29 August 2019

Preparing for an election like no other

Next year's election is looking better and better.  It seems increasingly likely that Trump and the Republicans will face the kind of blowout defeat that the worst President in history, and the party that has cravenly enabled him, so richly deserve.  But that doesn't mean we can relax.  And we need to be thinking about what could happen after the election.

Polling continues to bring encouraging news.  The most recent survey shows our top five candidates beating Trump by margins ranging from 9 to 16 points:

Biden +16 (54%-38%)
Sanders +14 (53%-39%)
Warren +12 (52%-40%)
Harris +11 (51%-40%)
Buttigieg +9 (49%-40%)

A number of Republican House seats are looking vulnerable, especially with retirements.  In the Senate, to get to 50-50 (which means Democratic control if the Vice President is a Democrat), we need to take three seats, or four if Doug Jones loses in Alabama.  We have good opportunities in Colorado, Maine, Arizona, and possibly Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Montana, Iowa, and even Kansas and Texas (if O'Rourke or Castro gets in).  In a blue-wave year, retaking the Senate is a real possibility.

But -- the historical pattern is that large leads in Presidential races tend to tighten as the election approaches.  Vote-suppression laws, Russian meddling, and the Electoral College will all be factors next year, just as they were in 2016.  If the polling continues to look like this next year, some people will think victory is in the bag and it's safe to waste their vote on a third candidate (there should be fewer such cases than in 2016, but there will be some).  The hotheads may yet stampede Congress into an impeachment that would improve Trump's re-election chances and endanger a lot of House seats in purple districts.  We need a big enough turnout to offset all those possible negatives -- and still deliver a landslide.

Because we'll need a landslide.  A mere blue ripple won't be enough to win Senate races in places like Georgia and Kentucky -- and we'll need a margin of error in the Senate, because some of the necessary steps toward restoring full democracy, such as abolishing the filibuster and enlarging the Supreme Court to re-establish its integrity, will be perceived as "radical" and one or two of the more conservative Democrats may vote against them.

But the biggest reason we need a landslide concerns the aftermath.  If Trump is defeated, how do you think the Trumpanzees and the broader wingnutosphere are going to react?

Remember, they live in an alternate-reality bubble steeped in nonsense ranging from Trump's Twitter delusions to Pizzagate and QAnon.  They believe they're the majority, or at least the majority of "real Americans" -- that is, Americans excluding minorities, atheists, and the millions of imaginary non-citizen voters and dead voters who they still think made up Hillary's popular-vote margin.  I remember Trumpanzees in 2016 telling liberals things like "Trump isn't our last chance, he's your last chance" -- meaning he was their last effort to regain dominance by legal means, and if it didn't work (that is, if Trump didn't win), they would resort to violence.  Since then, the fever swamp has, if anything, gotten crazier.

If Trump loses, I do expect scattered violence here and there from enraged, heavily-armed wingnuts.  I also expect increased talk of secession, efforts to meddle with the Electoral College, and every other crackpot reaction you can think of (and some more you can't think of).  The only way to minimize this is for the margin of victory -- popular vote as well as Electoral -- to be as large as possible, to minimize the credibility of such fantasies.  The only way back to reality for the Trumpanzees is to grasp that they aren't a majority, but just one element in a pluralistic society.  The harder their noses get rubbed in that fact next November, the more of them will start to achieve that realization, and the less damage they'll do.

So yes, your vote matters, even if you live in a state like California or Alabama whose alignment in the Electoral College is not in doubt.  The popular-vote margin must be large enough to place our candidate's win beyond reasonable question.  This will reduce the amount of trouble, and possibly violent deaths, the Trumpanzees will inflict.

Finally:

Progressives need to reconcile themselves, as far in advance as possible, to the fact that the nominee will probably be Biden (or another moderate, if he falters).  After months, he still has a massive lead in the polling, which is the only hard data we have on the state of the race.  And no, it isn't just name recognition -- it's his association with Obama and the fact that he focuses his rhetorical fire on Trump rather than on other Democrats -- and he has about as many enthusiastic supporters as the other top candidates do.  Remember, there are more moderates than progressives in the party (blacks and older voters tend to be moderates), even if they aren't as heavily represented in the blogosphere and social media.  Claims that a moderate would be doomed to lose against Trump are absurd in the face of months of polls that show Biden beating Trump by a bigger margin than any other Democrat.  Progressives need to be prepared to work for, and vote for, Biden or someone like him -- because the alternative will be Trump.

Moderates need to be recognize that Biden, or another moderate nominee, is not inevitable.  It's still 14 months to the election and a lot can happen in that time.  Biden's gaffes and other signs of age are becoming an increasing concern.  Warren and Sanders are both personally very popular; if one were to leave the race and progressives consolidated behind the other, that surviving candidate would have a serious shot at the nomination.  Some moderates think a progressive nominee would be too radical to win and would be denounced as a "socialist" by Republicans -- but the data we have show Sanders or Warren beating Trump by double-digit margins, and the Republicans will yell "socialist" and all kinds of other wild nonsense no matter who our candidate is.  Moderates need to be prepared to work for, and vote for, Warren or Sanders or someone like them -- because the alternative will be Trump.

