Current Affairs

The Dawlish Question – Part 2

The main Network Rail route to the South West of England, ending at Penzance in Cornwall, is the only contiguous route through that part of the country.
At one time, other routes, both main and branch, existed, but most of those routes were closed and dismantled in the period 1964-1972 as a result of the rationalization of the UK rail network that implemented the Beeching Report.
The route runs through the countryside of Somerset and Devon down through Exeter. It then runs along the estuary of the River Exe before reaching the English Channel coast near Dawlish. At that point the line runs along the base of the cliffs, carried on a concrete bed behind a sea wall built in the 19th Century. The coastal strata and cliffs behind the sea fortifications and the railway line are also vulnerable to erosion.
The vulnerability of this part of the rail route has been known and understood for many decades. The coastal wall and other fortifications are over 100 years old, not built using modern materials and techniques, and like all infrastructure, they have a finite life. There has always been a fear that The Big One – a destructive storm, would damage or destroy the coastal part of this important rail route as it runs along the sea at Dawlish.
The fear was converted to reality on 5th February 2014, when a massive storm hit the UK, and enormous seas and winds hammered the sea wall East of Dawlish. A significant section of the sea wall was breached by the sea, carried out to sea, and the waves eroded out the strata and the road behind the rail line. When the storm subsided, a 100 yard long stretch of rail line was hanging in the air…literally, with all of the base gone. Elsewhere either side of the breach, ballast was washed away from the track, and massive amounts of wood, damage debris from the sea wall and other flotsam were thrown onto the rail tracks and surrounds.
The damage took nearly 2 months to repair, with Network Rail crews working close to 24×7. In the meantime most of Devon and the whole of Cornwall had no rail connection to the rest of the UK.
Services on the route were finally restored on 4th April 2014.
At this time we need to examine some history. In the 1800s, railway companies competed to reach many major cities in the UK, to bring the iron horse, with its promise of fast and easy travel. In the West Country, the Great Wester Railway and the London and South Western competed to reach the city of Plymouth. The GWR and the South Devon Railway company went South and along the coast, building the current route via Dawlish. The LSWR decided to build a route around the North side of Dartmoor, from Exeter through Crediton, Okehampton and Tavistock down the Tamar Valley to Plymouth, reaching Plymouth in 1876, some time after their rivals.
That northern route, steeply graded and curved, was a main route through until the 1960s. At that point, the Beeching Report was published. One of the principles of Beeching was to eliminate route duplication. The LSWR route via Okehampton to Plymouth was squarely in the crosshairs of the Beeching report. It was well-maintained but expensive to operate, had been transferred to the Western Region from the Southern Region, and the Western Region regarded it as superfluous to requirements, and there were question marks about the health of Meldon Viaduct, which carried the line over the West Oakment valley West of Okehampton. The route ran through rural villages with limited passenger traffic, so it was losing money.
So, the Beeching axe swung on this route. The section between Okehampton and Bere Alston was closed in 1968, and dismantled in late 1969. In 1972, the remaining section between Okeampton and Crediton was closed to passengers and the line singled, although the line was retained for transporting railway ballast from a quarry at Meldon. At the same time, the line from Bere Alston to Plymouth down the Tamar Valley was singled also.
So, via the Beeching Report, one alternative backup route for the route via Dawlish had been eliminated. At more or less the same time, another alternative route via the Teign Valley had been closed as part of the Beeching cuts. This line, originally built by the GWR, was never a main line. It was a branch line , ran through countryside that was vulnerable to flooding, and had sharp curves and a low speed limit.
So, when the Dawlish route was severed in 2014, it took…ooh, all of 24 hours before people began asking the obvious questions (1) why was there no alternative route into Devon and Cornwall, since everybody knew that sooner or later a storm would close the Dawlish section of the line, (2) was it not time to consider adding an alternative route?
The resulting furore from people in Devon and Cornwall, and their elected representatives, led to a Route Resiliency Study, which discussed (among other options that included spending more money on sea fortifications, and building a new alternative route inland) re-instating the 19 miles of missing line between Meldon Quarry and Bere Alston, in order to create an alternative route.
Although everybody was in agreement that this would be a Jolly Good Idea, the Route Resiliency Study was never a proposal. It was simply a collection of possible alternatives thrown together with not much detail work or estimation. Part of the reason being that nobody could agree on the likely costs for most of the options, including the reinstatement of the route via Okehampton.
