There’s *ALWAYS* A Worse

I thought James Comey was fired in about the worst way imaginable – giving a speech at a remote office, he sees a TV with a banner announcing her termination and thinks it’s a joke. Which … I know a lot of people with that sense of humor. I remember putting an etc\hosts record to direct someone’s company home page to an internal sandbox web server, cloning over the internal home page project, and editing it to announce the company’s merger with some big competitor and the immediate closing of the HQ office. Screen grabbing CNN, throwing on a new banner, then playing the video back isn’t a stretch.

Then Rex Tillerson, who set out to prove experience negotiating mineral rights contracts is the same as negotiating international political situations where everyone isn’t getting what they want, read his boss’s tweet and learned he was terminated. This is what you get when 48% of voters want a guy whose fame, really, was firing people (in new and dramatic ways) on TV.

Let the war begin

One thing I respected about the first President Bush was that he didn’t attempt to secure re-election by re-invading Iraq. The 1990-1991 invasion of Iraq led to significant jumps in Bush’s approval rating — 15% at the onset and 20% when we “won”. And a surge of nationalism (and the “don’t change horses mid race” thinking that certainly helped his son’s re-election bid) that accompanies military action may well have allowed him to win in 1992.

George W didn’t have terrible approval ratings at the onset of his presidency – his approval number was over 50% just before 9/11. But his approval rating hit near 90% in the immediate aftermath.

Which brings me to Trump. Someone who loves glowing praise. And who kicked off a new round of trade wars with tariffs on steel and aluminium which may allow some increased domestic production, but is more apt to make everything that uses steel or aluminium more expensive. Or maybe it make more sense to make parts in Canada and truck the bits South. Or maybe finished products crossing the ocean become cost competitive. And that doesn’t even address adverse response from trading partners.

If the guy was sufficiently delusional to believe it was possible for any president to receive a surfeit of adoration, and by his own admission he’s not into fomenting new wars (+he has some existing wars in which to drop huge bombs +the general population has had more than enough warring to last a few lifetimes) … is it possible this is a self-aggrandizing trade war?

Capitalism Is Not Democracy (the inverse is true too)

A descendant of Walt Disney — one whose family has a load of cash and stands to inherit a load of cash herself — has a video on the Facebook page of NowThis … it is generally similar to their other videos with rich people saying “this tax bill gives me a HUGE percentage gain, might give you a little bit until your provisions sunset, and generally is a bad idea and you’re about to be screwed over with ‘needed to reduce the deficit’ cuts to social safety nets, education, infrastructure, research funding, small business funding, farm assistance programs, etc”. She, however, says that individuals voting for their own interest over a common good isn’t democracy. It’s anarchy. That’s an interesting distinction. And it made me think of how people often conflate free market capitalism and democratic governance.

The “invisible hand” principal of free market capitalism — not the phrase as it was actually used by Adam Smith but the generalized colloquial usage — is that the whole is optimized by each individual seeking to assure their own self-interest. A bit like maximum k sums in set theory – the largest possible sum of k numbers from a set is the sum of the largest k numbers in the set. While a specific individual may suffer misfortune, this assertion of optimization is microscopically reasonable. The economy grows when most individuals increases their value simultaneously.

Can the same be true of democracy? Does advocating for one’s self-interest promote societal optimizations as well? Or does looking only at one’s self-interest delve into anarchy? I believe the answer depends on how narrowly one defines one’s own self-interest. Abigail Disney offers a ironic example of this in her video – fuck over enough of the middle class and there won’t be Disney customers anymore. Maybe they’re rich enough to not care financially, but family members’ social standing is diminished by losing the company. The family legacy is lost. How does the individual weigh “keeping the fortune in the family” against “sustaining the company my grandfather helped create”? One problem in American politics is an incredibly narrow view — don’t believe in climate change, whatever. But you do breathe air and drink water, right? Why would you want companies to dump mining sludge into rivers and spew petrochemicals into the air? (Answer: Because you are thinking so narrowly that you concern yourself only with the natural resources within a few miles of your house … neglecting to consider how these things move around the globe.).

