Sunday, May 14, 2023

Speaking of Which

Enough for now. Started early but with little enthusiasm, more links and fewer comments, as the Trump articles piled up. While it was gratifying to see Trump lose in court, he came out of the week looking more indomitable than ever.

One article to single out below is the long one by Nathan J Robinson and Noam Chomsky. Sure, it's old news, but it's the root of so much that is happening today (not least in Ukraine). Chomsky has been collecting this book for decades now, but Robinson helps a lot, advancing it beyond the usual dry contempt.

Top story threads:

Trump: On Tuesday, a jury found Trump guilty of sexual assault and defamation of E. Jean Carroll, and fined Trump $5 million. On Wednesday evening, CNN allowed Trump to flip the story, by hosting a "town hall" limited to his rabid followers, where among numerous other blatant lies, he doubled down, defaming Carroll again. Seems like a dubious legal strategy, but masterful politically.


The economy and its politics (including the debt ceiling): I'm seeing a lot of articles recently about how Biden is going to blink and give into McCarthy's extortion demands.



  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-14] Title 42 is over. Immigration policy is still broken..

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-14] Immigration is still fueling Trump's political future: No doubt. It's also an issue that Democrats are having a very hard time coming up with a coherent policy on. Republicans are divided between moguls who want cheap labor and bigots who want zero immigration (except, perhaps, when Trump needs his next trophy wife, or someone like Rupert Murdoch wants to buy a television station). They, at least, can compromise on a program that lets the rich enter discreetly, that lets workers in through back channels to keep them powerless, and that displays maximum cruelty to everyone else. Democrats have it much harder: they are torn between loud advocates of even more immigration, even louder pleas for accepting refugees from every godforsaken corner of the world (many fleeing US-backed regimes, and many more from US-condemned ones), while most rank-and-file Democrats don't care much one way or another, but are willing to go along with the pro-immigrant forces because the anti-immigrants are so often racist and xenophobic. I suspect most Democrats would be happy with a reasoned compromise*, but Republicans like having a broken system they can campaign against without ever having to fix, so there's no one to compromise with. And in a world governed by sound bites, the demagogue always come off as strong and clear while the sophisticate looks muddled and middling.

  • Nicole Narea: [05-11] The seismic consequences of ending Title 42.

  • Tori Otten: [05-11] House Republicans pass immigration bill that would completely destroy asylum process.

*For a compromise, how about this? Clean up the undocumented backlog by allowing citizenship or subsidized return. Impose quotas to cut back on new immigration rates, at least for a few years. Figure out a way to distribute refugees elsewhere, subsidizing alternate destinations. (Everybody deserves to live somewhere safe and healthy, but that doesn't have to be the US.) And stop producing so many refugees (war, economic, climate) -- this may require more foreign aid (and not the military kind). And do real enforcement against illegal immigrants, including thorough checks on employment. But also get due process working.


Artificial intelligence and other computations: Vox has a whole section on The rise of artificial intelligence, explained, and a few other articles have popped up. I've barely poked around in all this material, partly because I have my own ideas about what AI can and/or should do -- I had a fairly serious interest in the subject back in the 1980s, but haven't kept up with it -- and partly because I'm dubious about how it might affect me. (Although, as someone with serious writers block, this title caught my eye: If you're not using ChatGPT for your writing, you're probably making a mistake.

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [05-12] Diplomacy Watch: China's top diplomat earns mixed reception in Europe.

  • Anatol Lieven/Jake Werner: [05-12] Yes, the US can work with China for peace in Ukraine.

  • Eve Ottenberg: [05-12] Beltway mediocrities bumble toward Armageddon.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-11] Trump tells CNN town hall: 'I want everyone to stop dying' in Ukraine. He actually has some points here, including the point about how calling Putin a war criminal only makes it harder to get to a deal. His brags that Putin wouldn't have invaded if Trump was president, and that if he were president, he'd end the war within 24 hours, seem pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself: would Putin have been more likely to invade knowing that he had a indifferent US president who wouldn't fight back, or because he feared he was being pushed into a corner by Biden's much more militant backing of an increasingly hardline Zelinsky? I find the latter much more plausible, but the conventional wisdom would argue that strengthening support for Ukraine should have deterred a Putin attack. Sure didn't work out that way.

  • Robert Wright: [05-12] The ultimate Blob blind spot: A recent Foreign Affairs has a batch of five pieces by foreign policy experts in the global south, casting into relief how Americans fail to see how others sees them. That leads to a lecture on the lack of "cognitive empathy" as a key defect among Blob thinkers. That's true enough, but I think there's a simpler and easier solution, which is to check your hubris and to admit that most things beyond your borders are beyond your control.


