There’s No Doubt the GOP Now Has Weapons of Mass Destruction [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Check the bylines, thanks. Updates at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

I’ve been frozen by anguish and anger, unable to write something about the mass murder in Uvalde, Texas. Whatever I dump here emerges from this, and some of it will be others’ words because they’ve said it better and more succinctly.

~ ~ ~

We’ve had some discussion in one of the threads about Beto O’Rourke’s attempt to question current Texas governor Greg Abbott about Abbott’s response to Uvalde.

Abbott’s minions shouted down O’Rourke, who as a Texan was entitled to know what the state’s top elected official was doing in response to the mass murder.

This encapsulates everything which is wrong with Abbott — he and the people he surrounds himself with don’t give a flying fuck about Texans. The Abbott administration is a goddamned joke.

This careless disregard will affect more than a couple of generations of Texans who’ve already had to deal with Abbott’s general uselessness against Texas’s isolated energy grid which killed a child along with 110 other Texans in 2021.

57.5% of Texas is not white; the largest portion of this non-white population is Hispanic/Latin, making up 39.3% of the state’s citizens according to a badly-run 2020 US Census which undercounted Texas citizens and undocumented residents alike.

Which means Texas is more than 40% Hispanic/Latin and Gov. Greg Abbott could give a flying fuck how they feel about Tuesday’s mass murder he enabled by signing an bill with the loosest open carry regulations in the nation.

He really hasn’t given but lip service after previous mass murders with assault weapons in his state, supporting increasing laxity about gun control in Texas in spite of six mass shootings since he was first elected governor in 2015.

Not just supporting increasing laxity, but doing so in the face of a majority’s support for increased gun controls from banning assault rifles to background checks before sales.

The Texas Tribune does a phenomenal job of laying out how Abbott has consistently ignored Texans’ sentiments while not pointing a finger at him alone. Abbott is doing what the GOP and its foreign-financed sponsor the National Rifle Association have wanted him to do: demoralize Texans and destabilize it so that state and federal government are undermined and lose support of the people.

~ ~ ~

We had quite a few heated discussions here in the wake of George Floyd’s murder-by-cop and subsequent protests against police abuse. The heat focused on “defunding the police” rather than the problem itself: increasing militarization of the police at all levels has not led to fewer murders-by-cop, nor to reducing the number of BIPOC Americans murdered by cop, extrajudicially executed by police who’ve more or less been granted absolute immunity because of the way “qualified immunity” has been applied.

Stop arguing about the effectiveness of the message, “defund the police.” Don’t even try to offer “reform policing” as an alternative. Not when police stood by and let a shooter terrorize and murder a classroom yesterday, restraining parents from going in to help, whisking cops’ kids to safety, coaching potential victims to yell for police help only to have the shooter kill a victim who yelled, “Help!”


These people right here:


called the U.S. Border Patrol to help them unlock a fucking classroom door.

$4 million a year –40% of its annual budget — plus grants the city of Uvalde has spent on policing only to have their police attacking frightened parents in some twisted form of crowd control as they stood there outside a locked classroom waiting for the gunman to do whatever it was he was going to do.

Greg Abbott went to a fundraiser that evening even as the blood of children and their teacher dried on the floor of that once locked classroom, as their parents’ DNA was collected for identifying the victims who had surely be turned into mincemeat by an AR-15. That was his response to the mass shooting: pay me, I’m delivering for you, he is telling his sponsors who are perfectly alright with a demoralized, destabilized Texas.

This is the response of police elsewhere: double down on what hasn’t worked since 1999 in Columbine.

[Tweet deleted by Rochester @News_8 which said police there were looking into more active shooter training]

It’s only a matter of time before we are offered the excuse that the AR-15 armed killer could take out Uvalde’s police the way the AR-15 armed killer took out the armed guard at the grocery store in Buffalo NY during a mass shooting ten days earlier.

Except there’s no comparison between a lone security guard not wearing a plate carrier and a militarized SWAT team which should have had far more training to deal with a lone gunman situation.

We’ve already heard the excuse from that malignant sluggard Abbott that the shooter was mentally ill, an assumption based on little to know evidence. And of course Abbott is responsible for the cutting funding for mental health care in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health” — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.

In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said during a news conference at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday. …

Texans, you can do better than this lousy lying hack. You deserve better. Se merecen algo mejor que Abbott, tejanos.

Take it all down and start over. Rethink public safety from the ground up because it’s not working and it only gives the worst kinds opportunities to grift — like Abbott’s fundraising.

~ ~ ~

Even more frustrating than the endless stream of pablum offered by stupid gits like Ted Cruz, or rebellious threats against the president like Florida’s state house rep Randy Fine is the inability to connect dots.

The mass murder by an AR-15 carrying teen and previous mass shootings have been encouraged by the GOP because they are bought and owned by the gun manufacturers’ lobby, the NRA. The NRA doesn’t give a shit about Americans; it only cares that there is a sustained market for its products. It only cares that a minority of Americans are rabid enough about gun rights to act as enforcers for the lobby’s demands.

The lobby itself has been bought and owned by Russia following the 2010 Citizens United decision; a flood of Russian money laundered through the NRA bought GOP elected officials and candidates.

The Senate Finance Committee’s 2019 report based on an 18-month investigation said the NRA was a Russian ‘foreign asset’ before the 2016 election.

Considering who the NRA continues to support with campaign donations — like Senators Mitch McConnell (total $1,267,139 )and Rand Paul (total $104,456) whose state Kentucky has also been courted with Russian oligarch money — it’s likely still a foreign asset.

