October 2016 Archives

This article lamenting the power of hate propaganda in open societies notes that "demagogues don't actually need to silence or censor their opponents:"

It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.

The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump's rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the "pants-on-fire" category.

This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word "truthiness", referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right - even though it definitely isn't.

Sadly, the piece continues, "the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them:"

Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.

These twin tactics - the giving and taking of offence - meld into a potent political strategy that I call "hate spin". Its practitioners manipulate the visceral, tribal feelings of their audience in order to mobilise supporters and defeat opponents in their quest for power.

Jon Chait speculates about the GOP's Age of Authoritarianism and asserts that "the horrors Trump has unleashed are the product of tectonic forces in American politics:"

Trump has revealed the convergence of two movements more extreme than anything in the free world that may yet threaten the democratic character most Americans take as their birthright.

"There is no longer any such thing as a Republican who is not conservative," he writes, which helps explain the worsening polarization:

During the Obama administration, a spate of right-wing primary challenges eradicated what was left of the party's vestigial moderate wing and cowed its remaining mainstream members into submission.

"By Obama's first term," he continues, "authoritarian personalities identified overwhelmingly with the GOP:"

In its preference for simplicity over complexity, and its disdain for experts and facts, the party has steadily ratcheted down its standard of intellectually acceptable discourse: from a doddering Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin. From this standpoint, Trump is less a freakish occurrence than something close to an inevitability.

He identifies "a course that may sometimes be discomfiting but could satisfy every faction" as "libertarian ends achieved through authoritarian means."

In a September National Review cover story, co-authors Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru, two of the right's most erudite intellectuals, acknowledged that Trump has made some questionable statements that "certainly do not sound like the views of a person with a deep esteem for the constitutionally limited role of the president or for the delicate balance of our system of government." But, they quickly insisted, Hillary Clinton's support for executive actions, laws that create more bureaucracy, and liberal judges poses "a more concrete and specific threat than Trump." Indeed, "mainstream liberalism now subverts and threatens our democracy," and so they concluded that the safer choice, from the standpoint of the republic's stability, would be to hand control of the Executive branch to Trump. This is how a party consensus forms. The more strident wing openly endorses authoritarianism, and the "moderate" wing refrains while agreeing that authoritarianism is still preferable to liberalism.

No matter how awful Trump actually is, in other words, their fears of Hillary are much worse--such as, to quote one such example, Maine's Republican governor Paul LePage exclamation that "every single day we're slipping into anarchy." Although "Trump will probably lose," Chait continues, "That loss will provide little more than a temporary reprieve:"

The Republican-controlled House will be as conservative as ever, perhaps even more so. All the nice-¬sounding legislative programs Clinton offered up to soothe her restless base on the left -- affordable child care and college, improvements to Obamacare, -infrastructure -- will be dead on arrival, making Clinton appear ineffectual. Or worse than ineffectual: Republicans will crank up the investigative machinery and produce endless media coverage of ¬scandals, real or trumped up.

Jane Mayer writes at The New Yorker about James Comey's email revelations:

On Friday, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting independently of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sent a letter to Congress saying that the F.B.I. had discovered e-mails that were potentially relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private server. Coming less than two weeks before the Presidential election, Comey's decision to make public new evidence that may raise additional legal questions about Clinton was contrary to the views of the Attorney General, according to a well-informed Administration official. Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department's longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election, but he said that he felt compelled to do otherwise.

Comey's decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.

Comey's actions are a continuation of his previous efforts--for examples, the July press conference about the email investigation:

At that press conference, Comey stated that the F.B.I. had found no reason to bring criminal charges against Clinton for using a private e-mail server to handle much of her State Department business, but that Clinton and her staff had been "extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, extremely classified information." Comey made clear that he had decided to make this comment without any sign-off from the Justice Department. Ordinarily, when no charges are brought, such matters are not exposed to public view, let alone addressed at press conferences.

Mock Paper Scissors explodes over news that "The FBI had Weiner's data A MONTH AGO:"

So... given that FBI Director's 10-year terms are designed to that the sitting preznint cannot fire them, what penalty will Comey face if it really does turn out that this was a hit job (as it almost certainly seems that it is)? I doubt he wanted another 10-year term, and I know that this Congress would not consider impeaching him.

So, would it be irresponsible to speculate that Comey just resuscitated his future career in Wingnut Welfare (which he certainly destroyed by not indicting Clinton as The New Confederacy surely wanted)? It would be irresponsible not to! (Thanks, Peg!)

Let's put this one in Claim Chowder: I predict he's gonna end up in a Right Wing Think Tank (I'll even be specific for this Claim Chowder: Standford's Hoover Institute is my bet).

Digby dismantles the claim that Comey's "integrity is so unimpeachable that he couldn't possibly have partisan motives:"

Assuming that's true, then he's a simple coward. Going against all advice from the leaders of the Justice Department, he went his own way and violated long-standing rules that barred the Justice Department of any appearance of interference 30-60 days from an election. And his reasons are that he believed he had a "choice" between making the Republicans mad and being accused of improperly interfering in a presidential election.

Newsweek excoriates Comey's remarks with the assessment that "Those are the words you use if you're covering your ass:"

It's clear to me that Comey has been successfully mau-maued by the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump and Jason Chaffetz for his unwillingness to indict Hillary Clinton on spurious nonsense back in July and he was more concerned about looking bad with them than he was about trashing the integrity of the FBI and inappropriately influencing a presidential election. That's pretty shocking.

group selection

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David S. Wilson writes about Elinor Ostrom and the tragedy of the commons, particularly the path forward from her 1990 book Governing the Commons. "Is the so-called tragedy of the commons," he asks (referencing Garrett Hardin's famed 1968 Science essay), "ever averted in the biological world and might this possibility provide solutions for our own species?"

One plausible scenario is natural selection at the level of groups. A selfish farmer might have an advantage over other farmers in his village, but a village that somehow solved the tragedy of the commons would have a decisive advantage over other villages. Most species are subdivided into local populations at various scales, just as humans are subdivided into villages, cities and nations. If natural selection between groups (favoring cooperation) can successfully oppose natural selection within groups (favoring non-cooperation), then the tragedy of the commons can be averted for humans and non-human species alike.

Sophia McClennan describes he entire 2016 election as an insult to our intelligence, and writes that "the real problem [is] not just that we don't have our facts straight:"

It's that we have collectively lost our ability to process information and make good judgments. To be truly stupid, you need to have poor reasoning skills. So our problem isn't just that we have lies substituted for facts; it is that we don't even know how to process information anymore.

In the era of Fox "News," she laments, "lying has become a common part of our political life:"

Now some 15 years into the era of constant political lying, it is time to realize that we don't only have a war on truth; we have a war on logic. If we focus only on the lies and miss the faulty logic, we get only part of the picture of why we have gotten so stupid. To be truly stupid, you have to have no grasp of what legitimate evidence looks like and no ability to process the information you do have.

She writes that "The Trump campaign is literally a lesson in stupidity and poor logic," and "Our political conversations have become dominated by either/or thinking, false binaries, hasty generalizations, slippery slopes, circular arguments, straw men and red herrings:"

As we have moved towards greater fundamentalism -- market fundamentalism, political fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism -- we have lost the ability to practice critical reasoning. Everything we think now is a belief rather than a reasoned judgment. Ideas can't be questioned, critiqued or debated because to do so would be to shake the foundations of our mind palace. [...]

In our current political climate, any correcting information is considered suspicious and threatening. Facts are no longer to be trusted. We live in echo chambers where our biases become truth claims. Any effort to point them out feels like an affront and leads to conflict rather than conversation. Rather than hone our skills of debate, we sharpen our spears to fend off our challengers.

Robert Parry's modern history of "rigged" US elections takes a different tack from most articles:

The United States is so committed to the notion that its electoral process is the world's "gold standard" that there has been a bipartisan determination to maintain the fiction even when evidence is overwhelming that a U.S. presidential election has been manipulated or stolen. The "wise men" of the system simply insist otherwise.

We have seen this behavior when there are serious questions of vote tampering (as in Election 1960) or when a challenger apparently exploits a foreign crisis to create an advantage over the incumbent (as in Elections 1968 and 1980) or when the citizens' judgment is overturned by judges (as in Election 2000).

"Protecting the perceived integrity of the U.S. democratic process is paramount," he writes, despite anti-democratic events ranging from Nixon's treason in Vietnam and Reagan's 'October Surprise' campaign to George W. Bush's Florida fiasco:

Regarding Election 2000, the evidence is now clear that Vice President Al Gore not only won the national popular vote but received more votes that were legal under Florida law than did George W. Bush. But Bush relied first on the help of officials working for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and then on five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to thwart a full recount and to award him Florida's electoral votes and thus the presidency.

"Looking back on these examples of candidates manipulating democracy," writes Parry, "there appears to be one common element:"

...after the "stolen" elections, the media and political establishments quickly line up, shoulder to shoulder, to assure the American people that nothing improper has happened. Graceful "losers" are patted on the back for not complaining that the voters' will had been ignored or twisted.

Al Gore is praised for graciously accepting the extraordinary ruling by Republican partisans on the Supreme Court, who stopped the counting of ballots in Florida on the grounds, as Justice Antonin Scalia said, that a count that showed Gore winning (when the Court's majority was already planning to award the White House to Bush) would undermine Bush's "legitimacy."

"the cumulative effect of all these half-truths, cover-ups and lies," he continues, "is to corrode the faith of many well-informed Americans about the legitimacy of the entire process:"

The hard truth is that the U.S. political process is not democracy's "gold standard"; it is and has been a severely flawed system that is not made better by a failure to honestly address the unpleasant realities and to impose accountability on politicians who cheat the voters.

The idea of taxing conspicuous consumption is gaining ground, as Smirking Chimp explains when talking to economist Robert Frank (lauded as "arguably the country's leading expert on wretched excess"):

The reason the nation's wealthiest have become a menace to the commonweal, Frank has concluded, is not because of how much more they make than the rest of us. It's how much more they spend. [...] It boils down to this: Scrap the income tax.

The specter of "trickle-down consumerism" haunts middle-class lives:

Whatever you do, just don't call it keeping up with the Joneses on steroids. Frank finds that too judgmental. The reason the median family is spending 50 to 75 percent more to buy a house that's at least 50 percent bigger than the ones they bought in 1970, or proud parents are spending more than three times as much on weddings than they did in 1980, Frank says, has less to do with envy or status-seeking than what he calls "context." [...]

"The better schools are located in the neighborhoods where the houses are more expensive," he said. So middle-class families "bid up the prices, of course, in the better school districts."

"Frank doesn't expect his recommendations to come to fruition overnight," the piece observes, although:

...other once-unthinkable things, such as a tax on carbon consumption and legalized gay marriage, gained rapid acceptance once they had gathered momentum. "Things happen incrementally until they don't," said Frank. "Revolutions, when they come, are never widely predicted."

TruthDig's Paul Street looks at the ubiquitous "PBS NewsHour" program and how it is funded:

The claim [of neutrality] has long been contradicted by the string of corporate-image commercials (purchased by leading financial, defense, auto, insurance and rail corporations) that appear before the network's nightly "NewsHour" broadcast--along with a list of corporate-sponsored foundations and superwealthy individuals who pay for the show, along with "regular viewers like you."

It is important that PBS news products exist within "the narrow capitalist parameters of acceptable coverage and debate that typify the more fully and explicitly for-profit and commercialized corporate media:"

Whatever the global issue of the day or week, "NewsHour" anchors and their invited "experts" can be counted on to report and reflect in accord with the doctrinal assumption that Washington always operates with the best of intentions. They almost uniformly treat the U.S. as a great, benevolent and indispensable force for freedom, democracy, security, peace and order in a dangerous world full of evil and deadly actors.

"Today's PBS, Street continues, "is not about to blow the whistle on the moral contradictions:"

There is a natural connection between the "P" in PBS standing for "Plutocracy" and it standing for "Pentagon." The core economic interests of the nation's superwealthy corporate and financial elite have long been global in nature. And, as the arch-neoliberal guru and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained in New York Times Magazine on the eve of the U.S.-led bombing of Serbia, "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist--McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." Friedman is a PBS favorite. He has appeared on "NewsHour" and other PBS productions at least 50 times by now.

Of such bricks is a media elite edifice constructed.

Bill Clinton Inc

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Russell Berman looks at what he calls Bill Clinton Inc., and asks, "Who is Doug Band, and what did he do for Bill Clinton?"

A little bit of everything, it turns out.

He helped launch the Clinton Foundation, came up with the idea for the Clinton Global Initiative, brokered deals for paid speeches that enriched Clinton, and then started a private consulting firm called Teneo that made the Foundation, Bill Clinton, and Band himself even wealthier.

