SOTU 2023 — Biden—his time

SOTU 2023

Biden—his time

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 7th 2023

www.zeppscommentaries.online

I had been kind of ignoring the State of the Union address in recent years. They were pretty bland and formulaic under most presidents—yes, folks, the state of the union is strong and gawd bless the troops. And under Trump, as with most things under Trump, it was a grotesque travesty.

But I had a feeling I might want to watch this, and boy, am I glad I heeded that sense.

Biden staged a masterwork in challenging the GOP in the most conciliatory way possible. It was amazing to watch. He started out lavishing praise on the GOP for all the bipartisan legislation that got passed (some of which only had a handful of GOP votes and caused considerable discomfort amongst the Republicans, who really hate to be seen as cooperating with the Democrats in any way, shape or form.

Then he put the Republicans on the spot by making them sit on their hands while reciting facts that brought thunderous applause from Democrats and the vast majority of Americans watching: the twelve million new jobs, the lowest unemployment since 1969, the rise in working class pay, the explosion in domestic manufacturing jobs, the CHIPS act, the IRA, the COVID relief measures. Republicans had to show they oppose all those things.

Then he spoke about the deficit, which has been falling at record levels since he took office, and noted that a full quarter of the national debt had been racked up under “my predecessor.” While he hid it extremely well (I don’t want to play poker against Joe Biden) this last caused the MAGA caucus to lose their little minds and start screaming at him.

He didn’t try to shut them down, but then, why should he? HE wasn’t the one being embarrassed by them. Instead, he invited them to stop by the White House and he would give them the facts and figures.

He was able to goad the Coo-Coo Caucus a couple of more times, on abortion rights and gun control, and there were loud shouts of “order!” which is was interest to note came, not from Democrats (THEY weren’t embarrassed by these fools, either) but Republicans.

Biden, with surgical skill, went on to recite a number of issues where the majority of Republicans at least tacitly agree with him (debt ceiling, pay for school teachers, etc.) and and really worked the intraparty divisions that exist within the GOP. Biden put his thumb in the gap and twisted, mentioning securing the border and stopping fentanyl.

Watching Kevin McCarthy was a treat. Yes, I just said that. He isn’t a good poker player, and his growing discomfort over the antics of the MAGAts eventually turned into an open glare after the fifth or so outburst from the “Toilet Training is for Sissies” contingent.

So Biden managed the very neat trick of taking the role of “Together, we can make it work” and simultaneously opening the rift between the crazies and the rest of the country wider. And there was no duplicity involved, which is the amazing thing. He did it simply by saying what he had accomplished, what he wanted to accomplish, and why he wanted to do so, and watched as Voltaire’s prayer was answered. “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” Biden defeated the zanies and zealots with the one weapon they cannot counter: sweet reason and even temperament.

It made for the most entertaining SOTU since the days of Clinton, and while the zanies aren’t going to shrivel up and blow away, Biden has done a tremendous job of defanging them by making the show their fangs in response to friendly overtures.

Listening to Huckabye now. She is a hero because her mom survived cancer, and Trump was the greatest leader in history, and Biden has surrendered to a Chinese balloon. She isn’t staging a great comeback. Trump was a great hero. OK, Huckster. Whatever. Not one word about policy or goals; just the usual pseudo-patriotic pablum mixed with the usual god-flogging. America is in danger and god hates us, waaaaugh!

So: all in all a satisfying evening.

One thing for sure: the people who caught the SOTU in order to hate-watch are going to find it a whole lot harder to dismiss Biden as senile or foolish. He’s neither, and he’s smarter than most of you.

Glass Onion — “You know a place where nothing is real”

Glass Onion

You know a place where nothing is real”

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

December 28th 2022

www.zeppscommentaries.online

Ben Shapiro didn’t like Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. He wrote on Twatter, “We only find out about the actual murder we’re supposed to investigate full one hour and 10 minutes into the film, as well as an entirely new backstory,” he complained.

Well, Benny, if you’re going to set yourself up as a film critic, you really ought to know something about the genre of film you are reviewing. This is what’s called a “murder mystery” or a “whodunnit.” Misdirection is one of the main elements in such films. The viewer is led in one direction, and if the filmmaker is honest (and in this instance they are extremely honest) then all the clues that would lead the viewer to the right deductions are there in plain sight.

But the main thing that upset Benny, protector of the privileged and sneerer at the non-privileged, was that the movie very clearly parodized, nay, MOCKED a titan of finance/industry/tech. One of the main characters is a billionaire who has an entire corporate empire, with dozens of inventions and new concepts to his credit, widely regarded as a great genius and, in his own estimation, a “disruptor,” someone who challenges and eventually supplants societal norms and the status quo.

While there are several dozen such creatures roaming the American landscape, there was little doubt in Shapiro’s mind that the movie targeted one particular tech scion: Elon Musk. I won’t argue that bit. Main showrunner Rian Johnson has said that he saw his billionaire, Miles Bron (Edward Norton), as an amalgamation of three different real-life characters. A partner of Bron’s was cheated of the fame and fortune of the Alpha network of companies, something we learn she played a greater role in creating than did Bron. One of the characters even says she got “social networked.” So: elements of Zuckerberg there. Bron also makes reckless and idiotic decisions, needlessly shafting the people he might need most as allies, and committing very public and conspicuous crimes secure in the belief that he is above social consequences. Donald Trump, anyone?

But most people spotted Elon Musk as the real-life exemplar of Miles Bron.

I thought about it. Rian Johnson and his crew probably began writing the script for this movie when Musk was still a public hero and inventor, supposedly, of the Tesla electric vehicle, genius behind Space X, and mastermind of such future wonders as the Boring tunnels and the Hyperloop. The first disturbing elements that caused people to question his personality and judgment, such as the flamethrower giveaway or the smearing of the rescuer of those children trapped in a Thai cave, had just come out.

But it took a lot more time for Musk to self-immolate, to the point where the larger segment of society realized he wasn’t a genius, wasn’t a leader, isn’t even particularly stable.

