Saves Who?

Former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson in the WAPO, emphasis added:

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Disgust at this white supremacist ‘insurrection’ has its christian element that cannot and should not be ignored. They have continually made a calculus, for decades gladly allowing themselves to be co-opted at the willing, possible and very likely expense of the country itself. This was it. They need to reckon with and accept their responsibility. Enough with the white grievance and religious victim-hood. It was always fake. They were willing to fluff their own faith into something phony, self-serving, insincere, selective and arbitrary that betrayed its very origin, and this is true whether you believe it or not.

Simple, evergreen rule: Anyone who will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason.

Link to WAPO article.

Legitimacy Crises

Republicans have gone from one lie to the next to others yet again, working ever so vainly to find some way to spare Trump the truth about his demise. In sewing all their pants together at the waist, few seem capable of running away or getting out of the boat as it takes on more and more water. Lord Saletan explains:

Having stoked this distrust, the president and his allies are now exploiting it. They argue that the fraud must be real since so many people believe in it, and that even if it can’t be proved, widespread disbelief in the results makes the election illegitimate. On Fox News, Republican poll numbers have become a routine substitute for evidence. Trump points to them as proof that “the election was rigged.” His campaign advisers, including Lara Trump, also cite these numbers. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz said the Supreme Court should intervene because “39 percent of Americans right now believe this last election was rigged.” In Georgia, Sen. Kelly Loeffler demanded that the secretary of state resign because “Georgians have lost faith in our elections.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, noting the “distrust” felt by “millions of people,” refused to say that Trump should accept the verdict of the Electoral College.

A proportion of the country believes that Democrats, or other unseen forces, are taking away their freedom, liberty, and whatever else. But it’s Republicans themselves that are doing most of the heavy lifting here. How much gullibility compartmentalization does it take to keep believing that poverty and pollution both are natural? To believe that society and the commonwealth are intrinsically evil, that social justice goes against Christ? That an all-seeing omnipotent benevolence shines upon all but draws the line at national borders, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It must be exhausting. But they can’t take even an hour off or else liberal democracy will prevail and the temerity to count people and their votes will leave all the militia babies to cry in the night.

It all seems like such a necessary precursor to what they are most afraid of that some may assume after the fact they were complicit.

For I can raise no money by vile means*

Nobody has more contempt for Republican voters than professional Republicans:

The Trump campaign has been unrelenting in recent days with its all-caps, bold font, exclamation-point-ridden fundraising appeals: “THE DEMOCRATS WANT TO STEAL THIS ELECTION!” “We can’t allow the Left-wing MOB to undermine our election.”

They urge supporters to make donations to President Donald Trump’s election integrity defense, to ensure he has the “resources” he needs to keep the election from being “stolen.”

In the fine print of the fundraising blasts, it lays out that 60 percent of the contributions will first go to the new PAC, up to the maximum contribution of $5,000. The remaining 40 percent goes to the RNC up to the maximum $35,500. If that first 60 percent of the donation exceeds $5,000 the remnants go to the campaign’s “recount account”; if the 40 percent exceeds the $35,500 RNC maximum, only then does it go to the RNC’s legal defense fund.

That story was three weeks ago. By now they have raised more than $170m and it’s difficult to characterize as anything other than a nice haul. It can also be a struggle to sympathize with the donors, as it has always been:

The new NRA disclosures appear to constitute a formal admission of financial mismanagement, which the gun group had denied under months of mounting pressure. In August, following a lengthy investigation, Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, filed a civil suit seeking to dissolve the organization, alleging the NRA had grown rotten from “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight.” To James’s mind, LaPierre’s repayment represents a drop in the bucket. She told the Post that the $300,000 is “just a fraction of the millions he personally profited from,” and she accused LaPierre and his deputies of having raided “NRA coffers to fund lavish lifestyles that included private jets, pricey vacations, expensive meals and no-show contracts.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that LaPierre is being investigated by the IRS for “possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes.” LaPierre declined to comment to the Post.

We might call this Green brutality, because nothing reveals the vulnerable like the willingness to sell their fears back to them.

* For I can raise no money by vile means.
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart
And drop my blood for drachmas

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III

Kangaroo Democracy

Republican office holders and the people who support them do not want a functional country, much less a functional constitutional democracy. We can keep asking them if this is their final answer, they will keep voting for con men and flimflam artists.

The country they want, indeed the country they made sure we would have four years ago, had 148,302 COVID-19 cases two days ago, more then 130,000 each of the two days prior. This is what they wanted, this is what we have.

Now what do they want? Go back to normal, Pandemic be gone, don’t steal the election they lost, celebrate your positive test… the idiocy knows no bounds. It does know an end. We are at the beginning of that end now with Trump’s countdown to disinfection at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The people in our lives who seek to continue to be part of this dysfunctional cohort – wanting it all to continue, wanting some of it (the mask parts) to end – what do we do with them? Ignoring this malignancy does not work; ignoring their part in it may keep the peace at the holidays… but we won’t have the usual Thanksgiving this year. They made sure of that. This current episode was avoidable, they made sure we didn’t, no siree. There is a direct consequence to selling out your vote and your country to a racist ignoramus not interested in anything outside of his personal benefit. This is one of them; unfortunately, there are also many more.

We can take heart in the events of the last week, but we’ve got to remember all of them. Republican voters have put us all in their boat, even if it feels like we finally have enough oars in the water to row to a better shore. Remember this effort, all the work it takes, and that they want it to fail. Unless or until they prove otherwise, they must be considered a danger to themselves. They must be considered in favor of a country that ignores recognized standards of law and justice, one that holds no standing outside of fearful, closed minds. They have warned us. They want a kangaroo republic – to leap over the facts and people they don’t like, to live a fantasy yesteryear, reciting incantations to conjure divine rights.

Meanwhile, let’s get more oars in the water. Everybody row.

Cutting people off from the Human connection

black and white photo of woman
Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944

For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendt explained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:

Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.

We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.

In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.

Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.

Who’s the sucker?

Or, in the case of facebook, if you can’t tell what the product is – it’s you:

Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.

Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.

As Josh says, fB is in the middle of another round of bad publicity and they deserve every bit of it. Obviously also another meaning of being green, but we CAN learn, get older and [a bit] wiser.

And speaking of TPM and green, find some good media you trust and pay for it. Support it. Help it exist. TPM is a good one that I’ve read for many years now. But don’t believe me, go check it out for yourself. Hit ’em up.

Image via.

Patience or patients

The good news wrapped in the bad: COVID-19 seems to mutate slowly enough that a vaccine could be available by yearend or early 2021.

Opening schools for in-person instruction, at every level, would seem best AFTER that time. Do we have the ability/courage/wisdom to wait it out? Only complete answers accepted. Show your work.

Image: Plants listening to Puccini in Barcelona, via the Guardian.

Also possible without needing a pandemic

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the end of 2019, medical professionals in Wuhan, China, were treating dozens of pneumonia cases that had an unknown source. Days later, researchers confirmed the illnesses were caused by a new coronavirus (COVID-19). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, in order to reduce the spread of the disease. It was the first of several quarantines set up in the country and around the world.

The maps on this page show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The maps above show NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.

It doesn’t take a disaster or even an emergency – beyond the one we have already created with the usual emissions levels. Reductions are possible. Disasters and loss are not mandatory, though we do make them inevitable to some extent by doing nothing. Still, these dramatic images should be instructional about what’s possible. It would be interesting to know the near-term implications of these reductions. You know, science.