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Archive for January 16th, 2021

The Georgia Phone Call: Better Than A Psychiatric Examination

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Madeline Taylor and Bandy X. Lee write in DCReport.org:

Donald Trump’s behavior is imminently dangerous to the health and safety of all Americans and to democracy.  Despite losing the 2020 election, he has been fighting relentlessly to stay in power.

He has called for a protest in DC on Wednesday (Jan. 6), promising it will be “wild”, to which the misogynist and violent “Proud Boys” responded.  His conspiracy-mongering has enlisted 140 Republican representatives to plot to overturn the election by getting Congress to contest the validity of votes that are unfavorable to him, while Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has recruited at least 11 other senators to delay election ratification by 10 days, opening room for further disruption and upheaval.

Meanwhile, there have been warnings that Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act at any sign of discord in the streets, or begin a war with Iran to interrupt the inauguration.

On Sunday, the Washington Post released a recording of Trump’s hour-long call to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state overseeing elections, first to berate, bully, and beg him into changing the vote totals, and then to threaten him when he refused.  The full recording reveals the president to be highly irrational and unstable, confirming better than any interview our previous assessment of lack of capacity for rational decision-making, but above all showing the president to be highly symptomatic and dangerous.  Here are some of our alarming findings.

A person who cannot tolerate certain realities may use various conscious and unconscious methods of minimizing those disturbing feelings by trying to change reality in their minds.  At the extreme end of this continuum, emotionally fragile persons can rely on delusions, or false beliefs that are rigidly fixed in order to support a vitally-needed belief, such as in their superior value.  Not only are these beliefs unamenable to facts and evidence, but they may bring a need to control what other people believe and say in order to ensure that the unbearable reality does not upset them. Here are some examples:

  • “I think it’s pretty clear that we won.  We won very substantially in Georgia.”
  • “We have many, many times the number of votes necessary to win the state.  And we won the state, and we won it very substantially and easily.”
  • “They say it’s not possible to have lost Georgia.  It’s just not possible to have lost Georgia, It’s not possible.  When I heard it was close, I said there’s no way.”
  • “We won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes.  There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way.  We won by hundreds of thousands of votes….  I won the state by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
  • “Your numbers aren’t right.  They’re really wrong, and they’re really wrong, Brad….  Look, ultimately, I win, okay?  Because you guys are so wrong.”

The presence of delusions does not negate criminal intent.  Donald Trump appears rather to rely on and maintain them interpersonally, by using denial, dismissal, contempt, ridicule, domination, invalidation, belittling, ignoring, and psychological annihilation to advance his agendas and to control others.  His inability to hear anything that threatens his ability to feel good about himself pressures others to comply, and his actual conviction makes his false beliefs more persuasive.  Psychic annihilation of others implies that others believe what he believes, and may: tell others what they know or do not know; or entirely discredit and bulldoze over the perceptions of other people as if to implant his reality inside their minds.

  • “They dropped a lot of votes in there late at night.  You know that, Brad.”
  • “But in Fulton, where they dumped ballots, you will find that you have many that aren’t even signed, and you have many that are forgeries.  Okay, you know that.  You know that.  You have no doubt about that.”

Donald Trump’s emotional vulnerability relentlessly drives him to force external reality to conform to his internal reality—in this case, that he won the state of Georgia and also the election.  The need to assert this belief is evident in the phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in several ways: Donald Trump dominates the hour-long conversation, repeatedly asserting on Raffensperger his fixed false belief that he won the election.  He tries to annihilate the other person’s independent perceptions by assuming a kind of ownership over them.  He projects his feelings onto him and fails to differentiate between himself and “the state.”  Failure of differentiation manifests in ascribing to others one’s own thoughts, feelings, or motives, failing to recognize the difference between what he feels and what others feel, conflating his feelings and the needs of “the state,” or “the people.”  This facilitates narcissistic entitlement, which Donald Trump also displays, assuming that he should be able to get whatever he wants if he simply lets it be known and applies the right kind of pressure.

