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How American Racism Influenced Hitler

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Alex Ross writes in the New Yorker:

“History teaches, but has no pupils,” the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. That line comes to mind when I browse in the history section of a bookstore. An adage in publishing is that you can never go wrong with books about Lincoln, Hitler, and dogs; an alternative version names golfing, Nazis, and cats. In Germany, it’s said that the only surefire magazine covers are ones that feature Hitler or sex. Whatever the formula, Hitler and Nazism prop up the publishing business: hundreds of titles appear each year, and the total number runs well into the tens of thousands. On store shelves, they stare out at you by the dozens, their spines steeped in the black-white-and-red of the Nazi flag, their titles barking in Gothic type, their covers studded with swastikas. The back catalogue includes “I Was Hitler’s Pilot,” “I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur,” “I Was Hitler’s Doctor,” “Hitler, My Neighbor,” “Hitler Was My Friend,” “He Was My Chief,” and “Hitler Is No Fool.” Books have been written about Hitler’s youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design (“Hitler at Home”).

Why do these books pile up in such unreadable numbers? This may seem a perverse question. The Holocaust is the greatest crime in history, one that people remain desperate to understand. Germany’s plunge from the heights of civilization to the depths of barbarism is an everlasting shock. Still, these swastika covers trade all too frankly on Hitler’s undeniable flair for graphic design. (The Nazi flag was apparently his creation—finalized after “innumerable attempts,” according to “Mein Kampf.”) Susan Sontag, in her 1975 essay “Fascinating Fascism,” declared that the appeal of Nazi iconography had become erotic, not only in S & M circles but also in the wider culture. It was, Sontag wrote, a “response to an oppressive freedom of choice in sex (and, possibly, in other matters), to an unbearable degree of individuality.” Neo-Nazi movements have almost certainly fed on the perpetuation of Hitler’s negative mystique.

Americans have an especially insatiable appetite for Nazi-themed books, films, television shows, documentaries, video games, and comic books. Stories of the Second World War console us with memories of the days before Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq, when the United States was the world’s good-hearted superpower, riding to the rescue of a Europe paralyzed by totalitarianism and appeasement. Yet an eerie continuity became visible in the postwar years, as German scientists were imported to America and began working for their former enemies; the resulting technologies of mass destruction exceeded Hitler’s darkest imaginings. The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society: the cult of sport, Hollywood production values, the mythology of the frontier. From boyhood on, Hitler devoured the Westerns of the popular German novelist Karl May. In 1928, Hitler remarked, approvingly, that white settlers in America had “gunned down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand.” When he spoke of Lebensraum, the German drive for “living space” in Eastern Europe, he often had America in mind.

Among recent books on Nazism, the one that may prove most disquieting for American readers is James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” (Princeton). On the cover, the inevitable swastika is flanked by two red stars. Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by “excluding certain races from naturalization.” Whitman writes that the discussion of such influences is almost taboo, because the crimes of the Third Reich are commonly defined as “the nefandum, the unspeakable descent into what we often call ‘radical evil.’ ” But the kind of genocidal hatred that erupted in Germany had been seen before and has been seen since. Only by stripping away its national regalia and comprehending its essential human form do we have any hope of vanquishing it.

The vast literature on Hitler and Nazism keeps circling around a few enduring questions. The first is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Books

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How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews

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Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report in the Washington Post:

On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.

But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.
Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers. banned paying for reviews a year and a half ago because of research it conducted showing that consumers distrust paid reviews. Every once in a while, including this month, Amazon purges shoppers from its site whom it accuses of breaking its policies.
But the ban, sellers and experts say, merely pushed an activity that used to take place openly into dispersed and harder-to-track online communities.
There, an economy of paid reviews has flourished. Merchants pledge to drop reimbursements into a reviewer’s PayPal account within minutes of posting comments for items such as kitchen knives, rain ponchos or shower caddies, often sweetening the deal with a $5 commission or a $10 Amazon gift card. Facebook this month deleted more than a dozen of the groups where sellers and buyers matched after being contacted by The Post. Amazon kicked a five-star seller off its site after an inquiry from The Post.
“These days it is very hard to sell anything on Amazon if you play fairly,” said Tommy Noonan, who operates ReviewMeta, a website that helps consumers spot suspicious Amazon reviews. “If you want your product to be competitive, you have to somehow manufacture reviews.”
Sellers say the flood of inauthentic reviews makes it harder for them to compete legitimately and can crush profits. “It’s devastating, devastating,” said Mark Caldeira, owner of the baby-products company Mayapple Baby. He said his product rankings have plummeted in the past year and a half, attributing it to competitors using paid reviews. “We just can’t keep up.”
Suspicious or fraudulent reviews are crowding out authentic ones in some categories, The Post found using ReviewMeta data. ReviewMeta examines red flags, such as an unusually large number of reviews that spike over a short period of time or “sock puppet” reviewers who appear to have cut and pasted stock language.
For example, of the 47,846 total reviews for the first 10 products listed in an Amazon search for “bluetooth speakers,” two-thirds were problematic, based on calculations using the ReviewMeta tool. So were more than half of the 32,435 reviews for the top 10 Bluetooth headphones listed. . .

