Later On

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Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

More on the new view of humanity’s social structures

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I posted recently about an Atlantic article about a new take on the cultural evolution of human society, drawing on the work of David Graebner and David Wengrow, particularly their book  The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. The Guardian has an extract from that book that’s worth reading. It begins:

n some ways, accounts of “human origins” play a similar role for us today as myth did for ancient Greeks or Polynesians. This is not to cast aspersions on the scientific rigour or value of these accounts. It is simply to observe that the two fulfil somewhat similar functions. If we think on a scale of, say, the last 3m years, there actually was a time when someone, after all, did have to light a fire, cook a meal or perform a marriage ceremony for the first time. We know these things happened. Still, we really don’t know how. It is very difficult to resist the temptation to make up stories about what might have happened: stories which necessarily reflect our own fears, desires, obsessions and concerns. As a result, such distant times can become a vast canvas for the working out of our collective fantasies.

Let’s take just one example. Back in the 1980s, there was a great deal of buzz about a “mitochondrial Eve”, the putative common ancestor of our entire species. Granted, no one was claiming to have actually found the physical remains of such an ancestor, but DNA sequencing demonstrated that such an Eve must have existed, perhaps as recently as 120,000 years ago. And while no one imagined we’d ever find Eve herself, the discovery of a variety of other fossil skulls rescued from the Great Rift Valley in east Africa seemed to provide a suggestion as to what Eve might have looked like and where she might have lived. While scientists continued debating the ins and outs, popular magazines were soon carrying stories about a modern counterpart to the Garden of Eden, the original incubator of humanity, the savanna-womb that gave life to us all.

Many of us probably still have something resembling this picture of human origins in our mind. More recent research, though, has shown it couldn’t possibly be accurate. In fact, biological anthropologists and geneticists are now converging on an entirely different picture. For most of our evolutionary history, we did indeed live in Africa – but not just the eastern savannas, as previously thought. Instead, our biological ancestors were distributed everywhere from Morocco to the Cape of Good Hope. Some of those populations remained isolated from one another for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, cut off from their nearest relatives by deserts and rainforests. Strong regional traits developed, so that early human populations appear to have been far more physically diverse than modern humans. If we could travel back in time, this remote past would probably strike us as something more akin to a world inhabited by hobbits, giants and elves than anything we have direct experience of today, or in the more recent past. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2021 at 12:34 pm

Some significant requests from Pope Francis

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Pope Francis on October 16:

I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.

In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples.

In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries-mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people.

In the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.

In the name of God, I ask I arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.

In the name of God, I ask I the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.

In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.

In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.

In the name of God, I call on powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. We have already seen how unilateral interventions, invasions and occupations end up; even if they are justified by noble motives and fine words.

This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 2:42 pm

The worker shortage in one chart

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The above chart is from a post by Kevin Drum, who notes:

The baseline during good economic times is about 6 million people. This represents the normal churn of people leaving jobs for a few weeks before starting up new ones. The unemployment level never gets much below this, and we’re pretty close to it now.

Normally, it takes a long time to recover from a recession. As you can see in the chart, the unemployment level spiked up to 15 million in 2009 and it took until 2017 to get back to a level of 7.6 million. In the case of the pandemic, however, the spike was bigger but it’s taken only 18 months to get back to 7.6 million.

But this means there are only about 1.6 million people left who want a job but don’t have one. If employers really want more workers—and they claim to have 10 million job openings—they’re going to have to do something to bring more people off the sidelines and into the workforce. That “something” is higher wages. There aren’t very many other alternatives.

Of course, almost all corporations will go to great lengths to minimize the amount paid to employees, so this is really a tough nut for them to swallow. There are exceptions: Trader Joe’s and Costco pay employees well to get the benefit of low turnover and greater employee satisfaction and — because of length of service (due to low turnover) — increased employee expertise.

Carrie Battan discusses the Trader Joe situation in her New Yorker review of the founder’s memoir. From the review:

In the nineteen-seventies, he made a deliberate effort to employ women full time in Trader Joe’s stores. Because he wanted all employees to share types of duties equally—which meant that women would participate in the physically laborious tasks of unloading shipments and stocking shelves—he had to change his approach to inventory: “We made an effort to get rid of any single case that weighed more than forty pounds,” he writes. That’s why, at the time, Trader Joe’s opted not to stock sugar. . .

Thinking about the hallmarks of the Trader Joe’s brand, it’s easy to imagine Coulombe as a progressive idealist, obsessed with the idea that his business was helping to make the world a better place. This was not the case; as the leader of a profit-driven company, he did not try to sell his colleagues or readers on the illusion that he was first and foremost a do-gooder. He didn’t even seem to have much of a kinship with the hippies, hipsters, intellectuals, and health-food junkies he catered to. But he did discover, along the way, that doing good often benefitted his bottom line. He was prone to “doing the right things for all the wrong reasons,” or engaging in acts of “selfish altruism,” he writes. Chief among these “right things” was a respect for his workers. “This is the most important single business decision I ever made: to pay people well,” he writes. He reasoned that employee turnover was the biggest cost to his business, and by paying his workers high wages and offering them excellent benefits he would ultimately reduce his costs.

And Jillian Berman wrote a few years ago in HuffPost about Costco:

Costco is one of the few bargain retailers to see success in recent months, and according to one executive, it could be even more profitable. If only the company weren’t so committed to paying workers a decent wage.

“Could Costco make more money if the average wage was $2 or $3 lower?” Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, mused in an interview with Businessweek. “The answer is yes. But we’re not going to do that.”

The big box store most famous for its stockpiles of toilet paper and $1.50 hot dogs also has a reputation for paying its workers a higher wage than most of its competitors. The average Costco worker made about $45,000 per year, Fortune reports. By comparison, Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, a Costco competitor, pays its workers $17,486 per year, according to salary information site Glassdoor.com.

What’s more, Costco has continued to pay its workers decently even in the face of pressure to stop. Ever since the company went public in 1985, Wall Street investors have urged Costco executives to lower wages and cut health benefits, which are also relatively generous, according to Businessweek. Instead, the company’s former CEO and co-founder gave workers a raise every three years.

Costco’s insistence on treating its workers well hasn’t come at the expense of the company’s bottom line. The retailer’s profit jumped 19 percent to $459 million last quarter, while Walmart’s sales suffered during the same period. . . 

To return to Berman’s review of Becoming Trader Joe: How I Did Business My Way and Still Beat the Big Guys, she writes:

He disliked traditional forms of advertising, instead choosing to publish an offbeat and educational periodical called Fearless Flyer to help sell consumers on Trader Joe’s. Perhaps most crucially, he harbored an outsized disdain for the standard business practices of corporate America, condemning things such as a “Byzantine management atmosphere,” venture capitalism (what he calls “vultures”), investment banking, corporate consultants, and money borrowing. In the current climate of rampant venture capital, the ruthless pursuit of unicorns, and private-equity takeovers, Coulombe’s rudimentary, instinct-driven business philosophies can feel like revelations: “Growth for the sake of growth still troubles me,” he writes. “It seems unnatural, even perverted.”

Coulombe’s disdain for the hypercapitalistic ethos of contemporary American business seems well-founded. He acted on his principles and the proof is in the payoff of the pudding. 

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 10:54 am

A history of FLICC: the 5 techniques of science denial

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The above illustration is from a really excellent post about the techniques deniers use, often unwittingly (that is, some deniers simply cannot think very well — that’s not a good thing, but it’s better than being cynically deceptive). The post includes some interesting videos, so clicking the link is a good idea. The post begins:

In 2007, Mark Hoofnagle suggested on his Science Blog Denialism that denialists across a range of topics such as climate change, evolution, & HIV/AIDS all employed the same rhetorical tactics to sow confusion. The five general tactics were conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.

