Junk Statistics

The article alarmingly titled Study: Only two-thirds of Millennials fully believe the Earth is round is junk news. Why? Just look at the question and the choices for answers offered:

Do you believe that the world is round or flat?

  • I have always believed the world is round
  • I always thought the world is round, but more recently I am skeptical/have doubts
  • I always thought the world is flat, but more recently I am skeptical/have doubts
  • I have always believed the world is flat
  • Other/Not sure

How would someone who has a good childhood memory (such as yours truly) answer this question? “Other/not sure” in my case: when I was a young child, I believed the Earth to be flat, because to such a child it obviously does appear to be so. Later on, I learned otherwise, then learned the mountains of evidence that indicate so.

It’s the only accurate answer available. I have not always believed the world to be round, I have certainly not become skeptical the earth is round recently, I have not recently become skeptical the world is flat, and I have certainly not always believed the world is flat. It’s an elementary process of elimination (as arriving at any “other” category must be). I doubt I’m the only one who arrived at “other/not sure” this way.

Lesson from France: Ecology – Class Consciousness = Failure

The gilets jaunes protests were touched off by Emanuel Marcon’s new carbon tax on fuel. These taxes were structured to fall hardest on the lower and middle classes, and they came in the context of taxes on the wealthiest having been recently cut.

Marcon is not a leftist; he styles himself as a centrist and a self-professed “economic realist,” in the typical centrist’s sense of “reality:” the duty of those on the bottom to realize that they deserve to be on the bottom, and deserve to get the short end of the stick while those on the top of society deserve more privileges (and any questioning of this sort of arrangement constitutes questioning “reality”).

It is worth pointing out that carbon fees and taxes have been enacted in other jurisdictions, where they generally have not proven so controversial. This makes it fairly obvious that the problems in France are happening because of how the French government chose to do things, and not because of anything intrinsic to charging for carbon pollution itself.

Capitalism and Imperialism Helped Cause the AIDS Pandemic

In honor of World AIDS Day, Time magazine recently ran an article on the subject, from which I quote:

Exactly how it spread continues to be studied. A 2014 study said the strain originated in the 1920s in Kinshasa, in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 2011 book The Origin of AIDS by infectious disease doctor Jacques Pepin argued that one might be able to trace the virus’ spread to bush-meat hunters who handled chimpanzee blood, and a surge in prostitution that took place among the disorder of the decolonization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the ’60s. Many of the bureaucrats sent there to establish order came from Haiti, and one or more of those workers may have brought it back to the island. As for how the virus went from Haiti to the U.S., he theorizes that it may have involved another combination of factors, ranging from an unsanitary handling of samples at a plasma center to Haiti’s reputation at the time as a sex tourism destination.

That sugar-coats some truly ugly culpability. That euphemistically-worded “disorder of the decolonization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo” was in no small part fomented by the the CIA, Belgium, and foreign capitalists, who acted to undermine the rule of the democratically-elected adminsitration of Patrice Lumumba, the first president of that nation (then simply called the Republic of the Congo). And I haven’t yet mentioned the genocidial imperialism there whose death toll is estimated at about ten million. That’s right, ten million.

Haiti, too, is a victim of imperialism. Conditions are so bad there (poverty, environmental degradation) in no small part due to evil done by the imperialist nations of the First World. France refused to acknowledge Haiti’s independence, imposing crippling economic sanctions unless the slaves who rebelled repaid slave-owning French capitalists for the “theft” of the “property” they considered the rebelling slaves to be. The entire rest of the “civilized” First World, including the USA, took France’s side in the matter and refused to trade with Haiti until it capitulated.

That was in 1804, and it was not until one hundred and forty-three years later, in 1947, that the debt was repaid. During that time, Haiti’s progress was horribly stunted by its repaying of those onerous reparations. And it was in the resulting festering cesspool of poverty (the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere) that AIDS was so easily able to spread and grow when it arrived in the 1960s.

World AIDS Day

This is a day that I’m usually pretty quiet about, because it’s a puzzle to me how to respectfully respond to it. You see, I’m a queer guy (not a gay guy) in his mid-fifties. Personally, and for reasons I won’t get to in greater detail here, that difference between queer and gay is a huge part of the reason why I managed to both avoid that HIV bullet myself, and avoid the experience of having most of my close friends die, despite being the “right” age to have experienced both.

