So “smart” they’re stupid.

I happened across a Yahoo! News¹ article about conspiracy theorists who believe that the Mars rover landings were faked, having all taken place in the Canadian Arctic at…. Devon Island. Really.

I followed the link to Anonymous News, a source which is about as trustworthy as you might think, to find a lengthy, well “researched” article about the issue.² Did you know that NASA is merely a front for a gigantic US Navy program that has developed interstellar travel? Most NASA employees are simply stooges, the poor suckers.

As you know, I am more familiar with Devon Island than your average bear.³ I even have a glacial inlet on the island named after me. So I chuckled my way through the article, rolling my eyes so hard they could have spun right out of their sockets.

I clicked on the video of the news conference for the landing of the Mars Curiosity mission. As as I watched, and read the increasingly sarcastic subtitles accompanying the very genuine  joy of the Curiosity team, my amusement turned to anger, to deep roiling rage.

The people who put together sites like this aren’t stupid. It takes a twisted intelligence  to write authentic sounding articles that, if you don’t look closely or think about too much, seem quite plausible. The authors willingly mislead people who maybe don’t have the same intelligence they do, who can’t see through the ridiculous smoke and mirrors, who don’t see that the same Photoshop techniques that they accuse NASA of could just as easily be used to create the “documents” they use.

Nor are they mentally ill.4 Some mentally ill people believe in conspiracy theories, but so do plenty of people who are perfectly psychiatrically normal. The conspiracy theories swirling around the current political season provide ample proof of that.5

No, they are arrogant beyond belief. They self-indulgently feel — no, know — that just because they cannot understand how something has been done it must be fake. They cannot begin to understand the science, so the “scientists” must be lying.6 Hell, I don’t understand the science, and am humble enough to recognize that there are things I just don’t know; that by training or inclination or  capability I can’t know.

They are willing to shit all over the life’s work of good men and women because they aren’t a part of it.

NASA scientists  have spent years of their lives — in many cases their entire professional careers — developing and sending landers to other planets. They spend decades developing rovers and the spacecraft that will get them there. Whether the time that NASA takes is too long may be an open question: Space-X’s announcement that they were going to head to Mars by 2018 was novel and shocking.

The men and women who work on space programs, whether run by governments or private industries (yay for Elon Musk!), are our best hope for leaving this planet and maybe someday, centuries hence, obtaining the stars we are always reaching for.

Of course, by then, these bastards will have moved on to mocking somebody else.

¹The fact that they were willing to give “airtime” to this sort of thing may explain why Yahoo has lost all credibility and is heading down the tubes.

²After some thought, I decided not to link this article. If you feel really compelled you can get to it from the Yahoo! News piece.

³Unless your average bear is a polar bear, of course.

4Stating that people who believe in conspiracy theories are per se mentally ill is an appalling insult to mentally ill people.

5The theory that Hillary Clinton was behind the clusterfuck in Maricopa County during the primaries comes to mind.

6Climate science, vaccines, GMOs: there are a lot of things where people adopt this anti-science attitude. “I don’t trust the large [ag, pharm] companies, so I reject their experts. I reject science. I will become the expert.” All of which leads to people like the Food Babe, and anti-vaxxers. (And no, I’m not linking to those sites, either — I would suggest looking up Science Babe’s Facebook feed.)

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Can’t we just stop this?

Dear Bernie supporters:

I wish I could find the words to make you understand. Yes, I support Hillary Clinton because I think she is the best candidate to handle the job in the running right now. I know we disagree strongly on this.

But I am not a corporate shill. I have not been duped by the “lame stream media.” I am not turning a blind eye to the problems that are facing us as a country and the way in which she may not be the optimum candidate. I came to this decision after a great deal of considered thought. I really wish Martin O’Malley had been able to compete: to the left of Hillary and with the executive experience Bernie lacks, he was really the candidate I supported. I came to support Hillary after he dropped out.

I am firmly in the Al Franken, Kristen Gillibrand, Barbara Boxer, Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party. We need to pull the party to the left, and Bernie’s candidacy has done that. To tell you the truth, I am pretty stoked about that. If we can regain Congress, with a Democratic president who will nominate a Supreme Court Justice who is not a right-wing ideologue, we just might get Citizen’s United overturned. And Shelby County v. Holder (although that will require Congressional action as well). And we can reaffirm Roe v. Wade, and make sure that Obergfell doesn’t get watered down. With a progressive Congress we can enact job protections for LGBT people. And work to make sure that women have access to reproductive and other health services, as well as equal pay.

