Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Time To Pay The Piper









Or the start of my begging week* which will run to the end of next week's Wednesday.  This year I have an actual project (other than the usual expenses), and that is my need for a new computer.  This one (bought by my lovely readers, by the way, in 2008) is beginning to misbehave.  It's slow as molasses in January, and I want to be ready for its demise.

Please do not give if you are poor.  The ways to give are described in the left column.  If you prefer not to use PayPal, send me an email about other ways for me to get money for a computer and chocolate.

May I take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, for your past contributions and for being you.  I also want to thank those of you who send me a little every month.  I only recently found out how to send those folks thank-you emails.  My silence was not ingratitude, in other words.

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*  That odd part of Echidne must pick the worst time of the year for the funding week!  I still feel embarrassed about asking for money, even though I do work very very hard on the stories I put up here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Alta Vista Killings


Happened three years ago.  I wrote about Elliot Rodger in 2014.  That post, sadly, is still relevant, given the misogynist online sites.

A Political Paradox: The Anti-Extremist Ideology Center in Riyadh.







The glowing orb in this picture, taken while our Dear Leader was visiting his BFFs in Saudi Arabia, is a decoration in a new center in Riyadh.  The center is intended to combat extremist ideology. 

Most politics has those incredible paradoxes, the kinds which any observer from outer space would immediately place one of her twenty-one fingers on and then shake her three heads with great sadness, trying to understand them.  In this case the paradox is why the country* which is the home of the most extremist religious ideology in Islam would now build a center to combat its own messages to the rest of the world.  

After all, the petro-dollars have financed Wahhabist mosques all over the world, including in Europe,  and it is the ur-conservative and extremely literal Wahhabist interpretations of the Quran which the terrorists in ISIS, for example, have partly used  to create their own theological justifications for terror attacks, slavery,  the wholesale killing of those whose religious beliefs differ, and the extreme oppression of women.

But then similar paradoxes abound elsewhere, too.  The United States is not exactly innocent in that respect, either.

Still, it's imperative to address the long-term negative effects of religious extremism which is rearing its ugly head not just in Islam but also in Christianity and Hinduism

This is particularly crucial for the equality of women and men, because extremists/literalists always base their views of women's proper roles on what ancient nomadic herding societies thought those were,  and then desire to make them today's norms.  Indeed, one might even argue that the rise of religious fundamentalism may be a partial response to women's increasing rights.

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*  The word "country" is here used to refer to the rulers and clergy of Saudi Arabia, not the ordinary citizens of the country.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Short Posts 5/22/17: On Conservative Ethics, Gerrymandering and Cats


1.  Donald Trump's budget proposal is the sadists' wish-list.  It won't pass, but as this Slate piece states, that shouldn't make us less frightened:

It is essentially a stack of papers telling Republicans that they are free to go wild butchering essential pieces of the safety net in order to fund extraordinary tax cuts for the wealthy and increased defense spending. Food stamps? In Trump’s proposal, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program gets $193 billion in cuts over 10 years, and would allow states to stiffen work requirements for the program. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, aka welfare as we now know it? Its already anemic funding gets slashed by $21 billion. The administration is already trying to spin this kind of hatchet work as “welfare reform”—but it's mostly just a signal to conservatives that they can get their cleavers out, should they feel compelled. The same goes for the $800 billion in Medicaid cuts, which mirror the reductions in the House health care bill, and the reported reductions to Social Security Disability Insurance.

A harsher, more cruel country is in the making.  But at least the market for yachts will boom.


Facebook: Moderating Violence





The UK Guardian writes about Facebook and moderation.  The article makes for interesting reading.  The following table gives examples about violent comments which are acceptable (the green check mark) and those which are not (the red x):

Put your thinking caps on and figure out why someone cannot say "stab and become the fear of the Zionists," but can say "kick a person with red hair."  Or why it's perfectly fine to teach someone how to kill "a bitch."

