Derek Parfit

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Vox eulogizes philosopher Derek Parfit:

Derek Parfit, who died at age 74 on Sunday evening, was not the most famous philosopher in the world. But he was among the most brilliant, and his papers and books have had a profound, incalculably vast impact on the study of moral philosophy over the past half century.

"Parfit was not a prolific author," the piece observes:

...he tended to write his books over the course of decades, refining them repeatedly after discussions with colleagues and students. In the end, he wrote only two: 1984's Reasons and Persons, and 2011's On What Matters, a two-volume, 1,440 page tome whose third volume is still yet to be published.

The first two volumes of Parfit's opus On What Matters are available here, with a third volume due in March.]

As befits its title, Parfit's last and longest book On What Matters sprawled across a great variety of topics. It's broadly interested in what reasons people have to act in certain ways, or hold certain beliefs, or desire certain things. A lot of those questions have to do with morality, but some don't. Perhaps the greatest joy of reading it is spotting the occasional diversions, the odd moments here and there where he makes an aside from the main narrative, often concisely expressing what would take others of us pages and pages to articulate.

Trump's propaganda effort against Obamacare includes misrepresenting Bill Clinton's remarks:

People must remember that ObamaCare just doesn't work, and it is not affordable - 116% increases (Arizona). Bill Clinton called it "CRAZY"

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017

What Clinton said, though, was drastically different:

The current system ... But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small businesspeople and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies.

So you've got this crazy system where all of a sudden, 25 million more people have health care and then the people that are out there busting it ― sometimes 60 hours a week ― wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It's the craziest thing in the world.

So here's the simplest thing....let people buy into Medicare or Medicaid.

It's clear, the piece writes, that "Clinton was arguing for expanding health care access. He never called the ACA crazy."

Speaking of repealing Obamacare, digby wonders:

When Trump's own voters lose their health insurance will they be happy to sacrifice their own lives in order that their enemies will lose theirs? And by enemies, I mean me. And maybe you. Because that's what they're trying to do. They care more about cutting taxes for rich people than middle class people who don't get their insurance at work. [...]

Oh, and by the way, they don't think employers should be required to offer health insurance either. So, if they decide it's too expensive, it's really it's all about begging from your neighbors. After all, if you get sick when you aren't rich, it's really your fault right?

This is immoral. But then so are they.

In describing pushback on the delayed oversight killing, Kevin Drum quotes from the Washington Post:

The House GOP moved to withdraw changes made the day before to official rules that would rein in the Office of congressional Ethics. Instead, the House will study changes to the office with an August deadline.

"Oh please," he comments:

Trump didn't object to Republicans gutting the ethics office. He just thought they should do it later, when fewer people might notice. And that's what they're doing. They'll "study changes" and then gut the office in August, when everyone is on vacation.

Meanwhile, media outlets are falsely giving Trump credit for the reversal:

According to CNN, "President-elect Donald Trump dramatically strong-armed House Republicans into line Tuesday in his first Washington power play."

While it is true that Donald Trump criticized congressional Republicans, so did many other people.

And it is not true that he opposed gutting the OCE. His response this morning was only to say that while the OCE's existence was "unfair" to Republicans, that there were more important priorities to focus on.

We need to keep hammering on his unparalleled unpopularity, writes Eric Boehlert, who observes that "Trump's contrast with Obama in late 2008 is stunning:"

Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating. Today, Trump's favorable rating stands at an anemic 43 percent. And if history is any indication, that rating is almost certain to go down once the new president takes office.

Given the plurality of Americans who expect Trump to be a "poor" or "terrible" president, he wonders "what explains the press's passive, often genuflecting coverage of Trump since November?"

If Trump had just posted a 49-state, Reagan-esque landslide victory, I could more readily understand why the press would be acquiescing so regularly. But Trump just made history by losing the popular tally by nearly three million votes and remains, without question, the least popular president-elect since modern-day polling was invented.

Yet members of the press seem unduly intimidated by his presence, and have even rewarded him with chatter of an invisible "mandate." (He has none.)

Then he asks the big question:

Does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton had won in November while badly losing the popular vote to Trump, and then posted historically awful approval ratings during her transition, that story would not dominate Beltway coverage day after day, week after week?

And don't forget the press's entrenched fascination with Obama's public approval during his presidency, particularly the desire to depict "collapsing" support when, in fact, Obama's approval rating remained stubbornly stable for years.

There's a glaring Trump transition story hiding in plain sight: He's historically unpopular. The press ought to start telling that tale on a daily basis.

Conor Lynch suggests that 2017 could be even worse than 2016. As he writes, "there is little reason to celebrate the year's end this weekend, or to be hopeful for 2017:"

And when "deplorable Don" arrives in Washington, he will have a Republican-controlled Congress full of partisan lackeys, unscrupulous sycophants and empty-suit pontificators to lick his boots and kiss his ring -- as long as they can slash taxes for their wealthy donors, privatize Social Security and Medicare and, of course, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In no time at all people will be feeling nostalgic for 2016 -- longing for the days when Donald J. Trump was just a billionaire demagogue running for president, without any real power. Before he became the most powerful toddler in the world.

Trump, Lynch continues, "did more than any other individual in recent American history to normalize public racism, sexism and xenophobia, as well as political violence:"

His provocative campaign emboldened bigots and misogynists and rejuvenated white-supremacist and neo-Nazi hate groups, while poisoning political discourse and accelerating the country's descent into a post-truth reality. If Trump had lost the election to Hillary Clinton, he would still have left the country hopelessly divided and more vulnerable than ever before to the forces of extremism and bigotry. But at least he would have left the country breathing.

Lynch writes that "this lunatic will have real and terrifying powers," leading to a "great potential for catastrophe:"

There is no telling what Trump will do once he is in the Oval Office, or how much of his campaign rhetoric was empty talk. But his erratic behavior since the election and the far-right cabinet he has assembled over the past month indicates that he will be every bit as reactionary, demagogic and impulsive as he was on the campaign trail.

He concludes with no small amount of resignation that "it is all but certain that 2017 will make 2016 look like the good old days, regardless of which beloved celebrities drop dead." Amanda Marcotte looks at political resolutions, noting that "2016 was a vile, no-good year that can go suck eggs:"

Unfortunately, there is every reason to believe that 2017 will be treating us no better. In fact it is quite likely, with President Donald Trump in the White House, to be a waking nightmare from which there is no escape.

She offers "three resolutions I'm undertaking to preserve my sanity:"

1. No more attention given to dudes who want to relitigate the Democratic primary.

2. A strict outrage diet for Donald Trump's culture war antics.

But it's become clear that Trump's provocations -- from the Mike Pence "Hamilton" fiasco to whatever asinine thing he's saying on Twitter this week -- are rooted in his reality-TV background and his understanding that glib provocation is a great way to sow chaos that both distracts from and helps dismantle our democracy. So my goal is, every time Trump is spouting distracting culture war nonsense, to start looking for whatever, usually more serious, story he's trying to distract the public from.

3. Having a life outside politics.

But with Trump ripping through our democracy like a tornado, it's doubly important to remember that there are things in this world that aren't terrible. So it's important to take the time to read a novel or go to a museum or listen to a record the whole way through.

Similarly, AlterNet's Les Leopold explains why resisting Trump is not enough:

While resistance is critically important, we will fail unless resistance is contained within a long term strategy to reverse runaway inequality and upend neoliberalism (defined as systematic tax breaks for the rich, cuts in social programs, anti-union legislation, financial deregulation and corporate-managed trade.) If we don't build an alternative movement, our defensive struggles could enhance Trump's popularity rather than to diminish it.

