02 December 2020

The Perils of Research (2012 repost)

[“The Perils of Research” was originally posted at Rational Rant on 2 December 2012]

So, it seems that Chris Rodda has got her copy of the new edition of David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies only to find that not only was it not published by a bigger outfit than Thomas Nelson, not only did it not contain the promised pages of new documentation for his outlandish claims, but it wasn’t even a new edition. Yes, the new edition of Barton’s work announced at Amazon was nothing but leftover copies of the Thomas Nelson edition. Chris Rodda went over it page by page and literally nothing had been changed.

God, what a disappointment. I feel quite confident that those couple dozen pages of documentation would have cleared everything up, made it all plain, and revealed to us that what he was writing was actually reasonable, rather than a dish of moldy cabbage that somehow got pushed to the back of the refrigerator. Research is like that sometimes; you expect a diamond and you get cubic zirconium; you expect enlightenment and you get Carlos Castaneda’s dissertation.

Think of the feelings of those Beatle enthusiasts when the long-lost first recording of “Please Please Me” turned up (in the back of somebody’s closet as I recall. No, that was the newspaper I kept of the first landing on the moon …) It should have been a slower, blusier, Roy Orbisonesque arrangement—but instead it was essentially identical to the version found on their second single. (The drummer was different—the moody magnificent Pete Best had been replaced by some interloper—but the same essential feel.) That must have been a real disappointment—it was for me, anyway. And so the slow version recedes into the mists of prehistory, an artefact like Jane Austen’s First Impressions, intriguing to think about, but perpetually out of reach.

Am I making sense this first Sunday of Advent in the year twelve thousand twelve of the Holocene era? I doubt it very much. We live in senseless times. Uganda fires a blow in the War on Xmas with a promise of new anti-gay laws in time for the holidays—as if the old ones weren’t severe enough. Republicans in the US Congress unveil more plans to increase the wealth of the idle bloodsucking class (or “job-creators” as they like to ironically call themselves) by robbing the nation pension fund that employees have paid into all their lives. We live in senseless times; why should I be immune to the zeitgeist?

And speaking of senseless, ever tried to follow a David Barton footnote? Footnotes are supposed to be helpful guides pointing to sources, not joke roadsigns that point you to nowhere, or useless decorations put in to give the appearance of research in the absence of evidence. Of course real research takes you off those convenient well-lit roads into the shadowy hinterland of unexamined sources. You read that such-and-such paper had a reporter at the front, you open the crumbling pages with excitement—and it turns out that the so-called reporter was only sending out political diatribes from a point some fifty miles away from the scene of action. Can’t be helped; research is like that.

Many years ago I spent considerable time and money running down a copy of the first (unrevised) edition Alfred Meacham’s Wigwam and War Path only to find that there really was no such thing. The so-called first edition is nothing but early copies of the supposedly revised edition with an errata sheet and no signature on the author’s picture in the front of the volume. There are numerous minor corrections throughout, some of which are identical to those on the errata sheet, and some of which are not, but it is manifestly the same edition, and the editorial confusion that is manifest in the volume is the same no matter which printing you use. That was a disappointment—but, as I say, research is all too often like that.

So, to recap on the David Barton saga: first, when Thomas Nelson pulled The Jefferson Lies for its inaccuracies, Barton announced that he had a bigger publisher for the book, and that it would be new and improved. Second, when a new edition was announced, the new publisher is (apparently) Barton himself, through his own Wallbuilders press. Third, when the book is actually delivered, it turns out to be published by Thomas Nelson, not by a new and bigger publisher, and it is the same old book, not new and improved. Pretty much a clean miss all the way around.

2 December 12020

276,634   Americans dead from the current pandemic. And there are dumbasses out there bragging about how they ignored the restrictions to get together with friends for dinner and patting themselves on the back for being so brave as to endanger others with their risky behavior. Herd mentality indeed. Criminal folly in my book.

Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It is perhaps anticlimactic to note that it is also Armed Forces Day (Cuba), Lao National Day (Laos), and National Day (United Arab Emirates). The saint of the day is Bibiana, a Roman girl who was scourged to death during a crackdown on magicians in 10363—so legend has it, anyway. It’s the birthday of Maria Callas. On this day in history John Brown was executed (11859), after writing a brief note: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” “It,” of course, was the abolition of slavery. We’re still working on it, John.

01 December 2020

1 December 2020

274,932   deaths from Covid-19 so far in the United States alone. And death is far from the only side-effect of the disease. Those lucky enough to survive can face pulmonary complications, delirium, seizures, aphasia, tremor, delirium, and cognition disturbances. Patients who have been cured of the disease may still not be able to function in daily life at the time of their discharge. And yet there are idiots on the loose who advocate spreading the disease in the hopes that ordinary people will get used to it, and accept the deaths and disabilities as a cost of doing business.

