20 September 2017

Ad-clog agonistes

Two and a half years ago I wrote this post about the growing plague of ever-more intrusive and distracting (and numerous) ads on the internet.  Since then the problem has, if anything, gotten worse.  Besides the pop-ups, autoplaying videos, ads that shove the text you're reading sideways as they push in from one side, etc., there are now ads that expand into existence from nowhere right in the middle of the column of text, video ads where the pause button doesn't do anything, pop-up ads with no X to close them (or at least none that I can discover), YouTube ads that interrupt the video in the middle instead of just at the beginning, and in the case of one site, video ads that actually forcibly scroll you up or down the page to where the ad is, snatching you away from what you were reading, and keep on doing so again and again when you try to scroll back.  And the sheer quantity of ads, the overall visual clutter, is overwhelming on some sites.

Now comes a consummation supposedly surprising but in fact entirely predictable -- it turns out there's considerable evidence that online ads don't work and are even counterproductive.

The linked post (by writer Charles Hugh Smith) focuses on "data-mining", the practice of using information collected from internet behavior to tailor ads to a particular individual.  We've all seen this.  If your browsing suggests any interest in something commercial, whether by googling a product or service, visiting a vendor's website, or actually buying something online, you'll be barraged with ads for the same or related things wherever you go.  This is supposed to be good for sales because it targets you with ads for things you've already shown an interest in.

But much of that data is, from the advertiser's viewpoint, wrong or misleading.  In many cases, once you buy something, you won't need to buy another one for a long time, or ever.  Somebody who goes to the trouble of researching something they're thinking of buying probably won't be swayed to an impulse purchase by seeing an ad.  An established habit, like going to a particular restaurant or gas station regularly, doesn't need to be reinforced with ads, and if the customer loses interest, a barrage of targeted ads won't help.

(Tip:  With all the concerns about Google collecting information on people, I now mostly use DuckDuckGo instead.  It claims not to track users at all, and appears to be on-the-level.)

But to me the real meat of the matter is something Smith mentions only in passing:

What this tired narrative never includes is my dismissal of the advert as a matter of habit, and the possibility the advert alienates me in longlasting ways. Most of us never look at ads, and the more you make them intrusive, the more we hate the website, the advertiser and whatever product/service is being pitched. Advertisers may have unwittingly poisoned themselves and their product/service. The net result of the data-mined, contextual, statistically targeted advert may well be a consumer who blacklists the pizza shop from then on. This alienation is of course completely opaque to the data-mining software: there are no data traces left by blacklists/alienation.

How in Hell's name is it possible that the people who design these intrusive and aggravating ads didn't anticipate this reaction?  Who are these people who set out to make themselves the internet equivalent of the neighbor blasting loud music, the mosquito buzzing around your head that you can't ignore and can't swat, the door-to-door evangelical pest -- and didn't realize this was going to make people actively reject and avoid whatever they're pushing?

At best such ads must be utterly ineffective. My only reaction to them is to go for the X or pause button to stop them or get rid of them. It's practically an automatic reflex now. I almost never even notice what's being advertised. If the ads are too persistent I'll just abandon trying to read the site and go somewhere else. I can't imagine anyone reacting to the current level of internet ad-clog by actually wanting to buy something that was being thrown at them that way.  And yes, in cases when an ad is so intrusive and annoying that I can't help noticing what it's selling, it does evoke in me an antipathy to that brand or whatever.  To the extent that I remember the ad, it kills any chance that I would ever buy anything from the advertiser.

All this isn't just my opinion.  As Smith points out, Proctor and Gamble recently made deep cuts in its online advertising -- and the effect on sales was zero.  This makes sense only if those ads weren't generating sales in the first place.  Others will take note.  Spending on online ads runs to tens of billions per year nationally.  Once companies realize they can cut or eliminate this expense without negative consequences (and, indeed, with the positive consequence that they are no longer annoying the shit out of potential customers), they will, especially since older forms of advertising with a proven track record of results still exist.  Ad creators will have to earn their paychecks by making ads that people actually find appealing and want to see instead of just getting in your face over and over.

So hang in there.  Companies are starting to realize that online advertising is a Potemkin village built of hype with no substance to it, and in many cases is actively damaging their interests.  The free market will work its magic and the siege of ads that make reading some of your favorite sites so exasperating will abate.  We will be avenged upon our tormentors.

17 September 2017

Link round-up for 17 September 2017

Meet Hurricane Shark, a dedicated fan of big storms.

How many kittens can fit in the bowl?

"Oh, dear" indeed.

Modern Japanese cooking is highly innovative (remember this too).

Texas shoplifter Toscha Fay Sponsler opted for a last thrilling joy ride in a stolen police car after police bungled her arrest.

Lion time!

The world will end this coming Saturday.

Life imitates art.

Stop tickling me, you assholes.

