Two Quick, Flawed Updates

In the midst of horrendous catastrophes unfolding around the world, here are two little first-world fixes to help resolve issues of minor consequence. Note that both solutions are somewhat flawed, echoing our collective attempts to resolve humanity’s larger problems.

First, a solution for the would-be writers among you who have been following Writeside’s posts on running Scrivener 3 on Linux and have recently run into problems on older hardware. A small group to be sure, but if running Scrivener with Wine has recently stopped working for you and attempts to start Scrivener from the command line have resulted in this

Error of failed request: GLXBadFBConfig

there is still a workaround, courtesy of the Wine forums. Create a text file (without the .txt extension) named .pam_environment and place it in your home directory. The file should contain this line:

MESA_GL_VERSION_OVERRIDE=4.5

and nothing else. Now, log out of your Linux session and then log back in. Scrivener should now work. The catch? Electron apps, such as the Min web browser, will stop working. A klutzy “solution”: move the .pam_environment file out of your home directory (onto your desktop, for example) when you want to run Electron apps and move it back into your home directory when you want to run Scrivener.

The Scrivener logo. Source: Literature & Latte.
The Scrivener logo. Source: Literature & Latte.

Pretty half-assed, isn’t it? Welcome to the way the world works, as per Afghanistan, U. S. infrastructure and climate change.

The second update is more straightforward. Recently, a mail plugin for WordPress (which this site runs on) got a little carried away and sent multiple instances of the last Writeside post, understandably annoying a number of subscribers. To be fair, it was more my fault than the plugin’s, as I draft these posts on a number of machines, all of which are perfectly capable of using WordPress to send mail even when I don’t want that to occur. I’ve tried to resolve this with another WordPress plugin (the aptly named Disable Emails) and I now intend to outsource emails to subscribers using the ubiquitous Mailchimp. This is the free version, so you’ll see lots of Mailchimp branding. But ideally you will only receive one email for each Writeside post, a much-needed improvement. You’ll also be able to choose text- or HTML-formatted email, and you’ll find it much easier to unsubscribe (not that I want you to do that).

The Mailchimp logo. Source: Mailchimp.com.
The Mailchimp logo. Source: Mailchimp.com.

So there you have it: two tiny, imperfect solutions to minor problems affecting a small number of people. This is how progress takes place.

Tesla vs. the Government

The Biden administration announced a plan to promote electric vehicles today, part of its response to the world’s growing climate emergency. This is a vast improvement from the previous administration’s do-nothing stance but it is still woefully inadequate.

Part of the reason for the plan’s shortcomings is its constantly touted “bipartisan” approach. Thanks to this bipartisanship, Biden’s infrastructure plan has been substantially cut back, is running behind schedule, and is far from guaranteed Congressional passage. Its shrinkage of electric vehicle support is particularly notable—what had been the largest single portion of the infrastructure bill has been significantly reduced.

The 2021 Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla.com.
The 2021 Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla.com.

At today’s event, Detroit’s three major automakers were present. They say they support Biden’s modest goal of having EVs or plug-in electric hybrids constitute half of all auto sales by 2030. There are several striking things wrong with this picture:

  • Plug-in electric hybrids currently only travel 25 to 40 miles on electric alone; they depend heavily on gas. Therefore they should not count toward Biden’s 50% goal.
  • Even if the goal were 50% purely battery electric vehicles (BEVs), it would still well lag behind what is needed to address climate change today.
  • While representatives of Detroit’s “Big 3” smiled and shuffled and congratulated themselves on their forward thinking, the largest and most successful EV manufacturer on earth was conspicuously absent, having not been invited.

I am of course referring to Tesla, the company which put BEVs on the map and which still maintains a wide technological and sales lead in the sector.

Tesla, operating in less than ideal circumstances (the four years of Trump’s administration, to cite just one example) has almost single-handedly pushed electric vehicles into the public spotlight. The company has also managed to get a large number of electric vehicles onto the nation’s streets and highways, having sold more than 200,000 cars last quarter. Yet Tesla was not invited to be part of Biden’s big EV event, an event where he joked about one day driving an “electric Corvette.”

I’m sorry to say this yet again, but the Tesla omission is yet another example of the current administration’s fumbling, inadequate response to both America’s mediocre infrastructure and our accelerating climate crisis.

