Monday, April 25, 2022

Feeling Pensive about the French Election

 The French presidential election was yesterday and Emmanuel Macron handily beat the right wing Marine Le Pen 58.5 - 41.5%. In many countries, the US included, that would be considered a blow-out. A week ago, French pollsters had them closer, at about 44 - 54. That's even better. But some of us see that margin as uncomfortably close.

 Le Pen isn't merely right wing, she's very far right. She's not Tory right; she's Putinist right. Her party, the National Rally, has only had that name since 2018. Before that, from the time her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded it in 1972, it was called the National Front. Any time a European party calls itself the National Front, you are safe in assuming that they are, in fact, fascists.* Le Pen père, an accused war criminal during the Algerian conflict, founded a party that fit most of the requirements: hyper-nationalist, xenophobic, pro "law and order", natalist, state-capitalist, and pro-military. Le Pen himself was a Holocaust denier and sold records of old fascist marching songs.

 France was no stranger to far right politics at the time. One of the first proto-fascist parties in Europe was Action française, founded in 1899 during the Dreyfuss Affair. It was militaristic, anti-republican, pro-church, antisemitic, and corporatist. During the interwar period it faded in the face of competition from more extreme fascist parties. A splinter of it still exists. Like most European countries, France has a wide selection of political parties. There are plenty of parties on the right, but in the sixties, none of them stood out. Le Pen and his comrades hoped to bring them all together as a single electoral block. As is often the case with radicals, they promptly split into two mutually hostile camps. After both factions bottomed out in 1981, when neither one was able to qualify for the presidential ballot, Le Pen was able to emerge as a deal maker who could peel off some voters from the mainstream right without watering down the party's positions too much.

 In 1988, Le Pen was back, getting a respectable 14.4% in the first round of the presidential election (fourth place). This wasn't entirely due to his personal appeal or that of his party. There was a general, global drift to the right happening at the time (Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl, most of Latin America). In France, the major parties moved to the center, alienating many of their more enthusiastic supporters on both sides. Le Pen ran again in 1995, 2002, and 2007, garnering first round totals in the teens each time. In 2002, he shocked the political establishment by squeaking into second place and advancing into the final round of voting. Fortunately, he was massacred, garnering less than 18% of the vote. In 2007, he ran one more time, having his worst showing in twenty years. Soon after he began disengaging from active politics and turned his party over to his daughter, Marine.

 Le Pen fille set about creating a kinder, gentler face for the party, even though it remained solidly neo-fascist. She regularly expelled members of the party, including her father, who said the silent part out loud. Despite that, she was an ally of Putin who supports pulling out of NATO. She compared Muslims praying in public with the Nazi occupation. As a representative in the EU parliament, she formed a block of nationalist, far right parties. She can't help herself.

 Let's look at how the Le Pens and the Front have done in presidential elections over the years.

 National Front under Jean-Marie Le Pen

 1974        Less than one percent in the first round.

1981        Failed to qualify for the ballot.

1988        14.4% in the first round (fourth place). Jacques Chirac represented the right and lost the second round.

1995        15% in the first round (fourth place). Jacques Chirac represented the right and won the second round.

2002        16.9% in the first round (second place). 17.8% in the second round, losing to Chirac.

2007        10.4% in the first round (fourth place). Nicolas Sarkozy represented the center-right and won the second round.

 National Front/National Rally under Marine Le Pen

 2012        17.9% in the first round (third place). Nicolas Sarkozy represented the center-right and lost the second round.

2017        21.3% in the first round (second place). 33.9% in the second round, losing to Macron, representing the center-left.

2022        23.2% in the first round (second place). 41.5% in the second round, losing to Macron.

 A couple of trends are present here. I'll start with the most obvious. In fifty years, they've gone from less than one percent to over forty percent of the vote. That's horrifying. It might not be quite as bad as that. If you separate the first and second rounds, things are a little more complicated. In the first round, they have risen less than nine percent since 1988. The only reason they even make it to the second round this century is that there isn't a more robust right or center-right party in the running.

