Kudos to the Texas Democrats

Published at 23:16 on 31 May 2021

I do not have much good to say about how seriously most Democrats are treating the current situation, but I will give credit where it is due. The Democrats in the Texas Legislature demonstrated a willingness to bring actual guns to gun fights when they walked out at a strategic time and prevented a fascistic vote-suppression measure from being enacted.

When they did so, they rightly announced that this was being done due to the extraordinary nature of what they were opposing, and that such actions would not be suitable to advance the agenda of mere shiny things. The Texas Democrats also tellingly called on President Bidan and other Democrats in Washington to follow their lead.

Whether or not they do may well prove to be decisive in determining if the fascists win.

And yes, protecting voting rights, while not quite as important for those in Washington to pursue as accountability, is still pretty damn important. It is not a distracting shiny thing. I thought I had mentioned this in my earlier post but I had not.

No, the Conspiracy Kooks Were Not Right

Published at 06:33 on 27 May 2021

The kooks who claimed, contrary to the tiniest shred of evidence, the COVID-19 was deliberately created and released by the Chinese are now trying to crow about being right all along. They were not.

There is a significant difference between what the kooks were claiming, and what the official US government position is, namely: that the Wuhan Institute of Virology might have botched their safety protocols while researching what we now call the COVID-19 virus, thereby letting loose a new disease on the world.

Perhaps this is too subtle for the limited cranial capacity of your average conspiracy kook to comprehend, so let me lay it out the differences explicitly:

  1. The virus has absolutely no signature of being genetically engineered by humans. The conpiracy kook theory claims it was. The alternate hypothesis being put forth by the US Government (and myself, and many scientists) does not.
  2. The kooks are claiming a laboratory was involved. Us non-kooks are claiming one might have been, and that further investigation is needed to prove or disprove the alternate hypothesis.

It still might have crossed over from animals (probably bats) to humans in an unhygienic wet market. This is still a thoroughly plausible hypothesis. The thing is, a lab leak is also a plausible hypothesis.

Suspiciously, China has been uncooperative in the effort to investigate the alternate hypothesis. Such efforts have been quietly made over the past year, only to encounter stonewalling from the Chinese. So now an alternate tactic of public shaming and confrontation is being pursued.

This has actually been brewing for some time, with increasing numbers of epidemiologists getting increasingly vocal about how the alternate hypothesis really is plausible and has not been refuted. This culminated in an open letter in Science magazine advocating that the time has come to get pushy about thoroughly investigating the alternate hypothesis.

And here we are. But the kooks’ theory is still bullshit.

Don’t Get Distracted by the Shiny Things

Published at 23:41 on 24 May 2021

Pick a pet progressive issue: the environment, indigenous rights, tax reform, welfare reform, police reform, prison reform, health care, student debt, LGBT rights, etc.

It doesn’t matter.

At least, it doesn’t matter in comparison to the imperative to hold those who instigated the coup attempt of January 6th accountable.

That the rubes who fell for the instigation are getting prosecuted is irrelevant. There is a near-endless supply of such rubes. More can easily be found, and when the second coup attempt succeeds, the initial batch of rubes can easily be pardoned by His Excellency, President-for-Life Donald Trump.

Make no mistake, there are only two options for the sort of thing that happened on the 6th: hold those responsible accountable, or set a precedent that such a coup is a valid tactic to use as a means of pursuing political power. If those who instigated the coup are not held accountable, there is a lesson in it: it almost worked, and it had no real adverse consequences. Try again, and try harder. It will probably work the next time.

People who instigate un-democratic coups d’etat are people who believe in ruling by force. Force is what they understand. Asking them to be nice and not do it the next time is both pointless and laughably naïve. There must be consequences. Any political order that fails to act in its basic self-preservation is an order that is doomed to fail, and to fail relatively soon.

The United States has already demonstrated itself to be astoundingly weak and timid compared to the Weimar Republic, and the latter is widely faulted for taking the threat posed by the Nazis insufficiently seriously. Within two days of the Beer Hall Putsch — an insurrection in a provincial capital distant from Berlin — the top instigators had been arrested and were facing treason charges. Four months on, and the American Republic has yet to so much lift a pinky finger in any effort to hold the instigators of our coup attempt — one that happened in our national Capitol building — responsible.

The clock is ticking, and time is running out.

If the fascists win — and they are fascists — there will be nothing but bad news for the environment. There will be nothing but bad news for indigenous people, or people of color. There will be nothing but bad news for economic inequality. There will be nothing but bad news for health care. There will be nothing but bad news for LGBT rights.

