Gender, race and the 2016 psychodrama

June 26, 2019

I recently read a collection of essays entitled NASTY WOMEN AND BAD HOMBRES: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election edited by Christine A. Kray, Tamar W. Carroll and Hinda Mendell (2018).

The question the book seeks to answer is how such an ignorant and misogynistic man such as Donald Trump could have defeated such an intelligent and well-qualified woman as Hillary Clinton.

The answers are sought in rhetoric, psychology and popular culture, not public policy. Clinton and Trump are treated as symbols, not as individuals with public records.  The election is treated as a psychodrama, not as a struggle for power.

The common theme was the need to overcome prevailing male attitudes toward women (“the patriarchy”) and prevailing white attitudes toward people of color (“white supremacy”).

I have reservations about this approach, which I’ll get to in due course..  But I first want to acknowledge the book’s merits.

One chapter discussed the obscene and vicious abuse directed at Hillary Clinton based on her gender, in the form of postcards, posters and Internet memes.  She was caricatured as a witch, a Medusa, a hag, a lesbian and a transgender man.  Unlike with Trump and Bernie Sanders, her age was held against her; she was depicted as a hag.  No human being should be subjected to this.

This unfortunately is not unusual nowadays for women who successfully compete with men.  They are subject to harassment via the Internet, up to and including threats of rape and death..

Donald Trump got his share of abuse, too—for example the widespread meme, including a video distributed by the New York Times, showing Trump and Vladimir Putin as gay lovers—the unstated assumption being that gays are weak and disgusting.

But I don’t think Trump, Sanders or any other male candidate was subjected to anything comparable to what Clinton had to endure because of her sex, and that Barack Obama had to endure because of his race.

I’d be interested about the experience of conservative woman in politics, such as Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley,  Do they get the same level of vicious and obscene abuse as white women?  My guess is, probably not, but I don’t know.

Another of the essays was about images of the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago.  The suffragists were mocked for presuming to assume male roles.  The mockery was extremely condescending, but it wasn’t threatening or obscene.

Is the viciousness of attacks on women nowadays due to a lowering of standards of public discourse?  Or do anti-feminist men today feel more threatened than than anti-suffragist men did back then?

But then there also are women, quoted in another chapter, who think that Hillary Clinton does not behave as a woman should.  Many of these same women excused Donald Trump’s bad behavior.

Indeed, the 2016 Presidential campaign illustrated the double standard for personal morality for men and women.  It is not just that Hillary Clinton could not have gotten away with trash-talking like Donald Trump.  Neither she or any of the current crop of female Presidential candidates could have been forgiven for infidelity in their marriages, as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been.

Various writers highlighted this double standard and speculated as to the cultural and psychological reasons why it exists.  Others dealt with a range of topics, from the myth of immigrant crime to religious freedom for Muslims.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rev. Dr. Thandeka on white privilege

June 24, 2019

In colonial Virginia, there was a law that white indentured servants could not be stripped naked and whipped.  They could be whipped while fully clothed, but only black servants and slaves could be whipped naked.  So the white servants enjoyed “white privilege.”

Rev. Dr. Thandeka

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, says this is an example of how the idea of “white privilege” is used to persuade white people to accept being exploited and abused.

She wrote a series of posts (linked below) on her web log about how the idea of white privilege has been used through American history to divide poor black and white people and maintain the status quo.

She questioned the value of mainstream Christian churches trying to promote racial equality by means of instilling white guilt.  As an alternative, she proposed certain spiritual practices to help people of all colors better understand their common humanity.

I think she’s basically right.  Her analysis is considerably oversimplified, but when you’re stating your case in just a few paragraphs, you can’t always make fine distinctions.   I think her main points are important and true, and deserve to be more widely discussed.

The name Thandeka, which means “beloved” in the Xhosa language, was given her by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984.

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How many new immigrants can the USA welcome?

June 21, 2019

I don’t think the number of immigrants into the United States should be unlimited.

I don’t think the number of immigrants into the United States should be zero.

But how many should we admit?  I don’t have a good answer.

I don’t believe in open borders because there is a limit to the number of newcomers any nation can absorb and avoid breakdown.

The economist Milton Friedman said that it is impossible for a nation to have both open borders and a generous welfare state, because needy immigrants will overburden any social safety net.

