June 2018 Archives

Michael Simmons suggests that the way you read books says a lot about your intelligence:

If you love to read as much as I do, walking into a bookstore as an adult feels exactly like walking into a candy store as a kid.

The shelves are lined with the wisdom of humanity, insights that each author has spent years refining. It's all right there at your fingertips, condensed into a format that you can curl up with. [...] And the books pile up. On your shelves. In your bedroom. In your car. Maybe even your bathroom.

I've always thought that every room should have books in it, and Simmons agrees. He maintains that this is a good thing, as "unread books strewn across the house might actually be a sign of intelligence rather than the lack of it:"

Not only is having tons of unfinished books around a sign of smarts, it also puts you in great company. I finally let go of my own guilt when I did a deep dive into the reading habits of luminary entrepreneurs and informally surveyed my most successful friends. Most of them only read 20 to 40 percent of the books they purchase. Many of them were reading over 10 books at once.

"I spent two hours touring through two of Princeton University's six libraries," he writes:

On the one hand, it was inspiring to see everything I could learn. On the other hand, it was extremely humbling. It helped me see how little I currently know, and it helped me see that even if I spent my whole life just reading, I would still only know a fraction of knowledge out there.

Creating an anti-library by surrounding ourselves with unread books in your home can evoke a similar feeling. Bestselling author and successful investor Nassim Taleb describes the value of an anti-library brilliantly in his book, The Black Swan:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You'll accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

"Whereas book hoarders judge themselves by the number of books they own," writes Simmons, "smart readers judge themselves by what they get out of them." This is good advice, as are his reading hacks--but it doesn't necessarily speak to intelligence as much as (perhaps) an abundance of interests and a shortage of time. I'd be interested in seeing an actual study on this issue.

The phrase "you're out of your cotton-picking mind" made an interesting appearance on Fox. Here's the background from Slate:

A heated discussion on Fox News took a turn into the surreal Sunday morning when Donald Trump's former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, used a racial insult to deny that there was racism in the White House. The already heated exchange with Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who is black, reached an apex when he accused the administration and its allies of using coded racism to appeal to a certain segment of the population.

As Slate notes, "Bossie then went on to note how former CIA director Michael Hayden compared the child detention centers for migrant children to Auschwitz:"

"Yeah, that liberal Michael Hayden," Payne responded sarcastically. "You are out of your cotton-picking mind!" Bossie went on to say for some reason. Payne immediately reacted. "Cotton-picking mind?" Payne said, seemingly shocked at what he just heard. "Brother, let me tell you something. Let me tell you something, I got some relatives who picked cotton, okay?"

This incident dovetails nicely with Huckleberry's questionable tweet about Pelosi supporters and the Salvadoran MS-13 gang:

20180624-ms13.png

Sky Gilbert wonders, is queer culture losing its radical roots?

If you check out popular Canadian gay magazines such as IN Magazine, OUT Magazine and Gay Living, you may find headlines like: "Gay couple travels across Spain with pets" and "Middle-Age, Sexless Marriage: What's to be Done?" along with the latest news about RuPaul's Drag Race or the new Queer Eye series. Perusing these articles, one wouldn't think gay men had any serious problems at all.

"Depression, suicide and epidemic drug use?" Gilbert wonders. "How can this be? Aren't gay men happy hedonists and rich as hell to boot?"

If the plight of gay men is so dire, why are gay magazines obsessed with pets who travel -- and RuPaul? Why is the message of this year's Pride that gay men are just the same as anyone else -- including, tragically, the victims of serial killers?

Why are gay men dedicated to perpetrating a false image of themselves as not being victims of oppression?

I believe gay men are presently passing through a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in which the captured begin to identify with their captors to such an extent that they wish to become them. In this case, it is the oppressed identifying with their oppressors.

Gilbert wants to remind us that "we all know that racism and homophobia are systemic issues woven throughout our daily lives." He also mentions the renowned Harry Hay (who founded The Mattachine Society in 1950). "I had the privilege of meeting Harry Hay once," he writes, "in a Provincetown restaurant in the '90s. I'll never forget it:"

Harry Hay knew that it was only by the admission of difficult truths that we can ever find the path to true liberation.

Is Trump a liar? Maybe not--and that's even scarier, writes Andrew O'Hehir. He wonders, "how are we to categorize Trump as an unquenchable fount of untruth, who by the Washington Post's count passed 3,000 "false or misleading statements" as president more than a month ago?"

Is he a liar, a bullshitter, a gaslighter, a prevaricator, an ignoramus or a delusional sociopath whose relationship to the world of observable reality and established fact is at best "transactional"? I see two viable answers to this question:

1. It's the wrong question.

2. Yes.

"The second answer is correct," writes O'Hehir, "because Trump uses all those tactics and more, sometimes in ways that seem calculated and sometimes on what looks like pure instinct." He also observes that "Trump has displayed little or no concern for the truth," for example in the 1989 Central Park Five case. "Trump didn't care whether those five young black and Latino men were guilty or innocent," he continues:

The facts of the case were beside the point; their lives were beside the point. (Black lives quite literally did not matter.) Those men were no more than sinister extras in a psychodrama fueled by pure emotion -- fear, rage, bitterness, confusion -- in which questions of law or fact were irrelevant.

For many white New Yorkers and white Americans of Trump's generation, the Central Park rape case seemed to symbolize a moment of societal collapse, and to epitomize a racial, generational and existential threat. Their city, and their country, were being taken from them by roving bands of dark-skinned criminals: It's precisely the anarchic, hellish social vision Trump repeatedly laid out during his presidential campaign and during his "American carnage" inaugural address.

Crime has dropped steadily in the three decades since then, but Trump still suffers from an "obsession with gruesome, violent crimes -- with rape in particular -- and his nightmarish fantasies about hordes of animalistic invaders bent on destroying America:"

I suspect that was also the moment when Trump clearly understood that he possessed a certain dark gift: He could tap into a deep current of popular rage and discord -- at least in a certain proportion of the population -- and channel it for his own purposes. The vicious attack on Trisha Meili, and the victimization of five young men who didn't do it, began the process that made Donald Trump president. Along the way, of course, he also orchestrated the cynical hunt for Barack Obama's birth certificate, endearing himself to the paranoid right. Correctly understood, I think that's a later chapter in the same narrative.

That history also provides an invaluable key that helps unlock the nature, meaning and purpose of Trump's ceaseless torrent of lies, which brings us back around to my original question about whether or not to call them lies. And to my first answer: It isn't an interesting or useful question.

Thus comes the situation we face in the post-truth era:

His followers either believe that everything Trump says is true and everything the media says is fake news, or understand that he's a blowhard and bullshitter who gets the libtards' undies in a bundle and love him for it. In either case, standing there with a ledger counting up all the things he says that are false or misleading or simply not nice is playing an assigned role of schoolmarm in a drama Trump is directing.

