Campaign Website 404 Pages: Democratic 2020 Primary

It’s that time of year to look at the Democratic primary candidates’ 404 pages on their campaign websites.

As you probably know, in HTTP-speak, a 404 page is what displays when a page is not found. In the old days, you usually got a standard The page cannot be found page. Today, you are more likely to get a page that goes along with the look of the site but is otherwise nothing special, like our 404 page. But a lot of sites do more. And that has been the case with campaign websites.

So I thought we would go through each of the candidates in their order in national polling — more or less.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden’s page is designed to appeal to people like me. It has him with an ice cream cone looking very much like his character at The Onion. He says, “Looks like that page isn’t here. Keep cool – I’ll get us back on the rails.” This is shockingly good coming from a campaign that is anything but cool.

Joe Biden 404

Rating: 5

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has a fairly standard page but with a 2017 SNL skit with Kate McKinnon as Warren. It’s interesting that the character can be so exaggerated and yet pretty much dead-on. And clearly, I am not the only one who likes that feisty character.

Elizabeth Warren 404

Rating: 4

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders says, “We’ve run into a yuuuuuuge problem.” It then uses this to talk about the problems of the country. There is also an animated GIF of Sanders that does kind of sum up his campaign and his appeal. A little knowing, self-deprecating humor goes a long way.

Bernie Sanders 404

Rating: 4

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg says, “Oops! Something has gone wrong.” There’s also an image of him looking playfully troubled. For a young guy, Buttigieg is surprisingly good at banality. Extra point taken off for being money-grubbing.

Pete Buttigieg 404

Rating: 3

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris asks, “Are you lost?” It includes an animated GIF of Harris looking pretty cute as she tries to suppress a laugh. There is a goofy side of her that has been sadly missing in this campaign. It’s nice to see here.

Kamala Harris 404

Rating: 4

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang features a boring caricature of himself along with, “Oops! Page not found.” Surprisingly, it makes Buttigieg’s page seem a lot better. But at least he doesn’t use a quarter of the page begging for money.

Andrew Yang 404

Rating: 3

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar has a page that announces it is a 404. Then, in big letters, it says, “Uff Da!” I looked it up but it meant what I thought. It’s pretty boring but if you scroll down, there’s a video of her throwing a binder at a staffer. (I’m Kidding!)

Amy Klobuchar 404

Rating: 3

Cory Booker

Cory Booker looks like he’s teasing a fussy baby. It’s cute. And the page says, “Cory believes we can all get where we’re going together. Just not on this page.” I like it.

Note that I didn’t dock the page for pushing fundraising because (1) it doesn’t take up much of the pages and (2) I’m more forgiving of struggling candidates.

Cory Booker 404

Rating: 4

Julian Castro

Julian Castro offers us, “Page not found.” Yeah, it’s competent. But it’s no better than the Frankly Curious 404 page, which took all of 10 seconds to install via a WordPress plugin. Really, Castro brothers: raise your game!

Julian Castro

Rating: 2

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard’s page is aggressively plain. I guess if you aren’t going to do anything interesting for your 404 page you might as well make it uncluttered. It certainly is more compelling than Castro’s.

Tulsi Gabbard 404

Rating: 3

Tom Styer

Tom Styer tells us, “Not found.” But you can watch a 4-minute video about how awesome he is. Now I’m thinking I was too harsh with Castro. Wow!

Tom Styer 404

Rating: 2

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock says “Looks like the page you were looking for has gone fishing!” And there’s a picture with him with a fish. I know I’ve seen candidates in previous years use this. It’s not horrible. But: fish torture?

Steve Bullock 404

Rating: 2

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand is shown drinking a pint of beer. It says, “We all have those days.” It’s nice and simple — appropriate for her (ended) campaign.

Kirsten Gillibrand 404

Rating: 4

John Delaney

John Delaney displays a B&W picture of someone driving with the words (from Born to Run), “We’re gonna get to that place / Where we really wanna go…” It doesn’t look very good but it’s probably the most useful 404 of the bunch. Still: it is officially no longer cool to quote Springsteen.

John Delaney 404

Rating: 3

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson has an incredibly simple but pleasant page, “Let’s get back on track.”

Marianne Williamson 404

Rating: 3

Michael Bennet

Like Bullock, Michael Bennet uses a page I’ve seen before. There is a (poor-quality) picture of his family (I assume) in the woods having just cut down a Christmas tree. It says, “Looks like you’re lost in the woods.” I wonder if what they did is legal.

Michael Bennet 404

Rating: 2

Wayne Messam

Wayne Messam tells us, “Page not found!” And there’s a nice but unrelated picture of him.

Wayne Messam 404

Rating: 3

Summary

None of these pages are embarrassing. And a number of them are pretty good. But there is no doubt that Joe Biden’s page does the best job of pushing his narrative. And overall, I think he has an excellent site.

Here are my rankings, but I reserve the right to change my mind (which I will undoubtedly do).

