13 June 2019

The lies of war

The Trump administration today announced that it blamed Iran for attacks on two tanker ships in the Gulf of Oman.  The Iranian regime has categorically denied being involved.  This follows a case last month in which four ships were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, which the US government also blamed on Iran.  This follows a long-standing pattern of escalating saber-rattling by the Trump administration against Iran, beginning with Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement negotiated by Presidents Obama and Rouhani, despite the fact that international observers agreed that Iran was adhering to its side of the deal.

It may be of some value here to recall the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to substantial escalation of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict.  Official reports at the time claimed that several North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked the American destroyer USS Maddox "on the high seas", followed a few days later by a second attack on the Maddox and another US ship.  As we now know, the Maddox had in fact opened fire first, and the clash happened within the 12-mile limit which North Vietnam claimed as its territorial waters, while the second attack never happened at all (false radar images were mistaken for enemy craft which were not actually present).  Nevertheless, President Johnson and pro-war elements in his administration presented the incident to the US public as a pretext for escalating US involvement, leading to the protracted bloody mess which dragged on wearily until 1975, at staggering cost.

There is a lesson from the Gulf of Tonkin incident and from all the other lies and deceptions fed to the public during that war.  It's the same lesson offered by the official hysterics and falsified evidence which were used to whip up support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  That lesson is:  when it comes to leading this country into war, the establishment lies.

They lie.  They simply lie.  It's what they do.  When I was younger, as the truth about Vietnam began to emerge, I came to realize that the establishment must never, ever again be given the benefit of the doubt on such a matter.  Because the establishment lies.  In any future such case, I decided, anything the establishment says must be considered a lie -- not until proven otherwise, but even if proven otherwise.  Because they are not above lying even about the evidence.  The establishment lies.  Period.

By 2003, after the shock of the September 11 attack, my conviction had weakened.  It is a shameful admission, but they fooled me.  I supported the Iraq invasion at the time, because the thought of Saddam Hussein (whose regime genuinely was among the most horrific of the modern age) with nuclear weapons was unacceptable.  As we now know, that too was all lies.

Never again.

The Iranian theocracy is evil, but it is not stupid.  It defies sanity to believe that Iran (which has not attacked another country in almost 200 years) would carry out shipping attacks calculated to provoke a war with the mighty United States right at the very moment when the Trump administration could direly use a pyrotechnic overseas distraction from its domestic woes with investigations, failed trade wars, flaccid poll numbers, and a wall which even the Trumpanzees are starting to realize will never get built.

Don't fall for it the way I did in 2003.  There must be no war with Iran.

Update:  Stonekettle Station discusses some suspicious details of this incident.

[Image at top:  looking northwestward from above the Gulf of Oman toward the Persian Gulf -- Arabia is to the left, Iran to the right.]

12 June 2019

To an ancient enemy

In honor of a recent scientific achievement:

Mosquito, buzzing, whining, out for blood,
A tiny vampire flitting round the bed,
The bearer of malaria and more,
You've cost mankind at least a billion dead.

With netting, sprays, and now and then a slap,
We've stopped you here and there, yet you remain,
Abroad and free, the warm lands to infest,
To menace us with more disease and pain.

But science is the new ace in our hand;
We've put a spider's venom in a spore.
It's time to make a better, cleaner world;
A world where you won't be there any more.

09 June 2019

Link round-up for 9 June 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Two hamsters, one wheel.

Safety first!

Have some cat pictures.  And these guys are just getting warmed up.

Debra She Who Seeks begins to celebrate Pride Month, leading off with lesbomania.

Best tweet yet on Trump's UK trip (found via I Should Be Laughing).

Misogynistic semen cultists are divided over the issue of sex demons.

"All people will become exceedingly polite and courteous....."

This movie looks kind of cool.

Be pro-life!

Fans have restored Star Wars to its original form.

I wonder if the females say "size doesn't matter"?

Good staircase for a library.

This is the birthplace of humanity's most important invention.

This is the wasteland.

Ecologists plan a huge, complex rodent extermination project in order to re-infest a small island with giant bugs.

Evangelicals have a dreary either-or, black-and-white view of human beings (this reminded me of Chick tracts).

Some companies are giving older workers a second look.

A Biblical creator God involves an irreconcilable contradiction.

This priest has serious issues with, well, practically everything.  Maybe such weird obsessing arises from the celibacy rule?

Only the woman can make this kind of decision.

If you use Google, Facebook or Windows 10, here's what you're opening yourself up to.

A Republican legislator apologizes -- for not being respectful enough of the Biblical kill-all-gays position.

The rise of non-belief in the US is happening faster than you think.

At the ATM, be wary of these tricks to steal your data.

A Catholic group claims gay pride is Satanic -- and a Satanist responds.

Kiko's House reviews Trump's misadventures in Europe.

Evangelicals are arrogant and hateful.

Kwame Ajamu spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit after being convicted on flimsy evidence.  The original sentence was death.

YouTube allows targeted harassment of an individual, as long as it's done by somebody with a large number of viewers.  Social media display flagrant hypocrisy.

Josh Marshall patiently explains to the thugs why assaulting people you don't agree with is a bad idea.