We can't risk that.  Trump is now threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit explosion caused by his tax cut for billionaires.  Four more years of Trump means four more years of environmental destruction, wingnut judicial appointments, mutually destructive trade wars, horrific abuses in the border migrant camps, discouragement of science, fomenting of bigotry, a cruel and impulsive ignoramus in control of 7,000 nuclear weapons, the world's largest economy AWOL from the global-warming fight, estrangement from fellow democracies and cozying up to gangster regimes, sabotage of democratic institutions in our own country, and all kinds of other terrifying crackpottery we can't even think of yet.  The worst Democrat, whichever one you think that is, would be a hundred times better than Trump.

If Biden is the nominee, I’ll vote for Biden.
If Sanders is the nominee, I’ll vote for Sanders.
If Warren is the nominee, I’ll vote for Warren.
If Harris is the nominee, I’ll vote for Harris.
If Buttigieg is the nominee, I’ll vote for Buttigieg.

And so on.  Delaney or Williamson would take some real nose-holding, but I’d still do it.  And the same should go for all our Senate and House candidates.  The Republican party as it is today is the biggest threat to the country since the Civil War.  Nothing short of overwhelming victory over it will be good enough.

27 August 2019

Video of the day -- bullet time horror show


Physics and energy on a time-scale our senses cannot normally perceive.  This is probably the only video I've ever posted in which nothing alive appears at all -- no person nor animal nor plant, nothing -- only inanimate objects.  The realm you see here is not meant for living things.

25 August 2019

Link round-up for 25 August 2019

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

o o o o o

This hang glider landing encountered an unexpected hazard.

Perhaps Swedish trains are powered by natural gas?

Have a few jokes.

I don't think these are gang members.

Newspapers can be goofy.

If Denmark won't sell Greenland, it should make a counter-offer.

Customer Service Wolf knows how to handle idiots.

Shittiest camera ever.

Sliced peppers will haunt you.

It's Swedish, but.....

See construction workers in the wild.

Debra She Who Seeks observes National Bad Poetry Day, and explores food.

This person exists.

Who the hell thought an "open-air bed cinema" was a good idea?

Where death is concerned, ants are easily fooled.

Some awkward family dynamics here.

Apparently orcs suffer from economic insecurity.

This is how to distract an Egyptian god.

Sometimes fandom is cool.

Jenny_o looks at camping.

How flat can cats become?

Here are some thoughts about photos on blogs.

남자들이 좋아하는 수녀.

This is a street in Cuba.

Gun nuts have an issue with their self-image.

Which is better for a blog, comments or no comments?

Some interesting background on AO3 here, on the occasion of its Hugo win.

This is a real animal.

The Propaganda Professor has a treasury of failed predictions (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

It's not just Christmas -- commercial exploitation of Halloween is creeping earlier in the year.

Some gestures preserve memories of obsolete technology.

Verizon ruined TumblrNo one can tame it.

People prefer to eat these.

Denim is made to last.

See the work of a cartoonist fired for mocking Trump.  Trump inspired a lot of cartoons this week.

"You do not fit in here", but.....

News coverage oddly seems to assign volition to machines.

In unity there is strength.

Few things are more baffling than pro-Trump gays.

Beware -- phishing scams are getting more sophisticated.

Swimming pools are filthy, even when they look clean.

Life imitates art parody (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

We're doing recycling wrong.

Several gay video artists are suing YouTube over its hypocritical policies.

Christianity requires pathetic rationalizations to explain the existence of undeserved suffering.

Blaming mass shootings on mental illness is not the answer.

The death of David Koch is observed by Vixen Strangely, Big Bad Bald Bastard -- and Ron Perlman.

Social media posting is no substitute for action.

There are more than two possible opinions.

Let's review the history of Trump's anti-Semitic dog whistles.

Fox is still losing advertisers.  It's striking that so many corporations think the wingnut audience isn't worth keeping.

Medical pricing is killing people.

Seattle created an "app" to report homeless people's tents, but the results weren't what they expected.  (Update:  See comment by Tengrain below.)

Even when mass shootings are taken into account, murder is only half as common in the US as it was in 1990.

As long as the border camps are costing $775 per inmate per day.....

It's Christian love, arrogant and hypocritical.

Maher swats down Tlaib.

This map shows the biggest private-sector employer in each state.  Spot the problem.

The bad guys seem to be really scared of unions.

This cartoon is still relevant.

The water in Flint MI has gotten worse.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains why the cross can't be a secular symbol.

The US is turning away from dirty energy, but Trump is still trying to sabotage clean alternatives.

Most violent alt-rightists are pitiful "feral dweebs".

What the anti-abortion nutters really care about is controlling women (yeah, we knew that, but now there's data).

Darwinfish 2 debunks the zombie vote and other wackiness.

Claiming that atheists are religious requires absurd redefinition of words.

Twitter comments are as dumb as YouTube comments, apparently.

38% of surveyed economists believe the US will enter a recession in 2020, down 4 points from February.

LA Times business columnist: "Health insurance companies are useless."

Local government can make a difference.

Employee activism is a new front in the struggle against the right wing.

Racists who fetishize Audrey Hepburn need to do their homework.

Even among Evangelicals, the young are less enthused about Trump.

Over ten years, Detroit cleared a backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits -- justice delayed is better than no justice at all.

