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Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's Cowardly & Heartless Immigration Ban

This is pulled out & slightly modified from a previous entry, 2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 14, Foreign Policy, Xenophobia, & Isolationism, but in light of recent news regarding Trump's odious immigration ban, it deserves special emphasis.


There's a poem hanging inside a certain statue in New York City, the end of which reads:

Statue of Liberty Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I like to think that statue and the words hung inside of it mean something. They're a symbol that America is welcoming, is the land of opportunity, and that we will take in victims of oppression and give them the chance for a new life here. They are not symbols of cowardice, of refusing to help the downtrodden and refugees because of some miniscule chance of danger.

To put this danger in perspective, chances of being killed by a terrorist in any given year are roughly 1:20,000,000 (source). That compares to the following risks (all taken from Mongabay.com - The most common causes of death due to injury in the United States):

1:18,585 Car Crash
1:21,581 Accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances
1:354,776 Firearms discharge
1:423,548 Fall involving bed, chair, other furniture
1:485,549 Drowning and submersion while in or falling into swimming-pool
1:668,218 Fall on and from ladder or scaffolding
1:807,349 Drowning and submersion while in or falling into bath-tub
1:841,914 Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed
1:911,609 Alcohol
1:2,780,869 Electric transmission lines
1:3,441,325 Legal execution
1:5,005,564 Contact with hot tap-water
1:5,098,259 Contact with hornets, wasps and bees
1:5,506,120 Lightning
1:9,176,867 Explosion and rupture of pressurized devices
1:10,588,692 Bitten or struck by dog
1:20,000,000 Terrorist Attack

Now, I certainly don't intend that to mean that we should ignore the risk of terrorism. But this definitely puts it in perspective. Terrorism is not the huge risk that fearmongers make it out to be. You're far more likely to drown in a swimming pool or suffocate in your own bed than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack.

And who are we turning away to protect ourselves from this tiny threat?

Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: CBC News
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage Source: News Deeply
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: Raven Foundation
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: N.Y. TImes

If those pictures make you uncomfortable, they damn well should. That is the human cost of refusing to help these refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been killed in Syria or trying to flee. And we have cowards like Trump refusing to help them because of a threat less dangerous than sleeping in your own bed at night.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Website Update - Bonaire Photos Online

Let's end the week on a good note. I've finally gotten around to posting the photos from our last family vacation:

Bonaire 2016 Photos

I've decided to change the focus of my photo pages. Way back when I first started this site, there simply weren't anywhere near as many pictures available online. So, some of my photo pages actually turned out to be really popular because they were some of the only/best online photos available for certain locations (my French Polynesia Photos were especially popular). In turn, I tried to post photos that would be interesting to the public in general. But now, with travel sites, photo sites, Facebook, etc., photos are ubiquitous. Nobody's going to come to jefflewis.net in search of the best photos from Bonaire. So, I'm no longer worried about interesting the public in general, but rather friends and family who are the ones most likely to come looking at these pictures. Consequently, I've included a lot more pictures of us, not just the scenery.

Anyway, here's a sampling of just a few of the Bonaire photos. Follow that link above to see them all, and in high resolution.

Bonaire Photo 1
Bonaire Photo 2
Bonaire Photo 3
Bonaire Photo 4

Of course, I updated the Photos page to add a link to the Bonaire photos. While I was at it, I also snazzed up the Graphics menu page (it used to look like this).

Now I've just got to catch up with a few more vacations I've been meaning to make photo pages for.

Friday Trump Roundup - 7

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

I've said that this will only be a semi-regular series, and that I wasn't going to post every week, but even though I just posted last Friday, Trump has been busy his first week in office, so there's been a lot to call attention to. I hope this will settle down in a little while (i.e. that Trump quits doing so many bad things), but for now, there's just too much to say. Here are today's links:

Foreign Policy Journal - Trump Promises 'America First' in Defiant and Divisive Inaugural Speech: Anxious allies and a polarized country may find little solace in the new president's isolationist speech.

"Under dark skies and drizzling rain, Donald Trump vowed after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday to make a radical break with decades of U.S. policy, pledging to dump free trade, block immigration, and focus above all on 'America first.' " ... "Trump signaled no retreat from his populist agenda on trade, immigration, and on scaling back commitments overseas. Apart from a passing mention of retaining old alliances, he painted a picture of a hostile world that would no longer be permitted to take advantage of America. Unlike other presidents in the modern era, he offered no pledge to preserve America's global leadership in promoting peace, protecting human rights, or encouraging democracy and open markets." ... "With Trump's antipathy to free trade, his skepticism of traditional alliances, and his affinity for Putin, many around the world began looking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to defend the post-World War II liberal order -- a role typically played by an American president."

NPR - President Trump's Inaugural Address, Annotated

I'm not actually going to include excerpts from this article, because there are just way too many. NPR writers added annotation throughout the transcript fact checking Trump and putting his claims in perspective. Needless to say, he made many, many untrue statements during his inaugurual address.

CBS News - Sources say Trump's CIA visit made relations with intel community worse

"U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday. An official said the visit 'made relations with the intelligence community worse' and described the visit as 'uncomfortable.' / Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump's campaign. / An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who'd been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team originally expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA's senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks." ... "Intelligence sources say many in the workforce were stunned and at times offended by the president's tone which seemed to evolve into a version of speeches he'd used on the campaign trail."