The low-end estimates for this option (probably way too optimistic) were of the order of £150m. The top end “Rolls Royce” estimate for a high-speed route with double track were up near the £875m mark. As a general rule, a medium-speed railway line costs around £10m a mile to create, even without factoring in special projects like large bridges and new earthworks. The likely cost for a long single line with high-speed passing loops would be around £600m+. In other words, not cheap.
One reason is that the cost of re-instating the route to Plymouth via Okehampton is a lot more than simply re-instating the 19 miles of track. The entire route from end to end will require upgrading, since the disconnected ends have been treated as branch and freight lines for 40+ years, and the track infrastructure is worn out. This is therefore not a simple “lay some track in the middle again and start the service” project. Issues are as follows:
1. Meldon Viaduct, used by the original route, is now a listed monument and cycle trail, and is almost certainly not safe for use by modern trains. (The viaduct was nearing the end of its life when the route was closed in 1968, and was under single-line use with a speed restriction). So, a new bridge will be needed across the West Oakment valley.
2. The line is blocked in Tavistock by the city council offices.
3. 2 stations (Bridestowe and Brentor) are now in private ownership, which may require the sensitive use of eminent domain.
4. The route from Meldon down to Coleford Junction near Crediton is currently owned by a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific. This section will probably need to be bought back from that company
5. The track from Meldon through Okehampton to Crediton will require renewal, since it has not been properly maintained for some years, since Meldon Quarry was closed in 2011. (it currently has a speed limit of between 30 and 55 mph)
6. Okehampton needs a new station, since the current station is at the wrong end of the expanding town and has no car parking.
7. The route down from Bere Alston to Plymouth will also require upgrading since it is used only by stopping local trains.
This is not the work of a moment. However, if the government had started work on this project after the initial big storm in 2014, they would probably already be close to having an alternative operational route.
And, in true “bright shiny object” fashion, the government’s top spending priorities are the HS2 link, which is going to consume up to $50bn of money in the next 19 years. That is the Big Glamour Project.
An additional complicating factor is that the rail network has been staggering from crisis to crisis for 15 years, with RailTrack (the original infrastructure corporation) essentially going bankrupt and having to be bailed out by the government. The current two-part operating model for railways in the UK; an infrastructure company to run track, signaling etc. and stations, and Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to run the trains on a franchise basis, has a number of issues. Some franchisees want out of their current contracts, and the current move by the UK to leave the EU may cause more TOC franchisees to not renew their contracts. In a worst case scenario, the government may have to effectively re-nationalize the network. In the meantime, there is no obvious pile of money available for projects to re-instate alternative routes.
So, fast forward to March 9th 2018. Once again, a powerful storm showed up in the West Country, pounding the Devon coast. And once again, the line near Dawlish was closed. This time, it was not due to obvious storm destruction. Ballast was washed away, and line communications damaged. This required the line to be closed for several days of inspections and checks before it could safely be re-opened.
However, the lack of an alternative route is starting to remind me of the old definition of madness:
i..e. doing the same thing over and over again but still expecting the same result.
We are heading into an era of atmospheric instability as the Earth warms. We can expect more serious storms, not less. Sooner or later another storm will damage or destroy another section of sea wall and the railway line, and the line will be out of action for months. 100 yards of route were destroyed in 2014, and that took 2 months of flat-out work to repair. If half a mile of track is destroyed next time, the line could be shut for a year or more. This will lead to even more light heat and sound as millions of people West of Dawlish once again have no rail link to the rest of the UK The political consequences will be significant. As in, litigation, as the TOCs using the infrastructure sue the infrastructure companies, and the government has to fend off the question “why did you not do anything about an alternative route?”
Oh, and by the way, just to make matters worse, the UK is planning to leave the EU, so any route improvements or duplications will not be getting any EU grants.
Right now, if another big storm shows up next Winter, there will be no alternative and Devon and Cornwall will be cut off once again.
This is an avoidable cluster.

