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Category: General

Fucking Politics, How Does It Work?

[ 517 ] September 26, 2016 |


There are really no good arguments for voting third party for president in the currently existing American electoral system. To the extent that third-party voting has any justification at all, there are three bad categories. The first is to argue that it doesn’t really matter because the major parties are essentially the same. Dr. Jill Stein, MD makes this argument:

Admitting Trump is the worst possible thing that could happen to the country, she also says that the binary options amount to “death by gunshot or death by strangulation.”

The main problem with this argument, as applied to the election of 2016, is that it is reflects massive dishonesty, massive stupidity, massive ignorance, or some cocktail of the three. American political parties are polarized to an unusual extent, and the Democrats are far better on a wide range of issues and worse on none.

If one admits the obvious truth that there are material differences between the two parties, there are a couple of terrible arguments one can trot out. The first is the hieghten-the-contradictions routine, which deliberately makes things worse in order to make things better. One example is Jill Stein’s contention that the lesson of Nazi Germany is that it’s better for fascists to take power than to form a coalition with liberals. Rarely has an argument been more convincingly self-rebutted. If one recognizes that heighten-the-contradictions arguments tend to be not merely wrong but monstrous, the next move tends to be “vote Jill Stein — it has no chance of affecting anything whatsoever, but will allow you to pat yourself on the back for being too good to be part of a mere political coalition.” Which doesn’t strike me as a very attractive argument, but whatever. It’s not really one that’s easily available to Jill Stein, however. So there’s another variant, the MORE EFFECTIVE EVIL theory:

“Donald Trump, I think, will have a lot of trouble moving things through Congress,” Stein says. “Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, won’t … Hillary has the potential to do a whole lot more damage, get us into more wars, faster to pass her fracking disastrous climate program, much more easily than Donald Trump could do his.”

The ignorance of basic facts about American politics that this reveals is astounding. The idea that a Republican-controlled House would pass Hillary Clinton’s climate change legislation is as stupid as the idea that Hillary Clinton’s climate change agenda consists entirely of “MOAR fracking plz.” Even worse is the idea that agendas are determined solely by presidents, the assumption that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have no agenda of their own when in fact they have a longstanding agenda they would pass and Donald Trump would allow to pass into law because he has no interest in public policy. The idea that Congress would stop Trump from pursuing military adventurism is comically ignorant of history. Then there’s the fact that she ignores the people Donald Trump would staff the federal judiciary and executive branch with, and also ignores that the only circumstances under which the Senate would fail to confirm is if Trump accidentally chose a non-wingnut. And so on. Although it least she doesn’t make the “sure, Republican presidents will do more bad things, but these bad things will generate more Uncle Sams on stilts” variant of the argument.

If you must vote third party because you’re too good for mere politics, I would again recommend writing in someone more knowledgeable about basic facts of American government, like Harambe.


The Hedgehog and the Fox and the Newt

[ 99 ] September 26, 2016 |
Donald Trump, maybe

Donald Trump, maybe

A tweet by Newt Gingrich caught my eye:

It was sort of a weird tweet, fun to riff on; but an alert follower showed me this: It’s an essay by Isaiah Berlin. (Note: I’m not familiar with him even slightly; just reporting the facts.) Here’s what wikipedia wikisays about the essay:
“The title is a reference to a fragment attributed to the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus: πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα (“a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”). In Erasmus’s Adagia from 1500, the expression is recorded as Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum. The fable of The Fox and the Cat embodies the same idea.Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Plato, Lucretius, Dante Alighieri, Blaise Pascal, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henrik Ibsen, Marcel Proust and Fernand Braudel), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include Herodotus, Aristotle, Desiderius Erasmus, William Shakespeare, Michel de Montaigne, Molière, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Aleksandr Pushkin, Honoré de Balzac, James Joyce and Philip Warren Anderson).”

It seems a rather obscure reference to me. I wonder if Newt used it to troll liberals into saying things like this:

If so, well-played, Newt. Well-played.