The Guardian - 'Global gag rule' reinstated by Trump, curbing NGO abortion services abroad

"In one of a number of sharp reversals from the Obama era, Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order banning international NGOs from providing abortion services or offering information about abortions if they receive US funding. / The rule will put thousands of international healthcare workers in the difficult position of deciding whether to continue to offer family planning care that includes abortion at the expense of a critical funding stream. Many international health advocates insist that their efforts are not comprehensive without abortion services. Unsafe abortions are a major cause of maternal mortality and kill tens of thousands of women every year." ... " 'President Trump's reinstatement of the global gag rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families,' said Shaheen, who serves on the foreign relations committee. / 'We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths and abortions. And when women have control over their reproductive health, it improves the long-term health of mothers and children and creates a lasting economic benefit.' "

The Guardian Op-ed - This photo sums up Trump's assault on women's rights

"The stupidity of the blinkered, religiously motivated agenda on display here is that no matter what legislation these men implement, they will never succeed in banning abortion, per se, only safe, legal abortion. Marie Stopes estimates that, as a result of the reimposition of the global gag order, the loss of their services alone could result in 6.5m unintended pregnancies during Trump's first term, 2.1m unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths. In passing this law, these patriarchs have fathered millions of unwanted children, helping to create lives that could very well turn out to be painful and potentially motherless."

Marie Stopes Int'l - Re-enactment of the Mexico City Policy

"Tragically, the policy will have the exact opposite effect to the one that is intended. By blocking funding to the world's largest NGO providers of modern contraception, it will reduce women's ability to prevent unplanned pregnancy. A 2011 study found that abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries actually increased while the Mexico City Policy was in force under President Bush. The impact of its re-enactment today will be no less devastating, seriously reducing the impact of US development assistance for family planning in some of the world's poorest countries."

IFL Science - All These Federal Science Programs Will Be Cut Under Trump

"Among the programs being listed for complete elimination, it's perhaps the inclusion of those that aim to prevent violence against women that stands out as being particularly tragic. / However, being a science site, we thought we'd have a look to see if any scientific programs are also being annihilated. Sadly, there are quite a few, especially those relating to - surprise surprise - climate change research. / Two of the top State Department programs focused on climate change mitigation are set to be banished forever more. ... Funding for the Paris agreement, along with donations to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the organization that publishes the most authoritative reports on anthropogenic climate change - are also primed for destruction. At the Energy Department, ... entire research groups are set to be killed off. Particularly noteworthy victims are the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, both of which are currently developing methods to cut down America's sizable carbon footprint. / Despite being a world leader in nuclear physics research, the Department of Energy will find its funding for this field rolled back to 2008 levels. / Even the Department of Justice is set to be assaulted with anti-intellectual cuts. Its Environmental and Natural Resources divisions - which, for example, work to prosecute those that break civil and criminal anti-pollution laws - are going to suffer some rather severe funding reductions."

Wired - Rogue Scientists Race to Save Climate Data from Trump

"At 10 AM the Saturday before inauguration day, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania, roughly 60 hackers, scientists, archivists, and librarians were hunched over laptops, drawing flow charts on whiteboards, and shouting opinions on computer scripts across the room. They had hundreds of government web pages and data sets to get through before the end of the day--all strategically chosen from the pages of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--any of which, they felt, might be deleted, altered, or removed from the public domain by the incoming Trump administration. / Their undertaking, at the time, was purely speculative..." ... "But three days later, speculation became reality as news broke that the incoming Trump administration's EPA transition team does indeed intend to remove some climate data from the agency's website."

Related: Scientists Scramble to Save Climate Data Before Trump Can Delete It (at the University of Toronoto)
Related: Scientists Race To Preserve Climate Change Data Before Trump Takes Office (Another independent effort)

The Verge - Trump's new FCC chief is Ajit Pai, and he wants to destroy net neutrality

"Donald Trump has elevated Ajit Pai to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, giving control over the agency to a reliable conservative who's been opposed to pretty much every big action the commission has taken in recent years, from establishing net neutrality to protecting consumer privacy to restricting major cable mergers." ... " 'Some of the things we've seen in his record are certainly problematic for consumers and for competition,' Chris Lewis, vice president of the communications advocacy nonprofit Public Knowledge, tells The Verge. 'Whether it's his opposition to open internet rules, or opposition to basic privacy online, or opposition to the effort to extend the Lifeline program subsidies to broadband so that low income Americans have access to basic 21st century communications.' "

Industrial Equipment News - Trump's Trade Plan Put Into Action

"With his rejection of an Asian trade pact, U.S. President Donald Trump has tackled the first in a promised series of far-reaching policy changes that could inadvertently give China room to assert itself as a regional leader and worsen strains over the South China Sea and Taiwan. / The U.S. departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership could help President Xi Jinping's effort to cast Beijing as a champion of free trade and might increase official interest in a Chinese-led alternative trade deal. The TPP, which excluded China, has been seen as a gambit by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to counter Beijing's influence."

Politico - How Trump's wall could beckon a global trade war

"President Donald Trump's plans to pay for a Mexican border wall could trigger the global trade war he has long threatened. / A House Republican plan he embraced Thursday as a means of paying for the barrier would slap imported goods with a 20 percent tax -- a levy aimed at boosting consumption of domestic products that could backfire by angering allies and upending the entire global trading system. / Longtime trading partners -- not just Mexico -- could retaliate, making American consumers pay more for everything from food to electronics and putting U.S. companies out of business. The so-called border adjustment tax could trigger cases before the World Trade Organization, spur other countries to slap levies on American products and put some U.S. companies at a disadvantage with international competitors."

NPR - Mexican President Cancels Meeting With Trump As Tensions Rise Between Countries

"Well, it's really hard to overstate this turn of events. This is Mexico the U.S. is feuding with. This is one of its largest trading partners. Five hundred billion dollars of trade a year and millions of jobs in the U.S. depend on that commerce with Mexico. Let alone, it's its neighbor and its partner in security and law enforcement and immigration. I talked to one historian who was comparing this low point in the relationship to back to Calvin Coolidge days, when he was president in the '20s...Or even back to the U.S.-Mexican War of the 1840s."

