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.


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!]

16 May 2019

Video of the day -- capitalism as pusher

I don't have a "smartphone" and never will; I don't know what an "app" is, and with any luck, so it will remain.  I've always been repulsed by this weird subculture of people constantly fussing over some hand-held gadget instead of focusing on their surroundings.  Now to do something about that processed food.....

14 May 2019

Some more brief political observations

1)  On trade, the rival Trump and Xi gangster-regimes are engaged in a typical competition of primate intimidation displays, like rival male monkeys trying to scare each other into backing down -- screeching, baring fangs, stomping, and so forth.  Since the Chinese side will likely target its retaliatory moves squarely at red America, one can hope that we in blue America will remain relatively unscathed.  Still, inevitably innocent bystanders will get hit by some of the flung poo.  Even Europe's stock markets are down.

o o o o o

2)  We've been expecting to spend the next year in a highly competitive Democratic primary contest among our numerous candidates -- but what if the nominee has already emerged?  Every poll now shows Biden with a huge lead over all his competitors, and that lead seems to have increased since he announced.  And no, it probably isn't merely name recognition.  And he seems especially well favored by black voters -- remember, we'd have a hard time winning the general election with a candidate who hasn't been ratified by this critical part of our base.

True, the "inevitable" candidate doesn't always win the nomination -- Hillary in 2008 and Jeb Bush in 2016 were shunted aside by unexpected upstarts.  But Jeb never was all that inevitable -- Trump had been leading in the polls all along, and it merely took a long time for Republican leaders and pundits to recognize the clear preference their base was expressing.  It could well be that the Democratic activists and blogosphere of today, disdaining Biden as so many of them do, are equally out of touch with the rank-and-file of our own party.  Even in 2008, when Obama came from behind, he spent most of the race as Hillary's only serious rival -- he didn't need to break out of a whole pack of challengers.

Nothing is certain yet.  Biden could falter for any of several reasons, and another candidate could surge.  But be prepared for the possibility that what we see now is what we'll actually get.

o o o o o

3)  The Christo-fascist assault on abortion rights is now strongly under way, with Georgia's vicious new law, and others as bad or worse being prepared in other red states.  And the ghastly real-world consequences of such laws are already manifesting themselves.  The enemy, it seems, is now emboldened enough by McConnell's theft of the Supreme Court to hope that a head-on challenge to Roe v Wade can succeed.  They, and establishment Republicans, should be careful what they wish for.  The constituency for what banning abortion would be like in reality is a lot smaller than that which supports the idea in the abstract.

o o o o o

4)  We're seeing a sudden barrage of apparent pretexts for war with Iran -- mysterious sabotage of two Saudi oil tankers which could be blamed on Iran, a possible escalation of US military presence nearby, claims of an increased threat from Iranian-backed groups against our personnel in Iraq.  There's no way of knowing whether that last is real or just typical Trumpian ex posteriori extractatum hot air, but one close ally is already suggesting it's the latter.  To me it all seems very contrived and by-the-numbers.  I can think of no reason why Iran would choose to escalate tensions with the US at the exact moment when Trump wants a distraction from the House Democrats' growing onslaught of subpoenas and investigations.

o o o o o

5)  On a lighter note, Hackwhackers blog is soliciting ideas for a nickname for Trump.  Go on, see what you can come up with.

12 May 2019

Link round-up for 12 May 2019

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

o o o o o

Cheer yourself up with some smiles.

Stop, thief!

Do not raise up that which you cannot put down.

The person who did this has earned the embarrassment.

"Open your eyes and tell me what you see, a great big world as colorful as it can be."

We don't need this primitive stuff from the Arabs.

Where do the metal bands come from?

They're bringing piracy back.

Respect needs to be earned.

Here's a useful resource for artists who need help drawing indoor scenes.

This blogger remembers when we didn't have AO3.

In the internet age, don't get overwhelmed.

They need a headline more enticing than the truth.

Here's the real origin of that quote "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

Trump and humor don't mix.

One way gets results, the other does not.

Assholes need to asshole a bit less.