Continue reading.

Just to be absolutely clear, the customer reviews for Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way are totally authentic: reviewers wrote the reviews on their own initiative and without any prodding or compensation from me, and almost all wrote their review after reading the book. (A couple of reviews are so far off the mark that I find it hard to believe that the reviewers read the table of contents, much less the book.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Can America’s Two Tribes Learn to Live Together?

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Park MacDougald has an interesting book review in New York. I’ve added some emphases below. He writes:

Nearly everyone writing about politics today seems anxious about tribalism. Although trends toward greater political polarization have been in place for decades, the chaos of the Trump era has made the country’s divisions seem starker and more dangerous than at any time since at least the 1960s. And no wonder: Geographical mobility, racial and ideological sorting along party lines, and the segmentation of media mean that for many Americans, their political opponents are no longer friends and neighbors but a nation of hostile foreigners with whom they happen to share a country — they look and speak differently, live in different places, and cling to strange and potentially malevolent beliefs with all the irrational fervor of a doomsday cult. More literal forms of tribalism are on full display as well: Trump ran and won as, among other things, a white racial demagogue who mocked and insulted minorities on his way to the White House; while the left, as it has grown more diverse, has become accustomed to periodic spasms of hostility and mutual recrimination among its various minority groups and their white allies. Perhaps the most bitter of all contemporary political battles — and a Trump favorite — is immigration, which behind the ideological posturing is a referendum on whose tribe will control the country’s demographic future.

Making sense of this mess is the task set by Amy Chua in her new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, published in February. Chua, a law professor at Yale, is most famous for her 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother — a paean to authoritarian Asian parenting — but she has a long history of publishing unorthodox books on race, ethnicity, and nationalism. Her 2003 book, World on Fire, argued that the combination of free markets and democracy in diverse societies often leads to ethnic conflict, as certain “market-dominant minorities” become disproportionately wealthy and provoke majoritarian backlash. And her 2014 book, The Triple Package, co-authored with husband Jed Rubenfeld, argued that three cultural traits — insecurity, impulse control, and a feeling of superiority — are the secret to success in America (though a subsequent study suggests otherwise). Moreover, Chua herself knows something about just how bad ethnic relations can get. Her family are ethnic Chinese from the Philippines, members of a market-dominant minority that accounts for a little under 2 percent of the population but controls perhaps 70 percent of the economy. Such stark inequality tends to undermine ethnic harmony. In 1994, Chua’s 58-year-old aunt, still living in Manila, was stabbed to death with a butcher’s knife by her ethnic Filipino chauffeur, an episode Chua recounts in the opening of World on Fire. The belief that diversity inevitably leads to universal brotherhood is not an illusion to which she is likely to be inclined.

The central conceit of Political Tribes is that Americans, and especially American elites, are afflicted by a blindness to the importance of tribalism and group identity, of which ethnic and racial identity are but two particularly stubborn examples. The United States is what Chua calls a “super-group,” which means that unlike the ethnic nations of Europe, it provides its citizens with an overarching national identity without asking them to abandon their more particular and specific identities — one can still be a Southerner or a Korean-American without being any less of an American. Because the United States has proved successful in absorbing people from so many different backgrounds, the American political elite has, since the mid-20th century at least, tended to look on group identity as a kind of irrational atavism. Given the opportunity, they believe that most people, whether they live in Baghdad or Kansas City, will jump at the opportunity to shed their restrictive, premodern identities and become citizens of liberal-democratic states, with political preferences defined by individual interests and ideology. If it works in New Haven, why wouldn’t it work around the world?

