Twenty years ago today, terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda hijacked four
commercial jetliners in US airspace, crashing two of them into the World
Trade Center towers in New York City, and one into the Pentagon. You know
this, though. For over the last week, people have been talking about it a lot.
In my Senior year of High School, I had a teacher tell our class about his
experience sitting in class in that same building back in 1963 and having the
Principal come over the PA at the school to inform everyone about Kennedy's
assassination in Dallas. He said that he had always remembered that day, that
moment. That it was burned into his memory, even 38 years later. At the time,
I never expected to have such an experience.
Months later, I did.
I remember that morning like no other morning in my life. I was in College in
Bozeman, MT. I had an 8am class, and it was one of the rare times I was up
early enough for breakfast. I remember walking toward the dining hall on the
cool September morning, and saying hello to another resident of my building
making his way back. "Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center,"
he said. I remember screwing up my face, snorting a bit, finding that
Sure enough all the TVs in the dining hall were tuned to CNN, and on the
screen was the Twin Towers, both with smoke pouring from their center, and it
was clear from the news coverage that no one knew what was going on. So I sat,
watching a building I'd literally stood upon two months earlier burn, and
confused went to class, where we only talked about the news. By the time
we were done, the university had canceled all classes for the next few days.
The rest of the next few days isn't so clear. For hours no one knew anything,
but the news was absolutely glued to what little we could know. As an 18-year
old male who had recently had to send in my Selective Service card, the
question and prospect of the Draft was absolutely in the back of mine, and
many of my friend's minds.
We had been attacked. We didn't know yet by whom. We didn't know what might
be coming next. The possibility of war loomed, people were scared, and our
government clearly didn't have any answers.
What I never expected was that almost everything about our national response
would prove to be a clear indication that al Qaeda had struck a perfect blow
against our National Identity and way of life. They won. And two decades on,
they still have.
We expanded our domestic surveillance state with the formation of the
Department of Homeland Security and passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. We chose
to engage in a costly and ultimately futile war in Afghanistan and another in
Iraq, both of which collapsed those nations into a state even less stable than
they had been in 2001. We continue to subject ourselves to unnecessary and
intrusive security theater from an organization that has stopped precisely zero
terrorists or hijackings since it's inception. We sell our police military
hardware that they use to subjugate their local populations.
Don't get me wrong, the forces that were active in the US that have led us to
the deep dysfunction we are operating in today have been active for more than
the twenty years since 9/11. But those attacks accelerated all of the most
dangerous trends in our national zeitgeist, and at the time, to so many of us,
it seemed reasonable. We'd been attacked. We were scared. We didn't know what
else to do.
I have to believe that we can change things. That the world can be made better
than we've made it the last two decades. That we can rise above our fear, and
undo all of the damage we've inflicted to ourselves, giving al Qaeda far more
than they could ever have hoped for. I have to believe that, because the
challenges that were laid out in front of us back on September 11, 2001 have
only become more dire and more difficult, and our actions have only created
I have to believe it can be better, but I can not deny the magnitude of the
As a person who has recently begun the process of moving to New Hampshire, I was
incredibly excited to see that the House has recently had introduced a
bill to allow for the hobby distillation of liquor, a hobby that I have
recently become very interested in taking on. Hobby Brewing and Winemaking
have been legal in New Hampshire for years (1998 for Beer,
2013 for Wine). There is no time like now to restore to New
Hampshire residents a right that has been enjoyed by Americans for the first
century and a half of our history, and also stand to reap the economic benefits
of the Hobbyist to Professional pipeline.
For instance, in 1998, New Hampshire had 8 Active licensees for Beverage
Manufacturing from the Liquor Commission according to the State License
Verification search. By 2021, that number is 55. While not all of those are
local hobbyists who chose to go pro, the path from Hobbyist to Craft
Brewer is well documented in the beer world. Some Craft
Distillers are being open about their illicit hobbyist pasts.
It stands to reason that at least some of the 17 Licensed Distillers active
today in New Hampshire also learned their craft as hobbyists in technical
violation of State law. Isn't it better for New Hampshire to provide potential
entrepreneurs to freedom to learn a craft that may lead to a new business, more
employment, and increased tax revenue for the state?
