Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meanwhile, in the Business News: Kiss Net Neutrality Goodbye


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is turning the Internet into the property of large commercial firms.  That is my interpretation of the crap that has been released just a few days before Thanksgiving holiday, when many Americans are either too somnolent from turkey gobbling or too tired after having had to cook the turkey to care about the news.

A more polite way to express the same is this:

The Federal Communications Commission released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites.
The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services.

Doesn't it sometimes seem to you that the real political system in this country is klepto-capitalism, where the country is auctioned off to a small number of powerful moneyed interests?

Why enough of the peons vote for that system is a mystery to me, though the Republicans are indeed excellent in creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats as the targets of all the rage some people feel after decades of increased income and wealth inequality, and the United States also has its sizable Taliban-like contingency who only care about their brand of patriarchal Christianity.

The basic difference between the Obama administration rules and the new ones is this:  The former saw the online world as public commons, a public square, a place where all sorts of issues can be debated, where people can learn about various topics, and where information (and, sadly, fake information) is transmitted, while the latter sees the online world as a set of giant shopping channels where the telecom firms decide how fast and conveniently you can visit various online sites.

Or, more succinctly, the earlier rules treated the Internet as a public utility, whereas the new ones treat it as prime business real estate, where large profits are to be gained by few large firms.

This latest move is part and parcel of the Trump administration (even writing that makes me feel ill) move to get rid of all the regulations that are intended to protect the consumers.  Or to protect democracy:

Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump in January, has eliminated numerous regulations during his first year.
The agency has stripped down rules governing television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies that were meant to protect the public interest. On Tuesday, in addition to the net neutrality rollback, Mr. Pai announced a plan to eliminate a rule limiting any corporation from controlling broadcasts that can reach more than 39 percent of American homes.

Allowing the market concentration to grow in the media industry means that one day your choices for television news and analysis just might be Rupert Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch.
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And what is this all about?


Monday, November 20, 2017

Short posts, 11/20/17: On Vaginas, EarthSea, On Believing Sexual Assault Victims and The Tweeting President



1.  On vaginas.  There's an odd sense in which pron (I believe) has turned vulvas and vaginas into something public.  Probably penises, too.  I doubt it's a good thing for people's peace of mind.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New Gilded Age



Has arrived.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision (= every dollar has an equal voice) paved the way for the oligarchy which is now developing in the United States.  We might soon be openly ruled by a handful of very rich families, pulling the strings of their politician marionettes.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Second Take.



(This series will run during November, whenever I feel like writing about my blogoversary.  Presents are welcome, of course.)

The writer's block is an interesting condition.  I sometimes think that it has similar functions to my (now rarer) migraines:  The body decides that the mind needs a rest, and when the stubborn mind refuses to rest, the body makes sure that it will happen.  Slam.  I have the ability to sleep through migraines, which means that I do get a lot of rest when struck by one.

The writer's block doesn't work quite the same way, and based on my past experiences the reasons for mine vary.  Right now, for instance, I am blocked even though I have many topics more or less thought out and ready to be written in my fevered brain, except that seeing the empty screen suddenly makes writing quite impossible.*

And I am usually an efficient writer.  This time, I think, the block is about political writing.  I can write this post, after all.  The current political clamors are chaotic, and the more I read the more chaotic they look.

Consider how the recent revelations about sexual harassment by famous men are going.  From the very beginning of the wave of new allegations I felt both optimistic and fearful,  the latter because I have been a political blogger long enough to know how these pendulum shifts happen:

The pendulum begins at one end point, starts shifting, the speed of its swing increases, the pendulum is at full swing, but then nears the other end point, the swing slows down, slows down, stops, and then it begins to reverse. 

Yes, it is wonderful that this extra tax levied on many women (and some men, too) is now spoken about, that women are taken seriously when there are enough women behind the accusations, that perhaps, just perhaps, this is a change which will become more permanent, resulting in a more just society, where not only the victims of harassment are punished.

But all through reading about the new allegations I have feared the turn of the pendulum, the publication of one accusation which is clearly false, or, more likely the publication of several cases which are borderline.  Such case or cases are then used by some who have an axe to grind to negate the previous evidence, to taint it all with the same flavor of iffiness. 

