Software developer at a big library, cyclist, photographer, hiker, reader. Email: chris@improbable.org
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Electric factories

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Detailed article on efforts to replace industrial fossil fuel heating with electric. Heat pumps, thermal batteries, etc. In lieu of carbon capture.

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Stupid Power - by Hamilton Nolan - How Things Work

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In all my years as someone spouting opinions about public affairs, I have never been more wrong than when I predicted that something could not happen because it was just too stupid. My first distinct memory of this phenomenon came when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of California. “The Kindergarten Cop?” I thought to myself. “This is just too stupid to happen.” Wrong. In 2015, when I first encountered Donald Trump on the campaign trail, I viewed him purely as comedic relief. I was covering the right wing Christian cattle call event for Republican candidates in Iowa where Trump said of John McCain, “He was a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.” That was one of the first times that we in the political press collectively declared Donald Trump’s campaign dead.

“What accounts for Trump’s wide appeal are the facts that he thinks and speaks about political issues with the same level of contemplation and refinement as most of the voting public, and that the entire national press corps follows him around like devoted puppies, because he provides such good copy,” I wrote in a Gawker story about that event. “He therefore attains high visibility and grabs the interest of people who are mostly disinterested in all this shit, a cycle that feeds on itself. Alas, he may have burned himself out after Saturday.”

Wrong. Yet all the way up to election night 2016, I felt confident that Trump would lose. That was partly due to reading polls, yes, but the truth is that most of my confidence came from the unexamined belief that having Donald Trump—the ‘Home Alone 2’ guy?—as president of the United States was just too stupid to happen.

Wrong. Trump is a moron, yet his ascent to the White House is deeply significant as a marker of the truth of America, rather than the myth. After 2016 I stopped making firm political predictions, as a necessary act of humility (be very skeptical of everyone who makes political predictions), and I also began thinking more acutely about how this dumb, dumb thing came to happen.

There is a cottage industry of Explanations For Donald Trump and I am not going to delve into that garbage dump of amateur psychology and grievance-laundering here. What I want to touch on is a more general observation of how power arises and spreads. Once upon a time I believed that a savvy analysis of politics and culture was that it was all a big show that flowed from primarily economic sources— “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist,” as John Maynard Keynes said. In this analysis, class war and Wall Street and international commerce are the drivers of things that are wrongly interpreted as social or political or cultural trends, but which are in fact the inevitable outcome of capitalism’s very design. This omniscient theoretical perch allows you to scoff at day-to-day and year-to-year news as ultimately unimportant blips on the road of economic history.

There is a good amount of truth in this analysis. But to assume that it is the only, or even the most accurate way to interpret the present is a mistake. It is just one of many lenses of interpretation, the equivalent of saying “Everything is just the inevitable outcome of brain chemicals” or “Everything is just the inevitable outcome of fundamental particles reacting according to the laws of physics.” Its all-encompassing nature actually makes it a less than useful tool for understanding stuff with any nuance. Yes, economics is an important lens for analyzing power. In the day to day world that we live in, though, there are other, equally important explanations for what is happening. Cultural power, for example, is real—music and movies and art and TV shows can influence the world more than money sometimes, and their nature as powerful and independent tools is shown by the fact that their ability to harness human emotion is one thing that money cannot buy. Trump wields the power of celebrity, a sort of gnarled subset of cultural power, but his strongest weapon is something more specific: Stupid Power.

When you see a former United States president and current leading major party presidential candidate go on stage at Sneaker Con to hawk $399 golden sneakers, there is an urge among the commentariat to say: This is wrong. This does not fit withing the boundaries of the theory that I have constructed to explain how American politics and presidential campaigns work. It is just too dumb. Time and again, Trump has confounded people whose job it is to analyze America because he did not fit into their models of what made America tick. That is an indictment not of Trump, but of the theories and the models. In his own dumb way, Trump has humbled us all. We drastically underestimated the heft of Stupid Power. It is strong enough to seize control of our whole country. It appeals not to the myth of America, but to its reality.

