Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Notes on Viejo San Juan and Vieques

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Direct flight from JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico

I spent July 10th through the 16th 2021 in Puerto Rico with my partner Erica – a Saturday through Friday trip. Three nights in Viejo San Juan – Saturday through Tuesday afternoon and three nights in Vieques – Tuesday evening through Friday morning. I’m writing this to record a few observations.

Upon arriving to San Juan, we were unable to connect to the free airport wifi and our cellular was not working. Although technically we were in the United States, we had no cell service and I wish I had set up international roaming ahead of travel. So Uber was out and we took the first taxi offer to the hotel, a $30 ride trip to El Viejo San Juan.

Exterior and Interior of El Hotel El Convento, nice but Airbnb would have been half the price…

In Viejo San Juan, we stayed at Hotel El Convento, a beautiful block size convent transformed into a hotel, right in the center of Viejo San Juan. The entrance is on Caleta de las Monjas and across the street on Calle del Cristo is la Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista where one can find the remains of Saint Pius.

Next to the remains of St. Pius at La Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista

As one would expect from a Spanish colonial building, the rooms are largely accessed from long interior corridors that look down upon a central courtyard that offers a bar and lounging. Our hotel room was comfortable with balcony doors that open to a cute view of a walking street called Escalinata de Las Monjas. However, the grand total for the three nights was over $1,100. Not worth the price! When we first booked the trip, I looked at a few Airbnbs and I regret not reserving one. It would have been half the cost. Part of the reason for the hotel were the rooftop jacuzzi and pool, but they were both very small – only enough space for a private party to enjoy. I did take advantage of the exercise room one morning, so that was a small advantage. The lesson learned, no need for a nice hotel while Airbnb is available.

Enjoying a mofongo and shrimp brunch at Hecho En Casa

Also as one may imagine, Viejo San Juan is full of tourists and the primary streets such as Calle de la Fortaleza or Calle de Tetuan or Calle de San Francisco are composed of tourist gift shops, restaurants and bars. I felt a bit as if I was in Disneyland. The food was excellent; we did not have one bad meal. Our favorite mofongo was at Hecho en Casa at the corner of Calle de San Francisco and Calle de San Justo. Our first evening out, we walked past Hecho en Casa and I thought it was just a cool looking bar, but it turned out to be an excellent restaurant. I think it was on Sunday morning that we both ordered the mofongo with shrimp, served in a small cast iron pan lined with plantain and the shrimp in its sauce in the center was delicious. At night, it seemed that Calle de San Sebastian became the party street with it partly closed off from cars. The bars were packed and no one was wearing masks, so we elected to not enter any of the crowded bars. Erica was disappointed to learn that there were no salsa clubs. We did see a few people here and there dancing salsa at some of the crowded bars, but most people stood around drinking.

Castillo de San Cristobal, Viejo San Juan

The real party is not in Viejo San Juan; it is at la Placita de Santurce which is a 20 minute drive from the center of el Viejo San Juan or as we discovered over an hour long walk. We took the scenic 90 minute route along the water. As we walked the coast, we passed La Perla, Castillo de San Cristobal, el Capitolio de Puerto Rico where a Christian group gathered to listen to a woman preach about the merits of dedication. She put forth her 30 year marriage as an example of happiness due to commitment and perseverance. I questioned the Christian admiration of longevity or in general the societal veneration of longevity whether it’s a 50 year marriage or 35 years at the same job… I considered the long marriages of my parents and aunts and uncles and they nearly all include long periods of pain as well as periods of disdain or dislike or ambivalence. It seems that in old age, they return to a deep appreciation as they have one another. But are all the years of pain or anger or hatred or ambivalence really worth it? And regarding staying at a job for decades, the people whom I know with the highest salaries moved through various institutions – each movement presenting a greater salary and more freedom. So should we really put longevity on a pedestal?

We continued along, leaving behind the Christian groups adoration at this woman’s celebration of her marriage to Balneario El Escambron, touring that small park and then crossing Highway 1 to Miramar. We walked past el Condado to La Placita. A market by day, La Placita de Santurce becomes a street party by night. We went on a Sunday night and yet the streets were full. Unlike el Viejo San Juan, it is not filled by tourists, but rather Puerto Ricans of all ages dancing, singing and drinking. Before enjoying the street festivities, we had an excellent dinner at Asere Cubano Kitchen and Bar where we enjoyed dishes of ropa vieja. Following dinner we toured La Placita and as we noticed other clubs away from the plaza, we continued down a small street. The best dancing we encountered was at a club called Delavida where couples were showing off their best New York style salsa dancing to a live group. After the live music ended, we headed back to La Placita. I think the most fun was had at the outdoor karaoke bar Santurce’s Cafe where the singing was amazing. It was a shame that La Placita was not closed off to cars as the crowds had to regularly give way to vehicles. However, as taxis circled around, it was easy to catch a taxi back to El Viejo San Juan.