I understand why the advocating of violence against a named person is not allowed.  But the Zionists are a group of unnamed individuals, and so are people with red hair or fat people.  And women certainly are a demographic group.  Yet only the hate message to Zionists would cause it to be deleted.

Facebook:  Where millions of people exchange funny cat videos, cute baby pictures and advice on how to snap the neck of a bitch...






Friday, May 19, 2017

Figuring Out What Is Happening In The Russian Investigations


Figuring out what is happening in the Russian investigations is almost impossibly hard, for several reasons. 

First, the media industry is in dire straits, given that it can no longer reliably use advertising revenue to fund the news production and given that it has not been able to find an alternative viable funding plan*.  This means, among other things, that every journalist must write click-bait articles, to get as many eyeballs as possible to look at a particular piece of writing, and even if there's nothing worthy of so many eyes in the article itself. 

Thus,  I have recently read "new revelations" which came out months ago, or "revelations" which are speculations.  Real revelations can drown in that sea of noise.

Second, the conservative media tries its utmost to toss out alternative stories, different click-bait, to stir the pot and to confuse the audience.  Instead of some type of public debate or conversation, we have a war of words.

Third, the journalists who write boring, carefully sourced and thrice checked articles are the journalists without an audience. 

That is very sad.  It's partly the consequence of the trend Roger Ailes began where loud arguments and opinion pieces replaced news at Fox News and later, by osmosis, influenced the way news is covered in other media outlets, too.   But it's partly also this new era where everyone can be a citizen journalist, where nobody needs to learn how one verifies something and where a lie indeed has orbited the world many times before truth has its hobnailed boots laced up.

And, finally, its partly because too many Americans follow politics as consumers rather than as citizens, and because that following then depends on how entertaining it is.

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*  When I talk about that online the usual answer is that people would be willing to pay for news if they only were better quality news.  The problem with that answer is that it's not true, given the public goods nature of information.  As long as we can get the information without paying for it, that is what we will do.

Sadly, that response is rational in the short-run, but in the long-run it means the end of news production as a properly vetted process.  (I'm preparing you all for my blog funding week which begins this coming Monday!  Give often!) 

Quotes To Think About, Friday, May 19, 2017


These short quotes are nuggets of pure gold.

- An obituary of Roger Ailes (of Fox News fame) states:

Kaplan said Ailes was also a brilliant TV producer who was keenly aware that even with talking heads, he was working in a visual medium. Fox News always had state-of-the-art graphics and animation. His penchant for putting attractive women on the air, with legs displayed on the set, was well known.
“Roger has a very visually pleasing network in terms of look and color and form,” Kaplan said. “Roger cared about what it looked like.”
I love the idea of women as part of the great visual experience Ailes created.

- Brooke Gladstone asks why Trump lies:

By far the greatest source of anxiety for those watching the edifice of reality collapse is the ceaseless cascade of lies. But it is not the lies that pose the existential danger to democracy. It’s the lying, the kind of thoroughgoing lying that gives rise to a whole new reality or, better still, to no reality at all.
Journalist Masha Gessen resists equating Trump with Putin, as American media are prone to do, but says they are kin in the use of the lie: “It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose—blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.”
The sheer abundance of lies demonstrates, again and again, that facts are disposable, confusing devices that do not serve you, that do not matter.

Bolds are mine.

- A USAToday opinion piece asks us to consider an alternative presidency:

Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign’s ties to a hostile foreign government.
We know what would have happened.  The yells of "Lock Her Up" would never have quieted down (not that they are completely silent even now). 

The presidential campaigns told us enough about the alternative rules.  Imagine if a woman had run for the president of the United States after having had children with three separate men...