There will be nothing but bad news and there will be no hope of there being good news for decades. It took Spain nearly forty years to recover the democracy that Franco destroyed. It took Portugal nearly fifty years to recover from the Estado Novo of Salazar and Caetano.

Accountability is key. There is nothing the Democrats could possibly do that is even one-tenth as important as to pursue accountability. If the Senate blocks the formation of a independent commission, the House must create a select committee and investigate it via that means.

Less dramatically, but no less critically, accountability is key for the other crimes of the Trump Regime as well. The illegal misappropriation of funds for the border wall, hiring of unqualified family members, treasonous collusion with hostile foreign powers, corrupt business practices: all must be vigorously investigated, prosecuted, and punished. None must be spared from accountability simply because they are wealthy or powerful.

After all, Trump himself is no aberration. Trump is merely the logical consequence of a more general failure to hold the most powerful accountable. I knew that someone like Trump was coming the moment it became clear to me that the Obama Administration was not going to punish the war crimes of the George W. Bush administration.

If the Democrats fail to pursue accountability, their craven fecklessness will ensure they go down in history as being co-responsible for the inevitable consequences.

Is the Punditocracy Starting to Get It?

Published at 11:01 on 12 May 2021

I am generally pretty pessimistic about the survival of the American Republic right now. As an anarchist, I have long been, but this is a more immediate, shorter-term survival I am talking about, and what threatens to replace the Republic is not something freer and more egalitarian, but an authoritarian to totalitarian fascist state.

As such, some faint glimmers of hope have come from growing numbers of the pundit class who are getting the same basic dynamic that I posted about recently. Here is but one example. The choice of terminology differs from mine, but the basic gist of the message is the same.

Make no mistake, it is critically important to get this message out. It needs to become the defining narrative for the 2022 election: freedom versus fascism. Panic must be instilled amongst non-fascist voters about the nature of the enemy and the consequences of their gaining power; anything less, and there will be insufficient motive to turn out in numbers sufficient to counter the fascists.

And if there really are dissidents within the GOP about to start raising a bigger stink than Cheney, Kinzinger, et alia have already done (I will believe it when I see it), then this is good news. Any damage done to the fascist side is helpful, and I am not going to get particularly picky about the actors that are doing the damage.

Upgrading My Wire Strippers

Published at 13:33 on 11 May 2021

Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) came out with a video last year singing the praises of automatic wire strippers.

A little quick research uncovered that such strippers work poorly, if at all, on PTFE (Teflon) and THHN insulation. That pretty much killed the deal for me, as I semi-regularly deal with both such wire types. But it got me thinking: stripping wire is something of a headache, because I always chintzed out on wire strippers. I bought some cheapo strippers many decades ago and have used either them or a knife. Stripping wires has always been something of a fiddly process for me.

Conclusion: I could benefit from owning some better tools, and should spend some of my birthday gift money on them. I opted for the Klein No. 11055 and 11057 strippers (yes, both of them, since I routinely have need to strip wire in a wider gauge range than any one set of strippers can accommodate). And let me say, it has been very nice to finally have a proper set of quality tools to do a task I frequently need to do.

Initially, I had toyed with the idea of getting some European-style wire strippers like these, simply because I thought they might be better than the styles used in the USA, and the “not invented here” principle was stopping their adoption. If that were the case, it should be easy to find glowing reviews from the few Americans who had discovered this style of tool. Quite the contrary, however: no such reviews existed, while there were reviews from Europeans raving about the Klein strippers above.

The morals of the story:

  1. If a recurring task has been a continual annoyance (even a minor one) and there exist tool(s) to make it easier, it is probably best to just can the stinginess and buy the tool(s) already. I should have upgraded decades ago; it would have saved a fair amount of frustration.
  2. Do your research. If I had ordered automatic or European-style wire strippers, I would have ended up disappointed.

The GOP Is Doing Just Fine

Published at 18:48 on 10 May 2021

Please, spare me all the wishful thinking about the “crisis” caused by the GOP’s failure to acknowledge legitimacy of Biden’s win. There is no crisis in the GOP. The GOP has chosen fascism, and it is working.

Whether they have chosen fascism because they actually like fascism as a first choice, or due to cravenness, or to political expediency, is not nearly so relevant a question as whether or not they have chosen fascism. And chosen it they have: they desire to rule by force, and wish to be exempt from democratic accountability.

