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.

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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.


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.

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.

According to The Federalist, the Supreme Court has already repealed the Second Amendment "in District of Columbia v. Heller by restricting the amendment to common arms:"

Heller asked the court to decide whether Washington DC's bans on handguns, having a loaded firearm at home, and carrying a firearm at home without a permit violated the Second Amendment.

"Miller [U.S. v. Miller (1939)] asked," the article continues, "whether the National Firearms Act of 1934 violated the Second Amendment by requiring that a short-barreled shotgun be registered with the federal government:"

Heller said, "We think that Miller's 'ordinary military equipment' language must be read in tandem with what comes after: '[O]rdinarily when called for [militia] service [able-bodied] men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.'" [...]

Although some laud Heller for recognizing an individual right to some arms, its false standard allows Congress and the states to ban arms they and the courts claim are not "common" or that are useful "in military service."

Then we can reinstitute the assault-weapons ban--right?

Slate's Isaac Chotiner discusses the key signs of money laundering, beginning with the WaPo story observing that "Donald Trump used cash for many of his real estate transactions in the decade before he became president" [see here]. Chotiner comments that "it's worth trying to understand what exactly money laundering is, and what role it plays in the real estate world:"

To find out, I recently spoke by phone with Peter D. Hardy. He is a partner in the white-collar defense group at the law firm Ballard Spahr, a former federal prosecutor, and the curator of Ballard Spahr's blog Money Laundering Watch.

After some details (explaining 18 U.S.C 1956, and 18 U.S.C. 1957, for example), this exchange is particularly interesting:

Why is real estate seen as a fertile business for money launderers?

Because it is a traditional transaction. Buying real estate is something that a lot of people do and is regarded, generally speaking, as a good investment. The United States real estate market has been very, very hot. So from a pure economic standpoint it makes sense. And it's a vehicle where if you have a lot of money, or a lot of proceeds that you want to unload, it is a pretty good receptacle to do so. It is just kind of handy. And if you are asked, it is easy to provide a seemingly innocuous explanation, which is, "I am investing in real estate along with many other people."

Or influencing heads of state, perhaps...if your transactions are of sufficient scale.

Mark Evanier comments on a Jack Kirby feature by Eric Molinsky for "Jack Kirby's Marvels," an episode of his podcast Imaginary Worlds. Despite the episode short-changing both Kirby's pre-Marvel Era work and his efforts in the late seventies, Evanier remarks that "Jack Kirby's Marvels does good work in highlighting Kirby as Marvel's co-founder:"

Kirby's centrality is never questioned, and Molinsky and company have edited many voices into one succinct, riveting account. Further, the early portion of the 'cast, with the visit to the Tenement Museum, could be eye-opening to many (the tenement segment is great). [...]

Finally, I was disappointed by the episode's ending, which comes down to, simply, a reaffirmation that both "Jack AND Stan mattered"--a conclusion that is hardly surprising, indeed by now has become standard. I guess that was a gesture toward closure, and listeners do need closure--but so much gets swept under the floorboards when we do that.

I'm not sure which is the most ludicrous of these two announcements.

The first, as noted by Steve Vladeck at Just Security, is Gina ("Waterboarding") Haspel's nomination to become CIA Director. "Insofar as the Haspel nomination is a referendum on accountability for torture," writes Vladeck, "a big part of why is because other, perhaps better, accountability mechanisms have been all-but useless:"

All of this, of course, is no never mind to President Trump, who tweeted this morning that Haspel has come under fire for being "too tough on Terrorists." As Laura Rosenberger (among others) has pointed out, unlike just about everyone else defending the Haspel nomination, Trump seems inclined to support her because of her involvement in torture, not in spite of it.

To me, a President who feels that way is all the more reason to want a CIA Director with less of a sordid history. But regardless of the case for supporting or opposing Haspel, it's worth emphasizing that the reason that it's come to this is, at least in my view, largely a result of the unavailability or inefficacy of other accountability mechanisms for government torture.

And for that failure, shame on us.

The second candidate is Ollie ("American Traitor") North's nomination to lead the NRA:

Imagine the thought process that went into the decision to elevate one of the most notorious criminal actors in modern Republicanism to a top spot in the National Rifle Association.

As the author reminds us, Oliver North "was a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, a Reagan administration scheme to smuggle arms to Iran in violation of American law, funneling the secret proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels--also in violation of American law:"

He was convicted for destroying evidence and obstructing the resulting congressional inquiry, convictions which were overturned after courts ruled that Congress had given him immunity from those prosecutions. For these acts of treason, he was and is widely feted by conservative Reagan loyalists who believe that presidents and their White House staff members should be able to violate whichever of the nation's laws they feel inclined to.

