Friday, January 22, 2016

The post-argument far-right base

Amanda Marcotte in Salon nails Sarah Palin's appeal.
Palin understands what other Republicans are just beginning to get, which is that the conservative base is an audience that is post-argument. ... Sticking with the argument and evidence-based structure in the era of climate change denialism and creationism is a fool’s game and Palin knows it. Better instead to focus strictly on emotions and tribal identity, eschewing not just argument but even structuring your speeches to resemble arguments. Imagistic speeches that arouse passions while silencing doubts is not stupid, but brilliant.
Palin is an avatar for her audience, and as Marcotte notes, "other Republicans are quickly following on her heels". The kicker — and the reason people like Palin and Trump (which is to say, everybody who holds sway over significant chunks of the Republican Party today) scare the hell out of the rest of us — is the obvious consequence of this rhetorical approach:
Anger is turned into hate is turned into more anger, until it spins off, completely unmoored from any considerations like “why” or “how.”
Nobody short of a dictator is going to satisfy the angry mob ginned up by this kind of speech-making, so either the country's going to "elect" a dictator (admittedly unlikely, at least for now) or the mob's going to eat its own until it eats itself. The thing is, the latter process is going to do immense damage to society in the process.

Far right opinion-makers aren't just playing with fire any more. They've started little spot-fires everywhere, and they're fanning the flames.

I don't see a way to stop or to counter this movement. It feeds on opposition and victimization, and of course is immune to argument: it rejects any authority other than itself.

I only hope the likes of Palin and Trump and Roger Ailes and Alex Jones come to feel some measure of the pain they're inflicting on the rest of us. It would be only the smallest measure of justice if they did. They brought us here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The sucking sound of money going to the ultrawealthy

According to Oxfam, overall the world's money is going to the wealthiest people.

The Atlantic piece summarizing Oxfam's findings notes that a widening wealth gap "can stunt overall economic growth" and "that threat's a problem for everyone, not just those suffering at the bottom". I'll put it more plainly: do you ultrawealthy folks want to experience a modern version of the French Revolution? That's what you're inviting by following the completely selfish, deeply shortsighted and destructive mindset espoused by the likes of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. You're part of society. Act like it.

R.I.P. Al Hart

Veteran KCBS anchor Al Hart passed away last Thursday at the age of 88.

I could say a bunch of nice things about him, but I did that back in 2010. Every word still stands. All I would add is, he had beautiful handwriting.

I hope you and Sally have reunited, Al. You deserve nothing less.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Standoff debases gun rights

The longer the seditionist standoff keeps up in Oregon, the more those thugs with guns mess up carefully preserved land.

If I'm representative of those who don't fetishize weapons — and you better believe I am — then these assholes' defiance of federal law bodes ill for gun rights. The argument for gun ownership always has had a strong undercurrent of "just in case the feds ...", but every moment these dipshits hare around in their trucks and trash offices, taunting law enforcement by waving their guns around, diminishes the "just in case" argument. Now the rest of us are wondering when "just in case" will turn into "look, it happened!" I would love for the feds — and the state police, and the local sheriff, and NATO if it wants — to roll in and perhaps over these nitwits.

These rebels without a clue are discrediting the contention that "most gun owners are responsible", and they're discrediting it more thoroughly than all of the mass shooters in recent history. You could say the mass shooters were mentally ill, but the intemperate man-children "occupying" the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon are just arrogant and selfish. They're stupid, yes, but not mentally challenged.

Now, we don't and probably can't keep guns completely out of the hands of stupid people. However, now that we have irrefutable evidence not all gun owners are responsible people, the staunch protectors of gun rights (other than the profit-minded gun lobby) should be more willing to acknowledge that the rest of us need greater protection from the willfully stupid and selfish. Willfully stupid and selfish cretins like those who've taken a wildlife refuge from us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A start for some justice for Sandra Bland

I meant to mention this right when it happened, but better late than never. The Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, Brian Encinia, has been charged with perjury. Specifically, Encinia is alleged to have lied about removing Bland from her car during the fateful traffic stop for reasons of safety.