All of that became clear in the latest batch of hacked emails released by WikiLeaks, which include messages from Band and a 12-page memo that he wrote both explaining and defending his and his company's work on Clinton's behalf. For Hillary Clinton's campaign, the publication of the Band memo is yet another WikiLeaks-induced headache, as it provides even more detail into the unsavory-if-not-illegal intersection of interests at the heart of her family's philanthropic work.

"The Band memo does not directly involve Hillary," writes Berman, "but to Republicans it makes no difference:"

Neither the emails [...] nor Band's memo about Teneo and his work for Bill Clinton suggest that Hillary Clinton took actions as secretary of state to benefit donors to the Clinton Foundation.

The idea of secret Hillary clubs, writes Slate's Michelle Goldberg, is an encouraging one:

One of the emerging themes of the last weeks of the presidential campaign is the resurgence of the right's "unskewed polls" theory, which holds that when Republicans are behind it's because the pollsters are sampling the wrong people. [...]

But the idea that Trump voters are hiding their true allegiance in large numbers strikes me as implausible. It just doesn't track with the swashbuckling, politically incorrect, in-your-face ethos of the Trump movement. Considering the huge gender gap, one would have to assume the shy voters would be a hidden group of Trump men who are telling pollsters they're voting for Hillary Clinton. If you're the kind of man who likes Trump, you're probably not the kind who feels the need to hide it.

On the other hand, there could be some "shy" Clinton voters out there who say they are voting for Trump in order to keep the peace with their aggressively pro-Trump husbands and maintain their standing in their conservative communities.

As usual, the scenario less comforting to conservatives is also far more likely to be true.

Indeed, Goldberg "spoke with several Hillary voters who said they had just decided to keep quiet to avoid confrontation:"

Clinton is the first female presidential nominee from a major party, and the opposition chose an aggressive, rank misogynist to oppose her. The fact that some women are reluctant to support her openly in the face of Trump's overheated followers -- especially women who normally vote Republican -- is a perfect example of why the secret ballot is so important. No matter what your community or your family or your employer says, your vote is your private decision. There may be quite a few women like those Iowa evangelicals who will cast a vote for Hillary Clinton this year, and never tell a soul.

Perhaps they won't even tell exit pollsters, which could drive losing Trumpites mad.

Speaking of the Trumptards, Neal Gabler explains how the media manufactured hatred of Hillary--pointing out that "Hillary Clinton wasn't unpopular when she announced her decision to run in April 2015:"

If you look at the Gallup survey in March of last year, 50 percent of Americans had a favorable impression of Clinton, only 39 percent an unfavorable one. So there was clearly no deep reservoir of Clinton hatred among the general public at the time. On the contrary: Americans liked her; they liked her quite a bit.

Already by June, however, her favorability had not only taken a hit. It had plummeted. By July, according to Gallup, her favorability hit an all-time low with only 38 percent positively and 57 percent viewing her negatively -- putting her 19 points underwater [while] "Trump's deficit was 24 percent"

Gabler writes that misogyny "certainly doesn't explain why her numbers nosedived last July," because "policy wasn't what the media were focused on:"

They were focused on emails. There was a court-mandated dump of Clinton's emails late that month, and the media leapt on it with alacrity. This certainly wasn't the first time the public had heard about Clinton using a private email server while Secretary of State. That news had come out in March 2015 and hadn't affected her favorability at all. But the fixation on emails, which had long been an addiction among Republicans and the right-wing media, suddenly became an addiction in the mainstream media as well.

Gabler writes bluntly, "You could say that Clinton was sabotaged:"

And that wasn't all. As reported in a study by Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on media coverage in the pre-primary period, Clinton received especially negative coverage -- overwhelmingly negative. At the same time, both Sanders and Trump received extremely positive coverage. As the report put it: "Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton. Trump's positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton's negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end."

Andrew Marantz's analysis of trolls for Trump looks at an allied dynamic among the more rabid conservative media outlets:

In late August, Hillary Clinton announced that she would soon give a speech, in Reno, Nevada, linking Donald J. Trump to what has become known as the alt-right--a loose online affiliation of white nationalists, neo-monarchists, masculinists, conspiracists, belligerent nihilists, and social-media trolls. The alt-right has no consistent ideology; it is a label, like "snob" or "hipster," that is often disavowed by people who exemplify it. The term typically applies to conservatives and reactionaries who are active on the Internet and too anti-establishment to feel at home in the Republican Party. Bizarrely, this category includes the Republican nominee for President. It also includes extremist commentators, long belittled or ignored by the media, whom mainstream pundits are now starting to take seriously.

Mike Cernovich of Danger and Play pushed the #HillarysHealth meme, and claimed that "Donald Trump has proven me right. People are tired of pussies." Despite asserting "I'm not a pure troll," Cernovich is unabashedly partisan: "If there's a story that can hurt Hillary, I want it in the news cycle," he said. One only wishes that his gleeful taunts that "We're going to make a whole new news cycle about her fucking e-mails again!" weren't enabled quite so vigorously by the "liberal" media.

Salon's look at Clinton's ongoing donor mess is much ado about very little--"once again, the Clinton Foundation's fundraising practices have churned up some politically fraught news coverage and questions about the ethical standards put in place for the former president's global philanthropy:"

In August, the foundation announced that should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, it will cease accepting foreign and corporate donations and spin off the majority of its projects to other charities. That was a good first step toward preventing conflicts of interest and also a recognition that the charity's fundraising practices pose political and ethical problems for the Clintons.

Now comes this Doug Band memo, detailing the ways in which Bill Clinton's personal financial endeavors were intertwined with his charity's fundraising efforts. That memo was written shortly before Chelsea Clinton voiced complaints that Band and his associates were misusing her father's name and influence to drum up business for themselves overseas.

It turns out Chelsea was right to be wary of Band. The memo was basically a how-to guide for leveraging a former president's profile into financial gain with as little ethical oversight as possible.

The piece summarizes the problem by writing that "documents like the Band memo make it impossible to completely separate the Clinton Foundation's charitable activities from the Clintons' personal finances:"

That's a perception problem, which the Clintons -- as political figures and philanthropists -- should have been going to every length to avoid. And it's one of many other ethical gray areas that seem to persistently crop up regarding the Clinton Foundation.

Rio scale

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538 analyzes the search for an alien signal, opining that although the work of "alien hunting, commonly referred to as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, is still very much relegated to the sidelines," it's become a "cutting edge" pursuit:

Occasionally, promising signals make their way through the broader astronomical community and into the public eye. A few such claims have made headlines recently, prompting some astronomers to call for a new framework to rank and interpret these signals.

"To help with this," she writes, "astronomers came up with a way to gauge the credibility of a SETI signal, called the Rio scale," where "an answer of 0 is obviously nothing and a 10 is 'wow, aliens are calling':"

Formulated at an astronomical conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2000, it's a 10-point scale intended to help people understand when to take an apparent signal from another world seriously. [...]


In this equation, Q is the sum of numerical values assigned to three parameters: the class of phenomenon, such as whether it's an "obviously Earth-directed message" or a randomly swooping beacon; the type of discovery, like whether it's a steady signal or something that comes and goes; and the distance to the signal. The latter is important because you'd want to know how long it would take for aliens to receive a reply.

Each parameter has a numerical value from 1 to 4, 5 or 6.1 For instance, "an Earth-specific beacon designed to draw attention" gets a 4. If it's within the galaxy, add 2. If it was a passing signal detected once, it gets another 2. To get your Rio scale value, you multiply this sum by δ, which is a measure of the credibility of the claim. The values for δ go from 0 to 2/3. If it's uncertain but worth checking out, for example, that's 1/6. This quantity depends on experts' opinions, so it's inherently subjective. And unless a signal has been verified repeatedly by SETI experts, the δ value is almost certain to drop its total value to a 2 or a 3.

Jeet Heer calls the late Jack Chick the Leni Riefenstahl of American cartooning:

Beloved by his fellow fundamentalists, who bought his tracts by the hundreds of millions and seeded them in bus stops and diners all over the world, Chick was widely derided by the world at large where he was seen, accurately, as a producer of hate literature.

Chick's tracts had a disturbing power to make you see the world through his eyes, a squirrelly and sweaty vantage point where everything is a demonic conspiracy to rob you of your soul.

Here, Heer makes the Riefenstahl comparison in detail:

Like the Nazi filmmaker who made Triumph of the Will, Chick was an artist of genuine skill who put his talent in the service of an odious ideology. Both Riefenstahl and Chick raise perennial and unsolvable problems about the relationship between content and form: Can art transcend the intentions of the artist? Can we separate out the message of a work of art from the artistry it contains? Art that helps us understand the mind of another is valuable, but what do we do with art by a mind like Chick's, whose sheer hatefulness numbs empathy?

It does seem an apt comparison, although I'm wary of Nazi analogies.

out the window

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The system is rigged, writes the Socialist Worker, but not against Trump:

DONALD TRUMP is lining up his excuses for why he's going to lose: the media is against him, Democrats are faking ballots from undocumented immigrants and dead people, blah, blah and blah.

In reality, few people have ever caught as many breaks in life, and for less good reason, than Donald Trump. But like a five-year-old-playing Candy Land, he has never known how to lose without crying foul...

Not surprisingly, the piece makes a pitch for Green candidate Jill Stein:

While Trump complains about biased media personalities serving as moderators--even after he received an estimated $2 billion in free airtime during the primaries alone, courtesy of the supposedly biased media--it was the Green Party's Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson who weren't even allowed to participate, because the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) only invites candidates averaging 15 percent in national polls.

The piece sees "a vote for Stein is the most practical step you can take in this election towards building a third party alternative." Laura Marsh gives us an overview of the Overton Window (see Wikipedia), which essentially defines the Democratic-to-Republican spectrum (lamented above) as the range of acceptable discourse:

Best known until recently as the title of an overheated political thriller by Glenn Beck, in the last year the Overton Window has been cited everywhere from The New York Times to The Rachel Maddow Show. Despite its peculiar origins and limited applications, pundits increasingly invoke it to describe not only Trumpism, but the Sanders surge, Brexit, and more.

The Overton Window refers to the range of policies on any given issue that are, at that moment, popular enough for a politician to campaign on successfully. Just outside of the window lie "acceptable" policies, and beyond those the "radical" and "unthinkable."

"Where we once talked about shifts in public opinion," writes Marsh, "we now talk about the Overton Window moving, implying an unfair tampering with the consensus:"

There is now a window of policies that are acceptable to the Republican base, and another for Democrats, but on the national level, there is no window. Instead of a consensus edging one way or another, we have a choice between two poles. The Overton Window is ultimately a name for what we have lost, not an indication of where we are headed. Its popularity today represents a powerful nostalgia for the center. It doesn't help us overcome fragmentation or rebuild a consensus. Its attractiveness lies in its reassurance that a middle ground once existed.

In contrast, however, I would say that this election is less a contest between two poles than it is between the center and the far-right fringe.

The idea of an aspirational home library and a conversation between Kris and Khloe Kardashian prompt Ruth Graham to ask a few questions:

Is it acceptable to treat books as decor, a representation of one's aesthetic aspirations rather than one's intellectual biography? What is the normal approach to displaying books in one's home?

"An informal survey of 50 friends and Slate colleagues suggests," she writes, "disappointingly for the cause of grand pronouncements, that everyone is different and moderation is key:"

I'm semi-organized, with separate bookcases for fiction and non-fiction; non-fiction is further grouped loosely by subject matter. On a few shelves, I've stacked coffee-table books horizontally with knick-knacks on top, a trick I picked up working at a home-decor magazine. I aim for a loose kind of honesty in what I keep around, too: I long ago banished my college copies of Kant and Hegel. But I do keep cooler, smarter books at eye-level, and I shunt the trashy and random up toward the ceiling.

Some survey-takers took this squeamishness so far that they were incredulous at the very concept of "displaying" books. "Do people really keep books to display them?" one colleague asked. "A private library is a promise to yourself, not a premise about your personhood." But I say that's purist nonsense. Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time.

As such, they can be both reminders of the past and motivators of the future.

During the aftermath of a rather casual meeting at work today, the subject of the impending presidential election reared its all-too-ugly head. I sometimes lament the absence of a certain former co-worker, almost to the point of missing the steady stream of right-wing misinformation that she could be counted on to recount--and which I could reliably debunk, much to her chagrin. My lamentations were somewhat premature, as her place in the information ecosystem has been at least partially filled.

Today's tawdry tidbit was a vague tale of Wikileaks exposing an alleged Hillary Clinton quid-pro-quo deal regarding Algeria making donations to the Clinton Foundation and her subsequently removing them from the State Department's "terror list." (Clinton's folks also allegedly crowed about getting away with it.) The word "treason" was even bandied about--which is somewhat of a red flag for me.