  • Joe Biden (5)
  • Elizabeth Warren (4)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (4)
  • Bernie Sanders (4)
  • Kamala Harris (4)
  • Cory Booker (4)
  • Pete Buttigieg (3)
  • Amy Klobuchar (3)
  • Marianne Williamso (3)
  • Tulsi Gabbard (3)
  • Andrew Yang (3)
  • Wayne Messam (3)
  • John Delaney (3)
  • Tom Styer (2)
  • Julian Casto (2)
  • Steve Bullock (2)
  • Michael Bennet (2)

Let me know what you all think. Am I missing something? Is John Delaney’s page cool in a way I can’t see? Am I being too hard on Bullock and Bennet for ripping off past candidates? Am I being too soft on Elizabeth Warren because I have a crush on Kate McKinnon and, well, Elizabeth Warren? Let me know in the comments. Or not. Regardless what you say I know that I am absolutely right about everything.

Stop Appealing to Authority About Names

AuthoritariansBack in the early 90s, everyone pronounced Linux with a hard-i as in “fire.” For one thing, how else would an English speaker pronounce it? (If you are Finish, you can pronounce it how ever your language dictates.) But more important, Linux came from the fact that the kernel was written by Linus Torvalds.

Then everything changed in 1994 when Torvalds produced a bit of audio. On it, Torvalds said, “Hello, this is Linus Torvalds, and I pronounce Linux as ‘lee-nux.'” And everyone started pronouncing Linux incorrectly.

I don’t say people pronounced it incorrectly just because I don’t like it. Torvalds did not say he pronounced Linux as “len-ux.” In Finish, people apparently pronounce “Linus” as “Lee-nus.” But here in America, we pronounce Linus as “lie-nus.” I personally think we should pronounce Linux the way we did at first. But even if you don’t accept that, we don’t pronounce Linux the way that Torvalds did.

Now Torvalds is not a thoughtful guy. Otherwise, he would have realized that distributing his audio recording was an authoritarian move. Up to that time, people argued about it. But the moment The Great and Powerful Linus had his say, The Ignorant and Weak Computer Geeks fell into line. And now we have a stupid name for an important piece of software.

It amazes me that people fall for this stuff. If Torvalds had decided that his kernel should be named “smelly Finish anal cavity,” I doubt everyone would have followed along.

Idiot Developers Choose to Pronounce GIF as “Jif”

The issue is much worse for GIF. Steve Wilhite is the main person responsible for the image format. Like Linus Torvalds, he is a great computer scientist but otherwise an idiot. He has been outspoken in saying that it is pronounced “jif.” But his argument is nothing more than that he and the gang at CompuServ used to pronounce it like the peanut butter and say, “Choosy developers choose GIF.”

A bunch of computer scientists made a bad joke? Well, in recognition of this rare event, let’s throw all reason aside and pronounce GIF like it’s a brand of peanut butter!

The problem is that GIF is an acronym. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Normally, acronyms follow from the words that are in them. For example, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is not referred to as “jat.”

Of course, the vast majority of people pronounce GIF with a hard-G. That’s because few people knew that the GIF creators thought it should be pronounced in some unreasonable way. If they had, they would have gone along as the authoritarian followers they are.

Language Is Not Proscriptive

What this all comes down to is that a group of people should be allowed to communicate the way they want. This is why I have no problem with “PIN number” — something that drives a lot of people like me crazy.

The situation is bad enough when someone hauls out the dictionary, “See! It says in The Book that you are wrong!” People often fight back against that. But when it is a computer star, the normally “libertarian” online nerd community rushes to comply, Jawohl!

And this is the real problem: authoritarianism. It isn’t just the weak internet nerds; it’s also the stars themselves. Back in 2013, Wilhite complained, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

But this is hardly surprising. Despite that most of these computer scientists think of themselves as Howard Roark, on the whole, they are limited thinkers who easily bend to facile arguments. Whether acting as authoritarian leaders or authoritarian followers, they shouldn’t be listened to.

Disclaimer

This article strikes me as the kind of thing that certain kinds of idiots would use as a kind of gotcha, “So you agree we shouldn’t call transgender people by their preferred pronoun!” That’s not the case at all. I’m not talking about that. For one thing, this is just a matter of manners. It’s interesting that Ben Shapiro thinks that his scientific ignorance trumps any kind of social norm toward politeness.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the current pronunciation of Linux if the community had always pronounced it with a soft-I. My problem is this appeal to authority. “This piece of free software will from now on be called Liposuction!”

Of course, I pronounce Linux with a soft-I. The word is established and it would be confusing to pronounce it with a hard-I. But how ever I pronounce it isn’t going to personally harm anyone. Although if it harmed Linus Torvalds, I don’t think I’d care.

The Tiny Number of Tech Heroes

Tim Berners-LeeI found a telling sentence in an otherwise good article about HTML5, “We do things with web pages and HTML today that were never dreamt of by the early developers and implementers of the language.” It made me ill, even though I see this all the time.

