July 2018 Archives

Jon Chait's long New York piece on Trump/Russia points out that "What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end [of the Russia scandal]: that this is all much worse than we suspect:"

After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered -- scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information -- has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn't myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?

Here's a bit of his background:

In 2015, Western European intelligence agencies began picking up evidence of communications between the Russian government and people in Donald Trump's orbit. In April 2016, one of the Baltic states shared with then-CIA director John Brennan an audio recording of Russians discussing funneling money to the Trump campaign. In the summer of 2016, Robert Hannigan, head of the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, flew to Washington to brief Brennan on intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Chait asks us to "suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper:"

If that's true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency. It would mean the Cold War that Americans had long considered won has dissolved into the bizarre spectacle of Reagan's party's abetting the hijacking of American government by a former KGB agent. It would mean that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the president and his inner circle, possibly beginning this summer, Trump may not merely rail on Twitter but provoke a constitutional crisis.

And it would mean the Russia scandal began far earlier than conventionally understood and ended later -- indeed, is still happening. As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.

Chait puts together some of the pieces of Trump's political involvement:

Tom Wright, another scholar who has delved into Trump's history, reached the same conclusion. "1987 is Trump's breakout year. There are only a couple of examples of him commenting on world politics before then."

What changed that year? One possible explanation is that Trump published The Art of the Deal, which sped up his transformation from an aggressive, publicity-seeking New York developer to a national symbol of capitalism. But the timing for this account does not line up perfectly -- the book came out on November 1, and Trump had begun opining loudly on trade and international politics two months earlier. The other important event from that year is that Trump visited Moscow.

During the Soviet era, Russian intelligence cast a wide net to gain leverage over influential figures abroad. (The practice continues to this day.) The Russians would lure or entrap not only prominent politicians and cultural leaders, but also people whom they saw as having the potential for gaining prominence in the future. In 1986, Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin met Trump in New York, flattered him with praise for his building exploits, and invited him to discuss a building in Moscow. Trump visited Moscow in July 1987. He stayed at the National Hotel, in the Lenin Suite, which certainly would have been bugged. There is not much else in the public record to describe his visit, except Trump's own recollection in The Art of the Deal that Soviet officials were eager for him to build a hotel there. (It never happened.)

"How do you even think about the small but real chance," Chait asks, "that the president of the United States has been influenced or compromised by a hostile foreign power for decades?"

Trump returned from Moscow fired up with political ambition. He began the first of a long series of presidential flirtations, which included a flashy trip to New Hampshire. Two months after his Moscow visit, Trump spent almost $100,000 on a series of full-page newspaper ads that published a political manifesto. "An open letter from Donald J. Trump on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves," as Trump labeled it, launched angry populist charges against the allies that benefited from the umbrella of American military protection. "Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests?"

Trump's letter avoided the question of whom the U.S. was protecting those countries from. The primary answer, of course, was the Soviet Union. After World War II, the U.S. had created a liberal international order and underwritten its safety by maintaining the world's strongest military. A central goal of Soviet, and later Russian, foreign policy was to split the U.S. from its allies.

The safest assumption is that it's entirely coincidental that Trump launched a national campaign, with himself as spokesman, built around themes that dovetailed closely with Soviet foreign-policy goals shortly after his Moscow stay.

"It is not difficult to imagine that Russia quickly had something on Trump," he continues, "from either exploits during his 1987 visit or any subsequent embarrassing behavior KGB assets might have uncovered:"

But the other leverage Russia enjoyed over Trump for at least 15 years is indisputable -- in fact, his family has admitted to it multiple times. After a series of financial reversals and his brazen abuse of bankruptcy laws, Trump found it impossible to borrow from American banks and grew heavily reliant on unconventional sources of capital. Russian cash proved his salvation. From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases -- a red flag of potential money laundering -- of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets," said Donald Jr. in 2008. "We don't rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia," boasted Eric Trump in 2014. [...]

Shady business transactions offer the perfect cover for covert payments, since just about the entire Russian economy is shady. Trump's adamant refusal to disclose his tax returns has many possible explanations, but none is more obvious than the prospect that he is hiding what are effectively bribes.

"In July 2013, Trump visited Moscow again," Chait writes, speculating that "If the Russians did not have a back-channel relationship or compromising file on Trump 30 years ago, they very likely obtained one then:"

Former FBI director James Comey recounts in his book that Trump was obsessed with reports that he had been recorded in a hotel room watching prostitutes urinate on a bed that Barack Obama had once slept in. Trump, Comey wrote, "argued that it could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes."

Trump's claim is bullshit! (Or, in other words, "journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reconstructed Trump's trip to Moscow and established that he did in fact stay overnight.") "For all the ambiguous, suspicious facts surrounding Trump's ties to Russia," Chait observes, "Manafort's role is the most straightforward:"

He is an utterly amoral consultant and spent at least a decade directly advancing Russian foreign-policy interests while engaging in systemic corruption.

"Manafort was asking about," confirms Chait, "the possibility of trading his position as Trump's campaign manager for debt forgiveness from Deripaska:"

This much was clear in March 2016: The person who managed the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in Ukraine was now also managing the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in the United States. And Trump's campaign certainly looked like the same play Putin had run many times before: Trump inflamed internal ethnic division, assailed the corruption of the elite, attacked Western allies while calling for cooperation with Russia, and sowed distrust in the fairness of the vote count. And in addition to deploying social-media bots and trolls, Russia apparently spent directly to help elect Trump. The FBI is investigating Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker who built ties to Republicans and allegedly funneled campaign funds to the National Rifle Association, which spent three times as much to help Trump as it had on behalf of Romney four years earlier.

Trump surrounded himself with several staffers, in addition to Manafort, with unusually close ties to Russia. His national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had traveled to Moscow in 2015 to fête Putin at a banquet; George Papadopoulos met with Russian officials during the campaign; Russia had marked Carter Page as a possible asset. Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, the two business associates of Trump's with decades-long ties to Russian organized crime, engaged in a mix of diplomatic and commercial negotiations with Russia during the campaign.

Several Trump advisers knew Russia was working to help Trump. Papadopoulos let it slip that Russia had dirt on Clinton; Roger Stone, a former longtime business partner of Manafort's who communicated regularly with Trump throughout the campaign, knew what material WikiLeaks had obtained, according to two associates. Stone also repeatedly boasted of his back-channel contacts to Julian Assange and flaunted advance knowledge of what dirt Assange had. Between a pair of phone conversations Donald Jr. had to set up his Trump Tower meeting, he spoke with someone with a blocked phone number. (His father has a blocked phone number.) John K. Mashburn, a former campaign and current White House staffer, testified in March that he recalled receiving an email in early 2016 that Russia had negative information on Clinton.

