08/24/2015 archive

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: An Opening for Diplomacy in Syria

The beheading by Islamic State militants of the Syrian archaeologist Khalid al-Asaad, who gave his life protecting some of Syria’s greatest treasures, was a grisly reminder of how a conflict that has ripped Syria apart for over four years has been greatly complicated – and exploited – by the Islamic State and its savage doctrinal and territorial rampage.

The completion of the Iran nuclear deal last month created space for a renewed push for a political solution to a ruinous civil war between President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the rebels seeking to oust him, which has cost 250,000 lives and forced 11 million people from their homes. Since then, a burst of high-level diplomatic meetings has raised hopes that such an effort is finally underway.

But it is still not clear that the United States, Russia, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other key players have the sense of urgency and political will to set Syria on a more stable path. It is clear, though, that without a political settlement in Syria, it is hard to see how there can be an effective, unified campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and its determination to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Paul Krugman: A Moveable Glut

What caused Friday’s stock plunge? What does it mean for the future? Nobody knows, and not much.

Attempts to explain daily stock movements are usually foolish: a real-time survey of the 1987 stock crash found no evidence for any of the rationalizations economists and journalists offered after the fact, finding instead that people were selling because, you guessed it, prices were falling. And the stock market is a terrible guide to the economic future: Paul Samuelson once quipped that the market had predicted nine of the last five recessions, and nothing has changed on that front.

Still, investors are clearly jittery – with good reason. U.S. economic news has been good though not great lately, but the world as a whole still seems remarkably accident-prone. For seven years and counting we’ve lived in a global economy that lurches from crisis to crisis: Every time one part of the world finally seems to get back on its feet, another part stumbles. And America can’t insulate itself completely from these global woes.

But why does the world economy keep stumbling?

Trevor Timm: Republicans think if your data is encrypted, the terrorists win

Jeb “I’m my own man” Bush sounds more and more like his know-nothing ex-president brother every day. This time, in between defending the Iraq War and saying he might bring back torture if elected president, he’s demanding that tech companies stop letting billions of the world’s citizens use encryption online to protect their information because of “evildoers.”

Bush’s comments echo the dangerous sentiments of FBI director Jim Comey, who has publicly campaigned against Apple and Google for attempting to make our cell phones and communications safer by incorporating strong encryption in iPhones and Android devices. [..]Unfortunately, Bush’s comments seem to be part of a pattern with the 2016 presidential candidates, none of whom seem to understand the basic precepts of technology, and the critical role encryption plays in all of our cybersecurity.

Robert Kuttner: 2016: The Coming Train Wreck

Six months ago, the 2016 election looked to be predictable and boring: Clinton II vs. Bush III. Advantage: Clinton.

Well, forget about that.

The Republican demolition derby has been getting most of the publicity lately, but one should worry more about the Democrats. Consider:

Hillary Clinton is sinking like a stone. She’s falling in the polls. Conversations with her longtime friends and admirers indicate grave worry. She is not generating the excitement that the first prospective woman president should; the email mess is not going away; even the money advantage is not what was anticipated. [..]

To sum up: The 2016 Republican field is more of a Mutually-Assured-Destruction mess than any in my long lifetime. It’s not only much too big, but far to the right of American public opinion. The exceptions are a surprisingly strong John Kasich, who is probably too moderate to be nominated, and Jeb Bush who may well be too clumsy. And then there is Trump.

In general, that’s all good news for the Dems. But never, never, discount the Democrats’ talent for doing themselves in. If this were an HBO series, it would be one hell of a show, albeit a little far-fetched. Unfortunately, it’s our life.

Char Millier: When firefighters speak out on climate change, we ought to listen up

Climate change is worsening the fires that ravage many parts of America each year. Grime-streaked firefighters battling one of the 167 active wildfires currently scorching portions of the US west will tell you as much. What they have encountered on the firelines in the past few years is evidence that everything has changed as a result of global warming.

In mid-August, the day after a quick-moving fire first exploded southwest of Boise, Idaho, the blaze more than doubled in size to nearly 79,000 acres in one four hour stretch. Along the way, it sparked a “firenado” that rained hot ash and dirt on firefighters.

Or consider the disturbing talk surrounding the still-smoldering fire named Rocky that this month scorched 70,000 acres near Napa, California: “This fire wants to do whatever it wants,” Jason Shanley, a Cal Fire spokesman, observed, adding “It’s defying all odds. 30 year, 40 year veterans have never seen this before.”

Robert Creamer: Out of Touch Punditry Should Get a Grip — Hillary’s Email Is Non-Story

A message to the out-of-touch Washington pundit class: get a grip. What was or was not on Hillary Clinton’s email server when she was Secretary of State is not a game-changing news story.