Tim Berners-Lee Double Standard

What’s notable is the double standard we see. When early HTML is discussed in even a slightly negative light, as it is in this sentence, it is “developers and implementers” who are to blame. But when it is one of the thousands of times I read about “who invented and implemented the glorious web” it is Tim Berners-Lee who, as the 20th century Moses, brought it to the masses on silicon circuit boards.

The Rubbish of the Romantic Hero Archetype

I know I rant a lot about this but the Romantic Hero archetype is rubbish. It hurts society. All those conservatives who are so concerned that no one will do anything if they can’t make billions of dollars aren’t at all concerned that people might not do so much innovation if they are completely ignored while a tiny fraction of developers gets all the credit.

Tim Berners-Lee did this; Tim Berners-Lee did that; Tim Berners-Lee did some other damned thing!

The only examples I know of people who really qualify as Romantic Heroes were so ahead of their time that no one acknowledged their work while they were living. Take Gregor Mendel — the “Father of Genetics.” It took roughly 35 years after he published his work (over a decade after he had died) for his work to be rediscovered and celebrated.

I don’t even consider Einstein a Romantic Hero. What he did was part of the flow of science at the time. He took Max Planck’s work and, being much younger, saw its implications. (It’s possible to say that Einstein did attain Romantic Hero status with General Relativity. Of course, basically, no lay-person understands that work or its importance.)

Be Rich and Suddenly You Are Achilles!

And we even give Romantic Hero status to people who didn’t really do anything other than make a lot of money — like Steve Jobs. I’ve loved this scene since I first saw it. It didn’t actually happen. But everything the Steve Wozniak character says is absolutely correct. And more or less the same things can be said about Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates (although at least they all have some technical knowledge).

It Takes a Planet

I don’t mind giving people credit. But does it always have to be the same people? There are thousands of people who made the internet what it is today. Virtually no one knows who the most important ones have been.

Ever heard of JCR Licklider? Of course not! Why would you? Haven’t you heard?! Tim Berners-Lee invented the web. The fact that the web would be meaningless without people like Licklider hardly matters. We wouldn’t have Facebook selling our private communications to Netflix without Berners-Lee! It hardly matters that this is even more true of Licklider. Webpages are so much more interesting than the very idea of networking computers together!

Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman

My go-to example is Richard Stallman. He oversaw the creation of almost an entire free Unix operating system. Linus Torvalds creates one (important) part of it and suddenly, the operating system is called Linux. (And it is mispronounced because of Torvalds’ Finnish accent.)

Good luck using an OS with a kernel and literally no other software. And what did Linus Torvalds write his kernel in? Richard Stallman’s GCC. (Note: Torvalds is also a dick.)

But Linus Torvalds is the star and Richard Stallman is that weird guy with Asperger’s — to those few who know he exists at all.

(As a side note, let me point out that one of the biggest bits of apologetics for Torvalds kernel is the claim that you can use the kernel without the GNU tools but not the other way around. This claim must be made by very young and ignorant people. I was using all of the GNU tools before there was a kernel. I still use them on my Windows and Mac machines. The truth is, for most work, my GNU-powered Windows machine is better than my GNU-powered Linux machine. For a server: Linux all the way. For a workstation: Windows.)

The Stupidity of All This

But I understand why people pick out a small number of people and turn them into computer Romantic Heroes: they don’t know enough about technology and its history to have a reasonable and objective view of the way that things progress.

Of course, this isn’t something restricted to technology. Humans just seem to have this kind of thing ingrained in them — or at least Americans. And we need to get past it. This fantasy of the Romantic Hero hurts us. And it hurts the supposed Romantic Heroes most of all. Linus Torvalds used to be a fairly humble and nice guy. Now he’s an asshole megalomanic — with a virtual entourage that only makes him worse.

But he can die for all it matters to me. The problem is that the “Romantic Hero” warps society. It makes it seem like we actually live in a meritocracy. It justifies vilifying the poor and worshipping the rich. And in the end, this will destroy us.

But at least no one has to know anything about the web. They just have to be able to shout, “Tim Berners-Lee!”

Sorry on Christmas

Frank and Grumpy SquirrelSo this is Christmas. And what have you done? Yeah, we’re all thinking it so let’s just come out and say it: John Lennon was a dick.

I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but I never visited people way poorer than myself to hector them about how they’ve lived their lives.

As I recall, at the time of his death, he was worth roughly a hundred million dollars — enough money that he could have used $20 bills to wipe his ass for the rest of his life, even if he had lived to be old. But this is not what I want to talk about.

An Apology

I want to apologize for being a dick myself. A lot of people have supported this website for a long time. And I’ve really let it go. I don’t post much and I take forever to answer comments. But I’m trying to change that.

An Excuse or Explanation Depending on Whether You Like Me

This neglect is not due to any animus against the site or its readers. The truth is that for the last year and a half, I haven’t been doing well. I’ve never been suicidal, but if I had had the ability to simply not exist, I would have taken it.

Brain chemistry is a strange thing. It’s weird how the whole universe changes based on your brain chemistry.