"Russia's hacking appears, in short, to have been common knowledge within the campaign," Chait writes. He then wonders, "How much more evidence of collusion is yet to come out? Maybe a lot more:"

In July 2016, a loose-knit community of computer scientists and cybersecurity experts discovered a strange pattern of online traffic between two computer servers. One of those servers belonged to Alfa Bank in Moscow and the other to the Trump Organization. Alfa Bank's owners had "assumed an unforeseen level of prominence and influence in the economic and political affairs of their nation," as a federal court once put it.

The analysts noted that the traffic between the two servers occurred during office hours in New York and Moscow and spiked in correspondence with major campaign events, suggesting it entailed human communication rather than bots. More suspiciously, after New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau asked Alfa Bank about it but before he brought it up with the Trump campaign, the server in Trump Tower shut down. The timing strongly implied Alfa Bank was communicating with Trump. [see here]

"If that server was transmitting data to and from Moscow," Chait wonders, "who in Trump Tower was feeding it?" To date, there is no definitive answer.

Now that he's in office, Trump's ties to Russia have attracted close scrutiny, and he has found his room to maneuver with Putin sharply constrained by his party. In early 2017, Congress passed sanctions to retaliate against Russia's election attack. Trump lobbied to weaken them, and when they passed by vetoproof supermajorities, he was reportedly "apoplectic" and took four days to agree to sign the bill even knowing he couldn't block it. After their passage, Trump has failed to enforce the sanctions as directed.

Trump also moved to return to Russia a diplomatic compound that had been taken by the Obama administration; announced that he and Putin had "discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" to jointly guard against "election hacking"; and congratulated the Russian strongman for winning reelection, despite being handed a card before the call warning: "Do not congratulate."

"There is one other way in which Trump's behavior has changed in recent months," Chait notes ominously:

As Mueller has plunged deeper into his murky dealings with Russia, the president has increasingly abandoned the patina of innocence. Trump used to claim he would be vindicated, and his advisers insisted his periodic fits sprang from an irrational resentment that Mueller was tarnishing his election and obscuring his achievements.

Trump barely puts much effort into predicting a clean bill of health anymore. He acts like a man with a great deal to hide: declining to testify, dangling pardons to keep witnesses from incriminating him, publicly chastising his attorney general for not quashing the whole investigation, and endorsing Russia's preposterous claims that it had nothing to do with the election at all. ("Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!" he tweeted last month, contradicting the conclusion of every U.S. intelligence agency.) Trump's behavior toward Russia looks nothing like that of a leader of a country it attacked and exactly like that of an accessory after the fact. [...]

Meanwhile, the White House has eliminated its top cybersecurity position. That might simply reflect a Republican bias against bureaucratic expertise. But it might also be just what it looks like: The cop on the beat is being fired because his boss is in cahoots with the crooks.

I had heard about the ridiculous Trump rally last Thursday, but hadn't seen the video until now:

There are so many things wrong with this Cretin-in-Chief that I scarcely know where to begin, but John Fea notes that none of them affects the support he still receives from 'intellectually lazy' Christians. "For the last year," he writes, "I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump:"

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a "mulligan" (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins' now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

"Trump's win," he continues, "was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics:"

Ever since World War II, white evangelicals in the United States have waged a desperate and largely failing war against thickening walls of separation between church and state, the removal of Christianity from public schools, the growing ethnic and religious diversity of the country, the intrusion of the federal government into their everyday lives (especially as it pertains to desegregation and civil rights), and legalized abortion. [...]

Evangelical support for Donald Trump is also rooted in nostalgia for a bygone Christian golden age. Instead of doing the hard work necessary for engaging a more diverse society with the claims of Christian orthodoxy, evangelicals are intellectually lazy, preferring to respond to cultural change by trying to reclaim a world that is rapidly disappearing and has little chance of ever coming back.

Trump's constant exhortations to "Believe me" may factor into their gullibility, but Fea's succinct analysis is this:

Why do so many evangelicals believe in Donald Trump? Because they privilege fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.

Daniel Bessner purports to identify the fatal flaw of George Soros' philosophy, beginning with the observation that "On the radical right, Soros is as hated as the Clintons. He is a verbal tic, a key that fits every hole:"

Soros's name evokes "an emotional outcry from the red-meat crowds", one former Republican congressman recently told the Washington Post. They view him as a "sort of sinister [person who] plays in the shadows". This antisemitic caricature of Soros has dogged the philanthropist for decades. But in recent years the caricature has evolved into something that more closely resembles a James Bond villain. Even to conservatives who reject the darkest fringes of the far right, Breitbart's description of Soros as a "globalist billionaire" dedicated to making America a liberal wasteland is uncontroversial common sense.

"In spite of the obsession with Soros," Bessner continues, "there has been surprisingly little interest in what he actually thinks." I would have been tempted to simply snark that this is because his critics don't read his books, but Bessner tackles the issue more soberly:

Yet unlike most of the members of the billionaire class, who speak in platitudes and remain withdrawn from serious engagement with civic life, Soros is an intellectual. And the person who emerges from his books and many articles is not an out-of-touch plutocrat, but a provocative and consistent thinker committed to pushing the world in a cosmopolitan direction in which racism, income inequality, American empire, and the alienations of contemporary capitalism would be things of the past. He is extremely perceptive about the limits of markets and US power in both domestic and international contexts. He is, in short, among the best the meritocracy has produced.

This production began with his 1947 emigration to the UK, and his association with philosopher Karl Popper, who Bessner identifies as "his greatest interlocutor and central intellectual influence:"

Since 1987, Soros has published 14 books and a number of pieces in the New York Review of Books, New York Times and elsewhere. These texts make it clear that, like many on the centre-left who rose to prominence in the 1990s, Soros's defining intellectual principle is his internationalism. For Soros, the goal of contemporary human existence is to establish a world defined not by sovereign states, but by a global community whose constituents understand that everyone shares an interest in freedom, equality and prosperity. In his opinion, the creation of such a global open society is the only way to ensure that humanity overcomes the existential challenges of climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Unlike Gates, whose philanthropy focuses mostly on ameliorative projects such as eradicating malaria, Soros truly wants to transform national and international politics and society. Whether or not his vision can survive the wave of antisemitic, Islamophobic and xenophobic rightwing nationalism ascendant in the US and Europe remains to be seen. What is certain is that Soros will spend the remainder of his life attempting to make sure it does.

"Soros argued that the history of the post-cold war world," continues Bessner, "as well as his personal experiences as one of international finance's most successful traders, demonstrated that unregulated global capitalism undermined open society in three distinct ways:"

First, because capital could move anywhere to avoid taxation, western nations were deprived of the finances they needed to provide citizens with public goods. Second, because international lenders were not subject to much regulation, they often engaged in "unsound lending practices" that threatened financial stability. Finally, because these realities increased domestic and international inequality, Soros feared they would encourage people to commit unspecified "acts of desperation" that could damage the global system's viability.

Soros saw, far earlier than most of his fellow centre-leftists, the problems at the heart of the financialised and deregulated "new economy" of the 1990s and 2000s.