Lori Robertson at FactCheck examines the accusation that the Obama administration separated families just as Trump's is doing. The truth is a bit different:

In defending its "zero tolerance" border policy that has caused the separation of families, the Trump administration has argued that the Obama and Bush administrations did this too. That's misleading. Experts say there were some separations under previous administrations, but no blanket policy to prosecute parents and, therefore, separate them from their children.

Under a "zero tolerance policy" on illegal immigration announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early April, the administration is now referring all illegal border crossings for criminal prosecution. By doing that, parents have been separated from their children, because children can't be held in detention facilities for adults.

DHS told us that 2,342 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9.

But DHS couldn't provide any statistics on how many children may have been separated from their parents under the Obama administration. [...] [Sarah Pierce, policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute] said that the likely reason data aren't available on child separations under previous administrations is because it was done in "really limited circumstances" such as suspicion of trafficking or other fraud.

Salon's Jamelle Bouie disputes the reason for Trump's EO:

Trump wants credit for ending the crisis he created, calling an executive order he signed on Wednesday "very compassionate." But the order neither ends the crisis nor produces a more humane status quo. It's a public relations stunt, meant to dampen criticism without changing the fundamentals of the policy. "Zero tolerance" is still in effect, and Trump's manufactured crisis may well get worse.

The executive order, titled "Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation," does three things. It continues the zero tolerance policy of prosecution for illegal entry, but directs the Department of Homeland Security to keep families together in custody, instead of separating parents and placing them with the Department of Justice. Families will remain in DHS custody for the duration of their criminal and immigration cases, which may mean months of waiting in detention facilities.

As it stands, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is running out of space for the adults it already has in custody. To accommodate new detainees, the president has allowed other departments, including the military, to provide additional space. Thousands of children will move into facilities without the staff or equipment to handle them or their needs.

"Either way," Bouie continues, "the situation for migrant parents and children looks bleak:"

Yes, they'll be kept together, but in conditions that weren't designed for mass detention of families. And the haphazard nature of the policy only raises the real possibility of abuse and neglect, seen already in the facilities used for child detention.

The NYT's Charlie Savage explains Trump's Executive Order, and also answers a few questions:

What does the Flores case have to do with this?

The long-running class-action litigation over the treatment of children in immigration custody ended with a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores settlement. Under it, the government has been obligated to release children from immigration detention to relatives or, if none can be found, to a licensed program within about three to five days. If that is impossible, they must be held in the "least restrictive" setting appropriate to their age and needs.

Was an executive order necessary?

No. Mr. Trump likes the flourish of signing executive orders in front of cameras, but most of his have amounted to asking his administration to conduct reviews and come up with proposed solutions to problems, or they have consisted of directives that he could have instead made with a phone call. This is one of those orders.

AlterNet's Cody Fenwick lists "five major problems that still remain after the order was signed:"

1. Children will still be detained, and it's not clear where.

While Trump and his supporters argue that the people in question are illegal immigrants, it's important to remember that they have not actually been convicted of any crime -- and the crime in question is a misdemeanor with no discernible victim. When Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was jailed ahead of his trial for allegedly tampering with witnesses, Trump said he was being treated like he was a member of the "mob."

If indeed pre-trial detention is a cruel punishment, we shouldn't require it for vulnerable children and families.

2. Already separated children will not be returned to their parents.

3. Some children may already be lost in the system.

4. Many children may still be separated from their parents

5. The whole thing may be struck down.

The real solution would be for the administration to back off its "zero-tolerance policy" -- which is literally a policy of intolerance. The extreme measures taken at the border are unnecessary, and the administration itself spent over a year working under a very different policy. There's no good reason for it to continue these devastating practices.

Once again, Trump created this mess--and his Executive Order doesn't solve it.

No, I don't want your rainbow t-shirt, writes Daniel Berezowsky at The Advocate. "Don't get me wrong," he says, "I am all about Pride. But I also know that when it comes to corporate allyship, many businesses are simply getting it wrong, and for several reasons:"

Most of these rainbow-hued products are probably created by straight cisgender publicists who typed LGBT into their stock image library. Yes, the rainbow flag is iconic to the LGBT community, but if the people behind these tchotchkes had invested the time and resources they do in other products, they would have realized that the vast majority of us do not want yet another rainbow shirt, pin, or mug. They would also know that there is more than one flag that represents the different groups within the LGBTQIA acronym. Businesses need to be more creative in appealing to a community that prides itself in looking for forms of expression that are rare and unconventional. The first step to achieve that would certainly be to bring queer people to the table.

Second, it is a matter of congruency. If you are going to call yourself a "diverse" business, you better put your house in order first. That means you don't get to put out a marketing campaign using us to draw business in without having a nondiscrimination policy in place and ensuring that your queer employees have the proper work culture, protection from harassment, and family medical needs covered.

"There are two useful resources for businesses wishing to do the right thing," he writes:

The first is the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, a tool that assesses how equitably businesses treat their LGBT employees, consumers, and investors. The second resource is the set of Standards of Conduct for Business on Tackling Discrimination against LGBTI people, published by the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights last year. It delineates five pillars that are easy to understand, embrace, and implement.

Doing the right thing is tougher than doling out rainbow merchandise, after all.

standards

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Trump's damning doublespeak on collusion is noted by Slate's William Saletan:

President Trump and his attorneys used to demand a high standard for proving collusion. Words alone, they argued, weren't enough. Trump and his aides might have met secretly with Russians, solicited campaign help, received campaign help, and done favors for Russia. But without proof that all these words and deeds were connected, they insisted, there was no basis for investigation.

We can now junk that argument, because Trump and his lawyers have shown they don't believe it. They believe that corrupt words are sufficient to investigate, terminate, and jail a public official. That's the standard they're applying to FBI employees involved in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation.

"And if it's the right standard for other executive branch employees," Saletan reminds us, "it's the right standard for the president." Trump's supporters agree on the words-alone standard:

In an exchange on Fox and Friends, Brian Kilmeade pointed out that "we just have words" from Strzok and Page. Kilmeade asked Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani: "Are words enough?" Giuliani replied: "Absolutely. I mean, words are the making of a conspiracy." In an interview with Sean Hannity, Giuliani concluded that based on the IG's findings, special counsel Robert Mueller "should be suspended," and "Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week."

You can argue that this standard for dismissing public employees, and certainly for jailing them, is too harsh. But let's indulge the president and others who advocate this standard, by applying it to them. [...] If conspiratorial words warrant imprisonment, or at least removal from office, what are we to make of the messages exchanged during the 2016 election between Trump, his son, his aides, and his Russian benefactors?

