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kottke.org posts about politics

Gritty, the Philly Sports Messiah

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Gritty 01.jpg

Like any once-and-hopefully-future resident of the great city of Philadelphia, I’m entranced by Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, full disclosure: the Flyers were not one of the teams I initially adopted when I moved to Philadelphia, because my hometown Detroit Red Wings were still great in 2002, and so I was all set, hockey-wise. I picked up the New York Rangers when I moved to New York in 2012, when Henrik Lundqvist was winning Vezinas and stunting on fools. But Gritty is sufficiently compelling that I might have to add the Flyers to the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, becoming a full Philadelphia sports fan.

Why is Gritty captivating the world? Is it because or despite of his muppet-like googly eyes and shaggy appearance? I mean, when you really dig into it, it’s not like there’s a whole lot there. But a sufficiently advanced cipher can become a multilayered text to the devout, and that’s what’s happened with Gritty. Fans turned what was briefly an object of ridicule into an icon of devotion. And a legend was born.

For a deeper look into the Gritty phenomenon, seek no further than The Ringer, the website that was designed from its origins in the late, beloved Grantland to get to the bottom of sports questions like this. Michael Baumann’s “The Monster In The Mirror” is insightful, and nearly exhaustive, in answering why people inside and outside of Philadelphia have taken to Gritty so strongly. It also doubles as a psychological profile of one of my favorite cities and their sports fans.

Some excerpts:

In the past two and a half months, Gritty has proven to be an overwhelming success as a mascot. More than that, he’s become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time. He is all things to all people.

“Gritty is fairly appalling, pretty insurrectionary for a mascot, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s our kind of symbol,” says Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. “There’s nothing more Philly than being unapologetically yourself.”

And:

The Flyers, Raymond says, had long resisted the idea of creating a mascot, at the insistence of founding owner Ed Snider, whom Raymond calls “old-school.” The Flyers unveiled a furry mascot called Slapshot in 1976 but quickly shelved it, leaving the team without a mascot for more than 40 years. But after Snider’s death in 2016, the team’s marketing department pushed ownership to reconsider, Raymond says, and after overcoming so much institutional inertia, they weren’t going to be half-hearted about their new mascot.

One part of doing a mascot right, Raymond says, is sticking to the bit no matter what, rather than submitting the mascot to the public for approval, a lesson learned from the Sixers’ failed mascot vote in 2011. Philadelphians, and people on the internet in general, can sense uncertainty and will punish it.

On Gritty’s Hensonian roots:

Mascots are always at least a little silly and ridiculous because at their core, they’re created more for children than adults. Gritty is no exception. His hands squeak, and his belly button—which Raymond calls a “woobie”—is a brightly colored outie. The woobie, says Raymond, was the brainchild of Chris Pegg, who plays Rockey the Redbird for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and is a mutual friend of Raymond and Flyers senior director of game presentation Anthony Gioia.

When the Flyers unveiled such a weird, menacing mascot, it brought to mind something Frank Oz said about his longtime collaborator and Muppets creator Jim Henson: “He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.” According to Raymond, in any sufficiently large group of children, a mascot, even a familiar one, will make at least one of them cry. Not Gritty.

“I’d never seen a mascot rollout anywhere where I didn’t see at least one kid running, crying in terror, trying to grab on to their mother’s legs,” Raymond says of the Please Touch Museum rollout. “I didn’t see any of that [with Gritty]. The kids were dancing and hollering and calling for him to come over, but no kid looked terrified.”

And on Gritty’s additional incarnation as the subject and vehicle for leftist political memes:

Some Gritty memes, however, are not just funny or scary, but overtly political. Gym’s resolution addressed this issue head-on; “non-binary leftist icon” was one of the descriptions quoted in the resolution. The resolution itself goes on to praise Gritty for his status as a political symbol: “Gritty has been widely declared antifa, and was subject to attempted reclamation in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It has been argued that he ‘conveys the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism’ and that he represents a source of joyful comic respite in a time of societal upheaval.”…

“The great thing about memes—as ridiculous as this sounds—is they create an instant mass internet mobilization,” FWG says. “Memes can be used to perpetuate systematic oppression, or they can be used to burn down the prison-industrial system or talk about police brutality.”

This identity is independent from — this is to say, it has been thoroughly stolen from — Gritty’s original role as a corporate sports mascot.

There’s a danger to wrapping up one’s identity in anything one can’t control, whether it’s an artist, a sports team, or a fuzzy orange monster. And if Gritty played it safe, he’d stop being worth investing in; the reason Gritty is so popular is because he’s weird and unpredictable in a way that isn’t cultivated to be “edgy.” Fear of being let down might just be the price of trying to live with empathy in a society that frequently elevates the cruel. It’s worth thinking about something FWG said: that their Gritty is not the same thing as the Flyers mascot.

“I think that the spirit of Gritty will be fulfilled through the proletariat,” FWG says. “As the spirit of Gritty moves people, that’s how the people will act.”

This is serious business! But as Walter Benjamin wrote, in a time of crisis, the here-and-now becomes shot through with messianic time. Gritty recalls the Phillie Phanatic, Sesame Street’s muppets, and Blastaar from the Fantastic Four, but puts all of their energy to use in a sense of futurity, that hope for the future that sports fandom echoes, however dimly. To quote Benjamin again:

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It’s ridiculous to see Gritty, the googly-eyed, outie-bellybuttoned Philadelphia Flyers mascot, as a messianic figure of the revolutionary left. But is that any more ridiculous than everything else that is happening in our fucked-up present? No. No, it is not.

