Matthew Rosza comments on Trump's pardon of right-wing serial bullshitter Dinesh D'Souza, and how undeserved it is:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that "this office and the FBI take a zero tolerance approach to corruption of the electoral process. If, as alleged, the defendant directed others to make contributions to a Senate campaign and reimbursed them, that is a serious violation of federal campaign finance laws." [...]

Four months after being charged, D'Souza pled guilty, telling the court that "I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids. I deeply regret my conduct."

Danny Katch bluntly describes NRA president Ollie North as a deep-state thug:

It may seem strange for an organization that claims to stand for the right to arm "good guys" against criminals to choose someone best known for illegally running guns and drugs on three continents. But in reality, North and the NRA are made for each other.

For one thing, he's perfect for an organization that needs to step up its trolling game. The NRA relies on generating outrage in order to make its members feel under siege so they...buy more guns.

Katch goes on to remark that "Oliver North is basically Donald Trump without the draft dodging:"

He even has his own dodgy charity run jointly with presidential pal Sean Hannity. [...] North drew widespread media scorn for his hypocrisy in calling out violent media without mentioning his own history as a paid shill for the "first-person shooter" video game Call of Duty.

"All told," Katch continues, "bringing in Oliver North is the latest evidence that the NRA just might be completely full of shit:"

LaPierre made his name back in the 1990s when he declared that a ban on semi-automatic weapons "gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us."

There are, in fact, government thugs who do just this on a daily basis in poor and nonwhite neighborhoods. They're called police.

But as the Washington Post's Radley Balko points out, the NRA is almost always silent about police shootings -- and is actually totally cool with local police forces becoming militarized, both in weaponry and in mindset.

Making a former covert operations spook its president is another order of cognitive dissonance for an organization that traffics in conspiracy theories about secret government plans to round up all the true patriots.

Katch points out that "it's also important to see the connecting lines between the NRA's seemingly contradictory positions [and] its thoroughly warped understanding of tyranny and freedom:"

By "big government," the NRA doesn't mean the military, police, prisons, immigration Gestapo, spy agencies and other forces of repression that claim the majority of government budgets in the U.S. No, they mean elected lawmakers who (occasionally) try to represent their constituents by passing widely supported bills to regulate guns and gun corporations.

By tyranny, they mean democracy. And by freedom, they mean the inalienable right for their constituency of mostly well-off white men -- who, indeed, were the only people who the Founding Fathers intended to have democracy -- to do whatever the hell it takes to protect their property.

For years, the NRA has taken this longstanding reactionary outlook and added the gasoline of manufactured outrage necessary to increase sales of expensive guns to people who already own a bunch.

Dan Avery laments the lack of LGBT representation in films:

This week GLAAD released its Studio Responsibility Index, a report grading the seven major Hollywood studios on LGBT representation. The results were not good -- in fact, they were the lowest scores since 2012, with numerous studios receiving failing grades.

Even in an age of Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name, the news isn't surprising.

Part of the problem is the global economy, as "storylines and characters have to pass muster in Indonesia, Russia, China and other countries with records of silencing LGBT voices. It's not ignorance or bigotry keeping Fox from giving us a gay Iceman. It's fear." This leads to "Hollywood's version of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' wherein actors and directors are free to discuss queer subtext in movies like Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Force Awakens [see here]... so long as it stays just subtext:"

We need to stop fawning over, reporting, tweeting and shipping every innuendo and examine representation the same way we would for race or gender. So long as we sheepishly accept hints and nods, that's what we'll get: John Boyega and Oscar Isaac joking that they ship Poe and Finn, too. A Dumbledore who came out posthumously in the footnotes. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn claiming "there are probably gay characters in the Marvel Universe, you know, we just don't know who they are yet."

The only optimism Avery offers is that "hopefully the younger generation, raised with openly LGBT people in every other aspect of their lives, won't abide it anymore."

Graham Slater's TruthOut piece in defense of refusal looks at our "wave of school walkouts and teacher strikes spreading across the nation," writing that it "marks the coalescence of anti-corporate visions of education as teachers across the nation unite in opposition to austerity and educational insecurity." Slater foresees a "conservative backlash" consisting of "propaganda, scapegoating and demagoguery:"

What conservative reactionaries miss in their criticism of teacher strikes is that efforts to ensure robust and equitable investment in public education, the livability of teachers' wages and quality of physical conditions of schools are not threats to student learning. Rather, they are preconditions to meaningful education. To deny this is to be complicit in the reproduction of educational inequality. Conservative pundits and policy makers who cast striking teachers as petulant malcontents who threaten the educational well-being of students seek to obscure this fact.

"This is no accident," he observes:

It is deliberate, and indeed, it is an indispensable component of the conservative program to moralize, deprofessionalize and depoliticize teaching. Against this movement, progressives must insist on a critical language with which to describe the social, ethical and political purpose of education.

"In the 1960s," Slater reminds us, "the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse described the need for a 'Great Refusal,' which he claimed was necessary to rupture the smooth functioning of advanced capitalist societies:"

We must refuse corporate school reform and precarious neoliberal governance. We must defend the right of teachers to become cultural workers and political agents of transformation. We must insist on an education otherwise.

Aeon's why read Aristotle today? (by King's College classics professor Edith Hall, whose latest book is Introducing the Ancient Greeks) describes his "fundamental tenet" this way:

...the goal of life is to maximise happiness by living virtuously, fulfilling your own potential as a human, and engaging with others - family, friends and fellow citizens - in mutually beneficial activities. [...]

Aristotle's optimistic, practical recipe for happiness is ripe for rediscovery. It offers to the human race facing third-millennial challenges a unique combination of secular, virtue-based morality and empirical science, neither of which seeks answers in any ideal or metaphysical system beyond what humans can perceive by their senses.

"Aristotle's ethics are inherently flexible," Hall writes, and "There are no strict doctrines:"

Aristotle thought that general principles are important, but without taking into account the specific circumstances, especially intention, general principles can mislead. This is why he distrusted fixed penalties. He believed that the principle of equity needed to be integral to the judiciary, which is why some Aristotelians call themselves 'moral particularists'. Each dilemma requires detailed engagement with the nuts and bolts of its particulars. When it comes to ethics, the devil really can be in the detail.

"The applicability of Aristotle's holistic ethical and scientific outlook to our 21st-century problems such as theocracy and pollution," she continues, "prompts the question of why is there so little public awareness of his ideas:"

One is certainly his much-cited prejudices against women and slaves. He was a well-to-do male householder, and in his Politics he endorses slavery in the case of Greeks enslaving non-Greeks, and pronounces that women are incapable of reasoned deliberation. Yet he would have entertained reasoned arguments to the contrary, if backed up by empirical evidence. In every field of knowledge, he argued that all beliefs must be perpetually open to adjustment: 'medicine has been improved by being altered from the ancestral system, and gymnastic training, and in general all the arts and faculties'. The laws the Greeks used to live by 'were too simple and uncivilised': he cites as examples the obsolete practices of purchasing wives and bearing of arms by citizens. He insists that law-codes need revision, 'because it is impossible that the structure of the state can have been framed correctly for all time in relation to all its details'.

In contrast to Aristotle's analytical approach, Hall writes that "One of the reasons why Stoicism is enjoying a revival today is that it gives concrete answers to moral questions:"

Aristotle's ethical writings, however, contain few explicit instructions about how to act. Aristotelians need to take full responsibility in deciding what is the right way to behave and in repeatedly exerting their own judgment.

Similarly, Stoicism comes in for abuse via contemporary pundits. Modern Stoicism's Justin Vacula takes aim at pop-philosophy's Jordan Peterson and his best-seller 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos:

When I use the word "Stoic," I reference the practical philosophy of life popularized by Ancient thinkers including Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius I'll later detail - not a common usage which people may understand as merely being resolute in the face of challenge [...] or a severely misguided interpretation - one being detached from positive or negative emotions.

"I don't recall Jordan Peterson mentioning influence from Stoic thinkers or Stoic Philosophy in his content," Vacula writes, "but I see many parallels between his work and central themes in Stoicism.:"

Jordan Peterson, in addition to receiving praise, has been vilified in popular media following his opposition to Canadian Bill C-16 concerning what he dubbed government-compelled speech in regards to gender pronouns; criticism of modern feminist positions; opposition to what he calls neo-Marxist postmodern leftists; identity politics; and political correctness. Peterson spends a considerable amount of time constructing arguments supplementing his skepticism and notes the danger of popular opinion which could lead people astray from reason.

Peterson diverges from Stoic writers when engaging in name-calling or ascribing ill-motives towards groups of people he disagrees with.