Debate Pre-Thread

[ 290 ] September 26, 2016 |

I confess that I have great foreboding about the debate. I have a sinking feeling that Trump is going to lie and lie again, Hillary won’t effectively respond, the moderator won’t call him out (or will quickly cower under his bluster if he pushes back at all), and even more white people will see him as the embodiment of their resentments and fears.

This does not help me feel better.

Reading in Prison

[ 85 ] September 25, 2016 |


Above: A man too dangerous for Texas prisoners

The U.S. prison system is primarily designed to lock up people of color, control their labor, and humiliate them. There is very little about justice in the criminal injustice system. Anything that potentially empowers prisoners is something to be eliminated. In Texas especially, that includes reading anything that might possibly inspire prisoners.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, says Texas has 15,000 banned books but the list “is growing exponentially. Once a book goes on it never comes off.”

The Texas list is not just long but diverse. It includes former Senator Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage; Jenna Bush’s Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope; Jon Stewart’s America; A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction; and 101 Best Family Card Games. Then there are books banned for what TDCJ calls “racial content,” such as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the Texas football classic Friday Night Lights, Flannery O’Conner Everything That Rises Must Converge, and Lisa Belkin’s Show Me a Hero, which depicts the struggle to desegregate housing in Yonkers, New York in the face of institutional racism.

But don’t worry: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism, and the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer are all kosher. (Clark would not directly respond regarding this issue.)

Teaching The Battle of Algiers

[ 62 ] September 25, 2016 |


This is a really interesting essay about how the military establishment teaches The Battle of Algiers and how it usually draws poor lessons from it.

Since 2003, counterinsurgency training has become an important field of professional military education, with centers and programs springing up at institutions like the US Military academy at West Point, the National Defense University, and the Naval War College. A search of these institutions’ websites indicates that The Battle of Algiers is a fixture of these courses. At West Point, it’s shown regularly in the French and Arabic programs. A flier for an upcoming screening explained that the film is of interest because it uses “language in a political and military context” and because “the issues faced by the French in Algeria are many of the same issues currently faced by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It’s also shown in courses offered at USMA’s Combating Terrorism Center. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Price told me that he uses the film to illustrate methods such as sector-by-sector containment and the impact of decapitating a movement’s leadership, and as a case study of what works and what doesn’t.

All of the defense professionals whom I spoke with tied their interest in the film to their advocacy of counterinsurgency strategies that emphasize political solutions and reject tactics such as torture. David Ucko, an associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, said that he encourages foreign security personnel who are engaged in combating terrorism to focus on establishing political legitimacy. In his eyes, the inescapable lesson of The Battle of Algiers is that if you act as the French did in Algeria, you’re going to lose.

Somewhat contrary to my expectations, these conversations didn’t leave me with the impression that military educators’ approach to teaching The Battle of Algiers is particularly doctrinaire. Price told me that he encourages students to interrogate the concept of terrorism and the definition of a terrorist. He also said that while most cadets identify with the French, some end up taking the side of the Algerian insurgents. Ucko similarly noted that the film helps his students to humanize the enemy.

But if the teaching of The Battle of Algiers in policy and military contexts isn’t closed-minded, it does raise some other questions. To hold that it’s better to win people over with values and ideas rather than by force is good in principle, but it assumes that there are social and political principles that could unite all parties. This seems highly questionable in a situation such as Iraq, where the objectives of the US presence have been far less straightforward than those of the French in Algeria, and where “insurgency” has become increasingly protean.

Another issue is the apparent lack of attention paid to the film as a film — to the questions of storytelling and cinematography that preoccupy cultural scholars. The film seems to be taught in military colleges as a mirror of history, while history is approached as a reservoir of examples from which lessons can be drawn. Ben Nickels, an associate professor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, observed that this approach is somewhat symptomatic of the field of military history as a whole. Over the last 30 years, military history has all but vanished from the academic mainstream, flourishing only in professional military education, where it has been sheltered from historiographical practices that focus on primary documents as contingent representations.