Therefore, I can’t really relate any sort of the personal horror stories that most gay men of my age can, nor do I really feel in any way like a survivor (or have any consequent survivor’s guilt). So I’ll just have to say that while I haven’t personally experienced much of the impacts many of my friends my age have, I understand that many of them have, and that it must have been terrible.

I will say that I have had the pleasure of meeting many unassuming people who were fierce warriors during the era when AIDS was a crisis in the First World. That latter part is important; in many parts of the Third World, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is still a huge crisis today. It is due to AIDS that many African nations have a lower life expectancy today than they did 30 years ago.

Android Smart Phone First Impressions

Yes, I’ve bought one of the things, at long last. Not because I really want one to be part of my life, but because I’m thinking of being a technology assistant (focusing on senior citizens) as one of my self-employment ideas. Whether I like it or not, smartphones are one of the most common and most complex things people interact with on a daily basis, so it behooves me to familiarize myself with them before I start claiming I can help others with them.

Furthermore, the majority of web browsing is now done on smart phones, and it’s very difficult to to design a good mobile-friendly web page unless you have a mobile device to test it on.

I decided to purchase an Android, because those cost approximately 2.5 times less than iPhones, yet have about five times the market share. I expect I will acquire an iPhone as well, because I want to be familiar with both models.

Much of it is as expected. I don’t like touch screens and probably never will. The overall impression is of a device that wants to hijack my entire life and take it over. For example, it begs for email addresses then automatically configures its mail client, with notifications enabled, for any accounts you entered. So every fucking email you receive will make your phone emit a noise and disturb you. In fact, the default is for notifications to be on for every application on the phone. That’s right, the standard configuration is for the device to be as intrusive as possible. This can be defeated, of course, but it’s quite telling.

The Data Saver mode could be better. This tells applications to put a lid on the data usage unless you’re connected to a WiFi network. It’s not as good as booting them off the Internet entirely, but it’s a start. Ideally, one should be able to set apps to be in one of three mobile data modes: unrestricted, restricted, and disallowed. The latter mode should be enforced rigidly at the system level; networking calls would basically fail if it is set. Why should an app be allowed to hijack my phone service and force me to pay against my will to feed it data? Because it’s a device built on the premise of hijacking my entire life, that’s why. In a way, I’m actually surprised there’s any sort of Data Saver mode at all. An imperfect limit on network usage is still better than no limit at all.

It’s an unlocked phone. Enabling it was a simple matter of transplanting the SIM card from my existing Nokia 3310 3G to the new phone. Disabling it will be a simple matter of of reversing the SIM card transplant. I plan on doing that after carrying the new phone with me for a few weeks to better learn it.

Then the phone gets powered down and wrapped in foil or put in a metal box. Why? Because (cue scratched gramophone record), it’s a device built on the premise of hijacking people’s lives. You can’t fully turn it off with a physical on/off switch. You can’t remove the battery, either (at least not with special tools). This is standard for smartphones. As such, there’s no way of being certain it’s not being used as an eavesdropping device, unless you put it in a Faraday cage.

ICE Probably Provoked the Border Melee

I’m basing this claim on the known behavior of the agency. Basically, it’s known to be functioning as Trump’s Gestapo:

  • It’s long had a tradition, under many presidents, of operating outside constitutional norms. It routinely violates the Fourth Amendment.
  • Unlike most labor unions, the union representing ICE agents is a right-wing organization that endorsed Trump in the 2016 election.
  • ICE agents have deliberately ignored court orders when the courts rule against Trump regime policies.
  • People get tortured to death in ICE detention.

It’s entirely in character for such an agency to provoke a confrontation for political purposes. In fact, the thesis that they did is the simplest and most consistent one going. Per Occam’s razor, it is the one we should assume is true, until and unless facts contradicting it come to light.

Auto-Deprogramming

I don’t think I’ve ever related it here on the Web, and I’m a little short of current events to comment on at the moment, so I think I’ll relate how I began deprogramming myself from the pro-Establishment propaganda that I, like all individuals growing up in our society, was subjected to as a child.

It happened in my early- to mid-teens. This was well before the Internet had made it possible for anyone to easily seek out alternatives to the pro-Establishment mainstream media. Radio had always fascinated me, and as luck would have it that had led to an interest in shortwave radio.