Indeed, I’m reading a book now, a well-done hi-tech spy thriller called “Portals” by Douglas E. Richards. Tech-aware and sophisticated, it holds Musk as an ongoing brilliant tech leader who has brought the world such marvels as humanoid AI Tesla robots and mind implants (and Musk is actually supposedly working on the latter, but has nothing to show for it but some 1,500 dead lab animals to date). For all Richards’ obvious savvy and political and tech awareness, his 2022 book still presents Musk as a tech wizard and leader. And, of course, that’s how Ben Shapiro sees Musk. He’s offended that anyone could even question it.

But in the movie’s denouement, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) says of Bron: “His dock doesn’t float. His wonder fuel is a disaster. His grasp of disruption theory is remedial at best. He didn’t design the puzzle boxes. He didn’t write the mystery. Et voilà! It all adds up. The key to this entire case! And it was staring me right in the face. Like everyone in the world, I assumed Miles Bron was a complicated genius. But why? Look into the clear center of this Glass Onion… Miles Bron is an idiot!”

In the face of the Twitter débacle, the face of Musk is revealed. He wasn’t self-made, but is the heir to an emerald mine. He didn’t invent Tesla—he bought it out. For Space X, he just hired the right people and threw money at them. He’s an entrepreneur, which in the minds of America’s Shapiros is akin to being a genius leader, but he is neither a genius nor a leader. His Boring company which supposedly could drill tunnels four times faster than anyone else also only drilled a tunnel one half the diameter, thus displacing the same amount of dirt in the same time. His underground freeway system for LA was ridiculous on the face of it. His Hyperloop, based on proof-of-concept projects from the 1840s, has gone nowhere. He has an evil reputation as a union buster and workforce abuser. He insisted, for no good reason, that people work in close quarters during the most deadly stage of the coronavirus pandemic. The freedom of speech he promised for Twitter turned out to be the usual libertarian/fascist bullshit, in which free speech is for the rich and powerful only. Fascists for Free Speech, I call it.

So yes, Bron could be any of dozens of such monsters of American capitalism, but he’s most clearly Elon Musk.

Shapiro no doubt was dismayed that the hangers-on, Bron’s friends “The Disruptors” each represented a segment of American capitalist society. Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr) represented the commercial science segment, and was being pressured by Bron to sign off on an unproven and potentially hazardous new hydrogen-based energy substance called ‘Klear’. Clair Debella (Kathryn Hahn) was the political segment, a governor Bron gave a huge donation to in order to rush through a project for the first Klear power plant, Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) was a past-her-prime supermodel using the fashion industry to promote Bron’s ‘coolness,’ and Duke Cody, (Dave Bautista) was a blogger who is an incel/right winger who promotes men’s rights. Jay and Cody help Bron fight ‘wokeness’ by being politically incorrect (Jay was in hot water for describing a cheap person as ‘Jewy’ (not to be confused with another right wing moron who recently described his Catholic self as ‘Jew-ish’) and Cody always carries a large, ornate pistol that he likes to fire off randomly. Both appeal to the MAGAt crowd, of course.

Cody is also a cuckold and gets slapped around by a domineering if diminuitive mother and, it’s hinted, lives with mummy. I’m wondering if his character was the main reason Shapiro got so offended.

Glass Onion, like another movie earlier this year called Don’t Look Up, offends all the right people. It offends the far right, and it offends the people who still cling to the belief that fantastically rich billionaires are somehow beneficial to society and that because they are rich, they must be of superior intelligence, wisdom and morals. Even as Musk, Trump, Bezos and all the rest of the ultra-rich crowd prove that if anything, the opposite is true.

Glass Onion is a wildly entertaining movie, a first-class Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, and above all, a searingly sharp-edged social satire that comes along at just the right time. You can see it for yourself on Netflix.

Shooting Gallery — The universe didn’t like dinosaurs, either

Shooting Gallery

The universe didn’t like dinosaurs, either

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Oct 26th 2022

www.zeppscommentaries.online

OK: Don’t look up. There. I said it.

According to Watchers, a truly excellent site that chronicles natural events, “A newly-discovered asteroid designated 2022 UR4 flew past Earth at a distance of 0.04 LD / 0.00011 AU (17 043 km / 10 591 miles) from the center of our planet at 22:45 UTC on October 20, 2022.” The asteroid is 32 feet long and 14 feet wide. So it passed about 6,500 miles above the surface of the Earth.

That doesn’t sound very close by Earthly standards. It’s a hair more than the distance between Los Angeles and Warsaw, Poland. But by astronomical standards, it’s a gnat’s whisker. The Moon orbits some 25 times further away. The illustration below shows Earth, with a white circle representing the Moon’s orbit, and the trajectory of 2022 UR4 shown as a green line. A close look shows that the flyby was so close the Earth’s gravity affected the course of the asteroid. If the amount of the perturbation is known, then you can calculate the speed the object flew by at (orbital velocity at that altitude is about 5 km/sec). It was going pretty fast. Had it scored a direct hit, it would have caused local, but significant damage. (It was part of a group of asteroids known as the Apollo group, of about 25,000 asteroids. One of them hit near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, injuring 1,500 people and shattering millions of windows).

The Apollo group is the best-known group of asteroids since their orbit intersects ours on a regular basis. There are over 10,000 of them that we know about, and 1,648 are classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, which loosely means “could possibly hit us at some point or other.” A much smaller group, 17, are on the Sentry Risk Table, which means a measurable chance of hitting Earth in the next one hundred years. Most of those are roughly the same size as 2022 UR4. The rest are just cosmic hemorrhoids; annoying at worst, usually not a serious concern.

According to Watchers, “[2022 UR4] is the 91st known asteroid to fly past Earth within 1 lunar distance and the 3rd closest since the start of the year…It is also the 13th closest flyby on record (since the year 1900).”