Distillation is also a distinctly American Craft. George Washington was known to
have been operating a Distillery producing nearly 11,000 gallons
of Whiskey in 1799. Buffalo Trace's current Distillery has been in continuous
operation in Kentucky for over two centuries. The Backwoods
Moonshiners made notorious during Prohibition were people simply continuing the
traditions of their communities since Distillation was introduced to this
Continent by the settlers, caught by the winds of social change that did not
last, but who's impacts have continued to criminalize activities that
Americans had engaged in for hundreds of years.
There are, of course, common arguments against legalizing this hobby.
There remains the fact that hobby distillation remains illegal Federally.
However, efforts have been starting since 2015 to
legalize this at the federal level, which has had strong bipartisan support,
and that support is likely to continue to grow. Plus, the growing legalization
of Cannabis driven by the States nationwide has not only shown that the States
can lead on these issues, and the House is currently considering de-scheduling
Many will point to risks and dangers of the hobby, such as the risk of fire from
alcohol fumes or the risk of permanent physical damage from the methanol
produced. I do not seek to minimize the existence of these risks, but they are
easily mitigated, and if clubs and hobbyists can freely share their information
without fear of reprisals from the State, than it becomes far more likely that
people looking to start the hobby will be taught what they need to know to
avoid these risks. We already allow so many hobbies to exist that carry
significant risks. A woodworking lathe operating normally is far more dangerous
than a properly functioning still, yet no reasonable person would suggest that
woodworking hobbyists should be legally prevented from pursuing their hobby.
Finally, some will suggest that home distillation could undermine the growing
Craft Distillation industry in New Hampshire. While I have already spoken to
the Hobbyist to Professional pipeline previously, and also how New Hampshire has
seen significant growth in Breweries in the decades since legalizing Home
Brewing, there are other figures that are worth considering to this point.
New Zealand is one of the only Western nations that has legalized Home
Distillation on a broad scale. As a result, it's cultural similarity to the US
makes it a reasonable comparison for considering how this may impact the growth
of the Liquor industry in the US. Per numbers from the World Health
Organization's data book on Annual Revenues from Alcohol Excise Tax
for both the US and New Zealand, and cross referencing it with the Population
Numbers from the WHO from those same years, we can see the following data:
||Excise Tax (Total)
||Tax per Capita
||Excise Tax (Total)
||Tax per Capita
So in the time since New Zealand legalized home distillation, it's seen it's
tax revenues per resident increase by nearly 20%, while the US has only seen
about a ~10% increase. Hobbyists love whatever it is they are crafting. In the
Craft Beer space we've seen that Hobbyists tend to buy more, and more expensive,
Beers, as they explore the hobby. It stands to reason that we would see the
same pattern with Home Distillers. Just as with Home
Brewing, it stands to reason that Home Distillation is not
something that people will engage in expecting it to save money, but because
they want to explore the world of liquor.
I sincerely hope that New Hampshire will choose to lead the United States on
this issue, and that my legislators will co-sponsor this bill and bring a hobby
already enjoyed by a great many Americans out of the dark.
I profited on the Coronavirus Pandemic today.
That wasn't my intent at the outset, but it was what happened as I decided to
sell a low-cap stock I picked up months ago that was surging on the back of
the COVID-19 Pandemic. I strongly suspect the stock still had plenty of room
to keep growing, and certainly when I bought in, I intended to hold the stock
for the long term. However, the more I learned about the fundamentals of the
company in question, the less good I felt about owning even a relatively small
stake in their success.
The company in question? Waitr Holdings.
They are a local restaurant food deliver service, in the same space as UberEats
or DoorDash. The seem to differ primarily through a focus on smaller markets than
either of their over-capitalized competitors, and I decided to invest early this
year as a customer of the company who felt, from what I'd seen, that they were
partnering with local restaurants in many markets around the country, and I'd
been using the service rarely, but consistently for several years. I felt that
their low stock price was more a signal of a bad investor pumping and dumping
them into the IPO, and as a publicly traded company they were being held
to different standards than their tightly-held competitors.
That was all true, but as I started learning more about the fundamentals of
Waitr's relationship with the restaurants, I found myself not wanting to
be a shareholder. I'm not even sure I'll continue to be a customer.
Ranjan Roy recently published a post about DoorDash, and how they were
bringing delivery to a pizzaria that had never contracted with
in doing, were causing customers to be upset due to poor service, that this
restaurant wasn't even offering. He goes on to discuss the incredible quantity
of money that DoorDash loses every quarter, as they scramble to reach scale.