Stupid Power is not just the hypnotic ability to entrance the public by doing stupid things, although Trump certainly possesses that gift. I would define it more specifically as “the ability to amass power by validating the stupidity of those you seek to lead.” All of history’s leaders referred to inexactly as “demagogues” or, now, “populists” possess this power to some degree, although respectable analysts would never give it such a gauche label. But I strive for honesty here at How Things Work. All of us are stupid in various ways, ignorant about various swaths of the world, confident about things that we are misguided about. This stupidity is like a secret code for anyone skilled enough (or similarly stupid enough) to exploit it. We can be led around by our own prejudices. We can sink slack-jawed into the warm satisfaction of our own idiocy. We love to flatter, and to be flattered. We—all of us—are, in part, dumb animals in search of meaning. That meaning can just as easily be stupid as it can be noble.

The set of commentators who have always been the least able to understand Trump are those who embrace the gauzy myth of America as the Land of the Free, an admirable though bumpy experiment in a nation built to value mankind’s better nature. (This set of people includes the majority of political commentators in the mainstream press.) These are people who believe—to pick a Washington Post op-ed this week, for example—that “If the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would tremble for the future of our republic” because “The Founders believed that virtuous self-mastery was necessary for both personal and political happiness.”

That would certainly be news to the Founding Fathers’ slaves. The myth of Noble America has always rested on the willingness of its believers to brush aside our nation’s many atrocities as exceptions rather than as the rule. According to the myth, we are country founded on the ideals of freedom and equality, and all conflicting evidence should be seen as regrettable but temporary wobbles on our path that will culminate in happy justice. It is not hard to see why anyone willing to shut their eyes to so much of reality in order to cling to this image of America is also unable to reckon with the dirty truth of the present.

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America has always been a stupid and brutal land. People came here and murdered all the natives and stole their land and got rich by using slaves and then got rich by exploiting the hell out of wage earners, a practice that continues to this day. All of the virtuous progress in our nation’s history has been the result of a struggle against mainstream opinion. The defining image of the United States is not the Washington Monument or the Liberty Bell; it is a strip of congested road just outside of town lined with fast food outlets and big box stores. That is quintessential America. To want to be better than we are is admirable, but to believe that we are better than we are is fatal to the ability to get a handle on why so many bad things happen here.

The burning desire to buy guns and shoot at brown people and drive big trucks and watch stupid TV shows and scream at football games and eat greasy garbage and tranquilize ourselves into constant oblivion—this is America, as much or more than anything written in the Bill of Rights is. It has always been thus. Donald Trump’s superpower is not his money or fame but the fact that he is the human embodiment of Stupid America. He does not have to try to channel this; it is his nature. To imagine, as many traditional political analysts do, that he can be damaged by pointing out that he is a bad guy is to make the same mistake that Brer Fox made when he flung Brer Rabbit into that briar patch. That is his comfort zone. Trump’s success can be seen as a crude measurement of the dominance of Stupid Power in the pantheon of powerful things. He is the political equivalent of saying “fuck it” and drinking twelve beers and blacking out and driving your car into the front window of a KFC. That little urge exists in the American mind. It is our birthright. Just because people put on clean clothes and go to church on Sunday morning doesn’t mean that they don’t feel the tingling urge to say “fuck it” on Sunday night. We did not get to be the world’s most dominant country by pure virtue and reason. We murdered everyone and bathed in their glorious blood. We flattered ourselves with fantastical fairy tales of our own heroism. Stupid Power thrives in stupid places. We opened the door for it the very first time we told our kids that we were the good guys. Until we fix that error, there’s no telling how far down the greasy pit of idiocy America is going to go.

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My book about the labor movement, “The Hammer,” is available for purchase now, wherever books are sold. The reception I have received on my book tour so far has been incredibly inspiring. Thank you to everyone who came out in DC, Corvallis, Portland, Seattle, and Columbus. I’m still adding more dates, and I would love to see any and all of you at my upcoming book events:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 27: Brooklyn, NYAt Greenlight Bookstore, 7 pm. With Josh Gondelman.

  • Tuesday, March 5: Atlanta, GA—At the Carter Center Library, 7 pm. With Sara Nelson.

  • Monday, March 18: Philadelphia, PAAt the Free Library of Philly, 7:30 pm. With Kim Kelly.

  • Thursday, March 21: New Orleans, LA—At Baldwin and Co. Books. With Sarah Jaffe.

