Hasta la vista, European Twitter

Light up another one, Elon

The other day, we were concerned that Twitter would lose its Apple app, with a devastating loss to its revenue. What about losing Europe?

The European Union has reportedly threatened to ban Twitter unless Elon Musk abides by its strict content moderation rules.

The warning, which has been reported by The Financial Times, could be the start of a regulatory battle over the future of the social media platform across Europe.

EU industry chief Thierry Breton made the threat during a video meeting with Musk on Wednesday, the news outlet said, citing people with knowledge of the conversation.

Breton told the world’s richest man he must adhere to a checklist of rules which are set out in the EU’s new Digital Services Act.

According to the report, these include a requirement to ditch an “arbitrary” approach to reinstating banned users and to agree to an “extensive independent audit” of the platform by next year.

The landmark law aims to set the global standard for how tech giants must police content on the internet.

In a readout of the conversation provided by Breton, he told Musk: “There is still huge work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising.”

The impressive incompetence of the “world’s richest man” continues to be staggeringly entertaining. I look forward to the incoherent tantrum that will be incoming.

Another lesson in how millionaires can alienate your base

Here in Minnesota, the most reliable supporters of Republicans are gun owners, hunters, and fishing fanatics. Even our Democratic governor made appeasing that demographic a key part of his electoral success, and I don’t mind — it’s a bridge to environmental action, you know. I also have roots in the Western US, where a major issue is individual liberty to use local resources.

Here’s an interesting case of private interference in individual liberty.

OnX is an app that’s intended to help hunters find public land so they can go after deer, elk, or whatever they happen to be hunting. At first glance, that may not seem like news, but users of that app get an invaluable view of just who owns the property around them, which is critical when trying to reach public lands where hunting is legal. They have also gotten a very clear view of something that is otherwise hidden from the public: how corporations, millionaires, and billionaires have blocked out huge chunks of public property so that they alone can access it—without paying a dime.

They do this by creating public land “islands,” areas that are surrounded by privately held property. The public lands in these islands become de facto parts of the surrounding property. In most states, there is absolutely no rule that says the property owners have to do anything to allow access to that island of land.

One of their tactics is to divide the land into a checkerboard — squares of private ownership around public land that are in contact at only their corners. The rich want to make it illegal to step across any of those corners!

Well aware of how prickly many land owners are about hunters crossing their property, Cape located an area of “checkerboard” control. That is, the land is divided into one mile-by-one mile sections, half of which are public property, half of which are privately owned, like the black and white squares on a checkboard.

At one place on this checkboard map, Eshelman controlled two squares that met at a corner. The other two squares were public property. Using OnX, Cape mapped out the exact location and led three friends in stepping across the corner from one public square to the other. They not only didn’t step on Eshelman’s land, the area of his property they crossed was infinitely small. Not one state has laws against this “corner crossing,” which is common in areas where grants of public land were once given to railroad companies in an effort to “open up” the West.

The rich guy who has bought up these parcels of land, drug company executive Fredric Eshelman, is upset at this simple privilege. He’s an extraordinarily greedy person.

Eshelman owns 23,277 acres near Elk Mountain, but in prosecuting this case against corner-crossing, he attempted to block access to 1.6 million acres of public land.

So he’s suing four hunters who stepped across the mathematically infinitesimal corner boundary for $7 million. He lost a criminal trial against them — it would have been difficult to show that they’d deprived him of anything — so he’s making a civil case of it, and since he’s rich, he can harass the hunters with lawsuits until he wins. Sadly, people in Wyoming (Wyoming! Deeply Republican Wyoming!) think the hunters will eventually lose.

No matter how ridiculous this may all seem, and no matter the quick outcome of the jury trial, Wyoming officials are convinced that the landowners will win in the end. According to a Republican attorney who formerly worked for the state attorney general’s office, if the hunters win, “it would not surprise me at all that the Legislature would come back and pass a law saying corner crossing is illegal. It’s sort of if you win, you lose, and if you lose, you lose.”

This is the kind of case that ought to unite everyone, Republican rednecks, environmentalists, Democrats, people who want to look for spiders, just everyone, in opposing this scheme. I don’t like the idea that filthy rich assholes can wall off huge chunks of public land to create private game hunting parks for themselves. Unfortunately, there are also lots of ranchers who exploit the Wyoming checkerboard for their personal gain.