He then lists the risks of a "resistance only" response:

1. It makes our politics Trump-centric or even Trump-dependent.

"Of course, resistance is badly needed," he says, while also stressing "a pro-active positive agenda:"

The key items include a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, free higher education, single-payer health care, massive infrastructure spending, a halt to the off-shoring of jobs, criminal justice reform, taking money out of politics, and reducing global warming. That's our agenda, not Trump's.

The fact that few if any of these issues are being discussed today shows the weakness of a Trump-centric approach.

2. Trump resistance can slide into defending the status quo:

3. Resisting Trump by itself will not win back swing states

Key swing states may remain in Trump's column if all we do is resist. A marginal voter could view progressive resist actions as simply disruptive if we don't put forth a positive agenda that frames our resistance and expands the debate. [...] The future goes to whichever camp develops the most compelling vision for America. A negation of Trump is not a vision.

4. Resisting Trump on trade and the off-shoring of jobs is a big mistake.

5. Betting on Trump's failure is reckless:

"it is not a forgone conclusion," he writes, "that Trump's economic policies will fail:"

So waiting for Trump's collapse or just pushing for it, seems like an irresponsible political strategy. Instead, we actually have to do the hard work of building something new that is independent both of Trump and the neo-liberal establishment.

5. Resisting Trump could turn into an excuse to stay within our issue silos:

This could cause "extreme fragmentation among progressive organizations:"

There is no common agenda, no common strategy, no common structure. We have enormous experience in promoting our specific agenda silos and very little practice in working together around a hard hitting common program that transcends all of our silos.

"We need a tangible organizing effort that brings together our many issue groups," he writes, which "entails four tasks:"

• We need a common agenda and common analysis.
• We need a national educational campaign that explains the agenda and analysis all around the country, as the Populists did in the 1880s.
• We need a new national organization that we can all join as dues paying members.
• Finally, we need to expand our own perceptions of the possible.

The Advocate's list of 6 things we must do the survive Trump's America, penned by Mark Joseph Stern, calls the spectre of Trump's presidency "a disaster for LGBT people throughout the nation:"

There can be no doubt that the Trump administration, together with a Republican-dominated Congress, will roll back hard-fought victories and stall the push for ever greater equality. [...]

Trump will take office at a moment when LGBT people enjoy historically high tolerance and support from the American public. His presidency will not change that, at least not immediately. The supermajority of Americans will still support marriage equality; trans people will continue to gain greater visibility, and thus acceptance; and despite distractions about "religious liberty" and discrimination, most people will still believe that nobody should be fired because they're LGBT. "Don't ask, don't tell" will not be revived. The Supreme Court, even one stacked by Trump, will feel immense institutional pressure to respect the precedent of marriage equality. We will elect more openly LGBT people to statehouses across the country. [...]

If Hillary Clinton were assuming office after Obama, the path forward would be clear and manageable. It will now be tortuous and grueling.

He offers "six suggestions as to how the movement can protect and even expand its rights over the next four years:"

1. Remember: Trump may not be a virulent homophobe, but he is a threat.

In order to shore up evangelical votes, Trump has already declared that the Supreme Court's marriage-equality decision should be overturned, that states should be allowed to deny transgender people access to public bathrooms, and that President Obama's executive orders protecting LGBT people should be rescinded. As president, he will surely continue to throw LGBT people under the bus when Bannon -- who has stated his desire to "turn on the hate" -- thinks it's convenient.

2. Keep the focus on Pence.

Dangerous as Trump may be, his vice president is significantly more threatening to LGBT people's safety and well-being. [...] It is too early to surmise the extent to which Pence's unrepentant, unrelenting homophobia will influence the Trump administration.

3. Watch out for cabinet cronies and "religious liberty."

Obama's appointees have interpreted bans on "sex discrimination" in existing civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity; as a result, they have granted LGBT people new protections in housing, credit, education, and employment. Trump's appointees will quietly reverse these interpretations, stripping LGBTs of vital federal protections.

These reversals should be met with public protests.

LGBT advocates should also prepare for a drawn-out brawl over bills designed to legalize discrimination in the guise of "religious liberty." Pence's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" allowed "religious belief" to supercede nondiscrimination ordinances in certain circumstances; congressional Republicans appear poised to offer Trump an even more extreme variation on this genre. Their "First Amendment Defense Act" would broadly legalize any anti-LGBT discrimination ostensibly required by one's "religious belief or moral conviction."

4. Focus on state politics and the community.

"Instead of wasting energy on the federal level," he writes, "LGBT advocates should find room for improvement in the states:"

These [pro-LGBT] governors can work to expand LGBT protections -- and veto gerrymanders that would permanently entrench an anti-LGBT Republican majority in the statehouse.

Meanwhile, every supporter of LGBT rights should get involved with their communities to protect the most vulnerable among us. Young queer people will soon face a barrage of hate, which starts at the top and trickles down into the classroom and home.

5. Change the legal strategy.

Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who toppled the federal Defense of Marriage Act as well as Mississippi's same-sex-adoption ban, thinks activists should shift their focus to blatantly hateful and extreme laws that explicitly license religious-based discrimination.

6. Don't lose hope, and don't back down.

The past eight years have marked a new era of openness in the United States. [...] Marriage equality marked a point of no return, and we are still just beginning to experience the benefits that will flow from that decision. We will not retreat; we will not become invisible; we will not stop demanding the full array of rights that are owed to us under the law.

Fareed Zakaria worries about the US becoming an illiberal democracy, which he believes is "something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic:"

It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices -- democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today. [...][

But we are now getting to see what American democracy looks like without any real buffers in the way of sheer populism and demagoguery. The parties have collapsed, Congress has caved, professional groups are largely toothless, the media have been rendered irrelevant.

He wonders, "who and what remain to nourish and preserve the common good, civic life and liberal democracy?"

In reference to National Geographic's Gender Revolution issue, The Federalist's Walt Heyer writes that "Transgenderism is today's popular social delusion." For once, it's not completely clueless pontificating from the right-wing site. Heyer writes that "like Avery Jackson, I was a cross-dressing boy at the age of nine:"

Eventually, I did become a female transgender. I was approved and underwent the full range of hormone therapy and surgeries and legally changed my identity. I lived life as a female, Laura Jensen, for eight years. All too late I realized transgenderism was all "B.S."--a surgical masquerade to superficially project a change of gender. Like others who elect to live the transgender life, I painfully discovered it was only a temporary fix to deeper pain.

A cover photo is visually exciting and can persuade young people that male and female gender models are not fixed, when they are. Photos like the one on the cover of National Geographic can encourage a child to question his or her gender and sex and act out accordingly.

Well, that didn't take long to go off the rails. "The activists' theory of gender fluidity, or gender spectrum," he writes, "suggests that God-designated genders of male and female indicated by biology is too limiting."

No, the scientific theories of biology indicate the spectrum.

Heyer also argues that "changing gender is encouraged, nurtured, and celebrated seemingly everywhere."

Really?!

When he claims that "Young people are told transgender feelings are permanent, immutable, physically deep-seated in the brain, and can never change," I can only respond [citation needed]. Heyer continues by accusing NatGeo editor of "recklessly using the magazine and this child to promote gender questioning and the theory of gender as a spectrum:"

The magazine cover is designed to change minds and influence gender transition. [...] It completely abandons any pretense of covering male-female gender inequality. Like the special issue of the magazine, the "documentary" [a two-hour feature of trans kids and their parents] is an indoctrination for the activist transgender point of view. It endorses cross-gender affirmation and transition for children to the exclusion of any other less-invasive treatment.

