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kottke.org posts about Politics

Scenes from the Second Civil War

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

In the hours after the January 6th terror attack on Congress, it seemed as though the early understanding was that a bunch of giddy goofballs — oops! — forced their way into the Capitol Building for funsies and photo ops. The stupid coup. As time passes and more photos & videos are released and reporting is done, the picture emerging is of a violent attack on members of Congress, their staff, and Capitol Police & other law enforcement officers by an armed & savage mob who narrowly missed assaulting, kidnapping, or even murdering members of Congress by mere minutes.

This is an account of the rioters’ siege of the Capitol Building from the perspective of the DC police. The terrorists likened their actions to those in 1776; it certainly was a war-like atmosphere:

“We weren’t battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel,” he said in the first public account from D.C. police officers who fought to protect the Capitol during last week’s siege. “We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene.”

Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs. Police said that chaotic and violent scene was captured in a video that would later spread widely on the Internet.

Rioters swarmed, battering the officers with metal pipes peeled from scaffolding and a pole with an American flag attached, police said. Both were struck with stun guns. Fanone suffered a mild heart attack and drifted in and out of consciousness.

All the while, the mob was chanting “U.S.A.” over and over and over again.

“We got one! We got one!” Fanone said he heard rioters shout. “Kill him with his own gun!”

This was a “coordinated assault”:

Looking over the chaotic scene in front of him from the Capitol steps, Glover grew concerned as the battle raged. There were people caught up in the moment, he said, doing things they would not ordinarily do. But many appeared to be on a mission, and they launched what he and the police chief described as a coordinated assault.

“Everything they did was in a military fashion,” Glover said, saying he witnessed rioters apparently using hand signs and waving flags to signal positions, and using what he described as “military formations.” They took high positions and talked over wireless communications.

Authorities would later learn that some former members of the military and off-duty police officers from across the country were in the pro-Trump crowd. Glover called it disturbing that off-duty police “would knowingly and intentionally come to the United States Capitol and engage in this riotous and criminal behavior against their brothers and sisters in uniform, who are upholding their oaths of office.”

Blue Lives Matter…until they have the gall to get in the way of what you feel entitled to:

“The zealotry of these people is absolutely unreal,” said Hodges, who suffered from a severe headache but otherwise emerged unhurt. “There were points where I thought it was possible I could either die or become seriously disfigured.”

Still, Hodges said, he did not want to turn to his gun.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day,” he said. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”

Two of the officers interviewed for this story spoke to CNN for this report:

Officer Michael Fanone found himself in the midst of the insurrectionists and then briefly shielded from harm by some of the rioters after shouting “I have kids”. He had this to say to those who protected him: “Thank you. But fuck you for being there.”

The Storm Is Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

From Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker, Among the Insurrectionists is an amazing and surreal account of how the January 6th domestic terror assault on Congress1 unfolded. (Note: This piece contains accounts of violence and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic language.)

The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776 — it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. … USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert — a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol — had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”

When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.

“Where the fuck are they?”

“Where the fuck is Nancy?”

No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.

Notably, the piece places the insurrection in the proper context alongside Trump’s campaign of misinformation (which began even before his Presidency and has focused heavily on election fraud) and as part of an escalating series of actions by militant fascist groups in DC and around the country.

In the days before January 6th, calls for a “real solution” became progressively louder. Trump, by both amplifying these voices and consolidating his control over the Republican Party, conferred extraordinary influence on the most deranged and hateful elements of the American right. On December 20th, he retweeted a QAnon supporter who used the handle @cjtruth: “It was a rigged election but they were busted. Sting of the Century! Justice is coming!” A few weeks later, a barbarian with a spear was sitting in the Vice-President’s chair.

Cause, effect. Here are more instances, from various times during the past few months:

It was clear that the men outside Harry’s on December 12th had travelled to D.C. to engage in violence, and that they believed the President endorsed their doing so. Trump had made an appearance at the previous rally, waving through the window of his limousine; now I overheard a Proud Boy tell his comrade, “I wanna see Trump drive by and give us one of these.” He flashed an “O.K.” hand sign, which has become a gesture of allegiance among white supremacists. There would be no motorcade this time, but while Fuentes addressed the groypers Trump circled Freedom Plaza in Marine One, the Presidential helicopter.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump’s histrionic exaggerations of the threat posed by Antifa fuelled conservative support for the Proud Boys, allowing them to vastly expand their operations and recruitment. The day after a Presidential debate in which Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Lauren Witzke, a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, publicly thanked the group for having provided her with “free security.”

Early returns showed Trump ahead in Michigan, but many absentee ballots had yet to be processed. Because Trump had relentlessly denigrated absentee voting throughout the campaign, in-person votes had been expected to skew his way. It was similarly unsurprising when his lead diminished after results arrived from Wayne County and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, Trump launched his post-election misinformation campaign: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

The next day, I found an angry mob outside the T.C.F. Center. Police officers guarded the doors. Most of the protesters had driven down from Macomb County, which is eighty per cent white and went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “We know what’s going on here,” one man told me. “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. … We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.

Mogelson has reported on wars in Afghanistan and Syria — and now in America. You should read the whole thing.

  1. I’ve seen many folks and media outlets refer to the events of January 6, 2021 as an attack “on the Capitol”. While that is technically correct, focusing on the venue obscures the true target: Congress. This was an attack on the entire legislative branch of the United States government. Being explicit about that point is important.

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

This is an astute observation by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, in the wake of the 1/6 terror attack on Congress:

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice — and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks — and all the more apparent yesterday — is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

If you have full-throated democracy in the contemporary American demographic landscape, a white supremacist Republican party can’t win elections in many states. So they subvert democracy itself by disenfranchising voters (what Ibram X. Kendi calls voter subtraction) and, when that fails, they spread misinformation about unfair elections, attempt to cancel hundreds of thousands of lawful votes cast by US citizens, and execute a poorly planned coup to terrorize lawmakers into capitulating to their demands. Either white supremacy goes or democracy does — that’s our choice. (thx, betty)

The Right’s “Respectable” Rioters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Adam Serwer writing at The Atlantic: The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’.

They were business owners, CEOs, state legislators, police officers, active and retired service members, real-estate brokers, stay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

The Big Lie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

From Timothy Snyder, an incredible piece on Trump, the coup attempt, and this fascist moment in American history. (Snyder, you may remember, wrote about 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism from the 20th century shortly after the 2016 election that he later turned into a book.)

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

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo. More productively, the philosopher Jason Stanley has treated fascism as a phenomenon, as a series of patterns that can be observed not only in interwar Europe but beyond it.

My own view is that greater knowledge of the past, fascist or otherwise, allows us to notice and conceptualize elements of the present that we might otherwise disregard and to think more broadly about future possibilities. It was clear to me in October that Trump’s behavior presaged a coup, and I said so in print; this is not because the present repeats the past, but because the past enlightens the present.