Massimo Pigliucci's how to be a Stoic takes issue with both Peterson and Vacula. "The issue," writes Pigliucci, "is whether there are sufficient deep similarities between Peterson and Stoicism. I will argue that not only the answer is no, but that the sort of worldview Peterson advances is, in fact, anti-Stoic:"

Peterson buys wholesale the most crude version of evolutionary psychology, according to which gender roles have been pretty much fixed since the Pleistocene. From this perspective, according to Peterson, the apogee of American cultural life was back in the '50s, and we ought to get back to that place.

"Peterson does say a number of fairly sensible things," but also "a lot of pseudoscientific and pseudophilosophical nonsense." Pigliucci cites this passage from Peterson's 12 Rules:

"Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here's something to try: start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today... Don't blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don't reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? ... Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world."

"This sounds deceptively Stoic," continues Pigliucci, "but the deception is dangerous:"

First off, notice that we are told not to go out and make noise about changing the world until our own household is in perfect order. Well, then, since it will never be (we are not sages), I guess we are not authorized to invest time and energy into questioning our social systems and try to change them for the better. How convenient, for someone who clearly benefits from said social order.

Then Pigliucci analyzes "the infamous case that actually catapulted Peterson to fame: his public criticism of Canada's bill C-16, because of its stultifying political correctness:"

The bill added gender expression and identity to the list of criteria one cannot not be discriminated by in accordance to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student's preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution. This is simply and utterly false. Here is the full text of the bill, so you can check for yourself.

"Why, then," wonders Pigliucci, "is he so influential?"

Why are we spending so much energy and time talking about him? I really can't do any better than put the answer as commentator and critic Nathan Robinson did recently in what is the best and most in-depth critique of Peterson I've seen so far:

"If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like 'if you're too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of' or 'many moral values are similar across human societies.' Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God's own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured."

As Pigliucci concludes, "You know what Socrates used to call this sort of person? A sophist. And he didn't mean it as a compliment."

Casey Stepaniuk is ecstatic about the "plethora of 2018 bisexual YA books coming out in 2018," and suggests 10 must-read bisexual YA books. These three seemed most intriguing to me:

  • Ship It by Britta Lundin,
  • Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli ("This companion novel to the beloved Simon Vs. the Homosapiens Agenda follows Simon's best friend Leah as she finally gets to be front and center in her own story!"), and
  • The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde.

Our loneliness epidemic is getting worse, writes Philip Perry, who points out that "staying connected is the healthiest thing to do, and not just psychologically:"

According to a 2014 University of Chicago study, loneliness can have a significant negative impact on physical health. It can increase the rate of atherosclerosis--the hardening of the arteries, increase the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, and decrease retention, which can even hurt learning and memory. What's more, the lonely often make worse life choices and are more prone to substance abuse.

Some research suggests loneliness is worse for you than smoking or obesity. It can even increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Seniors are often the focus. Those who face social isolation actually see a 14% increased risk of premature death.

"It's ironic that we're more connected than ever before, and yet lonelier than ever," writes Perry:

Humans are social creatures and texting doesn't replace offline, face-to-face interaction. This is evident by the fact that the loneliest generation isn't the elderly but the young. Gen Z (ages 18-22), the most connected generation in history, are also in worse health than all older generations. Social media, rather than relieving the issue, has exasperated it. [sic; exacerbated]

"The survey does make some suggestions," he continues:

There's a balance one needs to strike among three particular life aspects: staying socially connected, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. Americans seem to be missing the mark on all of these, throwing all their weight against their career and then, familial responsibilities, leaving little time for much else.

Judy Cox looks at Marx and the Paris Commune, which lasted barely two months (from 28 March to 28 May 1871) but has had lasting effects. After France's surrender to Germany, Parisians "took the defence of the city into their own hands," writes Cox, "and in the process created innovative new ways of organising the city and implementing democratic control from below. [...] The Council disbanded the standing army and separated the Church from the state, ending religious domination over the schools and confiscating Church property:"

The officials of the Commune received only an average workers' wage and were instantly recallable. The Commune reformed working conditions, ending night working for bakers and limiting the working day to 10 hours. They also explored ways to transform the nature of work itself by giving workers the right to take over workshops left empty when owners fled the city.

"For two months," Cox continues, "the workers, the artisans and the urban poor of Paris were in the saddle and a huge outburst of creativity was unleashed:"

Walls were plastered with news posters. Painter Gustav Courbet organised a Federation of Artists which confiscated the art collection stored in Adolph Thiers' Parisian mansion. At Courbet's instigation, militaristic statues were pulled down. Artists drew up manifestos calling for 'Communal Luxury' and 'Public Beauty'. Political clubs sprang up across the city, including the Union of Women. Contemporary commentators sneered at the large number of women who attended meetings of the clubs. Hostile contemporaries described how screeching women with crying babies and red sashes dominated some of these clubs. Marx saw it differently: 'The real women of Paris showed again the surface heroic, noble and devoted. Working, thinking, fighting, bleeding Paris, almost unaware in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibal at its gates-radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative!'

Cox reminds us that "The Commune transformed Marx from an obscure socialist activist into an international hate figure:"

Those terrified by the Commune refused to believe that ordinary men and women were capable of running their own city and sought the real 'leaders'. They found Marx who was portrayed as the 'Red Doctor' and 'Dr Terror'. He wrote to a friend, 'I have the honour to be at this moment the best calumniated and most menaced man of London. That really does one good after a tedious 20-year idyll in the back woods'. Marx's account of the Commune, The Civil War In France, sold thousands of copies and was translated into every major European language. It was in this book that Marx revealed what the Communards had achieved by created their own state: 'One thing especially was proved by the Commune - that the working cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'. The Commune exposed the nature of the capitalist state and this proved crucial to Lenin's State and Revolution which translated the liberatory potential of the Commune into the conditions of Russia in 1917.

What happened to the Commune? Herein lies the sad chapter of this tale:

On 22nd May the French government launched its murderous suppression of the Commune. For a week soldiers burned, shot, and bombarded their own capital city. The last battle was fought at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Some 25,000 children, women and men were shot against the walls of the cemetery and across Paris, thousands more were imprisoned and transported. Dmitrieff, Lemel and many other women stayed on the barricades for days on end. The extreme brutality demonstrated by the French Government reveals the depth of the ruling class's fear and hatred of the Commune. Eugene Pottier wrote the socialist anthem, The Internationale, to commemorate the Parisian dead and the enduring nature of their vision for a society turned upside down.

Steven Singer has some strong opinions on public schools versus charter schools:

There are good charter schools.

I admit that.

There are bad public schools.

I admit that, too.

But if one had to choose between the worst public school and the best charter school, you'd still be better off with the public school.

He defines charter schools as "schools that are publicly funded but privately run," and continues:

As such, the overwhelming majority have no elected school board, their meetings are held in private, their documents are kept secret, they discriminate in enrollment and they take advantage of a plethora of legal loopholes and bad policy to embezzle funds, overcharge for nonexistent utilities and cut services for students while pocketing the "savings" as profit.

If you can find a charter school that does none of these things - congratulations! You have found a diamond in the rough! But it is a diamond that is more likely to turn to coal the second you turn away.

"Unlike public schools where all the funding has to be spent on student services," he reminds us, "most charter schools are run for profit:"

They are allowed to cut services for students and swipe the savings for their investors. [...] And unlike the public school system where you get a voice in how that money is spent, here you don't get to say a thing.

You just get to pay.

Call me crazy, but I think there's something wrong with that.

"Charter schools are at heart a less democratic system than public schools," he concludes, and "Therefore, public schools are always preferable."

code to joy

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Andrew Smith's essay Code to Joy begins with his being commissioned "to write the first British magazine piece" on Bitcoin and its pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. Smith was entranced by what he learned about coding:

I was astonished to find other programmers approaching Satoshi's code like literary critics, drawing conclusions about his likely age, background, personality and motivation from his style and approach. Even his choice of programming language - C++ - generated intrigue. Though difficult to use, it is lean, fast and predictable. Programmers choose languages the way civilians choose where to live and some experts suspected Satoshi of not being "native" to C++. By the end of my investigation I felt that I knew this shadowy character and tingled with curiosity about the coder's art. For the very first time I began to suspect that coding really was an art, and would reward examination.