  • “So there were many infractions, and the bottom line is, many, many times the 11,779 margin that they said we lost by—we had vast, I mean the state is in turmoil over this.”
  • “We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad.  You know, I mean, having the correct—the people of Georgia are angry.”
  • “And I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday or Tuesday, but it’s very scary to people.  You know, when the ballots flow in and out of nowhere. It’s very scary to people.”
  • “I think we should come to a resolution of this before the election.  Otherwise, you’re going to have people just not voting.  They don’t want to vote.  They hate the state, they hate the governor, and they hate the secretary of state.”

Donald Trump also refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of any statement of fact that threatens his false beliefs.  On the one hand, he must dominate in order not to have to hear information that in any way disconfirms the reality he needs to believe.  On the other hand, any spreading of hearsay, childlike conclusions, fantasies, cajoling, or attempts to humiliate, intimidate, and threaten are acceptable.

Trump: … why did they . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s damning.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 8:08 pm

Good insight: The far right embraces violence because it has no real political program

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Suzanne Schneider, a historian at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and author of the forthcoming book “The Apocalypse and the End of History,” writes in the Washington Post:

More than a week has passed since a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol, but we are still struggling to come to terms with the day’s events. Much of the difficulty stems from the fact that the Trump mob was both menacing and ridiculous, dangerous and utterly delusional. On one hand, there was an absurdist quality to many participants: conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, militia members, fans of animal pelts. Yet our cosplaying revolutionaries were not playing at all, leaving five dead and dozens wounded. Some said they were intent on genuine violence: “We will storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount,” a user reportedly wrote on 8kun the day before the assault.

We cannot make sense of the Capitol attack simply by trying to assess whether its perpetrators were really out for blood or just acting out a game of make-believe for the benefit of the cameras. The Trump insurrectionists exposed that a politics of spectacle, built upon delusion, is no less dangerous than “the real thing.” Precisely because they lack an affirmative political vision, far-right movements fetishize violence as the premier form of civic participation. It is what is offered to the masses in lieu of actual power. The result is violence that becomes almost casual, shorn of any political rationale and reflecting a reality in which human beings are just as disposable as their video game counterparts.

Events from recent years make it clear that the binary between fantasy and danger is a false one. Consider, for instance, the mass shooters who live-stream their rampages on Facebook or gaming platforms such as Twitch, a growing trend from Florida to New Zealand to Germany. Performative violence of this sort is no less real for being optimized for our new media ecosystem. If anything, performative violence gains its horrific quality because it treats human beings as means to an end — props that frame the protagonists’ moment of glory. The attack on the Capitol exists on a spectrum with these acts of violence, offering yet another instance of live action role play directed against real human bodies. The truly frightening thing about cosplaying in this regard is that it is part of a politics of delusion that is acted out in the real world. That many who participated in the attack are having trouble grasping the legal consequences that came along with their live-streamed insurrection testifies to this sense of confusion between material life and the revolutionaries they played on TV.

What does the growing prevalence of this mode of violence as spectacle — and the groups that embrace it — mean? In 1936, the German-Jewish critic Walter Benjamin observed that “fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.” That is to say, fascists used art in the service of politics to deflect people from pursuing the redistributive demands that historically came alongside mass political movements. Today, too, such performances furnish excitement and purpose for participants while leaving alone the underlying power structures that oppress them. Benjamin noted the rise of fascist aesthetics in contemporary film, visual arts, and ceremonies and other civic rituals; today, we encounter a much-reduced range of aesthetic expression. To the extent that the far right makes art, composes music or writes literature, it is so poor in quality that it can be read only as kitsch. What is left, and what is truly glorified within the emerging far-right imagination, is violence. Ours might be a hollowed-out fascism, a reality TV version of the 20th century’s premier political horror, but that does not make it any less dangerous. Kitsch can also kill.

