May 22

Our Economic System Causes Spam

Spam - Sudoku - Economic SystemI’ve been thinking about the last article I wrote here, The Evolution of Comment Spam. That article was more or less about computers and about how the internet works. But I’m really more interested in spam on a much deeper level — the political level — the level of our economic system. Because it really is politics and economics that causes us to have spam. If there were no economic incentive to create spam, no one would.

After all, spam isn’t an art form. I’m sure the people in Palestine who get paid pennies an hour posting spam would rather be doing something else. I admitted in the article before that I didn’t understand the economics of spam. How is the spammer making money and who are they getting that money from. But I do know the economics this far: the spammer is making money doing nothing but damage.

Let’s Think About Our Economic System

And I think as a society we really need to think about this. This is a function of our living in a capitalism. I’m willing to admit that the incentive structure of capitalism does some good things. It makes people build beautiful guitars, for instance. But it also does this; it creates the incentive for people to make the world worse.

It’s funny to think about it. I don’t even know why I have to deal with spam. I don’t know why it increases the work that I have to do in order to bring my readers the work they want. But I do know that there is an incentive. What’s more, it’s a perfectly legal incentive. It’s every bit as ethical as my putting an Amazon Associate’s link when I talk about my favorite translation of Don Quixote. The fact that no one else seems to find this strange is what is so bizarre about it.

Pornography: One of Our Society’s Great Values

Here’s a little factoid you’ll find interesting. We think a lot about Hollywood. I have a whole website about it (from a strange angle, admittedly), Psychotronic Review. And every Monday, the news tells us how much money the newest Hollywood blockbusters made. Yet depending on who you ask, video porn makes anywhere from somewhat less than Hollywod to the same as it to more than it.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against pornography. But I don’t find it edifying. And I think most Americans would be bothered that “adult” entertainment is roughly as profitable as the industry that brought us Schindler’s List. Yet that is the deal that we as a society have made. Listen to just about any libertarian around and they will tell you that the value of anything is determined solely by how much money people will pay for it. Thus, Hungry Bitches (“2 Girls 1 Cup”) is more valuable than almost every English language translation of Don Quixote.

Inefficient Economic System

Would stopping people from making more than one or ten million dollars a year really destroy our economy? Would making sure that everyone was well feed and had a place they could call home destroy our economy? I think not.

The time has come for us to think about our society. We have an economic system that is incredibly inefficient because people are encouraged to make money by harming other people. Spam has been around for a long time. But it was only when people could really make money that spam took off. And as it is, at least as much money is spent promoting work than creating it. In the film business, the rule of thumb is that about as much money is spent on marketing as on creating the movie. That’s pretty amazing when you remember that movies often cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

But I know: everyone looks back at the Soviet Union and the conversation stops. That’s typically American. The truth is that under the Tsar, the Russian Empire was a combination of a very primitive agricultural economy and an industrial capitalism. Russia did far better under communism than it did under the Tsar. So bringing up the Soviet Union doesn’t prove anything.

We’re Stuck Thinking About How Things Have Been

What bothers me more, however, is the total lack of vision among people who are with me. There is capitalism and there is communism and then there is nothing. Call me naive, but I think humans are smart enough to come up with an economic system that is better than both communism and capitalism. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some of them. One is to decouple economics from politics. We’ve seen what’s happened in the United States where the rich gain political power, which they use to make themselves richer.

So I think we should have a top marginal tax rate of 100 percent. And I don’t just say that because I think that income inequality is bad. I think the rich have to be saved from themselves. If what a business owner really loves is running their business, it shouldn’t matter that they aren’t making any money. But I think it would encourage them to do things that would be edifying like read books, have relationships, think about new things. The system we have now is like a game where the winner is the person who dies with the most money. I take pity on everyone and so I think even the rich deserve something more than a life of Sudoku meaning.

Simple Ideas and Better Lives

Would stopping people from making more than one or ten million dollars a year really destroy our economy? Would making sure that everyone was well feed and had a place they could call home destroy our economy? I think not. I think we have simply lived in the limited minds of the super rich for so long that we are unable to think creatively. And being stuck in this mindset that ruin lies before us if we insist upon a fair distribution of resources means that we live in a world where I have to worry about people soiling my blog just so they can make a buck and and live the big Sudoku meaning dream.