The following day – Monday, June 12th, we had a half day hike in El Yunque National Forest, apparently the only rain forest in the “United States.” The hike was muddy and taxing; it offered lots of sliding and climbing. And again too many tourists. Our group alone was about 26 people, far too many people to hear details from the guides regarding vegetation and the rainforest environment. And there were other groups of hikers that we encountered and had to step aside for. The goal of this particular hike was to reach the top of a waterfall and ride it down in two parts. Adjacent to the small waterfalls were slides formed of rock, so one climbs up, jumps into the water and slides down the waterfall – a quick 20 foot or so slide. Then swim and walk to the next little slide, perhaps 10-15 feet, slide down; then climb up a rock to take a 20 foot dive into a swimming hole. And then climb and slide your way back to the parking area. It would be great to do it again, but without the tourist group and just spend the day enjoying the falls and swimming holes. The half day trip is too short considering the long drive from El Viejo San Juan into el Yunque. Our guides were great, particularly the head guide Jaime who is very charismatic. Through him I learned that one should never ask a Puerto Rican if they’ve tasted their beloved miniature frog el coquí. Particularly do not bring up the idea of fried coquí!

The next morning we packed and enjoyed a final walk around El Viejo San Juan. The previous evening, we had dinner at El Asador on Calle de San Francisco and Erica did not finish her grilled chicken. So the next morning we headed to Supermax at Plaza de Armas for a loaf of bread to tear apart and tear open to fill with grilled chicken for delicious grilled chicken sandwiches, or at least I did – half a loaf sandwich for breakfast and the second half a couple hours later. After the breakfast sandwich, I picked up a cafe con leche at Puchy’s Cafe in Plaza de Armas and it was delicious.

The hotel staff had told us that we should arrive three to two hours early to our local flight from San Juan to Vieques, because those flights have a reputation for leaving early and also taking stand by people. We arrived two and half hours early and it was entirely unnecessary! Security was quick, we headed to our gate and waited over two hours. We arrived in time for an early flight to Vieques, but they didn’t have space for us. Best to arrive an hour ahead of your local flight, an hour and twenty minutes if you really want to play it safe.

The 11-seat Traveller from San Juan to Vieques

Our Cape Air flight was a small ten person propeller plain for which each person’s weight and weight of luggage is carefully recorded. Based on our weight, we were instructed where to sit in the plane. On the flight to Vieques was a large older man who anchored the plane at the back as he excitedly talked about working for Delta many years and having flown this particular plane decades back. The planes do indeed appear 40 years old and one feels every bit of turbulence. On the flight back from Vieques one young woman, perhaps a teenager with purple hair nearly threw up.

We arrived at Vieques, but there was not a taxi in sight. We tried to pick up wifi or cellular, but no luck. I walked up the stairs to a tiny outdoor bar where a group of Americans sat drinking beer and asked the barkeep, a fat older white man the number to get a taxi. He was immediately annoyed by me, I had to ask him for the number a second time and then ask if there was wifi – the answer was a quick “no.” So I headed back to the airport entrance where Erica was waiting. She asked the airport employees for help and after trying several taxi numbers they got us ride! Apparently, we arrived when the ferry arrives, and the taxis head to the ferry as there are more customers. In fact, in the taxi van we rode with a couple who had just come off the ferry. So, if I were to travel to Vieques in the future, I would reserve a car and try to set up a pick up well ahead of arrival.

Enjoying the pool at Hacienda Tamarindo

We stayed at Hacienda Tamarindo, about a 20 minute walk from the main drag of Esperanza. The first night we dined at the only restaurant that had a table available – El Quenepo where we both ordered the local tuna. It was a pan-seared tuna at $31 that was delicious, but not as great as Duffy’s pan-seared tuna at $19 that also included fried plantains, and rice and beans (Quenepo’s tuna plate merely had a few greens). The first night Duffy’s had a long wait and after having dined there on our last evening, I understood why – fun atmosphere and great food.