  • Wednesday, March 27: Boston, MA— At the Burnes Center for Social Change, 271 Huntington Ave. 6:30 pm.

  • Sunday, April 21: Chicago, IL— “The Hammer” book event and Labor Notes Conference after party at In These Times HQ. Event details TK.

—A former colleague of mine, Tim Burke, has been indicted for newsgathering, in a case that should scare you if you care about the First Amendment. His legal fund is here.

—You are reading How Things Work, a truly independent publication. Thank you for subscribing in this hellish economic environment for journalism. If you would like to support my ability to keep writing here and to survive as a journalist now that all the jobs are gone, please consider becoming a paid subscriber right now. Paying subscribers keep the lights on, and allow me to keep this site paywall-free. I appreciate all of you who help to make this place possible.

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acdha
8 hours ago
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«These are people who believe—to pick a Washington Post op-ed this week, for example—that “If the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would tremble for the future of our republic” because “The Founders believed that virtuous self-mastery was necessary for both personal and political happiness.”

That would certainly be news to the Founding Fathers’ slaves. The myth of Noble America has always rested on the willingness of its believers to brush aside our nation’s many atrocities as exceptions rather than as the rule.»
Washington, DC

Zelensky: 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed in Russia's war

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Netflix vs. two houses (Feb 2024)

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I just spent 45 minutes getting Netflix to work at the same time in my two houses. I don’t know if it will keep working but I’ll write up what I’ve learned so far. The rules have changed recently as Netflix tries to crack down on account sharing. I don’t even know if what I want to do is allowed anymore.

A key concept here is the “Netflix household” which seems to be defined as “on the same internet connection as this TV”. They don’t explain what “this TV” might mean in a world of many different Netflix clients. Nor do they define “internet connection”: is it WiFi SSID? External IP address? What about VPNs and static routing and IPv6? Is “household” just a synonym for “house with a LAN” or does it encompass a larger notion of a family that might not always be in one building together? Netflix doesn’t make any of this clear.

What is working right now

I followed the instructions for “Using Netflix outside of your home”, “Second home or frequent travel to the same location”. These are frustratingly vague but the nut of it is “From the main place you watch Netflix open the Netflix app or go to Netflix.com on a web browser on your portable device once a month… Then take the same steps when you arrive at your second location to continue watching Netflix without interruption.”

The key thing here seems to be “on Netflix.com on a web browser”. We first tried this using iPad and Android client apps or the Roku client app and things kept not working. However when I watched Netflix first on an Android tablet Chrome tab, then Ken watched it on an iPad tablet Safari tab, suddenly everything started working and we were allowed to watch two shows at the same time in two houses. Once we’d done the browser thing we were able to both watch a show at the same time in the Roku client in two houses. Success! At least, for now. I’m anticipating it breaking.

I have a theory that what’s happened is Netflix is willing to take a look at all the IP addresses that recently tried to use an account. And then accept that they are all part of the same household if you jump through the login / email verification hoops. It also appears that they have a one SSID only policy for wireless devices. I’ll also note we were sent to the evocatively named URL https://www.netflix.com/tv2. Is that for a second TV? Who knows?

What Netflix policy allows

Netflix Standard ($15.49) allows you to watch on two devices at a time simultaneously.

Netflix now only lets you watch in one “household“. What’s a household? “A Netflix Household is a collection of the devices connected to the internet at the main place you watch Netflix.” As I said above this isn’t a very specific definition and I can’t tell if “one family that goes back and forth between two houses” counts as one household or not. The existence of special instructions for “Second home or frequent travel to the same location” suggests what we are doing should be OK.

There’s a bit more specific info on this help page. This part (and the reliance on mobile browser logins) makes me think SSIDs are a key factor: “If you have multiple Wi-Fi networks, we may only associate one with your Netflix Household. If you want to watch Netflix on a device that is connected to a Wi-Fi network using a different ISP account or that has a different external IP address, you may be asked to verify that device as part of your Netflix Household.” Just to complicate things: I have separate WiFi networks in the two houses, of course, but they both share the same SSID.

They also say “We use information such as IP addresses, device IDs, and account activity to determine whether a device signed into your account is part of your Netflix Household. We do not collect GPS data to try to determine the precise physical location of your devices.”