This article was the thing that pushed me over the edge. I knew Waitr was
losing money, though I had believed they had a way to profitability. I also
firmly believe that Waitr has not, and under current leadership, will not, engage
in the kind of "trial run" shenanigans that DoorDash was engaged in, but the
reminder of how fundamental the problems in this space were was enough to
spur me to action.
However, I'd already decided to sell, even before the article, because it was
becoming increasingly clear that Waitr's path to profitability was not built on
partnership with the Restaurants they work with, but rather via a parasitic
relationship that, long term, was only going to harm the restaurants.
In January, Waitr issued their second round of fee increases on restaurants
within 6 months.
Barely enough time for owners to adjust to the previous terms.
What were these new terms? 30% of the gross of every transaction run through
the restaurant. Plus $0.30 + 3.01% of each transaction in credit card handling
fees. They've gotten a lot of flak over the credit card handling, but those
rates are similar (though slightly higher) than what Square, a company that
specializes in payments, takes for e-commerce, though it is probably quite
a bit higher than what most restaurants pay for their own in-store fees.
Credit Card processing on the Internet is riskier (more fraud), so the
processors charge more.
But that 30%? That's a truly bad number. If that's the number Waitr needs
for profitability, they don't deserve to exist. The average Restaurant
in the US only has a profit margin of
3-5%. Most retail
operations sit closer to 12-15% on average. Almost every restaurant is
basically constantly on the
And that's with us subsidizing their employees
I suspect there are people out there trying to build Food Delivery businesses
built on flat fees, which would be more fair to Restaurants. However, with
Restaurants frequently raising their in-app
in an effort to break even, and consumers increasingly catching on to this
practice, I no longer think that the industry has legs at all. Not to
mention that without dedicated delivery infrastructure, most restaurants just
aren't set up to deliver on quality the food they ultimately deliver.
It also ruins the dining experience of many restaurants. These restaurants
often have to set aside parts of their dining areas for delivery drivers
to loiter while they wait for food to be packaged. This costs them tables in
those spaces, but the loitering drivers also tie up waitstaff or the host
station, making the dining in experience less valuable and desirable.
If you care about restaurants, order from them directly. These delivery
services aren't getting these restaurants more exposure. They're leeching
off the restaurant's already thin margins, and this will only end with
There has been a lot of buzz about the idea of Tuition-Free Public Universities
this year, as this idea has worked it's way into what is almost certainly going
to be the DNC platform for the election in 2020. I get that. While I have been
fortunate enough to have had a job good enough to pay off all of my own, but
also my wife's student loans by my early 30s, a lot of people are drowning in
debt, and either un- or under-employed.
I am incredibly glad that this discussion appears to be focused on Public
Universities, as that at least suggests that if this comes to pass, it won't
just be a way to enrich low-performing private colleges (or Real Estate funds
masquerading as colleges), at the expense of students.
I think that approaching the problem of rising costs of a university education
by moving Tuition onto the tax payer is premature, because we have problems in
our Education system nationally that such a program is likely to make much
worse, and in so doing, make many of our biggest national challenges, even
To begin, I'd like to take a look at one of the nations with free college that
people often point to as an example in these discussions: Germany. The German
model does work reasonably well in Germany, that is true, though there have been
concerns that the system is unsustainable for years. In
fact, several German states attempted to institute nominal tuition fees in the
early oughts, though they had to roll that back due to massive push-back.
Which is simply to say that Germany's system has some scaling issues that they
haven't worked out yet, and we need to be aware of that.
While Germany is a much smaller nation than ours, we have a higher GDP per
Capita, which does mean that, assuming we can build a taxation structure that
stops 500 people from 'earning' $1,200,000,000,000 in a single year
we could theoretically make such a thing feasible.
So why do I oppose this? I believe that any system of free tuition will make
income inequality, particularly as it applies to students of color, worse. If
we don't address the inherent inequities in our primary and secondary schooling
systems, we stand to do more harm than good.
Our Public Schools are principally funded by property taxes. Black
Neighborhoods tend to have lower property values, even
after you control for basically everything (home's are comparable,
neighborhoods have same amenities, crime rates, etc). On average nationally,
this amounts to around $48,000 less in value per home. Because generally
speaking, White People don't want to live in "Black" neighborhoods. Even
relatively affluent, middle class black neighborhoods.