It was Bush's "militarist response to the attacks of September 11," continues, Bessner, that "compelled Soros to shift his attention from economics to politics:"

Everything about the Bush administration's ideology was anathema to Soros. [...] Soros worried, wisely, that Bush would lead the nation into "a permanent state of war" characterised by foreign intervention and domestic oppression. The president was thus not only a threat to world peace, but also to the very idea of open society. [...]

In his 2006 book The Age of Fallibility, Soros attributed Bush's re-election to the fact that the US was "a 'feel-good' society unwilling to face unpleasant reality". Americans, Soros avowed, would rather be "grievously misled by the Bush administration" than confront the failures of Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror head-on. Because they were influenced by market fundamentalism and its obsession with "success", Soros continued, Americans were eager to accept politicians' claims that the nation could win something as absurd as a war on terror.

Bush's victory convinced Soros that the US would survive as an open society only if Americans began to acknowledge "that the truth matters"; otherwise, they would continue to support the war on terror and its concomitant horrors. How Soros could change American minds, though, remained unclear.

But, notes the piece, "During the 2016 Democratic primary race, he was an avowed supporter of Hillary Clinton."

If Soros continues to fund truly progressive projects, he will make a substantial contribution to the open society; but if he decides to defend banal Democrats, he will contribute to the ongoing degradation of American public life.


update (7/13):
Soros responded by calling Bessner's piece "a thorough and insightful examination of my philosophy and actions over a lifetime" but nonetheless identifies a "fatal flaw" in it - "a set of mistaken assumptions about the beliefs and convictions underpinning that philosophy and those actions:"

Bessner says I believe "in a necessary connection between capitalism and cosmopolitanism" and that I believe "a free society depends on free (albeit regulated) markets". He further asserts that my "class position made [me] unable to advocate the root-and-branch reforms necessary to bring about the world [I desire]".

To the contrary, I have been a passionate critic of market fundamentalism at least since I first discussed the phenomenon in my essay "The Capitalist Threat" in the Atlantic Monthly 20 years ago.

In the Atlantic piece he mentioned, Soros provided more background on his ideas:

The term "open society" was coined by Henri Bergson, in his book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), and given greater currency by the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945).

Written during the Second World War, The Open Society and Its Enemies explained what the Western democracies stood for and fought for. The explanation was highly abstract and philosophical, and the term "open society" never gained wide recognition. Nevertheless, Popper's analysis was penetrating, and when I read it as a student in the late 1940s, having experienced at first hand both Nazi and Communist rule in Hungary, it struck me with the force of revelation.

"When I had made more money than I needed," he wrote, "I decided to set up a foundation. I reflected on what it was I really cared about:"

Having lived through both Nazi persecution and Communist oppression, I came to the conclusion that what was paramount for me was an open society. So I called the foundation the Open Society Fund, and I defined its objectives as opening up closed societies, making open societies more viable, and promoting a critical mode of thinking. That was in 1979. [...] By now I have established a network of foundations that extends across more than twenty-five countries (not including China, where we shut down in 1989).

"After the collapse of communism," he continued, "the mission of the foundation network changed:"

Recognizing that an open society is a more advanced, more sophisticated form of social organization than a closed society (because in a closed society there is only one blueprint, which is imposed on society, whereas in an open society each citizen is not only allowed but required to think for himself), the foundations shifted from a subversive task to a constructive one--not an easy thing to do when the believers in an open society are accustomed to subversive activity.

The collapse of communism laid the groundwork for a universal open society, but the Western democracies failed to rise to the occasion. The new regimes that are emerging in the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia bear little resemblance to open societies. The Western alliance seems to have lost its sense of purpose, because it cannot define itself in terms of a Communist menace.

"Popper showed that fascism and communism had much in common," he wrote, "even though one constituted the extreme right and the other the extreme left, because both relied on the power of the state to repress the freedom of the individual:"

I want to extend his argument. I contend that an open society may also be threatened from the opposite direction--from excessive individualism. Too much competition and too little cooperation can cause intolerable inequities and instability.

Insofar as there is a dominant belief in our society today, it is a belief in the magic of the marketplace. The doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism holds that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest. Unless it is tempered by the recognition of a common interest that ought to take precedence over particular interests, our present system--which, however imperfect, qualifies as an open society--is liable to break down. [...]

I consider the threat from the laissez-faire side more potent today than the threat from totalitarian ideologies. We are enjoying a truly global market economy in which goods, services, capital, and even people move around quite freely, but we fail to recognize the need to sustain the values and institutions of an open society.

I've read two of his books, The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered (1998) and Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism (2000), but this article is probably more than enough of a primer for most people.

Slate's Matthew Dessem pegs Ditko's high-water mark as "a legendary early 1960s run during which he helped develop Iron Man and the Hulk, was instrumental in creating Spider-Man, and created Dr. Strange:"

Ditko's art, particularly for Dr. Strange, was characterized by the use of abstract and psychedelic images, making it a hit with Eastern-mysticism-curious young people of the 1960s. As sort of a one-two punch with the pop mysticism, Ditko also used his work to explore Randian Objectivism, inventing a Spider-Man villain called the Looter.

After leaving Marvel in 1965, Ditko went deeper into the world of Ayn Rand, creating Objectivist superheroes The Question and Mr. A, the latter of whom was named for "A is A,' a slogan from Atlas Shrugged.

NYT's Andy Webster fine-tunes this emphasis:

Though Mr. Ditko had a hand in the early development of other signature Marvel characters -- especially the sorcerer Dr. Strange -- Spider-Man was his definitive character, and for many fans he was Spider-Man's definitive interpreter.

Mr. Ditko was noted for his cinematic storytelling, his occasional flights into almost psychedelic abstraction, and the philosophical convictions that often colored his work. Scrupulously private, he had a mystique rare among industry superstars. [...]

In "In Search of Steve Ditko" -- a 2007 British documentary narrated by the TV personality Jonathan Ross -- the novelist and comic book writer Alan Moore says that in Mr. Ditko's work there was "a tormented elegance to the way the characters stood, the way that they bent their hands."

He added, "They always looked as if they were on the edge of some kind of revelation or breakdown."

Here is the first of the documentary's seven parts:

NPR refers to the statement from Marvel Comics' head Joe Quesada:

Only a small group of individuals can claim that they have effected and redefined not just an industry, but popular culture worldwide. Steve Ditko was one of those few who dared to break molds every time his pencil and pen hit a blank sheet of paper. In his lifetime he blessed us with gorgeous art, fantastical stories, heroic characters and a mystical persona worthy of some of his greatest creations. And much like his greatest co-creation, Steve Ditko's legend and influence will outlive us all.

Wrath Month

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WaPo's Anthony Oliveira promotes the idea of an LGBTQ Wrath Month:

It is difficult, as with any meme that reaches critical mass, to tell how this month of wrath began, but it originated online almost certainly as a joke: What comes after Pride? Wrath.