For far-right leaders today, inciting violence against the nation’s “enemies” offers the fan base a pathway to political participation that preserves the anti-democratic character of the movement, as if to say: We do not need you to govern, only to harm. It is no wonder, then, that intimations of violence have become a common mode of personal expression among adherents of current far-right movements: Cue a thousand photos of extremists decked out in tactical gear, toting their professional-grade death tools and looking eager to reenact some bit of revolutionary drama. The insurrectionist wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt seemed ready to take up his guard duties against political prisoners but not to stop the certification of Biden’s victory. Violence has become the central act through which the far right understands political agency, which is why fantasies about harming the nation’s “enemies” — journalistsactivistsopposition politicians — abound within the right-wing imaginary.

Violence is not, in this sense, ancillary to far-right politics but central to preserving the vast inequalities that even its “moderate” supporters wish to maintain. Beyond the tax cuts and deregulation so favored by his plutocratic backers, President Trump’s signature accomplishments were notable for their gratuitous cruelty: the ban on travel from Muslim nations, family separation at the southern border, home invasions and deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that served no material interest beyond offering his fan base reasons to cheer. These are not disjointed parts of the right-wing agenda, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have recently argued, but rather co-dependent, which is one reason the growth of white nationalism has mirrored the uptick in economic inequality. Acts of violence, particularly against people of color, are the spoonful of sugar that helps the GOP’s economic platform — notoriously unpopular among its base — go down. Violence does the deflective work Benjamin identified with fascist aesthetics.

The events this month also underscored that “freedom” — that most signature of conservative values — has been refashioned to contain violence at its core: freedom to carry a weapon and use it at will, to infect others around you during a pandemic, to die of preventable disease rather than submit to a national health-care system. Moreover, the primacy of violence within the right’s political vision also helps explain why our authorized death dispensers — police officers and military personnel — have become demigods in certain circles. (That’s why it was so shocking to see the Trump mob engage Capitol Police officers in battle, violating the unmatched sanctity of blue lives.) The right fringe also likes to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 7:09 pm

Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich with Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Not to forget Zutty Singleton:

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

41 minutes of fear: A video timeline from inside the Capitol siege

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The Washington Post has an excellent 14-minute video in this article that gives a visual timeline of the invasion of the Capitol by the insurrectionists seeking to assassinate Pence, Pelosi, and others. The accompanying article by  Dalton Bennett, Emma Brown, Sarah Cahlan, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Meg Kelly, Elyse Samuels, and Jon Swaine begins:

At 2:12 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Trump began climbing through a window they had smashed on the northwest side of the U.S. Capitol. “Go! Go! Go!” someone shouted as the rioters, some in military gear, streamed in.

It was the start of the most serious attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. The mob coursed through the building, enraged that Congress was preparing to make Trump’s electoral defeat official. “Drag them out! … Hang them out!” rioters yelled at one point, as they gathered near the House chamber.

Officials in the House and Senate secured the doors of their respective chambers, but lawmakers were soon forced to retreat to undisclosed locations. Five people died on the grounds that day, including a Capitol police officer. In all, more than 50 officers were injured.

To reconstruct the pandemonium inside the Capitol for the video above, The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and hundreds of videos, some of which were exclusively obtained. By synchronizing the footage and locating some of the camera angles within a digital 3-D model of the building, The Post was able to map the rioters’ movements and assess how close they came to lawmakers — in some cases feet apart or separated only by a handful of vastly outnumbered police officers.

The Post used a facial-recognition algorithm that differentiates individual faces — it does not identify people — to estimate that at least 300 rioters were present in footage taken inside the Capitol while police were struggling to evacuate lawmakers. The actual number of rioters is probably greater, since the footage analyzed by The Post did not capture everyone in the building.

After breaking in on the Senate side of the Capitol, rioters began moving from the ground floor up one level to the chamber itself. Vice President Pence, who had been presiding, was moved to a nearby office at 2:13 p.m. The mob passed by about one minute later.

Continue reading. And read it all.  The article includes detailed diagrams of the Capitol that show the details of the insurrection.

Rebecca Solnit on Facebook notes:

Benjamin Carter Hett writes: Hitler learned his lesson: A sophisticated modern state could not be overturned by a violent coup led by outsiders, against the police and the army. He realized he would have to work within the system.

