Egads. Spare Me.

First, the whole Sanders/Castro flap. Kiss Florida goodbye, Bernie. It is simply not possible to state anything even remotely positive about Castro without pushing the hot buttons of most Cuban-Americans. That the statement was in context of criticism of Castro’s authoritarianism matters not. That the Castro regime does in fact have its positive accomplishments, amongst them the ones Sanders cited, also matters not. Logic matters not when strong emotions come into play.

Next, Bloomberg is planning to spend millions in an attempt to damage Sanders. It is simply not possible for a billionaire to say anything to the backers of a candidate whose entire marketing premise is that the “billionaire class” has too much power that would persuade them to change their minds. It doesn’t matter how many awful and self-destructive things Sanders does; nobody in his base is going to pay attention to criticism coming from a billionaire. In fact, the criticism will probably make Sanders stronger; he will be able to point to its source as evidence that he is genuinely the threat to the power of the economic elite that he claims he is. The only candidates capable of effectively criticizing Sanders as the ones who are not themselves billionaires.

Both of these points are so blindingly obvious that I was shocked when I learned what Bernie had done and what Bloomberg was planning to do. Shocked and dismayed. A weak candidate, one likely to fail in November, is leading in the polls and just about to get stronger. Just great.

It’s a Pandemic, People. Prepare.

When the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down, I could tell something really bad was was happening, despite the general lack of news stories that something really bad was in fact happening. (The news coming out was designed to give the impression that it was serious, but not Chernobyl-serious.)

Why? Because of how the news cycle happened. Normally, in the case of a potentially serious nuclear accident, one would expect the number of stories about it, and the details given in those stories, to rapidly increase. That didn’t happen with the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Instead, the stories only slowly trickled out, and often were not even on the front page.

Furthermore, facts were appearing in those non-front-page stories that were extremely disquieting to anyone with a basic knowledge of nuclear reactor design and operation.

The big one was when they started reporting that sea water was being used to cool the reactors. Nuclear reactors are precision equipment, operated with meticulous care to ensure outside contamination doesn’t promote unexpected corrosion or intoduce dirt that might hamper their operation. Reactor cooling water is highly purified and closely monitored for contaminants. Yet they were now pumping raw sea water into the reactors “to cool them.”

Sea water is extremely corrosive stuff. A significant part of the civil engineering is coping with how corrosive salt water is to structures. And yet they were pumping this corrosive stuff into a nuclear reactor of all places? The only way that would make sense is as a last-ditch desparate measure.

Moreover, modern nuclear reactors are closed systems: the primary cooling water is simply recycled over and over, pumping it through microfilters to keep it as clean as possible. As such, it is unusual and abnormal to have to add water to them, because this normally means that water is somehow leaking out. A leak of primary cooling water means a leak of radioactivity, since the primary cooling water is in contact with the reactor core and therefore itself becomes radioactive.

Put it all together and it meant that the reactors were leaking massive amounts of radioactivity and were on the verge of or starting to melt down, and its operators were frantically taking last-ditch desperate measures. That was the only conceivable narrative that made sense of all known facts.

Then reports started filtering in (not prominently featured reports, of course, but still reports from reliable and trusted news sources) of privately-run radiation monitors showing elevated levels. More than one monitor was showing elevated levels, which points to a distant major leak of radiation, not a nearby minor one. Obviously, at least one reactor had fully melted down, and was now spewing radiation like mad into the environment. Fukushima was, in other words, another Chernobyl.

At that stage, I tried pointing that out to people, and almost universally got the reaction that I was being a baseless alarmist. When all was said and done, the IAEA gave the catastrophe a rating of 7 on a scale of 1 to 7. The only other nuclear catastrophe to rate a 7 so far has been, yes, Chernobyl.

The overall moral of it all is that news agencies do sometimes act in concert, downplaying the seriousness of a story. Most likely, this is done out of a sense of responsibility on such agencies to avoid instilling mass panic.