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Climate Change Is Stealing Our Children’s Futures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2018

On Wednesday, 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the UN plenary meeting at the COP24 climate talks in Poland. In it, she blasted world and business leaders for their political inaction on climate change, calling them immature (italics mine).

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Damn. Thunberg has been leading school strikes for climate justice in Sweden and is calling for worldwide strikes in schools today. She recently gave a talk at TEDxStockholm about her climate activism.

In October, Masha Gessen profiled Thunberg for the New Yorker.

Thunberg developed her special interest in climate change when she was nine years old and in the third grade. “They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,” she told me. “I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.” Turnberg has an uncanny ability to concentrate, which she also attributes to her autism. “I can do the same thing for hours,” she said. Or, as it turns out, for years. She began researching climate change and has stayed on the topic for six years. She has stopped eating meat and buying anything that is not absolutely necessary. In 2015, she stopped flying on airplanes, and a year later, her mother followed suit, giving up an international performing career. The family has installed solar batteries and has started growing their own vegetables on an allotment outside the city. To meet me in central Stockholm, Thunberg and her father rode their bikes for about half an hour; the family has an electric car that they use only when necessary.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Reviewed

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

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Isabel Wilkerson, writing for The New York Times, has the definitive review of Michelle Obama’s juggernaut of a book:

One of the great gifts of Obama’s book is her loving and frank bearing-witness to the lived experiences of the black working class, the invisible people who don’t make the evening news and whom not enough of us choose to see. She recreates the dailiness of African-American life — the grass-mowing, bid-whist-playing, double-Dutch-jumping, choir-practicing, waiting-on-the-bus and clock-punching of the ordinary black people who surrounded her growing up. They are the bedrock of a political party that has all too often appeared to take their votes for granted in the party’s seeming wistfulness for their white equivalents (for whom the term “working class” has come to stand in public discourse).

Like many Americans, Obama’s parents made do with what they had and poured their energy into their children, who they hoped would fulfill the families’ as yet unrealized aspirations. The parents bought them a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica and insisted on proper diction. They went on Sunday drives to a richer neighborhood known as Pill Hill (after the number of black doctors living there) in her father’s Buick Electra, looking at houses they could only dream of. Michelle’s father suffered from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease, and his beloved Buick gave him mobility that his legs alone could not. He never complained and rarely spoke of his condition, she says, but it was a daily consideration. “Our family was not just punctual,” she writes. “We arrived early to everything.” This was in part to allow time for any contingency, given her father’s declining strength, a habit that instilled in her the value of planning and vigilance in one’s life. Her mother kept their cramped apartment in such good order that years later Obama would remember how it smelled: “It’s because of my mother that still to this day I catch the scent of Pine-Sol and automatically feel better about life”…

We see her father’s diminishing health and his uncompromising work ethic. At one point, he used a motorized scooter to get from boiler to boiler. “In 26 years, he hadn’t missed a single shift,” she writes. We feel her heartbreak as she loses her father to the disease he refused to let define him. By then, Obama was a grown woman, grieving and even more appreciative of her parents’ sacrifices for her sake. Her parents had never taken trips to the beach or gone out to dinner. They didn’t own a house until Aunt Robbie bequeathed them hers when Michelle was halfway through college. “We were their investment, me and Craig,” she writes. “Everything went into us.”

It also includes a tidy capsule of her and Barack’s unusual, unlikely-yet-inevitable courtship:

How their office relationship turned into a quick-moving romance that summer, how the box-checking pragmatist warmed to the loose-limbed free spirit, is a delight to read, even though, or perhaps because, we know the outcome. His cerebral intensity was clear from the start. One night, soon after they had become a couple, she woke to find him staring at the ceiling, apparently troubled. She wondered if their new relationship was on his mind, or perhaps the death of his father. “‘Hey, what are you thinking about over there?’ I whispered. He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking about income inequality.’”

He struck her as a visionary with no material interests. The first time she visited him in Cambridge during the long-distance phase of their young relationship, he picked her up in a “snub-nosed, banana-yellow Datsun” with a “four-inch hole in the floor” and a tendency to spasm “violently before settling into a loud, sustained juddering.” She knew then that “life with Barack would never be dull,” she writes. “It would be some version of banana yellow and slightly hair-raising.”

And her lack of interest in politics:

After a series of unlikely events, among them scandals forcing one opponent after another to drop out of the race, Barack won. Michelle, against the advice of a veteran Senate wife, chose not to move their family to Washington. “None of this had been my choice in the first place,” she writes of the stress of being a politician’s wife and managing a household while her husband commuted from the capital when he could. “I didn’t care about the politics per se, but I didn’t want to screw it up.” When Barack began mulling a run for the White House and consulting trusted advisers, “there was one conversation he avoided having,” she writes, “and that was with me. He knew, of course, how I felt.”

This was where their temperaments and upbringing were at odds. She wanted the kind of family stability she had grown up with. “Barack had always had his eyes on some far-off horizon, on his notion of the world as it should be,” she writes. “Just for once, I wanted him to be content with life as it was.” By then, they had been through five campaigns in 11 years. “Each one had put a little dent in my soul and also in our marriage,” she writes. Bottom line: She didn’t want him to run for president, especially not then. They talked about it over and over. She agreed to support him, she writes, because “I loved him and had faith in what he could do.” Speaking in London in early December, she was more candid, saying “deep down” she believed “there’s no way he’s going to win. And we can just sort of get this out of the way. … That was my whole plan.”

Funny story! Barack Obama won the nomination and then the Presidency, becoming the first black President of the United States and winning two terms, thrusting Michelle into a role she never wanted but seemed to be made for.

