Godwin’s Law in politics

If you haven’t read it in a forecast yet, you’ll read it in an analysis next week: The “Nazis” are back in Germany, with a good likelihood of coming in on third place in the German elections next Sunday. Soon the Germans will wear brown shirts again, grow mustaches, and roll their tanks all over Europe. Really? What sounds like a big story in a newspaper headline in reality is far more harmless. It is more a problem of Godwin’s law in politics, where the likelihood of a politician calling another politician or party anywhere to the right of himself a “Nazi” approaches 100% towards election day.

The German elections this weekend are boring. The two parties that govern today together, the center-left SPD and the center-right CDU together will have well more than 50% of the votes. The CDU has about 35%, the SPD 22%, and there is no chance of the SPD overtaking the CDU. 4 smaller parties each have around 10%, with the AfD, which is to the right of the center-right CDU probably getting something like 12% of the vote. So, is that a sign of a growing Nazi resurgence in Germany, or is there a simpler explanation?

The reason why the AfD has more votes than usual is that they are the only party with a strong anti-immigrant position (not counting the regionally limited CSU). The center-right CDU in Germany is well to the left of conservative parties elsewhere, like UK conservatives or US Republicans. Citing Christian values the CDU has welcomed a large number of refugees to Germany, Syrian and other, in previous years. This large influx of immigrants wasn’t unopposed. And so it isn’t really surprising that 12% of voters end up supporting a party that is anti-immigrant, the AfD being their only option in this case. Compare that to other countries, where anti-immigrant parties and policies are in the majority. The news is 88% of voters voting for pro-immigrant parties, not 12% voting for anti-immigrant parties. What you see is an anti-immigrant protest vote, by people who wouldn’t necessarily vote for the AfD if they had any chance at all to actually come to power.

Personally, I have been an immigrant for the last 20 years, and so of course I am pro-immigration. But I do believe that liberals have done a lousy job to explain the advantages of immigration, and to address the various fears of voters regarding immigration, from job competition to crime. I do think that an anti-immigration party has to exist in a democratic society. And we should stop calling people “Nazis” just because they are anti-immigration.

The #1 Reason the GOP Tax Plan Is an Economic Catastrophe: It Will Send Health Care Costs Through the Roof

The bill is poised to cause real pain and suffering to people who struggle to pay for health care.

Of all the reasons the Republican tax bill will be a mugging of the majority of non-wealthy Americans, one reason stands out above all else—the bill will seriously set back everyone who has struggled to pay for health insurance and medical expenses.

Repealing the Obamacare coverage mandate is likely to prompt insurers to raise premiums by an estimated 10 percent annually into the foreseeable future, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Why? Because as up to 13 million people drop their policies—CBO’s estimate—the remaining policy holders will end up paying more. (Those dropping coverage will revert to pre-Obamacare days of postponing treatments and hoping for the best.)

That’s just the start of the dire news affecting health care costs, as anticipated increases will more than offset any tax break. Not that most Americans were going to see tax cuts anyway—the bottom 50 percent of wage earners will see their after-tax incomes shrink by 2 percent; the middle 40 percent’s after-tax incomes will shrink by 0.6 percent; while the top 10 percent will see their incomes grow by 1.5 percent or more, the New York Times noted Monday.

There’s more bad health care news. The tax bill’s $1.5 trillion cost also preys on seniors, triggering spending cuts of 4 percent annually for Medicare, the federal health program for those 65 and older.

Currently, before Congress has its final votes on the bill, there’s no shortage of physicians who do not accept Medicare, due to  reimbursement rates. The result is people needing to see some physicians have to pay cash up front, if they can, and then fight with supplemental insurance providers to be reimbursed. This downward spiral will only worsen as Congress cuts Medicare.

The GOP bill also trashes preventive health care for the poorest households, a majority of which are single mothers with children. The same budget pressures that trigger automatic cuts for Medicare will also apply to the food and nutritional assistance programs. Additionally, the bill’s authors have swapped in a stingier formula for cost-of-living index increases—the so-called chained CPI. That new metric translates into less assistance, not more, for the needy in coming years.

The punishment of the poor and vulnerable doesn’t stop there. The tax bill’s changes in the earned income tax credit will divert an estimated $19 billion from poor families. The bill’s new requirement that families seeking child tax credit provide a Social Security number will translate into higher taxes for undocumented immigrants, who work and pay taxes but lack that paperwork.