What if humans are the toughest intelligent race in the universe?  (Actually I've read at least one novel which used this concept.)

Hurricanes are punishment for the horrifying Gay Agenda.

Wonder Woman meets Victim-Blamer (found via Hackwhackers).

What a ridiculous concept.

Marriott doubles down on a PR disaster.

Younger Evangelicals are being massively turned off by their elders' support for Trump and the Nashville Statement.

Here's some intelligent commentary on the "cultural appropriation" nonsense.

Tell Me a Story looks at the real Democratic e-mail scandal.

The eight-hour workday is a failed concept.

If there's no Hell, Evangelicals will create it.

Kudos to Dallas as another Confederate statue comes down.

ESPN screwed up big time by failing to defend Jemele Hill.

In Missouri, one religious group is stalwartly defending abortion rights (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

Gloating time!  Breitbart commenters seethe at Trump's DACA deal as Trumpanzees burn their MAGA hats.  RedState cries amnesty and betrayal as wingnut Twitter erupts.  My co-gloater PM Carpenter assesses the mess.  Meta-gloat:  They see us gloating and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.  But a lot of Trumpanzees are standing by their man, so far.

Burr Deming looks back at the celebrations which greeted bin Laden's death (I posted about this at the time).  Also read this post on September 11 by Comrade Misfit from 2008.

Mueller is investigating how Russia interfered in the election, not just Trump's possible collusion.  Congress is acting to protect him from being fired.

Republicans are making one last stab at ACA repeal.  More info here.

Christianists lament society's abandonment of their taboos (I'm not the Phoenix1977 posting in the comments, but he speaks for me).  If you aren't anti-gay, you open yourself to demonic influence.

We're taxing the wrong things.

Trump's CIA director is trying to Christianize the agency, but agents are pushing back.  Then there's this kind of shit going on.

Noahpinion looks at why a white American ethnostate wouldn't work.

The story of a Holocaust survivor reminds us what "Nazi" really means.

Antitrust is back as backlash grows against too-powerful technology companies. This won't help matters.  Some corporate technology is designed to actively trick us (and the government).

The SR-71 Blackbird was the fastest plane in the sky, and pilots made sure everyone knew it.

Texas wind turbines, unlike oil refineries, came through Harvey just fine.

Clouds are varied and spectacular things.

Crazy Eddie says goodbye to Cassini.  Hackwhackers posts the last image sent back.

Australian English has some unusual features (I'd be interested in what Australian readers think of this).

Here's another look at where Hitler died, and what's just down the street from the spot.

This is a waterfall in Romania (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Insulting and antagonizing Mexico is a deadly-serious mistake.

There's something about Colombia.....

Tunisia has only just legalized Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.  I imagine gay marriage will take a while yet.

Russian meddling in our election was so blatant that even Russians are bragging about it.

Holy cow!  Religious nutballs are lashing out.

An Indian ad goes for consciousness-raising.

Republicans have lost their bet on Trump.  But he hasn't stopped being a Republican.

The Democratic primary was won by.....the Democrat.

Single-payer would be nice, but this won't get us there.

It's Bannon vs. McConnell in Alabama.

Win future elections by focusing on gender, not just race -- and unity on our own side.

"He'll always be your better."

[241 days down, 1,221 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

14 September 2017

Video of the day -- the climax of a great achievement

The Cassini space probe set off on its voyage to Saturn in 1997 and arrived in 2004.  In the thirteen years since then, it has sent us a vast wealth of information about the planet and its moons.  Tomorrow, its mission ends -- plunging into the very atmosphere of Saturn, about which it will continue transmitting data to the last.

Cassini illustrates perfectly why we have been wise to give up long-range manned space flight and use unmanned probes to explore our solar system.  At our present level of technology, a manned expedition probably could not have endured the seven-year voyage to Saturn.  It certainly could not have been kept on-site there for thirteen years to gather so much information.  It could not have been subjected to the risks of multiple high-velocity passes through the narrow gap between the planet and its rings.  And it obviously could not have been sent on this final "suicide" mission into the atmosphere.

It is natural to feel a little sad at the sacrifice of Cassini after all it has accomplished for its distant creators.  But in reality, Cassini should be remembered as one of the most successful scientific research projects in history -- one which achieved a great expansion of human knowledge without any risk to human life.

[Video found via Hackwhackers, which has its own post on the Cassini mission.  Here's info on NASA's live coverage Friday morning.]