Friedman opposed the welfare state.  He favored open borders.

Then, too, there is a limit to how many newcomers a nation can absorb in any period of time.

We saw this in Germany’s refugee crisis in 2015 when a million immigrants, mainly from Iraq and Syria, poured into the country.  Germany weathered the storm, but it put a big strain on Germany society and European unity.

If climate catastrophe unfolds as many predict, there may be tens of millions of desperate would-be immigrants fleeing drought, floods, tidal waves and devastating storms and fires.

Every one of them would be just as valuable in the cosmic scheme of things (or, if you will, in the eye of God) as I am and my loved ones are.  But is American society resilient enough to give them refuge?  I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

But neither to I favor closed borders.

The birth rate of native-born American citizens is below the replacement rate.  This means the retirement-age population is going to increase and the working-age population is going to shrink.

If the USA is to support its future old folks, such as me, it needs either an increase in economic productivity much greater than the current rate or immigration to increase the work force.

The main potential sources of immigrants are countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  A highly-skilled, well-educated person from Haiti or Nigeria might well seek a better life in the USA, but the person’s counterpart in Norway would have no reason to leave their enlightened, prosperous country.  These days Norway is a destination for immigrants, not a source of immigration.

In addition, we Americans have a moral obligation to admit a certain number of the refugees who have been driven from their homes by wars our government has instigated or dictators our government has supported.

I don’t think the United States has the capacity to absorb all the refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Central America.  A better way to repair the damage would be to help governments of those countries rebuild so that refugees could return to their homelands, if that were possible.

At a bare minimum, we should admit people whose lives are in danger because they were employed by the U.S. armed forces or fought on the same side.

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At last, the House stands against undeclared war

June 20, 2019

The House of Representatives yesterday voted to deny President Trump the power to start an undeclared shooting war with Iran.

The House voted, 226-203, to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution of 2001, which was intended to authorize military action against Al Qaeda, but has since been used to justify military interventions that have nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

The House vote was on an amendment to the $1 trillion military appropriations bill a $1 trillion military appropriations bill that included an amendment repealing the AUMF.  It was a strict party-line vote, with all but seven Democrats all in favor and Republicans all opposed.

It will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate.  It’s likely the Senate will remove the amendment; if so, there would have to be some sort of reconciliation process before the appropriation bill became law.

I don’t think the anti-war cause is hopeless.  A number of Republican Senators have misgivings about undeclared war.  The Senate passed a resolution with bipartisan support to deny U.S. funding for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, but this was vetoed by President Trump.

Repeal of the AUMF wouldn’t be a total solution to the problem.  It wouldn’t prevent covert war and economic war.  There were reports of a big explosion earlier this month at an Iranian oil storage facility, which may have been sabotage.

The Iranian government has said that if Iran is prevented from shipping oil through the Strait of Hormuz, nobody else will be able to ship either.  That’s a credible threat, and would be disastrous to the world economy if carried out.

The House vote is an important first step in Congress reasserting its Constitutional war powers authority and heading off a war with Iran.  It is, however, only a first step.

LINKS

House votes to repeal Authorization for Use of Military Force while Trump reportedly urges representatives to tone down rhetoric on Iran by Tim O’Donnell for The Week.

Iran Tensions: House votes to repeal 9/11 era law used to authorize perpetual war by Tara Golshan for Vox.

Explosions Rock Iran’s Largest Port As Oil Products Catch Fire by Julianne Geiger for OilPrice.com

Declassified: The Sino-Russian Masterplan to End U.S. Dominance in Middle East by Yossef Bodanksy for OilPrice.com.

Why Would Iran Attack Tankers? by Ian Welsh.

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Neal Stephenson’s vision of a secular afterlife

June 19, 2019

The idea of uploading a copy of your brain into a computer and living forever is well-established in science fiction.  Some Silicon Valley scientists and entrepreneurs are coming to think they can do it in reality.

Neal Stephenson’s new novel. FALL, or, Dodge in Hell is the closest thing I expect to see of a plausible thought experiment as to what such immortality would be like and what it would take to make it real.

Although I don’t think this is Stephenson’s intention, it reinforces my belief that I wouldn’t want to live in such a world, even in the highly unlikely event that this were possible.