"In June 2016," Saletan reminds us, "Trump Jr. received an email from Rob Goldstone, an intermediary for a Russian oligarch:"

Six days later, Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner met in Trump Tower with a Russian agent who was supposed to deliver the dirt. "So I believe you have some information for us," Trump Jr. told her.

She didn't provide the dirt. But five days after the meeting, the Washington Post reported that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee. The Trump campaign dismissed the report and said the DNC had faked the hack. Several weeks later, Trump aides intervened to block Republican platform language that challenged Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On July 22, WikiLeaks began to publish emails from the DNC hack. Five days after that, at a press conference, Trump said of Clinton's emails: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

Saletan then addresses Rudy Giuliani:

Your client, his family, and his henchmen are up to their eyeballs in suspicious conversations that seem highly related to what he's done for Russia and what Russia has done for him. By your standards, they should be in jail.

As if Giuliani actually has any standards...

I should have written about this Paris Review piece on Joyce yesterday, but I didn't see it in time. In it, Frankie Thomas describes a 2015 Ulysses seminar at City College:

"Are we all Joyceans here, then?" the young professor asked, poking his head into the classroom doorway. [..] "Why read Ulysses?" he began. "Well, not a lot of people have read it, even among those who study literature for a living. It's quite long and extremely difficult. To have read Ulysses imparts a certain cachet. It will open doors for you."

"Our professor had not been kidding about the length and the difficulty," writes Thomas:

...it took hours to read a single episode, and we had to read an entire episode in advance of every class, which essentially meant that we were reading Ulysses every moment of our lives that we weren't in class discussing it. We couldn't skim it or CliffsNotes it because our professor opened each class with a fiendishly tricky little quiz that you could pass only if you'd done your own close reading. What does Bloom read on the toilet? (A newspaper called Titbits, and he wipes his ass with it too.) What does Bloom order for lunch? (A gorgonzola-and-mustard sandwich and a glass of burgundy because he wants something vegetarian and the culinary landscape of Dublin in 1904 is bleak beyond belief.) What does Bloom do during the final lines of "Sirens"? (He farts.) Never knowing what would appear on the next quiz, we studied the text with a maniacal attention to crammable detail: Number 7 Eccles Street. Storm petrels. Banbury cakes. Garryowen the dog. Bella the whoremistress. Metempsychosis. Pflaap. Sometimes, as a surprise, our professor would divide us into teams and host a game of Ulysses Jeopardy, with a Toblerone bar as the prize for the winning team, and we all hurled ourselves over our desks screaming, "Where is Dlugacz! Who is Mina Purefoy! What is a sexologist!" in mad pursuit of chocolate and professorial approval.

It all seems to have been worthwhile:

Every evening, after class, I speed walked downhill toward the 137th Street 1 train, wired and vibrating with a distinct kind of joy that I'd never felt before and have never felt since. It was the joy of knowing--knowing with bone-deep certainty--that everything I'd ever heard about college was a lie, that the Ivy League was a scam, that nothing at Harvard could ever hold a candle to what was happening here in the Ulysses seminar at the crumbling City College of New York.

On the final day of class, our professor took us out to a local pizza restaurant and awarded each of us a Ulysses completion certificate. "Congratulations!" it read. "You have hereby completed a thorough and noteworthy reading of Ulysses by James Joyce. This certificate entitles you to bragging rights as well as the ability to lead discussions, stimulating or otherwise, on this great novel." We hugged; some of us cried. And then, just like that, it was all over. We had read Ulysses. For the rest of our lives, we would be people who had read Ulysses.

He concludes with the observation that "every year on Bloomsday, we remember with pride that we're all Joyceans here." Thomas has a paper forthcoming from the James Joyce Quarterly--a publication that I now feel I must investigate, despite not being a Joycean myself.

screen time

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Stephen Johnson discusses Apple's ScreenTime app in iOS 12, which "shows you how much time you spend on your phone and lets you limit the amount of time you spend on apps:"

The feature is intended to "customers reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their families," Apple wrote in a statement.

"Phone addiction has been a growing concern in the U.S.," he reminds us:

Over the past few years, multiple studies have demonstrated links between phone addiction and increased rates of anxiety and depression. According to a 2017 study from Deloitte, 47 percent of smartphone users have at one point attempted to cut back on phone use. The same amount of Americans say they couldn't live without their smartphones.

The health hazards of smartphone addiction aren't lost on big tech companies, as evidenced by the upcoming features from Google and Apple that are literally designed to encourage customers to use their own products less.

But whether those functions will help and whether users will be inclined to self-regulate remain open questions for now.

In discussing rainbow capitalism, Luke Gardner writes that "studies show that the rise in acceptance of queer identities and the mainstreaming of elements of queer culture have created a huge market, a spring of wealth waiting to be sucked dry by whatever means necessary:"

Pride, like every other U.S. holiday, has become an opportunity for businesses to make money. Perhaps because it feels good to be represented by big business, consumers seem to forget that buying Pride-themed products from major corporations does nothing of substance for the LGBTQ community.

"Pride festivals across the globe have become sponsored by big business," Gardner reminds us, "a branding technique that creates an image of inclusiveness for said businesses but does nothing to address issues facing vulnerable members of society..." but consumers shouldn't be afraid to ask difficult questions:

  • "Where does the money go? Are the businesses profiting off of Pride-themed goods donating any proceeds to LGBTQ causes?"
  • "Does the company in question pay employees a living wage? Are they open with sharing workplace conditions, and do they hire underpaid, outsourced labor?"
  • "Is the CEO of said company actively homophobic or transphobic, or do they donate to any organizations or politicians who are?"

Gardner continues:

LGBTQ people still face legal discrimination, hate crimes, homelessness, lack of access to health care and education, poverty and mental illness, and these issues are consistently ignored at Pride festivals.

Pride is a place to address these issues and express solidarity with the individuals in our community who face them. Pride is a place for queer people and allies, not giant corporate entities with questionable intentions.

"As Pride becomes popular," he concludes, "queer people must become more responsible with who we let in our space:"

We must use our platform (and our dollars) to lift up the most vulnerable members of our community, not stock prices. We must not be afraid to reject rainbow capitalism.

good times

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This eight-year-old drummer playing Led Zeppelin is the best thing I've seen for a while:

Hank Shteamer comments on her efforts at Rolling Stone:

The Internet is teeming with cover videos, many of them by kids like Soma. But there's something special about this one, which was originally a submission to the Hit Like a Girl drumming contest. It's not just the accuracy of the performance; it's her loping, laid-back approach, which is not only Bonham's greatest contribution to rock percussion - it's the hardest part of his style to imitate.

And then there's the glee. Watching Soma whip around the kit during the chorus, you can feel the joy and abandon pouring out of her. This goes beyond "cute kid playing drums" and touches on something surprisingly transcendent.