And it is working. There was not a massive repudiation of the GOP last November; in fact the party of American Christian fascism actually picked up a few seats in the House and continues to control a majority of state legislatures.

Now, many of those same fascist-controlled legislatures are passing laws to undermine voting, and to grant themselves the power to appoint electors in contravention to how the public vote goes. Those legislatures will control a redistricting process that will (thanks to census results) give their states and their authoritarian project even more representation in Congress.

The old GOP was not shy about gerrymandering; the new, fully fascist one will be even less so. Congress is about to get even less representative of popular will than it used to be, and this will be almost entirely to the benefit of the GOP.

There is no “crisis” in the GOP. The GOP is doing just fine.

2024 is likely to see Trump retake office, with a majority in both houses of Congress. That he will almost certainly have less votes than his opponent will not matter. That GOP Congressional candidates will have received less votes collectively than their Democratic colleagues will not matter.

Anyone who thinks mere lack of popular support is a show-stopper to a power-hungry minority that wishes to rule by force in an undemocratic system is a total fucking idiot. “Power-hungry minority ruling by force” literally describes virtually the entire history of human civilization.

Modern procedural democracy is a very recent development, and has generally entailed a power-hungry minority ruling by propaganda and deception. Now, that’s a lighter touch than outright brute force, and despite all its shortcomings definitely preferable to the brute force option, not the least because it makes further progress possible with less violence than would otherwise be the case.

However, just because the propaganda and deception tactic worked for a while is no guarantee it will continue to be the operating strategy. And as the propaganda and deception is looking less likely to produce sufficiently right-of-center options, enough of the American right has decided to hell with democracy, they would rather have fascism.

They would rather have fascism, and they are quite likely to get it. It is all happening in the open; anyone who pays attention and looks at the current situation honestly can see all the pieces neatly being put into place.

There is no crisis in the GOP. It is the American Republic, and not the so-called “Republican” Party, that is in crisis.

Why Break Paywalls?

Published at 12:54 on 7 May 2021

Why did I break a paywall in that most recent post? Let me show you the pop-up that appears:

Can you spot the sleaze?

Notice how there is no one-shot option to pay a buck or two, get a site pass for a day or two (or even just access to a single page), then walk away, without any future commitment whatsoever. No, I must give them billing information and agree to be billed monthly. Sure, I may “cancel anytime,” but what that really means is that I can forget to cancel before my first month is up, and get zinged for another few months before I wake up and cancel.

Contrast that with your typical magazine selection in a store. You can take any magazine you wish, pay the price on the cover, and walk out of the store without making any further commitments. The publisher has no idea that you, personally, purchased their publication. They can not bill you in the future.

The unreasonableness of most paywalled sites can be made clear by contrast: What would a store that follows a similar policy be like? First, the magazine is behind a counter, and you are not allowed to so much as touch it by default. “No, sir, we will not hand you this magazine unless you first agree to furnish us with billing information so that we can continue billing you as new issues come out. You are of course free to cancel at any time.”

We would think that store was a pure sleaze operation, and we would be correct.

The Web needs micropayments. It needs to be easy to pay for things on a one-off, piecemeal basis, with no future commitments. It is not just newspapers and magazines that would be improved by this, either. Imagine what social networking would be like if it was easy to use on a pay-as-you-go basis: it would be based on a transaction between two parties, with much less temptation to do all the profiling and data-selling that today’s social networks depend on.

Until and unless things become less unreasonable, I and many others will continue to try and find ways to circumvent the unreasonableness.

As an aside, in many cases, circumventing paywalls really is not that hard. Business Insider, for example, relies on client-side scripting to implement its paywall, so all I had to do was launch a user agent that had no support for JavaScript, and I was in. The page looked a little odd, but the article text was still readable.

I am a Leftist, trans woman living in the rural South and a gun owner. Biden’s proposed gun control legislation will only help the far right.

Published at 11:57 on 7 May 2021

[This is a reprint from an article behind a paywall; it will remain up so long as it is allowed. The original is here. I did some forest activism with the author some years ago, and have always regarded her as particularly thoughtful and well-informed.]

Margaret Killjoy,
Opinion Contributor

It was the Pulse nightclub shooting for me. I spent hours glued to the news, shaking with anger and fear. That hate crime sent plenty of people in search of more restrictive gun laws, but it sent me and an awful lot of others in the opposite direction. Over the next few years, I started going to shooting ranges more. I took a two-day concealed carry class. Now, like millions of Americans, I’m a gun owner. Importantly, I’m part of what looks like a demographic shift in gun ownership in the US.