It hinges on an old dig, one straight people have been making as long as we've been willing to stand up "with pride" -- that pride is among the worst of the seven deadly sins and that we have adopted it proudly, an ineluctable sign of our spiritual damage.

Theologically speaking, pride turns itself inward; it beholds the self and deems it sufficient. But what happens when we turn that gaze outward?

You guessed it: wrath. Stupid shit like "Heterosexual Pride Day" only serves to catalyze the reaction:

Love is not love when you do not have to fight for it.

Stonewall. The White Night Riots. ACT UP. Wrath Month is a chance to remember that before our symbol was a rainbow, it was a hurled brick.

Civility be damned, then, along with everything else about us. Let justice be done, though the heavens themselves may fall. To our people: Let nothing stand which offends your dignity. To our allies: Help us, really help us, or get out of the way. To our enemies: This army of lovers will stamp out your bigotry.

And to all: I wish you a furious Wrath Month.

Bil Browning concurs, writing, "Happy Wrath Month. May your justice be swift and furious."

Bayes

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TLS' David Papineau discusses statistician Thomas Bayes and his "Essay towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances" as being "a breakthrough in thinking about probability:"

Most people who have heard of Thomas Bayes associate him primarily with "Bayes's theorem". This states that the probability of A given B equals the probability of B given A, times the probability of A, divided by the probability of B. So, in our case, Prob(biased coin/five heads) = Prob(five heads/biased coin) x Prob(biased coin) / Prob(five heads).

As it happens, this "theorem" is a trivial bit of probability arithmetic. (It falls straight out of the definition of Prob(A/B) as Prob(A&B) / P(B).) Because of this, many dismiss Bayes as a minor figure who has done well to have the contemporary revolution in statistical theory named after him. But this does a disservice to Bayes. The focus of his paper is not his theorem, which appears only in passing, but the logic of learning from evidence.

"It was this 'problem of the priors'," Papineau reminds us, "that historically turned orthodox statisticians against Bayes:"

They couldn't stomach the idea that scientific reasoning should hinge on personal hunches. So instead they cooked up the idea of "significance tests". Don't worry about prior probabilities, they said. Just reject your hypothesis if you observe results that would be very unlikely if it were true.

"In truth," writes Papineau, "this is nonsense on stilts."

The advent of modern computers has greatly expanded the application of these techniques. Bayesian calculations can quickly become complicated when a number of factors are involved. But in the 1980s Judea Pearl and other computer scientists developed "Bayesian networks" as a graph-based system for simplifying Bayesian inferences. These networks are now used to streamline reasoning across a wide range of fields in science, medicine, finance and engineering.

"The vindication of Bayesian thinking is not yet complete," he continues:

No sane recipe can ignore prior probabilities when telling you how to respond to evidence. Yes, a theory is disconfirmed if it makes the evidence unlikely and is supported if it doesn't. But where that leaves us must also depend on how probable the theory was to start with. Thomas Bayes was the first to see this and to understand what it means for probability calculations. We should be grateful that the scientific world is finally taking his teaching to heart.

For more, see Sharon McGrayne's book on Bayes, The Theory That Would Not Die.

Lynn Parramore asks the question was ML King a socialist?

Consider King's words in a letter to Coretta Scott in 1952: "I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic," he wrote, adding that capitalism had "out-lived its usefulness" because it had "brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes."

King was 23 years old when he wrote that.

The same year, his future spouse sent him a copy of Edward Bellamy's utopian socialist novel of 1888, Looking Backward. King wrote to her with revolutionary fervor: "Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color...This is the gospel that I will preach to the world."

Parramore asks, "if King was an economic radical from the beginning, why don't we know more about it?" and lauds Michael Honey's book To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice, although it does not capture the whole story:

He says that the reason MLK's legacy has been misunderstood has to do with political and cultural forces in King's time and in our own.

Honey points out that civil rights leaders who rose to prominence before King, like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ella Baker, explicitly linked racism to economic injustice, but that line of thinking became taboo during the Red Scare. King, explains Honey, was a pragmatist who saw that it would not be possible to make progress on poverty until black people were able to vote and wield political power. So he devoted his efforts to securing civil rights as the first step in a movement to turn America into a place where poor people of all colors would one day be empowered.

Parramore concludes: "If we are not serious about the redistribution of wealth and power, we are not fully honoring MLK."

liberal win

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Brandon Weber lists the top 10 liberal victories of the last 100 years. "If you look at the record," he writes, "it's clear that eventually, inevitably, Liberals always win." Here is his list:

--The end of slavery in the United States

--The right to vote

--The New Deal (Parts 1, 2, and 3)

  • The New Deal: Social Security
  • The New Deal: The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, a.k.a. The Wagner Act
  • The New Deal: Jobs and Banking Reform

--The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

--The right of interracial couples to marry

--The Affordable Care Act

--Marriage equality for all

"On almost every one of these," he writes, it's unlikely to change back, unless we really do head to the 1950s, like some would want us to do. Flat out resistance and throwing down in the streets will probably be necessary." Salon's Paul Rosenberg reminds us that, among others, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is "absolutely not" too far left. "DSA's [Democratic Socialists of America] membership has exploded since Bernie Sanders' campaign," he points out, "and the group is not just doing politics but building community." There's also the issues of economics and intellectual heritage:

Adam Smith is regularly referred to as the "father of capitalism," but if you actually read his classic "Wealth of Nations," you could easily mistake him for a democratic socialist who might support an agenda like the one Ocasio-Cortez has laid out, including Medicare and higher education for all, a jobs guarantee, housing as a human right, and clean campaign finance.

In Book 1, Chapter 8 of his landmark work, Smith writes:

Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.

"As for what socialism means," Ocasio-Cortez explained it well:

When we talk about the word socialism, I think what it really means is just democratic participation in our economic dignity, and our economic, social, and racial dignity. It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day. To me, what socialism means is to guarantee a basic level of dignity. It's asserting the value of saying that the America we want and the America that we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education. It's one in which no person is too poor to have the medicines they need to live. It's to say that no individual's civil rights are to be violated. [...] There is no other force, there is no other party, there is no other real ideology out there right now that is asserting the minimum elements necessary to lead a dignified American life.

As the piece concludes, "It may now be time for socialism to emerge in this country, in distinctively American form. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading the way, she's definitely not alone." NYT's Michelle Goldberg writes that "Millennial socialists are coming," also identifying DSA as a major force:

But all over the nation, people, particularly women, are working with near supernatural energy to rebuild democracy from the ground up, finding ways to exercise political power however they can. For the middle-aged suburbanites who are the backbone of the anti-Trump resistance, that often means shoring up the Democratic Party. For younger people who see Donald Trump's election as the apotheosis of a rotten political and economic system, it often means trying to remake that party as a vehicle for democratic socialism. [...]

