All posts by Greg Laden

A few words by Jon Lovett on the Hamas attack

Every now and then, Jon Lovett issues a rant that I want to put down in a special font and post on the wall. Since I live alone, that normally does little good. So instead, I’ll direct you to one of these extended takes preserved on YouTube. This is Lovett’s on what is going on in the Levant, and I think it is worth listening to. (The rest of the podcast is great too but you don’t have time for that).

See esp after 7:10

How close will the 2024 election be?

In 2020, Joseph Biden beat Donald Trump by 4.54%. For perspective, that is within the margin of error of most polls. In other words, it was kinda close.

But how close was it? Very. Because, in a small number of battleground states, Joe Biden won by only 0.2% of the electorate.

The margin of popular vote win over the last 17 elections, so going back to Eisenhower, has ranged from a half a percent (George W. Bush’s win in 2000) to the highs of 22 to 23% (Johnson and Nixon). Biden’s win was close to the 2012 Obama victory and the 1992 Clinton victory. So close, but not out of line in comparison with many other races. Biden beat Trump by more than double the margin with which Trump beat Clinton. It was a good, solid run.

On the other hand, the decision for this race was made in a very small number of states, included some of the states that gave Trump his victory of Secretary Clinton. If we look at the closest states that ended up in the D column, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, the total margin was 0.2% (two tenths of a percent). If we assume most of the other states are set to go for either Biden or Trump in 2024, and that these are the battleground states, that is a very very close race.

It would only be fair to look at the states that were very close but happen to go red in 2020. North Carolina went for Trump by 1.35%. That is close enough to pull that state over to the sane side and claim those electoral votes. The problem is, after that, all the near-miss red states were not near misses. The next two close calls were Florida (3.36%) and Texas (5.58%). These states are unreachable.

Here’s the bottom line. The total number of electoral votes is 538. 17.66% of those votes are distributed among the seven closest states (those mentioned above that went for Biden, plus North Carolina), which individually range from 0.24% to 2.83% of the popular vote. This would be like the entire European conflict of World War II being fought in Germany, France, Poland and Spain. (I guess that’s why they call them battleground states.)

What does this mean if you don’t want Trump, the obvious nominee* for the GOP, to win? This means you need to do three things.

1) Fight for Biden in your own state, to the degree that your state is close. Under no circumstances vote for a third party candidate, because that is just embarrassing for you,even if your state is not close.

2) Give some money to the Biden campaign, so they can use it where they see fit.

3) If you are in one of the battle ground states, then see #1 and #2 above, and just keep doing that as much as you can. Meanwhile, fight for and do not undermine local and state level democrats. Vote for them will percolate up.

4) If you are not in one of the battleground states, look for opportunities to help both Biden and various close-race Senate and House candidates wherever they may be (including your own neighborhood).

All the signs indicate that the MAGA extremists are strong, just as strong now as last cycle. But the signs also indicate that this year is their high water mark, if we stick together and kick their assess. So don’t stray, don’t weaken, and do not be cute about this**

*We should have a plan for if that not ends up being the case.

** By cute I mean voting for a third party candidate, or splitting your ticket.

What’s a Governor To Do?

Let me start out by saying that I am neither an expert on, nor a fan of, the California political system. I sense that the Jungle Primary system has given the political process to the rich and famous, which is a very California thing to do. Living in what might be the grassiest and rootiest of the grass roots states (Minnesota), having been born in the state with the most pernicious perfectly political process (New York) and living for years in Massachusetts, the mother of Democracy (once married to the father of democracy, Virginia), I look at California, and go, like so many non-Calis, “huh?”, more often than not.

Nonetheless, I’ll venture to express my thoughts on the political process of a governor appointing a Senator writ large, as a feature of our democratic process. This is a 20,000 foot view, and it is a multi-decadal view. This is what I think governors across the nation should eventually settle on, so that it becomes traditional, expected behavior.

In short, a Governor should appoint the person who meets the following two criteria:

1) The person should be expected to become an excellent Senator to represent the state in the democracy we live in, to uphold the oath, and to do the job; and

2) The person should be the best political choice for the Governor’s party.

In other words, it is the job of the Governor to fill in for the people and enact what democracy would have done anyway, if democracy was perfect. If the governor happens to be bogus (someone who rose to that position un-elected or turned out to be corrupt, for example) then this is obviously not going to work out too well no matter what happens. But we should always strive for the ideal in our politics, and the two conditions I state above represent that ideal. So we try to put governors in state houses who will do the best we can hope for.