At the time, shortwave was the only practical means of affordably distributing audio programming worldwide, so there was no shortage of foreign broadcasters beaming their angle on world events, in English, to the USA. All one needed was a shortwave receiver and some knowledge how to use it (it was not as simple as tuning in domestic broadcast stations, though it was not particularly difficult, either).

Many of the broadcasters transmitted what was basically state propaganda. It was quite obvious: the governments in those countries were always uncontroversial, always doing only good things, and always with widespread popular support. According to their own state media, of course.

That got me thinking as to how, if I had been unfortunate enough to be born into one of those unfree societies, I might manage to detect and compensate for my indoctrination, assuming I was equipped with a shortwave receiver.

The answer I came up with was based on my observations of individuals around me: they were not all equally honest and moral. Some would tend to tell the truth even if it put them at a disadvantage. Those same individuals also tended to treat others with the most respect. Others tended to lie more often, and the liars typically treated others poorly. It seemed reasonable to presume that these same overall traits could color entire societies and their governments as well.

Therefore, it would be possible to identify the more credible sources of information on shortwave: they would be the ones that admitted self-criticism onto their airwaves. They would be the stations that sometimes admitted painful truths that were inconvenient to their own nations’ governments.

So after a period of introductory listening, one would be able to compile a mental list of information sources, ranked by their evident credibility. Further accuracy could then be achieved by listening to news from as many sources as possible, and comparing the reports for consistency, taking into consideration each source’s estimated reliability and the fact that there’s always a disinclination to report things embarrassing to one’s own side.

I then filed that away as an interesting thought experiment and didn’t think much more about it for several months, until I noticed a first sign that indoctrination and suppression of inconvenient facts was present in my own society.

Maybe it was Radio Australia occasionally mentioning genocide in East Timor being committed by Indonesia, a US (and Australian) ally. That claim later got corroborated by a BBC report. Both sources had been judged credible per the above criteria; plus, the stories aired by Radio Australia were directly inconvenient to their own government. Evidently the line I had been fed about how human rights was the prime motive behind US foreign policy was incorrect. If so, something else must be the prime motive.

Maybe it was the program on Austrian history on Radio Austria International (another source judged reliable) which mentioned how the USSR had occupied Austria and turned it into one of their satellite states for a few years. Then Stalin had been talked out of it and agreed to let Austria basically go its own way, provided that it promised to not take sides in the Cold War. Wait! I had always been told that communism was permanent, and that no country that had “gone communist” had ever gone back. That was how the more extreme Cold War measures were typically sold, and here was evidence that the selling point was itself a lie.

Or perhaps it was one of many news reports from a Western European source which indicated that the nations of Western Europe had significantly more generous welfare states than the USA did. Evidently the line that the USA was almost maxed out on how much social spending a society could sustain without collapsing was incorrect as well. And then there was the little matter that the nationalized broadcasters in Australia, the UK, and many other countries actually seemed to be doing a better job at reporting the news than the capitalist ones at home in the USA. Weren’t nationalized enterprises inevitably supposed to be less efficient than private ones? Yet another lie that I had been told had just been detected.

Whichever was the first sign, others quickly came. The die was now firmly cast: I knew that propaganda was very much a part of my own society and that it had to be watched out for and compensated for.

Trump Is Not Playing Quantum Chess

He’s not playing regular chess, either. Or even checkers. I’ve posted this before, but this article gives yet another example why the theory that Trump is some sort of evil, calculating genius makes no sense:

A rational president, who had just bludgeoned Brett Kavanaugh onto the supreme court, would not jeopardize the long-awaited conservative majority by picking a fight with Chief Justice John Roberts. But rationality has never been Donald Trump’s strong suit when it comes to dealing with the judiciary.

And Here We Go

The baseless accusations against the counting (and, in Florida, recounting) is already well underway. Now Trump himself is getting in on the game.

I told you so, and it’s probably only going to escalate.

Part of it is going to unfortunately help distract from (and establish a false equivalence with) the place where there almost certainly has been an actual fraudulent election: Georgia. This is unfortunate, as there is no equivalence between bogus election fraud and actual election fraud.

I certainly hope Stacey Abrams realizes this and refuses to give a standard concession speech to Brian Kemp. By choosing to use his role as Secretary of State to compromise the election, Kemp forefit any entitlement to a gracious concession from his opponent.