As a young girl, she had modest aspirations: a family, a dog and “a house that had stairs in it — two floors for one family.” She had grown up in a 900-square-foot attic apartment. Now, at the end of Inauguration Day, she was the first lady, moving into a home with “132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces spread out over six floors,” and a staff of ushers, florists, housekeepers, butlers and attendants for her every need. Three military valets oversaw the president’s closet. “You see how neat I am now?” he said to her one day. She had seen, she said, smiling back, “and you get no credit for any of it.”

It’s a shame that Michelle dislikes politics so much. I think if she chose, she could be an even better President than her husband. And I liked him a lot.

Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

In the Washington Post, Henry Farrell interviews Yochai Benkler, whose recent book with co-authors Rob Faris and Hal Robert, Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics, presents evidence that right-wing media functions in a completely different way than the rest of the media does.

On the right, audiences concentrate attention on purely right wing outlets. On the left and center audiences spread their attention broadly and focus on mainstream organizations. This asymmetric pattern holds for the linking practices of media producers. Both supply and demand on the right are insular and self-focused. On the left and center they are spread broadly and anchored by professional press.

These differences create a different dynamic for media, audiences, and politicians on the left and right.

We all like to hear news that confirms our beliefs and identity. On the left, outlets and politicians try to attract readers by telling such stories but are constrained because their readers are exposed to a range of outlets, many of which operate with strong fact-checking norms.

On the right, because audiences do not trust or pay attention to outlets outside their own ecosystem, there is no reality check to constrain competition. Outlets compete on political purity and stoking identity-confirming narratives. Outlets and politicians who resist the flow by focusing on facts are abandoned or vilified by audiences and competing outlets. This forces media and political elites to validate and legitimate the falsehoods, at least through silence, creating a propaganda feedback loop.

The authors also argue that Fox News is doing much more harm to our democracy in spreading false information than Facebook or Twitter.

The highly asymmetric pattern of media ecosystems we observe on the right and the left, despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter usage is roughly similar on both sides, requires that we look elsewhere for what is causing the difference.

Surveys make it clear that Fox News is by far the most influential outlet on the American right — more than five times as many Trump supporters reported using Fox News as their primary news outlet than those who named Facebook. And Trump support was highest among demographics whose social media use was lowest.

Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories.

I’ve been beating this drum for awhile and still don’t know why this 2017 study that showed compelling evidence that Fox News moved the 2008 presidential election Republican vote share by 6.3% to the right all by itself isn’t a much bigger deal.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant.

In keeping with Benkler et al’s findings regarding media asymmetry, the study did not identify a similar swing to the left for MSNBC or CNN viewers.

The question is, what the heck do we do about Fox News? Shun Rupert Murdoch? Sleeping Giants and other groups have been effective in hamstringing other right-wing media sources like Breitbart (as well as some Fox News shows), but Fox News has worked hard to position itself as mainstream, so pressuring advertisers would be tough to muster support for. What about a boycott of other Fox properties? If the Disney sale goes through, those properties would include the Fox channel (home of The Simpsons, NFL games, college football, etc., The World Series), Fox Business News, and a number of sports channels (Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Fox Soccer Plus). Are people going to be willing to give up watching The World Series and The Super Bowl to put financial pressure on Fox? And my pals who do startups…are they going to refuse to go on Fox Business News promote their businesses? I have my doubts about that.

Network Propaganda is available on Amazon and also as a free PDF download here.

Facebook’s Tipping Point of Bad Behavior?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2018

The NY Times has published a long piece about how Facebook has responded (and failed to respond) to various crises over the past three years: Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis. It does not paint a very flattering portrait of the company. This part is particularly damning (italics mine):

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

Are you fucking kidding me? Facebook paid to promote the right-wing & anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that George Soros pays protestors? Shame on you, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and the rest of Facebook leadership team. Legitimizing this garbage actively hurts our democracy. On Twitter, The Guardian’s senior tech reporter Julia Carrie Wong gets at what is so wrong and different about this behavior:

There’s something about this Soros story that feels significantly different than the usual Facebook scandal. Most recent negative Facebook stories are issues relating to challenges of scale and a tendency toward passivity.

Facebook’s standard playbook is to admit that they made a mistake by being slow to react, remind us of their good intentions, then promise to do better. It’s the aw geez who woulda thought in the dorm room that we would have to deal with all these tricky issues defense.

This has been very effective for a company that still gets the benefit of the doubt. No one would ever suggest that Facebook *wanted* to bring about the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya or lynchings in rural Indian villages. They just were in a little over their heads.

But this Soros thing is different. This is no passive failure. It’s a malevolent action taken against groups who criticize Facebook for things that Facebook admits it has failed at. It takes advantage of and contributes to the most poisonous aspects of our public discourse.

It makes you wonder if the “ah geez” thing has just been an act all along. Mike Monteiro, who speaks and writes about ethics in the design profession, is surprised that Facebook’s employees haven’t spoken out more.

What surprises me is that Facebook employees are still at their desks after finding that their company was actively attempting to discredit activists. No doubt some of them are shook. No doubt some of them will make public statements against their company’s policy. And those are needed. No doubt there will be internal spirited conversations within the company. And those are needed as well. But there won’t be a walk-out. I say this hours after the article was released. But I doubt that I’ll have to come back to this paragraph and revise it. I wish I wasn’t so sure of that. But I am.