Since we didn’t have a car or cell service to call a taxi, we only visited the near by beaches. We spent the first afternoon at Playa Negra, named after it’s black sand and all day Thursday at Playa Sun Bay, two excellent beach days. We didn’t spend much time in the water as Erica doesn’t swim and at Playa Sun Bay she felt a fish playing around her legs that sent her in a panic. I felt it as well and followed her out.

Wednesday evening we did the bioluminescent kayak tour at Mosquito Bay. The kayak was transparent so that we could see the glow fo the microbes that populate the bay. Our guide who lovingly gushed about the natural beauty of the bay and Vieques in general told us in detail about the bay – it’s name, it’s microbes, the stars above and the many creatures he has seen in the bay, including sharks.

“Mosquito Bay is named after “El Mosquito,” a small ship owned by Roberto Cofresí, a pirate who was a Robin Hood-type character. Cofresí often hid El Mosquito in the bioluminescent bay, which was connected to the ocean by a small, easily defensible inlet.” The large ships that Cofresí robbed could not follow him into the bay. Eventually Roberto Cofresí was captured and executed.

Following the history and bioscience lesson, our guide pulled out a laser pointer, made a couple Star Wars jokes and pointed out a few of the constellations as well as Jupiter and the Milky Way. The view of the stars from the bay is brilliant. Apparently the people indigenous to the area thought that the bay was magical because it reflected the stars or perhaps they thought the stars were born from the bay, I don’t recall the tale that the guide shared. We both loved the bioluminescent tour and only wish he had more time kayaking in the bay.

I couldn’t help but observe that our hotel and seemingly all the restaurants of Esperanza are owned by white U.S. citizens who have settled in Vieques from states like Vermont, Maine, North Carolina… The only business that appeared owned by locals were a taco cart and a small bar. A beautiful element about the island are all the roaming wild horses. Families of horses just wander about the streets and fields.

An evening stroll along Paseo de la Princessa

The trip was great, one must only be prepared to join many many U.S. tourists when staying in Old San Juan or visiting Vieques.

Written by ricardo

July 22nd, 2021 at 9:05 am

NFS NSFW NFT Exhibition Is Live!

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NFS NSFW NFT is a 3D virtual exhibition produced by members of NEW INC and Rhizome’s Art & Code track. The exhibition is on New Art City, hosting a Zoom opening, minting a NFT on Foundation, and closing with a panel at Hunter College — all, to explore the critical poetics of this particular not-for-sale, not-safe-for-work, and non-fungible-token moment. The exhibition is composed of three galleries:

The NFS garden is skinned with cryptocurrency symbols and animations. Featuring work from Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga, Mark Ramos, and Bhavik Singh.

The NSFW garden is skinned with community rules and blurred graphics that platforms use to police adult content. Featuring work from Itziar Barrio, Christopher Clary, Nahee Kim, and Pearlyn Lii.

The NFT garden is skinned with graphics that corporations use to illustrate the blockchain. Featuring work from Johanna Flato, Lula Mebrahtu, Yeseul Song, and Ziyang Wu.

I contributed two works – a mock real estate advertisement and a sphere skinned with crypto logos that houses an audio file.

I created the real estate video advertisement featuring actress Sajda Waite for a desktop and virtual reality app titled Desplazados. Desplazados is a wandering world application set in a 19th century tenement neighborhood. One explores the environment populated by disembodied voices that share observations and personal stories regarding urban gentrification and dislocation. The voices are street interviews that I conducted as the 1 billion dollar development Essex Crossing broke ground. As one spends time with Desplazados, old buildings explode and new glass towers rise. By the end of the 20 minute experience, one is surrounded by glass skyscrapers. The video advertisement is one of two scripted elements in the app.

The crypto sphere presents logos of some of the more prominent crypto or alt currencies. When one enters the sphere, you hear a snippet of a conversation with artist Grayson Earle who created Bail Bloc, a blockchain app that when running on one’s computer generates funds for the Immigrant Bail Fund of New Haven CT that aids immigrants detained by ICE. The interview is part of a project I’ve been working on over the past year titled FinTech for the Precariat that investigates the effects of emerging financial technologies. As with Desplazados the project is a desktop and VR app that will feature 12 interviews with artists, financial specialists and individuals who have been living in financial distress.

Both these projects question speculative commerce and investing and the disparity and distress that the financialization of human existence causes.