The novel begins with the unexpected death of Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the billionaire founder and CEO of a fantasy role-playing game empire.  Due to a provision of his will that he probably forgot about, his brain is scanned and the data stored or later uploading.

Over the next 17 years, the Forthrast family joins forces with El (for Elmo) Shepherd, the developer of the scanning technology, to create the world’s largest data base to be a matrix for Dodge’s consciousness.

Dodge is activated as a disembodied consciousness with no memory of his previous life and no awareness of anything beyond “I think, therefore I am.”

Gradually, he evolves.  Through mental activity alone, he, like a god, is able to impose order on chaos.  The first thing he creates is the image of an autumn leaf, one of the last things he thought about before his death.

Slowly he forms a whole world with an “up” and a “down,” with a ground surface at the bottom and a sky above.  As he becomes aware of other entities entering his world, he gives himself a physical form, something like a bat-winged demon, with a skin to separate himself from the rest of his environment.

He is aided by a second entity in his world named Spring.  She does not embody herself, but gives the trees, the birds and the bees and Dodge’s other creations the attributes of living beings, rather than mere scenery.

The earliest immigrants into Bitworld are members of the Forthrast family and their hangers-on.  They also have special powers.  They are called the Pantheon.  Later ones are the product of full-body scans, not just brain scans, and are limited to the human form and human powers.

The Bitworld population has no memory of a previous existence, which is a good thing, because their memory of the wondrous actual world would make them unhappy.

Bitworld is much like the world of a fantasy role-playing game, with overlays of Greek and Norse mythology.  Dodge is a Zeus, complete with a warehouse full of thunderbolts, with god-like powers but lacking god-like wisdom.

The saving grace is that the souls in Bitworld have the possibility of a second and final death.  They are not condemned to having to do the same things over and over for all eternity.

Read the rest of this entry »

From white supremacy to white nationalism

June 17, 2019

This interview with Kathleen Belew was aired July 24, 2018.

***************************************************************

I learned two important things from reading BRING THE WAR HOME: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew (2018).

One is how the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist organizations changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s from vigilantes upholding a racist order to revolutionaries and secessionists trying to overthrow an anti-racist order.

The other is that so much of what I thought of as isolated incidents, ranging from the murder of talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were in fact planned by a revolutionary movement.

Belew began her account with the story of a Klansman named Louis Beam who served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.  He regarded U.S. defeat in Vietnam as a betrayal engineered by Jews and Communists.  He and his like-minded friends regarded themselves as soldiers.  They regarded the war against Communism as the same thing as the war against racial integration and racial equality.

They obtained and stockpiled military ordnance, organized private militias and military training camps and enlisted as mercenaries in support of anti-Communist fighters in Africa and Central America.   The South African and Rhodesian governments made use of them, and so did the Central Intelligence Agency.

They saw no difference between killing Communists in Vietnam or Nicaragua and killing Communists in the USA.  Klansmen and Nazis joined forces in the shooting of Communist anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, resulting in the deaths of five white men and one black woman.

But at some point, they came to regard the U.S. government as hopelessly compromised.  The annual Aryan Nations World Conference at Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced a new organization called the Order, which would coordinate the Klan, Nazis and other white racist organizations, such as the Mountain Church, the White Patriot Party and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

Their new goal was to establish a separate white enclave and eventually to break up the United States and forcibly move whites, blacks and maybe other racial groups into separate areas, while deporting Jews to Israel.  Beam commented that carrying out this program might make the Third Reich seem mild in comparison.

Their idea was that African-Americans, being members of an inferior race, could not have more their civil rights on their own.  They thought that black people must have been aided by the Jews, whom they regarded as super-smart but evil.

Members of the Order swore to carry out “a sacred duty to do whatever is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”

The Order’s plans included (1) paramilitary training, (2) robbery and counterfeiting to raise money, (3) purchase of military-grade weapons, (4) distribution of money and weapons to white power groups, (5) assassinations of enemies and informers and (6) a cell-type organization so that rank-and-file members only knew the names of members of their own group.

Beam’s vision was a “leaderless resistance,” in which there was no top-down chain of command, but a network of cells linked by Liberty Net, a computer network.  This was prior to the Internet, a time when computer networks were a novelty.

They got a lot of their ideas from U.S. Army training manuals on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, and their system of organization resembled the Communist fighters in Vietnam and the radical Muslim jihadists of a later era.