The Ubiquitous Collectivism that Enables America’s Fierce Individualism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

Forbes recently released their 2019 “30 Under 30” list of “the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada” who are also under 30 years old. A persistent criticism of the list is that many of the people on it are there because of family or other social advantages. As Helen Rosner tweeted of last year’s list:

My take is: all 30 Under 30 lists should include disclosure of parental assets

In a piece for Vox, Aditi Juneja, creator of the Resistance Manual and who was on the 30 Under 30 list last year, writes that Forbes does ask finalists a few questions about their background and finances but also notes they don’t publish those results. Juneja goes on to assert that no one in America is entirely self-made:

Most of us receive government support, for one thing. When asked, 71 percent of Americans say that they are part of a household that has used one of the six most commonly known government benefits — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, or unemployment benefits.

And many people who benefit from government largesse fail to realize it: Sixty percent of Americans who claim the mortgage-interest deduction, which applies to homeowners, say they have never used a government program. If you’ve driven on public roads, gone to public school, or used the postal service as part of your business — well, we all rely on collective infrastructure to get ahead.

And then she lists some of the ways in which she has specifically benefitted from things like government programs, having what sounds like a stable home environment, and her parents having sufficient income to save money for her higher education.

I went to public schools through eighth grade. My parents were able to save for some of my college costs through a plan that provides tax relief for those savings. I stayed on my parent’s health insurance until I was 26 under the Affordable Care Act. I have received the earned income tax credit, targeted at those with low or moderate income. I took out federal student loans to go to law school.

Juneja’s piece reminds me of this old post about how conservatives often gloss over all of the things that the government does for its citizens:

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

And also of mayor Pete Buttigieg’s idea of a more progressive definition of freedom:

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Lists like 30 Under 30 reinforce the idea of American individualism at the expense of the deep spirit & practice of collectivism that pervades daily American life. America’s fierce individuals need each other. Let’s celebrate and enable that.

How Fascism Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Yale philosopher Jason Stanley recently published a book called How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Sean Illing interviewed him for Vox about what fascism is and isn’t and whether Trump is practicing fascist politics (spoiler alert: yes). I found this bit about how America is particularly susceptible to fascism interesting (italics mine…that is an amazingly succinct paragraph about American culture):

Well, the Ku Klux Klan deeply affected Adolf Hitler. He explicitly praised the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, as a useful model.

The 1920s and the 1930s was a very fascist time in the United States. You’ve got very patriarchal family values and a politics of resentment aimed at black Americans and other groups as internal threats, and this gets exported to Europe.

So we have a long history of genocide against native peoples and anti-black racism and anti-immigration hysteria, and at the same time there’s a strain of American exceptionalism, which manifests as a kind of mythological history and encourages Americans to think of their own country as a unique force for good.

This doesn’t make America a fascist country, but all of these ingredients are easily channeled into a fascist politics.

This has been on my mind lately; here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on a trip to Berlin:

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism.

Update: In a video for the NY Times called Is President Trump Fascist?, Stanley goes over the three elements that are always present when fascism takes hold of a country.

Open Culture has a good summary of the video if you prefer to read.

Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves-between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on-are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

A Vote for Every Citizen

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 09, 2018

Perhaps the most heartening election results this week was Florida’s 60 percent-plus approval of Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to people convicted of a felony statewide. It re-extends the franchise to over a million people, reversing a policy that’s had brutal effects nationwide, but maybe nowhere more than Florida, one of the most populous states with one of the strictest disenfranchisement policies.

There’s an irony here, as it’s likely that if those citizens had had the right to vote in 2018, Florida’s still-contested elections for governor and senator would likely have been clean wins for Democrats. This means that over a fifth of Republican voters in this election also voted to overturn a policy that almost singlehandedly kept Republicans in power. All the other voter suppression policies deserve a little credit too, but this is the big one. And obviously, the Gillum and Nelson campaigns and other organizers deserve a lot of credit for getting Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans to cross over and vote on this issue. But what do we make of those crossover voters? What do we make of a state where the governor is sending police to keep votes from being counted after 60 percent of its citizens affirmed the principle that every citizen’s vote should be counted?

There’s probably a fraction of idealists, who know full well they’re hurting their own party’s chances, but voted yes anyway. I suspect, however, that there’s an even larger fraction who didn’t grasp the partisan implications of a yes vote — who don’t know (and were never meant to know) that their party’s control of the state rested almost completely on voter disenfranchisement, in all its forms. It’s invisible to them. It was designed to be invisible, and huge chunks of the press has played along, covering disenfranchisement sporadically if at all. They voted yes because they were never meant to know how much it mattered.

I also think of Michigan, my home state, where voter registration, early voting, and anti-gerrymandering measures passed with larger margins than either the Democratic governor or Senator received. These Republican voters, too, either didn’t know or didn’t care that their power in the state stems almost completely from gerrymandering and restrictions on the ability to vote. It suggests that even in the purplest states, where fighting between the parties is the fiercest and often the most arcane, there’s much more support for widespread voting rights among the electorate than there is in the parties who’ve sought to use restrictions on voting as a weapon.

What if, as Alex Pareene tweeted, Democrats and voting rights advocates pushed nationwide for “a plainly worded Constitutional amendment guaranteeing every citizen a right to vote”? No carve-outs, no exceptions, no states playing tricks. (Do you keep the restriction to the age of majority, i.e., 18+? Maybe, maybe not; I don’t know actually!)

Imagine how transformative that would be. Imagine how craven every politician who opposed this amendment would be. A vote for every citizen. And as Alex writes, it’s a short step from this idea to genuine proportionate representation, a true popular vote for the Presidency, full voting rights for Puerto Rico and all the other territories. With one stroke, you sweep so much of the anti-democratic vestiges of the Constitution away, and make the United States something closer to a true democracy.

