April 10, 2024

Facebook Idiocy

For the second time in the past few weeks, I received this warning—reproduced here exactly—when trying to make a post on Facebook:

Your post may go against our Community Standards on violence and incitement
Your post looks similar to content that we’ve removed for going against our Community Standards. You can delete it now to avoid potential account restrictions.

What I was trying to post was this:

U.S. to Israel: Kill all the Palestinians you like, but you must feed the survivors.

Any reasonable person would understand this as ordinary political commentary, slightly exaggerated perhaps, but a normal observation about current U.S. and Israeli policy nevertheless. It certainly does not incite violence; implicitly, it deplores it.

What “community standards” does this violate? A standard about saying anything not a verifiable fact? I can cite Trump supporters who never post anything that’s true! Are any words related to violence forbidden? Would a phrase like “kill him with kindness” be flagged as inappropriate by Facebook?

I assume that an algorithm was behind my warning. If a person was, that person is an idiot. (I probably couldn’t say that on Facebook.)

The last time I received such a warning on Facebook, I said I wanted to strangle some public figure. I don’t remember who that was, but it was probably someone like Marjorie Taylor Green or Kari Lake. That wasn’t an actual threat, of course, but I see how it could be taken the wrong way is seen out of context. Facebook doesn’t appreciate irony.

Anyway, I decided not to post either comment but to write this commentary instead.

April 9, 2024

More Curve-Stitch Designs

Some readers may know of my longstanding interest in curve stitching, creating designs using only straight lines. Curve stitching began using physical objects, string and cardstock. I was introduced to such designs in junior high school, but I never employed the traditional materials. Instead, I, first drew designs with pencil and paper, then with drafting paper and India ink. The tedium of creating complex figures by hand led me to follow other pursuits for decades.

Eventually, I discovered that I could produce curve-stitch designs on my computer. I did so by programming in PostScript and began posting my work on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. More recently, I have converted PostScript files into Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) images that can be viewed at any level of magnification without loss of fidelity. (Earlier designs were posted as JPG or PNG files.)

The section of my Web site discussing and displaying my curve-stitch designs can be found here. In the past month or so, I have added four new pages of curve-stitch designs:

I invite readers to check out the new pages or the entire section of my Web site on curve stitching.

Sample design
Sample design from “Millington-Inspired Designs”

April 2, 2024

Republican Malfeasance

In happier times, the two political parties worked together to make life better in America. Compromise was often necessary, but useful legislation actually got passed. Now, however, Republicans do not want to pass any legislation, no matter how necessary, if there is a danger that Democrats might get any credit for it. In particular, Republicans do not want to pass any popular legislation while a Democrat is in the White House.

The most blatant example of Republican malfeasance is Donald Trump’s directing his minions in Congress to reject the compromise border bill worked out in the Senate. To facilitate the passage of aid to Ukraine that is desperately needed, Democrats compromised on longstanding positions on immigration, adopting Republican policy preferences the GOP had no reason to think would ever be achieved. But Donald Trump instructed his minions in Congress to torpedo the compromise, lest President Biden get credit for passing a bill giving Republicans what they have always wanted. Being able to criticize Democrats in the upcoming presidential campaign for failing to deal with the “border crisis” was more important to Republicans than solving the reputed crisis. 

Republicans are no longer motivated by helping Americans. They are only interested in achieving and wielding political power. If we want beneficent and effective governing, we need to elect Democrats.

Democratic Party Logo

March 26, 2024

Thoughts on the Key Bridge Collapse

I awoke this morning to the news that the main span of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was struck by a container ship and plunged into the Patapsco River. Dramatic video was already on the Web showing the accident. The ship, the Dali, apparently experienced a power failure and drifted into the south pier of the central span. Unsurprisingly, a collapse followed immediately. Apparently, the ship sent out a mayday message, and police were able to divert traffic before the I-695 bridge was hit. News reports this afternoon were raising questions about the bridge design.

The span in question was a continuous truss opened in 1977. There is no indication that the bridge was in any way defective.  It is difficult to imagine any that 1200-foot long bridge could survive a significant strike of a main support. Since the bridge was built, cargo ships have gotten much larger. The Dali is nearly a thousand feet long. Such a ship, even at low speed, carries enormous momentum. The bridge could perhaps have been protected by a fender or wall to protect the main piers. But any such protective obstacle would need to be massive indeed given the size of current cargo ships.

The immediate question is what a replacement for the bridge should look like. One attractive alternative would be replacing the bridge with a tunnel. This would be an expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive option. I suspect a new bridge will be built instead. Although the main span of the Key Bridge was a continuous truss, its approaches were carried by a series of simple beam bridges built into the river. The most obvious and secure way to protect a new bridge from out-of-control vessels is to increase the span of the bridge, perhaps even putting its piers on dry land. This would require that the much longer bridge would need to be a suspension bridge. Not only would such a bridge be better protected from accidental damage but also it would allow for construction with hardly any negative impact on traffic in what is a vital shipping channel.

