Americuh — Means exactly what you want it to mean

Americuh

Means exactly what you want it to mean

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

September 18th 2021

Kristi Noem, the religious loop that is the more-or-less governor of South Dakota, opposes even allowing children to wear masks at school to prevent spread of COVID. She does, however, want to force them to pray. There isn’t a single documented case of prayer preventing, let alone curing COVID. But Noem figures that this is America, and so she can uphold the rights of the governed by making them perform useless genuflections as they sicken and die. Children in particular, because Jesus was an American.

Right wingers love Americuh. Ask them what they love about America, and if they don’t violently attack you for having the effrontery to even ask the question, will rhapsodize about god and the flag and Ronald Reagan. Some will mention Donald Trump, and at that point you might as well walk away, because nothing sane or non-sickening is going to follow.

There actually was a poll a few years back that asked “What do you love most about America?” Most of the answers seem to have come from people who have seen too many truck ads. “Sunsets” “Good dogs” (Good dogs?) “Fields of grain” “Endless highways.” Some seem to think America is a conglomeration of fast food joints: “hot dogs” “hamburgers” “barbeques.” Others tie their national identity to pro sports. “Football.” “Basketball” “Baseball” “Hockey.” Yeah, that last one is mostly Canadian, but these people see Canada as a suburb of Minnesota where the snow ploughs empty their loads in the winter. Music will provoke distinctly American responses: jazz, rock and roll, heavy metal, but usually not r&b, hip-hop or swing. Great literature gets mentioned: Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, at least before he turned Nazi and worse, African American. The Jury is still out on Superman, who arrived here without a green card, and Wee Hughie and Butcher don’t sound like they’re from around here, do they?

Basically, Americuh is just a symbol. A coalition of vacuous gases, an empty shibboleth upon which any meaning or emotion may be imposed. In other words, just like Jesus, the flag, or cat facial expressions. It just sits there looking pretty to the beholder because it is the projection of what the beholder deems to be pretty.

While this sort of goofy, mawkish type of pseudo-patriotism isn’t limited to the right, the right have used it for a sleight of hand that dates back in its present form to the McCarthy era, and in a darker form to the earliest days of the Republic.

You see, they have a little secret: they love America till the cows come home. (Cows are Americuh, too. Moo!) Love, love, love, just caint git enuff of thet Americuh!

But they hate the United States. It showed up in that poll I mentioned. All the stuff people loved about America, but you had to scroll down a long way, far down into the single digits, before you started seeing things like “Bill of Rights”; “The Constitution”; separation of church and state; voting; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; or rule of law. The stuff that made the United States unique to begin with, the things many other countries since 1789 have emulated. Some of them didn’t even get listed.

If you point this out to a right winger, most will indignantly deny it. In fairness, many will be sincere. Most sane conservatives respect and adhere to the Constitution and understand that it, not religions or corporations or good dogs, is the moral, legal, and foundational underpinning of the United States of America.

But to many right wingers, even though they can’t say so out loud, the Constitution is the enemy of what they stand for (that great nebulosity, Americuh). The Constitution is government. The Constitution is rule of law. The Constitution is civil rights for all. The Constitution recognizes obligations just as it recognizes rights. It is a profoundly liberal document.

It also represents the strong desire of the Founders to keep churches out of the government, and in return, governments out of the churches. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, held his proudest accomplishment the separation of church and state in his Constitution for the State of Virginia. He, along with most of those who wrote the Constitution, understood the horrors of theocracies and theocrats, and resolved to never let it happen here. They didn’t want a country under god or any other imaginary religious symbol. They respected the rights of people to believe, but assigned no right to impose their beliefs on others. The Constitution, in language that exempts it from any amendment, forbids religious tests for any position of public trust.

To the far right and the MAGAts and that crowd, the United States is the enemy of all they hold near and dear. It doesn’t let them subjugate minorities or non-believers and justify their stances by turning the terms oppression and oppressed on their heads, inverting their meaning.

That explains how the people who want to tear down the democracy—the Trumpenproletariat, the Religious Freaks, and the neo-Nazis—can all do what they can to destroy the United States, but wave flags and bibles (Stars and Bars alongside Stars and Stripes, no less!), and simultaneously proclaim they are patriots because they “luv Americuh.” They love a largely mindless symbol and hate the reality.

It allows them to wave flags as they try to destroy the country.

Kristi Noem doesn’t want to “impose” social efforts to protect children (which the constitution strongly stands for) but she does want to impose her trashy little religion. She is the epitome of the far right, the lost Americans who threw away their social and historical background to live in a truck commercial.

Recalling Newsom — Trumpenproletariat have a(nother) bad day

Recalling Newsom

Trumpenproletariat have a(nother) bad day

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

September 16th 2021

I was hoping for a 57-43 result in Tuesday’s California recall election. I had little doubt Governor Newsom was going to survive the recall process, but I wanted to see him get a convincing win. He got 60% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election, and between some instances of bad judgment, a rocky economy, the pandemic, and the fires, I expected to see some ‘slippage’ in support. Newsom isn’t perfect, but he’s at least reasonably competent. So I figured 57% of Californian voters would consider him worth keeping.

It looks like he won it with over 63% of the vote! Turnout state wide was 42%, slightly higher than I expected, and that may have been part of it. But I suspect that a lot of voters who didn’t have strong opinions on Newsom one way or the other came out and voted because they absolutely despise Trump and Elder and all their violent, vicious, and arrogant followers. People are horrified and appalled at stories of people being attacked for wearing masks—even kids at school—and hospitals being sued for not trying to treat COVID with worm medicine. There’s a growing realization that a large number of followers of Trump are fascists at best, Nazis at worst, and deeply oppose democracy and freedom for anyone other than themselves. Elder had the crack-brained notion that Newsom could be blamed for the fires and didn’t seem to realize that most people understood that it was climate change that has made the fires so much worse—and that Elder was one of the strongest voices claiming climate change wasn’t real.