But the bill’s biggest negative impact is that it will take bigger bites from paychecks and savings for health care spending. The bill’s GOP authors will counter that they lowered the threshold for deducting medical expenses from 10 percent of annual income to 7.5 percent. However, like many GOP tax breaks, it can only be claimed after spending the money in the first place—if you have it.

The coming shocks to the health care system have prompted industry experts and insiders to beseech Congress to vote no on the bill this week.

“In the wealthiest country on earth, 40 million people live in poverty,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, who ran the Medicaid and Medicare programs for the Obama administration. “The GOP tax bill would dramatically increase the wealth of the very wealthy & begin a cycle of cuts to poverty & health programs… Uneasy Rs have one last chance.”

“This is a horrid bill,” John Baackes, chief executive of L.A. Care, a public plan covering 2 million mostly poor residents of Los Angeles County, told the L.A. Times. “They haven’t been able to repeal and replace [Obamacare], so they’ll attack it through the budget by looking for ways knock down the money that’s needed to cover people.”

But high-ranking Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, have told conservative radio that cutting health care programs is their top federal budget priority—with Ryan saying he will be targeting welfare, Medicare and Medicaid (state-run care for those under 65) in 2018.

Meanwhile, neither Ryan nor his Senate counterparts have taken action to continue funding CHIP, the federal health care program that covers 9 million poor children. (On Monday, Alabama announced it was freezing 2018 CHIP enrollment.)

The GOP bill is poised to cause real pain and suffering to people who struggle to pay for health care. 

As Slavitt wrote late Monday, “BREAKING: Trump Administration announced it is ending program to pay differently to improve quality in Medicaid, as happens in Medicare & everywhere else. I’ve run these programs. This is tragic bigotry.”

Yes, more bigotry against the middle class and working poor. Despite GOP campaign trail rhetoric, there’s no tax simplification, fairness, economic growth or fiscal discipline in the Republicans’ tax bill. It transfers money up the ladder to those already making six-figures and into corporate profits. Almost everyone else pays more—starting with their health care (or lack of it).   

 

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The Stolen Honduran Election: Only The People Can Save Themselves

Current President Juan Orlando Hernández has destroyed whatever minimal legitimacy the state institutions once had.

‘The people are calling it a fraudulent and stolen election’, said Dr. Luther Castillo Harry, when I asked him about the late November election in Honduras. Castillo Harry, who was the National Commissioner of Ministry of Health in the Honduras, looks despairingly at his native country. The institutions in his country have succumbed to bribery and coercion. He nods his head in pain, thinking about how a combination of the oligarchy and the United States has suffocated Honduras.

The current president – Juan Orlando Hernández – has destroyed whatever minimal legitimacy the state institutions once had. In 2012, as the head of the Honduran Congress, Hernández sacked four of the five Supreme Court justices and put in their place those loyal to him. This Court, friendly to Hernández then suggested that the term limits on presidential power were ‘inapplicable’ to him. He could run for re-election in November 2017. When it became clear that he was not winning the popular vote, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) shut down its system. Thirty-six hours later, when the vote count appeared, Hernández was in the lead. He has now been declared the winner.

Castillo Harry’s despondency is not without basis. Things are so bad that even the Organization of American States (OAS), normally quite happy to toe the US line, has been outspoken in its condemnation of the stolen election. The OAS asked Dr. Irfan Nooruddin of Georgetown University to look at the TSE data and at the dramatic vote swing that occurred over the thirty-six hour period of silence. His report – published on 17 December – shows that there are glaring irregularities in the process. ‘The pattern of votes,’ Dr. Nooruddin writes, ‘is suspicious.’ He shows that the irregularities cannot be explained ‘as pure chance.’ This is out-and-out rigging.

Based on Dr. Nooruddin’s report, the OAS Secretary General – Luis Almagro – offered a most detailed denunciation of the election. It is worth reading in full, ‘Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system, intentional elimination of digital traces, the impossibility of knowing the number of opportunities in which the system was violated, pouches of votes open or lacking votes, the extreme statistical improbability with respect to participation levels within the same department, recently printed ballots and additional irregularities, added to the narrow difference of votes between the two most voted candidates, make it impossible to determine with the necessary certainty the winner.’ This is as close to an invalidation of an election as one could get.

The person who ‘lost’ the stolen election – Salvador Nasralla – of La Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura, the opposition front, has called for a re-election. This is just what the OAS has also demanded – ‘a new call for general elections.’