For Chua, this idealism is both inspiring and completely false. People care very much about their group identity, tribalism is a part of our evolved psychology that cannot be educated away, and history is full of evidence that groups — whether ethnic, racial, religious, or political — are more than happy to dehumanize, exploit, and murder one another at the drop of a hat; indeed, we may take positive pleasure in watching members of our out-group suffer. Conflict becomes especially likely in conditions of extreme between-group inequality and in political systems that foreground group difference rather than providing a basis for common identity and solidarity — conditions that apply to the United States today, and which help to explain the country’s worsening partisan and racial divides. Conflict is not inevitable, and Chua is optimistic that America can find a way out of the downward spiral into tribalism. But doing so requires taking group feeling seriously, lest we blindly march down the road to Yugoslavia.

Much of the first half of Political Tribes is dedicated to showing how the American elite’s group blindness has crippled U.S. foreign policy in far-flung parts of the world. In Vietnam, for instance, American policymakers interpreted the war as a Cold War ideological conflict between communism and capitalism. Yet there was a hidden ethnic dimension that undermined U.S. efforts to prop up the South. South Vietnam, like the Philippines and many other Southeast Asian countries, had a private economy dominated by a tiny Chinese minority called the Hoa. This was a source of great resentment for ethnic Vietnamese, whose own national identity had been defined by centuries of resistance to Chinese imperialism. To many Vietnamese, “capitalism” was code for exploitation at the hands of the Hoa, and “communism” a dog-whistle for Vietnamese ethnic nationalism; predictably, the latter proved more popular. Subsequent chapters focus on Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. ignorance of sectarian and tribal divisions spelled disaster for postwar reconstruction efforts. Washington needed local allies who opposed the regime, and these often came from formerly subordinated groups eager to take revenge on their old masters. Meanwhile, American troops were inevitably seen by formerly dominant groups — the Pahstun in Afghanistan and the Sunni Arabs in Iraq — as foreign patrons of their ethnic rivals, pushing them into extremist sectarian movements such as the Taliban and ISIS. Referring to Pashtun intransigence, Chua lays out what she calls a “cardinal rule of tribal politics: once in power, groups do not give up their dominance easily.” It’s a rule that applies to the United States as well.

While the bulk of Political Tribes’ page count is taken up by examples drawn from around the world, the real focus of Chua’s book is contemporary American tribalism. The short version of the problem is, as she writes, that “race has split America’s poor, and class has split America’s whites.”

Whites, that is, have begun to separate more and more cleanly into two tribes defined largely along class, educational, and increasingly, partisan lines. (There are also, though Chua doesn’t mention them, subterranean ethnic divisions: Germans, Italians, and “Americans” — usually a proxy for Scots-Irish — were more likely than other whites to vote for Trump.) Better-educated whites, who dominate the country’s political and cultural institutions and are the main beneficiaries of the globalized economy, have adopted as their “tribal” identity a sort of post-national cosmopolitanism, defined against what they regard as the provincial culture of poor whites. Meanwhile, less-educated whites have defined their tribal identity in opposition to the Establishment, which they perceive as a distant, occupying foreign power, indifferent to their interests and intent on elevating minorities and foreigners to pride of place within “their” country. Donald Trump was their tribune, and his election has led to an omnidirectional escalation of hostility and mistrust. Progressive whites see him as a monstrous goon elected through appeals to America’s worst impulses; poor whites identify with his vulgarity and open contempt for elite mores; and minorities see in him the face of a terrifying white revanchism that has long bubbled under the surface of post-civil-rights America. Every group feels it is under attack, causing them all to “close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.”

This analysis is not exactly new — we know, for instance, that poor whites feel alienated from the “coastal elite” and that minorities fear the backlash of poor whites. Much of the post-2016 debate on the left, for instance, has concerned the extent to which the Democratic Party should tone down its focus on identity politics in order to make inroads with working-class whites. Where Chua innovates is in applying her ethnic- and tribal-based lens specifically to the transformations of white America over the past few decades, a difficult task made easier by considering the country’s racial neuroses as a specific case of a global problem. People everywhere are attached to their own group cultures, and dominant groups don’t like to give up their dominance. This is as true of America’s whites, Chua argues, as it is of Pahstuns in Afghanistan. And thanks to the combined effects of immigration and fertility, it seems inevitable that American whites will lose their majority status sometime around the middle of the current century. More cosmopolitan whites tend to view this prospect with indifference or even excitement, but for many others it is a source of deep anxiety, made worse by the sense that they and their culture — which they view as identical with American culture writ large — are increasingly objects of scorn and vilification in the eyes of the progressive coalition. (Fifty-two percent of Trump supporters, Chua notes, feel like “strangers in their own land.”) The sense that they are rapidly losing both demographic weight and cultural influence to people who despise them is leading these whites to adopt what Chua calls “ethnonationalism lite” — a form of white identity politics that, while officially colorblind, would like to return to an era of implicit white cultural hegemony. It is not that these whites would like for minorities to be expelled or oppressed, but they would like them to quit complaining so much.

