Skip to content

Living free in the US

May 4, 2022

[Pinned to top — new posts below.]

Authoritarian movements today in many ways resemble those from history. Human psychology has not changed. The fear of the outsider and the desire to force one’s own community into some moral frame are powerful dreams, that politicians have used for centuries.

Technology marches on,  often expanding the range of individual action, in ways unknown just a few decades past. Modern drug-induced abortion is quite effective in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Jen Gunter points out that if any subsequent medical care is needed, doctors and nurses cannot distinguish it from a miscarriage. Unsurprisingly, interest in that is rising as access to surgical abortion becomes more difficult. Were I a woman, possibly fertile, living in a red state, I would act now to acquire the recommended doses of misoprostol and mifepristone. Tuck them away on the shelf in the bedroom closet next to the fire extinguisher, or in the dresser next to the passport. Just in case. However difficult acquiring those are, the task becomes more onerous when acting under a clock and unknown future circumstance. The first can be purchased south of the border without a prescription. And it is pretty effective by itself. The second is tougher to get.

TwoSuitcasesWithFinancialStatementsGroups in Mexico are trying to make it easier for American women to acquire these drugs, given the decline of liberty in this nation. Don’t wait to see how such movements go.

Some reading this might think they don’t need to prepare. Not yet. From measure of their own personal circumstance or of the political environment. Texans always can travel to Colorado or California when they want? So far. Both personal circumstance and political environment change. Sometimes with surprising suddenness. As with the fire extinguisher, the need for it can seem theoretical and remote. Until the need is urgent, and you’re glad it is there.

Don’t drift. Prepare. Aid Access provides information on acquiring those drugs. Make sure to read Dr. Gunter’s post.

Painting by Tilly Strauss.

Travel and freedom

May 18, 2022

Some who fled Ukraine when war broke out are returning. And some who fled to Poland are chafing under the restrictions that government imposes:

In Ukraine, abortions are legally provided on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, oral contraception is sold over the counter without prescription and the morning-after pill is readily available. In Poland, abortion is almost completely outlawed and access to contraception is ranked as the worst in Europe, according to the European Parliamentary Forum. Many doctors refuse to prescribe emergency contraception or even IUDs (intrauterine devices) on ethical grounds, arguing that they are akin to an abortion.

One of the most important of all freedoms is the ability to go elsewhere. I expect here in the US to see the various states start imposing travel restrictions related to abortion. The Supreme Court will have to decide which of those stand. Alas, the current court is quite inimical to personal liberty.

Biden will loosen travel restrictions to Cuba. The US has tried to reform the Cuban government for six decades. With no success. Individuals who are given more leeway to go back and forth will enjoy that measure of freedom the moment it is allowed.

Whooping cranes are up

May 17, 2022

The whooping cranes are returning to south Texas in record number. I’m not fond of that news article, because “4% a year” makes it sound a steady increase, when in fact, it is quite irregular, and quite dependent on conditions from year to year.

More whale sex?

May 12, 2022

DolphinsWithSnakeIt’s far from clear what these Bolivian river dolphins were doing with an anaconda. (Cite.) I’m skeptical that we can much imagine what it is like to be a dolphin.

Admittedly, the erect penis caught on photo is suggestive. Dolphins are weird. I previously posted about right whales caught in a threesome. That seems almost tame compared to the anaconda game.

OAN settles with Ruby Freeman

May 10, 2022

OAN was one of the the media outlets spreading the lie that Ruby Freeman mishandled Georgia ballots during the 2020 election to help rig the vote. She sued some of those media outlets and MAGA leaders for defamation. OAN now has settled, leaving Giuliani as a defendant.

As part of that settlement, OAN is running retractions, admitting its lies. The courts remain one part of our society where hard evidence either comes out, or doesn’t. It’s worth reading a bit how those conspiracy theories were conjured. It would be hopeful but foolish to think this will cause many MAGA cultists to rethink how they are being systematically misinformed.

Update: A previous version of this post was put up before I saw the news about OAN’s retractions.

Is secession right?

May 9, 2022

After penning last Monday’s post on stupid things people say, I read an editorial pretty well captured by its title: “If You Support Ukraine’s Independence Then You Support Secession.” Which is much like saying that if you support what a father recently did in New Jersey, you support dropping infants out windows. The generalization assumes there is some rightness or wrongness to that act, independent of context, purpose, manner, and related issues.

A smarter view is that secession is neither right nor wrong in itself, and that judging any instance of it depends heavily on all those related circumstances. Much as with someone separating from a spouse. A woman who divorces a husband who is abusive and alcoholic may be making a sound decision. A woman who slips warfarin into her husband’s coffee, expecting to collect on his life insurance, is a different matter. Those examples are different still from a couple who each have so many personal problems that outsiders wonder whether either should be partnered.

Britain recently left the EU. I think that was a mistake on its part. But, it was put to a popular referendum, and was done in a civil manner, negotiated by both EU and British governments, trying to respect the laws of both. Many such actions lead to different judgments on different aspects of them. Someone can think that Brexit was a mistake, can suspect it was motivated by bigotries, can have short sympathy for Brits who now suffer the problems of renegotiating foreign arrangements, and still can observe that it was pursued in a reasonable fashion. Mostly.

To America’s salient example, what condemns the Confederate states, then and always, was their purpose: to preserve an economic system of chattel slavery.  That must color every other judgment about their secession.

So, no, supporting Ukraine does not say much about someone’s views of secession. Or even that there should be some strong view of secession in the abstract.