Lindsay Howard wrote an inspiring essay regarding web3 and the possibilities of decentralized currencies and collective action. Written in a manifesto style that condemns the exploitative nature of web2.0 social network corporations, the essay is titled “Innovative Economies.”

Written by ricardo

July 21st, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Remembering Enrique Bolaños

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The only decent president of Nicaragua in nearly 25 years, Enrique Bolaños died on Monday, June 14th 2021 at the age of 93. My family has been friends with the Bolaños for generations. A few years ago at my Tio Hernaldo Zuniga’s 90th birthday, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Enrique for an extended period. He was more interested in hearing about me and what I do than talking about himself. As I told him about my creative work and using the internet/web as a creative medium and the classes that I teach, he got very excited to share his latest endeavor. He had been working with a group of assistants to create an online archive regarding Nicaragua’s history. This is an archive of historical documents and accounts, if I recall correctly a compliment and extension to his book The Struggle for Power (2017) that presents a political history of Nicaragua from 1821 to 2007 – ending with his presidency. Enrique described the effort as an online library and indeed named it as such Enrique Bolaños Bibioteca. This online library reflects Enrique’s dedication and love for his country.

As Vice President to the criminal Arnolod Aleman from 1997 to 2002, it was expected that when Enrique Bolaños took over the presidency in 2002, he would merely be a puppet of Aleman. (In Nicaragua, presidents may not serve consecutive terms.) Instead of being a puppet, President Bolaños launched an anticorruption campaign to investigate criminal acts by state employees. In August of 2002, this investigation lead to the conviction of the former president Arnoldo Aleman for fraud, money laundering and misuse of public funds totaling nearly $100 million. Following only six years of a 20 year sentence and largely served as a house arrest, Aleman was pardoned by the far more corrupt dictator Daniel Ortega.

Enrique Bolaños, an incredibly sincere and transparent individual is a surprising persona in the corrupt politics of Nicaragua. His presidency remains a hopeful moment in the country’s recent history as he was nested between a self-serving, obese thief and a maniacal dictator and lunatic vice dictator wife Rosario Murillo. One hopes that a new leader with some of the same qualities as Bolaños will rise to dethrone the Ortega-Murillo regime this election year. Unfortunately, as I write this, those candidates truly challenging the current dictatorship are being arrested.

Written by ricardo

June 20th, 2021 at 8:51 am

COVID-19 Vaccination

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Second floor vaccination facility at Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY. Everyone wearing masks and socially distanced. In the far background are some of the great soldiers attending the people receiving the vaccine.

I’m an Emerging Media professor at Hunter College, Department of Film & Media Studies and this past school year, I have been teaching entirely on Zoom. This semester, spring 2021, I’m teaching a new course XR Development & Design. We started the first few weeks with apps that are relatively easy to introduce and start using – A-Frame and Spark AR. A-Frame is a webvr framework that utilizes HTML, CSS and JS; it’s built on top of the javascript framework three.js that has been around for the past ten years. A-Frame makes three.js much more accessible and with an understanding of HTML and basic JavaScript, students can start constructing 3D virtual worlds that reside on the web. Spark AR is FaceBook’s augmented reality tool to create filters and other virtual artifacts that reside on Instagram or FB. Now we are getting started with Unity, a much more complex application that facilitates virtual reality and augmented reality and desktop and mobile projects… – it’s an application that allows you to build projects across platforms.

I first proposed the course a year and half ago, before the pandemic and I received an institutional grant to afford equipment for the course. I put off the course for a semester (a year ago, I had planned to teach it in fall 2020). Due to the pandemic, I understood that a VR course in which students would be sharing Oculus headsets and iPad Pros, wasn’t going to work and that it would have to wait. Sadly, I had already purchased some of the equipment, equipment that has since gone obsolete such as the Quests that are now probably slow in comparison to the Quest 2. However, as it became clear that the pandemic was not miraculously going away by Easter 2020 or summer 2020 and that the Trump administration had entirely failed to rein in the spread, I decided to re-tool the course for primarily online in order to run it this spring. Thus far, I’ve seen amazing projects created by the students and I’m excited at how they are adopting these new tools for storytelling and documentary.