Snyder quotes Hannah Arendt in this piece and I’m going share a quote of hers I’ve shared before:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

I think about her last line all the time: “And with such a people you can then do what you please.” Like make them assault Congress on behalf of yourself and your political party. This was not Snyder’s closing paragraph, but I’m going to end this post with it:

The lie outlasts the liar. The idea that Germany lost the First World War in 1918 because of a Jewish “stab in the back” was 15 years old when Hitler came to power. How will Trump’s myth of victimhood function in American life 15 years from now? And to whose benefit?

The lie outlasts the liar. Read the whole piece; it’s great.

Congress Is Under Attack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Details from the 1/6 terrorist attack on Congress continue to trickle out. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not in the Capitol during the event, but said in an hour-long Instagram Live video that she had a “very close encounter” that day and thought she was going to die. Here’s Ocasio-Cortez quoted by Emma Gray:

“Wednesday was an extremely traumatizing event. And it was not an exaggeration to say that many members of the House were nearly assassinated.”

She also felt unsafe around other members of Congress — From Buzzfeed News:

The Democrat said that she worried during the storming of the Capitol about other members of Congress knowing her location and did not feel safe going to the same secure location as her colleagues because of members who believe in the QAnon collective delusion and “frankly, white supremacist members of Congress … who I know and who I have felt would disclose my location,” saying she was concerned there were colleagues “who would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped, etc.” She said that she “didn’t feel safe around other members of Congress.”

Not an unfounded fear — Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, gun nut and QAnon supporter, tweeted about Speaker Pelosi’s location while terrorists were storming the Capitol Building. And several Republicans refused to wear masks while in lockdown in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion and now three Democratic lawmakers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Members of Congress briefed by security and law enforcement agencies (FBI, DoD, DHS, Secret Service) say that more attacks are planned in the coming days and weeks:

“Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” that group of Democratic chairs said in a cryptic statement after the meeting on Tuesday. The briefing included the chairs and other top members of the House Oversight, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Armed Services and Intelligence panels.

“It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead,” the statement said.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns moments after a public FBI and Justice Department briefing revealed their belief that the Jan. 6 violence could be part of a much graver, well-organized “seditious conspiracy.”

What an remarkable collection of statements & events. This is not going away. Any elected official who supported this coup effort must resign or be removed from office. How can you “secure Congress” when members of Congress are part of the effort to subvert it?

This Is Who We Are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2021

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding — the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery — the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people — as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups — America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.

“The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

For Gizmodo, Brian Kahn writes about what the 1/6 terrorist action at the Capitol Building means for the climate crisis.

Climate change is chaos by nature. It means more powerful storms, more intense wildfires, more extreme floods and droughts. It is an assault on the weakest among us, and decades of the right-wing mindset of small government have left the country with fewer resources to deal with the fallout. As the summer’s wildfires show, the far-right will be there to try to fill the power void. Those fires occurred in a predominantly white region.

There’s a strong strain of white nationalism and neo-Nazism that ran through Wednesday’s insurrection, and it’s easy to imagine what will happen when flames or storms hit places that are predominantly Black, brown, or Indigenous. In fact, we don’t need to imagine it at all. We’ve seen it in the gunman who showed up at a Walmart to kill immigrants whom he falsely blamed for putting strain on the environment. And we saw it in the white vigilante violence in the vacuum after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We’ve seen it so frequently, it even has a name: ecofascism.

After Wednesday, the boundaries of permissible violence have now expanded to a distorting degree, at a time of increasing climate instability. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extremists literally took over the halls of power and got away with it. When climate change upends communities with far fewer defenses — communities that hate groups already scapegoat — the results will be catastrophic.

As we’ve seen with the pandemic, fascists will use climate chaos to assert dominance and snatch for power. Others will make vast sums of money — and inequality will continue to grow. Creating confusion with misinformation makes all of that easier to manage for these opportunists.

Tips for a Better Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

On his blog, Conor Barnes shared an eclectic list of 100 Tips For A Better Life. I’m less keen on these sorts of lists than I used to be because they’re often written for people who already have pretty good lives and it’s too easy to imagine that a list advocating the opposite of each tip would also lead to a better life. To be fair, Barnes’ list acknowledges the difficulty with generalized advice:

31. The best advice is personal and comes from somebody who knows you well. Take broad-spectrum advice like this as needed, but the best way to get help is to ask honest friends who love you.

That said, here are some of the list items that resonated with me in some way.

3. Things you use for a significant fraction of your life (bed: 1/3rd, office-chair: 1/4th) are worth investing in.

I recently upgraded my mattress from a cheap memory foam one I’d been using for almost 7 years to a hybrid mattress that was probably 3X the cost but is so comfortable and better for my back.

13. When googling a recipe, precede it with ‘best’. You’ll find better recipes.

I’ve been doing this over the past year with mixed results. Google has become a terrible way to find good recipes, even with this trick. My version of this is googling “kenji {name of dish}” — works great.

27. Discipline is superior to motivation. The former can be trained, the latter is fleeting. You won’t be able to accomplish great things if you’re only relying on motivation.

My motivation is sometimes very low when it comes to working on this here website. But my discipline is off the charts, so it gets done 99 days out of 100, even in a pandemic. (I am still unclear whether this is healthy for me or not…)

46. Things that aren’t your fault can still be your responsibility.

48. Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.

Oh, this used to be me: “I’m this sort of person.” Turns out, not so much.

56. Sometimes unsolvable questions like “what is my purpose?” and “why should I exist?” lose their force upon lifestyle fixes. In other words, seeing friends regularly and getting enough sleep can go a long way to solving existentialism.

75. Don’t complain about your partner to coworkers or online. The benefits are negligible and the cost is destroying a bit of your soul.

Interpreting “partner” broadly here, I completely agree with this one. If they are truly a partner (romantic, business, parenting), complaining is counterproductive. Instead, talk to others about how those relationships can be repaired, strengthened, or, if necessary, brought to an appropriate end.

88. Remember that many people suffer invisibly, and some of the worst suffering is shame. Not everybody can make their pain legible.

91. Human mood and well-being are heavily influenced by simple things: Exercise, good sleep, light, being in nature. It’s cheap to experiment with these.

This is good advice, but some of these things actually aren’t “cheap” for some people.

100. Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.

Oof, this ended on a flat note. Many bad things seem to happen dramatically because we don’t notice the results of small bad decisions accumulating over time that lead to sudden outcomes. Like Hemingway said about how bankruptcy happens: gradually, then suddenly. Lung cancer doesn’t happen suddenly; it’s the 40 years of cigarettes. California’s wildfires are the inevitable result of 250 years of climate change & poor forestry management techniques. Miami and other coastal cities are being slowly claimed by the ocean — they will reach breaking points in the near future. Even the results of something like earthquakes or hurricanes can be traced to insufficient investment in safety measures, policy, etc.

The pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere, but experts in epidemiology & infectious diseases had been warning about a pandemic just like this one for years and even decades. The erosion of public trust in government, the politicization of healthcare, the deemphasis of public health, and the Republican death cult (which is its own slow-developing disaster now reaching a crisis) controlling key aspects of federal, state, and local government made the pandemic impossible to contain in America. (This is true of most acute crises in the United States. Where you find people suffering, there are probably decades or even centuries of public policy to blame.)