Migrants held in the border camps are being denied flu vaccines, creating the perfect conditions for a major disease outbreak.

What's the difference between science and the supernatural?

Nan's Notebook reviews gun-violence proposals from Megan McArdle and the Parkland students (read the comments too).

Trans ideology defends reality-denial with threats of violence (found via Aunt Polly).

Wingnuts display hypocrisy about intimidation tactics.

Who were the early Israelites and where did they come from?

This is the reality of late-term abortion.

Science wasn't political until the wingnuts politicized it.

Big Bad Bald Bastard takes an in-depth look at bugs.

Wind power keeps getting cheaper, and now makes up a large chunk of power generation in several countries.

Scientists are starting to recognize aging as a disease -- a potentially curable one.

The Satanic Temple held a Black Mass in Ottawa last week, sending local religio-wingnuts into a raging snit.

Australia is investigating the disturbing world of transgender "medical treatments" for children.

Even at Auschwitz, some fought back.

Italy may be preparing to break away from the euro currency which has devastated its economy.

This is what the burning of the Amazon looks like.  Brazil's right-wing President is playing the colonialism card.  It's important to keep the problem in perspective -- NASA reports that this year's fire activity in the Amazon as a whole is slightly less than average.

Putin is launching an avalanche of lies about history

The Palestinian Authority reminds us who the real bigots are.

Iran beefs up its missile defenses in preparation for a possible US attack.

An Egyptologist debunks some myths about ancient Egypt.

In one small area of 19th-century China, women developed their own script for writing the local dialect.

Taiwan would not be easy to conquer.

Understand what it's really like in China.

The Hong Kong protesters have posted their demands on video in Cantonese, English, and Japanese.  Here are some images from the protests.

Trump's megalomania and mental instability are getting worse.  Dementia?

Spot the difference between these two town hall meetings.

To find out what Democrats really want, ignore Twitter.

The Republican electoral heartland is becoming depopulated.

Moscow Mitch, apparently sensing that he may lose his majority, begs Democrats not to abolish the filibuster.  Amy McGrath just released a powerful ad against him (found via Zandar).

New polls of Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona show Trump in trouble.  There's some good news from Kentucky too.

"Bernie's not fucking around."

Republicans are fundraising off of the Greenland nonsense.

A political scientist who accurately predicted the 2018 blue wave sees nine Republican House seats in Texas up for grabs.

Democratic Senators issue a stern warning to the Supreme Court.

Don't let Republicans re-brand themselves -- they've made themselves the Party of Trump, and so they shall remain.

Shower Cap looks at white-supremacist terrorism and Trump's craziest week yet.

23 August 2019

Nightmare state

Imagine an America where Fox, Breitbart, and their ilk are the only news sources.  Where those entities are not only loyal to the Trump administration but wholly controlled by it, so that occasional dissenting voices such as Shepard Smith do not exist.  Where all serious criticism of Trump and his policies, in the media or on the net, is banned by law.  Where access to websites outside the US is blocked.  Where Trump is already established as President-for-life and can never be voted out, impeached, or otherwise removed.  Where Congress and all state governments are controlled by Trumpist Republicans and no other parties exist.  Where a million members of ethnic minorities are held in concentration camps.  Where most people accept this whole situation as normal.

That's what China is like.

As I mentioned last week, if the Beijing regime were to use military force to crush the protests in Hong Kong, there would probably be little domestic backlash since Hong Kong's wealth and privileges are widely resented in the much poorer and mostly-rural Chinese mainland.  An even bigger factor, though, is the regime's almost total control over how the news is reported.  Even in Shanghai, China's largest city, most people's view of the Hong Kong protests is one of bafflement and hostility.  The media they rely on have not reported on the real reasons for the protests (resistance to the encroachment of mainland-style totalitarian control into the relatively-free city) or on the brutality of the police.  Only one viewpoint is permitted -- the regime's viewpoint.

Things have been that way -- or worse -- for as long as anyone now alive can remember.  The "People's Republic" regime was established in 1949.  In the years before that point, the country had suffered tens of millions of deaths from civil war and the Japanese invasion; after 1949, Mao's megalomania and incompetence led to further years of chaos and mass starvation in disasters like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.  After Mao finally died in 1976 and the regime began to evolve into a "normal" fascist dictatorship (under an ever more threadbare veneer of communism), focused on economic growth and maintaining law and order (however brutally), it's understandable that most people felt far better off than they had been before.

But while economic development has been impressive, it did not lead to a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy as it did in Taiwan and South Korea.  On the contrary, after seeing how Gorbachev's reform efforts in the USSR in the 1980s were followed by the collapse of the Soviet state, the Chinese regime has doubled down, never giving an inch to dissenters.  The crushing of the Tiananmen protests in 1989 showed how far it is willing to go along these lines.  Enforcement in general is ruthless; for example, China has one-fifth of the world's population but carries out almost two-thirds of its executions.  At least one ethnic minority, the Uighurs, have been subject to repression on a staggering scale.