So yes, that's precisely the figurehead the National Rifle Association needs: a man who betrayed his country [and] who represents the new conservative celebration of lawlessness in service to Republican political power. What better spokesman for the National Rifle Association, a group devoted to the notion that their members may someday be obliged to not merely disobey the American government, but murder those that represent it?

Salon's Matthew Rozsa calls North a perfectly toxic choice, and riffs on NRA head Wayne LaPierre's remark that "Oliver North is, hands down, the absolute best choice to lead our NRA Board:"

North is likely to fit in well with the group, given that he has spent more than twenty years as a right-wing media figure. Most recently North has appeared regularly as a commentator on Fox News, where he has continued his reputation for offering consistently conservative interpretations of major news events.

The Atlantic's David Graham makes similar observations:

North's appointment spawned an immediate round of very similar jokes--he's a perfect fit for the NRA, since he's got lots of experience facilitating gun sales, har har har--as well as some consternation at why the NRA would choose an obviously tarnished figure like North, especially at a moment when the organization is under even more political pressure than usual following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the aftermath of which has launched the largest protest movement for gun restrictions in years.

"North, as a veteran culture warrior, is perfectly fitted to this strategy" of outrage and backlash," Graham continues:

Because of his Iran-Contra connections, he also makes for a perfect Trump-era martyr. His champions viewed him as a victim of the deep state, long before anyone in the U.S. used the phrase, and of a special prosecutor overstepping his bounds.

Slate also notes North's status as a notorious arms trafficker. "Oliver North's background makes him in some ways the perfect choice for the modern NRA--whose primary activity," snarks Ben Mathis-Lilley, "is conducting a Trump-style cultural-resentment offensive against Americans who support gun control regulations:"

In summary, an individual who lied to Congress about illegal weapons sales to a state sponsor of terrorism is now the president of an organization whose central belief is that legal gun ownership is the key to maintaining a safe country.

Haspel may be in a position to do more damage, but North's odiousness must not be forgotten..

Rutgers professor Barbara Foley asks, should we celebrate Marx's birthday? Thanks to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the 2012 Occupy movement, she writes, "announcements of the death of Marxism are premature:"

Everyone knows that the super-rich are richer than ever, while for most of the working-class majority - many of them caught in the uncertainty of the "gig economy" - belt-tightening has become the new normal.

"Marx was correct," she continues, "when he wrote that capitalism keeps the working class poor:"

He was also spot-on about capital's inherent instability. There is some validity to the joke that "Marxists have predicted correctly 12 of the last three financial crises."

Marx's reputation has made a startling comeback, however, at times in unexpected circles.

In discussing the 2008 financial meltdown, one Wall Street Journal commentator wrote: "Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself. We thought markets worked. They're not working."

"Those who," she observes, "would like to see the world move through and past its present state face huge challenges, both theoretical and practical:"

Not least among these challenges is the need to parse out what succeeded and what failed in the past century's attempts to create egalitarian societies.

But Marxism is not equivalent to everything that has been performed in its name. Marx's work remains, to my mind, the most compelling framework for analyzing how the conflicting tendencies in present-day society contain the seeds of a more humane future.

Thanks, Karl. And, happy birthday.

This celebratory moment is, however, in direct contrast to the opprobrium due to one of the rules most inappropriately called a Marxist--Joseph Stalin. Daniel Taylor examines the fraud of Stalinism, reminding us that Stalinists "were often seen by most of the left and the workers' movement as the most conservative, right wing and counterrevolutionary current in the broad left:"

By the middle of the 1930s, the Russian Communist Party--which still claimed to be a revolutionary socialist party of the working class--was mostly made up of managers, army commanders and state bureaucrats. Stalin came to power as the leader of these managers and commanders. The Communist Party, in possession of state power, used its position to exploit and oppress the working class.

Under Stalin's regime, workers were denied the right to bargain collectively. They required state permission to move from city to city. Workers who missed one day of work could be dismissed. Being dismissed, they could be evicted from their home. Resigning their job without permission left workers barred from future employment: If they worked in a military industry, they could be sent to prison for eight years. Strikes were described as "counterrevolutionary sabotage," and strikers could face the death penalty.

Unsurprisingly, the Stalinist regime enforced gross inequality of the kind found in any capitalist society. Senior figures, like army marshals and high government officials, earned 100 times as much as the average worker (according to official Soviet figures).

Beneath the red flags and inspiring songs, society under Stalin became dominated by workplace managers and military commanders, with their needs enforced by police: a mirror of Western capitalism.

As Taylor points out, "the logic of Stalinism itself [...] was to collaborate with bosses against the working class in Russia and around the world:"

But these methods have nothing to do with Marx's conception of communism as an emancipated, classless society; they are the methods of exploiters and oppressors, which is why they went hand in hand with the right wing, class-collaborationist liberalism that the Stalinists would rather forget.

