Political Writer H G Wells

H G WellsOn this day in 1866, the great writer H G Wells was born. He is best known for novels like The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. But I’m not very interested in them. I just don’t find science fiction all that interesting.

But apparently, he didn’t either. All those books were written in the late 1890s. After that, he spent much of his time writing about politics. He was a proponent of socialism. But during his lifetime events changed quite a lot and he eventually came to see the best kind of system as the social democracies we see today in Europe.

I find his position on Zionism very interesting because it so follows along with mine. Throughout most of his life, he was against Zionism because he considered it exclusionary. He felt that all the races should interbreed, so that we could all get on with the business of being human. I’m totally with him on that. Whenever I hear people talking about keeping races pure (which I do sometimes regarding Africans and Jews), it sounds like madness. If there is anything good to come of globalization, it must certainly be that we can get past this mythical idea of race.

The problem is that there are always people who will divide us. I still find it amazing that people hate Jews, when in terms of “race” they just seem like white people. Yet the Nazis based a whole nation-cult-genocide on it. After seeing what the Nazis had done to the Jews, Wells changed his position. I find myself again with him. But in my mind, Zionism ought to be a temporary thing as the people of the world get on with their interbreeding to make us all a bunch of beautiful brownish people. Unfortunately, I think that Zionism tends to perpetuate the “purity of the race” thinking. But that discussion is well above my pay grade.

What’s perhaps greatest about Wells is that he really was a thinker. And as a result, he managed to annoy and offend just about everyone. I’m not saying that that is a good in and of itself. But he was idiosyncratic. And he followed that. And I admire it.

Happy birthday H G Wells!

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Secession Oriented States: Full Correlation

Correlation Between Secession Desire and Federal Funding

After writing Secession Oriented States Get More From Feds Than They Give, it bothered me that I didn’t do the analysis of all the regions. So I did them. I still wish I had the numbers for the individual states, but I was able to run a correlation on what I had.

There is a correlation, but it isn’t that strong — about 80% or 1.2 sigma. The problem is the Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. This is a very big and heterogeneous collection of states. What’s more, there is a slight problem with the Rockies: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. This area is a lot more anti-government than their low federal benefits would indicate. But there is a reason for this. Colorado is 56% of the economy of this region and it has an extremely low federal benefit level (70%). Without it, the level would be 106%. That would put it right along the line implied by the other regions (without the Southeast).

Regardless, there is a correlation: areas that get more federal government largess are more likely to be in favor of getting rid of the federal government. Just the same, the correlation is weak. But we ought to expect that given the grouping of the states. That will tend to reduce the correlation and that is more true the larger the group is, as in the Southeast.

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Secession Oriented States Get More From Feds Than They Give

Secession Reuters Poll

I learned from the Los Angeles Times, Poll: Nearly One in Four in America Would Favor Secession. In one way, this doesn’t matter in the least. It seems that there is always about a third of the American people who are in favor of anything. But this is probably a real thing. Still, the Times is wrong to claim that, “Nearly one out of four Americans is so fed up with Washington that they are prepared to not take it any more and would favor their state breaking away from the rest of the United States.” I doubt that’s true, even if the writer is trying to be cute. What it probably means is that one-quarter of Americans are just crazy.

The data come from a Reuters/Ipsos poll. It also found that men were more in favor of leaving the union as were poor people (probably an indication that they lived in poor states more than that poor people in New York want to leave the union). It is above all an indication that there are a lot of frustrated and angry Americans. A whopping 53% of people who identified with the Tea Party want to leave the United States. This goes along with what I’ve long said: there is a strong tendency towards treason in the conservative movement.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the details of the data. It looks like they just didn’t release it for each state. It is very possible they didn’t have enough data to do a state by state analysis. But going off the regions in the map above, I decided to take a look at just how reasonable dropping out of the union is. As is well documented, the states where the people most complain about the federal government are generally the states that get the most money from the federal government. No one ever said Americans were rational.