As often happens in these situations, I took a step back from questioning the details (have we declared war on Algeria, thus making them an enemy to whom acts of "treason" could potentially apply?) to asking questions about the source of the claims. I wasn't free to research the allegations at the time, but the whole miasma of imprecise invective struck me as resembling the typical emanations from conservatism's propaganda swamp.

Later, after a brief bout of rigorous Google-Fu, I found the Wikileaks email in question--but that was the most exciting part of this research excursion. It turns out, not surprisingly, that this whole media molehill (which Gateway Pundit and other even less reputable outlets tried to spin into a "bombshell" or even "treason") was not the mountainous scandal that had been alleged.

In fact, as could be seen in the contemporaneous news stories that were mentioned in the Wikileaks email, this non-scandal is an 18-month-old slander on the part of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. (Yep, it's that "liberal media" at work again--carrying water for conservatives by making up negative stories about Democrats!)

The tl;dr of the story (based on the work of PunditFact and MediaMatters) is as follows:

• Algeria was never on a "terror list," so
• Hillary never removed them from it, therefore
• there was no "quid pro quo" situation to carp about.
• Joe Scarborough, whose baseless speculation started the story, delivered a "heartfelt apology" for his error, and
• Clinton staffers didn't express joy over exploiting "a legal gray area" (that was a paraphrase of Scarborough's words), but merely referred to him being exposed as a liar as "Really great" and "excellent!"

As usual, corrections receive much less media attention that the inflammatory claims--making this yet another example of a "liberal" network doing the GOP's work. Consider also that it takes longer to research and rebut these tales than it does to create them, thus ceding media time to their spin. Perhaps it's a tactic in conservatives' playbook to get us all (however reluctantly) singing from their infernal hymnal.

Is it any wonder that people are burned out on this election?


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The evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick, author of innumerable Chick Tracts, has died. Jezebel notes the following:


Chick Productions announced Monday that their founder Jack Chick has died at 92, which is big news for anyone who's ever been fascinated, horrified, and occasionally delighted by his comic books. Chick was the creator of Chick Tracts, a long-running series of evangelical mini comics designed to bring people to Jesus through a combination of insane, bizarre, fairly campy storylines and extremely middling art.

An independent 2008 documentary on Chick, God's Cartoonist, calls him "the best-selling underground artist and publisher in the world."

For a taste of Chick's biblical bile, see Unicorn Booty's list of his top 5 homophobic rants--and shudder at their reminder that "Chick's tracts have been translated into over 100 languages."

paranoid pistoleros

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MediaMatters summarizes the NRA's latest paranoid rant:

The leader of the National Rifle Association insisted he wasn't "crazy," "paranoid," or "nuts" before ranting to NRA members in an "urgent" video message where he made claims at odds with reality, including claiming that his widely ridiculed prediction that President Obama would come for Americans' guns "came true."

During a six-minute get out the vote video, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre described America after eight years of Obama as president in hellish terms unrecognizable to anyone who actually lives here, claiming that the president has "laid waste to the America we remember" causing the country to "completely unravel."

LaPierre said his prediction that Obama "would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment" "came true" following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, when Obama "exploited a horrible tragedy to launch a blizzard of gun bans, magazine restrictions, and gun registration schemes against law abiding gun owners all across the country." (Nothing proposed by Obama would have violated the Second Amendment as understood in the Antonin Scalia-authored Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller. The background check bill that was voted on in the Senate after the massacre specifically prohibited the creation of registries.)

Here's a taste--if you can stomach it--of LaPierre's rant:

The media and many in the political class [...] truly hate the freedom that I stand for and they hate that I tell the truth. They've called me crazy, paranoid, evil, and far worse.

(No, we despise your lies and your propaganda.) His claims that "Obama attacked you [gun owners] harder than he attacked ISIS," that Obama's SCOTUS justices Sotomayor and Kagan are "easily among the worst justices to ever sit on that bench," and "Eight years of his policies have laid waste to the America we remember" are, quite simply, ludicrous. SO is the rest of this:

Our economy is on life support. Health care is an utter failure. Our schools have never been worse. You can see the despair in every parent's eyes. Eight years; that's all it took for our country to completely unravel. I told you exactly what he would do. The media said I was nuts. But in the end, America knows I was right.

No--in the end, American knows that you're full of shit.

"The single most ominous thing that Donald Trump said in all three presidential debates," writes Jeet Heer at TNR, "was a misguided attempt at a quip: "I'll keep you in suspense, okay?" in response to a question about Trump's willingness to accept losing the election. As Heer observes, "It felt like an official declaration that the GOP presidential nominee was prepared to incite a legitimacy crisis rather than accept that he's lost to a woman:"

As always with Trump, the temptation is to interpret this apostasy through the lens of individual psychology. The diagnosis is easy enough: By discounting the election results beforehand, Trump was preemptively assuming the role of a sore loser, exhibiting an irresponsible peevishness all too characteristic of his runaway narcissism and his sexism--and bringing the yahoos of the Republican base along with him.

"Suspicion of the democratic system is so pervasive on the right," the article continues, "because it's driven by the fear that white Christian America is facing demographic doom:"

The evidence is right there in the election results: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and if current polling trends hold, the GOP will be batting one for seven when the results come in on November 8. Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans may hold on to a U.S. House majority for a while, and they'll remain competitive in state capitols in the near future. But a whites-only party can't win national elections.

The piece also notes "a long tradition among hardcore libertarians who have a tendency to prefer dictatorships that ensure property rights to social democracies that tax the rich and provide welfare to the masses:"

This is why prominent libertarians like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek supported right-wing wing dictators, ranging from Mussolini (Mises) to Pinochet (Hayek). [...]

While the libertarian turn against democracy is aimed at preserving free-market capitalism, some leading religious conservatives have a different worry: the loss of Christian cultural hegemony. Back in 1999, First Things, a journal of the religious right, hosted a symposium called "The End of Democracy?" that was a precursor of things to come. Prominent Christians and Jews thrashed out the argument that American courts were so relentlessly secular that the entire political system might have to be overthrown. This was radical stuff.

Evan more ominously, "Over the last few years, it's become evident that the First Things symposium was no outlier, but rather an early symptom of the religious right starting to think outside the American political system for solutions:"

More recently, a virtual Vladimir Putin cult has arisen among religious conservatives longing for a return to cultural purity. Putin's macho bearing, his hostility to LGBT rights, and his fusion of nationalism with support for the Russian Orthodoxy all make him an attractive figure to right-wing Christians disenchanted with Obama's socially liberal America.

One of the few positives about Donald Trump's run for president is that he's forced us to see aspects of American culture that many instinctively turn away from. His success has made it much harder to fall into post-racial and post-feminist fantasies--to imagine that hardcore racism and sexism are marginal and declining forces. The same is true of anti-democratic sentiment, a growing threat that is frequently minimized if not utterly ignored.

Slate points out that 70% of Republicans believe that Clinton could only win by cheating:

Donald Trump's message that the election is rigged against him seems to be clearly resonating with Republican voters. If Hillary Clinton wins the election, almost 70 percent said it would be due to "illegal voting or vote rigging," according to a recent Reuters poll. The survey also found that only half of Republicans would accept Clinton as their president. [...]

...more than eight in ten of those who said fraud is widespread believe Trump would win in a clean race, according to a CBS poll published on Sunday.

H/t to Digby for linking to the Newsweek article on the George W Bush email-deletion scandal that--in compete contrast to Hillary's much smaller case--received very little coverage. "Clinton's email habits," the piece says, "look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration:"

Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House "lost" 22 million emails. This correspondence included millions of emails written during the darkest period in America's recent history, when the Bush administration was ginning up support for what turned out to be a disastrous war in Iraq with false claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and, later, when it was firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

Like Clinton, the Bush White House used a private email server--its [sic]was owned by the Republican National Committee. And the Bush administration failed to store its emails, as required by law, and then refused to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking some of those emails. "It's about as amazing a double standard as you can get," says Eric Boehlert, who works with the pro-Clinton group Media Matters. "If you look at the Bush emails, he was a sitting president, and 95 percent of his chief advisers' emails were on a private email system set up by the RNC. Imagine if for the last year and a half we had been talking about Hillary Clinton's emails set up on a private DNC server?"

Most troubling, researchers found a suspicious pattern in the White House email system blackouts, including periods when there were no emails available from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. "That the vice president's office, widely characterized as the most powerful vice president in history, should have no archived emails in its accounts for scores of days--especially days when there was discussion of whether to invade Iraq--beggared the imagination," says Thomas Blanton, director of the Washington-based National Security Archive. [...]

The media paid some attention to the Bush email chicanery but spent considerably less ink and airtime than has been devoted to Clinton's digital communications in the past 18 months.

This seems to have been--at least partly--an attempt to both quash lawsuits and to dodge the 1978 Presidential Records Act (PRA):

Bush administration emails could have aided a special prosecutor's investigation into a White House effort to discredit a diplomat who disagreed with the administration's fabricated Iraq WMD evidence by outing his CIA agent wife, Plame. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was brought in to investigate that case, said in 2006 that he believed some potentially relevant emails sent by aides in Cheney's office were in the administration's system but he couldn't get them.

The supposedly lost emails also prevented Congress from fully investigating, in 2007, the politically motivated firing of nine U.S. attorneys. When the Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed related emails, Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, said many were inaccessible or lost on a nongovernmental private server run by the RNC and called gwb43.com. The White House, meanwhile, officially refused to comply with the congressional subpoena. [...]

Bush aides thus evaded a court-ordered deadline to describe the contents of digital backup believed to contain emails deleted in 2003 between March--when the U.S. invaded Iraq--and September. They also refused to give the NSA nonprofit any emails relating to the Iraq War, despite the PRA, blaming a system upgrade that had deleted up to 5 million emails. The plaintiffs eventually contended that the Bush administration knew about the problem in 2005 but did nothing to fix it.

Eventually, the Bush White House admitted it had lost 22 million emails, not 5 million. Then, in December 2009--well into Barack Obama's administration--the White House said it found 22 million emails, dated between 2003 and 2005, that it claimed had been mislabeled. That cache was given to the National Archives, and it and other plaintiffs agreed, on December 14, 2009, to settle their lawsuit.

The emails "have not yet been made available to the public," and the Obama administration was busy "devoting its political capital to dealing with the crashing economy rather than investigating the murky doings that took place under his predecessor." [See here for some of my contemporaneous remarks.] Eric Boehlert's 2015 MediaMatters piece notes that, in retrospect, "it's curious how the D.C. scandal machine could barely get out of first gear when the Bush email story broke in 2007.:"

I'm not suggesting the press ignored the Rove email debacle, because the story was clearly covered at the time. But triggering a firestorm (a guttural roar) that raged for days and consumed the Beltway chattering class the way the D.C. media has become obsessed with the Clinton email story? Absolutely not. Not even close.

Instead, the millions of missing Bush White House emails were treated as a 24-hour or 48-hour story. It was a subject that was dutifully noted, and then the media pack quickly moved on.

"Just to repeat," writes Boehlert:

In 2007, the story was about millions of missing White House emails that were sought in connection to a Congressional investigation. Yet somehow the archiving of Clinton's emails today requires exponentially more coverage, and exceedingly more critical coverage.

Of course, back in 2007 Fox News seemed utterly uninterested in the Bush email story days after the news broke. A search of Fox archives locates only one panel discussion about the story and it featured two guests accusing Democrats of engineering a "fishing expedition."

From then-Fox co-host, Fred Barnes: "I mean, deleted e-mails, who cares?"


This Salon piece by David (Ratfucked) Daley debunks the "rigged election" talk:

Democrats appear headed for their biggest presidential election in years. Nate Silver has Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as an 86 percent favorite to move back to the White House. [...] Polling averages by Silver and RealClearPolitics suggest that the Republican nominee's fight is fading in the key battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

It takes quite a Democratic wave to tilt this many states even powder blue. But most nonpartisan analysts suggest this will not be enough to tilt the House of Representatives. The GOP holds a 30-seat majority in the House.

This is due, of course, to Republicans' "veto-proof control over the drawing of new congressional districts after the 2010 census:"

Republican strategists executed a savvy plan in 2010 to flip control of the state legislatures that control redistricting, then took advantage of high-tech mapping tools and draw themselves a decade of control at the state and national level.

Republicans drew 193 House districts by themselves after 2010, Democrats just 44.