Two years later, Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee published an article in the scientific journal European Journal of Public Health titled Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? They further fleshed out Hoofnagle’s five denialist tactics and argued that we should expose to public scrutiny the tactics of denial, identifying them for what they are. I took this advice to heart and began including the five denialist tactics in my own talks about climate misinformation.

In 2013, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition invited me to give a workshop about climate misinformation at their annual summit. As I prepared my presentation, I mused on whether the five denial techniques could be adapted into a sticky, easy-to-remember acronym. I vividly remember my first attempt: beginning with Fake Experts, Unrealistic Expectations, Cherry Picking… realizing I was going in a problematic direction for a workshop for young participants. I started over and settled on FLICC: Fake experts, Logical fallacies, Impossible expectations, Cherry picking, and Conspiracy theories. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 12:00 pm

Political spark that ignited firestorm across dry, divided land

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Evan Osnos writes of his book, Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury:

This book is the story of a crucible, a period bounded by two assaults on the country’s sense of itself: the attack on New York and Washington, on September 11, 2001, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on January 6, 2021.

The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from the book:

On a hillside three hours north of San Francisco, a rancher waded through a meadow that rustled with golden grass. His name was Glenn Kile, and he lived in a sliver of the American West so blessed by nature that indigenous people called it Ba-lo Kai — the “verdant valley.” But on this day, the terrain was merciless. The temperature was 103 degrees, and it had been in the triple digits for days. All of the hottest summers in California history had arrived in the past 20 years, and the fields of the verdant valley had acquired the bone-dry smell and snap of straw.

A hundred feet from his house, the rancher stopped at the sight of a small hole in the gray-black soil at his feet. It was the mouth of an underground wasps’ nest. He lifted a steel hammer and pounded a rusty iron stake into the hole to seal it. But the clash of metal on metal spat out a spark, and the spark struck the field, and the field began to burn.

In half an hour, the inferno was 20 acres wide and racing toward a horizon of dried-out forests and scattered homes, a terrain that firefighters call “wildland” — a realm of nearly perfect tinder that is less a place than a condition. The rancher’s spark ignited the largest wildland fire in the history of California, a record that would soon be broken and then broken again. They named it the Mendocino Complex Fire, and it raged for a month — a jet engine of wind and flame, consuming an area more than twice the size of New York City, a landmark in the annals of a warming world. When, at last, the inferno was extinguished, the state of California ruled that Kile was not liable for the catastrophe. He had lit the spark, but the roots of the disaster ran deeper. The fire was the culmination of forces that had been gathering for decades.

That story reminded me of an old line about politics, from a book by the Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. “A single spark,” Mao wrote, “can start a prairie fire.” Mao knew little of America, but he knew brutal truths about politics. Living in Washington in the years of Donald Trump, I often thought about that image of a landscape primed to burn. Sometimes it felt like metaphor, and sometimes it felt like fact. But eventually I came to understand it as something else — a parable for a time in American history when the land and the people seemed to be mirroring the rage of the other.

I left the United States a little over a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The country was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I reported from Baghdad, Cairo, and elsewhere in the Middle East. A few years later, I settled in Beijing, where I met Sarabeth Berman, from Massachusetts, who had gone abroad as a young producer of theater and dance. We married and eventually prepared to go home. If we stayed abroad too long, Sarabeth said, we would find it hard to go back at all.

In 2013 we made plans to move to Washington. Coming home always holds the promise of a new way of seeing. In the 1940s, after covering the war in Europe, author John Gunther returned to America. At times he felt like “the man from Mars,” he wrote in “Inside U.S.A.,” published in 1947. In Gunther’s case, some features of his home unnerved him; the segregation of the South “out-ghettoes anything I ever saw in a European ghetto, even in Warsaw,” he wrote. But other encounters thrilled him. On his travels across the country, he took to asking people, “What do you believe in most?” He was told: work, children, Thomas Jefferson, God, the golden rule, the Pythagorean theorem, a high tariff, a low tariff, better agricultural prices, happiness, good roads, and Santa Claus. But the most frequent response was, as he put it, “the people, if you give them an even break.”

Sarabeth and I landed at Dulles International Airport on July 7, 2013. At passport control, I picked up a brochure with the title “Welcome to the United States.” It was published by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and it had a cover photo of the Washington Monument and cherry trees in bloom. The brochure began, “We are glad that you decided to travel to the United States to visit, study, work, or stay.”

I started keeping track of changes that had taken place during my years away, including some tiny details. Walking by the window of Brooks Brothers, the suit-maker, I noticed that it was selling suits with flag pins preattached to the lapel. A corporate spokesman told me that it was intended to advertise suits made in America. The company had adopted the practice in 2007, when Republicans were lambasting then-President Barack Obama for not wearing a flag pin.

Other changes felt so vast it was difficult to grasp their full dimensions. In 2013, the United States passed a threshold in the long evolution of immigration and diversity: For the first time in American history, the number of nonwhite newborns surpassed the number of white newborns. Initially, the gap was barely perceptible, no more than a thousand out of more than 3.8 million babies born that year. But it began to grow. As the son of a refugee, I considered it an exhilarating milestone, a mark of renewal, but I could see that many other Americans did not.

In the case of some changes, I was most startled by how thoroughly people had adapted to them. I was waiting for an Amtrak train one morning when a video screen in the station’s boarding area started playing a public-service announcement. If someone started firing at us, the voice-over explained, we should “take flight” or “take cover.” On the screen, an actor with white hair and a blue blazer huddled behind a pillar. As a last resort, it said, take action: “Yell, and look for surrounding objects, including your belongings, to throw and use as improvised weapons.”

Mass shootings were happening, on average, every nine weeks — nearly three times as often as a decade earlier. Barely six months had passed since the most heart-wrenching: a 20-year-old in Newtown, Connecticut, had killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But in American politics, that event had already faded. Politicians had offered “thoughts and prayers,” but an effort to pass new gun-control measures had failed in Congress. When I glanced around the waiting area, people were absorbed in other things. I felt like Gunther’s man from Mars.

The country had responded in very different fashion to the trauma of September 11, 2001. When Al Qaeda destroyed the towers of the World Trade Center, the historian Tony Judt wrote: “From my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the 21st century begin.” Twelve years later, the event had acquired a unique symbolic power. In the years since, Americans had been attacked more than twice as many times by far-right terrorists as they had by Islamic terrorists, yet when researchers in 2016 asked people to estimate the share of Muslims in the country, Americans, on average, estimated one in six. The real number was one in a 100.

I began to notice how far fear was reaching into our political life. Before going abroad, I had lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, a small Appalachian city where I worked at the local paper, The Exponent Telegram. The day after September 11, the editors had published a humble declaration of commitment to a story Americans tell ourselves: “Far be it for a small-town daily newspaper to suggest what the government’s reaction should be,” they wrote, but one thing must be clear: “We are a free society, which prides itself on its diversity, its exchange of ideas and its willingness to tolerate dissent”; the attacks must “strengthen our ideals rather than shatter them.” That month, after someone desecrated a mosque in the West Virginia city of Princeton — the vandals drew the picture of a lynching and the name “Jamaal”— neighbors rallied in the mosque’s defense, and the response became a point of local pride.

But by 2008, a poll showed that one-fifth of the public in West Virginia believed that Obama was a Muslim, and hate crimes, which had subsided after 2001, were climbing, according to the FBI. In 2013, someone vandalized the mosque again, but the local reaction was quieter that time. Churches condemned the assault, but the sheriff said the incident did not meet the threshold of a hate crime. Muslims who had lived in West Virginia for generations described a growing sense of isolation. (Four years later, during a Republican Party rally in the West Virginia Capitol, someone hung a poster of the burning World Trade Center and a photo of Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. The caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.”)

