Monday, January 02, 2017

How Quickly They Forget

Recently brought to my attention: a 2014 article on, by James Conca:

It can power your car or your body.
The article points out that corn ethanol has no environmental ("green") advantages over petroleum with regard to emissions. Not only does it require you to burn more of it to release the same energy as petrol, but the production relies on a fermentation process that of itself releases additional "greenhouse gasses".

The article goes through a lot of math; and for the most part it's pretty good math. But in my assessment, the math isn't the most important thing.


Tasty, and it can run an engine
What's not addressed in this article is that the initial big push for creating corn ethanol in the first place had nothing whatsoever to do with the environment... at least, not in the public consciousness. Now, I'm no chemist. But I was in high school in 1979. One of my projects in my senior year was creating bio-fuel out of cane sugar. As rum goes, it wasn't terrible (true). Also, it could run a lawnmower for a short time before ruining it, so the "proof" (pun intended) was good enough to get me an 'A' grade. And I do remember why I did it.

It was done in the 1970s in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and the later oil crisis of 1979. Fuel efficiency and alternative fuels were heavily pushed at a time when we were told of scientific predictions of a global freeze. It's fashionable today for climate change enthusiasts to argue that 1970s concerns about global cooling were a "myth" by noting that the numerous popular articles of the time were not peer reviewed and therefore don't count. This ahistorical thinking ignores the fact that global cooling was the broadly disseminated view to which the public was exposed and upon which they made decisions. Even if there were a broad consensus of climatologists in the 1970s who quietly argued for eventual global warming, their views didn't make it into the public consciousness at that time, and had non-measurable effect on the subject of alternative fuels, which were championed not because the technologies were "green", but in order to reduce dependency on foreign sources of energy.

NOTE that I'm not arguing for or against climate change. This isn't about climate change. It's about the information that the people of the 1970s used to make decisions. They used the information available to them then... not now... and what they saw then was this:

A decade of expectations:
RadioTimes (Nov '74), TIME (Apr '77), TIME (Dec '73)
TIME (Dec '79), Science & Mechanics (Dec '69)

Often vilified, but still history. The point is, people make
decisions based on the information they have.
What people saw then gave them no reason to worry about CO2 levels. Even the EPA was far more concerned with smog, which was more a quality-of-life issue then than now. Retractions printed decades after the fact are irrelevant to the current discussion.

Furthermore, although peak oil was and is a valid concern... someday it seems likely that the wells will run dry... It wasn't the case that ethanol was pushed in the 1970s because there was an actual imminent "shortage of oil". There were a number of other more compelling reasons, all of which were financial and political.

In 1971, America's reduced production was as a result of production capacity. The oil industry had been "skating" without making new investments, thus foreign imports had been steadily increasing. These were decreased by OPEC in the wake of the Yom Kippur War: the US was being punished by Arab-dominated OPEC for being allies of Israel. As a result, in 1973-4, pump prices that had been hovering around $0.36/gallon jumped up to over $.50/gallon overnight. And we were stuck with it. As was repeatedly pointed out at the time, new refineries take years to build.

In 1979, the fuel prices were as a result of decreased production resulting from the Iranian Revolution that deposed Shah Pahlavi. That pushed pump prices to over $1.00/gallon. Pumps weren't even made to register prices that high, and a leading "1" had to be painted or taped to the pumps. Even if Iranian production hadn't tanked, the new regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini would not have been eager to sell the oil to us... they were holding 50 US hostages at the time, taken from our embassy, as they blamed the US for providing sanctuary to the former Shah.

The further push for ethanol in 2007-8 once again had the impetus of rising fuel prices. Of course, this time, "green technology" was added to the list of rationale. I think that rationale is spurious.

Ethanol was initially pushed as a means of lowering dependence on foreign oil. It provides a renewable resource in place of an exhaustible fossil fuel. The "green" angle was tacked on years later. And hey, why not? Corn is a growing, natural, living thing, right? It made intuitive sense that it would be green in every sense, if you didn't care to ponder the math. This is why you see pictures of sunshine and corn cobs on fuel pumps without any mention of fermentation and distillation and chemistry. This is about as informative as putting Tony the Tiger on a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and serves the same purpose.

It's only when you do some chemical accounting that you realize there really is no such thing as a free lunch. You only get out what you put into it: every calorie must be accounted for. The fact remains that biofuels were less efficient simply wasn't a major concern for those who were more concerned with the immediate choke on foreign oil sources and the expected eventual achievement of peak oil production. The word 'sustainable' wasn't used; 'renewable' was.

the carbon dioxide cycle in ethanol production
via Researchgate 
It has always been known that ethanol production, whether from corn, or any other biomass, requires the release of copious quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Only a part of it is released when burned. The bulk is released during fermentation and during harvesting and processing. This carbon dioxide is chemically the same no matter the source. It will stimulate plant growth no matter the source. Concern over "carbon emissions" is not something that can be addressed with ethanol. Its "green" status is a rather effective selling ploy. Despite that, ethanol must be economically competitive on its own merits. Social engineering is not required, and as with any product it should adhere to truth in advertising.

So you won't find me agreeing with this headline, although I broadly agree with the article itself. Corn ethanol is NOT "of no use". It has a very specific usefulness, in which climate control plays a negligible part. Rather, it is an alternative fuel supply, closely compatible with existing petroleum technologies, that can be used in the event that petrol sources run dry.