The NRA continues to buy the GOP; it remains pleased with the results of its lobbying because it hasn’t changed its mode of operation no matter how many mass shootings and deaths there have been.

[Screenshot, distribution of 2020 election cycle donations by NRA to major national political parties (FEC data via OpenSecrets)]

In short, Russia is conducting war on the US through its proxies the NRA and the GOP, ensuring weapons of mass destruction remain in the hands of people who are vulnerable to messaging encouraging violence — messaging which may arise from active measures over social media as a subset of Russia’s hybrid warfare..

The GOP need not worry about Putin escalating his assault on Ukraine into a nuclear war involving the US.

They’re already killing plenty of Americans using American weapons of mass destruction on American soil without a single drop of blood spattered on Putin’s doorstep.

Why would Putin waste a single warhead when the GOP will do all the dirty work for him, sitting on their hands and taking NRA money rather than do what has been proven effective (ban assault weapons) and what is popular (background checks on all gun buyers)?

~ ~ ~

A Twitter thread recap of Uvalde’s preventable disaster:

Do something. Fucking do something constructive to stop this madness, you book-burning child-killing hacks with the R after your name.

For Democrats who were elected to serve this nation, stop enabling both the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction here in our own backyards. Stop enabling lousy policing which clearly isn’t solving the problem of mass shootings in public spaces while it punches down on the public it’s supposed to serve.

For those of us who vote D, help people get IDs to vote, help them register, make sure every voter you know is educated about the ballot in your state/county/city/precinct, and get every voter to polls for the remaining primaries and the mid-term election in November. The life you save may be your own.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 11:00 P.M. 26-MAY-2022 —

I called it.

They had gear as well as training and they weren’t willing to use it because they might have been shot. It’s called dereliction of duty.

If they don’t want to police, then fucking defund the police. Use the budget to deal with the root causes like improved local mental health care and services for precarious residents.

BMS: Breast Milk Substitute? Big Messy Situation [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

For starters, let me point out the Biden administration has been trying to resolve the current infant formula crisis.


Other media outlets have done a decent job analyzing and reviewing the underlying causes of a disastrous shortage of infant formula in the U.S.

The causes include Trump maintaining bullshit tariffs on Canadian dairy products, COVID interruptions, and the oligopoly of formula producers which came about through the usual capitalistic method of regulatory capture leading to exclusion of competition and an insufficiency of monitoring for food safety.

The short term fixes may not be immediate; China, for example, manufactures formula but it has been struggling with COVID. It’s also had problems in the past with adulteration of infant formula.

Canada is the most obvious closest source but it will take rapid unwinding Trump’s tariffs to allow Canadian formula to backfill demand.

Meanwhile shelves are rapidly emptying depending on location across the country.


Mothers in particular are frantic because they are not only worried about ensuring a regular supply of formula for their infants, but they are being harangued and shamed for not breastfeeding even though breastfeeding isn’t a universal option for all mothers and infants.

This tweet by Midler is extremely disappointing. There are so many reasons why women can’t breastfeed yet they are constantly pressured for not doing so even by other women who should know better.

This is a really excellent thread by a historian on infant formula and breast milk substitutes which explains some of the reasons why parents have not been able to offer breast milk throughout history.


Much of the ignorance about infant feeding and subsequent harassment of mothers is rooted in Americans’ inadequate education about human reproduction as well as basic biology. Adults who’ve graduated from high school should know that mammals produce milk in response to a pregnancy, and once nursing has stopped so, too, does maternal milk production.

A mother can’t simply choose to breastfeed if she had to stop for any reason like difficulty with infant latch on, physical disability, illness, return to work where she can’t readily pump breast milk in privacy, so on.

The worst examples of pressure come from men who know absolutely nothing about breastfeeding having no uterus or birthed a child, and having no breasts. They know nothing of the stress of learning how to feed a newborn, mastering the intricacies of breastfeeding brassieres, learning how to do so in view of others as necessary, how to deal with curiosity or disgust by others who are offended by breastfeeding, how to pump and store breast milk, how to deal with chapped and bleeding nipples as well as unwanted letdown of milk, how to handle the first few times an infant bites its mother’s nipples, and dealing with constant advice and criticism about breastfeeding one’s child from family, friends, and total strangers.

And yet they feel they can lecture women saying, “Just breastfeed the kid.”

The stress new mothers deal with in this country is enormous. It’s no wonder we have a couple generations of anxious children and adults when they literally nurse on this as infants.

~ ~ ~

This situation isn’t going to get better overnight. It’s going to take at least a couple of months before production is up to demand levels and safe for infants.

What are parents who can’t breastfeed and can’t find formula supposed to do?

The White House put together a fact sheet which contains resources for locating formula.

https://www.hhs.gov/formula/index.html

For some parents the first step is finding a breast milk bank nearby; the fact sheet includes a link to

https://www.hmbana.org/find-a-milk-bank/overview.html

But even with all these resources there may be parents who can’t locate formula and are too far from the nearest breast milk bank. In Michigan, for example, there are two banks listed but both are more than 9 hours drive from the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, and the closest to Detroit is still more than an hour’s drive.

What do these parents do?

Having a handful of young friends who are expecting a child within the next six months, I did some research on how we used to feed infants before commercial infant formula was so prevalent.

First, I checked both the World Health Organization and UN’s UNICEF to obtain any resources they offered parents as breast milk substitutes in the event of an emergency.