-  An interesting lefty take on a few questions affecting women:

In a speech at Planned Parenthood’s annual gala last week, Clinton took the opportunity to talk about . . . memes. Referencing a photo of a uniformly white and male House Freedom Caucus discussing health care cuts, Clinton asked, “Could you believe those photos of men around that conference table, deciding how to strip away coverage for pregnancy and maternity care?” before adding: “I gotta say, my favorite Internet meme about this were the dogs sitting around the table discussing ‘feline care.’ I found that so on point.”
The next day, while being fĂȘted as a Gloria Awards’ Women of Vision honoree, Clinton descended even deeper into social media myopia. Speaking to the crowd, she said, “I just want all these Twitter trolls out there to know that maybe if you had left us alone, we might have gone out longer in the woods for our walks, but every time you hit those 140 characters demeaning women’s voices and rights, we’re comin’ back at you.”









Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Has Trump Really Been Treated Soooo Unfairly by the Media?



There are times when I simply must write an obvious post, and this is one of those times.

Our Dear Leader gave a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy in which he
 proclaimed that "no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly" by the media.
Is this really the case?  Let's see:  Suppose that I'm one of your two neighbors.  The other neighbor, the one that is not a nasty snake goddess with venom, knocks on your door to give you flowers or freshly-baked bread or bottles of bubbling wine on your birthday.  I, on the other hand, put dead snails through your mailbox, cut out nasty pictures from magazines and glue them on your front door and aim at you with a peashooter when you leave for work in the morning.

You might then badmouth me and praise your other neighbor, sure.  But would that be unfair treatment?

In other words, we can't compare the media's treatment of various politicians without holding constant that most important of all its determinants:  How that politician has acted.

Trump acts like a pampered two-year old in a temper tantrum.

On the other hand, I would argue that the way Hillary Clinton has been treated has a strong failure of having been caused by "politicking while female."  It doesn't matter that she is flawed or the ways in which she is flawed.  If her name had been Harry Clinton she wouldn't have been put through the mangle so very many times.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What Conservative Outlets Spoke about Today


While this side of the aisle lives and breathes Trump's incompetence and the risk that poses on not only to the United States but to the world, the other side of the aisle, in that other reality, has totally different news and people are worried about something quite different:

The murder of Seth Rich.

I had to Google the name to learn about Seth Rich*.  He was brutally killed in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2016.  At the time of his death he was a Voter Expansion Data Director at the DNC.  The police interpreted his death as robbery gone wrong:

Rich was shot about a block from his home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C.[9][10][11][12] Police were alerted to gunfire at 4:20 am by an automated gunfire locator called ShotSpotter.[12][13] Rich was found conscious but later died in the hospital.[10] Newsweek reported that police said he may have been killed in an attempted robbery and that the neighborhood had recently been plagued by robberies. Although Rich's watch strap was torn, nothing had apparently been taken from him.[9]

The conservatives, or some cells inside that wide organism, believe that the DNC or some Democratic politician killed Rich.  Why?

Because the conservatives believe (or want others to believe) that Rich was the source which provided Wikileaks with thousands of DNC emails.

Why write about this now?  Because a private investigator working for Rich's family had stated that he had found evidence of contact between Rich and Wikileaks.

Thus we get today's headlines in many right-wing newspapers and Internet sites:

"NOT RUSSIA, BUT AN INSIDE JOB?" asked Breitbart, the far-right website previously led by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, which said that "if proven, the report has the potential to be one of the biggest cover-ups in American political history, dispelling the widespread claim that the Russians were behind hacks on the DNC."
"DEAD DNC STAFFER 'HAD CONTACT' WITH WIKILEAKS," declared the headline of the Drudge Report, the highly-trafficked conservative news destination.
Fox News on Tuesday morning joined in the chorus, publishing a lead story on its website about the "DC MURDER MYSTERY." The story said Wheeler had made the claim Wikileaks had been in contact with Rich. It added that a federal investigator, who it said had spoken on the condition of anonymity, corroborated it.

Here's the next twist.  The private investigator later stated that he had found no such evidence.  Instead, he had heard about the evidence from the reporter he spoke to for that Fox News story in the above link.