The Forbes article is from April of 2014. Isn't it strange how it still feels like "news" because the underlying facts have not been broadly publicized? Instead we still see friendly, happy sunshine logos on fuel tanks and propaganda from people who really just don't like uncomfortable math. This is marketing, not science.

As to why I'm responding to it now... this blog is about stuff that interests me. 'Nuff said.

  1. Memory. I was there.
  6. Sources of
  7. Sources of
  8. Sources of
  9. Sources of
  10. Sources of

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bigotry and Bad Memes

Let's start off with a picture of this man:

Martin Luther King famously said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

That speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on the 28th of August, 1963, contains much more worth hearing, and nothing worth discarding. I urge you to listen or read the transcript yourself. [Transcript] [Audio]


I wanted that up front because I want the words of Dr. King to be fresh in your mind when you consider this meme that is being passed around:

People should be judged on their own merits and failings, that's for sure. And the guy pictured, Timothy McVeigh, was unquestionably guilty of a heinous act.

That said, this particular line of reasoning is faulty and is unlikely to convince anyone. Here's why. Suppose someone told you,
"This pipe bomb is really dangerous. It kills a lot of people. It doesn't have a trigger. It doesn't have a sight. It doesn't have any bullets. It's a COMMON WATER PIPE. Think on that before spreading anti-gun BULL on social media."
You don't get to the end of the quote before realizing that the two examples aren't in any way connected. The fact that one thing is dangerous doesn't mean that the other thing isn't. It doesn't mean that all pipes are as dangerous as all guns. You know from experience that there's nothing "common" about that pipe. It doesn't even convince you that anti-gun statements are bull. The intended point... that guns are safe... doesn't follow from the argument. All this argument says is that the guy who wrote it should have followed his own advice and thought on it. If he had, he'd have avoided this kind of logical fallacy.

Again, people should be judged on their own merits and failings. But just as all members of a group cannot be automatically judged guilty for the misdeeds of a few, all members of a group cannot be automatically judged innocent even when they're not. Both extremes are bigoted.

Judge not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

If you intend to calm those people who fear violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists, there are effective ways to make the intended point. This isn't one of them. While doing that, you must address the fact that those fears are not without foundation, but that's a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

News Flash: PEOPLE DIE

According to United Nations data, approximately 6,800 Americans die each and every day, or almost 2.5 million each year. At various times all of my grandparents and parents were among them, and I fully expect that one of these years I will be among them, too. As it turns out, exhaustive research indicates that not even one single country escapes a massive turnover of roughly one generation every generation. FIFTY FIVE POINT THREE MILLION people in this world die every year. It's global.

I've decided to refuse to feign shock or disgust that death also happens to celebrities. I note their passing with respect and gratitude for their accomplishments, and do not blame the Universe or this particular year.

Sorry if I sound crotchety, and I'll explain why, but it starts with the fact that somebody just notified the world that the Heat Miser died and they were just heartbroken.

The Heat Miser.

For the record, his name was George S. Irving, and he was in many movies, some of which I've seen and most of which I haven't. He was 94 years old. Personally, I'm not going to begrudge anyone his final rest when he's 6 years shy of a century on this Earth. Nevertheless, he voiced a cartoon character once, so his death tears a hole in the millions of hearts in which he had taken up residence. So we're notified that they were devastated and officially ready for 2016 to end, presumably taking Death with it.

See this guy? He's not really a person. He's not going anywhere with 2016; and for that matter, 2016 isn't going anywhere either. It's a constant, unstoppable flow of Time. '2016' is a label we've arbitrarily assigned to one otherwise undistinguished part of it.

I'm not bitching here to be heartless and cruel, evil, mean, wicked, bad and nasty. Quite the opposite. It appears that nobody ever told the kiddies that people actually die. They need to know this lest they carry on as if it's a surprise in 2017 and beyond.

Every last one of us is going to kick the bucket, and frankly, I don't think it enhances anyone's memory to go virtue signalling over it, wailing at the Universe and the personification of Time about the unfairness of it all.

It's perfectly fair.

So yes, I'm tired of people being tired of people dying. It's pointless. We're all dying, and that's OK. Everybody gets a turn; some sooner, some later. So let's stop griping about '2016' and how torn up we are, and how we're sadder than sad. Let's look fondly on their work, and how amazingly privileged we are to have recorded it so we can continue to enjoy it for decades to come. And let's stop having grief competitions over celebrities so we can spare a moment of similar fond recollection of some of the other 55.3 million people for whom we aren't privileged to have recordings. They were moms and dads and kids. They had talents you didn't know, and stories you never heard. We can allow ourselves just one moment to consider that when we lost them, we truly lost something, forever, 55 million times over. And then realize that in spite of that we can carry on. That's a real miracle.

Carry on.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What do you EXPECT to happen?

I keep seeing people wishing for faithless electors to abandon Trump when casting their votes. Actual quotes include prayers like "Please, please, please".

At this point I'm 100% positive that most of these people have not schooled themselves in how an American presidential election actually works, and have no idea what it is they're asking for. At one point I thought that pundits actually did know, and were being devious, but the more I hear, the more I realize that they're just ignorant, too.[1]

At first this was fueled by simple sore losing.  Democrats could not believe that their gal didn't win the election. Surely it's illegitimate, they cried, because Trump lost the popular election. That was shot down immediately in that people know we have an Electoral College, and they've seen it at work before. Some Democrats felt right clever about remembering that electors can choose to vote for anyone they like. These "faithless electors" would surely "save" the country. 