Why not appoint an interim senator? That would keep the governor out of the political process and allow democracy to take its course, right? Well, no. Here are the reasons to not do that.

1) The role of the governor is to appoint a senator under certain conditions. You can’t take the governor out of that process without breaking that commitment. This is what governor are for. In other words, we don’t actually want to take the governor out of the decision in order to preserve the political process, because a governor appointing a senator IS the political process we agreed to, and we all were fully aware of this (right?) when we elected that governor.

2) It is unethical to force any qualified person to agree to not run for an office for which they are qualified. The presumption of an interim appointee not running for election to that office violates this basic right.

2b) In some cases, as is happening now in California, the joint idea of appointing a person to increase diversity in the Senate (eg a black woman) who is then being instructed to not run for election to that office, is absurd and an even more severe violation of that person’s rights. This might be the situation in California right now, so it may not be a general rule, but this would not be the first or last time for this issue to come up.

3) Appointment of an interim senator breaks the political contract with the people. We pick our leaders and representatives to be leaders and representatives, using the power of the ballot box. In most instances, we then continue to use the power of the ballot box to hold those individuals responsible. An interim senator is not bound by this usually -in-effect power of the people.

4) The Teddy Roosevelt Effect. Say an interim person is appointed, and turns out to be a G.O.A.T. The interim status of that person requires that the people do not get to elect the Best Senator Ever because of some dumb arrangement made prior.

5) It makes the Senate a joke. There are only 100 Senators, and each of us is represented by only two. But if you are in a state with an interim senator, then you are only represented by one-point-something senators, because a senator appointed for a short time can not act, yield power, make deals, and otherwise perform as a true senator. A place holder is merely a place holder.

I would recommend that Governor Newsom chose among those who have already declared their candidacy, and make that decision based on the criteria noted above, which can easily include issues of the person’s diversity*, experience, and the things they are already promising to do. Polls this early in a process are shades of future truth, but why not also look to see which candidates have more election-wise oomph. Taking all these things into consideration, it is the job of the governor, not merely the prerogative, to chose the best person. Choosing an interim senator is a bad idea.

There is an election coming up soon. The chosen senator would have a presumed advantage. The job of the governor is to appoint the best senator possible. If that gives an advantage over some of the other viable candidates, so be it.

Personally, I’d have a hard time choosing among several of the amazing individuals who have already indicated that they are running for this office. This is why I am not governor of California. In case you were wondering.

*A person does not have diversity but you know what I mean.

Hurricane: 2026, Atlantic Basin

Entry of 8/17/2023

It has been a quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season. That is expected for an El Nino year, when wind patterns tend to throw sheer at the storms, messing up their plans to become giant rotating vortices of chaos and destruction. Not sure if “vortices” is a word. Anyway, it is now* expected, according to NOAA, that wind sheer is going to lose to super heated ocean surface, allowing the rest of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Seasons to blow up to be bad.

Here, let us begin to record the high points of the season. I’ll start:

After days of quiescence, there are suddenly two stormy bits emerging off the coast of Africa. They each have a 70% chance of developing into a storm. They will be moving over very warm water.

*My friend and colleague Michael Mann and his research group had already predicted this, well before the start of the season. He has an excellent track record. The longest range and thus least reliable spaghetti map projections suggest that one of them will curve up into the midst of the North Atlantic. The same not very reliable projections allow for other stormy blog moving farther west and not recurring over the next several days, which leaves open the possibility of a meaningful relationship with land.

That is all for now, keep an eye out. As it were.

Entry of 8/28/23

This is a google map screenshot of Horsdhoe Beach, Florida. The average elevation at the surface here is 7 feet. Most of the homes are on stilts. The expected storm surge, estimated two days in advance, so this may be very inaccurate, is over 9 feet.

At the moment, this community is almost exactly at the expected eye landfall of Hurricane Idalia.

Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America (Book recommendation)

Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America by Will Sommer, is a must read for all of the loyal and long time readers and leaders in this blog community.

Remember the MRAs? They and others begat 4Chan. 4Chan begat QAnon. QAnon begat January 6th. And, never mind the guy with the horns. Donald Trump is the QAnon Shaman.