Noting the ubiquity--and importance--of "the code conjured by an invisible cadre of programmers," Smith points out that "our relationship with code has become symbiotic, governing nearly every aspect of our lives:"

The accelerator in your new car no longer has any physical connection to the throttle - the motion of your foot will be converted into binary numbers by some of the 100m lines of code that tell the vehicle what to do. Turn on your TV or radio, use a credit card, check in a bag at the airport, change the temperature in your fridge, get an X-ray at the dentist, text a family member, listen to music on anything other than vinyl or read this article online and each of your desires will be fulfilled by code. You may think you're wedded to your iPhone - what you really love is the bewitching code that lies within it.

Though code makes our lives easier and more efficient, it is becoming increasingly apparent how easily it can be turned to malign purposes. It's used by terrorists to spread viruses, car manufacturers to cheat emissions tests and hostile powers to hack elections.

This leads Smith to ask himself some questions:

Should I learn to code? Could I learn to code? With a trepidation I later came to recognise as deeply inadequate, I decided there was only one way to find out.

Smith narrows his focus to three languages (Python, JavaScript, and C++), investigates freeCodeCamp for HTML5 and JavaScript, and other resources for Python. "The app I want to write," he explains, "will rove Twitter feeds looking for keywords provided by a user." Then he gets to work:

I must learn how to connect with Twitter's API, or Application Programming Interface, which provides developers with access to the company's feed. I must also become familiar with Tweepy, a library of Python tools specially written to talk to Twitter. To this end I spend an entire exhausting day reading the copious online documentation about this software. Tolstoy must look like a quick skim to these people.

Smith eventually got stymied by "endless 'syntax error' messages that stop my code from doing anything at all:"

Hours later, at two in the morning, nerves stretched as if the entire staff of Facebook has thrown them out the window and shimmied down them to escape, I send an SOS to [British programmer Nicholas] Tollervey, grateful, for the first time in my life, for the eight-hour time-zone lag between San Francisco, where I live, and the UK. To my unbounded relief, he answers straight away and arranges a screen share to help solve my problem. He looks for a moment, then laughs.

"You probably don't feel like it right now," Tollervey says of Smith's code, "but you're so close." Here's the code in question:

20180519-code.jpg

A stray parenthesis had thrown the whole program into chaos. Tollervey removes it and the code works. I stare at the screen in disbelief. We're done. Too wired to sleep, I stay up talking to Tollervey about programming for another hour. My app is crude and unlikely to change the world or disrupt anything soon, but it feels amazing to have made it. More than anything, I'm astonished at how few lines it contains. With the Twitter API security keys redacted, it appears as above.

"After all the caffeine, sweat and tears," Smith asks, "were my efforts to learn to code worthwhile?"

A few hours on freeCodeCamp, familiarising myself with programming syntax and the basic concepts, cost nothing and brought me huge potential benefits. My beginner's foray has taught me more than I could have guessed, illuminating my own mind and introducing me to a new level of mental discipline, not to mention a world of humility. The collaborative spirit at code culture's heart turns out to be inspiring and exemplary. When not staring at my screen in anguish, I even had fun and now thrill to look at a piece of code and know - or at least have some idea - what's going on. I fully intend to persist with Python.

"More powerful than any of this," he concludes, "is a feeling of enfranchisement that comes through beginning to comprehend the fascinating but profoundly alien principles by which software works:"

By accident more than design, coders now comprise a Fifth Estate and as 21st-century citizens we need to be able to interrogate them as deeply as we interrogate politicians, marketers, the players of Wall Street and the media. Wittgenstein wrote that "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world." My world just got a little bigger.

One of Gina Haspel's torture victims is described by an American doctor and Naval reserve officer as "one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen," reports The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill:

"I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured as part of the CIA's RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering," Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner's legislative director on Monday. "He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen."

Nashiri was snatched in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and "rendered" to Afghanistan by the CIA and eventually taken to the Cat's Eye prison in Thailand that was run by Haspel from October to December 2002. He was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen. He is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Scahill notes that "the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri at the site that Haspel ran and other US facilities included:"

• suffocated with water (waterboarding) • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded • anal rape through rectal feeding • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated)

She cited a public statement from one of the CIA contractors who developed the enhanced interrogation program, psychologist James Mitchell, who said he witnessed an interrogator "dousing Nashiri with cold water while using a stiff bristled brush to scrub his ass and balls and then his mouth and then blowing cigar smoke in his face until he became nauseous."

Crosby added: "It is important to note that the barbarity of the torture methods used were shrouded and concealed in sterile euphemisms."

Ian Welsh is dismayed that Haspel has been confirmed to lead the CIA:

The bottom line is that Americans and their leaders are really, truly, ok with illegal wars and torture whenever the decision has to actually be made, and today America's leaders showed that they do not even feel any actual remorse, or even that torturing was a mistake that matters.

At MPS, tengrain drops some snark:

Gina Haspell is confirmed as the first woman director of the CIA, and I will add she is also the first unindicted war criminal to lead the CIA, so it's a two-fer.

In an educational episode reminiscent of the conservative economic failure in Kansas, Scott Walker has demonstrated that trickle-down is also a failure in Wisconsin:

In Minnesota, progressive taxes and social spending have created more and better-paying jobs than next-door neighbor Wisconsin has created through tax and spending cuts.

In January 2011, two new governors took office in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota's new governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, had campaigned largely on a platform of taxing the rich to provide the services the state needed. By contrast, Wisconsin's new governor, Republican Scott Walker had pledged to cut taxes in order to create jobs. Over the course of the past seven years, these two governors have taken their states on vastly different trajectories: Minnesota to the left, and Wisconsin to the right.

"Now, nearing the completion of those second terms, the merits and problems of these two philosophies of governance can be tallied more definitively," the piece continues, citing a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. "As Wisconsin's and Minnesota's lawmakers took divergent paths, so did their economies," the report states, and "Minnesota's economy has come out ahead:"

Over the past seven years, hourly wages in Minnesota have increased by 2.4 percent over inflation, while wages in Wisconsin rose by just 0.3 percent after inflation. Minnesota, where job growth has been stronger than Wisconsin, also outpaced Wisconsin in reducing unemployment. And Minnesota also has enjoyed strong growth in median household income as compared with Wisconsin--which helps explain the reduction in Minnesota's poverty rates. In Wisconsin, however, poverty has worsened.

How did Minnesota do it? In large part, thanks to Democratic control of both the statehouse and the governor's office in 2013 and 2014, the state enacted an impressive array of progressive policies. Minnesota raised its minimum wage and expanded labor protections. Dayton also expanded Medicaid, and the federal dollars that came with that expansion helped create more health-care jobs. The administration also strengthened the social safety net, expanding paid sick and family leave and strengthening unemployment insurance. [...]

Minnesota has seen its population increase through people moving into the state, while Wisconsin has had more residents leave than new residents arrive.

Robert Kraig (executive director of the advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin) has some choice comments:

With the results from the two states, "You really have a complete debunking of the whole conservative economic program," says Kraig, "and I think a proof that what it's really about is enriching the one percent and large corporations. The idea that it's going to help average people by encouraging business is clearly being debunked by the results of these policies once you actually implement them."

Will they ever learn?

The NYT notes Trump's admission that Russiagate is "bigger than Watergate:"

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI "SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT." Andrew McCarthy says, "There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign." If so, this is bigger than Watergate!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

The piece observes that "In some sense, many analysts have said, he is right:"

Efforts by a hostile foreign power to influence an American presidential election -- with or without the assistance or knowledge of the winning candidate -- may well be a scandal "bigger than Watergate!"

The F.B.I. and a team of special prosecutors are investigating whether any of Mr. Trump's associates were coordinating with Russia to help Mr. Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. And, since the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the investigation has expanded to include inquiries into whether Mr. Trump has attempted to obstruct justice to bring an end to what he regularly calls a witch hunt.

I would suggest, though, that a better term than informant would be witness. There's quite a difference between a candidate spying on an opponent and law enforcement investigating a crime. Nonetheless, as this 538 analysis by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux mentions, "It's a big day for Robert Mueller and his team:"

One year ago today, Mueller was appointed to lead the special counsel investigation into possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian officials. It's a miracle, in some ways, that Mueller has lasted this long. President Trump's relationship with the investigation has grown increasingly adversarial, and at many moments over the course of the past 12 months, it seemed like Mueller's job was in jeopardy.

So this hasn't been an easy year for Mueller, but it's certainly been productive. Since the first indictments came down in the investigation last fall, the special counsel has racked up five guilty pleas and 14 indictments of individuals.1 He also reportedly gave a referral to the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York that led to a raid on the office, home and hotel room of presidential lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, which has turned into its own separate investigation.