In 2012, the first election that was run using these new maps, Democratic House candidates earned 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans kept the majority nevertheless. Michigan gave 240,000 more votes to Democratic House candidates, but sent nine Republicans and five Democrats to Washington. Pennsylvania favored the Democrats by nearly 100,000 votes, but the sophisticated new lines returned a delegation that somehow broke 13 to 5 for the GOP.

"Trump's charges are dangerous and wrong," writes Daley, "but so is ignoring the very real and serious ways this election is tilted:"

It is a recipe for a broken and divisive government. It insulates from the ballot box the very chamber of Congress that is supposed to be most responsive to the people. It will be the opposite of what the majority of Americans have voted for. That's the very definition of a rigged election.

ThinkProgress looks at GOP state elections officials and calls the process rigged by Republicans:

In other words, if the election were truly "rigged," it would have to be a Republican rig. Swing states like Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio are all overseen by GOP chief elections officials.

opening up

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BigThink mentions that non-monogamy is on the rise:

A new poll from YouGov.com indicates that young Americans are more likely to accept non-monogamous relationships than their elders. Nearly a fifth of people under 30 had some kind of sexual activity with someone else while their partner knew about it.


This chart shows a fairly consistent occurrence of cheating, while open relationships have gained a great deal of strength in the under-45 groups. As the YouGov poll indicates:

Over the past fifty years the sexual revolution has undermined or eradicated many of the norms and morals our grandparents once took for granted. Not only is society significantly more understanding of homosexuality and female sexuality, but monogamy is now optional instead of a lifestyle enforced by law.

textual displays

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In examining whether book collectors are real readers or cultural snobs, Frank Furedi asks, "Is book ownership still a sign of public cultural distinction in the digital age?" His answer is informed by history, and he notes that "to this day, many readers regard books as a medium for gaining a spiritual experience:"

Since text possesses so much symbolic significance, how people read and what they read is widely perceived as an important feature of their identity. Reading has always been a marker of character, which is why people throughout history have invested considerable cultural and emotional resources in cultivating identities as lovers of books.

He mentions Seneca's remark that "many people without a school education use books not as tools for study but as decorations for the dining room:"

Seneca's hostility towards the ostentatious book collector was probably influenced by his aversion towards the public reading 'mania' that appeared to afflict the early Roman Empire. This period saw the emergence of the recitatio: public literary readings conducted by authors and poets that many wealthy citizens regarded as an opportunity for self-promotion. Seneca looked on these vulgar performances of literary conceit with contempt...

In the present day, Furedi worries that "21st-century toddlers might abandon the showy display of reading a book in public and adopt the habit of regularly checking their smartphones:"

If Seneca or Martial were around today, they would probably write sarcastic epigrams about the very public exhibition of reading text messages and in-your-face displays of texting. Digital reading, like the perusing of ancient scrolls, constitutes an important statement about who we are. [...] Young people sitting in a bar checking their phones for texts are not making a statement about their refined literary status. They are signalling that they are connected and - most importantly - that their attention is in constant demand.

With the rise of digital technology, the performance of reading has altered. The contrast between a woman absorbed in reading a book in an 18th-century portrait and a teenager self-consciously gazing at her smartphone illustrates the different ways that individuals construct their identity through reading.

Another Aeon essay, this one by Michael Schulson, discusses the addictive nature of the Internet, and I think it's worth discussing the two pieces in tandem. Schulson's "hypothetical example [is] Michael S, a journalist:"

Sending and receiving emails are important parts of his job. On average, he gets an email every 45 minutes. Sometimes, the interval between emails is only two minutes. Other times, it's three hours. Although many of these emails are unimportant or stress-inducing, some of them are fun. Before long, whenever Michael S has an internet connection, he starts refreshing his email inbox every 30 minutes, and then every five minutes and then, occasionally, every two minutes. Before long, it's a compulsive tic - the pecking pigeon of web usage.

Should we blame Michael S for wasting hours of his life hitting a small button? We could. He does have poor self-control, and he chose a profession in which email is an important form of communication.

Then again, would we blame Skinner's pigeons, stuck in a box, pecking away until they get their grains and hemp seeds, while a pioneering researcher plumbs the glitches in their brains?

"Psychologists have been discussing the possibility of internet addiction since 1996," Schulson writes, "just three years after the release of the first mainstream web browser... for millions of people, the internet is often understood in terms of compulsion:"

So should individuals be blamed for having poor self-control? To a point, yes. Personal responsibility matters. But it's important to realise that many websites and other digital tools have been engineered specifically to elicit compulsive behaviour. [...]

Tristan Harris, an ethical design proponent who works at Google. (He spoke outside his role at the search giant.) Major tech companies, Harris told me, 'have 100 of the smartest statisticians and computer scientists, who went to top schools, whose job it is to break your willpower.'

In short, it's not exactly a fair fight.

He breaks down the design process of trigger-action-reward [from Nir Eyal's book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (2014)] that leads to user investment, and suggests some partial remedies--which is a useful analysis. My preference, however, is for something far simpler: a pot of tea and a comfortable chair amidst my bookshelves.

MediaMatters sees Chris Wallace's debate moderation as an example of the banality of conservative dishonesty, showing "the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics:"

Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

• His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama's 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
• His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's 2013 comments about "open borders" grossly out of context.
• His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of "partial-birth" abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
• His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump's frequent falsehoods -- following through on his promise not to be a "truth squad" during the debate.

MediaMatters' summary is telling:

It's easy to challenge bullshit when it's being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It's much harder to challenge it when it's being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

Salon also looks at how Wallace's right-wing agenda "grossly misled the audience:"

It was a coup for Fox News to have one of its anchors moderate a debate, something conservatives have been pushing the Presidential Debate Commission to do for years now. And in Chris Wallace, they found a seemingly fair-minded talking head. But he also brought all the baggage of Fox News with him -- that is, the worst traits of the post-fact, post-truth moment in political discourse that we are living through, that has found its ultimate vessel in the form of Donald Trump.

In other words, Wallace's questions were another example of right-wing talking points taking a stroll outside the usual bubble that encloses them. Unfortunately in a debate, there is no one, save the Democratic candidate, to push back on them.

John Nichols writes in The Nation that "Wallace's wrongheaded recitations of false premises were every bit as absurd as the Republican nominee's repetition of discredited claims about 'rigged' elections," citing Wallace's statement to Clinton that:

"I want to pursue your plan. Because in many ways it is similar to the Obama stimulus plan in 2009, which has led to the slowest GDP growth since 1949."

Nichols eviscerates Wallace here:

The moderator asked a series of questions based on false premises about everything from Social Security and Medicare to debt-service payments. He concluded by repeating the "grand bargain" talking points of billionaire-funded austerity advocates who seek tax breaks for wealthy and "shared sacrifice" from everyone else. [...]

Even when questions appear to be substantive, they are often based on partisan talking points and the "concerns" generated by the billionaire-funded campaigns that seek to get everyone talking about their latest austerity schemes.

Despite some attempts to draw a parallel between them on the basis of accepting election results, Trump is not like Gore, writes Jonathan Chait. Here are some of his reasons:

1. Al Gore did not challenge the validity of the election process. Casting Gore as "disputing" the "result" of the election is political spin from Bush's campaign that has been repurposed for defending Trump. Gore followed the process through entirely legal channels, and, when the recount was halted, graciously conceded. The only significant extralegal behavior by either party was the dispatch of a Republican mob to a courthouse in Miami to shut down a recount they (erroneously) believed would help Gore. [...]

5. Trump's dispute of the election's fairness is embedded in a party-wide hallucination about systemic voter fraud. This belief supports a systematic effort by Republicans to suppress minority voting through the erection of bureaucratic hurdles. Republican election policy is to create the modern equivalent of poll taxes, with the tax taking the form of time to navigate state bureaucracies rather than money.

6. Trump is delegitimizing the election on the basis of evidence-free conspiracy theories. This serves two purposes. It justifies the Republican policy of suppressing minority votes, and it allows Trump to frame his loss as a betrayal and, as his advisers are hinting, use the alleged theft of the election to build his brand going forward at the expense of the regular party.

TNR looks at Trump, conspiracies, and the paranoid style--pointing out that "Trump has for years now appealed to such conspiracy theories to explain America's perceived problems:"

Did you hear, for instance, that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese in order to weaken U.S. manufacturing? That the media refuses to report the tens of thousands of people attending his rallies, just as it "orchestrated"--in coordination with the Clintons--the sexual assault allegations against him? That, as he repeated at the third presidential debate this week, the election has been "rigged" by these very same forces?

"Why does Trump spout such theories," asks TNR, "and, more importantly, why do they resonate in some corners of American society? "

This long history of conspiracy theorizing is grounded in America's self-conception as a chosen people. Since the first settlers arrived America has conceived of itself as unique in its moral purity and possibility, as the "City on a Hill" in the Puritan leader John Winthrop's grand vision. [...]

It is in the context of such civilizational chosenness that periods of perceived decline can generate a disturbing cognitive dissonance: How could we, the necessarily greatest community, be weak or even non-dominant?

"Conspiracy theories enter the frame as a method of resolving such dissonance," and TNR suggests a "rather straightforward" solution:

It is to understand the dangerousness of Trump's movement and to prevent it from accessing political power. This is likely what will happen on November 8. And while Trump will insist again, when he loses, that the election was rigged, we can rest safely with the knowledge that his theory is, in reality, wrong.

Matthew Continetti sees the present situation as the crisis of conservative intellectualism, describing in detail a
1978 Firing Line debate about the US treaties ceding control of the Panama Canal:

Within seconds you will be struck at the level of discourse between the future president [Reagan] and his interlocutors. The repartee is spirited, intelligent, respectful, detailed, and humorous. It is hard to imagine a similar intra-conservative dialogue being held today.

After quite a long history lesson of the decades since, he concludes:

Donald Trump is so noxious, so unhinged, so extremist in his rejection of democratic norms and political convention and basic manners that he has untethered the New Right politics he embodies from the descendants of William F. Buckley Jr.

The triumph of populism has left conservatism marooned, confused, uncertain, depressed, anxious, searching for a tradition, for a program, for viability.

Searching for sanity, I would say...


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"By now you've probably seen this disgusting bumper sticker [seen above; visit Snopes for details] depicting a figure outfitted in a Confederate flag kicking a figure in a rainbow flag," writes Robbie Medwed at NCRM:

In the recent days, though, there's been another drawing that's surfaced that's been shared widely on Facebook and other social media sites. It depicts the same figures, except the rainbow-clad person is embracing the Confederate figure with the title, "Forgiveness 2016."


My response to this new graphic? Very simply, it's "no."

Here I will quote Medwed at length:

I get that the intention is good. I get that people want to cross lines and build bridges and all of that happy touchy-feely emotionally-satisfying mumbo jumbo. It's also incredibly naive and abusive.

For decades LGBT people have been tasked with forgiving those who want to cause us real harm. We've had to fight (and we're still fighting) for the right to simply live in happiness and safety - and with every battle won we're supposed to forgive those who worked to harm us, without any repentance or apology on their part.

The people represented by the Confederate figure are abusers and oppressors. They have dedicated themselves to tearing apart our families, to imprisoning us for existing, to demonizing us for using the bathrooms, for inflicting violence upon us, and so much more. [...]

If someone who was anti-LGBT wants to apologize for all of the harm they've caused us - if they want to actively take ownership of the damage they've done and re-dedicate themselves to undoing it? I will gladly sit down with them and work towards forgiveness, without a doubt. But true repentance takes work. It doesn't happen over night, and it has to come with the understanding that much of the harm that's been caused can never be undone.

To expect LGBT people to blindly forgive those who cause us harm simply because it will make our oppressors feel better about themselves? Absolutely not.

The Advocate's Neal Broverman laments that fact that "We have a bully of epic proportions now elevated to one of the highest positions in American life"--a bully whom we must not just defeat, but repudiate:

Trump's tactics, not just against Clinton, but those used on the American people to reach his current pinnacle, have shamed us as a nation and threaten to scar us. Using craven lies to incite xenophobia and hate, he's encouraged Americans to turn their legitimate frustrations at the world into blame, hate, and violence. Instead of building a campaign on plans or ideas, Trump established his third act by pushing the racist lie that Barack Obama was not American. He followed that up by officially launching his presidential bid with a call to action against immigrants, specifically Mexicans.

Broverman writes of Trump that He whipped up their ["white, straight, cisgender men like himself"] resentment and turned it into his only message: 'Take Back America!' 'Make America Great Again!' We all know what that America was, and LGBT people were not part of it:"

So we must volunteer, donate, vote, and win. We can't have a squeaker; we must vanquish Trump's legacy of Pepe, Putin, and pussy-grabbing. We need a landslide for Hillary so we can tell the alt-right, "No, the election wasn't stolen." But more importantly we need to show the world, and ourselves, we are not a country of hate, but one progressing ever so slowly toward the ideals set out in its founding. On November 8, we must unequivocally demonstrate that we're on the road to equality, and we're not turning back.