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May 20

The Evolution of Comment Spam

Comment SpamI have a greater interest in comment spam than most people. Even among bloggers, comment spam is rarely seen as anything but an annoyance. For those who don’t know, comment spam is where someone comments on a blog post with only the intention of getting their link (or links — sometimes hundreds of them) put on your website.

The idea originally was that these comments would give the linked website a boost in Google’s ratings. But blogging software quickly learned this trick, and so pretty much all comment links are listed with the rel="nofollow" attribute, which means that Google doesn’t count the link in its rankings.

I guess spammers do it today just because some small percentage of people will click on them. That’s probably why I find comment spam so fascinating: it doesn’t make any sense. Sure: it’s cheap to post it, but I have a hard time believing that the spam pays for itself.

Email Spam May Be a Con

It’s very possible that it’s a con perpetrated against the websites that are being advertised. The spammers convince the website owners that they are boosting their sites’ traffic. And by the time the site owners figure out they’ve been scammed, the money is gone. It’s not like the spammers didn’t do what they said they would.

On most sites, spam doesn’t get through. For example, you never see it on Frankly Curious. But on Don’t Even Reply, there are thousands of spam comments on each post. The guy who runs the site just doesn’t care. Whatever. The spammers aren’t getting anything out of it.

Uninspired Spam

When you first start seeing comment spam, the thing you notice is how uninspired it is. It’s the same thing over and over. There are maybe a dozen small messages and you see them again and again.

One that I used to see all the time went something like this. “I really like your blog. But have you ever considered spicing it up a little with some images or maybe video.” I’ve seen this comment spam on a post by Andrea that was just a single image that she had created. So they aren’t even paying attention.

It’s not surprising. Why do they care? The comment spam is entered either by a computer or a person in a desperately poor place where they might get paid a fraction of a cent for each comment that gets published.

The Evolution of Comment Spam

But today I saw something new: evolution of comment spam. Remember the spam I mentioned before recommending that I add some images to my site. Well, I got what is clearly a rewrite of that. Here it goes:

I believe everything posted made a ton of sense. However, think on this, what if you were to create a killer headline? I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t good, however what if you added something that makes people want more? I mean [webpage name] — Improve [webpage content] is kinda plain. You should look at Yahoo’s front page and note how they create news titles to grab people to click. You might add a video or a related pic or two to grab people interested about everything’ve written. Just my opinion, it would make your posts a little bit more interesting.

Note that it’s about headlines. But the kernal of adding an image is there. And I’m sure that’s where they started.

A Better Con?

The big question is… why? This bit of comment spam is no more likely to make it through a filter than the original. But again, maybe it is the con I was talking about before. Maybe they could go to the website owner and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great piece of software that’s gonna go live five times as often!” I don’t know.

I do know this: every time there is an innovation with spam, it takes me that much longer to delete it. So even though they gain nothing spamming a site that I’m in charge of, it does cost time and money.

And that’s the terrible thing about comment spam. It costs people time and money, but it doesn’t even help the villain. It’s really quite remarkable.

I Could Be Wrong About Comment Spam

It could be that comment spam is much more effective than I think. You know the stories of the Nigerian Prince and his locked up millions that would be released if only you could pay a couple of thousands of dollars to pay a bank fee or whatever? That’s still a highly successful scam. So there’s no telling.

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May 18

Nobody Knows A Big Bang Theory Fan They Actually Like

The Big Bang TheoryThey say “fricking” instead of actually swearing. They probably have ketchup with every meal. Two Big Bang Theory fans I know genuinely own shoes which fasten with velcro. The word “basic” is a bit of a cruel insult to throw around willy-nilly — we can’t all listen to Mac DeMarco while munching gourmet scotch eggs — but they do tend to be united by a complete lack of imagination and cultural adventurousness.

It’s not just the fact that liking Big Bang Theory indicates a total lack of taste, it’s the vague sense that they feel that liking it is a big shiny gold badge of honor which indicates that they’re intellectually superior to fans of other sitcoms. As we’ve already established, The Big Bang Theory is not a clever program. It’s that middle of the road that if you swapped their references to Star Wars and astrophysics for references to forests and body hair you could be watching Harry & the Hendersons.