Something like this narrative has been repeated countless times in analyses of the 2016 election, but any recognition that cultural anxiety drove white Trump support is typically taken as proof that these voters were motivated by racism, or “racial resentment,” to use the social-science term of art. From Chua’s perspective, however, they are simply doing what you would expect most groups in most places to do most of the time: hold on to whatever power they have, an impulse that becomes all the more desperate the more tenuous that hold on power becomes. Chua does not intend this as an excuse for white racism, and she is emphatic that ethnonationalism lite is not a viable way forward for an increasingly diverse country — minorities are not going back in the closet, so to speak. But she is critical of those on the left who regard even a limited empathy with this perspective as tantamount to compromising with evil, and suggests that the more aggressive forms of left-wing identity politics, which move from demands for equality to the blanket demonization of American society, tend to exacerbate tribal sentiment on both sides of the country’s racial divide. A less tribal future will likely require talking whites off the identitarian cliff by addressing at least some of their cultural anxieties — without, however, indulging their uglier impulses.

Ultimately, Chua believes that   . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2018 at 3:34 pm

James Comey Told Barack Obama That His Use of the Phrase “Mass Incarceration” Was Insulting to Law Enforcement Officers

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Apparently (at least in Comey’s view) law enforcement officers are sensitive snowflakes unable to withstand even indirect criticism. That’s not the view I hold, FWIW.

Peter Maas reports in the Intercept:

IN HIS NEW BOOK, James Comey portrays himself as a law enforcement saint who desires only the best for us, and the best is manifestly not President Donald Trump. But if you read “A Higher Loyalty” with more than its anti-Trump morsels in mind, a less benevolent version of Comey emerges — akin to the King George character in “Hamilton,” who lovingly sings to his rebellious American subjects, “And when push comes to shove/ I will send a fully armed battalion/ To remind you of my love.”

Most stories about Comey’s best-selling memoir have focused on its Hamlet-like agonizing over his potential role in tilting the 2016 election, and his horror at discovering that Trump, once in the White House, was as thuggishly corrupt as the mafia dons Comey had prosecuted before he led the FBI and got fired by Trump. But Comey’s insistence on upholding the law is devotional to the point of ruthlessness, as he makes clear when explaining the need to send Martha Stewart to jail in 2003 for lying about an insider stock tip she had received.

“People must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system or the system can’t work,” Comey writes. “There was once a time when most people worried about going to hell if they violated an oath taken in the name of God. That divine deterrence has slipped away from our modern cultures. In its place, people must fear going to jail. They must fear their lives being turned upside down. They must fear their pictures splashed on newspapers and websites. People must fear having their names forever associated with a criminal act if we are to have a nation with the rule of law.”

This is ridiculous and dangerous, because it suggests Americans are insufficiently cowed by the necessarily God-like wrath of the machinery of law enforcement. Comey is worried that the country risks degenerating into criminality and sloth — and that all that’s standing between us and chaos is the FBI’s lash and our submission to it. Rather than separating himself from the Trump administration’s extremism, Comey sounds much like retired Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff who recently bemoaned the lost discipline of an earlier and supposedly sunnier era.

“You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Kelly said during a bitter press conference, in which he tried to smear a member of Congress who had accurately reported that a grieving war widow was offended by comments Trump made in a fumbled condolence call. “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.”

Like Kelly, Comey frames his blinkered nostalgia as public virtue, and he’s largely succeeding: His book has been lavishly and warmly received. Comey is certainly right about the danger of Trump, but that doesn’t mean he’s right about other things. For instance, he shows minimal concern for the police killings of black men and the protest movement that’s grown out of them. He seems unable to believe that poor and minority communities have a fair case against the way law enforcement has been practiced on them.