A previously-unreleased John Coltrane album is due to drop on 29 June, reports Giovanni Russonello at the NYT:

On Friday, Impulse! will announce the June 29 release of "Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album," a full set of material recorded by the quartet on a single day in March 1963, then eventually stashed away and lost. The family of Coltrane's first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, recently discovered his personal copy of the recordings, which she had saved, and brought it to the label's attention. [...]

Impulse! is releasing the album as a single disc, featuring one rendition each of the seven tunes the band cut that day. (Ravi Coltrane and the record executive Ken Druker chose the order.) But for those who buy the deluxe edition, with seven alternate takes from the same session on a separate disc, the biggest score will be the four renditions of "Impressions."

As Fact Magazine reports:

The standard version of the album features seven out of the session's 14 takes, while a deluxe edition includes all of the tracks. Both versions will be available on CD and vinyl formats, with the deluxe edition landing on deluxe streaming platforms as well.

Here's the Deluxe Edition track list:

CD1
01. 'Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)'
02. 'Nature Boy'
03. 'Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1)'
04. 'Vilia (Take 3)'
05. 'Impressions (Take 3)'
06. 'Slow Blues'
07. 'One Up, One Down (Take 1)'

CD2
01. 'Vilia (Take 5)'
02. 'Impressions (Take 1)'
03. 'Impressions (Take 2)'
04. 'Impressions (Take 4)'
05. 'Untitled Original 11386'
06. 'Untitled Original 11386'
07. 'One Up, One Down (Take 6)'

Pitchfork quotes Sonny Rollins as saying, "This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid."

At Mother Jones, David Corn reminds us how "Trump pushes out a simple (and dishonest) narrative via tweets and public remarks:"

The Russia investigation is a...well, you know, a witch hunt. Or a hoax. Or fake news. He blasts out the same exclamations daily: Witch hunt, hoax! Hoax, witch hunt! That's his mantra.

"The other side--the accurate perspective--isn't that complicated," he continues:

In 2016, Vladimir Putin's regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin's office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.

"Along with his shouts of 'witch hunt,'" however, "Trump also incessantly declares, 'No collusion:'"

This simplistic piece of shorthand aims at a straw man. Trump seems to be setting a bar that favors him: Unless evidence emerges that he personally met with Russian hackers, told them which Democratic Party emails to steal, and then provided guidance on how to release the material, then nothing wrong occurred. But the public record is already replete with serious wrongdoing committed by Trump and his aides. For example, after being secretly briefed in mid-August 2016 by the US intelligence community that Moscow was behind the hack-and-leak attack on the Democrats, Trump publicly claimed there was no reason to suspect the Russians.

"With his 'no collusion' chant," Corn continues, "Trump is like an embezzler who yells, 'There was no murder'--and asserts that is the only relevant benchmark:"

Think of what Trump did during the campaign in this fashion: A fellow is standing on a sidewalk in front of a bank. He is told the bank is being robbed. He can see armed men wearing masks in the bank. Yet when people pass by and ask what is happening in the bank, he says, "There is no robbery. Nothing to see. Move along." Even if this person did not collude with the robbers, he is helping the gang perpetrate a crime. And in Trump's case, the criminal act was committed for his gain.

Much of the media framing of the Russia scandal has followed Trump's lead and adopted his collusion-centric perspective.

"In this ongoing fight," sadly, "it is Trump and his bumper stickers versus a media presenting a wide variety of disparate disclosures that come and go quickly in a hyperchaotic information ecosystem, often absent full context:"

No wonder then that a recent poll found that 59 percent of Americans said Mueller has uncovered no crimes. In fact, he has secured 17 criminal indictments and obtained five guilty pleas. Accurate news reporting alone does not always carry the day.

"The Russia scandal is the most important scandal in the history of the United States," Corn concludes, because "at the heart of the Russia scandal is the most fundamental issue for a democracy: the sanctity of elections:"

An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic--and it succeeded. Trump and his minions helped and encouraged this attack by engaging in secret contacts with Moscow and publicly insisting no such assault was happening. This is far bigger than a bribe, a break-in, or a blow job [but] Yet the full impact of this scandal does not resonate in the daily coverage and discourse.

https://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-biggest-scandal-of-all-time.html Digby concurs:

The bottom line is that an incompetent, unfit, corrupt president was elected with the help of an adversarial foreign power. Of course that's the worst scandal in American history. And he may get away with it.

Steve Contorno discusses FL background check failures in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times:

For more than a year, the state of Florida failed to review national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits, potentially allowing drug addicts or people with a mental illness to carry firearms in public.

A previously unreported Office of Inspector General investigation found that in February 2016 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using the results from an FBI crime database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that ensures applicants who want to carry a gun do not have a disqualifying history in other states.

The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system, the investigator learned. The problem went unresolved until discovered by another worker in March 2017 -- meaning that for more than a year applications got approved without the required background check.

As if that weren't bad enough, "Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has made it a priority to speed up the issuing of concealed weapons permits since he was elected in 2010:"

In 2012, he held a news conference to celebrate the state's one millionth concealed weapons permit, noting the time it took to process an application fell from 12 weeks to 35 days on his watch. There are now 1.8 million concealed weapon permit holders in Florida. [...] Now running for Florida governor as a Republican, Putnam's campaign touts his expansion of concealed carry permits as one of his top accomplishments.

"Hours after the Times story published," the article continues, "Putnam's office said upon learning of the lapse in 2017, it 'immediately' reviewed 365 applications and revoked 291 concealed weapons permits." That's an 80% revocation rate! TPM quotes Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine as saying:

"Career politicians like Mr. Putnam think this is just another bad day at the office -- but when you conceal a level of negligence that endangers every resident, and every child, in Florida, you forfeit any moral right to lead."

Politico remarked that "This is the second high-profile background check issue Florida officials have encountered recently:"

At one point, nearly 20 percent of mental health records were entered late into a background check database, a long-running problem that state law enforcement officials acknowledged could have led to someone with a known mental illness buying a gun.

"The risk of late reporting of mental health records is that an individual who is prohibited from purchasing or possession [of] a firearm may be approved at the time of the background check if the disqualifying mental health record is not available," according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

A lot more should get revoked than just a few hundred concealed-carry permits.

It's not just Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain--the CDC has seen large increase in suicides since 1999, when it identified suicide as a public health crisis. Nevada is the only state whose suicide rate hasn't increased since then:

Even though suicide is almost always an individual act, the researchers seem to have difficulty seeing the increase not simply as (at least in part) due to financial stress, but in large measure to the way society has been restructured under neoliberalism, with most people having smaller and shallower personal networks, job tenures being shorter, community organizations being hollowed out, and social safety needs shredding. And as we've written virtually from the inception of this website, highly unequal societies are unhappy and unhealthy. If you lose your position on the social/economic ladder, the fall is sharp. Even people at the top recognize how a big loss could upend how they live.