Adam Lee has more thoughts on those rage-filled, resentful incels [see here], stemming from this comment he received:

it's simple: Female sexuality has been unleashed by the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, but not male sexuality, since one easy and certain route for getting sex (for men) remains illegal -- just paying for it. Just legalize prostitution. Let there be a Hookr app (no e.) Imagine that -- the incel opens up the Hookr up and chooses from all the local girls willing to service him. He gets to rate them afterward, and the working girls rate him. But no, both feminists and socially conservative women don't want this because it would simply give too much social power to males who, as a consequence, may not be as patient with their significant others' antics.

"Can we start," Lee asks, "by talking about this ludicrous belief that female sexuality has been "unleashed" but male sexuality hasn't?"

Our society is designed around male sexuality: celebrating it, promoting it, pandering to it. Advertising, television, movies and video games are all multibillion-dollar industries that practically treat beautiful women as wallpaper. Men who have sex with many women as they can are praised as studs, playboys, Casanovas, lady-killers.

Meanwhile, women who have lots of sex are often cruelly demeaned and stigmatized - one double standard among many that incels are eager to perpetuate (warning, gross sexist language at the link). You'd think that if someone cared about having sex above all else, if it was the all-consuming focus of their lives, they'd want women to be sexually free and promiscuous, the better to increase their own chances. Instead, they shame them for it.

This is further evidence that the real problem in the incel community isn't sexual frustration, but entitlement. They don't just want some sex, any sex. What they want is the stereotypical male fantasy object: a beautiful, physically flawless virgin who has no wishes or goals of her own and who lavishes worshipful attention on them and them alone.

"The reality is that," Lee continues, "even if sex work were legalized in the sweeping way he wanted, it wouldn't solve the problem of rage-filled, violent incels:"

Just as there are lonely single people who aren't killers, there are people in relationships who are hateful, abusive, jealous and violent. Having sex isn't a magic key that transforms someone's core self. Incels are, by definition, the men who miss this point. They're trying to treat a symptom while ignoring the real reason for their unhappiness. It would be a sad spectacle, deserving of help and sympathy - if they didn't choose to direct their rage outwards in such explosive and horrific ways.

Rudy Giuliani is at it again, as Samuel Warde points out:

Asked about the possibility of Trump getting subpoenaed by Mueller to testify, Giuliani answered: "We don't have to" comply with a subpoena.

"They don't have a case on collusion, they don't have obstruction... I'm going to walk him into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart did?" Giuliani continued. "He's the president of the United States. We can assert privilege other presidents [have]."

There's also this tidbit:

Giuliani also told Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that he expects Trump's former, longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

"Michael Cohen doesn't have any incriminating evidence on the president or himself," Giuliani said. "He's an honest, honorable lawyer."

I'm not so sure that Giuliani is a good judge of those qualities.

TruthDig talks about honoring Marx as an activist, observing that "Marx's vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist:"

For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.

The piece notes some progress in that direction:

We see the slow transition in process with the development of a myriad of economic democracy projects that give workers control of their employment through worker cooperatives, give communities control over their development through land trusts, give people direct control over budget decisions through participatory budgeting and democratize banking through public banks. These are some efforts to create an economy that serves the people without limiting control to workers, whose numbers are shrinking due to automation. Many of these new economic models are in their early stages of development.

Marx believed that: "No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society."

"The lessons of Karl Marx," the piece concludes, "show that our tasks are to heighten class conflict by exposing the reality of abhorrent inequality and create new systems to replace failing capitalism."

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Dissent's Sheri Berman identifies Marxism's fatal flaw in the midst of Marxism's renaissance. "Marx ultimately neglected politics," writes Berman, "and this was his fatal flaw as well as the fatal flaw of movements claiming to work in his name:"

The irony is that the contemporary period resembles in important ways the one in which Marx came of age. Then as now, capitalism was bringing the world together and generating prosperity for some and economic and social dislocation for many. The neoliberal right's reaction has been to double down on the primacy of economics, calling for more leeway for markets, more limits on state regulation, and more welfare-state cutbacks. As in the past, such policies have generated economic inequality, social divisions, and political dissatisfaction and extremism.

As Berman continues, "it was only through a belief in the primacy of politics, as instantiated in the postwar social democratic settlement, that capitalism and democracy proved able to coexist amicably:"

Without the economic growth generated by capitalism, dramatic improvements of Western living standards would not have been possible. Without the social protections and limits on markets imposed by states, the benefits of capitalism would not have been distributed so widely, and economic, political, and social stability would have been impossible to achieve. A tragic irony is that the very success of this social-democratic compromise made it seem routine; we forget how transformative it actually was. Partially as a result, social movements were often slow to react when at the end of the twentieth century the West began abandoning this compromise. This has brought the reemergence of a form of capitalism Marx would have recognized: prone to crises, growing inequality, social conflict, and in tension with democracy.