This Is Child Abuse

Studies have shown that childhood gender dysphoria does not inevitably continue into adulthood. An overwhelming 77 to 94 percent of gender dysphoric children do not become adults with gender dysphoria. Given this, it's social, medical, and psychological malpractice to push young children to lop off or sew on body parts and take highly charged cross-sex hormones that can further destabilize their prepubescent bodies and minds, especially when they are highly likely to regret what grown adults pushed them into before they were able to sort through such life-altering decisions.

The study, "Ethical issues raised by the treatment of gender-variant prepubescent children," explains this more realistically:

Gender dysphoria in childhood does not inevitably continue into adulthood, and only 6 to 23 percent of boys and 12 to 27 percent of girls treated in gender clinics showed persistence of their gender dysphoria into adulthood. Further, most of the boys' gender dysphoria desisted, and in adulthood, they identified as gay rather than as transgender.

The study also describes treatment at a California clinic "where a child is supported in socially transitioning to a cross-gendered role without medical or surgical intervention:"

As in the other two clinics, only at the onset of puberty are medications administered to suppress development of unwanted secondary sex characteristics. This approach presumes that an adult transgender outcome is to be expected, that these children can be identified, and that children who transition but then desist can revert to their natal gender if necessary with no ill effects.

This cautious but compassionate approach is nowhere near the "child abuse" alleged by Heyer:

Given that how any gender identity develops is an unknown, is it not possible that opposing a wish to explore cross-gender expression is harmful to some children? Whether they persist or desist in their transgender behavior or identity, children may internalize disapproving attitudes toward atypical gender behavior and expression (transphobia), with possible negative consequences for adult development.

20170103-genderrevolution.jpg

Returning to NatGeo, their Gender Revolution issue (above) features an editor's note from Susan Goldberg that discusses nine-year-old Avery, the subject of the left-hand cover photo:

She has lived as an openly transgender girl since age five, and she captured the complexity of the conversation around gender. Today, we're not only talking about gender roles for boys and girls--we're talking about our evolving understanding of people on the gender spectrum. [...]

We hope these stories about gender will spark thoughtful conversations about how far we have come on this topic--and how far we have left to go.

Yep, that sounds like indoctrination all right.

The issue also examines how science is helping us understand gender, describing a 14-year-old, identified only as "E," who, the author writes, "searched for the right label for her gender identity:"

"Transgender" didn't quite fit, she told me. For one thing she was still using her birth name and still preferred being referred to as "she." And while other trans kids often talk about how they've always known they were born in the "wrong" body, she said, "I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be." By which she meant a body that doesn't menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and "a ginger beard." Does that make E a trans guy? A girl who is, as she put it, "insanely androgynous"? Or just someone who rejects the trappings of traditional gender roles altogether?

Superseding high school biology, the piece points out that "on occasion, XX and XY don't tell the whole story:"

Today we know that the various elements of what we consider "male" and "female" don't always line up neatly, with all the XXs--complete with ovaries, vagina, estrogen, female gender identity, and feminine behavior--on one side and all the XYs--testes, penis, testosterone, male gender identity, and masculine behavior--on the other. It's possible to be XX and mostly male in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology, just as it's possible to be XY and mostly female.

The actions of the SRY gene or conditions such as complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) may mean, for example that:

The baby looks female, with a clitoris and vagina, and in most cases will grow up feeling herself to be a girl.

Which is this baby, then? Is she the girl she believes herself to be? Or, because of her XY chromosomes--not to mention the testes in her abdomen--is she "really" male?

Those gray-area questions lead to the observation that "Gender is an amalgamation of several elements:"

...chromosomes (those X's and Y's), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and estrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviors). And sometimes people who are born with the chromosomes and genitals of one sex realize that they are transgender, meaning they have an internal gender identity that aligns with the opposite sex--or even, occasionally, with neither gender or with no gender at all.

20170103-identitysexexpression.jpg

The article also points out that "one finding in transgender research has been robust: a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD):"

According to John Strang, a pediatric neuropsychologist with the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Gender and Sexuality Development Program at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C., children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.

Far from the aggressive push toward "malpractice" that Heyer sees, the medical consensus is cautious one, that "biology can be put on hold for a while with puberty-blocking drugs that can buy time for gender-questioning children:"

If the child reaches age 16 and decides he or she is not transgender after all, the effects of puberty suppression are thought to be reversible: The child stops taking the blockers and matures in the birth sex. But for children who do want to transition at 16, having been on blockers might make it easier. They can start taking cross-sex hormones and go through puberty in the preferred gender--without having developed the secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts, body hair, or deep voices, that can be difficult to undo.

The Endocrine Society recommends blockers for adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Nonetheless, the blockers' long-term impact on psychological development, brain growth, and bone mineral density are unknown--leading to some lively disagreement about using them on physically healthy teens.

Politico comments on Republicans gutting Congressional oversight:

In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog -- a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Monday's effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.

"President-elect Donald Trump ran on a platform of draining the swamp of an often all-too-cozy Washington D.C.," writes Politico, "Monday night's moves go in the opposite direction, severely loosening oversight of lawmakers' potential conflicts of interest, use of campaign money and other ethical matters:"

Democrats created the Office of Congressional Ethics in March 2008 after the Abramoff scandal, in which the well-connected GOP lobbyist plead guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials. Abramoff and his clients had used campaign donations and favors to sway members, including former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who served 30 months in prison, and a number of staffers.

Their idea was that an outside agency of sorts could take up a more robust oversight of members. Republicans, however, have claimed the group has been too aggressive in making referrals.

"The proposed change will be included in a package of new House Rules governing the 115th Congress," the piece concludes, "which will be voted on Tuesday afternoon." That doesn't leave much time for public reaction, does it?

David Neiwert makes a great observation about GOP obtuseness:

So I see that amnesiac Republicans are very, very confused about why Democrats and other sane human beings are already standing up to voice their opposition to Donald Trump's presidency even before he is sworn in. [...]

Well, here's a little cure for their amnesia: An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (June 2017, Verso Press). This section is from Chapter Five, discussing the rise of the Tea Parties and how the Birther conspiracy theories helped fuel them.

"Conservatives did not consider Barack Obama to be a legitimate president," he points out, "a fact underscored by the growing 'Birther' campaign." [Rush Limbaugh's hope that Obama would fail--as seen here--is another example.] "Open political warfare," Neiwert continues, "a defiance of the new president's every objective, was to be the right-wing political project for the ensuing eight years," as Teabaggers disrupted healthcare townhalls:

And the behavior fit the blueprint for action laid out early on: Disrupt, distract, and destroy any chance for an actual civil and informed conversation. In other words, demolish the entire purpose of a town-hall forum as the means to bring health-care reform to a halt. [...]

But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting. When someone's entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren't just expressing their opinions -- they are actively shutting down democracy.

In an announcement that we should prepare to be ungovernable, Sarah Lazare issues "A call for civil servants to resist:"

"A core component of resistance is to get the class of civil servants, particularly on the federal but also the state level, to not comply with arbitrary laws and policies that are going to be created," said [Kali] Akuno [organizer with Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement]. "To not recognize the laws we know are coming that will discriminate against Black people, Latinos, immigrants and queer people. There is no need for anyone to comply. Let's not give it legitimacy just because it's the law. We need to be prepared to disobey and engage in civil disobedience. We need to get ready for that now."

In words reminiscent of Gunter Eich's exhortation to "be sand, not oil, in the gears of the world," Akuno envisions resistance as "just one prong of a broader strategy," including:

"not going to work, not participating in your run-of-the-mill economic activities, with the hope and aim that we can build prolonged acts of civil disobedience that lead to a general strike." While such plans are not fully fleshed out, he noted organizations across the country are actively discussing such a possibility.