"The CDC stresses more access to mental health treatment," the piece continues, "and while that would help in many cases, it strikes me as addressing only the most extreme symptoms of increased alienation and desperation." The Intercept's John Thomason calls out the firearms connection:

While the CDC report notes that guns are the most common method for these suicides -- accounting for about half of all cases -- it fails to underscore the extent to which these alarming rates may be attributable to the country's utter saturation with civilian firearms.

"Cut it however you want," the Harvard School of Public Health's Deborah Azrael put it in 2013, but "In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide:"

The reason for this is relatively simple: Unlike other common methods of suicide, firing a gun is an immediate, irreversible, and reliably lethal act. And because suicide is, more often than not, impulsive -- and the time between ideation and action is short -- firearm access is uniquely deadly if someone thinks to kill themselves at all. Gun suicide attempts end in death about 85 percent of the time, compared to less than 5 percent for intentional drug overdoses.

Because of this, the presence of guns in over a third of U.S. households greatly enhances the aggregate risk of suicide deaths. Variation in suicide rates within the U.S. supports this conclusion. A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared states with the lowest household gun ownership rates (15 percent) to those with the highest (47 percent). While non-firearm suicides were basically equivalent in both groups, firearm suicides were about four times more prevalent in the latter. The more firearm-saturated population experienced about twice as many suicide deaths overall.

"The new CDC study itself," mentions Azrael, "found that 54 percent of suicide victims in 2015 had no known mental health conditions:"

And suicidal ideation can arise from a plethora of quotidian experiences that aren't commonly documented or recognized as actionable mental health issues: financial distress, relationship crises, substance abuse, and so on. In these situations, individualized interventions and safer storage methods simply cannot substitute for not having a gun nearby in the first place.

Because it relies on Congress for funding, the CDC may have good reason not to emphasize the unique role of firearms in U.S. suicide rates. In 1993, the agency supported a study that found that people with guns at home faced a risk of suicide five times greater than those without. Three years later, Congress passed what's known as the Dickey Amendment, which effectively prevented the CDC from funding targeted research into gun violence.

The CDC study bluntly reminds us that "Suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30% since 1999:"

From 1999 to 2015, suicide rates increased among both sexes, all racial/ethnic groups, and all urbanization levels. Suicide rates have also increased among persons in all age groups <75 years, with adults aged 45-64 having the largest absolute rate increase (from 13.2 per 100,000 persons [1999] to 19.2 per 100,000 [2016]) and the greatest number of suicides (232,108) during the same period. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are increasing. In addition, rates of emergency department visits for nonfatal self-harm, a main risk factor for suicide, increased 42% from 2001 to 2016. Together, suicides and self-harm injuries cost the nation approximately $70 billion per year in direct medical and work loss costs. [...]

Whereas firearms were the most common method of suicide overall (48.5%), decedents without known mental health conditions were more likely to die by firearm (55.3%) and less likely to die by hanging/strangulation/suffocation (26.9%) or poisoning (10.4%) than were those with known mental health conditions (40.6%, 31.3%, and 19.8%, respectively).

We ignore the threat of firearm proliferation at our peril.

Nikki VanRy delivers some NEA news on poetry readership:

If you've been in the poetry world at all recently, you know that we've been seeing a renaissance of sorts when it comes to poetry. Poetry is exciting right now, ya'll. Even though readers have likely felt these tidal shifts, new poetry research from the National Endowment For The Arts has actual numbers that show what we felt is true: poetry reading is up, across the board.

"As the https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/PoetryFormatted.xlsx NEA reports," she tells us:

"Nearly 12 percent (11.7 percent) of adults read poetry in the last year, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts' 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). That's 28 million adults. As a share of the total U.S. adult population, this poetry readership is the highest on record over a 15-year period of conducting the SPPA, a research partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau."

These rates are also improving in some key demographic sub-groups:

• For 18-24 year olds, poetry reading has doubled (at 17.5% in 2017, up from 8.2% in 2012) • Adults 25-34 years old are reading at rates of 12.3% in 2017, versus 6.7% in 2012 • Notable gains were seen in women readers (up to 14.5% from 8.0% in 2012), African Americans (15.3% from 6.9% in 2012), Asian Americans (12.6%, up from 4.8%), and other non-white, non-Hispanic groups (13.5%, up from 4.7%)

Education is also an important factor:

• Adults with only some college education showed sharp increases in their poetry-reading rates. Of those who attended but did not graduate from college, 13.0 percent read poetry in 2017, up from 6.6 percent in 2012. College graduates (15.2 percent, up from 8.7 percent) and adults with graduate or professional degrees (19.7 percent, up from 12.5 percent) also saw sizeable increases.

Boston Review's injunction "don't let them eat cake" by Lawrence Glickman calls the SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop decision "a terrible trend of valuing businesses more than employees and customers:"

The New York Times called the decision--which favored Phillips's right to refuse service for religious reasons--"narrow" because it did not rule on the broader issue of discrimination against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment. However, in terms of the relationship between capital and labor, the decision was anything but narrow. The Court's majority opinion, written by Kennedy, is remarkable for its uncanny and unproblematic conflation of Phillips, the baker, and his business, the bakery. By insisting that the key issues in the case are Phillips's artistic expression and his religious liberty, the Court was silent on the question of how a company can possess these rights. It did so by assuming not only that corporations are people, but that the cakes made by Masterpiece Cakeshop are produced by Phillips alone, when in fact we know that the bakery has other workers.

Pay attention to the pronouns in Clarence Thomas' statement that "He is not open on Sunday, he pays his employees a higher-than-average wage, and he loans them money in times of need."

Presumably, Thomas meant to suggest that Phillips did not open his business on Sunday. But Thomas literally wrote instead that Phillips himself "is not open on Sunday." Since it is impossible for a person to close or be open on Sunday or any other day of the week, Thomas here marked the extent to which the Court identified Phillips with the bakery.

Glickman notes that "the language of Phillips himself, who in a 2014 video for the New York Times alternated between using 'we' and 'I' to describe the work of the bakery.) By extension, this means that the religious views and artistic contribution of the company's workers are irrelevant:"

Phillips's employees are merely props in Thomas's morality tale--figures who receive the boss's Christian charity but are otherwise unmentioned and invisible. The decision renders their status as workers for Phillips's limited-liability company morally and legally immaterial. [...]