Marx is just getting started, writes Andrew Hartman, also in the pages of Dissent. "In recent biographies of Marx," he writes, "historians such as Jonathan Sperber [Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life] and Gareth Stedman Jones [Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion] have argued that his ideas belong in the past:"

On the German philosopher's two-hundredth birthday, we are again witnessing a Marx revival. Against the biographers who think the old man is no longer relevant, Americans are reading and writing about Marx at levels not seen since the 1930s or 1960s. So, it's worth asking: Why Marx? Why now?

Part of the answer is that "Marx pinpointed its compulsion to exploit as well as its compulsion to rule:"

Capitalism not only stole labor value from workers, but also stripped them of their autonomy. For Marx, freedom required that people have autonomy over their work. Since the majority of people in a capitalist economy lack such self-rule, capitalism is incompatible with freedom.

Ever since Marx, one of the left's primary missions--one of the reasons for its existence--has been to expand the idea of political freedom to include economic freedom. Socialists argue that freedom requires autonomy over our work, our bodies, and our time. [...]

But, the fact that Marx is once again being taken up with enthusiasm demonstrates that perhaps more and more people are willing to do the hard work of thinking a new world into existence. At the very least, it shows that we should quit pronouncing Marx dead.

WaPo's look into Trump's sudden shift from debt to cash purchases (by Jonathan O'Connell, David A. Fahrenthold and Jack Gillum) is quite revealing:

In the nine years before he ran for president, Donald Trump's company spent more than $400 million in cash on new properties -- including 14 transactions paid for in full, without borrowing from banks -- during a buying binge that defied real estate industry practices and Trump's own history as the self-described "King of Debt."

Trump's vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president's private company, which discloses few details about its finances.

The piece asks a few questions:

Why did the "King of Debt," as he has called himself in interviews, turn away from that strategy, defying the real estate wisdom that it's unwise to risk so much of one's own money in a few projects?

And how did Trump -- who had money tied up in golf courses and buildings -- raise enough liquid assets to go on this cash buying spree?

"The cash purchases began," it continues, "with a $12.6 million estate in Scotland in 2006:"

In the next two years, he snapped up two homes in Beverly Hills. Then five golf clubs along the East Coast. And a winery in Virginia.

The biggest cash binge came last, in the year before Trump announced his run for president. In 2014, he paid a combined $79.7 million for large golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. Since then, those clubs have lost money while Trump renovated them, requiring him to pump in $164 million in cash to keep them running.

Trump's lavish spending came at a time when his business was leaning largely on one major financial institution for its new loans -- Deutsche Bank, which provided $295 million in financing for big projects in Miami and Washington.

"By 2011, Trump had spent at least $46 million on all-cash purchases"--although "During the 2016 campaign, Trump continued to brag about how he'd mastered the art of spending other people's cash:"

"I do that all the time in business: It's called other people's money. There's nothing like doing things with other people's money because it takes the risk," Trump told a campaign-trail audience in North Carolina in September 2016. "You get a good chunk of it, and it takes the risk."

My way of adding some context, David Boddiger notes the following at Splinter News:

The report doesn't get to the bottom of where all this cash came from, but it does bring past comments by the Trump children back into focus, at least speculatively. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. stated that, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets."

In 2014, golf writer James Dodson was hanging out on the golf course with Eric Trump. Dodson asked him where the Trumps got all their money, as banks weren't loaning at the time. According to Dodson, Eric said, "Well, we don't rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia." He added: "Oh, yeah. We've got some guys that really, really love golf, and they're really invested in our programs."

Eric's comments came at about the same time the Trump Organization embarked on its "biggest cash binge," as described by the Post.

I would say that this merits an investigation; wouldn't you?

Friendly Atheist looks at those who fall for fake news:

A new working paper by researchers at Yale University finds that the kind of people more likely to believe stories that are literally "fake news" -- who fall for the hoaxes, if you will -- are those who believe in delusions (like telepathic communication), are dogmatic in their thinking, and are just flat-out religious fundamentalists.

It makes a lot of sense. After all, the paper notes, evidence "suggests that religious fundamentalists may engage in less analytic and actively open-minded thinking." I believe that. They already believe in huge amount of nonsensical garbage -- a talking snake, a young Earth, God watches over you, Jesus performed miracles, etc. -- in large part because they live in bubbles where those stories feel convincing despite not measuring up to reality. When pastors tell you those lies with conviction, and a sacred book reiterates the lies, and your parents teach you that doubting the lies could lead you down the path to eternal punishment, it makes a lot of sense that news articles that appear legitimate would just be taken as gospel.

The study "Reduced Analytic and Actively Open-Minded Thinking Help to Explain the Link between Belief in Fake News and Delusionality, Dogmatism, and Religious Fundamentalism" explains that "delusion-prone individuals display an increased belief in fake news, which often features implausible content, and that this increase was partially explained by cognitive style:"

Exploratory analyses showed that dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists were also more likely to believe fake news, and that these relationships were fully explained by cognitive style.