If you want intellectual jokes, go and watch Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead or something. You’ll not find them on Big Bang Theory, so drop the cleverer-than-thou attitude guys.

–Tom Nicholson
11 Reasons The Big Bang Theory Is the Worst Thing on TV

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May 17

Bizarre Conservative Silence About Comey’s Memo

Jonathan Chait - GOP Reasons for Healthcare Bill Make No SenseIn the modern media era, there may be no surer sign of presidential dysfunction than an absence of talking points on the leading story of the moment. The White House had warning in the middle of Tuesday afternoon that The New York Times would publish its blockbuster report on James Comey’s memo, and yet by that evening it had formulated no defense whatsoever. Last night’s Fox News lineup was a comical procession of unrelated jibber-jabber. Sean Hannity ranted generally about the left-wing media and other Trump enemies, referring only tangentially to the devastating news — “unprecedented leaks, including to The New York Times tonight” — that he neither rebutted nor even described. Tucker Carlson ran segments lambasting the Clinton Foundation and a New York City Council member’s inattentiveness to restroom conditions in Penn Station. The closest thing to a relevant defense witness he could summon was left-wing professor Stephen F Cohen, who reiterated his long-standing and increasingly absurd theory that questions about Trump’s Russia connections amount to “neo-McCarthyism.” Other party organs were likewise silent. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which had faithfully repeated the administration’s initial claims that Trump was merely following the urging of the deputy attorney general in firing Comey, went to press without any editorial addressing the news.

But then, this morning, a line of defense had begun to fitfully emerge: maybe President Trump did utter English words that, taken literally, amounted to a request that James Comey stop investigating Michael Flynn. But those words did not convey an actual instruction or any intent to influence Comey’s behavior.

–Jonathan Chait
Republicans: Trump Was Just Joking About Obstructing Justice

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May 16

Humorless Rants Podcast Does James Comey Firing

Humorless Rants Podcast

Our very own Elizabeth Rogers has teamed up with Kara Calavera to do the Humorless Rants Podcast. Thus far there are three casts. The first one is with Elizabeth alone. It was good, but it’s very hard to make something like that dynamic with one person. That’s why almost any kind of show like this has two hosts. For example, WNYC’s On the Media has two hosts, even though the show is mostly just a set of stories.

The most recent episode is What the Hell Was That?! The title is in reference to the firing of James Comey. And it’s amazing how interesting it is to listen to two knowledgeable people talk about the events of the day.

The dynamism of the show doesn’t come from a lot of back and forth. Both of the hosts give each other a lot of latitude to speak at some length. That’s unusual. And helpful. It allows them dig down into the issues at hand and make comments that are more than just facile.

Campaign Spotlight

The Humorless Rants Podcast is lively and informative and well worth checking out.

After only three casts, Humorless Rants is still finding its own structure. With the third episode, they introduced Campaign Spotlight, where they talk about smaller races you aren’t likely to hear about. I suspect this will be a keeper, because Elizabeth has always been very keen on the topic.

You may also remember last year when she wrote a series of articles for Frankly Curious, Congressional Races Worth Watching in 2016. That reminds me that I was actually looking forward to 8 November. After 4 November 2014, I thought, “At least this will be a pleasant night!” Geez! I’m having the same feelings about 2018 — that it will be a good year for liberalism in the United States. But maybe not. Maybe this country is just hopeless.

Anyway, the Humorless Rants Podcast highlighted Bebs Chorak who is running in the South Carolina House District 48 special election. She won the Democratic primary on 2 May. She’s running against Republican Bruce Bryant in the general election on 20 June. This is the level of government where democracy is lost or saved, so it’s great to see Elizabeth and Kara highlight the race.

James Comey

Most of the third show involves the firing of James Comey. I’ve followed this relatively closely, but I was surprised how much I learned. Much of it was speculation, but still: things I hadn’t heard.

Also, they spent quite a lot of time deconstructing Donald Trump’s note to Comey, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” It’s worth listen to, and much more than, “Trump was just pushing his innocence again.”

Not Safe for Work

Listening to the Humorless Rants Podcast made me feel kind of old because it’s a bit coarse. I remember when I spoke in a much more coarse manner, so I’m not complaining. Go back and read the first couple of years of Frankly Curious. But you should know that this is “not safe for work.” Although I have always been a little unclear where people are allowed to play podcasts — especially political ones — loud enough so that others can hear them. I think the term is used to keep the speaker from sounding like an old fuddy-duddy like me.

