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2016-05-18      Twittering Away   

Owing largely to a dearth of time, my online activities have been limited mostly to Twitter. Today, a tweet I sent as an offhand comment to the proprietor at Balloon Juice appeared in a front page article. This one.

Each alert that someone had "liked" that tweet or "reweeted" it or responded to it in some other way was like a little reward.

When I think about it, though, I suppose that it resembles the bells and flashing lights so enjoyed by the folks at the slot machines in Las Vegas.

We are so very like trained rats.

2016-04-28      On the Backs of Giants   

In any society that has moved beyond the hunter-gatherer band level of organization, the greatest benefit of society is the sharing of information. To be sure, hunter-gatherers enjoyed the fruits of collected knowledge, but it could be argued that individuals gained more from the group security than from the group knowledge pool. Regardless, individuals in a preliterate society can only even gather what knowledge has been successfully passed along an unbroken line from progenitor to the current generation.

Now, however, a single contribution by a single individual may earn him or her (or, more likely, someone else) vast wealth beyond the kings and queens of old. Do the minor innovations merit tens or hundreds of billions of dollars? No. They do not. I have nothing against the individuals who so profit. Indeed, to shun the potential profits would be foolish. It would be foolish, that is, because the system has been so rigged. If we were to dissect the making of vast fortunes through history, we would see that many or even most were made on the cornering of a market. In some cases, the market was a literal market (such as the East Indian trade or the cotton trade in the time of the sailing ship). In other cases, the a patent or set of patents stifled any potential competitors.

And now we live in a day when intellectual property rights are expanding at an accelerating rate. And the profits for said properties rarely meets the originators. In most cases, the lion's share of these vast sums go to feed the unquenchable greed of the incestuous packs of leeches at the boards of major corporations. And we forget that even those innovations themselves, be they in science, technology, or art, owe a great debt to all the prior practitioners of any particular pursuit and often others outside it.

2016-03-24      :(   

Johan Cruyff and Garry Shandling died today, both in their 60s.

Too young.


2016-03-21      PUMA Dupes for Purity   

A theme from the 2008 election has been effectively recycled.

In 2008, I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. That was not because I preferred her to any particular other candidate. The reason was, in the parlance of Mr. Charles Pierce at Esquire, "ratfking." Since she first appeared on the national stage, Clinton had been the subject of rodent-ravaging to such an extent that it would grow into a cottage industry. Thousands of trees were sacrificed at the hands of the right wing press in this service. Yet she had weathered the storm.

At the time, I imagined that a newcomer such as Barack Obama would be a big risk. A handful of insignificant statements or activities from the past could be rapidly converted into a closet full of skeletons by an increasingly mercenary media corps.

When the admittedly under qualified Senator won the nomination, many embittered Hillary supporters became a part of the informal "Party Unity My Ass" or PUMA movement. I was not prepared for what would happen next. Many of these heretofore ardent Hillary supporters came to loathe the Democratic Party. That's fair enough. I thought at the time that an unprepared Barack Obama had been lifted out of obscurity to present a fresh new face by a party leadership more interested in marketing than in policy. But that did not change the fact that his claimed positions were very close to many of the claimed positions of Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, the importance of delivering a high decibel "F-- You" to the Democratic Party became paramount. Rather than aligning with an ideologically similar person or group, many disgruntled voters chose to actively oppose their own interests.

Now, with a closer than expected primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the so-called "Bernie or Bust" movement recalls the PUMAs. In further irony, those whose support of Clinton was strong enough to bring outrage at Obama's usurpation now hate her with as much passion or more. They have gone all in in support of even the most clearly insane crackpot ideas proffered by an increasingly unhinged Republican candidate pool. And now we can expect their numbers to be swollen by supporters of a self-proclaimed socialist who would rather support an overt purveyor of fascist ideology. Because Clinton lacks the ideological purity of Sanders, some (supposed) Sanders supporters loudly proclaim that they will vote for Trump before voting for Clinton.

That'll show 'em.

In a way, however, this may show the brilliance of a seemingly unplanned stratagem. The right has striven to allow overt racism and misogyny in Congress to become so overwhelming that government will effectively cease to function under anyone but a white Christian male.

2016-02-20      Jeb! Campaign Achieves "Acceptance" Level(!)   