“Suddenly Everything Seems So Easy”

I keep thinking about the film As Good as it Gets. In it, Greg Kinnear’s character was a successful artist who has been violently robbed. His whole life has fallen apart. And he is going to see his estranged parents to ask for money to get back on his feet. But he has a magical evening during which he begins to draw again. So he decides not to ask for money from his parents.

Jack Nicholson thinks this is crazy, “What are you talking about? You got real problems.”

And Kinnear replies, “I know. I’m a little bit nervous. Suddenly everything seems so easy.”

Universes of the Mind

This goes along with Ken Baldwin’s experience jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, “I saw my hands leave the bridge. I knew at that moment, that I really, really messed up. Everything could have been better, I could change things. And I was falling. I couldn’t change that.”

There are lots of cheap responses to this. “Wisdom comes to some suddenly.” Or: “Suicide is a long-term solution to a short-term problem.” But for Baldwin and Kevin Hines and countless others, it isn’t necessarily an irrational choice to take their lives.

It’s just that there are two universes that they are living in. One is filled with pain. The other hope. In general, I believe the universe of hope is the more objective one — at least for the vast majority of people.

Hope

By “hope” I’m not talking about the hope that your material situation will improve. I’m talking about the hope that continuing on is worth doing at all.

For the month of September, I billed less than a thousand dollars. That’s not sustainable. But I just couldn’t face work — not even my own work. That was a very bad month, but it’s been this way for roughly a year and a half.

November and December have been better financially. I’ve been working more here and on Psychotronic Review. And I’ve even had a major breakthrough on a play that has been stalled for the last year and a half.

I’m hoping to do a better job around here. The days of having things to say but just not being able to sit down and write them seem to have passed — at least for now.

Merry Evil Christmas

So after this depressing and self-indulgent post, let me wish you a happy whatever. Now go and watch Christmas Evil (AKA: You Better Watch Out). Christmas, art, slasher film. By today’s standards, it’s hardly violent at all. But it’s fascinating. John Waters says he always played it at his Christmas parties. You’ll see why: it’s also kind of a fetish film.

Ho ho ho! And now a song that would offend most people:

My Group — Basing Your Identity on the Edifying

Pacifica - Finding My Group

Greetings from Pacifica, California. I got a good reminder of group dynamics yesterday by finding the only one around here who I consider part of my own group.

A Poor Start to My Vacation

I got here yesterday late afternoon and I was in a rage. First, the place was way more expensive than I had thought. And by I time I got to my room, I thought, “This place is a dump.” (Note: I love dumps, but I like the price to reflect it.) Then I got to the room and it was nice but small and far from the ocean.

But okay, big deal, I wanted to do was hang out — reading books and watching videos. So I started setting up the room, only to find that it had a total of two electrical outlets that weren’t being used. I called down to the front desk and asked for a power strip. Given how expensive this place was and how unhappy I was, I figured this was the least I could expect.

White People Are Not My Group

The nice white woman at the front desk said she wasn’t sure if they had one, but if they did, they would send one up. Oh, how encouraged I felt! But I pleased that ten minutes later, there was a knock on my door.

By this point, I was already suffering with another problem and imagining the 10,000-word review of this place I was going to write and post everywhere on the internet. In fact, I was even thinking of starting a website:

WhyWhateverTheHellThisPlaceIsCalledSucks.com

The problem was that I could hook up my Blu-ray player to the television (which is very nice), but the remote control unit would not allow me to change the input.

I’d given up and decided to connect my Blu-ray player to the computer monitor I had brought for this very reason. Make that a 12,000-word article.

A Member of My Ground!

But I answered the door and a nice young man greeted me with a power strip. I thanked him. It was the first thing that had gone right — a modest victory but a victory nonetheless.

He went on his way and I brought the power strip back to the desk. But then I remembered, “The television!”

A Tech?

I ran out into the hallway and yelled after him. I told him that I assumed he was the tech around here and he told me I was right. Thank God! One of my people! The women at the front desk were very pleasant and professional but totally useless for anything other than charging large amounts of money for tiny rooms with limited television sets.

I explained my problem: the television was modern, so it had HDMI inputs. I plugged in my Blu-ray player, but the remote control didn’t allow me to go into set-up. He understood the problem immediately and offered to get me the “real” remote control unit.

The Answer

So off he went and back I went. Ten minutes later, he was in my room with a proper unit. And together we worked on it and soon the television was displaying The Blood Trilogy. I told him not to judge. He smiled.

He explained to me that they had the simple remotes because most people are, well, idiots (my word) and with the real remote control units, guests were constantly screwing up their televisions. I immediately remembered all those phone calls I got from my parents over the years, “The television isn’t working!”

So I got it, and it made sense. It was so nice to have someone explain the situation and solve my problem as opposed to the front-desk clerk probably doesn’t even know about the issue and had no interest in trying to solve my problem. You know, like saying something like, “I don’t know, but I’ll ask our tech.”

The tech even brought an extra set of batteries. What a great guy! I tipped him exorbitantly and he went on his way.