Two studies with over 1000 participants suggested that individuals who endorse delusion-like ideas (e.g., thinking that people can communicate telepathically), as well as dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists, are more likely to believe fake news. These studies also suggested that two related forms of thinking may protect against belief in fake news: The first, actively open-minded thinking, involves the search for alternative explanations and the use of evidence to revise beliefs. The second, analytic thinking, involves deliberate thought processes that consume memory resources.

Here's the tl;dr version:

In conclusion, the present studies suggest that delusion-prone and dogmatic individuals, as well as religious fundamentalists, are more likely than others to believe fake news in large part because they exhibit reduced analytic and actively open-minded thinking.

[See here for a previous look at analytical thinking and religiosity.]

Rudy Giuliani issued the following statement about Trump's hush-money payment:

First: There is no campaign violation. [...]

Second: My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President's knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.

Third: It is undisputed that the President's dismissal of former Director Comey [...] was plainly in the best interests of our nation.

However, Politico quotes another GOP operative saying that Trump "can't just lie his way out of every single box." Christopher Cadelago and Matthew Nussbaum write that "as president, Trump is running up against the limits of saying or doing whatever he wants:"

The revelation by Rudy Giuliani that his client reimbursed his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels contradicted Trump's own previous denials that he knew anything about the deal -- and, despite Giuliani's intent to tamp down concerns that the October 2016 payment violated campaign finance laws, raised a whole new set of questions about whether Trump failed to disclose a personal loan.

"As long as they believe that all that matters is the base and Fox News, they'll keep doing it," said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump's presidency. "But at some point, when the law is the issue and not Trump's bubble, you end up in a situation where he can't just lie his way out of every single box."

"In the wake of revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met during the 2016 campaign with a Kremlin-connected operator who promised 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton," the piece continues, "Trump and aides huddled on Air Force One and drafted a statement that the meeting was merely to discuss adoption policy:"

That story was quickly disproved, and now the episode is of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Also notable is the firing of FBI director James Comey:

Trump was warned by close aides that the move could be politically disastrous, but he went ahead anyway, tapping Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to draft a memo to justify the firing.

That document focused on Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation -- but Trump subsequently undermined that explanation, declaring on NBC News that he had fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump then reportedly boasted in a meeting with senior Russian officials that firing Comey had taken "great pressure" off him.

That episode, too, is now a focus for Mueller.

"To Trump's associates and longtime supporters," they continue, "the decision to send Giuliani out on TV was textbook Trump:"

Few are better at exploiting a news cycle and media ecosystem whose hunger for a new development, anything loud or scandalous, is never sated.

Unless, to offer one counter-example, it's Trump https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/donald-trump-nra-convention-speech tossing red meat to the NRA:

Taking a break from the escalating pressures of the Russia probe and the Stormy Daniels case, Trump returned to the NRA's annual convention, his fourth consecutive appearance. En route, Trump called the NRA a "truly great organization that loves this country."Last year, Trump became the first sitting president to appear before the NRA convention in more than 30 years.

"Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA," TPM notes, "which spent about $30 million in support of his presidential campaign:"

He praised members of the gun lobby as "great patriots" but declared "that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18." He was referring to the AR-15 the Parkland shooting suspect is accused of using.

Those words rattled some Republicans in Congress and sparked hope among gun-control advocates that, unlike after previous mass shootings, tougher regulations would be enacted this time. But Trump later retreated on those words, expressing support for modest changes to the background check system, as well as arming teachers.

Trump also asserted that gun rights are "under siege:"

"Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your Second Amendment, and we will protect your Second Amendment," Trump told a raucous crowd of NRA members in Dallas, Texas. "Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I'm your president."

Then, the bullet-addled buffoon pivoted to arming teachers:

"We strongly believe in allowing highly trained teachers to carry concealed weapons, if they're highly trained," he said. "And we want highly trained security guards."

At The Federalist, James Poulos claims that the incel movement isn't really demanding the right to sex. He begins with a history of the term "incels, the self-described and so-called community of involuntary celibates:"

This term popped in public discourse recently because a self-described incel drove a van into a crowd in Toronto recently, killing 10. He was angry that women deny sex to some men. Incels characterize sex as a right others are obligated to provide them, and congregate online.

They and their identity have bubbled up to the top of the consciousness stack because of the Internet--how it works, who it organizes, what it enables, and what ideas it does and doesn't usher forth from its patterns of everyday life.

I'd say that this particular incel "bubbled up" and "ushered forth" his chosen appellation in a rather deliberate manner...but please continue:

Referring back to the fundamentals of the Internet, digital technology gives historic numbers of relatively unsuccessful men the opportunity for warlike activity of unprecedented regularity that poses zero mortal risk and requires only the use of symbols. [...]