But the thought that you might vote for Donald Trump makes my blood run cold. Or that you would sit out the election, helping Donald Trump — as well as Republican Senators and Representatives — to an office which would allow him to destroy the lives of so many Americans makes me want to cry.

So if I seem angry, if I seem to lash out, it’s because I am very, very, frightened. I remember 2000, and the people who thought George W. Bush wouldn’t be that bad, and that it didn’t matter because he would be a one-term president. We all know how that worked out: I have friends who spent time fighting in Iraq, and other friends who have sent sons there. I do not want to see that again.

Every election is important, but this one is crucial. The Republican Party has gone from being conservative to being completely unhinged, and they must not be allowed to prevail in November.

Finally, if you just cannot  bring yourself to vote for Hillary (although I really, really hope you do) please still vote. Vote for progressive candidates in every office from dogcatcher on up. That’s the way that we will change this country. A fifteen dollar minimum wage is important nationally, but in the absence of that we can pass it at the local and state level if we just elect candidates who care about working people. That’s what we’ve done most of the cities in the county where I live. That’s what they did in Seattle. Change can start at the local level, and spread.

Please, for the love of God, don’t sit back and bask in ideological purity while those who do not have that luxury suffer.

Even without Bernie, we can have a political revolution. It just has to start at the bottom up, rather than the top down. Don’t assume that because you can’t have Bernie as the Democratic nominee you can’t make significant change for the lives in your community right now. Just ask the former DAs in Chicago and Cleveland, who are out of a job because the Black Lives Matter movement decided that they needed to go, because they didn’t want to bring the cops who shot young black men and children to justice.

Please. Let’s stop arguing and start talking about making real change for the most vulnerable people in our country.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Seriously? No.

Dear Ken Burns,

The National Parks were a great idea. I can’t really think what America would be without sanctuaries for our souls like Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Everglades.  Not to mention the best of all — the Grand Canyon.

But America’s best idea?

Somehow I think that waging — and winning — a war to end slavery, not to mention the Bill of Rights and the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments, were better ideas.


A great fan of both you and the National Parks.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise) | Leave a comment

No, it’s not.

A few days ago, I posted a somewhat snarky graphic about Bernie Sanders and his followers. I see posts like that all the time on my feed about Clinton, and my reaction is to say “pppbbth” and to move on. The Rocket Scientist shared the same graphic, along with a comment that this had been his experience with Sanders supporters, and some of the Sanders supporters on his feed…

Demanded an apology.

He refused, of course, as I would have as well. It’s politics; as a (real) friend of mine would say, “suck it up, buttercup.” Of course, a lot of these people have never deigned to be involved  in politics, so they wouldn’t know this.¹

In the course of this… discussion, loosely called… one of the combatants snarked, after the Rocket Scientist asked how Sanders would fulfill his promises, “It’s not rocket science.”

No, it’s not rocket science. It’s harder.

Rocket science has unknowns — that’s what research is for. But the unknowns are often known, or at least can be guessed.  Government, politics, and economics deal in knowns, and as Dick Cheney said, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. And even unknowable unknowns.

A patriotic, or traitorous, take your pick, NSA contractor leaks extensive details about surveillance programs and then scarpers off to Russia, and  people from Senators down to the mailman become worried about their privacy.

A real estate bubble bursting causes the economy to crash, and with it large automakers, and it becomes necessary to bail out the automakers, because otherwise hundreds of thousands of people will be out of work: autoworkers, supply chain employees, and all the businesses down the line.

A war entered into on the basis of bad — or completely false — intelligence further destabilizes an already unstable region, leading to a decade of fighting and death of thousands of American soldiers and millions of Iraqis and the rise of a terrorist organization more powerful than the one that went before.

And before that, fundamentalist madmen fly planes into the World Trade Center, and all of a sudden  Americans condone torture and the detainment of men on only suspicions.

Being president requires being diplomatic when necessary and kicking ass when required. The president has to deal with Congress and executives and the American people. It is a dance that needs skill and timing and exquisite understanding of the situation at hand.

Compared to that, rocket science is a walk in the park.

¹I fully expect some of these people to demand an apology from me. Not gonna happen. Just saying.




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Birthdays (and Christmas) mean books. Always. Yes, I should get books out of the library, but I don’t. For one thing, I often re-read books — sometimes because I need something to read and I just grab whatever is at hand; sometimes because I need the intellectual equivalent of comfort food.¹

Some books don’t get read at all. Five Days At Memorial² by Sheri Fink, excellent as it was proved to be simply too intense, for example. The Autobiography of Mark Twain was too long.

This birthday I got two books that were on my Amazon wish list: Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I found both of them to be enjoyable reads.