I think it’s one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard. I think it’s something we’re ready for. I think it’s something we badly need. What else is there to say?

Fascism is Not an Idea to Be Debated, It’s a Set of Actions to Fight

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2018

Writing for Literary Hub, author Aleksandar Hemon writes about his friend Zoka — who he grew up with in Sarajevo before Hemon moved away and Zoka became a Serbian nationalist — in the context of the media trying to figure out if debating with racists & fascists is a good idea.

The public discussion prompted by the (dis)invitation [of Steve Bannon from the New Yorker Festival] confirmed to me that only those safe from fascism and its practices are likely to think that there might be a benefit in exchanging ideas with fascists. What for such a privileged group is a matter of a potentially productive difference in opinion is, for many of us, a matter of basic survival. The essential quality of fascism (and its attendant racism) is that it kills people and destroys their lives-and it does so because it openly aims so.

Witness Stephen Miller and Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance for illegal immigration” policy. Fascism’s central idea, appearing in a small repertoire of familiar guises, is that there are classes of human beings who deserve diminishment and destruction because they’re for some reason (genetic, cultural, whatever) inherently inferior to “us.” Every fucking fascist, Bannon included, strives to enact that idea, even if he (and it is usually a he-fascism is a masculine ideology, and therefore inherently misogynist) bittercoats it in a discourse of victimization and national self-defense. You know: they are contaminating our nation/race; they are destroying our culture; we must do something about them or perish. At the end of such an ideological trajectory is always genocide, as it was the case in Bosnia.

The effects and consequences of fascism, however, are not equally distributed along that trajectory. Its ideas are enacted first and foremost upon the bodies and lives of the people whose presence within “our” national domain is prohibitive. In Bannon/Trump’s case, that domain is nativist and white. Presently, their ideas are inflicted upon people of color and immigrants, who do not experience them as ideas but as violence. The practice of fascism supersedes its ideas, which is why people affected and diminished by it are not all that interested in a marketplace of ideas in which fascists have prime purchasing power.

Leave Land and Remain Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

These two maps by Esri UK show the parts of the UK that voted to leave the EU and which parts voted to remain.

Leave Land Remain Land

See also the NY Times’ maps of Trump’s & Clinton’s Americas from the 2016 election. (via @goodwinmj)

Vote for Minna

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2018

Vote For Minna

Inspired by the Clinton campaign, my daughter Minna made this campaign poster just before the 2016 Presidential election and taped it to her bedroom door, right next to my desk. I see that poster every day as I work and it reminds me of how fired up she was about a woman becoming President and how she saw herself in that effort. We all know how the election went and what the consequences have been so far, but that poster is still hanging proudly on her bedroom door.

Lately though, “Vote for Minna” has taken on a new meaning for me. No longer a simple campaign command, I now think of it as a guiding principle for my political activity. Self-interest in America is at record levels and I’m opting out. When I head to the polls on Tuesday, I’ll be voting with the best interests of my daughter and all of the other young people of America and the world in mind. They’re gonna need a stronger, safer, and better America and we can help. Vote for Emma. Vote for Kelsey & Miko & Isaac & Vic. Vote for Kira. Vote for Dae’Anna. Vote for Muzoon. Vote for Garrett & Gavin. Vote for Hauwa & Ruth & Kauna & Saratu. Vote for Anthony. Vote for Minna. Vote.

Republican Extremism and the Myth of “Both Sides” in American Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2018

In this video, Carlos Maza talks about how the Republican Party has become more extremist than the Democrats, which has caused our government to cease working in the way that it should. It’s worth watching in full.

Over the past few decades, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have moved away from the center. But the Republican Party has moved towards the extreme much more quickly — a trend that political scientists’ call “asymmetrical polarization.”

That asymmetry poses a major obstacle in American politics. As Republicans have become more ideological, they’ve also become less willing to work with Democrats: filibustering Democratic legislation, refusing to consider Democratic appointees, and even shutting down the government in order to force Democrats to give in to their demands.

Democrats have responded in turn, becoming more obstructionist as Republican demands become more extreme.

Maza references the work of Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who have written several books on Congress, most relevantly 2012’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. The pair have been saying for some time that the present dysfunction in American politics is the fault of the Republican Party, as in a 2012 Washington Post piece titled Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. and a 2017 piece in the NY Times.

What is astounding, and still largely unappreciated, is the unexpected and rapid nature of the decline in American national politics, and how one-sided its cause. If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

In the video, Maza and Ornstein rightfully criticize the “knee-jerk neutrality” on the part of the news media, the inclination to blame “both sides” for failing to work together on specific issues and for the general dysfunction, and in the process refusing to acknowledge that Republican extremist views and tactics are to blame much of the time. They’re not talking about propaganda outlets like Fox News or Breitbart here, by the way — they’re referring to the NY Times, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and the like. They argue that this impulse results in Americans not getting a clear picture of how our government is failing. Adam Davidson recently made much the same point on Twitter.

Both-sidism operates at every level. From the highest and most noble aspirations and core identity of journalists to the most cowardly, trying to solve a quick problem on deadline level. It is shoved into the brains of newbies and a source of enormous pride for veterans.

Both-sidism determines who gets hired, who gets promoted or fired, how editorial and business decisions are made.

It is so fundamental that there is no mechanism, no language to truly critique it from within. And little ability to adjust when it makes no sense.