The reporting about coronavirus reminds me of nothing if not the reporting about Fukushima Daiichi. Again, we have a story about something of extremely serious concern. Again, the reports haven’t been dominating the front pages as much might be expected: if coronavirus becomes a pandemic, it will by all best evidence be Spanish Flu v2.0, given that the best evidence indicates coronavirus is approximately as lethal as the Spanish Flu was. That’s a really big story. Yet it only sometimes comes up on the front pages; stories about the primary election dominate here in the USA.

Let’s review some of the basics about coronavirus, shall we?

  1. Known: It emerged in China.
  2. Known: The Chinese government admits that over 77,000 have been infected in that country.
  3. Known: China is a totalitarian dictatorship.
  4. Known: Totalitarian dictatorships tend to cover up or downplay news stories that make their countries look bad.
  5. Known: Coronavirus has a long incubation period, which has generally suspected to be up to 14 days.
  6. Known: During that incubation period, a person is contagious, and doesn’t even know it.
  7. Conclusion: Therefore there are likely far more than 77,000 Chinese infected right now, most of whom are running around infecting others, because they don’t even know they are sick.
  8. Known: Quarantines have been based on that 14-day incubation period.
  9. Known: Evidence is now emerging that the incubation period might be longer than 14 days.
  10. Conclusion: There is therefore a good chance that the quarantines will prove to be ineffective, and that coronavirus is already spreading uncontrolled in most of the world (we just don’t know it yet, due to the long incubation period).
  11. Known: Coronavirus has been reported in Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.
  12. Known: Syria lies between Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.
  13. Known: Syria is currently a war zone.
  14. Known: It is difficult to know or control what happens in a war zone.
  15. Conclusion: Therefore coronavirus is or soon will be in Syria.
  16. Known: Coronavirus has also been reported from Afghanistan.
  17. Known: Afghanistan is also a war zone.
  18. Conclusion: By virtue of being present in a not one but two war zones, coronavirus is now spreading absolutely uncontrolled.

All of the facts tagged as known above have been reported by well-regarded news sources. The only thing I am doing here is assembling them in one place, in a logical order, and arriving at some inescapable conclusions.

As mentioned before, the closest analogue to coronavirus is the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which spread worldwide and killed between 40 and 100 million people, or between 2.2 and 5.5 percent of the global population. If it happened today, that would be a death toll of 170 to 430 million. That is the most likely eventual outcome of coronavirus that can be predicted using the best available current knowledge.

When (not if, when) coronavirus becomes widespread in whatever country you live in, expect the same sort of severely disruptive total lockdowns of entire cities and regions now going on in China. Expect shortages and disruptions of food and common household goods. The time to start stocking up and preparing for this is now.

How Things Change in a Few Weeks

The Nevada caucuses are over. The expected result happened. (Yes, the consensus of the opinion polls was a Sanders victory.) Yet, it’s as if the pundits didn’t expect this, given their evident shock at the outcome. Have they been asleep?

First, Sanders is not yet the nominee. It’s still early in the process.

Second, those same pundits aghast that Sanders is the presumptive nominee are acting to manifest their worst fears. The more Sanders is talked about as the inevitable nominee, the more he becomes the inevitable nominee.

Third, they are aghast at Sanders primarily because they want to be rid of Trump, and they correctly perceive that Sanders is a weak candidate. (The trouble is, the Democrats have mostly weak candidates in their field. The number of candidates is high, but they are for the most part very weak.) That, too, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more a Sanders general election campaign is regarded as futile, the less support it will get, and the more likely it will actually be futile.

On that final point, centrists that are upset (and rightly so) about some Bernie backers’ threats to throw a big tantrum and sabotage the general election if Bernie isn’t allowed to be the nominee need to take a look in the mirror. Because that is exactly the same tactic they themselves are practicing each time they throw tantrums of their own about Bernie getting the nomination. That’s particularly the case here, because as a weak general election candidate, Bernie will need all the help he can get to prevail.

Remember, the conventional wisdom said Trump couldn’t win the Republican primary. Then it was that Trump couldn’t win the general election. Then it was that the Democrats couldn’t gain 40 seats in 2018. I suggest to centrists that the conventional wisdom which says Bernie is too far left to win in November is far less significant than they think it is.

