Friday, April 9, 2021

Happy Friday

Friday Catblogging: Behold the boneless cat.

This is what’s known as passive solar collecting.

Humor from Andy Borowitz:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Senator Mitch McConnell urged the nation’s largest corporations to follow his example and not get involved in governing the country.

Speaking to reporters, the Senate Minority Leader said that he “could have easily used my position over the years to make the country a better place, but I have wisely resisted that temptation.”

“Whether it was giving Americans affordable health care or passing stronger gun laws, I have been careful not to influence the government to accomplish things,” he said. “I wish corporations would follow my lead.”

He urged the C.E.O.s of major companies to spend a day with him in Washington to “see how getting nothing done is done.”

McConnell cut short his remarks to reporters, saying that he had to return to his office to get to work on not improving the country’s infrastructure.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

When Private Becomes Public

Taking the lead from Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice, I highly recommend this article by David Roth at Defector.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

[…]

You will not be surprised to learn that the same people who regarded being asked to wear a mask in the grocery store as the same thing as being imprisoned in a gulag are also those most unwilling to get vaccinated. With masks as with the vaccine, some minimal personal imposition delivers both personal and broader social benefits, but they just can’t get past that first part. The result is that the vast majority of people are effectively the hostages of the most selfish people the world has ever seen. The urgency of this is new, but the situation is not.

I am pretty sure that each one of us has had an encounter in the last year with someone, be it in the grocery store or on the street, where they have been told that they refuse to comply with mask and social distancing requirements and now refuse to get vaccinated. Their reasons may vary from the strained logical to the fatuously ridiculous, but the bottom line is that buried in there is the inability to understand that their personal choices have an impact on the people around them.

I would hope that the anti-vaxxers and the virus deniers realize that there’s no difference between the Covid-19 restrictions and drunk-driving laws, but I doubt it.

Fifty years ago I was getting ready to take a trip to Europe with a student group from Canada.  I got my passport issued by the U.S. State Department, and then I went to the doctor and got a smallpox vaccine booster to go along with the one I’d gotten when I was an infant.  The doctor signed off on the proof of vaccination card issued by the W.H.O. that was required for entry to various countries in Europe.  I don’t remember anyone carrying on like their home was in a tree about their freedumb being stomped on by the globalists.  Fifteen years later when I went back to Europe, I didn’t need to carry the card because smallpox had been eradicated.  I’m not an immunologist so I can’t say that everyone being vaccinated will eradicate Covid-19 any more than a flu shot will eradicate influenza.  But at least listen to the logic and stop taking what someone says on Facebook as the medical authority of the CDC.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Hedging His Bets

If Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is totally innocent, why would he have asked Trump for a pardon?

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was one of President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal allies during his term, publicly pledging loyalty and even signing a letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the final weeks of Mr. Trump’s term, Mr. Gaetz sought something in return. He privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions.

Around that time, Mr. Gaetz was also publicly calling for broad pardons from Mr. Trump to thwart what he termed the “bloodlust” of their political opponents. But Justice Department investigators had begun questioning Mr. Gaetz’s associates about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws, in an inquiry that grew out of the case of an indicted associate in Florida.

Yeah, he knew he was in deep shit.

Annals Of Hypocrisy — Part Infinity

Never let it be said that Mitch McConnell can’t excel at being the world’s biggest hypocrite.  Via TPM:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said on Tuesday that recent comments made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging corporations stay out of politics projected “a whiff of desperation.”

The comments calling out McConnell’s shameless desperation amid the corporate protest over a restrictive new voting law in Georgia, come after the Kentucky Republican offered an about-face on Monday regarding the role of corporations in politics.

“I found it completely discouraging to find a bunch of corporate CEOs getting in the middle of politics,” McConnell said during a press conference in his home state on Monday. “My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides in these big fights.”

The assertion comes after McConnell has routinely leveraged corporate power for political gain. McConnell’s campaign has for years lined its coffers with corporate donations and even outpaced other candidates in 2020’s election cycle for donations from CEOs of companies on the S&P Index, according to MarketWatch.

The posture from the Kentucky lawmaker also comes after years of fiercely defending the funneling of corporate cash into politics, insisting that businesses have both rights to free speech and a right to boost preferred candidates to influence elections.