The D.S.A., to which Ocasio-Cortez belongs, is the largest socialist organization in America. Its growth has exploded since the 2016 election -- when, of course, avowed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders ran in the Democratic primary -- from 7,000 members to more than 37,000. It's an activist group rather than a political party, working with Democrats in the electoral realm while also agitating against injustice from the outside.

Many of the D.S.A.'s goals, reflected in Ocasio-Cortez's platform, are indistinguishable from those of progressive democrats. But if the D.S.A. is happy to work alongside liberals, its members are generally serious about the "socialist" part of democratic socialist. Its constitution envisions "a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships."

Paul Krugman concurs, observing that radical Democrats are pretty reasonable:

So, about Ocasio-Cortez's positions: Medicare for all is a deliberately ambiguous phrase, but in practice probably wouldn't mean pushing everyone into a single-payer system. Instead, it would mean allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare - basically a big public option. That's really not radical at all.

And if we're talking economics rather than politics, every advanced country except America has some form of guaranteed health insurance; decades of experience show that these systems are workable; and they all have lower costs than we do. Calling for us to do what everyone else has managed to do is perfectly reasonable.

What about a jobs guarantee? Ocasio-Cortez's proposal can be thought of as a rise in the national minimum wage to $15, combined with a sort of public option for employment in case that wage rise leads either to private-sector job losses or an increase in labor force participation.

Now, there's a huge amount of evidence to the effect that minimum wage hikes don't significantly reduce employment. To be fair, however, $15 is outside the range of historical experience, and you can make a plausible case that in low-productivity regions like much of the south there would be some job losses. On the other hand, those are precisely the regions that could really use some aid.

On the subject of Ocasio-Cortez, Krugman writes that "she's advocating a more responsible policy than that actually enacted by Republican in Congress:"

The point, in any case, is that while a jobs guarantee is probably further than most Democrats, even in the progressive wing, are willing to go, it's a response to real problems, and it's not at all a crazy idea.

So next time you hear someone on the right talk about the "loony left," or some centrist pundit pretend that people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are the left equivalent of the Tea Party, ignore them. Radical Democrats are actually pretty reasonable.

a solid idea

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Tim Berners-Lee's interview in Vanity Fair (h/t: TruthDig) with Katrina Brooker is tantalizing:

From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump's campaign.

Brooker notes that Berners-Lee "has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots:"

For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world's population--close to 4 billion people--will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever.

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places," he told me. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has "ended up producing--with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform--a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."

"The power of the Web wasn't taken or stolen," observes Brooker, and "We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology:"

Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways. Shortly after the 2016 election, Berners-Lee felt something had to change, and began methodically attempting to hack his creation. Last fall, the World Wide Web Foundation funded research to examine how Facebook's algorithms control the news and information users receive.

Berners-Lee proposes a solution to "re-decentralize the Web" with Solid:

Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data. "There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data," Berners-Lee told me. "We are building a whole eco-system."

For now, the Solid technology is still new and not ready for the masses. But the vision, if it works, could radically change the existing power dynamics of the Web. The system aims to give users a platform by which they can control access to the data and content they generate on the Web. This way, users can choose how that data gets used rather than, say, Facebook and Google doing with it as they please. Solid's code and technology is open to all--anyone with access to the Internet can come into its chat room and start coding.

"The forces that Berners-Lee unleashed nearly three decades ago are accelerating, moving in ways no one can fully predict," concludes Brooker, "And now, as half the world joins the Web, we are at a societal inflection point:"

Are we headed toward an Orwellian future where a handful of corporations monitor and control our lives? Or are we on the verge of creating a better version of society online, one where the free flow of ideas and information helps cure disease, expose corruption, reverse injustices?

Judah Taylor writes that "President Donald Trump attacked the news media and defended his tweeting habit Tuesday in the most Trump way possible: with a typo-tainted tweet:"

20180704-poor.png

Trump's relentless trolling has more than a few people wondering, as does Jeremy Sherman, how can we fight Right-wing trolls and actually win?

The right has become an epidemic of exhibitionists. Right-wing trolls sidle up to people on TV, the internet and in person pretending that they want a reasoned discussion. When they've got your attention, they open their trench coats to show off their firm pointy little "truths," anticipating your reaction. It gets them excited to see you respond in predictable ways. They have themselves a little trollgasm, proving to themselves once again that they've found the formula for flummoxing everyone always.

We react predictably, either with tolerance in the name of civility, gut fury, or by walking away in disgust. The troll exhibitionists are prepared for everything we serve up. That's what their formula is all about. They pretend it's about high-minded principles and policy but, of course it isn't.

"However decent they are in everyday life," Sherman suggests, in this sport of theirs they're just gloataholics addicted to trollgasms." His suggestion to us is that "You've got to flummox the exhibitionist troll:"

It's not easy since the whole point of their formula is besting you no matter what you serve up. Still, it's not impossible once you recognize that their MO is engineered only to beat predictable leftist responses. So try something new, in other words surprising. Disorient them with some response they aren't prepared for, something that shakes them out of their gloataholic ecstasy.

"Here are a few of many tips I can offer," he writes, "based on my ongoing trial-and-error practice sparring with and disappointing right-wing trolls:"

Talk past them: Fight them with an audience looking on, and then demean them by talking past them to the audience. "See what he did there?" They love an audience since they're Trump and Hannity wannabes. They want you to interview them as though they're authorities. You can play the audience to your advantage, not theirs. [...]

George Bernard Shaw said, "Never fight with a pig. You'll just get dirty and the pig likes it," but it turns out you can never say never. There will be pigs you'll have to fight. You will get dirty, but there's no alternative. If you have to get dirty, at least fight to win and make sure the pig doesn't like it.

Leo Vidal's speculation that Trump is terrified at the possibility of Cohen singing to the feds. Vidal provides "five reasons, with brief explanations of why each one is really bad news for the president:"

1. Cohen apparently made illegal payments on Trump's behalf.

Not only did Cohen pay off Stormy Daniels (and possibly other women that Donald Trump had sex with) but he also is being investigated for bank fraud and wire fraud. As Trump's "fixer" Cohen was at the center of and a participant in many of Trump's crimes and indiscretions.

2. Cohen kept a lot of evidence.

This is really, really, really bad news. Cohen apparently recorded all of his conversations, and the FBI has all of them. He also kept every piece of paper, and the FBI has over a million documents they obtained by raiding Cohen.

3. Cohen can't be pardoned.

The State of New York does not need any federal charges to put Cohen (and perhaps Trump) in jail for the rest of his life. And as we all know, a president has no authority to pardon a criminal convicted of state crimes. Bye, Bye Michael.

4. Cohen dealt with Russia during the campaign.

The evidence that the FBI obtained from raiding Cohen may be enough by itself to prove collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

5. Cohen may have collected bribes after Trump's election.

Michael Cohen is at fault for the crimes he committed, and he knows he can't blame anyone else, including Donald Trump, for what he did. But he also is smart enough to know that there is only one way out for him: to fully cooperate with federal and state prosecutors to receive leniency in charges and in sentencing.