There’s a whole separate flow from Netflix for “I am temporarily at a hotel“. We used that first to get the second house working, and it worked fine for awhile but then it stopped. I think maybe they have a 14 day limit? Interestingly that device no longer had the option of saying I was temporarily there.

Finally Netflix has the option to add an Extra Member to an account. This costs another $7.99 a month and basically creates a new limited account with a separate email and password. It’s not clear whether an extra member is allowed to be in a second house / household / internet connection or not. Also I really don’t want a separate login, that sounds like I’d have to constantly be juggling who is logged in every time I watch TV. I just want two profiles on one account.

ARGH

This is all so maddening and more than once I thought to myself “you know, Plex never hassles me about this when I watch unlicensed copies of Netflix videos”. But I’m trying to be an upstanding citizen and pay for my service. Why does Netflix make it so hard?

I’m sympathetic to their desire to crack down on account sharing. Folks abused the old system quite a bit. I think the restriction that would make sense is “you can’t watch two streams simultaneously from two IP addresses”. Ie: two people could watch different things at the same time in one house, or one person can watch things at any house they want”. Just not two across houses. But I don’t think that’s their model.

I sure wish they defined exactly what their model is in technical enough terms I could understand if what I’m doing is impossible. I tried asking support for help and they seemed even more confused than me.



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Opinion | Crystal Clanton’s hiring by Clarence Thomas is a stain on the judiciary - The Washington Post

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We knew this was coming — and still, it shocks. Justice Clarence Thomas has hired Crystal Clanton to be one of his law clerks, the most elite assignment a young law school graduate can secure.

The shock is this: In 2015, when Clanton was 20 and working for a conservative group allied with the justice’s wife, Ginni Thomas, Clanton apparently sent racist texts to a fellow employee. “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE,” one text read. “Like f--- them all … I hate blacks. End of story.” (In Clanton’s text, the expletive was spelled out.)

It is impossible to overstate the prestige that attaches to a Supreme Court clerkship. The job is a golden ticket awarded to just 36 each year — about 1 in 1,000 law graduates, the best of the best. Major law firms lure Supreme Court clerks with signing bonuses of a half-million dollars. Clanton, who graduated from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in 2022, will be the third high court clerk from that institution since 2021.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer unearthed Clanton’s texts in 2017, in an article about Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization run by Charlie Kirk. Notably, Clanton, the group’s field director, didn’t deny writing the texts. “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager,” she wrote in an email to Mayer.

Kirk told Mayer in a separate email that “Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.” Kirk spokesman Andrew Kolvet reaffirmed the New Yorker’s account when I wrote about Clanton in 2021 and repeated in a conversation in 2022 that she was “terminated from Turning Point after the discovery of problematic texts.”

The “I hate blacks” text doesn’t appear to have been an isolated incident. The website Mediaite, reporting in 2018 on Clanton’s hiring by Ginni Thomas, described a Snapchat message featuring “a photo of a man who appears to be Arab and a caption written by Clanton that reads, ‘Just thinking about ways to do another 9/11.’”

After leaving Turning Point, Clanton was hired by Ginni Thomas and lived with the Thomases in Virginia for almost a year before attending the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Thomas then recommended Clanton to Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Pryor is one of the most conservative members of the federal judiciary; he made Donald Trump’s short list for the high court but was deemed too conservative to make it through Senate confirmation, and he has been a reliable “feeder judge” for the high court, particularly for Thomas.

After the news reports that Pryor had hired Clanton to be his law clerk, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee filed an ethics complaint with the 11th Circuit. The matter was transferred to the 2nd Circuit, where Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston dismissed the matter, saying Pryor and U.S. District Judge Corey Maze, who hired Clanton before the Pryor clerkship, “committed no misconduct in performing due diligence and then determining to hire the candidate based on the information before them.”

Letters submitted to the 2nd Circuit by Clarence Thomas and Pryor, and obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Rankin, elaborated on Clanton’s relationship with the Thomases and her hiring by Pryor. “I know Crystal Clanton and I know bigotry,” Thomas wrote. “Bigotry is antithetical to her nature.”

Thomas said his wife “informed me of the horrible way in which she had been treated at Turning Point and asked that she be allowed to live with us.” He related how he encouraged Clanton, “understandably distraught and depressed,” to go to law school; recommended her when she applied to law school; and then suggested her to Pryor as a clerk, informing him of “the grossly out of character and unfounded allegations against her.”