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African-American blindness to discrimination and animus in their own house

Sheesh, here we go again…
One of the more distressing aspects of race relations in the modern USA is the tendency of the African-American community to sign onto anti-Jewish ideas and conspiracy theories, and, when challenged on their public statements, to behave like rhetorical shitweasels.
There is a rich vein of such rhetoric, including the Rev.Jesse Jackson’s infamous “Hymietown” outburst about New York, and Louis Farrakhan’s numerous anti-Jewish references and comments, which he often tries to weasel out of when challenged.
Now we have another eye-opening instance from D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who apparently thinks that “the Rothschilds” control the climate. When challenged on the statement, he engaged in rhetorical shit-weaselling of the first order.
This is distressing. It is distressing because, at a time when animus by white nativists is manifesting itself against anybody who does not look white, and is being accompanied by a clear rise in anti-Jewish rhetoric, plus the return of active campaigning to roll back gay equality, communities impacted by this animus should be forming a united front to push back on it, not being divided.
The African-American community in the USA has multiple challenges on this front, since it is dismissing discrimination against other minorities, or itself engaging in the very racially, ethnically and religiously based discrimination that it rightly decries in others. Some commentators seem to realize this, but other leaders in the African-American community engage in rhetorical tap-dancing when asked about (say) the latest pronouncements of Louis Farrakhan.
Some contemplation in front of a mirror is required.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dc-lawmaker-says-recent-snowfall-caused-byrothschilds-controlling-the-climate/2018/03/18/daeb0eae-2ae0-11e8-911f-ca7f68bff0fc_story.html?utm_term=.9f7cbab4bb61

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How to be useful on the Internet

Just a quick note about profiles and postings in this morass that we call the Internet.
Onlne, there are two extremes for how you present yourself. You can be a person, a three-dimensional individual, defined by your underlying personality and values, with useful and illuminating things to say.
Or you can be a slogan-based cipher, a source of nothing better than word salad and contentious nonsense, useful only as unserious troll-bait for fellow in-group members and the easily impressed.
Don’t be a slogan-based cipher.
In order to not be a slogan-based cipher, there are some things you should NOT do.
1. Don’t define yourself in your profile by your political positions or religious affiliations
Phrases like “constitutional conservative”, “commited socialist” or “devout Christian” are borrowed slogans that tell me you would rather be part of a herd than an individual in your own right. Talk about who you are, not which club you belong to.
2. Don’t brag about your skills or qualifications
A self-aggrandising phrase like “High IQ” immediately activates my bullshit detector. Really smart people don’t feel the need to assert their smartness. They expect that it will noticed over time. Only bullshitters and/or deeply insecure people try this.
3. Don’t include statements that make you look like a mean-spirited dick
Statements like “hates liberals” may get you an attaboy from Bill down at the bar, but they activate my Avoid Like The Plague switch. If you want to live in an echo chamber with other dicks, however, go right ahead.
(By the way, anybody who “hates Liberals” is telling me that they have somebody else living in their head and destroying them as a person).
4. Don’t plaster visual symbols all over your postings or profile to show how patriotic or American you are
Symbols, by definition, are not tangible things. Those pissed-off-looking eagles and the Stars and Stripes are being used in lieu of explanations. When you put a row of eagles on your avatar instead of an image of yourself, you tell me that you would rather signal virtue to an in-group than provide any useful information about YOU.
5. Don’t use memes to communicate on serious subjects
You should know my opinion on this by now. If you post a meme, you are using somebody else’s voice, not your own. I can find a meme for anything in 1 minute or less on Google. I want to read YOUR voice, not somebody else’s.
6. Extend the principle of charity
When somebody says something that you think is wrong or stupid, don’t assume that they are stupid. Assume that they merely see things differently from you, and inquire rather than attack.
7. Don’t use logical fallacies
If you don’t know what a logical fallacy is…well, there is still time to find out. Here. Here. Here.
People who are not interested in good-faith discussions almost always use logical fallacies, often without realizing it.
8. Don’t be a juvenile.
If you are discussing on a serious subject, talking like a school playground yahoo completely undermines the seriousness and credibility of anything you might say or write. Serious subjects generally require that you behave like an adult and devote some attention.
9. Don’t be a dick.
It’s not difficult to be kind.
10. Don’t be a dick.
Try to be nice. It’s not hard.

