White replacement theory is so painfully dumb

In my last post, I noted that Trump famously said he likes the uneducated. I’m not surprised, since Trump is appallingly uneducated. But he can relate to them. But Republicans in general seem to prefer the uneducated because they will believe any sort of crap they throw out there.

White replacement theory is just the latest example. It was made tragically manifest Saturday with a shooting in Buffalo, New York by a white guy from Conklin, New York. Conklin is a stone’s throw from where I spent my formative years, in Endwell, near Binghamton. I remember our area as being painfully White, so much so that I don’t recall seeing my first Black person until I was in my teens.

It was less so last time I visited. But I have a feeling Conklin remains pretty lily White. Anyhow the alleged shooter, Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Conklin was echoing the theory’s talking points of plenty of others in the G.O.P. including, most prominently, Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. The theory, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is that there is a conspiracy among elites to replace White people with people of color.

You notice that it’s always a conspiracy? It can’t happen as a result of natural forces; it must be some vast left wing conspiracy at work. Like Trump’s idea that China had a weapon to create hurricanes, it’s an idea so painfully dumb it actually makes my head hurt. It’s just laughable that anyone would actually believe this crap. But Gendron apparently did. He was so animated by it he allegedly killed ten Black people including a store security guard, and wounded three others. He pleaded not guilty, but he has a 180-page screed you can read if you got the stomach for it and, of course, for a while it was streamed live on Twitch from his helmet cam.

We know that skin color amounts to less than one percent of our DNA. So we are all fundamentally the same. White replacement theory makes about as much sense as a conspiracy than that blondes or pug-nosed people control the world. If someone came to me with the latter idea and they sincerely believed it, I would do my best to get them to see a mental health professional. The same is true with anyone who believes (fill in the blank) are engaged in a massive, hidden conspiracy to (fill in the blank).

These theories seem to be attractive because it’s a way to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s like believing that God is love and God is hate at the same time. Something has to bridge the divide if you are to maintain any semblance of sanity, so something laughable must be invented. There are no grand conspiracies. There is no Trilateral Commission. Trump lost the 2020 election too and it was likely the most secure national election of all time.

If you were concerned about White replacement though, a lot of what the Right is doing is counterproductive. Take the expected Supreme Court decision expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. For the most part, white women aren’t going to have a problem getting an abortion. We know this because it was the case when it was last illegal. It will be a problem for people of color who are predominantly poorer. Anti-abortionists, many of whom are also racists, are making worse the very problem they decry.

Birth rates are higher among minorities because it’s harder to get abortions, it’s harder to afford birth control and when you are economically challenged you are often put at disproportionate risk for incidents like violence, rape, and marital abuse. Good Catholics won’t use contraception, but most Catholics look the other way on what the Church teaches them.

Catholicism might explain why Hispanic Americans have a higher birthrate compared to Whites. But it doesn’t explain the birthrates among Blacks, who are not disproportionately Catholic. My black friends tend to have more children mostly because they are more likely to have had dysfunctional relationships, which is likely largely a result of living at the margins most of their lives.

The reverse is true. The birthrate among Whites is down not because of a grand conspiracy, but because they have more control over whether to opt to have a family or not. The average age of a mother having a first child in the United States is now 30. Having babies is not a priority, and easy access to contraception and abortion makes it easier to avoid.

That’s because having kids today is darn expensive, at least if you don’t want them to grow up in poverty and have something resembling a first-world lifestyle. We stopped at one child because we figured this out thirty years ago. Indeed, the cost of raising just our daughter was at least $200,000, and likely a lot more than that, and that included a discounted public education. With two kids, it’s not clear we’d now both be retired and debt free.

If you want more White babies, I dunno, maybe make it cheaper to have kids? For example, childcare could be subsidized, like is true in much of Europe. But we can’t have that; it’s socialism. Maybe grant parental leave to new mothers and fathers? Except for a handful of states, that’s also seen as socialism by Republicans. Maybe subsidize baby formula and disposable diapers? More socialism, naturally. Oh, and maybe robustly fund the public schools so our kids don’t grow up believing racist crap like this? Republicans though seem to want to get rid of public schools altogether and keeping kids from being enlightened seems to be the animus behind “woke” laws.

If the United States was to be a nation for Whites, then maybe we shouldn’t have invited over so many minorities? Of course most Black Americans are ancestors of slaves so they had no choice in the matter. But Southern plantation owners had no such qualms and needed someone to pick their cotton for cheap. We brought over so many minorities and people of color mostly so Whites could live their lifestyles on the cheap. Our country didn’t build itself. It was largely built on the backs of slaves and the oppressed.

You know, people that those who believe in the White replacement theory now want gone, or at least oppressed and disempowered. Because that’s like totally fair because having people near them with a different skin hue makes them very nervous.

White America is reaping what we have sown. To me fully enfranchising all Americans is long overdue and would demonstrate America at its best. Whites reaping what they have sown is what’s really going on. Many just don’t want to pay the price.

Blogging in unprecedented and depressing times

Well, this is new: two new email subscribers to my blog in less than twenty four hours! Welcome! Occam’s Razor is a very obscure back corner of the internet, so it’s flattering when I get new subscribers. I hope you find it is worth your time.

In 2002, when I started blogging, it was chic. For a time it was glorious to be a blogger, even an obscure blogger like me that likes to publish anonymously. I rode a wave. I’d routinely get hundreds of page views a day with no effort. Also, people would leave comments.