I’m sure you’ve seen maps that show how much a particular state gets back from the federal government for each dollar it puts in. The biggest determinant of this is the age of the population. Like Florida gets a whole lot more back because there are so many retired people. Nonetheless, this percentage does tell us a lot about how different states would get along by themselves. But there is a problem: those maps you’ve seen are almost all wrong. That’s because they usually represent a single year. Things change a lot over the years. So what I did was to do the ten year average from the data fro 2004 through 2013. Then, to get the regional values, I did a weighted average based upon how much total money they send in federal taxes.

I only did the calculation for three regions: West, Southwest, and New England. I’m especially interested in the last two because they represent the most and least interested in leaving the country. The return on federal taxes for the regions are as follows:

  • $0.85 West
  • $1.19 Southwest
  • $0.86 New England

In other words: the states are want to leave the union are the ones who depend most upon it. Now some might take exception with the Southwest, because Texas is generally presented as a state that pays more in federal taxes than they get back. While that is true of some years and was true of last year, it hasn’t generally been true. For the last decade, Texas has received $1.02 for every dollar it has sent to the federal government.

But let’s face it: this isn’t about economics. People who want to leave the United States want to do it for cultural reasons. They want to deny same sex couples equal rights. They want to make abortion illegal. And not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a lot more people than you think who want to deny rights to different races and to bring back Jim Crow or worse.

Still, it is interesting to see that economically it doesn’t make sense. And I have little doubt that those who call for secession think that the federal government is screwing them in terms of taxes as well.

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The Rich Win Again, This Time in Scotland

Scottish Independence DeniedAs I’ve been clear: I never thought that Scotland would vote to leave the United Kingdom. And I’ve had my problems with the idea. In particular, I think they should have dealt with the monetary issue facing them. They needed to set up their own currency. All they had to do was talk to some people in Spain. Or Italy. Or Ireland, for God’s sake! But overall, I was in favor of Scotland leaving the UK.

It reminds me of a bit from the film 1776 when Benjamin Franklin is arguing with John Dickinson, “We’ve spawned a new race here, Mr. Dikinson. Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.” That doesn’t perfectly apply to Scotland, but I do think it ought to be its own nation. It isn’t Northern England. It is a distinct group of people and to paraphrase Dr Franklin, “It deserves to be a new nation.”

Most liberals were pretty positive toward Scottish independence. But I find it a bit bothersome that some of my liberal friends are thrilled that Scotland is staying in the United Kingdom. As liberals, we should all know that other than the United States, the UK is the most conservative and therefore messed up country among the advanced economies. It is always one step behind us in stepping on the little guy with powerful and innovated new tools. The Scots are a more liberal people. And not only would it be nice to have another liberal country, the break with the UK would probably have pushed England a bit toward the left itself.

Zack Beauchamp has done great coverage of the Scotland vote for Vox over the past month, and yesterday he provided another interesting article, The Scottish Vote Was a Class War and the Rich Won. It is based upon some preliminary research by Susan Johnston at the University of Edinburgh. And she found a shockingly clear correlation between support for staying in the UK and disposable income of the voter. I’ve greatly altered the original graph, which actually makes the correlation look even stronger:

Scotland Independence Vote by Class

There is only thing that bugs me about this graph. This could just be showing an age divide. In general, older people are more wealthy than younger people. But based upon polls before the election, I think we will find that even taking this into account, the Scottish independence vote was very much a class vote. And look at this “10 Reasons for Scottish Independence.” It looks like the Scottish version of Occupy Wall Street:

Scotland Independence Vote by Class

I especially like the last one, “A fairer society that cares for all its people, not just the rich.” Again, now may not be the time for Scottish independence. I would like the whole issue to be taken more seriously because I don’t want the Scottish people to be hurt. But there is no cause for triumphalism about this vote. It is a mixed bag. But as an American liberal, I stand far more with Scotland than I do the United Kingdom or even Ireland.