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Delta Airlines vs. Georgia – the next phase in the game

Delta Airlines responded defiantly to the news that the State of Georgia removed a clause from a tax incentive bill that would have given it a break on jet fuel purchases within Georgia. (NOTE – This was not specific to Delta – other airlines would also have benefited from the tax concession; however, Delta had more to gain because its main hub is in Georgia).
Delta also leaked some interesting titbits, the most important one being that a grand total of 13 NRA members had taken advantage of the now-discontinued discount program. If that is the correct number, the program was a waste of money for Delta, even before the public backlash when the existence of the program was discovered. You don’t have to be a math genius to work out that there was no upside to continuing the program.
The decision to strip the fuel concession from the bill was a state-wide political decision. Atlanta is a Democratic city, and rural Georgia is solidly Republican. The decision would therefore have appealed to rural GOP voters as sticking it to the corrupt Dems in Atlanta. All good retail politics in an election season.
The main question is: what next?
Delta is unlikely to leave Atlanta. They just extended for another 20 years with the City to use Hartsfield-Jackson as their man hub. They could leave, but long-term contracts like this one are difficult to get out of. When I visited Nashville in 2002 en route home from ORD to DFW (in the days when I had flight benefits on American Airlines), I found out that American had abandoned Nashville as a hub after 9/11, reducing it to a destination from several other hubs (ORD, DFW and RDU). However, they still had long term leases on close to 20 gates at the airport that they could not get out of. So some of the gates were shuttered, and some of them had been leased to SouthWest Airlines. The AA flights into and out of Nashville were full, but AA was losing money (“loadings are great, but yields are terrible” was the succinct summary of one of the AA gate agent supervisors) because of the combination of high fixed costs they could not get out of, plus competition from SouthWest, who were being subsidized via the cheap sub-leased gates.
So…Delta could leave ATL, but it is unlikely to do so, unless another city comes up with a dizbustingly-enticing tax and/or subsidy package.
What I think is most likely to happen is that the tax concession will be quietly resurrected in another bill, and passed later this year after the fuss has died down. Delta has been a GOP money donor, and the GOP will not be keen to lose donations in the future.
The entire incident is an example of what happens when virtue signalling becomes the main public currency of retail politics. Delta cancelled discounts for NRA members because there was no upside any more, given the backlash after the Parkland school shooting (Virtue Signal #1). The Georgia GOP removed the fuel tax concession from the bill to show that they could punish Delta and energize their base in an election season (Virtue Signal #2). Delta’s CEO informed the public that “their values are not for sale (Virtue Signal #3). If they are smart, the GOP will now repair the damage by quietly re-instating the fuel tax concession.

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The Delta Airlines NRA mess – the real game

The Lt. Governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle, caused a row 2 days ago by invoking a process to suspend debate on a bill in the State legislature that would have provided a tax concession on aviation fuel for Delta Airlines.
His stated reason was that Delta is discriminating against the NRA.
The stated reason is bullshit.
Delta was granting NRA members certain discounts on its services. These discounts were not available to customers who were not NRA members. The NRA members were therefore enjoying a privilege.
Removal of the discount was therefore removal of a privilege, not discrimination.
It is not clear to me whether the threat to withhold tax concessions to Delta violates any state or federal laws. At best, it is clearly an attempt to punish a corporation for offending political sensibilities. As such, the precedent is a dangerous one.
However, the backdrop to this action is easier to understand. The current Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, is term-limited. There are multiple GOP candidates to replace him. A primary election is scheduled to determine who the Republican candidate will be, and Casey Cagle is one of the primary candidates.
The action to try and derail the tax concession for Delta is therefore almost certainly an attempt to appeal to GOP primary voters. Just to validate that hypothesis, another GOP primary candidate for the Governorship, Michael Williams, claimed on-air today in a CNN interview that Delta grants discounts to Planned Parenthood supporters. (when pressed on the source for the claim, he cited Google as a source, and then ducked and weaved. Well OK then.).
What is going on here, folks, is an attempt by GOP primary candidates to out-crazy each other to appeal to their base. This is because in the current GOP world, winning the primary is all that matters. They expect to win the general election because…the GOP always wins.
The right answer is for them to emerge from the primary process looking like censorious twits, and lose the general. However, that is up to the electorate in the state of Georgia.
In the meantime, Georgia can kiss goodbye to any idea that Amazon might move there, and other states are only too willing to talk to Delta Airlines about moving its HQ and hub from Atlanta. Corporations always have options, and they can probably get a better tax deal from another state, which might leave Georgia with a 30+k job hole if that is the outcome.