Bad news happens slowly and unnoticed all the time. You don’t have to look any further for evidence of this than how numb we are to the fact that thousands of Americans are dying every single day from a disease that we know how to control. So, endeavour to keep track of the bad things to avoid an inaccurate and unrealistically optimistic view of the world — it helps in making a list of injustices to pay attention to and work against.

Recommendation: The Audiobook for Barack Obama’s A Promised Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

I read both of the excerpts from A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s memoir of his time in the White House: I’m Not Yet Ready to Abandon the Possibility of America from The Atlantic and A President Looks Back on His Toughest Fight in the New Yorker. I have also been listening to the audiobook version, read by Obama himself, over the last few days and if you’re at all interested in this book, I would suggest going with the audiobook. Here’s an excerpt of Obama reading the preface (and several more of other parts of the book):

Not that there’s anything wrong with the written version, but the audiobook conveys more context and information. Much of the time, Obama writes like he talks, so listening to him read his own writing is like sitting across the dinner table from him as he tells you about how he became President. You can hear which parts of the book he really cares about and which parts are in there just to bridge gaps. He does impressions — of Desmond Tutu and his Kenyan relatives — and inflects words in other languages in the manner of Alex Trebek. He jokes around and gets serious. You can hear how frustrated he was, and continues to be, with Republican obstructionism. I’m only a few chapters in so far, but it will be interesting to hear his voice when he talks about the aspects of his Presidency that people believe didn’t live up to his lofty goals and visions. You really get the sense when listening to him that, unlike many politicians, he actually cares about helping people — or if you’re cynical, that he’s best-in-class at faking it; either way it’s fascinating to hear and make up your own mind.

You can listen to Obama read A Promised Land at Amazon or Libro.fm.

When We Look Back on This…

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2020

In remarks to the German parliament today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated for tighter Covid-19 restrictions, as cases & deaths in Germany reach new peaks. The restrictions she’s referring to were recommended by “a national academy of scientists and academics” and are intended at reducing the spread of Covid-19 over the December holidays. The impassioned argument that she makes in this short video clip (full report here) is difficult for me to find fault with (even though conservative members of her parliament and Twitter commenters disagree). Here’s a partial transcript:

If the price we pay is 590 deaths per day, then that is unacceptable in my view. And when scientists are practically begging us to reduce our contacts for a week before we see Grandma and Grandpa, grandparents and older people at Christmas, then perhaps we really should think again about whether we can’t find a way to start the school holidays on the 16th instead of the 19th. What will we say when we look back on this once-in-a-century event if we weren’t able to find a solution for these three days? And it may be the case that sending children home is the wrong thing to do, if so then it will have to be digital lessons or something else. I don’t know, this is not my area of expertise and I don’t want to interfere. I only want to say: if we have too many contacts now, in the run-up to Christmas, and it ends up being the last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have done something wrong. She should not let this happen.

I teared up watching her talk. In the US, we are dealing with many more cases (which will turn into eventual deaths) and deaths than Germany, both in absolute and per capita terms. It’s like 10 fully-loaded passenger planes a day are crashing with no survivors and there are small things that we all can do to keep many of those people alive and … many of us just don’t want to do those things!

Like Merkel says, we are going to look back on this and be completely ashamed that we didn’t do these things and that we elected people that won’t advocate for these things on our behalf and that we let 300-400,000 Americans die and countless others lose loved ones and go bankrupt and get evicted and lose their businesses and be chronically ill and be food insecure and and and. If we aren’t ashamed, if we don’t reckon with all of this someday, then maybe nothing can redeem us and we deserved it all.

Science Gave us a Vaccine. Now to Turn That Into Vaccinations…

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2020

In an incredible effort, science has provided the world with what looks like an incredibly effective vaccine for Covid-19. For Stat, Helen Braswell writes about the challenges of turning that vaccine into vaccinations. In the US, despite heroic work from individuals and individual groups, our public health system has proved unequal to the challenge of addressing the pandemic, and we’re now turning, in part, to that system to distribute and administer the vaccines, as well as to educate the public and drum up support for vaccination. The people that we’re counting on are public officials and healthcare workers worn out from what is essentially one 9-month-long wave of illness, hospitalizations, and death across the country. Misinformation and skepticism of science and government has sowed “justified distrust” about vaccines in many people:

Concern about the vaccines, however, cuts across ethnic and socioeconomic groups. President Trump’s overt efforts to pressure the FDA to issue EUAs before the Nov. 3 election — before the vaccine trials were finished — has deepened the sense of unease. The CDC’s early pandemic testing fiasco, coupled with its sidelining by the Trump administration, has eroded its standing as a trusted source of information.

Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, refers to the current situation as a perfect storm of “justified distrust.”

“People who don’t think twice about vaccinating their kids totally on time, who get their flu shot every year, are in the sort of, ‘Hmmm. Might wait six months on this one,’” Buttenheim, who works on vaccine acceptance, told STAT. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I’ll get the European one,’” she said, adding other people have said they would get vaccinated after Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gets vaccinated.

And it’s not just the general public. A recent survey of 2,000 doctors and nurses in New Jersey found that 60% of doctors planned to take a Covid vaccine, but only 40% of nurses intended to, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a recent “60 Minutes” segment about Operation Warp Speed.

Fauci, along with other respected public health officials and workers, should get vaccinated live on CNN. Stream it on YouTube and Twitch. It won’t convert the anti-vax, anti-mask, QAnon wingnuts (nothing will) but if you can at least get healthcare workers and at-risk folks on board, it would be time well spent.

But that’s only one small piece of the puzzle. Braswell’s piece is long and comprehensive look at the challenges regarding the Covid-19 vaccines and is worth reading all the way through.

Rebecca Solnit: We Don’t Need to Meet Nazis Halfway

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Writing for Lithub, Rebecca Solnit on On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naive version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?

Reading this, I was reminded of the paradox of tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

And also, I can’t remember where I heard this recently, but it’s perhaps worth noting that in game theory (I know, I know), when you’re dealing with an iterated prisoner’s dilemma situation (where two competitors are engaged in repeated confrontation), one of the the best strategies is called generous tit-for-tat. Playing a generous tit-for-tat strategy means cooperating on the first move and then mirroring whatever the other player did on their previous move — but, crucially, occasionally cooperating after an attack as a opening to potential future collaboration. So, if the other party cooperates, so do you. And if the other party attacks, attack back…but not every time. Attempting to collaborate in the face of repeated attack leaves the door open to reestablish a virtuous cooperation cycle. The real world of national politics is not quite so simple, but it seems like a shift in strategy for progressives might be in order. (via christopher jobson)

“I Lived Through A Stupid Coup. America Is Having One Now.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Indi Samarajiva on living through a stupid political coup in Sri Lanka and a warning to Americans.

Two years ago, I lived through a coup in Sri Lanka. It was stupid. The minority party threw chili powder at everyone in Parliament and took over by farce. Math, however, requires a majority and the courts kicked them out. They gave in. We’d been on the streets for weeks but yay, we won.

No.