But all liberals really ought to think hard about celebrating the continued taxation of Scotland for the purpose of supporting one of the largest and most aggressive militaries in the world. It is terrible that a liberal people are forced to support a government that even when nominally liberal gets anemic leaders like Gordon Brown or war criminals like Tony Blair. And otherwise, they get corporate stooges like David Cameron.

So maybe it is for the best that Scotland remain in the United Kingdom. I’m certainly open to that argument. But this is no time for celebration. The vote against independence is what the rich wanted. If it happens to be the right thing, that’s just a coincidence. The rich get what they want. That’s true here in the United States. And it is sadly also true in Scotland.

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Image Use in Blog Article Layout

ClutterThere are three ways that one can format a blog post. The way that Frankly Curious does it is by far the best. But before I get to that, let’s discuss the different ways. The most common is what I call, “We don’t need no stinking pictures!” This is what you get from smaller blogs. They are just trying to get their messages out. They don’t have the time or the resources to add imagines to their posts. And there really is no need for the images. That’s especially true for people like Digby who we all read because she’s brilliant.

This kind of format is also found on Bloomberg blogs. I assume this is because these posts are going to be reprinted elsewhere. Also Political Animal includes no images. But interestingly, when Washington Month publishes guest posts, they include a small caricature of the writer in the upper left hand corner of the article. I rather like this. One of my complaints about websites generally but blogs especially is the lack of author images. Readers like to have some idea of who they are dealing with. I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one.

The second kind of format is generally done by large publications. In these cases, the article starts with a headline, followed by a large image that has to be scrolled past to get to the content. A typical example of this can be found with New York Magazine. But sadly, this is also how Vox is displayed. This is a huge mistake. First, it requires that the reader click to the page and then scroll down just to figure out if they want to read the article. Second, the idea of images is to break up the page. Having a big image that simply pushes the entire text flow out of the way doesn’t do that. So the images get in the way at the same time that they don’t make the pages more pleasant to look at.

Big Picture: Never, Never Gonna Show You Content...

This brings us to the correct way to layout pages: my way. What’s strange is that not more people do it. My standard scheme is to put a single small (150×200 pixel) image in the upper left hand corner of the article. Sometimes it goes on the right. And sometimes I use a large image if I think it is important enough. But that is the exception. There are various things that this accomplishes. First, it shows rather clearly on the main page where the articles start. It also makes the page look nice and not so desperately dull. Think of it as the spice of the article. I also think it makes people more likely read the article because it gives them another reason to be interested in the subject.

I perhaps have a different outlook on the web than a lot of people. I set up one of the first websites in the world. And at that time, one of the very few things you could do was to include images on pages. So I’ve always seen it as a publishing platform. But it isn’t like a book. It is like a magazine. And it should appeal like a magazine. Just the same, I don’t claim to be any kind of a layout artist. And that’s kind of the point: if this stuff is obvious to me, what the hell is going on with professionals at popular sites?

Well, I think I know, actually. I think they are far more interested in maximizing the number of people who click on the ads they liter their pages with than they are with the content they are providing. Washington Monthly, for example, is more ads than content. Because of that site alone, I’ve turned off flash content on my pages. And the site still annoys me.

There are many other problems with the way that webpages are displayed. Many of them have been eliminated by blogging software. For example, you just don’t see blog themes that have virtually unreadable text scrolling all the way across the screen. Just the same, the blogs have also created a great deal of monotony. Right now on Frankly Curious, I’m rather unhappy with the excessive amount of white space. This is something that seems especially typical of WordPress. And every time I look at this blog, I think, “That’s so 2009!” Just the same, it isn’t terrible. But I don’t want to be saying that in 2019.

What I think goes on with most blogs is that people don’t have all that much time to devote to them. What’s more, they aren’t that technically savvy and so once they get something that doesn’t totally suck, they stick with it. Also, the blogs really do limit you. I’ve only been using my current theme for a month or two, but I know that I can never upgrade it. I’ve gone in and hacked the code to make it do things it was never meant to do. So I don’t blame people for playing it safe. And I never complain that a lone blogger isn’t dazzling me with graphics. But the professionals really are to blame for not only leaving me flat with their designs, but getting in the way of my consuming their content.