Random observations for September 2017

The most precious treasure of all is time you can spend your own way.

o o o o o

Understatement has a power all its own.

o o o o o

Smart people ask questions.  Stupid people think they already know all the answers.

o o o o o

Analogy can clarify a point, but can never prove it.  When applied in ignorance, analogy can even confuse.  An example of this would be efforts to explain the politics of a foreign country by treating its political figures or parties as equivalents of familiar American ones -- something that almost always leads to wildly-wrong conclusions.

o o o o o

If you find that the language you use to condemn someone else sounds just like the language others once used to condemn you, reconsider what you are doing -- and whether you have fallen prey to the poison of excluding in order to belong.

o o o o o

A multicultural society such as ours is less vulnerable to propaganda, fascist subversion, etc. than a monocultural society, for the same reason that a genetically varied population of organisms is less vulnerable to being wiped out by a single pathogen than a genetically homogenous population is.  When a society is made up of many groups who will respond to the same kind of propaganda in different ways, it's far harder to design a campaign to sway the whole population in a common direction.

o o o o o

Human activity cannot be rationally regulated without the application of human judgment.  Just mechanically applying any set of rules, no matter how ingenious, to human behavior will always produce insane and unjust verdicts in at least some cases.

o o o o o

Anybody who thinks socialism and communism are the same thing is too stupid to argue with.

o o o o o

Better my own way to Hell than someone else's way to Heaven.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

12 September 2017

Video of the day -- hurricanes and global warming

Yes, hurricanes are going to keep getting worse and more frequent.  Found via Crazy Eddie, who has a post with more info on the topic.

10 September 2017

Link round-up for 10 September 2017

Deploy the shield!

What a croc.

Be careful speaking Japanese in Finland (or elsewhere).  Finnish is apparently quite a concise language.


Bird beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Some Texans really disapprove of the lottery.

Harry Potter might have been.....different.

True or not, it's a heck of a story.

Spare the rocks, spoil the child (yes, I know the context).

It's curious how many of these describe Trump.

Some care for the smallest.  Don't diss the little ones.

There's a genuine value to escapist art.

A blogger smacks down deathism.

Olivier Martel Savoie photographs libraries around the world.

Here's some advice for fiction writers about describing disease.

Here's a very cool spooky animal story.  I may order the whole thing.

Wise words from Alice Walker.

Crazy person is crazy.

Never post photos of your airline tickets or keys.

Grace Slick is still around and speaking out (found via Mendip).

Whatever it is, we'll disrupt it (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

F169 reviews the movies of 2017 -- for Nazis.  And there are actually people who have this view of reality.

Never forget how recent this was.

We burn, they fiddle.

This letter-writer gets it.

I love it when they attack each other (the video is worth a look too).

Budgeting isn't the problem -- lack of money is.

This was a life that saw incredible change.

Some people break the law.

Life in the US is inherently precarious, and that has consequences.

Sorry, but this is Christianity -- the Bible is full of stories of God smiting people en masse for violating taboos.

Wingnut media blame Harvey on teh gays.  Houston's ex-mayor responds to Ann Coulter.  Adventus blog calls us back to the dreadful reality (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Harvey may undermine the Texas tradition of self-reliance.  Landlords are being ruthless.  If you want to help, don't bother with mumbling to yourself.  This being Texas, those suffering include numerous cattle.  Maybe God was just paying Houston a compliment.

The Nashville Statement is the Christian Right's death rattle (found via Mendip).

The University of Utah hospital protects its patients -- from the police.

Green Eagle checks in with what the wingnuts are up to.

Neo-Nazis plot online attacks against their opponents.  Anti-doxing resources here, defense primers and more interesting stuff here.

Imagine trying to have a rational conversation with this person.

It happens -- people do lie.

Nobody likes racists.

Kentucky's Capitol Rotunda honors great men born in the state -- and one not so great.

If you're gonna die anyway, fight like hell.

Irma is full of energy -- Limbaugh is just full of crap.

Planned Parenthood and HPV researchers win a prestigious medical award.

Fight global warming with hemp.

Here's a real victim of the anti-vaccine crazies.

Valerio Vincenzo photographs wall-free borders.

The "cultural appropriation" nonsense has completely jumped the shark.

Kurdish and Arab forces have liberated two-thirds of Raqqah, the "capital" of Dâ'ish (ISIL).

A Saudi woman pwns an ignoramus.

Trump and Kim size each other up.

Aadhaar illustrates how mass collection of data on citizens, however well-intentioned, can evolve into a threat to privacy.

Evangelicals for Trump -- is it grief or denial?

No, the Democrats have not moved to the right -- just the opposite.  And it's not Hillary who's causing division.

This cartoon sums up how Trump is treating his base (found via Hackwhackers).

Here's what is, and isn't, being done on election security.

RedState Fumes at Trump's DACA flip-flop.  Ann Coulter gives the flaming-nutball viewpoint, while Frank Gaffney laments the betrayal (read some of the comments on those last two items if you doubt that a lot of right wingers are completely loopy).  Business leaders speak out forcefully for the DREAMers.

I'd like to see this too.

08 September 2017

Fire in the west

While the southeastern US is under siege by hurricanes, the west coast has its own problem -- massive fires.  One, the Eagle Creek fire, is raging just a few dozen miles east of the Portland metro area where I live.