But things rarely stay novel on the Internet. Blogging got commercialized and monetized. Tech firms found ways to move readers to aggregator sites and social networks that were more interesting and more profitable. To get your blog read, you generally needed to be some sort of minor celebrity, or, more recently, attach yourself to a major blogging platform like Substack. That’s why I’ve ruminated ending the blog in December when I hit the twenty year mark. Now, maybe not so much.

In truth, to succeed in blogging you had to work hard at it: posting regularly and spending a lot of time marketing it. Then you had to hope that people would want to read your blog. I simply didn’t have the energy to give it that kind of attention. I care enough about the blog to try to post to it regularly and to make a post as interesting and insightful as I can, but not enough to market it. Besides, it’s not a blog for most people. It’s a blog for the intellectually curious, or at least I hope it’s that.

I’m a guy that thinks a lot. It’s human to look for meaning in life even though with so much chaos in life it’s doubtful that much meaning can really be ascribed to it. Still, I’m convinced that that while not everything in life has meaning, a lot of it does. When I can piece together these inferences, it’s hard for me not to share my insights here.

It’s clear to me that we live in unprecedented times. Things are more likely to end badly than not as all sorts of macro forces are at work. We simply lack the national and international will to change things at the moment. There are attempts, like the Paris Climate Accords. But because we live in a world of countries, and each one is autonomous, there’s no way to orchestrate the change that is needed. As disorder gets worse, it may spur the change that is needed. Vested interests though are hard at work to keep this from happening.

We are being played. Republicans play to the fears of their base, and actually inflame those fears to make things worse. In the last ten years it’s gotten clearly Orwellian. Republicans in general simply refuse to accept facts. Trump himself said he loves the uneducated. No wonder because he’s appallingly ignorant on so many levels. The latest example reported recently is that he thought China was using weapons to create hurricanes.

It’s but just one example of an endless supply of baseless and supremely ignorant ideas Trump and Republicans in general wallow in all the time, like Hunter Biden’s laptop. It’s done to acquire power because it’s well known that appears to emotion easily out trump appeals to reason. It’s just that in 2016 Trump somehow got put into office and could actually try to act on this crazy stuff. Naturally he was inclined to believe anything that kept him from examining his own logic.

If we feel it is true, then it must be right, regardless of whether science says otherwise. The American west is quickly drying up as the planet heats up. There won’t be the water to sustain the people who live there. They’ll be migrating east, for the most part. It’s not a question of if, but when. Climate change is happening, but even as Indians die from heat so intense their bodies can’t keep up with it, the skeptics won’t entertain the idea that climate change is the root cause.

It’s getting worse and quickly accelerating. So what are people doing? In America, is seems they are mostly migrating to Florida, whose coastlines are already being ravaged. In twenty years Miami will mostly be underwater. My sister retired from Fort Lauderdale to Titusville. Her house rests on a bluff of sorts about thirty feet above sea level. Good for her but it’s a stopgap measure. She just likes to boat. The most valuable land in the future isn’t in Florida, it is already for sale at bargain prices in states like Ohio and New York where the climate will still accommodate people. Instead, people are moving in droves to doomed states like Florida. It makes no sense.

Just to mitigate climate change around the edges will require rethinking and redoing everything. The American lifestyle is simply not sustainable. It requires people to act and think logically and coherently. It means trusting in scientists. It means hunkering down, eating less meat and living more like a village lifestyle than a jetsetter’s lifestyle. It means having fewer children, reclaiming blighted areas and ending deforestation. At some point it will means closing economic markets like Brazil and, yes, potentially the United States, until we act sustainably.

That’s what’s required. But I’m betting we’ll continually choose to fall over our own tied shoelaces instead.

A truly heinous Roe v. Wade decision looks likely

It hasn’t been looking good for Roe v. Wade for a long time. So the shocking leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito shouldn’t surprise us too much with its bottom line. The court looks likely to overturn 49 years of precedence in a 5-4 decision, a decision made possible in part by Republicans pulling out all the stops, most recently by Senator Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court during President Obama’s term.

Who done it? We may never know. The easy answer is to blame some liberal-leaning law clerk. My guess is that it was just the opposite. While the outcome is not in much suspense, Alito’s draft opinion is just shocking for its rationale and mendacity.

His main thesis seems to be that abortion can be controlled by the states because laws against it are “deeply rooted” in tradition. Also deeply rooted are laws like only white male property owners can vote, slavery is okay and women shouldn’t be able to vote. Mind you this is the same justice that helped decide Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which decided that corporations are people. That’s not deeply rooted anywhere in American history; in fact it was nowhere in the law.

Alito, and apparently the conservative wing of the court, were looking for a pretext to overturn the 1973 ruling, and this was the rationale they came up with. It can be used as pretext for overturning all sorts of Supreme Court rulings, rulings on gay marriage, interracial marriages and separate but equal educations, for example.

I suspect that an opinion like this would get cleaned up in subsequent versions by other justices. This is unlikely to happen now because if the other conservative justices attempt to change the rationale, it will be clear to the radical right that they caved. The more radical the opinion, the better, is probably what the right is hoping for. They see the rationale for overturning Roe not just as a way to end abortions, but as a cudgel that will allow all sorts of other rulings to be overturned.

I was no fan of Citizens United. But at least it followed the general trend by the court of expanding civil liberties. If this ruling stands, you’d be hard pressed to find other rulings that actually curtailed rights. That’s what this ruling will do. It essentially means that pregnant women lose bodily autonomy. At least during pregnancy, they are not people: they are breeders for the state.