The Guardian - Even rightwing sites call out Trump administration over 'alternative facts'

"In their false claims about the size of the crowd at the inauguration on Friday, and in the introduction to common parlance of the term "alternative facts", senior aides to Donald Trump managed to achieve the unthinkable: getting rightwing news sites to disagree with the president." ... "Trump used a speech in front of the memorial wall at CIA headquarters in Virginia on Saturday to accuse the media of lying about his crowd numbers. Later, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, repeated the claims at a rancorous press briefing. Senior aide Kellyanne Conway claimed on Sunday that the pair had presented 'alternative facts'." ... "On Thursday, the founder of Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft, reportedly claimed the site had been granted a White House press credential. / Given the site's track record, a White House press credential for Gateway Pundit would set a dangerous precedent. It has published reports speculating that Obama is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and falsely claimed that anti-Trump protests have been funded by George Soros."

Media Matters - New York Times: Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties
(Using Media Matters because I've already used up my monthly allotment of free New York Times articles. Also note this is only an investigation at this stage, and may not turn up anything. For now, it's a story to keep an eye on. Anyway, quoting their excerpt of the Times article:)

"American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said. / The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts." ... "In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort's name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments. / The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials."

Business Insider - CBO: The GOP's Obamacare repeal could leave 27 million people without health insurance and cause premiums to skyrocket

[Just to emphasize - this CBO report assumes no replacement for the ACA, only showing the effects if Republicans don't come up with a replacement quickly after repeal.]
"The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan office within the legislature that provides research on the impact of possible policies, said in a report released Tuesday that a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, would have huge effects on the US healthcare system." ... "...congressional Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump have promised to quickly create a replacement for the healthcare law, and these projections do not take into account the possible effects of such a bill." ... " 'The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 18 million in the first new plan year following enactment of the bill,' the report said. 'Later, after the elimination of the ACA's expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchased through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026.' " ... "In addition to the effects on insurance coverage from a repeal, the CBO report estimates that premiums would be 20-25% more than they would be if the ACA were kept in place over the next year; if the ACA were fully repealed, premiums would increase by 50%."

Related: Reuters - Health insurers quietly shape Obamacare replacement with fewer risks

Reuters - Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources

[Note: for now, at least, this plan has been put on hold, as revealed by E&E News - Staff told to 'stand down' on axing climate page. However, given Trump's views and his cabinet picks, this is something to watch very closely.]
"U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website, two agency employees told Reuters, the latest move by the newly minted leadership to erase ex-President Barack Obama's climate change initiatives. / The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA's communications team to remove the website's climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Unorthodox Job Posting

So, periodically I'll look at the source code of a web page. It's usually when I'm trying to copy and paste and there are issues doing that from the rendered version, or if I'm trying to 'borrow' an image and right-clicking on the site has been disabled. Though from time to time, it is to see how the code works to try to implement something new on this site.

Anyway, when I went to look at the source code on The Guardian recently, this is what I saw:

 __        __                      _     _      _
 \ \      / /__    __ _ _ __ ___  | |__ (_)_ __(_)_ __   __ _
  \ \ /\ / / _ \  / _` | '__/ _ \ | '_ \| | '__| | '_ \ / _` |
   \ V  V /  __/ | (_| | | |  __/ | | | | | |  | | | | | (_| |
    \_/\_/ \___|  \__,_|_|  \___| |_| |_|_|_|  |_|_| |_|\__, |
Ever thought about joining us?



BTW, I'm not the first to notice this, so it's not like I'm letting out some big secret.

Responding to Dennis Prager's Two Questions for Atheists

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI came across this entry that I'd had ready to go for a while but forgot about. A few months ago, Dennis Prager wrote an article, Two questions for Atheists. The two questions were as follows:

  1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?
  2. Do you ever doubt your atheism?

I left a comment answering, but thought I would repost that answer here:

'Hope' is not the word I would use. At least the connotation I understand for that word is that there's a reasonable expectation that things we 'hope' for might actually happen, even if it's an outside chance. I hope to be financially stable throughout my adult life. I hope everyone in my family has good health. I hope the next plane I fly in doesn't crash. Conversely, I wouldn't say that I hoped that dragons were real, because I recognize that they're mythical and that my understading of the world would have to be severely flawed for dragons to exist. My understanding of the universe also implies, very strongly, that souls don't exist, and maybe slightly less strongly, that other spirits and divine powers don't exist, including gods. 'Hoping' to be wrong about that would be like 'hoping' to be wrong about dragons or unicorns.*

Now, I will admit to some small level of doubt regarding the supernatural, but it doesn't play into traditional Abrahamic religions. I'm thinking of deistic gods or spirits, that set the universe in motion and then remained hands off, or that actually came into being as part of the universe after the big bang. But even those are outside possibilities. I mean, the only intellects we now about were the result of countless eons of stellar and then biological development. It seems pretty odd to think that an intelligence would have come first and set everything else in motion, rather than vice versa. Everything we know of starts simple and builds to more complex. You don't get a 747 before there's even a junkyard for the tornado to blow through.

And many traditional religions just seem patently absurd. From an outsider's perspective, Yahweh seems no more credible than the old Greek and Roman gods, or the chimera gods of the ancient Egyptians. It's just hard to take those ideas seriously. I mean, there's a huge, gigantic universe on scales we can't truly comprehend, but the creator of it all takes a personal interest in whether or not I eat a bacon cheeseburger, wear clothes with mixed fibers, or style my hair a certain way?

I have further objections, but I think this is already long enough for a comment, so I'll leave it be here.