They posted a petition. Petitions mean nothing to the electoral college. The electors who are voting for Trump are Republicans. They're a completely separate group of people than the ones who would be voting if Clinton had won their state. It wasn't enough to decry Trump as the new Hitler, a racist and homophobe and every other mean, Grinchy thing imaginable. His supporters didn't buy a word of it, and largely that's the doing of Hillary Clinton herself. When she called his supporters "deplorable", she forgot that they know their own hearts. They knew it wasn't true of themselves, and her party lost credibility.

So they needed to up the stakes. They needed a boogeyman... one that Republicans could get behind. "Russian hacking" of the election is that boogeyman. Surely the Republicans still have a Cold War grudge against the Russians! So the story is now that the Trump presidency is illegitimate because the Russians stole our election. They manipulated and modified, they hacked us. They hacked John Podesta's emails to discredit the Clinton campaign. Oh, boy, they tricked the people into voting for Trump, and somehow the whole country should overlook the content of those emails because we're just so darned incensed about being hacked.

The "Russian hackers" are a transparent excuse to de-legitimize the Trump presidency. Perhaps in this last-ditch scare-fest, they might get the Electoral College to vote their gal in after all. And the fact that they're attempting this proves to us that they don't know what they're doing.
The problem is several-fold. 
  1. has a 100% track-record regarding the authenticity of the documents they publish. Even if the Russians had obtained the information, they didn't write the contents. And here, the content matters.
  2. Julian Assange says the Podesta emails on WikiLeaks didn't come from the Russians. Craig Murray claims he personally got them from Democratic insiders. Again, they've got a 100% track record. So even if the Russians independently hacked the organization, they aren't the ones who leaked it, and they didn't affect the election.[2]
  3. The Cold War is over. The Democrats seem to have a problem understanding that old, worn out memes expire.
  4. The electoral process doesn't work that way.
We don't do election "do-overs". We conduct an election once. Sometimes we re-count the votes. Even then, that doesn't mean the recount means anything. For instance, we know for a fact that more votes were counted than cast in precincts around Detroit. The original counts stand anyway. So if an official recount that give you an actual corrected vote count doesn't change the results, what do you expect from a nebulous accusation that the Russians swayed the election, with no proof, no measurable effect, no indication of how it was accomplished?

Every American knows why they voted the way they did. Do you know of anyone at all who claims to have been swayed by Russian influence? No? How about this... do you you know anyone at all who claims they would have voted differently if they knew the Russians leaked the Podesta emails? Me neither. So how about this... do you know anyone who would have been royally pissed if they had NOT heard of the Democratic corruption, cheating, and manipulation until after the election was over and their votes were cast? I can find more than a few of those, yeah; in both parties.


So it wasn't the Russians, and even if it had been, it wouldn't have mattered. But if it did matter, what do you expect to happen? Seriously, let's think it through...

Remember that Republican electors are Republicans. Do you think you'd be able to convince them to vote for Hillary Clinton? That's a pipe-dream. Blaming the Russians wouldn't do that. You'd have to convince them that Trump was at fault. They'd have to vote against Trump. Why would they do that? Not because the Russians did them a favor. They won the election, and they'll take it.

What do you expect to happen?

But just imagine you could find enough electors to vote against Trump to put him below 270 votes. Will those votes go to Clinton? Again, no. That's not even a pipe-dream. It's not going to happen. Those votes would likely go to a different Republican... Cruz, maybe; or Paul Ryan. So let's imagine that happens (and you'll notice we have to imagine quite a lot of people doing things against their self-interest to get this far).

If no candidate gets 270 votes, then it goes to the House of Representatives, and they elect the President. They don't get to select just anybody, though. They have to choose from the top three persons with electoral college votes. So let's imagine that this is Clinton, Trump, and anybody at all. And the Republicans hold control over the House, but not by much. So there's a chance that you could entice a few of them to vote for Hillary Clinton, right? 

Oh, puh-leez. They'll have two Republicans to choose from, because they're limited to the top three vote recipients. And the Democrats aren't going to give up enough Hillary votes in the Electoral College to make sure that third choice is another Democrat.

But WAIT. In this election, it's not one-Representative, one-vote. It's one-STATE, one-vote (look up the 12th Amendment). So all of the Representatives in a State have to pow-wow and decide how their State is going to cast its one vote. Now it's important to look at who's got representative control of each individual State.  

  • The Republicans control the following 33 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
  • The Democrats control the following 14 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
  • The following states are tied. Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey
The winner needs 26 votes. The Republicans control 33. Congratulations. The Republicans win again, in a narrowly controlled House, by a landslide. 

What do you expect to happen?

Now... would it be Trump? Honestly... yeah. If the Republicans voted otherwise it would de-legitimize their own primary process. They don't like that he was elected, but now that he's their candidate, they've made the political investment of getting behind him and defending the process that put him there. So yeah, he'd still win. As everyone in a state's delegation would have to vote to prevent it, the minority opinion would be overruled. One state, one vote.


There is absolutely no way whatsoever that this will break for the Democrats. The Democratic leadership, unlike the unwashed masses and delusional pundits, know this for a fact as well. So WHY do we see them blaming the Russians?  We know this will not change the election.