Check Out the Humorless Rants Podcast

As time goes on, I’m sure that the Humorless Rants Podcast will get better. But it’s already very lively and informative. You should really check it out.

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May 15

Why Zorro Is the Superhero of Liberals

Zorro - The Curse of CapistranoThe last couple of nights, I’ve watched the 1975 Zorro starring Alain Delon and Stanley Baker. Regular readers can perhaps guess how I came upon the film, given that Stanley Baker was the star and co-producer of Zulu — a film much on my mind of late. Zorro was one of Baker’s last films before dying at the young age of 48 due to lung cancer. In Zorro, he plays the bad guy. And French actor Alain Delon has the pleasure of playing two roles: the dashing Zorro and his simpering alter ego Diego de la Vega, the governor of Nueva Aragón. But I’ll write about the film over on Psychotronic Review. Here I want to talk about the politics of the film.

The truth is that it’s hard not to talk about the politics of Zorro. The character and the stories that relate to him are political in nature. Part of that is because they are set in a particular time and place. And the fact that they don’t take place in the US allows them to be more honest about class. Even today, it’s hard to get most Americans to discuss class. And Zorro is all about class.

Zorro vs Lone Ranger

The closest superhero to Zorro is The Lone Ranger. But note that in the latter’s case, his villains tend to be standard outlaws. Zorro, on the other hand, is a class traitor. He is a man determined to protect the lower class from the greed of his own ruling class. But more than that, the stories usually involve the poor and how they can be a force for their own salvation. They needn’t depend upon one iconoclastic rich man to save them.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.”

Of course, this isn’t surprising. Zorro first appeared in a pulp series The Curse of Capistrano in 1919. And it was an attack on the Mexican aristocracy. It was written by Johnston McCulley — a very white man with a very white name. So Zorro was not the creation of self-criticism any more than True Lies was. (Note: I’m not comparing Zorro to that ghastly bit of American propaganda.)

Fascism of Superheroes

But the biggest problem with the superhero genre is that it is fascist in nature. It tells ordinary men and women that they are powerless and that they must bow down to their betters. It is no coincidence that the most famous superhero, Superman, is the literal translation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

There is a big difference between the leader who says “Follow me because together we are strong” and the leader who says “Follow me because I am strong.” And certainly, there are some fascistic elements to Zorro, but he’s the least objectionable well-known superhero. And that’s why he’s the superhero who liberals can support.

Collective Action

What Americans — perhaps more than any modern people — need to understand is that our strength lies in our ability to work together. We see this in every presidential election that we have. Look back at 2008 where we elected Obama and then sat back and waited for Obama to save us. This is not only a criticism of all of us. It’s also a criticism of Obama himself, because he certainly showed no interest in keeping his base pushing for liberal change (perhaps because Obama wasn’t very interested in liberal change).

Maybe it would have been different if Hillary Clinton had become president because she’s a woman. I truly don’t know, because her campaign was largely about her resume. I understand that with a resume such as hers, it’s hard not to make it your calling card. Regardless, we’ll never know. Instead of finding out, we elected a man who considers himself the Übermensch rather than the immature trust-fund child that he is.

Regardless, if there is a liberal would-be novelist out there, they might try their hand at a take on Zorro — one that downplays the sword and the whip even more and makes him above all an organizer and inspiration of fellow humans. Because it’s all there in the character. Not a lot of work would need to be done on the character. Sadly, a lot of work has to be done on ourselves to organize and inspire our way to a more liberal nation.


Recently, I saw a bit of Real Time With Bill Maher. There’s so much that annoys me about Maher that I avoid him these days. But he still has his moments. And he made a joke to the effect that had Hillary Clinton become president, she would have been a first: the first president who didn’t play golf. I really liked that. Because I despise the game of golf. It is a game that seems to be popular because of its implicit classism. I really think that playing golf should be disqualifying for being president. Note that Bernie Sanders didn’t play golf. So neither of the two major Democratic presidential nominees played golf. That says something. It also says something that we elected a man who didn’t just play golf but who owned golf courses. Is it any wonder that we’re in so much trouble right now.