Those fissures in American life were part of a larger fracturing. The United States had the largest economy in the world, with median incomes higher than they had ever been, but the living standards for millions of people had stagnated or declined. Twenty-seven states were so short of cash to fix potholes that they were returning some of their paved roads to dirt. At the same time, three men — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos — had more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population combined. Every hour, Bezos earned $149,353 — which was more than the typical American worker earned in three years.

When scientists reported the startling fact that life expectancy was declining, it sounded like a national problem. But it was not. In West Virginia’s McDowell County, male life expectancy had sunk to 64 — a level on a par with Iraq. In neighboring Virginia, men in Fairfax County could expect to live 18 years longer. The chasms between American lives had become so vast that the vanishing common ground could no longer carry the weight of American institutions, a prospect that the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned against when he told a friend, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

America wasn’t just losing a story of itself; it was losing a habit of mind, a . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 10:05 am

How — and Why — Trump Will Win Again

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The future is notoriously difficult to predict accurately (though inaccurate predictions abound), buI fear this post by Umair Haque might well prove accurate:

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 5:09 pm

Trump Won the County in a Landslide. His Supporters Still Hounded the Elections Administrator Until She Resigned.

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The slow-moving coup continues its motion. It seems possible that it will succeed. Jeremy Schwartz reports in ProPublica:

An elections administrator in North Texas submitted her resignation Friday, following a monthslong effort by residents and officials loyal to former President Donald Trump to force her out of office.

Michele Carew, who had overseen scores of elections during her 14-year career, had found herself transformed into the public face of an electoral system that many in the heavily Republican Hood County had come to mistrust, which ProPublica and The Texas Tribune covered earlier this month.

Her critics sought to abolish her position and give her duties to an elected county clerk who has used social media to promote baseless allegations of widespread election fraud.

Carew, who was hired to run elections in Hood County two-and-a-half months before the contested presidential race, said in an interview that she worried that the forces that tried to drive her out will spread to other counties in the state.

“When I started out, election administrators were appreciated and highly respected,” she said. “Now we are made out to be the bad guys.”

Critics accused Carew of harboring a secret liberal agenda and of violating a decades-old elections law, despite assurances from the Texas secretary of state that she was complying with Texas election rules.

Carew said she is joining an Austin-based private company and will work to help local elections administrator offices across the country run more efficiently. She will oversee her final election in early November before leaving Nov. 12.

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit that seeks to increase voter participation and improve the efficiency of elections administration, said Carew’s departure is the latest example of an ominous trend toward independent election administrators being forced out in favor of partisan officials.

“She is not the first and won’t be the last professional election official to have to leave this profession because of the toll it is taking, the bullies and liars who are slandering these professionals,” said Becker, a former Department of Justice lawyer who helped oversee voting rights enforcement under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “We are losing a generation of professional expertise. We are only beginning to feel the effects.”

Though experts say it is difficult to determine how many elections officials have left their positions nationally, states like Pennsylvania and Ohio have seen numerous departures. According to the AP, about a third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left in the last year and a half; in Ohio, one in four directors or deputy auditors of elections have left in the southwestern part of the state, according to The New York Times.

Hood County would seem an unlikely place for disputes over the last presidential election given that Trump won 81% of the vote there, one of his largest margins of victory in the state. Across the country, partisans’ demands for audits have mostly focused on counties and states carried by President Joe Biden, particularly those that went for Trump four years earlier.

But Texas, despite going for Trump by 6 percentage points, has seen its fair share of blowback. Last month, the Texas secretary of state announced a “comprehensive forensic audit” of four of the state’s largest counties hours after Trump issued a public letter demanding audits of the state’s results.

Before that, in July, Texas passed sweeping voting legislation that critics say disenfranchises vulnerable voters and unfairly targets administrators and other elections officials. Among the law’s provisions are new criminal penalties for election workers accused of interfering with expanded powers given to poll watchers.

On Saturday, after blasting the four-county audit plan as “weak,” Trump threatened the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives with a primary challenge if the speaker didn’t advance a bill that would allow audits in more counties.

In Hood County, the local GOP executive committee likewise issued warnings to Republican officials who defended Carew. In July, the committee threatened County Judge Ron Massingill with a social media campaign that would tell voters he was “incapable of providing them with free and fair elections” if he didn’t convene the county’s elections commission to discuss Carew’s termination.

Massingill refused, arguing that no political party should be able to direct the activities of the independent elections administrator. Katie Lang, the county clerk and vice chair of the county’s election commission, convened the meeting and moved to fire Carew. Carew survived the vote by a 3-2 margin, with Massingill and the county tax assessor, both Republicans, joining the Hood County Democratic chair.

Republican County Chair David Fischer called on county commissioners to dissolve the independent office of elections administrator and transfer election duties to Lang, which he said would make the election administration process more accountable to the county’s Republican majority.

Counties in Texas can choose between hiring an independent elections administrator, who is meant to be insulated from political pressures, or letting a county official, often an elected county clerk, run elections. County clerks, who manage functions like property records and birth certificates, run elections in many of the state’s smallest counties.

Fischer has declined to speak with ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

On social media, Lang has shared “Stop the Steal” and “Impeach Biden” memes and videos. Lang made national headlines in 2015 after refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Lang did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, but she previously told the Hood County News she wished Carew “the best in her future endeavors.”

Over the last year, Carew has come under fire for  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2021 at 12:34 pm

Heather Cox Richardson on the slow-moving coup being carried out now in the US

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Richardson writes in her column tonight:

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.

In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.” Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.” To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.

They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”

At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.” Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.”

Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party. Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.

Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy. The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy.

Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”

Bunch pointed out that on Friday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 9:32 pm

“Love Letter to America,” a memoir by Tomas Schuman, the pseudonym of Yuri Bezmenov

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David Perell today wrote in his newsletter Friday Finds:

Ideological Subversion: Yuri Bezmenov was a Soviet journalist and a former KGB informant who defected and moved to Canada. He issued a warning to America in a 1985 interview, where he explained how US public opinion could be manipulated. Most frighteningly, he says that under a state of ideological subversion where a person becomes demoralized, new evidence won’t change people’s minds. Under the pen name Tomas D. Schuman, he also wrote a book called Love Letter to America, which is strangely hard to find online.

The link is to this video of a 1985 interview with Bezmenov. 

You can download Love Letter to America (as PDF or text) from Scribd. It looks like an interesting memoir, published in 1984. I downloaded it as PDF, which I can read in Acrobat Reader (changing the default setting to allow smooth scrolling, and upping the magnification a fair bit). I also added it to my Calibre library, converting it from PDF to AZW3, Amazon’s Kindle format. (Calibre offers a broad range of choices for file conversion.) 

Love Letter to America begins:

Dear Americans,

My name is Tomas David Schuman. I am what you may call a “defector” from the USSR. and I have a message for you: love you very much. I love all of you liberals and conservatives, “decadent capitalists” and “oppressed masses”. blacks and whites and browns and yellows, rednecks and intellectuals. For me you are the people who created a unique nation, country and society in the history of mankind, by no means a perfect one, but, let’s face it the most free, affluent and just in today’s world. am not alone in this love. People all over the Earth, whether they praise America or bitterly criticize her, look upon you as the only hope for mankind’s survival and the last stronghold of freedom. Some may not think in these idealistic terms, but they certainly enjoy the fruits of your civilization, often forgetting to be grateful for them. Millions of people in the so-called “socialist camp™ or in the “Third World” literally owe their lives to America.