"But the total number of charges doesn't tell the whole story," the piece continues:

To get a sense of where Mueller's investigation might go in its second year, it's worth looking at where the three other highest-profile investigations in modern history -- Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater -- stood a year after a special or independent counsel came on board and how they evolved in the year or two afterward.

These investigations give us three separate models of what Mueller's first year could mean for the rest of his investigation, and they show how foolish it can be to predict the end of a special counsel investigation based on its beginning. Watergate lived up to the dramatic promise of its first year: It ended Nixon's presidency and sent dozens of people to jail. The revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal initially seemed like they might engulf Ronald Reagan, but the scandal began to fizzle when it became clear that Reagan wouldn't be implicated. And Whitewater, which was sleepy at first, eventually resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton -- but for reasons that could never have been foreseen after the first year of the investigation.

"As the Russia investigation enters its second year," the NYT concludes, "the most important variable may be how long Mueller can keep his job:"

Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater all had one thing in common: They lasted at least four years. Given the reports that Trump has already twice considered ordering Mueller's removal, it's not clear that the investigation can survive that long -- at least, with Mueller at the helm.

The Atlantic's Ian Bogost takes a long look at (or is it through?) open floor plans. First, he describes "a fresh new design" in home plans:

...a house with an open floor plan, with its kitchen, dining area, and living room all flowing into one another. But then, behind the first kitchen, lies another. A "messy" kitchen. There, the preparation for or remainders from a meal or party can be deposited for later cleanup, out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

"That this is 'necessary' at all," Bogost continues, "is a consequence of the rise of the open floor plan in the first place:"

On the next block or on HGTV, remodels blow out walls, enlarge kitchens, and couple them to the surrounding space. In new construction, enormous great rooms combine hundreds of square feet of living space into singular, cavernous voids, punctuated only by the granite or marble outcropping of a kitchen island. This amorphous, multipurpose space has become the center of domestic life.

Bogost looks back to Frank Lloyd Wright's "Prairie" style and "usonian" homes as early open-plan designs, where "Live-in help was assumed." As servants' quarters disappeared in the mid-century era, however, "Americans' ongoing rejection of domestic help made smaller, middle-class homes feasible, even as that very rejection also conscripted Americans, women in particular, to endless labor."

Already, by the 1950s, the open-plan kitchen offered a connection to living and dining spaces for the purposes of home monitoring and management. Gender roles being what they were, that tended to mean that women were "allowed" to oversee their children's and husbands' needs in the living spaces while also preparing or cleaning up from family meals.

Then (some) things began to change:

As the small, modernist middle-class home of the 1930s through 1950s gave way to larger designs of the late 1960s and onward, the great room emerged, often with a vaulted ceiling exposed to high windows or a second-floor gallery. And so, the total space and activity the open-plan homeowner had to manage from behind the kitchen increased ever further. The kitchen became like a ship's bridge, but absent the personnel to run the vessel.

Openness and continuity might have been modernist aspirations for the spirit as much as the body, but just as the open-plan office created the oppression of constant oversight in the name of collaboration, so the open-plan home merged the duties of hostess, butler, cook, and childcare provider. And despite its promise of relaxation and conversation, open-plan living has actually combined leisure with labor. When the two fuse, work wins in the end, converting recreation back into obligation. The dinner party entails its preparation and cleanup; meal-prep also involves child oversight or homework help; television-viewing takes place during dishwasher-unloading. Overall, domestic life becomes an exercise in multitasking. And so, even when it expands freedom, the open kitchen constantly reminds its users of that freedom's limits.

"The spaces in these supposed dream homes are in constant conflict," writes Bogost, "not fluid harmony."

What open-plan aficionados might really mean is that so much time and effort is spent chasing the residual labor of school, work, and home life into the evenings and weekends, that it would be lovely if some of it might overlook other family activities in the process. There is so much to do, but at least a family can all be nearby one another while trying to get it done.

"On first blush, the messy kitchen suggests that design's pendulum might yet swing back toward defined, divided spaces," Bogost states:

It's possible that the rest of the kitchen will follow suit, and perhaps the dining room later on. But more likely, messy kitchens represent yet another skirmish in the struggle between obligation and freedom in the American home. After all, the kitchen was sequestered from the living space for all the same reasons a century ago and more: To spare the family from the visual and olfactory unsightliness of food preparation and cleanup.

The messy kitchen revisits that promise, but without the staff that would relieve the homemaker of the duty, and with homemaker in decline as a full-time role, too. After the dinner is done or the party concludes, someone has to go back into the big, kitchen closet and clean up the dishes. More times than not, that will probably be a woman, who will once again be banished from the social action in the process. That's a circumstance that inspired the open-plan kitchen in the first place.

Trump is destroying the federal government, writes Digby--who reminds us that Trump's first use of the "drain the swamp" slogan was at a rally in Green Bay on 17 October 2016:

The fact is, that despite his tiresome repetition of the slogan "Drain the swamp" since the election, it wasn't one of Trump's signature chants, like "Lock her up" or "Build the wall." It was something of an afterthought, a sort of extension of his claims that the system was "rigged" against him to steal the election. As the various investigations into his nefarious doings unfold, it seems obvious that was another projection of his own foibles onto his opponents.

Nonetheless, it is an article of faith among many of the chattering classes that he ran as a reformer who promised to clean up Washington. But the Trump administration's approach to dealing with the institutions of government is much more old-fashioned. It is simply governing by way of personal loyalty and fealty to the president rather than expertise, experience or seniority. It's a spoils system, and not a very efficient one.

Evan Osnos' New Yorker piece "is an eye opener," writes Digby:

"Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. [...] If they cannot find a Trump loyalist to fill a position they simply leave it empty."

Osnos writes about the Trumpian effects:

A real-estate baron, with the wealthiest Cabinet in US history, Trump is at peace with the plutocracy but at war with the clerks -- the apparatchiks who, he claims, are seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of his Administration.

Digby comments:

This attack on "bureaucracy" is really an attack on law enforcement, the State Department, the intelligence community and ordinary bureaucrats who enforce regulations and monitor compliance with the law, along with anyone else Trump and his henchmen see as enemies of the state. [...]

The story Osnos tells about the elimination of experts and the deliberate erasure of institutional memory in department after department is chilling. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace these people even after Trump is gone. His lasting legacy may be the destruction of the federal government as we know it.

Ed Yong writes about how sleep and creativity are linked, referencing the study "How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-Solving" (by Penny Lewis of Cardiff University) about the two main phases of sleep--REM and a deeper sleep called slow-wave sleep (SWS):

During that state, the brain replays memories. For example, the same neurons that fired when a rat ran through a maze during the day will spontaneously fire while it sleeps at night, in roughly the same order. These reruns help to consolidate and strengthen newly formed memories, integrating them into existing knowledge.

"Essentially," summarizes Yong, "non-REM sleep extracts concepts, and REM sleep connects them:"

Lewis is also working with Mark van Rossum from the University of Nottingham to create an artificial intelligence that learns in the way she thinks the sleeping brain does, with "a stage for abstraction and a stage for linking things together," she says.

"So you're building an AI that sleeps?" I ask her.

"Yes," she says.

I wonder if it will dream of electric sheep.

Bravo!

Jason Easley delves into Trump's $500 million emoluments problem:

The White House had no answer when asked about $500 million in funding that the Trump Organization is getting from the Chinese government for a project in Indonesia and couldn't explain how this is not an Emoluments Clause violation.

Here's the question:

Q: The Trump Organization is involved in a project in Indonesia building hotels, golf course, residences. It is getting up to $500 million in backing from the Chinese government. Can you tell -- or explain the administration's perspective on, a, how this wouldn't violate the emoluments clause, and, B, how it wouldn't violate the president's own promise that his private organization would not be getting involved in new foreign deals while he was president?

Here's the rest of the exchange:

Raj Shah: I'll have to refer you to the Trump Organization.

Q: No. But I mean the trump organization can't speak on behalf of the president as the president, the head of the federal government, the one who is responsible, who needs to assure the American people.

Shah: You're asking about a private organization's dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. That's not something that I can speak to.

"Donald Trump never divested himself from the Trump Organization," Easley reminds us:

It is not a coincidence that Trump wants to help Chinese telecom ZTE that was sanctioned for dealing with Iran after the Chinese government gave the Trump Organization $500 million. The Chinese bought their way out of crippling sanctions. Trump isn't just corrupt. He's criminal, and reporters to call out this corruption each day during the White House briefing. Reporters may not get answers, but they need to open the eyes of the American people to what is the real motivation behind this administration's decisions.