*I suppose if you wanted to use a different definition of hope, more in line with wish, where plausibility wasn't part of it, then I do 'hope' that certain relgions aren't true, because of how bleak they are. Christianity is one of them. Here's an article related to that:
God vs. Supervillains

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How to Safely close Outlook Before Backup

Outlook IconI was working on some batch files to perform nightly backups. One of the issues was safely closing Outlook prior so that I could correctly copy the .pst file. Now, I know I could have used taskkill or .terminate in a vbs file, but those aren't safe ways to do it, and could have corrupted the .pst file. I did find some VB scripts that could close Outlook (such as here - Closing Outlook via a (scheduled) script), which worked fine when running them manually. However, when I tried to run those through Task Scheduler, I wound up getting an error, "ActiveX component can't create object: 'Outlook.Application' ", with an error code of 800A01AD, Microsoft VBScript runtime error. After many hours of researching (I'm not really an expert at this), I'm inclined to believe the comments in this thread, that's it's just unsupported and not possible.

However, I did find a simple workaround, a very simple program titled Close Outlook, available for download from that link. Just use the line 'start closeoutlook.exe' in the batch file, and it will start running in parallel with the rest of the batch file. I run it, then do backups of all my other folders before Outlook, giving Outlook plenty of time to close before it's time to do backup the .pst files. If you've left unsaved open drafts, Close Outlook won't actually close Outlook. You'll get a dialog box in Outlook asking you if you want to save the draft. I actually prefer that, since I don't want to lose those drafts, and missing one night of email backup usually is less troublesome than losing a draft email. But, it means that I had to use another little bit of code to check to see if Outlook was still running, to avoid trying to backup the PST file if it was:

tasklist /FI "IMAGENAME eq outlook.exe" 2>NUL | find /I /N "outlook.exe">NUL
IF "%ERRORLEVEL%"=="0" command

Anyway, after the amount of time I spent trying to figure this out, I thought it might save somebody else some time to know about that Close Outlook program.

To All the Violent Anti-Trump Protestors - Knock It Off

I meant to write an entirely original entry on this, but came across an article on Scientific American that already says what I wanted to say, and says it much better than I could do. Here is the link to the article:

Dear Anti-Trump Protestors, Please Renounce Violence

And here are a few excerpts.

Protesters who smashed windows and punched police on Inauguration Day are mirroring the violence they supposedly abhor
Part of me, I admit, admires the courage of these rebels, but the rational part of me loathes their violence. Like the Weatherman and other deadly activists of my generation, these young people have been seduced by the macho glamor of violence and by the rough justice of combating state oppression with brutality of their own.
The activists do their cause a disservice by mirroring the brutal values of the culture they oppose. History teaches that violent uprisings, if they succeed, often breed more violence. Think of the horrors that followed the French and Russian Revolutions. Political scientist Erica Chenoweth has shown that nonviolent resistance is far more effective than violence. I wish "disruptive" activists would take their lead from great nonviolent leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Gene Sharp.

I'll add an anecdote of my own. On Sunday, we had a few people over to watch the football game, and politics came up during conversation. And the main thing most of them talked about regarding the protests was the rioters, and how stupid it was to go around smashing up stores and attacking police. They didn't discuss the motivations, or the political goals, or any of the reasons why protestors might have been opposed to Trump. They didn't even talk much about the Women's March from the following day, because in their mind, all the weekend protests got lumped together. The message of the protests was entirely lost.

That article had a link to a related article:

How to Resist an Unjust Regime Nonviolently

Here's an excerpt from that article.

He advocates nonviolence for practical rather than spiritual reasons. He rejects religious exhortations that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies. People in power often deserve to be despised and fought, he contends, but violence, even in the service of a just cause, often causes more problems than it solves, leading to greater injustice and suffering. Hence the best way to oppose an unjust regime is through nonviolent action. Nonviolent movements are also more likely than violent ones to garner internal and international support and to lead to democratic, non-militarized regimes. (Other scholars, notably Erica Chenoweth, have done empirical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of nonviolent social activism.)

So all you violent protestors and rioters, stop it. You're not advancing any progressive goals, and worse, you're actively harming fellow citizens.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Trump Roundup - 6

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

This isn't a particularly long roundup this week, but I figured I'd post it in 'honor' of the inauguration. Here are today's links:

Slate - Stop Underestimating Donald Trump

"At every turn, pundits and political scientists underestimated Donald Trump. When he announced he was running to be president of the United States, they laughed. When he led the polls for the GOP nomination, they predicted his popularity would be short-lived. When he became the Republican nominee, they celebrated. Against a Rubio or even a Christie, Clinton might have lost. But against Trump? / We've underestimated Trump over and over and over again. And over and over and over again, we've all paid a heavy price. And yet, many of the same pundits and political scientists who confidently predicted that Trump would never be president are now confidently predicting that his presidency will soon be tanked by incompetence and unpopularity." ... "That Trump isn't sure to fail does not mean that he's certain to succeed. It's perfectly possible that he'll crash and burn. But to figure out how to beat Trump, we must start by taking him--and the danger he poses--seriously."

MIT Technology Review - Climate Data Preservation Efforts Mount as Trump Takes Office

"Friday's hackathon follows a series of grassroots data preservation efforts in recent weeks, amid increasing concerns the new administration is filling agencies with climate deniers likely eager to cut off access to scientific data that undermine their policy views. Those worries only grew earlier this week, when Inside EPA reported that the Environmental Protection Agency transition team plans to scrub climate data from the agency's website, citing a source familiar with the team. [emphasis mine]" ... "To be clear, the Trump camp hasn't publicly declared plans to erase or eliminate access to the databases. But there is certainly precedent for state and federal governments editing, removing, or downplaying scientific information that doesn't conform to their political views." ... "an extensive Congressional investigation concluded in a 2007 report that the Bush Administration 'engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.' "

Industrial Equipment News - Trump's CEO Meetings Raise Ethics Questions

"President-elect Donald Trump's meetings with CEOs seeking federal approval for major mergers are raising red flags for ethics lawyers concerned about the possible erosion of a firewall between the incoming White House and regulators reviewing those billion-dollar deals." ... "Presidents typically keep their distance from such reviews, so as not to appear to be exerting political influence on a regulatory process intended to evaluate the impact a merger could have on competition and consumers. Trump's private sessions suggest he may be less worried with appearing to be close to pending deals that require government approval."

