Saturday, November 30, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Whither TV?

Recently Disney debuted its Disney+ streaming service, which launched a plethora of stories in the press about "streaming wars," like this one.

As someone who has always hated the way Comcast operates (lousy service and constantly jacking up prices), I'm glad to see these new options.

Streaming services are either supposed to sound the death knell for cable and broadcast TV, or start a bloody massacre among streamers like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Now, Apple TV and Amazon as they spend billions of dollars on new programming to attract customers.

Many are afraid that quirkier cable channels like AMC (home to hit shows like Madmen, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, etc.) and BBC America (home to Orphan Black and Killing Eve) will go away when people cut the cord.

But I'm not so sure that's the case.  Streaming services like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and Sling Orange + Blue offer those same channels and most live local channels for much less than Comcast. These streaming services also provide video on-demand (VOD) for shows previously broadcast on these channels. VOD doesn't allow skipping commercials, which should make advertisers happy.

There's a lot of hand-wringing that streaming services will force people to choose which shows they watch because they can't afford to subscribe to all the streaming services. Some people are even saying that this new paradigm will cost people more than the Comcast model did, because they'll have to pay for five or six or ten different services, at $7 to $15 bucks a pop.

But that's hard to believe: Comcast bundles are usually more than $100 a month. With services like YouTube TV, HBO Now, Disney+ and Netflix, you can get significantly more TV for less money.

And if you're concerned about cash flow, remember that you don't need to subscribe to streaming services on an ongoing basis. You can pick them up and drop them as new content appears and you finish watching it.

Want to see the new Watchmen or His Dark Materials but don't feel $15 a month is worth it? Subscribe when there's a month left in the season, binge the previous episodes and everything else you like in the catalog, watch the final few episodes in real time, and then let the sub lapse. Or use the free trial (usually a week) to binge-watch the whole season at once. These services are always eager for subscribers, and will frequently offer you another free week within a few months.

Yes, it's true, if you want to be one of the cool kids and be up on every show, it will cost you a lot of money (and time!). These big companies count on laziness, impatience and peer pressure to fill their coffers.

Will there be a streaming service massacre? Maybe. Will there be further consolidation, along the lines of the Disney/ABC/Marvel/Fox mergers? Probably. But the market for these entertainments is world-wide, and even if people only subscribe a few months out of the year, we're still talking hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

I see a place for all these streaming services, the cable channels, local TV channels, and content providers who actually make the shows we want to watch. What I don't see is a place for giant corporations like Comcast who use their monopoly power to overcharge customers physically tied to their cables.

And as long as Disney+ doesn't try to become the next Comcast, more power to them.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Bloomberg? No. Just No.

Mike Bloomberg, former Republican mayor of New York and billionaire owner of a major news organization, announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

There are a ton of reasons why Bloomberg shouldn't be running for the Democratic nomination.

1) He's too old. At 77, he's the same age as Joe Biden, who also shouldn't be running because he's too old. There's a better than 4% chance he'll be dead before inauguration day, and a better than 1 in 4 chance he'll die before the end of his first term.

2) He has a horrendous conflict of interest. Bloomberg News has announced that it will not investigate Bloomberg during the campaign, nor will it investigate his Democratic opponents. But it will still publish stories about his opponents from "credible journalistic institutions."

This is pure bull. Bloomberg flunkies can still print flattering stories about him from the New York Times, and ignore the unflattering ones, and vice versa for the other Democratic candidates.

And what happens if Bloomberg wins the nomination? Will Bloomberg News stop researching stories about his Republican opponent, Donald Trump? To be fair, they'd have to stop printing stories about the presidential race, international diplomacy and the economy because those topics involve Trump.

The only way to avoid a conflict of interest is for Bloomberg to sell his company, which is which Trump should have done.

Trump's conflicts of interest constantly undermine his every decision. Did he pull troops out of Syria because it was best for the United States (which it clearly wasn't, for dozens of reasons), or did he pull out because Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan threatened two Trump hotels in Istanbul? And, as it turned out, Trump didn't actually pull the troops out of Syria, he just moved them to oil fields, allowing Turkey to invade and kill and capture hundreds of Kurdish fighters who had stood by the United States in Iraq and Syria for decades.