That is fundamentally true about military history within the academy. As its’ become more isolated, it’s hardly surprising that it would fall further and further behind the rest of the field conceptually. Also, I taught Battle of Algiers in my summer film course a couple of years ago and one of the students, who was an ex-Marine who had gone to Lebanon just after the barracks were blown up, said they watched it back then to understand what was happening in the Middle East. I mean, I think there are things one can learn from films, but it worries me that the leading document to understand the contemporary Middle East within the military establishment is a fifty-year old film made by an Italian Marxist about a secular, nationalist revolutionary movement.

Shorter STEM Experts: Please Invest in the Humanities!

[ 151 ] September 25, 2016 |


It sure would be nice if politicians and university administrations actually listened to people in the STEM fields and invested heavily in the humanities and social sciences. The editorial board of Scientific American makes this point powerfully.

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn’t want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided. Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation. The unparalleled dynamism of Silicon Valley and Hollywood requires intimate ties that unite what scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences.

Steve Jobs, who reigned for decades as a tech hero, was neither a coder nor a hardware engineer. He stood out among the tech elite because he brought an artistic sensibility to the redesign of clunky mobile phones and desktop computers. Jobs once declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

A seeming link between innovation and the liberal arts now intrigues countries where broad-based education is less prevalent. In most of the world, university curricula still emphasize learning skills oriented toward a specific profession or trade. The ebullience of the U.S. economy, which boasted in 2014 the highest percentage of high-tech outfits among all its public companies—has spurred countries such as Singapore to create schools fashioned after the U.S. liberal arts model.

But hey, bullying students to avoid majoring in theater or Spanish is fun! And really, what would the knowledge of a foreign language or the ability to write effectively add to a employer?

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 50

[ 9 ] September 25, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Paterson.


William Paterson was born in Ireland in 1745. His family immigrated to the American colonies in 1747 and settled in New Jersey. He started at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) at the age of 14 and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He rose rapidly in New Jersey politics during the American Revolution and was one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. There, he pushed for a unicameral legislature, which helped lead to the compromise that created the United States’ bicameral system. He became a Federalist and was named to the Senate in 1789. He then became the first senator to resign from office in 1790 to become governor of New Jersey. In 1793, George Washington named Paterson to the Supreme Court where he served until his death in 1806. He died near Albany, New York while visiting his daughter, who had married into New York’s powerful Van Rensselaer family.

William Paterson is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Fact checks are such stupid things

[ 90 ] September 25, 2016 |

On the role of debate moderators:

The head of the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed Sunday. Speaking on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Janet Brown said that it’s not the moderator’s job to factcheck. “What is a big fact, what is a little fact?” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

The author of Gradient Lair (among other things) Tweeted about this with the line “Post-fact society.” I suppose if I wanted to be optimistic I’d say “Fact optional society,” is another way of looking at it. However it isn’t much of an improvement and no one likes an WellActuallizer, so why bother?

At any rate, since the debate moderator’s role is asking questions and making sure no one exceeds his/her time limit, I think networks can save millions if they get rid of the moderator and give the debaters the questions. Time limits can be controlled by the sound tech who will switch off mics. Better yet, the network controlling the feed can just go to commercial.

Some background on the debate moderator as fact checker debate:

Hours after the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published separate stories outlining the lies Donald Trump has told during his presidential campaign, Trump’s campaign spokesperson told ABC’s “This Week” that it isn’t the media’s job to factcheck the presidential debate.

“I really don’t appreciate the campaigns thinking it is the job of the media to go and be these virtual fact-checkers,” Kellyanne Conway said, in an apparent attempted jab at the Clinton campaign. She also opposed debate moderators questioning the candidates’ truthfulness in any way.

It was funny yesterday.

I vote for choice #3: Avoid pitched Slate

[ 121 ] September 25, 2016 |
Slate roof repair. Photo: Jeffrey S. Levine, National Park Service.

Slate roof repair. Photo: Jeffrey S. Levine, National Park Service.

Last night, Commentrician Nobdy shared an article from Slate. Since Nobdy warned everyone about the content and the origin of the article, I really ought to have known better. But as they say, seeing is WTFing?