The wide Columbia river forms the western part of the Washington-Oregon state line.  Especially on the southern (Oregon) side of the river, the terrain is massive hills covered thickly with forest, rugged and not easily accessible (Multnomah Falls, a waterfall tumbling down a 600-foot cliff just east of Portland, is worth a visit if you're in the area).  Interstate 84, the main link between Portland and points east, runs along the southern bank of the river.

The fire started Saturday, apparently as a result of teenagers playing with fireworks on a hiking trail.  Since then it has burned over 33,000 acres and jumped across the river to the Washington side.  This video (found via The Oregonian, the local paper) shows the expansion:

I live in the western part of Portland, but even here, on Tuesday, there was a fine white ash drifting down and the air was smoky -- it looked like fog, but the smoky smell was obvious.  At least over the last few days the summer heat has abated and it has been overcast -- but the cloud cover looks "dirty", probably due to smoke.  There's some chance of rain in the next few days, but not much -- this area is known for its rain, but it usually stops in late June and doesn't resume until autumn.

Here are a couple of videos of what the affected area looks like:

Interstate 84 has been closed, and there are hundreds of burned trees likely to fall across it even when the fire is over.  Firefighters have made some progress in containing it, but as the videos show, the terrain is not hospitable to conventional firefighting methods.

As with the recent hurricanes, global warming is likely a contributing factor.  Both this summer and last, our area had several days of heat that broke local records.  Millions of dried-out or dead trees helped the fire spread quickly.  Beyond Oregon, there are major forest fires raging in areas from British Columbia to southern California, exacerbated by excessive summer heat and, in some areas, drought.

It's been estimated that hurricane Harvey dumped a trillion gallons of water on Houston.  We'd gladly take overy drop of it off their hands.  Unfortunately things don't work that way.

[Image at top:  fire near the Bonneville dam on the Columbia river]

05 September 2017


Blogger Donna at Tell Me a Story recently linked to some research (paywall, unfortunately) by political scientist Erica Chenoweth on the use of violence by political movements, and quotes Chenoweth's summary:

"I collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government or a territorial liberation since 1900," she says -- hundreds of cases. "The data blew me away.....One thing I found is that an uprising becomes about 50 percent more likely to fail if it turns to violence."

This has been true of social movements too.  The black Civil Rights movement starting in the 1960s was famously dedicated to non-violence and made immense progress toward its major goals, though obviously racism hasn't been fully defeated.  The gay movement, which has been stunningly successful at achieving both policy changes (such as gay marriage) and a huge turnaround in public attitudes (even in the face of ancient and powerful religious taboos) within a remarkably short span of time, has virtually never used violence, working instead by appeals to sympathy and the sheer justice of its cause.  Movements such as the KKK, notorious for both using and threatening violence, have massively lost ground -- their views have become far less accepted than they were a few decades ago and they themselves are pariahs.

It's not surprising that this is so.  Every complex human society is governed by a specialized entity, the state, which asserts a monopoly on the use of force.  Except momentarily, humans in complex societies cannot be effectively intimidated by violent groups challenging the existing social order because they can appeal to the state, a more powerful entity, for protection and retaliation (note that this is true whether or not the social order is unjust; it merely means that violence will not work to change that social order as long as the state is determined to enforce it).

It's a curious fact that right-wing movements seem addicted to intimidation tactics, especially carrying and displaying guns and making threats of violence.  Charlottesville was a striking example, but the behavior is generally pervasive among such groups. It often seems that for a lot of these people, the opportunity to display guns and other intimidating paraphernalia is a big part -- maybe the biggest part -- of the appeal of joining a neo-Nazi, KKK, or other militant group.  It meets some deep psychological need.  Even on our side, which generally rejects initiating violence on principle, many people take great satisfaction from the thought of "punching Nazis" and the like.

Why are people so drawn to violence and threats even in the face of evidence that they're often counter-productive? I think it's an example of instinctive behavior which survives from a pre-human stage of evolution and remains powerful even though the nature of complex modern human societies makes it self-defeating.

Humans are primates.  In all primate species, each social group has a dominance hierarchy (especially among males), and males are very concerned with being as high up in the hierarchy as they can get, partly because females preferentially mate with higher-status males. Humans have this trait too -- our corporate and political hierarchies follow the same pattern, though more subtly.  Among chimpanzees (the species most closely related to us), males assert dominance by intimidating, threatening behaviors -- screeching loudly, charging, banging things on the ground, etc.  Primatologists actually call these behaviors "intimidation displays".

Much of the progress of human civilization has consisted of "taming" the tendency to display such behaviors.  Human males in complex societies move up the dominance hierarchy by winning and displaying wealth, political power, or social status.  However, not all individuals are equally amenable to such refinement.  Many less-educated, low-status human males still tend to assert themselves by being loud and aggressive and displaying behavior or paraphernalia that intimidate others.  Among chimpanzees this would actually help them move up the hierarchy; in modern human societies it doesn't, but it's instinctive.  It takes different forms around the world depending on culture and technological level, but it's the same primate instinct. There's a primal satisfaction in feeling scary.