McConnell was the plaintiff in a landmark case against the Federal Elections Commission in 2003 challenging campaign finance reform that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was an outspoken supporter of the 2010 ruling that ultimately defended corporate spending in politics.

This comes, of course, after his utterly shameless pirouette on Supreme Court nominations during an election year.

The GOP’s stance on boycotts and economic leverage is situational, as is all of their policies.  They were all for — or kept silent on — Trump’s calling out for bans and boycotts of any number of corporations that riled him, but carried on about how mean the progressives were to Chic-Fil-A for their anti-gay corporate donations and now the State of Georgia for bringing back Jim Crow.  So this new railing by McConnell is nothing at all new, and will be about as effective.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Ick Factor

Alexandra Petri raises a good point about one aspect of the Matt Gaetz’s sex scandal: Why did anyone who saw him showing pictures of the women he’d exploited just sit there?

To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times. You never experience the impulse to do it, and you lead a pleasant life. You travel. You eat lunchmeat sandwiches. Maybe you do a marathon, or climb something. You lead a blithe existence for many decades, you die in your bed in your mid-nineties surrounded by your cherished relatives, and in all that time, you never walk up to a colleague on the floor of the House of Representatives and out of nowhere present him with a nude photograph of someone you claim to have had sex with.

But if you can’t do it zero times, then ideally it happens only once. It happens only once, because the moment you do it, the person you show it to responds the way a person should respond. You produce your photograph to your colleague, and your colleague looks at you and says, “Never show that to anyone, ever again. Go home and rethink your life. I do not feel closer to you. If anything, I want to have you removed forcibly from my presence by strong gentlemen whose biceps are tattooed with ‘MOM.’ The fact that you thought this would make us closer makes me question every decision in my life that has led me to this point. Leave now and never come back.”

The fact that apparently no one looked at him and said “What the hell is wrong with you?” or that this overpaid and obnoxious brat thought he could get away with it says more about the people he hangs out with than it does about him.  After all, they didn’t seem to have a problem with a pussy-grabber in the White House for four years.

Wait For The Rapture

From the New York Times:

Stephanie Nana, an evangelical Christian in Edmond, Okla., refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine because she believed it contained “aborted cell tissue.”

Nathan French, who leads a nondenominational ministry in Tacoma, Wash., said he received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: “The vaccine is not the savior.”

Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, “It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here.”

The deeply held spiritual convictions or counterfactual arguments may vary. But across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread as quickly as the virus that public health officials are hoping to overcome through herd immunity.

The opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a longstanding wariness of mainstream science, and it is fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories. The sheer size of the community poses a major problem for the country’s ability to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of half a million Americans. And evangelical ideas and instincts have a way of spreading, even internationally.

There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.

“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois.

I don’t have a problem with anyone following their faith and taking it into account for their own health decisions. If they don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s their choice and their chance. But when they run the very likely risk of spreading the virus — both the biological and the spiritual — to other people who are vulnerable to the disease, they are a danger to the rest of the community.

At that point, let one of the tenets of the science they don’t believe in take over: Darwin’s theories of natural selection and adaptation.  That way the nay-sayers will weed themselves out of the community on their own.  Just don’t do it to the rest of us.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Gee What A Shock

Guess what: Trump voters are against President Biden’s agenda.

Biden and Democrats have touted the support of Republican voters and independents in forging ahead with sweeping new proposals that could transform the American economy and reverse a decades-long national aversion to increased domestic spending, and early polling shows some Republican approval of their efforts. That has encouraged top Democratic Party leaders to dare their GOP counterparts to stand in the way of policies they argue will rally the public.

But any window for cooperation appears to have already closed for Republicans in Congress — and it may be closing for GOP voters, as well. Interviews with dozens of voters in three swing congressional districts across the country revealed evidence that attacks on the spending push are beginning to take hold, and congressional Republicans said they are well positioned to capitalize on voter doubts and win their way back to power in 2022.

“Dozens of voters” in three districts are setting the pace for the GOP? Okay, Joe, give it up and go back to Delaware because nothing can stop the Trump juggernaut…

Actually, I was wondering when the Very Serious reporters would get around to asking the grumpy losers how they feel about being losers. News flash: they don’t like it. They also don’t mind being brazenly hypocritical about deficit spending and changing the course of America when it’s being done by someone they didn’t vote for. Of course they hate it, regardless of what it will do for them and their community. They’re probably skeered that they can’t wear a MAGA hat when they get their new job rebuilding their local school.