Rolando!

His name was Rolando and he was a young Latino. English might be his second language, but he spoke perfectly, so if he is an immigrant, he came here young. Regardless, he was a man of few words.

But after he left, I was so happy. All my other complaints about this place went away (mostly). I was no longer a stranger in a strange land. Rolando was here!

And it occurred to me that he was part of my group, tribe, or whatever you want to call it. The white women at the front desk might look like me in their pasty whiteness. But Rolando and I spoke the same language, even if it hardly required speaking at all.

Race Is a Myth Most People Believe

This was a powerful moment for me. As regular readers know, I don’t believe in race — it’s a recent concept developed in the west to justify imperialism and slavery.

But most people believe in it in a big way. And now it isn’t just the obvious bigots — it’s people like Sam Harris and his followers.

But here was this guy who roughly a third of this nation would hate for no other reason than his skin color. (Don’t buy into the whole “illegal immigration” thing; these people would have no problem with immigrants if they only came from “white” countries. Not that Rolando is necessarily an immigrant. But most of these people would consider him “foreign” because he isn’t pasty white.) Yet here was a man who was part of my group.

Nothing Wrong With Being in a Group

I have no problem saying this. It doesn’t matter what it is, humans separate themselves into groups. There are too many of us to all feel a special kinship to all humans — not that we don’t (mostly) care when any other human is killed and eaten by, for example, a grizzly bear. But mostly, we all divide into our own group.

And I think that’s fine as long as there is an edifying reason for it. Looking the same is not edifying. For one thing, humans all look so much the same that basing your opinions on it is simply ridiculous.

The Basis of Groups

I can understand basing your group notions on social customs. But that’s stupid from an immigration standpoint because second-generation immigrants are fully integrated into the society. What’s more, the social differences that people get hung up on are usually superficial.

It’s like what Sting implied during the Cold War: the Russians love their children too. (I’m not a Sting fan and I’m not even that fond of this song; I think it made a pretty obvious point, but it’s still important.)

Hard Times and Good Groups

These are bad times — in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Too many people divide themselves based on the most foolish of measures. It mostly comes down to simple xenophobia: the fear of outsiders. And don’t kid yourself: this is why the Republican Party is not just in control of Washington, but of the US generally. And it’s the reason this country is being ripped apart.

Good Groups and Bad Groups

I don’t have a problem with other groups bound together by things like woodworking or needlework or whatever. I don’t feel as bound to them as I am to a kid who knows how HDMI works and can program a television to work with a random remote control unit. But I get them.

I do, however, have a problem with people whose identity is based on nothing more than fear of The Other. Groups should be bound by their interest in and love of their people, not disregard and hatred of others.

It was nice to be reminded of that here in Pacifica by a young tech — even if the room still is overpriced.

How a Vacation Gets You Coming and Going

Frank on Vacation in Mexico With Grumpy SquirrelHello all you frankly curious boys and girls! I am sorry that I haven’t been writing much recently. Part of it is Donald Trump. I’ll come back to him. But the bigger issue is that I’m going on vacation starting Friday morning and I won’t be back home until the afternoon of the first day of July.

July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August!

The problem for me is that a vacation really gets in the way of my work on the things I actually care about: this site, Psychotronic Review, practicing the most evil musical instrument in the world, and writing my experimental plays. You know: the stuff I don’t get paid to do.

The problem is that there is a tremendous amount of (paid) work that has to be done before going on vacation. I already have weeks of work backlog. But I have to get the really pressing things done. And I want to too! That’s because I’m not going to be working when I’m on vacation, and that means I won’t be making money. But even though I’m going to miss 9 days of work out of this month, I’m going to manage to make about 80 percent of my normal pay.

This, of course, is because I’ve been killing myself.

And Then There’s Trump

I’m now trying to avoid hearing anything about politics. In the past, it wasn’t so bad because I thought, “We’ll probably get rid of Trump in 2020 and this will all just be a bad memory.” Sure, I knew he was causing great suffering, but there was an end in sight. And to a large extent, that’s true. The immigration policy will go back to our normal inhumane situation instead of the near-genocide that Trump is overseeing. So on the domestic front, the election of a Democratic president in 2020 — or whenever — will be a good thing.

(And yes, I know that Trump has apparently reversed course on the family separation of asylum seekers. Does everyone know that we are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, by which the whole process of charging asylum seekers with trespass is illegal? So the whole, “Our hands are tied” explanation was always a crock. But the reversal sure shows that all those people who were claiming that the White House was doing it because they thought it was a political winner were wrong. They were doing it because Trump is a cruel man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I think Elvis Costello summed him up perfectly long ago, “If it moves then you f**k it, if it doesn’t move you stab it.)

Our Long-Term International Problems

It’s on the international front that things are so depressing. After Trump is out of office, things will not reset. The world has seen that the US political system is such that it can elect a modern-day Hitler. It doesn’t matter that he got three million less votes. For one thing, that’s still a very close race when you consider just how awful Trump was — not just as a person but as a candidate. But more important, we have a non-democratic system. Hitler didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. His base was roughly that of Trump’s: 30 percent.