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Alternate history and ancient science

June 14, 2019

Alternate history is one of the most popular types of science fiction.  It is based on speculation as to what would have happened if history had been different from what it was – if the Axis had won World War II, or if the South had won the U.S. Civil War.

CELESTIAL MATTERS by Richard Garfinkle (1996) is a work of both alternate history and alternate science.  I read it with great pleasure when it first came out, and reread it with pleasure recently.

The alternate history is what would have happened if the ancient Greek culture had not self-destructed during the Peloponnesian Wars.  

The alternate science is what the world would be like if ancient Greek science were correct—if matter consisted of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, if the sun, moon and planets revolved around the earth, if medical theories of the “humors” were true, if life could be created through spontaneous generation.

In the novel, the Delian League, the alliance of the Greek city-states formed after the defeat of the Persian invasion, did not become a vehicle for Athenian domination, but was an equal alliance of Athenian thought and Spartan valor that endured for a thousand years.

Alexander of Macedon, influenced by his wise tutor Aristotle, did not attempt to conquer Greece, but joined the Delian League.  He did not cut the Gordian Knot, but allowed Aristotle to gently untie it.  He conquered not only Persia but India, lived to a ripe old age and set up an enduring stable government.

The Delian League’s only rival was the Middle Kingdom, whose technology was based on Taoist principles of Yin and Yang and “xi” force.

The novel’s protagonist, Aias of Tyre, is a scientific officer on an expedition to the Sun to obtain solar fire to use as a high-tech weapon against the Taoists.  The principles of space flight in the novel, of course, have nothing to do with gravity or Newton’s laws of motion.

Alas has to contend with Taoist attacks, sabotage by a secret traitor, personality conflicts in the high command and his doubts about the possible blasphemy against the divine Apollo—not to mention his growing attraction to the female Spartan officer appointed as his bodyguard.

The Greek gods exist and speak to him and other characters, but as voices and images in their minds.  Each of the gods represents a separate aspect of life and of the good.

This is not a novel for everyone, but if this is the kind of novel you enjoy, you will enjoy Celestial Matters a lot.

Lessons from the fate of ancient Athens

June 14, 2019

The alternate history novel Celestial Matters describes a world in which the Delian league of Greek city-states endured a thousand years.  This of course did not happen in reality, and the reasons it didn’t have a moral for us Americans.

The Delian League was an alliance of Athens and other Greek city-states against the Persian Empire, which had invaded Greece and was defeated by the Spartan army and Athenian navy.

Allies of Athens were supposed to contribute money to a treasury located on the island of Delos to be used to construct ships to wage war against Persia.

In time, the treasury was shifted from Delos to Athens.  In time, Athens gave up the pretense that the contribution was anything more than tribute exacted by Athens.  Delian League money went to help pay for construction of the Parthenon.

Allies revoted against Athens, and were put down ruthlessly.  All this was before the outbreak of war between allies of Athens and members of the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League.  Athens lost the war, but it was devastating to both sides.  Greece was successfully invaded by Macedonia and later by Rome.

What would have happened if the Athenians had maintained the Delian League as a true alliance rather than making it into an empire?  They might have been more powerful rather than less, because they wouldn’t have to expend blood and treasure in suppressing rebellions against their empire.  Their aggression might not have been feared as much by the Spartans.  These things aren’t knowable.

I see a parallel between Athens after the Persian Wars and the United States after the Second World War.  The United States was the trusted leader of the Western world.  

It sponsored the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union, the United Nations as a means of implementing international law and the Bretton Woods agreement as a means of stabilizing the world financial system.

I think that if the U.S. had been faithful to the purposes of the international organizations it created, and had been willing to submit to the laws that it demanded other nations obey, our nation still would be a respected world leader.

But over time the Western alliance and U.S.-created institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have become a vehicle for American empire.  The administration of Donald Trump does not try to hide this.

I don’t want to lean too heavily on historical analogies, but I believe that, unless the U.S. changes direction, we will meet the fate of Athens.

The Athenians were not hypocrites.  They did not violate any of their professed ideals.  Athenian democracy was based on the citizens’ right to govern themselves collectively and their duty to govern themselves individually.