Obviously there are Republicans who don’t subscribe to the filthy and corrupt views of Trump and Elder. But they didn’t apparently didn’t bother to turn out to vote. Elder got 42% of the ‘replace’ vote, and the second two candidates, both conservative moderates, failed to get 9% apiece. And most of the rest of the field were absolute clowns, ranging from Jenner who managed to support a woman’s right to choose AND the Texas anti-abortion law, to the goofball with the bear for a running mate. Elder, a poisonous blend of Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Uncle Ruckus, was the candidate of choice of a large plurality of Republicans.

The GOP is a diseased and ethically broken party, antithetical to normal American values and standards, corrupt, cruel and convinced they deserve to rule us. Less than 20% of them found a way to vote for a normal candidate who wasn’t trying to destroy the United States and disenfranchise most Americans.

As the results rolled in, Newsom tweeted, “Californians voted ‘YES’ to, ‘Women’s rights. Immigrant rights. The minimum wage. The environment. Our future.’ Newsom added that voters ‘rejected cynicism and bigotry and chose hope and progress.’”

I think that’s a pretty fair assessment, and kudos to Newsom for realizing that Californians saw a bigger picture than the political future of Gavin Newsom. Trump and his filthy acolytes weighed heavily on the minds of voters. They looked at the partisan and corrupt hacks Trump had put on the court and wanted no part of it. (And no, Amy Coney, saying you aren’t a partisan hack at the McConnell center doesn’t mean you aren’t a partisan hack; it just means you can make such a ridiculous claim in such absurd surroundings with the total lack of self-awareness of the standard religious zealot.)

Californians looked at the utterly demented verging on murderous actions of various red-state governors and realized that Governor Larry Elder would be killing thousands of Californians with the same lunatic adherence to the gospel of Saint Donald.

People who lived among the chaparral fires of central and southern California got tired of being told it was their fault because they didn’t manage the forest properly. And those of us in the forested areas got tired of being told that proper management meant cutting the mature commercial stuff and leaving the doghair and understory.

The vote came against a backdrop of scandal and mobs at the gates. The fencing went back up around the capital against possible violence during Saturday’s J6 rally. Cases against the insurrectionists were delayed, not because of Republican foot-dragging, but because the amount of evidence against them continues to grow at a pace the lawyers can’t keep up with. Reports came out that a top American general, Mark Milley, told the Pentagon to clear it with him in the event that Trump would order a nuclear strike in the final days of his presidency. Think about that for a minute. Trump and the Republicans turned the military into a comedy by Stanley Kubrick.

Larry Elder showed that he was entirely a creature of Trump by posting on his website, declaring he had unearthed hundreds of case of malfeasance and fraud at the polling stations all across California. Most people, aware of the duplicitous and dishonest efforts of Republicans to overturn the results of the 2020 election, would have been doubtful anyway. But Elder couldn’t even be arsed waiting for the actual voting to occur: he posted all this the day before the election.

Elder doesn’t think his supporters are idiots. He knows they are.

Trump and the idiot trumpenproletariat that support him aren’t going away soon. In addition to religious nuts, there is no shortage of corrupt and partisan hacks, and bountiful flat-earthers and anti-science clowns to keep Trump going for some time to come.

But the recall election shows the actual political weakness of Trump’s fools’ parade, and the results deeply undermine their claims to be the heirs to the American dream.

Court Cowards Create Constitutional Crisis — A preview of American life under fascism

Court Cowards Create Constitutional Crisis

A preview of American life under fascism

September 2nd, 2021

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

They did the deed in the dead of night, of course. The Court refused to issue a stay on a state bill that was blatantly unconstitutional; so egregiously so that it wasn’t until 24 hours later that they issued a paper—NOT a ruling, saying that five of the nine justices decided not to issue the stay. It was cowardly, it was despicable, and it was exactly what we expected from the GOP’s decades-long struggle to pack the Court with anti-Constitutional fascists. The ones that McConnell herded onto the court were especially bad—a drunk, a child of a deeply corrupt family, and a god-struck loon.

The bill, a product of Texas’ demented and nearly criminal legislature, made it a felony to get an abortion after 6 weeks. Never mind that hundreds of similar bills, put up by obsessive religious nuts, have been struck down by court after court after court as being unconstitutional: this 5-4 joke of a Supreme Court decided to not do its job and let the bill stand. This is a court that has no interest at all in the law, precedent, or the Constitution. It is an outlaw, criminal court, interested only in securing power for the churches.

An even more insane element of the bill—and this could only happen in Texas, a state that is fucking nuts by design—is that it effectively deputizes every citizen to turn in any woman or doctor who tries to skirt this law in any way, with a $10,000 bounty!

Maybe those crazy Texans will arrest God: over two thirds of all abortions are spontaneous. He kills tens of millions of blobs every year. Be sure to call the state snitch line to report God and collect your $10,000.

The law that the Court pretended to ignore is insane and unfair and violates the rights of women, but that’s not the worst of it.

The worst is that the Court has reintroduced the policy of Nullification. Anyone who has taken American history knows the term (and it will probably vanish from American history books if the CRT crowd have their way and remove anything from history books that they don’t like). It was the belief, prior to the Civil War, that states had the right to nullify any federal law that they felt violated their state constitution, or they just found inconvenient, like the notion that Americans of African descent needn’t be slaves. The Civil War pretty much settled that dispute, but decades later it emerged from the fever swamps of the Koch right wing as “State’s Rights.” Ask a right winger if states’ rights isn’t just a painted over version of nullification, and if he even has the faintest clue what you’re talking about, he’ll turn himself inside-out trying to explain they have nothing in common. One is a relic of the first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, where the states could tell the feds to butt out, and the second is a relic of the first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, where the states could tell the feds to butt out. See? Nothing at all alike!