By the way, Eshelman is a hard right Republican donor.

Well, that turned me away from Post pretty quick

Most boring logo ever.

As the general exodus from Twitter continues, new alternatives have been springing up. I’m using Mastodon, but I’ve also been seeing some attention paid to another option, an app called Post. I know nothing about it, but I was willing to give it a try, until I read more about where Post comes from. The article was more about a tech journalist, Kara Swisher, who has been a cheerleader for Elon Musk until recently, when she’s been trying to bury her past sycophancy in a memory hole.

Swisher also recently pushed people toward a new social network called “Post,” a site backed by Andreessen Horowitz. You may remember A16Z from last year, when they attempted to pump and dump worthless social network Clubhouse, while also aiding in the direct harassment of Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz (who was at the New York Times at the time). Worse still, on an episode of her Pivot podcast she admitted that she’s an advisor in Post, and that her co-host Scott Galloway is an investor. From what I can see, Swisher was pushing people toward a product – on November 17, and again November 21 – that she would only reveal her involvement with four days later.

Post has recently gained attention for claiming to “allow users to read premium news from multiple publishers,” only to offer you the chance to pay for news that is otherwise free elsewhere. And up until recently, Post had intimated that it was against their Terms of Service to make fun of people for their net worth.

Post cries for a return to civility, where the public squares are not quite as public and the powerful are not quite as criticized. Swisher benefits by being one of the biggest new names on a platform, hedging her bets against Twitter (note: Andreessen Horowitz financed part of the Twitter deal and general partner Sriram Krishnan temporarily helped out Musk in his first days at the company) at the time when it’s most convenient to do so.

It’s also a naked attempt by venture capital to recreate the world in their image, and it proves – as has been proven, as will be proven again – that these people have no idea how normal people act or what they want.

I guess I won’t bother with Post, then. Venture capitalists can get fucked.

Less novel, the article also has a nice rant against Elon Musk.

As I’ve related above, Musk has been an irascible shithead for many years, but his overwhelming clout with the media meant that he could, effectively push through any idea his little mind desired. A flamethrower? Sure. $420 Tequila? Of course. Landing humans on Mars? He said 2022, but everybody was fine with saying “within five years” or “2029.”

Musk has gotten away with a mixture of half-truths and outright lies enough times that he believed that he had the popularity to do anything, another condition afflicted upon those with billions of dollars. When he bought Twitter, I truly think that he believed everybody would be behind him, because up until that point most of the media had been. Kara Swisher gave an interview in May about how smart Elon was. Jessica Lessin of The Information described the acquisition as “like watching a business school case study on how to make money on the internet.” Hell, he was able to con banks and investors into raising $13 billion for him. Musk still had the ability to manipulate the media – and still does, in the sense that he can still get a bunch of stories about literally anything he does – but couldn’t change the reality that he did not have a plan for the website that he tied his entire financial future to.

That’s why he seems so utterly pathetic. Musk may have had no plan, but he also appears to have never considered the eventuality that most people would dislike his choices. For someone supposedly tuned into “the future,” he continually fails to adapt to his changing circumstances, picking and losing fights and taking that as proof that his cause is just rather than his ideas being bad. And now his closest allies are wobbling sycophants like David Sacks, who accidentally ended up on the right side of the antitrust debate in an attempt to kiss up to his boss.

What we are likely seeing is society turning its backs on the ultra-rich, and are beginning to see that being able to spend a lot of money does not make someone smart, right or just. The common narrative of the abusively powerful is that they are victims, and that victimization is key to their narrative – except the last three years have chewed through much of the sympathy that a regular person would have for anyone with a billion dollars. It used to be convenient to kiss up to these people – comfortable, even – but “having a billion dollars” no longer guarantees that someone is worthy of adulation.

Many, but not all, journalists have given Musk a free pass for years — I guess they were seduced by the prospect of access to a person with more money than sanity. The rest of us, including me, saw right through him, but then there wasn’t a chance we’d get any money from him, or even a dinner invitation. I am glad to see his reputation shrivel now, though.

More good news!

Yet more good news? Be still my heart.

A federal jury on Tuesday convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and a top deputy of seditious conspiracy for leading a months-long plot to unleash political violence to prevent the inauguration of President Biden, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The panel of seven men and five women deliberated for three days before finding Rhodes and lead Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs guilty of conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transition of presidential power. But three other associates were not convicted of the historically rare and politically freighted sedition count. All five were convicted of obstructing Congress as it met to confirm the results of the 2020 election. Both offenses are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Lock him up!