Industrial Equipment News - Trump's Mexico Strategy a 'Dagger at Ohio'

"President-elect Donald Trump's threats to firms using Mexico as a manufacturing base will be counterproductive and could eventually cost thousands of American jobs, Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary, warned Wednesday." ... " 'That decline in the peso is a dagger at Ohio; it is a major change in the relative attractiveness of locating production activity in Mexico versus locating it in the American heartland,' Summers told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. / 'And the consequence of that is measured not in the dozens or hundreds but in the thousands, or ten thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jobs.' / The lesson of history, he added, is that 'classic populism is invariably counterproductive for those in whose name it is offered as a policy regime.' "

Slate - Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

[Written during the primaries, but still relevant.]
"There are certainly some echoes of fascism, but there are also very profound differences." ... "First of all, there are the kinds of themes Trump uses. The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist's recipe book. 'Making the country great again' sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline, that was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately, because the country isn't in serious decline, but he's able to persuade them that it is. That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline. That's another one. Then, there's a second level, which is a level of style and technique. He even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media." ... "And the capacity of Trump to enlist working-class voters against the left is exactly what Hitler and Mussolini were able to do. There are definitely echoes."

Trump's Climate Denialism on Inauguration Day

Well, that's a little embarrassing. I saw some articles about how the Trump administration had dropped the pages about climate change from the Whitehouse website. I even checked on the WayBack Machine to make sure those URLs actually used to go somewhere in the past. However, the truth is not quite what was implied by what I originally wrote. The truth is, pretty much every administration in the Internet age has had a brand new website ready to go at their inauguration, which doesn't necessarily match page for page with the old site. So, there's no reason to expect the Trump Whitehouse website to have the exact same URLs as the Obama Whitehouse website, as implied in the original version of this entry.

However, the new version of the website still pretty much drops any support for taking action on climate change. The only mention of climate change is to dismiss it, "President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule."

More info:

That didn't take long. Trump has been president mere hours, and his climate denialism is already having an impact. Compare these two links, one from the WayBack Machine, archived just this morning, and then the live version from right now.

In case you're too lazy to click - the WayBack Machine has an actual archive of the page that used to exist. The live version returns "The requested page "/energy/climate-change" could not be found. "

It's going to be a long 4 years.

Today's Silver Lining

Oh America, by Gee Vaucher

Today is a sad day. Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America, with Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. I fear the damage that will be done to the country in the coming years. However, I came across an op-ed in the USA Today that offers a slim silver lining for today. The article, titled simply Trump is our president was written by Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

Turley wrote, "...I believe that this week is about celebrating the 71st time that a democratically elected president has taken the oath of office (and our 58th formal inauguration)." Later in the op-ed, he wrote, "We are celebrating not a particular victor but the fact that there was a victor -- a democratically elected victor followed by a peaceful transition of power."

So yes, there is that. Amid the Russian attempts to sway the election, questionable actions by James Comey of the FBI, an archaic electoral college system that didn't reflect the will of the people, and an utterly terrible person taking the highest office in the nation, we can still at least be thankful that this is a peaceful transition of power, neither a revolution nor a coup, and that we'll have an opportunity in 4 years to elect a competent president.

Image Source: Oh America, by Gee Vaucher. The particular file I used came from The Mirror. There's a good article about the piece on The Guardian. And, for the next few weeks, it's on exhibit at Firstsite in the UK.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Evolution Book Available Online - From the Beginning

From the BeginningLet's end the week on a positive note. A few years ago, I bought a children's book about human evolution, From the Beginning: The Story of Human Evolution. It was actually a recommendation on a biologist's website, Pharyngula - An updated book list for evolutionists. As PZ Myers put it, it's "An older book that may be hard to get, but worth it for the wall-to-wall drawings of the organisms scattered along the human lineage, from single-celled prokaryote to modern humans." And I have to agree. It may be a little bit outdated by this point, and I did notice a few places where I would have liked to have seen a few things worded a bit differently, but overall, it's a very good overview of human evolution, going all the way back to the very beginning of life. In fact, I'd even recommend it for adults, not just kids.

Well, I got to thinking about that book today, and did a google search on it. And I found something that made me a little excited. The entire book is available online for free from the author's website. So, now I can recommend it to others whole heartedly, knowing that they don't have to hunt it down, but can access it immediately. So, here's the link:

From the Beginning: The Story of Human Evolution (pdf)

If you want to see some of Peters' other books, you can find them here: David Peters Studio - Books.

Well, I guess I'll have one downer in this post, more of a note of caution. As good as that book is, and as talented as Peters is as an artist, he's gotten into a little bit of academic controversy the past few years. He's come up with rather fanciful interpretations of certain fossils, which haven't exactly been accepted by the mainstream scientific community. You can read more about that here, Scientific American blogs - Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com. Just keep it in mind if you decide to browse Peters' stuff.

Friday Trump Roundup - 5

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Although I usually only post these updates every few weeks, and the last update was just a week ago, a lot happened in the past week worth mentioning. Here are today's links:

NPR - Trump Denies Allegations Of Secret Ties, Collusion Between Campaign And Russia

[Let me stress that the document mentioned is still unverified. If it's true, it's huge news, but it may just as well turn out to be false. For now, this is just a story to keep an eye on.]
"Top U.S. intelligence officials have briefed leaders in Washington about an explosive -- but unverified -- document that alleges collusion between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump, NPR has learned." ... "NPR is not detailing the contents of the brief because it remains unverified, but it describes a concerted effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his camp. The document, which describes information provided by Russian government and other sources, details behavior by Trump that could leave him open to blackmail, as well as alleged secret meetings between Trump aides and Russian officials called to discuss the campaign against Clinton and potential new business relationships."