I didn’t know it at the time, but we had already lost. No one knew — but oh my God, what we lost. The legitimate government came back but it was divided and weak. We were divided and weak. We were vulnerable.

Four months later, on Easter Sunday, some assholes attacked multiple churches and hotels, killing 269 of us. My wife and kids were at church, I had to frantically call them back. Our nation was shattered. Mobs began attacking innocent Muslims. It was out of control. The coup broke our government, and four months later, that broke us.

The coup was a farce at the time but how soon it turned to tragedy. They called it a constitutional crisis, but how soon it became a real one. Right now, the same thing is happening to you. I’m trying to warn you America. It seems stupid now, but the consequences are not.

See also Samarajiva’s “I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.”

Election Days I Have Known

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 20, 2020

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My birthday is November 3, 1979. This means that Election Day 2020 in the United States was also my 41st birthday. It was a very strange birthday. But I believe that anyone born in the first week of November who lives and/or votes in this country often finds themselves celebrating strange birthdays. Their memories and experiences of those days are different, more vivid, and more hopelessly entwine the political, civic, and personal.

I was very nearly born on November 2nd. That was my mother’s 28th birthday. She went into labor at lunch with my aunt and my grandmother. She was enjoying time away from my older brother and sister (then two and five) and didn’t want to change her plans. When she got home, she was well into labor but didn’t tell my father. My godmother, whom my whole family calls my Aunt Joette but who is not, strictly speaking, my aunt, and her husband, my Uncle Mike (same deal) came over to visit.

Uncle Mike somehow picked up that my mother was having contractions, timed them in his head, and told her when it was time to go to the hospital. He also offered to watch my siblings while my father drove her there. He even cleaned and vacuumed the house, with my brother clinging to his leg. Aunt Joette, who was 26 but already had three children of her own, hopped in the back seat of my parents’ Thunderbird. My mom, now seriously uncomfortable, told my dad to punch it. He drove through Detroit at over 100 mph to Hutzel Hospital, where I would be born. My godmother, always terrified of expressways and fast driving, has never ridden in a car with my father since. My dad still says he has never made such good time downtown.

But once they got to the hospital, everything stopped. My parents say it was the first sign of how stubborn I could be. (Frankly, this trait is overdetermined in my family.) My mother was in labor for more than 24 hours. Her doctors prepared for an emergency C-section before I arrived, about an hour and a half before the end of November 3. Since 1979 is an odd-numbered year, there wasn’t a federal election that week. But it would have been a good Election Day story if there had been one.

My mother’s father’s birthday was October 29th. In Detroit, October 30th is Devil’s Night. October 31st is Halloween. November 1st is All Saints’ Day and Dia de los Muertos; this holiday is a pretty big deal in southwest Detroit’s Mexicantown, where Uncle Mike, Aunt Joette, and my cousins Rachel, Nikki, and Miguel went to church at Holy Redeemer.

November 1st is also my mother’s brother’s birthday. My Uncle Chris is exactly fourteen years younger than my mother and fourteen years older than me. He turned 30 two days before I turned 16, and called my mother the day in between, and since my mom wasn’t home, he and I talked for about half an hour. With leap days included, he is just one day closer in age to my mother than he is to me. My mother’s birthday (and All Souls’ Day) is November 2nd, and mine is November 3rd. It’s a lot of birthdays and holidays in just a few days. My parents’ wedding anniversary is February 5th, which explains why I was born nine months later; the others in my family can plausibly be blamed on cold Michigan nights. This has always made the week of Election Day a pretty big deal in our family.

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The first President elected in my lifetime was Ronald Reagan, on November 4, 1980. I don’t remember this very well, but I have seen pictures of my first birthday party the day before. My parents, like a surprisingly large number of Americans, both voted for independent candidate John Anderson, supposedly moved that he might be driven to bankruptcy by his campaign debts if he didn’t receive enough of the vote. Either they’re misremembering or are suckers, because in September, Anderson had already qualified for matching funds. Anyways, they both worked multiple jobs and had three small children, and ready access to reliable political information was not very good 40 years ago either.

I remember Reagan as President, but do not especially remember his reelection on November 6, 1984. I do remember my 5th birthday party extremely well. It was at McDonald’s, and my friends from kindergarten Andrew and Norman were invited. Ronald McDonald was there, I ate at least six Chicken McNuggets (which I still love), and Andrew gave me the He-Man action figure Jitsu, a bad guy with a golden hand that did a karate chop. He was kind of an evil knockoff of Fisto. Another of my uncles also gave me a copy of Jitsu, and I was excited about returning it and picking out a different He-Man character, but my younger brother took the second Jitsu out of its box, so we had two Jitsus, which is at least one too many. My brother was only three, but I was very upset with him.

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In 1988, my mom and I were pulling for Jesse Jackson, and both of us were pissed off when he didn’t win the nomination. (I’m still mad about this, actually.) This is when I start to remember Phil Hartman’s Ronald Reagan, Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, and Jon Lovitz’s undersung Michael Dukakis (“I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy”).

My parents were not around very much—my sister is really the one who raised me while the two of them worked, and I’ve always thought of her as an equal parent as well as a beloved sibling—but they indulged my watching late night television and asking questions about the conventions at a young age. George H.W. Bush was elected on November 8th. (See, it’s not really always the first Tuesday in November, because for whatever reason, November 1st doesn’t count.)

[Note, in lieu of art: I do not currently possess any photos of myself from age 12 or 13, which is right and just.]

Bill Clinton was elected President on November 3, 1992, my thirteenth birthday. In my junior high’s mock election, held the day before, Ross Perot won in a landslide. (We’d moved to the suburbs by this point.) Why were mostly-white suburban tweens entranced by Perot, who had simply nothing in his history or character to appeal to them, besides perhaps a funny voice? Some of it felt like a collective prank, a joke on the fact that the school was pretending to let us decide something we actually had no choice about: “Let’s all vote for Perot, and see what happens.”

I think some people were moved by the idea that something, anything unexpected might happen. It’s like why little kids are fascinated by dinosaurs: here are these creatures, older and bigger than your parents, older and bigger than anything, who once ruled the world. They all died, and anything, no matter how powerful or seemingly inevitable, can die again and be replaced by something new. I don’t know; maybe that was why my parents, still in their late twenties, wanted to vote for Anderson. Maybe that was part of why so many of my friends in college voted for Ralph Nader. Longing for change becomes something more than rational when so many external things determine your life.

Anyways, Bill Clinton was a deeply flawed President and remains a deeply flawed human being. Still, given the choices, I’m happy with how it actually turned out.

November 3rd was also the day of my last junior high football game. I was a starting defensive tackle, and our team was undefeated. So were our cross-town rivals at Wilkinson. They ran all over us that day: our defense, which had shut out all but one team we played and gone games without giving up any yards, could not stop Jason Byrd, a big, fast, 14-year-old athlete most of us knew from little league baseball. He died in 1997.

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In 2000, I turned 21. Four days later, I voted for the first time. I did not vote in the 1998 midterms, even though Michigan’s governor was on the ballot, because my college town made it difficult for students to register to vote, and because, having just turned 19, I briefly did not believe electoral politics could create genuine change. I was also lazy, and foolish, and preoccupied with many other things.