Thomas concluded, “It is certainly my intention to consider her for a clerkship should she perform as I expect and excel in her clerkships.”

The 2nd Circuit’s dismissal raised a new defense: It quoted an unnamed Turning Point executive, presumably Kirk, who claimed that Clanton was herself the victim of a rogue employee dismissed for creating fake text messages to smear co-workers.

The Pryor letter said Clanton hadn’t disputed the allegations of racism because she was bound by a nondisclosure agreement. He quoted from a letter Kirk sent him asserting that media reports “are simply untrue.” In fact, Kirk claimed, an unnamed employee “was fired after the organization learned that this person had created fake text messages … to make it appear that those co-workers had engaged in misconduct when they had not.”

This is just not credible. It doesn’t square with what Clanton and her lawyer told Mayer at the time. It doesn’t square with what Kirk told Mayer, about taking “decisive action” after the texts were revealed. It doesn’t square with what Kolvet told me about Clanton being “terminated.”

To its credit, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees the federal judiciary, understood this. In July 2022, it ordered the 2nd Circuit to name a special committee to look further into the Clanton matter, finding that “an appropriate evaluation of the judges’ conduct cannot be accomplished without findings of fact as to: (1) whether the candidate made the statements attributed to her (or the substance of them); and (2) what the candidate told [Pryor and Maze] about them.”

Clanton, the panel noted, “has never publicly denied the allegations,” and “there are numerous individuals with first-hand knowledge of the candidate’s alleged conduct.” At a minimum, the committee said, “the special committee should attempt to interview the candidate and the witnesses identified in the media reports we have cited.”

You might think that if Pryor and Maze were so confident about Clanton’s character, they would have welcomed a more searching inquiry. Instead, they argued that the Judicial Conference committee didn’t have the power to tell the 2nd Circuit what to do, because the federal law governing judicial ethics states that a chief judge’s dismissal order is “final and conclusive and shall not be judicially reviewable on appeal or otherwise.” That seems like a rule designed to deter frivolous complainants from persisting — not a mechanism to prevent the Judicial Conference from taking action.

In the wake of the Pryor and Maze assertion, the 2nd Circuit asked the Judicial Conference executive committee for guidance about what to do. We don’t know what that guidance was — welcome to the black hole of judicial ethics proceedings — but we know the outcome: The 2nd Circuit stuck to its head-in-the-sand posture. In October 2023, it declined to do anything more.

Case closed. Clanton hired. This episode is a stain — and not just on Clanton and Thomas. It taints the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself institutionally incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

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Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Nazis appeared to find a friendly reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year.

Throughout the conference, racist extremists, some of whom had secured official CPAC badges, openly mingled with conference attendees and espoused antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The presence of these individuals has been a persistent issue at CPAC. In previous years, conference organizers have ejected well-known Nazis and white supremacists such as Nick Fuentes.

But this year, racist conspiracy theorists didn’t meet any perceptible resistance at the conference where Donald Trump has been the keynote speaker since 2017.

At the Young Republican mixer Friday evening, a group of Nazis who openly identified as national socialists mingled with mainstream conservative personalities, including some from Turning Point USA, and discussed so-called “race science” and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

One member of the group, Greg Conte, who attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that his group showed up to talk to the media. He said that the group was prepared to be ejected if CPAC organizers were tipped off, but that never happened.

Another, Ryan Sanchez, who was previously part of the Nazi “Rise Above Movement,” took photos and videos of himself at the conference with an official badge and touted associations with Fuentes.

Other attendees in Sanchez’s company openly used the N-word.

For several years, CPAC and its supporters have attempted to temper the most extreme fringes of the conservative movement, and have welcomed the continued debate between Trump and more moderate conservatives.

This year, however, some attendees and former attendees have expressed frustration with the conference’s stronger association with Trump and his wing of the party.

In one of the most viral moments from this year’s conference, conservative personality Jack Posobiec called for the end of democracy and a more explicitly Christian-focused government. While Posobiec later said his statements were partly satire, many CPAC attendees embraced his and others’ invocations of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

CPAC organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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