Saturday, June 3, 2017

Russia and the US election

Ames has a good piece on the resemblance of the current Russia scare to that of the Reagan-era 80s. This mirrors much of my own thinking on this subject, which falls under these points:

1. Logistical improbability. Russia is an kleptocratic autocracy with half the population, a 15th the economy, and a tiny fraction of the military and intelligence budgets of the US. And yet they somehow easily penetrated the defences of the US? The US has something like 26 different intelligence agencies. It literally spends millions controlling messaging on Facebook alone. The Russians could not possibly attempt to match that budget, and as mentioned, are a kleptocratic state. Yet somehow they manage to spend their money hundreds of times more efficiently, even with people skimming money into their own pockets at every level?

2. Resemblance to past, overwrought, rhetoric. Ames goes over some of this. Watch the current craze and look for terms like dupe and useful idiot. Ames:
You can’t separate the Sam Francises, Orrin Hatches, John Easts et al from today’s panic-mongering over disinformation — you can only try to make sense of why, what is it about our culture’s ruling factions that brings them together on this sort of xenophobic witch-hunt, even when they see themselves as so diametrically opposed on so many other issues. I don’t think this is something as simple as hypocrisy — it’s actually quite consistent: Establishment faction wakes up to a world it doesn’t recognize and loathes and feels threatened by, and blames it not on themselves or anything domestic, but rather on the most plausible alien conspiracy they can reach for: Russian barbarians.
3. It exonerates Clinton and all the members of the US elite who supported her. It was Russia, not that Mother ran a terrible campaign.

4. The intellectual dishonesty and flat-out sketchiness of many of its proponents. As one example, this current scare has elevated Louise Mensch, of all people, into a leading voice of #theresistance. Yes, the discredited UK Tory MP who said that too much hard drug use had scrambled her brain.

According to her, impeachment has been right around the corner for a few months now. I guess the Marshal of the Supreme Court has already served the White House with the papers! Filed in the Eastern District of Virginia! FISA court has indicted him! (Anyone who know anything about the US system knows that that is all hot nonsense. I'm not going to bother putting links behind those claims but I assure you they exist.) See also.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Selling Russia

Ames on the process that led to the extraordinary inequality in Russia and the West's hand in it:

This sudden mass wealth transfer from the many to the few had a devastating effect on Russia’s population. Inflation in the first two years of shock therapy and voucher privatization ran at 1,354% in 1992, and 896% in 1993, while real incomes plunged 42% in 1992 alone; real wages in 1995 were half of where they were in 1990 (pensions in 1995 were only a quarter in real terms of where they were in 1990). According to very conservative official Russian statistics, GDP plunged 44% from 1992-1998 — others put the GDP crash even higher, 50% or more. By comparison the Soviet GDP fell 24% during its war with Nazi Germany, and the US’s GDP fell 30% during the Great Depression.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kirk vs Kirk

On the differences between Star Trek's Captain Kirk as portrayed, and as remembered. This gets to some of why I thought the Chris Pine version mischaracterized Kirk so badly.

Kirk, who is like Hornblower an educated, intelligent man capable of great sympathy, also shares Hornblower’s self-discipline, his commitment to his ship, his self-containment and his analytical decision-making process.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cops, nazis, and violence

Some good reporting from the Intercept on an issue that has received far too little attention:
After a series of investigations uncovered substantial numbers of extremists in the military, the Department of Defense moved to impose stricter screenings, including monitoring recruits’ tattoos for white supremacist symbols and discharging those found to espouse racist views.
“The military has completely reformed its process on this front,” said the SPLC’s Beirich, who lobbied the DOD to adopt those reforms. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be the same for police officers; we can’t have people with guns having crazy ideas or ideas that threaten certain populations.”

Story time:

I was on the punk scene in Edmonton in the 80s and 90s. We had a small contingent of skinheads, some were SHARPs*, and some just regular punks with shaved heads. It was relatively peaceful, or at least as peaceful as could be expected of a group of young people, many of whom were heavy drinkers and/or socially maladjusted.

At one point, over a period of a few months, there was an influx of 30-ish new skins, and these ones were causing trouble. Fights. Sieg-heiling. Intimidating minorities. (This being Edmonton, the visible minorites on the scene were largely First Nations and South Asian.)

We were informed by the SHARPs that the majority of these new skins had been through Aryan Nations training camps in Oregon and Idaho.

And they were always in groups of four or more. You rarely saw one alone. This apparently was part of their training.

I recall one incident where a number came into the Ambo and attempted to drag a guy outside for a beating. A huge fight erupted.

Anyway, over time these skins got the message - I mean got beat down often enough - that they weren't welcome and eventually fucked off. Problem is, some of them became cops. Which of course makes sense if you think about it, because what could be more attractive to an authoritarian personality?