Basically, every international, national and economic news story involves the president at some level. Bloomberg News would have to cease publication to avoid a conflict of interest if Bloomberg won.

3) We don't need another billionaire running for president. Yeah, Bloomberg would be better than Trump. Pretty much anyone would be. The problem with billionaires is that they are terrible at dealing with human beings. They are used to buying everything they want and bulldozing through people with their money instead of working with them.

Trump's wealth is the core of why he is such a horrible president and person.

4) Bloomberg's flip-flopping from Democrat, to Republican, to independent, then back to Democrat, is fishy. As is the way he got the New York mayor's office two-term limit removed so he could serve a third term.

5) The only one who wants Bloomberg to be president is Bloomberg. No Democrats want him. His racist stop-and-frisk policy in New York (which he recently characterized as a mistake, and for which he apologized) alienated a large segment of the Democratic party, including blacks, Hispanics, and anyone who isn't a racist.

Yeah, Bloomberg has done some good work on gun policy. But he would serve this nation far better continuing that project than injecting yet another wild card into a Democratic field that already has too many candidates.

The 2016 Republican field had too many candidates, and look how that turned out. If Bloomberg does win the Democratic nomination, Republicans will (hypocritically) claim he bought it. And Russia will use Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk disaster on Facebook and Twitter to even more successfully convince blacks and Hispanics to stay home as they did in 2016.

If Bloomberg wants what's best for this country, he should let the primary process play itself out and let the American people choose the Democratic nominee by popular vote, then help level the playing field during the general election by making contributions to counter the Republican PACs funded by corrupt billionaires like Sheldon Adelson.

He can keep his interest in Bloomberg News, and the organization can continue the important work of reporting the truth, countering the lies spewed by the Russians and Fox News, which has become just another propaganda outlet for Vladimir Putin and his puppets, which now include Donald Trump and nearly the entire Republican Party.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Your Party Sucks

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Oh, It's Cold, Climate Change Can't Be Happening!

Because it's cold, conservatives are denying the reality of climate change again. And the news media are aiding and abetting them with stories like this:
The Arctic blast that descended this week on a swath of the country stretching from the Rocky Mountains to New England continued Tuesday, bringing record-breaking low temperatures, snowfall in some Northeast areas and school closings in the Mid-South.
Yeah, baby, it's cold outside. But only here. In a lot of other places, like California and Australia, which are burning to the ground, it's really hot.

And it's also very warm in Juneau, Alaska, where it's 46 degrees as I write this. That's 20 degrees warmer than it is here in Minnesota.

This is part of a pattern, where warm air moves into the polar regions and pushes the cold air south into the continental US. Yes, it's true: global warming can make it colder in some places while the rest of the planet is getting ever hotter.

Climate change has screwed up the jet stream, which used to keep arctic air bottled up at the north pole. But the jet stream has weakened, allowing more episodes like the current cold wave to occur.

That's why, several years ago, scientists started using the term "climate change" in preference to "global warming." Conservative climate denialists thought this was some kind of bait and switch.

But a warming planet does not warm evenly. Some of the changes in climate have counterintuitive effects. A hotter atmosphere holds more water, meaning that there will be more rain, but that rain is not spread evenly over the planet. Some areas get hammered by horrible hurricanes and destructive downpours, while other areas are socked by droughts and wildfires.

That extra water in the atmosphere has other effects: all that rain and snow that hammered the Great Plains and Midwest last spring and summer killed off the oysters in the Gulf of Mexico:
The [oyster] business, and the distinctive cooking and dining traditions it supports, had already been battered by Hurricane Katrina five years earlier. And now it is enduring an even bigger setback: This spring and summer, the Mississippi River, swollen by Midwestern rain and snow, inundated coastal marshes, lakes and bays with freshwater, killing oysters by the millions. That has led to shortages and soaring prices.
The country grows a lot of food in places like California and Arizona, which are getting hammered by drought and excess heat, exacerbated by global warming. That excessive rain in much of the Midwest this spring delayed or prevented planting of corn and soybeans, piling more financial distress on farmers already burdened by the loss of markets caused by Trump's tariff wars (which were supposed to be so easy to win, yet they've been going on for three years now). To top it off, the farm bailout Trump promised is mostly going to agribusiness, not small family farmers.