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The Great Poet Stevie Smith

Stevie SmithOn this day in 1902, the great poet Stevie Smith was born. I could easily have used today to talk about Jay Ward, the producer of such important works of my childhood such as Rocky & Bullwinkle. But I think I have written enough about him over the years. He even shows up in my first novel. And my second novel is still unfinished, so he may end up in that one too. But the thing is that there is a very good reason for highlighting Stevie Smith today, which I will get to soon enough.

Smith published three novels and nine books of poetry during her life. Her work epitomizes what I refer to as “idiosyncratic art.” But most such art is not very good in a purely technical sense. That was not true of Smith’s work. I’ve never read any of her novels, but I plan to rectify that situation by next year. I’m especially interested in reading her first novel, Novel on Yellow Paper. For one thing, I have a special fondness for writer’s first novels. There is something special about reading them while they are still finding a voice. But also, the novel was published in 1936, and deals with antisemitism and involves a trip the main character takes to Nazi Germany at that time. That just sounds too fascinating not to read.

But the special reason for discussing Stevie Smith today is that in 1978, there was a film about her named Stevie starring one of my many childhood crushes, Glenda Jackson. As is typical of great and unique films, it is not available on DVD. In fact, I can’t even find it of VHS. It may never have been released. I only ever remember seeing the film when it played at the great old Plaza Theater in Petaluma when I was a teen. The Plaza was one of those theaters that played a different double feature every night. There really is nothing our culture has produced since to make up for the absence of those theaters.

Anyway, someone did us the great favor of putting all of Stevie on YouTube in 11 parts. And it is well done, not just cut randomly by YouTube. I’ve put it into a playlist for ease of watching. You really should take the time to watch it because it may be taken down at any time. I’m always interested in that: copyright holders who don’t care enough to make a work available for sale, but still don’t want anyone watching it for free. I’m not saying that will happen here, but it does happen all the time so you are best to watch now just to be safe.

The film is based upon the play Stevie by Hugh Whitemore. And the film definitely has a play feel to it. But it is somehow vibrant. I know that film lovers tend to disregard these kinds of films because they aren’t “cinematic.” But I think the use of film to tell a story well is always worth the effort. I think the film works beautifully. It succeeds completely on its own terms. Just accept it and follow where it takes you. It is very much like Stevie Smith’s work: charming, funny, smart, dark, heartbreaking. It is a loving and fitting tribute to a great artist.

Happy birthday Stevie Smith!

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B Traven on Finding a Job

The Treasure of the Sierra MadreThe bench on which Dobbs was sitting was not so good. One of the slats was broken; the one next to it was bent so that to have to sit on it was a sort of punishment. If Dobbs deserved punishment, or if this punishment was being inflicted upon him unjustly, as most punishments are, such a thought did not enter his head at this moment. He would have noticed that he was sitting uncomfortably only if somebody had asked him if he was comfortable. Nobody, of course, bothered to question him.

Dobbs was too much occupied with other thoughts to take any account of how he was sitting. Just then he was looking for a solution to that age-old problem which makes so many people forget all other thoughts and things. He worked his mind to answer the question: how can I get some money right now?

If you already have some money, then it is easier to make more, because you can invest the little you have in some sort of business that looks promising. Without a cent to call yours, it is difficult to make any money at all.

Dobbs had nothing. In fact, he had less than nothing, for even his clothes were neither good nor complete. Good clothes may sometimes be considered a modest fund to begin some enterprise with.

Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn’t know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world.

Dobbs would have carried heavy stones in a wheelbarrow ten hours a day if someone had offered him the job, but even had the job been open, he would have been the last to land it, because there already would be hundreds waiting and the natives of the country come first and a foreigner afterwards, if ever.