Unfortunately, “self-interest” is defined narrowly (e.g. a single issue voter), ignores long term consequences (e.g. anti-environmentalism), and fails to consider the realistic complex multi-variable picture (e.g. the interconnectedness of all things means Disney lady saves a couple hundred thousand on her taxes, but their company goes through reorg bankruptcy as disposable incomes drop in a few years).

Missing George Carlin

Hoping for a remake of Carlin’s 1972 bit “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”, the Trump administration has banned seven new words at the CDC. “Diversity,” “entitlement,” “evidence-based,” “fetus,” “science-based,” “transgender,” and “vulnerable.”

Well, not for that reason … but the ban seems to be true. That action is troubling in and of itself – a dash of groupthink and a heap of naïveté: let’s ban unpleasant (to us) ideas and just hope they go away. More troubling is the reported replacement for [science|evidence]-based: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”. Umm … the CDC — the Centers for Disease Control — is going claim its recommendations are made in consideration with community standards and wishes?!? What the fuck?? I wish cancer didn’t exist. Huh, didn’t help.

The FCC doesn’t actually have a finite list of banned words, rather they are guided by the courts view on where First Amendment protection exists or doesn’t. Did the Supreme Court hand down a concrete list of banned words? Of course not. Going back to Jacobellis v Ohio (1964) – where Justice Potter Stewart wrote “I know it when I see it” of hard-core pornography – obscenity and indecency are not clearly defined. Which makes broadcasting questionable material a risk — will someone complain? How will the FCC find on the complaint?

Anyone can submit a complaint to the FCC — I find high pitched made up word baby talk on supposedly educational children’s programming grossly offensive, I can complain to the FCC. Their investigators will likely find that the offense doesn’t reach the level of public nuisance and is thus not profane. Even the test for obscene content includes determining if the depiction has “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”. Include a good enough story line and your hard-core porn isn’t obscene?

Deciding what to broadcast and what to censor becomes risk analysis. In radio, the risk analysis often considers *local* standards. That’s why, when driving across the country listening to various same-genre radio, words and phrases will be broadcast in some markets and censored in others. I’ve heard references to drug use scratched with varying impact – Petty can’t roll another joint but the song is mostly there or D12’s Purple Pills becomes a series of instrumentals and scratches. Even ‘radio edits’ are sufficiently edited in some markets but still have redacted bits in others. Syndicated radio programming – and most broadcast television – needs to consider the most prudish broadcast area will consider offensive. I may live in a city where local radio broadcasts drug references or ‘shit’, but the national content may omit these to avoid offense elsewhere.

OK – extrapolate that to MEDICAL ADVICE. Medical advice should now take into consideration the ‘medicine is evil, God will cure us’ set? The ‘contraception means a moral failing’ set? Making America great, huh.

Net Neutrality Is Dead

Well, we all knew it was going to happen. And it did. Some people are saying “but, but … it wasn’t a problem *before* the regulation went into effect, so nothing bad is going to happen now”. Maybe they’re right. Or that assertion could be the equivalent of saying internet pornography wasn’t a problem because you’re only looking at a time period ending with 9600 baud modems and uuencoded images split into a dozen posts on a message board.

Could be that the regulations were enacted when service providers *started* to use their ability to control access against customers (Madison River blocking VoIP, AT&T blocking Skype & VoIP, everyone and their brother blocking google wallet because *they* wanted to force payment through their processor). Could be that companies were experimenting with the controls and would have stopped because of revenue loss regardless of federal regulations. I guess we’ll find out in a few years.