Darwinfish 2 looks at the problem of teenage mob violence.  I don't entirely agree with his analysis (see my comment on the post), but he's always worth reading.

The Christian forgiveness fetish marginalizes and further harms abuse victims.

Here's what the news looks like these days.

This elderly woman was treated in a truly horrifying manner by a nursing home run by a Catholic religious order.

Via Facebook one can follow the process whereby people get lured down the alt-right rabbit hole.

Professor Taboo looks at D-Day.

Are antioxidants good for you?  The answer isn't simple.

Science may have found the key to successful weight loss.

A genetically-modified fungus offers hope for the eventual extermination of the malaria mosquito.

To please the religious nuts, Trump acts to discourage medical research using fetal tissue -- a move which will drive important scientific work out of the US to other countries.

This kind of shit still happens even in London.  Keep fighting until these bastards are beaten.

Ireland's Prime Minister and Britain's likely future one both turned down formal meetings with Trump.

Boris Johnson is ready to play hardball with the EU.

The Queen of Denmark has long been an ally of gay liberation.

This is socialized medicine.

The mainstream media are telling lies about the tragic death of a Dutch rape victim.

Germany is trying to save the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump got nothing new from Mexico in return for suspending his threatened tariffs.

Remember those who dare not celebrate.

Japanese women are rebelling against a workplace culture that demands high heels -- unfortunately attitudes at the top are stuck in a bygone era.

The early twentieth century holds valuable lessons for the modern progressive movement.

There are grounds for thinking Trump will lose massively next year, though we dare not assume that.

One RedState writer is worried about Texas.

Steve M dismantles a post which represents everything wrong with today's ideological fringe.

Here's what will probably happen if Trump is impeached.  Burr Deming (and perhaps Nancy Pelosi) thinks televised hearings on the Mueller report could shift public opinion.

Go hard left or play to the middle?  A thoughtful post by Martin Longman.

Shower Cap blog tries to keep up with all the Trumpy madness.

More (mostly political) links here.

[Image at top:  A banner displayed in London during Trump's visit -- found via Shaw Kenawe]

06 June 2019

The likely -- not inevitable -- nominee

I don't have a preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination yet (it's way too early), but if I had to make a prediction today, I'd say that Biden will probably get it.  This isn't just based on his huge current lead in polls of Democrats.  One can point to many earlier instances where the clear front-runner so long before the actual primaries didn't get the nomination.  However, Electoral-Vote today made this point:

The Democrats' problem is that collectively they appeal to far more than half the voters, but individually they don't.  While Sanders is strong with blue-collar men, he is extremely weak with blacks.  Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) does great with blacks, but very poorly with blue-collar men.  Elizabeth Warren does well with college-educated suburban women, but is nowhere with blue-collar men or blacks.  Pete Buttigieg is the choice of many millennials, but is not so hot with Latinos.  The only candidate who seems to do reasonably well with all Democratic constituencies (and who is hated by none) is Biden.  In the end, this may make him the most acceptable compromise candidate.

This could help explain why, while polls show several Democrats beating Trump in key states, they almost always show Biden doing so by the largest margin (Quinnipiac even has him four points ahead of Trump in Texas).  Polls of the general election ask voters to envisage a candidate as already being the nominee and potentially becoming President.  Black voters' lack of enthusiasm for Sanders, or blue-collar voters' suspicion of Warren, etc., may well dampen support in such a scenario.  But every major group in our coalition would turn out for Biden.

This may also account for his higher perceived "electability", a word which it has recently become fashionable to disdain.  Some bloggers like to claim that this is just code for his being an old white guy as most Presidents have been.  But that hardly explains his broad appeal, especially after Obama won two elections with the highest popular-vote totals in US history.  More likely, "electability" means just what it sounds like it means -- that he's perceived as most likely to win against Trump because he would be more capable than any other candidate of unifying and rallying the variegated Democratic coalition after the primaries.

(Yes, there would be some ideological purists who would find Biden unacceptable for whatever reason.  But that would happen for any candidate who won the nomination -- the perception is just that there would be fewer of them for Biden than for the others.)

Electoral-Vote also observes that Biden is focusing his rhetorical attacks on Trump, not on his Democratic rivals, whereas many of those Democratic rivals have started sniping at each other.  Electoral-Vote interprets this is Biden thinking he already has the nomination "in the bag", but it strikes me as smart strategy for the primary fight.  Most mainstream, not-very-ideological Democratic voters are focused on getting rid of Trump and a candidate who seems focused on the same goal will naturally appeal to them.  By contrast, rivals for the nomination jabbing at each other over this or that seem small, petty, and ordinary -- politics-as-usual.  I noted a while back that Warren too was aiming her rhetorical fire mostly at Trump, and was rising in the polls at that time while most other candidates stagnated.  If she joins the circular firing squad, I think she'll lose that advantage.  The way for another candidate to win the nomination instead of Biden is to convince those mainstream Democrats that he or she would have the best chance of winning against Trump.