The Articles of Confederation basically created a shell of a nation consisting of thirteen sovereign states. States were free to impose tariffs, have wildly differing laws, and there was no basic system of rights for the people nor powers for the government. Instead of one nation, it was thirteen little pisspot nations, just sitting there waiting to be gobbled up by the French, the English, or even the Spanish like popcorn.

The Constitution of 1787 repudiated that, declaring itself to be the Supreme Law over the states, and giving the federal judiciary the power to negate state laws that violated the Constitution. More stuff you won’t be hearing about if they get rid of the CRT stuff.

In effect, Nullification repeated the errors of the Articles. It took a Civil War to bury that particular vampire idea. And in more recent times, the power of the federal judiciary enjoyed the support of both parties and most of the citizenry. So they buried the idea under a bunch of pseudonyms, such as states’ rights, or community standards, and now, with an outlaw Supreme Court, the notion that the Court can just ignore any state law it doesn’t want to consider, no matter how egregiously unconstitutional that law may be on the very face of it.

This court is the result of fascists, led by Mitch McConnell and former president AAX, to stuff the court with fascists, in addition to the two clowns already there; Clarence Thomas, for years the least qualified judge to sit on the court, and John Roberts, a weak conservative who thinks the far right is just as respectful of the law as the rest of the country, despite all evidence to the contrary. Add the three disgraces forced on us by Mitch McConnell, the GOP, and the malevolent AAX, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Congress must act on this. Impeach the unqualified most recent appointees, all of who deliberately and maliciously lied to get their seat. Failing that, pack the court, 15 if need be, to negate the damage the fascists of the GOP have done.

And an aroused citizenry can do wonders to make the GOP back off. Fascists may be determined, but at heart they are sneaky little cowards. They might back down. For now.

In the meantime, point to Texas, and point to Afghanistan, and warn people that this is what we all can expect under religious authoritarian rule.

Spook Says Early Fall — Cat’s in the cradle and silver moon

Spook Says Early Fall

Cat’s in the cradle and silver moon

August 25th 2021

We have a cat named Spook. She’s ten years old and looks to be a medium-sized black cat until you pick her up. That’s when you realize she’s mostly fluff. There’s maybe four pounds of cat inside that black cloud. When she feels like it, she’s a very sweet-natured, affectionate little kitty.

That’s when she feels like it. Much of the time, she’s just plain nuts.

I got my first inkling of this when she was a year old, in late spring. I walked in the bedroom where she was curled up at the foot of the bed. She jumped to her feet, an expression of clear horror on her face, and scrambled under the bed.

I started at the hole in the air where she had been. “What the hell did I do to you, cat?” I grumbled. I didn’t think much of it. It was evening, and most of our cats sometimes get the “evening crazies” where they dash madly about the house and swat at no-see-ums. Kittens—which Spook still was at the time—are particularly susceptible to this. So I just shook my head and muttered “cats.” I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve done that.

Only evening crazies only last for 15 or 20 minutes and the cat calms down and curls up and goes to sleep. Spook stayed out of sight the rest of the evening. And the next day. And the day after that. When I did see her, she fled.

My wife reported the same behavior. And the first time we held the back door open for an indecisive other cat to come in or out, she would see an opportunity and dash past.

We didn’t worry about that too much. The yard is fenced, there are a dozen hidey-holes where a cat can escape any would-be predators, and she had survived basic training by the fierce and terrible Mac, our feisty old orange tom who didn’t take shit from any coyote or raccoon foolish enough to cross his path.

She would hide, and when we let one of the other animals in or out, she would make a mad dash. That would usually be the only time we would see her.

Even though she acted like were were hungry ogres who lived only to feast on cats, we knew she was around, even though she otherwise stayed invisible, and we usually didn’t know if she was in or out. I sometimes thought of her as Schrödinger’s Joke.

But there were times when none of the others were in transit, and we had no reason to open the back door. In which case, she would stand as far away as she could while maintaining line-of-sight eye contact, and wait for one of us to open the door for her. Except at first she wouldn’t work herself up to approaching while we were looking right at her, and we both would end up frustrated.

I finally figured it out, which was amazing when you consider that I am under the considerable handicap of being a human being, a balding monkey if you will. I had to Avert My Gaze. If she wanted out, I had to gaze longingly at the back fence while she worked up the courage to make a wild dash past me. If she wanted in, she would wait at the bottom of the steps while I memorized the features of our stove at the other end of the kitchen, until a puff of air near my shins told me she was in.

Then, one crisp October night, I was typing at my computer and heard a meep. I glanced down, and there was Spook! She reared up and put a paw up on my knee, gave me a direct look, and meeped again. I very slowly reached down, and she gently head-butted my hand. It was the first time I had been allowed to touch her since that night in April. I got up and she scrambled back, but I was only going to check her food. She had to be starving to dare approach me, I reasoned.

Nope. Food supply was fine. And I went to the door and averted my gaze, and she didn’t take me up on the offer. She just wanted to say hi.

After that, she was a normal cat, if a bit timid. She even let me pick her up to examine her. We had come to think of her as a peripheral cat, a semi-feral who came in only to eat. She was in remarkably good shape, considering. She even let me run a brush over her and put some flea stuff on her neck.

At least once a day she would come in just to say hi. She loved having her tail tugged and would strop back and forth, waving it invitingly.

Then, one spring morning, she stared at me in abject horror, and made an insane dash for it. She had just SEEN me eat breakfast, and I hardly ever eat cats right after a meal. Trying to lose weight, you know.

And just like that, we were back in frenzied paranoia mode.

Until six months later, when she reverted to affectionate little house kitty.

The pattern became clear. She would revert to Spooky Spook when the nighttime lows were reliably above freezing and the last of the snow had melted. She would become Warm and Fuzzy Spook when the frost was on the pumpkin. Her affection for us was measured in Fahrenheit.