Of course, direct hits are common. “Shooting stars” are nightly occurrences, and fireballs bright enough to cast shadows pretty much a daily occurrence at some point or another around the globe. Even the Webb telescope had one of its mirrors holed by a grain of dust a few days after it was unfurled. Not enough to affect the operation of the scope, but a reminder that space isn’t empty. (Granted, it’s in a LaGrange point, a gravitational nexus that tends to attract debris)

Our mapping of potential celestial risks is expanding rapidly, but still has a long way to go. “2022 UR4 was first observed at ATLAS-MLO, Mauna Loa, Hawai’i on October 20.” some 24 hours before it flew by. We didn’t spot the one that hit Chelyabinsk at all. Astronomers think that if we’re lucky, we know about perhaps 10% of the potentially hazardous objects; space is big, and many objects have dark, non-reflective surfaces, making them extremely hard to spot.

A few weeks ago, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impacted an asteroid, Dimorphos, and the kinetic energy changed the object’s orbit. It was basically a feasibility test, and showed that we do have at least some limited ability to change the course of a rock aimed at our heads.

This week’s close call shows the need to discover and avert such threats. Granted, as immediate threats to humanity, it isn’t in the same league as climate change, ecological collapse, or the ever-present threat of war, all of which will deeply affect humanity in the next 100 years. There are some existential threats we can’t do anything to avoid: megavolcanoes, a truly huge solar flare (and the sun popped off an X3 flare, big enough to seriously screw things up here, but fortunately pointed away from us, just six weeks ago) or gamma burst from a supernova. “Dinosaur killers” are on that list, but we can address that particular threat with existing technology. We don’t even need Bruce Willis.

But the threat is real, and we need to continue to prepare. The universe doesn’t consider us important, won’t even notice if we’re gone. So it’s up to us.

It would be ghoulishly ironic if we somehow managed to save ourselves from our selves, only to be plastered by an avoidable cosmic hemorrhoid.

London Broil — Climate Crisis is here

London Broil

Climate Crisis is here

July 20th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

www.zeppscommentaries.online

Of course, it’s not at all unusual for it to be seven degrees warmer in London than it is here in the northern California mountains. On a January day, when it is 30 degrees with blowing and drifting snow (an increasingly rare event, to be sure), I would be totally unsurprised to learn it was 37 and raining over there. After all, cold drizzle epitomizes London. Even in summer, if you factor in the time difference it wouldn’t be unusual to get up and find it’s 55 here at sunrise, and in London it’s mid afternoon and 62.

But yesterday, it was 97 here. Thirty years ago it probably would set a local record for the date. Even now, it’s warmer than usual.

But afternoon on the same date, London saw a high of 104.2 degrees. It shattered the all-time record for London by three full degrees (reliable records go back 350 years there!). We still don’t know the full extent of the damage; we can only hope for a low death toll. We saw blazes along the M-25 that looked more like the fires one might see alongside US101. Airports closed because runways melted. Because of thermal expansion, railroads added some 5 miles of track that didn’t exist that morning.

I remarked, half-jokingly, that the firefighters were probably relieved to find their hoses actually work. Usually, I said, when a vegetation fire breaks out, they just quietly wait around for the next rain to put it out. (Actually they acquitted themselves quite well, given that most had never seen conditions quite like those that hit England yesterday). Bad news for the fires today: it’s 40 degrees cooler and raining. Back to normal…for now. Only not quite the same normal.

It came on a day when professional coal grifter and greedhead Joe Manchin killed the climate change initiative once and for all after 18 months of bad-faith bargaining. As fires ignite this summer, he stands to become America’s Guy Fawkes. Reviled. For centuries.

Much as I hate to imagine the misery Europe and the UK went through yesterday I’m hoping it has the same galvanic effect that Kim Stanley Robinson’s horrific fictional heat wave in Delhi had on world resolve to address climate change in “Ministry of the Future.” If it doesn’t, other near-future events will. But we’re past the point where we can avoid massive damage and loss of life.

I live in one of the wettest parts of California. Our average precipitation during the 20th century exceeded that of London’s; or Seattle’s! Just a hair short of 50” in liquid amounts a year, mostly in the form of snow.

We just got notice Sunday that we are going on severe water rationing effective immediately. Outdoor watering is limited to one day a week, before 10am and after 7pm. And it might get much worse without notice. We could end up having to import drinking water, like many other small towns in the central valley.

We live on the low slopes of a 14,000 foot mountain, and over the past two decades, the glaciers have been melting and weakening. Last June, the heat dome that destroyed Lytton, BC and sent temperatures into the hundred-and-oh-my-gods in the PNW brushed us. We didn’t have record-breaking heat in town, but on the higher slopes of Shasta, temperatures soared. The Konwakiton Glacier collapsed, sending a huge debris flow down the aptly-named Mud Creek. Half a mile wide and up to thirty feet deep, it buried the main N to S route east of the mountain, taking out a new bridge and adding thirty miles to the commute of a small settlement in the area north of the flow. It’s now a slow motion avalanche, threatening the main water pipeline, the pumping house, and could even move into parts of the town itself. (I’m on a hill on the other side of town, and won’t get buried). So climate change just got real for us.

But like the debris flow, the climate crisis is a slow moving avalanche. While unlikely spots like London and Lytton bake in temperatures normally seen in the middle east or the Outback, California has experienced an ongoing and self-reinforcing cycle of drought, heat, and creeping disaster.

Consider: temperatures rise. In the winter, even when there isn’t a drought, less of the rain falls as snow because the snowline is higher. Even a modest increase can have a huge loss in snowpack. Consider the area of a cone, one half the way up and three quarters the way up  (πr(r+√(h2+r2)) where r is the radius of the circular base, and h is the height of cone, for those who don’t have to pull off a shoe to count to 11). Mountains are very roughly conical, so you get the idea. And then consider that the snow in the areas that still get snow will have less snow, and what there is will melt faster.