But by 2000, I’d had a change of heart, and voted for Al Gore. I now think Gore would have been a better President than I believed then, partly because of the incredibly guarded, talking-out-both-sides-of-his-mouth campaign that he ran, but also because I did not foresee the disaster of the Bush years. I thought things would carry on mostly like they had, and that Bush, while dim and disengaged, would be a relatively benign conservative like I thought his father had been. I also thought he wouldn’t win anyways. I was a real putz. I had studied so much history but had no idea of what history had in store for us.

That year, my senior year in college, I lived in a big co-op house with fourteen other people. The house was right around the corner from my favorite bar, where I’d rung in my 21st birthday at midnight. We all watched the election results on CBS—I don’t know who chose that network, but Dan Rather had a lot of homespun idioms he used to introduce all the tosses and turns.

After the news came in that Florida had been called for Gore, then moved to toss-up, then called for Bush, then nobody was sure, my worst roommate, the one who let her dog shit all over the living room carpet, who installed her own private air conditioner even though we all split the utility bills, who everyone hated and nobody could figure out how she’d moved into the house or how to get her to leave, was openly celebrating a Bush win and taunting the rest of us (pretty even split Gore/Nader). I had one thought: I need a drink.

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Bush won again, defeating John Kerry after Election Day on November 2, 2004. For me, this was the biggest gut-punch election of my life. I followed it closely, I watched all the debates, I participated in antiwar, anti-Bush, and anti-Cheney demonstrations, and met up with other young people involved in politics in Philadelphia, where I’d moved in 2002. I had thought Gore would win, but was convinced Kerry would—even after the midterm losses in 2002, even after the bombs fell on Iraq the day after my first son was born.

The next day, my 25th birthday, I walked around the city in a haze. I had to get groceries. The new Trader Joe’s on Market St had opened, right across the street from Center City’s small but lively porno district. I talked to my parents and each of my siblings on the phone, but I don’t remember what any of us said. Ohio was close, and there would be recounts, but it was over. Maybe Kerry would have been a good President, maybe he wouldn’t have, but at that moment, every possibility felt foreclosed upon. This is what they want, I thought. It wasn’t for the first time and certainly would not be the last.

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For years, I thought Barack Obama was elected on my birthday in 2008. I even told people in the run-up to the 2020 election, just weeks ago, no, it’s OK, it’s actually good luck: Barack Obama won on my birthday. It’s not true. He was elected on Tuesday, November 4th, the day after.

But those few days all feel like one day, in the best sense. Now, my younger son had just turned one year old in September, had been walking (for some value of “walking”) since August, and his mother and I hadn’t properly slept yet. On November 3rd, my friends Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan celebrated the fifth anniversary of their blog Snarkmarket by asking me to join them as the site’s third author. I was scrambling to finish my doctoral dissertation in comparative literature, and to send out applications for Assistant Professor and Visiting Fellow jobs that were rapidly disappearing thanks to the economic collapse. (More jobs I applied to cancelled their searches than gave me outright Nos.)

It was total disaster. And yet somehow, the best thing had happened. Obama was the only Presidential candidate I’d supported in the primary who’d ever made it to the general election (that’s still true, by the way). He was the first Presidential candidate I’d voted for who’d won, and I had a young, multiracial family living in the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence who were counting on him. Health care for everyone, an end to the war in Iraq, real progress for Black and Latinx (we didn’t use the X then, but I will now) and Middle Eastern and South and Central Asian people seemed imminent. I was now 29, and even though I professed to know better, to have made myself properly jaded, properly paranoid, properly realistic about the limits of elected officials, the military, corporations, and the American people… I found myself quite carried away, like so many others. Meanwhile, the slaughterhouse continued its work.

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By November 2012, I was separated. I was living in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, but still registered to vote in Philadelphia. I had completely bounced out of academia, but somehow wound up with a series of very good jobs writing for technology magazines and websites. My son and his mom had just moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta after Philly’s public schools fell apart, making it much harder for me to take the train to see them.

My 33rd birthday was nevertheless my favorite ever. I was visiting Washington, DC for a few days, and all my friends in the area gathered to have brunch. Some of them knew each other, and some of them didn’t. We swapped stories about our “formative nerd texts,” the book that shaped our obsessions at an early age. (My answer: Calvin and Hobbes.) I had a crush on someone again, one of the first since my wife, and I didn’t know what to do with it. On the way back to New York, I stopped in Philadelphia to vote for Barack Obama again. (He won.) The city I’d lived in for a decade began to feel less and less like home. When I finally got from Penn Station to my apartment, I felt twin waves of longing and relief.

I turned 37 on November 3, 2016. My mother had just turned 65. My uncle, whom I remember as eternally 30, turned 51. By then, all of my grandparents had died. I had moved back in with my parents in metro Detroit the year before, partly to help my parents after my father’s heart attack, and partly because I had no place else to go.

I did not want to celebrate my birthday. I did not want to see or be seen by anyone. I closed off my wall on Facebook well before November. I stopped posting on Twitter a month before Election Day. Even though all the polls and polling averages, which had been so successful in 2008 and 2012 by controlling for known problems, had predicted until shortly before the end that Hillary Clinton would likely sail to an easy victory, I could feel what was coming.

I felt it in the part of my brain that can recognize a rattlesnake in the grass. There was nothing statistical about it at all, nothing deductive, just pure anticipation. Certain other primates have a word that means “snake,” and everyone in their band knows what it means. When they hear that word, the monkeys run for the trees. My brain was screaming that word, and it was running for the trees.

I thought, I will vote. And if she wins and he loses, then I will have helped stop this. And then I can kill myself.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

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This Election Day and my 41st birthday have been even more unusual. It was my first birthday without my sister, Kelly. She had also been living with my parents after many years in New York, and died suddenly in April from a pulmonary embolism caused by COVID-19. My sister Kelly was 45 years old.

She would have been so good at figuring out how to celebrate my birthday and my mom’s, to keep us all safe and still have fun. She would have been so happy to vote to turn Michigan blue again. She would have had my nieces and nephews rolling with laughter at the funeral she didn’t have. She was my parent, and she was my sister. And she had a whole life to live that had nothing to do with me, but still shared with me, that she would tell me about on long telephone calls and late-night talks. And if she loved you, family or friend, she loved every part of you: she loved your parents and partners and children. She was the only person in my family who could befriend every generation, who could tell the third cousins apart, who knew what your second cousins’ kids wanted for Christmas without having to ask.

I feel like I lost all three people she was: sister, parent, protagonist. I still have so much I want to ask her about. I think I know, but I will never know.

We couldn’t celebrate my or my mother’s birthday with my brothers and their families, so my mother, my father, and I tried to make an even bigger celebration ourselves. Her birthday bled into mine, as it always does. We bought a Grand Traverse Baking Company cherry crumb pie, which was delicious. We had all already dropped off our ballots in October, so on Election Day (my birthday), we ordered carry-out from my favorite Lebanese restaurant. I bought a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey, but didn’t drink any of it. I was in a good mood all night (the pie definitely helped), even as Michigan and Pennsylvania remained uncounted, as Georgia remained uncertain, as the blue mirage turned into a red mirage and back again.