Alabama Special Election Results

Jones won! Write-in candidate votes exceed the margin by which he won, but he won. With exit polls indicating that allegations against Moore weren’t a big deciding factor. I’m curious what impact the allegations had on turnout though — the voter didn’t decide their vote based on the allegations, but they either felt it important enough to go vote. They didn’t want to vote for a pedophile *or* a Democrat so stayed home because of Moore’s sexual history. And how much Moore’s “the early 1800’s were great even if slavery was a thing because OUR families stayed together” and poorly obfuscated desire to return to a period when only rich white dudes got to vote drove turnout too.

Jones won’t be sworn in before the recess. Each county has until 22 Dec to certify their results, and some counties don’t have a lot of incentive to hurry that process. The state then has until 03 Jan to certify their results.

Moore On When America Was Great

Moore thinks getting rid of all of the amendments after the 10th would solve a lot of problems.

What’s he got against the 11th (states are immune from legal action from out-of-state citizens)? And I’d think he’d appreciate the 12th (the VP is elected in conjunction with the president instead of having a VP from a different party). Did he really think saying “everything after the 10th” was subtle and people wouldn’t infer that he actually objects to the 13th, 15th, probably 16th, and 19th amendments. Maybe even the 26th.

There’d always been an undercurrent of racism and sexism to “make America great again” … ‘again’ implies there is some previous halcyon period to which we should return. But while Trump teased sexism and racism, he did so while claiming to be the best friend to those he disparaged. Moore didn’t even bother with subterfuge. And it will be interesting how well this blatant racism and sexism serves him in the election. Will he, like Trump, manage to run out ‘the deplorables’ in sufficient numbers to win? Or will otherwise reliably Republican voters in Alabama sit home unwilling to vote for him or a Democrat.

Political Power As A Zero Sum Game

Roy Moore was quoted in the LA Times saying “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”. This willfully ignores families that couldn’t stay together because their children were stolen from them and sold. *Our* families were strong, and who cares about anyone else? It’s the same implication I’d read into Trump’s ‘great again’ slogan. Well, it was great for rich old white dudes, and since I’m a rich old white dude … that’s my definition of great, and screw everyone else.

If people are going to be blatant about their racism, I’d love some honesty to go with their chutzpah. Political and social power are zero-sum. In game theory, zero-sum means that one person’s gain is your loss. And you can only gain by someone else losing. If the game starts with a stack of one hundred one dollar bills, no one can win more than 100$. Divide the money equally and each person gets 50$. Play the game — the only way for you to get 60$ is for your opponent to lose ten bucks. That’s a concrete example — new dollar bills aren’t going to magically appear. But abstract concepts can be zero-sum as well. Any individual only has so much influence, and their vote is only a percentage of all voters. The larger the population of “people who can make decisions and influence society” or “people who can vote” gets, the smaller any individual’s power becomes.

The US population is 326 million plus people (or so says the Census Bureau’s population clock). In 2010, 24% were under 18 – which makes the population at or above the age of majority just over 248 million. That means one person is 0.00000040% of the total adult population. Limit decision makers to white men (31% of the population) and each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled. Home ownership rates for whites is like 71.9%, which would mean each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled.

Similar story for voting. There were just shy 129 million people who voted in 2016. A Rutgers breakdown of gender/ethicity of reported voters has 47.8 million white men voting. Using the 71.9% home ownership rate, an individual white man’s vote would have a 2.7x increase in impact if only white land owning men could vote.

Some old white land owning dudes think the early 1800’s were great because men in their position weren’t forced to share power with women, non-white people, or poorer white dudes. Some old white land owning dudes think giving up some of *their* power so women/non-white people/poorer people get a say in government and American society was OK because women/non-white people/poorer people deserve some control over the society and political system in which they live. Hell, some rich old white dudes probably think ceding some of their power is OK because they are vastly outnumbered by women/non-white people/poorer people and just didn’t see staying in power as a likely outcome either way, and sharing power was better than all of the women/non-white people/poorer people banding together and deeming rich old white dudes to be non-citizens.