 The big shift is in the second round. The only time Le Pen père made it into the second round, it was because he unexpectedly managed to beat the center-left candidate by less than one percent. Facing a strong center-right candidate, he wasn't even able to increase his numbers by one percent. There is no denying Le Pen fille's increases in the first round since taking over. No doubt some of that is due to her kinder, gentler image and some, maybe more, of it is due to the new rightward shift in global politics. However, I'm arguing that her dramatic increase in second round numbers is as much due to her being the alternative to the status quo (a protest vote) as it is to people actually supporting the Rally's positions. Globally, this is what the right-wing power grab is fueled by: inarticulate anger, frustration, and fear, not support for their actual positions or solutions.

 The silver lining is that the Front/Rally/Le Pen's numbers in the presidential election are not reflected in the parliamentary elections. While the presidential system reduces the field to two choices, the National Assembly is still a free for all. In the current Assembly, the Rally has eight out of the 577 seats. They not only are not in the majority, they aren't a significant voice in the opposition. There will be an Assembly election in June. Le Pen has sworn to form a strong right-wing opposition block. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has also sworn to form one on the left. His party currently has 17 seats.

 So, while we should be alarmed about Le Pen's showing in the presidential election, it's too soon to panic. Putin's aggression has made neo-fascist parties vulnerable on one, um, front, but it's nowhere near enough to turn back the far right tide. Conservatives, moderates, and progressives need to present strong visions that counter far-right fear-mongering.

 Meanwhile, let's celebrate Macron's victory.

 * "Action" in the name is another dead giveaway. Action Jackson being the exception.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Madison Cawthorn is a Politician (and Doesn't Know It)


Madison Cawthorn does not like Ukraine on a train, he does not like it in the rain. he is not the meme master he'd like to be. Let's take this apart, shall we?

"I do not stand with Ukraine
"I do not stand with Russia"

Both-sideserism plays into the hands of the aggressor. Like it or not, Cawthorn, by saying his, you side with Russia.

"I do not stand with the UN or NATO."

Interesting. The US was one of the founding members of both the UN and NATO and still plays a leading role in both organizations. You're saying you don't stand with the US in its role as a global leader.

"I stand with the civilians in each country..."

This part starts out pretty well. Now, what are you going to do about it. How will you show your support for them. You're very good at getting camera time for yourself; this is your chance to show some leadership.

"... while politicians and their media play their war and propaganda games."

Attacking "politicians" and "the media" is just as lazy as both-sideserism. They're anonymous and nonspecific. Which politicians? Which members of the media?* The politician most responsible for the war is Vladimir Putin. Why won't you name him? The American media--news media--that enabled him are OAN and Fox News commentators, assisted by various right-wing bloggers, Tweeters, and pod-casters. Oh, and Cawthorn, you're a politician. When you run for and hold office, you're a politician.

"Not sure why thats [sic] so offensive to so many people."

Really? Even before you pressed "send" on this meme and anyone had a chance to express offense, you felt you had to add a whine about being persecuted for being a big brave truth-speaker. There is a war going on that has created almost three million refugees, over ten thousand dead (on both sides), twice that many wounded, tens of billions of dollars in property damage, and several times that in economic dislocation. But we should keep in mind that the real victim here is attention-seeking, Hitler-groupie Madison Cawthorn who might hear some criticism (after desperately seeking it out).

 *Heck. Which medium? Vinyl records?

Friday, February 11, 2022

Adulting Week Finale

I got up and got ready to go on time. It took me forty minutes and two calls to finally get a cab. When I got to the clinic, they told me I was too late and they had cancelled my appointment. However, they checked with the doctor, and she was able to slip me into the next spot.

The appointment was productive. We reviewed my medications. That was the whole point of the appointment. My various prescriptions were expiring and Medicaid wouldn't pay for them until I had a review. You may recall, from previous comments on my adulting efforts, that one of my problems these days is that my Medicaid expired last summer and I can't get it restarted. They're not planning on paying for anything, including this appointment, at the moment. The state aid offices are shut down to in-person visits for the duration, but the doctor told me that the office in the clinic is still open and might be able to help. After that, they gave me flu and shingles vaccines.