In light of the Stephanopoulos interview, Jon Chait wonders in the pages of New York magazine, "What would it mean for Trump if Cohen turns on him? The short answer is, it would be extremely bad."

TCJ's obituary of Ellison by Michael Dean is worth reading, especially for the introduction:

Harlan Ellison made enemies. He made them with gleeful abandon. He also made loyal friends, fans and acolytes, but the only person who comes to mind who was capable of making enemies as blithely as Ellison did is Gary Groth. Ellison and the TCJ publisher were friends and then they were, almost inevitably, enemies. Not just winking frenemies, but mutually contemptuous, financial-life-threatening legal opponents. Now the time has come for one enemy-maker to publish the obituary of its enemy-making enemy. So it's understandable if readers may expect a less than reverential remembrance here.

Ellison's relationship to comics is examined here:

Ellison is known primarily for his work in science fiction (or speculative fiction, as he preferred to call it), including the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", the novella and movie A Boy and His Dog, and his editing of two Dangerous Visions anthologies. But though he scarcely wrote any comics stories, he has long been embraced by the comics community as a kindred spirit, a challenge to the hidebound, compromised conventions of traditional entertainment. Comics fans identified with his attitude, his wide knowledge of comics mythology, and his strongly held opinions, perhaps because when it came to comics he was more fan than pro. He loved comics and he was iconoclastic enough to liberate the form from its cultural ghetto, granting comics the same respect and high standards he accorded more mainstream literature.

Dean notes Ellison's departure from the literary scene:

Beginning around 1975, Ellison all but ceased to be a working writer, becoming instead a re-packager, an introducer, a creative consultant, a master of ceremonies, a cameo voice in video games and animated TV shows, a guest of honor, a website commenter, and a lawsuit filer. The first half of his career alone, however, was fertile enough to leave most other professional biographies green with envy. Ellison had written so many stories, novels, screenplays, teleplays, movie and television reviews and essays, won so many awards and assaulted so many publishers, critics, professors and Hollywood producers in such a short period of time, that an early burnout would seem to have been inevitable. His persona -- the young, vital, aesthetically righteous punk who did not hesitate to kick the ass of the stodgy, greedy entertainment establishment was so indelible, that it was hard to imagine Harlan Ellison as an old man.

He mentions the 2008 documentary, Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which I have yet to see, and describes Ellison as "both charming and cruelly un-charming:"

Between 1956 and 1976, he went through four wives before marrying Susan Toth in 1986. That partnership lasted the rest of his life. But he was still capable, while onstage at the 2006 Hugo Awards ceremony, of grabbing author Connie Willis' breast and detonating a divisive controversy among fans.

Gary Groth reminisces about the classic Harlan Ellison interview from The Comics Journal #53 (Jan 1980). (If you don't like reading pieces that long online, it was reprinted in The Comics Journal Library Vol. 6: The Writers, pp. 80-156.) Aside from some excessive flattery of Stan Lee and some probably-not-excessive vilification of Jim Warren, Ellison unleashed more than his daily quota of quotable remarks:

I swear to God, just one day I'd like to get up and not be angry. Just one goddamn day in this life I'd like to arise and not be fuckin' pissed off at the world. (p. 86)

People say, "How do you see yourself?" And I finally figured out how I see myself. I see myself as a cross between Jiminy Cricket and Zorro. That's me, man. In my wildest dreams, I see myself precisely that way. I'm able to do a lot of fighting for a lot of people because I'm known as a pain in the ass... (p. 95)

People say to me, "Well, you only do that to shock." And I say, "Absolutely. Abso-fuckin'-lutely. What did you do, come in here to sleep?" It's my intent to run around the outside of the circle like a sheepdog, as loud as I can, make as much noise as possible, and keep the sheep from being eaten by the wolves if at all possible. This may be an egomaniacal attempt on my part to rationalize and ennoble my own troublemaking, but that's what I am. I'm not even a gadfly; I'm a troublemaker. (p. 106)

I have a voracious need to know everything. I have a house with 37,000 books in it. In a given month I will read Science News, Scientific American, Playboy, Atlantic, Harper's, Time, New York, New West, American Film, Armchair Detective, TV Guide, Partisan Review, National Review, New York Review of Books, Intellectual Digest, which is no longer being published, sadly, Esquire, Omni, National Geographic, and a smattering of others. (p. 138)

Erwin Chemerinsky (author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution) sees a new era for the Supreme Court:

The just completed Supreme Court term will come to be regarded as the beginning of a new era in constitutional history: a time of a very activist Court that aggressively follows the conservative political agenda. This term was the most conservative since October 1935, when the Supreme Court repeatedly declared unconstitutional key New Deal laws. The 2017-2018 term was a year filled with cases of unusual importance, and the conservative position prevailed in almost every case.

"One measure of this term's conservatism," Chemerinsky writes, "is found by looking at the 5-4 decisions:"

There were 19 5-4 rulings out of 63 decisions. Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch in 14 of them. He voted with the liberal justices--Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan--zero times. A year ago, in the ideologically divided cases, Kennedy was with the liberals 57 percent of the time. Two years ago, Kennedy was the key vote to uphold the University of Texas's affirmative action program and to strike down key provisions of Texas's restrictive abortion law.

Chemerinsky observes that "this term, where Kennedy always voted with the conservatives, is the harbinger of what is to come," and his departure from the bench "means that this type of conservative judicial activism will be here for a long time:"

Richard Nixon got to pick four justices in the first two years of his presidency, between 1969 and 1971. This ended the liberal era and the Court moved sharply to the right. I think we will come to see that era lasting from 1969 to 2017. [...]

But this era is now over. No longer is there a Stevens or Souter, let alone a Powell or O'Connor or Kennedy to join the liberals. Instead of Powell or O'Connor or Kennedy being the "median justice" ideologically, it is John Roberts who is the ideological middle of the Court. Roberts is much more conservative than Kennedy on the most high-profile and controversial issues. The chief justice wrote a vehement dissent from the Supreme Court decision in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared unconstitutional state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. It is the only dissent that he has read from the bench since joining the Court in 2005. Roberts has voted to uphold every regulation of abortion that has come before him. He is emphatic that all forms of affirmative action are unconstitutional.

"What will it mean," Chemerinsky asks, "to have five very conservative justices whose jurisprudence is based on the Republican platform?"

I have no doubt that there will be five votes to overrule Roe v. Wade, five votes to declare all forms of affirmative action unconstitutional, five votes to eliminate the exclusionary rule as a remedy when police violate the Constitution.

We have seen the beginning of a new era of right-wing judicial activism on the Court, and it is going to be with us for years to come.

Jeremy Sherman explains how the Right uses trinketing as a psychological trick to galvanize its base:

True righteousness, like true bravery or true love, will cost you. You have to put risky, expensive effort into it or else it's just lip service. We each have limited effort to expend. How we expend it is the true expression of our priorities. [...]