Normally we’re deep in Schrödinger’s Joke mode this time of year. When it’s baseball season, you don’t see Spook, or if she has to be seen, she doesn’t like it. This past year we added an enclosed front porch with a cat-sized portal next to the screen door and a cat flap in the bedroom window facing onto the porch. It didn’t take her long to figure out the implications. Unbridled access, inside and out! We usually didn’t see much of her in the summer. Now we barely saw her at all. The one good look I got at her was last month, one morning when I went out on the porch to read the news. A neighbor came by on the streets with her corgis. Now, the corgis aren’t a particular threat. Or any threat. Neither could manage three miles an hour with a tailwind, they liked cats, and what’s more, they were on a leash. Just a pair of nice old dogs.

Nonetheless the simultaneous appearance of me and the dogs threw the two cats that happened to be in the front yard into wild panic. TK, our Korat, darted for the porch. She understands that humans mean safety. Spook, who knows better, dashed for the large lilac bush that is her summer home. Both were staring at the affably harmless dogs with deep loathing, fear and disgust as they ran.

They collided.

It was so quick it nearly didn’t happen at all. Showing uncharacteristic wisdom, I decided it didn’t happen. Cats know when you’re laughing at them, and they can be vindictive. The corgis and their owners were clearly enjoying the show. No head-strops for them. Not from those two particular cats.

So last night I was in bed, doing some reading before going to sleep. I felt a cat jump up on the bed behind me and absently reached back to scritch kitty ears. After decades of cat exposure, I can reach back without even looking and accurately scritch between the ears. The cats agree that it’s my most useful, indeed only useful talent.

I figured it was TK. She likes to be hand-fed kitty crunchy treats. Spoiled rotten. I petted along her back. Not TK. Korats have thick, short pelts, silver and grey. This felt more like cotton candy, only not sticky.

I rolled over and blinked in amazement. It was Spook, not only letting me touch her, but inviting me to pull her tail! I glanced at the thermometer. It might go below 50 that night, but only a little. Frost was not in the forecast.

She let me pet her, which served as a thinly-disguised opportunity to check her weight, her pelt, and check for any injuries or tender spots. She seemed fine. She jumped down and trotted off to the kitchen to see if we had done anything lately to justify our existence.

But it’s only August. Schrödinger’s Joke isn’t supposed to be Warm and Fuzzy for two more months!

It can only mean one thing: an early fall. Frost is rare in the California mountains in August, but not unheard of. Rain is also seldom seen. But something has persuaded Spook that I am preferable to the Lilac Bush.

So I am bracing for an early fall. I would prefer not to see frost for another six weeks because backyard garden, but early rains in this fiery and smoky year would be cause for deep ecstasy.

Spook probably knows. But that is cat knowledge, and us balding monkeys are not worthy.

Hope for rain.

Kabuling for Dollars — The end of the occupation

August 19th 2021

It’s hard not to feel horror at the events this week in Afghanistan. The awful scenes of panicking Afghanis clinging to the side of a C-19 as it took off and falling to their deaths would shake anyone up. Rachel Maddow was reduced to tears recounting the incredible tale of the efforts to get a translator (one of thousands) out of the country with his family. The only other time that happened was when the story broke of what the Trump administration was doing to refugee children.

But Afghanistan was always going to end this way. It didn’t matter if it was now, or 2020, or 2002. The end of the American occupation of Afghanistan was always going to be bloody and painful, because that’s how occupations almost always end. That’s why they are against international law.

And make no mistake—this was never “a war in Afghanistan” as people who should know better keep calling it. It was an occupation.

Remember how it began? Nine Eleven had just happened, and the Bush administration decided that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind it. Osama was hiding in Afghanistan (and he probably was) with the connivance of the Taliban government (probably not the case). So the US sent troops into Afghanistan to find and arrest him.

Even I didn’t have any problem with that. ObL was an obvious suspect because of his role in the previous attack on the Twin Towers, and I hated and despised the Taliban, cruel, corrupt and often insane, like all authoritarian religious regimes. If they were hiding Osama, then fuck them. Go in, get him, and get out.

Only it became obvious within weeks that Osama was long gone, flown the coop to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, two countries the US didn’t invade searching for him. Instead, the US stayed in Afghanistan, setting up a puppet regime and pouring billions into the place. Supposedly the US was going to rebuild Afghanistan, new roads, new schools, new infrastructure, all the shit the government wasn’t doing in America. In reality, the money covered the costs of occupying the country, billions in bribes to the local warlords not to cause trouble, and maybe 5% which actually went to “rebuilding”. All told, some two trillion dollars got poured down a rat hole, nearly all of it wasted and in the pockets of people we didn’t want to help.

The US paid people to be their friends there, and that went about as well as paying people to be your friend usually goes. And Bush and Obama didn’t have a clue how to end it, especially since the neo-liberals who engineered the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq were ready to pounce, and declare any administration willing to pull out “soft on terrorism.”

The US occupied Iraq on the insanely stupid excuse that Saddam Hussein, mortal enemy to the Taliban and Iran, was secretly helping them. They managed to end that one by surrendering well in advance and letting the Iraqis choose their own government first. So the people didn’t have to overthrow a puppet regime.

Remember “Vietnamization”? Nixon figured, correctly, that if they let the Vietnamese people choose their government, there would be less unrest when the Americans left. Only the people in North Vietnam didn’t get to vote, and so they considered the Saigon government a puppet regime. Weeks later, it was gone, and Saigon was now Ho Chi Minh City.

In Iraq, they surrendered to the people they invaded Iraq to rid the country of first, and then left.

Trump actually tried to do something like this, releasing some five thousand political prisoners, including much of the new government in Kabul and a lot of warlords who didn’t toe the line, in hopes that there wouldn’t be a bloody dumping of the Vichy regime in Kabul when US troops were pulled out, originally slated for May 1st 2021. But the planned talks at Camp David never happened, and Biden had too much on his plate to take it up. So there remained a puppet regime in Kabul, which lasted nearly a week.