I have some concerns about Biden.  His preference for middle-of-the-road stances suggests that as President he might try for less than could be achieved; his announced climate-change policy in particular is inadequate.  His age is a concern, especially since Trump seems to be in the grip of advancing dementia which will make age more of an issue in November 2020 than it is now.  I'm not worried about his talk of appealing to Republicans for unity, which I think is just talk aimed at Democrats who don't realize such unity is impossible.  He could be felled by some scandal or gaffe, but that's true of any candidate.

But ultimately the most important question is who can beat Trump.  After 2016, no one should be so foolish as to assume that winning this election is inevitable, no matter what the polls say now.  The best nominee in the world can accomplish nothing if he or she fails to actually become President.  If the great mass of Democratic voters perceive Biden as most capable of defeating Trump, they'll probably hand him the nomination.

04 June 2019

Trump in Britain (links)

Donald Trump's official state visit to the land of my ancestors has the internet abuzz today.  Great crowds of people turned out, though Trump seemed a tad confused about their intent.  The now-famous baby Trump blimp was in the sky to greet him, despite a feeble effort at sabotage by a British Trumpanzee -- assuredly a rare species on that side of the Atlantic.  The Tower of London and Madame Tussaud's (found via Frances Langum) were specially illuminated in his honor.

Trump's outfit at the Royal State Dinner aroused a certain amount of comment, as did those of his entourage.  The famous British talent for parody and cutting humor quickly manifested itself.  No doubt many more examples will appear before the week is out.  This is the country that produced Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson, after all.  They know a thing or two about taking down a pompous self-important bully like Trump.

British officialdom has little choice but to offer Trump the outward forms of respect -- he's the head of the most powerful country on Earth and Britain's most important ally, and in the diplomatic world such respect is understood as being offered more to a ruler's nation than to the ruler personally.  They've done almost as much for despots far worse than Trump.  But the British people know very well the distinction between Trump and the United States, and will not be among those who try to normalize the former.

02 June 2019

Link round-up for 2 June 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

This guy had a bad day.

Live theater allows for surprises.

Best door-handle ever (or worst, some might say).

This person exists.

Hey, Trump, make up your mind.

It's Christian meteorology.

Have fun out there.

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse.....

Blogger RO has a round-up of oddities, from yard sales to giraffe law.

Who are you?

Fanfic is reclaiming culture.

Debra She Who Seeks looks at snacks and art lessons.

Alien was remarkable for its realism about the world of work.

I've long thought that The Dark Crystal is rather underrated -- now Netflix is doing a prequel series.  Here's the trailer.

Lots of interesting stuff here about counterfeit money.

Here's the original Pledge of Allegiance.

Pwned, I think.

Actually, everyone should relearn this.

Hysterical Raisins looks at two debased "moderate" Republicans, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins.

Watch out for these car-rental companies.

"There should be something in a library to offend everyone."

Don't fall for these myths about bisexuality (I really wish we'd get over treating sexuality as an identity, though).

Fundies are still stuck in the Bronze Age about gender roles.

President Pussygrabber's party seems to attract menacing weirdos.

We can do without religion.

Darwinfish 2 looks at right-wing memes and asshole drivers (but trust me, the drivers in Portland are even assholer).

The CEO of DuckDuckGo fights for internet privacy.

Facebook has weird "community standards".

Abrahamic religions have a sick obsession with virginity.

Elon Musk is a failure who excels only at claiming success.

Trump's trade wars will speed up the collapse of the US retail sector.

While other states go backward on abortion, Illinois moves forward.

The world's oldest scam is still among the most successful.

Call them Trumpcamps.

Atheist books can be an important morale-booster for those just beginning to escape from faith.

Here are a few tips for women in the states with draconian abortion laws.

Here is what the Bible calls a righteous man.

A KKK rally in Ohio draws a vast crowd of.....nine.

Bread in the US contains chemicals which most advanced countries ban as unsafe.  The situation with cosmetics is even worse.

Only Americans need to worry about this.

Britain has assholes just as bad as the Trumpanzees (the blue rosette on the man's shirt indicates he's a campaigner for the Brexit party).

British blogger Neil Bamforth argues that Britain's polarization over Brexit can be healed only by Brexit itself.

Yet another Irish referendum repudiates Catholic taboo.  And they don't want this guy around.

Jews are at risk in Germany, and being warned not to be too identifiable.

Here are seven reasons not to invade Iran.

Impeachment wouldn't remove Trump and is unpopular with voters, but Dan Pfeiffer thinks it could help the Democrats nevertheless (found via Mock Paper Scissors).  I'm skeptical, but see what you think.  Electoral-Vote also looks at the pros and cons.

The Republican party is a traitorous party.

See how far left the various Democratic candidates are.

An analysis of the victories of 2018 holds lessons for 2020.

The exposure of the fake Pelosi video shows what happens when the media actually do their job.

Roy Mo[lest]ore won't let Trump stop him from running for Senate again.

Candidate fund-raising is miserable and corrupting.

Shower Cap reviews "the Category 5 turd hurricane that is the daily news".

More links here.

30 May 2019

Iran in pictures

If the Trump regime drags us into another war, it's quite likely that Iran will be the target, given that country's status as Bolton's current bogeyman and the major object of Trump's belligerent rhetoric and recent aggressive moves.  As the Middle East is the region I know best, I hope this post will give you some impression of the country they'd be taking us to war against (click images for bigger versions).