Although, I’m sad to say, it looks we can anticipate a little less happy news from these court cases in the future.

Rhodes and his co-defendants were the first accused of seditious conspiracy and the first to face trial and be convicted on any conspiracy charge to date in the massive Jan. 6 investigation. He is the highest-profile figure to face trial in connection with rioting by angry Trump supporters who injured scores of officers, ransacked offices and forced lawmakers to evacuate the U.S. Capitol.

What? That angry dork is the “highest-profile figure” arrested in the insurrection plot? That doesn’t seem right. I can think of a few members of congress and one ex-president who ought to be on the docket.

In case you’re wondering about the fierce pirate fashion statement, Rhodes did not lose an eye in gallant action. He dropped a loaded gun, it went off, and put out his eye. Yeah, he’s one of those bumbling gun-fondling dumb-asses.

Good news this morning!

The Senate passed the “Respect for Marriage” Act, which would be a federal law protecting the right of gay marriage and interracial marriage. It’s amazing to me that this could be an issue anymore, but all the Democrats voted for it, and they persuaded 12 whole Republicans to join them. Twelve is looking at the glass as a quarter full, I guess; we could also note that 36 Republicans voted against it. We really have to get rid of those ugly antiques.

Now do the same thing and pass a federal law protecting abortion rights, OK?

Trouble brewing

Last weekend, we visited the beloved plague rat granddaughter, who was all sniffly and coughing with something she picked up at preschool. She was fine, the problem was clearing up even as we got ready to come home, so it was mainly slimy and snotty for a short while before abating.

Unfortunately, now I’m experiencing some of the same symptoms. I swear, we could all be 100% healthier if we just quarantined all the children together until they grew up and developed strong immune systems. I just gave a lecture, wearing a mask, and could feel the phlegm accumulating and getting the urge to hack it all out onto the floor. I resisted. It’s going to be rough going into the home stretch for fall semester.

Now I get to go home and get the lectures for the rest of the week done, and tomorrow I get to participate in phone interviews for chemistry candidates. I’m going to have to get something to suppress all the coughing building up in here.

What’s killing the church?

Here’s an observation: as Christianity fades in England and Wales, some evangelical religious groups are finding a niche, like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. I guess stodgy old Anglicanism is losing its flavor. However, these new churches are poisoning the well, doing a fabulous job of producing disaffected ex-followers. You might wonder how that works.

UCKG is an evangelical, Pentecostal church, first started in Brazil. It now has a presence across the globe, including more than 50 full- and part-time branches in the UK, the most recent of which opened in Nottingham this month. Many are located in some of the most economically deprived parts of the country.

The church’s Brazilian founder, Edir Macedo, has been included on Forbes’ billionaires list. Twice this year he has flown into the UK, and around Europe, on private jets owned by the church. In Brazil, congregants’ donations were used to build a temple in São Paulo as tall as an 18-storey building.

You ought to be immediately suspicious of any church in which the head priest is a billionaire. I’d be giving the side-eye to any pastor who is even a millionaire, for that matter — how can you get wealthy honestly by preaching to the poor and needy? You can’t. The only way is by fleecing the flock.

As an atheist, though, what do I know? Maybe Jesus was just raking in the loaves and fishes, making a fortune with a chain of bakeries and fish and chip shops. Just like how Macedo might be working hard at honest labor, rather than begging his adherents to give him all their money.

Crossing a demographic bridge

The United Kingdom has tripped over the precipice into godlessness. Or at least, into following a different god. They’re waaay ahead of the United States.

England and Wales are now minority Christian countries, according to the 2021 census, which also shows that Leicester and Birmingham have become the first UK cities to have “minority majorities”.

The census revealed a 5.5 million drop in the number of Christians and a 1.2 million rise in the number of people following Islam, bringing the Muslim population to 3.9 million. The changes equate to a 17% fall in Christians and 44% increase in the number of Muslims. It is the first time in a census of England and Wales that fewer than half of the population have described themselves as Christian.

Meanwhile, 37.2% of people – 22.2 million – declared they had “no religion”, the second most common response after Christian. It means that over the past 20 years the proportion of people reporting no religion has soared from 14.8%.