Not every Republican sees it through the pink haze of Trumpism.

Dickie Schweers, a longtime Charleston County councilman, said he believed the region needed funding to bring its current infrastructure up to date rather than to pursue new projects. And he said he welcomed his fellow Republicans raising concerns about Biden’s big ambitions.

“But I do say: Where was that opposition when Trump was pushing stimulus?” he asked. “It concerns me we’re principled when our party’s not in office … It’s only pork if it’s another person’s pork. That really is the way it works.”

More’s the pity.

Why We Need The Infrastructure Fixed

From the Miami Herald:

Manatee County remained under a state of emergency Sunday as federal, state and local officials worked to control a leak at a former phosphate processing plant that threatens to contaminate the area with millions of gallons of polluted water.

A worst-case scenario could send 20 feet of contaminated water flooding from the site, Acting Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said Sunday during a news briefing with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A total breach that spurts out uncontrolled water could also destabilize gypsum stacks containing radioactive material.

But by Sunday afternoon, officials appeared more confident that the risk of a major disaster could be dramatically lower by Tuesday with the help of additional resources from the state to drain the leaking pond.
Evacuation order and potential flooding

Crews on Friday found a breach in the site’s largest pond, which originally contained about 480 million gallons of water. Because of potential flooding, an emergency evacuation was ordered in the area, and it has been expanded to more than 300 homes. U.S. 41 remains closed to traffic to Moccasin Wallow Road.

“The models for less than an hour could be a 20-foot wall of water,” Hopes said. “If you’re in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice.”

Hopes also said that current models show one to five feet of flooding as more likely. And officials say they remain optimistic that an increase in a controlled water release from the site, strategically pumped into the port and to Tampa Bay, can prevent disaster.

A controlled release of untreated water from the site and into Tampa Bay continues at a rate of 33-35 million gallons a day, and additional pumps were set to “nearly double” the capacity of water leaving the site by Monday morning. The Florida National Guard said two of its helicopters placed two pumps at a berm to help lower the pond water level.

Water is also escaping the pond through an uncontrolled discharge that is draining north into Piney Point Creek, which connects through Cockroach Bay to Tampa Bay. As of Friday, that leak had a rate of about 40-50 gallons a minute, according to a pollution notice site owner HRK Holdings, LLC submitted to FDEP.

Roads, bridges, schools, and all the other nice things that President Biden is proposing are great; they will definitely be needed. But so is fixing old and leaky storage ponds like this, not to mention other items like old dams in national parks; I was in Estes Park, Colorado, in July 1982 when the Lawn Lake dam burst in Rocky Mountain National Park and flooded out the town in about half an hour.

Lives and fortunes are at stake.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Night Martin Luther King, Jr. Died

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

You have to be over the age of sixty to remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, but age doesn’t matter in order to understand why he was — and still is — an important person in our nation’s history. Growing up on the outskirts of a city with a large black population, I was aware of Dr. King’s work as a part of the daily news coverage in the 1960’s as we watched the march on Selma, the water hoses, the riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and Toledo, and heard the pleas for justice, equality, tolerance, and brotherhood during the March on Washington in 1963 and in every city where Dr. King spoke. And I knew that he was an inspiration to a lot of people outside of the Black community; anyone who faced injustice based on their skin color or their sexual orientation or any other reason knew what he was talking about. In 1968 I was fifteen years old and wondering whether my attraction to other boys was just me or were there others who faced bullying and discrimination for the same reason. In some small way I knew that Dr. King was speaking to me, too.

I remember very well the night fifty-three years ago today — April 4, 1968 — when Dr. King was murdered. I was a freshman at boarding school, just back from spring break, when the dorm master, who was also the school chaplain, called us into the common room and announced with both sadness and anger that “They’ve killed Martin Luther King.” He didn’t explain who the “they” were, but we knew what he meant, and two months later, on the day that Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington, James Earl Ray was arrested. Ray pled guilty and went to his grave claiming he was part of a conspiracy, but no one else was ever arrested or came forward to back up his claim. But when the chaplain said “they,” he was talking not just about accessories to a crime but to the attitude of a lot of people in America then — as now — who still believe that Dr. King was a communist, an agitator, a rabble-rouser, and a threat to their way of life. And when Dr. King died, there were a lot of people who thought that at long last those uppity agitators would know what they were in for if they kept up their nonsense.