When you're on a submarine, remember to close the damn door (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Millennials face a different US economy than earlier generations did.

Those who fell for Trump will fall for lesser con men too.

The underground economy shows us what completely unregulated capitalism looks like.  And it's ugly as hell.

The spoiled-brat brigade takes on Camille Paglia.  The Rex Murphy quote at the end of this is wonderful.

Jonathan Stickland is perhaps the quintessential Republican.

If you can't practice what you preach, quit preaching.

Where will we get the money for all those expensive liberal programs?

She lived a tragic life in a failed culture (that still exists in the midst of our own).

Never forget this episode from Reagan's Presidency.

Even most of those who claim to believe in God don't behave as they would if they really did.

First they came for the.....

Burn in Hell -- you were the wrong kind of ChristianMore here.

The loss of historical memory is dangerous.  Especially the most terrible memory of all.

In Canada, a rape crisis center is defunded in the latest case of political correctness gone mad.

A movie date brought out more truth than this man could handle.

In the forest, remembrance.

Cuba has a ways to go yet.

These religious believers gave their all for the dream of an ideal society.

Biden, pro and con.

Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?

Here's where all the Democratic candidates stand on climate change.

The Republican party is too far down the rabbit hole of rage to ever manage a "return to normalcy".

The phony Biden/Ukraine "scandal" is already falling apart.

Stop being useful idiots for the fascists.

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

Want more political links?  Here they are.

11 May 2019

Alfred E. Neuman and the politics of mass culture

A minor kerfluffle erupted yesterday when Trump came out with a new insult directed at Pete Buttigieg -- "Alfred E. Neuman cannot become President of the United States."  My own reaction was "I don't see why not, when Biff Tannen is President right now."  Buttigieg has attracted some kudos for his own response:

Asked about Trump's put-down by POLITICO in San Francisco on Friday, the 37-year-old Buttigieg professed ignorance about the comic book character, whose fame peaked more than 20 years ago, while making a veiled reference to the 72-year-old Trump's seniority. "I'll be honest. I had to Google that," he said. "I guess it’s just a generational thing.  I didn’t get the reference.  It's kind of funny, I guess.  But he's also the president of the United States and I'm surprised he's not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal."

Alfred E. Neuman is not exactly a "comic book character", but let it pass.  I'm actually not so sure that Buttigieg got the better of this exchange.  Yes, Trump's insult was moronic, as all his insults are.  But the reference wasn't all that ancient or obscure.  Mad Magazine was a mainstream part of mass culture for decades, and Alfred E. Neuman is probably familiar to most people over 40 and a lot of people over 30.  That's half the population and a lot more than half the voting population.  Obama made a joke referencing the character in 2008.  Nobody then seemed to think it was bizarrely obscure.

A common trope directed against highly-intellectual candidates like Buttigieg is that they're culturally snobbish and aloof, disdainful of the interests and enthusiasms of ordinary people.  In most cases it's a false accusation.  I would certainly be vulnerable to such insinuations if I were running for office, given (for example) my total lack of interest in sports and the fact that I haven't owned a TV set in over twenty years.  In fact, this simply reflects my real interests, not snobbery -- some of my cultural tastes would strike most people as very "lowbrow" indeed.  But it's a meme that can stick, in politics.  By advertising the fact (if it's even true) that he didn't know who Alfred E. Neuman was, Buttigieg potentially gave it just a little more credibility in his own case.

This one exchange was likely too minor to have any real impact, but it's symbolic of something we need to watch out for.  As I pointed out here, the left does have a reflexive tendency to react with disdain and exasperation to the influence of celebrities and popular entertainment on the thinking of great masses of people -- and we're very foolish to do so.  That influence is vast.  Most people, most of the time, pay far more attention to celebrities or movies they like than they do to politics, because the former is fun while the latter is a dreary necessity.

I'll feel better if our eventual nominee is someone who is familiar with Alfred E. Neuman and suchlike imagery and concepts from mass culture.  It's trite but true that a lot of voters want a candidate who comes across like a regular guy they could have a beer with, even if he's smarter than most.