I'm constantly reminded of primate behavior when I see groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis and, yes, other violent groups like the Black Bloc. Even things like military training routines that involve shouting while brandishing weapons, demonstrations with loud chants and raised fists, and suchlike, satisfy the same instincts. The genetic legacy of our pre-human ancestors is very much still with us. We're still apes.  Some humans have enough civilized self-awareness to realize that ape-like intimidation displays usually fail to get us what we want (and even look faintly ridiculous).  Others do not.

03 September 2017

Link round-up for 3 September 2017

Owners practice cat-shaming.  But don't mess with this cat.

A Trumpanzee attempt to insult Michelle Obama backfires badly.

Bird nests -- bird nests everywhere!

It's an old car, but it still runs.

Incels want to resolve their sexual frustration by nuclear war

Unashamed, but ill-designed.

Must have been quite a wedding.

Don't be like this.

If you oppose Trump, it means the Illuminati are messing with your DNA (found via Mendip).

Some people are simply pleasanter to be around, even if they don't do much good.

Fonzie's motorbike in Happy Days was a tool for pwning would-be censors.

Live in the moment.

The octopus is a crafty critter.

Scary costume, man.

Heterosexuals don't go to Hell.

These seven simple things add up to the key to happiness.

Microwaving a phone will summon a demon, apparently.

You tell 'em, lady!

When did SF become mainstream literature?  It's surprisingly recent.

There are issues with the Red Cross.

Sometimes there are good reasons why they don't want to talk to you -- or why people just don't like you (found via Ahab).

Kill them!

Religion offers consolation and justice.

A wingnut self-pwns about the Joe Louis monument in Detroit, with an interesting postscript about Max Schmeling.

It's terrible when others see everything about you as political.

The freedom to give things up is a very limited freedom.

On drugs, we know what works and what doesn't.

Whose heritage is it?

We live in a culture of misapplied outrage (FFS everybody stop fussing about trivia like Melania's shoes -- you sound like the wingnuts bitching about Obama's tan suit).

This is the world of today's college students (found via Mendip).

Once an asshole, always an asshole.

Steve M makes a convincing case against using violence against Nazis.  (Personally I'm all for violence in self-defense or retaliation -- if someone had shot the driver who was about to ram the counter-protesters, for example.  The issue here is initiating violence.)

Anti-vaccine nutbars are even targeting animals now.

This is the story of one abortion.

Read a hard-hitting response (found via Ahab) to the Nashville Statement, whose authors used prayer to validate their own prejudices.

For a time, the Trump Tower gift shop stocked appropriate items.

These are the faces of terrorism in the US.

Don't contaminate our superstitious nonsense with different superstitious nonsense.

A woman writer responds to the Nazis-are-irresistible meme I linked to last week.  The crying Nazi says he was just kidding.  Back in 1939 we had a lot more Nazis.  And people punched them.

If you're a liberal Christian, here's what the hard-core Christians think of you.

There's a simple way to stimulate the economy.

Hurricane Harvey may have ruined half a million carsSome people are good, some are not.  These people are assholes.  Texas's Secretary of State is simply an idiot.  Here's more on the deregulation issue.  But don't forget the Texas spirit.

Floodwater carries a lot of force.

This sure looks like a close relative.

NASA has the best nerds.

Here's how science works in the US.

Different countries, different police tactics (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Two months ago a horrifying attack happened in London.

Barcelona responds to terrorism.

This is Italy, seen from orbit.

All over Europe, austerity has failed and government stimulus has succeeded.

Kuwait needs to build certain things more sturdily.

Photos dramatize the differences between North and South Korea.  The South considers getting tough after the North's latest provocations.  In what may actually be the most important story of this year, there is growing support in Japan for an independent Japanese nuclear deterrent.

Religious violence continues in India after a guru's rape conviction -- don't think religion is less of a scam just because it's foreign and "exotic".

The Russia probe is just looking worse and worse for Trump (found via Hometown USA).  It's becoming clearer how Russia hacked the election.  Now this seems appropriate (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

For exactly what crime was Arpaio pardoned?  It's revealing.  Here's what his hometown newspaper has to say.

The internet excoriates Trump for bragging about crowd size while visiting Texas.

Hillary would not have done this stuff.

Trump's advisers are warning him about the danger of impeachment.  Here's a balanced overview of charges that could be used.

Green Eagle proposes a platform for the Democratic party.  Hecate Demeter points out two things to avoid.  I'd be happy to see this included.

[227 days down, 1,235 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

01 September 2017

Video of the day -- serpents in the garden

Years ago a hurricane damaged a reptile breeding facility in Florida, allowing its Burmese pythons to escape and multiply in the wild.  So now the state has a large and established population of honkin' huge constrictors preying on the native wildlife, and probably scaring the shit out of local humans as well.  Why was somebody breeding these monsters in the first place?