Hernández is not keen to call a new election. He has tried to use the full force of the military and police establishment to crush any protest. Hundreds of people have been injured and tens of them killed. The numbers rise with each hour. Castillo Harry says that the same kind of repression used in the 1980s is now visible. In fact, Hernández’s advisor for security comes from the CIA created death squad, Battalion 316. Sections of the security forces loyal to Hernández have been entering people’s homes at night, arresting them, disappearing them. ‘We have a large group of missing comrades,’ says Castillo Harry. They ‘have been captured and disappeared and are not yet reported as missing.’

But matters are not entirely grave. Castillo Harry points to the sections of the security forces that have refused to comply with the President’s orders. Four hundred members of the elite COBRAS special unit of the police returned to their barracks. They would not fire on their fellow Hondurans. Castillo Harry says that the President personally called the barracks to urge them on. He promised higher salaries and better benefits for the military if they too did his bidding. That there have been these some ‘human rights mutinies’ suggests that there is a fracture in the repressive forces. There is hope here.

The United States has fully backed Hernández in his campaign for re-election. Professor Dana Frank of the University of California (Santa Cruz) and a close observer of Honduras told me that Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelley was close to Hernández when Kelly ran the US Southern Command. He called Hernández a ‘good guy,’ a ‘great friend’ and said that Hernández was doing a ‘magnificent job.’ Stolen election or not, Frank says, ‘Everyone knows that the US wants Hernández in power no matter what.’

The US has an airbase – Palmerola (Soto Cano) Air Base – in Comayagua, fifty miles northwest of the capital Tegucigalpa. This is one of the few major US military bases in Latin America. It was set-up in 1983 for the US to support its contra allies in Nicaragua and its allies in the Honduran military. It is said in Honduras that the US actively participated in the coup against President Zelaya in 2009 because his agenda included the closure of this base. It should be pointed out that the US has directly intervened in the Honduras several times to protect its interests – in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1920, 1924 and 1925. Since the 1980s, however, it has relied on friendly people in the Honduran military and in the Honduran oligarchy to do its bidding. No wonder then that the US is keen to keep the oligarchy in power rather than allow left-leaning Nasralla and his popular alliance to take office.

Castillo Harry is on tour of the United States to speak out about the stolen election. He is being joined by mayors of several cities in Honduras, including Mayor Jose Arnold Avelar Hernandez, who is a leading member of La Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura. They would like the people of the United States to ensure that the Trump administration not be allowed to validate the stolen election. Heide Fulton, the top US diplomat in Honduras, said that the US ‘is ready to work with whomever is the winner.’ The problem is that in a stolen election, the winner did not necessarily win.

Dario Euraque, who was in the cabinet of the deposed government of Zelaya, told me that there is ‘extreme anger, sadness and hope’ in the country. Hope comes from the ‘mobilizations and creativity of the people despite the repression and isolation.’ These protests are indeed continuing. Frank agrees, ‘The current protests build on deep, brave commitments on the part of ordinary Hondurans.’ Castillo Harry says that these protests are ‘in the hands of the community based organizations.’ This element, he says, did not exist so robustly in 2009 to defend the government against the coup. Today, he says, there are more than 134 places around the country held by the resistance – with young people in the lead. Almost all those who have been killed are young activists.

‘Only the people save the people,’ Castillo Harry says, repeating a slogan that has appeared in the protests. The walls of cities and towns in Honduras have been painted with the orchid, the national flower. Until 1969, the national flower of Honduras was the rose, although the rose is not native to the country. The orchid however is native to Honduras. There is a poetic sense that this protest is of people who want to take their country back. The stolen election is perhaps the last straw.

 

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Deal: Xiaomi discounts Mi MIX 2, Mi A1 Special Edition, Redmi Note 4 in “No. 1 Fan Sale”

Xiaomi is celebrating the end of a banner year in the Indian market with a “No. 1 Fan Sale” that applies some tasty discounts to its top phones from 2017. The deals begin to go live at 12:00 am IST and run until December 21st on Mi.com.

The headline deal coincides with the launch of the stunning red Xiaomi Mi A1 Special Edition, which is set to drop from Rs. 13,999 to Rs. 12,999. The offer goes live in just under six hours (at time of writing), but Reward Mi members can get in on the savings early. You can find out all you need to know about the Android One phone here.

On the flagship front, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 will enjoy a price drop from Rs. 35,999 to Rs. 32,999 (check here for a refresher on Xiaomi’s bezel-less beauty in our full review) . The Mi Max 2 phablet, meanwhile will come down to Rs. 12,999 from Rs. 14,999.