In the same stroke that the Court effaced Phillips's workers, it also stinted consumers. Writing for the Court, Kennedy viewed "the customer's right to goods and services," not as the essence of U.S. free enterprise, but as a potential threat to Phillip's right to "personal expression." From the perspective of the Court, the rights of producers not only trump those of consumers, but should be understood, not as corporate prerogatives, but as reflections of the artistic and religious temperament of one person--what the Court called "the deeply held beliefs" of the business owner. Of course, this is not new to the Roberts court: this way of treating businesses as though they were individuals capable of possessing deeply-held beliefs has already been enshrined by previous Court rulings, notably 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and, after a different fashion, 2010's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

"The Masterpiece Bakeshop is a small business," Glickman points out, "but it is also a limited-liability company, a distinct entity, legally separate from its owners:"

Yet the Court's decision, with its focus on Phillips, treats the cakes made by the bakery as though each one personifies Phillips's Christian values. Leaving aside fundamental issues of gay rights and freedom of expression in order to build a strong majority, the justices collaterally ratified a radical view of corporate personhood. They did so by leaning on language consistent with the broader conservative view of the business firm, small or large, as a victimized person, deserving of individual rights and protections that no longer are granted to actual workers. Viewing the desires of consumers not as the engine of the economy, but as a potential constraint upon the autonomy and selfhood of the business owner, the Court drew upon a conservative history of defining free enterprise as freedom for sellers and manufacturers rather than liberty for customers.

Baratunde Thurston's Medium piece what Google and Facebook know about you explains "How to do a data detox, in a zillion easy steps:"

I focused on the platforms I use most--Google and Facebook--as well as my my favorite note-taking app, Evernote. Like many people who have taken a sudden interest in their digital privacy, I was startled by what I learned. [...]

I'm someone who's been online since the mid-1990s. I've worked in the digital media and advertising businesses. I understand that our data is being collected to make products more useful to us and to make us more useful to advertisers. But seeing the surveillance economy all in one place made that truth more stark--and more unsettling.

"I finished my Google-data detox with a mixture of satisfaction and wariness," he writes, but "Google was entry-level detox. When I moved on to Facebook, I pretty much lost it:"

I was briefly amused by the discrepancies between the real me and the picture painted by Facebook, but it also prompted a question: How accurate do I want my data portrait to be if it is being used primarily to encourage me to part with my time, attention, and money? I toyed with the idea of whether or not, in the interest of my own privacy, I ought to obscure the real me with misleading signals.

What if I started liking Facebook pages about guns and engaging with content about white nationalism (or, worse, electronic dance music)? Of course, if I did that, I would also hinder the platform's ability to provide value by knowing as much as it does about me.

Thurston offers some interesting questions:

Did I want to spend my time and energy making Facebook less efficient and more chaotic for myself? Is that what it would take to be truly free--to inconvenience myself by pretending to be someone else?

"A New Tech Manifesto," also by Thurston, is subtitled "Six demands, from a citizen to Big Tech:"

Here is my first draft proposal for restoring some balance and trust between the tech companies that are shaping the future and we the people.

1. Offer Real Transparency Around Data Collection and Usage

2. Change Data Defaults from Open to Closed

3. Respect Our Right to Our Own Data

4. Diversify Who's At the Table

The power of technology to shape the future of literally everything means that the people in the drivers' seats--the entrepreneurs, engineers, and investors--wield incredible power. But being a good software engineer does not qualify you to engineer society, politics, economics, and beyond. Not alone.

Technology is created by people, and people have blind spots and biases. That's why tech companies need more diversity at the table -- people who think differently about ethics, privacy, and tech's ability to facilitate abuse.

5. Implement New Laws and New Rules

6. Enable Users to Collect and Analyze Our Own Data

Imagine if we used our collective data to help us be better neighbors, partners, artists, citizens, and humans, rather than just better products to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Imagine, too, if we could hold technology companies accountable by demanding that they share power more equitably with the people who use and enable their products and services.

Imagine it. Now let's go build it.

Thurston gives us plenty to think about...

Ataraxik answers the question What is Marxism? this way:

In a nutshell, Marxism can be summarized with one sentence: it's the theory that economics is the driving force - or the primary agent - of historical change, and that through class struggle between the working class (wage-laborers) and the bourgeoisie (the people who own the business, property, etc), we'll eventually come to a classless society.

"However," the explanation continues, "there are more tenets of the philosophy," and identifies the following as "The two most important foundations of a Marxian theory:"

Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is an attempt to understand history through the focus on society's development over time.

In other words, the material conditions of a society, ie how wealth is created, distributed, and who is in possession of it, determines how the society organizes itself including all social relations. [...]

Dialectical and Historical Materialism

Regarding dialectical materialism, for Marx and Engels, the material world is something which exists, independently of our perception of it. Ideas can rise only as reflections or products of the material world.

Historical materialism is an extension of dialectical materialism.

How lazy must one be to just scream "totalitarianism!" at every mention of Marx while and ignoring everything that he ever wrote?

In preparing for an upcoming mini-lecture on the subject of "Quality," I found a few sources related to Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (from his novels Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila). First is this Philosophy Now piece:

In my PhD I closely analysed his Metaphysics of Quality, and concluded that although traditional philosophical concepts such as causation and truth are given unconventional meanings in Pirsig's writing, there is an advantage in using his system because it has an internal coherence lacking in metaphysical systems based on Plato's example. I had the good fortune to discuss these ideas extensively with Robert Pirsig himself, and have used extracts from some of his letters to clarify various points in what follows.

I also stumbled onto this Guardian interview from 2006, in which Tim Adams referred to ZAMM as "the best-selling philosophy book ever"--with sales of more than five million copies [the snark in me wonders if that's more than Atlas Shrugged...]. As Adams writes:

After the army he majored in philosophy and persuaded his tutor to help him get a place on a course in Indian mysticism at Benares, where he found more questions than answers. He wound up back home, married, drifting between Mexico and the States, writing technical manuals and ads for the mortuary cosmetics industry. It was when he picked up philosophy again in Montana, and started teaching, that Phaedrus and his desire for truth overtook Pirsig once more.

At that time, he recalls, in his early thirties, he was so full of anxiety that he would often be physically sick before each class he taught. He used his students to help him discover some of the ideas that make up what he calls the 'metaphysics of quality' in his books, the ideas that led him to believe that he had bridged the chasm between Eastern and Western thought.

Pirsig's pre-ZAMM situation "is described in the psychiatric canon as catatonic schizophrenia. It is cited in the Zen Buddhist canon as hard enlightenment," he observes:

Midwestern American society of 1960 took the psychiatrist's view. Pirsig was treated at a mental institution, the first of many visits. Looking back, he suggests he was just a man outside his time. 'It was a contest, I believe, between these ideas I had and what I see as the cultural immune system. When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.'

That immune system left him with no job and no future in philosophy; his wife was mad at him, they had two small kids, he was 34 and in tears all day.