I suspect this kind of thing will become an issue in coastal Texas after Harvey.  Texas has its share of people who keep exotic pets, or as normal people call them, "huge terrifying dangerous wild animals".  I've already seen a story about a flooded alligator farm there, whose inmates nearly escaped (farming alligators?  why?  handbags?), and who knows what else is already on the loose.  It may be just as well that so many Texans carry guns.

[Video found via Crazy Eddie, who has a post on the subject.  I hope this displays properly on everyone's computers.  YouTube has fubar'ed its video-embedding utility, eliminating the option of adjusting the screen size -- so I had to do it manually.  Fullscreen should still work.]

31 August 2017

Texas round-up

Hurricane Harvey may be the worst storm in US history.  It's bringing out the best in people, and sometimes also the worst.

Photos show the scale of the flooding, and the human impact.

Texas has accepted Mexico's offer of aid for the devastated region, though the Trump administration is fiddle-faddling as usual.  Israel, too, has sent help.

Amid all the destruction and loss of life, religio-wingnuts crow that their God apparently intervened to protect -- a statue.

Best Buy claims its now-notorious water-price gouge was the result of a single employee's math error -- but how often do such errors make it all the way to a printed sign without being caught?  The internet piles on Joel Osteen for not opening up his megachurch as a shelter, but he too has excuses to offer -- you be the judge.  To be fair, other religious centers have behaved differently (found via Ahab).  And maybe God really does punish the wicked.

Inadequate regulation made the flooding worse by allowing too much ground to be covered by water-impervious material.

Fire ant colonies afloat create a further danger.  Fire ants originated in South America -- naturally they're adapted to surviving floods.

Emergency shutdowns of oil refineries are releasing massive amounts of toxic pollution (found via Ahab), and in at least one case there have been chemical explosions, a risk state officials had tried to minimize.

Texas blogger Ranch Chimp hopes the disaster will wake up some global-warming denialists to reality, and links to an expert opinion on the connection.  Yellow Dog is skeptical, and at least some wingnuts are doubling down on teh stoopid.

Texas Republicans in Congress who voted against aid after Hurricane Sandy are now being called out for hypocrisy.

If you want to help, you can do so quickly via the Red CrossUpdateMore options here.

29 August 2017

Some thoughts on impeachment

As the possibility of impeachment becomes more concrete, I'm sensing a certain amount of negativity toward the idea on the left.  Some seem to worry that (a) it can't really happen because the Republicans who control Congress will never go along with it, and (b) even if it did happen, it might actually be a bad thing because the Republican regime would become more effective with a less incompetent and divisive leader (Pence) in place, while the resistance would grow weaker without the baroquely obnoxious figure of Trump to energize it.  Both of these concerns are misguided.

First, as to the idea that impeachment will never happen because Congressional Republicans will not allow it -- as noted in the last link round-up, the number of Republicans needed to bring it about is surprisingly small.  The votes of the large Democratic minorities in Congress count too, and we only need enough Republicans added to that to get to a simple majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate.  Further, several have already shown enough defiance toward Trump that they could well be brought along in an impeachment vote too, especially as Trump continues to do outrageous and ridiculous things.

There's abundant anecdotal evidence that most Republicans in Congress are exasperated with Trump and would far prefer Pence as President.  No experienced Republican politician could relish the thought of such a man and his antics being the public face of the party for another three and a half years.  Many must be concerned at the risk of disaster if Trump's hand remains on the nuclear trigger for that period.  Finally, some are genuinely outraged at the spectacle of Russian meddling in the election (Republicans tend to be nationalists), equivocation about neo-Nazis, and the Arpaio pardon (which has driven another nail into the coffin of Republican hopes of winning over Latino voters).  Some dismiss all Republicans as uniformly evil, but if the party were homogenous, it wouldn't constantly be paralyzed by internal divisions as we've seen.  There's a vast gulf between the ideology-blinded fervor of the (grotesquely misnamed) "freedom caucus" and the genuine moderation of, for example, Collins and Murkowski, who voted down ACA repeal partly to protect Planned Parenthood.

Second, as to the fear that Trump's removal would make the Republican regime more effective and weaken the resistance, remember that Pence, too, is a polarizing figure.  As the embodiment of the God-hates-fags Christian Right, he would never have had any chance of winning a Presidential election on his own.  Before being picked by Trump for VP, he was best known for Indiana's anti-gay "religious freedom" law -- but he's also widely despised among his fellow religio-wingnuts as a weakling for later caving to pressure from big business to abandon the law.  His obsessions are more theocratic and anti-gay than Russophilic and anti-immigrant, but would likely prove just as divisive among Congressional Republicans.