Xiaomi’s real success in India has come from mid-tier phones, so it’s not too surprising to see the Redmi 4, Redmi Y1 Lite, and the insanely popular Redmi Note 4 all receive price cuts too. Unfortunately, Xiaomi is being a little coy with the finer details on these deals – most only say “up to $1,000 off” – and it hasn’t confirmed which exact models are on offer. I imagine we’re looking at the standard base models, but we won’t know for sure until the sale goes live.

If you’re happy with your current phone but are looking for something on the side then you’re also in luck as Xiaomi’s “Fan Sale” covers accessories too. This includes offers on phone cases, up to 25% off a Mi Power Bank 2i, and the Mi Band – HRX Edition for Rs. 1,299 (was Rs. 1,799). There are also various deals on Xiaomi audio and smart home devices, while the Mi VR Play 2 drops from Rs. 1,499 to Rs. 1,299.

You can see all the deals for yourself by clicking the button below.

Xiaomi No.1 Fan Sale at Mi.com

SoMe-Things YoU sHould knOw about “PhoneGap”: Android – LeaVe my baThRoom at-least !

PhoneGap Framework

phonegap

Building applications for each platform–iPhone, Android, Windows and more–requires different frameworks and languages. PhoneGap solves this by using standards-based web technologies to bridge web applications and mobile devices. Since PhoneGap apps are standards compliant, they’re future-proofed to work with browsers as they evolve.


The PhoneGap framework was contributed by the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) under the name Apache Cordova and graduated to top-level project status in October 2012. Through the ASF, future PhoneGap development will ensure open stewardship of the project. It will always remain free and open source under the Apache License, Version 2.0.
To develop apps using Phonegap, the developer does not require top have knowledge of mobile programming language but should know languages like, HTML, CSS, JScript.
PhoneGap takes care of rest of the work, such as look and feel of the app and portability among various mobile operating systems and also allows its users to upload the data contents on website and it automatically converts it to various App files.

PhoneGap Environment Setup

Lets see how to setup basic PhoneGap Environment to develop apps easily. PhoneGap supports offline creation of apps using Cordova command line interface and Github, but we concentrate on online creation of apps. As PhoneGap supports only HTML, CSS and JavaScript, it is mandatory that the application should be created using these technologies only. 
An application package must contain following files:
  • Configuration File
  • Icons for App
  • Content (built using web technologies)
Configuration File
App require one configuration file named as “config.xml” that configure all its necessary settings. This file contains all the necessary information required to compile the app.
following is the content of config.xml file
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<widget xmlns = "http://www.w3.org/ns/widgets"
xmlns:gap = "http://phonegap.com/ns/1.0"
id = "com.phonegap.example"
versionCode = "10"
version = "1.0.0" >

<!-- versionCode is optional and Android only -->

<name>PhoneGap Example</name>

<description>
An example for phonegap build docs.
</description>

<author href="https://build.phonegap.com" email="[email protected]">
Hardeep Shoker
</author>

</widget>
The widget element must be the root of your XML document.When using PhoneGap Build, ensure you have the following attributes set on your widget element.
id – The unique identifier for your application. To support all supported platforms, this must be reverse-domain name style (e.g. com.yourcompany.yourapp)
version –  for best results, use a major/minor/patch style version, with three numbers, such as 0.0.1
versionCode – (optional) when building for Android, you can set the versionCode by specifying it in your config.xml.
<name> – The name of the application.
<description> – A description for your application.
<author> – The author of the application, either a company or individual (required for Windows 10 builds).
<platform> – You can have zero or more of these elements present in your config.xml. Set the name attribute to one of ios, android, or windows.If you specify none, all platforms will be built.
Icons
It is important to prepare icons of exact shapes and sizes as required by particular mobile operating system. Here we are using the folders res/icon/ios and res/icon/android/drawable-xxxx..To get this work done fast, you can create a logo of size 1024×1024 and log on to makeappicon.com. This website will help you instantly create logos of all sizes for both android and iOS platform.

PhoneGap App Contents

We can create two type of apps. Online app and Offline App. Following is the directory structure for the applications.
Online App
In online app entire information content is loaded from the Internet.
Online app directory structure
The index.html file contains actual links as it contains at the web server and all its links are either absolute or used with base href tag.
Offline App
Offline app will let you create a web application that is downloaded to its entirety to the mobile devices of a user who can access that offline.
offline app directory structure
The config.xml contains app configuration settings. The index.html file contains homepage of web contents. All the HTML files should contain only relative path not absolute path or base href tag.
Once selected your app type, organize files in above mentioned structure and zip it using any standard tool zip tool.