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How to spot trollbots on social media

When you look at social media accounts that are not what they claim to be, they fall into one of three general categories:

1. Real Person engaging in impersonation or astroturfing
This is still the most common behavior pattern. On the internet, you can be anybody you want to be, and you can pretend to be anywhere on the planet. Trollbot factories can have hundreds of fake accounts, many of them operated by the same person or group of people.

2. Partly automated trollbot account, sometimes operated by multiple persons
This is becoming more common. It gives trolling and social media subversion organizations the best of both worlds. In off-hours, the account will be set up to automatically post or replicate content from elsewhere. When the operators are awake, they will post and comment manually.

3. Fully automated bot
These are becoming less common, since they can be more easily spotted by tools. These are set up to post previously stored content, or to replicate content posted elsewhere by using keyword triggers to copy and re-post content. Usually, analysis shows that there is no original content from the account, it consists entirely of content copied from elsewhere. Sometimes hundreds of accounts are set up to re-post the same content.

Ways to spot accounts
So here is a base list of the ways in which you can spot accounts that are not what they claim to be. This is not exhaustive, and the trollbot factories are consistently coming up with new variations to try and outflank bot detection algorithms.

Account Names and bios
1. Account name that comprises mostly numeric digits, like Ann2865743. These are usually accounts created by an account mass creation or replication engine. These accounts usually have no picture or avatar and no bio.
2. Bio that consists of a long collection of hashtags or slogans like #MAGA, #TRUMP.
3. Use of a stock photo, or photo of a well-known person as the account avatar. Many fake accounts use stock images lifted from the internet, or images of famous people. (One account on Twitter that I suspected of being a Russian trollbot used an image of what turned out to be a Russian porn actress)

Posting patterns
1. Following huge number of people, but has next to no friends or followers
2. Creating massive numbers of postings or comments in a short time period, far more than a real human could reasonably be expected to type and submit. If you do the math and find that the account is creating 100 postings an hour…that is indicative of an automated bot account.
3. Discrepancy between stated location, time zone and actual posting patterns (this is especially obvious on Twitter accounts). If an account claims to be in Lost Angeles, but seems to be tweeting on Moscow time, that is a bit of a giveaway. (One Twitter account that I monitored claimed to be in the UK, but always posted on Moscow time).
4. Posting patterns point to the account operator residing in a time zone that clearly aligns with a notorious trollbot location (good examples are Moscow and Vladivostok).
5. Daily posting patterns show a spurt of postings over a 1-2 hour period, or constant posting over 24 hours. Neither of these are what you would expect if a real human being was operating the account. Humans do tend to sleep from time to time…

Posting content
6. Poor command of written English. Often the use of Google Translate results in stilted or grammatically incorrect sentences, since the authors link slogans and phrases to form a sentence without understanding the underlying English grammar rules (which are complicated compared to some other languages).
7. Discrepancies between postings concerning where the account is located, the age of the account owner, the account owner’s life etc. etc. When the account owner’s bio keeps changing from day to day, this is a bit of a giveaway.
8. Discrepancy between the dialect of English in use. Classic one is an account pretending to be in the UK, but constantly using spelling and idioms from American English.
9. Discrepancy between expected careabouts and actual careabouts. Example is account pretending to be in the USA but posting about European subjects. Many Russian trollbots constantly post about subjects like the Ukraine, which looks odd if they are claiming to be from Baltimore…
10. Inclusion of markup language tags in postings or comments due to poor software coding or usage skills. This is a real giveaway that this is an account that is (at least part of the time) set up to automatically post content.
11. Analysis of postings on the platform shows that the same content has been posted by dozens (sometimes hundreds) of accounts within a short period of time. A search often reveals identical text posted hundreds of times within a matter of minutes.
12. Analysis of the account shows that it was dormant for a long period of time, but has suddenly been posting massive amounts of content. This is indicative of an account that was created, but parked for later use. Many Twitter trollbot accounts were created as far back as 2009, but have only recently been active
13. Numerous account name changes over time. Real people tend to not change their account names that frequently. Trollbot accounts do it all the time, as they are re-purposed to post on the Latest Hot Topic.