Republicans have faced an excruciating choice in 2016: Get behind their own party’s mortifying nominee or cede the White House to a deeply despised rival.

It’s an easy call from the left side of the fence. Democrats are baffled when seemingly sane conservatives like Paul Ryan and John McCain promise to vote for the GOP’s loony new standard-bearer. We tut-tut. We roll our eyes. We s our gdhs.

These would be Democrats whose knowledge of conservatives like McCain and Ryan is based solely on press releases from the offices of conservatives like McCain and Ryan, I assume. Or morons.

But confronted with the same dilemma, I wonder how the left would respond. If a dopey populist surge somehow contrived to foist a wackadoo lefty nominee on the American electorate, how many of my fellow Democrats would feel obliged, for the sheer safety of the nation, to vote for an especially hated but well-qualified right-wing opponent? And how many would swallow hard and climb on board with the wackadoo?

Stevenson posits Sean Penn as the Democratic nominee created by a racist and xenophobic dopey populist surge.

It quickly becomes clear that a certain Bernie-ish swath of primary voters can’t get enough of Penn. He rants about social justice issues with a raw ferocity that packaged liberal politicians never quite muster.

Ranting against social justice or ranting for social justice? No, just about social buzzphrase the details are not important!

He rips into right-wing enemies with salty language and palpable anger. He’s a loose cannon on Twitter and seems nigh incorruptible.

HaLOL. At what point during this decade could anyone think the phrase nigh incorruptible belonged in the same ZIP code with Trump?

However, that’s what I get for reading past the point where he didn’t specifically name the Republican opponent, but he did cite a Tweet by Ross Douthat:

I’m saying: Imagine a race where the choices were an unfit, paranoid, unstable Democratic nominee and Rick Santorum.

This is just one woman’s opinion, but the opposite of unfit, paranoid and unstable is not now, and will never be Rick “Santorum” Santorum.

Furthermore, I am utterly failing to grasp what sort of safety I would gain by voting for (and I assume helping to elect) a homophobe and misogynist who has the Blacks Hooked on Food Stamps chicken surgically attached to his pecker and once signed a pledge that included a less than accurate passage about slavery:

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

So: No. And to be clear, my opinion doesn’t change if the candidate is Cruz or Romney or McCain or an imaginary Republican named Kate who is really my ideal of a liberal president and who somehow tricks the GOP into nominating her via a cunning plan that involves cutting her hair, putting on boy’s clothes and saying her name is Bob.

No also to Sean Penn the wackadem (or Jill Stein or Harambe), should this irritating philosophy student-type thought experiment ever become a reality.

And no to Slatepitching as well.

NFL Open Thread: But He’s Just A Compiler

[ 179 ] September 25, 2016 |


Belichick is now tied for 4th in all-time coaching wins. I think we have to consider the possibility that he’s one of the better coaches in the NFL right now.

Seriously, for those interested in that kind of thing I strongly recommend Dom Cosentino’s piece. Bill James had a piece in one of the Abstracts arguing that one thing that distinguished the first-rate managers from the rest of the pack is that they were not only good the multiple aspects of the job (in-game tactics, managing players and media, and longer-term talent development and evaluation) but were thinking on all of the levels simultaneously. That’s Belichick to a T. He’s an exceptional game-planner and in-game adjuster, and at least a very good talent evaluator and motivator, and he also seems to be able to fuse short-term and longer-tern considerations seamlessly in a way that’s difficult even for good coaches.

I think this also helps to explain the relative failure of his coaching tree — being good at the limited role you have doesn’t necessarily train you to do the other things you need to do as a head coach. McDaniels really does seem to be a first-rate playcaller/gameplanner in Belichick’s system, but no matter how good a tactician you are, it’s not going to make you a good head coach if you’re as bad at picking players and managing them as he was. (To be Scrupulously Fair, no sane organization is going to start McDaniels with personnel control again, and he was young for an NFL coach when he got the Denver job, and it’s possible that he’s matured and would be better working with players now. I still don’t know that I’d want my organization to be the guinea pig.)