The Taliban moved fast, and swept into power. But a lot of people hate and fear them, and not just American puppets and lackeys. As mentioned, they are a theocracy, the most vicious and hateful form of government known to man, and women and anyone who don’t want strict adherence to Sharia Law (which would be most Muslims) have every reason to fear them. Expect Afghanistan to be a bloody mess for some time to come.

To Republicans who say this is Biden’s fault: Fuck you. Bush began the occupation, and Trump set things up so it would end as badly as possible. For the human sewage who are shouting they don’t want Biden dumping refugees on them from Afghanistan: double fuck you. Biden should offer to trade you and your family to the Taliban for every decent person and his family in Afghanistan who tried to help and now needs to get out. America is far better off with them and without you.

Still, the US is out of there, and the hemorrhaging of money has slowed. Maybe some of you will learn from this—occupations are a waste of time and money and usually end with many people getting hurt. The only way an occupation will work is through centuries of attrition (the Norman invasion of England) or genocide (the Americas by Europe). As foreign policy, they never work and usually backfire. Don’t do it.

I doubt it will work. The UK, the USSR and the US have both tried occupying Afghanistan and all left weaker and poorer for it. The USSR tried occupying eastern Europe. History is full of failed occupations, or ones that ended in mass murder and social destruction.

For people who think America had any friends in Afghanistan, don’t be an ass. Most of the flunkies were paid, and America is doing a marvelous job of screwing over the few who honestly liked the Americans now. Like the Fox News/GOP filth who are saying NIMBY to refugees from Afghanistan.

Stop trying to run other people’s countries. They don’t like you and your values for pretty much the same reason you don’t like theirs, and you’re no better than them. Stay inside your own borders, and work on making life better for your own people. That will attract better responses from other countries than all the occupations in the world.

The Bottom Forty — Vonnegut’s bastard children arise

The Bottom Forty

Vonnegut’s bastard children arise

July 14th 2021

Over 40% of new COVID cases this past week erupted in just two states: Florida and Texas. There were 903,471 new cases nationally, including 155,000 just yesterday. That means those two states alone made up some 360,000 new cases. Fifteen percent of the population, forty percent of cases.

Normally a disparity like that would have statisticians scrambling for answers. Sometimes the answer is evident: Maine and Wisconsin have far more cases of frostbite per capita than all of the South. Sometimes they are obscure (‘cancer towns’ which sometimes result from industries that closed a century earlier). But the most mysterious thing about the high rate of infections in Florida and Texas is that it isn’t mysterious at all.

It’s part of actions by state leaders in both state that range, at best, from feckless to at worst deliberate reckless endangerment resulting in multiple deaths. The governors of both states not only are anti-vaccination and anti-mask, but are pushing policies to prevent schools, towns, and even hospitals from requiring masks and vaccinations.

Sociologists and mob psychologists are going to be studying this for years. There’s many cases of a few individuals leading a society going mad and engaging in policies that harm or even destroy the societies they lead. Three major examples from the twentieth century would be Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, and Mao in China. And there are far too many examples of leaders exhorting the mob to rise up and commit genocide against minorities in their own lands or adjacent. Cambodia, Rwanda, and Turkey all come to mind.

But in this case, Florida and Texas, you have mad leaders exhorting their followers to effectively commit genocide against themselves.

The followers don’t see it quite that way, of course. They have been convinced that COVID doesn’t exist or is no worse than a bad cold. Remember, this is a society where 10% of population believes the Earth is a flat disk, 40% believe in angels, and 75% think Windows is the best possible operating system to have on their computers. Ignorance is praised and expertise questioned, and it’s easy to persuade large groups of people that hidden knowledge, especially knowledge hidden for sinister purposes by malign cabals, is the best type of knowledge to have, and negates the open world of realization accrued through hard work and serious study.

Isaac Asimov, no stranger to the concept of societies gone mad, once observed that societal decay was inevitable when ignorance and knowledge were seen as being roughly equally worthy of respect. Certainly the United States has a long history of that. For example, we are supposed to treat biblical literalism with the same respect that we are the fields of biology, botany, geology and physics. Despite the fact that on the face of it, bible literalism is utterly preposterous.

Americans tend to be suckers for oblique concepts that don’t bear close examination. Christians endlessly witnessing for their faiths think they are earning Jesus brownie points even though the bible itself frowns on ostentatious displays of false piety. Americans aren’t alone in rallying to the cause of “freedom!” but it gets carried to weird extremes here, where one has the ‘freedom’ to refuse to take any measures at all to protect the health or others, or even permit others to take reasonable measures to protect their own health. This madness seems to have peaked with the governors of Florida and Texas passing rules forbidding schools from requiring masks, or even reporting cases of COVID outbreak amongst their students and staff. At least, let’s hope that’s the peak. It’s the same sort of madness we used to mock in the Soviet Union, where it was a crime (Anti-Soviet Agitation) to say that a state-run automobile was a rattletrap (they were) or admit that tractor production was below the goals of a five-year plan. You could be punished for that, just as in Florida or Texas you can be punished for admitting a potentially deadly disease is sweeping through a class full of children.

At some point this sort of madness implodes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that sometimes a great deal of damage is done before the implosion happens, and a normal part of the course of this mental infection is that the rule becomes more and more authoritarian in an effort to sustain the evident absurdities. In some cases, such as Hitler’s Germany or the Soviet Union, it required the collapse and near destruction of the society. In Turkey and China, it was just sheer exhaustion from the body count. There’s rarely a desirable outcome to this madness.

Kurt Vonnegut observed that the greatest danger humanity held for itself was bad ideas. While he was hopeful, convinced that in most cases the bulk of humanity could avoid the infection and carry on and even help those who were infected, he had no illusions about the destructive nature of those bad ideas.

America’s current mania, an amalgamation of Trumpism, allowing the neo-nazi sick right out from under its rocks, and the love of conspiracy theories, has yet to run its course. It is possible that with the disease wildfiring through MAGA-infested parts of the country (my own very red county set a record for most new cases this week), the requisite death toll will be high enough to rein in the crazies—or kill them, either way is fine.