John Favreau interviews Will Sommer, author of Trust The Plan, on Offline:

Note: There are about the same number of QAnon followers in the US as there are “mainline Protestant,” ca 12-15%. Considering that this is a violently anti-Semitic belief system (and this Antisemitism is core to QAnon doctrine) it is concerning that there are about 17 million Jews in America, but close to 50 million Q-Anon believers (though the latter are hard to count).

Read the book. Watch the video. Don’t let your friends believe in this. Also, just so you know, children are not pizza.

Fourth Of July Fireworks Displays Are Not Woke

In America, extremists claim the flag, fireworks, and country music. It used to be mom and apple pie, and eagles have always played a part.

As any new trope emerges in public discourse in America, it is sorted out in relation to extremists and progressives. Folks who benightedly think they exist in the “independent” space between those two categories will sustain confusion temporarily, but eventually fall into one camp or another. (By count, most people are progressive, if you based the determination by checking off the issues they support or oppose. “Independent thinkers” are just citizens who have not actually thought about it much.)

But what about dog or cat owners? Are dogs or cats or their owners extremist or progressive? I’m thinking as a whole, neither, though I suppose certain breeds may trend one way or another. What about autism spectrum or neuro-divergent individuals, are they extremist or progressive? Well, everybody I personally know in that broad category is a progressive, but that is a biased sample. I would like to think that neuro-divergent folks would ultimately lean progressive, once exposed to the hate heaped upon them by the extremist right. So there may be some bias there, but not 100%. What about veterans? There is a strong association between conservative politics and the military, but most veterans are not part of the actual Military-Industrial Complex, and tend to be highly diverse in their politics. It is not possible for the extreme right to claim veterans. Veterans are everywhere and of every kind, politically. Who loves fireworks? Who hates the, or at least, is annoyed or bothered by them?

  • Dogs, cats, and dog or cat owners that pay attention to and care about their pets are not super keen on fireworks.
  • Vets are often bothered by fireworks.
  • Folks with sensory processing issues, or noise sensitivity, are not super happy about fireworks.

So, I would say that the politics of liking or not liking fireworks, the question of whether firework displays are a good thing or a bad thing, should not match closely with the standard American political binary. People who like them may be across the political range of thought, and people who don’t like them should be as well. But, the principle I referred to above, that all new tropes will be shoved into one of the other of our two actual political silos, is true. And this is causing some interesting friction. If you don’t believe me, just check in on your local NextDoor community. People are staring to question whether or not we should have fireworks, including large displays by municipalities, neighborhood fireworks displays, and individual use, which tend to be small scale, but that also tend to be carried out over several weeks time centered on the Fourth of July. And others are lining up to fight on behalf of this Great American Tradition.

It turns out that loving fireworks is an extremist position. Caring about kids, vets, our pets and pet owners, others, who don’t like the noise and the smell, and in some cases, are really bothered by them, is a progressive position. Mostly. The bifurcation of viewpoints around the loud smelly bang-toys is not complete, but it is happening as we speak, and it is happening rapidly. Why, just his year, a city that can be counted as one of the most progressive cities in the US cancelled its fireworks display, and will have a laser light show instead. I speak of Minneapolis. Saint Paul has cancelled fireworks in the past, I’m not sure if they are doing it this year or not. At least one city in California has cancelled fireworks. Canadian cities have cancelled fireworks.

The reasons are not strictly political. In the case of California and Canada, a concern over air quality is the reason. But if the politics were hard right in those communities, those fireworks displays would not be cancelled. Extremists don’t believe that pollution exists. Some cancellations over the last few years have been Covid-concern. But Covid-concern is at least as political as the rockets’ red glare. Extremists don’t believe in viruses.

Fireworks are offensive, polluting, and jingoistic, not to mention dangerous in some settings. If you think so too, this is a good time to write an LTE to your local paper, to start the process of normalizing the idea that we might do something other than setting off smoke and noise polluting explosions to express our patriotism, and patriotism is not, despite what the extremists say, a right wing franchise. It belongs to all of us.

Getting a New Flag: Minnesotans, remember South Africa

If the current flag of the State of Minnesota is problematic due to its treatment of our Native people (and it is), one might assume the Apartheid-era flag of South Africa was worse. Actually, that would be an incorrect assumption. The architects of apartheid didn’t think to make their flag a tool of that particular form of repression, though it was full-on colonial, and needed to be replaced when the New South Africa emerged in April 1994.