Sign Your App

Android requires that all APKs be digitally signed with a certificate before they can be installed. For this reason, you need to sign your app. You may need keytool which is a part of standard java distribution.Execute the following command in %JAVA_HOME% in your Windows command prompt or Linux Shell:-

keytool -genkey -v -keystore my_keystore.keystore 
   -alias TutorialsPoint -keyalg RSA -keysize 2048 -validity 10000

It should generate one file.

PhoneGap App Compilation

Now we are ready to compile our first web API-based app. PhoneGap accepts user login created on GitHub or using AdobeID. GitHub is a online repository service where users can upload their contents and use them by providing their URL references.
Following steps are required to create Adobe Id and Compile the application.
Create Adobe ID
Got to https://build.phonegap.com/ and register after that login to your account it will display PhoneGap Console as shown in below
phonegap console

Click on ‘Upload a .zip file’ and upload the .zip file we created, which has the entire web content and configurations. You should see the following window after successful upload

Click on the Android icon and the following screen should appear


Click on drop-down option menu next to Android icon that reads No key selected, click on add a key and the following screen should appear
Provide the file created while signing the App. Then click on ‘Rebuild’ button next to it. The app built by this process can be directly uploaded to Google Play. Click on .apk file and you can download your first web-based free app.Before uploading, app should be tested on either virtual or real devices.

sign file submit form

Learn Android Programming?

7th Continent – Upping my pledge

I am not a millionaire. However I am not poor or “just about managing” either. If I had to classify my financial situation I’d call it “comfortably well off”. Now if you look at my hobby, games in general, the cost of games is usually in the tens or hundreds of dollars/euros. Which means that the purchase of even an expensive game or a somewhat exaggerated, unnecessary game purchase isn’t going to cause me any financial hardship. There are occasions where spending more is a reasonable option for me, even if I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody. All this to say that I just upped my pledge for the 7th Continent second Kickstarter project from $49 to $200. Why?

Well, it started with me packing a suitcase for a week of holidays with my wife. We like our holidays to be a mix of visiting things and relaxing, so we always take some entertainment with us. And I was hesitating to take the box of the 7th Continent game I got from the previous Kickstarter. I really want to play this, but what if it gets damaged or the airline loses my baggage and the game is gone? You can’t buy the 7th Continent anywhere, it is only available during Kickstarter projects, and they don’t happen all that often (about every 2 years).

And then I realized that because there is currently the second Kickstarter project ongoing (I had already pledged to get the next expansion), I could up my pledge and get a second base game too for $129. Throw in a bit more money for optional purchases like expansions (which also aren’t available anywhere else) and I upped my pledge to $200. Worst case scenario is that I end up with one extra box I’ll never open. Best case scenario is that I’ll have a shiny second edition box with lots of expansions at home, and the peace of mind that allows me to take the original box with me on holidays without being stressed about damaging or losing it. Not something I would do for a game that can easily be replaced, but for the 7th Continent I considered it worth the money.

The current Kickstarter project ends in 5 days, so if you still want to join you need to hurry. The projects already has over 33,000 backers and is over 10,000% funded. That is not a typo, they asked for $40,000 and got $4.5 million. As a “second edition” the risk of not getting the product you paid for is much reduced, although it probably will be late again. Great success of a Kickstarter project brings its own logistics problems, and this second run got 3 times the backers and 4 times the money of the first run. The game has raving reviews on BoardGameGeek (Rank #56 out of 96,000 games) and elsewhere. And unlike Gloomhaven you can’t just buy the 7th Continent on Amazon. You can get just the base game, in English or French, for $80, but another $49 also gets you the big expansion “What Goes Up, Must Come Down” and the many stretch goals. Or if you are like me you can go all out and get pretty much everything for $200.

Sally Yates Calls on Americans to Rise Up in Powerful Op-Ed

“It is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar.”

Americans find themselves at a critical moment in their nation’s history, when they must decide what kind of country they want to have, according to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

In a searing op-ed for USA Today, the Trump foe reveals she tried to warn and help the administration, only to be thrown out of office. Now she is calling on her fellow Americans to uphold the “country’s core values.”