"The orientation we're taking is not just about surviving Trump, but drawing attention to the fact that the system was already heading towards more severe types of repression, surveillance and austerity," he said. "We're also looking at the global dynamics as to why right-wing populism and fascism is spreading internationally."

What is clear, says Akuno, is that the right-wing populism of the Trump administration will not be defeated by civil discourse and liberal democracy. He emphasized, "If we are serious and steadfast, we can create a clear and comprehensive message around being ungovernable."

Similarly, John Scalzi looks at the arc of justice:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

In the main I agree with that quote. There are things about it, however, that I think many of us elide.

The first is the word "long." I think both Parker and King understood that moral endeavors can be measured in years, decades and sometimes centuries.

Also, he notes, "The arc is not a natural feature of the universe:"

It does not magically appear; it is not ordained; it is not inevitable. It exists because people of moral character seek justice, not only for themselves but for every person. Nor is the arc smooth. It's rough and jagged, punctuated in areas by great strides, halting collapses, terrible reverses and forcible wrenching actions.

Crooks & Liars snarks that WSJ editor Gerard Baker won't report Trump's lies as "lies" because...reasons:

When Donald Trump says things that are undoubtedly lies, not even just hyperbole, Mr. Baker is of the opinion that calling a lie a lie will alienate readers, as if "readers" are also Trump supporters. You are also forbidden to have any controversial opinions, no matter how factual you are, because certain people don't like the truth. Being honest in a way they perceive as derogatory will cause them not to 'trust' you.

Here is Baker's statement:

GERARD BAKER: I'd be careful about using the word, "lie." "Lie" implies much more than just saying something that's false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.

As long as these returning champions come back every Sunday, it's okay to sugar coat lies as something the consumer decides is true or false, because you gotta get those advertising dollars. [...]

Thanks to this failure to call a lie exactly what it is, Trump's supporters believe the most outlandish fallacies to be true and by golly, no one will convince them of the facts without being labeled something awful, like 'educated' or 'intellectual elitist' or a 'thinker.'

Daily Kos's 9 craziest things that Trump voters believe refers to an Economist/YouGov survey (PDF); here are some of the lowlights, beginning with the question "Is the country better off now than it was eight years ago?"

Most Americans recall that eight years ago the nation was descending into an economic abyss. The stock market dropped 46 percent. Unemployment shot up to 10.1 percent. Home foreclosures hit record figures. And total household wealth declined by more than $19 trillion.

Yet somehow a whopping 60 percent of Trump voters responded to this question saying that the country was better off eight years ago than today. Another 19 percent say there is no difference. That's after stocks climbed back from about 7,000 to nearly 20,000. And unemployment dropped to 4.9 percent. The auto industry that was on the brink of collapse is reporting record profits. And the delusions of the Trumpsters are unique to their breed. Only 21 percent of Democrats thought 2009 was a better year.

That's not the only example, either. Only 36 percent of them realize that climate change is real, "only 26 percent of Trump voters correctly said that [the number of] persons without insurance decreased," and "68 percent of them said that it was definitely/probably true that Saddam had WMDs." Also, Obama's birth certificate is fake ("52 percent continue to say that Obama is definitely/probably a native Kenyan") and Pizzagate is real("46 percent of Trump voters said that this ludicrous fiction was definitely/probably true").

As Daily Kos reminds us, "this epidemic of ignorance was not accidental:"

It was a deliberate act of disinformation by Trump and the Republican Party. And the media bears its share of responsibility for putting ratings and profit before journalistic ethics.

Salon's Erin Coulehan calls work stress "the saddest American status symbol:"

It's no secret that our culture today prides itself on the amount of work we put into our jobs. We work to an excessive degree as if there's a competition to impress people by our willingness to take our work everywhere.

But why?

A new study sheds light on what seems to be an American obsession with being overworked and stressed out.

A Harvard Business Review report shows that a busy person is "perceived by participants to have higher status than the one with free time," indicating that "Americans seem to be obsessed with overworking ourselves in an effort to gain social esteem:"

The research suggests part of Americans' obsession with being overworked is an effort to seem important and gain social influence, which makes sense given the hyper-competitive system with which we're socialized. [...]

It's foolish to think we must unnecessarily burden ourselves in order to be effective, important, or relevant. Our time management skills should be adapted to include time for work and leisure, although doing so in the digital age seems nearly impossible.

"In today's America," the study points out, "complaining about being busy and working all the time is so commonplace most of us do it without thinking:"

If someone asks "How are you?" we no longer say "Fine" or "I'm well, thank you." We often simply reply "Busy!"

This is more than just a subjective impression. An analysis of holiday letters indicates that references to "crazy schedules" have dramatically increased since the 1960s.

"What has changed so dramatically in one century?" the study asks:

We think that the shift from leisure-as-status to busyness-as-status may be linked to the development of knowledge-intensive economies. In such economies, individuals who possess the human capital characteristics that employers or clients value (e.g., competence and ambition) are expected to be in high demand and short supply on the job market. Thus, by telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.

Veblen's theory that "leisure is a mark of higher status" is thus inverted, to the detriment of (nearly) all of us, as we become a leisure-less class of worker bees, consumed by busyness.

John Tirman speculates that Trump's rise portends the end of the commonwealth:

Amid the many controversies attending the election of Donald Trump is one easy to overlook: the mounting assault on "public goods" -- public education, public lands, public information and public health, among them. The worldview of Trump and those he's bringing into government is one in which seeking private interest is paramount, not only as a business aspiration but as a governing ideology. Of all the attitudes of the new administration, this may be the most threatening to democratic practice.

"The scales have been tipping toward private interest rather than public good since the years of President Ronald Reagan," he continues, "and the coming of Trump promises an even stronger swing to private over public:"

It would be difficult to imagine more significant public goods than clean air, the avoidance of catastrophic climate change or the legacy of the nation's protected parks, forests and wildlife.

Yet all of these are in jeopardy. Turning over public lands to the states would in many cases result in "development" -- commercial enterprise, resource extraction, grazing, roads and sell-offs of land -- far beyond what is already granted on federal lands.

"What is particularly disturbing in 2016," he writes, I"s the attempt to limit participation and to limit the quality of discourse:"

The limits on participation are not gauged by expertise -- that is, how knowledgeable you are -- but by race or religion. A number of the white supremacists now ascendant have insisted that blacks, Jews and Muslims be treated differently, submissively, even denied the vote and other standard civil rights. So the very definition of who constitutes "the public" is under attack.

He concludes the piece by positing that "If the trajectory of 2016 continues through Trump's presidency, the 'commons,' the public sphere and the values of shared responsibility, will be tested as never before."

haiku, too

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I penned a few more Rude haikus:

"Vote for Trump!" they cried,
and they did, just because they
hate Clinton so much.
The airwaves were full of
Benghazi, "crooked," emails:
worst news job ever.
"librul media"
they're called, for doing the work
of conservatives.
Benghazi, emails...
weapons of mass distraction
unleashed on US.
Trump voters proclaim:
"We voted against Clinton"
but that's just bullshit.

changing minds

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Vox's Brian Resnick discusses a study on changing minds, which he describes as "the hardest challenge in politics right now:"

Psychologists have been circling around a possible reason political beliefs are so stubborn: Partisan identities get tied up in our personal identities. Which would mean that an attack on our strongly held beliefs is an attack on the self. And the brain is built to protect the self.

When we're attacked, we evade or defend -- as if we have an immune system for uncomfortable thoughts, one you can see working in real time.