If the states were a bit looser in their abortion laws, overruling Roe might be easier to swallow. But states are going for the jugular. In many of these states, new laws make no exceptions for rape or incest. Not aborting an ectopic pregnancy can kill the mother. These laws will literally kill women trying to save fetal lives that cannot possibly be viable.

I’m reminded of a scene from the second season of Bridgerton, which you can find on Netflix. The young Lord Bridgerton’s mother is in labor, after his father dies suddenly. The baby is in a breach position. The attending doctor asks Lord Bridgerton whose life to save: the mother’s or the child’s. At least Lord Bridgerton gets a choice, although of course no one bothers to ask his mother. She has no choice in this: she is just chattel. If this ruling stands it’s pretty clear who wins in our brave new world in many states: the mother must die on the off chance a baby may live.

That’s what being “right to life” means to these crazy pro-life people. We will kill others including mothers, including mothers who were raped, if necessary to save a fetus. In many cases, it’s not a fetus, but an embryo. The expectant mother has no say in carrying a child to term. She’s like a mare being studded. She’s a baby factory; not a person and in the case of rape has no say in who can impregnate her either.

Roughly seventy percent of Americans believe that at least some abortion rights must be allowed. This radical decision is thus at wide variance with the consistent view of the American people. It is the tyranny of the minority in action that I have warned about.

It is likely though that when these new state laws actually go into effect and women actually start dying from unplanned pregnancies again, it will have a major boomerang effect in the midterms. It may be the gift that keeps Democrats in power in Congress, despite all the gerrymandering and voter suppression. Generally, the most passionate voters show up. If most of those who support abortion rights are passionate about it, they’ll show up in November and overwhelm the antichoice votes. In that sense the Supreme Court would have been smarter to delay this decision until shortly after the midterms.

Our Supreme Court is using overturning Roe to establish a new precedent to go after all sorts of laws and rights hitherto assumed sacrosanct. This makes the decision not just awful, but genuinely heinous.

If I were a Supreme Court justice voting for this, I would demand 24/7 security. By putting targets on the backs of pregnant women, they may be putting one on their backs too.

Republicans are dancing to the Pied Piper

Attention Republicans, or should I say lemmings: you are being misled. Right off the cliff, I mean.

I hate to break this to you, but you guys (and gals) are painfully easy to manipulate. All your opinion leaders have to do is play to your prejudices and you fall in line like enthusiastic sheep welcoming the glory of the slaughterhouse.

I am sure there are “woke” Republicans, in the sense that some of these sheep know what awaits them. I don’t think there are many of them. Most came out as Never Trumpers years ago and have been scorned by their own party. Others are lying low, like Jeb Bush, hoping for a day when all this madness is gone and they will be in vogue again.

Just as P.T. Barnum observed there’s a sucker born every minute, the rest of us “woke” people realize there’s at least one new Republican sheep anxious to bound toward the slaughterhouse born every minute too. Indeed, plenty of these sheep have bounded so hard they didn’t make it and fell over dead along the way. They were unmasked and unvaccinated, for the most part.

After all, their ultimate opinion leader, Donald Trump, told them the pandemic was largely fake news and flouted common sense rules to mitigate the spread of the disease. You guys ate it up because if there’s anything guaranteed to get you riled up, it’s “owning the libs” and appealing to your sense of aggrievement and self-righteousness.

The libs, by the way were, for the most part, busy limiting social contact, masking and getting vaccinations and boosters as soon as they could. Of course you wanted the opposite of that. By definition in your mind anything a liberal does must be wrong, so you had to head in the opposite direction. In the past though you might have ambled in that direction. Now you sprint in that direction.

Your opinion leaders don’t think and behave at all like you. Take Tucker Carlson. When was the last time you wore a bowtie? What about Sean Hannity? When was the last time you wore a suit and parted your hair in the middle? What about Donald Trump? How many of you got at least $100M seeder money from your father? How many of you self-reliant types had a big daddy to bail you out when you kept tripping over your own shoelaces? How many of you go years between going to church, as is typical of Donald Trump, who shows up maybe at an odd funeral? How many of you choose golf and country club dining over a NASCAR race, a shooting range and dinner at an Applebees? How many of you got vaccinated and boosted while Fox News tracks employees vaccination statuses and requires masks in many meetings? In short, aren’t your leaders full of hypocrisy? Why can’t you see their bullshit? The rest of us can.

It’s because they know how to pull your strings and as I said, it’s not hard. If I wanted to use you like grist in the mill I could do so as well; I’d just have to lose a sense of conscience, which for them is long gone. Arguably, Donald Trump never developed one. Worse, these conscienceless people’s habits have turned you into arguably horrible people.

Just five years ago, I knew of conservatives ago really didn’t care if people were gay and had no problem with gay marriage. It was live and let live for a lot of these people back then as many were libertarian in spirit. Much of their overt racism was gone too. Today, it’s all back, baby, because your opinion leaders like Donald Trump know these fears are easily rekindled.

And that’s what it’s all about: keeping you afraid. They know that our most powerful motivator is fear. It’s in their interest to keep you feeling afraid because when you feel afraid you vote for them. Your ability to believe ludicrous crap is apparently bottomless, such as the 2020 election was somehow “stolen” when there was virtually no evidence this was true, as attested by many judges who were appointed by Donald Trump.

And when they are in power, they are glad to pick your pocket. They do it indirectly with obscene tax cuts for the rich. But they also do it directly, like by channeling your donations to Trump’s PACs into his own pocket.