Changing the election outcome can't be their goal. But they can de-legitimize the Trump presidency in hope of regaining the House in 2018. And one of the ways of doing that is to make sure he has some insurmountable problems that have to be "fixed" by electing more Democrats. So they're trashing international relations with the Russians. They want you to remember the vision of Donald Trump collaborating with Russian spies. Instead you'll remember that this was Obama's "WMD" moment, when he tried to force an international incident because he didn't get his way.
Basically, the Democrats know they can't win, so they're shitting all over the carpet before they leave. But this President-elect is not having it. Hell, he's already making phone calls to foreign leaders. I believe that both he and Putin know what's going on, and everybody on the planet knows that Executive Orders are the only power Obama has left. Anything he does with that power will be undone the nanosecond that Trump assumes the office. And instead of an international incident we get something that's easily undone with a handshake.

Literally, at this moment, best thing the Democrats can do is shut up and wait.

[1]  Let me be clear: I don't like Trump. Lord knows I said so often enough on this blog, and spend more time talking about his faults than I ever spent on Hillary Clinton's. But this was an election, and the results weren't a "mistake". The voters had actually spoken, and such recounts as were done confirmed it. So it's the time to stop posturing, be Americans, and make the best of it.

[2] Note the radical difference between political posturing of those who expect this to change the outcome of the election and the Congressional investigation aimed at the prevention of future cyberattacks. In the latter case, the legitimacy of the election is not questioned, though the security of our systems is. This is, however, properly the purview of those who were hacked, and not the Federal government.

How to Re-write History

History is often re-written by those who purport to "set the record straight". And I'm talking about Snopes, Politifact, etc. How it's done is an interesting sleight-of-hand.

I see a scenario playing out here with the "Russian intervention" in our recent US Presidential election (and I may get to that in a minute), but I first would like to address something that came up in an unlikely place: "The Vault of Retro Sci-Fi 2.0".

Someone posted a picture of Barbarella... the one I'm posting here.  Now that's perfectly on-topic for the group... Barbarella was an over-the-top sci-fi heroine of the 1960s, portrayed on-screen by Jane Fonda.

The reactions were interesting, though. Half the comments were predictably about the fact that she was hot (and she was), but the other half were reminders of her role in the Vietnam War as "Hanoi Jane".

Just as predictably, someone appeared to declare that the "Hanoi Jane" was debunked. Specifically, they wrote, "All you idiots still going on about the false story over Vietnam...its false people.. Do some legit research and reading"

That "legit research" is the subject of this post. Let's start by noting that this fellow believes that there exists "THE false story", when in fact there are many stories, some of which are false. But "the false story" to which he's referring is one regarding a photo of Jane Fonda sitting at a North Vietnamese gun, taken on the last day of a trip to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War:

Fonda herself says that she was tricked into the photo-op, and that it was only afterward that she realized it would look as though she had been operating the gun. You can listen to her own account as related on "Oprah's Master Class" (right).

Note that she believes this photo-op to be her "one unforgivable mistake". One. And this, along with a story of Fonda turning over notes from POWs to their Vietnamese captors is what is "debunked" every time that the record is "set straight" by sites like Snopes.

Except... that's not the story.

Snopes gets this right:
In July 1972, during the waning days of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, actress Jane Fonda incurred the enmity of untold thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families (as well as service members for generations to come) when she arrived in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and began a two-week tour of the country. Fonda visited North Vietnamese villages, hospitals, schools, and factories damaged in the war, weaving her comments about what she observed at those sites with denunciations of U.S. military policy in recordings broadcast as propaganda to U.S. servicemen via Radio Hanoi; met with international visitors and reporters who were also in North Vietnam; spent about an hour chatting with seven U.S. POWs at a meeting arranged by her North Vietnamese guides; and posed for photographs at an antiaircraft emplacement set up in a rural area just outside Hanoi.
They go on to brush this aside because that's not the story they're debunking. The problem with relying on this sort of reference is that the servicemen's ire wasn't because of one stupid photo-op on a gun. And nobody believes, then or now, that she was actually operating the gun. Nor did she turn over messages from POWs to their captors. These are embellishments (as Snopes says), but if one is to set the record straight on those details, one can't forget the actual factual core. That is, if you are debunking the embellishments, that doesn't in any way debunk the facts.

Jane Fonda earned the name "Hanoi Jane" (the form of which is in imitation of famous war propagandists like "Axis Sally" and "Tokyo Rose") because at least 10 times she broadcast on Radio Hanoi, addressing demoralizing messages directly to our troops... specifically calling them "war criminals". Here are some transcripts [LINK]. Note that these weren't simply comments that were recorded during her visit and played over the radio. These are on tape, were not coerced, were done at her behest, and were directed at the troops themselves. Furthermore, as she has stated on-camera for "60 Minutes", she does not regret them.

Some apologists note that relatively few troops heard her broadcasts. That doesn't change the fact that she made them, and that within hours everyone knew of them, as did the people at home. This was at a time when counter-culture was still new. The veterans of WWI were still alive; the veterans of WWII and the Korean War were still in their prime. They were well acquainted with admonitions like, "Loose Lips Sink Ships". It was still usual for citizens to trust the government. And this ire at Jane Fonda was not as politically polarized as one would think when looking at it from today's perspective. Both WWII and the Korean War were carried out under Democratic administrations (FDR and Truman, respectively), and the vast bulk of the Vietnam war was pursued under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. This was not party-driven; it was generational. The people at home were incensed, even when magazine and news editors avoided printing it. Vietnam was the first televised war. War has always been horrific, but rarely were the American people acutely aware of it other than those who fought. Fonda thought she was making a necessary statement, but her location and timing could not have been worse.[1]

History is what it is, and Fonda did what she did. "Explaining" that she was tricked into the photo doesn't change the broadcasts. Debunking the stories of her turning over POW messages doesn't change the broadcasts. The troops heard what they heard. They didn't like it, and acted accordingly. You are certainly free to disagree with their reaction, but that doesn't make it "false". And whether you agree with her reasons is completely beside the point. "Agreement" is merely exercising the privilege of 45 years of hindsight, and it's no way to understand history. For that matter, this isn't a matter of ancient history for which reading is sufficient research. There are still witnesses. There are recordings. For my part, it was current events. I'm old enough that I have friends and family who were there. She's still "Hanoi Jane", and she still earned the title.