UNICEF was unhelpful. Their material focused on ready-to-use formula in lieu of breastfeeding, only after pages and pages of material emphasizing human breast milk as a preference over formula. The organization has rightfully worked hard to emphasize breastfeeding as the safest and most reliable method for feeding infants in no small part because breast milk contains bioactive agents formula does not. The organization has fought globally against corporations which have undermined breastfeeding in order to sell commercial infant formula. But for the U.S.’s current situation UNICEF’s policy doesn’t work.

WHO was marginally better; a 43-page brochure spent 39 pages repeating over and over how human breast milk was the best choice for infants, nearly ignoring crises where breast milk and formula were not options.

Thankfully, on page 39 there was a recipe for making an alternative suitable for nursing infants — it consisted of water, evaporated milk, and sugar.

I recalled my youngest sibling adopted at 3 months of age in the early 1970s not consuming commercial formula. Instead they consumed a recipe based on cow’s milk, and this recipe in WHO seemed very similar.

Fortunately, I still have a resource to validate the recipe was the same or very similar. I called my 82-year-old mother and asked her what parents did before casual infant formula was used widely. I told her what I’d found at WHO.

“That’s what you drank,” she said. “That’s what you, your natural siblings and adopted sibling drank. Evaporated milk, water, and sugar, though we used corn syrup instead of sugar to avoid constipation. Oh, and you had infant oral vitamin drops.”

We spent a half hour talking about the hows and whys — she had been working full time as a registered nurse and couldn’t breastfeed her kids. Breastfeeding wasn’t widely seen as socially acceptable either if a mother had to feed an infant outside of the home.

Hygiene was emphasized — ensuring the bottles, lids, and nipples were sterile, that all formula recipe ingredients were heated to kill pathogens and bottled while hot to ensure the formula was safe to consume, along with prompt refrigeration.

Apart from human breast milk having evolved to best suit human infant needs, hygienic production, bottling, and storage are the key reasons why WHO and UNICEF place a premium on breastfeeding over formula and alternatives. Depending on location in the world, the only safe food for an infant may be breast milk especially since water for dry formula mix or use with concentrated canned formula may not be clean.

But one or two generations of Americans were fed canned cow’s milk diluted with water with additional calories supplemented by sweetener. In a pinch we can do it again — at least until the canned milk production supply chain breaks down.

~ ~ ~

CAVEAT: I am NOT a health care professional. I am providing the following on an informational basis which should not be used as a substitute for discussion and guidance with a qualified health care professional.

After talking with my mom I’m sharing what I found on the internet which was what doctors and hospitals used to send home with their new parents as instructions for feeding their new infant, along with the WHO recipe.

Vitamins: For anyone nearing their due date or who has an infant under the age of 6 months: contact your pediatrician or health care provider for a recommendation on infant liquid multivitamin drops and whether they recommend them with or without iron if an alternative to infant formula or breast milk is necessary. Multivitamin drops will supplement what an alternative to formula can’t provide should breastfeeding not be an option.

Nutritional differences: Keep in mind that the evaporated milk alternative is not identical to breast milk; it has more far more protein, for example, which may be more taxing on human kidneys. Compare these different forms of cow’s milk to human breast milk:

Human breast milk (per 8-oz cup): 171 calories, 17 grams carbs, 17 grams sugar, 2.5 grams protein, 11 grams fat

Gut flora: Also keep in mind that a change in diet means a change in gut flora; an infant can become constipated or have other health issues like allergies due to a corresponding change in immune system signaling. Parents should consider broad spectrum probiotics in their own diet because they will pass on their flora through normal contact with their infant. I introduced my children to plain unsweetened yogurt as soon as our family GP approved the addition to their diet (about 6 months); yogurt with live culture is a probiotic food.

WHO’s alternative:

Note that this formulation allows for the use of boiled cow’s milk. NEVER use raw cow’s milk. It’s safest to boil pasteurized cow’s milk. The formulation also allows for canned evaporated milk once it has been reconstituted to the same concentration as fresh milk, and then diluted further per this recipe.

Past examples: These are examples of instructions routinely sent home with new parents in the 1940s through the early 1960s.

[Instructions provided on discharge to new parents in 1945.]

Here’s an excerpt from a paper published in 1957 on evaporated milk in infant feeding.

And an instructional video on how infant formula was prepared at home during the 1950s at this link.

Some recipes like WHO’s call for sugar, but many older recipes refer to corn syrup as a sweetening alternative because it prevents or resolves constipation in some infants.

At least one recipe published by a mommy blog refers to blackstrap molasses as a sweetener because it contains iron and other trace minerals not found in white sugar or white corn syrup.

NEVER use honey. It should NEVER be offered to infants less than a year old due to the risk of botulism.

Parents whose infants and toddlers experience problems with cow’s milk may want to try goat’s milk which is available in canned evaporated form. (There are commercial infant formulas made from goat’s milk.)

NO to Plant-based milks: plant-based milk products like soy or almond milk are NOT appropriate substitutes for commercial infant formula or breast milk. Their nutritional content is in no way similar.

WATER SAFETY: water used to prepare evaporated cow’s (or goat’s) milk formula must be sanitary — heated at a high enough temperature long enough to kill pathogens. Even when mixed with powered infant formula, water should be heated to 158 degrees Fahrenheit/70 degrees Celsius.

~ ~ ~

I’ve already seen lectures and scolding about breastfeeding being best along with more finger wagging about homemade formula because it’s not as healthy as ready-to-use infant formula or powdered infant formula.

To which I say refer back to the tweet thread by Phil Hernandez near the top of this post and look closely at the photos of the shelves taken in Norfolk VA. There’s exactly one breast milk bank listed for the entire state of Virginia and it’s in Norfolk as well.