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May 14

Grade Inflation Is a Very Old Myth

Alfie Kohn - Grade InflationComplaints about grade inflation have been around for a very long time. Every so often a fresh flurry of publicity pushes the issue to the foreground again, one example being a series of articles in The Boston Globe that disclosed — in a tone normally reserved for the discovery of entrenched corruption in state government — that a lot of students at Harvard were receiving As and being graduated with honors.

The fact that people were offering the same complaints more than a century ago puts the latest bout of harrumphing in perspective, not unlike those quotations about the disgraceful values of the younger generation that turn out to be hundreds of years old. The long history of indignation also pretty well derails any attempts to place the blame for higher grades on a residue of bleeding-heart liberal professors hired in the ’60s. (Unless, of course, there was a similar countercultural phenomenon in the 1860s.)

Yet on campuses across America today, academe’s usual requirements for supporting data and reasoned analysis have been suspended for some reason where this issue is concerned. It is largely accepted on faith that grade inflation — an upward shift in students’ grade-point averages without a similar rise in achievement — exists, and that it is a bad thing. Meanwhile, the truly substantive issues surrounding grades and motivation have been obscured or ignored.

The fact is that it is hard to substantiate even the simple claim that grades have been rising. Depending on the time period we’re talking about, that claim may well be false. In their book When Hope and Fear Collide, Arthur Levine and Jeanette Cureton told us that more undergraduates in 1993 reported receiving As (and fewer reported receiving grades of C or below) compared with their counterparts in 1969 and 1976 surveys. Unfortunately, self-reports are notoriously unreliable, and the numbers become even more dubious when only a self-selected, and possibly unrepresentative, segment bothers to return the questionnaires. (One out of three failed to do so in 1993; no information is offered about the return rates in the earlier surveys.)

To get a more accurate picture of whether grades have changed over the years, one needs to look at official student transcripts. Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst with the US Department of Education, did just that, reviewing transcripts from more than 3,000 institutions and reporting his results in 1995. His finding: “Contrary to the widespread lamentations, grades actually declined slightly in the last two decades.” Moreover, a report released just this year by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that fully 33.5 percent of American undergraduates had a grade-point average of C or below in 1999-2000, a number that ought to quiet “all the furor over grade inflation,” according to a spokesperson for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. (A review of other research suggests a comparable lack of support for claims of grade inflation at the high-school level.)

–Alfie Kohn
The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation

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May 13

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren’t Racist; We Are

No, Zulu and Rocky Aren't Racist; We AreReddit has a series called “Today I Learned” (TIL). Frankly Curious articles have ended up in there before, but usually in a good way. Yesterday, someone posted, TIL Rocky and Zulu Are Racist Because the Villains Are Black. Oh, my! You can tell from the title that it’s pathetic. It is in reference to my article a week and a half ago, Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It.

Notice just how the two titles compare. On reddit, it is claimed that Zulu is racist because the villains are black. And on Frankly Curious I talk about the racism we bring to the film. I always wonder about these things. Are those who post such things just terrible readers? Or perhaps am I such a terrible writer, that they just can’t understand what I’m talking about? I tend to think neither. I think such people simply bring their pre-judgments to the article.

I’m a Fan of Zulu and Rocky

I was very clear that I like both movies very much. What’s more, I say that the movies are not racist. Rather, it is our racism that gets in the way of what is objectively on the screen. In fact, I said that as our society becomes less racist, the films will automatically be fixed, because it is not the fault of the film. The title of my article was very accurate: the racism we bring, not the racism in the films.

I can only stand to read so much of such comments, but I didn’t find any that defended me. It is mostly just the same thing over and over: how stupid I was. Of course, they just show themselves to be what they claim for me. For example, I wrote, “A South African filmmaker who wanted to do the same thing would doubtless tell the story of the Battle of Isandlwana (the one right before the events shown in the film).” One of the commenters responded, “Yeah, they did. It was called Zulu Dawn and was made as a prequel to Zulu.”

In this case, maybe it is just a question of read comprehension. I’m well aware of Zulu Dawn. There’s just one problem with it: it was not made by a South African filmmaker. It was based on Cy Endfield book. Endfield was the writer-director of Zulu. And Zulu Dawn was very much a British production. (It’s also not really a war film. There is almost none of the battle in the film.)