The question what has conservatism conserved? needs to be asked far more often. "In the Obama era," notes Commentary, "two successive midterm wave elections resulted in Republicans enjoying their largest congressional majorities in over half a century." Despite this,

The GOP in the Obama years failed to communicate to its voters what it could achieve, preferring instead to focus on the chambers it could win. That's a tragedy, because the party has achieved quite a lot.

This "achievement," sadly consisted primarily not by accomplishing anything, but by obstructing everything--as the piece admits: "Republicans in Congress have effectively blocked Barack Obama's agenda since 2011." In addition to the Obamacare repeal failures,

The GOP passed a bill to keep Guantanamo Bay open, [...] passed anti-Net Neutrality legislation, expanded funding for the military, the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, and new measures to vet refugees fleeing war in the Middle East, none of which Obama allowed pass into law.

"Trump will lose," the piece concludes, "but, despite his best efforts, he may not succeed in taking the GOP's congressional majorities with him."

He might also fail in creating a media conglomerate. TNR notes that "there are many reasons a Trump TV channel or a Trump Media Group makes no sense as a business proposition:"

...but the most important one is best reflected in the fact that Donald Trump is the Republican Party's nominee for president. The GOP itself may have been ripe for disruption and coopting, but that's in large part because of the excellent job conservative media has done Trumpifying the party's base. [...]

Trump won the GOP nomination because the conservative media was already heavily Trumpified, and a Trump media conglomerate makes no sense because the conservative media will remain Trumpified once the election is over.

TNR also writes that, although the media can't rig the election, they can expose Trump's lies:

"I have no doubt the national media is trying to rig this election with their biased coverage in Hillary Clinton's favor," Mike Pence said Monday in Ohio. On ABC News on Sunday, Newt Gingrich--who actually contradicted Trump by saying it's "not about election officials at the precinct level"--nevertheless said that "without the unending one-sided assault of the news media, Trump would be beating Hillary by 15 points."

TNR disposes of this quickly, pointing out that "the media can't rig an election:"

If Trump wants to argue that the press is biased against him, a trope Republicans return to every election cycle, then fine. The media does lean left, and it's certainly true Trump is getting more critical coverage than Clinton. Of course, in this case, it may be because he's asked for it. He flunks every conceivable character test, flouts the norms of American democracy, and seems eager to transform America into an ethno-nationalist, quasi-fascist state.

To my mind, the contrary case is the stronger one:

There's also a case to be made that the press, particularly cable television, has been too kind to Trump. His rallies have run endlessly on TV, earning him billions in free media. Networks were baited into covering a glorified infomercial for his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel in Washington, D.C. CNN is receiving well-earned criticism for paying four Trump defenders to routinely deny facts on air and engage in trolling, to the increasing frustration of the actual journalists employed by the channel. [...]

The audience he's built is frightening; as a new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows, 41 percent of the country believes the election could be "stolen" from him. We're living in an age of misinformation, making it all the more fortunate that the media--though powerless to rig an election--still has enough power to spread the truth. Whether it's sufficiently exercising that power is another question altogether.

school safety

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Despite progress on many fronts, LGBT students are still not safe at school [remember the trans kid forced to wear an armband?]. Non-binary trans student Salem Whit's experiences attending high school in Spring Grove PA involved being taunted with insults such as "What is that thing?"

"I skipped classes," they admitted. "I quit every extracurricular. I stopped participating in sports, gym, and drama--anything that separated us by gender. I even stopped talking for a while, because my gender dysphoria caused me to really hate the sound of my own voice." At 16, feeling lost and lonely, Salem attempted suicide.

"According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's new report, "Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited" (PDF), such experiences are all too common:

LGBT youth in middle and high school have lower grades, more attendance problems, and are less likely to complete high school than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Many experience long-term emotional effects from the bullying, harassment, and anti-LGBT bias they face as students. Life may have gotten better for many in the LGBT community in the last decade, but for LGBT youth in middle and high school, there is much room for improvement.

While the 2015 report shows minor, gradual improvements have occurred for LGBT youth in schools over the last 10 years, heterosexual and cisgender students still experience less victimization and better grades and are more hopeful about their futures than their LGBT counterparts. This difference in school experience between LGBT and non-LGBT youth may have lifelong consequences for LGBT students. [emphasis added]

The curriculum issue ("only 20 percent of students reported learning about LGBT topics in any of their classes"), while appalling, pales by comparison.


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Dawne Moon explains how, at least for her, queerness erased bisexuality. She writes that "Bisexual as a term seemed to apolitical, too evasive, too namby-pamby, too binary; it sounded too much like a disavowal of gayness rather than an avowal of anything:"

For twenty-five years or so, I've identified as queer -- a queer person, a queer activist, a queer-theoretically informed sociologist.

During this time, I sat uncomfortably among those queers who for some reason seemed realer to me -- mostly gay men and lesbians, for whom queerness reflected their edginess and intellectual incisiveness. Looking back, as certain as I was that I was bisexual, I was afraid in some ways to be identified as bisexual.

She notes that "At a Christian conference [in Fall 2015], someone caused me to shift my whole paradigm:"

Eliel Cruz was leading a workshop on bisexuality at a conference of The Reformation Project. He spoke of bi-invisibility and bi-erasure, concepts developed by bisexuals in the 1990s, but that I had completely ignored, so busy was I making myself fit in. Reading up on it later, I learned from an article by legal scholar Kenji Yoshino that every sex survey that has ever been done has found at least as many bisexual men and women as gays and lesbians. Far from being a teensy and inconsequential minority, bisexuals actually make up half, or more, of the LGBT population. I actually WORKED on one of those studies as a graduate student, and I never knew this. Erasure and invisibility are apt terms.

Her comment that "queer politics is just beginning to open up to the vast ranges of human possibility" should give the entire community pause.

Debasing Donald

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Here's a winning design for a losing campaign:


Just in case it wasn't obvious what they were getting at, the magazine posted an animated version on Twitter:

Donald Trump has taken a knuckle-duster to American political culture https://t.co/fDJdgUuQtF pic.twitter.com/cBKOS2abYv

-- The Economist (@TheEconomist) October 13, 2016

Sam Harris' piece "Trump in Exile" is refreshing:

It is a cliché, of course, to claim that a presidential election is the most important in living memory. But we arrived at that point in the 2016 campaign many months ago, when both sides declared their opponent unqualified for office. Unfortunately, this time the cliché is true, and one side is actually right. A choice this stark proves that there is something wrong with our political system.

Hillary Clinton is a terribly flawed candidate for the presidency, and this has allowed millions of otherwise sane Americans to imagine that she is less fit for office than Donald Trump is. Much depends on a majority of the electorate seeing through this moral and political illusion in the weeks ahead.

Harris notes that "hatred for both Clintons is now so blinding as to render Trump's far more dangerous flaws imperceptible to millions of Americans:"

Donald Trump is so unfit for the presidency that he has done great harm to our society by merely campaigning for it. The harm he could do from the White House can scarcely be imagined.

He has a pan for after Election Day that I will be glad to join:

Trump himself should be forced into exile the way OJ Simpson was after he was falsely acquitted of two murders. In fact, one might say that a murder has been committed here--of the public good--by a monster of selfishness and self-regard.

After November, let the shunning of Donald Trump be complete.

TPM covers Obama's remarks on Trump's crazy swamp:

"The problem is not that all Republicans think the way this guy does," the president told the crowd in Columbus. "The problem is that they've been riding this tiger for a long time. They've been feeding their base all kinds of crazy for years, primarily for political expedience. So if Trump was running around saying I wasn't born here, they were okay with that as long as it helped them with votes. If some of these folks on talk radio talked about how I was the antichrist, that's just politics."

"They stood by while this happened," Obama went on. "And Donald Trump-as he's prone to do--he didn't build the building himself, he just slapped his name on it and took credit for it. And that's what happened in their party. All that bile, all that exaggeration and stuff not grounded in fact, started bubbling up, surfacing. They knew better but didn't say anything."

WaPo expands on his statements:

"This is in the swamp of crazy that has been fed over and over and over and over again," Obama said to applause. "So the point is, if your only agenda is either negative -- negative is a euphemism, crazy -- based on lies, based on hoaxes, this is the nominee you get. You make him possible."

stack ranking

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As Evonomics explains, stack ranking is destructive--both in corporations and on sports teams:

Stack-ranking and other business practices of individual selection have been widespread, from General Electric to Microsoft, and is a standard modus operandi in sports teams including the focus of this piece, the European soccer team, Real Madrid. However, the wisdom behind the application of these models, both in business and sport, is under scrutiny. [...]

This mismatch of incentives for individuals within a group is most certainly an area of concern for managers of all kinds. The relevance of these findings for management strategies in industry has gained some recent publicity, mainly following a popular TED talk by Margaret Heffernan which referenced [evolutionary biologist William] Muir's original experiments with specific focus on how traditional 'pecking orders' may not be the most productive organizational structure. [...]

Research on salary allocation shows one mechanism why this can occur, finding that pay inequality is linked to detrimental issues within teams, such that teams with highly unequal salary structures tend to also elicit more negative affect for their members, which can then lead to greater within-group problems.

C-level executives receive enormous feasts, while the rest of us fight over the table scraps; signing bonuses in soccer appear to have much the same effect:

Upon review, the Galactico policy of acquiring (or selecting for) top players by paying extraordinarily large sums of money [...] is likely to attract players with a pre-existing tendency to benefit individually at the expense of the team. Indeed, while the chance to sign for Real Madrid is a flattering opportunity for any player, the likely stack- ranking environment would seem more likely to attract certain traits. Accordingly, the relatively disappointing return of trophies and high turnover rate of world class players may be a consequence of the nature of the players recruited, or the behaviors which are coerced out of players by the high incentives to be the most productive or stand out performer.

Perhaps this in-group rivalry leads to an excess of competing against each other rather than against the opposite teams?

The infamous Milo "dangerous faggot" Yiannopoulos "has made a name for himself by becoming a professional internet troll:"

He would have you believe that the danger lies in his message, that he is somehow speaking truth on a topic other people wouldn't dare touch. However, if you look closely enough you see that he isn't actually saying anything worthwhile; he's admitted that himself. He's simply spouting the most inflammatory and controversial diatribes he can concoct. And as we all know, there's nothing dangerous in that for the speaker. It might even lead to a presidential nomination.

Milo is not a dangerous faggot; Milo is a lazy writer who lacks the capacity to receive or reflect human compassion.

Bringing the focus back to his slogan, the piece observes that "There is nothing dangerous about hiding behind self-created controversies for the sake of expanding your particular brand of hate:"

There are plenty of dangerous faggots in the world; I would hope I am considered to be one of them. To be a person who seeks the truth in a culture that has become fact-averse. To be a person who welcomes discourse and leans in to difficult conversations with the hope of learning and of bringing people together. To be a person who is unafraid to say "black lives matter" and "trans is beautiful" in a society that clearly does not always agree. To be a person so in love with their country they will stop at no lengths to help it fulfill its promise, when their country has not always loved them back in the same way. Being a dangerous faggot does not mean saying things that put others in danger; it means loving others enough to put yourself in danger for them.

When considering culture in this manner, the question of https://aeon.co/ideas/can-liberal-values-be-absolute-or-is-that-a-contradiction can liberal values be absolute? comes to the fore:

Is liberalism an idea fit only for the contemporary West, proper to this particular historical, social and geographical context? Or is liberalism right for everyone, for all peoples and ages and cultures? That is to say, should liberal values be seen as relative or absolute?

In fact, the answer is neither. It is possible to steer between localist relativism on the one hand and ahistorical absolutism on the other. [...] What separates the liberal West from the brutality of its past is several hundred years of change, premised on the rejection of tradition and a refusal to be swayed by the argument that 'this is how we do things'. Liberal values cannot be defended by looking backward and inward, since they arise from a perspective whose gaze is towards the future and the greater party of humankind.

Even those who defend diversity in values and practices often appeal to a relativism of their own. Liberals should be tolerant even of those who are illiberal and intolerant, because those are 'their' values, grounded in 'their' culture and history. This leads to a worrying moral permissiveness, both at home and abroad.

Marcuse's repressive tolerance is relevant here, as are other caveats:

If liberalism cannot be local and relativistic, it equally should not slide into an uncompromising absolutism and universalism. Insisting that the current manifestation of liberalism in the contemporary West is the timeless, universal, absolute guide to moral life is as fraught and historically blinkered as the appeal to 'our values'.