"The brain's primary responsibility is to take care of the body, to protect the body," Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, tells me. "The psychological self is the brain's extension of that. When our self feels attacked, our [brain is] going to bring to bear the same defenses that it has for protecting the body."

20161229-beliefchange.jpg

Thanks to decades of right-wing paranoia and propaganda, even the science of fluoride isn't safe from ideological blindness--remember Jack D. Ripper?

What I Believe

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Rhian Sasseen discusses EM Forster's defense of liberalism. Published some 77 years ago as "What I Believe," Fosters opens with the statement that "I do not believe in Belief." Sasseen wonders, "Where to begin, then, for those of us who still think that a fact is still a fact, an article of so-called "fake news" is better branded as a piece of propaganda?"

Outlets like Breitbart, InfoWars, Russia Today, and other luridly-named websites peddle conspiracy theories and half-truths that in another era might be more easily fact checked; today, they pile up too quickly on the evanescence that is the internet, as overwhelming and as momentary as a cloud of smoke. In this particular age of belief, dependent as it is on the digital, it seems as appropriate a time as any to turn to an artist from an earlier age for guidance.

Foster's commentaries, writes Sasseen, "offer a defense of liberalism during a time of shifting extremes and ideologies that feels startlingly relevant to this 21st century American"

And in "What I Believe," there's a clear appreciation and love for humans, despite our foibles and inconsistencies, which rings true even in today's smoke and mirrors world of online trolling.

Forster's essay "What I Believe" was published in Two Cheers for Democracy. It begins thus:

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they are not enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot. [...] My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My motto is : "Lord, I disbelieve - help thou my unbelief.

"Where do I start?" he wonders:

With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty. [...] I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man's pleasure when they come a cropper.

"I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it," he continues:

Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names.

This observation surely cost him some accolades:

I cannot believe that Christianity will ever cope with the present world-wide mess, and I think that such influence as it retains in modern society is due to the money behind it, rather than to its spiritual appeal.

If you're unfamiliar with Foster's essay, it's worth a read.

George Michael

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George Michael, writes Slate, was the gay icon we didn't know we needed, beginning with the "I Want Your Sex" controversy back in the Faith era:

At a time when the mainstream associated gay sex with the AIDS crisis, Michael was finally a pop icon who exalted its joys. Here was a gay celebrity who loved to fuck.

A decade later, a different notoriety was obtained when he "was arrested for a 'lewd act' in a public bathroom by an undercover cop:"

1998 was an early time to come out in our contemporary history, and when Michael did, he wore the cultural stigma as a badge of honor. Michael may not have had the freedom he craved in his own life, but he certainly cleared the way for others. [...] Michael showed no remorse for the act itself. Instead, he gave an almost insouciant response: "I don't feel ashamed and I don't believe I should," he told CNN.

Michael further embraced the incident later that year, when he released the single "Outside," a disco anthem that celebrates cruising and flagrant, illicit public displays of affection. The single works as a statement of Michael's own personal coming-out process: What was once veiled in subtext had been brought wide into the open. [...] It's a bold, radical, campy video that still feels remarkably defiant in today's political environment.

Also interesting is George Michael's interview in the October 2004 issue of GQ:

George went into therapy as soon as Anselmo was diagnosed [in 1991], and it was three years after his death [in 1993] before he felt able to consider another relationship. Then, in 1996, he met Kenny Goss the chisel-jawed Texan who shares his life to this day. [...]

"My biggest problem in life is fear of more loss. I fear Kenny's death far more than my own. I don't want to outlive him. I'd rather have a short life and not have to go through being torn apart again.

The piece also notes "another George Michael revelation... sexually, he swings both ways:"

"When I walk into a restaurant I check out the women before the men, because they're more glamorous. If I wasn't with Kenny, I would have sex with women, no question," he enthuses. "But I would never be able to have a relationship with a woman because I'd feel like a fake. I regard sexuality as being about who you pair off with, and I wouldn't pair off with a woman and stay with her. Emotionally, I'rn definitely a gay man."

"George had worked out he was bisexual," the piece observes, "during the making of Wham!'s second album" way back in 1984:

He told Andrew Ridgeley and close friends immediately, and was ready to tell the world. "I had very little fear about it, but basically my straight friends talked me out of it. I think they thought as I was bisexual, there was no need to. [...] But it's amazing how much more complicated it became because I didn't come out in the early days. I often wonder if my career would have taken a different path if I had."

"One of the complications," the piece continues, "was not being able to be completely honest with people:"

"I used to sleep with women quite a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man. I didn't want to commit to them but I was attracted to them. Then I became ashamed that I might be using them. I decided I had to stop, which I did when I began to worry about AIDS, which was becoming prevalent in Britain. Although I had always had safe sex, I didn't want to sleep with a woman without telling her I was bisexual. I felt that would be irresponsible. Basically, I didn't want to have that uncomfortable conversation that might ruin the moment, so I stopped sleeping with them."

A 1999 Advocate interview asks, "Why, after a career-long battle to keep his personal life away from the press, is George Michael sitting down with The Advocate and doing what he swore he'd never do?"

"People are still telling me to be careful," he sighed. "But at the end of the day, all I can be is honest. I've reached a very good point of self-acceptance. I don't have any shame about my sexuality. I don't think people are going to desert me because they know more about me--"

Here are some bits from the Q&A:

How did your father react to your arrest?

He was great, actually. He called me the next day and said, "Tell them to fuck off. You are who you are." I was very impressed with that.

"What's really interesting," he said later, "is that it [revealing his bisexuality] didn't stop the women:"

It actually made the women more involved. It was a challenge. I wasn't really gay; they could change me. I got that a lot. I slept with quite a lot of women, especially at the end of my Wham! days, because I was still thinking, Maybe I could still be straight. It would make life easier. But suddenly it turned into a time where bisexuality seemed to be the most dangerous form of sexuality--and I suppose it still is--so I felt like the bad guy. I couldn't have it both ways with AIDS around.

AIDS changed what bisexuality meant. It used to be a safer place to be.

And quite cool. You just had more options. But gay and straight people look at me with suspicion when I say, "I'm bisexual." They want me to be one way or another.

Derek Beres analyzes white evangelical voters' fondness for Trump. "We often think of morality as rule-based," he writes, but "it seems difficult to explain why evangelical Christians swung their vote toward Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election." Obama's 26% and 20% share of evangelical voters dropped to just 16% for Hillary:

Clarion calls for evangelical ballot checkmarks have long been religious: abortion, same-sex marriage, infidelity. Their moral card is pronounced and marketed throughout the campaign. Yet it's incredibly plastic. Every four years their demands shift, which explains how a thrice-married businessman with fidelity problems and previous endorsement of women's rights could command the largest evangelical vote of this century.

In a question tailor-made for Trump's personal issues, the observation that "Asking voters if private immoral acts will affect the ethical responsibilities of elected officials, the group that shifted most was the religious" makes perfect sense:

The biggest shift, however, was found in one specific group: white evangelicals. In 2011, 30 percent of that demographic claimed that a politician acting immorally behind closed doors can still be an upstanding moral leader. In the era of Trump that number has surged to 72 percent.

But...Hillary's emails!!!1!!

Dexter Filkins spins a frightening tale of Iraq's Mosul Dam, which a US Army Corps of Engineers report called "the most dangerous dam in the world:"

Completed in 1984, the dam sits on a foundation of soluble rock. To keep it stable, hundreds of employees have to work around the clock, pumping a cement mixture into the earth below. Without continuous maintenance, the rock beneath would wash away, causing the dam to sink and then break apart. But Iraq's recent history has not been conducive to that kind of vigilance. [...]