In fact, no one outside the chattering class — and right-wing true believers — could give a rat’s rear about this story — and there is a good reason: there is no “there” there. If someone really thinks the great “email” story — or the Benghazi investigation — are going to sink her candidacy, I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

Of course, this is not the first time that the media — with an assist from right-wing political operatives — have laid into Hillary Clinton in an attempt to create a “scandal” where there was none.

The Breakfast Club (Sick Puppies)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgThe Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of Amazing Stories.

Now unlike some competing awards like the Nebula Award which is decided by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Hugos are nominated and decided by fans, specifically attendees at the World Science Fiction Convention (the Hugos are also older).

There are two classes of registration, a regular one which, uhh… gives you the right to vote for Hugos I guess, and an attending registration that gets you onto the Convention floor and allows you to attend some seminars and workshops.

While most of us tend to think of Science Fiction as kind of lefty utopian fantasy worlds that present metaphorically the condition of society and present solutions for challenges humanity might face, there has always been a jingoist, misogynous, racist, authoritarian element that some authors embrace with gusto and glee, some pander to as a way to make a quick buck off inferior work, and others lazily use as a crutch they hardly notice in pursuit of a rattlin’ good yarn with lots of babes and blasters.

Quick- how many Black people in Star Wars?  Yes, Lando.  And…?

I do think it’s a rattlin’ good yarn and not as obviously horrible as, say, Horseclans or Gor but there you go.

For years the target audience of Science Fiction was pimply-faced adolescent white boys who hated women because they were nerds who were never, ever, going to meet one, particularly since they spent all their time either jerking off or reading Sci-Fi, Comic Books, and playing Dungeons and Dragons in their mother’s basement.

But starting in the 60s Science Fiction started to change and there were more and more thoughtful works about the nature of Science and Humanity and they began to attract a more main stream audience.  This made the publishers very happy of course, but it kind of pissed off the fan boys who wanted epic space battles with monsters and aliens.  And where the Green Wimmen at?

As time passed the same social impulses that led people to the Right-Wing also started causing virulent divisions in the gaming and Science Fiction communities.

Which brings us to the present and the Sick Puppies.  Just as there is a Conservative publishing cartel that games The New York Times Best seller list (Dinesh D’Souza, ‘nuf said), someone thought there were too many non-white and female Hugo Award winners recently and decided to do something about it.  They and their like-thinking comrades bought a bunch of registrations to WorldCon and submitted their favorite authors, books, movies, and TV shows and openly organized to nominate them and make sure they won.

It wasn’t much of a secret and after the ballots were cast the steering committee in charge of the Awards simply refused to give them out in the categories they thought were compromised by what most considered ‘cheating’.

If only the sci-fi writers who hijacked the Hugo awards had the wit to imagine a world beyond the Good Old Days

by Helen Lewis, The Guardian

Saturday 18 April 2015 03.00 EDT

(For some science fiction and fantasy fans) the alternate universe they most crave is the Good Old Days. SFF is in the grip of its own culture war, with a group of authors suggesting that the recent success of female and non-white writers is proof that political correctness has spread its tentacles so far that it is now ruining stories that include actual tentacles.

The sticking point is nominations for the Hugos, the genre’s best-known awards, which will be handed out in August. Anyone who pays $40 (£27) to attend the science-fiction convention Worldcon can nominate up to five of their favourite books in each category for a Hugo. The intention was that the awards would be more democratic and open to a greater range of works: nerds know how it is to be excluded from the cool gang. (Even if the cool gang here is literary fiction writers, which is absolutely no one else’s idea of a cool gang. Pass the sambuca, Richard Flanagan!)

The voting system encourages fans to feel they have ownership of the awards and to treat them as a barometer of genuine, grassroots opinion. As 2014 winner Kameron Hurley put it: “They historically rewarded popular work, set in the kinds of old, colonial, dudes-rule-everything universes that my work explicitly challenges.”

But times are changing, and there are complaints that the Hugos are being used “as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert under-represented minority or victim group here) or because a work features (insert under-represented minority or victim group here) characters”.

That sentiment comes from US SFF author Brad Torgersen, who is a Mormon, a libertarian and a gun-rights enthusiast, and as such feels that the current trends in SF do not favour the types of books he personally enjoys. In February, he suggested a slate of works readers could vote for to ensure the Hugos had relevance outside “rarefied, insular halls of 21st-century Worldcon ‘fandom'”. The slate is called Sad Puppies, because fellow author Larry Correia once said that not having his books nominated for the “snooty and pretentious” awards “made puppies sad”.