As a war-time child, survived partly thanks to such “decadent capitalist” (as the Soviets say) things as “Spam” meat, condensed milk and egg powder that were supplied to my country by the USA through the lend-lease program of World War II. In the Soviet Union we secretly but proudly called ourselves “the Spam generation”. Too prosaic? Who cares about “Spam’ in today’s USA, apart from “underprivileged welfare recipients? Well, for me these foods are not merely the nostalgic delight of my troubled childhood, but rather, a symbol of love from a friend when I was in need. No amount of communist propaganda against America has ever been able to convince me that the United States out to colonze and exploi will tell you many people have been more than willing to be “exploited” the American way. For what other reason have thousands risked their lives, gone to unimaginable troubles, left behind their families their motherland and traditional ways of life to come to America? Have you ever heard of “illegal aliens” risking their lives crossing the border at midnight into Socialist USSR? Or the “boat people” swimming oceans and drowning by the thousands just to reach the shores of Communist China? Or defectors like me, leaving behind relative affluence and risking bullets in the back in order to join the “progressive workers paradise” in Russia? No, we all come here to America, obviously willing to be “exploited by capitalists” and enjoy *oppression” together with you. Because we believe and KNOW — America IS A BETTER place.

I am writing this not to please you with words you want to hear. The rest of my message may be more unpleasant to you than even Communist propaganda, or more offensive than the speeches of “leaders” in Kremlin. But as a true friend of America, I want to help.

My dear friends, think you are in big trouble. Whether you believe it or not, YOU ARE AT WAR. And you may lose this war very soon, together with all your affluence and freedoms, unless you start defending yourselves. I hope you have noticed on your color televisions that there is in fact war going on right now all over this planet. This war has many faces, but it’s all the same it’s war. Some call it “national liberation’ “, some title it “class struggle” or “political terrorism’ Others call it “anticolonialism’ or “*struggle for majority rule”. Some even come up with such fancy names as “war of patriotic forces” or peace movement”. call it World Communist Aggression.

I know what I am talking about, because was on the side of the aggressor before I decided to take YOUR side. I do not believe KNOW that in this war no one is being “liberated, decolonised or made equal”, as Soviet doctrine proclaims. You may notice, if you give yourselves the trouble to observe, that the only “equality” and . . .

Written by Leisureguy

8 October 2021 at 5:40 pm

C.S. Peirce, American Aristotle

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Charles Sanders Peirce (last name pronounced “purse”), a highly original philosopher and thinker, is the subject of an essay in Aeon by Daniel Everett, which begins:

[I intend] to make a philosophy like that of Aristotle, that is to say, to outline a theory so comprehensive that, for a long time to come, the entire work of human reason, in philosophy of every school and kind, in mathematics, in psychology, in physical science, in history, in sociology and in whatever other department there may be, shall appear as the filling up of its details.
C S Peirce, Collected Papers (1931-58)

The roll of scientists born in the 19th century is as impressive as any century in history. Names such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, George Washington Carver, Alfred North Whitehead, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, Leo Szilard, Edwin Hubble, Katharine Blodgett, Thomas Edison, Gerty Cori, Maria Mitchell, Annie Jump Cannon and Norbert Wiener created a legacy of knowledge and scientific method that fuels our modern lives. Which of these, though, was ‘the best’?

Remarkably, in the brilliant light of these names, there was in fact a scientist who surpassed all others in sheer intellectual virtuosity. Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), pronounced ‘purse’, was a solitary eccentric working in the town of Milford, Pennsylvania, isolated from any intellectual centre. Although many of his contemporaries shared the view that Peirce was a genius of historic proportions, he is little-known today. His current obscurity belies the prediction of the German mathematician Ernst Schröder, who said that Peirce’s ‘fame [will] shine like that of Leibniz or Aristotle into all the thousands of years to come’.

Some might doubt this lofty view of Peirce. Others might admire him for this or that contribution yet, overall, hold an opinion of his oeuvre similar to that expressed by the psychologist William James on one of his lectures, that it was like ‘flashes of brilliant light relieved against Cimmerian darkness’. Peirce might have good things to say, so this reasoning goes, but they are too abstruse for the nonspecialist to understand. I think that a great deal of Peirce’s reputation for obscurity is due, not to Peirce per se, but to the poor organisation and editing of his papers during their early storage at and control by Harvard University (for more on this, see André de Tienne’s insightful history of those papers).

Such skepticism, however incorrect, becomes self-reinforcing. Because relatively few people have heard of Peirce, at least relative to the names above, and because he has therefore had a negligible influence in popular culture, some assume that he merits nothing more than minor fame. But there are excellent reasons why it is worth getting to know more about him. The leading Peirce scholar ever, Max Fisch, described Peirce’s intellectual significance in this fecund paragraph from 1981:

Who is the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced? The answer ‘Charles S Peirce’ is uncontested, because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating. Mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor; psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, lifelong student of medicine; book reviewer, dramatist, actor, short-story writer; phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician [and] metaphysician … He was, for a few examples, … the first metrologist to use a wave-length of light as a unit of measure, the inventor of the quincuncial projection of the sphere, the first known conceiver of the design and theory of an electric switching-circuit computer, and the founder of ‘the economy of research’. He is the only system-building philosopher in the Americas who has been both competent and productive in logic, in mathematics, and in a wide range of sciences. If he has had any equals in that respect in the entire history of philosophy, they do not number more than two.

Peirce came from a well-to-do, prominent family of senators, businessmen and mathematicians. His father, Benjamin Peirce, was considered the greatest US mathematician of his generation, teaching mathematics and astronomy at Harvard for some 50 years. Charles’s brother, James, also taught mathematics at Harvard, eventually becoming a dean there. C S Peirce was, on the other hand, despised by the presidents of Harvard (Charles Eliot; where Peirce studied) and Johns Hopkins University (Daniel Gilman; where Peirce initially taught). Eliot and Gilman, among others, actively opposed Peirce’s employment at any US institution of higher education and thus kept him in penury for the latter years of his life. They falsely accused him of immorality and underestimated his brilliance due to input from jealous rivals, such as Simon Newcomb.

Though the story of Peirce’s life and thinking processes is inspiring and informative, this story is not told here. (I recommend Joseph Brent’s 1998 biography of Peirce as an excellent beginning. My own planned intellectual biography of Peirce intends to trace his life from his Pers family roots in Belgium in the 17th century to the history of the influence of his work on modern philosophy and science.) The objective here is rather to highlight some portions of Peirce’s thought to explain why his theories are so important and relevant to contemporary thinking across a wide range of topics.

The importance and range of Peirce’s contributions to science, mathematics and philosophy can be appreciated partially by recognising that many of the most important advances in philosophy and science over the past 150 years originated with Peirce: the development of mathematical logic (before and arguably better eventually than Gottlob Frege); the development of semiotics (before and arguably better than Ferdinand de Saussure); the philosophical school of pragmatism (before and arguably better than William James); the modern development of phenomenology (independently of and arguably superior to Edmund Husserl); and the invention of universal grammar with the property of recursion (before and arguably better than Noam Chomsky; though, for Peirce, universal grammar – a term he first used in 1865 – was the set of constraints on signs, with syntax playing a lesser role).

Beyond these philosophical contributions, Peirce also made fundamental discoveries in science and mathematics. A few of these are:  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

8 October 2021 at 1:08 pm

QNTM on memes, anti-memes, and knowledge that doesn’t want to be shared

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This is a fascinating interview, and I highly recommend reading it or listening to it. The introductory matter:

QNTM is a software engineer and the author of There Is No Antimemetics Division. Here, QNTM speaks to the Browser’s Uri Bram about collaborative fiction, why people with deep and very specific expertise are often great storytellers, and the surprising subjectivity of finding right answers in software development.

[Listen to this interview as a podcast or on Youtube (audio only)]

The interview proper begins:

Uri Bram: Your latest book—which is wonderful—is called There Is No Antimemetics Division. Can you tell us a little bit conceptually about the idea of antimemes?

What is an anti-meme?

QNTM: So if you’re reading this, you probably have a reasonable idea of what a meme is, but there are a couple of different colliding definitions of meme these days.

For my purposes, a meme is a contagious idea, which is much more of an older definition than today’s conception of “internet meme.” It’s an idea that catches on due to some kind of hook within the idea itself. It’s a piece of information that you have, but there’s also an aspect where you want to share this information with other people, spread this idea to other people.