Speaking of Trump's offenses, we should add felony bribery to the list, writes Samuel Warde:

The issue at hand involve an inexplicable tweet posted by Trump on Sunday announcing that he was going to roll back his administration's own sanctions on Chinese telecom company ZTE.
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018

Warde writes that "there is reason to belief that China bribed Trump," and Richard Painter, ethics attorney for W, agreed:

This is bribery. The Constitution expressly provides that bribery is an impeachable offense. If the House and Senate don't act now they must be voted out in November. Americans are fed up!https://t.co/DAnJhq7DoQ via @HuffPostPol

-- Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) May 15, 2018

Henry Kissinger speculates on how the Enlightenment ends, writing that "my experience as a historian and occasional practicing statesman gave me pause" in, among other things, AI learning to play Go:

The internet age in which we already live prefigures some of the questions and issues that AI will only make more acute. The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet's purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.

"Heretofore confined to specific fields of activity," Kissinger writes, "AI research now seeks to bring about a "generally intelligent" AI capable of executing tasks in multiple fields:"

A growing percentage of human activity will, within a measurable time period, be driven by AI algorithms. But these algorithms, being mathematical interpretations of observed data, do not explain the underlying reality that produces them.

Despite the "extraordinary benefits to medical science, clean-energy provision, environmental issues, and many other areas" that Kissinger envisions from AI, he also foresees problems:

But precisely because AI makes judgments regarding an evolving, as-yet-undetermined future, uncertainty and ambiguity are inherent in its results. There are three areas of special concern:

First, that AI may achieve unintended results. [...]

Second, that in achieving intended goals, AI may change human thought processes and human values. [...]

Third, that AI may reach intended goals, but be unable to explain the rationale for its conclusions. [...]

Those areas are little different from the same activities performed by humans, though--which Kissinger studiously ignores in favor of excessive hand-wringing.

Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy.

I guess we need more philosophers, then--contrary to what Marco Rubio might say.

toxic bubble

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Rebecca Solnit asks, whose story (and country) is this? and analyzes a PBS News Hour quiz by Charles Murray that asked "Do You Live in a Bubble?"

The quiz is essentially about whether you are in touch with working-class small-town white Christian America, as though everyone who's not Joe the Plumber is Maurice the Elitist. We should know them, the logic goes; they do not need to know us. [...] The quiz delivers, yet again, the message that the 80 percent of us who live in urban areas are not America, treats non-Protestant (including the quarter of this country that is Catholic) and non-white people as not America, treats many kinds of underpaid working people (salespeople, service workers, farmworkers) who are not male industrial workers as not America. More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies and the sacrifice of the climate, and museum workers--well, no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.

Solnit flips the script on them:

Perhaps the actual problem is that white Christian suburban, small-town, and rural America includes too many people who want to live in a bubble and think they're entitled to, and that all of us who are not like them are menaces and intrusions who needs to be cleared out of the way.

"In the aftermath of the 2016 election," she continues, "we were told that we needed to be nicer to the white working class, which reaffirmed the message that whiteness and the working class were the same thing and made the vast non-white working class invisible or inconsequential:"

We were told that Trump voters were the salt of the earth and the authentic sufferers, even though poorer people tended to vote for the other candidate. We were told that we had to be understanding of their choice to vote for a man who threatened to harm almost everyone who was not a white Christian man, because their feelings preempt everyone else's survival.

She also writes about the New York Times op-ed by Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Isabelle Robinson. Ms Robinson described the "disturbing number of comments I've read that go something like this: Maybe if Mr. Cruz's classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred." [By the way, the title of her editorial is "I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends."]

"This framework suggests we owe them something," Solnit points out, "which feeds a sense of entitlement, which sets up the logic of payback for not delivering what they think we owe them:"

Elliot Rodgers set out to massacre the members of a sorority at UC Santa Barbara in 2014 because he believed that sex with attractive women was a right of his that women were violating and that another right of his was to punish any or all of them unto death. He killed six people and injured fourteen. Nikolas Cruz said, "Elliot Rodgers will not be forgotten."

The toxic incel masculinity asks insipid questions like "how do the consequences of men hideously mistreating women affect men's comfort? Are men okay with what's happening?"

There have been too many stories about men feeling less comfortable, too few about how women might be feeling more secure in offices where harassing coworkers may have been removed or are at least a bit less sure about their right to grope and harass.

"We are as a culture," Solnit concludes, "moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities:"

Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future. White men, Protestants from the dominant culture are welcome, but as Chris Evans noted, the story isn't going to be about them all the time, and they won't always be the ones telling it. It's about all of us. White Protestants are already a minority and non-white people will become a voting majority in a few decades. This country has room for everybody who believes that there's room for everybody. For those who don't--well, that's partly a battle about who controls the narrative and who it's about.

Along similar lines, Daily Kos suggests that it's their job to understand us:

Soon--very soon--people of color will outnumber white males as a portion of the electorate. Women already outnumber men in terms of sheer population. It is their interests, and the necessary tolerance for multiple cultures that permits the coexistence of these diverse populations--the same tolerance that Trump voters spit on as "politically correct"--that is the narrative that matters. And it is that narrative, that "story" that should not and will not be denied.

Tracy Beth Høeg MD, PhD has penned a helpful summary of research on running and the heart. "The long-term effects of running on the heart and on health in general," she writes, "are overall very beneficial:"

Specific cardiac changes can occur in endurance athletes, which runners should be aware of. In very rare and specific circumstances--which are outlined in this article--running can result in collapse or death due to problems with the heart.

"When people ask" if running is safe for the heart, she continues, "I like to think that they are really asking two questions:"

1. What is the short-term risk of suffering a cardiac event ("heart attack" or dangerous cardiac rhythm) while running/racing?

2. What are the long-term effects of running on the heart?

Here are Høeg's responses:

The answer to Question 1 is that there is, indeed, a slightly increased risk of a cardiac event during strenuous exercise, if you are predisposed (by coronary-artery disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and many other conditions... However, this risk is overall very, very small. The answer to Question 2 is that running and exercise greatly improve cardiovascular health and decrease your cardiac risk and overall mortality.

Citing various studies, she points out that "regardless of speed, distance, or time spent running weekly, runners have lower rates of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality than non-runners," and "even after adjusting for co-variates such as age, the runners had over a 40% survival benefit." She does, however, issue this caveat:

Particularly strenuous marathons and ultramarathons have been shown to reduce cardiac function temporarily once the race has finished, but function appears to, without exception, return to baseline within one week, thus strongly suggesting there is no permanent heart damage done.
"In conclusion," writes Høeg, "there is overwhelming evidence that regular endurance exercise is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality:"
If you do not have an underlying heart condition or disease, your risk of sudden cardiac death during a race is essentially zero. There should be no generalized recommendation for adults or children to reduce exposure to running or exercise. So go ahead, keep running (!), and on a rest day, consider getting certified in basic life support.

"Dear iPhone: it was only physical," writes Katie Reid. "I recently went through a pretty significant break-up," she says, "with my smartphone. My relationship with my phone was unhealthy in a lot of ways:"

I don't remember exactly when I started needing to hold it during dinner or having to check Twitter before I got out of bed in the morning, but at some point I'd decided I couldn't be without it. I'd started to notice just how often I was on my phone--and how unpleasant much of that time had become--when my daughter came along, and, just like that, time became infinitely more precious. So, I said goodbye. Now, as I reflect on the almost seven years my smartphone and I spent together, I'm starting to realize: What I had with my phone was largely physical.

Cognitive scientists have long debated whether objects in our environment can become part of us. Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers argued in their 1998 paper "The Extended Mind" that when tools help us with cognitive tasks, they become part of us--augmenting and extending our minds. Today the idea that phones specifically are extensions of ourselves is receiving a lot of recent attention.

Reid writes that "the physiological effects of losing that equipment [her phone] were acute:"

...my heart began to race in the Verizon store when the employee told me he was deactivating my phone, and in the following hours and days, I would frequently find myself reaching for my iPhone, the way a girl reaches for a non-existent ponytail after a drastic haircut. Of course, I would gradually begin to notice not being able to use Google Maps or post to Instagram, but the physical sense of loss was instantaneous and intense. I literally felt a part of me was missing.

"Clark may see a smartphone extending my mind," she continues, "but I could feel it dulling my senses:"

Without my phone, I'm more fully myself, both in mind and body. And now, more than ever, I know that looking at my phone is nothing compared to looking at my daughter while the room sways as I rock her to sleep, or how shades of indigo and orange pour in through the window and cast a dusky glow over her room, or the way her warm, milky breath escapes in tiny exhalations from her lips, or how the crickets outside sing their breathless, spring lullaby. See, once I looked up from my phone, I remembered that each experience could be a symphony for the senses, just like it had been when I was a child and, thank God, there was no such thing as smartphones.