The regime's efforts to shape reality now extend beyond its own territory.  My post last week on Hong Kong got a spamment (deleted in moderation) linking to a crude pro-regime propaganda piece; if my tiny blog is worthy of such attention, the regime's trolls must be scanning the internet pretty intensively.  Twitter and YouTube have detected large-scale campaigns to turn Western opinion against the Hong Kong protests.  Be aware of this when evaluating what you see posted on the subject anywhere on the internet.

Some have asked why protests on a similar scale to those in Hong Kong do not take place in the US, against Trump (actually the Women's Marches of 2017 drew millions nationwide), but in fact the situations are not comparable.  We can speak out against Trump and organize without fear of arrest and torture, and next year we'll have a chance to vote Trump and his party out.  In Hong Kong, taking to the streets is the only way to be heard -- some personal freedoms survive from the time of British rule, but there is no institutional mechanism for defending those freedoms against encroachments by the gangsters in Beijing, much less voting them out of office.

And even if there were, it is hard to see how it could be meaningfully exercised when most of the mainland population is essentially brainwashed by total regime control of the media they have access to.  Much of mainland China seems to be in the grip of a mindless rah-rah "my country right or wrong" nationalism to equal anything seen at an American MAGA rally.  It is, to put it crudely, a nation of rednecks.  Anyone in the democratic world who feels comfortable with the thought of such a country rising to global superpower status is out of his mind.  Imagine your worst nightmares of how Trump would transform America if he had unlimited power and time to do it -- China is already there.  The difference is that China does not even have the memory of an early time of freedom or democracy to contrast with the way it now is.

21 August 2019

Quote for the day -- legitimately horrifying

"Americans are broken, brainwashed slaves of one of the shittiest hypercapitalist hell holes on Earth, but they think they have it better than everyone else because they're not taught about the rest of the world -- and if you explain some of the basic human dignities everyone else is afforded, well, they've been conditioned to scream 'socialism!' and shut down the conversation.  It's legitimately horrifying."

Tumblr blogger "The Learned Wobbly" (more context at the link) -- he's American, as far as I can tell.

20 August 2019

Video of the day -- Moscow Mitch, the musical


A tribute to everyone's least-favorite Senator, by "existentialist cowboy" Bruce W. Nelson (a.k.a. Mangy Fetlocks).

19 August 2019

X I I I

Today marks thirteen years I've had this blog -- one-third of my adult lifetime.  I can't think of any other project, of any kind, that I've stayed with for that long.  Some of us are just meant to blog 😈.

18 August 2019

Link round-up for 18 August 2019

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

o o o o o

Have some messaging humor.

At least if you work here, you're close to the freeway.

We could use a few good Nazi-eating catfish today.

Hackers threaten to seize control of your buttplug.

Very cool-looking cabin -- don't throw stones, though.

For the sinner on the go, it's insta-communion!

Here are 22 things worth knowing about Sweden.

If you meet someone who supports Texas secession (or a separatist white-nationalist ethnostate), show them this.

He wasn't satisfied with merely wearing a tinfoil hat.

Well, it's better than "In God we trust".

See what really happened to Epstein (found via Juanita Jean's).

STEM people and arts people are not natural opponents.  Think what a hellhole the world would be without science/engineering or without the arts.  Here's the real problem.

Whales can jump.

Explore the world of dog photography.

Sometimes you just want to be alone.

I like this guy's spirit.

Everything in the past was too big.  Thank goodness for mass extinctions.

"Revel in some darkfic.  Annoy a puritan."

No one else can see the world within you.

It's the moment before an immortal photo.

I like these surreal comic-format "Dope Rider" vignettes by Paul Kirchner.

Interesting discussion here on what women find attractive in fictional characters.

The Wizard of Oz was a subversive film for its time -- and don't forget the obvious meaning of the ending.

RO reviews TV cooking, cheesecake, and one other thing too gross to describe.  More wholesome items here, plus a couple of giveaways.

Attention all Trump supporters!  Destroy the evil liberal spy cameras!

No, there were not live stegosauruses in Cambodia one thousand years ago.  Here's the carving they're talking about.

Never forget how incredibly stupid some people are.

Evangelicals' complaints about Trump's profanity highlight the depravity of their value system.

Incels contemplate unorthodox dating strategies.

It's not the video games.  It really isn't.  Compare different countries.

The proliferation of streaming services is screwing up internet TV.

This anti-union businessman may have made a big mistake.

The media keep on pushing both-siderist bullshit, but they can't obscure the reality.

Trump listens to the big bankers -- he just doesn't understand them.

Twisted sisters?

Sometimes you can't just stay neutral.

One bigot's rantings failed to ruin this prom.

As Trump's crowds shrink, he sinks deeper into denial.  The remaining Trumpanzees are the hard-core cultists.

Some people don't understand car safety.

Gil Christner, the blogger behind Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, has died.

A new book has four disturbing questions about Christianity.

The Trump regime is trying to remove legal protections for gay and transgender people against discrimination in healthcare.  No matter what you think of those groups, such discrimination is unacceptable.  The post includes a link to send a message opposing the change.

Big Bad Bald Bastard warns my city not to be complacent in the wake of yesterday's failed attempt to start an alt-right riot.

A pastor contemplates the misery of Christmas.

Facebook is spying on you.

Cheer for Trump or get your pay docked.

This family's wealth grows by $100 million every day.

Understand the horror of Calvinism.

The authoritarian mentality is rooted in fear.