“Our founding documents set forth the values that make us who we are, or at least who we aspire to be,” Yates writes. “I say aspire to be because we haven’t always lived up to our founding ideals — even at the time of our founding. When the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, hundreds of thousands of African Americans were being enslaved by their fellow Americans.”

She recalls the Jim Crow South when Americans were forced to choose between segregation and racial justice. And while we have often failed to live up to our ideals, we have always had a shared vision of what the country means and what is expected of its leaders.

Yates asks Americans to look back at the Preamble to the Constitution for inspiration:

“’We the people of the United States’ (we are a democratic republic, not a dictatorship),” she writes. “‘In order to form a more perfect union’ (we are a work in progress dedicated to a noble pursuit) ‘establish justice’ (we revere justice as the cornerstone of our democracy) ‘insure domestic tranquility’ (we prize unity and peace, not divisiveness and discord), ‘provide for the common defense’ (we should never give any foreign adversary reason to question our solidarity) ‘promote the general welfare’ (we care about one another; compassion and decency matter) ‘and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity’ (we have a responsibility to protect not just our own generation, but future ones as well).”

She goes on to explain that the Bill of Rights guarantees individual liberty and other rights that Americans often take for granted.

“But without vigilance, [they] can erode and slip away, such as freedom of speech (our right to protest and be heard); freedom of religion (the essential separation between how one worships and the power of the state); and freedom of the press (a democratic institution essential to informing the public and holding our leaders accountable),” Yates continues.

Yates also notes that one thing that separates the United States from an autocracy is the “strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations.” This ensures the public believes in the legitimacy of the criminal process.

“There is such a thing as objective truth,” she explains. “We can debate policies and issues, and we should. But those debates must be based on common facts rather than raw appeals to emotion and fear through polarizing rhetoric and fabrications.”

She closes with a powerful call to action:

“We are not living in ordinary times, and it is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar…So stand up. Speak out.”

 

 

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Dungeons & Dragons today

Dungeons & Dragons is over 40 years old, and I have been playing it for over 35 years. So what is the most surprising aspect of D&D today for me is how popular the game has become suddenly. A streamlined 5th edition and good use of social media, including celebrity support, has moved D&D into the main stream. People now actually watch other people play D&D on Twitch, and not just when it is Vin Diesel or Wil Wheaton. “D&D player on Twitch / YouTube” is now actually a method to become “internet famous”.

I liked 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It is a great combination of role-playing game with a balanced tactical combat game for experienced players. But it is not a suitable game for a mass market, it is far too complicated for that. The much less balanced, much quicker, much easier 5th edition is far more suitable for mass popularity.

It also helped that the makers of Dungeons & Dragons stopped shooting themselves in the foot with their internet policy. In the early days of the internet, TSR was notorious for going after fans putting D&D-related materials on the internet. It took a change of owner in 1997 to Wizards of the Coast and then Hasbro in 1999 to get the company to realize that fans on the internet are free advertising. With a game that is hard to explain to somebody who has never played it, a Twitch / Youtube video of interesting people like Chris Perkins running a game with Acquisitions Incorporated at PAX might actually be superior advertising to anything else.

The only people somewhat unhappy by the current popularity of D&D are the makers and fans of Pathfinder. Pathfinder had shoved D&D off the throne of top pen & paper roleplaying game for several years during 4th edition, only to be left in the dust by 5th edition. Now they are planning a comeback with Pathfinder second edition, with a playtest starting in August.

It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now, Thanks to the GOP

Conservatism has turned itself into a civic religion and columnist Neal Gabler fears the damages wrought in the Trump era will be permanent and lasting.

Sad to say, this will be my last column for billmoyers.com, where I have written for the past two years. In recent months, in the process of trying to understand for myself the cataclysm of Nov. 8, 2016, I have tried to examine a number of forces — demographic, economic, cultural, media — that may help explain it. I am certain that the question of  “what happened” will plague us for decades and that Nov. 8, 2016, will join April 12, 1861; Oct. 28, 1929; Dec. 7, 1941; Nov. 22, 1963 and Sept. 11, 2001 as one of the most calamitous and tragic dates in our history.

Historians may determine that it was the date America’s second civil war began. By that perspective, just as the first Civil War was the last gasp of slavery, this second is very likely the last gasp of aging white Americans — their full-throated death rattle against an America that they detest for having changed so dramatically the traditions and power structures by which those whites had lived. Regressions are often like that. They are an angry attempt to prevent a threatening future from arriving. Republicans had long preyed upon these discontents, but did so tepidly — a wink-and-nod approach. Trump voiced them and validated them, making racism, nativism and sexism acceptable. It will be his primary legacy.