As for the resistance, the issue that has actually been most effective at energizing it -- ACA repeal -- has little to do with Trump.  The tsunami of public opposition and pressure that helped force Congressional Republicans to back down on repeal would have happened regardless of who the Republican President was.  The same applies to future threats to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, etc.  The danger to the public, and thus the level of public pressure to defend those programs, will be the same regardless of whether it's Trump or Pence standing ready to sign the devastation into law.

Will Pence be a less effective tool than Trump to rally Democratic voter turnout in 2018 and 2020?  Probably so, but the difference will be less than many fear.  A theocrat who, just as much as Trump, owes his position to Russian election interference will be deeply unpopular in his own right.  For whatever reason, Pence has so far defended Trump even while other prominent Republicans have grown more critical -- the stench of Trump's rhetoric and actions will stick to him better than to most other Republicans.  He'll be unpopular enough to lose to a Democrat in 2020, even if by a smaller margin than Trump would have.  As for Congressional elections, again, most of what the Republicans there have done to make themselves toxic to the voters has little to do with Trump.

Observe, too, that the Republicans seem to be swinging back into O'Donnell/Akin mode, using primary challenges to dump electable relative moderates in favor of complete loonies.  It's looking very possible that Moore will beat Strange in the Alabama primary and that Ward will beat Flake in the Arizona one.  Alabama is so red that Moore might win the general anyway, but if this kind of thing happens in more purplish states, it could create real opportunities for us, Trump or no Trump.

More importantly, a Trump impeachment will leave the Republican rank-and-file bitterly divided.  As Trump's poll ratings sink, hard-core Trumpanzees remain a minority, but a large one, within the Republican base.  And Trump will not simply vanish after impeachment.  He'll keep right on tweeting and holding rallies, whipping up his people with a full-bore Dolchstoßlegende featuring Republicans who turned on him as arch-traitors.  The party will go into 2018 and perhaps even 2020 with a big chunk of its base enraged against its establishment.  (In fact, I think the fear of this scenario is the main reason why the Republicans haven't impeached Trump already.)

But the most important reason why we must support impeachment has to do with the President's personal control over nuclear weapons.  Pence, at least, is basically a "normal" Republican no more likely to use an H-bomb in a fit of anger, or start a war out of stupidity, than any other President, while Trump's belligerent and erratic nature make him unacceptably dangerous in that position.  This issue is more important than anything that happens or doesn't happen within the US.  The risk Trump presents to the lives of millions of people in Seoul or Tehran outweighs our domestic political concerns.

27 August 2017

Link round-up for 27 August 2017

Check out this clever New York street art.

Teh stoopid, it burns.....

Now this is a water pistol.

A spectral moggy haunted nineteenth-century Washington DC (found via Mendip).

These photos are indeed oddly satisfying.

There's a Barbie for everyone.

Tell Me a Story reviews Atomic Blonde.

Solar evaporation ponds show striking colors from the air.

An MRA takes a forceful stand for male supremacy and illiteracy.

Don't feed trolls, ignore them (found via Tell Me a Story).

Follow the evolution of douchebag style.  Speaking of douchebags, these people exist.

Women find Nazis irresistible -- don't they?  Well, apparently not this Nazi.

Don't be fooled -- the Alt-Right is running a scam campaign to smear leftists as supporting violence against women.

If your case doesn't fit the narrative, you'll be ignored.

Michael Snyder wants an InfoWars-style government.

Marriage works a lot better when it's not cluttered up with religious nonsense.

Louise Linton casts herself as the Marie Antoinette of our times.  What goes on in the head of such a person?

In some cases, you can get insane hospital bills reduced.

Boston blogger Donna has a report and photos from the counter-protest there.  BLM played a remarkable role in keeping the peace.

Good news for everybody -- Americans overwhelmingly support freedom of speech.

Wingnuts launch another doubtless-futile boycott.

Thousands rally against racism in New Orleans, while more racist statues come down in Texas.

This couple spent 21 years in prison after being falsely convicted due to religious hysteria.

The Alt-Right, now driven to the isolated fringes of the internet, are more losers than ever.

Another Christian cult is exposed as riddled with child abuse.

TYWKIWDBI has an all-Trump link round-up. And Trump x 4 = art.

Christians need to embrace being The Bad Guy (and sorry, but no, our "picture of the world" is way older than yours).

Here's what the 1924 dedication of that Robert E. Lee statue looked like (found via Yellowdog Granny).  Most Confederate "monuments" are cheap mass-produced crap.

A detailed first-hand report from Charlottesville debunks claims of "violence on both sides".  The man seen flying over the attack car in the most iconic photo of the riot had just saved his fiancée's life.  Local residents are not happy with the city's handling of the event.

Another neo-Nazi is exposed and fired.

Wingnuts accuse the left of being violent, but there are good reasons why we generally avoid violence.

The Trump administration is no friend to coal miners.