It's difficult not to conflate Encinia's mishandling of the traffic stop with Bland's later death in police custody. If she hadn't been in jail, she wouldn't have committed suicide, goes the logic. I don't know if that's true, but it's not necessary to link the two events anyway. As I said last year, Encinia would have been guilty of abusing his authority even if Bland were still alive today.

If convicted, Encinia faces a $4,000 fine and/or a year of jail time. I'd be happier, though, if he lost his job. Anybody can make a mistake, but Encinia's was malicious, not inadvertent. He let his badge go to his head. He and every other law enforcement officer tempted to act like him need to see that power trips have consequences.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Time to replace oil

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads and no one knows what's going to happen. This has much of the Muslim world on edge, but here in the U.S. our thoughts rather naturally center on oil.

Is there a better time to push hard to end our dependence on oil?

Hillary Clinton has called for a "Manhattan-like project" to break encryption. This is a dopey idea, to put it kindly. (I've touched on why in other posts; search for "encryption".) If Clinton is serious about a grand national endeavor, she should instead push for a massive effort to come up with a sustainable and environmentally friendly replacement for oil.

Curing a life-threatening disease is a worthy goal. So is exploring space. I don't want us to give up on big dreams. But we won't be able to pursue any dreams if our civilization grinds to a halt, and alongside climate change, the biggest systemic threat to civilization as we know it is the loss of oil for transportation. As I explained almost two years ago. we can generate electricity, heat people's homes and make plastics using non-fossil fuel-based technologies that are fairly mature right now (though not always at a competitive cost without government subsidies), but we don't know how to move vehicles, particularly big ones like trucks, planes and cargo ships, without burning fuel. Since our global economy relies on moving stuff around (and changing that is something we haven't begun to figure out), our civilization's immediate future depends on finding a fuel that can be produced sustainably and whose use doesn't generate dangerous byproducts like greenhouse gases or soot.

We know oil will run out. We know burning oil and other fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. We therefore must find a different way of supporting our industrial economy. We don't have a choice.

Secretary Clinton, you clearly don't grasp computer security, so how about you spend your political capital pushing for something useful?

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran will be happy if the U.S. manages to wean itself off oil (assuming we don't become dependent on something else only these countries can provide). We have to look out for our best interests, though, and if the past century has taught us anything, it's that our thirst for oil is a frightening vulnerability. To compensate, we've spent billions of dollars to secure our oil supply. That quest has distorted our economy and our foreign policy. Even if the hoped-for oil replacement doesn't end our involvement with the woes of the Middle East, at least it will remove a huge complication from our strategic calculations.

Humanity faces huge challenges to its survival as a species (climate change, overpopulation, etc., etc., etc.), but we can't meet those challenges unless we first make the leap from nonrenewable, polluting fuels to renewable, nonpolluting ones. Only then will we have the time, and the sustainable industrial economy, to address everything else.

It's time — way past time — to replace oil.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The far right's debasement of "freedom"

It shouldn't surprise anyone, and it doesn't surprise me, that a bunch of armed dumbasses decided to "occupy", i.e., take over, a federal building in Oregon. The building isn't a big one by anybody's standards, nor did these dumbasses physically hurt anyone when they entered: nobody was at work at the time. That the dumbasses haven't taken over a major hub of activity and no blood has been shed, though, doesn't change the fact that these dumbasses have committed, in Charles P. Pierce's straightforward words, "an act of armed sedition against lawful authority".

They talk a lot about "freedom", these people do. What they never talk about is the responsibility that goes with freedom. Not just the responsibility to "protect" freedom with force, the only kind of responsibility they understand, but the responsibility to respect other people's freedom. "Freedom", in the cant of the far right, is only the freedom for them to act as they like.

Yo, "occupants" of that Oregon shack: you're not getting the rest of us to buy into your horseshit "revolution". The kind of country you want isn't a country, it's a bunch of tiny villages. You bray about "freedom" but what you mean is, you want to do whatever the fuck you want. You are, in short, exasperating children who were never taught what it means to be part of a community.

That you never learned how to get along with others is tragic. However, it doesn't excuse your armed temper tantrum. We put threats to the general welfare in jail. That's where you belong.