That sounds a little circular, don't you think?

Anyway.  If you live in the conservative bubble, you will believe that the Washington Post and other liberal media are making such a hullabaloo about Trump's innocent slips and slides only to cover up these new findings which probably show that Hillary was out there last summer, killing people.  Or if not the bitch herself, then one of her henchmen or henchwomen.**

The impact of our news bubbles can be fatal for democracy.  If one half of Americans believe that the main event in recent domestic politics has been Trump's leaky mouth and the other half believes that it would have been the cover-up of the source of Wikileaks or even the cover-up of a murder by the DNC, well, we might as well not vote in the same reality, never mind the same country.

Something must be done about this new fashion where we don't only have our own opinions, but where facts are whatever you prefer them to be, without evidence needed.

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*  I feel awful about the heartless way I discuss the tragic death of a young man who had his whole life ahead of him.  His family must be greatly hurt by the politicization of his death.  My sincere apologies for any extra pain I am causing.

**  I got those ideas from various conservative comments threads where people believe that an evil deep state is going to take the brave and innocent champion of small people, Donald J. Trump, down.  Just because it is evil.










 



More Popcorn, Please



And here we go:

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

But this is perfectly normal!  So say the Trumpeteers.  Doesn't the president have the right to express an opinion???

Popcorn time, in other words.  The alternative is to unscrew our heads and store them in some place where future archeologists can find it when they try to figure out what took place at the onset of the new Dark Age.

The Tragi-Comedies of the Trump Reich


This is wonderfully, excruciatingly funny:

Trump blurts out highly classified information to Russians, at a meeting where only Russian journalists are allowed to record what is happening.

His (nominally not Russian) aides go into overdrive and start bandaging the cuts with every possible band-aid/plaster they can find.  National security adviser H.R. McMaster goes from one alibi to the next one at a good clip:

“The story that came out tonight as reported is false.”
...

“What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false, that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security.” 

....

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged.”

...

“I was in the room, the secretary of state was in the room, as you know, the deputy adviser for national security, Dina Powell, for strategy was in the room. And none of us felt in any way that that conversation was inappropriate.”

...

“The president wasn’t even aware, you know, where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.”

Mmm.  And Trump seems to have decided to blurt out all that secret information which possibly puts a valuable "asset" at risk of -- oh, let's say liquidation -- because, why?



Why did he want to do that?

The Washington Post suggests one reason:

Trump did this on the spur of the moment

That is probably the kindest possible motive we could attribute to Trump:  his never-ceasing narcissism.

And now he's meeting another wannabe patriarchal dictator, Turkey's Erdogan.  Wonder what he will blurt out to Erdogan?

Then he will many more opportunities to blurt out classified material to impress other guys, while traipsing around the world meeting various adherents to the three Abrahamic Guy Religions, meeting head guys of those religions, such as the Pope Guy and later some Saudi Guys.

At least they all have one thing in common...
   


Monday, May 15, 2017

Sharing Classified Information...



News like this one is why I hold those who voted for an ignorant narcissist responsible.  Trump may not know any better, but voters presumably have a sufficient number of sane people.

And, incidentally, here is Donald Trump happily tweeting before he became our dictator:




 But at least we didn't get a president careless with her emails!


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Thanks to noblejoanie in Eschaton comments for that Twitter-link.

How Liberals And Progressives Should Talk To Trump-Voters


I've always been intrigued by the odd blind spots in political arguments, the kinds which hardly anybody points out, because they have been invisible for so long that now they are just background, part of the drapes and wallpaper in the public living-room where we have our fierce political debates.

Examples are how premarital sex and unplanned pregnancies are so often covered:  It is the women alone who are sluts, as if premarital sex is some type of third-dimensional masturbation,  and it is the women who get pregnant without anyone else being involved at all.