Finally, why was this all so sudden? Because, to reiterate, the Democrats have mostly weak candidates in their field. Even Biden, as recently as a few weeks ago the long-time front-runner, turns out to have been (as predicted) shockingly weak (he would be weak against Trump in the general, too). When Biden faltered, there was really nobody to take his place. Warren (also weak) faltered, too. That left Sanders as the clear front-runner.

The possible role of social media black propaganda cannot be disregarded in Biden’s implosion, but if Biden weren’t such a weak candidate, he wouldn’t have been so vulnerable to such tactics in the first place. I’m not quite ready to write Biden off, however. If he performs poorly in South Carolina, then it will be time to write him off.

Could Sanders falter in the primary because of his weaknesses? Certainly. His main weakness is branding, and centrists are already firing up the red-baiting machine. We shall see. Leftists upset about this inevitability need to keep in mind that a) it was inevitable, and b) if Sanders cannot effectively counter the red-baiting, he has no business being the nominee; Trump would certainly attempt to red-bait Sanders.

Such stress-testing is, after all, one of the purposes of a primary. With such a large pack of such weak candidates, the only thing that can be expected for sure are more sudden changes. Two weeks from now, most of this analysis is likely to be hopelessly dated.

Mayor Pete Needs to Shake up His Campaign Team

Or maybe just shake up his campaign strategy. I don’t know which it is: is his team accidentally not tooting his horn about things like this video, or is it deliberately doing so, as part of some strategy?

If it’s the latter, they need to rethink. Pete is clearly the smartest candidate, and perhaps he’s trying to be “crazy like a fox” by disguising his progressive side in hopes of consolidating support from centrists. The trouble is, that’s not working very well, the party is getting increasingly divided from within, and the Democrats really need an electable compromise candidate to cope with the lack of electability their most of their candidates (both centrists and progressives) have.

Maybe he has an Indiana mindset. Indiana is a pretty conservative place, and he’s managed to get elected as a Democrat there. The rub is, he’s not running to be President of Indiana. Swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania contain large, liberal, urban areas. If he fails to appeal to urban liberals, he’s probably toast.

On that video: the only reason I know about it is a leftist Facebook friend, who like me is skeptical about this whole bourgeois politics thing, but also realizes that the only practical, immediate-term way of getting Trump out is to get a Democrat in, shared it with me. The only reason he knows about the video is that he was personally at that demonstration.

Spare Me the Magical Thinking

One one hand we have moderate and conservative Never Trumpers rooting for Bloomberg. At least the right-wingers who enabled Trump got a right-wing president out of their deal with the devil. The enablers of the centrist Trump won’t get bupkis. (Think that women, minorities, and progressives won’t get turned off big time by Bloomberg’s history of right-wing authoritarianism, sexism, and racism? Think this won’t hurt in enough key swing states to enable a second Trump term? Think again.)

On the other we have Bernie supporters looking more and more like a Bernie cult. I actually ran across a campaign on social media to get people to pledge not to support the Democratic nominee in November unless it’s Bernie Sanders. Yes, they are accepting pledges today. When Sanders has less than 1% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. When voters in only two of the fifty states, and small states at that, have had their say so far.

I’ll sound like a West Coast hippie who’s read books on Buddhism for saying it (wait… I literally am a West Coast hippie who’s read such books), but: Such is the ability of attachment to blind people to obvious truths.

If you’re a conservative who is disgusted by Trump, you dream of being able to vote against Trump while also voting for right-of-center politics. Bloomburg is therefore a dream for you: a way to do that, even within the confines of a two-party system which would normally preclude that. This can easily blind you to how much Bloomberg himself is like Trump, and how impractical his candidacy really is.

If you’re a leftist, Bernie represents a longtime dream of being able to install a socialist in the highest office in the land. Again, this is something that the two-party system has normally precluded. This can easily blind you how much a liability the “socialist” label is likely to be in this general election, as well as how the checks and balances inherent in the US political system would act to severely frustrate any Sanders Administration’s ability to make and implement policy.

So much for understanding the cause. I just wish there were some way to wake people up and stop the tragedy I see unfolding.