Conor Lynch analyzes angry young white men and the Incel rebellion, observing that "If there is one thing that seems to unite the most extreme political reactionaries throughout the world, it is their gender:"

Whether it's alt-right white supremacists marching in Charlottesville with their tiki torches, misogynist "incels" and men's rights activists who believe feminism is the root of all their problems, or Islamic extremists who aim to restore the caliphate, one thing is constant: they are overwhelmingly male.

It is hardly surprising that men are more susceptible to the allure of reactionary politics, considering that it's much easier for men to romanticize the past than it is for women (or any previously oppressed or mistreated group, such as LGBTQ people). Patriarchy has long been the norm in Western and non-Western societies and cultures, and thus women are less inclined to feel nostalgic for some "golden age" in history when they were treated as second-class citizens.

He also notes that "in America there is another important factor that increases the likelihood of one adopting a reactionary political ideology: being white:"

This victim mentality that many white men have developed today stems in part from what sociologist Michael Kimmel has called "aggrieved entitlement," which he describes as "that sense of entitlement that can no longer be assumed and that is unlikely to be fulfilled."

"There are still many in this generation of men who feel cheated by the end of entitlement," Kimmel writes in his book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. "They still feel entitled, and thus they identify socially and politically with those above them, even as they have economically joined the ranks of those who have historically been below them."

"When one is accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression," Lynch continues, and this means that "members of dominant groups are more prone to reactionary politics because they are likely to feel their status and privilege being threatened:"

The reactionary feels disaffected with the modern world and nostalgic for some past era, before the rot of modernity set in -- and before he became a victim (in his mind) of egalitarian movements.

One of the more disturbing and pitiful reactionary group to emerge in the digital age has been the "incels," or involuntary celibates, who were thrust into the national spotlight last month after the terrorist attack in Toronto, committed by a self-described member of the "Incel rebellion." The incel community, which congregates on websites like Reddit and 4Chan, is deeply sexist and misogynistic, and its members blame women for their inability to find sexual partners. Incels feel an "aggrieved entitlement," and believe that women owe them sex. As one might expect, feminism is the bête noire within the incel community, and these basement-dwelling reactionaries long for the days before the sexual revolution and women's liberation.

"One way to challenge the reactionary mentality," Lynch offers helpfully, "is to debunk the romantic depiction of the past and offer a more accurate and cogent critique of the modern world (which, among other things, means offering a critique of capitalism):"

When challenging the reactionary's way of thinking it is also important to make clear that, realistically, he wouldn't have been much better off in the "good old days." [...]

To counteract the reactionary mindset, it will be necessary not only to expose and discredit reactionary myths about the past, but also to acknowledge that reactionaries have legitimate reason to feel disenchanted with the modern world -- and, finally, to offer a genuine progressive alternative to the status quo.

Similarly, Cody Fenwick delves into https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/conservative-writers-have-found-weird-new-argument-claim-theyre-oppressed conservatives' weird new claim of oppression:

Despite the fact that Republican politicians are in charge of Congress and the White House while a conservative-leaning majority reigns in the Supreme Court, conservatives are nevertheless convinced that "the Left" is using political correctness to quash their ideas.

This viewpoint is especially prevalent on the so-called "Intellectual Dark Web," which Fenwick describes as "a 'network' of iconoclastic thinkers who include people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and Ayan Hirsi Ali:"

Despite these individuals' relative success, the idea of the Intellectual Dark Web is that they are somehow kept down by oppressive political correctness and excluded from legacy media outlets. French argues, however, that "the path to prominence for many of these now-popular people has sometimes been painful."

"For [National Review writer David] French," comments Fenwick, "it seems the biggest threat to free speech is that he can't question transgender people's gender identity in corporate boardrooms:"

(Meanwhile, you can still legally be fired just for being gay or transgender in most states.) This supposedly horrific form of censorship pushes people to these "marginalized" writers, and potentially to even darker places like Milo Yiannopoulos and the trenches of the alt-right.

The narrative of the oppressed conservative thinker -- which often just means people who are made they get called out for being racist or bigoted -- is certainly not going away. The "Intellectual Dark Web" is just another manifestation of it.

They may be spreading odious beliefs, but at least the "intellectual" dark-web denizens aren't inciting violence toward their ideological opponents.

(Yet.)

David Graeber, writes In These Times, "kept running into professional managers who didn't seem to do much:"

Graeber developed a suspicion that this was rather common and, in 2013, wrote an essay for Strike! magazine, "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs." [see here] It was just a hypothesis--halfway a joke--but the piece was translated into at least a dozen languages and reprinted all over the internet, where it elicited floods of comments from people saying: "I have a bullshit job."

A subsequent YouGov survey found that 37 percent of British workers believe their job makes no "meaningful contribution to the world"--more than Graeber expected. So, he dug deeper, soliciting testimonials and researching the political, cultural and economic structures that encourage millions of people to effectively waste 40 hours a week. The result is Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a playful and provocative take on what he calls "a scar across our collective soul." In These Times spoke to Graeber about the jobs problem, its causes and the future of capitalism.

From the interview:

It's striking how much people report hating their bullshit job.

DG: They're miserable! Two or three people said they kind of like their bullshit jobs, but the overwhelming majority, they're sick all the time. They talk about depression, they talk about complex illnesses, psychological and physical and immune problems that all clearly have to do with tension and anxiety and depression.

And also they're mean to each other. They scream at each other. The more meaningless the work, the more people suffer doing it and the worse they treat each other.

Does this unhappiness indicate something more fundamental?

DG: Psychologist Karl Groos used this phrase, and it always struck me, "the pleasure of being a cause." When children first realize that when they knock something over, they can do it again in the same way and it will have the same result, there is a kind of pure joy and happiness. This becomes the basis of your sense of agency and sense of self for the rest of your life.

"When you deprive children of that agency," he continues, "they almost feel catatonic:"

That shows we are creatures who need projects of transforming the world around us. If we can't do that, we hardly exist.

So this theory of human nature promulgated by economists and right-wing politicians that people basically want something for nothing--that if you just give them money they're going to laze around and watch TV and get drunk all day--it's not true.

Salon's Matthew Rozsa notes Ollie North's counterpunch against gun-control activists, and says that North "has a dim view of those protesters:"

"They call them activists. That's what they're calling themselves. They're not activists -- this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that's never been seen against a civil rights organization in America," North told the [Washington] Times.

North also told the Times that anti-gun advocates "can do all the cyberwar against us -- they're doing it. They can use the media against us -- they are. They've gone after our bank accounts, our finances, our donors, and obviously individual members. It's got to stop. And that's why the leadership invited me to become the next president of the NRA."

"It is worth noting," writes Rosza, "that this kind of detached-from-reality rhetoric is very much baked into the NRA's political brand:"

Prior to the 1970s, the NRA was mostly known as a sportsmen's club, one that had even supported certain types of gun control during the 1930s. After right-wing radicals seized the NRA during a convention in 1977, however, the organization became a hotbed for extreme beliefs -- all of them united in the conviction that the government, and liberals in general, are determined to seize NRA members' guns and in general victimize them.

That air of victimization was apparent when North actually compared the experiences of NRA supporters to those of America's most persecuted minority groups.

"You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things -- even there you didn't have this kind of thing," North told the Times. Perhaps realizing how he just sounded, he clarified that "we didn't have the cyberwar kind of thing that we've got today."

"He also depicted the Parkland school survivors," notes Rosza, "as being pawns in a larger propaganda effort:"

"What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people. Our job is to get the straight story out about what happened there, and to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen again because the proper things are being done with the advocacy of the NRA," North told the Times.

"There are two reasons," he continues, "why the 'straight story' may be somewhat difficult for North to communicate:"

The first is that, throughout most of American history, the notion that gun regulation would automatically violate the Constitution was a fringe belief. When the Second Amendment was written, it was to make it possible for white men (the only people allowed to own guns at that time) to serve in militias. Although courts were often conflicted as to how much government regulation would be constitutionally acceptable, the absolutist approach that is supported by the NRA had not yet drowned out all other perspectives.

Ollie seems well-suited for his new role:

While North's services on behalf of "freedom" are questionable at best, he is indeed skilled in the arts of rhetoric and leadership. Between that and his long history of shady right-wing activities -- including his recent statements vilifying protesters who merely wish to save lives -- he is indeed someone ideally suited to serve as the NRA's president.

