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The Hoax Hoax

To me, the biggest hoax is calling everything a hoax. When will the right get tired of it? Einstein is credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Does this mean that any reasonable infrastructure bill should include a mental health program to wean the Republican Right from their fixation with hoaxes and fake news? Or would it be better to use consumer protection laws prohibiting false product claims to “news” organizations that spread false information, since news is their product? In addition, consumers who are harmed by false information should be able to sue, such as the dimwits who actually drank bleach as suggested by their fearless orange leader.

© Nick Anderson
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Moving Along

My posts have slowed down a little, and for that I apologize, but I am in the middle of moving and that is keeping me busy. I will continue to post when I can, but (perhaps luckily for me) the new occupant of the White House is so much less of a drama queen than the former occupant, so the news is moving along just a bit slower than before. And for that, I am infinitely grateful, for multiple reasons.

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Tucker Carlson is Crazy

Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid at Walmart. Call the police immediately, contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives.

Tucker Carlson on Fox News

By adding masks to the list of things they want the government to control (along with abortion and other things), Tucker Carlson shows that Republicans are actually in favor of the “nanny state” that they pretend to hate.

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Not so Beautiful Wall

During Trump’s entire presidency, after securing around $6 billion from Congress and commandeering another $10 billion from the Defense Department, Trump only managed to build a measly total of 40 miles of wall, at a cost of up to $27 million per mile.

An article in the Texas Monthly magazine verifies what most of us feared would be true. Illegal migrants regularly scale the wall easily using makeshift ladders that cost about $5 each to build. In other words, there isn’t very much wall, and even where there is Trump’s “big beautiful wall” it is trivial to get over. Or put another way, the wall doesn’t work, and will never work, no matter how much money is spent on it.

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Justice

I gave a sigh of relief at the news of the verdict in the trial of policeman Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. Remember that this is the case that elevated the Black Lives Matter movement into the mainstream of discourse (and managed to do that in the middle of a pandemic).

But don’t take the verdict as a sign that the fight is over. We are daily reminded that there is a big problem to be solved, and that problem is systemic racism. It is not going to be easy to fix, but we have to do it, or at least do our best to try. Because there are still people (like Ted Cruz and Tucker Carlson) who are still fighting for racism.

© Tom Tomorrow
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Democratic Rights

Because everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than others. Thanks to Citizens United and the Supreme Court, that includes corporations.

© Ruben Bolling

One thing I’ve wondered about is if corporations are people, why haven’t they been given the right to vote yet? Corporate Lives Matter!

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The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

There is a very interesting article in the Washington Post by George Will, titled “Technologies give velocity to stupidity, but they don’t make people stupid” (or in blunter terms, people are always stupid, but technology makes it easier to spread stupidity, so it just seems like there is more of it).

I am a total technologist, and I can’t imagine living without the internet and the web. But there are times when I wonder if the internet (and especially social media) is pushing the world in a good or a bad direction. But Will’s article snapped me back to reality with a simple example, namely the spread of transcontinental trains and telegraph lines during the time of Abraham Lincoln.

Many 21st-century Americans are impressed, and distressed, by the supposed power of late-20th-century technologies, especially the Internet and social media, to shape society, and them. Two 19th-century technologies stirred somewhat similar uneasiness: The railroad and the telegraph, which were arguably as socially transformative as digital innovations are said to be, saved the nation from dismemberment, and fertilized the culture of freedom.

But these same technologies also spread “fake news about Washington burning, enslaved people rebelling, President James Buchanan resigning, Republicans sharing their wives, Lincoln being a cannibal”.

Nowadays, nobody worries that established technologies — not just railroads and telegraphs, but also airplanes and telephones — will destroy the world. And yet, in their heyday, people did worry about these new technologies.

In 1858, when the first transatlantic cable connected New York with London, the New York Times worried that the telegraph might make the velocity of news “too fast for the truth.” Sound familiar?