In a short chapter on racial injustice, Comey describes the killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray as “tragic deaths.” But he turns the killings around, lamenting that they “dominated perceptions of the police. They swamped and overshadowed millions of positive, professional encounters between citizens and police officers, and extraordinary anger was building toward all uniformed law enforcement.” Yes, Comey really went there — blaming the victims of police abuse for making people upset that police were abusing them.

Comey did not hide these views while at the FBI, and after making a speech in Chicago in 2015 that was not well received by the civil rights community, he was summoned to the Oval Office by then-President Barack Obama. Comey describes that session in his book, and he seemed to double down, telling the country’s first black president that the law enforcement community was upset at the way Obama had used the phrase “mass incarceration.” It was offensive, Comey told the president.

“I thought the term was both inaccurate and insulting to a lot of good people in law enforcement who cared deeply about helping people trapped in dangerous neighborhoods,” Comey writes. “It was inaccurate in the sense that there was nothing ‘mass’ about the incarceration: every defendant was charged individually, represented individually by counsel, convicted by a court individually, sentenced individually, reviewed on appeal individually, and incarcerated. That added up to a lot of people in jail, but there was nothing ‘mass’ about it.”

This is a delusion worthy of King George.

The idea that poor defendants are represented individually is true in a strict sense, but if you cannot afford a good lawyer of your own (many Americans cannot), you are unlikely to have decent representation in the face of prosecutor’s offices with significant resources. The idea that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2018 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Books, Law Enforcement

The Most Important News out of Jim Comey’s Explosive New Book

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David Corn writes in Mother Jones:

On Thursday evening—like a thunderclap—the new book by James Comey, the Trump-fired former FBI chief, slammed into the political-media world. Comey’s A Higher Loyalty is due out on Tuesday, but stories about what’s in the book, as was inevitable, began detonating several days ahead of the publication date.

The New York Times posted its review of the work— “It’s Very Persuasive”—leading with Comey’s comparison of Donald Trump to the dishonest mob bosses the former FBI chief used to pursue, those wise-guys who demanded blind loyalty from their minions. The New York Post pushed that angle too, with a headline blaring, “Comey Says Trump Reminded Him of Gambino Mob Boss.” And the Washington Postfocused on Trump’s fixation on the infamous Steele dossier—not its allegations of covert Trump-Russia ties, but specifically its unproven “golden showers” allegation. As Comey tells it, Trump repeatedly insisted to the G-man that this tale was untrue. (In our new book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald TrumpMichael Isikoff and I report that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who compiled that document, now believes the odds the pee party actually transpired are about “fifty-fifty.”)

Comey’s observations of Trump are valuable—comments on the size of Trump’s hands aside—and the recounting of his interactions with the president, which offer a few more details than Comey provided when he testified before Congress last year, ought to disturb anyone who cares about having a reasonable and stable commander in chief. Comey clearly knows how to sell this significant and troubling story. But of the material that has become available, one portion of the book stands out as far more worrisome than Trump’s obsession with the allegations of urinating prostitutes or his Soprano-like behavior.

This is the passage from the Washington Post relating what happened when Comey, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-CIA chief John Brennan, and NSA head Mike Rogers briefed Trump in early January 2017 on the intelligence community’s report that concluded the Russians had mounted an information warfare attack on the 2016 election to help Trump become president. Midway through its article on the Comey book, the Post describes his account:

Trump was accompanied at the Trump Tower session by his national security team, as well as by political aides Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, who were slated to become White House chief of staff and press secretary respectively. Trump asked only one question, Comey writes: “You found there was no impact on the result, right?”

James R. Clapper Jr., then the director of national intelligence, replied that the intelligence community did no such analysis.

Comey recalls being struck that neither Trump nor his advisers asked about the future Russian threat, nor how the United States might prepare to meet it. Rather, he writes, they focused on “how they could spin what we’d just told them.”

With Clapper and then-CIA Director John O. Brennan—both Obama appointees—still in the room, Priebus and other Trump aides strategized for political advantage, Comey writes. The Trump team decided they would emphasize that Russian interference had no impact on the vote—which, Clapper reminded them, the intelligence community had not determined.

Trump was two weeks away from being sworn in as president. He was just informed that the US national security establishment had confirmed its assessment that Vladimir Putin had covertly attacked American democracy and that this assault was designed to affect the results of the election. And Trump responded with no interest in any aspect of this unprecedented intervention other than its political implications—for him. In front of the leaders of the intelligence community—two of whom would continue to work for himTrump did not even bother to feign concern. He went straight to what mattered most: What does this mean for me?