The canonical example of a contagious idea would be some kind of evangelical religion, where they would say: “Hey, this is the way the universe is structured. This is how the cosmos exists, but also convert other people to this way of thinking, go out and find people and tell them this as well.”

But there’s a way simpler idea of memes: a contagious song, a catch phrase, a political slogan, or even a symbol that’s easy to draw. Wouldn’t that be a meme as well?

So looking at this I thought that some ideas are more contagious than others and some ideas aren’t contagious at all—they just kind of sit there. So what’s at the other end of the scale: what kind of ideas resist being spread? What information would you intrinsically not want anyone else to find out about? Or maybe you do want to spread it, but you can’t for whatever reason?

In real life, there’s a ton of ideas that fall into this class: random wild data is is very difficult to share because it’s just nonsense and it’s not very memorable; just boring things are difficult to share; complicated equations are difficult to share because you can’t remember them properly—because we’re humans and that’s not how we remember things.

But also there’s a category of ideas that are hard to share intrinsically like passwords. I’m motivated to keep my password a secret. There are all kinds of official secrets, like government secrets that you’re motivated to keep secret.

And from there, you move into injunctions and super injunctions and gag orders. Or what kind of journalism is forbidden in the country where you happen to live? What kind of things that you’ve not allowed to say? What is a taboo? What are the things that are true, but we don’t talk about? Although this is orthogonal to the truth. Just because something is mimetic or antiemetic doesn’t mean it’s true or false.

Playing with the idea of anti-memes in science fiction.

QNTM: The truth can be very difficult to share. As they say, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can get its boots on. So a falsehood can be very mimetic, but I looked at this and thought… “anti-meme” is a novel neologism, but it’s mainly just a synonym for things we already know exist. We know what secrets are, we know what taboos are. But I started taking this into a fictional concept and there’s a large amount of science fiction that takes the idea of memes and anti-memes and plays with it.

For instance you could have a concept which exists and is plain as day and is right in front of you, but you can’t remember it and when you turn away, you’ve stopped being able to remember that it was there—even though it was clearly there. An anti-memetic thing could trip you so you fall, but you wouldn’t remember why you fell and then when you stood up again, you wouldn’t even remember that you fell over at all.

So I thought okay, there’s a bit of mileage in there, I can tell a story in this.

If you’ve read the book, chapter one of the book is that concept, but that’s just the start, then then I keep going. Let’s suppose this is a real phenomenon. What kind of organization could dealing with this kind of phenomenon? How would that organization have to operate? What kind of person would work there? And as I just kept digging into those questions, more and more story just showed up and I started writing.

Uri Bram: I was recommended this book with no context. I was told there’s this book, you should just read it and go in knowing as little as you can, which I think in itself is kind of interesting on your terms. Not anti-memetic, but there was hidden knowledge or knowledge that they didn’t want to convey.

QNTM: Oh, absolutely. There’s two aspects of this kind of thing. There’s ideas that you want to know, but you can’t hang onto them, they get away from you and what do you do about that? What kind of systems do you have to develop to handle that?

And then on the flip side of it, the second half of the book is about . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more that’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 9:07 pm

Making a Living: The history of what we call “work”

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Aaron Benanav reviews an interesting book in The Nation:

We have named the era of runaway climate change the “Anthropocene,” which tells you everything you need to know about how we understand our tragic nature. Human beings are apparently insatiable consuming machines; we are eating our way right through the biosphere. The term seems to suggest that the relentless expansion of the world economy, which the extraction and burning of fossil fuels has made possible, is hard-wired into our DNA. Seen from this perspective, attempting to reverse course on global warming is likely to be a fool’s errand. But is unending economic growth really a defining feature of what it means to be human?

For the longest part of our history, humans lived as hunter-gatherers who neither experienced economic growth nor worried about its absence. Instead of working many hours each day in order to acquire as much as possible, our nature—insofar as we have one—has been to do the minimum amount of work necessary to underwrite a good life.

This is the central claim of the South African anthropologist James Suzman’s new book, Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, in which he asks whether we might learn to live like our ancestors did—that is, to value free time over money. Answering that question takes him on a 300-millennium journey through humanity’s existence.

Along the way, Suzman draws amply on what he has learned since the 1990s living and dissertating among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen of Eastern Namibia, whose ancestral home is in southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert. The Ju/’hoansi are some of the world’s last remaining hunter-gatherers, although few engage in traditional forms of foraging anymore.

Suzman has less to say in Work about his years as the director of corporate citizenship and, later, the global director of public affairs at De Beers, the diamond-mining corporation. He took that job in 2007. Around the same time, in response to a public outcry after the Botswanan government evicted Bushmen from the Kalahari so that De Beers could conduct its mining operations there, the company sold its claim to a deposit to a rival firm, Gem Diamonds, which opened a mine in the Bushmen’s former hunting grounds in 2014. It later shuttered the mine and then sold it in 2019, after reportedly losing $170 million on the venture.

Suzman’s employment with De Beers—a company that has spent vast sums on advertising to convince the world’s middle classes that diamonds, one of the most common gems, are actually among the scarcest—may have left its mark on Work nonetheless. “The principal purpose” of his undertaking, Suzman explains, is “to loosen the claw-like grasp that scarcity economics has held” over our lives and thereby “diminish our corresponding and unsustainable preoccupation with economic growth.” It is an arresting intervention, although one that reveals the limits of both contemporary economics and anthropology as guides to thinking about our era of climate emergency.

For 95 percent of our 300,000-year history, human beings have lived as hunter-gatherers on diets consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, insects, fish, and game. Ever since Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, it has largely been taken for granted that staying alive was an all-consuming activity for our ancestors, as well as for the remaining hunter-gatherers who still lived as they did. Latter-day foragers appeared to have been “permanently on the edge of starvation,” Suzman explains, and “plagued by constant hunger.”

This disparaging perspective on the life of the hunter-gatherer found ample support in Western travel narratives and then in ethnographic studies. Explorers treated contemporary foraging peoples as if they were living fossils, artifacts of an earlier era. In reality, these foragers were living in time, not out of it, and trying to survive as best they could under adverse historical conditions. Expanding communities of agriculturalists, like both colonial empires and post-colonial states, had violently pushed most foragers out of their ancestral homelands and into more marginal areas. Western reportage has made it seem as if these dispossessed refugees were living as their ancestors had since time immemorial, when in fact their lives were typically much more difficult.

A countercurrent of thinkers has provided a consistent alternative to this largely contemptuous mainstream perspective. The 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, took the forager to be an unrealizable ideal for modern humans rather than our embarrassing origin story. In the 20th century, anthropologists Franz Boas and Claude Levi-Strauss continued this tradition: They countered racist, stage-based theories of human evolution by showing that foraging peoples possessed complex and intelligent cultures. These thinkers form important precursors to Suzman’s perspective, but, in Work, he sets them aside.

Instead, Suzman focuses on the comparatively recent “Man the Hunter” conference, co-organized by the American anthropologist Richard Lee. That 1966 gathering marked a decisive shift in how anthropologists thought about foragers as economic actors, and this is the point that Suzman wants to emphasize. Lee had been conducting research among the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa, a people related to the Ju/’hoansi. Lee showed that the !Kung acquired their food through only “a modest effort,” leaving them with more “free time” than people in the advanced industrial societies of the West. The same was likely true, he suggested, of human beings over the largest part of their history.

One implication of this finding is that economists since Adam Smith have been consistently wrong about what Lee’s colleague Marshall Sahlins called “stone age economics.” Using modern research methods, social scientists have confirmed that Lee and Sahlins were largely right (although they may have underestimated foragers’ average work hours). The chemical analysis of bones has demonstrated conclusively that early humans were not constantly teetering on the brink of starvation. On the contrary, they ate well despite having at their disposal only a few stone and wooden implements. What afforded these early humans existences of relative ease and comfort? According to Suzman, the turning point in the history of early hominids came with their capacity to control fire, which gave them access to a “near-limitless supply of energy” and thereby lightened their toils.