"Values are right and good only," the piece continues, "to the extent that they allow people to live acceptable lives together. This is the pragmatic middle way:"

In attempting to draw the pragmatist middle line between relativism and absolutism, Western liberal democracies will have a new message for their immigrant populations. Newcomers should accept liberal values, not simply because they happen to be the law of the land, nor because they are timeless ultimate truths, but because they have been found to work by those who have tried them, because the lives they allow are good lives for the livers, because they have permitted the cultures that abide by them to achieve unprecedented safety, health, dignity and wellbeing.

But liberals should also be open to the possibility that listening to these new voices will change the way they see things. Westerners might learn something valuable, just as their cultures did when they started to listen to those once excluded, such as Jews, women, blacks and the poor.

(Not to mention the LGBT community, etc...) It's all the more important that those once-marginalized voices include more than empty provocateurs such as Milo Y.

Trump's biggest con

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TruthOut wonders if Trump can pull off his biggest con:

As a well-known huckster of everything from luxury condos to Trump Steaks, he has managed to pull the biggest con of all: representing himself as a champion of hard-working Americans facing threats from trade or immigration.

For someone whose "brand" has always been about flaunting his (real or imagined) wealth, that's a feat of P.T. Barnum-esque proportions.

TruthOut notes that David Cay Johnston's book The Making of Donald Trump "chronicles someone who exemplifies the 'rigged' game that big business and the political establishment plays:"

Trump is cut from the same cloth as all those "too big to fail" Wall Streeters that both Berniecrats and Tea Partiers hate.

Yet the myth persists that Trump is an anti-establishment figure who will change this rigged game.

reclaiming records

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In a teaser for the book Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past, Eric Spitznagel explains the aftermath of purchasing his first CD in 1988. "Over the coming months, I began selling off my records," he writes, noting that "It never occurred to me that I might ever run out of records:"

The last time I counted, somewhere around 1987, I had in the ballpark of two thousand. The first purge of three hundred barely left a dent. And from there, it was just a few records here, a few dozen there, as I needed them. I never made the conscious decision to deep-six my vinyl. It was always just, "Shit, I need beer money for the weekend. Oh wait, I still have that copy of the Stooges' Raw Power!" It was like a low-interest-bearing savings account with guilt-free withdrawals. I was never going to get rich on a bunch of old Elvis Costello records held together with Scotch tape, or a Purple Rain that was so warped it sounded like the doves were crying because Prince was having a stroke. These weren't investments, they were just antiques from my past that had small yet immediate monetary value.

As someone who has purged not just records, but also books and comics, during various life changes, I'm interested in reading about the rest of his quest.

Massimo Pigliucci explains how he practices stoicism:

What does it mean, exactly, to "practice" a philosophy? Rather than write a theoretical essay on this, I figured it may be helpful to some readers to take a closer look at one example of Stoic practice, my own.

Here is an abbreviated version of his list:

• Morning meditation on a classical quote.

• Daylong ethical mindfulness.

• Consciously attempt to embody Epictetus' "role ethics."

• Evening philosophical diary.

• Occasional premeditatio malorum and/or view from above meditations.

• Active studying of Stoicism, by way of reading classics and moderns, and writing about them.

• Once weekly fasting.

• Regular self-imposed discomfort.

• Endurance and physical training.

"The above may sound like a lot," he continues, "but most of the activities mentioned actually take very little time, or do not need to be carried out every day:"

And at any rate, this is just my own example of how to live like a Stoic. Different people will develop their own versions, depending on what they find most useful, as well as on their level of commitment to the philosophy.

super-power bottom

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Charles Pulliam-Moore discusses the latest events in the Midnighter and Apollo series:

At some point between rinsing plates and hanging them up to dry, the couple take advantage of the fact that they're finally alone and get down to having sex right there in the kitchen. The moment's spontaneous and intimate and reflective of the fact that Midnighter and Apollo have been on-again, off-again soulmates in various comics for nearly 20 years.

Though this isn't the first time that Midnighter and Apollo have been depicted being sexually intimate with one another, this particular scene of the two raised a number of fans' eyebrows because of the not-so-subtle implication that Midnighter, a hyper-violent, über-butch Batman analogue, is a bottom.

The event in question, as delineated by Fernando Blanco, looks like this:


Pulliam-Moore continues:

Last night, during a panel about representations of race and sexuality in comics at New York Comic Con, Midnighter & Apollo writer Steve Orlando described how a fan of the new book came up to him and said that he'd scored one for the bottoms.

Once the clapping and cheering died down a bit, Orlando insisted that sex scenes like this are an integral part of creating honest stories about queer people in pop culture. Considering the fact that we've seen characters like the Green Arrow performing cunnilingus on Black Canary, Orlando said, seeing Midnighter and Apollo getting down shouldn't really shock people.

Not in the civilized world perhaps--but the Bible Belt might be a different story.

Even in more complex, nuanced depictions of gay culture, bottom-shaming--the mockery of men who prefer to be the receptive partner during intercourse--is still fairly common. Like all forms of homophobia, bottom-shaming is tied to the idea that gayness and gay sex are feminine things and that feminine things are less-than.

In showing Midnighter as a bottom (though he could very well be versatile), Midnighter & Apollo is inviting its readers to broaden their understandings of gay men, gender, and homosexuality. Butch guys can be bottoms, feminine guys can be tops, none of that defines their masculinity.

...and comics can be sexy without featuring scantily-clad women.

new math

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Kevin Hartnett 's Wired piece on teaching the new math takes a meta view:

The main events are a pair of highly visible but often misunderstood documents -- the Common Core math standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) -- that, if implemented successfully, will boldly remake the way math and science are taught. Both efforts seek to recast instruction in the fundamental ideas and perspectives that animate the two fields.

The Common Core math standards (2010) and NGSS (2013) represent "the next big wave in K-12 science and math education in the United States:"

Teaching in this fashion can be exciting, but it will take sustained commitment for these techniques to ripple through the 100,000 or so public schools in the United States. In order for the new science and math standards to succeed, the entire education ecosystem will need to pull in that direction, from writers of standards to textbook publishers to professors in education schools to curriculum leaders running professional development sessions, to teachers swapping lesson ideas online. Just as the core concepts in math and science require repeated encounters over many years to be fully absorbed, a new practice of math and science teaching will need time to become established.

Given the enormous bad press that Common Core has received recently, I don't know how optimistic I'd be.

Trump, unshackled

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Trump is stoking a GOP civil war, notes Mother Jones:

You probably couldn't tell from the way Donald Trump bulldozes through political norms like a child stomping on a sand castle, but apparently the Republican nominee has not been free to be himself. Until now.

On Tuesday, Trump proclaimed himself free of "shackles" that had been holding him back and proceeded to lash out out at House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican establishmentarians who have been distancing themselves from his campaign.

It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016

"If Trump loses in November," the piece continues, "he seems bent on bringing the Republican Party crashing down with him."

Pass the popcorn, please...

The Intercept complains about the Democratic echo chamber and "the tactics they are now embracing:"

...include dismissing away any facts or documents that reflect negatively on their leaders as fake, and strongly insinuating that anyone who questions or opposes those leaders is a stooge or agent of the Kremlin, tasked with a subversive and dangerously un-American mission on behalf of hostile actors in Moscow.

After noting "WikiLeaks' perfect, long-standing record of only publishing authentic documents," the piece excoriates former intelligence official Malcolm Nance for claiming that "#PodestaEmails are already proving to be riddled with obvious forgeries." The commentary is blistering:

This election-year machine that has been constructed based on elite unity in support of Clinton - casually dismissing inconvenient facts as fraudulent to make it disappear, branding critics and adversaries as tools or agents of an Enemy Power bent on destroying America - is a powerful one. As is seen here, it is capable of implanting any narrative, no matter how false; demonizing any critic, no matter how baseless; and riling up people to believe they're under attack.

For a long time, liberals heralded themselves as part of the "reality-based community" and derided conservatives as faith-based victims of "epistemic closure." The dynamics seen here are anything but by-products of reason.

Gretchen Reynolds asks, which exercise is best for the brain?

For the first time, scientists compared head-to-head the neurological impacts of different types of exercise: running, weight training and high-intensity interval training. The surprising results suggest that going hard may not be the best option for long-term brain health. [...]

So for the new study, which was published this month in the Journal of Physiology, researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and other institutions gathered a large group of adult male rats. The researchers injected the rats with a substance that marks new brain cells and then set groups of them to an array of different workouts, with one group remaining sedentary to serve as controls.

Some of the animals were given running wheels in their cages, allowing them to run at will. Most jogged moderately every day for several miles, although individual mileage varied.

Others began resistance training, which for rats involves climbing a wall with tiny weights attached to their tails.

The results?

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis ["the creation of new brain cells in an already mature brain"]. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.

And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all. [...]

Dr. Nokia and her colleagues speculate that distance running stimulates the release of a particular substance in the brain known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor that is known to regulate neurogenesis. The more miles an animal runs, the more B.D.N.F. it produces.

"The mental benefits of exercise, writes Discover, "have been studied in depth, and go far beyond a clear head and a shot of endorphins:"

Running won't always drastically expand our lifespans. But the study [published in the journal Cell Reports] points to a possible mechanism to fight diseases that break down the connections in our brains, such as Alzheimer's.

The key, the researchers say, is the chemical cocktail that floods our brains after a good workout. They identified a specific protein, VGF, that was likely at play in this case. VGF is released after we exercise, and it had been found to have some antidepressant properties. Based on their findings, the researchers say that VGF also promotes the regrowth of myelin in our nervous system.

working parents

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The Center for American Progress report "Workin' 9 to 5: How School Schedules Make Life Harder for Working Parents" looks at "the unrealistic expectations that schools too often have for working parents and the ways in which school policies put pressure on already stretched families:"

By closing at 3:00 p.m., shutting down intermittently and frequently, hosting important school events in the middle of the day, and more, schools make it really hard for parents to balance their commitments to their children and their jobs.

[...] In fact, nearly half of all workers report not having any form of flexibility in their work schedules. Almost 40 percent of all workers do not even have paid vacation

The report enumerates and examines "the multitude of ways that U.S. public schools make life unnecessarily harder for working parents:"

Throughout the school year, schools are closed for 29 days, more than two workweeks longer than the average private-sector worker has in paid vacation and holidays.
As a consequence, even if full-time workers devoted all of their paid vacation time and holidays to cover school closings, they would still need to find an alternative way to care for their children on at least 13 days throughout the school year.

If families pay out of pocket for child care to cover the excess school closure days and hours, it would cost an average of $6,600 per year, or 9 percent of an average family's income. [...]

Misaligned school schedules cost the U.S. economy $55 billion in lost productivity annually.

What to do?

CAP recommends policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels to align school and work schedules. These policy solutions should extend the length of the school day, reduce the number of school closures, reform the calendar year, and rethink engagement strategies.

The idea of "a 9-to-5 school day" deserves serious consideration.

even less debatable

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Rolling Stone lists "the most WTF moments from the most WTF debate of the most WTF election in U.S. history." Here's my favorites:

Moderator Anderson Cooper: "You called what you said locker-room banter - kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women."

Trump: "I don't think you understood. This was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it. ... But this is locker-room talk. When we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have frankly drowning people in steel cages, wars and horrible, horrible sights all over, so many bad things happening. We haven't seen anything like this. The carnage all over the world. Can you imagine the people that are frankly doing so well against us with ISIS. And they look at our country and see what's going on. Yes, I'm very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it's locker-room talk and it's one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS. We're going to defeat ISIS."

Trump's "bad things/ISIS" dodge isn't quite as reflexive as Rudy Giuliana's "a noun, a verb, and 9/11" formulation, but it's close. Here's another winner:

On Trump's plans for Clinton if he becomes president

Trump: "I'll tell you what, I didn't think I'd say this, and I'm going to say it, and hate to say it: If I win, I'm going to instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there's never been so many lies, so much deception. Never been anything like it, and we're going to have a special prosecutor.

Politico calls him out in their list of Clinton's 2 errors, and Trump's 13:

And on the biggest question of the night -- how Trump would answer for leaked audio in which he described his technique for making unwanted sexual advances on women -- Trump largely got away without answering at all.


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Ephrat Livni names the "So many books, so little time" problem faced by so many bibliophiles:

It's an affliction so common that there's a word for it in Japanese, and a support group on Goodreads.

Tsundoku is the stockpiling of books never consumed. Sahoko Ichikawa, a senior lecturer in Japanese at Cornell University, explains that tsunde means "to stack things" and oku is "to leave for a while." The word originated in Japan's late 19th century Meiji Era from a play on words. Sometime around the turn of the century, the oku in tsunde oku was replaced with doku, meaning to read. But because tsunde doku rolls awkwardly off the tongue, the mashup version became tsundoku.