Many relatively unsuccessful men engaged in constant symbolic warfare online may be more prone to forms of slow-motion suicide than other men. Of course, eventually all relatively unsuccessful men die, and the ranks of their battalions might be thinned out over time.

"Unfortunately," Poulos continues, "the delusion persists that our society with its surplus of unsuccessful and unhappy men can be made peaceful and harmonious through sheer force of will:"

Not even Christianity at its most fortifying and forgiving could do that alone. Humble marriage or woke modesty have their power, but for struggling men, the constant in all times and places has been war--often devastating, frequently barbaric.

A society where the vast majority of men almost never march into mortal peril has huge costs virtually no one wants to tally. But we keep racking them up. We rightly prize peace, but we are unprepared to face its full consequences in an age transformed by technology. In our anxiety over the redistribution of sex, we are blinding ourselves to the deeper difficulty of a society where the distribution of death is imbalanced away from the men who have borne its brunt since the beginning of civilization.

Men start wars for dark but inexpugnable reasons. Today's incels may seem a long way off from tomorrow's warlords. But in a world upended by unhinged technological change, the distance between them may be closer than most of us dare to imagine.

Well, they all appear to be suffering from some strain of toxic masculinity--and they share a fervent desire to make others suffer from it as well.

PZ Myers calls the incel rebellion the worst marketing of an identity ever. For his suggestion that incels can teach us "One lesson to be drawn from recent Western history," he pillories not just Ross Douthat but also Robin Hanson, a libertarian economist at George Mason, and observes:

Isn't it odd how a philosophy of individualism and worship of liberty has now come around to arguing for depriving individuals of their freedom...as long as they are young attractive women? The only way they can do that without their heads exploding over the conflict is by denying the humanity of women, which is apparently something conservatives are comfortable with. No surprises there, I guess.

"Again," Myers writes, "this is a consequence of the near-religious worship of dogmatic capitalism:"

Everything is viewed as a transaction, with profits and losses, with numerical values that can be auctioned off. Every time someone utters the evil phrase, "sexual market value", you are hearing the canonization of a true perversion of human relationships. But this isn't how sex works! It's a gift of shared intimacy, voluntarily given, between two or more people.

Douthat's suggestion that we deal with incels by "reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate" also gets forcefully rebutted:

Those "older ideas" also involved demanding the submission of women and denying them autonomy, it was just a more genteel version of the same resolution, where a wealthy gentleman with an income above £10,000 a year could purchase a young lady of good breeding to be his kept spouse, once again reducing everything to a simple quantifiable transaction, where the women are kept in line with an absence of capital.

Do I even need to touch that Catholic nonsense of special respect owed to the celibate? Why? What does celibacy add to the virtue of a person...especially when so often it was only the appearance of abstinence?

The Financial Times' piece on Marx's birthday tomorrow begins as the 1857 economic shock rippled around the globe:

In London, where the suspension of the Bank Charter Act of 1844 had freed the Bank of England to take whatever emergency action was necessary, an obscure German exile was fired into intellectual action. He set himself to diagnosing a new phenomenon, a global economic crisis. Over the previous millennium the world had been swept by religious movements, political upheavals, plagues and famines. 1857 was the first worldwide convulsion in the system of production, credit and exchange. From the efforts of this lonely scholar, known then only to a narrow circle, would emerge an intellectual tradition that would find its place alongside that of Darwin as one of the great legacies of the Victorian age. It would inspire a political movement that spanned the world.

Karl Marx was born 200 years ago on May 5 1818 in the ancient Palatinate bishopric of Trier to a converted Jewish family. Growing up in the shadow of the French Revolution, religion and monarchy were the first targets of his youthful radicalism. But, in the 1840s, as industry spread across Europe, Marx took a further radical turn. Reading Friedrich Engels's reportage on The Condition of the Working-Class in England, Marx glimpsed a new reality. He did not use the term capitalism -- that would be later coined by his students -- but there was no denying the massive dynamic resulting from the combination of competitive capital accumulation and technological change.

"When the revolutionary tocsin sounded across Europe in 1848," as Sven-Eric Liedman shows in what FT calls a "landmark anniversary biography" (A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx), "Marx and Engels were ready with The Communist Manifesto:"

The great French revolution of 1789, they announced, was just a stepping stone, a bourgeois revolt against feudalism. Capitalism had been unleashed across the world and now it was giving birth to its gravediggers in the form of the disenfranchised and propertyless industrial working class.

Once established in London, Marx "first set himself to diagnosing what had gone wrong:"

How had the promising revolutionary uprising of 1848 ended three years later in the seizure of power by the upstart nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte? 1848, it turned out, was not a genuine revolution. It was history as farcical repetition. The real drama of world history was the epic of capitalist development. In particular, Marx was fascinated by the spectacle of America's relentless expansion.