Media Matters' Cydney Hargis comments on another political incident:

After multiple reports of physical abuse came out against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the National Rifle Association's media arm, NRATV, used the reports to falsely claim the solution to violence against women is more gun ownership. In reality, the presence of firearms in households where there is domestic violence drastically increases the likelihood that women who live there will be killed or injured.

Here are some more statistics:

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, "The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed." One study found that among women living in the United States, "about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner." Another study that interviewed women at women's shelters found that 71 percent of women who reported living in a household with a firearm had been attacked or threatened with a gun, but only 7 percent had successfully used a gun in self-defense. In fact, a September 2013 Violence Policy Center study titled "When Men Murder Women" found that women were more than three times more likely to be murdered when there was a gun in their household.

Ollie's outfit is on the wrong side of, well, pretty much everything:

While the NRA continues to dangerously advocate for greater firearm ownership as a solution to violence against women, it has also historically fought efforts to strengthen laws to keep domestic abusers from accessing guns. The group also spent more than $30 million in support of President Donald Trump's campaign and stood by him when a tape emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Capitalism is unfolding exactly as Marx predicted, writes Olivia Goldhill:

The 20th century political movements that attempted to make Karl Marx's ideas reality may have failed but, 200 years since the philosopher's birth on May 5, 1818, his analysis and foresights have repeatedly proven true. We are, in many ways, living in the world Marx predicted.

Carol Gould, philosophy professor at CUNY's Hunter College, writes that Marx "was not only right about the rise of automation:"

He also predicted globalization and the rising inequality of today, notes Gould. "He was correct that the gap between labor and capital would get worse," she says. Marx predicted that capitalism would lead to "poverty in the midst of plenty," a scenario that's depressingly familiar today. [...]

Meanwhile, as Harvard Business Review points out, contemporary society is characterized by a sense of alienation among workers distanced from the output of their labor, and the fetishization of commodities--both predicted by Marx.

Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU's National Security Project, talks about Gina Haspel's nomination-hearing testimony:

During today's nomination hearing for Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Haspel testified about a topic that has rightly generated significant controversy: the destruction of 92 videotapes showing CIA torture.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), asked a question about the destruction of those tapes, misspeaking when she referred to tapes showing interrogations "of 92 detainees." Haspel, seemingly determined to correct Feinstein, stated that the tapes "were of only one detainee."

But the CIA's own records produced in response to the ACLU's torture transparency litigation contradict Haspel. According to those records, which include a declaration under oath from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, the 92 destroyed tapes depicted abuse of two detainees: Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Shamsi wonders, "what else is she not telling the truth about?"

There's already another discrepancy today in accounts about the videotape destruction. There's no dispute that Haspel was an avid proponent of destruction. In a Propublica account published today, Haspel's then-boss at the CIA, Jose Rodriguez, says he told Haspel in advance that he intended to destroy the tapes. In her Congressional testimony, Haspel denied that he did so.

Perhaps there's some other explanation for the detainee videotape discrepancy. And for why Haspel's account doesn't square with Rodriguez's. But unless the CIA releases more information about Haspel's role -- beyond the information serving its propaganda campaign on her behalf -- we won't know.

John Feffer's summation of the banality of Haspel is rather straightforward:

It would be hard to find someone with more experience to run the CIA.

And that's why she's a terrible choice.

"The CIA," writes Feffer, "needs someone who is dead set against the very nature of the organization, just as Scott Pruitt is anti-environment and Ben Carson could care less about housing and urban development (at least for the people who need it most):"

Gina Haspel is just the type of status-quo choice that Donald Trump promised not to make. She's not a swamp-drainer.

She's a swamp thing.

"Gina Haspel's banality is the problem," Feffer writes, "not the solution:"

So, after 2001, the CIA could draw on its own history and the experience of its own authoritarian allies to create black sites in various countries -- Thailand, Poland, Romania, Morocco, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Bosnia -- where it would send suspected terrorists, via "extraordinary rendition," to be tortured. [...]

In summer 2002, the George W. Bush administration developed a legal rationale for torture. On July 24, Attorney General John Ashcroft approved the use of "the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of diapers, and use of insects." On July 26, he approved waterboarding. Once the CIA got this approval, the interrogators did the rest.

Feffer also takes issue with former director of the CIA Clandestine Service John Bennett's remarks that: "She has taken on some of the most demanding and least rewarding assignments in the War on Terror, not because she sought them out, but because she felt it was her duty."

Her duty? To run a black site in Thailand? To cover up evidence of the torture that took place there?

She didn't just obey orders as a lowly grunt, the defense used by Nazi underlings at the Nuremberg trials. She actively sought out the "most demanding" assignments and rose through the ranks accordingly. Advancement by demonstrating that you can do the dirty work without qualms: It's the same path taken by Vladimir Putin, former KGB bureau chief, on his way to becoming Russian president.

You don't make waves. You prove your indispensability. You are the irreplaceable cog in an organization doing reprehensible things.

You can't get more banal than that.

John Amato lauds Shep Smith for how he "completely destroyed Gina Haspel's attempts to defend the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques:"

Shep continued, "Waterboarding is torture and is not permitted under Army Field Manual guidelines. Torture is illegal under international law. The Supreme Court noted in 2004 that the United States has a historical record as regarding waterboarding as a war crime and has prosecuted individuals for such practice in the past."

As noted by Claire Finkelstein and Stephen Xenakis in the NYT:

"[T]he faulty advice of government lawyers and bosses cannot make illegal conduct legal. And C.I.A. investigations that rely on these specious justifications to excuse her decisions should be given no weight."

"Damn them all to hell for letting her get away with it," Amato concludes.

With a headline like "Trump is no longer the worst person in government," one can immediately ascertain that George Will's acerbic way with words has found a target worthy of his snark; this time, he does not disappoint. This sentence in particular made me laugh:

The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure.

Will goes on to describe Pence as "oozing unctuousness from every pore," and calls Joe Arpaio "a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right"--and then drops this gem:

Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

AlterNet's Cody Fenwick remarks that "Will, who left the Republican Party after the rise of Trump, now seems to hold unique disdain for his formerly fellow partisans who emboldened the president's ascent."

It's about time. Would any other conservative wordsmiths care to follow his example by switching sides and using their talents to similarly good effect?

This open letter to Gina Haspel by Theo Padnos, who was tortured in Syria during the winter of 2013, is worth reading. "Dear Ms. Haspel," he begins, "I understand you are now against torture, after supporting it before. Great. As a torture victim, I'm very happy to hear this news:"

I hope you won't take it the wrong way, however, if I say that I doubt the sincerity of your change of heart. Let's be honest. There isn't much proof that you regret what you did. The evidence suggests that you helped to cover up for American torturers. Meanwhile, at least in the torture facilities I've known, the officials who get with the program - by which I mean carry out every order in silent obedience - tend to move up in the hierarchy. I assume you're discovering the same thing right now on the day of your Senate confirmation hearing.

Because it's not exactly clear that the torture era at the CIA really is over, and because I think I learned something about the torture business during my years in a series of torture prisons, I'd like to tell you about my experience.

His personal recounting of his treatment--including making up multiple stories to evade further abuse--will shock no one except those who believe that torture works:

Later on, lying again on the floor in my cell, I devised a third tale. It accounted for the inconsistencies in the one I had told under torture, flattered the torturers' prejudices, involved money as a motivation - an idea the torturers seemed to like - and made detours through a half-dozen, totally fictitious but true-sounding details.

He observes that the question Why is this happening to me? "is a profound, agonizing, entrancing question for torture victims:"

They devote their days and nights to its contemplation. When torture happens as a matter of course, over long periods of time, the prisoner is likely to conclude that no single commander or command structure is responsible for these crimes, but, rather, that there is something unwell within the society outside the walls of the prison. What has gone wrong in that society that every few days it throws up new men who wish to stand around in dark rooms as other men are hanged from their wrists, flayed, then electrocuted until it is obvious to everyone that the body's life force has all but drained away? [...]

There really is no single answer to such a question. It is a sinister riddle with a thousand half-right answers, none of which comfort the victim since all he wants is out.

"For the sake of its honor, if for nothing else," he concludes, "U.S. officials must never obey torture orders from this president. And that includes you, Ms. Haspel."

Salon is dismayed at Haspel's unwillingness to answer direct questions:

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency was defiant during questioning by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at a Wednesday Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the nomination.

Deputy Director of the CIA Gina Haspel, who has been the acting director since Mike Pompeo's confirmation as Secretary of State, repeatedly dodged "yes or no" questions from the former prosecutor.