Over the following decade, this is exactly what he did. The Nazis ran in elections until they were the largest party in Germany’s parliament, gridlocking legislative business. Even more insidiously, the Nazis worked to infiltrate crucial institutions like the police and the army. In 1931, Berlin police responded incredibly sluggishly to a massive Nazi riot in the center of the city. It turned out senior police officials silently sympathized with the Nazis and had colluded in hobbling the police response.
Hitler grew steadily more attractive to business and military leaders who saw him and his movement as their only salvation from the growing Communist Party. Early in 1933 they opened the doors of power to him.

After the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, 139 Republican members of the House and eight members of the Senate, led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, came out of hiding to vote to object to the electoral college vote count. While a police officer lay dying, they supported Trump’s lie of a stolen election and embraced the insurrectionists’ cause.

Imagine the events of the past weeks and months if someone like Hawley had been the secretary of state in Georgia, or someone like retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn held a significant military command. Imagine what would have happened if the Republicans held majorities in both houses of Congress and could have overturned the electoral college results. Imagine if the courts had been more generously stocked with judges willing to entertain the Trump campaign’s ludicrous arguments.

Above all, imagine if the president had been a bit more competent, a bit more strategic, a bit more daring. Hitler, after all, was at least willing to be present at the violence his words inspired. He was also more persuasive in his dealings with important officials.

It is much more common for democracies to be undermined by seemingly legal actions taken from within than by violence from without. Hitler himself ultimately consolidated his power through legal instruments — for instance, the notorious Reichstag Fire Decree, which abolished the civil rights the democratic Weimar Constitution had granted.

In recent times, we have seen this happen in Hungary, Turkey and Russia. We need to think about legal safeguards for our institutions more than we need to think about barricades. We need to know that our police and military commanders will be loyal and do their jobs. And there must be real consequences for officials who try to profit from spreading sedition. There need to be motions of censure at the very least against Hawley and Cruz.

The majority of one of our two political parties is firmly committed to anti-democratic and insurrectionist politics. Normally the opposition party gains in midterm elections. It takes little imagination to see where this would put us in a close election in 2024. Democrats will have to work hard, using the Georgia model of mobilization to minimize midterm losses.

This month, Americans have seen what it means to have insurrectionists working inside our government. We will need to respond aggressively if our Beer Hall Putsch is not to be followed by more of the kinds of violence and terror we have seen in the past.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 5:53 pm

The ‘Shared Psychosis’ of Donald Trump and His Loyalists

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Tanya Lewis writes in Scientific American:

The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building last week, incited by President Donald Trump, serves as the grimmest moment in one of the darkest chapters in the nation’s history. Yet the rioters’ actions—and Trump’s own role in, and response to, them—come as little surprise to many, particularly those who have been studying the president’s mental fitness and the psychology of his most ardent followers since he took office.

One such person is Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist and president of the World Mental Health Coalition.* Lee led a group of psychiatrists, psychologists and other specialists who questioned Trump’s mental fitness for office in a book that she edited called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. In doing so, Lee and her colleagues strongly rejected the American Psychiatric Association’s modification of a 1970s-era guideline, known as the Goldwater rule, that discouraged psychiatrists from giving a professional opinion about public figures who they have not examined in person. “Whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should refer back to the Declaration of Geneva, which mandates that physicians speak up against destructive governments,” Lee says. “This declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

Lee recently wrote Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul, a psychological assessment of the president against the backdrop of his supporters and the country as a whole. These insights are now taking on renewed importance as a growing number of current and former leaders call for Trump to be impeached. On January 9 Lee and her colleagues at the World Mental Health Coalition put out a statement calling for Trump’s immediate removal from office.

Scientific American asked Lee to comment on the psychology behind Trump’s destructive behavior, what drives some of his followers—and how to free people from his grip when this damaging presidency ends.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What attracts people to Trump? What is their animus or driving force?

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

“Shared psychosis”—which is also called “folie à millions” [“madness for millions”] when occurring at the national level or “induced delusions”—refers to the infectiousness of severe symptoms that goes beyond ordinary group psychology. When a highly symptomatic individual is placed in an influential position, the person’s symptoms can spread through the population through emotional bonds, heightening existing pathologies and inducing delusions, paranoia and propensity for violence—even in previously healthy individuals. The treatment is removal of exposure.