After Apartheid was lifted, I began to work in South Africa, doing archaeology and helping with some development projects. It was then that I heard the story of the new flag, from the white liberal citizens with whom I worked in the Limpopo province.

One thing you need to know about South African culture (and this permeates all subcultures) is that if there are four South Africans having a conversation about something, there will be five opinions about that topic. Or at least, this bit of self-deprecating humor is about the third or fourth thing you’ll hear about South African culture from any host, and South African hosts are both warmly embracing and funny. So when the idea of a flag for the New South Africa came along, the only way to move forward was with an infusion of wisdom, and who among the citizens of South Africa was most wise and able to make this happen with minimal stress? Nelson Mandela, of course.

I was told that Mandela’s idea was this: Have a contest of sorts, or otherwise, get some flags in competition to use as the new symbol. Then, pick one but with the proviso that it would only be the new flag for a year or two, during which time, a diligent effort would be made to come up with the actual new flag.

Another expression describing South African culture may have been, according to my friends, “If you’ve already done something, why do it again.” That is not only sensible, but probably universal. In any event, once the temporary flag emerged, and yes, it was hated and complained about by many, it went into use, people became accustomed to it, and in a very short amount of time, fell in love with it. The idea of replacing it was forgotten, and at some point (1996 to be exact) the new flag was made official in the final draft of New South Africa’s rather amazing constitution. (Give that constitution a look when you have a chance you will be amazed.)

One important point about the design of the flag: there is no official description, and no two people agree on what it means. The flag is unique, I believe, in that it has more colors than any other nation’s flag, and that certainly means something. I think it means: we have a lot more colors available for use these days for flags than they did in the 17th or 18th century.

How we went from “It’s the economy stupid” to the modern landscape of identity politics

Warning. Large sample size ahead!

Dr. Lynn Vavreck, Professor of Political Science at UCLA, and contributing columnist to The Upshot at The New York Times, sits down with Jon Favreau to talk about 2022 midterms. After 2020, Lynn and her colleagues interviewed over 500,000 voters, leading them to conclude that our politics aren’t just polarized, but calcified. She argues that calcification has placed our politics on a knife’s edge, raising the stakes of every election, and that 2022 was the biggest case of calcification we’ve seen yet.

From Crooked Media

Arduino for Arduinians: New and higher level than the rest

Let’s be real. Most books (and web sites) providing instructions for building projects with an Adruino assume the reader is just starting out in this arena of Maker-World. That is probably a reasonable assumption, but it also means that those of us who seek an Arduino guide that provides more advanced work are out of luck. Arduino for Arduinians fills that void. I highly recommend this rich, detailed, and extensive treatment of Arduino makery.

Arduino for Arduinians is suitably named, as it provides guidance and a beyond-the-basics level, for folks who have already been bitten by the Arduino bug, and can already tell the difference between a CAN Bus and an RS232, or Charlieplexing and ATtiny microcontrollers. In fact, one of my favorite applications laid out in this book is using the CAN bus interface to diagnose why the dashboard “transmission fault” light won’t go off on my friend’s Land Rover.

Arduino for Arduinians covers I2C bus devices, interfacing with or emulating the action of keyboards and similar devicese, some inexpensive but advanced Bluetooth mojo, and working with higher than novice-level voltages and currents. Be careful though.

You should know the basics of how Arduinos work (I recommend Arduino Workshop to get that if you don’t have it already). You should be able to read standard circuit diagrams. You should be familiar with Sketch and the Arduino IDE. Also, you will need parts. Helpfully, Arduino for Arduinians has a web site (see the inside of the book) with the Sketch related software, and yu can find in the intro a suggestion as to where to get parts (but you can get these parts lots of places, including Amazon.

The Author, John Boxall,is a master projecteer, and author of several Maker-supportive books in multiple languages.

This time of year, who is running for president? (Now and historically)

I was getting the impression that the media have settled on a Trump-Biden match up in over 500 days from now, and wondered what the list of potential candidates looked like at this time (plus or minus a few weeks) during previous election cycles at this time. So I made some lists.