Climate change is quickly destroying our food production, and if we don't do something about this soon there will be permanent environmental damage, followed by famine, more mass migration and war.

Monday, November 11, 2019

“Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”

I've been saying for years that conservatives have only one conviction: trolling liberals. Due to whatever problem they had with authority in their lives, their first reaction to liberals saying facts and stuff is to try to get attention by being obnoxious.

Well, here's a fine example.

“I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds,” the mystery book relocator wrote in a note left for Ms. Ammon, the library director, in the facility’s comment box.

“Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.” 

People with this mindset should never be in charge of anything.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Trump Derangement Syndrome Part 7

The followers of Donald Trump are violent. They repeatedly call for a Civil War if Trump is removed from office. They claim they will use second amendment solutions if he doesn't win reelection in 2020. The final characteristic of someone with Trump Derangement Syndrome is "irrational thoughts potentially leading to criminal and terroristic behavior."


I've been saying this for years, even before Trump. The right-wing of this country need to spend some time in Gitmo. I'm glad they were right about keeping it open:)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Trump Is Incapable of Learning

Donald Trump is facing impeachment now because he tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into producing dirt on Joe Biden's son. Trump apparently has bought into a counterfeit story Rudy Giuliani is pushing that Ukraine, not Russia, is behind the hack on Democratic email accounts.

They also apparently think Hillary Clinton's email server is floating around in Ukraine, which is totally ridiculous. That email server never left Clinton's office: she deleted some personal emails with the approval of her lawyers. Trump apparently doesn't understand the concept of putting emails in the trash -- he seems to think that means she took the whole server to the dump and the Ukrainians made off with it.

Trump is angry at Ukraine because he thinks the country is behind the "whole Russia thing." But Trump's problems all started when he and his campaign got all buddy-buddy with the Russians. In particular, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had worked for Viktor Yanukovych, a corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was kicked out of the country by his own countrymen. (His extravagant presidential estate became of tourist attraction, a "museum of corruption," displaying the lavish lifestyle of an oligarch.)

Manafort was working for Trump free of charge. Trump, ever the cheapskate, thought this was a great idea. But no one works for Trump for free. In August 2016 Ukrainian investigators uncovered a ledger that showed Manafort received $12.7 million for working for Yanukovych's party, which Manafort of course had not disclosed on his taxes. Manafort had just finished tilting the Republican Party platform severely toward Russia at the expense of Ukraine, which Russia had invaded a few years earlier.

Clearly, Manafort was still working for Russia and/or pro-Russia Ukrainians, and being Trump's campaign manager was just his cover story.

Manafort was quickly kicked off the campaign, and Trump claimed he hardly knew the guy. Manafort is currently serving a prison sentence for his various crimes.

This is relevant now because history is repeating itself. Rudy Giuliani is working as Trump's "personal lawyer," free of charge. He has been interfering with American foreign policy in Eastern Europe, and has been the driving force in extorting Ukraine to fabricate dirt about Joe Biden and his son.

Like Manafort, Giuliani is not really working for free, or for Trump: he's been doing some dirty deals with two Ukrainians with connections to Russia, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been charged with making illegal campaign contributions on behalf of Russians who want to get into the marijuana business in the United States (yeah, Giuliani -- the former prosecutor -- and his buddies are in bed with drug dealers).

Recently it was revealed just how Giuliani was getting at least some of his payoff: he got a Trump supporter, Charles Gucciardo, to "invest" half a million smackers in Parnas's company, Fraud Guarantee (that's the actual name!). Parnas then turned around and gave that money to Giuliani.

This, of course, reeks of corruption: the president's personal lawyer leans on a Trump supporter to invest in a bogus company that puts the money back into Giuliani's pocket.