The nice lady in the aid office (who spoke softly and very rapidly) just had a few minutes before her next appointment, but in that time she had me sign all the forms to apply for Medicaid yet again. On Monday, she'll call me and get all the information to actually fill out the forms. She was able to show me how to find my Medicare number (and updated my payment info at the clinic with it). She also will take care of restarting my SNAP account and getting me Alaska senior benefits (which will cover about half of my Medicare monthly). If everything works out, I should finally be able to pay my medical bills by the end of next week.

After I got back downtown, I celebrated by getting a latte. Wordle took me four tries.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Freedom Convoy Foolishness Arrives in Anchorage

The usual gang of fools decided to hold a freedom convoy here in Anchorage. They went to the Cabela's parking lot where the city council member from Eagle River, Jamie Allard, welcomed them. She posted a video of herself saying there were hundreds and hundreds of them (it looked more like tens and tens to me) and added, "I don’t know how traffic is going to do with all of these guys, but we don’t really care." A couple of points.

Last year and the year before, conservatives were saying that blocking traffic was the worst crime ever and that protesters should be run over and killed. Around the country, Republicans proposed laws making vehicular assault legal under "stand your ground laws" as long as you remember to say the magic get-out-of-jail words "I was scared." Now, they are saying blocking traffic and shutting down cities is "legitimate political discourse" or something similar. To be fair, it's not entirely a flip-flop; they were all in favor of blocking traffic with various hysterically unsuccessful "million truck marches" against Obama and with their Trump Trains. I think the difference to them  is that drivers are patriots and pedestrians need to be summarily executed.

Intentionally blocking traffic is already illegal, regardless of your politics. Allard seems to be endorsing law breaking. How do her constituents in Eagle River feel about this? I'm being rhetorical. We all know how they feel. As long as it's inconveniencing the liberals downtown and not happening in their backyard, they approve of the lawbreaking and they approve of their lawmaker approving of the lawbreaking.

Cabela's is private property. Are they allowing the convoy to use their parking lot because they support them or is the convoy trespassing? If you're not familiar with Cabela's, they sell outdoor gear, including hunting and fishing gear. Guns and ammo make up almost a third of their business. A large part of their natural clientele is going to lean hard right, but it will also include outdoorsy tree-huggers as well. Someone in the press needs to get a statement from them. 

Friday, February 04, 2022

Boba Fett

 Now that six of the seven episodes of #BookofBobaFett have aired, I have thoughts.

Last summer, I signed up for Disney+ and binge watched The #Manalorian and was pleased to see that I only had a few months to wait before there would be a new related show to watch. In the mean time, Disney announced two more shows; Obi Wan Kenobi, which, of course is set between the first trilogy and his death in the second trilogy; and an Ahsoka Tano show set sometime after the second season of Madalorian. I'm looking forward to both of those because those characters are great and  this gives us opportunities to tie up loose ends of plot lines and characters from the animated series'. Almost thirty years pass from the end of the first trilogy to end of the second series of Madalorian.

This brings us back to the Book of Boba Fett. It begins at the same point Mandalorian S2 ended with he and Fenec Shand arriving at Jabba the Hutt's palace and taking over. 

Episode 1. It's been about eight years since Jabba died at the Sarlac pit and one of his lackeys has been running his turf, badly. Boba meets some of the locals in town and goes into an extended flashback that explains how he survived the Sarlac and lost his armor (regained in the Mandalorian). The episode ends with an homage to Ray Harryhausen that most viewers didn't seem to catch.

Episodes 2-4. Most of these episodes develop the flashbacks. The short sections of "present time" finally come together in episode four to reveal who the antagonist is going to be and that the overall plot arc is going to be The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven.

Episodes 5-6. A sudden digression into the Mandalorian. Yes, he's going to be one of the seven, but most of  these two episodes have nothing to do with that, they are setting up the next season of his show. It's nice to see Ahsoka Tano, but her appearance was a gratuitous cameo with no hints about her own show.