Clean Coal

Running freshly mined coal chunks through a waterfall to wash off dirt doesn’t seem like it would be much less effective than proposed carbon sequestration methods.
Seriously – plant a bunch of trees downwind of the coal fire == sequestration. Capture and compress these emissions then injected them into the Earth … what could go wrong with that? Combine it with some other elements to make limestone. Split CO2 molecules, released pure O2 into the air & then made diamonds or carbon nano-tubes. Whatever “clean the coal emissions” approach you want to go with, you still have mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hydrofloric acid, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, lead, manganese … all sorts of pollutants escaping into the atmosphere. Spent a lot of money to get there, created public perception that environmental impact had been negated, and if my rudimentary understanding of the proposed sequestration methods is anywhere near accurate the energy output of the facility is reduced as well (i.e. I need to burn MORE coal w/ sequestration to produce the same amount of energy).
Plus dirt – not generally combustible stuff. Wouldn’t dirt already be washed off ’cause I’m not paying per tonne or whatever to get a bunch of non-burny stuff?

On many sides

Spartacus, Gaspar Yanga, Ali bin Muhammad – unruly insurrectionists the lot of them. And don’t get me started on those bigots in Syria who hate Bashar just because he wants to murder civilians en mass. Is decrying violence against violent oppressors the pinnacle of moral relativism? Can Trump find new levels of depravity? Tune in next week for the exciting continuation of … oh, bugger, real life?

I told my mom a few days ago that an author — not a no-name author who had never been published, I mean one of those people who could get a chicken to peck at a typewriter and sell the novel famous author types — who wrote the past year as fiction would have been laughed out of the publisher’s office a decade ago. Somehow, Trump seems determined to outdo all of his previous antics anew each week. Which I blame on his reality TV fame — you’ve got to do something more outlandish each week or you’ll lose viewers!

The whole making America great again slogan always struck me as uber white male. Because, really, “again” implies that there was some greatness in the past to which we are returning. Is that back when women couldn’t vote? When your skin color determined if you were allowed to sit on the bus? Or, hell, if you were a person or possession.  Couldn’t imagine a Republican candidate calling back to the Clinton years, so unless he meant the halcyon days of 1985, that slogan is treading well into “make America great for white dudes” territory. And if you’re talking about the mid 80’s … with out of control interest rates and fairly overt racism, you’re in “great for rich white dudes” territory. Then again, Making America Great for Neo-Nazi’s Again or Making America Great for the Klan Again doesn’t have a catchy abbreviation you can slap on hats and t-shirts to make a buck.

But this new low is down in the Marianas Trench and still digging. A bunch of bigots are holding a rally out in Virginia, and there are counter protesters. Bigot runs a car into the counter protesters. What’s the president say? “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.”

Unless “many sides” means the Klan guys, the Neo Nazis, and the White Pride folks, the denotative sentiment doesn’t help the current situation. But words have connotative meanings as well — the emotions invoked by the words, the history associated with the words, the word in conjunction with other words being used, even the educational level and class associated with the words.

I won’t disagree with the violence on many sides — don’t know if it is true in this case, but my experience with counter-protests at Klan rallies in the 80’s is that, yeah, there’s violence on both sides.

Is it OK to hate racists and neo-nazis? I know there’s the whole judge not lest ye be judged idea, but civil is about the best I can do. But in conjunction with bigotry … to me, ‘hatred’ implies irrational hatred based on bigotry. Deciding a single facet of an individual’s personality can be so heinous that there is literally nothing else they could be/do/think which would make you say “yeah, he’s a racist pig … but he is XYZ too so it’s all OK” is your prerogative.

To the literal definition, that’s bigotry: intolerance toward an individual because their beliefs differ from yours. But by the strict definition, a lot of people are bigots when considering serial killers. Just because you think randomly murdering dozens of people is bad and wrong … the emotional definition of bigotry isn’t just hating someone because they have different beliefs but also that their beliefs are perfectly reasonable and don’t hurt anyone.

Messaging fail.