Even now, although nearly all the votes have been counted (and Georgia’s, my son’s adopted home state, have been counted twice), Election Day is somehow not yet over. We knew it would be Election Week; few of us knew it would be Election Month.

Yet that means somehow my birthday is not yet over; it has metastasized to become all of Scorpio season, perhaps to Thanksgiving and after. And that means I am still only on the verge of turning 41, still 40, still waiting for the clock to turn over to start this next part of my life, a second half if I am lucky, a final third if everything goes chalk. I wasn’t born until late in the night on November 3, 1979, and I proved even before I was here that I can wait a very long time.

Still, I would like this to end, and end properly, even if I have to march on the state house in Michigan’s capitol building with the family I have left to see it out. Everyone is dying again; they have never stopped dying, and I would like to end that too.

I have no fantasies about Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. I don’t see them as avatars of hope like I saw Barack Obama, or as neoliberal schemers determined to betray their base. But I cannot survive (too many of us cannot survive) the petty fascist death cult of the Republican party under Trump. It has been building to this for generations, but now achieved its worst form yet. I will use every tool at my disposal, including the Democratic party, to crush them and drive them from power, like St. Patrick did Ireland’s snakes in legend.

They let New Orleans drown; they poisoned Flint; they let the police and bigots fashioning themselves as police murder Black people throughout the country, and then said it was the victims’ fault. They let my sister die and called it a rounding error. They have always been my enemies, ever since I was a little boy watching Ronald Reagan on television and realized what he was, even though I didn’t know the words for it. This was a man who would let us all die and (if he said anything at all) call our deaths noble and brave and necessary, if it would suit his vision of his own power, and perhaps enrich people I would never know.

Snake. The word I was looking for, that I already knew at four years old, was snake.

My father is terrified of snakes: he says that this is because in Ireland, where his parents were born, they have none. Snake is also what my mother’s people, the Ojibwe or Lake Superior Chippewa, called the Dakota and Lakota peoples when they fought them in what’s now Wisconsin: Sioux is a Chippewa word. (Literally, nadouessioux, or more properly natowessiwak, means “little snakes.”)

I know that if we want elections worth the name in 2022 or 2024 or any year afterwards, we have to win. The GOP, despite their hold on state legislatures, the courts, and at worst a 50/50 split in the US Senate, are fighting like they will never win a fairly counted, fairly administered, unsuppressed election again. And they might be right. But Democrats have to fight too. For once, Democrats have to forget that they’ve won and continue to fight.

I would like back everything that I have lost. But until the end of time and the return of the Messiah (and yes, I do mean Gritty), none of us can ever have that. All we can look forward to are more birthdays, more yahrzeits, and—I hope—more Election Days.

Maybe they will even become a holiday. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?

The Best Maps & Charts from the 2020 Election

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2020

From Stamen’s lead cartographer Alan McConchie, an excellent review of the charts and maps that best communicated vital information about the 2020 election.

After the first night of election results was over, and most of the state races had been called, we settled in for several more days of vote counting in a few key states. Dynamic “choose your own adventure” maps and scenario modeling tools became much less useful, and the landscape of the remaining Electoral College outcomes could be explained better without a map or a chart at all. Simple infographics like this one from the BBC did an excellent job of telling the reader all they needed to know.

You should dig into the article for the commentary and analysis, but I did want to share a couple of my favorite maps/charts:

Maps 2020 Election

Maps 2020 Election

Maps 2020 Election

The graphs by John Harurum in that last image were especially useful for me in seeing how the counting trends were going.

Anonymous Obama Gets Some Ice Cream

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2020

Barack Obama’s A Promised Land comes out today and The Root’s Michael Harriot has a brief interview with Obama. The rest of the interview is meatier, but I like Harriott’s last question:

Q: You are a former president and you are unquestionably the predominant role model for a generation of Black people, both of which come with a certain amount of public scrutiny. But for one day, you get to be an anonymous, everyday American who can go anywhere you want and do anything. Describe that day.

A: You know, honestly, I’d just take a walk. Go to the grocery store. Go out to dinner with Michelle. Maybe get some ice cream. Around my second or third year in office, I’d have this recurring dream, maybe once every six months, where I’m walking down the street and head into a coffee shop or a bar or something and nobody recognizes me. It was great!

You can read the rest of his answer, including his thoughts on “the tyranny of selfie”. I watched the Pete Souza documentary The Way I See It the other day1 and the wildest scenes were the ones showing a young Obama on the Senate campaign trail just walking around with no one noticing or bothering him. He must miss those days for sure. But I bet it’s also fun to be able to get literally anyone you want on the phone in 30 seconds.

P.S. I haven’t read it myself yet, but I’ve heard from many folks that Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy conversation with Obama is worth checking out.

P.P.S. In their excellent 5-part series on Princess Diana, You’re Wrong About’s Michael Hobbes shared his theory that “fame is abuse” and I’ve been thinking about that in relation to every celebrity story I’ve read since.

  1. Pro tip: in the US it’s streaming for free on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service.

No Evidence of Voter Fraud Reported by Election Officials Nationwide

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2020

The headline and first few paragraphs of today’s front-page story in the NY Times say it all: The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud.

Election officials in dozens of states representing both political parties said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race, amounting to a forceful rebuke of President Trump’s portrait of a fraudulent election.

Over the last several days, the president, members of his administration, congressional Republicans and right wing allies have put forth the false claim that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and have refused to accept results that showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner.

But top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.

Of course, the Republicans have made no fraud claims about states where they did well. Every Republican who the media projected to be the winner has claimed victory on that basis. And if the Democrats were somehow cheating, wouldn’t they have done far better on down-ballot races — presumably hundreds of thousands of fake ballots for Biden would also have gone for Democratic Senate and House candidates as well? The whole thing is obviously absurd.

“Voting Trump Out Is Not Enough”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

For the New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that as much noise and pain that Donald Trump generated while he was in office, it can’t hold a candle to America’s systemic problems, which remain unaddressed by both major parties.

Like tens of millions of Americans, I voted to end the miserable reign of Donald J. Trump, but we cannot perpetuate the election-year fiction that the deep and bewildering problems facing millions of people in this country will simply end with the Trump Administration. They are embedded in “the system,” in systemic racism, and the other social inequities that are the focus of continued activism and budding social movements. Viewing the solution to these problems as simply electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both underestimates the depth of the problems and trivializes the remedies necessary to undo the damage. That view may also confuse popular support for fundamental change, as evidenced by Trump’s one-term Presidency, with what the Democratic Party is willing or even able to deliver.

Lessons from the Ancient World about the Political Collapse and Recovery of Self-Governing Communities

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2020

This is a fascinating post by historian Bret Devereaux, who specializes in ancient history (esp. Rome), that looks at ancient self-governing democracies and republics in the Greek and Roman world and describes how they fell into crisis and, crucially, how they were able to recover to avoid losing that self-governance.