But there’s more. Increased heat means a faster rate of evaporation, resulting in drier ground. At my altitude, snow, which used to be around through April, is gone by early March if it was there at all. So soil covered by snow and wetted as the snow melts is now drying out during that critical period. Further downslope, there is no run-off. Things desiccate.

Dry soil warms faster than moist soil, increasing air temperature at ground level. This results in a decrease in water vapor, increasing the heat. (Water takes 10,000 times the energy to heat the same amount as dry air does).

Because of this, what used to be normal amounts of precipitation only add to the water deficit since it melts and evaporates away faster. And for the past two years, we’ve barely had two-thirds of normal, so what might be an inconvenient drought is now a crippling drought.

This is the vicious cycle that California—and much of the west—is in. Alaska is burning, the Canadian and Russia arctics are losing their permafrost, releasing vast amounts of methane (the stuff the Manchin lobby are promoting as “clean, safe propane” this week) making things worse.

I’m afraid there’s worse news. For the past two years, the world has seen a La Niña, a swing in the vast El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle that is driven by trade winds and upwelling of colder waters. La Niña tends to depress global temperatures by a degree or two. All these heat records we see over the past two years are happening at a time when generally, the world should be a bit cooler than normal. Early indications suggest that we may have an unprecedented third straight winter of La Niña conditions, which is bad news for California since it often means drier than normal winter.

However, the opposite of La Niña is El Niño, which elevates global temperatures by up to two degrees. Going by past history, I estimate there is a 75% chance of a routine El Niño in the next three years, and a 33% chance of a major El Niño in the same period. Ready for a significant rise in temperatures over and above what we have now? It’s dead certain to happen. Along with knock-on effects like drought, fire, floods, crop failures and mass migrations. And as always happens in such cases, war.

We can’t avoid it any more. But if we stop letting idiots like Manchin profit off our slow avalanche, we might salvage enough that our grandchildren might survive.

It’s no longer a significant crisis. It’s existential. Ask any Londoner. Ask a former resident of Lytton.

Ask anyone from my own town.

Three Crises — Any one of which can kill you

Three Crises

Any one of which can kill you

April 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

There are three situations that are edging closer and closer to flash points that could create immense damage and in one instance, kill a sizable percentage of the human race.

The first is Putin and the Ukraine. The invasion and war has not gone well for Russia. Ukraine not only failed to fall in days to a Russian blitzkrieg, but the blitzkrieg itself flopped, something that was self evident the moment we saw that forty-file long convoy of tanks and other mechanized units along that two-lane highway. Poland and France didn’t fall because the Germans approached in single file. And at that, the Russians got off lightly; Ukraine could have turned it into a “highway of death.” As it stands, reports are that Russia has lost a full 10% of their overall military might in the seven weeks that they have tried to smash Ukraine.

Adding to Putin’s woes is the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian navy. While the military impact is negligible (the Russian flotilla in the Black Sea was there to look intimidating, since there was little in the way of practical military applications to be brought to bear. Turns out you can’t sink a country) the morale damage was massive.

Additionally, and of far greater impact strategically and tactically, Putin’s declared aim of pushing back on perceived encroachment by NATO on Russian borders has backfired massively. Finland, historically a thorn in the side of the Russian bear, is expected to petition for membership in the pact in the next couple of weeks, and Sweden is likely to be not far behind. Putin has made it clear that nearby nations not servile to Russia that aren’t in NATO are targets.

So speculation that Putin may resort to nukes both as part of his campaign of terror against Ukraine and his efforts to intimidate the west is growing. There’s no doubt in my mind that Putin has the requisite viciousness. Is he that insane, though?

The west, including the US, must make it clear that nuclear strikes against Ukraine or anywhere else is a line that cannot be crossed without dire and immediate consequences. We’ve managed to avoid a nuclear holocaust partially through dumb luck (we’ve had some really scary close calls, and those are just the ones we know about) and partially through the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. Any country that launches nukes dies. Much, and perhaps all of the world dies with it. Putin must be reminded of this, and be aware that a first strike will result in global nuclear war on the grounds that all is lost anyway. The last thing the world needs or can tolerate is a dictator that gets away with a nuclear strike. Perhaps, once again, we can step back from the abyss. Putin must know that we aren’t bluffing because we can’t afford to bluff.

The second is the behavior of the fascist right in America. Have you ever heard the term, “blood libel?” It’s a hateful story that first grew in medieval Britain and has spread throughout much of the world over the centuries. The most common variant is that Jews capture and kill a young Christian boy at Easter in order to put his blood in matzo balls. Supposedly, if Jews do this each year, in a different land, they will get the Holy Land back. If you’re thinking about 1947 and the State of Israel and how that might have diffused the libel then you don’t know conspiracy theorists very well. They still believe Jews drink the blood of virgin Christian boys. Who needs a reason when you’ve got a hobby?

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that they are gullible and easy to manipulate. To them, the world is a dark and dangerous place, filled with looming, sneering villains who stop at nothing to augment their power. Giving them “secret knowledge” of such horrors both allays and augments their fear and credulity.

All you need to do is invent an unspeakable act by a minority or adversarial group and then promote the hell out of it.

Claims that the Clintons and various other liberals run child sex rings have been making the rounds since about 2015, which was about when Trump and Putin decided America needed Trump. Supposedly, the sex ring was run in the basement of a pizza parlor. Never mind that the pizza place in question didn’t have a basement—weren’t you paying attention when I asked if you knew what conspiracy theorists were like? One guy even went in there with a semi-automatic and shot up the place.

Republicans have been deliberately electing—there’s no other phrase for it—the most vicious and stupid trash they can find to public office. People too stupid and too gullible to know they are being played, or the worse variant, the ones who know the truth and are part of the plan. That’s why the Jackson nominating process was smeared with political porn about how she was “soft on child pornographers” and why some of the louder specimens of the trash-American GOP have been calling teachers and supporters of Ukraine “child abusers.” Blood libels are great for the libelers, since they can pretend to a position of “protecting the children” while simply sinking to about the same level as a child molester.