Collapsing Infrastructure

The heading above is, sadly, quite literal, the Florida condo collapse being only the most recent example of America’s dangerously neglected roads, bridges and buildings. But the heading also refers to President Biden’s attempts to address the problem—by compromising with Republicans on a smaller package, and by pushing projected passage of this legislation out to the fall, the Democratic administration risks accomplishing nothing whatsoever.

Rescue crew members and a search-and-rescue dog at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, FL. Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.
Rescue crew members and a search-and-rescue dog at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, FL. Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.

As of this writing, it appears that well over 150 people will have perished in the Florida disaster. Residents of neighboring buildings wonder, rightly, if their homes are safe to occupy. Where is the sense of urgency that should be driving attempts to repair our infrastructure? (Where, for that matter, is the urgency that should be driving our efforts to preserve the right to vote?)

Are we going to continue to accept our slide into societal mediocrity? Are we going to allow Republicans, by engaging in “bipartisan” negotiations with them, to reassert minority rule in Congress next year?

The “GOP” has become a party of nihilists, a party that doesn’t care whether America falls apart as long as it retains power. The Democrats, in contrast, seem willfully ineffective. They have so far failed to protect the basic right to vote, and—until and unless this reduced infrastructure bill passes—they have failed to address our crumbling roads and bridges. (Don’t even ask about climate change.) By trying to achieve a bipartisan consensus that is no longer possible, Biden and his delusional colleagues may well have dug another large pothole on our country’s road to ruin.

Build Back Better

After getting off to a widely praised (among Democrats) fast start, the Biden administration is slowing down. I’m thinking of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure package in particular, where Democrats have, at the President’s urging, tried to negotiate with Republicans to pass a bipartisan plan. It has become obvious, at the end of May, that the two parties are very far apart—just as they are on virtually everything else.

President Biden driving a disguised electric F-150 truck at Ford's Electric Vehicle Center on May 18. Photo: Doug Mills, The New York Times.
President Biden driving a disguised electric F-150 truck at Ford’s Electric Vehicle Center on May 18. Photo: Doug Mills, The New York Times.

The Republicans retain a dated view of what constitutes infrastructure, one that excludes electric vehicles, for example. It is another instance of their willful disregard of science, of climate change, and of the need to create new economic and social opportunities to improve the country’s health. EVs represent a wide-ranging near- and mid-term economic boom that will encompass a large population while also helping to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. How can the Republicans not see this?

The same way they cannot see their responsibility for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The same way they insist on investigating Black Lives Matter alongside that insurrection. The same way they retain fealty to Donald Trump, who did everything he could to accelerate America’s downward path.

When the Ford Motor Company, hardly a model for social democratic initiatives, introduces an electric version of their F–150 pickup, America’s best-selling vehicle, it’s obvious that EVs represent the future. Republicans, as usual, do not. Instead, they represent a very real and increasing threat to the future, in myriad ways. And it goes without saying that they are negotiating in bad faith on infrastructure.

President Biden has spent enough time on this last-ditch attempt at bipartisanship—a former political norm which, for all practical purposes, is dead. It’s time to use the reconciliation process to “build back better” and more broadly, in order to address this country’s huge infrastructure needs on the widest possible scale.

Scrivener 3 for Windows Released

Finally. After a very long wait, Scrivener 3 for Windows has finally been released. It may be April Fool’s Day, but the official release actually came on March 23. Let’s take a quick look at how it works with Wine on Linux.

There are a few initial glitches, at least on my Ubuntu setup, but they’re easily circumvented. And once you do have Scrivener 3 up and running, it’s good looking and functional. Is it worth the $49 cost? Absolutely; there’s no real competition.

I’ve written a number of posts on Scrivener 3 betas; just search on “Scrivener 3” to find them. Not a lot has changed recently. There’s still an installation error you may need to work around, but once you do you’ll be happy with the results.

Here’s a quick tutorial on installing Scrivener 3 on Linux (in my case, Ubuntu 20.04.2 LTS). I’m sure many in-depth reviews will follow in the coming days—for now, the aim is just to get you started.

Download the appropriate version (in most cases, 64-bit) here. Don’t double-click on the downloaded .exe file, though. If you do, you’ll liable to get this error:

Installation error.
You may get an error message when you double click the installer.

Not to worry. Just drop into the Terminal app and navigate to wherever you downloaded the installer. Then use the wine command to install it, like so:

wine Scrivener-installer.exe

The setup wizard should then appear. Just follow the instructions to install.

The Scrivener 3 setup wizard.
The Scrivener 3 setup wizard.