And YET... it is now ingrained in some minds that there is ONE story, about that photo, and it is "thoroughly debunked."  How?

Simple. When somebody mentions "Hanoi Jane", you just reference the photo. Only the photo. You nonchalantly say, "Oh, that old story", and "do your research." Point only to the discredited pieces. Ignore the meat of the story, always. After a bit of repetition, this becomes the only story, and it's "thoroughly discredited". And if anyone happens to mention anything else approaching the core truth, then simply brush it aside with, "Everybody did X" (in this case, propaganda). Unabashedly ignore the fact than no, not everybody wrote propaganda for the enemy and then broadcast it live to one's own troops from behind enemy lines.


The same process is used in every case where the facts are "inconvenient". An easily-handled or lesser controversy is substituted for the one of substance. Through constant repetition it becomes "the" controversy.  We see it played out over and over again. For instance, regarding the 2012 Benghazi attack we were told by Hillary Clinton's State Department that the violence was caused by a tasteless Internet video (this one). First the video, then the lie about the video, was "the" controversy. In reality, the controversy was much more severe: a CIA weapons-smuggling operation to arm rebels in Syria (these rebels reportedly became what we now know as ISIS). Eventually Hillary Clinton asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "what difference, at this point, does it make?" She then brushed aside the State Department actions that actually led to the violence, claiming that it was more important to retaliate.

Regarding the ATF gunwalking scandal (aka "Fast and Furious") we were told that "the" controversy was a witchhunt aimed at Obama and Eric Holder, with the defense that "Bush did it" (referring to a similar sting, which the Obama administration continued). This was to deflect attention from more serious focus on the amateurish implementation, which had no chance of success, as the US had provided no way of actually tracking the weapons; and the heinous consequences when the guns found use in numerous crimes including 69 killings; and issue of cover-up when the executive branch refused to fully cooperate when Congress exercised congressional oversight.

More recently, regarding the 2016 Presidential elections, we are notified of "the" controversy surrounding alleged Russian interference in our election process. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that the Russians were the ones that hacked James Podesta's emails, and Julian Assange of Wikileaks flatly says that the Russians were not his source (video). This faux controversy is intended to deflect focus from the larger issue of the actual content of those emails, and the very genuine corruption that the DNC employed in the Democratic primaries.

This last has resulted in the bizarre situation where the Democrats have pretzeled themselves into opposing the things they support. In 2009, Hillary Clinton presented the Russians with a (poorly translated) "reset" button symbolizing a renewed relationship. And why not? We have no territorial disputes or serious trade disputes with Russia. Despite the fact that the current Russian Constitution is a Democrat's wet dream, US/Russian relations have since deteriorated into language describing another "Cold War". Following the election, the Democrats have found the Russians to be a convenient boogeyman. They have only scaled up the rhetoric, leaving the next administration with a dangerously damaged foreign relations mess to clean up. Their desired outcome is poorly thought out (and that's the subject of my next post), but their tactics are clear. It's the same decades-old practice of constantly repeating falsehoods in hopes that the will become "the truth".

[1] I would argue that although it's axiomatic that the Vietnamese were better off without war than with it, they would have been better off yet if the South were not fighting under rules of engagement that made it effectively impossible to win. I point to South vs. North Korea for an example. Rather than making war more humane, these rules dragged out the horror for at least a decade.

  1. The photo on Facebook that got me thinking.
  2. "Jane Fonda's Unforgivable Mistake" (YouTube) - Jane Fonda's account and explanation of the photo-op.
  3. Jane Fonda, Radio Hanoi (web) - contains quotes of Fonda's broadcast, taken from the book Citizen Jane (ISBN:0-8050-0959-0)
  4. "In the words of Jane Fonda" (YouTube) - Contains debunked elements and incendiary language, but included because it also contains recordings of Fonda's broadcasts from North Vietnam. They verify the quotes from Citizen Jane.
  5. Jane Fonda Betrayed American POWs (Snopes) - Debunks a specific email regarding a specific story.
  6. "Jane Fonda: Wish I Hadn't" ( - 2005 interview with Lesley Stahl in which Fonda expresses regret for the photo shoot and that alone.
  8. Russian Reset ( -  Describes Clinton's failed "reset" of Russian relations.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Moral Derpitude

Moral Derpitude is a legal concept in the United States and some other countries that refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of intelligence, rationality or good sense.

OK, so I just made that up. But there are plenty of places to apply it. Take, for instance, the case of Mark Weston writing for Time magazine, who ran an op-ed today under the title "65 Million Americans Should Threaten to Not Pay Taxes". His reasoning, such as it is, is that he's very butt-hurt that Hillary Clinton did not win the Presidential election (decided as it has always been, by the Electoral College) and therefore all Hillary voters now find themselves victims of "taxation without representation"[1]. Ignore for a moment that he doesn't know what that phrase means. What he can't get through politics, he would seek through extortion.