But in that large sample size, we also get a sense of what solutions succeed and what solutions fail to hold together a self-governing community in these sorts of pressures. Beset by repeated political crises from 494 to 287 (known as the Struggle of the Orders), the Roman Republic repeatedly survived and grew stronger through compromise and by constructive, inclusive redefinition of the republic to include a broader range of people (not merely the patrician elite, but also the plebeian elite). In no small part, that success seems to have been motivated by the avowed need of elite patricians for the support of the plebeian commons in order to campaign, since the plebeians made up most of the army.

In stark contrast, the effort by conservative (in the general sense, not in the American sense) elements of the Roman senate to ‘hold the line’ and permit no compromise on questions of land reform and citizenship in the Late Republic led quite directly to the outbreak of civil war in 91 (with the Italian allies) and in 88 (between Romans) and consequently to the collapse of the Republic. Initially, the influence and raw power of the elite was sufficient to squash efforts at reform (including the murder of some prominent reformers), but in the long run the discontent those crackdowns created laid the fertile ground for the rise of demagogic military leaders to supplant the Republic entirely, culminating in first Caesar and then Octavian doing just that. In an effort to compromise on nothing, the Roman elite lost everything.

Devereaux then draws a parallel to the 2020 election:

In short, Joe Biden is running on a platform of compromise and a constructive, inclusive redefinition of the polity which explicitly welcomes past opponents to join him at the table. To me, reasoning from historical example, that seems like the correct answer to the current moment.

On the other hand, we have a different candidate (and current President) who is running on a promise to ‘win’ the stasis by main force, to dominate and to win, indeed, until he (or we) get tired of winning, to escalate the tensions to the final victory of the faction. This is exactly the approach that I think a sober reading of historical examples warns us is likely doomed to failure, regardless of what one thinks of the underlying policy aims (which might well have been achieved without the rhetoric and practice of escalation). I cannot help but think that, as happened in the last decades of the Roman Republic, rewarding this sort of rhetoric and behavior will produce more of it from both parties and put our republic on a dangerous path.

“America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2020

Citing international precedent and America’s anti-majoritarian systems, Zeynep Tufekci argues that the next authoritarian who runs for President will be much more competent and dangerous.

The Electoral College and especially the Senate are anti-majoritarian institutions, and they can be combined with other efforts to subvert majority rule. Leaders and parties can engage in voter suppression and break norms with some degree of bipartisan cooperation across the government. In combination, these features allow for players to engage in a hardball kind of minority rule: Remember that no Republican president has won the popular vote since 2004, and that the Senate is structurally prone to domination by a minority. Yet Republicans have tremendous power. This dynamic occurs at the local level, too, where gerrymandering allows Republicans to inflate their representation in state legislatures.

The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024. A person without the eager Twitter fingers and greedy hotel chains, someone with a penchant for governing rather than golf. An individual who does not irritate everyone who doesn’t already like him, and someone whose wife looks at him adoringly instead of slapping his hand away too many times in public. Someone who isn’t on tape boasting about assaulting women, and who says the right things about military veterans. Someone who can send appropriate condolences about senators who die, instead of angering their state’s voters, as Trump did, perhaps to his detriment, in Arizona. A norm-subverting strongman who can create a durable majority and keep his coalition together to win more elections.

You should also read Tufekci’s related thread, where she responds to some comments and criticism of the piece.

This isn’t some rare thing that just happened because of weird circumstances. This is a playbook that works. This is a global playbook on the rise. This is a playbook found in America’s past, too. Realism is the true basis for hope.

We have to keep pushing to make sure no populist authoritarians ever get their hands on the Presidency again.

Biden’s Plans for Halting the Unchecked Spread of Covid-19 in the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2020

This morning, the transition team for President-elect Joe Biden announced the members of his Covid-19 task force.

The list includes Rick Bright, the former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA ousted by the Trump administration in April; Atul Gawande, the surgeon, writer, and recently departed CEO of Haven, the joint JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health care venture; and Luciana Borio, a former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist.

Biden has cast the escalating Covid-19 crisis as a priority for his incoming administration. The task force, he said, would quickly consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address the racial disparities that have left communities of color harder hit than others by the pandemic.

From Biden’s transition website, here’s the Biden-Harris administration’s seven-point plan to beat COVID-19 (which is the first item in the site’s “Priorities” menu). The seven points are:

  1. Ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing.
  2. Fix personal protective equipment (PPE) problems for good.
  3. Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic — and the resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through.
  4. Plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines - because development isn’t enough if they aren’t effectively distributed.
  5. Protect older Americans and others at high risk.
  6. Rebuild and expand defenses to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China.
  7. Implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors and by asking the American people to do what they do best: step up in a time of crisis.

This looks like what the plan should have been from the beginning. Of particular note, under the point about testing:

Stand up a Pandemic Testing Board like Roosevelt’s War Production Board. It’s how we produced tanks, planes, uniforms, and supplies in record time, and it’s how we will produce and distribute tens of millions of tests.

Establish a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to mobilize at least 100,000 Americans across the country with support from trusted local organizations in communities most at risk to perform culturally competent approaches to contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations.

Over the past week, as Americans voted and then held their breath for the results of the election, over 750,000 Americans tested positive for Covid-19. Based on the current case fatality rate of 2.4%, over 18,000 of those people will die in the days and weeks ahead. Many more will suffer long-term health effects because of the disease and struggle emotionally, financially, and spiritually in the months ahead. I really really hope there’s enough of a spirit of togetherness and cooperation left in America for a science-based plan like this to work in controlling a disease that’s killed almost 230,000 people. We — all Americans — need this so so much.

FDR’s Second Bill of Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2020

In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged Congress to turn its attention to what he called “a second Bill of Rights”, legislation that would ensure all American citizens “equality in the pursuit of happiness”. Roosevelt argued that the United States had grown large enough and economically powerful enough to support this effort.

Here’s an excerpt from his address:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

- The right of every family to a decent home;

- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

- The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

After WWII, many countries in Europe came to similar conclusions and enacted reforms to offer these rights to their citizens. In America, aside from the significant efforts of the Johnson administration in the 60s, we went in different direction, doubling down on inequality in the pursuit of happiness.

Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2020

Vote

I just got back from voting. (For Joe Biden, just to be clear.) I live in a small town in Vermont, so that means there was no line (it took five minutes from when I got out of my car to when I got back into my car) and no real or imagined threat to my desire to vote (bad Covid hygiene, protestors, armed poll watchers). It felt really safe; it felt like voting should feel everywhere in America but doesn’t. We have a lot of work to do to guarantee even basic voting rights for everyone in America, and I hope my vote today was a small step in that direction. (Vote artwork by Alexa Meade.)

What Do Foreign Media Correspondents Think of the US?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

Media correspondents from all over the world spend months and years in the United States, reporting on our current events, politics, and culture. In this illuminating video from the New Yorker, several of them talk about what they think of our country. As outsiders, they’re able to see things that Americans don’t and can talk to people who may not otherwise feel comfortable talking to (what they perceive as) biased or corrupt American media. They’ve also observed an unprecedented level of division and are aware of the disconnect between America’s rhetoric about freedom and the sense that they’re reporting from a failed state.