Centrist Trumpists

Well, last night’s debates are over and the punditocracy has had time to digest them. The results are both disappointing and not entirely unexpected; the general theme today from pundits of the center and right is one of wailing and lamentation that Bloomberg, and not Sanders, was the focus of most of the hostility last night.

Remember, these are the same people who claim (and rightly so) that Trump’s lack of character is part of what makes him such an existential threat to the Republic. Yet here those same pundits are, hoping for the success of a candidate whose racism, sexism, elitism, and authoritarianism are all-too-clear. They are doing so simply because said candidate is wealthy and can use his wealth to purchase the election, thereby making himself a viable vehicle for the sort of centrism they prefer. This almost precisely mirrors the rationale why so many on the right back Trump.

Bloomberg is many ways best understood as a centrist’s Trump, and that so many centrists are so willing to support a Trump of their own puts the lie to their claims of any sort of moral high ground.

They May Have Done It

I did not watch the debates tonight (conflicting engagement), but I did watch and read summaries of them. And by all measures I’ve examined, pretty much all of the non-Bloomberg candidates recognized that Bloomberg was both a weak candidate to run in November and a threat to the core values they all profess. As a result, indications are that Bloomberg was the big loser tonight.

Time will tell, but this will hopefully put an end to Bloomberg’s rise in the polls.

All of which is as it should have been. The worry-warts who obsess over the candidates not going after Trump much tonight need to take a chill pill. That was not the purpose of this debate. The time to go after Trump comes later, in the general election campaign.

My Experiences with the Bellair Airporter

I’ve noticed their buses on I-5 for decades, so I presumed that, given this is a well-established business, it was a reliable option for getting to Sea-Tac. Given that the only flight to my destination originating from the local Bellingham airport left at 5:00 am, it was a relief to know I could take the bus to Seattle (at a sane hour of the day) instead of flying down and changing planes there.

So I go online and make my reservation. Their web site was a little dated-looking, but it seemed to work fine. I promptly got a message saying my reservation was confirmed.

Then I get another e-mail a few minutes later saying there was a problem with billing my credit card and to call customer service. So I call customer service. They can’t find my reservation at all. They make another reservation for me.

Then I notice that there are not one, but two charges from them on my credit card. So I have to call again to straighten that mess out.

The day of my trip comes, and I arrive early at the bus stop. The bus doesn’t show at the appointed time. Having learned the hard way how lacking customer service and quality control tend to be in American business, I call them and ask if there’s any problems.

“We didn’t even send the bus to that stop because there were no reservations from it.” Turns out that when they made the new reservation to me, they made it wrong, for a bus leaving an hour later.

So I had to hurry home and drive to the airport on the spur of the moment (through horrible Seattle traffic, and I hate driving in Seattle traffic) to save my flight.

And now I see that they failed to properly refund all the money for the reservation they botched.

That’s right, I’m now up to four interactions with them, for something that should have taken just one interaction, and literally every interaction has gone wrong (and at their fault) in some way.

I’m starting to realize why Alaska Airlines can get people to wake at o-dark-thirty to catch that 5:00 am flight of theirs.

Oh, Hell No

From an article in today’s Washington Post:

The King Conservation District election is offering technology to any registered voter who wishes to cast their ballot from a mobile device or a computer. Voters can log in to a portal and vote. Their selections are then recorded in a PDF file, which election officials say will be printed to create a paper trail.

Sorry, this is not how “a paper trail” works.

For there to be a paper trail, it must start with the voter him or herself, who inspects a physical document representing his or her vote and approves it as correct. That happens in traditional hand-counted paper balloting (where the official ballot is itself the paper trail). It also happens in Washington state’s current vote-by-mail system (same reason, only this time the ballot is a computer form with inked-in ovals). It can even happen in a touchscreen system where the voter is presented with a receipt (which is collected and saved by the election authority) to inspect.

It most emphatically does not happen in the clusterfuck of a system described above, where the PDF is generated on a server somewhere, with an unverifiable promise that it will be printed sometime later. If the voter him or herself does not directly create or supervise the creation of the start of the paper trail, it is not in fact a proper paper trail.