So far, so niche. But because this is the internet, someone always has to pitch in and turn the hostility up to 11. Enter a man called Theodore Beale, also known as Vox Day, with his own slate called Rabid Puppies. Vox Day is even less polite about minorities and “victim groups”: he claims that marital rape is an oxymoron, because “marriage grants consent on an ongoing basis”, and that race is linked to IQ (you can imagine which way). He also opposes women’s suffrage, saying “the women of America would do well to consider whether their much-cherished gains of the right to vote, work, murder and freely fornicate are worth destroying marriage, children, civilised western society and little girls”. He’s so bigoted it’s perversely refreshing. Oh right, he actually said that, you think. Bloody hell.

The result of this perfectly legal manipulation is that, in the words of Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, “The Sad Puppies have broken the Hugo awards, and I am not sure they can ever be repaired.”

It works like this: if you worry that you might be accused of an -ism, get your defence in first by asserting that the accuser is an envoy of an ivory tower elite and you are merely a tribune of the people. As it works for Farage, so it does for Vox Day. Yes, you might have gone to private school, worked as a commodities trader and have been a member of the European parliament since 1999, but you are an outsider! Yes, you might have got nine titles from your own tiny Finland-based publishing house on the Hugos shortlists, but that’s only because you are trying to seize back science fiction from a self-serving clique!

Over and over again, we see the mechanism by which power re-asserts itself when challenged. With a gymnastic leap, those on the defensive become the underdogs, cruelly repressed by the BBC, feminists, people from Islington, some nebulous “elite” or the suggestion that sometimes a female character in a videogame might wear a decently supportive bra.

Diversity wins as the Sad Puppies lose at the Hugo awards

by Damien Walter, The Guardian

Monday 24 August 2015 08.25 EDT

As I write it is clear that the Puppies’ disproportional effect on the Hugo shortlists was not reflected in the award winners. In fact, the fan vote was triumphant in nearly all categories, except a handful where the Sad Puppy bloc vote forced work of such poor quality onto the ballot that fans were left no choice but to nominate “no award” instead. It was the worst result possible for the Sad Puppy voters, and a personal humiliation for their leaders.

Far from infecting sci-fi with with their right-wing rhetoric, the Sad Puppies have only succeeded in inoculating the field against it. Theodore Beale, a Hugo protest leader and prominent anti-vaxxer, has himself acted like a weakened viral infection, catalysing sci-fi’s immune response against the retrograde aesthetics on which he has built his reputation. The other Puppy leaders retreated into relative silence as the determined response of sci-fi fans rolled over them. Meanwhile, their antics have woken up all of sci-fi fandom to the value of diversity.

‘No award’ sweeps the Hugo Awards following controversy

by Michelle Dean, The Guardian

Sunday 23 August 2015 12.20 EDT

The World Science Fiction Society noted in its announcement of winners that the “no awards” were without precedent. Five, they said, was also “the total number of times that WSFS members have presented no award in the entire history of the Hugo Awards, most recently in 1977”.

The unprecedented number of no award votes followed a controversy over a voting bloc, known as the Sad and/or Rabid Puppies, that loaded the ballot earlier this spring.

The Puppies say they are reacting to the transformation of the Hugos into what one called an “affirmative action award“. The Puppies organized themselves to vote as a bloc in the nominating process in order to put more white, male candidates on the ballot. As the voting turnout for the nomination process is typically low, the strategy worked.

Critics of the Puppies in the science fiction community pointed out that their leaders, among them Vox Day and Brad Torgerson, were promoting unrepentantly sexist, racist and homophobic views. Among the Puppies’ slate of nominees was a book put out by the Patriarchy Press. Another of their favored writers, John C Wright, is better known for his rabidly homophobic views than for his work.

Further reading-



The Little League World Series starts with a double elimination round (you need 2 losses to wash out).  Currently eliminated on the International side of the bracket are White Rock South Surrey of BC and Los Bravos de Pontezuela of the Dominican Republic.  Advancing are Tokyo Kitasuna and Cardenales of Venezuela.  On the Bubble facing deciding games are Tung Yuan of Taipei, Cronulla of Australia, AVRS of Uganda, and Seguro Social of Mexico.

On the United States side of the bracket Webb City MO and Wilshire-Riverside of OR have been eliminated.  Advancing are Red Land PA and Pearland West of TX.  Bowling Green Eastern  of KY, Cranston Western of RI, Northwood SC, and Sweetwater Valley must win to advance.

As you know it was a Mercedes 1 – 2 at Spa-Francorchamps.  Third place (at the time) Vettel was a stop after a blow out on the next to last lap.

In other racing news, British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson in coma after being hit by flying debris.  He used to drive for Minardi and Jaguar and his former Formula One associates are shocked and sympathetic (having lost Jules Bianchi to head injuries suffered a year ago in Japan in the last few weeks).  At the same time, like many others they wonder why IndyCar is so dangerous.  The answer to that is that the Drivers are encouraged to use Turn Left bumper car tactics that are totally unsuited to open wheel racing.  Also the Yellow Flag rules mandate bunched rolling re-starts that result in multiple additional accidents.