—B Traven
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre


H/T: Paul Krugman

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America Goes to War Because It’s Always Afraid

Don't call me chicken, or I'll have to go to war!Paul Waldman has addressed an important question, Why ISIL Wants to Be in a War With America. But before we get to that, let me throw in with Waldman on another point: it is an insult to YouTube artists to say that ISIS creates “slickly produced” videos. Even he gives them too much credit, “[I]t’s nothing your teenage nephew couldn’t create with a few hours and a copy of any of a dozen free video editing programs.” I think Flames of War absolutely sucks. It’s got one nice (but at this point totally cliched) bit in slow motion. But otherwise, it is cluttered and clumsy. And it doesn’t make a clear point. It is clearly meant to be like Bush the Younger’s “Bring it on” comment. But I only know that because I already knew it. Anyway, the only reason that anyone says that ISIS videos are slick is because they are something more than a man sitting on a pillow ranting.

Waldman’s argument is that ISIS wants the United States to be at war with them. That is obviously true. It is a recruiting tactic. It is also a way for the leaders of ISIS to fluff themselves up. It means that they are the biggest baadassssses in the world. At least in their own minds. I remember in the lead-up to the Persian Gulf War. The television news endlessly repeated that Iraq had the fifth largest military in the world! What that actually meant was that Iraq didn’t have much of a military.

But of course that was true. The United States doesn’t go to war with countries that have big militaries. Is there any question that we will go to war with Russia or China? Of course not! The big prize for the neoconservatives is to go to war with Iran. That would be a total disaster. But that is the biggest game that the chickenhawks are willing to go after. No one wants a proper war where taxes might have to go up or American children might have to be drafted. That’s why we have to whip up terror about little authoritarians the world over — as long as they don’t have nuclear weapons!

The people in ISIS are smart though. They clearly understand the United States a lot better than we understand ISIS. It doesn’t take much to get the people of the United States to start screaming for war. I wrote about this last week, We Will Soon Regret Bombing Syria:

The media have managed to work the American people up into yet another of their fear and anger tantrums. And so the call has gone out. The Batman light is shining on the clouds above. “Please save us! Do something! Make our fear go away!” So Obama “reluctantly” accepts what all the “liberal” and conservative analysts always say: more bombing in more places until it becomes clear that it isn’t doing any good.

Waldman pointed out that just because ISIS wants the United States to be drawn into this conflict doesn’t mean it is actually to ISIS’s benefit. That’s true enough. But I think he misses the main point: in a fundamental way, ISIS absolutely can’t lose. The best case scenario for the United States is that it crushes ISIS. There will be two results of this. First, no one will care. The United States military is almost the same size (in terms of funding) as every other country in the world combined. So we take out a regional army with a tens of thousands of mostly badly trained soldiers? Who cares?!

The second result is even more important. If ISIS is destroyed, it will just be replaced with another group like it that the American media will claim is “even worse than ISIS!” The reason is because ISIS didn’t spring up in a vacuum. The Sunnis are not happy. They have been oppressed by the newly empowered Shia in Iraq. Now there is something we could do about that. We could create a kind of Marshall Plan for Iraq. But we didn’t do that before and I see no reason why the people of America would beg for it now. After all, there won’t be public beheadings of American journalists and so the United States will go back to its normal posture of making the entire world a lucrative playground for our corporations.

If ISIS is stupid or ignorant in any way, it is this: they don’t need to provoke the United States into stupid wars. We do it all by ourselves. This is because Americans are a bunch of terrified pussies. But ISIS can be forgiven for not understanding this about us. Any reasonable (or right wing authoritarian theocracy) would think that after two centuries a country would be self-assured enough to not act like a child on a playground who’s afraid of being called a chicken.

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Sean Hannity’s Fascist Child Rearing Advice

Sean Hannity“I got hit with a strap. Bam! Bam! Bam! And I’ve never been to a shrink…” That was what Sean Hannity had to say about corporal punishment. It isn’t surprising that he would be a big advocate of beating children into submission. Most people who are brutalized as children hold this kind of opinion. And among conservatives, this kind of thing just makes sense in the same way that constant warfare and torture makes sense.