But of course the dream did not die, and in spite of the tumult and anger that came with the loss there came a sense of purpose borne from the realization that if Dr. King had to die for his cause, it must be a powerful cause that touches more than just the lives of Black citizens. What some take for granted today in terms of equality and voting rights is still under threat; human nature does not change that quickly in fifty-three or a hundred years. Dr. King, like the men who wrote the Constitution, knew that they were starting something that would outlive them and their generations; all they had to do was give it a good start.

If you don’t remember Dr. King when he was alive, you are certainly aware of his life and his legacy, and I don’t just mean because you might get the day off on his birthday in January. Regardless of your race, your religion, your sex, or your occupation, Dr. King’s work has changed it, either during your lifetime or setting the stage for it now. And no matter what history may record of his life as a man, a preacher, a father, a husband, or a scholar, it is hard to imagine what this country — and indeed the world — would be like had he not been with us for all too brief a time. And now, more than ever before, we must not forget.

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce on the Trial of the Century.

In Dayton, Tennessee, there is proud old courthouse, a wide, church-like red brick building with a single turret on its southern end. There is a clock in the turret. And next to the turret is a gnarled old tree that may well have found its place in the ground long before the city was first settled in 1820 as Smith’s Crossing. For 11 days in July of 1925, this place was the center of the universe.

In March of that year, the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act, which forbade the teaching in Tennessee’s schools of any theory that contradicted the divine creation of humankind. Governor Austin Peay signed it, largely to hang onto the support of his snake-handling rural constituency. Apparently, Peay believed nobody would be silly enough to enforce this law. Austin Peay was very wrong. The American Civil Liberties Union found a local teacher in Dayton named John Scopes who was willing to be the ACLU’s test defendant in its challenge to the Butler Act. Scopes was arrested and put on trial in the big brick building. At which point, the world showed up at the Rhea County Courthouse.

Reporters from all over descended on the place. There was a newfangled radio microphone in the courtroom. William Jennings Bryan came to argue the state’s case. Clarence Darrow took up Scopes’ cause. That brought even more attention to the case and the town. As the Smithsonian explains:

The trial, which took place from July 10 through July 21, 1925 (Scopes was charged on May 5 and indicted on May 25), quickly evolved into a philosophical debate between two firebrands about evolution, the Bible and what it means to be human. Radio and newspaper reporters flocked to Dayton; spectators crowded the courthouse; and food vendors, blind minstrels, street preachers and banner-waving fundamentalists fueled the carnival atmosphere. A performing chimpanzee was even employed to entertain the crowd as a mock witness for the defense. Political cartoonists, newspaper journalists and photographers captured the town in all its theatrics.

To be entirely accurate, the city fathers of Dayton did everything they could to promote the trial as a boon to the local economy, including encouraging Scopes in the first place. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. H.L. Mencken came to Dayton to immortalize the city as a nest of rubes and bounders. On the eve of the trial, he wrote:

I have been attending the permanent town meeting that goes on in Robinson’s drug store, trying to find out what the town optimists have saved from the wreck. All I can find is a sort of mystical confidence that God will somehow come to the rescue to reward His old and faithful partisans as they deserve—that good will flow eventually out of what now seems to be heavily evil. More specifically, it is believed that settlers will be attracted to the town as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrah.

But will these refugees bring any money with them? Will they buy lots and build houses? Will they light the fires of the cold and silent blast furnace down the railroad tracks? On these points, I regret to report, optimism has to call in theology to aid it. Prayer can accomplish a lot. It can cure diabetes, find lost pocketbooks and retain husbands from beating their wives. But is prayer made any more officious by giving a circus first? Coming to this thought, Dayton begins to sweat.

Mencken and the rest of the reporters gathered for the trial would find relief from the sweltering July heat in the shade of the big tree next to the courthouse. The trial of the century was big business, in every sense, including show business, and everybody wanted a piece.

Big trials have been a staple of American media for as long as there has been an American media. They really were the first form of celebrity journalism. As communications technology improved and accelerated, so did the hunger for the big trial. The 20th century had several Trials of the Century, even if you don’t count the various political investigations and congressional hearings. The Scopes Trial was the Trial of the Century for three whole years, until Bruno Hauptmann was put on trial for kidnapping the infant son of Charles Lindbergh. Cameras became a presence in our courtrooms. Court TV was born. After that, of course, we sailed along until the OJ Simpson trial obsessed the country as a virtual miniseries. And that was before the Internet and social media.