Fitness company Equinox struggles to deal with the fallout after news of its owner's fundraiser for Trump.

Darwinfish 2 looks at the Epstein suicide, regulation of social media, and spamments.

Gosh, who would have thought that supporting a bullying bigot makes you unpopular?

Ayn Rand was worse than you think.  A lot worse.

This is perhaps the iconic photo of Trump's toxic reign.

This 1945 "Guide to Command of Negro Naval Personnel" tells us a lot about that time (found via Notes to Ponder).

After the El Paso massacre, more and more Hispanics prepare to fight back.

Heather Heyer's mother has to keep her burial place secret to prevent desecration by alt-rightists.

22 states and 7 cities are suing to block Trump's fake energy plan.

I get comments like this too, and I also permaban the commenters.

There's probably not much we can do to reduce mass shootings.  Nan's Notebook and commenters consider some options.  Here's one thing that definitely won't help.

Boston police are destroying homeless people's wheelchairs.

Trump's Agriculture Secretary insults farmers whose business has been ruined by his trade wars.

72% of Americans support giving legal status to at least some illegal aliens.  57% support letting in Central American refugees, up substantially from last year.

Too many people did sleep through history class.

A lot of things are blowing up in Russia these days.

Japanese police do things differently.

South Korea approves the importation of realistic sex dolls, sending local bluenoses into a predictable scowling snit.

Far-right Catholic news website Church Militant bizarrely posted this flagrant pro-regime propaganda piece about the Hong Kong protests.  On my own post on the topic I got a spamment (rejected in moderation, of course) linking to an even more pathetic screed along the same lines.  Be aware -- clearly the Beijing regime's internet trolls are out in force trying to spin this.

Reminder:  the US is not the only country with frequent mass killings in public places.  Over there they use bombs instead of guns, but that's a trivial distinction.

The Saudi regime is trying to force a political prisoner to deny she was tortured in exchange for release.

India's Hindu-nationalist government is playing with fire in Kashmir, for political gain.

Western and East-Asian-owned denim factories in Africa are awash in sexual abuse.

Trump continues to insult fellow democracies while cozying up to dictators.

We need to fight not just to keep our House majority, but to expand it.

Yes, yes, every election people talk about Texas going blue and it hasn't happened -- yet.  But the state has been getting steadily more purple, and Republicans are starting to realize they have a problem.  Its political future hinges on one county.

Trump is following the trajectory of an earlier President (who also served only one term).

Warren can broaden her appeal by following the example of past winners.

A list of companies that support Trump is circulating (scroll down) -- I haven't checked this for accuracy.

Democrats can win big next year if we stay unified.

Here's an easy-to-search compedium of the candidates' positions on a wide range of issues (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Donation maps show where each candidate has the strongest support.

A former Republican explains why he'll vote for almost any Democrat next year.

Our chances in the Senate are looking better and better.  Harry Reid supports abolishing the filibuster (I explained here why this will be essential if we win there).

In spite of everything, there's one factor that could get Trump re-elected.

Business owners are open to Sanders's message when it's reported accurately.

Shower Cap reviews the Epstein suicide, Trump's Greenland fantasy, and the rest of the week's madness.

[941 days down, 521 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

16 August 2019

Challenging the gangster regimes

The world's two largest mafia gangs -- the "governments" of Russia and China -- have recently come under challenge from some of their subjects.  These challenges are not likely to end well, but they serve as reminders of the long-term weaknesses of such regimes.

Since July, Moscow has been the scene of pro-democracy protests drawing tens of thousands of people.  The immediate cause was the official "disqualification" of non-toady candidates for local office (Russia still holds "elections", but de facto bars anyone not loyal to the regime from running), but the real fuel for the protests has been discontent with corrupt authoritarianism and lack of democracy at the national level.  The regime has called the protests "riots" and reacted with mass arrests and beatings, yet the numbers grow with each march.  The city has been put under what amounts to military occupation.  Polling shows 37% of people in Moscow supporting the protests, 27% opposed, and 30% "neutral".

So far the uprising doesn't seem to have spread beyond Moscow, but as Al-Jazeera explains:

In a highly-centralised state like Russia, the capital is possibly the only place that really matters when it comes to regime change.  It is indeed the peaceful revolution in Moscow in August 1991 that ended communism and precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.  That revolution was preceded by two years of gigantic rallies with hundreds of thousands in attendance.  Today's protests are still a far cry from those, but they are growing.....

This may actually be the biggest threat to the regime yet.  The goal of the protests is explicitly not to overthrow Putin, but to restore real democracy so that Putinism would have to compete on a level playing field with other political forces.  There are some precedents for a peaceful transition from fascism to democracy (Spain, Portugal, Chile), and after years of total control of the media, Putin has secured enough popularity to be a viable force even in genuinely free elections.  But he must know that his popularity wouldn't last if the press were truly free to report on his regime's massive corruption.

The question is how determined the protesters are to press their case, and how far Putin is willing to go to stop them.  A really bloody Tiananmen-style crackdown might inflame far more people in the city and the rest of the country against the regime.  Many Russians consider Russia a European country, and they did get a taste of democracy, however bungled, in the years following the 1991 Soviet break-up.  They think their country should do better than naked Oriental despotism.