They lacked any idea of humanitarianism, universal human rights or the rule of law, which are part of the American ideal of democracy.  It is we, not they, who will be judged by history by failing to live by our own principles.  

War, power and the clothing of men

June 12, 2019

These drawings are copied from About Face by Nate Powell for Popula.

Click on About Face to see the rest of the sequence.

War, power and the clothing of men (2)

June 12, 2019

Click on About Face for the previous part of this sequence.

LINKS

 About Face by Nate Powell for Popula.

A veteran and historian responds to Nate Powell’s “About Face” by Sam Duncan for Popula.

The Sum of All Beards by Adrian Boneberger and Adam Weinstein for The New Republic.

The facts behind the black-white IQ gap

June 10, 2019

In case this ever comes up in conversation.

Here’s Why the Black-White IQ Gap Is Almost Certainly Environmental by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones

Who’s to blame for Venezuela’s economic crisis?

June 8, 2019

There are two explanations for Venezuela’s economic crisis.  One is that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro mismanaged the economy.  The other is that the United States economic warfare ruined the economy.

Greg Wilbert of The Real News Network said it’s true that Chavez failed to adequately prepare for falling oil prices and Maduro failed to adequately cope when oil prices did collapse.

He said Venezuela’s economic crisis was not caused by the United States, but U.S. sanctions, which began under President Obama, made matters worse and prevented corrective action.

 I don’t think a new U.S.-imposed government would do better.

[Revised 6/9/2019]

Who will resist new regime change wars?

June 8, 2019

How Liberals Came to Embrace War As the Only Option by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Zero Percent of Elite Commentators Oppose Regime Change in Venezuela by Teddy Ostrow for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Trump’s Venezuela War Hawks Are Freaking Out Congress by Matt Laslo for VICE News.

If the US is going to war with Iran, Congress needs the evidence by Steven Simon and Richard Sokolsky for POLITICO.

Senate fails to override Trump veto on Yemen by Marianne Levine for POLITICO.

Tulsi Gabbard Pushes No War Agenda – and the Media Is Out to Kill Her Chances by Philip Giraldi for Strategic Culture.

Democrats Running for President Waking Up to the Danger of War With Iran by Alex Emmons, Akela Lacy and Jim Schwartz for The Intercept.

How did we come to accept regime change wars?

June 8, 2019

We Americans have come to accept “regime change wars” as normal.  But they aren’t.  They are what the United Nations Charter and various UN resolutions define as wars of aggression.

I remember the Cold War and how we thought of the Soviet Union as the aggressor nation that scoffed at international law.

Click to enlarge.

Now our government is the one that thinks it has the right to attack or overthrow governments that displease us and improve our version of “democracy”—a democratic government being defined as one that supports U.S. policies.

The U,S. government is waging economic warfare against Venezuela and Iran while threatening military attack.  The purpose is to make Venezuela accept a President chosen by the United States and to make Iran unilaterally disarm.

Neither government has threatened or harmed Americans.  Their offenses are to oppose U.S. policy in Latin America and the Middle East, and to keep the world’s largest and third largest oil reserves from being controlled by the United States.

Yet this has somehow come to be accepted as normal.  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is regarded as an eccentric, or worse, because she is one of the few who opposes making war against countries that haven’t harmed us.

The Charter of the United Nations, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1945, declares military aggression to be a crime. Article 2 said, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat of force against the territorial integrity of any state or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg stated that aggressive war was “the supreme international crime.”

In 1950, the UN General Assembly condemned “the intervention of a state in the internal affairs of another state for the purpose of changing its legally established government by the threat or use of force.” It also resolved the “any aggression, whether committed openly or by fermenting civil strife, in the interest of a foreign power or otherwise, is the gravest of all crimes against peace and security throughout the world.”

I think most Americans thought these resolutions were aimed at the Soviet Union, which we thought was the world’s main aggressor.

The two main wars fought by the United States during the Cold Wa era were in Korea, where U.S. forces defended the Seoul government against an attack from without, and in Vietnam, where U.S. forces defended the Saigon government against a revolutionary movement supported from outside.

Secretly, of course, and sometimes not-so-secretly, the Central Intelligence Agency plotted coups in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and many other countries.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Johnny Cash was the Man in Black

June 7, 2019

Johnny Cash always dressed in black, unlike most the gaudy outfits, sometimes with rhinestones, worn by other country-western singers.