Tehran, the capital city:


Tehran's metro-area population is 16 million, larger than any US metro area except New York.


Isfahan:


Maydan-e Shâh (Royal Square), Isfahan:

Traditional dresses (this is a Persian New Year celebration):

Protester helping injured police officer during the 2009 anti-regime demonstrations:

Satellite dishes (to access foreign TV) are a common sight in Iran:

Children's play area, shopping mall, Shiraz:
Yes, a dinosaur.  Iran teaches evolution in its schools without equivocation, making it more modern in this respect than some areas of the US.  (As I noted last Sunday, Iran's abortion law is also much more liberal than what Republicans are pushing in the US.)

Borj-e Âzâdî (Persian history monument), Tehran:

Ruins of Persepolis (Takht-e Jamshîd), the imperial capital founded by King Darius I around 515 BC (the columns in the background are over 60 feet tall):
The Iranian sense of national identity is very deep-rooted, reaching back to the coronation of Cyrus the Great in 559 BC, more than 300 years before China first became a unified state.

This is Mohammed Mosaddegh, Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953:
Mosaddegh led the first serious attempt to bring real democracy to Iran and expel foreign domination, only to be overthrown by the US/British-backed coup of 1953 which restored the rule of the Shah.  Most Americans have barely heard of him, but this history is well-known in Iran.

Iraq-Iran geographical size comparison:
Much of Iran's terrain is far more rugged and mountainous than most of Iraq is.  Iraq at the time of the 2003 US invasion had a population of about 18 million.  Iran's current population is 83 million, about equal to Germany, or one-fourth the population of the US.  Per-capita income at purchasing-power parity is about $20,000, similar to Mexico or Romania and about one-third that of the US.

Cruise missile based on Russian model:
Iran has been preparing for a possible US attack for years, focusing mostly not on high-tech but on asymmetric warfare designed to overwhelm US ships' defenses by swarm attacks of small boats and rockets.

And of course one cannot ignore pictures like this:
The struggle against the brutal theocratic regime is an ongoing one.  The 2009 demonstrations were the largest protest marches in the history of the world, drawing crowds in the millions.  The current President, Hassan Rouhani, is a reformist who has made some substantial changes, but Islamist hard-liners control much of the government, and recent US belligerence has strengthened their position.  It is very unlikely that an attack by a foreign power, especially one still resented for the 1953 coup, would improve the situation.

[Re-posted with some modifications from February 2017 -- there are a lot of new readers since then, and this seems newly topical given the recent escalation of tensions.]

28 May 2019

Video of the day -- Prig Brother is watching you


Bill Maher is in fine form here (and a bit NSFW in places).  My only cavil would be focusing so exclusively on Catholicism -- we all know some Protestant sects (and other religions) are at least as bad.

27 May 2019

Revolution at the ballot box

Over the last few days an election was held in Britain -- not for the country's actual government but for its allotted seats in the European Union parliament (elections were held in the other EU member countries as well).  Vote-counting is mostly done, and here is the percentage of the popular vote won by each party:

This is a political earthquake.  Labour and the Conservatives are the two traditional major parties, like our Democrats and Republicans, and the Conservative party is in power in the actual British government right now.  The Liberal Democrats are the long-standing third party, which usually gets a substantial share of the vote but much less than the big two.  The Brexit party is a single-issue party formed just a few weeks ago, which has barely had time to get organized, yet it won far more votes than the big two combined.  Add in the votes for UKIP (UK Independence Party, an older anti-EU party which I didn't realize was still around), and about 35% of the vote went to single-issue pro-Brexit forces which the mainstream media in Britain have relentlessly tried to marginalize and ridicule.  And the voters massively repudiated the political establishment, especially the party in power.

Perhaps the results aren't surprising.  It is almost three years since the original referendum in which the people voted to leave the EU (by a margin, please note, of four percentage points, twice as large in percentage terms as the margin by which Hillary won the popular vote here against Trump), and the country still does not have an agreed-upon plan or schedule for getting out.  I'm not really surprised that Prime Minister Teresa May and the Conservatives have bungled Brexit, because they never really supported it.  In Britain, as in other EU member states, both major parties have always been solidly pro-EU -- which is why people have to resort to voting for fringe figures like Nigel Farage, or more dangerous people in some other countries, to make their voices heard.  May was following the policy the voters decreed out of a sense of duty, not because she really believed in it.  The message now from the voters to the government is clear -- stop fiddle-faddling around and do what we damn well told you to do three years ago, or we'll replace you with someone who will, even if they're a bit nuts.

In the wake of her repeated failures to work out a viable exit plan, May announced her resignation last Friday.  The British system has no equivalent of our Vice President -- if a Prime Minister resigns in mid-term, the party in power chooses a new leader, who then becomes Prime Minister.  This will take some time, but the leading contender is Boris Johnson, the charismatic former mayor of London who, unlike most of his party, really does support Brexit and gets the message of this election.  (I've seen some American bloggers compare Johnson to Trump based on, as far as I can see, nothing but a slight physical resemblance; his actual record is that of a moderate conservative.  It's usually wrong-headed to try and understand the politics of another country via American analogies.)  If so, he's likely to take a far tougher line negotiating with the EU than May did.