Now with a new Presidential Administration in place, one that recognizes the gravity of the pandemic and has taken a much more professional roll out of vaccination, I am feeling more confident about a return to in-person teaching. One of the purchases for the class is an iPad Pro (I got funding for two, but due to the pandemic only ordered one). I ordered the iPad Pro for its LIDAR 3D scanning capability with the hope of scanning the students and having 3D versions of themselves populate their projects or scanning buildings to tell location-based AR stories… The course that I’m teaching is technically a hybrid – both online and in-person. In order to make the in-person a reality and to utilize that iPad Pro with the students, I signed up for the vaccine and this past Friday, February 26th, I received my first dose at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Biking my way from Flatbush to Crown Heights, I envisioned a line, who knows how long (regardless of having an appointment scheduled) and nurses attending the vaccine receivers. This was not at all what I encountered. I locked up my bike and walked up to two soldiers standing outside a long white tent adjacent to a sports facility building. I told them that I had an appointment, they asked me to pull out my documentation that I had filled out the forms and an ID and ushered me forward through the tent. At the other end, was another soldier, who again told me to have my form and id ready and sending me into the building. Up three stairs was another solider who directed me to the end of one row of a series of tables staffed by many soldiers, each sitting in front of a laptop in the lobby of this large gym. The last solider at this row of tables smiled and waived me forward. I presented my driver’s license and printed proof of having filled out the appropriate forms. He did something on the computer, perhaps searching for my appointment and verifying my data. He then directed me to a line with about six people, a line running outside a gym entrance.

I only waited in this line a few minutes. As I peered into the gym, I saw a highly organized and socially distanced temporary facility. Along the perimeters were curtained enclosures and in the center white plastic fold out chairs with people waiting. I anticipated having to wait on one of those chairs until my number was called. Instead, I was directed upstairs to another, smaller outdoor gym that was transformed into a bubble, a temporary interior gym. It had the same layout – along the walls curtained enclosed areas, each administrated by two soldiers and white plastic chairs spread out in the center. A solider escorted me to one of the curtained “rooms” where I was received by two soldiers, one behind a desk and another across from the chair that I was asked to sit on. They asked that I verify that I consented to the vaccine and asked me if I had any questions. I had been trying to find out what vaccine was being given at this location and had not found the information, so that was my first question – it was Pfizer which I was pleased about. I also asked when the second dose would be and was told that it would be in three weeks and that I would receive an email with the date and time. The soldier across from me then asked me which arm he should inject, I pointed out my left arm. The soldier injected me and told me to take a white chair and wait for 15 minutes, he handed me a paper that had hand written the time when I should leave – 2:09pm.

I sat, took the selfie above, scanned email and waited. At the far end of this gym, there was an exit and just before the exit a table with two or three soldiers who checked the time on people’s paper slips as they exited. As my minute arrived, I got up, walked to the exit, showed the soldiers, my slip, in their eyes I saw a smile as they waived goodbye.

Besides the surprise of the entire facility being militarized and feeling like I was in a movie, ET came to mind, the vaccination was incredibly smooth. No waiting in long lines, no anxiety about being inside a space with many people as everyone wore a mask and was socially distanced. The soldiers were at once courteous and efficient. It was an amazingly swift, efficient, reaffirming experience. Reaffirming in the power of a professionally organized federal, city and military collaboration. It was a visceral experience of coming out of the fog of lies, misinformation and ineptitude to a vaccine rollout that may be relied upon.

Now, I am hoping that the students who feel comfortable meeting in-person and who take all the appropriate precautions will gather for some 3D scanning following spring break and we can add a new layer to the course.

Written by ricardo

March 1st, 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in COVID-19

2021 Vaccine Year

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Following the devastating year 2020, 2021 is a year of hope and expectation. In the United States, the most widely effected country by COVID-19, the Trump administration’s rollout of the COVID vaccines has been poor. Today, the U.S. House and Senate convene to announce electoral votes to formalize the Biden/Harris defeat of Trump/Pence. Trump zealots are gathering in DC to protest an election that over and over has shown to be fair and democratic, however, Trump continues to make false claims that agitate his following. Once the election is finalized, the zealots will grudgingly go home and Trump will decamp to Mar-a-Lago and hopefully a sense of normalcy will slowly return to politics.

Of course, many will remain resentful and angry and the country will remain highly politicized and divided. Meanwhile, I have a few predictions:

There will be a rise of mass shootings. As rage and a sense of injustice is fed from white supremacist parents to adolescents, some will act out in violence.

With the Biden administration in place, vaccine distribution will be handled by professionals and will be accelerated.

As an individual dedicated to public service, Biden will present a solemn and honest message to the country regarding the pandemic. Slowly that message will sink-in through most of the country and the spread will slow.