You are not just being used; you are being abused. You are being treated badly. You are like an abused wife certain it must be something she did that’s responsible for making her husband beat her. At root, they’ve recognized that you don’t have much self-esteem and they can use your faults against you and to profit them. And you are dying needlessly by the hundreds of thousands, mostly from covid-19, because you are under their spell. It must be the liberal’s fault that you got the disease. It all must be part of some massive conspiracy when in truth massive conspiracies are virtually impossible to pull off.

I don’t expect you to wake up and smell the coffee, as Ann Landers used to say. Most of you won’t make it to the end of this. The rest of us pity you and, yes, fear you too. Your opinion leaders have created tens of millions of loose cannons. All the rest of us can do is hope that when they go off we can avoid most of the shrapnel and that your exalted leaders take direct hits. Believe me they deserve your retribution.

Decarbonizing your life doesn’t have to be hard

Better late than never. I’ve been decarbonizing my life.

Granted, it’s a work in progress. There are a lot more extreme steps I could take, like become a vegan. Meat prices are so high that cutting back on it isn’t too hard. If nothing else, we’ve been reducing portion sizes. My wife simply won’t give it up, so at best I’d have to eat a lot of meals I prepare myself. Cows in particular put out a lot of methane.

But my wife is helping in other ways. Last New Year’s Eve, she bought a Nissan Leaf, a fully electric car but one which can’t in any meaningful sense be considered a touring car. Its range is about 150 miles. But most of the time we’re at home which means she has a range of about 75 miles on a full charge. She rarely needs more than 30 miles. If we ever move, moving her car will be one of the challenges. Every 150 miles she’d have to stop at a public charger and at best she’d be stuck there a few hours while it recharges.

Our garage now has a proper car charging circuit. We spent about two thousand dollars to have an electrician install a 240 volt, 50 amp circuit to the garage. It seemed a bit of an indulgence since she uses it so little that waiting a day or so to charge it from a 120 volt, 15 amp circuit wasn’t a bother. Eventually I’ll have a fully electric car too and it will be used regularly.

For a while I sort of did have one: a Toyota Prius Prime, which on a good day could get thirty miles before the engine kicked in. Unfortunately, it became infested with mice and was declared totaled. The next best thing was a 2019 Toyota Camry hybrid which I eventually replaced it with. It gets about 47mpg and is our touring car.

Since 2016, we’ve had solar panels on our roof. We paid for it in full with some money I inherited from my parents that I received a few months after my dad died. That is certainly green, but it turns out the system was a bit undersized. The rest of it comes from a solar farm in Central Massachusetts. This is not quite as green as I hoped as I subsequently learned the solar farm displaced a pine forest that used to be there.

I’ve learned that getting solar is a no-brainer. In a bit less than five years it fully paid for itself, helped in part by generous federal and Massachusetts solar tax credits. Now it actually makes us money. In Massachusetts, it’s part of a SREC-II program, which means that companies pay us to claim our solar energy, avoiding their need to decarbonize. It amounted to about $1800 last year. This revenue stream will go away in about five years. But the solar panels will remain on the house, and that will still save us money compared to buying the power from our provider. Here in western Massachusetts, commercial power is very pricey and averages about $.24/kwh. At that rate, we saved about $1500 in annual electricity costs in 2021, and we can expect that cost savings every year until the system becomes too inefficient. I’ll probably be dead by then, so it should outlast me.

It also helps to drive less. If you work from home, you are inadvertently doing your part. While I’m retired from a full time job, I still do some consulting, so I’m helping there. We do a lot less distance driving than we used to do, and the pandemic cut that down even further. It was all that time with my car garaged that likely caused the mice to infest it. Also, we do less traveling. A recent cruise and the flights to and from the cruise port were exceptions. Even the cleanest burning cruise ship is going to put out a lot of carbon emissions.

One of our latest steps has been looking at our investments and making them cleaner. We’ve done this is two phases, but mostly it meant moving money into funds that are focused on green technologies. Talking it over with our financial adviser, we discovered there was likely no downside to doing this. Well managed ESG (environmental, social and governmental) funds tend to match or exceed the S&P 500 index. We started with our retirement funds. Except for my considerable IRA in the federal employee’s Thrift Saving Plan (TSP, which has no such type of environmental fund), these funds have been moved into Black Rock ESG electronic trading funds. This article can point you to some of the funds we bought into.

More recently we decided to invest our cash accounts, well into six figures, into more ESG funds. With inflation high, the low interest rate we were getting meant that we were losing money by hoarding cash. We don’t need all this cash for anticipated expenses, so investing these for ten years or so in the hopes we’ll beat inflation seemed a logical thing to do. After all, I have a cushy government pension. It went into more Black Rock ESG funds. As for my TSP funds, I can move them into a brokerage but I would lose the no-fee aspect which makes TSP accounts so nice to have.

What’s still to be done? We live in New England, generally a cold state. People usually heat their houses with gas or oil. It’s gas in our case. We also have a gas oven and a gas-fired water heater. I haven’t talked my wife into it yet, but I’m hoping as these move toward replacement they’ll be replaced with electric appliances, and the AC unit will become a heat pump. (The AC unit is effectively a heat pump during the summer; it’s the winter that’s the problem.) We weren’t enamored with heat pumps when we lived in Virginia but they have gotten more efficient and more reliable. They’re not sexy and they won’t blast heat at you like a gas furnace will, but it’s a better way to go, particularly if I can expand our solar array.

But expanding the solar array is difficult. It makes no sense, but current law requires that we would have to install and meter a separate system to expand it, needlessly inflating costs. There is a smaller roof on our house that could hold another ten panels or so. If we get rid of gas appliances though, this and the continually falling price of solar panels probably will nudge us in this direction.