The third flash point rapidly approaching is the climate. The physical climate. True to the models, as it gets warmer on average, it is also becoming wilder and more unpredictable. Antarctica saw temperatures last month that went a full SEVENTY DEGREES above normal. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit, but still… This time of year the normal day time high in New York City is 63 degrees. In order to replicate what happened in Antarctica, it would have to reach 133. In Mid April. Let’s not even think about July or August.

We all remember the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, sending temperatures as high as 118 in British Columbia. That was only 40 degrees above normal.

In addition to all the myriad problems we’re expecting in the near future, heat domes seem to be a New Thing, and a potentially hideous one. Few cities in the world are prepared for temperatures in summer that are 40 degrees above the local norm. The death toll could be in the millions. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his recent novel “Ministry of the Future” had a three week heat wave strike India that was only 15 degrees above normal, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Suddenly we have to consider possibilities like 145 in Los Angeles, 120 in London, 145 in Sydney. We aren’t prepared for it because we can’t prepare for it.

In the meantime, the oil plutocrats—many are the same people who underwrite the blood libel crowd and are profiteering off the Ukraine war—are doubling down on fighting any effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And yes, that includes the oil companies that run those expensive ads about how green and responsible they are. They’re corporations; they exist to lie to us for profit. They are what prop up the disgraceful anti-American whores in congress, and they have think tanks devoted to the nomenclature used by conspiracy theorists and Putin about how “woke” child molesters spread “fake news” and the press cannot be trusted.

They are authoritarians, and they are herding us towards the edge of some very large cliffs, thinking they can control the situations and profit from them at the same time.

But it’s all coming to a head, and no, they won’t be able to control it when it does.

Unfortunately, nobody will be able to.

Doug LaMalfa — What it’s like to have an embarrassing GOP drone

Doug LaMalfa

What it’s like to have an embarrassing GOP drone

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

November 17th, 2021

Back in December 2020, Doug LaMalfa, Republican Congressman from California’s first district, was the sole Republican to talk to the press after a frivolous and essentially idiotic lawsuit by Texas to overturn the election was dismissed out of hand by the Supreme Court.

In his interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the interview quickly turned weird.

“You got any proof that anything was done that was fraudulent in any election?” Cuomo asked.

“You know, I don’t have proof that men landed on the moon in 1969 because I wasn’t there,” LaMalfa replied.

“Really?” an incredulous Cuomo asked.

“Yeah,” LaMalfa shrugged.

“Do you believe the world is round?” Cuomo pressed.

“I think we’ve proven that,” said LaMalfa.

OK, at least he knows the world is round. That’s a start, I suppose. He makes his living growing rice in one of the most drought-stricken places in America, so you kind of have to expect that he’s going to be a little out of touch about stuff like moon landings or budgets or things like that.

In the same interview, he said he would not “’recognize Biden’s victory until he is formally sworn in on January 20th.’ LaMalfa’s comments seem to suggest the House GOP is planning on disrupting the ratification of the electoral college results on January 6, which is their final chance to contest the election before the inauguration.” Lo and behold, they did. I guess that qualifies as insurrection-light. Dougie is kind of a boutique revolutionary.

While LaMalfa doesn’t enjoy the notoriety of a Marjorie Taylor-Greene or a Paul Gosar, that in part is because he is from California’s First District. (Look it up. It’s the area on the map that’s covered with the cartographer’s sigil and a sign saying “Hyere bee dragons.” Before LaMalfa, the area was California’s 2nd district, and from 1987 to 2013 it was represented by Wally Herger. The region has a history of electing rural non-entities who fail to make any marks on the House.

After five terms, his committee membership is, to put it mildly, a bit thin: House Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry subcommittee Ranking Member, Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit subcommittees, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Highways and Transit, Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Water Resources and Environment subcommittees

He’s the primary sponsor of three bills that were enacted, one of which was the renaming of a post office.

At that, he’s doing better than Herger, who didn’t even get his first committee chair until his seventh term. Herger voted with his party 94.4% of the time, which by GOP standards made him a screaming dissident. (Seriously—in party line votes he ranked 46th.)

On the listing of liberal/conservative votes, LaMalfa is in a flat tie with Paul Gosar (and now has more committee assignments than Gosar, provided he doesn’t threaten to shoot the President or something.) As a goosestepping GOP fascist, he is extraordinarily good at his job. In recent years, he voted for Trump Care, which would have stripped over 100,000 of his own constituents of medical coverage under Obamacare, and has voted loudly against every bill designed to allow the government to negotiate the prices on drugs they buy for Medicare. He has voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though a majority of his working constituents would be making less than that had the State of California not already gone ahead and raised the minimum wage on its own. It would not have cost him a dime to support a federal law doing the same thing—it was just gratuitous cruelty on his part.

He toes the party line on all votes, often contradicting the wishes of his own constituents and sometimes even his own supporters.

His votes often come with a large helping of hypocrisy. He voted for Trump’s financial stimulus package in 2020 ($1.7 trillion) but against the subsequent aid packages put forth under Biden, even though America’s situation had worsened (a lot of Trump’s bill was allocated for employers to continue paying employees idled by the pandemic, but of course most of them just pocketed the money and screwed their workers over.) But he voted against the Biden stimulus package, $1.9 trillion, which would have funneled an estimated $4 billion into his district, supporting workers, families, and small businesses—including his own. (He’s been whining loudly about how the pandemic and subsequent shipping problems means he can’t sell his rice to China.)

On the infrastructure bill, he voted no because everyone knows the ungrateful peons in his district don’t need roads, schools, water works, sewers or family support of any kind.

On that last vote, taken last week, he had a characteristically strange take on it. KRCR, a Sinclair broadcast station that is one of the biggest in this district, interviewed John Garamendi, the Democrat representing the 3rd district, adjoining LaMalfa’s. Garamendi gave the station a list of the benefits and projects the infrastructure bill represented and what it would mean for Northern California.