We (not me personally, but I know the effort was made) tried to get the Edmonton Journal to do some reporting on this problem. To my knowledge, nothing ever came of it. Which of course also makes sense, because if as a journalist (remember when that was a thing?) you went after the cops, they could not only cause you legal troubles, they could also lock you out of a significant source of news.

That is why, to this day, old punks fear and distrust cops, and are extremely skeptical about what the media have to say about them.

It is also why I am unambivalent about nazi-punching. You cannot argue with these people, it only legitimizes them. All they understand is force and fear. It is also why I think peaceful protest against nazis is pointless. They would not hesitate to beat you to a pulp if they had the numbers and opportunity. These are people who literally think I am friends with "mud people" and that my family should be gassed and that my mother is a traitor to her race.

They are not harmless. Richard Spencer was one of the main inspirations for Anders Breivik. Anyone want to bet the Quebec shooter was a follower too?

And let's be clear here: everything they say about Muslims, they think about Jews. They just know they can't say it. If you ever make the mistake of wandering into a comment section they've infested, you'll see talk about the Rothschilds and Hollywood and the media; what they mean is Jews.

With the election of Trump, this type of person thinks they can spread their views in public again. It is imperative that we limit their platform as much as possible, and to the extent that it gets out, it must be to approbation, ridicule, and public violence. It must be made clear that their group of 4 is nothing when we can bring 40.

*(Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bad things for bad people

I suppose it's just a sign of what a bad person I am , but gotta admit I'm amused at Chris Christie's fate. I wonder how this conversation went in his head:

"I put your son-in-law's dad in jail?"
... ???

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Grammar, cops, etc

We have finally fully arrived at the ultimate in passive voice: the past exonerative tense

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Just another reminder that, confronted with the worst major party candidate of all time, Clinton would rather pander to Republicans than advance left goals. Just today she announced that she was endorsed by John Negroponte.

If this name sounds familiar, perhaps it's because he was Reagan's ambassador to Honduras. in this role, he supported the Contras against the Nicaraguan government, turned a blind eye to human rights atrocities.

There are no good pull-quotes, but here is a detailed and well-reported Baltimre Sun article about the period.

Of course, this is part of why Honduras is such a paradise to this day.

ETA: Jacobin goes over much of this, in somewhat more detail.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Burn it all down

Mother Jones put a reporter inside a private prison in Louisiana. No matter how bad you suppose it might be there, it's more horrifying than that.

At 6:30 in the morning, the air is so saturated with pepper spray that tears stream down my face. The key officer is doing paperwork in a gas mask. A man screams and flails naked in a shower, his body drenched with pepper spray. Cockroaches run around frantically to escape the burning.

(This is not even remotely the worst thing in it.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Die Antwoord

This looks like a fun show. Yolandi is super-charismatic.

None more Vox

In case you missed it on my Facebook:

Wheee! Vox has outdone themselves. In an article on health care, this:

To go back to the restaurant analogy: Think about what would happen if all the people who showed up to the Michelin-starred restaurants also had insatiable appetites — and the restaurant was responsible for sending them home with a full stomach. The restaurants would go broke selling them lobster after lobster.

Oh absolutely, if chemotherapy was free, everyone would just gorge themselves on it.

This analogy really encapsulates everything I find so repellent about modern 'explainer' journalism. You get these 25-year-olds who have expensive degrees from prestigious universities, so they think they know something. Now you ask them to write about technical policy matters, so they arm themselves with Wikipedia and Google searches and get to work.

In the case of this article, the author has heard this analogy, which is from Steven Leavitt, co-author of Freakonomics, (those guys are supposed to be smart, right?) and turned her brain off and just put it down on the page. And since her article is on Obamacare, the analogy is wrong in EVERY SINGLE DETAIL.

First, the customers are all paying. If they can't afford to be there, the government will pay their bills. Second, the vast majority of people have only a tiny appetite. And those that eat more than strictly necessary right this instant are preventing a larger appetite later. (We would usually call this preventative medicine.) Third, as my snark above about chemotherapy was meant to illustrate, no one actually wants the lobster. Fourth, getting lobster to the people who need it is the whole point of the exercise. BECAUSE THEY'LL SUFFER AND/OR DIE OTHERWISE! I mean, other than that, the analogy is great.

And now, because it's an explainer, it has to be written in a smug, "despite what you may think, this is how things really work" tone. Add to that the smuggled-in classism of the example - how dare those poors want lobster! - and you've got an article that in a better world would have died on an editor's desk, and been sent back along with a recommendation to find another line of work.

I won't link to the article in question because I couldn't recommend anyone read it.