I’m a woman in the rural South, and I’m very visibly trans. I unintentionally find myself in the center of a culture war; the way people treat me, in cities or the countryside, has changed dramatically since Trump’s election in 2016. The stares are longer, the sneers more open. Before gender identity became so politicized in the past few years, I was a curiosity. Now, I’m a walking symbol of everything the far-right hates.

Through my activism and my art, I have found myself in the crosshairs of the local far-right. A local news outlet once ran a satanic-panic style story about one of my music videos, and the more overtly fascist groups have sent me pictures of my family alongside my license plate number and home address.

I have always supposed that my safety is something I need to guarantee for myself — that no one else was going to do it for me. Since the people who hate people like me are famously well-armed, I determined I would be as well.

It wasn’t a simple decision, nor one that I would ever recommend anyone take lightly. The risk-benefit analysis of owning a tool like a firearm must always be ongoing. Yet as I’ve become increasingly comfortable with firearms, I’ve also come to realize just how misguided most efforts at gun control truly are.

Biden’s gun control legislation is misguided

Frankly, I believe that Biden’s executive orders and proposed legislation will disproportionately affect marginalized groups, both in terms of enforcement and in terms of access to the tools of self-defense. Because the legislation does not understand the gun community, I also believe the proposed laws are a gift to the far-right’s recruitment efforts.

When people talk about “common sense gun laws,” it sure feels like they mean the opposite. Gun owners are very aware of the labyrinthine laws that surround the ownership and use of guns, how they vary state by state, and what will and won’t bring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) down on their heads. Many attempts to make laws more “common sense” end up making them even more confusing and contradictory — and can easily criminalize people who are trying to follow the law.

Take the arm brace for example. An arm brace on a pistol allows you to shoot more accurately. In 2014, the ATF ruled that you could stabilize the brace against your shoulder, if you wanted, without the gun being considered a short-barreled rifle, which are more heavily regulated and taxed. Then in 2015, they changed their mind. The exact same legal firearm, owned by millions, would be legal if shot normally, but illegal if shot with the arm brace held against the shoulder — unless the gun owner paid a $200 tax and filed the right paperwork. In 2017, they reversed again. All this because of quibbles over the definition of a rifle, which isn’t legally concealable, whereas a pistol often is.

Now Biden wants to say people can’t have this pistol, modified with the arm brace, at all without registering it and paying potentially hundreds of dollars.

That is to say, Biden is telling millions of law-abiding Americans that they better pony up hundreds of dollars or else become criminals because of arbitrary distinctions in the length of the barrel of a gun they own. If the goal of legislation is to prevent mass shootings, calling a pistol fitted with an arm brace a rifle — and thus illegal to conceal — is the most unhelpful of legal technicalities. Shooters planning to murder a crowd of people are not concerned with the legality of how they carry their gun.

This type of legislation is a gift to far-right recruitment, which, according to leaked Telegram chats, relies on using gun rights advocacy and the fear of gun confiscation to push people further to the right. One recruitment guide listed gun control as a way to “find common ground” before introducing someone to more fringe ideas. Guns should never have become a right versus left issue.

I grew up largely outside of gun culture. My father is a Marine with a medal for marksmanship, and I shot a .22 at Boy Scout camp in middle school, but guns didn’t play any large role in my life.

When you don’t own a gun, it’s really hard to care about gun law. It doesn’t risk criminalizing you or too many people you know. We live in bubbles in the US. If you own a gun, your friends likely do too. If you don’t, your friends probably don’t. Most advocates for gun control do not understand firearms, firearm law, or firearm culture. When people tell you what to do, while making it clear they don’t have the first idea what they’re talking about, it is always going to rub you the wrong way.

I own a gun and most of my neighbors own guns. Some of them hunt. Some of them are veterans. Some of them are concerned with self-defense. My neighbors in rural North Carolina, just like my neighbors when I’ve lived in major cities, run the full gamut of political affiliations. None of them operate under the illusion that the police would keep them safe in case of an emergency. Safety comes from knowing your neighbors. Safety comes, sometimes, from being armed.

Gun ownership as a symbol

What I didn’t realize, until I was in the environment I’m in now, is the importance of the gun as a symbol for many communities. A rifle in a safe, or a handgun on a bed stand, says, “I’ll never go hungry, because I can hunt.” It also says, “I will not be a passive victim of a violent attack.” It says: “Me and the people I love are the ones who keep ourselves fed and safe.”