In the long run, Russia itself is at risk of disintegration due to ethnic and regional separatist movements.  Putin has succeeded in holding the country together by force, and even expanding it by seizing some Ukrainian territory, but if that force is taken away -- by Putin's death or a serious and visible weakening of the state -- the consequences could be far more dire than in a country unified by a genuine civil society and democratic institutions.

For almost three months, Hong Kong has similarly been the scene of mass protests, mostly in the tens of thousands but in one case reaching a turnout of two million.  The protests began over a proposed law which would have made it easier to extradite prisoners to mainland China, but have now shifted focus to the growing interference of the Beijing regime in Hong Kong's affairs.

Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997, but with local autonomy preserving many of the economic and personal freedoms which existed under British rule.  This has enabled the city to retain its prosperity and status as a major financial center.  Inevitably, however, the grossly corrupt gangster-regime on the mainland has coveted more direct control over such a dense concentration of wealth, while worrying that the existence of an island of freedom might give people in the rest of the country ideas.

Hong Kong's demonstrations have gotten more attention in the West than Moscow's, probably because Hong Kong's open society gives its people more skill at using social media and Western styles of symbolic protest.  As in Russia, the regime has denounced the demonstrations as "riots" and local police have resorted to increasing brutality; the regime has also claimed that the whole problem is being stirred up by foreign meddling, although there is no evidence for this.

Recently the regime has moved paramilitary forces to Hong Kong's border.  It undoubtedly hoped that the threat alone would intimidate the protesters into backing down, but that doesn't seem to be working:

Many of today's Hong Kong protesters are not driven by the hope of halting or undoing China's growing influence.  Instead, they feel this may be the last time they can ever freely express their opinion.  So while Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently warned that protesters could push the city into the "abyss," many locals feel that Hong Kong is already in free fall.  The people of Hong Kong, in short, feel they have nothing to lose.....

If the regime actually sends in troops to crush Hong Kong, then given the scale of the protests, the crackdown would probably be far bloodier than Tiananmen.  It would also impress itself far more vividly on the world's consciousness, in living color -- Hong Kong is much more open to the world than Beijing was, and the internet has made the flow of information and images far harder to control than in 1989.

How other countries would react is hard to predict.  Trump, to his credit, has at least urged restraint -- but his record of coddling despots like Kim Jong-un and Mohammad bin Salman and his general disdain for democracy argues that he would react less strongly than a "normal" US President would.  A crackdown might shock Europe out of its drift into a too-close relationship with China -- but remember how many craven and cowardly Western governments and companies slunk back into the regime's bloody embrace as soon after Tiananmen as they felt decency would allow.  There is an odd sort of racism which considers it somehow a normal and expected thing for Chinese people to submit to repression and tyranny which Westerners would never tolerate from their own governments, especially when inconvenient Chinese struggles for freedom interfere with someone's ability to make money off of grubby deals with the despots.

It has been argued that a Hong Kong crackdown would force the danger of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan onto the front burner.  If so, then given that the US ability to defend Taiwan militarily (and even its willingness to do so under Trump) are dubious, such a crackdown might open a debate in Taiwan about how to effectively deter an invasion -- inevitably raising the possibility of an independent nuclear deterrent.  This would certainly give the Beijing regime more pause than anything the West might do in response to crushing Hong Kong.

But historically the regime has always ended up dealing with persistent unrest by violence.  It would, at least, face little domestic backlash -- Hong Kong's wealth and privileges are widely resented in the much poorer and mostly-rural mainland.  A crackdown would show, once again, that the state rests purely on force -- and the rulers would be fairly comfortable with that.  The regime, after all, appears entrenched, invulnerable, and in solid control of its vast territory.  Just as the Soviet regime looked, for decade after decade.  Until it suddenly didn't.

14 August 2019

Tumblrgeddon rolls on

It's now eight months since the Tumblr blogging platform, at the instigation of its owner Verizon, banned most sexually-oriented content.  This triggered a tsunami of anger and ridicule from Tumblr's vast user community, many of whom began migrating to other platforms.  The motive for the ban was pretty explicitly that Verizon wanted to milk Tumblr for more cash by selling more ads there -- advertisers generally don't like buying space on platforms with NSFW material (though the numerous neo-Nazi blogs which also use Tumblr weren't banned or restricted).  Since the ban, Tumblr's traffic has fallen by one-third.  Several Tumblr blogs I used to read have vanished or stopped posting, even though most of them posted little or no NSFW material.

This week Verizon announced that it had sold Tumblr to Automattic (yes, that's how they spell it), the parent company that also owns WordPress.  It's been reported that the price was as low as $3 million -- astonishing if true, since Verizon originally paid $1.1 billion, but it seems clear that Verizon took a huge loss on the deal.  So the Tumblr community can celebrate the fact that, to at least that extent, they have been avenged upon their oppressors.  Automattic plans to keep the sexually-oriented content ban in place and "explore ways to integrate Tumblr and WordPress", a bizarre concept to anyone familiar with both platforms.

In other words, the sale will change nothing, or maybe even make the situation worse.  It's just another set of corporate grey men in grey suits ruling over a community utterly beyond their understanding, and screwing it up in random ways in pursuit of the obscene quantities of money which, to them, are what it's all really about.  MSM reporting will remain clueless, quoting CEO and business-analyst viewpoints while treating the Tumblr blogging community as an amusing menagerie of exotic beasts to be chivvied along in directions chosen by their corporate betters.