I have read umpteen zillion right-wing articles about the need to teach young women not to go out late at night, not to get drunk when there are young men in the same room, not to have sex before marriage lest that turn them into licked ice-cream cones or some other moral equivalent of soiled goods.

But these stories never, and I mean never, give any such advice to young men.  The accepted blind spot in that debate is that boys will be boys and that it's natural for a young virile man to try to have sex with anything that moves.  It's as if we tell the prey to go home and hide, but we give hunting licenses to any hunter who wants one.*

Those blind spots often tell me something about the hidden societal power structure.  In the above case it might be that the hunting is accepted as a right, so all the prey can do is try not to get caught.

Today's example asks when someone in politics should try to understand the opposition's point of view.  I'm sure you have read some of the many articles,  published after the 2016 elections, which argue that progressives and liberals should listen to the Trump voters, should try to understand them, should perhaps even move to the reddest areas where even the goats vote for Republicans and where the poorest of all the poor still proudly pressed the button for the man who is now taking away all the welfare benefits they need to survive.

The blind spot in that example is this one:  I don't recall ever reading a single article which would have urged that conservatives listen to the left or try to understand the lefty opinions.  Republicans don't have to do that, whether they are in power (as now) or not.  Only Democrats are required to understand the opposition, perhaps to empathize with them.

I am strongly for listening to one's political opposition, of course, and even for understanding such enemies as ISIS.  I believe in proper dialogue.**

But that's not what those articles urge.  Rather, they take it for granted that the progressives and liberals are arrogant elitist ass-hats, with all their book learning and atheism and snootiness, and that the Trump voters really are the salt of the earth.

Let's reverse that plea and ask Trump voters to listen to, say, women of African descent, the base of the Democratic Party, to try to truly understand their needs and pains and struggles. 

That does not happen, because who it is we should listen to is determined by that invisible background power structure.  Even whose caricatures are accepted in a matter of fact way (elitist latte-sipping liberals) is determined by that power structure.  It's good to remember here that the poor were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the rich for Donald Trump.

I didn't invent this particular argument about the new view of Trump voters as the unexplored wilderness of Real America, by the way.  Frank Rich made the same argument in his interesting take on the elections.  Still, the people who voted for Donald Trump were mostly the same people who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012:  Republicans.

***

The seeds for this post were sown by something that happened to me over the weekend: 

I was at the local pharmacy, waiting to pay for my chocolate (yes, chocolate), and suddenly the older white man working as the cashier for my line of customers went on a tirade about the elections and his reasons for choosing Trump.

I have no idea what specifically caused his tirade.  I felt very awkward listening to it, for several reasons:  He might get fired for spouting politics at work, he left no openings for anyone to respond to his claims, and people in the line became restless.  Ultimately I left without paying for my chocolate (I put it back!).

But before that I listened.  I learned that the Obama Crime Family had emptied the government's coffers and no way would this man want to elect the Clinton Crime Family back into the White House.  I also learned that one Muslim entering the country with a nuclear weapon in his or her suitcase could kill everyone dead, so Trump had to put a stop to them coming in.  He also said something negative about a young  female Democratic politician who had recently been canvassing in the store.

This experience is not meant to be a representative one, and I don't present it in that light.  Still, I'm pretty sure that I could have spent a year talking with him and we still wouldn't have gotten much closer, because we clearly have different ideas about what the facts might be.

But I must admit that I felt some empathy for the pain or discomfort that must have caused his rantings in a context where he put his fairly low income at risk, just for the chance to finally say what was on his mind in front of customers.  The Democrats must indeed do better for those who earn less.  At the same time, the Democrats must NOT accept sexism and racism as just your Real America features.



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* I don't think of most men in those terms, but the writers of the "she-is-a-slut" articles do seem to.

** And this should certainly include discussions about the morbidity and mortality rates of middle-aged white women and men, and the increasing income inequality in the US.  The Democratic Party should go back to the job of caring about the working class individuals, though not only the white ones, while not dropping the ball on fairness and justice for all.