As a result of this, even when you compare relatively poor neighborhoods, which
have frequently self-selected for race (or been helped along by red-lining),
poor white schools have, on average, $1,500 more per student than poor black
schools. For non-poor (but still segregated due to neighborhood
dynamics) schools, that figure nears $2,000 per student. More funding translates
to better resources, smaller class sizes; all things that lead to better
Failure to address this basic inequity means that Black students remain at a
disadvantage when entering Universities because their primary and secondary
education likely wasn't as good. Pair this with the likely outcome that already
over stressed public universities will need to raise their admissions standards.
There are a lot of factors that play into the rise of tuition costs. Certainly,
ready availability of loans is part of it. One piece that I don't think gets
enough attention is the increase in student populations, which all require extra
resources above what state funding levels (which have been steadily decreasing)
provide. In the 1970s, only about 47% of the population went to college. Today,
that number is well over 80%. This is also down from a peak of
over 90% in 2011.
Since the 1970s, the US Population has also increased by ~100 Million people,
putting the number of people who's attended tertiary education from ~94 Million,
to 240 Million. According to Washington State University's Institutional
Research figures, even as overall student participation rates have been
dropping nationwide, WSU has seen a roughly 15% increase in it's enrollment
numbers, while tuition rates have dropped about 8% for in-state students, and
risen 2% for out-of-state students (I also have no idea how primarily
state-funded schools are intended to navigate this free-tuition mandate with
regard to in-state versus out-of-state students, but I don't think anyone else
does either). It's also worth noting that, on a longer time scale, WSU's
population since 2001 (when I entered college), has increased 37%, while it's
in-state tuition rates have increased by ~270%.
Free tuition, by removing a primary as a means to control the cost of growth,
will likely lead to higher enrollment standards, which will only serve to
increase the gap that poor people already struggle to overcome, but which
impacts people of color in the US even more than it does Whites. Until we are
more equitable in our primary and secondary education, our tertiary education
systems will only serve to widen an already too wide gap. The tools we use to
gauge students are already demonstrated to be gameable and disadvantageous
to poor or non-white students; this will only get worse as minimum entry
A university education is too expensive. This is unquestionable. This comes from
many factors, from increased demand due to larger student populations (and the
idea that without a college degree, you can't succeed that is pushed hard on
high school students), to inefficiencies in administration, to reduction in
state-level support in many places. Efforts to increase student access to a
college education has instead largely increased the debt load for students who
aren't seeing the increased opportunity that was implied when they were
encouraged to take on that debt. More open access to loans has contributed to
higher costs, though I do tend to think that results more of a factor of
increased utilization than institutional greed, outside of the for-profit
Returning for a moment to Germany, it's worth noting that many students in that
country choose (or are pushed toward) secondary schools when they enter the
fifth grade that indicate whether or not they are expected to be on path toward
university. While German students have, since the 1970s, been migrating from
the more general Hauptschulen to the more advanced Realschulen, over half of the
students in Germany tended to attend the Hauptschulen for a minimal general
education, with barely over 10% of students in the university-bound Gymnasien
by 2000. In the decades since, the university population has continued to grow,
but it still looks likely that the percentage of German students that end up in
Universities is less than 20% of the population. Compare this to the roughly 70%
of American High School graduates who were enrolled in college in
I can't speak to the quality of German Hauptschulen or Realschulen compared to
US High Schools. However, the idea that American's would accept that we were
going to offer free tuition to all, but were going to cap enrollments to 20%
of the High School Graduate population instead of the 70% we have today, is
laughable. And it runs counter to what many people would expect, though it's
the reality of the system people most frequently point to when discussing
Prioritizing education is critical to the future of our nation. However we have
to shore up the base of our system. Make it more evenly distributed. Ensure
that the opportunities we provide are more based on merit and ability than the
confounding factors of the circumstances of birth and generational wealth. We
can't solve our education problems from the top down, we need to start from the
bottom up to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities, to
control for race and other factors, we stand to more deeply entrench our
I want to call out a great thread from Michael Harriot about America's history
of White Supremacy that is absolutely worth a read. While I'd
been skeptical of free tuition for many of the reasons I'd written in this
post prior to Michael's thread, he called out several resources, particular
about the racial gap in American schools that I believe improved my arguments,
and captured that those funding differences are more stark than I'd thought.