Taking that away from someone, or just making it even more legally complex to own a gun, will never go over well. No amount of statistics will ever outweigh the emotional and symbolic importance of that ability for self-determination. The far-right heavily leverages that symbolic weight for recruitment — perhaps more than anything else.

I’m not advocating for universal gun ownership. I don’t believe an armed society is a polite society. I also recognize that for a lot of people — maybe even most people — gun ownership makes them less safe instead of more safe

But it’s poverty, patriarchy, and racist policing that drives most gun violence, and those underlying issues are where change ought to be focused.

There’s a slogan, albeit a cynical one, that people involved in mutual aid organizing use that resonates a lot with me: “We keep us safe.”

There are people who want to hurt me for who I am, and I don’t want to let them. My safety is my responsibility. Maybe it shouldn’t be, in some perfect society, but we don’t live in a perfect society. We live in the USA.

Today’s USA versus Weimar Germany: A Comparison

Published at 10:15 on 5 May 2021

Which political order was stronger and more committed to democracy? Which was more willing and able to defend itself against threats? It is a common trope that the American system is stronger and more firmly established than the Weimar Republic ever was. Let us put that claim to the test by examining the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and comparing it to the events of 6 January.

The 1923 putsch attempt did not happen in Berlin. It happened in a regional capitol, Munich. Its original aim was to settle a party leadership spat within the NSDAP (Nazi Party) by seizing control of a beer hall. The law enforcement and intelligence failures that allowed it to happen were related to planned actions at a private target in order to manipulate a private organization in a regional capitol.

The 2021 putsch attempt happened in Washington, DC. Its aim was to seize control of the national government by murdering and coercing the Vice-President and members of Congress. The law enforcement and intelligence failures that allowed it to happen were related to planned actions directed against some of the highest elected officials of the national government inside that government’s Capitol building itself, with an aim of seizing control of and manipulating the national government itself.

The 1923 putsch quickly escalated beyond its original aims, and went on to attempt a coup against the state government of Bavaria. Its first target was the Bavarian Defense Ministry. The State of Bavaria did not hesitate to vigorously defend its Ministry against the threat to it. Four soldiers and 16 Nazis were killed in the resulting struggle. The Nazis were routed and retreated in disarray.

The US government failed to defend its Capitol. Ample footage exists of Capitol Police officers passively standing by. Footage even exists of a few officers appearing to welcome the invaders. The invaders quickly routed the Capitol Police and achieved control of the Capitol.

After the routing of the putsch, Weimar Germany acted decisively against the top perpetrators, who were all arrested within a few days. They were promptly put on trial, convicted of treason, and sentenced to prison for their crimes.

After the routing of Congress, the USA has yet to act decisively against the top perpetrators. Trump, Giuliani, Hawley: none have so much as been charged. They remain free, and the mainstream news media have normalized their conduct by interviewing them as if they are part of the spectrum of normal political actors.

Yes, the chuds who followed the instigators’ lead are being prosecuted. That is inconsequential compared to prosecuting the leaders. The chuds are disposable. More of them can be found to take the place of any rotting behind bars. It is the leadership that must be disrupted.

Weimar Germany is rightly faulted by historians for failing to do enough to disrupt the Nazi leadership after the threat they posed had been demonstrated. Well, as the score stands today, the Weimar state of 1923 was strong, forthright, and robust in comparison to the present-day American one.

Maybe that will change. Maybe the Department of Justice is busily getting ready to file formal charges against the instigators. One of the faults of the Weimar prosecution was that it ended up falling flat and failing to accomplish much: the guilty served under a year of time, in a country club prison, and were promptly rehabilitated and welcomed back into the political life of the nation.

If the Department of Justice is quietly taking its time to do it right, good for them. But if not, then the American Republic is already a corpse, and we just don’t realize it yet.

This Is Not a Buttercup

Published at 23:00 on 3 May 2021

Large-Leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum)

Don’t let those five yellow petals fool you: the Large-Leaved Avens is not even in the buttercup family (it is in the rose family). It is part of a somewhat obscure (to non-botanists) genus of about 50 species which are widespread throughout the world, with species native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

This is a plant that many may be more familiar with in seed than in flower, as those yellow flowers ripen into burs that are often found attached to clothing or fur later in the season. Indigenous peoples used its leaves to brew a diuretic tea.

There are several native and several introduced buttercup (Ranunculus) species found in this region, including a very common weedy one. More on some of those later.