The Atlantic - Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet
A semi-comprehensive list of the business concerns that may influence the president-elect as he prepares for the nation's highest office

"Since his election, an ever-increasing level of attention has been paid to the unprecedented conflicts of interest that President-elect Donald J. Trump seems likely to bring with him when he assumes office. His responses to the concerns have been varied and, at times, contradictory." ... "Unless Trump acts to put appropriate distance between himself and his business ventures, these questions are likely to continue throughout his time in the Oval Office. Below is an attempt to catalogue the more clear-cut examples of conflicts of interest that have emerged so far" The article then goes on to detail 20 different cases.

Vox - US spies just briefed Trump on the Russia hack. His response barely mentions Russia.

"It's important to take stock of how astounding this is. A Republican president-elect is signal boosting the ideas of a Russian-linked, anti-American activist who literally published a book titled The World According to US Empire. It's a telling little moment that offers a glimpse of just how strange international and domestic politics are going to be in the Trump era." ... "What this statement reveals, more than anything else, is Trump's priorities. He is not interested in a dispassionate assessment of the Russian hack of the election, or the threat such hacking poses to US democracy. He is interested in minimizing any perceived threat to his own legitimacy from people who decide he owes his election to backing from the Kremlin."

Related: Vox - Trump is siding with Julian Assange against the US intelligence community

CNN OpEd - The folly of Trump's palace guard

"At the end of the day we might conclude that the private security detail isn't that big of a deal -- it satisfies the President-Elect's princely pretensions and gives him an excuse to keep his buddies close by. But make no mistake: There is much at stake when it comes to tolerating such a detail. Acquiescence signals a willingness to credit arguments that an elite federal institution such as the Secret Service is unreliable, that armed contractors acting somewhat under the color of state law are acceptable, and that self-funded bureaucratic fiefdoms insulated from congressional control are anything but constitutionally offensive. "

CNN OpEd - Donald Trump is 'gaslighting' America

"Mental health professionals have made much of the practice [gaslighting], said to be a favorite of narcissists and abusive spouses. But more recently the tactical tampering with the truth has become a preferred method of strongmen around the world. Gaslighting by other means was always a common feature of dictatorships, but it has found new vogue as a more subtle form of domestic political control even in countries with varying degrees of democracy. / Now Trump has brought it to the United States. The techniques include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth." ... "In the end, few people can keep up with all the facts all the time. And as he [Trump] tries to undercut the credibility of serious journalists, he makes it even harder for everyone else to find an easy path to the truth." ... "The challenge will be a steep one for journalists and for all Americans, when so much of what comes from the next president has to be checked and double-checked. The first step is to establish when there is a gaslighting operation in progress. / Then comes the battle to hold on to the facts."

Slate - Ethics Office Warns Trump Cabinet Confirmations Are Moving Too Quickly

"The nonpartisan federal agency that is in charge of vetting those who have been selected to take a seat in President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet says confirmation hearings are being scheduled before ethics reviews can be completed. In a letter to Democratic Senate leaders on Saturday, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said the schedule for confirmation hearings is 'of great concern' because his office has not had time to review everyone's potential conflicts." / " 'The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me. This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE's staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,' wrote Shaub. 'More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.' " / "Shaub noted this situation appears to be pretty unprecedented. 'I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,' he wrote."

Washington Post - Donald Trump's 'first attempt to ignore the law'

[Referring to anti-nepotism laws and Trump appointing his son-in-law as a senior adviser] "Is Trump going to be able to get around this, because I see this as Trump's first attempt to ignore the law, act in violation of the law, and he's going to see if he can get away with it. We have a statute that names the president, that names the son-in-law relationship, that Congress identified a problem and enacted a statute prohibiting a president from hiring a son-in-law. President-elect Trump, in my view, is testing the waters to see if he can get away with violating what I would call this government ethics provision. And whether President-elect Trump gets away with this depends, it seems to me, in part on the public response as well as the congressional response.... / We'll see whether President Trump is required to follow the law or not. And so, I think this is enormously significant, because it's an initial test of whether -- we've seen as a candidate, Donald Trump has violated norms, and now we're going to see whether he also plans to violate the law."

Politico - Why Trump's Meeting With RFK Jr. Has Scientists Worried

"Of all Donald Trump's conspiratorial obsessions, perhaps one of the most dangerous has been his long promotion of the much-debunked theory that vaccines cause autism." ... "Now, Trump is going to be the president of the United States, and doctors and scientists are raising the alarm about the potential consequences of having a man in charge of the country's public health system who dabbles in discredited scientific theories. / Those concerns only grew on Tuesday, when Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer who has long been immersed in those discredited theories." ... "Which is why the news of the meeting--and Kennedy's subsequent confirmation on Thursday that he will leave his environmental group to chair a vaccine safety commission for the president--has sparked immediate condemnation from experts in the medical and scientific communities, who worry about what Trump's choice of advisers says about his public health agenda."


The remainder of the linked articles deal with some of Trump's cabinet picks, demonstrating his poor judgment in picking such people.

L.A. Times - Rocky confirmation hearing expected for Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for America's top diplomat

"As chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., Tillerson championed energy development projects in Russia and developed such close personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is one of the few Americans ever awarded Russia's 'Order of Friendship.' / Their relationship has raised questions about whether Tillerson would take a forceful position against an adversary that, U.S. intelligence agencies say, used hacked emails, propaganda and fake news to try to help Trump win in November and to "harm" Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's chances."