The Federal government will present a large stimulus aiding many individuals and small businesses.

While the stock market continues to trend up, a correction will occur that will slow wildly over valued stocks.

Global economic inequality will continue to increase.

Biden will recognize the need to help vaccinate underdeveloped and poor countries and will increase a global vaccination movement.

“Exercise snacks” will take off as a viral phrase that excites new micro-workout format.

Written by ricardo

January 6th, 2021 at 7:27 am

Trump the Election Troll

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An online troll attacks people to evoke emotional responses; activity that is considered online harassment. I’ve never taken trolling seriously; I’ve always shrugged it off and dismissed it. In observing Trump’s behavior since loosing the elections, I identify it as trolling. He uses Twitter to make false claims and to threaten other officials (the example below concerns the Georgia run-off, not Trump’s own loss):

What a fool Governor @BrianKempGA of Georgia is. Could have been so easy, but now we have to do it the hard way. Demand this clown call a Special Session and open up signature verification, NOW. Otherwise, could be a bad day for two GREAT Senators on January 5th.
12:03 AM · Dec 14, 2020·Twitter for iPhone

He lost the elections and has turned to trolling to evoke his following to be up in arms. Unfortunately, the effect of online trolling may lead to physical altercation and harm. Of course, beyond trolling the elections, Trump has his personal lawyer attempting a reversal of a democratic procedure. But at the moment, I’m more concerned about the trolling and the continued divisiveness that his online and media trolling is having upon the nation.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to merely dismiss Trump’s trolling as I do with other trolls. Yesterday morning an old friend and journalist txt’d me “did you see how trump is sending alternate electors to Congress? He is now full fledged working on a coup. No respect for our constitution or democracy.” Having woken up concerned that the final Electoral College count would not reflecting the states won by Biden – 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 and worried that Biden’s win would not be certified, this txt increased my anxiety. In response to my anxious questioning, she wrote “No. It will fail. But it’s just so disgusting.” So I relaxed, but I was feeling the effects of a troll and I was annoyed at being susceptible to Trumps trolling the 2020 Elections.

Today, Mitch McConnell finally acknowledged Biden’s win and even congratulated Vice President Elect Kamala Harris which helps me put anxieties induced by Trump’s trolling further to rest.

However, what is most worrying about Trump’s election trolling is the gathering of many hundred Trump supporters in DC this past Saturday. Watching the video of that gathering and the way these people applauded a helicopter that took Trump to the Army Navy Game reminded me of images of black and red clad Nicaraguans cheering Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. It is a confounding cult of personality.

The last +4 years, I have been dumbfounded at the spell that this egomaniacal liar has upon a large number of U.S. citizens. I find him so disgusting and yet over 70 million people voted for him. And now his trolling activity only continues the divide in this country.

I expect that Trump will be historicized amongst the most wretched presidents of this nation state, but meanwhile, I have be part of a country divided; division that could begin to calm if the trolling stopped.

Some ten years ago when my ex-spouse was trolled by someone in the midwest (we are based in Brooklyn), because he felt that her research and creative work was his domain and was essentially jealous of all the attention she was getting, she felt threatened and forced us to set up an alarm system. This was an alarm system more commonly found in a home, not really necessary in a fifth floor apartment of a Brooklyn coop. However, his messages were so menacing that my arguing against the necessity of an alarm system was ignored. The alarm system was only a costly nuisance, but this is an example of the power that internet trolls can wield. This is nothing compared to when the troll is the president.

Written by ricardo

December 15th, 2020 at 2:36 pm

The Deficit Myth 001

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I recently finished Stephanie Kelton’s book The Deficit Myth and I’m going to create a series of blog entries considering the material of the book. In doing so, I will liberally be quoting the book as part of my goal is to consider and digest my highlights from the text.