In the three years since the referendum, the situation has not fundamentally changed.  The EU is still as corrupt and anti-democratic as ever, and still poses a threat to democracy throughout Europe by arrogating more and more power to itself and away from the genuinely democratic national governments -- I've been posting about this for years.  The Brexit-bashers still never address the real issues and show no sign of understanding the situation.  The imperative for the UK is simply to get out of the EU regardless of the details, to restore its independence and preserve its democracy, even if there is some short-term economic price (or even a high price) to be paid.  If we Americans were under the thumb of an organization as bullying and oligarchical as the EU, we would get out of it whatever the cost.

The EU's stance during the negotiations has been as hard-line as one would expect from the vindictive and bullying character of the people who run it, but faced with a tougher leader like Johnson, they will have an incentive to negotiate properly.  Britain is a huge export market for the main EU countries, and it could find replacement suppliers for what it imports much more easily than the EU could find new markets.  It's the main provider of financial services, and there's no credible alternative on the mainland.  The British navy and strategic nuclear forces will be vital to any credible pan-European deterrent against Russia in the future, as the US under Trump becomes a less reliable protector.  The EU oligarchy does not have the upper hand here, and frankly I hope Johnson makes them squeal like pigs.  They need to pay for the horrors their Republican-style austerity policies inflicted on southern Europe for years, if nothing else.

Frankly the British political establishment, too, has earned its "horsewhipping by the British people".  For decades now both major parties have ignored the public's concerns about issues like immigration and the EU -- they just bulldozed ahead with a consensus politics in favor of those things, and called people names if they objected.  In this they were abetted by the mainstream media, some of which still seems to be in deep denial about the new reality their own malfeasance has helped to create.

The situation has been similar in other European countries, with similar results in this election.  In France, for example, Marine Le Pen's National Front party won 23.3% of the vote to the ruling party's 22.4%.  In Italy the main nationalist party won 34.3%, while its coalition partner, Five Star, won 17% -- together, an absolute majority.  (Green parties also made major gains against mainstream parties, reflecting Europe's high level of awareness of the threat of global warming.)

One cannot assume, of course, that elections for actual national governments would produce the same results -- the EU elections are a chance to send a message without the risk of elevating fringe figures to actual national leadership (similarly, the EU election of 2014, in which UKIP won 26.6%, probably helped force the referendum two years later).  For most of these people are unfit for that role.  Farage holds rather crackpot views on several issues unrelated to Brexit, and France's National Front has a history of anti-Semitism.  Were it not for such factors, the nationalists would probably have won even bigger shares of the vote.  The British people don't want Farage to be Prime Minister.  They want the major parties to stop ignoring and insulting their concerns and carry out the popular will in a responsible manner, as representative government is supposed to do.  But their patience isn't inexhaustible.  Making Johnson Prime Minister and getting Brexit done, deal or no deal, is probably the political establishment's last chance.  If they go back to business as usual after this, they're doomed.

UpdateThey have assholes over there who are just as bad as our Trumpanzees (the light blue rosette on the man's shirt indicates he's a campaigner for the Brexit party).

26 May 2019

Link round-up for 26 May 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Now this is how golf should be played.

The sooner the better.

Have some cat cartoons.

Tengrain challenges his readers to come up with a title for Trump Jr's book -- and they (including me) rise to the occasion.

Jenny_o has some hungry animals.

HUD has a new seal.

Brew beer the old-fashioned way.

"What, no smile?"  (I'm gonna have to see this movie.)

Imagine having a view like this.

Fordite is a mineral of the Anthropocene period.

You can send your name to Mars.

Bernie was right back in those days, and he's right again today.

Is this success or failure?

Some people don't turn the other cheek.

Lo Imprescindible recommends some romantic books that run deeper than standard romance novels.

Gosh, I wonder why nobody wanted this sign in their parade.

Waterfall.social is another possible alternative to Tumblr, where robots are now flagging robots.  Speaking of which, if you use Tumblr, watch out for this.

Most Americans want education about religion to cover more than just Christianity.

No, pessimism and cynicism are not profound.

Georgia starts to get economic pushback for its abortion law.

Did a TV show cause a rise in suicides?

The truth about vaccines is written in stone.

The QAnon qrackpots have high hopes for Barr's new propagandist role.

"What if you're wrong?"

A gay cartoon rat is one of the least offensive things kids see on TV these days.

Anyone who voted for Trump can't claim surprise at how he's behaved.

Professor Taboo takes an in-depth look at homelessness in the US.  It's one hell of a grim picture.

You pay taxes, they don't.

The new abortion laws are so horrific that some prosecutors are vowing never to bring charges under them.

Just in case you'd forgotten, Pope Francis is an asshole.

I Should Be Laughing has some political quotes.

While Ireland moves forward, the US goes backward.

There's actually very little difference between men's and women's views on abortion.

The future of wind power is BIG.

Steve Ruis reviews a book on the evolution of morality.

The tragic case of Nobuaki Nagashima could help us someday cure the most terrible disease of all.

Al-Jazeera is dishonest about one of the most important events of recent history.