Hey, Rudy, back in your prosecutor days you would have called that kind of a mob deal "money laundering."

Meanwhile, Giuliani was running around Ukraine demanding that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy "investigate corruption," which is Trumpspeak for manufacturing fake evidence against the Bidens.

It is clear that Giuliani always intended to corruptly cash in on his position as Trump's lawyer, while claiming to work for free. Just like Paul Manafort.

Didn't Donald Trump learned anything from the whole 2016 election mess? He's gone and done exactly the same thing: employing some corrupt bozo making crooked deals in Ukraine.

Trump is either a total idiot, or he's fully aware of the corruption and doesn't care. Or both.

Geeze. How can Republicans continue to support this crook, and all the crooks who work for him, enriching themselves at the expense of the United States' good name?

After three years of Trump we've become just another corrupt oligarchy.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Trump Derangement Syndrome Part 6

Trump folks are always pissed off and the president encourages it. After all, he is a Russian asset working quite hard to divide our country so Russia can have more say in the world. A sure sign of TDS is "Extreme levels of aggression and anger aimed at anyone unwilling to join the cult of personality."

It's important to note that this is where they really try to engage their projection tactics. Breathless posts on social media and blogs about how angry liberals are and how they are the ones that are violent etc. It takes a grand total of a second before Antifa is brought up with the hopes of forgetting just how fucking hate-filled and angry Trump people are.

If Trump encouraged them to kill liberals at a rally, his followers would do it.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Don't Steal Our Water!

We've known for more than 30 years that climate change is a serious problem. Places like California, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona are suffering from decades of worsening drought and wildfires.

After a horrendous fire season last year, California is being torched again this year. The main problem is that people keep building houses in the hills and forests, and when those forests burn, their houses do too.

In Phoenix temperatures this past August were over 100 degrees every day, and hit 110 or more twelve days (twenty years ago, there were only three 110+ days). It's unsafe just to go outside in heat like that, and you certainly can't exercise or work. Even planes can't take off when it starts getting that hot.

We live in Minnesota, where a lot of people complain about the winters (which aren't anywhere near as cold or snowy as they used to be). The thing about winter is that you can still go outside and do things if you dress properly.

But when it starts getting to 118, 120 degrees, you can't put on clothes to get cooler. You'd have to wear a liquid cooling system like a spacesuit to keep your body temperature down.

Yet people continue to move to these areas. We're in a bike club and have acquaintances who just bought a house in Phoenix. But they have to come back to Minnesota in the summer to ride their bikes because you can't exercise outside in Arizona in the summer. It's just too damn hot.

And because of the heat island effect, the more buildings and houses they put up in Phoenix, and the more plants and natural soil they displace, the hotter it will get.

This is the core of the problem. There are far too many people living in areas that have too few resources. Water, in particular, is in very short supply.

Which brings us to the issue that brought on this rant: a railroad company is proposing to steal water from an aquifer in Minnesota and ship it to the southwest. They want to ship half a million gallons a year by rail.

The company doesn't think there's anything wrong with this:
Dakota County officials said Progressive Rail would work with Oregon-based Water Train, which provides water to government agencies in Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Water Train’s website says the company is “nothing more than delivered bottled water, except our bottles (railroad tank cars) hold more than 26,000 gallons each.”
Oh, it's just bottled water, only our bottles are 26,000 gallons. Right. This is a terrible analogy, because bottled water is a terrible scourge.

Worse, shipping water by rail, which burns diesel fuel to power the engines, will only exacerbate the problem that's causing the water shortage in the first place: global warming.

A few years ago the water level in White Bear Lake, a large lake northeast of St. Paul, dropped precipitously because of aquifer depletion. It takes tens of thousands of years to replenish aquifers. It's ridiculous to drain our resources so that geezers can flee south for the winter.

Clearly, the answer is not to send water to the Southwest. People should start moving out of those areas to return the population to levels that local resources can sustain.

And, of course, we should stop burning so much oil flying and driving around the country to escape the global warming that we're causing by burning so much oil and coal and gas.