The question I have, though, is that if atheists are so much smarter than other people, and if the percentage of atheists have more than doubled, how do we explain Brexit and the party of Tory wankers running the country? Maybe something is wrong with my premises.

Please, Elon, I want to see the spectacle

In this corner, in the blue trunks, it’s ELON MUSK. In the other corner, in the rainbow colored trunks, it’s APPLE. Who will win?

Elon Musk claims that Apple has threatened to “withhold” Twitter from the iOS App Store for unknown reasons. The news follows a tweet where Musk said Apple had “mostly stopped advertising” on the platform and a poll asking whether Apple should “publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.” Apple did not immediately comment on Musk’s claim.

The news follows much more subtle signs of mounting tension between Apple and Musk-owned Twitter. Musk has criticized Apple’s App Store fee for in-app purchases, dubbing it a “hidden 30% tax” on the internet. And Apple App Store boss Phil Schiller deleted his Twitter account following Musk’s takeover, shortly after Donald Trump’s account was reinstated.

In a November 15th interview with CBS News, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that “they say that they are going to continue to moderate. I’m counting on them to continue to do that.” Musk, however, has pledged to loosen Twitter’s moderation guidelines and floated the idea of a mass unbanning of suspended accounts.

Twitter has long tested the boundaries of Apple’s App Store moderation — which has successfully pushed Discord, Tumblr, and other services to either hide potentially offensive content (typically adult content) or ban it altogether. Twitter remains one of the only large platforms to still allow adult content on its app, and a recent editorial by former Twitter executive Yoel Roth revealed that it’s sparred periodically with Apple over content like racial slurs and the hashtag #boobs.

Apple has every right to refuse to advertise on Twitter. This is a pathetic whine from a guy who doesn’t understand free speech.

I’m not keen on a big tech company using its clout to tell smaller companies what they’re allowed to do — but while I deplore choking off adult content, I approve of pressuring social media to block racial slurs. There’s a great big gray area right there.

But…Apple is a trillion dollar company, flush with cash, and at the height of their power. Twitter is a company that’s losing money hand over fist, and was recently bought out by an idiot who is busy gutting the place. I don’t have to prefer one over the other, because if Musk decides to go up against one of the biggest tech giants in the world with his flailing, fading company, I know what the outcome will be.

He’s also such an ass that I’ll enjoy watching the steam roller crush him.

The military-industrial complex rejoices!

The war in Ukraine is draining American stockpiles of things that blow up, so the defense industry has come up with a clever scheme: take a bomb we have in plentiful supply, strap a rocket motor to it (also plentiful) and send those off to a war to blow more stuff up.

The Pentagon is considering a Boeing proposal to supply Ukraine with cheap, small precision bombs fitted onto abundantly available rockets, allowing Kyiv to strike far behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more arms.

U.S. and allied military inventories are shrinking, and Ukraine faces an increasing need for more sophisticated weapons as the war drags on. Boeing’s proposed system, dubbed Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), is one of about a half-dozen plans for getting new munitions into production for Ukraine and America’s Eastern European allies, industry sources said.

Although the United States has rebuffed requests for the 185-mile (297km) range ATACMS missile, the GLSDB’s 94-mile (150km) range would allow Ukraine to hit valuable military targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russian rear areas.

How am I supposed to feel about this? I am entirely sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause and opposed to the militaristic imperialism of Russia, but our solutions to the conflict all seem to involve more, bigger, longer-ranged bombs…which leaves defense contractors chortling in glee, and may be necessary to throw invaders out of a foreign land, but I am repulsed by the idea of more effective killing machines.

It doesn’t help that everyone is so blithe about the cost. It’s cheap, they say.

The M26 rocket motor is relatively abundant, and the GBU-39 costs about $40,000 each, making the completed GLSDB inexpensive and its main components readily available. Although arms manufacturers are struggling with demand, those factors make it possible to yield weapons by early 2023, albeit at a low rate of production.

They don’t say how much the M26 costs, but I’d guess that the total cost of a single GBU-38 + M26 is going to exceed the yearly salary of a college professor, so sure, I’ll just visualize it as every shot is a teacher’s or scientist’s career being lobbed at a couple of soldiers to explode into fragments, and the money instead finding its way into a lobbyist/contractor’s pockets.

It’s fine. Everything is fine.