It wasn’t intended as prophecy

May 3, 2022

Yesterday, I wrote that “it is quite plausible that the US could become an authoritarian nation like Iran, while staying a republic.”

That wasn’t intended as prophecy.

STPS: “The US is a republic, not a democracy”

May 2, 2022

Often said in response to some discussion of American democracy, this claim overlooks the fact that nations can be both republics and democracies. Examples include France, Japan, Ireland, and Germany, among quite a few others.

There are democracies that are not republics. Because Denmark’s head of state, Queen Margrethe II, inherited that role, it is not a republic. It is a parliamentary monarchy, where the monarch has a defined and limited role.

Some who make the claim above point to the fact that the US is not a direct democracy. No modern nation is. Modern states are both too populous and too complex for that to work. Not even Iceland is a direct democracy.

The world is full of republics. Inherited power has fallen out of style. Many of those republics are not democratic. Iran is an easy example. It is a constitutional republic. It is not a democracy. Even though the people vote for representatives and president, what Iran lacks are important democratic elements: secular law independent of religion, protected civil rights, open access to standing for office, mechanisms that check the power of the chief executive (Supreme Leader), and much else.

There are several groups that rank nations by how poorly or well they meet a variety of democratic mechanisms, often compiling those into a democracy index. The Democracy Matrix at the University of Würzburg ranks Denmark as the most democratic nation (index, 0.96, a working democracy), while ranking Iran a moderate autocracy (index, 0.25).

It is far more important that a nation is a democracy than that it is a republic. It is quite plausible that the US could become an authoritarian nation like Iran, while staying a republic. And that often seems the goal of those who say it is a republic, not a democracy. The current trend is not promising. The Democracy Matrix counts the US as a “deficient democracy.” IDEA says it is back-sliding. There is reason those who want to save American democracy now see themselves in a fight for that.

Abbott’s buses

April 28, 2022

Criselda_Vasquez_New_American_GothicEvery once in a while, those who seek to act cruelly do good by accident. Like all such happenstance, we can not depend on it, nor reach a conclusion about a larger pattern. I doubt there is  much lesson in it at all.

But I am glad for those who benefit.

The painting shown is New American Gothic, by Criselda Vasquez.

Thoughts on Twitter

April 27, 2022

In my view, most everyone commenting on Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter gets it wrong.

There will be rules. Digital platforms and forums are created and maintained with some vision of how they will serve their participants. There always are nefarious actors, scammers and spammers and trolls, who will stomp on those goals for their own purpose or profit. More, the participants have their own range of desires, from wanting some controls and filters for their own preferences, to simply not wanting to wade through random porn. Platforms always struggle with the mechanisms and rules that control content and who sees what. Those shape the character of the platform, and how various participants see it and use it.

What we will see is another experiment in how to manage a digital platform. Elon Musk is not dumb. He has some notion of where he wants to take Twitter. He is not going to let it become a wasteland of spam and scams and random porn. Musk likely will introduce new patterns, some of which prove interesting or useful. I will watch to see how it plays out a bit, before judging it. I am not thrilled with the existing platforms, so I like to see attempts at new ones.

Twitter never was the people’s platform. Those who are upset that this is a billionaire’s experiment need to keep in mind that Jack Dorsey created Twitter as a business. Twitter 1.0 was his vision. Twitter 2.0 was its evolution after Dorsey left. Twitter 3.0 will be Musk’s vision. The notion that Musk is destroying what once was a democratic platform is as silly as the notion that he is creating what will be a new kind of unregulated platform. Neither is the case. At some point, the rumored Web 3.0 may bring varieties of social media that are not reliant on some company’s platform, with fully distributed control. We are not yet there. Though I hope some team is taking Musk’s purchase of Twitter as incentive to move that forward.

The rules aren’t about free speech. In the legal sense, free speech lies in the fact that different platforms and forums are free to set their own rules. The Wikimedia Foundation manages how Wikipedia evolves, with many thousands of participating editors. Facebook puts users in “jail” if they violate its opaque policies. Political forums such as DemocraticUnderground to FreeRepublic have their own mechanisms for moderating content. Someone who uploads porn to Instagram may be kicked off there. Someone who uploads anything other than porn to Pornhub likely will suffer some repercussion there. Each platform goes its own way, and it is the owners rather than the government who determine how the rules are made.

Most of the political commentary on this is nonsense. Elizabeth Warren tweets that Musk buying Twitter is dangerous for our democracy. As if he were Rupert Murdoch reincarnated. As if Rupert Murdoch weren’t already present in our democracy. Many on the right are hailing this as a step for free speech, showing only how little they understand that legal principle. Including Musk. This is just one media property changing hands. Its political consequence is less than it is made to be by those who see every large news event as the next play between blue and red. Or by those who now have marketing interest in hailing the event.

No Twitter employee should be shocked or surprised. Sudden changes of this sort are common in the business world, and moreso in the tech industries. I once was doing contract work for an internet enterprise owned by a large bank, that was shutdown entirely in a company wide meeting the first day of work in the New Year. The non-tech workers who provided the domain expertise and contacts were jolted. The tech workers, not so much. In our world, it was routine to have career path marked by mergers, buy-outs, shutdowns, spin-offs, pivots, and other business change. Perhaps that is part of why I see Musk’s purchase as just an interesting business turn, neither panacea nor apocalypse.

Update #1: Another voice urging people to “calm the [Moderated] down.”

Update #2: A former Twitter engineer comments on some of the proposed changes. Authentication is a hard nut, with potential vast changes in the nature of a platform.