But I think the real lesson of 2016 lies not in politics, but in religion. We hear a great deal about tribalism as an explanation for the Trump phenomenon. We hear about how Americans have divided themselves into parochial groups that reinforce shared values and interests as well as grievances and hatreds. But if tribalism answers one question — why people seem to hold so firmly to their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence and even moral opprobrium — it doesn’t answer another, more important question: Why did they join these tribes in the first place?

I believe religion rather than politics may provide that answer. One of the most important shifts in our culture has been the transformation of politics into a kind of civic religion. Religion has always provided a sense of identity — hence the tribalism — but it provided something else, too; something even more fundamental. In what historian Karen Armstrong describes as the Axial Age, from which modern religions grew, it pointed the way to a meaningful life with spiritual values. That was for nurturing the soul. And it provided a cosmology, a systematic way of thinking about and explaining the world and our place in it. That was for the mind.

I have written previously about how conservatism turned itself into a civic religion, which I think is one of the affinities between evangelicalism and conservatism — not just that they share some values, but that they share the very idea of orthodoxy. Armstrong describes in a religious context how the Axial Age lost its spiritualism to dogma. This is especially relevant in a complex, ever-churning world that seems to outrun our capacity to understand it. True religion, I believe, begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.

Modern conservatism, like debased religion, has an explanation for everything, and there is nothing mysterious or spiritual about it. Trump understood the desire for some all-encompassing answer, as demagogues always do. Demagogues assume the proportions of religious leaders, but without the moral instruction. Through a process of simplification, they purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite — benightedness.

As religious observance has declined in America, as faith has declined and the religious cosmologies have weakened, political passions and political cosmologies have risen, and those old religious/conservative affinities have strengthened as religion tries to save itself by piggybacking on politics, rather than as some believe, the other way around. Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, is the perfect example of religion’s surrender to politics. Many evangelicals embrace him despite credible allegations of child molestation, showing how morality has become so politicized that it no longer even makes sense. That is because politics is the new religion of America.

Other observers, many of them brilliant, have been less alarmist than I about the permanent effects of Trumpism. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote this past week that the Republican tax bill, which is like a nuclear bomb to the economy and to economic equality, will likely not have as severe consequences as many critics, myself included, fear. He says that politics change, Democrats sooner or later will take power, and they will revise the law just as Obama revised Bush’s tax cuts. Nothing is irrevocable.

But this assumes that politics is still politics, not religion. Religions are not easily reformed, doctrines are not easily changed, disciples are not easily converted. History is punctuated with religious warfare. This new civic religion has already put Republicans in the position of turning every election, every legislative squabble, into Armageddon. Ten years from now they may still be trying to repeal Obamacare. In the long run, perhaps, Leonhardt is right. Things change. They always change. But then again, according to the old saying, in the long run, we are all dead.

And that is why I don’t think the Trump moment will pass without serious and permanent damage to America. Trump isn’t just a politician with whom one may disagree. Indeed, Trump really has very little interest in politics, none in policy, and no respect whatsoever for the political process, which he ridicules at every turn as “rigged.” Instead, Trump, like other creators of a cult of personality, is a self-proclaimed savior, who promises his supporters redemption. In a certain sense, he is right. Trump’s is a cosmology of an America — a world, gone wrong — an America decayed by changing values purveyed by nonwhites, non-Christians and nonmales. He tells his supporters he will make it right. They believe him. And they will not be dissuaded. In Trump they trust.

So what to do? When liberal commentators discuss how Obama voters drifted to Trump and must be courted if Democrats are to win, I am deeply skeptical. I am skeptical of the data, which draws questionable conclusions about voting behavior, and I am even more skeptical of the effort to attract them. Thomas Edsall is as wise a columnist as we have, and he has been indispensable in trying to decipher this crisis in national sanity. But I think he too underestimates the forces that feed Trump and that Trump feeds. Last week’s column enjoined liberals to take their fingers out of their ears so they could hear the complaints of those Trump voters and win them back, even as he admits to the near impossibility of a liberal democracy, committed to freedom of expression, containing its more extreme elements.

I am not at all opposed to listening to Trump supporters. Quite the opposite. It is an imperative that they be heard and understood. I just don’t think there is much common cause between progressives and them. They are not all racists, nativists, sexists, homophobes and Islamophobes, but a healthy percentage are, and I think it’s probably a fool’s mission to attempt to change their minds. Just watch the people at Trump’s rallies. That is what makes the future so perilous. They are not going to convert.