This week, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin opened in that city. Chauvin is accused of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while attempting to “subdue” him. The trial was picked up by CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN, among other outlets. Like most big trials, the Chauvin trial already has begun to develop its own stars: Donald Williams, the MMA fighter and eyewitness who could give classes in how to testify for the prosecution; Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s companion, who spoke honestly and openly about their shared addiction to opioids, immunizing the victim against the character attacks that are sure to come from the defense.

“We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times,” Ross testified. “When you know someone who suffers from any type of addiction, you can start to kind of see changes when they’re using again.”

There is no pre-existing celebrity involved in this trial, the way there was in the Simpson and Lindbergh trials. Nor is there a marketing campaign behind a test case, as there was in the Scopes trial. While unquestionably driven by serious public issues—systemic racism in police practices—and while there already is an element of dread in the air regarding the consequences of an acquittal, the Chauvin trial is mainly a view into the dark realities of the American condition. Our society had declared George Floyd expendable. That’s what Derek Chauvin saw when he pulled his cruiser up to the front of Cup Foods: an expendable human being on whose neck he could kneel for nine minutes. That’s the human reality on trial in Minneapolis. It’s not the Trial of the Century. It’s so much more important than that.

On July 25, 1925, it was too damn hot in the courthouse for the trial to continue, so they moved the proceedings to the front lawn, in the shade of the big tree next to the clock tower. (There also was serious concern that the floor of the courtroom might collapse under the weight of the spectators.) It was the pivotal moment, not only of the Scopes trial, but of all the attendant ballyhoo surrounding it. Darrow had been allowed to call Bryan as an “expert witness” on the Bible. (The court had disallowed all of Darrow’s scientific experts right at the beginning.) Bryan, to his everlasting regret, took Darrow’s dare.

This was a confrontation between giants. Darrow already had a monumental legal career, and Bryan had run for president three times and was acclaimed as the most gifted orator of his time. But Darrow was the superior lawyer and, as anyone who’s watched Inherit the Wind, the famous fictionalization of the trial, Darrow took Bryan apart on the stand.

Q: “Do you think the earth was made in six days?”

A: “Not six days of 24 hours … My impression is they were periods …”

Q: “Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time?”

A: “They might have been.”

Q: “The creation might have been going on for a very long time?”

A: “It might have continued for millions of years …”

Never one to miss a chance to pile on, Mencken lit Bryan on fire:

This old buzzard, having failed to raise the mob against its rulers, now prepares to raise it against its teachers. He can never be the peasants’ President, but there is still a chance to be the peasants’ Pope. He leads a new crusade, his bald head glistening, his face streaming with sweat, his chest heaving beneath his rumpled alpaca coat. One somehow pities him, despite his so palpable imbecilities. It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon. But let no one, laughing at him, underestimate the magic that lies in his black, malignant eye, his frayed but still eloquent voice. He can shake and inflame these poor ignoramuses as no other man among us can shake and inflame them, and he is desperately eager to order the charge. In Tennessee he is drilling his army. The big battles, he believes, will be fought elsewhere.

Nobody who’s watched the rise of the modern Christian Right can argue with Mencken’s conclusion. So the reach of the Scopes Trial still stretches through history. The issues are still joined.

There are no giants in the courtroom in Minneapolis. There’s no telling how—or even if—the proceedings will echo through history. Derek Chauvin is accused of murdering George Floyd under the color of law. Whether it will affect any change in the history of American law enforcement is anybody’s guess, but, as a human drama, it has so many small lessons that might be drowned out by the hype. It’s not the trial of the century. It’s far more important than that.

Doonesbury — Don’t know much about history…

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

Happy Friday

Not only is it Friday, it is Good Friday to observant Christians except the Orthodox, who do Holy Week a month later.  Some Quakers also observe the week, but this one does not (although I have been known to enjoy Easter candy).  Also, it’s getting close to the end of Passover.  So this weekend could be busy.

Meanwhile, the Washington press corpse is concerned about President Biden’s dog pinching a loaf in a hallway of the White House rather than the news that the GAO issued a damning report about Ivanka Trump’s business practices.

I’m still on Spring Break.