What the hell are American parents with infants supposed to do when there’s not enough breast milk or commercial formula to go around?

Especially when the U.S. has plenty of evaporated cow’s milk on the shelves while producing too much cow’s milk altogether.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 11:15 PM EDT —

Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation this morning and was asked about the infant formula situation.


He nailed it when he says we have a capitalist system and the government doesn’t make formula. The right-wing has decided it wants to use this capitalist system failure as a means to attack the Biden administration, but the entire regulatory system has been constructed to serve corporations more so than the people who consume products (with the majority of corporations’ support going to the GOP and its candidates).

One only need look at OpenSecret’s data on Abbott Laboratories and Abbott Nutrition‘s campaign contribution history to both major parties to see part of the infant formula industry’s regulatory capture process at work.

The right-wing in this country needs to make up its mind: its political apparatus is either going to stand behind a free market, or more socialized government intervention when competition fails. It only seems to be settled on government getting the way overreaching into women’s uteruses and trans persons’ bathroom stalls and obstructing Black Americans’ access to the voting booth.

What’s particularly irritating about today’s Face the Nation segment is that Buttigieg isn’t the Commerce Secretary or the Health and Human Services Secretary, or the FDA Director.

He’s a concerned adoptive father who told CBS the infant formula situation “is very personal for us,” referring to his two nine-month-old infants.

But sure, let’s beat up on a parent who already has enough to worry about and isn’t responsible for the problem in his day job.

Kentucky Derby Day

Video not loading like it used to. Sorry about that. Here it is, as should be:

It is getting harder to properly embed videos from You Tube. Just imagine how bad a worthless prick like Musk can make the internet.

Okay, let’s rip it up a bit. There is nothing like Derby Day. The hats are as insane as they look. And, yet. it is one of the greatest pieces of Americana ever. I have not been in a long time, but, jeebus, it was everything as advertised. And surely is still.

This is also the weekend of the Miami Grand Prix. The course looks like painted garbage with not enough racing surface to me, but maybe it will be better racing than expected.

Draw up a mint julep and enjoy.

This is a Trash Talk thread, have at it.

 

Muskian Stupidity, Market Cupidity

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I’m on the verge of blocking every occurrence of the name “Elon Musk” from my Twitter timeline because I have fucking had enough of him.

Never mind all his idiotic uninformed and uneducated prattle about free speech. He obviously can’t be bothered to read the 45 words which are the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Nor can he be arsed to read the Constitution’s Article I, Section 8 regarding the regulation of commerce.

He also can’t be bothered to grasp what it means to “practice medicine without a license,” thereby exposing many more layers of laziness.

Spreading medical bullshit as unlicensed medical practice is regulated to prevent bellends killing or maiming or sickening people.

The worst part of all the Muskian bullshit is that Musk has enough assets not to care. He can throw lawyers at whatever problem confronts him to make it disappear and continue on his Muskian way. He can indulge his shallowness and narcissism with impunity, having ample fanboi trolls to dispatch at anyone who questions his motives or actions.

Muskian narcissism, bordering on Trumpian malignant narcissism, caring only about his own goals and not at all about anyone else though his personal value is completely reliant on others.

Insert Seinfeld meme here, “You know, we’re living in a society.

It’s not merely a meme; it’s the crux of the problem before us, whether we live in a democratic society in which free speech and the rights of individuals are respected, in which individuals act collectively through democratic process to achieve common goals — or not, as Musk appears to believe.

Though he hasn’t been the only person to do so over the last two decades, Elon Musk laid bare again ugly flaws in our democratic society, the biggest of which is that capital at a certain level provides an escape from not only from the limitations of this planet’s gravity but our society’s social compact.

He’s even escaped any accountability for his naked colonialist aspirations toward Mars.

The fascist right-wing cheers him for rejecting any responsibility to his fellow humans who have been the source of his wealth, lauding Musk’s so-called genius while embracing Kapital über alles.

Sure, his company SpaceX is worth some praise. Recycling of rocket components through controlled return to earth has been a paradigmatic shift in aerospace — a step forward which should encourage competitors to step up their game.

However Musk told his employees last November that SpaceX was at risk of bankruptcy. It’s not clear now if this was merely a means of pressuring his workforce to increase output since he tweeted a week later that “bankruptcy for SpaceX, while ‘unlikely,’ is also ‘not impossible,'” in response to reporting about the potential for SpaceX’s bankruptcy.

Starlink, his satellite-based internet service operated by SpaceX, has been but a narrow blessing with a much bigger potential risk to earth with its cluttering of the night sky — a colonialist occupation taking two steps back.

(Yes, again I say colonialist. What global authority gave permission to Musk to trash the heavens viewed by all earthlings for the sake of internet access? Was it the same global authority who told the British they could create an empire at the expense of indigenous people and then-extant nations? What global authority will deal with possible Starlink satellites’ failures should they fail and slip from their orbits?)

The rest of his business efforts have likewise been base hits followed by a swing and a miss, including Tesla which relied on a $465 million loan from the US government during the Obama administration to survive its early years.

A capitalist genius, reliant on socialized aid, ironically weaponizing free speech to the detriment of those who saved his company’s ass.

~ ~ ~

Here’s what really annoys the fuck out of me about all the fanboi-ing over the supposed Musk genius.

He offered roughly $44 billion for Twitter, $54.20 per share. This is what he’s attempting to buy:

Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) stock price, 1-year chart (source: Google Finance)

Here’s Twitter’s financial performance for fiscal year 2021:

Net income:

December 2021 – $181.69M
September 2021 – (536.76M)
June 2021 – $65.65M
March 2021 – $68.0M

Twitter’s financial performance, 2021 (source: Google Finance)

Note the return on equity:

Twitter’s financial statistics (source: Yahoo Finance)

By comparison, Facebook/Meta’s ROE is 31.10%.