You can see “both sides” at work in stories about climate change (making it seem like the science isn’t settled), vaccines (ditto), and even mass murders (“Billy was a quiet boy who loved his momma until he killed 12 children with an assault rifle”). These kinds of stories do their readers the injustice of not telling them the truth. Journalists need to stop doing this and as readers, we need to push them on it.

But what about the voters? Leading up to next week’s midterm elections, much of the focus of progressive anger has been on Donald Trump. But he seems to me to be a symptom and not the disease. The Republican Party is the disease. Take Trump away and, while that might mean fewer accidental nuclear wars, the biggest problems still remain. As long as Republicans persist in operating as a bloc with obstructionist tactics and producing legislation without meaningful debate against the desires of the people, there are no good Republicans. Vote them out, all of them.

Stochastic Terrorism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

In 2011, an anonymous blogger defined the term “stochastic terrorism”.

Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.

This is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.

This is also the term for what Beck, O’Reilly, Hannity, and others do. And this is what led directly and predictably to a number of cases of ideologically-motivated murder similar to the Tucson shootings. As of this writing, there is no evidence to link Jared Loughner to a specific source of incitement; but some of the other cases can be clearly linked.

The stochastic terrorist is the person who is responsible for the incitement. For example they go on radio or television and stir up hatred toward a particular person or group.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, David Cohen noted in Rolling Stone that Donald Trump was practicing stochastic terrorism.

Speaking to a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tuesday, Trump expressed concern about Hillary Clinton possibly picking Supreme Court justices and other judges. He then said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”

Let that soak in for a second. One of the two major-party nominees for president just called for “Second Amendment people” to “do” something about his political opponent’s judges. According to the Trump campaign’s rapid response team, he was talking about those “Second Amendment people” coming together politically - “unification,” as they called it. The Clinton campaign, and pretty much the entire Internet, saw it differently: as a clear suggestion of violence against a political opponent.

Rewarded for this rhetoric with the highest office in the land, Trump has kept on stoking his base into a furor with tweets and rallies, resulting in the recent pipe bomb mailings to prominent Democrats and the massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

German Remembrance of the Holocaust and Growing US Anti-Semitism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

I spent a few days in Berlin last week.1 One of things you notice as a visitor to Berlin is the remembrance of the Holocaust and the horrors of the Nazi regime. There’s the Jewish Museum, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Topographie Des Terrors, which is an excellent (and free) exhibition detailing how the Nazi terror machine worked.

At the massive train yard at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, they have a dedicated exhibition on how the German rail system was used to transport Jews to concentration camps, including a freight car used in the transports that you could walk into and try to imagine, in some small way, you and your children cheek to jowl with 80 other people, on the way to be murdered. A powerful experience.

Berlin Holocaust Boxcar

Outside a train station, there was a sign listing concentration camps: “places of horror which we must never forget”.

Berlin Holocaust Sign

Just as important, the language they used on the displays in these places was clear and direct, at least in the English translations. It was almost never mealy-mouthed language like “this person died at Treblinka”…like they’d succumbed to natural causes or something. Instead it was “this person was murdered at Treblinka”, which is much stronger and explicitly places blame on the Nazis for these deaths.

As the exhibition at the Topographie Des Terrors made clear, the German response to the Holocaust and Nazi regime wasn’t perfect, but in general, it’s very clear that a) this happened here, and b) it was terrible and must never happen again.

On Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, a man radicalized by the President of the United States and right-wing media walked into a synagogue and killed 11 people.

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

These things happened in our history in part because powerful people needed an enemy to rally everyone against. It’s an old but effective tactic: blacks, Indians, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Irish, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese — they are here to take your jobs, steal your money, rape your women! It’s what slaveowners did to make their forced labor camps socially acceptable to polite Southern society, it’s what the Nazis did to make murdering Jews acceptable to the German people, it’s what the US government and settlers did to commit genocide against Native Americans, and it’s what Donald Trump is doing now. The monuments, exhibitions, and museums I saw in Berlin last week formed a powerful rejoinder to this type of fascism. I think the US really needs to grapple with its history in this regard…or it’ll just keep happening again.

Update: An earlier version of this post stated that one of the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting was a Holocaust survivor. She was not. (thx, vanessa)

  1. I’ll be posting more about the trip later in the week, I hope.

The Gerontocracy is Driving America into the Ditch

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

As Eric Levitz writes in a piece called Millennials Need to Start Voting Before the Gerontocracy Kills Us All, younger Americans are under-represented in American political life.

The United States, circa 2018, looks like a place run by people who know they’re going to die soon.

As “once in a lifetime” storms crash over our coasts five times a year - and the White House’s own climate research suggests that human civilization is on pace to perish before Barron Trump — our government is subsidizing carbon emissions like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile, America’s infrastructure is already “below standard,” and set to further deteriorate, absent hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment. Many of our public schools can’t afford to stock their classrooms with basic supplies, pay their teachers a living wage, or keep their doors open five days a week. Child-care costs are skyrocketing, the birth rate is plunging, and the baby boomers, retiring. And, amid it all, our congressional representatives recently decided that the best thing they could possibly do with $1.5 trillion of borrowed money was to give large tax breaks to people like themselves.

See also Dear Young People: Don’t Vote. As Levitz says though, one of the reasons that young people don’t vote is that it’s often more difficult for them than for older people. Making it easier for everyone to vote would alleviate many of these concerns and result in higher turnout, more political engagement, and better representation for young Americans.

Millennials in the U.S. are more underrepresented than their peers in most other developed countries. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with our nation’s political parties, which have made America an exceptionally difficult place to cast a ballot. If Democrats wish to increase turnout among the young, they’d be well advised to implement automatic voter registration, a new Voting Rights Act, and a federal holiday on the first Tuesday in November, when and if they have the power to do so.