Barack Obama; Hillary Clilnton; Mitt Romney; Jim Gilmore; Tommyh Thompson; John McCain; Sam Brownback; Bill Richardson; Duncan Hunter; Ron Paul; Chris Dodd; Tom Tancredo’ Mike Gravel; Joe Biden; Mike Huckabee

Jon Huntsman; Michel Bachmann; Herman Cain; Tim Pawlenty; Mitt Romney; Garyh Johnson; Ron Paul;

Vermin Supreme; Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese; Hillary Clinton; Rick Perryh; John Kasich; Marco Rubio; Donald Trump;

Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson, Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker; Steve Bullock; Julian Castro; Bill De Blasio; John Delaney; Mike Gravel; John Kickenlooper; Jay Inslee; Seth Moulton; Beto O’Rourke; Tim Ryhan; Eric Salwell;

Donald Trump; Ron DeSantis; Nikki Haley; Mike Pence; Ryan Binkley; Larry Elder; Asa Hutchinson; Perry Johnson; Vivek Ramaswamy; Tim Scott; Kristi Noem; Mike Rogers; Chris Sununu; Greg Abbott; Chris Christie; Joe Biden; Robert Kennedy

I’ll leave it to you to search for meaning in this.

Linux Context Menu Image Manipulation (KDE)

Having recently revived and updated my KDE Linux install, I went looking for the context menu to manipulate images. This tool makes life easier. Like when you want to toss an image into your blog post, but WordPress complains it is too large, it is nice to be able to simply right click on the image and in a click or two resize it (or rotate it, or maybe do other things to it). Historically there was a tool called KIM (KDE Image Management) that did this, but this seems to be no longer maintained and is not that easy to install. Instead, install “ReImage” from KDE Services Menu. Look for the “deb” link on that page if deb is your preferred install method. There is also a tar file there for other architectures.

The Taken Ones, New Novel by Jess Lourey

Evangeline Reed was a woman with some seriously disturbing secrets, at least one of which threatened to sideline her in a quest to put to rest a decades old and still ongoing crime. Jess Lourey, the author who created Reed and put her in the new novel “The Taken Ones,” continues in her own ongoing and highly successful quest to lure various facies of her readers’ limbic systems into a dark room and her her way with them.

Jess Lourey winning the Minnesota Book Award for The Quarry Girls.
Evangeline’s childhood was a horror, a horror that seems to have given her a gift, and a drive, that she would eventually put to use as a Minneapolis homicide cop to save lives, and to help snatch others from their own horrors. Known in adulthood as Van, detective Reed required the trust and goodwill of her partner to literally turn her nightmares into evidence, and procure extremely unlikely legal convictions. But that partner was now gone, and Van Reed was now barely holding on to her job as a cold case investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, her drive and her apparently preternatural evil detector now untethered.

There is an abyss, and Jess Lourey knows where it is. The Taken Ones, a complex mystery-adventure with a terrifying antagonist, a really annoying boss, a close-in set of very sympathetic compatriots, and a real jerk-face of a rival, implores the reader to visit multiple abysses, which may or may not (no spoilers) be linked in interesting ways.

Agent Harry Steinbeck, straight laced, well bred, and very put together forensic scientist is now the closest thing to a partner to Van. He seems to know more than he lets on. The years 1980 and 2022 bookend the activities of a spooky, demented, and highly unusual taker-killer. The four decade gap in time allows Lourey to create complex and interesting then-and-now type characters that seem to appear in many of her books.

You should read several of Lourey’s books, many of which are organized in series. The Taken Ones sports the subtitle “A Reed and Steinbeck Thriller.” We can rightfully assume that this is the first in a series, and it looks like it is going to be an excellent ride. I strongly recommend you pick up The Taken Ones as soon as it is available (pre-order here), then wait impatiently with the rest of us for the second Reed and Steinbeck to come out. In the meantime, read Lourey’s breakthrough book “Unspeakable Things,” her latest and highly acclaimed “The Quarry Girls,” and one of my favorites “Bloodline.”

What kills our children?

Help me fill in and expand these data. Put additions or corrections in comments. Thanks.

Table 1
Time Period Chief cause of death for our kids
 Colonial America Epidemic contagious diseases
 19th Century and Early 20th Century Chronic and endemic contagious diseases 
 Lat 20th Century through early 21st Century  Accidents
 Recent Years  Gun Nuts, Republican Legislators, MAGA Judges, and the NRA