So it made sense to get LaMalfa’s take on the just-passed legislation. This is what KRCR reported: “LaMalfa, speaking with KRCR’s Dylan Brown, responded that President Trump has not spoken to him about the matter.”

OK then. Never mind that LaMalfa is on the Infrastructure committee and might possibly know something about it—anything about it. But what’s this “..President Trump has not spoken to him about the matter.” crap? Trump has no role in this; he’s an ex-president almost certain to be in prison by the time the next presidential election rolls around. Is LaMalfa one of the loony and ignorant morons who thinks Trump is somehow still president? Is he expecting a Trump/JFK, Jr ticket in 2024? What’s the story here?

Meanwhile, LaMalfa voted twice to acquit Trump of impeachment charges. He voted to not censure Marjorie Taylor-Green, and just today, to not censure the evidently insane Paul Gosar. He does support censuring the 13 Republicans that supported the infrastructure bill, which kind of destroys his claim that it is unwise to censure frivolously.

With his lockstep support of fascist GOP policies, he is not representing his constituents. With his support of Trumpism and people like Taylor-Greene and Gosar, he isn’t even representing humanity.

Biden’s Speech — Not the SOTU—better

Biden’s Speech

Not the SOTU—better

April 28th, 2021

After listening to Joe Biden’s address to some of Congress (COVID, don’t you know, but it was amusing watch the expressions on Boehler’s and Cruz’ faces as Biden spoke) I caught Tim Scott’s genial but largely delusional paean to America and how those nasty Democrats were preventing Republicans from rushing to embrace the policies that Biden would present to Congress if he had policies, which he didn’t, and proved it by presenting the policies to Congress.

I followed that by scrolling through the comments section on our local Sinclair Broadcast station, and encountered gems like, “I can’t believe this is America. No one is safe under the democratic regime of evil! We are all in terrible danger, you should be afraid, be very very afraid. Save yourself! Save democracy!” *

Well, OK, then. Tim Scott may have not sounded overly coherent, but at least I didn’t feel any need to shoot him with the tranquilizer dart. Typically of comments sections, nobody there seemed to have actually watched or even read about the speech. I think I could have posted something about Biden congratulating Mitch McConnell on their groundbreaking agreement to sell white babies to China, and nobody would have contradicted me. Those comments groups are bad for your mental health.

One of the most remarkable things about Biden’s speech was the sheer oratorical capacity the man showed. Any idiot can rile up an audience with stentorian exhortations to do Noble Things, and most do, but I watched Biden hold the House Chamber, and much of the nation, spellbound with just a friendly whisper. He spoke with an earnestness and compassion, qualities lost in the hoarse brays of self-pity and truculence we had to deal with for the previous four years.

The tone could be summed up in one anecdote, told late in the speech. “I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, Daddy changed the world.’” Politicians, with rare exceptions, like to be shown relating to children. But the line that caught my eye (and heart) was “…I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye-to-eye” That speaks to a humanity that transcends the usual political rhetoric. Joe is a good guy who genuinely cares about people. That’s not something I believe because I am a liberal; it something I feel because I am a human being.

As for content, the basic message was actually summed up in Biden’s opening remarks. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. 

Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. In America, we always get up.

He then spoke of the progress America has made against the pandemic, and the early signs of an economic recovery that is likely to turn into a roaring boom. He talks about the vast, ambitious plans he has to ensure that we do come out of this stronger and better: child support, in the form of cash-back tax breaks, universal child care, universal health care. He spoke of the amazing results of the American Rescue Plan—well over 200 million vaccinations, and hunger greatly reduced just in the first few months. He spoke of the difference the child credits would make for working families by the millions. It has already created 1.3 million new jobs in the past 60 days, an amazing record.

He then spoke of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan, which he described as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself, the largest jobs plan since World War II.”

Sounding like FDR, he spoke of the millions of good paying jobs regular workers would see from this plan, and said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. “

Defending the plan further, he said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize. 

By the way – let’s also pass the $15 minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line. And we need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk for equal pay. It’s long past time. 

Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record.  We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years. “

He’s right, of course, and the Republicans are going to be twisting themselves in deep knots figuring out how to oppose Biden without opposing the plan.

My own takeaway, following the speech, is that Biden was his own best friend tonight in his goals of getting these policies enacted.

 

*Perhaps the comments “Save Democracy” reads better in Russian. “Я не могу поверить, что это Америка. Никто не находится в безопасности при демократическом режиме зла! Мы все в ужасной опасности, вы должны бояться, очень, очень бояться. Спаси себя! Спасите демократию!”

OK, maybe not.

DecPop — It’s been 70 years since 1950

DecPop

It’s been 70 years since 1950

April 27th 2021

Back in 1974, when the average number of births per woman was 3.65, Phillip José Farmer wrote a novella, “70 Years of DecPop”. The premise was that a mad scientist released an aerosol that rendered 99.999% of all humans sterile (world population was about 4.5 billion at that time) and from there studied the devastating effects the immense drop in population would have over the ensuring 70 years.

It was a bit of a gloomy read. Humans didn’t react well to forced sterilization, and few economies were equipped to deal with shrinking markets and less demand on resources.

At that point, the birthrate had already declined significantly from its peak in 1964, when it was at 4.65. Much of the decrease was credited to a decline in religious oppression, the increased availability of birth control, and in a rebuke to Malthus, improved living conditions with greater food and shelter security. People in poor nations no longer had 12 children in hopes that one of them might live to take care of them when they got old.

At that time, sociologists expected the birth rate to climb back up, and there was even a book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, that forecast widespread famine and war as a result of population outstripping resources such as food and clean water.

Didn’t happen. Food production soared, outpacing population growth. And the Ehrlichs hadn’t realized that most famines aren’t the result of actual food shortages, but of politics. The rich stockpile and the poor starve. Nearly all famines were easily avoidable back then. They still are.

And the birth rate continued to decline, against all expectations. By 1993 it had dropped below 3.0. By 1997 it was at 2.5.