Pirsig said that ZAMM "was a compulsive thing. It started out of a little essay:"

When the book came out, in 1974, edited down from 800,000 words, and having been turned down by 121 publishers, it seemed immediately to catch the need of the time. George Steiner in the New Yorker likened it to Moby Dick. Robert Redford tried to buy the film rights (Pirsig refused). It has since taken on a life of its own, and though parts feel dated, its quest for meaning still seems urgent. For Pirsig, however, it has become a tragic book in some ways.

For those unfamiliar with the book:

At the heart of it was his relationship with his son, Chris, then 12, who himself, unsettled by his father's mania, seemed close to a breakdown. In 1979, aged 22, Chris was stabbed and killed by a mugger as he came out of the Zen Centre in San Francisco. [...]

When his son died, Pirsig was in England. He had sailed across the Atlantic with his second wife, Wendy Kimball, 22 years his junior, whom he had met when she had come to interview him on his boat. She has never disembarked. He was working at the time on Lila, the sequel to his first book, which further examines Phaedrus's ideas in the context of a voyage along the Hudson, with Lila, a raddled Siren, as crew.

Dan Zigmond's reminiscence from the pages of Tricycle magazine is also interesting, for this observation in particular: "With the elder Pirsig's passing last month [24 April 2017, at the age of 88], both passengers on that legendary motorcycle have now left us." The author's "long digressions on tightening bolts and changing spark plugs," Zigmond writes, "might just be the inspiration they need to understand life's great mysteries:"

Over 40 years after its initial publication, the book now also serves as something of a primary source for anyone studying the history of Buddhism in America, having been the first exposure to Zen for so many outside the Asian American community. And it remains equally fascinating for its purely autobiographical content, the account of one man's deep spiritual struggle and eventual glimpse of enlightenment. If Pirsig could confront his considerable demons and find some semblance of inner peace, perhaps there is hope for us all.

After reading Mark Richardson's Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a while back, I was planning to re-read ZAMM (I have done this periodically for ages, but it's been a while since the last time). In addition to that, I should also read the Di Santo/Steele Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as well as Lila and Dan Glover's book on it called Lila's Child: An Inquiry into Quality.

Another reading quest to undertake...

The Economist's look at data detectives discusses changes in "the relationship between information and crime"--all because "people generate more searchable information than they used to:"

Smartphones passively track and record where people go, who they talk to and for how long; their apps reveal subtler personal information, such as their political views, what they like to read and watch and how they spend their money. As more appliances and accoutrements become networked, so the amount of information people inadvertently create will continue to grow.

To track a suspect's movements and conversations, police chiefs no longer need to allocate dozens of officers for round-the-clock stakeouts. They just need to seize the suspect's phone and bypass its encryption. If he drives, police cars, streetlights and car parks equipped with automatic number-plate readers (ANPRs, known in America as automatic licence-plate readers or ALPRs) can track all his movements.

Despite these changes, "the gap between information technology and policy gapes ever wider:"

Most privacy laws were written for the age of postal services and fixed-line telephones. Courts give citizens protection from governments entering their homes or rifling through their personal papers. The law on people's digital presence is less clear. In most liberal countries, police still must convince a judge to let them eavesdrop on phone calls.

The piece points out that "data can be abused personally as well as constitutionally:"

A policeman in Washington, DC, was convicted of extortion for blackmailing the owners of cars parked near a gay bar. ANPR firms insist what they do is constitutional--in America the First Amendment protects public photography. But not everything constitutional is desirable. Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police has admitted that ANPRs could have an impact on freedom by recording vehicles going to political gatherings, abortion clinics or other sensitive venues.

"The use of algorithms to tackle complex problems such as urban crime, or to try to forecast whether someone is likely to commit another crime," The Economist continues, "is not inherently alarming:"

An algorithm, after all, is just a set of rules designed to produce a result. Criminal justice algorithms organise and sort through reams of data faster and more efficiently than people can. But fears abound: that they remove decisions from humans and hand them to machines; that they function without transparency because their creators will not reveal their precise composition; that they punish people for potential, not actual, crimes; and that they entrench racial bias.

The article lists a few of the technological advances in question:

Acoustic sensors trained to recognise the sound of gunfire and send alerts to officers' mobile phones telling them when and where the shots were fired. Glasses that recognise faces and record everything. Drones equipped with high-definition video cameras. GPS readers and ANPRs, allowing for constant surveillance of entire swathes of a city. CCTV systems with embedded facial recognition that lets authorities track people in real time.

All of these new technological possibilities are upending a wide range of activities and the customs associated with them. Law enforcement is no different. But if citizens do not like how their doctor or hairdresser, or a social-media site, uses their data or tracks their purchases, they can go somewhere else. The state wields a monopoly on punishment through law enforcement. Police can arrest, and even kill, their fellow citizens. Judges have the power to imprison people. That makes transparency and public consent in the justice system essential.

Andrew Ferguson, author of a book on the subject, "suggests five questions that departments should answer before buying new technology:"

Can you identify the risks that the technology addresses? Can you ensure accurate data inputs? How will the technology affect community relations and policing practice? Can it be tested to ensure transparency and accountability? And will police use the technology in a manner that respects the autonomy of the people it will affect?

The old line about "more questions than answers" is as true as ever.

Godless Mom suggests that atheists get more joy out of life than theists. "The other day," she begins, "I noticed this tweet:"

20180604-joyless.JPG

Aside from the fact that Mary seems to have missed the point of the poem, Mary has offered up the same sentiment I hear from so many theists: atheists are joyless.

"Here are seven ways atheists are free to feel joy," she continues, "without the burden of dogmatic shame or guilt." I've excerpted some of her explanations, but they're worth reading in full:

1. Sex!

2. Celebrating the joy of others!

We find profound amounts of joy knowing we are on the right side of history, and even more joy can be derived from being able to separate ourselves from those who would judge another based solely on who they have fallen in love with. You see, trying to actively prevent certain people from loving certain people, is an act against love and against joy. It defies the very idea of joyful living.

3. Discovery!

4. Saying "I Don't Know"!

Saying, "I know for certain that God created us" gives you no need to further investigate our origins and eliminates the possibility of you learning something new about it. Saying we don't know, leaves us open to discovering something new about our existence... and that would be a discovery that would bring a great amount of joy to those who were open to learning about it.

5. Sunday mornings!

Godless Mom lists several sub-items, and then comments that "These are just a few of the things that bring more joy than a sore-bum from being stuck in a cold, hard pew, surrounded by corpses on crosses, listening to a man warn you of the eternal fires of hell."

6. The joy in knowing this life is all we have.

7. Masturbation!

8. No Hell to fear!

An atheist is free to live their lives without the fear of hell [...] believe in compassion and empathy and love, not torture. It's not so hard to believe that choosing compassion over eternal torture is a far more joyful way to live, is it?