If you love your country, you're stupid, apparently.

This Greek town celebrates Easter with a fireworks war between churches.

Activists bring a touch of color subversion to Russia.

Iran's abortion law is far more liberal than those recently enacted in some US states.

Dâ'ish (ISIL) had a devastating effect on Syria's ancient heritage.

One country is undermining global efforts to save the ozone layer.

Huawei is utterly dependent on one American company you've probably never heard of.

If Trump thinks attacking Iran will help him politically, he's badly mistaken (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

We need people in Congress that these guys find scary.

The Democratic party's shift from caucuses to primaries will change the nomination race substantially.

Pelosi plays Trump like a fiddle -- a rather screechy one.

It bears repeating -- the public opposes impeachment 66% to 29%.  It would not be a smart move politically.

Shower Cap keeps up to date with the week's madness.

Here are some more links, mostly political.

23 May 2019

Some further ranting on culture and politics

On Wednesday's political post (please read it if you haven't already, or else this one won't make much sense), reader Ming left the following comment:

I don't disagree with any of that, but I truly resent the chaos, stupidity, and human suffering that goes with having low-information voters make the choices for the rest of us.

F---ing Trump. Really America?

Brief as it is, this raises a number of points that I really need to address.

First, my observation that political activists, bloggers, and so on are a small minority of the population, while most of the great mass of people are much more interested in pop culture than politics, shouldn't be taken as a denigration of the latter.  I hope I made this clear in the last paragraph of the earlier post.  I myself don't find politics nearly as inherently interesting as the quantity of political posts on this blog might suggest -- it's just that since politics is about who gets to hold power, it's important, meaning we need to engage with it even though it's a rather dreary subject.  Especially this far from the election (it's still 17 months), I don't at all blame people who prefer to focus on listening to their favorite singer's latest hit or speculating about plot twists in an eagerly-anticipated upcoming movie, rather than following the blow-by-blow details of Trump's rather murky scandals or teasing out the pros and cons of the various Democratic Presidential hopefuls, half of whom will probably have dropped out by this time next year anyway.

I absolutely do not subscribe to the stance that "I and people like me are a smart self-aware minority surrounded by a vast herd of mindless sheeple."  Been there, done that.  Never again.

In fact, being well-informed -- about politics or anything else -- doesn't necessarily correlate with being intelligent at all.

This brings me to Ming's actual point, concerning which I have to disagree with him.  It wasn't those great masses of low-information voters who got us into this mess.

Never forget that Hillary won the actual voters by a margin of almost three million, and if it hadn't been for Republican vote-suppression laws, the margin would have been even bigger.  It was those laws, combined with Russian meddling and the Electoral College, that defecated Donald Trump into the punchbowl of our national politics -- not the masses, who voted our way and whose will was thwarted by those things.

If anything, it was those activist, engaged, political-junkie voters who played an outsize role in bringing about the disaster of 2016.  Who were the people that voted for Jill Stein because Hillary's Iraq-war vote (or whatever) rendered her too "impure" to support?  Who were the people that spread, believed, and acted upon the Dolchstoßlegende that Bernie was "robbed" during the primary and Hillary was thus an illegitimate nominee?  I don't think those people were the kind who spent most of the campaign blissed out on Taylor Swift videos.  I think most of them were engaged, activist, high-information..... idiots.

Similarly, all over the liberal blogosphere right now, I'm seeing a rising crescendo of yammering for Pelosi and the House Democrats to launch an impeachment which has zero chance of actually removing Trump and would probably leave him stronger than before, and which voters oppose by  66% to 29% -- that's right, as unpopular as Trump is, the American people reject impeachment by a huge margin.  So who are these people all over the net trying to stampede Pelosi into an action that would strengthen Trump and put the Democrats in opposition to most of the voting public?  Again, these are engaged, activist, highly-informed people, many of them bloggers or writers for political news sites.  They just happen to also have the IQ of potato salad (at least on this issue) and can't think more than a couple of moves ahead the way Pelosi, thank goodness, can.

Obviously not all of the high-information minority are like that.  Maybe most of them aren't.  But an awful lot of them seem to be dogmatic, impatient, strident, and incapable of shutting up long enough to consider the possible merits of a genuinely different viewpoint -- exactly the opposite of how an educated (as opposed to merely well-informed) person should be.

Or maybe they really believe that if impeachment hearings can drag the masses away from their Captain Marvel and Game of Thrones fan theories and force them to listen to all the skull-grindingly boring details of the Trump Tower Moscow deal or whatever, it will create some kind of national-scale moment of satori and bring the thinking of the broad masses into line with that of the activists.  If they do believe that, then we really are in IQ-of-potato-salad territory after all.

If I sound frustrated and angry about this, it's because I am.  We cannot afford to lose this election.  And that means we cannot afford to let a small group of people who think they're smarter than everybody else blow it for the whole country with any more of this self-indulgent nonsense.