"Marx knew that he would have to dig deeper," and so he did:

As revolutionary ardour dampened and in the 1860s, the world entered the age of Bismarck, blood and iron and realpolitik, Marx set himself to the analysis of capitalism's inner workings, concocting a unique synthesis of economic theory, empirical data drawn from factory inspector reports and economic history all mixed with Hegel's dialectical logic. The result was not economics as we know it, so much as an analysis of how capitalist production and exchange, down to the commodity form itself, gave rise to a world of appearances that conventional economics then sought more or less naively to explain.

"It was a mammoth intellectual effort undertaken in the face of considerable personal adversity," the piece observes, and notes of Liedman's book that "Marx is not a historical relic, nor is he the harbinger of a 20th-century shipwreck:"

He is the initiator and inspirer of a live intellectual tradition and a model of the kind of capacious thought that is necessary to grasp contemporary modernity. Liedman's strength is as a political philosopher and he is superbly well-equipped to take us on a tour of Marx's intellectual workshop.

Socialist Worker explains how Marx became a Marxist in five easy steps, but first lays the foundation:

Marx was hardly the first critic of society, though, and he was not even the first communist. Jesus of Nazareth was among the many to condemn "rich men" long before Marx.

What makes Marx unique is that he was the first to propose a historically specific path for winning equality that combined defiance of oppression and exploitation with a social force potentially capable of replacing the elite with an equitable and democratic common association--socialism--as opposed to a new ruling class.

"For the purposes of this article," the piece continues, "I will delineate some of Marx's conclusions as a series of theoretical leaps." I have excerpted some portions below:

Leap One: From Critic to Radical Democrat

He landed a job in 1842 as editor of a liberal newspaper called the Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland Times) and set about journalistically savaging laws that prohibited peasants from collecting firewood on the gentries' estates and limited freedom of the press.

These conflicts taught Marx that society was not made up of autonomous individuals operating under a more (or less) democratic government. Rather, society was divided into classes and ruled over by a political state.

Marx wielded his pen like a sword, but the Prussian police wielded real swords, shutting down the paper in 1843 and sending Marx into exile.

Leap Two: A Class with Radical Chains

Leap Three: Class Struggle and Revolution

Marx had come a long way from battling fellow graduate students over French novels and philosophical treaties. He now saw that the working class was the only social group potentially powerful enough to defeat the forces of order, and that the working class itself would become conscious of its own goals in a living mass movement, a revolution--not through lectures by well-meaning philosophers.

Leap Four: Harder Than It Looks

In addition to the "muck of ages" and internal divisions, workers faced a centralized, armed, organized enemy in the ruling class state. So long as this state remained whole, it had the power to suppress or absorb any revolutionary challenge.

Leap Five: Taking Power for Ourselves

In 1871, exhausted by a senseless war between Germany and France, workers and the poor in Paris threw out their capitalist government and replaced it with the Paris Commune. For 71 days, the red flag flew over the most famous city in the world. [...]

German and French rulers knew the real enemy when they saw it and, putting aside their military conflict, conspired to drown the Commune in blood. Thirty thousand died in the fighting and subsequent mass executions.

"Marx would recognize Donald Trump for the reactionary he is," the piece continues as it leads to present-day events, "and he would celebrate the teachers' strike wave in West Virginia and Kentucky and Oklahoma and Arizona:"

He would recognize the terrible human toll of a system based on profits for the few and misery for the many.

He would recognize that radicals must merge with a living mass movement if they want to challenge the powers that be. And he would recognize Egypt and Occupy and Black Lives Matter and #MeToo and the March for Our Lives.

But he would also insist that the only social force capable of moving from protest to power is the global working class.

On the upcoming occasion of Marx's 200th birthday, the NYT features philosophy professor Jason Barker asking, "what lessons might we draw from his dangerous and delirious philosophical legacy? What precisely is Marx's lasting contribution?"

Today the legacy would appear to be alive and well. Since the turn of the millennium countless books have appeared, from scholarly works to popular biographies, broadly endorsing Marx's reading of capitalism and its enduring relevance to our neoliberal age.

[I'm familiar with a few of them--but there is much studying yet to be done, given the verbosity of many Marxists.]

Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, owe something of an unspoken debt to Marx through their unapologetic targeting of the "eternal truths" of our age. Such movements recognize, as did Marx, that the ideas that rule every society are those of its ruling class and that overturning those ideas is fundamental to true revolutionary progress.

"The transition to a new society where relations among people, rather than capital relations," Barker continues, "finally determine an individual's worth is arguably proving to be quite a task:"

Marx, as I have said, does not offer a one-size-fits-all formula for enacting social change. But he does offer a powerful intellectual acid test for that change. On that basis, we are destined to keep citing him and testing his ideas until the kind of society that he struggled to bring about, and that increasing numbers of us now desire, is finally realized.