He composed the song, “The Man in Black,” after talking to students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and first performed it to an all-student audience at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Feb. 17, 1971.  Here are the lyrics.

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,

why you never see bright colors on my back,

and why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.

Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,

but is there because he’s a victim of the times.

Read the rest of this entry »

Slavery did not end with the Civil War

June 5, 2019

Source: ADOS.  Click to enlarge.

I was taught in school that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but in fact tens of thousands of African-Americans in the South were enslaved in everything but name from the 1870s through the 1930s.

They were bought and sold for money, whipped and abused by their masters, supervised by overseers with guns and hunted down with hounds when they tried to flee.

Douglas A. Blackmon wrote in SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War Two that we should not speak of the “Jim Crow” era, but the era of neo-slavery.

The way it worked was this.  A black person would be arrested.  Sometimes he would be guilty of a real crime.  But any black male not under the control of a white employer was subject to being arrested, charged with something like “vagrancy” or “offensive behavior” or a trumped-up charge.  Some records list only the sentence and not the nature of the offense.  

The black person would of course be convicted automatically and sentenced to a prison term or a fine, which would include not only the lawful penalty for the offense, but also the cost of his arrest and imprisonment.

A white employer would pay the fine in return for a contract entitling him to the black person’s labor  The sheriff or police chief, jail keeper, magistrate and court clerk would divide up the payment.  The buyer might sell the contract to someone else.

The convict would typically work under armed guards and be whipped regularly for trivial offenses or for not working hard enough.  Overseers would commonly soak a leather strap in water or molasses and then coat it with sand, so that a whipping would flay the skin off. 

It is true that, unlike slaves before the Civil War, the convict did not serve a lifetime sentence, his children were not automatically enslaved and the majority of blacks were not enslaved.  

But the threat of enslavement hung over everyone, and conditions under the new slavery were often worse than under the old.

In the earlier era, slaves were valuable property and slave owners had an incentive to keep them strong and healthy.  

But in the neo-slavery era, there was no reason not to work them to death because, just as in Hitler’s labor camps or Stalin’s Gulag, there was an unlimited supply of fresh laborers.  Employers suffered no penalty when convicts died, even when they were beaten to death.

I’ve heard people say that slavery would have ended of its own accord if there had been no Civil War because slave labor was not suitable for modern industry.

But Blackmon showed that neo-slavery was practiced not just by individuals, but by corporations that exist to this day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump wins the spotlight

June 4, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: Ash Ngu on Twitter.

Algorithms, democracy and political correctness

June 3, 2019

Matthew B. Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head, wrote an about why using computer algorithms to detect hate speech is in conflict with the idea of democracy and self-government

Decisions made by algorithm are often not explainable, even by those who wrote the algorithm, and for that reason cannot win rational assent.  This is the more fundamental problem posed by mechanized decision-making, as it touches on the basis of political legitimacy in any liberal regime.  [snip]

Among those ensconced in powerful institutions, the view seems to be that the breakdown of trust in establishment voices is caused by the proliferation of unauthorized voices on the Internet.

But the causal arrow surely goes the other way as well: our highly fragmented casting-about for alternative narratives that can make better sense of the world as we experience it is a response to the felt lack of fit between experience and what we are offered by the official organs, and a corollary lack of trust in them.

For progressives to now seek to police discourse from behind an algorithm is to double down on the political epistemology that has gotten us to this point. The algorithm’s role is to preserve the appearance of liberal proceduralism, that austerely fair-minded ideal, the spirit of which is long dead.

Such a project reveals a lack of confidence in one’s arguments—or a conviction about the impotence of argument in politics, due to the irrationality of one’s opponents.  In that case we have a simple contest for power, to be won and held onto by whatever means necessary.

LINK

Algorithmic Governance and Political Legitimacy by Matthew B. Crawford for American Affairs Journal.  The article is a little abstract, but well worth reading.

Abstract art at a glance (or two)

June 1, 2019

AbstractArtD5Ex2vRW4AEUMou

 Source: Street Art Magic.

Why would you believe John Brennan or the CIA?

May 31, 2019

The intelligence community – after two solid decades of PR disasters, from 9/11 to Iraq to Abu Ghriab to Gitmo – has rebounded in the public’s eye since 2016, cleverly re-packaging itself as serving on the front lines of the anti-Trump resistance.