“Liberty Doesn’t Mean Freedom to Infect Other People”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2020

Paul Krugman writes about the harmful effects of “libertarianism gone bad, a misunderstanding of what freedom is all about” that have been made plain by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But you also see a lot of libertarian rhetoric — a lot of talk about “freedom” and “personal responsibility.” Even politicians willing to say that people should cover their faces and avoid indoor gatherings refuse to use their power to impose rules to that effect, insisting that it should be a matter of individual choice.

Which is nonsense.

Many things should be matters of individual choice. The government has no business dictating your cultural tastes, your faith or what you decide to do with other consenting adults.

But refusing to wear a face covering during a pandemic, or insisting on mingling indoors with large groups, isn’t like following the church of your choice. It’s more like dumping raw sewage into a reservoir that supplies other people’s drinking water.

Obama on the Struggle to Reform Healthcare in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2020

Barack Obama in the Oval Office

Barack Obama’s forthcoming memoir, A Promised Land, is coming out next month. The New Yorker is running an excerpt of the book, an account of his administration’s struggle to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress.

As time went on, though, it became hard to ignore some of the more troubling impulses driving the movement. As had been true at Palin rallies, reporters at Tea Party events caught attendees comparing me to animals or Hitler. Signs turned up showing me dressed like an African witch doctor with a bone through my nose. Conspiracy theories abounded: that my health-care bill would set up “death panels” to evaluate whether people deserved treatment, clearing the way for “government-encouraged euthanasia,” or that it would benefit illegal immigrants, in the service of my larger goal of flooding the country with welfare-dependent, reliably Democratic voters. The Tea Party also resurrected an old rumor from the campaign: that I was not only Muslim but had actually been born in Kenya, and was therefore constitutionally barred from serving as President. By September, the question of how much nativism and racism explained the Tea Party’s rise had become a major topic of debate on the cable shows-especially after the former President and lifelong Southerner Jimmy Carter offered up the opinion that the extreme vitriol directed toward me was at least in part spawned by racist views.

At the White House, we made a point of not commenting on any of this — and not just because Axe had reams of data telling us that white voters, including many who supported me, reacted poorly to lectures about race. As a matter of principle, I didn’t believe a President should ever publicly whine about criticism from voters — it’s what you signed up for in taking the job — and I was quick to remind both reporters and friends that my white predecessors had all endured their share of vicious personal attacks and obstructionism.

More practically, I saw no way to sort out people’s motives, especially given that racial attitudes were woven into every aspect of our nation’s history. Did that Tea Party member support “states’ rights” because he genuinely thought it was the best way to promote liberty, or because he continued to resent how federal intervention had led to desegregation and rising Black political power in the South? Did that conservative activist oppose any expansion of the social-welfare state because she believed it sapped individual initiative or because she was convinced that it would benefit only brown people who had just crossed the border? Whatever my instincts might tell me, whatever truths the history books might suggest, I knew I wasn’t going to win over any voters by labelling my opponents racist.

The harbingers of Trumpism throughout this piece are difficult to ignore.

A New Online Archive of 374 Treaties Between Indigenous Peoples and the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2020

Sample pages of a treaty between indigenous peoples and the United States

Thanks to an anonymous donation, the US National Archives has digitized and put online their collection of 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the United States (and its predecessor colonies). You can also explore maps and see which tribes are associated with which treaties. I am sure the meaning of the words on these pages is different depending on who you ask but being able access them freely is a benefit to everyone. (via @CharlesCMann)

Winter Is Coming. Is It Safe to Socialize Indoors?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2020

In an article that The Atlantic classifies as “politics” rather than “science” or “medicine”, Olga Khazan explores why, more than 8 months into the pandemic, Americans still have little idea about the safety of gathering with others indoors.

For months now, Americans have been told that if we want to socialize, the safest way to do it is outdoors, the better to disperse the droplets that spew from our mouths whenever we do anything but silently purchase grapefruit. But in many parts of the country, this is the last month that the weather will allow people to spend more than a few minutes outside comfortably. And next month, America will celebrate a holiday that is marked by being inside together and eating while talking loudly to old people.

In a nutshell, the lack of federal support/guidance/action is the main reason why people are still so confused about what safety measures to take to reduce their Covid risk:

Still, Ranney says, this [Covid risk] app is the kind of thing the federal government really should have developed by now. It’s odd that in a wealthy, industrialized country, a random researcher is the one designing a tool to keep citizens safe from public-health threats, using data she scraped from a newspaper.

One thing that Khazan doesn’t really get into is the whole aerosols thing, which in my mind is something that most people are still not familiar with, many local & state governments are not taking into account w/r/t recommended safety measures, and requires different risk guidance about the safety of the indoors than if we were just dealing with fomites & droplets. Again, from the excellent Time magazine piece by aerosol chemist Jose-Luis Jimenez:

When it comes to COVID-19, the evidence overwhelmingly supports aerosol transmission, and there are no strong arguments against it. For example, contact tracing has found that much COVID-19 transmission occurs in close proximity, but that many people who share the same home with an infected person do not get the disease. To understand why, it is useful to use cigarette or vaping smoke (which is also an aerosol) as an analog. Imagine sharing a home with a smoker: if you stood close to the smoker while talking, you would inhale a great deal of smoke. Replace the smoke with virus-containing aerosols, which behave very similarly, and the impact is similar: the closer you are to someone releasing virus-carrying aerosols, the more likely you are to breathe in larger amounts of virus. We know from detailed, rigorous studies that when individuals talk in close proximity, aerosols dominate transmission and droplets are nearly negligible.

If you are standing on the other side of the room, you would inhale significantly less smoke. But in a poorly ventilated room, the smoke will accumulate, and people in the room may end up inhaling a lot of smoke over time. Talking, and especially singing and shouting increase aerosol exhalation by factors of 10 and 50, respectively. Indeed, we are finding that outbreaks often occur when people gather in crowded, insufficiently ventilated indoor spaces, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gyms. Superspreading events, where one person infects many, occur almost exclusively in indoor locations and are driving the pandemic. These observations are easily explained by aerosols, and are very difficult or impossible to explain by droplets or fomites.

The science is there — it’s the lack of connection between scientists, public health experts & officials, and the government that continues to be a problem.

One of President John Tyler’s Two Living Grandsons Just Died

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Last weekend, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. died at the age of 95. Remarkably, Lyon was the grandson of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States. His brother Harrison Ruffin Tyler is still alive. Here’s what I wrote about the Tylers back in 2012:

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was born in 1790 and took office in 1841. His son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853, when Tyler was 63 years old. In turn, Lyon had six children with two different wives, two of whom were Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born 1924 & 1928 respectively, when Lyon Sr. was in his 70s).

John Tyler was born barely a year into George Washington’s first term and undoubtably met and even worked with some of the nation’s earliest political figures, including Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Amazing to think that just three generations of the same family stretch almost all the way back to the founding of our country. It underscores just how young the United States is — after all, the last person to receive a Civil War pension just died back in June. You can check out more examples of The Great Span phenomenon here.