Fire predigests food. When you roast the flesh of a woolly mammoth—or, for that matter, a bunch of carrots—the process yields significantly more calories than if the food was left uncooked. The capacity to access those additional calories gave humans an evolutionary advantage over other primates. Whereas chimpanzees spend almost all of their waking hours foraging, early humans got the calories they needed with just a few hours of foraging per day.

Mastering fire thus made for a radical increase in humanity’s free time. Suzman contends that it was this free time that subsequently shaped our species’s cultural evolution. Leisure afforded long periods of hanging around with others, which led to the development of language, storytelling, and the arts. Human beings also gained the capacity to care for those who were “too old to feed themselves,” a trait we share with few other species.

The use of fire helped us become . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2021 at 12:15 pm

Why Republicans push culture issues so hard: They’re trying to distract from financial issues

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Yesterday, people rallied at more than 600 marches across the country to demonstrate their opposition to Texas’s new restrictions on abortion rights.

Today, the Washington Post broke the story that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained more than 11.9 million financial records including emails, spreadsheets, contracts, and so on, that reveal a vast international network of financial schemes to hide money from taxation, investigators, creditors, and citizens. The trove is named the Pandora Papers, after the Greek myth of Pandora, who opened a container and released a host of evils upon the world.

The two stories are not unrelated.

Today’s Republican Party would like to end government oversight of wealthy individuals, but such oversight is actually popular. So, to win elections, officials have turned to ginning up their voting base.

That base is fired up by causes they have been taught to see as imperative to make America a free, virtuous country, as it was in their imagined past and as they want it to be again. Since 1972, when President Richard Nixon threw the issue of abortion on the table to attract Catholic Democrats to his standard after the 1970 Kent State shooting cut into his support, Republican politicians have called for an end to the constitutional right to reproductive rights.

Decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression mean that today’s Republicans are less worried about winning moderates to their standard than they are about firing up their base. So today’s Republicans are becoming more and more extreme. The recent Texas abortion bill, the so-called “heartbeat bill,” bans abortion six weeks into a pregnancy—before many women even know they’re pregnant—and it makes no exception for rape or incest.

To make it hard to challenge the new law, the Texas legislature left its enforcement up to individual citizens, leaving no state entity for opponents to sue. The law went into effect on September 1, after the Supreme Court declined to stop it.

But while extremists who back the current Republican Party applaud what is essentially the outlawing of abortion, most Americans don’t like it. According to a new Monmouth poll, only 11% of Americans think abortion should always be illegal. Sixty-two percent want the Roe v. Wade decision to stand; only 29% want it overturned. The Texas law is especially unpopular. Seventy percent of Americans oppose turning the enforcement of the act over to vigilantes, and 81%, including 67% of Republicans, oppose the bill’s provision awarding $10,000 to anyone who wins a suit against someone helping a woman obtain an abortion.

Crucially, Democrats (77%) and Independents (61%) say they have heard a lot about the new Texas law, while only 47% of Republicans say they have.

Republicans have fired up their base, but at the cost of alienating women and their allies who did not truly think that abortion rights were in danger. Those people were in the streets yesterday, illustrating their determination to reclaim a government that listens to what the majority wants.

And that’s where the second story comes in.

A government that answered to a majority rather than an extremist minority would crack down on the growing global elite uncovered by the journalists who pored over the Pandora Papers, an elite that has managed to hide its wealth in offshore accounts (meaning any accounts away from their country of citizenship) thanks to deregulation and lack of oversight.

The internet and a global economy have permitted the rise of a global elite that, as the Pandora Papers reveal, often overlaps with criminality. In January 2011, when he was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III gave a landmark speech in which he explained how globalization and technology had created “iron triangles” of “organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders” who were “motivated by money, not ideology.”

The United States government has the power and the ability to take on this anti-democratic global elite. Since he took office, Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have made it clear that they consider our foreign policy and our democracy to go hand in hand.

In a speech to the State Department on February 4, Biden said that he would put “America’s most cherished democratic values” back at the center of American diplomacy, “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

Domestic policy, Biden said, was  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2021 at 10:28 pm

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

Doctor who has lost over 100 patients to covid says some deny virus from their deathbeds: ‘I don’t believe you’

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For reassurance, read again the earlier post in which Steven Pinker talks about rationality. Andrea Salcedo reports in the Washington Post (gift article: no paywall):

Matthew Trunsky is used to people being angry at him.

As a pulmonologist and director of the palliative care unit at a Beaumont Health hospital in southeastern Michigan, Trunsky sees some of the facility’s sickest patients and is often the bearer of bad news.

He gets it. No one is prepared to hear a loved one is dying.

But when a well-regarded intensive care unit nurse told him during a recent shift that the wife of an unvaccinated covid patient had berated her when she informed the woman of her husband’s deteriorating condition, Trunsky, who has lost more than 100 patients to the coronavirus, reached his breaking point.

When he got home that evening, he made himself a sandwich and opened Facebook.

Still sporting his black scrubs, he began to vent. He wrote about a critically ill patient who disputed his covid-19 diagnosis. Another threatened to call his lawyer if he wasn’t given ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that is not approved for treating covid. A third, Trunsky wrote, told the doctor they would rather die than take one of the vaccines.

One demanded a different doctor. “I don’t believe you,” he told the physician.

The physician added: “Of course the answer was to have been vaccinated — but they were not and now they’re angry at the medical community for their failure.”

Trunsky’s post detailing his interactions with eight covid patients and their relatives highlights the resistance and mistreatment some health-care workers across the United States face while caring for patients who have put off or declined getting vaccinated. Trunsky estimates that 9 out of every 10 covid patients he treats are unvaccinated.

His post — a plea for people to get vaccinated — also reveals the physical and emotional toll the pandemic has had on health-care workers, who have been on the front lines for over a year and a half. Roughly 3 out of 10 have considered leaving the profession, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health.

Some doctors are refusing to treat unvaccinated patients. Last month,  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall.

What’s odd is that people will refuse to get a thoroughly tested and proven effective covid-19 vaccine as recommended by medical professionals, but will jump at the chance to take a horse medicine because they read something about it on Facebook. (Maybe some have rationality antibodies.)

I saw a cartoon wondering how it was that parents who could not do their kid’s 6th-grade math homework six months ago are now infectious-disease experts.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:02 pm

The insurrection effort’s 6-point plan for a coup

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

CNN’s bombshell revelation of Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman’s six-point memo of instructions for overturning the 2020 election—discussed in the new book by veteran journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa—seems to be sparking a reckoning with how dangerous the Trump loyalists are to the survival of American democracy.

Eastman responded to the story by saying the released memo was only a draft and then giving CNN the final version, which was longer but no less damning—just how damning was indicated by two separate things.

First, J. Michael Luttig, the former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit whom Pence had asked for advice about whether he could overturn the election results, quickly took to Twitter to distance himself from the story, saying: “I was honored to advise Vice President Pence that he had no choice on January 6, 2021, but to accept and count the Electoral College votes as they had been cast and properly certified by the states…. I believe(d) that Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis in his January 2 memorandum.” Eastman had been Luttig’s law clerk.

Second, former president Trump promptly sued his niece Dr. Mary L. Trump, the New York Times, and three New York Times reporters, claiming they were part of an “insidious plot” to obtain and publish his tax records “to gain fame, notoriety, acclaim and a financial windfall and were further intended to advance their political agenda.” Although the New York Times articles accused Trump of tax fraud, the former president did not claim libel or defamation in the suit. Legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Joyce Alene White Vance noted that to win on that point, he would have to prove that the reporting about his finances wasn’t true, and he was all but conceding he could not do that.