Before you ask... why yes... I do believe he drank a large can of dumb-ass this morning.

There is no rational explanation for how such foolishness could make it into Time. I'm not responding here because it needs refutation or any action. I'm only writing so that I have something convenient to point to for those who think he wrote something clever.

Weston is apparently unaware that this is a strategy that has been touted by others, and which has failed every single time it has ever made it into a courtroom. And Lord knows, enough backwoods survivalist log-cabin lawyers have tried it. Perhaps some of them are itching to welcome the citified-tinfoil-hatted-Leftist-suddenly-turned-small-government fanatics into their ranks. Personally, I congratulate Weston on finding yet another way to demonstrate that there is absolutely no conceptual difference between the tribes on the extreme Left and Right of the political spectrum.

I'll give you the punchline and let you read his missive yourself without suspense:
The beauty of a no-taxation pledge is that it almost certainly won’t have to be carried out. The mere threat could be enough to propel a Constitutional amendment. If millions sign now, Republicans will know that a third modern Republican runner-up presidency is impossible; Democrats will not be cooperative again.
What you see while reading through his proposal is that the "mere threat" he poses is as mere as it gets... it's actually a "threat" of nothing. For instance,
  • He ignores that most people who file taxes do so in order to recoup some of the money they've already paid in through payroll deductions. None of them will participate.
  • Likewise, he has hypocritically given no thought to the people served by the government agencies he would attempt to starve of cash. That's hardly a real concern as you'll see, but the fact remains that he's given them no thought. 
  • He suggests that people pay their local and state taxes anyway, which necessarily includes a declaration of income. This makes it a practical impossibility to justify non-payment. In some states (such as South Carolina) your taxable income is determined by your Federal tax return. You're simply told to copy that amount to your State return. In those states, merely filing local taxes is a literal declaration of Federal tax liability.
  • Nevertheless, Weston suggests that millions upon millions of people file taxes and then give the money away to a non-government entity. AS IF THAT MATTERED. He is of the naive opinion that you can give the "tax money" to a third party to make it untouchable, and that doing so gives you the power to say, "your money is over there... good luck getting it!" It doesn't even slow them down. There is no special "tax money" that the IRS has to go get. If you give your tax payment away, you still owe just as much money to the IRS as before, no excuses. No buts. And the IRS has access to your house, your car, all of your property, and any disposable income you may be using to live on, and they do not need a court order to take it. Lacking anything else, they have access to YOU, and will cheerfully lock you up, as you'd have already provided the ample evidence in the form of a state tax return. In other words, you'd have just given your money away for nothing
  • He ignores that nearly all taxes are paid by the richest few percent. While there are a great many filthy-rich Democrats as well as Republicans, that kind of big money is what the IRS would target first. The low-income blue collar worker will either not participate or cave at the first audit letter, and those owing large sums aren't stupid enough to let it go that far. The IRS would not need to audit 65 million people. Just a few would do it. Ask Wesley Snipes how things work out when you get all clever and "outsmart" the IRS.
  • Considering that your reputation and job will go right along with your conviction, Federal tax evasion is simply stupid... not clever or cute.
  • Weston forgets that you must actually be credible to be threatening.
Weston is fantasizing. Seriously, he's written a government fanfic in which he is Mary Sue. But I'm not going to tell you not to listen to him. On the contrary, I'm just evil enough to want to see you march in his parade if you think he has the slightest thing on the ball. I'm heavily into schadenfreude when it comes to people like this, and it would make my day to see the look on his face when he realizes that today was the day his brain died.

Again: The IRS does not need you to give them the money. They can just take it. Hiding it doesn't mean you don't owe it, or that you've cleverly "paid" it with conditions. And no one is interested in your pipe-dreams. Remember, this is a system put in place by big-government Progressives who decry the fat cats and one-percenters who would skip out on "their fair share". It was designed and empowered by people like Weston to be absolutely merciless toward people like Weston. To be completely frank, such a scheme doesn't work because most Americans aren't that stupid.

We have an Electoral College, and part of its purpose is to assert the Federal nature of our government, balancing the influence of the population as a whole against that of the individual States. On several occasions it has done exactly what it was intended to do[2]. When that happens it is simply childish to cry foul. So if you want to not pay taxes, then grow up. Elect people who will lower your taxes. Trust the People with control of their own lives. If you think that taxes should be high or higher, fair enough... stow the hypocrisy and pay them yourself. Then we can have a discussion to determine what's an acceptable balance.

But if you want to use taxes as a weapon, fuck you.  The worst of the slimy politicians think taxes are weapons. When in power, they direct the IRS to target their enemies and tie them up with audits. They control the States with strings-attached Federal funding. They control the populace the same way, with "incentives" that are later deemed "loopholes" when they're used. And when not in power, they want to lazily employ the same weapon in reverse. And they're too stupid to see the problems they incite and perpetuate through their moral derpitude.

[1] Note: I didn't vote for Trump, either. 
[2] In 1800 the election went so far as to be decided by the House of Representatives... one vote per state. Being elected by a decisive majority of electors is nothing by comparison.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Perfect Holiday Gift(s)

It's December! As the end of this year approaches we enter the season where generosity and charity prevail. And as you're looking for ways to spend your spare cash this holiday season, I have a few suggestions.

If you're like almost everybody, you've benefited all year long from certain "free" websites. And there are some you've possibly never heard of, and should get to know. Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg... these form the backbone of a vast repository of information that has largely supplanted the old-fashioned Public Library. And while there's still a place for the Public Library, these on-line sites are the resources you actually use.