Inflexible work schedules, lack of transportation, voter ID laws, fewer polling places, etc…it amounts to voter suppression of young people.

Voter suppression is often, correctly, viewed through a racial or class-based lens — however, these same laws also target younger people. A group that tends to vote more often for third-party and Democratic candidates.

For example, states such as Texas and Ohio require voter identification at the polling place — a college or university ID doesn’t qualify. In Wisconsin, voter ID laws permitted college IDs but not out-of-state drivers licenses, which, local news reported, resulted in many university students getting turned away in the April 2016 primary. In North Carolina, another key state in the Electoral College, hundreds of students cast provisional ballots in 2016, unsure whether their vote would even count because of their strict voter ID laws — which were struck down this year by the Supreme Court, but not before disenfranchising potentially thousands of American citizens.

(thx kate & @lauraolin)

Nationalism Isn’t Patriotism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Nationalism Patriotism

At a time when fascism & authoritarianism are creeping into the global politics of the developed world, it’s useful for us to reacquaint ourselves with the difference between nationalism and patriotism. In the wake of World War II, George Orwell wrote an essay called Notes on Nationalism (available in book form here). The first two paragraphs define nationalism and contrast it with patriotism:

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

The whole essay is worth a read; you’ll find yourself nodding in recognition at many points. More succinctly, Jen Sorensen’s Patriotism vs. Nationalism comic (excerpted above) and Zach Weinersmith’s An Important Distinction comic (below) cover some of the same ground.

Nationalism Patriotism

See also a more progressive definition of freedom.

A Brief History of America’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Vox has updated their video on how US politicians talked about climate change over the past 12 years. Until recently, climate change was more or less a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike publicly acknowledged that climate change was happening, that humans were at least partially responsible, and that we needed to do something about it. Perhaps Republicans were a little less sincere in their desire for action and all politicians were not as urgent in their response as the situation required, but at a minimum, they all believed what scientists were saying.

Then, as this video shows, after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, things shifted. Republicans increasingly came out saying, well, the science isn’t settled on this, we don’t know what is causing climate change, so we’re not going to do anything about it. They did this in part because their big political donors wanted them to.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

I posted about the first installment of this video last year and watching it again hit me about as hard as it did the first time around. The amount of cynicism and lack of integrity & sense of duty here is staggering. What tiny tiny minds. [Insert a lot of swearing about Republicans here that I will get email about so I’ll just save us all some time and skip it. But seriously, fuck these assholes.]

Not Voting Doubles the Value of Someone Else’s Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In his Rolling Stone article on John McCain’s failed campaign for the 2000 Republican nomination for President, David Foster Wallace wrote about how not voting is like shooting yourself in the foot.

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

Please check your registration status and register to vote…it takes two minutes. Voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many US states — there are deadlines tomorrow in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. If you don’t see your state in that list, don’t assume you have all the time in the world…check your status and register to vote anyway.

See also Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”. (via nitch)

Vice

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

The trailer for Adam McKay’s upcoming movie about Dick Cheney and the Bush administration just came out this morning. The movie promises an “untold story” and the casting is kind of amazing: Christian Bale as Cheney, Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld, Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, and Sam Rockwell is pretty spot on as George W. Bush.

VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

I loved McKay’s The Big Short, so despite never wanting to think about any of those horrible men ever again, I am looking forward to watching this.

Michael Lewis’ New Book: Trump vs. the Federal Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

At this point, reading about how incompetent the Trump campaign and White House have been and continue to be — perhaps knowingly, given the viewpoint of some of his advisors and backers about wanting to weaken the federal government — is getting tiring, but Michael Lewis is always worth paying attention to. His newest book, The Fifth Risk, is about how unprepared the incoming Trump administration was to govern the country, to “take control of the portfolio of existential risks managed by the US government” as he puts it. The Guardian has an excerpt:

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy — the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain — but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Ho. Ly. Shit. Incredibly, Lewis’ very next line is: “That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble.” — which makes Chris Christie the most tone-deaf individual in the world? (Probably…Christie was fired the next day, a complete surprise to him.)

The book comes out tomorrow…you can pre-order from Amazon here.

Do Me a Favor: Register to Vote.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2018

Hello everyone. Today is my birthday, and I’m taking the day off. My pal Tim will be here tomorrow to share some knowledge and perspective with you.

Since it’s my birthday, I think the rule is that I get to ask you a favor. If you’re an eligible US citizen, please take just two minutes to register to vote in the November elections. If you believe you’re already registered, please check your status because some areas of the country are aggressively removing people from electoral rolls. If you’re all set, please reach out to a friend, family member, or coworker to make sure they’re registered. In conclusion:

Fucking Vote

Thank you.

Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

The old white people of America have a message for the young adults of America: we’ll be dead soon but if you don’t vote, you’re letting us determine what kind of world you’ll live in.

Everything’s fine the way it is. Trump…that was us. He’s our guy. Tax cuts for the rich? Hell yeah, I’m rich as fuck. Climate change? That’s a “you problem”…I’ll be dead soon. Sure, school shootings are sad, but I haven’t been in a school for 50 years.

A look at the voter participation rates in Presidential election years confirms that the 65 and older cohort votes at a much higher rate than the 18-29 group.

Voting By Age

If young people voted at a higher rate, our government would look a lot different. (via df)

What Would a Truly Representational US Congress Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Even though the diversity of the US Congress has increased in recent years, a trend that looks to continue after the midterm elections in November, overall the 538 people who serve in Congress are not actually that representative of the US population as a whole. Congress is still way more white, male, and Christian than the US as a whole.