Eventually my car will be wholly electric too, but the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet, which is why I reluctantly bought a hybrid.

One household can’t do much, but millions of households can. If you’ve been reluctant to get started, start with solar panels, if your house gets abundant sunshine. It will pay for itself, so it’s also financially sound. Otherwise choose electricity from clean and renewable sources. Check with your electric company to see how you can do this.

Elon Musk, Twitter and “free speech”

It can’t be just me, but I really loath Elon Musk.

He reminds me of Donald Trump, only with a bigger ego and with more brains and a true fortune – he’s the world’s richest person. With eighty million Twitter followers, I’m not surprised that he recently became Twitter’s largest shareholder and now is attempting a hostile takeover of the platform. In response, Twitter has set up a poison pill which allows it to issue more shares of its stock if necessary, obviating his ability to get a majority of shares.

Without giving out too many details, I have a brother in law who had a run in with Elon. This was more than a decade ago but not before he was busy getting into the space business. SpaceX was bidding on government work and Elon’s ego of course got in the way. He started dissing NASA and engaging in behavior that was boorish at best and unethical and/or possibly illegal at worst. My brother in law, working through his lawyers, got an apology from Elon that smoothed things over.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

It’s clear though that Elon hasn’t learned the lesson.

Two things really cemented Musk’s fortune. First was PayPal, and he was clearly an innovator in this space, figuring out that micro payment services were going to be a thing and people needed a broker to make these transactions. Most of us have to pay homage in the form of PayPal fees to Elon’s company. Just today a $205 bill I sent to a client in the UK was minus $9.49 in PayPal fees. It costs money, you know, to transfer British pounds to U.S. dollars but also they can get away with it because they don’t have much effective competition. Venmo? PayPal owes that one too.

But a lot of his fortune was made at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. I’m not talking just about his ability to pay little to no taxes, or the offshoring of his many companies for the same purpose. He’s hardly alone there but, Jesus, the guy is worth an estimated $270 billion dollars! He’s a compelling reason for a wealth tax. And the reality is he’d never notice the tax. It’s change that slipped into the cracks of his sofa.

Anyhow, Tesla was heavily subsidized by the U.S. government when it got started. The government does things like this all the time because the private sector won’t otherwise bear the risk of new technologies, electric cars in his case. Arguably, there is no more pressing need than addressing climate change. Solyndra, for example, spent $570M that was ultimately wasted. President Obama got hell for it at the time, but the government doesn’t expect all these ventures to succeed. It floods the market in the hopes that some of them would succeed, and Tesla did. It’s one of the world’s most profitable companies now, thanks to at least $2.4B in U.S. government subsidies.

So good for Elon for succeeding in a new market where so many others failed, but he’d not have much of his wealth if it weren’t for these subsidies. That’s because he likely wouldn’t have gotten into the market in the first place. I’m all for electric cars, but I can’t stand the thought of buying a Tesla, mainly because I see Musk’s face when I picture Tesla.

Now Musk wants to buy Twitter to let free speech flow again. It sounds like if he were running it, we’d all be able to post as often as we wanted to, with no restrictions. So it’s fair to think that Donald Trump’s Twitter account would become active again, and his lifetime ban would go away.

I don’t understand Twitter’s appeal. I barely use it, except to post that I have a new post that anyone can read. It has one tenth the user share of Facebook. The 280 character limit on posts still feels confining, and trying to follow threads among multiple posts is jarring. The incessant mention and tag symbols make it hard to parse. And it’s distracting. How do you get any real work done if you are tweeting all day?

But also, it’s a proven platform for hate and disinformation. Despite efforts to crack down on bogus accounts, they are still plentiful. There’s very little actual free speech on Twitter, because both posts and replies are drowned by often hateful and factually incorrect information. Unless you are very well read outside of Twitter, it’s hard to know what’s real or fake. As a solution to the free speech problem, it sucks. True free speech is frequently drowned out and little of it contributes to genuine dialog or true information or insight.

Also, the private sector doesn’t have an obligation to provide free speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government from regulating free speech. Government doing this doesn’t seem to bother many Republicans, who are all about keeping teachers from freely speaking that Timmy’s got two dads. Anyhow, Twitter can set its own rules. Given how bad a job Twitter used to do at regulating its platform, going back to that seems counterproductive. Twitter’s current policies remain haphazard and largely ineffectual in promoting actual useful speech and communications.

But if we have to ensure free speech on Twitter, I have a modest proposal: ensure everyone who has an account is who they say they are and let them be the only posters. The number of checked (verified) Twitter users is still pretty small. If you are going to exercise your right to free speech on this platform, do it publicly. Their Twitter profiles should document the steps that Twitter took to verify their account, and when. Ensure that those posting go through periodic Captcha to prove they are a human. The same should be true for official accounts of companies, organizations and governments posting on the platform. Bullies should not be able to hide in fake profiles. If someone is defaming someone else on the platform, Twitter should help facilitate defamation lawsuits by aggrieved parties. That’s a tangible way to stop the bullying and intimidation rife on the platform.

I doubt Musk wants any of that. I too hide behind a Twitter profile but I’ll happily unmask if everyone else has to as well, or, more likely, I’d stop using the platform, which is of marginal value anyway.