Who are the lazy ones, really?

Ignoring Trump, nine northeastern states commit to cap-and-trade to fight global warming.

A new book attacking Darwin is riddled with factual errors.

This is the Milky Way over Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Politics Plus has a round-up of eclipse pictures.

Tissue nanotransfection looks like a very promising new technology, but I'm a bit skeptical -- not seeing much analysis of it on hard-science sites.

Ancient Babylon was surprisingly advanced in trigonometry.

The English language is a little too fashionable in Berlin.

This house in Minsk, Belarus, has a unique style.

Russia joins the countries making shows of force around North Korea.

Turkey under Erdoğan retreats from modernity in education.

A new court decision in India way open the way to decriminalize homosexuality there.

23 die in religious rioting over a cult leader's rape conviction.

Ed Brayton analyzes Trump's Afghanistan speech.  David Roth looks at Trump's mind (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Republicans are bad for business -- what should Democrats do about it?

Some Sanders supporters share the blame for Trump, but many weren't even Democrats.

Bannon's fall was mostly due to his own mistakes.

Trump's Arizona rally drew a meager crowd, despite altered images suggesting otherwise.

Rust-belt Trumpanzees love Trump because they've given up.  Evangelical Trumpanzees will never live down their hypocrisy.  Racist Trumpanzees are racist.

The Trump-McConnell feud is seriously damaging the latter in his home state, but NRO thinks Trump can't win.

Breitbart frets that the White House staff is trying to rein in teh nutty.

The failure of tax "reform" will speed Trump's fall.  It would take relatively few Congressional Republicans to remove him, and some of them are already on board.  Olbermann thinks the end will be different, and sudden.

[220 days down, 1,242 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

24 August 2017

The clash of the Asian titans

While the North Korean crisis undoubtedly remains the world's most dangerous potential military flashpoint, there's another which deserves more attention than it has previously received in the US.

For two months, tensions have been rising between China and India over a border dispute in the Himalayas (technically the dispute is between China and the small state of Bhutan, but India is supporting Bhutan).  So far no shots have been fired, but there have been a number of clashes between Chinese and Indian troops which involved throwing rocks at each other.

The risk of escalation is exacerbated by the fact that both countries' governments are belligerently nationalistic regimes determined to assert their power and prestige on the world stage.  China is essentially a fascist dictatorship, and while India is a democracy, the current BJP government's religio-nationalist ideology is aggressively challenging India's secular traditions and asserting Hindu supremacy at the expense of minority religions, dissenting views, and democratic values generally (more on the BJP here).

China-India tensions have implications beyond just those two countries -- especially in a world destabilized by the unreliability of the US under Trump and its general retreat from global leadership.  Japan, in particular, has long been concerned about China's growing power, and has been seeking closer ties with other countries -- notably India.  A close Japan-India alliance would have much to offer both parties.  Japan has no nuclear weapons, and while it could easily build them, doing so would trigger severe shock and anxiety in other East Asian countries.  India, however, does have them.  The two countries are on opposite sides of China, so a close alliance would deter China from attacking either one due to the risk of a two-front war.  India seeks to increase its military power, but is hindered by poverty and technological backwardness.  Japanese money and technology could hugely increase its capabilities.

India is already restructuring its strategic nuclear forces to focus more on China than on its traditional enemy Pakistan -- suggesting that it now considers China its most likely future adversary.

Could the current border dispute escalate into a major war?  It's unlikely, because the stakes in this specific dispute are not high enough to risk really large-scale casualties and destruction.  The only way it could happen is if one of the two governments gets so caught up in asserting national prestige as to take leave of its senses.  In the two months this dispute has been simmering, neither has done so.

However, in the long run the risk of something leading to a war is significant, for several reasons.  Ultra-nationalistic regimes have repeatedly shown a tendency to miscalculate how much provocation rivals will tolerate.  Such regimes have also been known to whip up international tensions, or even war, in order to intensify patriotic "unity" fervor at home.  Both countries suffer from a serious imbalance of the genders among young adults, due to the toxic combination of patriarchal traditional culture and sex-selective abortion; an unmarriageable excess of young men can contribute to social and even political instability, tempting an authoritarian state to prefer to burn off the excess as cannon fodder in wars of aggression.  Both countries have nuclear weapons, but their arsenals are much smaller than those of the superpowers (India is estimated to have somewhat over 100 warheads, China around 260), while the number actually deliverable to each other's major cities is even smaller; and these warheads are largely fission bombs much less powerful than modern fusion bombs.  The temptation to regard a nuclear exchange as survivable, especially if a first strike destroyed much of the enemy's arsenal, exists in a way it could not exist for the US and Russia.

The West long ago lost its monopoly on weapons of mass destruction.  On belligerence and dangerous ideology, it has never had a monopoly at all.

21 August 2017

Video of the day -- a message from Arnold Schwarzenegger

This speaks for itself.