Other stories:

Andrew Cockburn: [05-07] Getting the defense budget right: A (real) grand total, over $1.4 trillion: Significantly more than the already obscenely high $842 billion Department of Defense appropriation.

Ben Ehrenreich: [05-10] How climate change has shaped life on earth for millenia: Review of Peter Frankopan: The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story, which attempts to reframe all of human (and for that matter geologic) history in terms of climate change -- that being something we've lately noticed matters.

David A Farenthold/Tiff Fehr: [05-14] How to raise $89 million in small donations, and make it disappear: "A group of conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages. But instead of using the money to promote issues and candidates, an analysis by The New York Times shows, nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves, highlighting a flaw in the regulation of political nonprofits." Not to mention a flaw in the enforcement of consumer fraud laws.

Ed Kilgore: [05-08] Democrats shouldn't freak out over one really bad poll.

Erin Kissane: Blue skies over Mastodon: General piece on Twitter-alternatives, which in turn lead to Mike Masnick: Six Months In: Thoughts on the Current Post-Twitter Diaspora Options. Just FYI. Neither piece has convinced me to sign up for either, although it's fairly clear that my Twitter following is in decline (followers 591, but views on latest Music Week notice down to 227).

Eric Levitz: [05-11] Do the 'Woke' betray the left's true principles? A review of Susan Neiman's book, Left Is Not Woke. I'm all for emphasizing the primacy of the left-right axis, but I don't see much practical value in opposing that to woke. On the other hand, Levitz's take on "toxic forms of identity politics" are well taken. I recall from my own political evolution how I started out with a deep antipathy to rationalism, but changed my mind when I discovered that reason could lead to the right answers I had intuited, but put them on a much firmer basis.

David Owen: [04-24] The great electrician shortage: "Going green will depend on blue-collar workers. Can we train enough of them before time runs out?" Plumbers, too. I've spent months trying to get a plumber to fix a floor drain, which no one seems to want to touch. I'm tempted to rent a jackhammer and deal with it myself, but then again, I'm also a bit scared to.

Andrew Prokop: [05-12] The potential indictment of Hunter Biden, explained. If you care, some parameters. Worst case is that he's a fuck up who got sloppy on his taxes. Trump would say that makes him smart. The gun form is supposedly the clearest violation, but how often is that seriously investigated?

Nathan J Robinson:

Aja Romano: [05-12] Why the Vallow-Daybell murders are among the bleakest in true crime memory: I normally skip right over mundane crime stories, but the author is right, that this one is profoundly unsettling, not just for what a couple of very crazy people did but for the broader cultural roots of where their thoughts came from. By the way, Rexburg, Idaho, rings a bell: it was once described as the most Republican town in America.

Dylan Scott: [05-10] 3 things you should know about the end of the Covid public health emergency: "A hidden experiment in universal health care is about to end."

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-12] Roaming Charges: Neely Don't Surf: Starts off with the murder of Jordan Neely in a NYC subway car by Daniel Penny, who "loved surfing." He then links to a Clash song: "Charlie Don't Surf".

A society that systematically victimizes people tends to reflexively blame its victims for their own misfortune: poverty, hunger, chronic illness, homelessness, mental distress and, as we're witnessing once again with the case of Jordan Neely, even their own deaths.

Traditionally, this role has fallen to the New York Times and when it came to the murder on the F train they sprang into action. . . .

Penny is described as easy going, a people person, an unstressed former Marine who loved surfing. Yes, he too was jobless, but unlike Neely, he had aspirations. He wanted to become a bartender in Manhattan and a good citizen in the city he loved.

When the Times turns to Neely, we are treated to sketches in urban pathology -- the portrait a troubled black youth, who has been in decline since high school. His life is reduced to his rap sheet, his arrests, his confinements to the psych ward. . . . Neely is depicted as ranting, homeless, troubled, erratic, violent, mentally ill and ready to die. It's almost as if we're meant to believe that Neely's murder was a case of "suicide by vigilante." He was, the story implies, almost asking for someone to kill him.

After protests, NYC prosecutors finally announced that they will charge Penny "with Manslaughter in the Second Degree, which is classified as a Class C Non-Violent Felony, where first-time offenders often receive a non-incarceratory sentence, usually of probation."

Matt Taibbi, et al: [05-10] Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex: The top 50 organizations to know: Taibbi wrote the introduction, which ginned up the title, while others wrote the profiles that follow. The organizations include a broad mix of non-profits with a few companies and government sections thrown in. They give you a good idea of who's monitoring the internet to identify misinformation. They may do a lot of complaining, but few have any actual ability to censor, which makes this one of the more tenuous X-industrial complex coinages.

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