9. We are not being watched!

Today's most populous religions come with deep shame. They make people feel guilty for who they are, and how their bodies function. Fear is driven into the devout and obedience is cultivated via threats of damnation. These things are directly incompatible with joy.

Facing facts is not cold or hard or joyless. Facing facts gives us freedom. It gives us the freedom to live with far more joy than your book would have you experience. It gives us the freedom to live life in reality and celebrate our own humanness.

Are atheists more joyful than religious people? I doubt we can prove that... but to assert that we are joyless is completely unfounded. We live with a great deal of joy... joy that many of you will never know.


gun laws

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NPR's Martin Kaste writes that "In the wake of the Parkland high school massacre, there's been renewed interest in 'red flag' laws, which allow courts and police to temporarily remove guns from people perceived to pose a threat." Kaste talked to clinical psychologist Aaron Kivisto, who researches gun violence prevention:

He's completed a new study study ["Effects of Risk-Based Firearm Seizure Laws in Connecticut and Indiana on Suicide Rates, 1981-2015"] of the effect of red flag laws in Connecticut and Indiana, two states that have had such laws on the books the longest.

"In Indiana, for example, there have been some years where 80 percent of all gun seizures have been due to a concern for suicide rather than homicide or domestic violence reasons," he said.

The results seem positive so far:

"In Indiana, after the enactment of the law [in 2005], we saw a 7.5 percent decrease in firearms suicides in the 10 years that followed," Kivisto said. "We didn't see any notable increase or decrease in non-firearms suicide." [...] "And so when we looked at it from 2007 and beyond, [gun suicides in Connecticut] decreased by 13.7 percent," Kivisto said.

Gun permit laws, do affect murder rates, according to this new study:

"Requiring handgun purchasers to obtain a license prior to purchase was associated with a 14 percent reduction in firearm homicide," says Cassandra Crifasi, at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. [...]

"There are lots of conversations right now about gun policies that are effective at reducing violence," she said, "and this study adds to a fairly robust and growing body of literature showing that requiring prospective handgun purchasers to obtain a license is one of the best policies to reduce violence."


update (8:15pm):
The ATF is beholden to the NRA, writes Jezebel:

In an apparent attempt to placate gun sellers and the gun lobby, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives routinely allows dealers that violate gun laws to hold on to their licenses. [...]

These violations go far beyond the routine clerical error made by a gun seller, which are often seen as innocuous as long as they are corrected. Instead, the Times report found repeat offenders who have sold guns to prohibited gun owners--like those with a felony conviction--as well as gun sellers who don't run background checks, and yet they still have a license to legally sell firearms.

The NYT's report is damning:

As they inspect the nation's gun stores, federal investigators regularly find violations of the law, ranging from minor record-keeping errors to illegal sales of firearms. In the most serious cases, like a sale of a gun to a prohibited buyer, inspectors often recommend that gun dealers lose their licenses.

But that rarely happens. Senior officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regularly overrule their own inspectors, allowing gun dealers who fail inspections to keep their licenses even after they were previously warned to follow the rules, according to interviews with more than half a dozen current and former law enforcement officials and a review of more than 100 inspection reports.

One store was cited for failing to conduct background checks before selling a gun. Another store owner told investigators he actively tried to circumvent gun laws. One threatened an A.T.F. officer, and another sold a gun to a customer who identified as a felon. All were previously cited by the A.T.F. In each instance, supervisors downgraded recommendations that the stores' licenses be revoked and instead let them stay open.

"Of about 11,000 inspections of licensed firearm dealers in the year starting in October 2016," the piece continues, "more than half were cited for violations. Less than 1 percent of all inspections resulted in the loss of a license." Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady campaign, summarizes: "There's a small number of gun dealers engaged in really irresponsible practices, putting everybody at risk, and the A.T.F. knows exactly who they are and allows them to continue operating." "The inspection process is further complicated by laws that govern record-keeping in the gun industry," notes the NYT, "which forbid the A.T.F. to keep records electronically:"

The A.T.F. has historically struggled to meet its goal of inspecting each licensed firearms dealer once every three to five years. The United States had more than 130,000 active federal firearms licensees in 2017, including dealers, manufacturers and pawnbrokers, according to the A.T.F.'s most recent statistics. Resource limitations have forced the bureau to prioritize some gun dealers over others.

bigot baker

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NYT's Adam Liptak explains the bigot baker's big win at Trump's conservative SCOTUS:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision, relied on narrow grounds, saying a state commission had violated the Constitution's protection of religious freedom in ruling against the baker, Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

"The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here," Justice Kennedy wrote. "The Civil Rights Commission's treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection."

Where is the verse declaring that same-sex couples can't have cake? Is it the same one that once prohibited African-Americans from eating at lunch counters?

Back to Liptak:

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Phillips's free speech rights had not been violated, noting that the couple had not discussed the cake's design before Mr. Phillips turned them down. The court added that people seeing the cake would not understand Mr. Phillips to be making a statement and that he remained free to say what he liked about same-sex marriage in other settings.

Here are some comments from the ACLU:

"The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. [...]

"Today's decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue," said Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. "We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are. We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told 'we don't serve your kind here' that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does."

This decision sets back gay rights by a lifetime, according to Daily Kos staff:

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a seven-justice majority--led by Justice Anthony Kennedy and including justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan--determined that Colorado unconstitutionally discriminated against Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding--that of Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins--because of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

"There's no silver lining," the piece continues:

Kennedy refers to the "dignity and worth" of gay persons and gay couples, to the recognition that we cannot be treated as "social outcasts" or inferior in those respects, but in the same paragraph writes, "religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression." These two statements are as inconsistent as any ever written.

When Kennedy writes, "Phillips was entitled to the neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case," he legitimizes homophobia. It's also proof that he truly doesn't recognize the equal dignity and worth of gay people. There's precedent for what happens when the right of persons equal in dignity and worth to be treated as such clashes with others' religious claims to a freedom to discriminate.

Ginsburg:

Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others. When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding--not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings--and that is the service Craig and Mullins were denied. [...]

For the reasons stated, sensible application of [the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act] to a refusal to sell any wedding cake to a gay couple should occasion affirmance of the Colorado Court of Appeals' judgment. I would so rule.

Daily Kos reminds us of the following:

It's not just that courts matter: Every seat matters, from district court judges who decide solo or guide a jury through that process to appellate and Supreme Court jurists. Every voice changes the conversation; the balance of votes decides compromises.

Given the relative youth of the conservatives on the Supreme Court and the likelihood Trump will get at least one more nomination, this setback could last a lifetime.

self-pardon?

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Trump claims that he can pardon himself, while simultaneously proclaiming that he has done nothing wrong:

As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2018

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect!

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