The president-to-be was engaging in a profound dereliction of duty. His No. 1 job is to defend the United States from foreign attack. And he didn’t give a damn. He was kicking off his presidency with an action—or inaction—that could be seen as a betrayal of the nation he was supposed to serve.

As Isikoff and I point out, after this meeting, Trump tweeted, “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.” This was not true. The report did not say that. And Clapper, according to Comey, had explicitly spelled this out for Trump. Still, Trump lied—and Priebus and Spicer went along.

This anecdote from Comey’s book certainly raises a question of Trump’s fitness for office. It also presents what might be an uncomfortable question for Comey, Brennan, Clapper, and Rogers. They saw . . .

Continue reading.

I did pre-order the book…

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2018 at 1:31 pm

Why the GOP’s Campaign Against ‘Lyin’ Comey’ Makes No Sense

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

The Republican Party is racing to assassinate James Comey’s character before his tell-all book hits shelves next Tuesday. The former FBI director’s literary debut is expected to paint Donald Trump as an authoritarian oaf with no respect for the rule of law. The Republican National Committee has built a website explaining why you shouldn’t believe that.

With the White House’s blessing, the RNC is launching a multifaceted campaign to rebrand George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general as “Lyin’ Comey.” The party is airing digital ads and dispersing talking points to Republican officials across the country, all built around three core arguments:

1) “Comey has a long history of misstatements and misconduct,” including damage caused to the FBI because of “bizarre decisions, contradictory statements and acting against Department of Justice and FBI protocol.”

2) “Attempts to smear the Trump administration are nothing more than retaliation by a disgraced former official.”

3) “Comey isn’t credible – just ask Democrats.” The digital ads will show several Democrats calling for Comey’s resignation after he injected himself into the 2016 presidential race, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is shown saying: “All I can tell you is the FBI Director has no credibility.”

This case is, of course, mendacious and absurd. Yes, Democrats (rightly) criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. But that is only relevant if Trump can credibly claim that he fired Comey in response to those complaints. And he can’t — both because he applauded the very action that Democrats criticized most, and because Trump has already said, on national television, that he fired Comey because he disapproved of the FBI’s Russia probe.

And then, there’s the inconvenient fact that James Comey hasn’t actually told very many demonstrable lies. Trump landed a clean (if ironic) hit on the former FBI director when he derided him as a “showboat.” There is something a bit unseemly about Comey’s love of the spotlight (let alone about his cashing in on abetting the election of Donald Trump). But he’s just not that big of a liar — a reality that “” inadvertently affirms. Here’s how the website “fact checks” Comey’s claim that Trump attempted to obstruct the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn:

No matter what his grandstanding book says, Comey has already confirmed multiple times under oath that neither President Trump nor his staff asked him to stop the Russia investigation.

SEN. RICHARD BURR: Director Comey, did the president at any time ask you to stop the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections?


DIR. COMEY: Not to my understanding, no.

Of course, there isn’t actually any contradiction between Comey’s answer and his allegation. Trump could have tried to obstruct certain lines of the FBI’s investigation into his campaign, without ordering an end to the broader probe into Russian interference.

But such quibbles are ultimately beside the point. The hype around Comey’s book and the RNC’s attempts to discredit it both proceed from the same false premise: that James Comey has something important to reveal about Donald Trump that Donald Trump has not already revealed about himself. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2018 at 1:31 pm

Why the literature of antiquity still matters

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Michael Dirda writes in the Washington Post:

There are any number of reasons why we read, and reread, the literature of antiquity. First of all, its poems, plays, philosophical dialogues and, yes, novels (Lucian’s “A True Story,” Petronius’s “The Satyricon,” Apuleius’s “The Golden Ass”) aren’t just works that illuminate the human condition; they are — to use what might seem an oxymoron — profoundly entertaining.

What’s more, the classics of Greek and Latin literature provide templates and imagery that writers have drawn on for more than 2,000 years. Homer’s tale of Odysseus echoes down the ages, as Dante, Tennyson, James Joyce and many others ring changes on the wanderings and homecoming of that most resourceful of all the warriors who fought at Troy. “The Odyssey” itself is also constantly being reinvigorated through new translations, most recently that of Emily Wilson, the first woman to render the entire epic into English.