What Is Terrorism?

[ 127 ] September 25, 2016 |


Mr. Cetin was active in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, said the former classmate, Uhlaine Finnigan, 19, of Port Angeles, Wash.

She called Mr. Cetin “sexist” and said he would touch girls on their buttocks, “either slapping or grabbing them.”

“He did that to girls of all grades at the high school including my best friend and I, regardless of the blatant disgust from the girls and being told to stop,” she said in an interview by Facebook Messenger. She said he appeared to have few friends.

The attacker at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Wash., killed four women in the cosmetics section of a Macy’s department store, the authorities said. A man was critically wounded in the shooting and was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died. The youngest female victim was a teenager, law enforcement officials said at a news conference on Saturday morning.

The gunman, who was armed with a rifle, left the scene before the police arrived. Officials said they recovered the weapon at the scene. They declined to give details about the weapon or to say how many rounds were fired. Photographs of Mr. Cetin on a Myspace account showed him holding a handgun and a rifle.

A spokesman for the F.B.I.’s Seattle field office said on Saturday that there was no evidence to suggest that the shooting was an act of terrorism.

Oh. In light of his history of domestic violence, this is relevant:

But if Trump and Gingrich are truly looking to stem terrorism and mass violence of the sort that happened in Nice, they might do better to look to a different kind of litmus test: domestic violence and grievances against women. Early reports suggest that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove a rented truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers on Thursday night, killing more than 80 including at least ten children, may not have been devout, but he did have a criminal record of domestic violence. A neighbor claimed he would “rant about his wife,” who left him two years ago.

[HT Anderson]

Lowrying the bar

[ 229 ] September 24, 2016 |

The man who started the year by getting a bunch of Principled Conservatives to stand athwart Donald Trump yelling STOP! has made his lemons into Orangeade and mapped out Trump’s path to victory in the debate on Monday: Don’t be a complete and utter asshole.

Trump has a built-in advantage in that there is a lower standard for him — not because the media isn’t tough enough on him, as all the media mavens agree, but because he is the de facto challenger and candidate of change in a change election. Trump can win by clearing a bar of acceptability, whereas Clinton has to either clearly wound Trump or make a compellingly positive case for herself that has so far eluded her in both 2008 and 2016.

Jesus God is there anything the conservatives won’t grovel before if it gets powerful enough? Of course not.

Being a boorish, bullying, lying, ignorant, bigoted basket of shit whose hobbies are dicking people over and laughing about it is normally considered a negative. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of the Against Trumpers commented on these traits when discussing why Trump simply would not do as the Republican nominee. But the neo-cons have never been completely hostile to jerks and now that he’s gotten the nomination, Lowry has decided that the whole Trump the Trashbeing thing is great. Because now Trump can win if he just stops being utterly gross.

For the length of the debate.

Which is longer than 3 seconds.

I think I may have spotted a flaw in this plan.

To be sure, Trump will be on treacherous terrain. He can’t bully and mock Clinton. Without a teleprompter, message discipline still tends to elude him. The one-on-one format for an hour-and-a-half could make his thin knowledge painfully obvious. And any misstep or outburst that reinforces the idea that he lacks the qualities to be commander-in-chief would be devastating.

So he’s fucked, I guess Lowry is saying.

But Trump just needs to seem plausible and the very fact that he is on a presidential debate stage, the most rarified forum in American politics, will benefit him. During the Republican debates, the intangibles worked in his favor and they presumably will on Monday, too. Trump is a big personality with a dominant physical presence. His critics often sneeringly say he is a reality-TV star, but you don’t become one without charisma and a performative ability that are major political assets.

Perhaps he’s not screwed then. And I look forward to Lowry’s GOTV efforts for Kim Kardashian/Honey Boo-Boo in ’32.

Trump doesn’t need to mount a convincing, detailed defense of his tax or child-care plan or anything else to invalidate Clinton’s critique of him; he just needs to seem a reasonable person.

No never mind; he really is sincerely fucked.

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