Today is World AIDS Day, dedicated to combatting the pandemic and remembering the dead. (The dead include a member of my extended family, a guy named David, a television engineer who was active in the Portland-area arts and theatre community, among other things.) It is also Republic Day (Central African Republic), Freedom and Democracy Day (Chad), Military Abolition Day (Costa Rica), Fullveldisdagurinn (Iceland), First President Day (Kazakhstan), National Day (Myanmar), Rosa Parks Day (Ohio and Oregon), Teachers’ Day (Panama), Restoration of Independence Day (Portugal), Great Union Day (Romania), Battle of the Sinop Day (Russia), and Damrong Rajanubhab Day (Thailand). Famous people born today include Rex Stout (creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin) and Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (creator of a non-Euclidean geometry).

30 November 2020

International Murder

272,525   deaths in the United States from Covid-19 and the Federal Government still refuses to do its job in countering the disaster. How long will this travesty continue? The world wonders.

Today appears to be (and I am relying on Wikipedia for this information, so be warned) Independence Day (Barbados), National Day (Benin), Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran (Israel), Regina Mundi Day (South Africa), Bonifacio Day (Philippines), Commemoration Day (United Arab Emirates), and Independence Day (South Yemen). The saint of the day is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, a fisherman by trade, who was one of the first followers of Jesus, if you believe the late and discursive Gospel according to John. Saint Andrew’s Day appears to be a recognized state holiday in Scotland and Rumania. It is also Mark Twain’s birthday.

With the current occupant of the White House forgotten but not gone the news has been swamped with stories of the assassination of an Iranian physicist who may or may not have been the head of a program intended to supply the nation with energy from atomic reactors. The details of his murder are chilling, if rather confusing. Possibly twelve mysterious assassins popped up out of nowhere and blew him away before vanishing without a trace. Or maybe a robot machine-gunner took him out before self-destructing. The exact details are, shall we say, obscure. The purpose of this clandestine (and thoroughly illegal) action seems to be to make things difficult for the United States under Future President Biden to restore normal relations with Iran. Iranian officials are babbling wildly about murdering Israelis in response. Let’ s hope cooler heads prevail—though I don’t expect that. As always, I expect the worst.

22 November 2020

The BottleDrop Scam

261,683   people in the United States have now died from Covid-19. It’s not what I want to talk about, but everything else is trivial compared to the ongoing disaster. Well, not the other ongoing disasters, I suppose—global warming, the great extinction event, the coming nuclear apocalypse, and so on and so forth—but, you know, the inanities of the economy, business, politics, entertainment, sports—even the sciences and the arts when you get right down to it. If you can’t bop to it, don’t buy the record, as the man said.

But the triviality I want to rant about today is the great BottleDrop scam right here in Oregon, something that is irritating me right now because of something that happened to me today. When I went down to the Burlingame Fred Meyer I walked past the bottle return center (as it is part of my regular route from the bus) and glanced over at it to see large signs posted there to the effect that it was closed. Permanently. It looked like they would still do hand counts for small amounts of cans or bottles, but otherwise, unless you were a BottleDrop customer, you were shit out of luck on getting your money back.

The store employee I talked to—who is a really nice guy who has been very helpful in the past—candidly admitted that the object was to get people to use the “green bags.” I admitted (with equal candor) that I hate the “green bags” program and have no intention of using it. Ever.

Let me explain. Under the old system when I paid a deposit on a returnable bottle I could get my money back by returning it to the place I bought it. It was a simple, straightforward transaction. Take the bottles in and leave with the money. Typically I would begin a shopping trip by returning my bottles, collecting the money (or taking the equivalent off my purchase), and buying whatever it was I’d come for. It was relatively easy to manage.

But no more. Under the “green bags” system I have to set up a special account, put my bottles in special “green bags”, and deposit them at a “convenient” BottleDrop return center. My bottles will be processed in three to five business days and the money added to my account. I can have the money in my account given to the charity of my choice, or if I absolutely insist on getting my money back, can obtain it from certain special locations.

Okay—let’s see how this works in practice. A 13-gallon garbage bag will hold ten, maybe twelve two-liter bottles. I can carry maybe two of these without too much inconvenience on the bus, so say, twenty to twenty-four bottles. Under the old system I’d take them in to the store, run them through a machine, receive a voucher for say $2.00 to $2.40, and present it as I buy my groceries on the way out. But under the new system I have to put the bottles in special “green bags”—each holding thirteen gallons. So let’s say I manage to cram twelve bottles apiece into two “green bags”, tie them and label them with the correct stickers, take the bus to a “convenient” location to leave them off—well, isn’t that essentially the same thing, except that I have to wait for my money those three to five business days?

Well … no. Those “green bags” aren’t free, for one thing—they cost $2.00 for ten bags. That’s twenty cents apiece. So I’m already out forty cents before I ever receive any credit towards that $2.40 I might have coming. But still—a two-dollar return on a forty-cent investment? That’s not too bad, right? Except that the money in question is my money already, a deposit that I put down and should be able to get back. And to cap things off, I’m not going to get $2.00 back—because there’s a forty-cent additional fee attached to processing each bag. In fact I am going to get $1.20 back on my $2.40 investment—not enough to even pay the bus fare to run the bottles to that “convenient” location. It’s a losing proposition all round.