In February, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a warning of the consequences of a breach in the dam. For a statement written by diplomats, it is extraordinarily blunt. "Mosul Dam faces a serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning," it said. Soon afterward, the United Nations released its own warning, predicting that "hundreds of thousands of people could be killed" if the dam failed. [...]

If the dam ruptured, it would likely cause a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, loosing a wave as high as a hundred feet that would roll down the Tigris, swallowing everything in its path for more than a hundred miles. Large parts of Mosul would be submerged in less than three hours. Along the riverbanks, towns and cities containing the heart of Iraq's population would be flooded; in four days, a wave as high as sixteen feet would crash into Baghdad, a city of six million people.

The description of the potential catastrophe predicts that "An inland tidal wave could displace the 1.2 million refugees now living in tents and temporary quarters in northern Iraq, adding to the chaos:"

The wave, the Embassy's report predicted, would move rapidly through the cities of Bayji, Tikrit, and Samarra, wiping out roads, power stations, and oil refineries; damage to the electrical grid would probably leave the entire country without power. At least two-thirds of Iraq's wheat fields would be flooded. [...] To control the erosion, the government began a crash program of filling the voids with cement, a process called "grouting."

Grouting work had been running "Every day, nonstop" until recent years:

When ISIS fighters took the dam, in 2014, they drove away the overwhelming majority of the dam's workers, and also captured the main grout-manufacturing plant in Mosul. Much of the dam's equipment was destroyed, some by ISIS and some by American air strikes. The grouting came to a standstill--but the passage of water underneath the dam did not.

Estimates of the lost time range from "less than three weeks" to "about four months" to a former official's estimate that "The grouting work stopped for eighteen months."

According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, numerous voids had opened up below the dam--as much as twenty-three thousand cubic metres' worth. "The consensus was that the dam could break at any moment," John Schnittker, an economist who has been working on water issues in Iraq for more than a decade, said.

A subsequent report "that water downstream contained high concentrations of dissolved gypsum--evidence of large voids" makes one worry about the potential closeness of this catastrophe.

MediaMatters quotes from CNN's Reliable Sources to make a point about skeptical journalists:

BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Let's tell some truths about lying, because the way Donald Trump lies has people rethinking some of the basic premises of journalism, like the assumption that everything a president says is automatically news. When President-elect Trump lies so casually, so cynically, the news isn't so much the false thing he said, it's that he felt like he could just go ahead and say it, go ahead and lie to you. That's the story. Why does he bend and flex and twist and warp and distort the truth? Personally I'm curious because I think Trump does it differently than past presidents. His lies are different and deserve scrutiny.

"I think fact-checking is important," Stelter continues, "but the framing of these stories is even more important." Digby concurs, writing that "what Stelter is saying is true:"

There's a lot of data out there showing that when people are shown facts it only tends to reinforce their own biases. [...] Journalism cannot rely on simply fact-checking, although it's important to do it. It has to try to promote truth, not just facts, and that means they have to think hard about ways to talk about politics and government that successfully does that.

"We are in big trouble," she observes, "if we don't figure out a way to govern from a common reality."

What's in a name?

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Christina Cauterucci ruminates on the label lesbian and young queer women. She discusses her peer group and mentions that "Some of our resistance to the term lesbian arose, no doubt, from internalized homophobic notions of lesbians as unfashionable, uncultured homebodies:"

We were convinced that our cool clothes and enlightened, radical paradigm made us something other than lesbians, a label chosen by progenitors who lived in a simpler time with stricter gender boundaries. But with a time-honored label comes history and meaning; by leaving lesbian behind, we were rejecting, in part, a strong identity and legacy that we might have claimed as our own. While all identities are a product of their respective historical moments, starting from scratch is a daunting prospect. And so we're left in a gray area of nomenclature, searching for threads of unity in our pluralism, wondering what, if any, role lesbian can play in a future that's looking queerer by the day.

Cultural connotations aside, the main reason my friend and I felt (and still feel) more comfortable with queer than lesbian was practical: The word lesbian, insofar as it means a woman who is primarily attracted to women, does not correctly describe our reality. My personal queer community comprises cisgender and transgender women; transgender men and transmasculine people; and people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer.

"Losing lesbian" she points out, "means losing a well-defined commonality around which to socialize and mobilize:"

Perhaps that commonality was never as common as it seemed; at any rate, it's clear that lesbian doesn't properly explain our collective identity any more. But as queer women and our comrades mourn the losses of lesbian bars and media outlets the nation over, it's worth wondering how we might expect a dance party or magazine to cater to us when our identities and politics appear to prevent us from sharing a name.

She observes that "Queer people have generations of experience reclaiming words and cultural traditions that weren't explicitly meant for us:"

The tea dance is a brilliant example of our capacity for reinvention and asserting belonging from within. If queers can transform a formal social gathering for biscuit-nibbling heterosexuals into a mainstay of the gay party circuit, imagine what we could do with lesbian.

lil' philosophers

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Quartz reports that teaching philosophy to kids improves their math and English scores:

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another's thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students' confidence and ability to listen to others.

The Education Endowment Foundation's Philosophy for Children program comments that "The project does not aim to teach children philosophy; instead it equips them to 'do' philosophy for themselves:"

SAPERE [Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education]'s program does not focus on reading the texts of Plato and Kant, but rather stories, poems, or film clips that prompt discussions about philosophical issues. The goal is to help children reason, formulate and ask questions, engage in constructive conversation, and develop arguments.

The report "Philosophy for Children: Evaluation report and Executive summary" (PDF) notes that "Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which students participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues:"

Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as 'truth', 'fairness' or 'bullying'. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion.

rude haikus

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Rude Pundit announced his "Annual Haiku Celebration of the Dying Year:"

Submit your haiku about the year that is almost past, any subject. The only rules are that it has to be a for-real goddamn haiku (a line of five syllables, a line of seven syllables, and a line of five syllables). You can be as angry or sad or funny or fucked up as you like.

I came up with a few, but nothing spectacular:

Dafuq? How did that
short-fingered vulgarian
win the election?

I still can't believe
President Pussy-Grabber
won the election.

"Cheetoh-faced buffoon
loose in the Oval Office,"
the front page should read.

'16 took too many:
Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen,
and now George Michael.

Fake news fucked it all:
the manufactured "scandals"
blinded us to Trump.

DC will fill with
imported alligators
the swamp won't get drained.

the C-suite credo

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Jon Chait points out how 'the wealthy would never steal' is a credo for Trump's party:

Donald Trump's government has not yet taken power, but its epitaph may have already been written. The author, Lawrence Kudlow, is a noted voodoo economist and the reported leading candidate to head the administration's Council of Economic Advisors.

In a National Review column, Kudlow makes the case not only that Trump and his administration are not corrupt, but also that they cannot be corrupt, by virtue of their wealth. "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" reasons Kudlow, "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."

The examples of Bernie Madoff, Don Blankenship, the Enron crew, WorldCom, and too many others to list come to mind--but not at NR. "Conservatives like to imagine that their policy represents a challenge to the power structure," Chait continues, but 'crony capitalism' is not the only type of white-collar thievery. Chait continues:

The conceptual distinction between the good kind of wealth, earned through the free market, and the bad kind, earned through political favoritism, is an absolutely vital one for right-wing intellectuals. And yet Trump is showing how easily it collapses in practice. Conservatives have treated a first family using the powers of office to enrich itself -- not theoretically or in the future but right now, on an ongoing basis -- as, at worst, a distraction or a problem of optics. In practice, conservatives share Kudlow's belief that a government of and by the rich is necessarily virtuous.