Today, I heard replacement of the Francis Scott Key bridge compared to the rapid bridge replacements effected recently in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Such comparisons are absurd. The task faced in Baltimore is enormous and will, in any case, take years.

We will have to wait to see what sort of replacement roadway is ultimately chosen. Neither a cheap nor a fast replacement is possible.

March 7, 2024

Solar Eclipse

There is much excitement in Clifton Springs, N.Y., and nearby communities about the total eclipse of the sun that will be visible here on April 8. How visible is yet to be determined. April 8 is often cloudy, though an eclipse is an extraordinary and rare event even on an overcast day. Many organizations are planning viewing and celebratory events. I plan to attend the day-long program sponsored by the Clifton Springs Library in the park across the street from the library and a block from my apartment. The program ends with dinner and dancing.

The other day, I walked a block down Main Street to visit Main Street Arts, whose current exhibition is called “Path of Totality.” Although I wasn’t looking for inspiration, the exhibition perhaps had me thinking about the eclipse as I worked on some new curve-stitch designs for my Web site. I don’t normally name my designs, but I decided that the image below should be called “Solar Eclipse.” The design was one of a family of related images I was treating as simple abstractions. When I saw this design, however, it was impossible not to think of the coming eclipse. I thought readers would like to see it.

Solar Eclipse
Solar Eclipse

A scalable version of “Solar Eclipse” can be seen here. I considered several similar designs, by the way, which had a smaller dark center. I could change my mind, but the image here is my current favorite.

March 5, 2024

The Supreme Court Deprecates the Fourteenth Amendment

To the suprise of few Supreme Court watchers, the high court ruled on March 4 in Trump v. Anderson that Colorado did not have the power to remove Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot on the basis of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not consider whether Trump “having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” The court declared that “responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States.”

Upholding Colorado’s right to remove Trump’s name from the primary ballot would, according to Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson “create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles.” In separate concurring opinions, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson; and Justice Barrett complain that the court should have gone no further than overturning the Colorado action. Instead, the majority decided matters not at issue in the case and insisted that only Congress can disqualify a candidate under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

As an aside, I offer my own view of what the court should have done. It should have observed that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the Colorado case, as the matter at hand was Trump’s seeking his party’s nomination, not his ascension to federal office. It should have further observed that an actual candidate cannot run for an office he or she cannot hold or, at the very least, cannot hold the office sought irrespective of the election outcome. In a perfect world, this would discourage the Republican Party, by whatever mechanism, from making Trump its nominee. In our imperfect world, such a decision would likely kick the can down the road. If Trump became the GOP nominee, some federal decision would need to be made that he could not run. This decision, which would surely be challenged in court, could be made by the Attorney General. Ultimately, the real question would then have to be dealt with, likely by the Supreme Court: was Donald Trump indeed an oathbreaking insurrectionist.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court appears to have made it virtually impossible to derail Trump’s attempt to again become president on the basis of the Constitution. It is inconceivable that the current Congress will disqualify Trump if only Congress can disqualify him under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Constitution does not require an act of Congress to disqualify a presidential candidate not born in the United States or under the age of 35. Why should it require an act of Congress to disqualify an oathbreaking insurrectionist?

Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson point out the ludicrousness of the court’s requiring Congress to determine disqualification based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Section 3 provides that when an oathbreaking insurrectionist is disqualified, “Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” It is hard to understand why the Constitution would require a congressional supermajority to remove a disqualification if a simple majority could nullify Section 3’s operation by repealing or declining to pass implementing legislation.

I fear that the hope that the Fourteenth Amendment can save us from a second Trump term has been dashed. Whether Donald Trump or the Supreme Court is the greater threat to the Republic is an open question.

March 3, 2024

Republicans Are Not Conservatives

I am tired of the media characterizing the Republican Party or Republican politicians as conservative. The party is not interested in conserving anything other than white supremacy and the unconstrained ability of corporations and billionaires to act as they see fit. It would be more proper to characterize Republicanism as anti-woke rather than conservative, where woke entails freedom of speech, freedom to read, freedom to demonstrate, freedom to vote, freedom over one’s own body, equal justice under law, nondiscriminatory treatment regarding race, creed, sex, or sexual identity, and the ability of the government to seek the common good.

Reporters should insist that nearly all Republicans are not conservatives, but reactionaries or regressives. Moreover, Republicans who are not the most radical of right-wingers—Nikki Haley comes most readily to mind—are not moderates. They, too, are reactionaries. Being a conservative, leaving things as they are, is a moderate position. Wanting to dismantle recent innovations and return to earlier times is reactionary. Wanting to change society to increase personal liberty and protect citizens from misfortune and the rapaciousness of their fellow citizens is a liberal position. Conservatives can be found in both parties, but, in 2024, are rare in each. Republicans are by-and-large reactions, and Democrats are by-and-large liberals.

Vote for liberals, or, if you must, for moderates. That means voting for Democrats to restore sanity to the Republic.