Now I won’t psychoanalyze Hannity, because I don’t think it is necessary. The 16 words above speak for themselves. And his additional comment that he’s never been to a shrink is just brilliant. Imagine a guy with a tumor the size of a grapefruit on the side of his head who insists nothing is wrong with him because he’s never been to a doctor. He’s fine. Really. Never felt the need. That must mean there is nothing wrong with him.

In the case of Sean Hannity, the tumor is pretty obvious. It’s pretty obvious on Bill O’Reilly too. Joe Scarborough is a conservative hack who rarely has anything interesting to say, but at least he isn’t out there cheer-leading for child abuse.

Check out the following segment from The Young Turks, because it provides a number of different times that Sean Hannity has fought the good fight in favor of brutalizing children:

The fundamental argument here seems to be that the way children were raised in the past is the the right way. Norms never change! Of course, by this logic, we would still be burning heretics. So what is it that we are afraid might happen? That little boys won’t grow up to be brutes like their fathers? This sounds a lot like what Hitler thought about the rearing of children:

My teaching will be hard. Weakness will be knocked out of them. A violently active, dominating, brutal youth — that is what I am after. Youth must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness and tenderness in it.

He goes on to talk about how knowledge is the ruin of his young men. If Sean Hannity is not a full-fledged fascist, he is a proto-fascist. And this is the thinking that he disseminates to millions on his radio and television shows. This is what the power elite want Americans to hear.

“I got hit with a strap. Bam! Bam! Bam! And I’ve never been to a shrink…”

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Addressing Global Warming Won’t Hurt Economy, Not That it Matters

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wants you to know that it would cost very little to fight climate change, Errors and Emissions. In fact, he wants you to know that doing so might actually improve the economy and spur economic growth. I want him to know that I already knew that. I discussed this last year, Environmentalism Good for Economy Right Now. But he does provide some new work that shows things are even better than anyone thought.

The problem is that this doesn’t matter in the least. Let us consider the twentieth century during which time many tens of millions of Americans had their lives shortened and degraded all in the name of cigarette company profits. Was this good for the economy as a whole? Certainly not. People actively poisoning themselves did not make the auto industry more competitive. It didn’t expand the steel industry. It didn’t make the United States the biggest in the world. No. It made a very small number of people very rich. And in the name of those profits, we let millions of people die. The damage continues to be done.

So even if we discovered that taxing carbon would increase the standard of living of Americans by 50% and make roses smell ever so much better and provide lollipops for the kids, we would not tax carbon. I hate to be a killjoy, but this bears repeating at least a hundred times per day: we do not live in a democracy. It doesn’t matter what is best for the people or the country. What matters is what is good for the powerful. And even though doing something about global warming might be good for the computer industry, the privilege of the computer industry will stop it from standing with the people and against the oil industry.

If the government chooses the people over of the oil companies, who’s next? First they reduced the profits of the oil billionaires and I did not speak out — because my billions came from a different industry…

You know how conservatives are always complaining about how poor people lack impulse control? They are a paragon of virtue compared to the rich. At least the poor know that there are limits on their power. For example, they know that if they jaywalk, some police officer might shoot them in the head because he was “afraid.” But the rich live in a different world where their economic desires are all fulfilled. Thus, they have no impulse control. And why should they have impulse control? Global warming is very unlikely to be so bad that they can’t move to a good location and watch the billions of little people suffer and die from a distance.

Still, I think it is important to get the news out that addressing climate change is not bad for the economy. There are a whole lot of people who argue that it is. I’ve discussed before the three stages of global warming denial, It’s Raining, But Not for Long:

  1. There is no global warming!
  2. There is global warming, but humans aren’t the cause!
  3. Humans are causing global warming, but there is nothing we can do!

But the truth is that there is a fourth stage: “There are things we could do about global warming but it will destroy out economy!” And so it is satisfying to bat down that claim as well. But it won’t matter. There will always be another stage of global warming denial. If all else fails, they will start claiming that addressing global warming will not really provide lollipops as I promised earlier. So it’s hopeless!

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