But remember that you’re far more likely to die from an idiotic idea than you are from common sense, and conduct yourself accordingly.

Delta Blues — Variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

Delta Blues

variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

July 29th 2021

Three states totaling one fourth of the US population made up 40% of new cases of COVID-19 last week. All were in the South, all were heavily Republican, and all had very low rates of vaccination against COVID. Even more dismaying, over 80% of new cases were the Delta variant.

There is more news about the Delta variant, and most of it is pretty bad. First, there’s the matter of the transmission rate. It has an R0 between 5 and 8, which means that an infected individual can be expected to infect between 5 and 8 susceptible individuals. For comparison, the Alpha variant had an R0 between 4 and 5. A report by the Washington Post tonight suggest the R0 estimate may be revised upward, which is catastrophically bad news.

When the R0 is four, this is how it can spread: If you infect an expected four people, and each in turn infects 4 more, that’s 20 people. Those sixteen new cases go on to infect 64 more. Those 64 infect 256 more. It’s exponential growth, and the numbers grow very rapidly.

But if the R0 is eight, then one person infects 8, they in turn infect 64, they in turn infect 512, and they infect 4,096. Same number of stages of growth, but one number is eight times as high. The gaps widens exponentially. The gap is 16 times as high in the next stage.

By way of comparison, the flu has a R0 between 1.3 and 1.6, depending on the strain. In a typical flu season, millions get the flu, thousands die, although vaccines are causing a drop in those numbers. (Because of social distancing, a happy side effect was that “flu season” last winter was the smallest in at least 100 years). The common cold has an R0 between 2 and 3, and yet nearly everyone gets at least one cold in a given year. Of course, there’s hundreds of strains of virus out there that cause the cold, and it’s just a part of our lives. But those R0 rates should scare any one capable of doing simple arithmetic.

Rubella, which is notoriously contagious, has an R0 of 6 and 7, making it essentially as infectious as the Delta variant. The mumps, which used to routinely wildfire through entire school districts, has an R0 of 10-12. So does chickenpox. The regular measles has an R0 of 12-18.

It gets worse: people who have received both shots, either Moderna or Pfizer, may only have an 8-10% chance of being infected with the Alpha variant and are considered fairly low risk to carry it on. With the Delta variant, the chance of infection is higher, although it is yet to be determined how much higher. The one bit of good news is that 90% of those with vaccines will have mild or non-existent symptoms. However, they “virus load” (i.e. become as contaminated) as non-vaccinated people, and can pass the disease along to nearly all unvaccinated and an unknown but sizable number of vaccinated people.

When I was a kid, measles, mumps and chickenpox were very nearly inevitable, and sometimes killed kids. I’m glad they are part of our past, along with diseases like polio and smallpox.

The elephant in the room is “long COVID”–a galaxy of aftereffects that range from annoying to debilitating. Respiratory issues, vascular problems, “brain fog”, fatigue and susceptibility to other diseases. It is known to show up in people who remained asymptomatic in the initial stages of the disease. We have no clear idea how or even if it manifests in people who have gotten their shots and become infected. It may take years before we really do know. But the threat is there.

So if you have your shots and you’re swanning around maskless, stop doing that right now. What for you might be nothing worse than a mild cold could mean potentially significant health issues for you in the future.

You will also be a deadly threat to anyone you encounter who hasn’t been vaccinated. If you infect 8 people and they infect 64 and they infect 512, the odds are you just killed a half dozen people, and hospitalized about 24 others.

So mask up and observe social distancing. Yes, we’re all sick to death of it, and furious at the fools who won’t take steps to defend themselves and everyone else, but unless we want America to be the first country to stupid itself to death, we need to keep taking these steps and hope our social recklessness doesn’t open the door to even bigger medical problems.

Mask up. Keep your distance, and if you haven’t yet, get your shots. Over 163 million have, and it’s clear they are safe and effective. And yes, Delta variant is effective in its own way, but it sure ain’t safe.

Stay safe, exercise better sense than a squirrel on the freeway, and we’ll get through this.

The Great Hack — Is it time to burn the burners?

The Great Hack

Is it time to burn the burners?

July 20th, 2021

The news about Pegasus and NSO Group, its parent company, is horrifying. Pegasus can be used to hack into any mobile phone – Apple or Android – without the operator of the device taking any action. Without so much as a click, it can explore and copy all data on the phone—phones, contact lists, passwords, everything. It can surreptitiously turn on the camera and the microphone and record everything it sees and hears. And of course it knows the exact location of any cell phone it monitors, and can record phone calls—not just the metadata, but the conversations themselves.

The Israeli government commissioned the production of this nuclear spying software, and have been extraordinarily feckless in who they’ve leased it out to. In fact, they’ve been so reckless it’s hard to fathom if they aren’t simply trying a particularly involved form of national suicide. Among the people they’ve entrusted with this software are the United Arab Emirates (better than most middle-eastern governments, but gawds, that’s a low bar) Saudi Arabia, one of the most vicious theocracies on Earth, and Azerbaijan (I wouldn’t trust that government to feed my goldfish).

According to the Guardian, which broke the story, “A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was ‘closely regulated’ by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences ‘in quite a few cases’.

I repeat: Azerbaijan? That renowned guardian of human rights? Saudi Arabia? The Emirates?

You have to wonder who the Israelis might consider unfit to have their nuclear spyware. Just the fact that a corrupt fascist pig like Benjamin Netanyahu had control over who got it was alarming enough. The Guardian is reporting that misuse of the spyware has roiled politics in Hungary, Mexico, Russia and other places.

NSO Group claims that it supplies the spyware to governments (51% of leases), police (38%) and intelligence agencies (11%). Given the list (both known and inferred) that the Israelis and NSO deemed fit to possess this spyware, that’s less than reassuring. Intelligence agencies? CIA, SIS or Mossad are bad enough. Russia’s FIS? China’s Ministry for State Security? Turkey’s NIO? We can assume the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan is in on the deal. How about North Korea? Kim likes to keep tabs on things, you know.