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Bad behavior online (surprise surprise)

Folks, this is where I get upfront, blunt and candid.
I was reminded why I booted a person off of my Facebook last year when I encountered that same person trying to debate on somebody else’s wall today.
I say “trying”, because all of the classic signs of poor online behavior that led to me booting the person last year were still on display.
If your idea of a contribution to a debate is to post one or more of a combination of memes, collections of slogans or juvenile ad hominems,and attempts at diversion, then it will only be a matter of time before I unfriend, mute and/or block you.
You have a right to say and write whatever you like (assuming it does not rise to the level of a clear and present threat to the safety or lives of others). I also have the right to object and argue against it.
When I argue against assertions or propositions, I expect the person making the proposition to bring evidence and facts to support their proposition. That’s how debate and discussion work. Throwing memes, cliches, rhetorical bombs, attempting diversions and whatboutism, and generally behaving like a schoolyard juvenile doesn’t cut it.
I will, after warning you, walk away from that kind of interaction. It is a waste of my time. If you persist in wasting my time across multiple interactions, I will fire you off of my Facebook wall. That is a promise.
No, that is not “censorship” or me being intolerant or a snowflake. If your reaction is to simply hurl more slogans like that, well, what did I just say in a previous paragraph?
Right now, there are several people who are on Mute on my Facebook, either because because they have engaged in those behaviors in the past, or because they have expressed opinions that I find to be toxic or logically ludicrous. At some point i am going to un-Mute them and see if their behavior has improved. If there is no sign of improvement, they will get the heave-ho.
As a general rule I don’t fire people out of my social media world for expressing contrary opinions.Taking people or information sources seriously only if they express views that you totally agree with is a short cut to conformity and groupthink.
I usually fire them for behaving like dicks when discussing those opinions.
Contrary to what some people have claimed in the past, this policy is not me being pompous or condescending, or tuning our or censoring Stuff I Don’t Like. It is my way of using my time effectively. I don’t debate or discuss to “win”. I debate or discuss to gain insight. When people talk or argue in slogans and memes, they are not using their own voice, and they are usually not providing any cogent argument. On two counts, there is no insight likely with that style of communication. That wastes my time, and provides me with no positive RoI from interactions. So I will either not engage, or rapidly disengage, and if people persistently behave like toxic juveniles, they will get booted out of my online sphere.

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Holy flaming peckerballs Batman…

If there really is a deity, may that deity come down from wherever and spare us.
I want us to be spared from the avalanche of intellectually risible, fear-addled ratchet-jawing by fringe media frontmen (and notice, this is all men in my posting) who seem to think that the recently released portrait of former President Obama contains all sorts of pointers and symbols to…
Well…why don’t we take a quick look at what the looney-tunes ratchet-jaws are claiming, shall we?

1. Sean Hannity
A two-fer here, since Hannity, more even than Alex Jones, appears to have come unglued about the portrait. First he wrote this Tweet, but, realizing that maybe the mask had slipped, deleted it:


Then he went on this rant about supposedly hidden detail in the portrait that of course, only he, the great savant, can see:

2. Alex Jones

Whisky Tango Foxtrot. cubed.
This is an effing portrait we are looking at here.
Here we have two commentators who appear to have completely jumped the shark into…who knows where?
I remain consistently amused at the level to which authoritarian dim-bulbs and their wind-up rabble-rousers consistently invoke sexual metaphor and fear trigger-phrases when talking about Other Folks Not Like Them. How many times have we read phrases along the lines of “I don’t want homosexuality rammed down my throat”? A real psychologist would have a field-day analyzing how fearful exclusionary authoritarians use THAT phrase.
And here we have more of the same. “secret sperm”? Perlease.
This isn’t a dog-whistle. It isn’t rooted in reality, or anywhere within 100 fucking light-years of reality. This is the exemplification of fear-addled, racism-soaked fantasy. The umpteenth recycling of the old fear trope that Those People Who Don’t Even Look Like Us are actually a band of marauding, primitive savages, who are in the grip of the caranlistic desire to gang-rape Your Family Members.
If this was part of a fantasy novel plot, literary agents would be laughing at it. You should too. Ridicule is the only appropriate and logical response to these conspiracy-mongering wombats.