On my system, the installer has trouble creating a desktop launcher. The workaround, again, is via the terminal. You need to navigate to the install location (.wine/drive_c/’Program Files’/Scrivener3) and issue the wine command again to launch Scrivener for the  first time, i.e.,

wine Scrivener.exe

All subsequent launches are easy, at least on a Gnome desktop. Just hit the Super Key and start to type in Scrivener—once the app icon appears (this is actually the Wine icon on my laptop, with a Scrivener caption beneath) select it and hit Enter to launch.

I didn’t find any misbehavior within the app itself on a quick initial tour. It seems to function as it should, and it looks great, just as it does on the Mac.

Composition Mode, with controls and stats on hideaway bottom panel.
Composition Mode, with controls and stats on hideaway bottom panel. Click to enlarge.

And there you have it: Scrivener 3 for Windows, fully functional on Linux. Kudos to the Literature & Latte team for maintaining Wine compatibility.

Take All the Guns

This column won’t follow the usual pattern of analysis and a plea for gun “control” following yet another mass shooting, except to state the obvious: United States policies regarding gun ownership are deranged. In terms of analysis, the facts have been out there for a very long time. This country simply has more guns, and more gun owners, than is sane; more guns equate to more gun deaths (see the obligatory chart below, click to enlarge).

Gun deaths and gun ownership by population.

There is, at this point, no plausible way to enact meaningful gun control. If we couldn’t do this after Newtown, then we’re not going to do it at all. Anything Congress might manage to do now—and the odds against Congress doing anything at all are very high—will make very little difference in terms of everyday outcomes. Why? Because there are already some 400 million guns floating around the country, a great many of them in unstable hands. For those guns, and for the people who own them, any unlikely new law (universal background checks?—it’s a bit late for that) would be meaningless.

What needs to happen is the removal of those 400 million “loose” guns. To be absolutely clear, the guns need to be removed from their owners (they would be compensated for their value), and their owners need to be prevented from acquiring replacements. The Holy Second Amendment, which has been grossly distorted by Republicans and their conservative courts, needs to be scrapped. Nothing less than these measures will solve the current problem.

The right will scream in outrage at this—if I had a larger right-leaning audience for this blog, one or more readers might well try to shoot me (a common impulse among problematic gun lovers). The left will say what I am proposing is impossible, and these people would be right. Under our current United States government, the solution I’ve described is impossible.

So what can be done? The answer, as for so many other intractable American problems, is secession: rational people joining together to create a rational new state (the Democratic Federation of America, let’s call it). A state where individual gun ownership would be permitted only under the most tightly controlled circumstances. A state where long-standing American myths—manifest destiny, rising by one’s own bootstraps, the inalienable right to shoot oneself or others—would no longer hold sway. A democratic socialist state on the Nordic model where crime would still occur, but rarely and on a much smaller scale. Where people would have more equality, where there would be far less poverty and deprivation. A state where life seemed meaningful again.

Jettison the crazies. Start over. Don’t “build back better.” Build something new, and better.

Two Gripping Thrillers

A great deal of attention has been paid to the need to escape from the constant anxiety of each day’s news, especially during this past year of the pandemic. You can turn off notifications on your phone and avoid reading the news online but it will still find you, somehow.

Streaming TV has been the most widespread diversion for most, but these days one has to dig deeper into Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu et al. to find something truly engaging. And even at its best, TV has a hard time matching the kind of transcendent escape provided by a really engrossing book.

I’m going to recommend two such books, each of which provides a wonderful diversion from daily tasks and worries. Both generate plenty of tension but it’s good tension—the kind that keeps you turning pages and temporarily rising above whatever happened in the wider world today. Both books are thrillers (though they’re quite different), and both are very well-written, and featured on last year’s New York Times100 Notable Books” list.

A new twist on noir. Image: us.macmillan.com.
A new twist on noir. Image: us.macmillan.com.

S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a thoroughgoing delight—if you like classic noir, you’ll love this book. Set in Virginia, its depiction of criminals and criminal life in the South reads as completely authentic. The novel’s protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage, is torn between his past life as a getaway driver extraordinaire and his current desire to live as a good citizen, husband and father. The tension between these two roles helps fuel a fast-moving plot that grabs you tight and won’t let go. Full review here.

A nasty piece of work. Image: penguinrandomhouse.com.
A nasty piece of work. Image: penguinrandomhouse.com.