Moreover, I am convinced that the worst is yet to come. Heading into the special election in Alabama, Moore seemed likely to win, confirming the utter depravity of the Republican Party. Thankfully — mercifully — that was not the case. Trump will issue blanket pardons in the Russia investigation and eventually fire Robert Mueller. The attacks on environmental protection, conservation, economic equality, the social safety net, a free press, voting rights, higher education and reason, diplomacy, women and morality itself will continue unabated with the full support of the Republicans. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. America is under siege, and this civil war has already taken a grave toll.

So I am not hopeful, but I don’t want to leave this space with a sense of hopelessness or futility. The resistance movement has already borne fruit, and there is a chance, albeit small, that Democrats will retake Congress next year and the counterattack will begin. I always remind myself, as you should remind yourself, that while the forces of hate are powerful, unshakable and mobilized, there are more of us than of them — Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, after all.

But just as I don’t think politics is the real engine for the Trump movement, I don’t think that politics is entirely the solution. Religion, which in its corrupted form is an engine, may be — by which I mean the moral and spiritual underpinnings of life. Rather than abandon our values or downplay them, as some suggest, I think we should double down on them. The religious historian Karen Armstrong, in describing those early religious principles of the Axial Age, wrote, “First, you must commit yourself to the ethical life,” and concluded that “religion was compassion.”

These are important things to remember. Let the conservatives continue to eschew ethics and compassion. Let them sow hatred. Let progressives hold firmly to ethics and compassion and to love. Morality, not moralism, is an almost ineluctable force. We talk a lot about grass-roots politics. We need to talk as well about grass-roots morality. Put simply: If you want to defeat Trump where it really counts, live ethically. The rest will follow. As Martin Luther King memorably said, paraphrasing Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Moreover, when it comes to cosmology, progressives need to provide an alternative narrative to Trump’s and the conservatives’ that will explain the world without distorting it. It should tell the story of economic inequality, and of plutocracy, and of the role of conservatives in enabling these things. It should also provide a positive vision of community and mutual assistance and global interdependence. It should promote compassion and empathy. It should be simple, powerful and affirmative, and it should be repeated endlessly the way Trump repeats his racist/nativist/sexist/phobic narrative. I am convinced that you don’t fight fire with fire, which is why I am dubious of Democratic efforts to out tough Trump. You fight fire with water.

Here is hope. Even if 40 percent of Americans have gone to the dark side, there are still so many people who are good and decent and self-sacrificing and who will continue to fight for a just society. It has been my privilege to share my ideas with them (and you among them) these past two years. I hope I will be able to engage them (and you) again. Yes, it is a sad, indescribably tragic time in America, and now that we know what we know about so many of our fellow citizens, about the Republican Party, and about the incapacity of our political system to deal with extremism, there is no going back. But in spite of all that, I think we must keep the faith, and we must take comfort that we have one another, not as fellow tribalists, but as fellow human beings searching for our best selves.

 

 

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Latest Razer Phone update delivers camera and audio improvements

We noted in our Razer Phone review that the photography performance was garbage. The 12 MP dual camera itself was adequate, but it was let down by poor processing, slow shutter speeds, and weak colors. Thankfully, Razer vowed to address some of these camera problems via software updates last month, and today we’ve come across one such OTA.

As reported by GSMArena, Razer is now rolling out a ~97 MB update which brings fixes several welcome improvements to the camera and audio technologies — check out the patch notes below.

Camera improvements:

  • Improved shutter speed in low light and when using HDR
  • Reduced noise and clearer shadows
  • Improved picture quality and better color cast
  • Crushed bugs and performance improvements

Audio improvements:

  • “Tweaked the knobs” for greater clarity during playback
  • Improved call quality for HD Audio
  • Fixed some issues with Dolby Audio

Meanwhile, Razer also lists a “smoothed out” auto-brightness luminosity, updated “Arrival theme icons to a dark style,” and other bug fixes in its list of optimizations. The handset remains on Android 7.1.1 Nougat for the time being, however, with the October security level.

These are much-needed improvements for the Razer Phone, and though we can’t yet attest to the effectiveness of this latest patch (we haven’t seen the update ourselves and it’s not clear which regions it’s currently rolling out in), we’ll be sure to investigate the situation once we do.

What are your thoughts on the Razer Phone? Is it worth the money? Let us know in the comments.