This year it’s expected to reach a magic number: 2.1 Two point one is the birthrate at which population stops growing, known as Zero Population Growth, or ZPG.

Many developed nations had already reached that mark in the 1990s and first decade of this millennium. Almost all of western Europe, Japan, and Canada had native birthrates below 2.1. Population growth came solely from immigration.

In the United States, immigration drove population growth until 2015, but since then immigration has dropped below the level of the birthrate, which means that the next decennial census might show a population drop for the first time in American history.

The preliminary results of the 2020 census show the second smallest rate of growth in American history, with only the 1930s being (slightly) lower. For ten years, population growth was just 7.4%.

A lot of reasons have been given for this. Trump and the Republicans actively messed with the census, hoping to undercount the poor, minorities and anyone else who might be a threat to Republican power. While there’s no doubt that they tried, it’s not clear that they were particularly effective at sabotaging the census. A 2017 projection claimed the 2020 census would show 332,639,000, The actual census was 331,500,00, a shortfall of 1.16 million. Further, the growth rate drop was part of a trend, 7.4 in the ‘10s from 9.7 in the noughts, and from 12.34 in the nineties. Republican buggery had an effect, but a relatively small one. Independent surveys show that the growth rate was under 0.6% for the past three years.

Sorry for all the numbers, but they make a case. Population growth has not only slowed, it has stopped. Even in the US, where population growth came mostly from immigration, is seeing a dramatic decline in immigration, despite the fearmongering from the Nazis on the far right. It’s well under half what it was twenty years ago, and the percentage of non-native-born in the general population has leveled off at 14%.

And it’s the same world wide. Japan is in the early stages of a population crash that may see their population drop by 60% by 2100. Russia had a massive population drop following the collapse of the USSR, brought about by initial chaos and followed by an Ayn Rand gangrape of the country by western corporations during the Yeltsin years. Then Putin came along and turned Russia into an autocratic and repressive nightmare. Russia’s population is down nearly 40% from 1990.

According to the BBC: “Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe. They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.”

It’s only a matter of time before capitalists, who depend endless unsustainable growth, will realize that their consumer base is both shrinking and aging. (One of the darker elements of that DecPop story is the small number of young people trying to cope with the billions of elders who outnumber them by hundreds to one). Capitalism is ill-equipped for this coming change.

Climate change, disease and war will accelerate the drop in population. Some people believe the population drop is propelled by pollutants—forever chemicals, micro plastics, and the like. If true, that could be an existential threat to humanity.

Remember, this census doesn’t even include the nearly 600,000 dead in America from Covid, and it’s becoming clear that this pandemic will have over 10 million dead before it runs its course world wide.

Population drop is a good thing—the Earth is able to sustain perhaps three billion people comfortably, assuming those billions aren’t as wasteful and foolish as we have been. But the economic and political repercussions led by people unwilling to take a hit in profits, also make it a risky time for humans. We normally spend all our efforts fighting greed and corruption, but capitalism celebrates greed and corruption, and is very willing to be very destructive in preserving such.

Our numbers will drop, but we’ll ensure that it won’t be pretty.

,

Joe’s first White House Speech — Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

Joe’s first White House Speech

Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

March 11th, 2021

Day fifty of the Biden presidency, and so far so good. Both politically and psychologically, today was a good point for Biden to stop and have a talk with the people. It came a few hours after he signed into law the biggest rebuilding act America had seen since FDR’s first 100 days. The American Rescue Act will, in the estimate of Goldman-Sachs, result in 8% annual growth over the next 12 months. That, too, is a rate of growth not seen since the 1930s. Best of all, it’s going to people and small businesses, what you could call “trickle up economics.” It will save thousands of small businesses, protect millions from hunger and homelessness. It is, as Biden once put it about the AMA, “a big fucking deal.”

In the glow from this massive legislative victory, Biden addressed the state of the country on the anniversary of the Covid pandemic.

After the past year where lies, braggadocio and delusions were all Americans got from the White House, Biden’s cautionary optimism was a gust of fresh air. Biden extolled the immense gains the vaccine program had made in the past 50 days, but didn’t try to pretend it was all his doing. (In a truly pathetic footnote, Trump put out a brief communiqué under a sort-of presidential seal, from The Office of Donald J. Trump, trying to take credit for the vaccine program.) The program has been pretty much miraculous, despite Trump. When Biden first took office, he spoke of 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days (the last day of April). That was considered a high goal, even before we learned that the outgoing administration had absolutely no plan in place for distribution or even procurement of the needed vaccines.

Now, not only are we well ahead of pace for that, but we may have vaccines available for the entire adult population by the end of May, some 500 million shots all told. The CDC is of the opinion that we’ll have herd immunity by the beginning of May, but Doctor Fauci, on the Rachel Maddow show tonight, cautioned that we are in a race against variants, and we may, even with full vaccinations, end up playing whack-a-mole (his term) with those variants, much the way we do with strains of flu and the common cold. It’s evolution, people.

Biden himself made the same cautionary note, and urged people to keep on social distancing and wearing masks for the time being, despite what the “Neanderthals” in the GOP think we should be doing. It’s not a popular request, but Biden has some courage. Things are a lot more hopeful, but we are not out of the woods. He’s right, Fauci’s right, and nearly every expert in the field is right. Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones and Donald Trump are all wrong, and for vicious, self-serving reasons.

Biden spoke movingly of the loss and deprivation hundreds of millions of people suffered over this past year—well over half a million dead (“more than World War I, World War II, and 9/11”), millions of families separated, millions of jobs lost. Even the most cynical of viewers had to admit that he SOUNDED sincere.

He knows, at long last, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and he just wants us not to derail ourselves by being reckless as we approach the light. It won’t stop the freedumb morons, but it might just keep enough sane people cautious enough that we might get by.

Fauci and Maddow were talking about monoclonal antibody treatments. Two studies showed respectively 87 and 89% efficacy if administered early in the course of the disease, numbers so convincing that they dropped the double blind nature of the studies on the ground that it was not moral to give half the subjects a placebo based on what is known.