So I figure it will take a generation or more for us to heal these wounds. And in a certain way, they never will be. I know that Brexit hurt the UK. But the people immediately regretted it. If they had been able to vote again just a week later, it would have lost. It’s not clear that Trump would lose a year and a half later — despite the fact that other than being a monster to immigrants, he hasn’t done a thing for his straight white male racist base.

(Just a little aside: I am so looking forward to the time when these people — people like me — really do have no more power than anyone else. As a group, cis white males are such whiners about losing power and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be glad to see them have something to really complain about. Of course, if they voted liberal, their lives would be better. But as a group, we are idiots.)

Onward to Vacation

The rule for this vacation is that I get to have the kind of vacation that I most enjoy: doing nothing. I read. I watch totally awesome films. I sit in a hot tub. And apparently, I get a massage, which is the equivalent of the hot tub: except I have to drive — gurr — as many as ten miles to get it. And I have to go whale watching, which is okay, I’m just not sure how I’m going to get to the boat. I’m too tired to think about it, but I have a vague plan that relieves me of having to park in San Francisco.

It’s possible I’ll write something on the blog next week. I’m not planning to, but you never know. I can’t go a day without writing something. I’m planning on working on some plays. But I’m so tired right now, the thought is not appealing. They require a lot more work than a blog post — especially a rambling one like this. (I have Facebook posts that are better than this!)

I Need This

Generally, I’m told that I need a vacation. This is the first time I feel like I need a vacation — I certainly want it more than any one I can remember. My next vacation (which will be the last for a while) will likely not be that great because I’m going with my family. And they all have this idea that you do things on vacation. And that’s such a silly thing, because I will be doing something — my favorite thing to do: metabolize!

Today was a long day. Tomorrow will be worse. Just let me die on the beach.

I Have a New Amazon Slogan: Do Be Evil

Amazon Prime

After what seems like decades, but was probably only a couple of years — which is long enough, I finally decided to sign up for Amazon Prime.

The truth is that I hate Amazon. If we had a proper FTC, Amazon would have long ago been broken up into about 10 different companies. And they probably already would have gone out of business if they had not been given the huge advantage against other stores of not having to charge sales tax on their goods for over a decade.

The Government Made Amazon Rich

This isn’t the main point of my article, but let me explain something to you. The government allowing Amazon (and other online comparies) was a big deal.

Sales tax in California, the state with the most people and money, is roughly 10%. Since I have been, one way or another, in the publishing business for 25 years, I know that the margins in bookstores are extremely small.

So if all that time when Amazon was becoming a behemoth, the government had been giving all these other little brick-and-mortar stores had been given 10% extra money, they would have had no problem competing with Amazon.

You could do an experiment: randomly give half the restaurants in downtown 10% from the government and see what happens. I’m certain the only restaurants still around after a couple of years would been the ones that would still be in business. That’s because they would be able to cut prices where necessary and take extra profits where possible.

Economists Chime In

So Amazon’s good fortune over all these years has been due to the fact that the government gave them a whole bunch of money. This is something that should outrage everyone. But no one seems to care. I’ll write about it more later, but here’s a summer from Alternet, How Tax Avoidance Is a Big Reason For Amazon’s Success:

A new study finds Amazon’s sales drop in states where it is required to collect sales taxes, revealing what Jeff Bezos has undoubtedly known for years: the company’s success, its track record of shuttering local businesses, is as much a product of government favoritism as it is of its own ingenuity.

Amazon’s sales have fallen in states where it is now required to collect sales taxes, according to a new study by three economists at Ohio State University. The study offers striking evidence of how much Amazon’s dominance of the retail marketplace is owed to nearly 20 years of favorable tax treatment.

I Signed Up for Amazon Prime

So the thing is that I signed up for Amazon Prime. And I bought a few things because that’s necessary if I’m going to get Psychotronic Review off the ground. But my first two purchases gave me an offer. I could get my DVDs within 2 days or I could get $6 off Amazons Prime Pantry. So I looked at it and it looked okay. There were razors and tea. Those are two things I buy quite a lot. So that sounded pretty good to me. $12 of free razors and tea!

Amazon Prime Pantry

I was skeptical of course. This was Amazon, after all. And they are a vile company. I know Google no longer uses the slogan don’t be evil. But Amazon might as well use the opposite, “Do Be Evil!”

So there was a 50 pack of Irish Breakfast tea for $5.49, which is about what you would pay anywhere. So I added it to my cart and I went to check out. And I found that in fact the $5.49 was subtracted from my bill, but unlike my regular Prime purchases, I was charged $5.99 for shipping and handling.

And this is tea! It weighs almost nothing. Amazon could doubtless ship it for less than a dollar. And here they were charging me $6 to ship it to me. (Okay, it was only $5.99.) Yes I got $5.49 off the price of my tea but the shipping cost was even more.

But Maybe There’s Hope!