It’s even managed to turn the invention of the term “deep state” to its advantage, having media pals use it to make any accusation of investigatory overreach, leaking, and/or meddling in domestic politics sound like Trumpian conspiracy theory.

But these people are not saviors of democracy. They’re the same scoundrels we rightfully learned to despise in the Bush and Obama years for lying about everything from torture to rendition to drone assassination to warrantless surveillance.

LINK

The intelligence community needs a house-cleaning by Matt Taibbi for Untitledgate.

A sand sculpture of Abraham Lincoln today

May 31, 2019

This was the winning individual entry in the 2019 Texas Sand Sculpture Festival.  (Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow.)

Why failed Donald Trump may win in 2020

May 30, 2019

Donald Trump has a good chance of being re-elected despite his poor record as President.

If Joe Biden is nominated, Trump will be able to attack him from the left as a defender of the status quo, just as he did Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

If Bernie Sanders is nominated, the Democratic establishment will turn on him, as their predecessors did McGovern.  The Washington press corps already is against him.

There’s a possibility that, because of the large number of Democratic candidates, no candidate will go into the Democratic convention with a majority, in which case the super-delegates will decide.  Their most likely choice would be Biden or, if his candidacy fades, the most conservative Democrat still in the running.

I don’t think impeachment or doubling down on Russiagate will help the Democrats, but they’ll also pay a price by giving up and tacitly admitting they’re wrong.  They lose either way.

Donald Trump has failed to deliver on any of his promises.  He’s started a trade war with China, but this hasn’t helped unemployed factory workers.  He’s done a lot of unnecessarily cruel things to unauthorized immigrants, but he hasn’t addressed the immigration issue.  He hasn’t “cleaned the swamp.” He doesn’t have a plan for replacing Obamacare with something better.  He doesn’t have an infrastructure plan.

All these failures create an opening for Democrats.  But do they have something better to offer?

Bernie Sanders is the only one who can bring about needed social change because he is the only one who has created a campaign organization and source of funds that is independent of big donors and the Democratic Party machinery.  If elected, he would have a power base independent of the big donors and a means of putting pressure on Congress to enact his program.

That’s precisely why the Democratic Party establishment would be against him.  Re-electing Trump would only keep them out of office.  Electing Sanders would threaten their careers and their sources of power.

Joe Biden is their preferred candidate.  Biden is an unapologetic supporter of the financial elite and the warfare state. He takes up for rich people and has “no empathy” for struggling Millennials.  I’ll give him credit for honesty.  He doesn’t pretend to be progressive.

Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard have good ideas, but they would have less power to bring about change than Sanders would.  Neither one is the head of a mass movement as Sanders is.  The Justice Democrats and Our Revolution support Sanders, but their aim is to change American politics as a whole and not just elect one candidate.

I’ve not researched all the other candidates, but at this point, I think of them as like bottles of soda pop in a vending machine.  They’re different flavors, but they’re basically all the same sugar water.

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Will Julian Assange die before he is tried?

May 30, 2019

Julian Assange’s lawyer said that Assange is too sick to carry on a normal conversation, that his health has deteriorated since his arrest, and that he has been transferred to the health ward of Belmarsh prison.

His health had reportedly been failing even before his arrest, as a result of being cooped up in a windowless room for seven years and not being able to get medical care he needed.

There is now no good reason why he shouldn’t receive all the care he needs, and it is possible that he is receiving such care. I hope my suspicions are groundless, and maybe they are.

But the events of the past 15 or 20 years have left me unable to say, “Such and such is impossible because the British (or U.S.) government would never do such a thing.”

It would be much more convenient from the U.S. and British governments if he were to die before being put on trial.  And treating Assange as some sort of super-villain terrorist who requires extra isolation from human contact is one way to accomplish that.

LINKS

Statement of Kristin Hrafnsson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief.

Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill And Hardly Anybody’s Talking About It by Caitlin Johnstone.

The UN Torture Report on Assange Is an Indictment of Our Entire Society by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 5/31/2019]

This life is all you’ve got, so make the most of it

May 29, 2019

There are two main arguments about religious beliefs.  One is about whether they are factually true—whether you really will go to Heaven or Hell, or to a reincarnated new life, when you die, for example. The other is about whether religious faith is a good thing regardless of whether it is true.  Many lack religious faith and regret the lack.