But between true righteousness and mere lip-service there's a bargain alternative: Token righteousness. Pick some easy, trivial issue and crusade on it pretending that it's the highest priority, the most epic concern. With token righteousness, you can pose as if your bravely, lovingly saving the world without having to prioritize the truly daunting threats to it.

"You can collect a whole charm bracelet of trinket issues," he writes, "to make yourself feel like you're covering all the marks of righteousness:"

Here's one for justice, one for care, one for compassion, one for bravery. Collect enough and you can pretend you're world-encompassing.

"It's telling that the right chose to call being anti-abortion being pro-life," he points out, "as though protecting fertilized eggs is all it takes to protect life:"

That's the point. Armed with their mighty trinket charm bracelet, they never have to think beyond their trivial causes. They use their trinkets to pivot debate. You bring up a priority and they shake their wrists at you at you saying "yeah, but what about this?!" pointing to one of their misplaced token priorities. [...]

They don't have the moral equivalent of legal standing on most of these issues. They're not directly or indirectly oppressed by any of the threats they jingle. They have to exaggerate the threat to them personally to gain any credibility. That's why you get this perverse argument that their right to not be offended is a higher priority than a gay person's right to marry.

"Trinketing is a powerful way to galvanize the right's token righteousness," he concludes, "even if it has nothing to do with addressing the world's true woes."

George Stephanopoulos' interview with Michal Cohen is filled with portent:

Michael Cohen -- President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney and a former executive vice president at the Trump Organization -- has always insisted he would remain loyal to the president.

He was the fix-it guy, the pit bull so fiercely protective of his boss that he'd once described himself as "the guy who would take a bullet" for the president.

But in his first in-depth interview since the FBI raided his office and homes in April, Cohen strongly signaled his willingness to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York -- even if that puts President Trump in jeopardy.

"My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Cohen told me. "I put family and country first."

"When I asked Cohen how he might respond if the president or his legal team come after him -- to try and discredit him and the work he did for Mr. Trump over the last decade -- he sat up straight," writes Stephanopoulos. "His voice gained strength:"

"I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy," he said emphatically. "I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way."

To speculate on the question will he flip on Trump?, Crooks & Liars shares some optimistic tweets; cross your fingers, everyone!

Harlan Ellison, whose death at age 84 seems both surprising and long expected [remember his assertions back in 2010 that "I'm dying"?], is eulogized by TNR's Jeet Heer:

Despite the many awards for his science fiction and fantasy stories, his reputation suffered, particularly towards the end of his life, from his mercurial and sometimes violent temper, which led to transgressive and criminal behavior. In 2006, he humiliated the writer Connie Willis by groping her breast on stage during the Hugo Awards. Ellison claimed this act was a joke and apologized but it fit in with a larger pattern of boundary-crossing that he boasted of in other contexts.

"Ellison's violence and sexual assault tainted his reputation while still alive," writes Heer, "and they continue to raise questions about how to evaluate his work:"

To be sure, even in his best work, Ellison was a limited writer with a narrow emotional and tonal range. He could do rage, terror, alienation very well, with hectoring and loud stories that mirrored the 1960s countercultural rage at the establishment. But there was little in Ellison's work of empathy, friendship or love. He had no gift for conveying delicate shades of feeling.

"Ellison's quarrelsome personality clouded his reputation," Heer concludes, and "His personal violence remains unforgivable." Mark Evanier concurs, and presents not an exculpatory story--as if such a thing were possible--but a delightful one instead. (It might even inspire you to re-read "Repent, Harlequin!" with a new appreciation.) As Evanier observes, "there might have been a few wrong lessons to learn from the man:"

More serious was his occasional inability to meet deadlines. He turned his chronic tardiness in everyday life into one of his better stories, "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." It's a fascinating work because he seems to have tried to take every rule of Good Writing he could think of, violate it and still wind up with Good Writing. I know some disagree but I kind of think he made it.

being super

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Brian Andersen asks at The Advocate, what's so queer about Supergirl?

Supergirl has it all, she just needed that one special story to really cement her gay icon status; that one tale that will forever help to define her and the important role she plays in our superhero pop culture world. Enter: Supergirl: Being Super.

"Supergirl: Being Super," writes Andersen, "is the perfect modern allegory for queer youth:"

Supergirl is forced to hide a huge part of herself to avoid exposing herself; she has to play a part to show that she isn't as different. Supergirl if forced to swallow her light, her uniqueness, from the rest of her friends on Earth so that she can survive high school. What queer person can't relate to that?

The book is brave and smart because it deviates from the past Supergirl stories by providing readers with the most defining version of the character without all the continuity baggage (...). Supergirl: Being Super is, as Tamaki puts it, "purely her own origin story" outside of Superman. The Man of Steel isn't even featured throughout the comic (except for one page that I won't spoil). Supergirl: Being Super serves as a thoroughly important love letter to her legendary status while taking the time to explore an entirely new defining story meant to explore the girl behind the super.

Also, one of Supergirl's BFF's in the story is Dolly, a lesbian who, as Tamaki puts, is a "fierce individual who has no problem talking about her passion for women." She's out and proud in her school and unapologetically queer and unspoken. She's the gay version of Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen, only Dolly is treated as an equal.

"Tamaki is optimistic his take on Supergirl will find queer converts," concludes Andersen. "Even if you don't think Supergirl is your thing, pick it up."

BigThink's Kevin Dickinson points out that multitasking is killing your productivity. Here's the scene he sets:

You begin the project your boss wants by end of the day and put on The Office for background noise. You get a good flow going just before receiving an email, and you start to write a response, but then a coworker hails you from across the open office right when an instant message pops onto your screen with a hilarious meme, and you try to help one coworker while letting the other know you appreciate the LOLs, but then you realize you can't remember which of your 15 browser tabs were for the project and which were for the email, and now the phone is ringing.

Welcome to the modern American workday, a multitasking gauntlet from start to finish.

While managers view multitasking as a means to increase productivity, neuroscientists couldn't disagree more.

Management's view wins, of course, despite being devoid of facts. "Are you a multitasking junkie looking to sober up and de-stress?" Dickinson asks before offering a laundry list of techniques for managing multi-tasking demands--most of which you've probably seen before. "All of this," he admits, is "easier said than done:"

Focus isn't easy. Distraction is what our minds do, and it isn't helped by our always-on, instant-results culture. To implement these changes, you may need to have a difficult talk with your manager about the benefits of monotasking. But the benefits to your productivity and work-life balance will be well worth the effort.

Don't let management demand that you run the multitasking gauntlet--it's not good for anyone.

David Stuttard calls Alcibiades the Donald Trump of ancient Greece:

Privileged and narcissistic, a man who considered truth to be subjective, who casually manipulated facts to suit his own ambitious ends, who believed that the world was divided into winners and losers, and was determined to win at any cost, no matter whom he trampled on: Alcibiades was a politician for our times. And since, as George Santayana famously remarked, 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,' we would do well not to forget him today.