They do this to promote “close races”.  Those are always much more fun to watch as are flaming chunks of twisted metal.

Bullfighting is hardly a sport which is why I enjoy titles like this- Man killed during bull run in Spain pushes death toll to 10 so far for year.

Usain Bolt beats Justin Gatlin to 100m gold in ‘clash of good against evil’.  His opponent was twice banned for doping.  Oh, and he’s from the U.S..  Yay team.


  • How ’bout those Mets?  Five games ahead in the NL East.
  • Damn Yankees lost C.C. Sabathia, not much of a loss but it’s probably a career ending injury, and the game.  Half a game back in the AL East.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.


Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History August 24

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

August 24 is the 236th day of the year (237th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 129 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted burying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in nearly thirty feet of ash and pumice. The toxic gases killed at least 2200 people who remained in Pompeii after the evacuation.

After centuries of dormancy, Mount Vesuvius erupts in southern Italy, devastating the prosperous Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing thousands. The cities, buried under a thick layer of volcanic material and mud, were never rebuilt and largely forgotten in the course of history. In the 18th century, Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered and excavated, providing an unprecedented archaeological record of the everyday life of an ancient civilization, startlingly preserved in sudden death.

At noon on August 24, 79 A.D., this pleasure and prosperity came to an end when the peak of Mount Vesuvius exploded, propelling a 10-mile mushroom cloud of ash and pumice into the stratosphere. For the next 12 hours, volcanic ash and a hail of pumice stones up to 3 inches in diameter showered Pompeii, forcing the city’s occupants to flee in terror. Some 2,000 people stayed in Pompeii, holed up in cellars or stone structures, hoping to wait out the eruption.

A westerly wind protected Herculaneum from the initial stage of the eruption, but then a giant cloud of hot ash and gas surged down the western flank of Vesuvius, engulfing the city and burning or asphyxiating all who remained. This lethal cloud was followed by a flood of volcanic mud and rock, burying the city.

The people who remained in Pompeii were killed on the morning of August 25 when a cloud of toxic gas poured into the city, suffocating all that remained. A flow of rock and ash followed, collapsing roofs and walls and burying the dead.

Plaster Citizens of Pompeii

Those that did not flee the city of Pompeii in August of 79 AD were doomed. Buried for 1700 years under 30 feet of mud and ash and reduced by the centuries to skeletons, they remained entombed until excavations in the early 1800s.

As excavators continued to uncovered human remains, they noticed that the skeletons were surrounded by voids in the compacted ash. By carefully pouring plaster of Paris into the spaces, the final poses, clothing, and faces of the last residents of Pompeii came to life.

n the only known eye witness account to the eruption, Pliny the Younger reported on his uncle’s ill-fated foray into the thick of the ash from Misenum, on the north end of the bay:

“. . .the buildings were now shaking with violent shocks, and seemed to be swaying to and fro as if they were torn from their foundations. Outside, on the other hand, there was the danger of failing pumice stones, even though these were light and porous; however, after comparing the risks they chose the latter. In my uncle’s case one reason outweighed the other, but for the others it was a choice of fears. As a protection against falling objects they put pillows on their heads tied down with cloths. ”

And then:

“You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”


Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Anti-Capitalism and Immigration by MrJayTee

There can be no doubt that the behavior of international capital is a major driver of immigration. Looking outward from the US alone, capital has long been at play in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, extracting resources and supporting dictatorial elites with little interest in economic development, forcing many of those deliberately impoverished masses to look north. Capital builds and destroys economies and rends people’s lives to the point of desperation, forcing the poor to pick up and move wherever they can to survive.

Ironically, there is great controversy over immigration in the developed world whose system did so much to create the prospective immigrant’s desperation. In the United States and Europe the right is obsessed with immigration as a threat to cultural identity; but immigration is also controversial in the center and even on the left, or what passes for the left, allegedly because it depresses working class wages and diminishes the prospects of native-born working people.

Yet if we look at the history of the United States, we see that mass immigration can co-exist with broad prosperity or even drive it. The US absorbed millions of immigrants from the 1880’s to the 1920’s and they helped to build the wealthiest, most powerful nation that ever existed. The US continues to to absorb large numbers of immigrants, documented and undocumented, and still the nation’s wealth expands, if mostly for the elite.

As anti-capitalists, we are naturally suspicious of the nativist, chauvinist notion that immigration is a threat to our security or prosperity individually or collectively, yet few of us would say that immigration without conditions or limits would produce a good result for immigrants or the native-born working class.

How do our various leftist perspectives on immigration address objective conditions in developed economies? Does the working class of one nation owe a welcome to all others who want to come? What is in the long term interest of workers at home and around the world?