There's the flavor of a fad** in much American political debating, and this topic is no different.  We debate gun control after each new atrocity.  We debate hurricane responses after hurricanes.  And we debate sexual harassment mores when famous harassment cases are in the news.  But just like fads fade, the intensity of these debates fades when something else becomes the flavor of the day.  Often nothing else has changed.

I want to see the institutional changes in all the topics mentioned in the above paragraph, but I fear my wishes will not be fulfilled.

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The thoughts go like this, while the eyes stare at the blank screen:

Is that a spiderweb in the ceiling?  Do I need coffee?   Let's see what x is writing.  I should clean the screen...  What's in my Twitter feed? 

Oh, the usual sadness and anger and rage and a thousand topics piled up in the time order they come, with no rhyme or reason about their contents. 

Should I cut my bangs with nail scissors?   Should I publish one more rant about the madness that is Trump?  What's the point?  Those who love him love his very madness and will never repent. 

This room really needs vacuuming (the one English word with two u's in a row).

And Finnish does have lots of words for snow.  Take snow in the air.  There's pyry which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but mostly vertically.  Then there's tuisku which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but sometimes sideways.  But no word that would mean "to snow."  Finns must do with "it rains snow."  Which is weird.

** I don't mean to belittle the importance of the topics, so I am not using the term in that sense.  But I can't think of a good synonym for the fierce word fights we have right after something important is publicized, their patterns of widening, intensifying and then diminishing,  and the way those fights and their contents fall into the memory hole so very rapidly when something else important happens.

All this is natural for humans, I think.  But it's seldom the case that the debates result in any greater clarity or in policy changes, either.  They stand in their place, and important topics simply turn into yesterday's news.
  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore



Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers


We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.













Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. First Take.


I have been writing this miserable blog for fourteen years now!  I should get my head checked.  The problem with the anniversary (which was yesterday) is that it is also very close to the one-year-anniversary of the Turd Reich and follows a year of Very Bad News.

That coincidence is uncomfortable and cannot but help to affect how I view these years and their puny harvest.

I am planning to have several anniversary posts in a row.  That lets me express some Deep Thoughts and lets you give me presents if you are so inclined.  If not, thanks for reading here anyway.



Gary Cohn, Trump's Economic Advisor, on the Unavoidable Tax Cuts For The Rich


Gary Cohn's arguments about the Republican "tax reform" plan are worth thinking about, because he is hilarious.  He is Trump's economic advisor, and in a recent interview explains why most of the goodies from the Republican tax plan would fall in the laps of the wealthy.

At first he states that the warped outcome of how much various income groups would benefit is just an accident:  Somehow all the money just slipped into a few pockets:

Among other bloopers, the National Economic Council director explained that CEOs of big corporations were “the most excited group out there” about a proposal that would ultimately raise taxes on a good chunk of the middle class. He also said that while the administration hadn’t “set out” to lower taxes on the wealthy, he’s “not upset” about it, as if its massive rate cuts for business owners were merely some form of serendipity.
I'm sure Gary is not upset about getting a lot out of the Republicans' plan, of course.

Then he gives a different excuse for why the middle class will not benefit that much:

Cohn: Yup. But, John, if you look at what we’re doing for middle-class taxpayers, the reality is kind of simple. The median-income family in the United States, the family that earns about $60,000 in the United States, the Speaker [Paul Ryan] talked about them getting a $1,182 tax cut. That family is now paying a marginal tax rate of less than 1 percent. They’re paying less than $500 of total taxes in the system. So a $60,000 earner, family of four, is paying less than $500. We have cut their taxes significantly. You can’t go much further in the tax system.
Harwood: You’re saying you can’t give middle-class taxpayers more of a tax break than you’ve done?
Cohn: Unless you want to start going negative tax rates and go into the negative world. So, when people score this, you’re scoring against the bound of zero.

I'm having so much fun with that.  Remember the many Trump tweets about BIG LEAGUE tax cuts for the middle classes?  Here's one example from the time of the campaigns:



But now his economic advisor says that This Cannot Be Done.

Never mind.  Let's take one more step backward and ask why the Republicans are spending all their remaining energy on trying to get those tax cuts passed, if there's really no way to give the middle class families any kind of "big league" income tax cuts.

The only answer must be that the goal indeed was to return a lot of money into the pockets of the super-rich.  That this money must come from reducing government expenditure (on the poor and on the elderly, it seems) is just an unfortunate and unintended side-effect, too, I guess.