THIS LIFE: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund (2019) Is aimed at unhappy disbelievers.  He made the case that you can be a better and happier person without religious belief than with it

Hankering for Heaven or Nirvana won’t free you from the pain and risk of life, Hägglund wrote; it is better to face the fact that this life is all you’ve got, and to make the most of it.

Secular faith is the faith that your finite life really is worthwhile, despite its risk and pain.  Spiritual freedom is the power to choose what makes your life meaningful.

Your life’s meaning can be devotion to your loved ones, to a vocation or avocation or to work to make the world a better place.  It evidently goes without saying, because Hägglund doesn’t explicitly say it, that it does not include devotion to money, power or sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

I sometimes talk to people who tell me they’re spiritual, not religious.  I tell them that I myself am not spiritual at all.  They often tell me that actually I am spiritual, even if I don’t know it or won’t admit it.

Hägglund did the same thing in reverse.  He argued that religious people who try to make the world a better place really are more secular than religious, because they care about this world rather than the hypothetical next world.

He began by writing about the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis and his grief for the death of his wife, Joy Davidian.  Lewis confessed in A Grief Observed that his Christian religious faith did not console him or shield him from the pain of the loss of his beloved.

Friends tried to tell Lewis that he and his beloved would meet again in Heaven, but, as he pointed out, there is no support for this idea in Scripture.  The whole point of Heaven is that it would be qualitatively different from Earthly life, not a continuation of it.

Lewis believed that an endless continuation of earthly life would eventually become unbearable.  As he remarked somewhere, all that is necessary for Hell is eternal life, plus human nature as it is.  He thought Heaven must be some sort of timeless transcendent state of being beyond out comprehension.

Hägglund argued that the desire to exist in a timeless transcendent state makes this life meaningless, because nothing in this life would count compared to that.  He said the same is true of use of Buddhist meditation practice or Stoic philosophy to cultivate a serenity that makes you indifferent to the pain of loss.  Hägglund said the price of that is to never care deeply about anything or commit strongly to anything.  He thinks that is an unworthy way to live.

The conflict between this world and a transcendent hope are shown in the life of Saint Augustine, he wrote.  Augustine’s Confessions show his struggle to free himself from caring about things in this world so that he can devote himself exclusively to God.  Augustine even worried about whether church music would cause people to come to church to enjoy the music rather than pray to God.

Hägglund contrasted Augustine with writers such as Marcel Proust and the contemporary Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, who treasure and lovingly describe the ordinary details of life.

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Nonviolence in the service of imperialism

May 27, 2019

I first learned about Gene Sharp in 2011, when I learned that his writings on nonviolent fighting were used as a tactical handbook by the Arab Spring protesters.

When the Mubarak regime in Egypt and others accused Sharp of being a tool of the Central Intelligence Agency, I dismissed this a typical dictator blaming protests on outside agitators.

Gene Sharp, in 2009

But a writer named Marcie Smith presented evidence that Sharp worked with “defense intellectuals” who used non-violent struggle as one more means of bringing about regime change.

Sharp began his public life as a pacifist.  He went to prison during the Korean Conflict for opposing the draft.  Later he was secretary to A.J. Muste, the leading American pacifist, and supported anti-war protests in Britain.

He conceived the ambition of working out strategy and tactics for non-violence comparable to the thinking of Clausewitz on war and Machiavelli on political power.

He obtained a research appointment in 1965 with the Center for International Affairs, often called the CIA at Harvard, through the influence of Thomas Schelling, noted for his ideas about game theory and nuclear war.

Other members of the Center were cold warriors Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy and future CIA director Robert Bowie.

Later, in 1983, Sharp founded the Albert Einstein Institution, which was independent of the government, but received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, Ford Foundation and International Republican Institute.

The Albert Einstein Institute, according to Smith, supported non-violent struggles against dictators that the U.S. government was trying to overthrow, while ignoring dictators that were friendly to the U.S.

Sharp is dead, so there’s no way to ask him what he had in mind.  My guess is that he hoped to influence the United States and other governments to substitute non-violent struggle for armed struggle.  If so, this was naive.

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