Why does Trump himself seem to gravitate toward violence and destruction?

Destructiveness is a core characteristic of mental pathology, whether directed toward the self or others. First, I wish to clarify that those with mental illness are, as a group, no more dangerous than those without mental illness. When mental pathology is accompanied by criminal-mindedness, however, the combination can make individuals far more dangerous than either alone.

In my textbook on violence, I emphasize the symbolic nature of violence and how it is a life impulse gone awry. Briefly, if one cannot have love, one resorts to respect. And when respect is unavailable, one resorts to fear. Trump is now living through an intolerable loss of respect: rejection by a nation in his election defeat. Violence helps compensate for feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy and lack of real productivity.

Do you think Trump is truly exhibiting delusional or psychotic behavior? Or is he simply behaving like an autocrat making a bald-faced attempt to hold onto his power?

I believe it . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 5:10 pm

No absolute time: Newton got it wrong, Hume saw it right, and Einstein learned from Hume how relativity would work

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Matias Slavov, a postdoctoral researcher in philosophy at Tampere University in Finland, writes in Aeon:

In 1915, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the philosopher and physicist Moritz Schlick, who had recently composed an article on the theory of relativity. Einstein praised it: ‘From the philosophical perspective, nothing nearly as clear seems to have been written on the topic.’ Then he went on to express his intellectual debt to ‘Hume, whose Treatise of Human Nature I had studied avidly and with admiration shortly before discovering the theory of relativity. It is very possible that without these philosophical studies I would not have arrived at the solution.’

More than 30 years later, his opinion hadn’t changed, as he recounted in a letter to his friend, the engineer Michele Besso: ‘In so far as I can be aware, the immediate influence of D Hume on me was greater. I read him with Konrad Habicht and Solovine in Bern.’ We know that Einstein studied Hume’s Treatise (1738-40) in a reading circle with the mathematician Conrad Habicht and the philosophy student Maurice Solovine around 1902-03. This was in the process of devising the special theory of relativity, which Einstein eventually published in 1905. It is not clear, however, what it was in Hume’s philosophy that Einstein found useful to his physics. We should therefore take a closer look.

In Einstein’s autobiographical writing from 1949, he expands on how Hume helped him formulate the theory of special relativity. It was necessary to reject the erroneous ‘axiom of the absolute character of time, viz, simultaneity’, since the assumption of absolute simultaneity

unrecognisedly was anchored in the unconscious. Clearly to recognise this axiom and its arbitrary character really implies already the solution of the problem. The type of critical reasoning required for the discovery of this central point [the denial of absolute time, that is, the denial of absolute simultaneity] was decisively furthered, in my case, especially by the reading of David Hume’s and Ernst Mach’s philosophical writings.

In the view of John D Norton, professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh, Einstein learned an empiricist theory of concepts from Hume (and plausibly from Mach and the positivist tradition). He then implemented concept empiricism in his argument for the relativity of simultaneity. The result is that different observers will not agree whether two events are simultaneous or not. Take the openings of two windows, a living room window and a kitchen window. There is no absolute fact to the matter of whether the living room window opens before the kitchen window, or whether they open simultaneously or in reverse order. The temporal order of such events is observer-dependent; it is relative to the designated frame of reference.

Once the relativity of simultaneity was established, Einstein was able to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his theory, the principle of relativity and the light postulate. This conclusion required abandoning the view that there is such a thing as an unobservable time that grounds temporal order. This is the view that Einstein got from Hume.

Hume’s influence on intellectual culture is massive. This includes all areas of philosophy and a variety of scientific disciplines. A poll conducted with professional philosophers a few years ago asked them to name the philosopher, no longer living, with whom they most identify. Hume won, by a clear margin. In Julian Baggini’s estimation, contemporary ‘scientists, who often have little time for philosophy, often make an exception for Hume’. Before saying more about Hume’s permanent relevance, we should go back to the 18th-century early modern context. His influence is due to his radical empiricism, which can’t be fully understood without examining the era in which he worked.