07 May 2019

Indivisible -- some further thoughts

Since posting this last week, a few further points have occurred to me.

To begin with, the enemy -- whether Republicans, Russian trolls, or the murky sludge of cynics, nihilists, defeatists, and ideological purists who plague us from within for psychological reasons I don't much care to speculate about -- are going to do everything they can to undermine and destroy the spirit of unity and common purpose which the Indivisible Pledge represents.  To the Republicans, that spirit threatens them with defeat; to the ankle-biters, it represents a distraction from the pointless yammering and hairsplitting and infighting they think we should be spending our energy on instead.

So they will attack it any way they can, and some of them (well, the Russians) are pretty clever.  One thing I expect will be attacks along the lines of "Candidate X whom you don't support has already violated the spirit of the Pledge by saying blah blah and doing blah blah, so it's dead and you and your candidate are being played for saps if you continue to stick with it."  That is, they will use the Pledge to attack the Pledge.  In most cases, whatever Candidate X did will actually be too trivial to justify such a conclusion -- but let's face it, we have over 20 candidates and inevitably a few of them will let personal ambition override that spirit of unity and purpose.  That's not grounds for the rest of us abandoning it.  At most, one might point out what Candidate X is doing -- but then return to the proper path and keep the Republicans, not the errant Democrat, in the rhetorical crosshairs.

And that's what works.  According to all available polling, Biden is the front-runner by a substantial margin (and no, it's probably not just name recognition -- see here and here).  He has consistently and ostentatiously focused his attacks on Trump, not at all on rival Democrats, and it's working for him.  Warren has been rising in most polls since she started calling loudly for impeachment.  As I explained here, impeachment is probably a bad idea right now -- but the point is, she's going after Trump (and McConnell), not her Democratic competitors, and it's working for her.

Trashing each other is what our enemies want us to do.

The vast base of our party, unlike a lot of the liberal blogosphere, is not much interested in ideological nuance or the fact that Candidate So-and-so said something bad two decades ago.  They just want to get the goddamn orange thug out of the White House.  Those who keep their focus on that goal will be rewarded.

Also -- as Pelosi recently emphasized, merely defeating Trump may not be enough.  We need to defeat him by the largest margin possible, not just in the Electoral College but in the popular vote as well, to crush any challenge Trump and his toadies might raise against the legitimacy of the result.  That one's for the "protest vote" crowd who claim it's OK for them to vote for the next Nader or Stein (and there will be one) because their own state is reliably red or blue and therefore their vote makes no practical difference.  It will still make a difference.

As I said before, the worst of the Democratic candidates, whoever you consider that to be, would be a thousand times better as President than Trump.  The worst of the Democrats would not sign an ACA repeal.  The worst of the Democrats would not call neo-Nazis "very fine people".  The worst of the Democrats would not cut your Social Security to pay for yet another tax cut for the obscenely wealthy.  The worst of the Democrats would not plunge us into unwinnable trade wars against most of the planet's other major economies out of cretinous ignorance about how tariffs work.  The worst of the Democrats would not denounce the free press as "enemies of the people".  The worst of the Democrats would not grovel before gangsters like Putin and Kim and Xi and hide the details from agencies of his or her own government.  I could go on in this vein almost endlessly.  You know I could.

Trump and the Republicans are the sickly miasma that must be lifted from this nation and removed from power.  Rival Democratic factions and candidates are people who share that goal even if they differ on the details of how to achieve it and what exactly should be done once it is achieved (and even just the obvious things that any new Democratic President would do are exhilarating to contemplate).  Our eventual nominee will be imperfect, because every candidate is imperfect.  But we must conduct the primary contests in such a way as to avoid any threat to our ultimate unity behind that nominee, whoever he or she is.

Let's get this done.

05 May 2019

Link round-up for 5 May 2019

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

o o o o o

It's masochism American style!

Bad driving has consequences.

I have a feeling that this does not represent the future of male fashion.

What's the best use for old churches?

This works on the metaphorical level too (found via Bluebird of Bitterness).