Kelton’s goal is to have us understand Modern Monetary Theory and how if embraced, it can help us create a better society. Kelton asks “What would it look like if the government overcame the deficit myths [the concept of having to maintain a household budget] and started budgeting like a currency issuer instead of pretending that it needs to pay for its spending just like the rest of us?” (pg. 42)

Although I think that we should all read this book (though it can be a bit repetitive), I’m going to copy the main points of the United States federal deficit myths that need to be debunked. These points are in the introduction and are given a chapter each:

First Myth:
The idea that the United States federal government needs to budget like a household is pernicious… “MMT demonstrates that the federal government is not dependent on revenue form taxes or borrowing to finance its spending and that the most important constraint on government spending is inflation.” pg. 9

Second Myth:
“It is possible for the government to spend too much. Deficits can be too big. But evidence of overspending is inflation, and most of the time deficits are too small, not too big.” pg.9

Third Myth:
Deficits will burden the next generation. Ronald Reagan was one of the wort perpetrators of the myth that we would saddle our children with too much debt, because it’s powerful political rhetoric. “As a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the national debt was at its highest – 120% – in the period immediately following WWII. Yet, this was the same period during which the middle class was built, real media family income soared, and the next generation enjoyed a higher standard of living without the added burden of higher tax rates… Increasing the deficit doesn’t make future generations poorer, and reducing the deficit won’t make them any richer.” pg.9

Fourth Myth:
“…deficits are harmful because the crowd out private investment and undermine long-term investment… government deficits eat up some of the dollars that would otherwise have been invested in private sector endeavors that promote long-term prosperity. We will see why the reverse is true – fiscal deficits actually increase private savings – and can easily crowd-in private investments.” pg. 10

Fifth Myth:
“Deficits make the United States dependent on foreigners [China and Japan as they hold large quantities of U.S. debt]… this is a fiction that politicians wittingly or unwittingly propagate, often as an excuse to ignore social programs desperate need of funding. Sometimes this myth has used the metaphor of irresponsibly taken out a foreign credit card. This misses the fact that the dollars aren’t originating from China. They’re coming from the U.S. We’re not borrowing from China so much as we’re supplying China with dollars and then allowing them to trade those dollars in for a safe, interest-bearing asset called a U.S. treasury. There is absolutely nothing risky or pernicious about this. If we wanted to, we could pay off the debt immediately with a simple keystroke.” pg.10

Sixth Myth:
“Entitlements are propelling us toward a long-term fiscal crisis. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the supposed culprits… Our government will always be able to meet future obligations because it can never run out of money. The money can always be there. The question is, What will that money buy? Changing demographics and the impacts of climate change are real challenges that could put stress on available resources.” pg.11

Kelton ends the introduction with a call to arms:

“The fact that 21 percent of all children in the United States live in poverty- that’s a crisis. The fact that our infrastructure is graded at a D+ is a crisis. The fact that inequality today stands at levels last seen during America’s Gilded Age is a crisis. The fact that the typical American worker has seen virtually no real wage growth since the 1970s is a crisis. The fact that forty-four million Americans are saddled with $1.7 trillion in student loans debt is a crisis. And the fact that we ultimately won’t be able to ‘afford’ anything at all if we end up exacerbating climate change and destroy the life on this planet is perhaps the biggest crisis of them all.” pg.11

“These are real crises. The national deficit is not a crisis.” pg.12

“THE CRIME OF the tax bill signed by Trump in 2017 is not that it added to the deficit but that it used the deficit to provide help to those who needed it least. It has widened inequality, putting more political and economic power into the hands of the few… We should tax billionaires to rebalance the distribution of wealth and income and to protect the health of our democracy.” pg. 12

As the many citizens of the United States need a financial lifeline from the federal government to help make it through this pandemic, Kelton foresees the stalling of a second stimulus:

“The federal deficit, which was expected to top $1 trillion before the virus became a threat, will likely skyrocket beyond $3 trillion in the months ahead. If history is any lesson, anxiety over rising budget deficits will lead to pressure to reduce fiscal support in order to wrestle deficits lower. That would be an unmitigated disaster. Right now, and in the months ahead, the most fiscally responsible way to manage the crisis is with higher deficit spending.” pg. 13

My Wild Ride with NVAX

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NVAX on December 1st 2020 from Yahoo Finance

Yesterday, November 30th 2020, I sold my remaining shares of the biotech Novavax Stock at $143.53. I had previously sold shares of the stock in July at $98.29 and then regretted that sell when the stock rose to over $170 a month later. Although I expect the stock to once again rise, I decided that I was satisfied with the gains and did not want to monitor a company that had never brought a vaccine to market in its 33 year history, but received $1.6 billion dollars from the Trump Administration’s shady Operation Warp Speed.

In 2018, fresh from a divorce and having to meet new financial responsibilities of child support and thinking ahead about my son’s college fund, I opened an account with Robinhood. After all, the trading app allowed me to open an account with next to no money, unlike my experience with Vanguard with which I needed a base $3k to start investing. So I needed to generate more money and felt it was time to learn about the stock market beyond the safety of Vanguard indices.