The dominant theory of cognition of early modern philosophy was idea theory. Ideas denote both mental states and the material of our thinking. A mental state is, for example, a toothache, and the material of our thinking are thoughts, for example, of a mathematical object such as a triangle. The clearest proponent of the theory of ideas was the French philosopher René Descartes, for whom philosophical enquiry is essentially an investigation of the mind’s ideas. In one of his letters, he explains why ideas are so important: ‘I am certain that I can have no knowledge of what is outside me except by means of the ideas I have within me.’ If we wish to gain any certainty in our investigations of any aspect of the world – whether the object of our investigation is the human mind or some natural phenomenon – we need to have a clear and distinct idea of the represented object in question.

Hume’s theory of ideas differs from Descartes’s because he rejects innatism. This view goes back to Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis, which maintains that all learning is a form of recollection as everything we learn is in us before we are taught. The early modern version of innatism emphasises that the mind is not a blank slate, but we are equipped with some ideas before our birth and sensory perception. Hume starts at the same point as his fellow Briton and predecessor, John Locke. The mind begins to have ideas when it begins to perceive. To ask when a human being acquires ideas in the first place ‘is to ask when he begins to perceive; having ideas and perception being the same thing,’ writes Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689). Drawing on this insight, Hume devised his copy principle.

Perception, for Hume, is divided into ideas and impressions. The difference between the two is  . . .

Continue reading.

You can get a Kindle edition of Hume’s books and essays for 77¢.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 4:33 pm

Better pillow has meant better sleep

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For quite a while I’ve been frequently waking up in the middle of the night — any time from 2:00am to 4:00am — and being awake for an hour or two before getting back to sleep. I usually get up and read until I’m sleepy again, but I’d rather sleep through the night.

I bought a new pillow, and as soon as I began using it, I started sleeping through the night — and it seems to me that my sleep was much deeper and more relaxed.

I’m a side sleeper, and my old pillow, though a good pillow, was (I now realize) clearly designed for a back sleeper: it was pretty flat. This new pillow does have a hollow to support my head, but the thicker edges provide neck support that the other pillow lacked.

There’s a higher side and a lower side, as you see. The higher side worked fine and is designed for side sleepers. I’ve also used the lower side, and that works, too. You can also remove a middle layer from the pillow, reducing the height of both sides. I haven’t needed to do that.

For any readers who are side sleepers, this pillow is definitely worth considering. I’m very glad I got it.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 4:06 pm

The American Abyss: Fascism, Atrocity, and What Comes Next

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Timothy Snyder, Levin professor of history at Yale University and the author of histories of political atrocity including “Bloodlands” and “Black Earth,” as well as the book “On Tyranny,” on America’s turn toward authoritarianism, writes in the NY Times Magazine on the mechanisms and failures that brought the US political system to its current state of wreckage:

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent. In 2020, in the knowledge that he was trailing Joseph R. Biden in the polls, he spent months claiming that the presidential election would be rigged and signaling that he would not accept the results if they did not favor him. He wrongly claimed on Election Day that he had won and then steadily hardened his rhetoric: With time, his victory became a historic landslide and the various conspiracies that denied it ever more sophisticated and implausible.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices. Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.

In this sense, the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome.

Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.

Of course this did make a kind of sense: If the election really had been stolen, as senators and congressmen were themselves suggesting, then how could Congress be allowed to move forward? For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Afterward, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that had forced them to flee their chambers.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — it’s a long article — and at the link you can also listen to it (30 minutes at normal speed).

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 1:56 pm

After the Rain, Irisch Moos and the Marvel razor (no connection with Marvel comics)

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After the Rain is another fragrance in Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak line, and a very nice fragrance it is, too. With RazoRock’s 400 brush, the lather was exquisite, and my Fine Marvel did an excellent job. (Here it’s mounteed on a UFO bronze handle.) A splash of Irisch Moose — no menthol — and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2021 at 9:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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