But I got an idea. I had $12 of Amazon Pantry Prime dollars — or whatever the hell it is they call it. So if I ordered two boxes of tea then they would get both boxes of tea for free and the shipping cost would be the same. So I would get the tea at half price. Well that wasn’t so bad. So I did it. But — try not to be too shocked — that’s not the way it works.

No, It’s Just Another Amazon Scam

Instead of both my boxes of tea being free because I had $12 on account only my first $6 was applied. So I still had to pay for one box of tea (less 51¢) and they’re ridiculous price for shipping. Note that if I bought Amazon tea just normally the shipping cost would be $4 not $6, of course the total cost would have been $10. So Prime Pantry is better than the usual “Amazon: great prices and then unreasonable shipping prices that make their prices irrelevant.

So now I was still stuck with paying basically the same amount of money. I can just walk over to Raley’s, get the tea for the same price, and have it. I don’t have to wait.

Amazon Prime Pantry Offers Nothing

I don’t care. Really I don’t. I would rather do my grocery shopping in a grocery store. What really bugs me is that when Amazon offer me this deal it was not at all clear that they were going to do this. And even when I figured out what the con was it was worse than I had even thought. I don’t see any way for Amazon Prime to be worth anything at all. If my total Amazon Prime Pantry can’t be used together, it is never worth using except for saving four bits. That’s it.

So Amazon is offering me nothing for my delaying the shipment of my products. And what they ended up doing was shipping both products which were very light in one envelope. So I suspect that they were able to ship both of my items for about a dollar. And in exchange for that they gave me nothing.

What About Amazone Prime Itself?

Thus far, I have to say I’m happy with Amazon Prime. I do like the free shipping. But whether it is worth it will all depend upon how much I spend. And I have a feeling that I won’t spend enough money with Amazon to make it worth my while.

And ultimately I would rather buy these DVDs from an actual DVD retailer. Not Amazon. As I said I hate Amazon. They are evil. I don’t actually think they should be broken up. I think they should be forced out of business.

Better Would Be to Find a Video Store

So I’m going to have to find some nice online DVD retailer. That would have many advantages. For one thing the description of the item would probably be accurate. Amazon’s descriptions are terrible. I usually have to rely upon user comments to figure out what I am buying. They are like Netflix in that way; they cater to people who don’t care that much about film.

And if I can do that then $99 can be the last amount of money that Amazon ever gets to scam out of me.

Why (Stupid) People Love Amazon Prime

I know that a lot of people think that Amazon Prime is just the greatest thing in the world. But it’s not. It treats its customers poorly it treats its employees like they are thieves. And it pays them so badly that they should be forgiven for becoming thieves.

If Jeff Bezos got a very bad and painful form of cancer, I would not feel the least bit bad. But the bottom line is this. I don’t see why a company that makes so much money needs to manipulate its customers and make them think they are getting things that they are not.

I want to do everything I can to avoid doing business with this extremely unethical company. And if I have to buy things through distributors and hope that I can sell a large enough number to make my investment back, well, that’s what I’ll have to do.

It’s the Rich, Stupid!

But I doubt that if you’re reading this you are a big Amazon fan. I find that the people who are the biggest Amazon fans are people who have a lot of money. They’re the kind of people who just would have clicked and wouldn’t have noticed that Amazon Prime Pantry was screwing them. (Note that in a very real way, Amazon acts like a street beggar.)

Not that I’m alone. Amazon’s business model seems to be to screw people over. As the study I quoted above showed, Amazon is doing worse in states where they now have to collect sales tax. If you haven’t been screwed over it just means you haven’t dealt with them long enough.

Amazon: Do Be Evil!

Helping Out at Humorless Rants

Helping Out at Humorless Rants

A few months ago, I wrote an article announcing Elizabeth’s new podcast, Humorless Rants Podcast Does James Comey Firing. Well, they are gearing up to do their 17th episode and judging from the 16th, it’s really blossomed. Still, their website hasn’t gotten much love. So without really being asked, I have stepped up. (Stepped up, barged in, potato, potauto.)

Elizabeth does the podcast with two other people: Kara and Kevin. She alternates the two as co-hosts. So the last episode was Elizabeth and Kevin, and the next one will be Kara. That’s good; it spreads the work around and adds variety.

Let me make another recommendation to check out the Humorless Rants podcast. It was good at the very beginning. But it’s really blossomed in 16 episodes.

They are also getting good guests for the show. The last show was mostly about Nazis — interestingly recorded before the neo-Nazi rally in Charlotteville, VA. It featured Jesse Turner who has made a deep study of Nazis. The next episode will feature Neera Tanden. That’s a pretty good “get” for a fledgling podcast.

The Humorless Rants Website

Elizabeth asked if I could do something for the show’s blog. I can’t really remember what it was. But she made the mistake of giving me full access to it. That, combined with being something of a WordPress expert and having very little self-control led me to give the site an overhaul.

When I first saw it before, I was confused. It didn’t have any links. There was just a huge header and what looked like the first (default) post of a blog.