Russia isn’t a superpower and won’t be one again

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been ghastly but also illuminating. It’s illuminated just how broke and dysfunctional its military is and how endemic the corruption is within it. But it’s also illuminating that the country is no longer a superpower, and likely won’t ever be one again.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, it’s a corrupt state. If oligarchs can siphon off much of the money that would otherwise go to the state, it deprives the state of the resources it needs to be effective. This is evident in the condition of Russia’s military in the Ukraine war, where much of it equipment is breaking down. Their hardware is generally shoddy because a whole chain of people got kickbacks instead of insisting the stuff they were buying was of quality. Much of their military is corrupt too, but even if they wanted to be otherwise, senior leadership won’t allow them not to be corrupt. You succeed in Russia’s military by being a toady but remaining far enough down in the hierarchy where you won’t be held accountable.

Second, its military is badly managed. Its recruits are for the most part of low caliber and they don’t get the training they need to effectively do their jobs. There is little delegation of authority, meaning local commanders can’t adapt to changing conditions. The pay is poor too and conscripts are rarely of high quality. They also haven’t figured out how to run a military logistics chain properly. And their troops seem to lack many of the basics needed to be effective, like gas for their tanks, regular resupplies and secure phones for communications.

Most importantly, they’ve been priced out of the superpower field. This is essentially how we won the Cold War in the first place: we outspent the Soviet Union because our GDP allowed us to do it. To some extent Russia held on by being clever, such as by developing more effective tactical weapons. But with a GDP less than ten percent of the United States, they simply didn’t have the means to compete forever.

Effectively, China has replaced them as the world’s new superpower. They did it by embracing capitalism, utilizing its abundance of cheap labor and a growing highly skilled workforce that embraced education. This created double digit economic growth year over year, giving them a GDP that is now rivaling that of the United States. This also gave them the resources to expand their military, build aircraft carriers, improve their ballistic missiles and create the infrastructure needed to support a first class military.

Russia embraced corrupt capitalism after it lost the Cold War. It helped improve their dismal GDP, but not enormously. Capitalism was concentrated in assets it already had, like oil and gas, rather than in new and emerging technologies. It did not reinvest its profits in things that matter like China did: infrastructure and education. To the extent Russia can wield political power, it depends on aging technology. Its nuclear warheads are one of its biggest assets, but hardest to wield effectively.

All this is not to suggest the United States is home free. Our political polarization brings lack of unity, which adds to our own governmental dysfunction. We effectively have our own oligarchy in the United States too, and it is creating huge inequality and poverty. The Republican focus on taxes as being bad also means less investments in the future. With enough disunion, the United States can be broken apart. The same is true with many countries rife with sectarian struggles. Russia might succeed in a way through our failures. So far though we keep funding our defense establishment lavishly, and our military remains one that is highly trained and effective.

Obviously, Russia is still capable of causing a lot of conflict, misery and death. But its military mindset is still stuck in the 20th century. It can perhaps nuke Ukraine into submission, but it has forever lost the hearts and minds of its people. It can only succeed by brute force, if it can find the resources to do so, but it is doomed to eventually fail. The war has proven catastrophically unwinnable for them, and any victory would be pyrhhic at best. In the process, it is turning the country into an outlaw state, further depriving them of the resources they will need to thrive in the future.

This war, which is likely to drag on for years, will likely be seen as the biggest boondoggle of the 21st century, at least so far.

Dodging covid-19

I’m now among a minority of Americans because I haven’t contracted covid-19. A recent Monmouth poll found that 52 percent of Americans polled say they have come down with covid-19.

I’ve never tested positive for covid-19 either. I suppose it’s possible I’ve been exposed but before getting on a cruise December 1st I passed a PCR test. That was the only PCR test I’ve taken. We have three Antigen test kits in the house. I suppose I could use one of these, but they are only good for helping figure out if you were recently exposed to the virus. I’m feeling fine so using the test kit is kind of pointless.

It’s becoming easier for me to unmask in indoor public spaces. Yesterday about a dozen of us age 55+ guys in our neighborhood went out for dinner. We were unmasked in the restaurant and all the staff was unmasked too. I felt safe in part because my wife volunteers one day a week at the local emergency room and there were zero covid patients while she was there, the first time this happened since the pandemic.

But it’s still out there. This was driven home to me today when I learned that my next door neighbor Jeff, an elderly widower probably around age 90, caught covid. We were wondering why there was an ambulance at his house and finally learned of his condition. After a long bought in the hospital he’s home but reportedly still not doing great. So far there has been no known fatalities from covid-19 in our 55+ community of eighty people or so.

It’s tempting to brag that we’ve escaped covid, but it’s too early for that. There’s some evidence we are moving from a pandemic to an endemic disease. Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease hardly means that we’re out of the woods, just that it’s becoming manageable. What’s going on today also happened after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. At some point people stopped caring; it became yesterday’s news. They just got on with life although and preferred to ignore the disease.

I’ll never know for sure, but I think the main reason my wife and me have been lucky so far is that we’re retired. It’s just the two of us and most days are spent at home. Still, I’ve been half expecting us to get it too. My wife also volunteers at the local survival center. Both it and the emergency room gig have pretty aggressive covid-19 masking and distancing protocols, but I half expected it would sneak into our household this way. It somehow got our neighbor Jeff too, probably via his son who’s a frequent visitor.

We’re both probably destined to get the disease at some point. I like to think though that somehow we will be the exception. It may take another year or two, but I’ll probably get it. I do expect that if I get it, the symptoms will be relatively mild. But I slipped to Medicare age this year. Seniors like me are more likely to get more severe cases, particularly if you have underlying conditions. My wife has more than a handful. I can count being overweight as a stroke against me. There’s no way to know in advance if we’ll remain the exceptions.