Yes, new technology, like any change, can take some getting used to. But the real problem is one we have always had, namely stupidity.

Today, the Internet and social media enable instantaneous dissemination of stupidity, thereby creating the sense that there is an increasing quantity of stupidity relative to the population’s size. This might be true, but blame it on animate, hence blameworthy, things — blowhards with big megaphones, incompetent educators, etc. — not technologies. Technologies are giving velocity to stupidity, but are not making people stupid. On Jan. 6, the Capitol was stormed by primitives wielding smartphones that, with social media, facilitated the assembling and exciting of the mob. But mobs predate mankind’s mastery of electricity.

Like railroads and the telegraph, today’s technologies have consequences about how and what we think. They do not relieve anyone of responsibility for either.

Dishonest people will always find a way to take advantage of people who are ignorant about new technologies. The answer is not to blame the new technologies (for that is not the real problem), but for technologists to take on the responsibility to help people learn and adapt to these new technologies. It will take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

© Dave Whamond
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Corporate Comics on Free Speech

The comic creators definitely noticed the hypocrisy of the GOP, with many fine comics being created. This is just a sampling.

© Jack Ohman

This one is even funnier. Castigating corporations over their “virtue signaling” for voter rights only points out how the only signaling being done by the GOP — mainly using dog whistles — is for bigotry, racism and white supremacy. In fact, some Republican politicians (cough, Marjorie Taylor Green) aren’t even using dog whistles anymore.

© Matt Wuerker

Ironically, their efforts are pushing corporations toward the Democrats. As Electoral-Vote put it in “Can Democrats and CEOs Be Friends?:

The voter-suppression law in Georgia—and before it, the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina—have been catalysts in making the two sides less wary of each other. While all CEOs want lower taxes on corporations, most of them are not bigots and are not in step with the modern Republican Party and its focus on grievances, culture wars, and suppressing the Black vote.

Biden noted that in some areas corporations have come a long way. Ads featuring gay or biracial couples are common now. CEOs of giant multinational corporations are not stupid. They know that many consumers consider the corporate image when making a purchasing decision. Coke and Pepsi taste pretty much the same but if the CEO of Coca Cola comes out strongly against Georgia’s new voting law and the CEO of Pepsi Cola does not, that is going to affect sales. If polls and focus groups show the CEOs that getting an image of being socially responsible wins over more young, progressive customers than it loses old, conservative customers, then opposing the law becomes a sensible business decision, not a political or moral decision.

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Free Speech isn’t Free

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court decreed that money is speech, so you can’t deny Corporations the right to donate arbitrary amounts of money to politicians. Hypocritically. Republicans are now punishing corporations for their actual speech against voter suppression, by stripping Major League Baseball of their antitrust exemption, and raising taxes on Delta Air Lines.

© Matt Davies

Does this mean that free speech is constitutionally protected only if it means giving money to politicians? And did anyone else notice the hypocrisy of the GOP trying to raise taxes on Delta, and then complaining bitterly about Biden trying to raise corporate taxes for infrastructure?

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The News

If it bleeds, it leads.” And when events conspire to be boring, they will just make shit up.

© Keith Knight

It used to be that News Departments were separate from Entertainment. But in the great race for ratings, they combined. The goal of news reporters is not longer to inform you. It is to keep you watching.

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Technology to the Rescue

So, I have been completely vaccinated against Covid-19, as have some of my friends. What we all have in common was that we had to spend a lot of time and energy finding a place to get vaccinated. Searching multiple websites for a place that was going to have open appointments to get vaccinated, waiting for a slot to open, and then jumping on it. In my case, the only place I could find (after weeks of searching) was a two-hour drive away (each way).

It was the Moderna vaccine, so I had to drive there twice. And now Moderna is saying that they are working on a booster vaccine, to guard against new varieties and strains, so I might have to do this all again. What a mess!