I had just written an introduction for the 16th episode, You Can’t Reason With Nazis. But after I published it, I couldn’t find it. It didn’t show up on the first page. This led to me poking around in the admin area of the site.

Behind the Scenes

At first, I was texting with Elizabeth. Since she didn’t seem to mind what I was doing, I just went with it.

I can’t say that it’s current state is great, but it’s usable now — with links to the about, contact, and blog pages. Given that the website is meant to support the podcast, it really ought to be set-up the way Frankly Curious is — with the blog roll on the front page.

The problem with this is that it would eliminate the use of the blog for anything other than posts about podcast episodes — and there is already one. What’s really needed is two blogs: one just for episode posts that would be displayed on the home page, and another with everything else.

This is easy to do if you are hosting your own WordPress install. But Humorless Rants uses WordPress.com. This is my first experience using it, and it does not have nearly as many options as a self-hosted install.

To the Future!

Eventually, I will probably push Elizabeth to change the site to be self-hosted. It all depends upon how involved I am in this. I wouldn’t mind managing the website and writing the episode introductions. It’s nice because there is no real pressure, given that the real product is the podcast.

But regardless, the Humorless Rants website is now in a state where anyone can add to it, and where visitors will be able to find the information they want.

Let me make another recommendation to check out the podcast. It was good at the very beginning. But it’s really blossomed in 16 episodes.

OCD Editor: Dealing With Weird Quotation Marks

OCD Editor: Dealing With Weird Quotation Marks

As an editor of online materials, I find myself with a curious problem: how to deal with single and double quotation marks. Because I suffer from a mild form of OCD, I like these always to be represented by the typewriter keys ' and ". Then I let WordPress, or whatever other content management system I’m using, convert these characters into the typographic symbols with left and right sides.

For example:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

And:

‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’

But as an editor, I get text in many forms. Rarely are single and double quotes delivered as ' and ". Instead, they are entered as ‘/’ and “/”, as well as ‘/’ and “/”.

If those last two sets are confusing you, they are just how HTML actual stores these right and left quotation marks. All you need to know is that writers actually do submit text with these symbols in the text and they are perfectly correct.

The problem is that I don’t like them. I like my text to be straight ASCII7, and so I like my straight ' and " keys. If I had to choose from the other sets, I would take ‘ over ‘.

The other day, I was talking to a fellow editor who was complaining about this. She didn’t mind ‘ so much, but ‘ drove her crazy. It’s understandable; they really do make the raw HTML harder to read.

Since I was no longer alone in my complaints, it occurred to me that I should write a program to fix this problem. At first, I thought I would write it in PHP, given that I really like its string (short for “text string” or more generally a collection of characters) library. But then I thought it would be downright trivial to do with JavaScript.

One great thing with JavaScript is that you don’t even need a server. You can just run the program locally on your machine. And a few minutes later, I had the following program:

Remove Annoying Quotation Marks

This program removes annoying special quotation marks and replaces them with normal ASCII7 characters. The characters are:

  • ”
  • “
  • ’
  • ‘

Text Box

Source Code

I often pine for the days when you had to really get inside a machine. But I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be able to write a program that solves an annoying problem like this with almost no thought or time.

Here is the entire program. All you would have to do is put it in a file with an html extension and then run it in a browser on your computer.

<html>
  <head>
    <title>Remove Annoying Quotation Marks</title>
  <script>
function Clean() {
  var t1, t2;
  t1 = document.getElementById("text1").value;
  t2 = t1.replace(/”/g,"\"");
  t1 = t2.replace(/“/g,"\"");
  t2 = t1.replace(/“/g,"\"");
  t1 = t2.replace(/”/g,"\"");
  t2 = t1.replace(/‘/g,"'");
  t1 = t2.replace(/’/g,"'");
  t2 = t1.replace(/‘/g,"'");
  t1 = t2.replace(/’/g,"'");
  document.getElementById("text1").value = t1;
}
  </script>
  </head>
  <body>
    <h1>Remove Annoying Quotation Marks</h1>
    <p>This program removes annoying special quotation
    marks and replaces them with normal ASCII7 characters.
    The characters are:</p>
    <ul>
      <li>&rdquo;</li>
      <li>&ldquo;</li>
      <li>&rsquo;</li>
      <li>&lsquo;</li>
      <li>“</li>
      <li>”</li>
      <li>‘</li>
      <li>’</li>
    </ul>
    <h2>Text Box</h2>
    <div style="text-align: center;
    margin-left: auto;
    margin-right: auto;"><textarea rows="5"
    cols="50" id="text1"></textarea></div>
    <p style="text-align: center;"><input
    onClick="Clean();" type="button"
    value="Clean" /></p>
  </body>
</html>

You can download the program if you wish:

RmQuotes.html

Conclusion

I realize this is pretty arcane. It combines a number of things people don’t care about: computer programming, editing, and my neuroses. But I still think it’s interesting.

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.

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.

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 reader 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.

Afterword

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.