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Arthur Jones and what he tells us about our country

By now most of you will have heard that Arthur Jones has managed to get himself on the Republican primary election ballot for the 3rd Congressional District in Illinois.
This is not Arthur Jones’ first attempt to win the GOP nomination for the seat. He put himself on the primary ballot in 2016, and was the only GOP candidate. However, the GOP went to court and succeeded in having him removed from the ballot because of petition signature issues. This left the Democratic nominee to win in an uncontested election. This time around, Jones appears to have ticked all of the boxes for the legality of his primary election submission.
There seems little doubt that Jones is a Nazi. The evidence is fairly compelling. He is a former leader of the American Nazi party, and is on record as claiming up to the present day that the Holocaust is a “racket” i.e. mostly a fabrication. He has a track record of blatantly anti-Jewish remarks.
A lot of people are hot under the collar about Jones’ appearance on any ballot.
We should not be surprised that this has happened.
Really.
Arthur Jones has not suddenly leaped into prominence in the GOP because the GOP has become a party of Nazis. He simply used a feature of the current political system; namely that anybody who can obtain the necessary number of supporter signatures and pay a filing fee can run for office. This is a good feature. We do not want a system where only the wealthy, or those with the right connections, can run for political office.
Personally, I also want Nazis to be public about their odious ideology and ideas. I want to have those ideas demolished in public, so that the entire Nazi movement can once again be consigned to the trash bin of human history.
Is Jones’ entry on the GOP primary ballot the result of a shift in the American political climate towards the normalization of racist and fascist ideology? That is a tempting hypothesis in the current climate, but I doubt its validity.
The real underlying issue is that 90% of Congressional races are not competitive. They are not competitive because over the last 60 years, the two major political parties have, by subtle electoral gerrymandering, slowly reduced the number of truly competitive House seats to a fraction of the total. This has resulted in a an incumbent class of representatives dominating congressional politics.
Most seats are now stacked heavily in favor of one of the parties, to the extent that a dead tree stump could probably get elected from the party that dominates the electoral map of the district.
Because the general election itself is usually a foregone conclusion, this has two consequences, both of them negative:
1. Good prospective candidates from a minority party have no interest in running in the primary election, except possibly as a one-off to show that they have the “right stuff” to later run for election elsewhere. Why invest time and donor money on a lost cause?
2. The primary elections, which are usually dominated by the hardcore support base of the two major parties, decide who will be the elected representative.
Neither of these are good outcomes. For an election system based on universal suffrage to be credible, it must be demonstrably fair in its structure and execution, and enough of the electorate has to participate for the winning candidates to be able to plausibly claim that they were elected by enough of the electorate to give their position and actions credibility. An election determined 6 months in advance by a few hundred primary voters does not meet either of the above criteria.

The GOP clearly understands how toxic Arthur Jones is to their party and their brand image. They want nothing to do with him.
However, one can make the case that it is partly the GOP’s fault that Jones is the GOP nominee. They could have run an “establishment” candidate, but chose to not do so (one suspects that no mainstream GOP person was interested in wasting the time and effort to run), handing him the opening to run for the GOP primary election. So, whether they want him or not, they are stuck with him sailing under the GOP banner for the next few months.
The good news is that Arthur Jones is highly unlikely to win the election in the 3rd Congressional District. This is a solidly Democratic electoral zone. In the 2014 and 2012 elections, the incumbent Democratic congressman won the district by an average of 65% to 35%. So it is long odds-on that Jones will be defeated by a large margin. The GOP will therefore not try the Roy Moore approach of vacillating over supporting him, distancing themselves from him in public while secretly funneling money and support to him in private. The GOP has no chance of winning the seat.
Since he is already disowned by the GOP, Jones will be unconstrained, and we can expect to read more incendiary comments and allegations from him as he seeks to gain attention. To use the old military expression, Jones will therefore cause collateral damage to the GOP by his very appearance on the ballot. The Democratic Party will seek to use his utterances as proof that the GOP supports racists and nazis. That may help them nationally, but, as is usual in the adversarial two party system, it completely ignores the underlying causes of why crackpots like Arthur Jones can even gain any traction.

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