Now obviously if you have a car, or happen to live right by one of these “convenient” locations, or habitually drink 8 oz. returnable cans and can stuff a couple hundred of them in a “green bag,” you may find the whole concept a more attractive proposition. For people like me, however, it’s purely inane. I’m probably better off just tossing the bottles and losing my deposit. It’s better than lending support to this pointless scam, at the very least.

20 November 2020

The Return of Vile Kyle

259,231   people in the United States have now died from Covid-19, and the rate is rising. Is this what the whole city on the hill thing is about? Showing the rest of the world how we can rise above the disaster by just giving in to it? Live or die, we don’t care, as the old song has it.

And we can all breathe a little easier knowing that Vile Kyle has made his two million dollar bail, and is now free to (illegally) take up a weapon and go hunting for more victims. Oh, excuse me—people to kill in self-defense. That’s the story, right? Here’s hoping the next time we see this piece of human refuse in the news it will be a report of the discovery of his corpse dead of an overdose in a back alley somewhere. Save the state the expense of trying him, anyway.

We’ll see. The professional sob-brothers are now lined up behind this guy, telling us sad stories about how he was just out to protect property and all, never mind it being at the law’s expense, and the cost of the lives of a guy just out of the hospital and a would-be hero. Fuck that shit. Vile Kyle made his choices. He chose to kill others, and he should be prepared to pay in turn with his worthless life. He could even do some good that way—part him out for the benefit of others as an organ donor, for example.

19 November 2020

Allah Have Mercy On Us All

256,164   is the number of people in the United States who have died (so far) from the Trump Pandemic. And things look bleak for the Dopey Don. President-elect Biden appears to have pulled it off, and is now scheduled to assume the mantle of US leadership next January. Allah preserve us all.

I suppose denying reality is always an option. There’s a lot of that going around. Our Fake President is still refusing to meet with his successor, claiming that the election still isn’t over. (It isn’t, but Trump no longer has a legal path to victory.) The contrast with his predecessor could not be more glaring. When Trump legally won an election characterized by massive Republican vote fraud (in the form of vote suppression, mainly) Obama met with the incoming president and started working on the transition. The classless idiot in the White House is still alternating between throwing tantrums and sulking in a corner. A nurse writes about how patients dying from Covid-19 are still denying that it exists as they take their last breaths. And now people are insisting that Al Gore was acclaimed president-elect for a month before the Supreme Court decided not to finish counting the votes in Florida (hint: he wasn’t). That’s as nutty as claiming that Richard Nixon would have been elected president in 1960 if it weren’t for chicanery with the Illinois vote. (Chicanery there may well have been, but switch all twenty Illinois electoral votes from Kennedy to Nixon and Nixon’s still a loser.)

Something has leached away all my enthusiasm and will to live, and I hate to see that morning sun come up. The library has closed again—not that it was ever really open, but at least you could return books and order things through the library system. My laptop is still not working, one of my aunts has just died and an uncle has been diagnosed with Covid-19, so I suppose external reality may be having an effect on me. I thought writing something might make me feel better, but it doesn’t, so I guess I’m going to give up. For the moment. We’ll see about the future.

04 November 2020


In case anybody is confused by this—yes, I’ve called the election, and so as the Cowardly Liar in the White House—but nobody put either of us in charge of making that determination. Who will be declared the winner will depend on the results of an actual vote count. That’s how it works in this country. People keep counting the votes until all of them have been counted. To do otherwise is vote fraud, plain and simple.

It’s the commonest form of vote fraud, actually—not counting votes. It’s one way Black voters were disenfranchised for years, along with fake literacy tests, grandfather laws, and poll taxes. Boss Tweed and Mayor Daley knew how to lose votes, whether by throwing them in the river or by intimidating voters into not voting in the first place. When Trump says he wants to stop counting the votes now—with Biden ahead in both the popular vote and the electoral college, by the way—he is advocating vote fraud, plain and simple. I never thought I’d see an American President engage in such lowlife thuggery—but I never thought I’d see the American Supreme Court order a vote count stopped lest it result in the wrong man being elected to the job, as it did in the 2000 election.

In point of fact Biden still has multiple paths to victory. (A combination such as Nevada, Wisconsin, and Georgia—none of them out of reach—would do it, for just one example.) It doesn’t mean that any of them are going to pay off—as I think I’ve made clear, I don’t think they will—but they do exist, and will exist until the vote is counted—or Trump stages a successful fascist coup.

Personally, I wish there was some way they could both go down to a crashing defeat. Say, Trump manages to eke out an electoral college victory via massive vote fraud while the Democrats take both the House and Senate—and then bang! the first thing the Democrats do on taking power is impeach both Trump and Pence and kick them out of office. Or Biden wins but Trump shoots him when he attempts to take office, leading to Trump being taken out by the Secret Service. Or—well, you get the idea. Some improbable sequence of events that would eliminate both scumbags and maybe allow the country to finally get on the path to healing again.

Copyright © 2005-2020