The conclusion?

We can be pretty sure that Trump, his family, and his friends will be among the people who gain from his policies. Conservatives appear distinctly unalarmed by the prospect.

TrumPutin

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NYRB's look at how Trump will rule observes warily that "Over the last few days, concerns about some kind of a hidden alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have exploded:"

There is the president-elect with his apparently fawning regard for the Russian leader. There are Trump's top cabinet picks, with their unusual Russian ties: as national security advisor, Lt. General Mike Flynn, who has met Putin and done paid events for a Kremlin-sponsored TV station; and as secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has done billions of dollars of business in Russia and received an award from Putin. And then there is the revelation, from the CIA, that Russia may have actively interfered in the US election to get Trump elected.

The piece notes that, of course, "There is still much we don't know about how Trump will rule:"

But in the month since his election, some characteristic patterns have emerged--and they bear some instructive similarities to the style Putin has practiced over many years. Here are a few of them:
  • Lying is the message. It's not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself. [...]
  • The media is the mirror. Trump, like Putin, has a demonstrably thin skin and short temper when it comes to being criticized by journalists. [...]
  • Taking charge of a boring world. The real-estate magnate and the KGB agent share a peculiar trait: both seem to be lazy and uninterested in the world they want to dominate. [...]
  • Interests rather than priorities. Attempts to decipher the process by which Trump is choosing his cabinet have stumbled over the usual question: What are the incoming president's priorities? [...]
  • A president behind enemy lines. Many of Trump's cabinet picks have one thing in common: they are opposed to the very mission of the agencies they have been chosen to lead. [...]
  • The chosen one. When I published a biography of Putin in 2012, some American reviewers criticized the book for asserting that Putin was merely an "ordinary man [whom voters could invest] with whatever they wanted to see in him." I argued that an unqualified man of limited intelligence had by accident come to rule a nuclear power. That simply does not happen, some reviewers claimed. [...]

"It does," he writes--and not only in Russia.

Slate asked, how tall is Trump?

Donald Trump went on quacky Dr. Oz's TV show Thursday to talk about his health, and somehow, the weirdest number to come up had nothing to do with his testosterone (though, yes, that too was discussed).

Instead, it was Trump's claim, through his doctor's letter, that he is 6-foot-3.

Most everyone else puts him at 6-foot-2.

Slate then asks, "Why does this matter?"

My colleague Jeremy Samuel Faust suggested a theory to me. It has to do with the other disputed number floating around prior to the show's airing: his weight, which the doctor's note put at 236 pounds, though some reports suggested he's 267 pounds. At 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, his body mass index is a convenient 29.5--overweight but just a biscuit shy of obese (BMI of 30). At 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, he's at 30.3--obese. BMI is a worthless measure of physical health, but maybe in this case it tells us a little something about a man's self-regard. Is it possible that Trump's doctor added the extra inch so that his patient, who is not exactly lacking in vanity, would not be "officially" obese?

Politico provides corroboration:

Donald Trump and his doctor claim he's 6-foot-3, but his New York driver's license says he's actually an inch shorter.

A copy of Trump's license, obtained by POLITICO through an open-records request, lists the president-elect at 6-foot-2.

20161227-trumplicense.jpg

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum piles on:

By a remarkable coincidence, I happen to be 6-foot-2 and weigh exactly 236 pounds. I have an unfortunate amount of belly fat to show for this, but nowhere near what Trump does. At a conservative guess, Trump weighs at least 30 pounds more

Hemant Mehta defends Snopes against distractions:

It's been a rough PR week for the people behind fact-checking website Snopes.com. There was a nasty piece against the site's founders and staffers at the Daily Mail and an article drawing attention to those attacks at the New York Times.

Ignore the distractions for a moment. The only question that matters is whether Snopes is reliable. Does it do a good job of setting the record straight on urban legends and (actual) fake news?

Mehta admits to having "no interest in the personal lives of the couple that founded the site:"

The people who accuse Snopes, or PolitiFact, or any other similar site of being biased -- often conservatives unhappy to have their pet conspiracy theories debunked by people who know better -- have no understanding of how fact-checking works. [...]

The personal lives of the people behind it are irrelevant, and anyone who brings that subject up as a reason to discredit the site are simply trying to distract you.

Don't fall for it.

Salon points out that all news is fake news in the Right's war on truth. "Conservatives," writes digby, "are launching an attack on the concept of reality itself"--one that's been brewing since the Reagan Era:

Conservatives learned to challenge the media's alleged liberal bias as a tactic to make reporters leery of any news that reflected negatively on conservatives. It was very effective. By the time right-wing talk radio came along and later Fox News, with its pretensions of being "fair and balanced," conservatives had convinced millions of people that their version of reality was the truth and that mainstream media and major newspapers were all catering to the liberals.

"The right-wing media complex," she writes, "is all-in on this:"

According to the Times, everyone from Laura Ingraham to Erick Erickson to Donald Trump himself is labeling anything they disagree with, including the fact-check sites like Snopes or Factcheck.org, as "fake news." Millions of people have been conditioned to believe their claims for years, which means polarization is only likely to get worse. If Americans can't even agree which facts are real, it's hard to see how we're going to be able to govern ourselves.

Michael Shermer offers some hope by explaining how to convince someone when facts fail:

Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.

He lists Creationists, anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers climate-change deniers, and birthers as instances of this tendency:

In these examples, proponents' deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by skeptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed. This power of belief over evidence is the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect.

For another example, we can consider the question what does the science say about torture's efficacy?

The US president-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions insisted that torture is a good idea and that procedures such as water-boarding are not "tough enough" when dealing with terrorist groups like Islamic State.

"The view is clearly morally and ethically questionable," the piece continues:

Torture has a long history, and despite being prohibited worldwide (in 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations inserted the prohibition against torture in the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the use of torture appears to be increasing worldwide.

"The evidence that torture works appears to be anecdotal [and] the available science simply does not support the argument that torture is effective." Sadly, the Right's anti-objectivity efforts have been quite effective. Sometimes I'm not sure which campaign is more dangerous.

TPM's Josh Marshall expresses skepticism, calling fake news "the bright, shiny object of the post-2016 election America:"

I think there's a legitimate question about how much many people actually 'believe' what we call 'fake news'. In many cases, 'fake news', the latest manufactured outrage, functions as a kind of ideational pornography, ideas and claims that excite people's political feelings, desires and fears and create feelings of connection with kindred political spirits.

NYT's look at conservatives' Bizarro world mentions that Breitbart News "dismissed reports on the intelligence assessment as "left-wing fake news:"

Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. "The fake news is the everyday news" in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. "They just make it up."

The piece notes that "top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda:"

In defining "fake news" so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country's increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.

Trumpian dishonesty

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Trump bragged that 100% of donations to his eponymous foundation go to "wonderful charities," but PoliticusUSA points out that his claim is ridiculous:

Trump's dishonesty is breathtaking in scope, given how he used his foundation to buy portraits of himself to hang in his own properties and an autographed Tim Tebow helmet, not to mention, as Rebecca Berg was quick to point out, "A large chunk of money went to advance Trump's political prospects."

Also, "The Trump Foundation gave a quarter of a million dollars to settle lawsuits involving @realDonaldTrump's businesses." In addition, MSNBC noted about that Trump's announcement "that he would dissolve his namesake foundation to avoid any potential conflict of interest during his time as president:"

The plan may quickly run into a snag, however. [...]

"The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete," New York Attorney General spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said in a statement released Saturday.