This doesn’t mean that you can run out licking random seats in the New York subway knowing you just need to pop two in the mouth and you’ll be all better. The treatments are by infusion only, and still very expensive. And if you get to the point where the symptoms are life-threatening, then you’re far enough along that the treatment will be of little or any help. Fauci is hoping for a treatment that involves simple injections, or even just pills, but that’s an unknown amount of time in the future. It’s not here, and may not be here for years, but there is a cure.

Not mentioned was the spectre of “long COVID”. Roughly a third of people who become infected develop symptoms weeks or months later, even if they were completely asymptomatic to begin with. And yes, you can still be infected, even with the shots. You just are very unlikely to develop symptoms, and in the beginning, they will be mild. Nobody knows how that will affect development of “long COVID.”

Futher, variants are appearing, and while the evolutionary trend is for such variants to become both more contagious and milder (the weeding-out process of evolution means viruses that successfully inhabit live hosts will outnumber the ones that kill their hosts) that is just a trend. The mutations are individually random, and a variety of Covid could show up that is as lethal as Ebola and as communicable as measles. Worst case scenario, to be sure, but within the realm of possibility. And if we are reckless and go on acting as a culture medium for this virus, the higher the chances that something even nastier will crop up. And the more variations, the more types of vaccines are needed unless and until we can come up with an umbrella shot that can block all Covids. Note: we haven’t been able to develop a shot like that for influenza, and with the common cold, it’s pointless to even try.

Because of this, Biden’s speech was perfect for the occasion. He didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. He told us what we needed to hear, and for most of us, that’s going to help us a lot through the coming year.

 

First Week of February — Second half of winter

First Week of February

Second half of winter

February 7th, 2021

There’s going to be a traffic jam at Mars this week, which is a bit disconcerting. Three craft are expected to arrive in the next ten days. The first one, tomorrow, is the United Arab Emirates’ first attempt at Mars exploration. It’s going to drop into orbit around Mars tomorrow, and spend the next few years analyzing the Martian atmosphere, looking for signs of any biological activity (methane, for instance) and perhaps determining what became of 99% of the atmosphere which Mars lost.

The following day, the Chinese effort weighs in. Dubbed Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”, it’s perhaps the most lyrically named of all the Martian craft, especially after the flat invocations of Horatio Alger wet dreams that adorn most American craft, or the English effort named after a cute but annoying breed of dog. (And yes, I know it was Darwin’s ship—don’t write). For a first effort, it’s ambitious in ways only the Chinese can manage these days. It will orbit Mars for three months, remotely surveying the surface before launching a small rover to the surface.

The US effort is another Horatio Alger invocation, Perseverance. It’s a full one ton rover, by far the largest yet, and will have the most dramatic landing, especially since it will be a full seven minutes before anyone knows its fate. Among other things, it will collect rock samples to be picked up by a player to be named later.

The reason for the log jam is that the shortest and most effective transit between the two planets occurred last summer, something that happens every 22 months, and nobody wanted to wait that long for holiday rates.

So if you want to visualize what Mars looks like right now, just turn on an old computer running Windows 3. Wait for the screen saver to pop up. All those flying toasters?

Yup, that’s about what Mars looks like right now. Hopefully all three will settle into their various assigned niches and be making delicious toast by the twentieth or so.

On an even stranger and more alien planet, the trial of Donald John Trump in the US Senate begins. The single charge is insurrection. Trump won’t testify, which is a pity; America sort of misses the ongoing circus/zoo that was life under Trump now that he no longer has the power to get us all killed. We can all have fun watching the Republicans huff in moral outrage as they jettison any final shreds of actual morality.

I’m fairly sure that there’s no life on Mars other than what rode along on the various craft that have landed there. We may find viruses on Mars, and if one of the happens to be COVID-19, we’ll know that we infected the planet. Now, admittedly I would like to be wrong about native life on Mars—I am old enough to remember the old John Carter stories and the notion that Mars had canals. If there is life, and assuming all three craft arrive successfully, we might actually know in the next year or so. That would definitely make up for the Canadian Football league season being canceled last year.

I wonder if we could send Trump to Mars? Tell him the whole damn planet is unclaimed, there’s no zoning regulations, and he can build whatever he wants. If he encounters other difficulties, such as lack of oxygen, temperatures colder than Antarctica, bone-melting radiation, or a dusting of perchlorates all over the planet, well, he should have done the reading. It was in the intelligence reports. I mean, if we’re going to contaminate the planet anyway…

The future isn’t as grim as it appeared scant weeks ago. Biden promised 100 million doses in the first hundred days, and after 16 days, 34.5 million had been administered. Biden caught flak from both sides on that promise, with one side saying it was a ridiculously optimistic forecast, and the other noting that it would be almost two full years to get everyone both their innoculations. However, COVID is fighting back, as expected. The new South African strain is somewhat unaffected by the shots. The good news is that it is affected enough that the mortality rate will be very low. But you know, that’s evolution. Build a better mousetrap, and eventually you get better mice. COVID is going to become part of our lives, the way Influenza has. Since we, too, are creatures of evolution, we’ll adapt, too.

Climate change is a far more serious challenge, and we’re pretty much out of time. The damage that has been done has yet to arrive, and there’s no turning back. No matter what changes or advancements we make, costs will be in the trillions of dollars and millions of lives over the next decade, and may worsen after that. But we are making advances in non-carbon energy and energy storage, and in the wake of Biden’s pledge to have an all-electric federal fleet, GM voted to be all electric by 2035.

Our grandchildren won’t be grateful that we screwed around for so long, but maybe we wised up soon enough that some of us will have grandchildren to sneer at us. The alternative is worse.

Oh, and this is America’s highest and most solemn religious holiday today, and my fearless forecast is that one team will win and the other will lose. That sounds boring as hell, so I’m not paying attention.

The landing of Perseverance is going to be much more interesting.

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