<Episode 6 spoiler> There are many characters from the earlier movies and animated series whose fates were left unexplored. The new live-action shows seem to be picking up a lot of those characters. Cad Bane is one I was eager to see. I was excited to see him, but a little disappointed in the role he's going to play. My big hope is that the charming and always treacherous Hondo will show up in Obi Wan or Ashoka. [Fun fact: Cad Bane and young Boba Fett had a duel in a planned, but never produced, episode of Clone Wars. That's supposed to be the source of the dent in Boba's helmet.] 

+Coming up next, the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven style finale.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Truckdrivin' perspective

The far right has been trying to claim truck drivers as their people for the last dozen years or so. Remember the million trucker ride to Washington to protest "Obama <mumble, mumble> we're not racists!"? Since then, there have been regular trucker protests in Australia, Canada, and the US and they have all been embarrassing failures. They are still failures.

Not long ago, someone noticed supply chain chaos, inflation, and shortages caused by Covid and started pushing the idea that they were all the fault of Biden's policies, although they couldn't say which policies and how they did that. Now, those same people are calling for trucker strikes, led by Canadian anti-vaxers, which will cause supply chain disruption, inflation, and product shortages because... freedom? 

Because all of the other trucker protests have been failures, they are pointing to some images of the current Canadian protest as signs of how great their movement is. I have to say, these trolls have learned how to manipulate the media. They are packing areas around the home offices of the Canadian broadcast media and national monuments to get the best photo ops. They have dim-witted, has-been comedians like Rob Schneider expressing amazement that their caravan stretches from Ontario all the way to Manitoba, a province it shares a border with (one truck can stretch that far). 

The most generous estimate of the number of drivers involved is on half of one percent of the licensed commercial truck drivers in Canada. It's a stunt, and a fraudulent one at that. Any news out let that treats this story as anything other than an expose of the sad lengths the right will go to to lie to us is nothing more than, in Lenin's famous phrase, useful idiots.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

"Deadliest Days In American History" Amended

 Around December 7, 2020, a meme began to float around the internet comparing the daily death tolls from Covid to to a few other high casualty days in American history. Because of the day it appeared, I assume the point was to draw a contrast to Pearl Harbor, a day that shocked the country into action and our current fickle leadership. The motive behind the meme seemed good. What I disliked about it was the vagueness. The Covid dates were given as "last Thursday" and "last Monday." Knowing how things on the internet live forever, I wanted to put a date on the meme.

Here is a sample of the meme that I copied off of Facebook.

A few hours ago, I decided to get off my butt and really do that. I hunted for a set of day-by-day death reporting that I could match to days of the week. I didn't find one that exactly matched the numbers in the meme, but I found a good set of numbers that are close to the same magnitude.

At the same time, it occurred to me that the San Francisco earthquake should be on this list. This led me to think I should look up other hurricanes, besides the Galveston Monster, and I found some that should be included on the list. Hurricanes are tricky candidates. Many go on for days. Subsequent flooding and crop damage can keep killing for weeks or months. I only used numbers that seemed to limited to the passage of the storm and nothing else.

Finally, as I was finishing this list, I realized I have no daily statistics for the 1918-19 Spanish Flu. The death numbers for that pandemic in the US were about twice what they are now. In October 1918 alone, 195,000 Americans died of the flu. If I had those daily numbers, they would dominate this chart.

Here is my amended chart, sans Spanish Flu.