Police agencies are a concern. I wouldn’t trust Scotland Yard with a cyberweapon like that, and they have a faintly better rep than most national police forces. I definitely wouldn’t want it in the hands of the NYPD or the LAPD. And there’s a lot of police forces that have been surreptitiously infested with Nazis and fascists and other right wing nuts. Hell, I live right next door to Oregon!

Rahul Gandhi, one of the targets of abuse by this program, said: “If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”

Edward Snowden felt that Pegasus should be treated like nuclear weaponry because of the mass damage it can do. “If they find a way to hack one iPhone, they’ve found a way to hack all of them,”

They can break in to pretty much any cell phone. You don’t have to click on a dodgy link or call the wrong number. Pegasus does it all for you. I’m told that just turning your phone off is no defense. They can turn it on. About the only way you can ensure your phone isn’t being used to spy on you is buy taking the battery out, at which point you may as well use it as a drink coaster because that’s about all it can do.

NSO Group and Israel say they are extremely careful and screen their clients to ensure that human rights to privacy are not abused. You know. Clients like Azerbaijan. Or the vicious religious cabal running Saudi Arabia? Or India under Modi? Or for that matter, Israel under its far-right government.

What’s worse is that now it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on the dark web (if it hasn’t already) and winds up in the hands of every terror group out there. Or anyone with a nasty sense of humor and a taste for chaos? Or the flat-out psychotic. Even if NSO can safeguard the source code of Pegasus (and Windows’ source code eventually got out), people will realize that the fact that the capabilities of Pegasus exist means that it can be reverse engineered or even reinvented.

It’s only a matter of time, and time may have already run out for 99% of us.

Cell phones are hopelessly compromised. ALL cell phones. Nobody is safe.

So now is the time to start thinking about life without cell phones. They weren’t our greatest cultural advance to begin with, being flooded with spammers and providing poor quality for the price, but now they are an active danger to the security and freedom of our lives.

It may be time to trash our cell phones.

Just be sure to take the battery out and smash the unit with a hammer. That’s the only way you can be sure the personal information it carries isn’t going to Azerbaijan, or the Proud Boys.

Gleichschaltung — The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

Gleichschaltung

The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

July 17th 2021

By educating the young generation along the right lines, the people’s State will have to see that a generation of mankind is formed which will be adequate to this supreme combat that will decide the destinies of the world” (Hitler, 1939).

The Germans had a word for it, because of course the Germans have a word for everything: Gleichschaltung. It is, according to Webster’s dictionary, “[T]he act, process or policy of achieving total coordination and uniformity by forcibly repressing or eliminating independence and freedom of thought, action or expression.”

The Nazis keenly appreciated the truism that if you educate the child you control the thinking of the adult. With absolutely no sense of irony, they adopted the philosophy of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who believed that that if you “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” and “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

To that end, the Nazis transformed education in Germany. All subjects were to be patriotic, designed to instill awe, reverence and obedience to the German state. Biology taught the superiority of the Aryan race. Economics became lessons in the fiscal sacrifices children should expect to make in service to a Greater Germany. Large segments of physics were no longer taught, contaminated by “the Jewish influence” of most leading physicists. Geography studied borders in Europe in order to show how enemies of Germany had cheated the nation of its birthright over the centuries. Physical education was heavily emphasized as a strong and fit body was expected of every German child against they day he would have to fight for the state. There was no higher honor than dying for the Führer. And Hitler demanded that “A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard a Krupp’s steel.

Perhaps the most transformed subject was that of history. Most history books, depicting Germany in less-than-glorious light, were burned. As were students who might agree with those books. Most of those students had already been sent off to the camps in any event.

German history could reveal no flaw or deficiency in the German characters, other than an ability to be sometimes tricked and set back by the perfidy of traitors, Jews, bankers, unions, intellectuals, and Germany’s many enemies, foreign and domestic.

As a sidenote, I’ve always wondered how, if a {country, culture, religion, etc.} was so wonderful and so benign, there was such a major problem with enemies. Or perhaps what I’m really wondering is why people being taught this sort of drivel didn’t see it for the self-serving bullshit that it actually is.

German history depicted Germans as brave, noble, resolute, Moral strength was always betrayed by cringing dissolute venality, another concept that I have Questions about.

Pretty much all of German history was turned into dualistic schlock, good versus evil, resolute versus the weak. It was all right to admit that Germany was defeated in the Great War, but not to say that they annoyed the neighbors and got their asses handed to them on a plate. No, the Germans were winning, as per God’s will, but power brokers tapped the sides of their hooked noses and evil minions swarmed out to undermine Germans, causing them to fall ill and die, whilst passing along German strategy and logistics to unfit foes who could never have prevailed without cheating.

The fascist right in America, applying their own Gleichschaltung to the lesson history has to offer about the fate of fantastical authoritarian movements, has adopted the concept for use in seizing control of America’s schools and libraries.

They needed a bogeyman to scare people into thinking that honest history was anti-patriotic, so they decided that liberals were misusing history to make children hate their own country, and in the case of white children, their own race. Sound familiar?

The bogeyman has a name: Critical Race Theory. Now, keep in mind that despite claims from the Republican party, Critical Race Theory isn’t taught in schools. No, that’s a college-level concept, one designed to examine the role systemic racism has played in America’s history, culture, economy and education. Teachers don’t sit the kids down and say, “Johnny, because of your skin color, you are an imperialist pig.”

It isn’t Critical Race Theory the fascist right wants to abolish: it’s honesty. To them, it’s utterly unthinkable that recitations of America’s glorious and morally resolute past should be defiled and debased by unnecessary references to slavery, subjugation of the native populations, or bloody wars against countries that posed no threat to America. “What do we need all that negative stuff for anyway?” they cry. “The only reason people would want to teach that sort of anti-American stuff is to make American children less resolute, weaken their morals, and make them less willing to serve the Führer.

