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12 November 2016 @ 11:13 pm
In their youth, the Greatest Generation defeated Fascist states in the Second World War. Their children, the Baby Boomers, in their retirement, have (with too much help) elected a Fascist to the Presidency of the United States.

The president-elect is an authoritarian ethno-nationalist with protectionist and jingoistic impulses. If you don't think that describes Fascism, I'd love to know what the hell you think does.

How did this happen? The short version is racism, combined with slightly lower overall turnout and slightly higher than usual white turnout.

Why? An excellent, lengthy, article with many references and links to studies may be found at this link here. I highly recommend that everyone read it, and please browse the supporting studies.

What happens now? Well, the best case scenario is four years of destruction of positive healthcare and employment policies, delay in dealing with climate change, destruction of the best international agreement yet for actually doing something about it, a far-right Supreme Court, and destruction of civil rights. This all happens even if an impeachment happens, as some are predicting.

The worst* case scenario is the destruction of the republic. Yes, really. This is how dictators-for-life get started.

How do we deal with this? Follow this advice:
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat.
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule #4: Be outraged.
Rule #5: Don’t make compromises.
Rule #6: Remember the future.

Wear a safety pin. Act on it if necessary.

Keep track of what is going on.
Are John Oliver and Samantha Bee still on the air?
Have lynchings resumed?

If you want a somewhat humorous video version of the above:

Also, while I wholeheartedly agree with the author of Scandinavia and the World that I hope I'm wrong about how bad this could be, the bald fact is that a Fascist has been elected to be President of the United States.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and do not become complacent.

*The worst-worst is we have an amoral pissing-contest aficionado with the attention span of a two-year-old (at the risk of offending two-year-olds) with his finger on the nuclear option. I suspect that our institutions will be strong enough to keep this scenario from reality, but I'm still far more worried about it than I have been since the Reagan administration.

Finally, since I'm trying to keep you alert, not drive you into depression, here's a bunny:
The brief blurb on the front cover says "a better novel than The Cruel Sea." I have yet to read The Cruel Sea, but my understanding is that this is supposed to be high praise indeed. Certainly, it was well worth reading, and will probably reward re-reading. The only minor issue I had was that the first chapter seemed to drag a bit, due to being introduced to everything and everybody.

There are a couple of other things which may be annoying for the two people who might actually read this review. The love subplot starts out quite saccharine, although if my memory of age-17 hormones hasn't gone completely false, this is not necessarily inaccurate. The setting is an island with a very strong Catholic culture, with some significant Victorian England thrown in, during wartime. So there is bombing and hierarchy. It's not pure grimdark by any stretch of the imagination; just not for reading on a day when you need puppies and rainbows.
First, we have this: “We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Which has to be considered one of the most counterproductive and muddled statements I've ever witnessed.

Follow it up with Boehner's problem: "They are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once — financing the government and raising the debt ceiling — and head off any internal party backlash."

Furthermore, even if you don't believe Paul Krugman, (these people sure don't) hopefully you're willing the believe the The Treasury when they say that this will be a disaster. In language which is as close to sheer panic as bureaucratese can manage.

Boehner has the votes, given that Democrats will vote for a clean end to the shutdown and debt ceiling raise, to get this over with. But doing so will cause a major ruckus in his own party, which might even oust him as speaker. So his goal is to wait until enough of his own party is desperate enough to go along with the above that he'll survive afterward. Hence his apparent plan to deal with both issues at once. He also probably wouldn't mind if the President or other Democrats did offer concessions at the 11th hour, though so far there seems to be no evidence of this. They seem to be applying the logic of not negotiating with terrorists at present.

Hence Boehner has to wait. He can't try to do both together too early, or the lunatic fringe will probably break things up insisting on doing them separately. As seen in one of the links above, their constituents are hardly holding their feet to the fire* on this issue. Which means that it is liable to be this coming weekend before anything substantial happens in the House, and even then he might manage to do something else to ensure failure to pass.

Then it has to get through the Senate.

The President also has a couple of options to raise the debt limit. It is possible to read a power to declare it into the 14th Amendment, but this could be a very dangerous precedent, and not something to do lightly and only in extremis. He could also go the trillion-dollar coin route, which would avoid a lot of trouble but has the disadvantage of looking a bit silly (far better than the alternatives) and requiring machining of coin dies. Probably not the most time-consuming operation, but not zero either. Furthermore, the President has shown no interest in exercising either option, though given the preference for a legislative solution, he has to.

So we are in a situation where everybody with the power to do something about default has perilously strong incentives to wait until the last minute. Then something stupid can easily happen to gum up the works, and the US will default by accident. Probably for less than 24 hours, but default nonetheless.

Which is why I am estimating the probability of a default at slightly greater than 50%, if current trends continue.

*Not that I'm suggesting this would be appropriate to literally do to anybody, especially this next weekend. Nope, not at all.
15 July 2013 @ 12:00 am
Forget George Zimmerman (actually, don't; but there are larger fish that need frying) what we really need to get mad about is that:

"House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill."


I mean mad as hell. And then some.

Yes, I do realize that the movie this clip is from is satire with a completely different emphasis.

As for the title: I attended a local community theater production of Les Miserables today. Javier and Eponine were particularly well done.
06 July 2013 @ 10:04 pm
Crazy thought which passed through my brain today while I was walking home from the library.