  1. Galveston Monster (Hurricane), September 8, 1900, 8000+
  2. Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862, 3675
  3. Covid, December 10, 2020, 3067
  4. Covid, December 9, 2020, 3054
  5. San Francisco Earthquake, April 18, 1906, 3000 *
  6. Hurricane Maria, September 20, 2017, 2982
  7. 9/11, September 11, 2001, 2977
  8. Covid, May 7, 2020, 2769 **
  9. Covid, December 2, 2020, 2733
  10. Covid, December 3, 2020, 2706
  11. Covid, April 29, 2020, 2661
  12. Covid, December 8, 2020, 2622
  13. Covid, December 4, 2020, 2563
  14. Covid, April 15, 2020, 2546
  15. Okeechobee Hurricane, September 17, 1928, 2,511 ***
  16. D-Day, June 6, 1944, 2500
  17. Covid, May 5, 2020, 2494
  18. Covid, April 21, 2020, 2481
  19. Covid, December 1, 2020, 2473
  20. Covid, December 5, 2020, 2461
  21. Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, 2403

      * This is the official number and is at the high end of estimates.

      ** Daily Covid deaths are according to

      *** Four days earlier it caused over 300 deaths in Puerto Rico.

      Friday, June 14, 2019

      I'm not dead yet

      I've started researching my next book. It's going to be about permafrost and, yes, there will be mammoths.

      Sunday, December 23, 2018

      A holiday warning

      This is a rerun of a post I wrote around this time a few years ago. I think it's still relevant.


      The men in black (MIB) entered UFO lore in 1956 in a book entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. The author was one Gray Barker who had been a member of one of the first American UFO groups, the rather ambitiously named International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Though Barker's book dealt with a number of paranormal topics, the largest part of it dealt with his former boss, IFSB founder Albert Bender.

      In 1953 the IFSB was about two years old with a few hundred dues paying members (called "investigators") who all received the Bureau's newsletter Space Review. The group was doing well enough when, in October 1953, Bender suddenly stopped publication of Space Review, and dissolved the IFSB. The last issue of the news letter gave only this explanation.
      STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by order from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review, but because of the nature of the information we are very sorry that we have been advised in the negative.
      According to Barker, the reason Bender had so abruptly ended the group was that three mysterious men in black had visited Bender and warned him off. But before they did, the MIBs were good enough to explain at least part of the true secret of the flying saucers. UFOs, they said, actually come from Antarctica. They have bases in both polar regions and regularly fly between them. Bender told a different story in his own book in 1963.

      Enough UFO stories end with the craft departing due north or south that Barker's version of Bender's visitors has been adopted by conspiracy theorists who believe in a decidedly terrestrial origin for saucers. My personal favorite version is that saucers and MIBs are Atlanteans from within the hollow earth, but the theory that they are Nazi refugees from super-scientific bases beneath the ice cap has its devotees, too.

      The MIBs are the key to the mystery. The most mundane explanation that has been offered is that they work for the American government and that they are trying to hide the truth about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. But that could itself be disinformation. No government has the ability to do what the MIBs do. Think for a moment about the men in black. They have appeared all over the world. They have a special interest in unidentified flying objects and in protecting the polar regions. They seem to actually know what is in the minds of the people they visit. Who has the ability to manage an intelligence network like that? Ask yourself: Who has the ability to travel everywhere, at any time, and even seemingly to appear in two places at once? Who has a special interest in protecting the polar regions? Who knows when you are sleeping? Who knows when you are awake? Who knows if you've been good or bad?

      I think you know the answer.

      Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and be good for goodness sake.

      Tuesday, November 27, 2018

      Yay! Royalties!

      I was at the local Barnes & Noble the other day picking up a birthday present for my sister and, while there, decided mosey over to the science section to see if they had any copies of my book. What to my wondering should appear, but a paperback edition of Discovering the Mammoth. It looks very nice. I bought a copy to show people and took it to dinner at my corner brewpub. While I was showing it to some of the regulars, two young women from Seattle asked about it. I ended up selling it to them and autographing it with a cartoon of a mammoth in the snow.

      The hardback was paid for by an upfront advance that was gone by this time last year.* For this edition, I'll be paid with royalties that will come twice a year. I don't expect more than a few hundred dollars per check, but it will be a nice little bonus when each arrives.

      * That's why I was begging all year, hunting for work, and too depressed to write. Last month, I started receiving Social Security which, while not enough to make me completely independent again, has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I've already begun writing again and will have some things for the blogs very soon.