Trump used a lawyer that he has not used before to launch the suit, which Mary Trump, whose doctorate is in psychology, dismissed as the work of a desperate “loser” who was “going to throw anything against the wall he can.”

Eastman was no fly-by-night; he is a senior member of the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (as well as for Judge Luttig). Eastman’s standing in the so-called conservative movement makes it all the more astonishing that, to my knowledge, no leading Republican lawmaker has commented on the revelations of just how close we came to the installation of Trump instead of the duly elected presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in January.

Instead, Republican lawmakers are making headlines by refusing even to negotiate over the debt ceiling, simply saying the Democrats are on their own. They appear to be trying to replace one crisis with another, trying to turn public attention away from Trump’s attempted coup to the idea that Democrats are wild spendthrifts (although the Trump administration added about $7.8 trillion of today’s $28 trillion debt, and during his term, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling three times).

It is impossible to overstate just how momentous are both an attempted coup and an attempt to force the U.S. to default on its debts.

Other news about the Trump administration and the January 6 Capitol insurrection is surfacing, as well.

On Monday, a federal court in Washington, D.C. unsealed an indictment alleging that, with the help of conservative author Doug Wead, Jesse Benton, a political operative from Kentucky closely allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), illegally directed foreign money from a Russian businessman to the 2016 Trump campaign. That the Department of Justice sat on the case for close to five years, even while the question of connections between the Trump campaign and Russians was white hot, suggests political interference with that department.

On Tuesday, the New York Times broke the story that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The US is encountering a crisis that Republicans either support or refuse to face. I think there are tough times ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 9:42 am

“Not Who We Are”? This Is All America Has Ever Been.

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This article from May 2020 that Natalie Baptiste wrote in Mother Jones is worth rereading:

A couple of days after the death of a 25-year-old Black man in Georgia named Ahmaud Arbery became widely known, a Mother Jones editor suggested to a group of reporters of color that we should publish something on the shocking video that was soon to go viral. It showed two white men chasing Arbery, who was jogging down a rural road in his own neighborhood, and gunning him down.

Our responses were identical: We were all so tired.

Is there anything new to be said about the killing of young Black men who are engaged in everyday activities until they attract the attention of white people who feel threatened and decide to kill them? How many times can we decry racism and beg to be seen as fully human? But while my colleagues and I felt exhausted, well-meaning people of all races littered my social media feeds with a rallying cry that is a variation on a theme as familiar as it is fundamentally empty. It boiled down to the old trope: “This is not who we are!”

Soon my exhaustion turned to frustration: In fact, this is who we are. And yet, by treating every single senseless death, every single racial profiling incident, every attack on Black people, every example of the disproportionate vulnerability of people of color to economic and now coronavirus devastation as some aberration, America is given a kind of absolution. Our racist society is off the hook.

First, consider what happened to Ahmaud Arbery. On February 23, Arbery, an avid runner, went for a jog in Satilla Shores, a majority white town in rural Georgia. He lived just two miles away with his mother. While he was jogging, several people called 911 to report that a Black man was running down the street. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis decided that a young Black man wearing shorts and running peacefully in their neighborhood must have been a burglary suspect. They chased him down and three shots are heard in the video, with the third fired at point-blank range. His death was caught on tape.

The case is now on its third prosecutor. The first one recused herself because she previously employed Gregory McMichael, who is a former investigator in the district attorney’s office. The second recused himself because his son works in the district attorney’s office that once employed Gregory McMichael. But before his recusal, he wrote a letter saying the father and son were innocent because of Georgia’s stand-your-ground laws and other laws that allow a private citizen to attempt an arrest if an offense is committed in his presence, or if he has immediate knowledge of it.

Eventually a video of the attack went viral, sparking a national outcry and demands for justice. Politicians across the ideological spectrum tweeted out statements decrying the killing of Arbery, and, naturally, vowing to fight for justice.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The reason it came up today was this column by Michael Mechanic. In it, he writes:

. . . The sharing of Baptiste’s piece was occasioned by a CBS Mornings appearance in which White House press secretary Jen Psaki, confronted with images of Border Patrol agents on horseback riding down a group of Haitian migrants, declared, “This is not who we are. That’s not who the Biden-Harris administration is.”

I can’t speak for the administration, but it’s damn well who America is. We are a nation where many states today are enacting laws designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, and, worse, laws that empower state officials to challenge election results they dislike. We are a nation that deploys Predator drones to Muslim nations, sometimes murdering innocent men, women, and children based on laughable intelligence—and lying about it until we are caught red-handed.

We may aspire to do right as a nation, but we cannot ever seem to agree on what that means. In the meantime, people—usually white people—tell themselves stories to avoid confronting our dreadful, racist past: Oh, but slavery ended so long ago. Listen, my grandparents came to America way later; my family wasn’t part of all that. Hey, nobody ever gave me a handout. We white Americans get uncomfortable when confronted by the idea that, regardless of whether we harbor racist intent, we have all benefitted from racism, socially and financially.

In a review of Clint Smith’s recent book about how America is dealing with its slavery legacy, I wrote about how a well-educated white acquaintance had expressed annoyance to me that Black Americans couldn’t just get over it. After the review ran, several readers tracked down my personal email to make their case for why slavery reparations were not in order. (I’d never explicitly said that they were.) Their arguments, though lengthy, had logical flaws, and lacked a full accounting of our past—which isn’t yet fully past. I didn’t have the time or the energy to engage, in part because I’m pessimistic that presenting a more comprehensive view of race in America—the sort of history some state legislatures are busy banning from school curriculums—would change these people’s minds. As James Baldwin wrote, “Someone once said to me that people in general cannot bear very much reality.”

And yet the rest are forced to live with the consequences.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 7:10 pm

Inside the Conservative Fever Swamp

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Michael A. Cohen (aka, the other Michael Cohen) has a good post on his site. It begins:

As a general rule, I usually don’t read the right-wing website, Breitbart. It is one of the by-products of having a functioning brain.

But I’m making an exception today because a recent piece on the site offers useful insight into the workings of the conservative mind — and the debilitating ideology of modern conservatism.

Last week Breitbart Editor-at-Large John Nolte penned a piece lamenting that conservatives are not getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He also touted the benefits of getting a shot. These days that kind of language on a right-wing website is to be applauded. But Nolte took his argument in a strange direction: he claims that Republicans are not getting vaccinated because of liberals.

According to Nolte, “leftists like (Howard) Stern and CNNLOL and Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Fauci are deliberately looking to manipulate Trump supporters into not getting vaccinated.”

How are they doing this?

“If I wanted to use reverse psychology to convince people not to get a life-saving vaccination, I would do exactly what Stern and the left are doing… I would bully and taunt and mock and ridicule you for not getting vaccinated, knowing the human response would be, Hey, fuck you, I’m never getting vaccinated!” “And why is that a perfectly human response? Because no one ever wants to feel like they are being bullied or ridiculed or mocked or pushed into doing anything.

It’s a helluva thing when a conservative writer takes the position that his fellow ideologues are like immature children who are so super sensitive and insecure that they will refuse to get a life-saving vaccine simply because their political opponents think they should. But that is Nolte’s argument.

It is, in fact, not a 100 percent normal human response to refuse vaccination in this circumstance — particularly if the alternative is death. Less normal is believing that Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, or Joe Biden are bullying, mocking, or ridiculing conservatives to purposely hasten their deaths. Far less normal is giving a rat’s ass about anything Howard Stern says. Nolte criticizes Stern for mocking anti-vaxxer conservative radio hosts who have died from COVID-19 — and rightfully so. It’s gross. But honestly, who cares? And who in their right mind makes a health care decision based on something that Howard Stern said? According to Nolte, conservatives do.