These sites cost millions of dollars to operate, though they cost you nothing to use. And those millions of dollars are donated freely by millions of people who are willing to donate a few bucks each, annually. These are truly public resources, by the people, for the people, without one single coerced dollar spent. This is what it looks like when you set people free.

Give yourself a gift and help them operate for another year.

Here are my top picks. Feel free to throw a few bucks anywhere you like. Click on the site name to go straight to a donation page.

Wikipedia/Wikimedia.  This is the premier reference library of the Internet. It is the 7th most visited web resource in the world. You would think that with traffic like that, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, would be some Internet multi-billionaire. Nope. Wikipedia doesn't get a dime in advertising, because that would subject them to the control of advertisers. The Wikimedia Foundation is bigger than just Wikipedia, though. It operates the Wikimedia Commons, WikiQuotes, WikiBooks, WikiNews, etc, etc, etc. If that's not worth your support, nothing is. Wikimedia projects are publicly led, which means that you can participate not just with dollars, but with time. They need photos and sounds for the Wikimedia Commons, articles and editors for Wikipedia articles, etc.

Project Gutenberg.  If Wikipedia is the reference library of the Internet, Project Gutenberg is the stacks. Project Gutenberg's mission is to publish Public Domain books in plain-text formats that will outlast current technologies and current generations, and to get them into as many hands as possible. Information so disseminated is effectively immortal. The benefit for you is that you have access to timeless classics in compact compact formats readable on any computer or mobile device. Everything from the Bible to Zen, Astronomy to Zoology, Aristotle to Shakespeare to Zeno. And like Wikipedia, you can help more directly, by scanning, proofreading, correcting, and submitting additional works.

The Internet Archive. This is a truly astonishing site. In addition to millions of books, videos, classic movies, software titles, images and concerts, they back up the Internet. You read that right. Using The Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" you can view a snapshot of a website as it existed in the past. So even if that "page you liked" has been deleted from the original website, the Internet Archive has it for you. It is effectively the digital memory of this planet. Obviously this takes an insane amount of resources, and they all cost money. And it's all done without ads, without strings, without tax collectors, by generous people operating in their individual and collective best interests.

Creative Commons. The Creative Commons Corporation provides legal research, advice, advocacy, and activism around the world to encourage the use of simple, commonsense open licenses. Copyright can stifle creativity, and smart creators know that just as any society is built on the sum of its previous efforts, their own work does not suffer from being shared. Creativity is not a zero-sum game where the creator is diminished when his efforts are multiplied. Unfortunately our existing copyright laws are based on this flawed assumption, ignoring the original intent of limited exclusivity for a reasonable and finite time. Creative Commons' legal efforts allow those who know better to contribute their efforts to the world with minimal restrictions. Well worth a couple of bucks if you appreciate anything else on this list... they're all efforts in that direction.

This image is in
the public domain
Individual Content Creators.  Unlike the resources above, YouTube (a child of Google) does operate with deep pockets from advertising revenue. That's not true of many of the content providers, though. For every "YouTube star" there are many thousands of people uploading and creating original content without tangible reward. Many of them deserve fame, but they will never get it unless they can get over the hurdles of production costs and sustaining their art until they find an audience. If you have found a creator who entertains you and who brings you back time and again, donate. They should have set up a Patreon account or some other donation method (Paypal, etc.) If they haven't, suggest it. The same goes for musicians and filmmakers. Help Kickstart a movie, project, or product. Buy Indie music or finance an album for an up-and-coming artist.

And More.  Help a teacher. Feed hungry people. Buy a toy for a child. Invite someone into your home for the holidays. Remember, 'charity' literally means 'love', so you decide. Do some of these, or do them all. You don't have to do it all at once, you know... there are 365 days in a year. Use them wisely.

Just remember, whatever you're celebrating this season, be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, something else, or just the advent of longer days; when you celebrate by making the world better for others, it's the world you live in, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What's Broken, and What Works.

In my last post, A Victory for Ranked-Choice Voting, I pointed out that ignorant people "don't know how the system is supposed to work, so they opt to perpetuate a broken system." But not all of the people who perpetuate that system are ignorant, and not all educated people recognize which part of the system is broken. On this Veteran's Day, I think it's worthwhile to keep an eye on that which those of us who have defended the Constitution swore to defend.

For the record, I think the broken part is the two-party hammerlock on the political system at practically every level. There is nothing in the Constitution formalizing such a thing, and it has done nothing but cause grief and dissent. Ever.

What is NOT broken is the Electoral College. It is formalized in the Constitution, it is very carefully constructed after much deliberation, and does its job extremely well. Yet, periodically we hear calls to abolish the Electoral College. These calls always come from liberal Democrats, and always come after they've lost an election. The reasons will become clear.

Liberals don't like to think about this, so what you've probably heard only from conservative voices is that we do not live in a pure democracy. We live in a representative republic, and this is by design. Liberals like to think of themselves as champions of minorities, while simultaneously demanding a system of pure majority rule. If they thought about it they might recognize the cognitive dissonance, but they rarely think about it seriously. Instead they "feel" about it... it's an emotional response. The Founding Fathers, on the other hand, thought about it. They wrote all those thoughts down, too. And what they concluded was that was that pure majority rule, of the type you find in a pure democracy, is fatal to the rights of the minority. Whatever the majority wants, the majority gets, and the minority may as well get used to oppression. That is always the result of a pure democratic system, and that is what the Electoral College avoids. Here's how:

It's not that liberals are ignorant of this... they know it. It just doesn't matter to them, because they're voting with their "feels", and not with their "thinks". It "feels" fair to imagine that all votes are evenly distributed and that voters of various parties are evenly co-mingled, even though they're not. So although they know about "red states" and "blue states", they pointedly ignore any such thing in their push for the national popular vote.