Hackwhackers presents horse-related music videos.  The last one -- ZOMG, the colors!

Christians seem to have a problem with logo design.

Here's an insightful one-sentence review of Alien.

Plunge into infini-tea.

See behind-the-scenes photos from the making of one of the most famous album covers ever (found via Mendip).

Agriculture becomes art with Glass Gem corn.

Remember, they are listening.

Check out the horror art of Stefan Koidl.


He's right -- there's no difference.

Barr is Trump's handmaid.

How many of these five myths from history did you believe?

I Should Be Laughing has a round-up of political cartoons.

Sports Illustrated celebrates a hopeless contradiction -- the quote from Alishba Zarmeen is perfect.

If the economy is so great, then why is everybody struggling?

Russian trolls are hitting the US at its weak point -- the stupidity of much of its population.

Lo Imprescindible looks at the significance of Buttigieg's campaign.

Having wrecked Tumblr with its "adult content" ban, Verizon now wants to sell it.

Not all Trumpanzees are bigots, but.....

Anti-vaxxers are also anti-truth.

Book piracy does do damage.

This is the reality of chronic pain.

Tesla e-mailed a warning to its employees to stop leaking to the media, and it was immediately leaked to the media.

The poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Don't forget about the Republican plot to wreck the Postal Service.

Franklin Graham has exposed himself as a hypocrite.

Automating jobs out of existence is a good thing, not a bad thing, if it's handled properly.

Bigotry is a form of ideology and should be dealt with as such.  And bigoted violence must be condemned without equivocation.

Trump may not be anti-Semitic, but his cult is.

Fundies have increased their power by organizing and being active in politics -- atheists must do the same.

These places are the new epicenters of disease in the US.  This year's anti-vax-fueled measles epidemic is already the worst in a quarter-century.

Here's more on the Trump administration's attack on UN efforts to help victims of wartime rape.

Yes, religious terrorists are inspired by religion.

Business leaders must be held accountable for bullshit like this.

An adoption conflict brings out peak Christian hypocrisy.  And doubtless some nut will soon claim these eagles are "of the Devil" or something.

Trump is a liar adored by those who will believe anything.  His most disgusting lie is rebuked by Vixen Strangely and Shaw Kenawe.

Fundies are viciously cruel about sexuality.  And they're now celebrating their "right" to refuse to help desperate people.  Which of these things is worse?  See also this post of mine about what modern Christianity is becoming.

Here are a couple of reasons why older people are more conservative.

Americans are among the most stressed-out people in the world, probably because our society and system offer so little security.

Keep religion out of morality and politics.

Professor Chaos finds a.....strange article about slavery.

Disgusting practices lead to disease.  So does trusting religion instead of science.

A meteorologist blogger explains weather forecasting.

Here's a good photo of Saturn, showing the strange hexagonal cloud formation at the north pole.

Maybe NASA should reduce its dependence on the corrupt private sector.

The BBC takes a look at the post-natural age.

These guys built a very small "snowman".

You don't realize it, but your eyesight is a complete mess.

Here's a good, if somewhat basic, comparison of brains and computers.

This is why Margaret Thatcher is hated.

See how American-dominated internet discussions look to people of other countries.

This is a patriot (found via Arwenstar).

Polish protesters go bananas to support artistic freedom.

Measles has re-erupted in several European countries due to low vaccination rates.

Face the truth about the motives behind Islamic terrorism.

Deaths from the Ebola outbreak in the Congo have passed the one-thousand mark, aided by civil war and anti-vaccine attitudes.

The economy will not re-elect Trump, but we still have a fight on our hands.  Pelosi knows we need to win big.

Andrew Sullivan makes what I find to be a compelling case for Biden as our nominee.

No More Mister Nice Blog contemplates impeachment.

Since 1948, moderate Democratic candidates for President have won two-thirds of their elections; radicals have won none.

Abrams isn't running for the Senate, but she may have another position in mind.

Some of the pressure for impeachment is coming from.....

"You understand, they WANT to hate us that much."  Then there's the whole Barr thing.

More (mostly political) links here.