Given that the earliest known examples of writing appear to be contracts, and;
Given that the use of paper money which actually stuck seems to have been an outgrowth of bills of exchange from/for a bank;

Could a modern conception of money have arisen without ever going through the precious metal tokens phase?
19 March 2013 @ 01:21 am
Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the Universe Volumes I-III, and The Cartoon History of the Modern World Volumes 1 and 2. Overall a very good series, and highly recommended. Caveats are of course the subject matter and the format, since he was kind enough to create something smaller holdable by a human, as opposed to an elephant. Also, given the amount of sex and violence in the subject matter, you may wish to be circumspect if you are considering giving it to small children.
Volume I covers From the Big Bang through Alexander the Great. Excellent, with the only weird thing being the artwork in the last chapter not matching the rest of the book at all.
Volume II has a chapter about the Indian subcontinent, and then switches back and forth between China and Rome up to about 400 AD (or CE, or whatever it is). Very good, though of course more history is known/recorded, and it simply doesn't all fit. He's fairly clear about what he can't fit in, however.
Volume III is still pretty good, but came from a different publisher rather later than one would have expected from the gap between the first two. There are also some signs that the author was getting fatigued with the subject, but it still ties together how Timbuktu affected Egypt affected Venice and suchlike. Covers up to the sailing of Columbus.
Modern World definitely shows signs of author fatigue, and I noticed a couple of (not relevant to the main point) factual errors for the first time. Still does an excellent job tying influences together, and it almost manages to make sense out of the Reformation and the French Revolution.*

Michael Goodwin, Economix; One could regard this as a supplement to Larry Gonick's work covering the history of economic thought, from just before Adam Smith past Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Very difficult to recommend too highly. The author is quite honest that this book is his take on things, and has an excellent further-reading section. Sacred cows die left and right. Recommended to me by mrissa.

John A. Long, The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex; picked it up in the new books section on my way to grab Economix. The author is one of the discoverers of the most ancient fossil fish with viviparous embryos; unfortunately, this book has three separate themes which do not play well together. The first is his personal story of the discovery, which comes across as name-dropping puffery. The second is the actual scientific process and evidence found for this discovery. This part is interesting, and would probably be difficult to disentangle from the first. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the shortest of the themes. The third part is a random list of the weird ways that various animals have sex, which does nothing for the other themes, seems to only be there as semi-titillation, and reads like a slightly less annoying version of an article on Cracked.com. Of course these themes are mishmashed without much logical order. Not really recommended, unless you're desperate for a less annoying Cracked article.

Mick O'Hare, Why Are Orangutans Orange?: Science Questions in Pictures--With Fascinating Answers; another "saw this on the way to something else." Lots of neat tidbits, but it's based off of http://www.last-word.com/index.php, albeit with much cleaner graphic design and glossy paper. But this means that there are links in the text which one has to manually type in, and half of them no longer exist.

*This is a compliment. There was so much mess with so many different things going on in each of these events that I'm pretty sure making complete sense out of them (honestly) is impossible.
03 February 2013 @ 09:01 pm
Written in 1975, the edition I got hold of was 1152 pages. At this remove it isn't clear whether this book is reflecting the stereotypes about feudal Japan that were prevalent at the time it was written, or helped create them. Also, the length implies that you either need a schedule far more clear than I do, or a lenient renewal policy at your library.

That said, however, I found it quite engrossing and well worth reading, though at least it lets you put it down. It turns out that is based (how closely, I'm not sure) on an actual person, which makes it all the more interesting. About the only other comment is that Lord Toranaga is presented as a magnificent bastard to a degree which I find implausible, though perhaps not impossible.
15 October 2012 @ 11:29 pm
If you're even remotely interested in where the campaign contributions the people you (I hope) will be voting for is coming from, this seems to be the widget for you.

If you can't see it, look here: http://maplightwidget.wired.com/maplight/5599.html

If you think this is worth passing on, just click here:
02 September 2012 @ 12:53 am
In the event anyone reading this is interested in the Question of why Britain is dealing with the financial crisis better than Spain, despite Spain having lower levels of debt (relative to GDP) at the beginning, this article answers that.

1861 by Adam Goodheart. I must thank my friend mrissa for bringing this delightful book to my attention. If you have ever wondered how public opinion the North got from "I wish those dang abolitionists would shut up" to "Those damn secessionists are trying to destroy the Union!", or why Missouri didn't secede (hint: it's related the '48 revolutions in Europe), or how Lincoln ran for the presidency; it's all here, and it's well written. Another delightful tidbit is the usefulness of the word "contraband" in giving Northerners an opportunity to change their opinions at a less jarring pace; introduced by none other than Benjamin Butler, one of those influential people you've probably never heard of. This book is beautifully referenced, so if you like drilling down to "how does the author know this" you will be well satisfied. The one feature which almost became annoying are the occasions where Goodheart concentrates on Very Important Individuals; but this is a side effect of his efforts to quote from contemporary individuals and the resulting sample bias.

Robota by Chiang and Card. Gorgeous artwork, a setting which I want to read a 10-volume history/encyclopedia about, and a plot which soon gets to "really, you're doing this?" and ends with "are you ****ing kidding me?"
Then you apply fridge logic and the thing completely falls apart. Note to those seeking to be less foolish: read the author list thoroughly.

The Book of Swords by Hank Reinhardt. A crotchety old southerner shooting the breeze about swords, which are his hobby and obsession. Fun, quick, and informative, though I recommend keeping the salt grain supply handy. Particularly in the last chapter, which almost laments that whippersnappers these days aren't getting into enough bar fights to toughen them up properly. Good references.

Cockpit by Nijboer and Patterson. Photographs of the cockpits of a number of WWII aircraft, with each aircraft having an historical blurb, a review of the cockpit, and a smaller photo of the cockpit with the instruments numbered/labeled. The reviews of the cockpits from people who actually flew the planes during the war are interesting. Unfortunately this is only about half of them, generally only for planes manufactured in English-speaking nations. The labelled photographs are atrociously organized, and the history blurbs error-prone. This is actually a quickly and cheaply thrown-together coffee table book masquerading as history, which is a shame. The concept has so much potential to be better.