To that end, I’ve seen some ridiculous examples of Republican-cleansed history. America didn’t want slavery—England forced it upon them! The South didn’t secede; they were just standing for State’s Rights. (Someone brilliantly asked the question the other day, “What did those States have a right to?” It’s a good question. States don’t have rights.)

All too often, history curricula are perverted to political and economic exigencies. We love to tell ourselves comforting lies. A nation’s history is far more likely to be undermined, not by its foes, but by its admirers. The greatest enemies to the teaching of history are the ones who want to glorify a nation, erase its faults and its flaws, and discount all the mistakes made.

When it is done for the direct and malevolent purpose of brainwashing, then it becomes truly evil.

This is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the Führer,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top US uniformed military commander, worried that Trump was about to try to stage a coup of some sort.

When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is openly comparing the then-president to Adolf Hitler, then what should we say of the followers of Trump, who wish to impose Gleichschaltung on the schools? At the cost of honesty, in the futile aim of glorifying the State?

They aren’t concerned about history, they don’t have the maturity to admit America isn’t perfect. They are fascists. They live on control, and comforting lies.

Stop them while we still can.

The Great Federal Divorce — “We’re Doing it for the Children”

The Great Federal Divorce

We’re Doing it for the Children”

July 14th, 2021

YouGov.com had a poll this week that showed that amongst Republicans in the South, a full two-thirds (66%) favored secession from the United States. I didn’t find it particularly surprising (If you had asked me to guess at the number, I would have said ‘half,’ but things are becoming more polarized because of recent events), since the South, for years a victim of genial federal neglect (a neglect demanded by by the South in the name of ‘States Rights’ and in reaction to Reconstruction), became a victim of it’s own cultural blend of aristocracy and authoritarian corruption. Washington kept getting blamed for the deep flaws and corruptions of the various state governments and the power brokers who ran those governments.

Now we have the dominant party in the region steeped in the madness of a cult of personality, rife with paranoid beliefs that communists, blacks, Jews and liberals plan to open concentration camps so they can put microchips in people. The craziness is wide spread (50% of independents and 20% of Democrats ALSO support secession) and infused with the inculcated notion that secession would really, really work this time, that the South could rise again and be a gentil bastion of apartheid and corporate and autocratic manipulation.

It’s nonsense, of course. North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Florida are the only states that would have a hope of a go at it economically, and they would immediately lose hundreds of billions in Federal dollars (just all the Federal military facilities closing!) and a great deal of their tourist trade. And they would be dragged down by the resultant pauper states that would comprise most of CSAv2. But these are people who believe Trump is a noble and heroic Christian, that COVID-19 is a sinister plot, and that Democrats are all secretly Marxists.

But while I was looking over that poll, I noticed something, Out here in the West, the same poll revealed a similar sentiment. Forty seven percent of Democrats—almost half—want to secede. Thirty three percent of independents, and 27% of Republicans also favor secession.

Those are surprisingly big numbers.

Nearly every state in the country has a secession movement of one kind or another. In fact, it’s a nearly world-wide phenomenon. Local interests believe (or fantasize) improvements or profits if they can only over throw the tyrannical interests in whatever capitol happens to be ignoring them. Where I live, near the Oregon border, we have a “State of Jefferson” movement that would create a state from the six southernmost counties of Oregon and roughly the top third of California. While culturally and financially homogeneous, which led to its appeal (a straw vote in our county back in the 90s showed 90% approval for the idea) it would have been a disaster, since even back when we had healthy forests, logging, tourism and ranching would not be enough, and we would quickly become the poorest state in the Union. The movement was funded by ranchers, loggers and other local power brokers as a way to feather their nests, but in recent years has been taken over by the Sovereign Citizen crowd and more recently, the QAnon freaks. It’s still a popular notion, but in the harsh glare of reality, it’s a terrible idea.

The Pacific Northwest has always had a secessionist movement. Clear back in 1975, there was a book, “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach, that wanted to create a stable ecological paradise from Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Some of the more radical members of that movement also wanted to include British Columbia and Alaska, giving the nation monopolistic control over the entire west coast. Others, including me, suggested simply joining Canada, and inviting the rest of America that wasn’t part of the deep South. A fictitious map in the ‘90s showed such a division, with the US (and/or Canada) in blue, and “Jesusland” in red. Some included the prairie states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma.

But few took it particularly seriously. Especially since the only way Ecotopia would be a going concern would be through massive exploitation of natural resources, a somewhat forlorn hope for imagined prosperity even back when the forests still had some water in them. And given the vast economic cost to the United States such a secession would entail, it’s very unlikely the US would allow the west to break away peacefully. Few would miss Mississippi, but California is a whole ‘nother matter. That state alone is about 18% of the American economy. And almost a third of the food supply.

Secession is always a background hum in local politics. In some cases, such as Hawai’i or British Columbia, it’s an ongoing struggle by the Indigenous against the colonial cultures that invaded and destroyed their worlds. Others, such as Ecotopia, are benign fantasies of local rule, a mish-mash of idealism and utopianism. Others have a dangerous edge of anger to them, a desire to remedy wrongs that often as not, are self-inflicted, and a desire to restore a vicious and ugly past, transmogrified into a kind and just lost world but with the same underlying currents of oppression and bigotry.

The numbers are disturbing: in a healthy society, one might expect secessionist sentiment to range between 10 and 15%. But they are elevated, and in the case of America, fostered by interests that would benefit from a national breakup.

Chances that their interests will dovetail with yours are slim. Your most likely fate is to end up a serf in a third world pisspot country.

For those who want a divorce, think it over. In this case, the odds are greatly against you benefiting from it.

NOTE: Two corrections made: Georgia was omitted as one of the states that might be self-sustaining in the event of secession, and surf is now down, and serf’s up.