The Founding Fathers knew that the rights of rural people would be perpetually trampled by urbanites. So each individual state holds a popular election. The candidate that wins gets to send a certain number of delegates to vote in the Electoral College. The number of delegates is determined by the number of Senators (2) a state has, plus the number of Representatives (determined by population). So a populous state like New York or California gets a LOT more delegates than a sparsely populated state like North Dakota, but if very many sparsely populated states vote the same way, they could overcome the advantage of the urban centers. The end result is that a Presidential candidate cannot get by with appealing to one kind of voter in one area. He or she has to appeal to a broad variety of voters... a plurality of the voters in each state, considered individually. We are after all, the united STATES. We're not a monolithic entity.

So occasionally we'll elect someone who did not win the popular vote. This isn't a flaw of the system, it's exactly what it is deliberately designed to do. The liberals know that. They just don't care, which is why they don't mention it, or mis-characterize this benefit as a flaw.


I'm going to take a short aside to answer a question I was asked offline last night: Why are the urban centers so liberal?  I surmise that it's a natural consequence of being urban. A person in New York City does not experience the same degree of autonomy as someone in Georgia. In rural areas, property ownership and self-reliance are survival skills. In NYC, the same is practically impossible, at least in the same way. Most people can not buy a home there. They can't really raise their own food, arrange their own transportation. You are exceptionally privileged and fortunate if you can. Instead you're dependent on public transportation. You rent. You're naturally dependent on others, to a far greater degree than those who live in the rest of the country. Socialism is a natural way of thinking in a city. You would expect to find the political Left in urban areas just as you would expect to find fish in water. It is their environment.

In rural areas, even when people choose to live much as they would if they lived in a city, it is their option, not their necessity. So even if they don't exercise their autonomy, they have an expectation that the option always exists. Hence, "red states" are mostly rural.

This isn't news. It's not some radical theory. It's the way it has always been, and the Founding Fathers knew it and built it into the structure of the electoral process.


Now the Daily Kos is serving up the fiction of "fairness" once again. Although they know that the system is deliberately intended to balance representation, they deliberately characterize it as "rigged". And although they know that the popular vote would hand over control of every election to Democrats in perpetuity, that doesn't matter, because it's what they want. And although they know that their proposal isn't actually to abolish the Electoral College, that's what they titled it. Honesty has never actually been their polity (see what I did there?).

Instead of abolishing the Electoral College, they would further break the system in order to maintain and perpetuate the broken aspects of it (party rule) that should be the part we abolish. In arguing deceptively as they do, they take on the role of the disingenuous leading the ignorant down a path to certain destruction. Rather than actually abolish the Electoral College with a Constitutional amendment (which they know they have exactly zero chance of doing under any circumstances whatsoever), they would circumvent the electoral college by having states collude to appoint only faithless electors, who would ignore their own states' popular votes, casting their presidential ballots instead for the candidate who won the national popular vote. In other words, were they to vote faithlessly, these electors would represent everyone except the people who elected them.

THAT is what a great many Democrats think is "fair".

It's a terrible idea, destructive at its core. To buy into it requires you to be largely ignorant of civics, or to be both knowledgeable and choose to ignore the reasons for our system's construction.


Once again I refer you to for a description of ranked-choice voting, which is a moral and scrupulous method by which citizens can ensure that the person most amenable to the most voters is elected within their state; which increases representation by encouraging participation of more diverse points of view, and which is not intended to wrest power by force or deception... rather, it is intended to grant power to those most acceptable to the broadest spectrum of voters.

The Electoral College is good.
The Electoral College plus ranked-choice voting is BETTER.



A friend of mine recently opined as follows in a discussion on my Facebook wall:
If the Electoral College does not reject Trump, then it has no purpose and should be eliminated. All other Western democratic republics do fine without one.
I can't really agree with either part of that. For the first part, one of the purposes of the Electoral College is to distribute the influence of the electorate. It balances centers of population against regional differences. It did exactly that, this time, and served its intended purpose. I did not back their chosen candidate... but then again, I didn't back the Democrat either. The fact that they didn't pick MY candidate doesn't mean they're not doing their job.

For the second part, they do things a bit differently all over. Canada, for instance, doesn't directly elect their Prime Minister any more than we do (and this is usual for parliamentary systems). Rather, the leader of the party winning the most seats simply becomes PM. If we had a parliamentary system, Trump probably wouldn't be the choice, but it would still be a Republican... probably Paul Ryan.

Though people tend to complain about "gridlock", I call it by its proper name: "checks and balances". Our system maintains the possibility that the Congress can have a majority that opposes the President, and that can change in as little as two years. You don't get that in a parliamentary system, and though some might count that as a positive, I don't. Our system deliberately allows us to indicate our choice for President separately from our choices for Congressional representation. Although under the Electoral College system the number of votes per district is exactly the same as it would be under a parliamentary system, we the People get to indicate where we think those votes should be cast.

Governing people SHOULD be hard, because free people should for the most part be governing themselves. It's a distinctly American point of view, and that's not just my opinion... it's woven into the fabric of our political system.