Wilson, though, is simply one star in a constellation of brilliant female classicists. On April 27, for instance, the University of Maryland honorsthe retirement of the anything-but-retiring professor Judith P. Hallett with an international colloquium titled “Women and Classical Scholarship.” Eminent trailblazers, such as Edith Hamilton (author of “Mythology”), have now been succeeded by MacArthur Award-winning poet-translators such as Anne Carson and A.E. Stallings. Carson’s first book, “Eros the Bittersweet” — a study of Sappho’s poetry — must be one of the most exciting works of criticism ever written. Stallings’s 2007 verse-translation of Lucretius’s “The Nature of Things” actually transforms that recondite poem about cosmology and human nature into an intellectual page-turner.

In her new English version of Hesiod’s Works and Days(Penguin), Stallings joins those who argue that its author wrote before Homer and is, thus, the first major poet of Western civilization. Today, Hesiod is known for two works — a genealogical history of the gods titled “Theogony” and what Stallings calls this “variegated and discursive poem about justice and man’s place in the world.” That sounds very high-minded, yet “Works and Days” is a surprisingly personal work, grounded in a quarrel between Hesiod and his brother over a paternal inheritance. As she did with Lucretius, the formalist Stallings again translates into couplets, this time channeling Robert Frost’s mid-register conversational tone. She consequently risks phrases such as “the payback of the gods” and refers to those who don’t do “a lick of work.” Her Hesiod can even be inadvertently funny: “Don’t let a woman mystify your mind/ With sweet talk and the sway of her behind — / She’s just after your barn.”

Still, the most famous section of Hesiod’s poem is probably his heavy-metal account of ancient history. From the paradise-like Golden Age, humankind has gradually devolved through eras of Silver and Bronze to arrive at our own dismal Iron Age, a time without pity, where “suffering never ceases” and all power comes from “the rule of fist.”

Certainly, an absence of pity characterizes Euripides’s greatest tragedy,Bakkhai, as Carson transliterates its title (New Directions). In it, the Asiatic god Dionysos announces that he has returned to his birthplace, Thebes, aiming “to make myself known:/ my rituals, my dances, my religion, my livewire self.” First, he converts the most aristocratic women of the city into whirling dervishes, gentle enough when they gambol in the mountains but capable of superhuman ferocity. Even two standbys from Greek myth, the now decrepit Kadmos, who once sowed the dragon’s teeth, and the aged prophet Teiresias decide to join Dionysos’s posse. “We must get to the mountain,” Kadmos says. “Should we call a cab?” To which Teiresias replies, “That doesn’t sound very Dionysian.”

Throughout, the sassy, seductive Dionysos deliberately antagonizes Thebes’s King Pentheus, who espouses traditional civilized values but represses his own desires, which emerge when he dons women’s apparel. In the end, Pentheus is torn apart by maenads led by his own deluded mother, who imagines she is killing a lion. Her eventual recognition of the truth makes for one of the most shocking epiphanies in Greek drama. Though “Bakkhai” might appear a warning against manic behavior and mindless emotion, it actually stresses the need to accommodate the instinctual in our natures. The mature individual, as Jung said, must embrace his darker, shadow self.

In Horace: Odes and Carmen Saeculare (Hackett), the versatile translator Stanley Lombardo sticks close to the facing-page Latin but eschews the more singing melodiousness of a James Michie or David Ferry. Horace, of course, remains ever-fresh. The famous Ode 1.5, Latin scholar Anthony Corbeill tells us in an endnote, has been translated more than 500 times. Lombardo’s take on it begins: “What slender boy has you bedded on roses/ and, oiled and scented, urges you on/ in some pleasant cave, Pyrrha?” Ode 4.7 — the one A.E. Housman acclaimed the most beautiful poem in ancient literature — is particularly appropriate for April: “The snows have fled away; grass to the meadows/ and leaves to the trees return/ Earth goes through her changes.”

All of the above are familiar classics, but not so The Elegies of Maximianus , now deftly translated by A.M. Juster (University of Pennsylvania) and introduced by Michael Roberts. In them, Maximianus, who flourished in the 6th century and was a friend of the philosopher Boethius, epigrammatically reflects on old age, lost love and sexual impotence. The noted Latinist Helen Waddell convincingly likened him to Maupassant.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2018 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Books

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