So what should we do?  Focus on the things that the broad mass of people actually care about because those things have a material effect on them.  Like how Republican policies make access to healthcare more difficult and how ours will make it easier.  Like how Trump's tariffs are destroying jobs and incomes, not protecting them.  Like how the Republicans are threatening to cut Social Security to counter the deficit explosion caused by a tax cut for the obscenely wealthy.  That's the kind of thing that will move people, not emoluments or Trump banging porn stars (remember, it turned out the public didn't care about Clinton's blowjob either).  Yes, most Trumpanzees are hopelessly brainwashed and unreachable, but rank-and-file Democrats and undecided voters are not dumber than you just because they are interested in different things.

It is not the responsibility of the masses to spend what little free time and energy their exhausting lives allow them on studying complex issues.  It is the responsibility of the Democratic party to communicate to the masses, in clear and understandable terms, why they will benefit from voting for it.  To communicate effectively, focus on what your audience cares about, not on what you think they should care about.

We all want to win.  Let's make sure we do.

OK, rant over.  Now I'm going to log off and watch some Taylor Swift videos to get all this toxic crap out of my system.

22 May 2019

American culture, boring bombshells, and political success

This Monday, Electoral-Vote made an interesting point about the American public.  The context was the odd way Biden keeps talking about bipartisanship and getting along with the Republicans, something which anyone who has been paying attention to politics for the last ten years knows is impossible, and something Biden himself must know is impossible -- he was right there on the scene for eight years to see how the Republicans treated Obama.  Electoral-Vote then made this important observation:

Consider this: In 2016, 138 million people voted, but the combined primetime audience of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN is 5 million viewers.  Obviously, those channels aren't the only sources of political information; there are also newspapers, and websites (including this one!).  However, even if you add up the readership/viewership of all those various outlets, it adds up to something far short of 138 million people..... When Biden says he is the "unity candidate," he is pitching to the low-information group, not the high-information group who know that unity is a pipe dream.  Of course, Biden, who was a member of the Obama administration that McConnell completely stonewalled, knows very well that unity is never going to happen if he is elected.  But he also knows that a large chunk of the Democratic electorate wants to hear about unity and bipartisanship and unicorns gliding over rainbows, so this is what he tells them.

I was struck by the low figure for the combined audience of the big political news outlets, and wondered if some especially popular shows might be reaching more people.  Well, in February (for example) Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity each had an audience of only a little over three million.  So that "low-information group" and the "high-information group" are vastly unequal in size.  The latter is such a small share of the 138 million who actually voted in 2016 (and the even larger number who might vote under ideal conditions -- remember, this country has over 200 million adults) that it's practically a rounding error.

Biden must know better than anyone that if he becomes President, he'll no more be able to form a cooperative relationship with McConnell than with the Ebola virus -- but he also knows that a vast share of the voters he has to appeal to don't realize this, and want to hear some Kumbaya talk.

This also sheds light on the bafflement one finds on the net about the fact that Biden has such a crushing lead among Democratic voters, or about the fact that scandal after scandal about Trump doesn't seem to have much impact on his popularity with the Trumpanzees.  If people who follow political news at all regularly are such a small percentage of the voting population, just imagine how much smaller the whole ecosystem of political bloggers, activists, and internet news hounds and commentators is.  To be blunt, that ecosystem is tiny, insular, and out of touch; it probably can't relate to, address, or even understand the reasons (whatever they are) why the great masses of rank-and-file Democrats so incline toward Biden.  And many bloggers and activists are what I call "stuck in broadcast mode" on such issues, too fixated on lecturing everyone else about why they're wrong to spend any time listening to them.

As for the Trumpanzees, of course, even those who do follow the "news" (on Fox or Breitbart or whatever) are just having their alternate-reality bubble reinforced.  But there are reasons beyond that why most of the "bombshell" Trump scandals that keep coming out haven't moved the needle very much.  These "bombshells" have little impact because they're boring and not easy for the average non-media-junkie person to understand.  Take, for example, the story of Trump secretly paying $130,000 to a mistress to keep quiet about their affair.  Sleazy, yes, but it's not at all obvious to most people why this would be a violation of campaign finance law.  (Yes, I know the reason why it is, but just try getting any normal person to stay awake through an explanation of that reason.  I have a hard enough time staying awake through the phrase "campaign finance law".)  Money laundering?  Emoluments?  Trump Tower Moscow?  Murky, complex, dishwater-dull topics, all of them -- and they have absolutely no impact on ordinary people the way, say, the tariff wars do.  None of that stuff is ever going to move the needle of public opinion noticeably.  Nobody but the bloggers and activists and commenters cares about it.

Trump succeeded by talking to the right-wing masses about the things they cared about -- immigration and cultural change -- instead of the stuff like tax cuts and the free market that their "betters" in the right-wing punditocracy thought they should care about.  This has, to an extent, cleared the air.  We now know that nobody outside a few think tanks gives a crap about the free market, for example.  Everybody wants an economy designed to benefit particular groups.  The debate is about which groups and how.  It's a more honest argument.

As I've discussed before, the activist left makes a serious error in turning up its nose at mass culture.  Most of that mass culture, after all, is on our side.  Movies and pop music are light, colorful, and fun; following politics is a dreary, slogging chore undertaken out of grim necessity.  If three million Americans watch Rachel Maddow and a hundred and twelve million follow Taylor Swift on Instagram, that is not grounds for sneering at how vacuous most of the public is.  It's telling us something vitally important about the culture of our nation and the electorate we have to win elections with.  It's an invitation for us to learn.  It's an almost Darwinian situation -- those who are willing to learn and adapt to the cultural environment as it actually is will succeed.  Those who try to lecture it about how it "should be" will not.