Jubal Early Bush (I assume that's what "J.E.B." stands for, and I'm far too lazy to look it up) has exceeded expectations of all observers. In realizing the inevitable, that is. The slightly less stupid of the impressively stupid Bush Clan wastrel generation has affirmed what those around him have been telling him for years: Bush Jr. not only burned the crops yet to be sewn in the Bush Family farm, but also salted the soil. And probably seeded it with various heavy metals. George P. Bush is destined for the blue blood equivalent* of shoe-shine boy.

Good riddance.

*a six-figure job defecating clearly unqualified political opinions onto a heavily subsidized money-losing online rag.

2016-02-16      Blackstone's Formulation and Scalia   

In his work "Commentaries on the Law of England," Sir William Blackstone proffered that the law should err in favor of the defendant, lest it wrongfully punish the innocent (1765):

All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer

In contrast, Reagan-nominated Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the defendant's only right was to a fair trial, subsequent evidence of innocence notwithstanding (2009):

This Court has never held that
the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant
who has had a full and fair trial but is later able
to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.
Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question
unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that
any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally

For people of Scalia's ilk, the satisfaction of having punished someone is its own reward. I take no joy from the death even of such demonstrably bad people as Scalia. But it is certainly better for the nation and better for the world, that one fewer medievalist jurist is around to poison modernity with opinions influenced by "The Malleus Maleficarum."

2016-01-08      Misión cumplida   

I just found out via Esquire that noted escapee "El Chapo" has been captured. Tweets from the Mexican President were included in the article:
The top one caught my eye. This is not the first time I have seen the phrase "Misión cumplida." But, in recent years, I have mostly seen or heard it in English, in reference to a single event:
We will see if they are equally accurate.

2016-01-06      An Almost Certainty in the Bush Administration   

Today on Twitter, someone I follow referred to former Vice(*) President Dick Cheney as "Evil Dick." I recently got a new phone. As such, I spent an inordinate amount of time creating new ringtones for various alerts. These two items collided in my head and produced an image I couldn't expunge for the rest of the day.

The phone number of this man:
was stored on scores (perhaps even hundreds) of cellphones in the Bush White House. It is all but certain that the owner of at least one of them used, for his "Dick Cheney" ringtone, the opening of:
Body Count's "Evil Dick."

In writing this, I hope to expel this imagery from my mind.

2015-12-27      After Midnight   

Christmas Day, the temperature outside reached 67?F. Boxing Day, we received more than four inches of snow.

[caption id="attachment_1197" align="alignnone" width="345"]December 27th in southern New Mexico, about 3 a.m., taken with ambient light only (no flash). December 27th in southern New Mexico, about 3 a.m., taken with ambient light only (no flash).[/caption]

Cold snaps like this remind me of how hard climate change is to explain to those who chose not to understand. Such instances set off the "A winter storm in December proves that Global Warming is a hoax" crackpots on their periodic rants featuring hackneyed and long-discredited right wing talking points. But instantaneous weather is not climate. While January may have cold days, the predictive models have been proven by empirical data. A slightly warmer day in the dead of winter may make no discernible difference to you as a a person. The same single degree difference will, however, have a measurable effect on the rate of, say, glacial melting. Scientific analysis of empirical evidence is ineffective, however, next to the selectively remembered individual event of a particular year in the minds of certain people.

In the words of Upton Sinclair:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" - Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, (1935)

But really, this was just an excuse to show a strange flashless picture taken in the middle of the night.

2015-11-30      Elias on the Nazis   

I am currently reading The Better Angels of our Nature, by Stephen Pinker. It is not my typical sort of book, though I did read Pinker's The Stuff of Thought over a decade ago. The main reason I picked this one up is that I do statistics in my work. Of particular interest to me is just how far off a typical person's intuition is on mortality. I've read varied sources on it, perhaps since inspired to do so by hearing the appalling rates of violence in Medieval Europe as told in William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire.

Pinker tells the story of an obscure (outside of his field, I imagine) philosopher Norbert Elias. In one passage, I notices a familiar sentiment:

Elias himself was haunted by the not-so-civilized behavior of his native Germany during World War II, and he labored to explain that decivilizing process within the framework of his theory. He discussed the fitful history of German unification and the resulting lack of trust in a legitimate central authority. He documented the persistence of a militaristic culture of honor among its elites. The breakdown of a state monopoly on violence with the rise of communist and fascist militias, and a resulting contraction of empathy for groups perceived to be outsiders, particularly the Jews.

In a way, the social media have proven a tremendous boon for authoritarians from movements such as Men's Rights, White Supremacy, and Christian Identity. Right-wing populist poiticians are taking full advantage.

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