I was reminded recently of the controversy with Vampire: The Masquerade's fifth
edition released last year, between the early drafts referencing Neo-Nazis when
discussing Clan Brujah, or even bigger, the use of the Gay
Purges in Chechnya as a plot point for Camarilla activity in
This reminder was in the form of the recent reading I've been doing of Over The
Edge, a role-playing game set in an alternate history where magic, psychic
powers, and other weird phenomena exist, but aren't widely known. Like Vampire,
the history of this world is long and that requires the reframing of certain
events in ways that are likely to offend some. For Over The Edge, this passage
stood out to me immediately:
In the meantime, the Pharaohs had arranged the discovery and colonization of
the New World, seeing to it that religious misfits, debtors, and desperate
adventurers came to populate the northern continent. The Pharaohs arranged the
slaughter of the natives so as to have a land without history where they would
have maximum power to experiment. (The scheme to mix New and Old World
cultures in South America failed miserably.)
&mdash Over The Edge (2nd Edition), Johnathan Tweet, 1997
I haven't fully read the 2019 Third Edition of Over the Edge, but a quick skim
does suggest that the above hasn't really been retconned, but definitely doesn't
get the attention it got in the Second Edition.
Now, OTE Second Edition was released in 1997, and the atrocities that it
reframes were mostly centuries old (though obviously there are far more recent
issues with the treatment on indigenous peoples in the Americas deep into the
20th Century with lesser evils continuing to this day), so perhaps this never
generated so much attention because of where we were culturally, or due to the
distance from the events being portrayed.
However, there are other historical events from Vampire that are widely
reframed. The Spanish Inquisition is framed as a mass revolt of Humanity, using
the power of the Church, against Vampires. All the various parts of the World
of Darkness were part of World War II, though the text is quick to point out
that those events were initiated from purely human causes, thus demonstrating
some degree of sensitivity to too aggressively re-purposing historical
atrocities within the context of the story.
Finally, I am reminded of the NBC TV Show Grimm, which revealed in the very
first Season that Hitler himself was Wesen (a type of human with a animalistic
nature that most humans are unable to perceive).
By Season 5, Grimm goes so far as to literally describe Hitler as trying to
create a world ruled by Wesen, something which paints a weird view of the world,
particularly given it's also dabbling in a shadow government of "Royal Families"
which regularly works in both the Human and Wesen world.
Grimm's decision here is particularly interesting, because the writers, both by
not having a lot of time (due to TV narrative constraints), but also potentially
due to not really wanting to, end up leaving large enough questions about the
implications of some of these decisions. Why did Wesen Hitler target Jews? Who
knows, it's never discussed. Trying to justify it would absolutely be risky. Not
mentioning it at all, doesn't feel like a better answer.
These issues aren't unique to the stories set in our own world with a few things
changed. All fiction, in order to be accessible to the reader and to have a
sense of familiarity, needs to borrow from our shared culture, causing all
fiction to be viewable through a historic lens.
Which is important. Fiction allows us to investigate the past, to develop
empathy by examining other people's experiences and emotions through their
stories. Role-playing takes that a step further by encouraging us to embody
these characters, and games like Vampire or Monsterhearts, which force us as
players to deal with the tension between monstrosity and humanity...can lead
for some deeply compelling stories.
I suspect the fallout that the Vampire developers received came from a few
sources. First, the atrocities published in the book were (and I think still
are) ongoing. Second, Vampire has long drawn a larger proportion of Queer
players than much of the hobby (particularly when considering how the hobby was
when Vampire first published in 1991). These two factors likely simply led this
to feel like a more direct attack on that community from a product well loved
by much of the community. The fact that the story element seemed to suggest
that Humans weren't behind this very real atrocity, particularly when the
authors have emphatically insisted certain other atrocities weren't perpetrated
primarily by the monstrous forces of the World of Darkness.
I understand White Wolf's decision to remove the references in the Camarilla
book to the Chechen Anti-Gay Purges. It was the correct decision. Certainly
in light of the backlash, but also because the inclusion of the detail was a
mistake. Not only because it is so fresh, but because it did push an evil
humanity was committing against itself onto the monsters of that world. Vampire
may be a game about Monsters, but it's mostly a game about Humans struggling
with the monster inside them. While for the Vampires that monster may be very
real, some people's monsters are more figurative, and games like Vampire need
to be careful to not imply that all human evil is derived from a supernatural
And I think, when it comes to alternate histories, that's the key thing. To
never forget the awful things people do to each other, or excuse them away by
implying that the people who do these things are something other than human.
They may be flawed. They may lack empathy. They may do monstrous things, but
they are, at the end of the day, still Human.