As I expressed at the time, in the long run user-owned-and-operated platforms like AO3 or Dreamwidth are the real solution to this problem, even if they cost a few dollars to use.  The platform I use, Blogger, is owned by Google but has so far escaped the plague of corporate meddling in content (users fended off an attempt in 2015) -- so I stay.  But if it does happen here someday, I'll be looking for a new platform myself, even though it's vanishingly rare that I post anything remotely NSFW here.  It's the principle of the thing.

13 August 2019

Asbestos in the World Trade Center -- How First Responders Suffered from Exposure

by Karen G.

When the towers of the World Trade Center came down they rained all kinds of harmful substances on the surrounding area.  Many people were negatively affected by asbestos and other materials from the buildings, but none more so than the first responders.  Some have died from related diseases and others are still sick. And they are still fighting for compensation and benefits.

Asbestos and 9/11

When skyscrapers like the World Trade Center towers are built, hundreds of different kinds of materials are used.  Many are toxic when disturbed and inhaled and the tragedy of 9/11 sent more than 400 of these into the surrounding air.  Among the damaging substances released into the air that day were cement and glass dust, PCBs, dioxin, lead, and asbestos.

Asbestos is a particularly insidious material.  Inhaling its tiny fibers can lead to serious illnesses that are fatal.  It was used in buildings like the World Trade Center mostly as insulation because asbestos protects against heat and fire very well.

When that material is disturbed, it releases the fibers that are needle-sharp.  Anyone in the area will inhale the fibers, which then stick in tissues in the airways.  This can lead to damage and, over years and decades, to lung scarring known as asbestos, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.  The latter is an aggressive, deadly cancer of the tissues around the lungs, almost entirely caused by asbestos exposure.

First Responders and Asbestos Illnesses

Many people were exposed to asbestos and the other harmful materials from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the following days, but those who experienced the most prolonged, riskiest exposure were the police, firefighters, and other first responders.

Some of these workers became sick quickly, but asbestos illnesses manifest over many years.  A study from 2017 investigated CT scans from over 1,400 first responders from 9/11.  The researchers found that about 25 percent of them had abnormalities in the pleura, indicative of asbestos exposure and that they may develop mesothelioma.  More workers from that day are expected to be diagnosed with asbestos illnesses in the coming years

Fighting for Financial Support

The first responders who worked on the scene of the terror attacks were supported through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.  The fund was created to provide compensation for medical and other related expenses to those workers who were made sick by the materials released that day, including asbestos.

In June of 2019, as the fund began to run low and victim benefits were being cut, comedian and advocate Jon Stewart spoke before a congressional subcommittee.  He lambasted Congress for not showing up in greater numbers and for allowing the fund to slowly run out of money.

The fund was set to expire in 2020, but because of extended and long-term illnesses like mesothelioma, the victims still need compensation.  New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney introduced a bill to extend the fund in October of 2018. But the bill stalled in Congress.  Stewart went to the hearing in an attempt to get a vote and to get the bill passed.

His efforts, and those of other activists and first responders, were rewarded.  Congress finally voted on the bill and agreed to make the fund permanent through 2090.  This ensures the victims of the toxic dust and asbestos fibers released on 9/11 will get the funding and benefits they need for decades to come.

11 August 2019

Link round-up for 11 August 2019

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

o o o o o

Here are some of the most arrogant people on the internet.  Then there's this bozo.  Honorable mentions here.

Keep the kids entertained.

I don't think this is what the designers of the table had in mind.

Finnish blog names are.....interesting.

Don't hog public transit.

Please respect our privacy (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

500-year-old giant piss sharks can get you drunk.

There exist people who would take this seriously.

A historic haunted dildo returns home after an auction (found via Mendip).

Old age has a few perks.

Have fun with a golf ball (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

A cat gets justice in the end.

2, 5, 9.

Solarpunk has an interesting aesthetic.

I liked this comic about an ambiguous giantess.

Australian birds are too damn smart.  New Zealand birds were too damn big.

An iconic photo turned fifty this week.

Sea animals dream.

Some decidedly eccentric shoe designs here (sent by Willie).

It's the "golden" rule.

This arrow can point only one way.

Ghidorah the three-headed monster suffers an existential crisis.

Air travel these days can be an epic adventure.

Don't put an octopus on your face (how do people get this dumb?).

"Without imagination there is no horror."

"You already killed them."

Nan's Notebook hosts a discussion on the (not so) great unwashed.

RO posts about driver's licenses, art, the most pretentious shoes ever, and various other stuff.

A Minnesota museum hosts an exhibit of art made from plastic trash.

Tumblr is still doing this crap.  Well, if Verizon is looking to sell it, maybe things will improve.

Animation fandom is under siege from puritanical hysterics.

This incredible ignoramus is the House Minority Leader.

The town of Vulcan WV once used a novel approach to pressure the state into replacing a collapsed bridge.

Here are some immigration facts worth remembering.

Sometimes people are more honest than they intend.

The boomers vs. millennials thing is a manufactured distraction.

