old books mostly (it’s what the libraries had), certain writers and editors decided that science fiction was too “stodgy” and “adolescent” and started a “New Wave”.  And part of that was stories that were decidedly dark in tone.

Now, in addition to the science fiction I was reading (old stuff that was “juvenile” and “adolescent”?  Well, I was juvenile and adolescent so…) I was also into comic books.  I started reading them sometime in the mid to late sixties–basically as I learned to read–and that carried on into around 1987 or so (more on that in a bit).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get into this “new wave” at the time.  As I said, most of what I said was old stuff and newer stuff that I read?  Well, it was far and away outside the “New Wave”. (Dray Prescott–probably the last great “Sword and Planet” series, was certainly not “New Wave”.)

However, as it happened, comics I was reading as new stuff.  Getting old stuff back then was expensive!  This was before digital editions, graphic novel collections and so forth.  If you wanted an old story you had to go browse specialty stores and dig through their boxes of back issues and pay a small fortune (or a large fortune for particularly rare and popular issues) to get a copy which you hardly dared to read for fear of damaging it.

Fortunately, for me, the same forces that created the New Wave in science fiction waited a while before hitting comic books.

Let me give you an example:  Batman.  I have a whole Batman Rant on this, but let me give a brief precis here.  Most people these days have a view of Batman that’s either a cowled psycho, monomaniacally obsessed, with plans for everything so that he could apparently single-handedly take down all the other superheroes in that universe, who drives sidekicks like some martinet and will “fire” them for the least mistake, barely if at all better than the criminals he fights–a character so dark he makes pitch black look white.  Or they think the campy 60’s TV Batman (and it is a tribute to that series’ popularity that people still recognize it today).  But the Batman I grew up with, the one I came of age with, was neither of those things.  Driven, yes.  But not to the extent of that psycho I just described.  His parents’ death got him on the road he was on but he continued because he was good at it and, indeed, had mostly come to terms with their deaths…mostly.  See “Night of the Stalker” for a very good example of that “mostly”.  He was clearly a “good guy” even though he would bend/break the rules as needed.  You could tell him from the bad guys.

Let me offer a slight digression here.  In art there’s a concept called “chiaroscuro”.  This is basically the interplay of light and dark. You have a picture, dark only within it there’s a spot of light illuminating some figure or object in sharp contrast to the darkness around it:

Chiaroscuro

It’s in this interplay that you make interesting things happen. “If you want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.” (A great line from an otherwise “meh” movie.)

This is what “grimdark” misses.  It’s not dark alone that makes for exciting, compelling stories with depth and richness, no more than it is light alone.  It’s the interplay between the two.  An unrelenting grim story, a hopeless dystopia, inevitable doom which cannot be stopped, simply does not compel.  Even those mythic tales of the past had the doomed hero rise above their troubles for a time.  Bellerophon did defeat the Chimera before attempting to ascend to Olympus and fall.  Sigurd did defeat the dragon and win its horde before the curse (from the ring that was among the horde) brought him down.  Roland was a mighty and successful knight before the battle of Roncevaux Pass and his defeat and death.

I suspect back then most people stopped the stories on the success rather than carrying through to the end, much like the movie “Jason and the Argonauts” stops with Jason and Medea sailing away from Colchis (and thus avoiding the really grim follow on to that story).

You can’t have just the dark.  You must have light in it.  Now, going back to Batman, back in the days I read, the villains, particularly Joker and Two-Face, were incredibly dark.  Gotham was a pit of darkness with corruption and rampant and only Commissioner Gordon on the side of law trying to stem that black tide.  Yet despite the dark-colored costume, despite his back story, despite his use of fear as a weapon, Batman was a beacon of light in that darkness.  He’d long since grown passed displaced revenge for his parents death to protecting the people of Gotham for their own sakes.  And while some have pointed out that Bruce Wayne could do more good with his wealth than Batman could ever do with his fists and gadgets, the Batman/Wayne of that era did both.  The Wayne Foundation on one side, and Batman on the other.  The serial format meant that he could never completely clean up Gotham, and the popularity of certain villains meant that they could never be permanently taken out of action. (“Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” “How many times has the Joker ‘Died’?”) But in the individual stories he wins.  People saved (not everyone, every time, but enough to create some hope).  Bad guys put away or “dead” through misadventure (for now, anyway; the future will take care of itself).  The stories were about hope and victory–traveling through the dark to reach the light.

And that is why I can still go back and read some of these old stories with pleasure today.  The dark that I travel through in the reading lets me worry to be relieved by the light at the end.

So remember, you need the dark to make good stories.  But you also need the light, if only a single candle, working against that dark, to make them great.