Here's the weaseling:

"So one question I have not heard you answer is, 'do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?'" Harris asked. "It's a 'yes or no' answer."

"Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country giving the legal tools we were authorized to use," Haspel replied.

"Please answer yes or no," Harris repeated. "Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?"

"Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to," Haspel continued.

"Can you please answer the question?" Harris requested.

"Senator, I think I've answered the question," Haspel argued.

"No, you have not," Harris fact-checked. "Do you believe the previous techniques -- now armed with hindsight -- do you believe they were immoral?"

"Yes or no?"

Crooks and Liars cites the same exchange, and then sums it up his way:

Trump has said over and over again that he would not only reinstitute torture, but make it even harsher and more immoral. It sounds like he's got the perfect partner in Haspel.

Installing her as head of the CIA could lead to depredations worse than we saw during the W era, yet another way in which Trump can be the worst president ever.

Susan Newman asks, was Marx an economist?

Marx developed his theory of value out of his critique of English (and Scottish) political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the founding fathers of modern economics. Indeed, Marx took on many of Smith's ideas, notably the separation of use and exchange value. But I argue that Marx should not be considered an economist and that his most important contribution to the analysis of capitalism is as antithesis to modern economics.

"It is precisely his 'critique of political economy'," Newman continues, "his development of the dialectic, and taking history seriously, rather than his adherence to traditions in political economy, that allowed him to develop the most insightful and transformative understanding of capitalism with unrivalled relevance today:"

The modus operandi of mainstream economics has been to cut revolutionary ideas from their root in class analysis. But as Marx put it, "to be radical is to grasp the root of the matter".

From the other side, diplomat Carl Bildt purports to explain why Marx was wrong. Bildt claims that one of the "remnants of Marxism" is "the repression of dissent."

Two hundred years after Marx's birth, it is certainly wise to reflect on his intellectual legacy. We should do so not in celebration, however, but to inoculate our open societies against the totalitarian temptation that lurks in his false theories.

Bildt notes, correctly, that "self-proclaimed Marxists" have "inflicted untold misery on tens of millions of people who have been forced to live under regimes waving its banner," but never considers that those proclamations were false. Here is the crux of his argument:

Marx regarded private property as the source of all evil in the emerging capitalist societies of his day. [*see note below] Accordingly, he believed that only by abolishing it could society's class divisions be healed, and a harmonious future ensured. Under communism, his collaborator Friedrich Engels later claimed, the state itself would become unnecessary and "wither away." These assertions were not made as speculation, but rather as scientific claims about what the future held in store.

But, of course, it was all rubbish, and Marx's theory of history - dialectical materialism - has since been proved wrong and dangerous in practically every respect. The great twentieth-century philosopher Karl Popper, one of Marx's strongest critics, rightly called him a "false prophet." And, if more evidence were needed, the countries that embraced capitalism in the twentieth century went on to become democratic, open, and prosperous societies.

By contrast, every regime that has rejected capitalism in the name of Marxism has failed - and not by coincidence or as a result of some unfortunate doctrinal misunderstanding on the part of Marx's followers. By abolishing private ownership and establishing state control of the economy, one not only deprives society of the entrepreneurship needed to propel it forward; one also abolishes freedom itself.


*note:
Bildt's understanding of 'private property' in this sense is seriously deficient. As stated in the Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx, "Private property refers to class property--to a class other than the working class owning the means of production." CPUSA offers more detail:

The phrase from Marx that you cite has been twisted and misinterpreted to serve the ends of the ruling class. The private property that Marx is talking about is private ownership of things like factories, banks, and railroads, which allow their owners to make money from the work of other people. He has (and we have) no problem with working people accumulating the sort of stuff needed for a comfortable life. [...]

Abolition of private property means stripping billionaire investors of the ability to get rich from our labor (and taking away their political power, as well)--just like the abolition of slavery was the abolition of private property in human beings.

Maresi Starzmann (an archaeologist and anthropologist who quit academia in 2016) discusses academic alienation and suggests that we work toward "freeing cognitive labor from the grip of capitalism"--in specific regard to the corporatization of the university:

Universities today follow profit-maximizing strategies, including in labor management, that closely mirror those of private businesses. As climbing enrolment is met with a blown-up administrative apparatus, the majority of teaching jobs are shifted to temporary, part-time and contract gigs that are managed from the top. The result is not only a widening wage gap between administrative and teaching positions, but also a new form of exploitation of cognitive labor.

Starzmann decries "a university system in which fewer than 30 percent of professors are tenured (compared to 67 percent in the 1970s)," while noting that "the average cost of tuition and fees has soared over the past 20 years." The current crop of debt-laden students, however, "may not realize is that the debt they amass is a claim on their future labor:"

Upon graduating, many will be forced to sell their labor power to the university. They will end up in the same labor pool of adjunct teachers and postdocs that they currently complain about. Their precarious economic situation today will create the conditions for their lives as precarious academic workers in the future.

Another brick in the adjuncts-and-grad-students edifice is the concept of "flexitime:"

At first glance, this may appear to be part of a noble pursuit of granting employees non-traditional work arrangements that can accommodate individual lifestyles (transportation schedules, childcare, workout routines, etc.) to achieve a healthy work/life balance. In reality, however, flexitime often means nothing other than a non-stop work schedule. In the neoliberal knowledge economy, most academics find themselves under immense pressure to meet standardized performance criteria, focusing much of their energy on the marketability of their work. These intellectual workers don't clock out after an 8-hour day, and many are in fact running on a 24/7 schedule. For them, there is no end to the workday and no more life outside of work.

"Given that the majority of available teaching and research jobs today are part-time, short-term or contract positions," she continues, "increasing numbers of university workers piece together several jobs to make ends meet:"

This reflects the changed working conditions outside the university, where more and more people work longer hours for ever lower wages.

The existence of an academic underclass almost entirely at the university administration's mercy when it comes to hiring and firing decisions is underwritten by the nature of work in the neoliberal university. Work here is precarious, competitive and individuated. In an academic temp system, the university can draw on a massive pool of under- and unemployed academic workers who are desperately waiting for a job. This gives administrators immense negotiating power, including the ability to reduce teaching hours or discontinue an existing contract on short notice because there are always others who will gladly take the job.

The corporate university advances an economic paradigm that capitalizes on the intellectual labor of a growing "academic precariat" in hitherto unprecedented ways. This leaves many academic workers feeling hopeless and exhausted. They lack not only the energy to produce critical thought that could constitute an intervention into the competitive impulse for academic excellence (read: productivity); they also experience that they can barely set aside the time to organize for their rights as workers.

"It is true that academic labor is not the prototype of alienated work," she continues, "but under post-Fordist capitalism, cognitive labor has become exploitable as well:"

Organizing academic workers remains essential to the struggle against the neoliberalization of the university and the commodification of intellectual work; the academic precariat must realize that it has the choice as well as the power to fight for collective bargaining rights. Yet, in order to stand a real chance of success, those academics involved in labor struggles also need to devise ways of liberating academic knowledge from the grip of capitalism. [...]

The prerequisite for this kind of transformation of the university is the recognition that cognitive labor can no longer claim to be situated outside of capitalist relations, but that intellectual work is just as exploitable as other forms of labor.

Recent Comments

  • cognitivedissident: Mea culpa for the misspelling of your surname, but really...nothing read more
  • Rev Michael Bresciani: First you spell my name wrong, next I'm labeled a read more
  • cognitivedissident: Yep...it's a well-deserved punishment for that "man on dog" comment. read more
  • sportsbook: When I saw spreadingsantorum.com as the 1 result for his read more
  • cognitivedissident: Are your online sparring partners fond of GOP talking points, read more
  • cgntvdssdnt: Hello! Your site was recently brought to my attention. I've read more
  • cognitivedissident: Thank you very much for this information; I have corrected read more
  • Jason Leopold: Thank you so much for spreading the word on David read more
  • cognitivedissident: Thank you for the tip about BookFinder; my list of read more
  • DataPacRat: Bookfinder.com is a handy meta-search site, which scans through nearly read more

Recent Assets

  • 20180519-code.jpg
  • 20170917-abortionproviders.png
  • 20160826-healthiest.jpg
  • 20180423-openplanoffice.jpg
  • 20180408-infowars.png
  • 20170605-spendnext20minutes.png
  • 20180205-fbi.jpg
  • 20120310-moebius.jpg
  • 20160107-orientation.jpg
  • 20160107-federalrevenue.jpg

Monthly Archives

Pages

  • About
  • Contact
OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.031