"We know Trump's lying," the piece continues, "in part because the Trump Foundation has already admitted that some of its money covered non-charitable expenses:"

Trump used foundation money to buy giant portraits of himself. Trump used foundation money to make illegal campaign contributions. Trump used foundation money to settle private-sector lawsuits. Trump used foundation money to support conservative political entities that could help further his partisan ambitions. [...]

A month ago, the Trump Foundation admitted in official documents that "it violated a legal prohibition against 'self-dealing,' which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity's money to help themselves, their businesses or their families." The materials, filed with the IRS, were signed by Trump himself - so it's not as if he can credibly claim he had no idea what was going on.

It's not just the dishonesty, though; "what's alarming about Trump's latest deception is how brazen it is:"

The president-elect knows his claims are false, and he must realize that anyone with a passing familiarity with current events knows it, too. But Trump just doesn't care about getting caught lying, in part because his followers don't care, in part because he's counting on news organizations to push back against his lies with kid gloves, and in part because he assumes much of the public will reject any evidence published by journalists. [...]

The more inclined Trump is to keep this up-is-down experiment going, the more mind-numbing the next four years are going to be.

In other news, Kevin Drum dissects another Trump tweet, this one even more self-serving:

The world was gloomy before I won - there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars! -- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016

"In a mere 26 words," Drum notes, "Trump has managed to mislead his audience in three separate ways without quite lying about anything:"

In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. But it's still a fascinating little insight into how Trump gaslights his followers and the nation into believing that he's the savior of the country. Most people have no idea about any of these numbers, so he can say anything he wants and he's likely to be believed. Nor will fact checking change this even a tiny bit.

Is he warming up to be 2017's Misinformer of the Year?

twice-hacked

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Richard Eskow looks at Russian hacking and Republican election-rigging:

What does it tell us when leading Democrats are more upset about allegations of Russian election-rigging than they are about Republican election-rigging? After all, American oligarchs like the Koch Brothers have no more right to undermine our democracy than Russian oligarchs do. [emphasis added]

GOP voting laws systematically discriminate against minority voters and working people. Yes, leading Democrats have lodged pro forma protests against them, but they should be shouting about it from the rooftops. They seem more comfortable challenging Russians than they do challenging a party that's undermining the electoral process much closer to home.

"It's a conspiracy in plain sight," he writes:

If Democrats want to challenge the electoral outcome, it would be better to do it on behalf of the minority and lower-income voters disenfranchised by Republican lawmakers. That's a charge we can prove. [...]

We can't resolve the Russian question without more answers, but we can fix what we already know is broken. Investigate Putin. But democracy, like charity, begins at home.

noisy data

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Florence Williams writes a cautionary take on noise pollution:

If you're a tree frog or an ovenbird in mating season and you happen to live in the 83 percent of the continental United States that lies within 3,500 feet of a road, bummer for you. Not only are you more likely to collide with an SUV, but you're going to have a harder time finding a mate. Research suggests that human-generated noises also mess with nesting behavior, predator-prey dynamics, and sleep patterns. In other words, wildlife gets stressed out by noise.

So do we, it turns out--and the world is getting louder.

She continues by writing that "anthropophony (a fancy word for the human soundscape) is also contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities:"

Not only does background noise interfere with our much-needed ability to recuperate, but in the places where we live and play, we have increasingly fewer havens from the onslaught.

Even if you think you're immune to city noise, it may well be affecting your health. The best research on this comes out of Europe. In one study of 4,861 adults, a 10-decibel increase in nighttime noise was linked to a 14 percent rise in a person's likelihood of being diagnosed with hypertension.

Yet another depressing study examined the cognition of 2,800 students in 89 schools across Europe. Published in The Lancet in 2005, it found that aircraft and road noise had significant impacts on reading comprehension and certain kinds of memory. The results, adjusted for family income, the mother's education, and other confounding factors, were linear. For every five-decibel noise increase, the reading scores of British children dropped by the equivalent of a two-month delay, so that kids in neighborhoods that were 20 decibels louder than average were almost a year behind.

She observes that other studies are "finding ... that noise may well be the most pervasive pollutant in America." The study to which she refers, "Aircraft and road traffic noise and children's cognition and health: a cross-national study," indicates that "a chronic environmental stressor--aircraft noise--could impair cognitive development in children, specifically reading comprehension:"

Schools exposed to high levels of aircraft noise are not healthy educational environments. [...] With respect to health effects, increasing exposure to both aircraft noise and road traffic noise was associated with increasing annoyance responses in children.

The study makes a caveat that "we focused largely on exposure to noise in schools, though noise at home might also affect health outcomes"

An effect of aircraft noise on reading is consistent with previous findings. Exposure to aircraft noise has been related to impairments of children's cognition in terms of reading comprehension, long-term memory, and motivation. Tasks that involve central processing and language comprehension, such as reading, attention, problem solving, and memory seem most affected by exposure to noise.

Irin Carmon's "My Sluthood, Myself" gives us some details of her long dry spell, followed by a Craigslist Casual Encounters hookup that prompts her to declare that "sluthood is scary:"

Because we've been taught to fear it all our lives, and that training doesn't just go away because we understand the agenda behind it. And because there are real risks involved. Society likes to punish slutty women. And so do a lot of individual men, some of whom frequent Craigslist Casual Encounters.

I left my roommate a note telling her what I'd done and where I was going and to call me at 11 and if I didn't answer to call the police. (What they were going to do about the fact that her 30-something roommate had gone on a CE date and wasn't home after two hours I mercifully didn't wonder at the time.) And then I went down to the local bar and met him.

You've probably already guessed that I didn't get axe murdered. Instead, we spent a lovely hour chatting over a couple of glasses of wine, he used the phrase "male hegemony" critically in a sentence (entirely unprompted by me), and then he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place, which was nearby. And once again, to my shock and terror and excitement, I found that I did. Though not before asking him for his address, calling my roommate with it in front of him, and letting him know I had extensive self-defense training.

Reader, I fucked him. Three rounds worth that night. And it was awesome.

After talking a bit about privilege, she says, "I'm telling you this because it's important for everyone to understand:"

Sluthood isn't a disease, or a wrong path, or a trend that's ruining our youth. It isn't just for detached, unemotional women who "fuck like men," (as if that actually meant something), consequences be damned. It isn't ever inevitable that sluthood should inspire violence or shame. Sluthood isn't just a choice we should let women make because women should be free to make even "bad" choices. It's a choice we should all have access to because it has the potential to be liberating. Healing. Soul-fulfilling. I'm telling you this because sluthood saved me, in a small but life-altering way, and I want it to be available to you if you ever think it could save you, too.

Interestingly, Kate Carraway opines that queer women can't be sluts:

There's a crucial difference between a straight slut and a queer slut, and it's the shame factor. But it's not shame in the way you might think.

She continues by observing that this is "because 'slut' doesn't exist as an idea without its association with shame:"

This is why there's no original analog for a "male slut," why we have to dredge up horrible jargon like "himbo" and "man-whore." These all provocative-on-purpose jokes cannot be taken as seriously as to call a woman a "slut."

"A slut without shame is not a slut at all," she continues, "and a queer slut is, mostly, freed from all of the still-in-effect stigmas and judgments of straight straight-up sluts:"

This is because the shame of "slut" is specifically about the fear and subsequent judgment of women making themselves available and in some ways vulnerable to men. But we're not so much worried about a so-called slut's emotional well-being as we are afraid of her being used up, spoiled, pregnant with a fatherless baby -- because all of that stuff is bad for women, individually and collectively.

But these fears don't -- can't, really -- translate to the lesbian community.

I'm not sure that I completely agree with her take on the semantics of sluthood, but it's worth considering.

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