Aljazeera reported an increase in active daily users over the last quarter:

Twitter reported an average of 229 million daily active users in the quarter, which was about 14 million more than a revised 214.7 million daily users in the previous quarter.

I can’t find the number I saw from late 2021 which said Twitter had 206 million active daily users. The uptick seems off considering the amount of work Twitter has done to remove bot accounts. Personally, I would guesstimate 5-10% of active daily user accounts are inauthentic, of which a third to half may represent attrition or float as bots are weeded out.

Which means Musk has offered an insane amount between ~$216 to ~$229 per authentic active daily user on a userbase which could plummet simply because he, Musk, bought it.

Or worse, from an advertising perspective: accounts could remain but degrade engagement to less than daily activity, making advertising space much less valuable, less functional.

Granted, his right-wing fanboi base could surge if many of their suspended or ejected accounts are allowed to return, but advertisers may balk if the volume of hate speech returns with them.

Very genius. Much capitalist. So Musk.

~ ~ ~

Twitter employees have expressed concern about Musk’s acquisition — well-earned concern considering Musk attacked a key BIPOC employee via tweets about Twitter’s handling of abusive or sensitive content in spite of a non-disparagement clause. What incredible blindness if not outright lack of sensitivity.

You’d think a South African by birth would be a bit more sensitive to the issue of race on top of the non-disparagement clause, but Twitter employees already had plenty to be concerned about given the problem of overt racism at Tesla documented in a successful lawsuit by a former contract employee , a class action lawsuit by employees, and a lawsuit by the state of California. Racist graffiti and epithets aren’t free speech in the workplace — they’re endorsements of racism in the corporate culture.

Musk may want to fire a lot of Twitter employees to cut costs and clean house, but losing the faith and respect of Twitter’s workforce before the ink has dried won’t serve the end he desires and needs, a seamless transition which doesn’t disrupt the platform so that advertisers will continue to buy ad space.

In spite of his fanbois’ approbation including tech and econ journalists, Musk’s musings about new monetizing efforts demonstrated a gross lack of understanding about the platform.

Like charging users to quote tweet or retweet content.

Way to kill his newly-acquired platform right out of the gate. This is such a stupid idea that one has to wonder if he understands the internet at all.

It doesn’t help Musk’s image with a substantive portion of Twitter users that while he benefits from government aid and contracts, his businesses don’t necessarily result in revenues.

Rumor has it Musk has also considered monetizing tweets based on popularity, paying users for most viral tweets as if this couldn’t be gamed.

(I know, this looks like jibberish to the olds but imagine Musk paying out a buck for every Like that kind of quote tweet generated.)

Will Musk expect to pay next to nothing in taxes if he ever makes Twitter profitable, while steadily undermining democracy with his craptastic notion of free speech?

Wouldn’t he be better off building a platform from scratch with less than a billion bucks investment given his access to and approval of so many techbros, thereby building a low-tax “free speech” vehicle on his own terms without Twitter’s baggage?

Especially since he has 84 million followers, an audience of which many are committed fanbois — can’t he start something and get them on board as his first users?

And if he can’t do that, why not?

~ ~ ~

Consensus among punditry and opiners is that Musk will drop a billion in penalty fees for exiting the deal and walk away.

But is there a reason Musk has gotten this far down the road with this acquisition project? Is there something else besides free speech motivating Musk to hang on?

This account suggests in this Twitter thread that Tesla’s challenges with current U.S. dealership laws are why Musk wants Twitter.

In other words, instead of lobbying in all states where manufacturers can’t sell their cars directly to the public without a third-party dealer, Musk would use the clout of his Twitter platform to press on the public to campaign for a change benefiting Tesla.

Timing is critical since pressure to exit fossil fuels has increased due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the other major automakers are gearing up their plans for increased electric vehicle sales. Musk would surely like to get ahead of the competition more so than Tesla already is with its 2-3 million total EV sales to date.

But is this lobbying alternative approach really cost effective at $44 billion?

Or is he planning to use Twitter as his own personal advertising platform for Tesla and other products like Powerwall? Musk is now looking at promising some of his Tesla stock in lieu of his own cash to obtain financing; is this a gamble that Twitter will promote Tesla’s value enough that he won’t feel the loss of the Tesla stock offered to banks?

Or is Musk planning to sell another product — like users’ data — and he’s figured he’ll make enough from that product to offset his Tesla stock swapped for financing?

Whatever the case, I’ll be gone if he sells users’ data. I’ll leave a worthless hollow social media shell behind.

Free speech, the kind to which no advertiser wants to sell.

Open Thread: Spring Has Sprung

We are 29 days past the vernal equinox. The moon is just past full at 99.2% and waning.

Some of us are observing Ramadan, some of us are observing Passover’s third day, and some of us are celebrating Easter today. Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter a week from today.

My household is secular lapsed Catholic; my adult children will be here to observe the holiday. It’ll be the second holiday we’ve been able to spend together since the pandemic began. It’s the first time I can think of when there hasn’t been a single candy Easter egg in this house.

It’s just as well there are no extra calories here because we’re going to indulge our omnivore natures and gorge on standing rib roast with apple pie for dessert.

Whatever benchmark or holiday you observe, with family or by yourself, feel free to shout out here in this open thread.

Wishing the rest of your spring season warmer, lighter, safe, and restorative.