Amongst my most speculative investments was Novavax as I know nothing about biotech, but the stock was a penny stock and I figured, why not take a small gamble. Of course, I considered the company’s long history dating back to 1995 and looked at the rise and falls of the stock. I thought to myself – it’s been around a long time, it has 500 employees, I’ll buy over hundred shares at an average of .56 cents and see what happens. Again, I was new to investing and did not have substantial funds to gamble with so I only buy small amounts, hoping that little by little, I can buy more.

On May 10th 2019, NVAX had a 1 for 20 reverse split, so for each 20 shares of NVAX that I owned pre-split, suddenly became 1. I watched my 120 shares that I had spent $72.21 become 10 stocks (yes not a 1 to 20 and I don’t understand this). Although the dollar amount remained the same, I hated seeing my over a hundred shares become 10. I was so annoyed with the stock, but oh well, nothing to do but let it sit. (The math here doesn’t add up, according to my Robinhood history, I bought 100 shares at .62 cents and then 20 shares at .51 cents and then those 120 shares became 10 following the reverse split. However, the dollar amounts below are correct.)

In the end, I spent $72.21 and sold for $1344.84 for at total gain of $1272.89. Now, I’ll take that gain and buy perhaps Apple or Google or Amazon – a stock that I expect will be around for at least ten years – this is my friend Greg’s advice – buy shares of companies that will stick around. (I’ve already bought Tesla and have only gained, but keep expecting that to entirely disappear at any moment.)

I understand that I’ll never become wealthy at this rate of playing it safe, but I elected to not be greedy and instead to be happy with this gamble, while walking away from Operation Warp Speed nonsense. By the way, yesterday, I sold NVAX at $143.53 and today it is at $125.32; after today, I’m not looking at this stock again. After spending way too much time looking at stocks over the last two years, I’m ready to stop speculating, hang up my dreams of getting rich quick and just invest in relatively safe companies, while also getting back to more meaningful use of my time.

My take away: It took a pandemic and a dirty president to turn my $72 into $1200. The money is dirty and we need to be transparent about how stocks rise and fall to help reign in financial disparity.

Written by ricardo

December 1st, 2020 at 9:39 am

VOTE 2020 Find My Poll Site

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If there’s one thing that the last four years of Trump have taught us, it is that we can generally do whatever the hell we want, unless of course it’s visibly criminal (police aside). And through the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have even become more brazen.

This morning, the first day of early voting for NYC – October 24th 2020 – when I saw a bunch of Caribbeans in line to vote at our usual voting site at Caton & Rugby, I told them that early voting is at Queens Theater but they all looked at me suspiciously. I repeated it loudly due to mask and physical distance three times and finally one lady engaged me, repeated what I had just old her and thanked me. However, when I walked away they remained in line. So clearly a sign was necessary. Back home, I pulled out my largest drawing paper and a fat sharpie. First I lettered in with pencil findmypoll.vote.nyc – which is wrong and I need to fix as it is findmypollsite.vote.nyc and then went over it with sharpie. And with it I retuned to the school entrance leading to the gym where voting will occur on November 3rd.

While placing a sign a man with his Caribbean accent approached me “Excuse me sir, where can I vote?” I told him Queens Theater on Flatbush and he asked “is it open tomorrow?” Not sure, I pulled out my phone searched voting site with him went to findmypollsite.vote.nyc, he gave me his address without hesitation and we saw Queens Theater come up, I was slightly relieved I had told him the right place and that it’s open tomorrow. He was grateful. And I didn’t even need to concoct a uniform!

Everyone needs to mobolize!

Written by ricardo

October 24th, 2020 at 11:29 am

Posted in 2020 Elections

U.S. Data Privacy 2020

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On the California 2020 ballot is Proposition 24, Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative (2020):

“yes” vote supports this ballot initiative to expand the state’s consumer data privacy laws, including provisions to allow consumers to direct businesses to not share their personal information; remove the time period in which businesses can fix violations before being penalized; and create the Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the state’s consumer data privacy laws.

Just as California is leading the United States toward a cleaner environment, California will lead the charge toward a more just internet, one in which corporations such as FaceBook do not profiteer on our personal data. Let’s hope that this proposition moves us toward laws akin to what is in place in Europe. If anyone should monetize on ones personal data is the individual themself. VOTE YES ON PROP 24

Written by ricardo

October 8th, 2020 at 6:35 pm