Wired - Tillerson's Hearing Seals It: the US Won't Lead on Climate Change

"At Exxon, Tillerson was charged with maximizing profits even at the expense of a warming planet. As secretary of state, he'll play a key role in negotiating a global strategy to combat climate change. The question is whether he'll be able to set aside his allegiance to the fossil fuel industry in favor of true progress on the climate. His noncommittal answers at today's hearing --including his refusal to admit that the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change is conclusive--didn't inspire confidence."

Politico - Flynn under fire for fake news

"As Donald Trump's national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will have to advise the president of the veracity of foreign and domestic threats, separating those that require immediate policy action from propaganda or misinformation. / But Flynn himself has used social media to promote a series of outrageous conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and their inner circles in recent months -- pushing dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9, according to a POLITICO review of his Twitter posts. Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has 'secretly waged war' on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a 'jihadi' who 'laundered' money for Muslim terrorists. / Now some say Flynn's fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House's national security adviser, suggesting that he either can't spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies."

Chicago Tribune - More than 1,100 law school professors oppose Jeff Sessions's nomination as attorney general

"A group of more than 1,100 law school professors from across the country is sending a letter to Congress Tuesday urging the Senate to reject the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for attorney general." ... " 'We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation's laws and promote justice and equality in the United States,' says the letter..." ... "The law professors wrote that some of them have concerns about Sessions's prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, his support for building a wall along the nation's southern border and his 'repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community.' "

Huffington Post - An Open Letter From Urban Affairs And Housing Scholars To The Senate: Reject Ben Carson As HUD Secretary

"Some of the nation's leading scholars on housing and urban affairs have signed an open letter opposing president-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The letter, addressed to Republican Senator Michael Crapo, chair of the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democratic on the committee, notes that Carson not only remains dismissive of government responses to poverty in general, he has publicly expressed disdain for HUD's particular mission to ensure a safe home for every American."

Full Letter

NBC News - Trump Picks Energy Department Opponent Rick Perry for Energy Secretary

"President-elect Donald Trump has selected former Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- who famously once forgot that he wanted to abolish the Energy Department -- to be secretary of energy, two sources familiar with the transition process told NBC News on Monday night." ... "As governor, Perry championed the oil industry, questioning science that shows that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and deriding what he called 'the secular carbon cult.' / At a presidential town hall in 2011, he said, 'I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.' "

CBS News - Trump official Monica Crowley accused of numerous instances of plagiarism

"Monica Crowley, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run communications for the National Security Council, is being accused of numerous instances of plagiarism that took place throughout her career. / CNN reports that HarperCollins will no longer sell new copies of Crowley's 2012 book after a number of instances of plagiarism were found. And according to a Monday report by Politico Magazine, Crowley plagiarized a number of passages in her 2000 Columbia University PhD dissertation." ... "In a statement to CNN, the Trump transition team initially defended Crowley ... 'Any attempt to discredit Monica is nothing more than a politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country.' "

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Can You Achieve Immortality by Transferring Your Consciousness

Transferring ConsciousnessI recently came across a question on Quora, If you were dying, would you upload your consciousness and your memories into a 10-year-old clone of yourself? You see variations of this question quite a bit, including 'uploading' your consciousness to a computer. Here was the answer I wrote on Quora.


No, I wouldn't attempt to transfer my mind into a clone.

There's a thought experiment called the Teletransportation paradox. Imagine a machine that can make a perfect atom-by-atom scan of your body, destroying your body in the process. It then sends the information from the scan at the speed of light to a receiver at some distant location, which builds an exact atom-by-atom copy. This new copy would have all the same memories and personality as the original. However, if the scanning machine were able to perform the scan without destroying your body, you would still be alive at the original location, while there would be a copy of you at the remote location. It becomes obvious that the copy isn't 'you', with a continuation of your consciousness. You have your own, original seat of consciousness, while the copy has its own, new seat of consciousness.

Even if I were able to manipulate the mind of a clone of myself (I'm assuming sci-fi clone, not genetic clone, since that would just be my twin), and I could give it all my memories and personality, I wouldn't be transferring my consciousness into that mind. I would only be manipulating that mind to believe that it was me. And sure, I like myself and think I'm a pretty good guy, but I don't have the arrogance to saddle another conscious entity with my personality and my thoughts.

Unless there's a miraculous medical breakthrough in the near future, I'm going to die some day. My consciousness will cease to be. Making a clone that believes it's me won't change that. It will be a new conscious entity, but my consciousness will still be gone.

Image Source: IFL Science!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for December 2016

Top 10 ListThe end of the year means the end of the month, and time once again for me to look over the server logs for this site to see which of my pages were the most popular.

There was only one newcomer to the list this month - Debunking an E-mail on Charities. I highly suspsect its popularity had to do with people wanting to donate to charities around this time of year, along with the dubious chain email warning you of charities that supposedly don't spend your donations very charitably. Granted, the response is a few years old by this point, but the general conclusions still stand.

Overall traffic is around the same as it has been, down just slightly from November.

Anyway, here's the top 10 list for last month.

Top 10 for December 2016

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  3. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  4. Tank Game - QBasic Source Code
  5. Autogyro History & Theory
  6. Response to E-mail - 1400 years of In-breeding
  7. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  8. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  9. Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?
  10. Debunking an E-mail on Charities

Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday Trump Roundup - 4

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

This is a rather short entry given that I wasn't reading and collecting too much about Trump over the holidays, but I figured it was about time for another post. Here are this week's links:

Bad Astronomy - Another Day, Another Anti-Science Trump Pick For Federal Office

"In case you were still wondering about the incoming Trump administration's attitude toward science --and at this point you'd have to live on Mars to not see what's going on-- take a look at the person Trump has picked to run the Office of Management and Budget (OMB): Congressperson Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina). / As we've seen, Trump's choices for government positions have been anything from grossly unqualified to vocally antagonistic toward the agency they'll be in charge of; for his part Mulvaney says Trump will 'restore fiscal sanity back in Washington,' which is at best a bizarre proclamation. And of course he's a climate change denier; that's de rigeur for nearly every Trump pick. / But he's more worrisome even than that. As Pema Levy at Mother Jones has written, Mulvaney questions whether government should be funding scientific research." ... "I keep looking for some ray of hope, some move by the incoming administration that's even just a nod toward reality. When it comes to science, it's become crystal clear the opposite is true: Trump and his cohorts will do what they can to reverse many of the advances we've made, and they'll use their gross (and/or willfull) misunderstanding of the foundational principles of science to do so."