Alcibiades was born to wealthy Athenian aristocrats in the middle of the fifth century bc, his city's Golden Age. Orphaned as a child, he became ward of the powerful Pericles, and as a young man forged a close friendship with Socrates, who (it is said) saw his potential for both good and bad, and tried to steer him towards the former.

Stuttard offers more context:

Tapping into inter-generational tension, the comic dramatist, Aristophanes, raised a laugh at their expense in Clouds, imagining a debate where Honest-Argument, personified as an old-school conservative, is trumped by his smart, young, charismatic, but decidedly amoral rival, Dishonest-Argument (in today's vocabulary, "alternative truth"). While (perhaps unfairly) Aristophanes named Socrates as the quintessential sophist, he gave his pupil a dramatic pseudonym, but dropped none-too-subtle hints regarding his identity. A flamboyant young hedonist, who spent family money on racing chariots, he clearly represented Alcibiades.

"For all his statesmanship," writes Stuttard, "Alcibiades was morally a loose cannon:"

Flagrantly consorting with prostitutes nearly cost him his marriage, but it was scandal of another sort that brought him down. On the eve of the Sicilian expedition, public statues of Hermes (believed to keep the city safe) were found to have been systematically smashed. A second outrage followed: blasphemous young men were accused of profaning one of Greece's most sacred rituals. And implicated in both was Alcibiades.

It didn't end well for Alcibiades:

He found refuge in the unlikeliest of places: first with Athens's mortal enemies, the Spartans, then with Greece's mortal enemies, the Persians. Somehow through persuasiveness, charisma, and shamelessly offering to help defeat his city, Alcibiades managed to stay one step ahead in the grim game of survival. But still he wanted to bask in Athens's limelight.

Desperation at home paved the way for his return:

Riven by internal faction, defeated in war, and plunged into economic crisis, the Athenians voted to drop all charges and recall him. At last he was where he wanted to be: Commander-in-Chief, the most powerful man in Athens.

Hubris was again his downfall, as one might expect:

Once more he escaped, but time had run out for both him and his city. Athens fell, defeated by the Spartan-Persian coalition, which Alcibiades had once done so much to encourage, and in Anatolia Alcibiades was shot dead by assassins.

Clever and hypnotic, but loyal only to himself, Alcibiades epitomized Athens. Heedless of his weaknesses, he exploited his city's failings, exacerbating fault lines for his private ends, and undermining hard-won democratic principles. To some he was a ruthless traitor, dangerously self-obsessed, a would-be tyrant (in Greek, an "unelected autocrat"). Others, swayed by his common touch, found stories of his excesses endearing. Once, when asked why he had cut off his handsome hunting dog's fine tail, he replied, "So people will be so obsessed with that, that they ignore anything worse that I might do."

The parallels to today are obvious, sad to say--though one hopes that Trump's reign will be less disastrous. Stuttard's book Nemesis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens has earned a spot on my TBR list.

wage theft

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Corporate wage theft is on the rise, writes Sam Pizzigati, and the practice is "thriving:"

Offenders include the predictable fly-by-night operators we would expect. But the culprits also include, as an alarming new report details, billion-dollar corporations that can clearly afford to honor their side of our core employer-employee bargain.

These companies are committing their thievery on many fronts. They're not paying employees for work performed "off the clock." They're stiffing workers on overtime and violating minimum wage laws. They're requiring employees to buy particular work clothes and not compensating them for their outlays.

"How widespread has this corporate wage theft become?" Pizzigati asks:

Grand Theft Paycheck, a landmark new study from Good Jobs First and the Jobs with Justice Education Fund, examines over 1,200 lawsuits against wage theft that groups of workers have won since 2000. Employers in these cases paid out a combined $8.8 billion in penalties.

And that total just hints at how widespread wage theft has become. Only eight states currently enforce wage theft regulations and provide data on that enforcement. Many wage theft settlements also remain confidential.

The giant U.S. corporations involved in this theft -- retailers like Walmart, telecoms like AT&T, banks like JPMorgan Chase, insurers like State Farm -- can all easily afford, as Grand Theft Paycheck puts it, "to pay their workers properly." So why don't they?

"The reasons vary," writes Pizzigati:

With a declining union presence in America's workplaces, workers have become more vulnerable. Politically motivated attacks on "regulation," meanwhile, have left many government watchdog agencies woefully underfunded.

But the biggest reason major corporations are cheating their workers remains more basic: The outrageously generous rewards that have become so commonplace in corporate America give the executives who run our top corporations an ongoing -- and almost irresistible -- incentive to behave outrageously.

To hit the corporate jackpot -- to pocket double-digit millions and more -- these execs will do most anything. They'll cook their corporate books. They'll shortchange R&D. They'll outsource and downsize. They'll cut worker pensions. They'll take reckless risks.

And, yes, they'll commit wage theft, often brazenly.

What about laws against this sort of theft?

Against these colossal millions, the threat of penalty fines for wage theft hasn't had much of a deterrent effect. Would larger fines make a difference? Would more systematic regulatory oversight reduce levels of wage theft? Would a stronger union presence discourage corporate thievery? Undoubtedly yes.

But those who run our corporations aren't going to abandon their thieving ways so long as that thievery can pay so well for them personally. Wage theft didn't start soaring in the United States until the late 1970s, the same years that eye-popping CEO pay packages became a standard fixture on the corporate scene.

Corporate execs have had, for nearly five decades now, a powerful incentive to cheat their workers: their own exorbitant pay. Let's end it.

The study "Grand Theft Paycheck: The Large Corporations Shortchanging Their Workers' Wages" (PDF) notes how widespread the problem is--they found "at least one wage theft case for 303 of the Fortune 500 companies," with corresponding penalties:

Among the dozen most penalized corporations, Walmart, with $1.4 billion in total settlements and fines, is the only retailer. Second is FedEx with $502 million.

The addendum by Adam Shah, entitled "Policy Recommendations to Combat Rampant Wage Theft," suggests that we "must build collective power for working people to ensure companies do not come up with new ways to exploit their employees:"

First, federal and state regulators should increase appropriations for wage and hour enforcement. Regulators should also use strategic enforcement and other methods to maximize impact on labor law violators in a way that builds working people's collective power, shifting workplace dynamics so fewer bosses have the ability to underpay. Second, states and localities should use California's anti-wage-theft laws as a guide to reform their own laws and to deal with the Supreme Court's recent decision to give corporations the power to ban private collective wage theft actions. Third, federal and state law must be updated for the modern workplace to ensure corporations that benefit most from wage theft are subject to penalties when caught. Fourth, working people must have the right to challenge the ultimate beneficiaries of the wage theft such as franchisors or outsourcers, not just their immediate employers. Working people organizing formally as labor unions or through more informal methods may be the best means of stopping wage theft
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