The Films Aren’t Racist

But it all goes to show that these people did not understand what I was getting at. I was talking about ethnocentrism and that it was natural for the British to make a movie about the battle that they won, not the battle that they lost. But let me quote the first sentence in that paragraph:

It is because of this that the film isn’t racist.

But the people reading it are so determined to find something to whine about. Oh, the poor white man! Here I am beating up on him — saying that Zulu is a racist film (even though I explicitly said the opposite) because the “bad guys” are black.

It’s About Perspective Not Villains

It’s also that I wasn’t making a case about villains at all. I was talking about whose perspective the films were told from. Stuff like this just makes me want to give up writing. There seems to be no point to it because people are so determined to hear what they want. And now I can be another example of the foolish liberal who wants to make everything about race and says that you can’t have a “bad guy” who’s black without a film being racist.

Of course, reddit it a thick forest of ignorance and stupidity.


I run into this all the time in my life. People want to tell me about some outrage, “Can you believe that blah, blah, blah.” But in every case, I go and look into the matter and find that they have a very one-sided version of things. In fact, things are much more complicated. And when you know both sides of the story, the outrage factor tends to go away — except when it comes to the Republican Party doing what they’re always very clear about doing: taking from the poor and weak and giving it to the rich and powerful. But people don’t rush to me to tell me about Trumpcare the way they do things like Barbara Lee not voting for war with Afghanistan.

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May 12

There Is No Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon Is Not Other Side of the MoonIt seems I am constantly been offended with some mention of the dark side of the Moon. This isn’t an attack on Pink Floyd, because at any given time, there is, in fact, a dark side of the Moon. But in Space: 1999, Moonbase Alpha was located on the dark side of the Moon. Now I understand, Space: 1999 was not in love with science. It was 1 part science and 1999 parts fiction. But it isn’t alone. I see this all the time.

There are many things that lead people to think that there is a dark side of Moon. I think that people mistake the outer side of the Moon with the dark side. But anyone who thinks about it for an instant will realize half the Moon is lit up when we are at the quarter Moon. That means the outer side of the Moon must be similarly half-lit. Just the same, the mistake is easy enough to make with our foggy brains.

The Other Side of the Moon

The Moon is tidally locked with the Earth. That means that the same side of it always faces the earth. Until we started sending rockets out into space, we had no idea what the outer side of the moon looked like. Well, we knew it looked a lot like the inner side. It turns out that because of Moon wobbles, we can actually see 59% of the Moon’s surface. That’s not all at once, of course. We have to watch it for a long time. But it’s easiest to say that half of the Moon can’t be seen from the Earth.

Thus, in a sense, the outer side of the Moon is the “dark side of the Moon.” And it is what we people are getting at when they talk about putting Moonbase Alpha on the dark side of the Moon. But it actually doesn’t make any concrete sense. The Moon is between the the Earth and the sun. Compare this to the new Moon (when the Moon is right between the Earth and the sun). That is: when the Moon is “new” — meaning that the dark side of the Moon is facing the earth. The time when the outer Moon is dark is when the Earth is between the sun and the Moon.

The Dark Side of the Moon Is Constantly Changing

Regardless, the outer side of the Moon has a day just like every other part of the moon (unless you want to get technical and talk about the lunar poles): 27.3 Earth days. I think, however, that Pink Floyd is responsible for this error of thought in the song “Brain Damage.” That’s not to say that they were thinking wrong. Waters is a great lover of metaphor. And the song doesn’t even imply that the dark side of the Moon is any particular place.

But people have picked up on it. And “dark side of the Moon” sounds better than “outer side of the Moon.” Although actually, from a metaphorical standpoint “outer” is probably better than “dark” given that we can actually see a great deal of detail in the dark side of the Moon. It is the outer side that we can’t connect with.

The Moon Is Fascinating — We Should Understand It

Regardless, I bristle every time I hear the term used because I know that it is a sign that people are not understanding how the Earth and Moon interact with each other. And this is important to me because learning what caused the phases of the Moon was really important to me. Plus, as I learned when I taught planetary astronomy at college, people really don’t understand this stuff. And it’s so easy and so cool. If there really were a dark side of the Moon, that would be hard to understand.