PolitiFact discusses Deplorable Donald's recently-unearthed remarks from 2005, where he "bragged about trying to have sex with a married woman and being able to grope women:"

Trump: " You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

Unidentified man: "Whatever you want."

Trump: "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

Trump's first non-apology ("This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.") was received so poorly that he had to issue a second one:

I've said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them.

Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.

The backlash to Trump's pro-sexual-assault comments has been a personal one in a great many instances. For one, Slate's Jennifer Conti shares a conversation with her father about it:

When I was 10 years old, a man put his hands between my legs and squeezed. You remember, you were there and tried to help catch him. I'm 33 now and I still think about this often/feel violated and scared whenever I walk alone by strange men. You may say, some men are bad people and that what Trump said was just normal guy talk and he didn't mean it, but words matter. This is the proposed leader of our country and most powerful man in the world. I beg you not to vote for a man that encourages the kind of talk or behavior that made me so scared as a little girl and that still makes me sick to my stomach today. Please.

He tried to downplay Trump's remarks by calling them "typical bravado between guys "and the outrage over them as "just more left PC crap." Her response is insightful:

I share this exchange not to put my father in a bad light, but rather to tell a story about how many Americans interpret Trump's misogyny. My father is a well-educated, loving man who would do anything for his family, except maybe look beyond what is staring us in the face as a nation: that women don't matter as much as men. [...]

It's easy to say that Trump's comments are typical male banter, but words like his encourage a society that turns its back on sexual assault and devalues women. Words like his perpetuate a culture of silence and passivity. And my conversation with my father has convinced me that even many people who have witnessed sexual assault firsthand believe so strongly in Trump's phony message of change that they will overlook his avalanche of misogyny and hate.

Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle teach in the department of philosophy and religion and the University of North Texas. They are co-authors of the forthcoming Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century Philosophy, claim that philosophy has lost its way ever since "the locating of philosophy within a modern institution (the research university) in the late 19th century:"

This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy.

Take this simple detail: Before its migration to the university, philosophy had never had a central home. Philosophers could be found anywhere -- serving as diplomats, living off pensions, grinding lenses, as well as within a university. Afterward, if they were "serious" thinkers, the expectation was that philosophers would inhabit the research university. Against the inclinations of Socrates, philosophers became experts like other disciplinary specialists. This occurred even as they taught their students the virtues of Socratic wisdom, which highlights the role of the philosopher as the non-expert, the questioner, the gadfly.

Philosophy, then, as the French thinker Bruno Latour would have it, was "purified" -- separated from society in the process of modernization.

"This was the act of purification," they write, "that gave birth to the concept of philosophy most of us know today:"

As a result, and to a degree rarely acknowledged, the institutional imperative of the university has come to drive the theoretical agenda. If philosophy was going to have a secure place in the academy, it needed its own discrete domain, its own arcane language, its own standards of success and its own specialized concerns.

"Philosophy should never have been purified," they conclude.

Jonathan Rée's look at the dream of enlightenment via Anthony Gottlieb's 2000 book The Dream of Reason, (described as "a brilliant retelling of the story of ancient Greek philosophy") and his recent work The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy ("which picks up the story with Descartes and carries it forward to the beginnings of the French Revolution") is rather pessimistic about the situation:

There was a time when every self-respecting egghead had to keep up with the latest developments in philosophy; not any more. Today's intellectuals, if they do not ignore philosophy entirely, can content themselves with reading one or two books about its past. Hundreds of histories of philosophy are available, and they are all much the same: they tell the same basic story, with the same cast of leading characters.

The Religious Right loves to foster fears of pogroms based on religious belief, worrying that differences of theological opinion will lead to oppression. It appears that they were right:

As America becomes increasingly accepting of same-sex marriage, many conservative Christians have feared that their stand on gay marriage could cost them their reputations or even their jobs. This week, it actually happened: Hundreds of workers were formally notified by their employer that they could be involuntarily terminated for their religious beliefs. But, ironically, those at risk are progressive Christians who support the consecration of gay marriages.

What's that you say? Conservative Christians are the oppressors, not the oppressed?!

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, a large ministry operating on 667 college campuses nationwide, has announced that it will begin dismissing employees who disagree with its theological stance on human sexuality...

"If an employee interprets the Bible in such a way that makes space for LGBT marriage," the article continues, "[IVCF is] asking them to leave:"

The policy imposes a doctrinal standard to which employees never consented. The decision to work for a non-profit ministry often means forfeiting a cushy job in the business world and accepting a lower level of pay in order to serve others. Untold numbers of InterVarsity's 1,300 staff members have made sacrifices to donate their best years to this ministry. Now the organization they love is moving the theological goalposts. [...]

It is not extreme to hold the conservative Christian position on marriage and sexuality. But it is extreme to think that those who don't, but are otherwise committed to your mission, should be fired. And while opposing LGBT marriage is not necessarily hateful, punishing those who support it can hardly be called loving.

shell games

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As the new report "Offshore Shell Games 2016" indicates, "Overall, multinational corporations use tax havens to avoid an estimated $100 billion in federal income taxes each year." The downside, of course, is that "when corporations don't pay what they owe, ordinary Americans inevitably must make up the difference:"

In other words, every dollar in taxes that corporations avoid must be balanced by higher taxes on individuals, cuts to public investments and services, and increased federal debt.

"Most of America's largest corporations maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens," the report observes:

At least 367 companies, or 73 percent of the Fortune 500, operate one or more subsidiaries in tax haven countries [and] these 367 companies maintain at least 10,366 tax haven subsidiaries.

For those keeping score at home, that's 28 for each corporation, but it gets worse:

A Citizens for Tax Justice analysis of 27 companies that disclose subsidiary data to both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Reserve revealed that weak SEC disclosure rules allowed these companies to omit 85 percent of their subsidiaries on average. If this rate of omission held true for the entire Fortune 500, the number of tax haven subsidiaries in reality could be nearly 55,000, rather than the 10,366 that are being publicly disclosed now.

(That would bring the average up to almost 150 tax havens per Fortune 500 firm.) Crooks and Liars notes that "Congress - for obviou$ rea$on$ - refuses to stop this 'deferral' loophole:"

And then these same companies fund "think tanks" and other propaganda mills that tell us we have a huge budget "deficit" and "debt" problem and therefore need to cut spending on things that make people's lives better.

It's almost all a sham, though:

For many companies, increasing profits held offshore does not mean building factories abroad, selling more products to foreign customers, or doing any additional real business activity in other countries. Instead, many companies use accounting tricks to disguise their profits as "foreign," and book them to a subsidiary in a tax haven to avoid taxes. [...] The 298 Fortune 500 companies that report holding offshore cash had collectively accumulated more than $2.49 trillion that they declare to be "permanently reinvested" abroad.

That's rather reminiscent of the $1.8 trillion in cash that corporations were hoarding while the rest of us dug out from the Great Recession. As far as proposing solutions, the reports offers a few:

The most comprehensive solution to ending tax haven abuse would be to stop permitting U.S. multinational corporations to indefinitely defer paying U.S. taxes on profits they attribute to their foreign subsidiaries. In other words, companies should pay taxes on their foreign income at the same rate and time that they pay them on their domestic income. Paying U.S. taxes on this overseas income would not constitute "double taxation" because the companies already subtract any foreign taxes they've paid from their U.S. tax bill, and that would not change. Ending "deferral" could raise up to $1.3 trillion over ten years, accord¬ing to the U.S. Treasury Department.

MediaMatters discusses two decades of Fox, which launched on 7 October 1996, and discusses the network's "torrent of hateful messages, misogyny, and fraudulent smears, all in the guise of journalism:"

Fox News is an enforcement arm of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

Fox News has time and time again been a malignant force, utilizing its airwaves to attack progressive activists and politicians, elevate conservative activists and officials, and slant facts and information -- sometimes completely inventing it out of whole cloth -- in service of a right-wing conservative agenda.

Whether it was providing TV platforms for Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck, broadcasting Bill O'Reilly's claim that the Iraq War would "not last more than a week," stoking fears of Christmas being "under siege;" and promulgating nonsense that a young Barack Obama "went to a madrassa" and became a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people," Fox was on the wrong side of pretty much every event of the past two decades. Their propaganda promoted the "tea party" protests, toed the GOP party line as needed, including plagiarizing a GOP press release, and bolstered Trump's BS conspiracy theory about a "rigged" election.

I can hardly wait to see what they make up next.

lies and lawyers

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Trump's lawyers wouldn't meet with him alone "because he had a 'problem' of constantly lying:"

In one document, bankruptcy attorney George Miller reveals that when meeting with Trump, "it's always been our practice to make sure that two people are present, and we don't have a problem with people lying."

Miller calls Trump "an expert at interpreting things. Let's put it that way."

"We tried to [meet in pairs] with Donald always if we could because Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory," he says in the deposition.

But wait just a minute--I though he had the world's best memory. Perhaps not:


Dave Lindorff writes that "perhaps the best way for us to fight back is to overload the spy system," by burying the NSA in garbage:

How to do this? Just copy and paste random fragments of the following list (a bit dated, but useable), provided courtesy of the publication Business Insider, and include them in every communication -- email, social media, etc. -- that you send out.

So, to help destroy the continuing and expanding effort to monitor everything we do, here's a sample of the NSA's keyword list:

Waihopai, INFOSEC, Information Security, Information Warfare, IW, IS, Priavacy, Information Terrorism, Terrorism Defensive Information, Defense Information Warfare, Offensive Information, Offensive Information Warfare, National Information Infrastructure, InfoSec, Reno, Compsec, Computer Terrorism, Firewalls, Secure Internet Connections, ISS, Passwords, DefCon V, Hackers, Encryption, Espionage, USDOJ, NSA, CIA, S/Key, SSL, FBI, Secert Service, USSS, Defcon, Military, White House, Undercover, NCCS, Mayfly, PGP, PEM, RSA, Perl-RSA, MSNBC, bet, AOL, AOL TOS, CIS, CBOT, AIMSX, STARLAN, 3B2, BITNET, COSMOS, DATTA, E911, FCIC, HTCIA, IACIS, UT/RUS, JANET, JICC, ReMOB, LEETAC, UTU, VNET, BRLO, BZ, CANSLO, CBNRC, CIDA, JAVA, Active X, Compsec 97, LLC, DERA, Mavricks, Meta-hackers, ^?, Steve Case, Tools, Telex, Military Intelligence, Scully, Flame, Infowar, Bubba, Freeh, Archives, Sundevil, jack, Investigation, ISACA, NCSA, spook words, Verisign, Secure, ASIO, Lebed, ICE, NRO, Lexis-Nexis, NSCT, SCIF, FLiR, Lacrosse, Flashbangs, HRT, DIA, USCOI, CID, BOP, FINCEN, FLETC, NIJ, ACC, AFSPC, BMDO, NAVWAN, NRL, RL, NAVWCWPNS, NSWC, USAFA, AHPCRC, ARPA, LABLINK, USACIL, USCG, NRC, ~, CDC, DOE, FMS, HPCC, NTIS, SEL, USCODE, CISE, SIRC, CIM, ISN, DJC, SGC, UNCPCJ, CFC, DREO, CDA, DRA, SHAPE, SACLANT, BECCA, DCJFTF, HALO, HAHO, FKS, 868, GCHQ, DITSA, SORT, AMEMB, NSG, HIC, EDI, SAS, SBS, UDT, GOE, DOE, GEO, Masuda, Forte, AT, GIGN, Exon Shell, CQB, CONUS, CTU, RCMP, GRU, SASR, GSG-9, 22nd SAS, GEOS, EADA, BBE, STEP, Echelon, Dictionary, MD2, MD4, MDA, MYK, 747,777, 767, MI5, 737, MI6, 757, Kh-11, Shayet-13, SADMS, Spetznaz, Recce, 707, CIO, NOCS, Halcon, Duress, RAID, Psyops, grom, D-11, SERT, VIP, ARC, S.E.T. Team, MP5k, DREC, DEVGRP, DF, DSD, FDM, GRU, LRTS, SIGDEV, NACSI, PSAC, PTT, RFI, SIGDASYS, TDM. SUKLO, SUSLO, TELINT, TEXTA. ELF, LF, MF, VHF, UHF, SHF, SASP, WANK, Colonel, domestic disruption, smuggle, 15kg, nitrate, Pretoria, M-14, enigma, Bletchley Park, Clandestine, nkvd, argus, afsatcom, CQB, NVD, Counter Terrorism Security, Rapid Reaction, Corporate Security, Police, sniper, PPS, ASIS, ASLET, TSCM, Security Consulting, High Security, Security Evaluation, Electronic Surveillance, MI-17, Counterterrorism, spies, eavesdropping, debugging, interception, COCOT, rhost, rhosts, SETA, Amherst, Broadside, Capricorn, Gamma, Gorizont, Guppy, Ionosphere, Mole, Keyhole, Kilderkin, Artichoke, Badger, Cornflower, Daisy, Egret, Iris, Hollyhock, Jasmine, Juile, Vinnell, B.D.M.,Sphinx, Stephanie, Reflection, Spoke, Talent, Trump, FX, FXR, IMF, POCSAG, Covert Video, Intiso, r00t, lock picking, Beyond Hope, csystems, passwd, 2600 Magazine, Competitor, EO, Chan, Alouette,executive, Event Security, Mace, Cap-Stun, stakeout, ninja, ASIS, ISA, EOD, Oscor, Merlin, NTT, SL-1, Rolm, TIE, Tie-fighter, PBX, SLI, NTT, MSCJ, MIT, 69, RIT, Time, MSEE, Cable & Wireless, CSE, Embassy, ETA, Porno, Fax, finks, Fax encryption, white noise, pink noise, CRA, M.P.R.I., top secret, Mossberg, 50BMG, Macintosh Security, Macintosh Internet Security, Macintosh Firewalls, Unix Security, VIP Protection, SIG, sweep, Medco, TRD, TDR, sweeping, TELINT, Audiotel, Harvard, 1080H, SWS, Asset, Satellite imagery, force, Cypherpunks, Coderpunks, TRW, remailers, replay, redheads, RX-7, explicit, FLAME, Pornstars, AVN, Playboy, Anonymous, Sex, chaining, codes, Nuclear, 20, subversives, SLIP, toad, fish, data havens, unix, c, a, b, d, the, Elvis, quiche, DES, 1*, NATIA, NATOA, sneakers, counterintelligence, industrial espionage, PI, TSCI, industrial intelligence, H.N.P., Juiliett Class Submarine, Locks, loch, Ingram Mac-10, sigvoice, ssa, E.O.D., SEMTEX, penrep, racal, OTP, OSS, Blowpipe, CCS, GSA, Kilo Class, squib, primacord, RSP, Becker, Nerd, fangs, Austin, Comirex, GPMG, Speakeasy, humint, GEODSS, SORO, M5, ANC, zone, SBI, DSS, S.A.I.C., Minox, Keyhole, SAR, Rand Corporation, Wackenhutt, EO, Wackendude, mol, Hillal, GGL, CTU, botux, Virii, CCC, Blacklisted 411, Internet Underground, XS4ALL, Retinal Fetish, Fetish, Yobie, CTP, CATO, Phon-e, Chicago Posse, l0ck, spook keywords, PLA, TDYC, W3, CUD, CdC, Weekly World News, Zen, World Domination, Dead, GRU, M72750, Salsa, 7, Blowfish, Gorelick, Glock, Ft. Meade, press-release, Indigo, wire transfer, e-cash, Bubba the Love Sponge, Digicash, zip, SWAT, Ortega, PPP, crypto-anarchy, AT&T, SGI, SUN, MCI, Blacknet, Middleman, KLM, Blackbird, plutonium, Texas, jihad, SDI, Uzi, Fort Meade, supercomputer, bullion, 3, Blackmednet, Propaganda, ABC, Satellite phones, Planet-1, cryptanalysis, nuclear, FBI, Panama, fissionable, Sears Tower, NORAD, Delta Force, SEAL, virtual, Dolch, secure shell, screws, Black-Ops, Area51, SABC, basement, data-haven, black-bag, TEMPSET, Goodwin, rebels, ID, MD5, IDEA, garbage, market, beef, Stego, unclassified, utopia, orthodox, Alica, SHA, Global, gorilla, Bob, Pseudonyms, MITM, Gray Data, VLSI, mega, Leitrim, Yakima, Sugar Grove, Cowboy, Gist, 8182, Gatt, Platform, 1911, Geraldton, UKUSA, veggie, 3848, Morwenstow, Consul, Oratory, Pine Gap, Menwith, Mantis, DSD, BVD, 1984, Flintlock, cybercash, government, hate, speedbump, illuminati, president, freedom, cocaine, $, Roswell, ESN, COS, E.T., credit card, b9, fraud, assasinate, virus, anarchy, rogue, mailbomb, 888, Chelsea, 1997, Whitewater, MOD, York, plutonium, William Gates, clone, BATF, SGDN, Nike, Atlas, Delta, TWA, Kiwi, PGP 2.6.2., PGP 5.0i, PGP 5.1, siliconpimp, Lynch, 414, Face, Pixar, IRIDF, eternity server, Skytel, Yukon, Templeton, LUK, Cohiba, Soros, Standford, niche, 51, H&K, USP, ^, sardine, bank, EUB, USP, PCS, NRO, Red Cell, Glock 26, snuffle, Patel, package, ISI, INR, INS, IRS, GRU, RUOP, GSS, NSP, SRI, Ronco, Armani, BOSS, Chobetsu, FBIS, BND, SISDE, FSB, BfV, IB, froglegs, JITEM, SADF, advise, TUSA, HoHoCon, SISMI, FIS, MSW, Spyderco, UOP, SSCI, NIMA, MOIS, SVR, SIN, advisors, SAP, OAU, PFS, Aladdin, chameleon man, Hutsul, CESID, Bess, rail gun, Peering, 17, 312, NB, CBM, CTP, Sardine, SBIRS, SGDN, ADIU, DEADBEEF, IDP, IDF, Halibut, SONANGOL, Flu, &, Loin, PGP 5.53, EG&G, AIEWS, AMW, WORM, MP5K-SD, 1071, WINGS, cdi, DynCorp, UXO, Ti, THAAD, package, chosen, PRIME, SURVIAC

In case your eyes glazed over partway through the list, he offers some analysis:

You'll note, if you read through it, that the list itself is doing the job of overburdening the NSA's staff. By including such commonly used words as flu, package, face, niche, package, credit card, fraud, basement, veggie (!), president, freedom (!), bank and Armani, they assure that there will be endless piles of communications that are completely innocuous that will have to be first read and examined for signs of terrorism. You'll note too that there are some keywords that are even misspelled, meaning that the real words will be missed, for example: assasinate, priavacy(!), Secert Service and Hillal (is that supposed to be halal or Hillel I wonder?).

It's also interesting to discover among the incriminating words that the NSA thinks might be used by potential "terrorists," peculiar words like: freedom, veggie, sardine, Standford (sic), advisors, halibut, fish, Bubba the Love Sponge (really!), Playboy, dictionary and Zen (I'm sure there's a great SNL skit in the works featuring a gang of Zen practitioners plotting their first terrorist action!).

Anyhow, have fun reading the list and selecting some of these choice keywords to sprinking into your communications. Or you could just use them as a tag line to your emails, the way some people add inspirational sayings from the likes of Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein.

It would be fun to have a little script to select a few of them at random into a custom email sig, just for giggles...

In his primer on the new consumer landscape, Aaron Fellmeth sees us entering the era of purchasing without ownership:

The days of buying software, movies, and music albums on nifty plastic discs are about over. Soon media will be obsolete. Content--streaming and on-demand delivery of entertainment and software--will reign supreme.

The rise of DRM (digital rights management) since the late 1990s has made it apparent that "consumers didn't own the software the purchased:"

They were really using it at the sufferance of the copyright owner, under terms only the copyright owner knew and could control. Some courts let them, interpreting the software license as meaning that the consumer didn't own the copy at all.

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) made the situation worse by criminalizing attempts "to circumvent DRM technologies on copyrighted materials such as software, movies, and music:"

While there's nothing objectionable in prohibiting hacking that results in copyright infringement, the law doesn't simply prohibit circumventing DRM in order to make illegal copies. It also bans circumventing DRM even to do things the copy owner is entitled by law to do. Using DRM, a copyright owner can now turn you into a criminal for exercising your legal ownership rights.

And the hits just keep on coming:

With the move to cloud computing and streaming content, the concept of "copy ownership" is now disappearing from entertainment as well. Software, motion pictures, and even music are increasingly a service provided to you.

Nevertheless, Fellmeth holds out hope for the future:

Until Congress passes a new "Digital Services Copyright Act" of some kind to defend legitimate consumer expectations, the software and entertainment industries are holding all the virtual poker cards.

This long Alan Moore interview (with Dominic Wells), focusing on his new novel Jerusalem, is worth a read. Here are some highlights:

Alan Moore and I are holed up in an Italian restaurant in Northampton to discuss the culmination of a lifetime's work, research and philosophy. "Bigger than the Bible and I hope more socially useful", is how Moore describes his sprawling magnum opus, Jerusalem, with his customarily deadpan humour. [...]

This is why, as in Alan Moore's first novel, Voice of the Fire, almost all the action in Jerusalem takes place within a small geographical area of Northampton, but ranging across different historical eras, each centring on different protagonists who end up interconnecting in surprising ways. It took Moore ten years to write - in between multiple other projects - and took me three weeks to read. It's part social history of Northampton, part thinly fictionalised history of Moore's own family, part philosophical treatise, part rip-roaring adventure in which a gang of kids maraud through the afterlife in a central section Moore describes as like "a savage, hallucinating Enid Blyton".

As if that wasn't hard enough to pull off, Moore adapts his writing style to the inner voice of whoever is the chapter's focus. One is written as a play, in the style of Waiting for Godot, and throws together the spirits of Thomas Becket, Samuel Beckett, John Clare and John Bunyan - all of whom have some connection with Northampton - as they observe and comment on a husband and wife wrestling with a terrible family secret... [...]

Another chapter, described from the point of view of James Joyce's mad daughter Lucia who was institutionalised for 30 years in a Northampton mental hospital, is written in a mangled, pun-filled gibber-English as a homage to Joyce's Finnegans Wake. It was so laborious to compose that Moore took a year's break after finishing it.

That reminds me of his celebrated story "Pog!" from Swamp Thing #32, which featured characters and dialects reminiscent of Walt Kelly's Pogo:


I read an interview (ages ago, can't recall the source) where he also commented on needing recuperation time afterward. Wells continues:

If this makes Jerusalem sound like hard going, it isn't. It's gripping, full of stylistic fireworks, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes terrifying, occasionally frustrating. Could it have been shorter? Of course. But it's the digressions and bizarre connections that make the book, the nuggets of pure gold that Moore has sifted from the silt of local history through prodigious research and banked in his near-photographic memory.

"The so-called 'Ferguson Effect' might exist," writes The Atlantic, "just not in the way some have been defining it." The real Ferguson Effect, suggests the piece, is that "citizens in black neighborhoods are losing confidence in police:"

Three sociologists who studied over 800,000 911 calls in Milwaukee concluded that following a publicized death of a black man at the hands of police calls to the emergency dispatch dropped precipitously, especially in black neighborhoods. "High-profile cases of police violence against unarmed citizens can undermine the legitimacy of legal authority," they wrote. [...]

"We estimate that the police beating of Frank Jude resulted in a net loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls reporting crime the year after Jude's story broke." Over half of the total decline came from black neighborhoods.

In answering the question Why Don't You Just Call the Cops?, the NYT also quotes researchers Matthew Desmonda. Andrew Papachristosb, and David Kirkc: "Critics of the idea of the Ferguson effect have pointed out that there is little evidence to support it. But up to this point there's been none to debunk it, either:"

Our study shows that residents of Milwaukee's neighborhoods, especially residents of black neighborhoods, were far less likely to report crime to the police after Mr. Jude's beating was reported in the press and the subsequent fallout shook the city. [...] The effect lasted for over a year and resulted in a loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls, a 17 percent reduction in citizen crime reporting, compared with the expected number of calls. It is one thing to disparage law enforcement in your thoughts and speech after an instance of police violence makes the news. It is quite another to witness a crime, or even to be victimized, and decide not to report it.

"What explains our finding," they continue, is "the fact that police violence against an unarmed black man was registered in the collective memories of black Milwaukeeans as part of a larger pattern:"

Before Frank Jude, there was Justin Fields, an unarmed black man shot in the back by a Milwaukee police officer in 2003. Before Justin Fields there was Mario Mallett, a black man who, handcuffed and shackled, died in the back of a police wagon after a struggle with officers. Before Mario Mallett there was Thomas Jackson, a mentally ill man who suffocated after police officers placed their knees in his back while he was handcuffed. Before Thomas Jackson, there was James Philips III and Nicholas Elm Sr., who died in police custody; before them, there was Tandy O'Neal, shot in the back during a police raid; before him, there was Ernest Lacy, a black man falsely accused of rape, who died after officers used excessive force while arresting him. Some of us have forgotten these names; some of us cannot.

When police kill three people a day, we can't expect it not to have an effect.

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