Time - Donald Trump Wants President Obama's Ambassadors Out by Inauguration Day

"In a break from tradition, President-elect Donald Trump has asked that all of President Obama's foreign ambassadors leave their posts by Inauguration Day, according to new reports. / Citing unnamed sources, the New York Times and Politico report that Trump's transition team sent an order saying all ambassadors had to be out of their posts by Jan. 20 "without exceptions." The order was delivered by a State Department cable sent just before Christmas. This could leave the United States without Senate-confirmed ambassadors around the world for weeks or months after Trump takes office."

NPR - On Intelligence And Russian Hacking, Are Trump And His Team Missing The Point?

"But what Trump, as the future president, seems to have trouble accepting is that this is a national security issue, not a political one. Instead, the Trump team continues to focus, be driven by and be defensive about the politics." ... "Let's see how Trump responds after his intelligence briefing Friday, because right now, he and the country are in the very strange position of having an incoming American president who, it seems, would rather believe adversaries than American intelligence when it contradicts his predisposed view."

News Week OpEd - Robert Reich: Rallies and Lies. This Is How Tyranny Begins

"In short, the rallies and tweets give Trump an unprecedented platform for telling Big Lies without fear of contradiction--and therefore for advancing whatever agenda he wishes. / It's no coincidence that Trump continues to denigrate the media, and hasn't held a news conference since July. / A president intent on developing a base of enthusiastic supporters who believe boldface lies poses a clear threat to American democracy. This is how tyranny begins."

Related: Fifteen Ways to Spot a Tyrant

NY Times OpEd - How Republics End (Paul Krugman)

"Many people are reacting to the rise of Trumpism and nativist movements in Europe by reading history -- specifically, the history of the 1930s. And they are right to do so. It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare." ... "[Referring to ancient Rome] Here's what I learned: Republican institutions don't protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

RX-8 Steering Rack & Steering Column Replacement

RX-8 Steering Rack

I have a new page in my static site's How To section:

Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8

I had to do this recently, but unlike most other car projects I do, I couldn't find a write up, tutorial, or YouTube video walking you through it (and thanks to the wealth of information usually on the Internet, I've never invested in a Chilton's or Hayne's manual - I'm not even sure they have one for an RX-8). In fact, one forum I read even said something to the effect that a steering rack replacement is too much work for a home mechanic, and that if that really was your problem, you should just take it into the shop. Well, I may not be a great mechanic, but I learned enough helping out my dad that I can replace just about any part on a car (diagnosis & speed are where I fall short compared to good mechanics). So, I tackled the project, took a lot of pictures during the process, and made my own write-up to help anybody else who might need to do this. To be honest, once you know the process, it's not that hard, and should take less than a day to do.

Here's the full back story. The car had developed a weird grinding feeling when turning the steering wheel. A little Googling indicated that weird feelings in the steering were often due to the lower U-joint in the steering column going bad, so I pulled the steering column to inspect it. I didn't find any problems with that, so I sort of jumped to conclusions, reasoning that the only other major part in the steering system was the rack & pinion, so I decided to replace the steering rack, as well. I say 'sort of', because I didn't really see any major problems with the steering rack, so I wasn't fully convinced that was the problem, and so only ponied up the money for a junkyard part. I'll note in my defense that I also had an old hot water heater going out that needed to be replaced right around the same time, so I was a little rushed trying to figure out the problem with the car before getting to the water heater.

I spent two days replacing the steering rack, on one of the coldest weekends we've had here. The temperature dropped down to the teens overnight, creeping up to the 20s and low 30s during the day. And my garage is too full to work on the car there, so I did it all out in the driveway. Unfortunately, the problem didn't go away, and further inspection found the real culprit - a broken bracket holding the engine that had allowed the whole engine to drop and rub against the steering column. I should have done enough diagnosing at the outset to notice that that was the real problem, but looking on the bright side, it was a valuable learning experience. It was the first major maintenance I'd done to the car, so I did learn a whole lot about how to work on that car, and any future maintenance will go a lot quicker. Plus, since it seems the steering rack wasn't the problem, and I didn't feel like pulling the 'new' one off, I now had a spare steering rack just in case.

So, after replacing the broken engine bracket, I did take the car into the shop to get a front end alignment. I don't have the tools to do it, and the shop doesn't charge that much to do it, so that's one of those projects where I don't mind taking the car in. Well, as soon as they got it up on the lift, they found a problem that I should have noticed myself. The junkyard steering rack had a bent inner tie rod. I could have probably stolen the one from the original steering rack to put on the 'new' one, but I figured that the original was probably in good working order, and was probably closer to being aligned correctly, so I decided to swap out the 'new' steering rack for the original one.

Knowing what to do made a big difference. Remember I said it took me 2 days to replace the steering rack before, and that was actually after a good part of a day pulling the steering column. This time, it took me 4 1/2 hrs to pull the steering column and replace the steering rack. And that even included a short break for lunch. Like I said, the first time through was a valuable learning experience.

Anyway, that's the story. If I'd done the proper diagnosing to begin with, it would have only been a relatively short project replacing that engine bracket. But on the bright side, not only did I learn a lot, but now the Internet has a write up that didn't exist before, which will hopefully save someone else some time down the road. Here's the link one more time:

Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8


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