That’s because dodging covid-19 is all about playing the odds. Arguably, I’ve been playing the odds. We took two cruises, one at the start of the pandemic, and didn’t get anything. My wife’s volunteering has been playing the odds. My apparent reluctance to get to a normal body weight is playing the odds. But not having to run to a job every day and not having school aged children in the house definitely has been helping a whole lot.

The Washington Post article notes that 57 percent of Republicans report getting covid, while only 38 percent of Democrats got it. In this case, just me being a Democrat has improved the odds. It’s not too hard to figure this out. The Republican Party is rife with antivaxxers. If you are going to ignore science, you are much more likely to get the disease. While not religious, we were religious in believing in science. We got shots and boosters just as soon as we could, although getting the first shot was a huge hassle. We may be getting a bit complacent. We can now get a second booster but so far haven’t. Hopefully we’ll take care of that in the next week or so.

In general, our success to date probably comes from having a survivor’s mentality. My mother was a nurse. My father was an engineer. So both sides told us what we needed to do in these situations, which was listen to scientists and public health experts. We expected guidance to be off at times and improve as the disease was better understood.

In the beginning of the pandemic we were wiping down surfaces all the time. That was likely a waste of time and money. Learning it was a respiratory disease helped a lot, which meant that masking was useful. Still, the masking we got was really not up to the task. We needed N95 and KN95 masks that were largely unavailable. We needed the government to step up and make billions of these masks and give them out for free. It wasn’t until February 2022 that I could get a free N95 mask at our local CVS.

Since then, I generally use an N95 mask in public, like I did today in the grocery store. Most of the people there were masked, but most were not using N95 or KN95 masks. I suspect Massachusetts (where I live) is the exception with so much masking. I expect there is a lot less mask wearing in other states.

We’re cautiously reengaging in life again. We sat unmasked while we watched the movie Dog recently, our first move in a theater since the pandemic. (The theater was mostly empty, which helped.) We were unmasked at a local Chinese restaurant too, even before our meal was served. Mostly I’ll wear my N95 mask in public. I’m used to it now and it’s no big deal. If you do anything regularly, it ceases to feel like much of a nuisance.

I’m hoping this approach will let us to keep defying the odds. It’s much easier to give in to your emotions, but if you are primarily left-brained like us, it’s not hard to take logical precautions and perhaps possible to never get covid-19.

The peculiarity of Beau of the Fifth Column

If you want to persuade someone, generally you have to look a lot like someone you are trying to persuade.

You’d like to think that we’d be all Vulcan and clinically analyze the facts, but in general you need to be a scientist for this to work. Even a lot of scientists have their own biases. Which is why watching vlogger Beau of the Fifth Column at work is pretty interesting.

If you are trying to slip through someone’s radar, a bald white guy with a wild red beard and a baseball cap seemingly glued to his scalp is likely to do it. One look at Beau (real name Justin King) and you would be forgiven for typecasting him as a redneck.

And in a way, it’s true. Beau lives way out in the wilds of Northern Florida somewhere. He exhibits many of the attributes you would expect of rednecks. He owned guns until a few years ago. He’s a big believer in self-sufficiency. He’s not a fan of big government and believes that local community networks are the way to really change society, doing it from the ground up. He’s hardly pretentious. He never appears in a suit. He won’t trim his beard. He usually won’t change his Curious George patch Velcro-ed to his hat, other than to turn it upside down from time to time if he’s saying something in jest.

He almost always films his YouTube videos from what looks like a large shed adjacent to his house. The camera seems to be bolted into place. Behind him is a set of unadorned shelves. If you watch him enough (as he tends to put out a few videos a day) you almost get excited when a new item appears on the shelves, which almost never happens.

Beau slips around your defenses in other ways too. The going way to get attention online these days is to be self-righteous and yell a lot. Beau is just the opposite. He’s so low key and inoffensive that he sometimes comes across as a slovenly Mister Rogers. He often won’t tell you exactly what he wants to say. He alludes to current events but won’t explain them.

He doesn’t quite smile, but he doesn’t quite frown either. He never raises his voice, at least on camera. He doesn’t tell you what to think but does allow you to ponder his points, which comes from many years in military and security related businesses. I assume somewhere along the way he made a comfortable fortune because aside from any YouTube revenues he doesn’t seem to do anything for money and apparently he has a wife and five kids. Vlogging seems to be his full time occupation.

The general impression that Beau makes is that he’s deeply intellectual and grounded, but not anxious to advertise it. Unlike Mister Rogers, he treats his viewers as thinking adults, not like children. This tends to make him relatable. By avoiding pushing people’s buttons, it’s not hard to find him engaging and interesting. You might say he’s the anti-Alex Jones.

So Beau never appears pompous, at least on camera, and always seems inoffensive: factual but pleasant. His particular bent though appears to be foreign policy, a topic that puts most people to sleep. But Beau is likely to engage you on it, and he’s been particularly engaging since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war as he takes you through a lot of grounded research on intelligence, foreign policy, how militaries work and the power games played among larger and minor powers.

If you watch Beau for a while you might figure he’s actually a closet liberal. Really, it’s hard to tell. By some accounts, he’s an anarchist. If so he’s a very peculiar anarchist because for all his beliefs in local change and building power from the ground up, he also grasps the larger meta issues.

It’s pretty clear, for example, that he doesn’t think a free market is going to bring us affordable health care and that capitalism is going to save us. He seems to be a peculiar hybrid of liberal and libertarian. It’s just that one look at that face and you can’t help but think “redneck”. But after watching Beau for a while you realize you’ve opened a really interesting box, just not a Pandora’s kind of box. Beau is who he is and believes in being respectful, honest and grounded. He’s very clearly not a racist and is deeply troubled by the racism, sexism, classism and other-isms rife in our country today.