But a private citizen decided to do something about it! Nick Muerdter is a programmer (like me!) and built a website that shows open vaccine appointments for all 50 states — the COVID-19 Vaccine Spotter! Check it out!

According to Muerdter:

It seemed like a lot of people were just spending a lot of time on these pharmacy websites. And those were particularly frustrating just because it was, you know, you go to the website, you enter a zip code, you select a store and then nope, no, no appointments. And then you need to try a different store or try a different zip code.

All you have to do is give the website your zip code, and tell it how far you are willing to drive. The website does all the mechanical work to find any available appointments (something that computers are good at!)

If you are a programmer, the website is open source, so you can contribute to make the site better.

My only question is, why didn’t the government do this months ago? You might be forgiven for thinking that maybe because someone incompetent was in charge of the government.

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Different Strokes

Differences of opinion, even though they agree on the facts. Great skit from SNL.

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Bad Excuses

Half of all Republican men refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19. You might think that this could be a good thing because it might cause an extinction event for supporters of Donald Trump, but unfortunately it is just as likely to kill the rest of us as well.

But the crazy thing are the excuses being given for refusing a jab or two:

© Tom Tomorrow

The last panel reminds me of the time when people thought that cell phones cause brain cancer. I haven’t heard much about that for a while.

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Politics as an Attention Economy

Jonathan Last has published a fascinating article in The Bulwark (an anti-Trump conservative website) about how Republican politics now follows the rules of an attention economy. To whit, politicians don’t get elected because they do their jobs well (govern, pass laws, etc.). They gain power by getting attention (even negative attention). The obvious example is Donald Trump, but the same thing applies even to Matt Gaetz, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Here’s an excerpt, but do read the whole thing (it is relatively short):

Does it matter to his future political prospects that Matt Gaetz doesn’t advance legislation? Does it matter that Madison Cawthorn staffed up his office with comms people? Does it matter that Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t have committee assignments?

Well, these quirks would matter in a system where legislative accomplishments influenced voter behavior. But the preponderance of evidence suggests that Republican voters don’t care about tangible government outcomes.

They don’t care whether or not a border wall is built, or who would have (theoretically) paid for it. They don’t care about whether or not the government fails to manage a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens. They don’t care if unemployment is up—or down. They don’t care about stimulus checks. Or the national debt.

Republican voters—a group distinct from Conservatism Inc.—no longer have any concrete outcomes that they want from government. What they have, instead, is a lifestyle brand.

The key here is the idea of a “lifestyle brand”, where buying a certain product (including a politician) is important because it says something about the buyer’s life. We may not know why the Kardashians are famous, but we pay attention to them because they are famous. And the more people pay attention to them, the more famous they become. Why? Not because they do anything helpful or important.

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Winning the War against Covid?

There are two pieces of potentially very good news that just came out, based on real-world studies of people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Mind you, these are preliminary results, and more research needs to be done before we declare victory, but at least these give me hope.

The first article points out that even though cases are rising again, they fell dramatically among groups that have already been vaccinated (in particular, first responders and seniors). One big caution is that we don’t really know what will happen with the new variants. That’s why it is extremely important that we continue to wear masks and socially distance. The spread of Covid among as-yet unvaccinated populations will not only spread the existing new variants (some of which are much less responsive to the current vaccines), but will continue to create new variants. We need to stop this cycle in its tracks!

The second article could be extremely good news, if it bears scrutiny. New CDC data suggests that people who have been vaccinated do not carry the virus, and thus can’t spread it to other people. Of course, no vaccine is 100% effective, but current estimates are that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are around 90%. That means that if you get together with a group of people who have been vaccinated, your chances of being in contact with someone with Covid goes down an order of magnitude. And if you are vaccinated too, it goes down another order of magnitude.

Again, more research will be required to confirm that this is true, but for now it is giving me hope. Let’s use the good news to continue to be very careful, hopefully just for a little bit longer.

© Darrin Bell
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