Provenance is about an art scam that involved not just forgery, but the altering of files in several museums to provide backgrounds (“provenance” in the art world) for the forged works. People who are interested in art will understand exactly how terrible this can be. It’s fascinating, even though it is not quite as good as Edward Dolnick’s The Forger’s Spell.

The other book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, has made me rethink social media, and my presence on it. The book either explicitly or indirectly raises questions about how we treat people on Twitter and Facebook, and whether the people who get hit with public scorn for what would have been minor transgressions before the rise of Twitter really deserve to be treated as they were. Really good book.

Next up, books I bought at Haslam’s in St. Pete. First up is Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen. I love Larsen’s work (I have reread Devil in the White City a couple of times), and as usual he has picked an interesting and not really well known event — the capture of the murderer H.H. Crippen because of wireless transmission to the ship he was on³. I also have Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warnings, which promises to be good — as Gaiman almost always is.

Now if I can only figure out what books to get rid of so I can have space for the new ones…

¹Pride and Prejudice gets reread a lot (every year, as a matter of fact), as do several Discworlds. Recently I read I cheap book about the history of the British monarchy, and I often just dip into reference works like The Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases.

²Great book about what happened in Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during Katrina. If it does not make you cry, you need to develop some empathy.

³Genius (Marconi) and murderer, just like Devil in the White City.

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Sheesh. Another anti-vaccination horror story.

This time it’s chickenpox.

A mom in Texas was reported to Child Protective Services for holding chickenpox-exposure parties. She was turned in by a pro-vaccination group overseas. Hopefully this will stop these idiots.

Apparently this mom thinks “natural immunization” is the way to go: she plans playdates so that healthy kids and sick kids can mingle, I guess with the idea that the healthy kids will come down with chickenpox.

I guess all those parents in San Diego whose unvaccinated kids came down with chickenpox agree with her.

Chickenpox can be very dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or who are unable to be vaccinated because they are too young or are allergic to the vaccine. In addition, like any disease it can cause serious complications.

And then, oh God, there is shingles.

Just after Railfan was born, I developed shingles.* Usually the condition hits older people, but sometimes people in their thirties can come down with it. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same that causes chickenpox.

I would not wish shingles on my worst enemy. It hurts like a bitch.

This is what parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids for chickenpox are risking. Unfortunately, the kids will be all grown up before they get shingles. I wonder what they will think of their parents who deliberately made sure they were exposed to the virus causing them such pain.

I know what I think of them. It’s not good.

*In addition to mastitis. I was not a happy camper.

Posted in My life and times, Social Issues | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Power to the Sheeple.

I was talking to a friend last week, and during our conversation she referred to people who followed Donald Trump as “sheeple.” Although I understood the temptation to do so, the Red-Headed Menace and I tried to tell her how offensive the term was. I don’t think we succeeded.

Because I do find “sheeple” — when used non-ironically to refer to group of people* — very offensive.

This had nothing to do with the current political climate. Leaving aside that I have been told I was one of the sheeple for my support of Hillary Clinton, I have always hated the word.

True, “sheeple” ranks far behind other slurs equating people with animals: Jews as pigs, blacks as apes. It is milder, implying merely a meekness and want of intelligence, not dirtiness. But it still says “look at these people, they’re less than fully human. Real people are smarter than that.”

Sheeple ignores why people act the way they do. It gets the rest of us off the hook — when I said that Trump voters were in many cases acting out of fear and uncertainty, she said it didn’t really matter, that they were still sheeple.  If you can dismiss people’s fears because you view them as simply following the herd, you can ignore them. You don’t actually have to work with them.

You don’t have to take them seriously.

It makes alliances difficult, if not impossible. Who would work with someone who said you were a brainless animal? For that matter, why work with people you have such a low opinion of?

Many people in this country, regardless of political affiliation, have a great many things in common. All too often what we disagree about are the means, rather than the ends. They want to live free, be able to put food on the table, and give their kids a better life. So do we. Yes, I think the way Trump people want to go about that is wrong, but that’s on me to try to convince them otherwise.

There are unbridgeable divides. Abortion is one; same-sex marriage another. I suspect immigration is rapidly becoming another, fueled by fears (again!) of lost jobs and terrorism. But shouting past each other and calling each other names gets us no closer to fixing all the other problems.**

It misleads and divides us when what we really need is unity and understanding.

*Sometimes I use “sheeple” sarcastically, when talking about conspiracy theorists: “Yeah, I guess I’m one of the sheeple who believe in vaccinating kids, that men really landed on the moon, and that chemtrails are simply water vapor.”

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