With 700,000 followers and growing he’s built perhaps the most unique niche on YouTube. While there are some things he says I don’t agree with, he’s pretty much impossible to dislike.

I don’t think he’s on the radar of the Alex Joneses of the world. Perhaps he should be because he’s a direct threat to their viewers, if they stumble upon him. In his own way, Beau is persuading a lot of people, and his followers are donating a lot of money to his charitable causes. If anyone can change the toxicity rife in our nation, it may be Beau, one video at a time, posted from the back of his shed.

Republicans: be careful what you wish for

Republicans seem hellbent on creating an autocracy. You’d have to be living in a cave somewhere not to be aware of just how brazenly they’ve been working on this project.

The usual tactics had been extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. But now they’ve dialed it up to 11. Texas is making it hard to successfully register to vote and harder to cast absentee ballots. In Georgia, it will be illegal for someone to give voters a bottle of water to stay hydrated while they wait in line to cast their vote in one of the few polling stations in predominantly minority communities. Voter rolls are being aggressively purged and the procedures for getting your right to vote back are increasingly burdensome and often hard to discern. And, of course, they’re working to put partisan hacks in charge of their boards of elections so that if necessary Trump can find his 11,780 votes in Georgia. Those who control the voting machines ultimately call the vote.

But they are also hellbent on making life as miserable as possible for those who are not White Republicans. Certainly women are fair game, and our Supreme Court seems to be willing to look the other way while women are stripped of their rights because they are pregnant. Missouri is trying to make it illegal for anyone to help a women to go out of state to get an abortion and one legislator there has suggested the death penalty for doing so – now there’s a way to prove you are prolife. Utah won’t let transgender women play in school sports. Most red states don’t want students to be exposed to the reality that White people did a lot of bad things, like enslaved millions of people, because they might feel guilt and somehow that’s worse than their ignorance.

This will all culminate when they can tilt the Electoral College even more in their favor so that it becomes pretty much impossible not to have a Republican president. And so they hope it will go up and down our state and local governments so that they get to be in charge pretty much forever. It’s like The Outer Limits: “We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.”

And yet recent world events should inform them that what they want to do is a very bad idea. Vladimir Putin is now a prime example of why an autocracy is a really bad idea. First of all, most of the rest of the world’s countries aren’t run by autocrats and when countries transcend major boundaries like invading sovereign republics, they cut them off. Second, autocrats or autocrat wannabees like Donald Trump think they know best, but they don’t. That’s because they aren’t living in the real world.

Putin has twenty two years as Russia’s de facto ruler and, like Trump, assumed he could do no wrong. In fact, it’s been twenty two years of people kissing his ass telling him what he wanted to hear. It’s been that many years of bribes and corruption and bleeding away state monies into the accounts of oligarchs. Putin had every expectation that his invasion of Ukraine would be a cakewalk because no one wanted to risk life and limb by telling him the truth. If you did, at best you were thrown in prison for ten years or so.

Rather than build great states, autocrats create fragile states. It’s not like this should be news. We’ve seen it repeated endlessly. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution probably created two lost generations and, as is true of most of these endeavors, killed millions too. Hitler destroyed Germany not to mention much of Europe. Stalin killed uncounted millions as did the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

The shelf life of autocrats doesn’t tend to be very long and they tend to collapse when their great leader proves mortal like the rest of us. Also, the order and peace they try to bring proves to be an illusion, with state-sponsored oppression and terror generally happening instead.

If their autocratic dreams become real, it’s probably the worst thing that can happen to the Republican Party. It’s all based on an illusion that autocracy will make us safe and comfortable and somehow put us back on the right path.

The reality is the more we learn from the mistakes of our past, the likelier we are to build the checks and resilience to keep them from occurring. In their rush toward White Christian nationalism, they are explicitly choosing to unlearn the lessons of the American Revolution. Our founding fathers witnessed what happened in Europe when there was a state religion and wanted no part of the civil wars that ensued. They specifically disallowed the government from establishing a state religion. Slowly, over many decades, we made progress addressing many of the fundamental inequities in our system including the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, through democratic processes.

But now Republicans want to turn back the clock. Not allowing transgender women to participate in school sports is just the tip of the iceberg. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) is fine with states disallowing mixed race marriages. Plenty of Republicans want to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage too. Seven years ago, Republicans tried to end birthright citizenship because, you know, those illegals don’t deserve it and besides they’re not White. Their leading politicians would be happy to end food stamps, child tax credits, Section 8 housing vouchers, public schools, voting rights, and even the direct election of senators. The one tax they seem to be for is making blue states pay more in taxes by capping deductible property taxes.

Republicans probably think in their autocracy that we would all turn into sheep. Those with the money and talent will leave in droves to places where their freedoms are respected. Police are pretty good at busting heads but it’s unclear whether they would support an autocracy, particularly since police are subject to local control. The military are unlikely to do so, as about 40% are Black or Hispanic. It would likely unleash an insurrection, if not a civil war. I can see estates of wealthy people being burned down, for example. It won’t be panacea; it will make life worse for everyone but likely particularly for Republicans.

Democracies are hardly immune from becoming autocracies, but when properly organized they provide societal stability because vested interests are forced to work with each other. Unfortunately, the more we become an oligarchy (and we’re pretty much there now), the less our legislatures are filled with people that truly represent their interests.

If you want to see what America might look like as an autocracy, look at Russia today. We just need a higher level of corruption to hollow out our military too.