20 May 2019

Improving words (10)

Some more revised word definitions, based on what the words visibly should mean.....

Adverse:  A poetic advertisement

Bellowing:  You're in debt in the amount of one clanging instrument

Brokerage:  Anger at running out of money

Cobalt:  A fellow resident of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania

Collusion:  The illusion of a collision

Desire:  To retract paternity

Device:  To rob someone of guilty pleasures

Extent:  A former shelter for campers

Formaldehyde:  Dr. Jekyll's official renunciation of his alter ego

Impossible:  Susceptible to being changed into bone by small demonic creatures

Kinship:  A large boat whose crew are all related

Legislate:  Your lower limb can't keep up with you

Migration:  A limited supply of Russian fighter planes

Mistrust:  Deterioration of iron caused by fog

Panorama:  A Greek satyr belonging to a Hindu deity

Pervade:  A sports drink marketed to sexual deviants

Repeal:  To let a bell ring again

Scabbard:  A storyteller who helps break a strike

Scarlet:  A small wound

Stalagmite:  A tiny parasitic arthropod found in German prisoner-of-war camps

Urban:  The primordial prohibition

Wooden:  A cozy dwelling used for soliciting marriage

[The previous "improving words" post is here.]

19 May 2019

Link round-up for 19 May 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Gah -- I really think fashion designers are just trolling us at this point.

Check out these Trump nicknames people have come up with.

I don't know what this is, but it jumps.

Amazingly, it is possible to make a giraffe look ominous.

Improve the message.

Why do people buy junk like this?

Read the sad saga of the space jellyfish.

Different stories resonate with different people.

See some great architecture photos from Barcelona.

How can he discover a solution to homelessness?

Restaurants must provide more than just good food.

I can't believe people give their kids names like this.

Here's what probably happened to the Mary Celeste.

Massachusetts road design is terrible, apparently.

The coasts vote blue, even the coasts of 100 million years ago.

The Reductress creates memes based on the new anti-abortion laws.  "Liberal Redneck" Trae Crowder weighs in too.  And yes, this is a religion problem, not a "patriarchy" or race problem.

He who demands that you "prove yourself" is a toxic personality.

The profit motive is not needed for creativity.

The Common Atheist suggests some improvements for religion.

It's not your light bulbs or plastic straws, it's these guys.

Support for cruel laws is partly explained by the Shirley exception.

Anti-abortion nutters should change tactics (found via Shaw Kenawe).

%$#@^# Republicans are hurtling back toward the Dark Ages and are turning us into a Third World country.

A clinic escort describes the religious harassment patients face.

Police in Dallas are cracking down on organized crime.

What would a Bible-based culture look like?

Must-read political post of the week:  a look at right-wing cruelty and the history of abortion in the US.

Religion thrives on fear.

Beware of Republicans playing good-cop-bad-cop.

Christian home-schooling is a breeding ground for religious violence (found via Love Joy Feminism).

The capitalist class is increasingly alarmed about Trump's trade wars.  Turns out they're not so easy to win.  And they continue to put the bite on red America.

Christianity and Republicans fight for the right to refuse to help people.

Evangelicalism may appear powerful now, but it's dying.

The pro-censorship mentality is always rooted in fear of other people's mental autonomy.

Bolton is trying to bullshit us into a war with the help of the usual Republican idiocy.  Even Trump is unenthused.

The US leads the developed world in childhood mortality.

Driverless cars just don't live up to the hype.

Try this quick test of basic science knowledge (found via SEB).  I got all 11 questions right with no difficulty, but apparently only 16% of the US population does so.

Brain uploading has been achieved, albeit with a brain far simpler than a human one.

This rail tale is a fascinating example of how evolution works -- and how the media distort it.

The most distant things show us the most unimaginably ancient times.

The Netherlands gets abortion and birth control right.

For one group, the fall of the Nazis didn't mean the end of persecution.

Taiwan has legalized gay marriage, the first non-Western country to do so (assuming South Africa is considered Western).

Impeachment can't remove Trump, but it may serve another worthy purpose.

Bernie and AOC unite to show what our party will do if we regain power.

Warren is winning me over with her detailed plan to squelch the state-level crusade against abortion.  And Bernie is unequivocal.  You can tell who's on the electoral winning side of an issue by who wants to talk about it and who runs away from it.  And "we need to kick their theocratic asses out of office."

Evidently "consensual rape" is the newest successor to "legitimate rape".  Here's more Republican rape commentary to cringe at.

Biden crushes Trump by 11 points in Pennsylvania, with Bernie and Warren also beating him handily there.

We can do better than Valerie Plame.

Here's more on the fake Ukraine scandal Trump and Giuliani tried to use against Biden.

".....with the tariffs swinging a giant cartoon wrecking ball right into the very nutsack of our agricultural economy....."  More madness here.

Next year, focus on winning, and winning big.

More political links here.

[850 days down, 612 to go until the inauguration of a real President!]