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May 11

American Checks and Balances Are Out of Whack

Mehdi Hasan - American Checks and Balances Are Out of Whack“You’re fired!” That’s what Donald Trump would bark from his boardroom chair at the end of each episode of “The Apprentice.” For years, millions of Americans would smile, laugh, and even cheer in front of their television sets as the property tycoon performed his signature move.

There is little to laugh about this week. The firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump will be remembered as a dark and depressing day in the downward spiral of American democracy. It’s difficult to disagree with the scathing assessment of CNN’s senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who described the sacking as a “grotesque” abuse of power. “This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies,” he told host Wolf Blitzer in a clip that has since, deservedly, gone viral. “They fire the people who are in charge of the investigation.” Toobin continued: “This is something that is not within the American political tradition. … This is not normal, this is not politics as usual.” …

American checks and balances are out of whack. The firing of the FBI director is only the beginning. There will be more sackings; more political corruption; more abuses of power. And, again, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Tinpot Trump, cautioned John Dean back in January, “is going to test our democracy as it has never been tested.” Whether American democracy is up to that test is another matter.

–Mehdi Hasan
After James Comey’s Firing, Who Will Stop Trump’s Tinpot Dictatorship?

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May 10

Comey’s Firing Is About Our Democratic Despot

James ComeySo Donald Trump fired James Comey. And what’s hilarious about it is the reason: Comedy is being fired because he broke protocol when last July (you know: just short of a year ago) he went public with an ongoing investigation. This is great when you consider that the 2016 RNC could have been called the “Lock Her Up” convention. And Comey’s later entry into the race probably did cost Clinton the election. What’s more, we find out from The New York Times, Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry.

What’s interesting about this is that Trump really does see being president as more or less the same as being a dictator. There’s no pretense that anything needs to make sense. Surely if Comey were to be fired for his handling of the Clinton case, he should have been fired when Trump came into office. Instead, Trump fires Comey at exactly the same time that the FBI director is turning up the fire on Trump and his friends.

Trump Has Nothing to Fear

But it’s hard to blame Trump for this. After all, what is going to happen to him? At the very worse, the Republicans will be forced to appoint a special prosecutor. And I wonder if even that will happen. The Republican Party is really only interested in getting tax cuts. And with getting their really vile Obamacare replacement through the house, they would not be keen to do anything that would sour relations with the Despot of Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Trump Wanted the Title, Not the JobFor a long time, I’ve been annoyed by people who claim that the Soviet Union was a communist system. Basically from the start, it was just an authoritarian regime. It was certainly not a dictatorship of the worker. What distinguishes Putin from Stalin is not that one is pro-capitalism and the other isn’t. Nor is it that one was nominally elected and the other was not. The difference was one of power and only power.

Trump’s Power Comes From the Republicans

The truth is that if Donald Trump had the Republican Party that Richard Nixon had, he already would have been impeached. And looking at it the other way around, had Nixon had this Republican Party, he wouldn’t have been forced out of office. And that is the essence of power. The truth is, any man is just a man. There are no superheroes. People have power because there are people around them who give them power. All else equal, it was as easy to kill Stalin with an axe as it was Trotsky.

So Trump’s recent effort at exercising his own power is ultimately a question of how much power that the Republican Party is going to give to him. And I tend to think they will give him as much power as he wants. That’s because the Republican Party cares only about power. That’s what happens when your ideology is reduced to “give as much money and power to the people like me who already have a lot of money and power.”

The Despot in the White House

The whole thing may backfire on Trump. It’s unlikely to — at least until 2018. but it’s possible. The main thing to keep in mind is that you can have a rabidly pro-capitaliat despot like Trump. Or you can have a rabidly anti-capitalist despot like Stalin. It’s not about economics. It’s about power.

But it’s telling that Trump thought he had anything to fear. The Republicans have his back. Comey was just one man. When the legislature and courts are on your side, you have nothing to worry about. And that’s especially true when the man you supposedly fear, Comey, had lost almost all credibility

Meanwhile, we live in a nominal democracy, with a despot in power. It’s very, very sad.

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May 09

Why GOP Thinks It Can Get Away With Trumpcare

Paul Krugman - CarrierWhy are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the GOP for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the GOP would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: what just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

–Frank Moraes
Republicans Party Like It’s 1984

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