Security Saturday

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. /~Rayne]

I have Disney’s ‘Cinderelly’ song from the animated movie Cinderella stuck in my head now as I do my weekend cleaning.

We observed “Cinderella Saturdays” when my kids were younger. At 10:00 a.m. the morning cartoons were turned off (or the teenagers awakened) and appropriate Get Moving music put on the stereo.

For the next two to four hours we’d tear through the house with vacuums and mops and dust rags, throwing bedding in the laundry and hanging wash on the line.

It felt so good to be done with the chores by mid-afternoon. Or done with the irritating question, “When are we going be able to play?”

~ ~ ~

It’s Saturday once again, but our cleaning chores have changed. Now it’s time to address digital chores like information security, ensuring the week will be safer than the last.

— If you haven’t reset your passwords recently, it’s past time.

— If you haven’t set up Multi-Factor Authentication, it’s also past time.

— If you haven’t recently used some apps on your mobile devices, it’s time to remove those you don’t need. Please consider using a good browser to access services instead of apps because each app is a new security risk, a chance to be hacked.

— If you feel like you need more information about personal information security, visit Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense page.

https://ssd.eff.org

— This site by Tactical Tech is no longer being updated but it’s still a decent guide to privacy and security considerations you might want to browse as a guideline:

https://myshadow.org/increase-your-privacy

Tactical Tech also offers their own resource kit called Security in a Box:

https://securityinabox.org/en/

— If you don’t have this automated already and haven’t cleaned your browser’s cache, search and download history, cookies, site settings, now’s the time to go through them.

— If you don’t have antivirus and antimalware applications set up on an automatic schedule, it’s also time to get this done.

— If you don’t have instructions “in case of an emergency” about your online accounts for your family, now’s the time to draft them and put them wherever you also keep your legal documents like a springing power of attorney, patient advocate authorization, so on.

~ ~ ~

Now a few words about housekeeping for this site.

First, you may have noticed occasional lags or quirks in service of late. You may assume we’ve made somebody unhappy and they’re having a “tantrum,” in which case you may need to wait until the “tantrum” is done.

You can check for us online at Twitter — our accounts are:

@emptywheel
@bmaz
@raynetoday
@MasaccioEW
@JimWhiteGNV

(I don’t think Peterr has a Twitter account, sorry.)

Second, how our security works won’t be elaborated upon here, but you can guess there are triggers which may cause your comments not to make it directly onto the page. Things you can do to reduce the possibility of tripping a trigger:

— Make sure  you use the same username each time, spelled the same way. (You have NO idea how much time is spent checking users’ account information and correcting some minor typo or spelling error because it’s tripped up a comment.) Save the information in a plain text notepad file to cut-and-paste if you’re forgetful or prone to fat fingering keys.

And no, we’re not going to look for a new comment system. We do not need to maintain a separate database which may also collect and sell your data.

— If your post has links, you may wish to “break” the link by inserting blank spaces so that it’s not active when posted; an active link may cause auto-moderation. The more links you share in  your comment, the more likely your comment will go into auto-moderation.

— There are times when security is tighter, especially if you’re using a VPN. I’m sorry but this is simply a necessity for the security of the site and community members.

— Comments do not allow but a narrow range of HTML tags here; this is another security measure.

— If you’re being an ass and/or SHOUTING or swearing at community members or contributors/moderators, you can expect auto-moderation to kick in; see our Community Guidelines for more elaboration.

— For the safety of this site and others, please consider removing tracking from URLs you share in your comments. Links to sites of a questionable nature will never make it onto the site, including links to Google Docs.

Twitter links in particular are very easy to edit to remove tracking — just delete the question mark and everything after it so Twitter doesn’t have a full path from you, your machine, the person you’re retweeting/sharing, back to this site.

~ ~ ~

And now set up reminders in your calendar: clean your browser weekly, change your password monthly to quarterly, check all your other security bells and whistles at least 2-4 times a year.

You can go play when  you’ve finished your housekeeping chores.

Breathing Room: What Pods Are You Casting?

Two weeks ago it felt like things were on the verge of breaking loose. I still have that feeling, as if things are beginning to pick up speed and might run away with us.

Here’s another opportunity to slow things down a little and take a deep cleansing breath in and out before we’re swept away.

What are you listening to these days? I want to be very focused on podcasts, not music programming now that we’re in the golden age of time-shifted listening.

What podcasts do you find to be informative? helpful? restful?

What podcast platform works best for you?

I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to podcasts. I avoid the white-dudes-yacking-with-each-other because Jesus Christ, how much of that do we really need when white-dudes-yacking-with-each-other still constitutes huge swaths of news media?

I don’t have a regular podcast I consume regularly, either. I’m fond of the Android app Stitcher and I often browse on a hit-or-miss basis for an episode which hits my fancy.

Over the last several years, though, there were three podcast episodes which really stuck with me:

NPR’s Planet Money: We set up an offshore company in a tax haven (re-cast October 6, 2021)
An exploration of offshore companies and bank accounts in which the hosts set up their own company in a tax haven and found the easiest place to register a business anonymously. First released in July 2012, it still amazes me how easy it is to move assets offshore.

Hakai Magazine: Can We Really Be Friends with an Octopus? (Episode 67, January 11, 2022)

This Is Love: Something Large and Wild (Season 1, Episode 2)
A story about a teenage swimmer and an encounter with something wild.

These are rather diverse with nothing apparent in common though the Hakai Magazine and ‘This Is Love’ podcast episodes have a natural element.