The Federalist's Garret York considers Barker's piece to be beyond parody, but it appears instead to be beyond Garret York's understanding. Witness this witless rambling:

As so many have done before him, Barker labors under the false assumption that communism has never truly been attempted in its purest form, and thus the term as well as the definition cannot be ascribed to failed states such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the German Democratic Republic, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

More irony: Marxist dictatorships labeled themselves "republics."

So, if a dictatorship calls itself a "democratic republic"--like the former East Germany did--does that discredit the concept of democracy, or the notion of a democratic republic? Or, perhaps, should it indicate that those words are being misappropriated? It is just as easy to misuse economic terms such as communism and socialism, but I don't expect York to understand that--he's too busy citing the infamous Black Book of Communism. "It must have been someone else's concepts the Bolsheviks were touting," he continues, "as they slit the throats of the members of the provisional government in Saint Petersburg:"

Perhaps it was some other manifesto Guevara was reading as he summarily executed dissenters. Surely something was lost in translation from German to Xiang when 55 million people perished during Chairman Mao's "Great Leap Forward."

In hindsight, how could the Cuban people have trusted a mediocre Washington Senators pitcher if he couldn't correctly read his catcher's signs? Let the citizens of Venezuela feed themselves on the satisfaction of knowing their government got Marxism wrong. And North Koreans can warm themselves over the ashes of "incorrect implementation" when the heat is shut off by their neighborhood energy monitor every night next winter.

"Karl Marx's philosophy is the sandy foundation," he continues, "on which the most ruthless and brutal governing bodies of the modern era were established." I have one question, however: do we get to denigrate Adam Smith every time someone in a capitalist country becomes jobless, or homeless, or suffers from lack of medical care, or dies of starvation? Fair is fair. After that lapse, York almost gave the game away with this tidbit:

China embraced capitalism when they took possession of Hong Kong in 1997, and has since taken the first tentative steps toward dictatorship when earlier this year, the ruling legislative body eliminated term limits for President Xi Jinping.

If dictatorship and capitalism can coexist, then politics and economics might not necessarily determine each other. Therefore, democracy and communism...

(Go ahead, take your time...)

Ross Douthat's redistribution of sex piece in the NYT is a piece of work; here's a taste:

I expect the logic of commerce and technology will be consciously harnessed, as already in pornography, to address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed and despairing. The left's increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated "sex work" will have this end implicitly in mind, the libertarian (and general male) fascination with virtual-reality porn and sex robots will increase as those technologies improve -- and at a certain point, without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.

Whether sex workers and sex robots can actually deliver real fulfillment is another matter. But that they will eventually be asked to do it, in service to a redistributive goal that for now still seems creepy or misogynist or radical, feels pretty much inevitable.

Rude Pundit takes Douthat to task, particularly for how "he blames the sexual revolution for some people not getting more ass." Douthat lamented that "the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration," to which Rude Pundit replies:

No, motherfucker, the sexual revolution allowed women to have agency over their bodies. It meant that date rape wasn't just something that happened to bad girls. It meant that women could choose their partners more freely the same way that men chose theirs. The new "winners" were an entire sex. And if they liked hunky guys, well, that's evolution, man, like it or not.

He concludes by observing that "there are a fuckload of men who simply refuse to accept that they are not only losing power to non-whites. They're losing it to women. Fuckin' deal with that shit."

"Oh, and if the incel movement was legit, he adds, you'd have a whole lot of women involved. Funny how that works." Speaking of funny--in a different vein--McSweeney's Rebecca Saltzman writes that it's Lysistrata time, bitches!

Even the men we thought were allies in this war have groped the bosoms of sleeping women and said it was a comedy.

Their chorus sings, "Not all men." But our women's chorus answers back, "Yes all men, you smegma-brained douchenozzles."

By the goddess, Beyoncé, we must not let this war drag on. There is but one solution: Sisters, we must give up the D.

No dick shall be licked in any city-state. Not in Athens nor Troy, Ithaca nor Schenectady.

We will not allow their throbbing pilgrims in our Parthenon, nor mount their mighty Olympus, nor measure the circumference of their veiny Archimedes.

When they see us with all of our makeup and our sexes shaved and our gowns of Amargos silk with cutout shoulders, they will want to bone. But we must close our legs and demand our Equal Rights Amendment, for horny men are dumb fucks who will give up anything for pussy.

Anything but misogyny, apparently.

Stephen Hawking's final theory [see here] "posits that we can obtain quantifiable data that must be collected via space probe in order to be proven correct:"

Basically, the theory holds that after the Big Bang, the universe expanded in what's known as exponential inflation but some "bubbles" of that space stopped inflating or slowed down enough for stars and galaxies to form.

The abstract is available, for those so inclined.

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