Crazy Eddie celebrates World Lion Day.

Guillermo del Toro wins his star, and shows the flag a bit.

This documentary on The Satanic Temple looks cool.  Also check out the Temple's own site.

Some magnificent libraries here (click pictures to enlarge).

"I've answered the question."

You can find good people in rough places.

Kings are just glorified bullies.

The enemy is unhappy with at least one of Trump's judges.

With the benefit of millennia of advances in hygiene, these idiots choose to literally wallow in filth.

Amazon can't replace libraries.

Hackwhackers has cartoons for the week.

This lawsuit could cost Facebook billions.  Expect a hard fight.

Trump wants to "retaliate" against countries that issue travel warnings about the US.

Feral hogs are a bigger problem than you think.

I suppose this was inevitable -- bullet-proof school accessories.

John Pavlovitz, being a Christian himself, is all the more aware of the hypocrisy of the Evangelicals.

Sex workers' fight for decriminalization is starting to gain support from US politicians.

The "Christian Science" cult is dying out.

Here are the worst bugs to have in your house.

If you're considering leaving Mormonism, this service could help (here's their site).

It's not Trump's fault.  Nothing is ever Trump's fault.

Yes, some atheists believe dumb things, but the person who wrote this is still dumber.

Obama, too, once visited survivors of a mass murder.

Conservatism as a movement is dying, but it's not going peacefully.

This "app" could be useful for tense encounters.

Suicide was Epstein's final escape.  But his death will make it harder, not easier, to hide evidence against other pedophiles in his circle.

Being a Trumpanzee is bad for businessVery bad.

There's an easy way to hack corporate wifi networks.

A left-wing gun owner speaks out.

Advertisers are fleeing from Tucker Carlson's show.

Blaming video games is a long-established lie.

Looks like there's a bit of a breach between Trump and Fox News.

If you think large-scale gun confiscation is feasible, multiply this guy by a few tens of millions to get an idea of what you'd be dealing with (read the comments too).

The craptacular US health-coverage system is causing problems in Canada and Mexico.

Why do religionists engage in such obnoxious and ineffectual preaching?

Whoever supports the Republican party, supports this.

Past Supreme Court rulings prohibit many of the gun-control measures which have been suggested since the recent mass shootings (yeah, it's Fox, but the author is a judge and probably knows more about these issues than the average politician).

Trump used an orphaned baby as a prop in El Paso.  Overall his trip there was a disaster.

A former white nationalist explains why the problem is getting worse, and some things that can be done about it.

Sorry, this kind of shit is never going to be "normalized", even if your sympathizers manage to stop shooting people.

Women in sports lose out from "non-binary" nonsense.

Trump has pardoned the arsonists whose sentencing triggered the Malheur standoff.

A prestigious Catholic school was originally financed by slave-dealing.

The alt-right fetishizes losers.

Vaping may be linked to seizures.

Algae can be grown in deserts without needing fresh water, removes CO2 from the air, and has potential as a protein source.

There are lies being spread about the TMT project in Hawaii.

Here's why whales got so big.

There is probably life on the Moon now.

Rammstein's small pro-gay gesture in Russia has struck a nerve.

Moscow has seen a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations, leading Putin to put is own capital under what amounts to military occupation.

Spanish revolutionaries symbolically "executed" the Catholic Church in 1936.

Chile's experience shows the dangers of a "conscience objection" for medical staff from performing abortions.

The goals of BDS would mean the end of Israel.

An openly-gay man is running for President of Tunisia.

Yazidi survivors of the Dâ'ish (ISIL) genocide seek justice with German help -- though I don't think Europe can provide true justice to the perpetrators, since it doesn't have the death penalty.

India's Hindu-nationalist government hopes to settle hundreds of thousands of Hindus in its Muslim-majority Kashmir territory.  It has put Kashmir under a near-total communications black-out and used live ammunition to disperse protests.  Throughout India, right-wing groups are fomenting hysteria about the Muslim birth rate.

Mahatma Gandhi was a racist and a misogynist.

China has another option for retaliating against Trump -- step up oil purchases from Iran.

Are House Democrats going to start an impeachment inquiry, or are they already doing one, or what?  It's confusing.

Texas Republicans are in an embarrassing squabble over a secret recording.

Stop treating Williamson as a joke.

See which demographic groups support which candidates.  Six states have held polls since the second debate, and Biden has a comfortable lead in all six.

"Moderate" and "progressive" Democratic voters aren't really all that different.

The circular firing squads are already forming.  Cut it out and focus on Trump.

Looks to me like another political troll at work.  Always be wary!

The debate changed nothing -- real voters don't care about the stupid zingers and gotcha moments the pundits love.

Trump's re-election strategy makes any new gun laws unlikely.

Democrats who attack Obama are being foolish, perhaps fatally so.

Williamson won't be getting many votes from the disabled.

Shower Cap looks at gun control and Trump's photo op.

More links here.

Lately I've gotten a succession of rude, hectoring, and long comments (you the readers don't see them because of comment moderation), so I'm linking to this post, which may be of some interest to bloggers generally as trolling intensifies with the approach of the election.  And the trolls could save some wasted effort if they'd just read this.

[Image at top:  algae farm at Columbus, New Mexico]