Lawrence Osborne’s The Glass Kingdom is an altogether different kind of thriller, and a nasty piece of work it is (I mean that as high praise). This novel’s setting is bustling, shadowy, dangerous Bangkok, where 30-something Sarah Mullins winds up after scamming $200K using the reputation of a famous American author. Sarah gravitates to a high-end collection of high-rises known as the Kingdom, supposedly secure from the chaos and growing civil unrest on the streets of Bangkok below. There she mingles with other expats from around the world, all of whom have sketchy backgrounds of their own. The book’s tension builds steadily and becomes almost unbearable toward the end. Full review here.

Read either or both of these novels and enjoy a well-deserved vacation from the news cycle. Have a good trip!

Last Chance, Long Odds

Without phenomenal luck and remarkable courage, the United States will soon be over.

Where to begin? The events of January 6 represent one of the darkest chapters in American history, and point the way toward a very bleak future—toward no future at all, where the country is concerned.

Today’s Republican Party is an active threat to democracy, truth and life itself. Yet it retains, and appears as though it will continue to retain, tremendous power. The fact that Trump will almost certainly be acquitted by the Republicans for his nihilistic and seditious behavior speaks for itself. So do the 74 million votes cast on his behalf in the recent election.

Although Democrats have achieved nominal power, this is deceptive. America’s built-in structural inequities guarantee that President Biden’s, and the Democratic Party’s, power remains very fragile. It’s good to see the flurry of Biden executive orders attempting to undo some of the damage Trump has done, but those orders themselves are fragile—they can easily be undone by the next right-wing president—and they don’t do enough to address America’s ongoing medical, political and societal emergencies.

President Biden's inauguration. NBCNews.com.
President Biden’s inauguration. NBCNews.com.

What can be done? In an ideal world, in a sane world, a world governed by logic, the Democrats would employ their current shaky majority to attempt radical, structural change, despite the odds against achieving such change. And I’m not talking about economic or racial inequality here, because unless the nation can successfully address the emergencies referenced above, those are moot points.

Some ideas, none of which are likely to be implemented:

  • Criminalize disregard of public health precautions during the pandemic. Make anyone not wearing a mask or observing social distancing do substantial jail time and/or pay a crippling fine. America’s current laissez-faire attitude toward life itself is a disgusting perversion of the founders’ conception of individual rights.
  • Shut down social media. All of it. The ignorant and the destructive have no inherent right to spread their craziness among the population at large. The use of social media does not equate to free speech when such use produces obvious widespread damage.
  • Implement re-education camps (yes, just as the far right fears). Much of today’s appalling ignorance and susceptibility to lies and conspiracy theories stems from the 40-year-plus failure of America’s educational system. But instead of barbed wire and guard towers, try using America’s best and brightest teachers—we still have some—to show the benighted Trump public what gullible, harmful dupes they have been. Pay those people to obtain the education they should have obtained years ago (the carrot), and punish non-compliance (the stick).
  • Try the worst Republican politicians for treason. From Trump on down, Republicans have done their damnedest to undermine faith in the country’s democratic values, and their blatant spread of lies and misinformation has cost hundreds of thousands of lives during the Covid–19 pandemic. Republicans have also seriously weakened our standing in the world and they have made democratic governance almost impossible.
  • Use the National Guard, where appropriate, to clamp down on violence, including police violence (witness the cops’ typical double-standard at work on January 6). And while we’re at it, root out right-wing radicals from the Guard and from police departments nationwide.
  • Outlaw all militia groups and go for their guns. I don’t mean to be facetious here—400 million guns floating around the United States virtually guarantees that many of the 74 million Trump voters will eventually use them, and relatively soon, to “take back their country.” Offer a combination of money and National Guard force to mandate compliance. Allow the retaining of individual weapons for self-protection where appropriate (it usually won’t be).
The assault on the Capitol. USAToday.com.
The assault on the Capitol. USAToday.com.

How likely do you think it is that any of these six suggestions will become reality? Right—none of this going to happen. Therefore, the intelligent thing to do is prepare for what comes next as we hurtle toward disaster. I’m not talking about Civil War (though that is a distinct possibility), but a negotiated separation. Now is the ideal time to begin this process, while Democrats do wield some sort of power.

Governors of blue states and mayors of major cities should start the discussion now. The one way out of America’s downward spiral, the one chance that some semblance of America’s best moments in history and its leadership role in the world can be salvaged, is to say a permanent goodbye to Trump, to his voters and to the Republican Party at large. Let them go their own way. And let the rest of us regroup to try and salvage a sane and healthy American future, even if it’s on a reduced scale.