But after thinking about these three favorites, I think I need podcasts to contain an element of wonder. Not necessarily a positive state of awe, but something which checks me up short and makes me think or elicits an emotion I hadn’t anticipated. My favorite three episodes each possessed that factor.

Take a break, take a breath, then share in comments what podcasts have attracted your attention.

Breathing Room: What Are You Streaming?

I don’t know about you but I have the sense things are about to snowball, and I don’t mean because there’s a lot of the white stuff out on my lawn.

There’s just so much on our plates right now between trying to carry on with our lives and yet hang back in safety because the pandemic continues. Too many balls in the air which must descend and yet our hands are already full.

We could use a little breathing room before things get hairier than they already are.

With that in mind, what is it you’re streaming these days if you’re a streaming platform user?

I finally caught a movie I’ve been meaning to watch since it released in 2018 — Fast Color, directed by Julia Hart featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, David Strathairn, and a youngster who will surely appear in many more films, Saniyya Sidney.

It’s an allegory about Black women and our changing world. I don’t want to spoil the film. I will only say that it’s a remarkably deft work making excellent use of a lean cast, a small number of settings, and in spite of it being a story about super powers, no heavy handed excess of CGI like Marvel or DC films.

It was perfect, not too much or too little. I’m sure I will watch it again. It’s currently on Netflix and Hulu though you can rent it on many other streaming platforms.

It wasn’t like the rest of my usual viewing which runs heavily toward Asian dramas (ex. Midnight Diner), documentary series about food and culture (ex. Taco Chronicles), with the occasional historical fiction series (ex. The Cook of Castamar).

What have you watched lately, and what are planning to watch in the near future?

For those of you who don’t stream, what are you viewing these days and how?

Not certain yet what I’m going to watch tonight. It may depend on what you have to say in comments.

I do know I’m going to be eating popcorn. Somebody bought me a microwave popcorn popper; it was shipped to me without any card or gift receipt so I have no idea who to thank for this groovy silicone device which I have used every day since I got it. No more prepackaged microwave popcorn with the funky chemicals and too much plastic packaging.

In two hours I’ll whip up another batch and find something suitable for breathing room.

Letting Go of 2021

It’s been a rough few weeks in so many ways, on top of a really rough year.

We’ve reached the limits of patience, fortitude, and resources in so many ways. In part because of the pandemic and manufactured barriers created by disinformation and willful destruction, in part because of frustration with systems damaged over time by those who refused to believe in cooperative, collaborative, collective effort, and in part because time simply has its way with us, we’ve experienced pain and loss over and over again.

I’ve lost several heroes I looked up to in a handful of weeks — feminist author bell hooks, writer Joan Didion, attorney Sarah Weddington, and now actor/comedian Betty White, all gone ahead to higher ground.

With former senator Harry Reid‘s passing we’ve lost a fighter who taught so many younger Democrats how be effective.

The Trash Talk crowd here lost someone who surely entertained them many times since the 1980s with former coach and commentator John Madden‘s death.

There are so many more brilliant people to whom we’ve had to say goodbye, including many of the 822,914 COVID-19 dead. It just plain hurts.

Making resolutions seems wholly useless against this barrage of loss.

~ ~ ~

Author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about making your own ceremony for ending the year. Her tone in 2014 when she wrote this post was so hopeful; it seems surreal now, looking back, to think we were all so glib about embracing the future.

We’ve had a trial by fire since then, a long conflagration which has torched all our illusions. What political monstrousness didn’t destroy a pandemic and time have finished.

And in some cases, literal incineration thanks to the mounting climate emergency.

Gilbert’s suggestion seems fitting, then, to say goodbye to this year with flames — write down things we want to get rid of with end of this year, write down the things we ask into our lives in the year ahead, and then burn these wishes, tossing the ashes into water to both release the past and summon the future.

Perhaps you won’t need the symbolism and the ritual of ceremony, but the exercise is still worthwhile to take measure of what we’re leaving and consider what lies ahead.

What will you let go of with the ending of this year and the passing of yet more of our figureheads?

What will you welcome at the stroke of midnight and the coming dawn of the new year?

~ ~ ~

Scottish poet Robert Burns is credited with writing the traditional song, Auld Lang Syne, which will be sung this evening where people meet in spite of the pandemic.

But Burns did little of the writing; he collected older bits and pieces of traditional Scots’ songs and molded them into the tune we know now.

One of the earlier versions based on the older verses was published in a Scottish newspaper in 1711 by James Watson.

I’m very fond of one old verse in particular, which rings clearest this evening for me:

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this, Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Old long syne.

For Old long syne my Jo,
for Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.

Goodbye and farewell, 2021. Hello and welcome, 2022.

Best wishes to you all for a better year ahead.

What Have We Been Reading?

I’ll go first.

1. The Constitution Of Knowledge by Jonathan Rauch. It’s a practical discussion of epistemology, the philosophy of how we know stuff. I’ve discussed it in several posts, notably here. The second half discusses his suggestions for dealing with lies, disinformation, trolls and generally with the Insurrection Party led by TFG. I haven’t read it because it seems hopeless. See No. 7 below.

2. The Dawn Of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. I’ve just started this book, and it’s fascinating. The story we are taught is that human societies evolve sequentially from small bands of hunter-gatherers to agriculture to small trading towns to cities to states, with more and more complicated governmental structures. This is called progress. The authors say this story comes from Jean Jacques Rousseau, and has colonized our minds.