“No one wants to cave to a piece of shit like that, or a scumbag like Fauci, or any of the scumbags at CNNLOL, so we don’t. And what’s the result? They’re all vaccinated, and we’re not! And when you look at the numbers, the only numbers that matter, which is who’s dying, it’s overwhelmingly the unvaccinated who are dying, and they have just manipulated millions of their political enemies into the unvaccinated camp …

In another column this week, Nolte went a step further and argued that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The crazy never stops, and the stupid sinks ever lower.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 5:36 pm

A good way to compare an innovation to the status quo: Pretend they are reverse

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Seth Godwin describes a way to avoid common traps of lazy thinking when coming the advantages and drawbacks of something new with the status quo: Pretend the new thing is what we already have and that what is now the status quo is being proposed as an innovation.

This reminds me a useful tactic in project planning: assume that the project has failed, and list the most likely causes of failure.Assuming the failure opens one’s eyes to the risks.

Godwin writes:

The easy argument to make is that the thing we have now is better than the new thing that’s on offer.

All one has to do is take the thing we have now as a given (ignoring its real costs) and then challenge the defects and question the benefits of the new thing, while also maximizing the potential risk.

“A hand-written letter is more thoughtful, more likely to be a keepsake, and a more permanent record than a simple email.”

On the other hand, the technophile defending change simply has to list all the new features and ignore the benefits we’re used to.

“An email is far faster, cheaper and easier to track than a letter. It is more likely to be saved, and it can be sorted and searched. Not to mention copied and forwarded with no problem.”

What’s truly difficult is being a fair arbiter. I fall into this trap all the time. We begin to develop a point of view, usually around defending the status quo, but sometimes around overturning it, and then the arguments become more and more concrete. While we might pretend to be evenhanded, it’s very hard to do.

Sometimes, we end up simply arguing for or against a given status quo, instead of the issue that’s actually at hand.

And the danger is pretending you’re being fair, when you’re not. In this silly article from the Times, the author (and their editors) are wondering if oat milk and pea milk are a “scam.”

This is a classic case of defending the status quo. Here’s a simple way to tell if that’s what you’re doing: imagine for a second that milk was a new product, designed to take on existing beverages made from hemp, oats or nuts. Defending oat milk against the incursion of cow milk is pretty easy.

The author could point out the often horrific conditions used to create cow milk. “Wait, you’re going to do what to a cow?” [“Wait, you want us to drink mucus from a cow?” – LG] They could write about the biological difficulty many people have drinking it. Or they could focus on the significant environmental impact, not to mention how easily it spoils, etc.

Or imagine that solar power was everywhere, and someone invented kerosene, gasoline or whale oil. You get the idea…

There are endless arguments . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 11:24 am

The Battle of Antietam and the endurance of the Confederate ideal

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

One hundred and fifty nine years ago this week, in 1862, 75,000 United States troops and about 38,000 Confederate troops massed along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

After a successful summer of fighting, Confederate general Robert E. Lee had crossed the Potomac River into Maryland to bring the Civil War to the North. He hoped to swing the slave state of Maryland into rebellion and to weaken Lincoln’s war policies in the upcoming 1862 elections. For his part, Union general George McClellan hoped to finish off the southern Army of Northern Virginia that had snaked away from him all summer.

The armies clashed as the sun rose about 5:30 on the clear fall morning of September 17, 159 years ago today. For twelve hours the men slashed at each other. Amid the smoke and fire, soldiers fell. Twelve hours later, more than 2000 U.S. soldiers lay dead and more than 10,000 of their comrades were wounded or missing. Fifteen hundred Confederates had fallen in the battle, and another 9000 or so were wounded or captured. The United States had lost 25% of its fighting force; the Confederates, 31%. The First Texas Infantry lost 82% of its men.

That slaughter was brought home to northern families in a novel way after the battle. Photographer Alexander Gardner, working for the great photographer Matthew Brady, brought his camera to Antietam two days after the guns fell silent. Until Gardner’s field experiment, photography had been limited almost entirely to studios. People sent formal photos home and recorded family images for posterity, as if photographs were portraits.

Taking his camera outside, Gardner recorded seventy images of Antietam for people back home. His stark images showed bridges and famous generals, but they also showed rows of bodies, twisted and bloating in the sun as they awaited burial. By any standards these war photos were horrific, but to a people who had never seen anything like it before, they were earth-shattering.

White southern men had marched off to war in 1861 expecting that they would fight and win a heroic battle or two and that their easy victories over the northerners they dismissed as emasculated shopkeepers would enable them to create a new nation based in white supremacy. In the 1850s, pro-slavery lawmakers had taken over the United States government, but white southerners were a minority and they knew it. When the election of 1860 put into power lawmakers and a president who rejected their worldview, they decided to destroy the nation.

Eager to gain power in the rebellion, pro-secession politicians raced to extremes, assuring their constituencies that they were defending the true nature of a strong new country and that those defending the old version of the United States would never fight effectively.

On March 21, 1861, the future vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, laid out the world he thought white southerners should fight for. He explained that the Founders were wrong to base the government on the principle that humans were inherently equal, and that northerners were behind the times with their adherence to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and…entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.” Confederate leaders had corrected the Founders’ error. They had rested the Confederacy on the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

White southern leaders talked easily about a coming war, assuring prospective soldiers that defeating the United States Army would be a matter of a fight or, perhaps, two. South Carolina Senator James Chesnut Jr. assured his neighbors that there would be so few casualties he would be happy to drink all the blood shed in a fight between the South and the North. And so, poorer white southerners marched to war.

The July 1861 Battle of Bull Run put the conceit of an easy victory to rest. Although the Confederates ultimately routed the U.S. soldiers, the southern men were shocked at what they experienced. “Never have I conceived of such a continuous, rushing hailstorm of shot, shell, and musketry as fell around and among us for hours together,” one wrote home. “We who escaped are constantly wondering how we could possibly have come out of the action alive.”

Northerners, too, had initially thought the war against the blustering southerners would be quick and easy, so quick and easy that some congressmen brought picnics to Bull Run to watch the fighting, only to get caught in the rout as soldiers ditched their rucksacks and guns and ran back toward the capital. Those at home, though, could continue to imagine the war as a heroic contest.

They could elevate the carnage, that is, until Matthew Brady exhibited Gardner’s images of Antietam at his studio in New York City. People who saw the placard announcing “The Dead of Antietam” and climbed the stairs up to Brady’s rooms to see the images found that their ideas about war were changed forever.

“The dead of the battle-field come up to us very rarely, even in dreams,” one reporter mused. “We see the list in the morning paper at breakfast, but dismiss its recollection with the coffee. There is a confused mass of names, but they are all strangers; we forget the horrible significance that dwells amid the jumble of type.” But Gardner’s photographs erased the distance between the battlefield and the home front. They brought home the fact that every name on a casualty list “represents a bleeding, mangled corpse.” “If [Gardner] has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it,” the shocked reporter commented.

The horrific images of Antietam showed to those on the home front the real cost of war they had entered with bluster and flippant assurances that it would be bloodless and easy. Southern politicians had promised that white rebels fighting to create a nation whose legal system enshrined white supremacy would easily overcome a mongrel army defending the principle of human equality.

The dead at Antietam’s Bloody Lane and Dunker Church proved they were wrong. The Battle of Antietam was enough of a Union victory to allow President Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary emancipation proclamation, warning southern states that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State,” where people still fought against the United States, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the…government of the United States…will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons….”

Lincoln’s proclamation meant that anti-slavery England would not formally enter the war on the side of the Confederates, dashing their hopes of foreign intervention, and in November 1863, Lincoln redefined the war as one not simply to restore the Union, but to protect a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

To that principle, northerners and Black southerners rallied, despite the grinding horror of the battlefields, and in 1865, they defeated the Confederates.

But they did not defeat the idea the Confederates fought, killed, and died for: a nation in which the law distinguishes among people according to the color of their skin. Today, once again, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:09 am

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