They claim that we have learned a lot since the early 19th C., and it mostly contradicts this story. They call on extensive research in archaeology, Wengrow’s primary area of study, and anthropology, Graeber’s, to draw a completely different picture. There are a number of ideas like the following, ideas that offer a different way of imagining the possibilities of an advanced technological society:

Back in the 1960s, the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres suggested that precisely the opposite was the case. What if the sort of people we like to imagine as simple and innocent are free of rulers, governments, bureaucracies, ruling classes and the like, not because they are lacking in imagination, but because they’re actually more imaginative than we are? We find it difficult to picture what a truly free society would be like; perhaps they have no similar trouble picturing what arbitrary power and domination would be like. Perhaps they can not only imagine it, but consciously arrange their society in such a way as to avoid it. As we’ll see in the next chapter, Clastres’s argument has its limits. But by insisting that the people studied by anthropologists are just as self-conscious, just as imaginative, as the anthropologists themselves, he did more to reverse the damage than anyone before or since. P. 73.

This idea resonates with me. I’ve seen the art produced by our ancestors from 25,000 years ago, in caves like the Font de Gaume in Southern France. It’s near Les Eyzies-du-Tayac-Sireuil, which is home to The National Museum Of Prehistory, and several reconstructions of the living quarters of the Magdelanian culture. From the mouth of the Font-de-Gaume even today you can see walnut trees and, I imagine, wild asparagus, berries, and small game in the underbrush. The Dordogne River is nearby, full of fish. There are large abri, cut-outs high up in the cliffs, which make decent living quarters. I’m not sure what more they needed to live pleasantly. Why would they submit to domination by one of their band? Why would they follow some loudmouth who wants to take over some other abri in some stupid war?

There’s a review of the book by William Deresiewicz in the Atlantic. If you need encouragement to read this book, here it is.

3. Pride, Prejudice, And Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. This novel centers on a family descended from royalty in India. The parents immigrated to the San Francisco area, and did very well indeed. It’s loosely modeled on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a particular hero of the author. The “flavors” come from Indian cuisine as practiced by a chef raised in England and trained in Paris. He comes to the area to take care of his artist sister who has a brain tumor that only the surgeon daughter and protagonist can hope to eradicate, and only at the cost of her sight.

The connections to Pride and Prejudice are well adapted to current times. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth forms a prejudice against Mr. Darcy because he rejects her at a dance. Besides that, he behaves like he’s better than everybody else, which she attributes to his wealth and his arrogance. Consequently she can easily use him as the object of her wit. In Dal’s retelling, this plays out between the surgeon and the chef in a more complex ways, involving both both their histories.

As an aside, I also like the Bollywood flic, Bride And Prejudice, which is set in the India of today; it’s a lot of fun.

4. Reputation by Lex Croucher. This first novel is set in Regency-Era England. It imagines the lives of 20-somethings from the upper class, free from parental supervision, and freed from all constraints by the wealth and power of their families. The protagonist is a well-read, well-educated, and thoughtful young woman of the middle class, caught up into the lives of the rich young. It’s a life filled with parties, drugs, liquor and even a bit of sex. For me the sensibility of the novel is so 21st Century that it didn’t work as a period piece. It will be published in the US next year.

5, The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This is an extraordinary novel. Barbery studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in Lyon (I think) and taught at Université de Bourgogne. There are a number of themes in the book, but one that stands out for me is the effort to put the ideas of philosophy into action in the lives of the characters. For example, one character is a 12 year old girl of extraordinary intelligence, who has decided that there is no point to living so she plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The meaninglessness of life is a concern of the main character as well. This is a nod to The Myth Of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, in which we are asked why we don’t commit suicide in the face of the absurd.

There are discussions of some of my favorite things, food, music, and art. As to music, the use of Mozart’s Confutatis from The Requiem is hilarious. I love Dutch still life paintings; here’s the subject of that link. I’ve always liked philosophy, some of which is powerful, and some of which, like Barbery’s description of the a philosophy dissertation on William of Ockham, seems ridiculous.

The author doesn’t think much of upper middle class French society, and it shows. That’s fun. It’s fun to think how these criticisms would work in US society.

I refuse to acknowledge any flaws in this book. And the translator, Alison Anderson, is dazzling.

6. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. This novel is grounded in the life of Erdich’s grandfather, a Chippewa leader who was instrumental in preserving the reservation and way of life of his Turtle Mountain Band. Most of the book describes the lives of the members of the Band in the mid-50s. Perhaps the most valuable part for me was the way visions work for the characters. At one level if felt like magical realism, but it seems so grounded in their lives that I felt an intuition about how it might work in my own life in our hyper-technical society.

7. Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I took up this book at the suggestion of commenter Epicurus. I’ve just started, and perhaps I’ll have more to say about it in a future post. In the meantime, two observations. First, the book is beautifully written. It’s easy to follow the argument; the examples are clear and precise; and the introduction shows how he came to think about things as he does.

Second, the idea of two systems of cognition is intuitively appealing. Years ago I read a book about epistemology that used the terms intensive and reflexive to describe two separate ways of thinking. I’d guess we’ve all had the experience of self-checking that goes on when we think of something we might say, or write something, then a separate voice in our heads pipes up with objections. So is the idea that we don’t know much about what lies below either of the two systems. Studies of vision show that much of the computation is done before the image reaches the brain, so it seems reasonable to think there’s a lot of pre-computation in each of the two systems. Things are happening in our minds we can’t perceive.

That’s most of what I’ve read over the last few weeks. So, what have you been reading?

Update: Thanks to everyone for the marvelous array of books and the discussion. I hope everyone found something they’re excited to read.

And Happy Holidays to all!
Ed
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Image by Janne Poikolainen, creative commons license.

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