In 2016, Ken Flerlage looked at the gender, religious, and racial diversity of the United States and compared it to that of Congress.

Congress has 104 women (19%) and 431 men (81%) while the United States population is 51% female and 49% male. In order to be truly representative, in terms of gender, 168 seats currently held by men would need to be won by women (taking the number to 272 women and 263 men). It is also worth noting that, of the 104 women, 76 are Democrat (73%), while only 28 are Republican (27%).

And here is the visualization for religion:

Religion Diversity Congress

7.1% of the population are atheist or agnostic and 2.4% ascribe to “other” religions (this includes “don’t know”, other world religions, Pagan, Wiccan, Native American religions, and numerous others), yet not a single member of Congress falls into any of these categories.

When you hear people saying that America is still largely a patriarchal & white supremacist society, this is what they are talking about. It’s not just people being hyperbolic.

You could easily expand on this analysis by breaking it down by age, income, education, urban vs rural, sexual orientation, and occupation. You could guess that a truly representational Congress would be younger, waaaay more poor, less accredited, more urban, less straight, more working class, and, when you consider the gender & racial factors, much more politically progressive, but it would be illuminating to see the actual numbers. I’d love to see the NY Times (maybe The Upshot?), FiveThirtyEight, or The Pudding tackle this analysis.

P.S. It’s also worth noting a truly representational Congress would include full voting members from Puerto Rico and Washington DC as well as from other US territories. And maybe separate Native American representation?

How Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

Dwayne Johnson The Rock.jpg

My friend, the novelist/fabulist/media inventor Robin Sloan, has a charming new short story that imagines how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President, first by playing the role in an imaginary movie. Along the way, there are some poignant thoughts about the nature of our political imaginations, the role of new media like Instagram in shaping public perception, and the ways leadership can, spell-like, be brought into being.

Here is the meager gift tucked into the disaster that is Donald Trump: now, anyone can be elected president, so anyone will be elected president. We might never have another lawyer in that office again. Donald Trump broke the seal, but Dwayne Johnson will fulfill the prophecy.

Can you imagine him on the debate stage? The way he’ll look alongside his opponents in the primary? A line of normal, rumpled humans, and then this towering figure. A political revolution: his suit will fit.

If he runs, he will win, and he will run, so the question isn’t, will Dwayne Johnson be president; rather, it’s: what kind of president will Dwayne Johnson be?

“Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth,” said Archimedes, maybe. With this book, we’ll set our feet and push.

The story and its narrator are so cynical and idealistic at once that it’s hard to characterize. Wasn’t the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” a self-invention of sorts? the story’s narrator asks. Couldn’t a new myth, a new colossus, reanimate that central idea, that openness to all peoples and possibilities, again?

The fact that on the one hand, America is “a nation of Presidents,” creating its own institutions, rules, and leaders, and a nation that could swoon for The Scorpion King because his Instagram videos are just so damned good, just illustrates one of hundreds of central contradictions about this place.

Are those contradictions hindrances to us? Do they fuel us? Or are they just unavoidable, constituent elements to the place and its peoples?

I don’t know. But I’m glad this story is poking those contradictions with a stick.

Rituals of democracy

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

At The Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum argues that a decline in democracy isn’t just about voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and radical inequality, but also the decline of smaller civic institutions. The 19th century saw a boom in democratic governance of public/private associations, not just local and federal government:

By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more of these associations mirrored the federal government in form: Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies. “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.

The model proved remarkably adaptable. In business, shareholders elected boards of directors in accordance with corporate charters, while trade associations bound together independent firms. Labor unions chartered locals that elected officers and dispatched delegates to national gatherings. From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives…

This nation of presidents—and judges, representatives, and recording secretaries—obsessed over rules and procedures. Offices turned over at the end of fixed terms; new organizations were constantly formed. Ordinary Americans could expect to find themselves suddenly asked to join a committee or chair a meeting. In 1876, an army engineer named Henry Robert published his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, and it improbably became a best seller; within four decades, more than 500,000 copies were in print. It was, a Boston newspaper declared, “as indispensable as was the Catechism in more ecclesiastical times.”

We were, as the University of Georgia’s Walter Hill said in 1892, “a nation of Presidents.” And the decline of those traditions, those rituals of democracy, tracks a corresponding decline in respect for and interest in political democracy. That, at least, is Applebaum’s take.

I’m less sure. I think the history and sociology of these voluntary associations is fascinating, and deserves to be part of what we talk about when we talk about democracy writ large. But I think (and I would guess this would probably be taken as a friendly amendment) we also have to think about the transformations in other institutions we know are connected to democracy, like the media, public schools, and public institutions like libraries. Places that don’t necessarily have elected officers, but likewise help preserve certain rituals of democracy that we all have to learn in order to interact in a democratic society. How we read, how we think, how we share space — all of this matters, the anthropology as much as the law.

In other words, there’s a formal and informal side to democracy, and neither one of them is necessarily more important than the other. Not to mention that elections and officers are features of only a certain kind of democracy, and there are other, more radical forms of democracy that are available to us — all of which were experimented with in the 18th and 19th centuries too, by anarchists, socialists, and other people who didn’t take the US’s electoral model has having definitively solved the question of what a democratic society might look like.

The broader truth I take from this is that, to borrow from Aristotle, we are what we do repeatedly. If we’re not a nation of Presidents any more, it means we’ve become a different kind of democracy, not necessarily an un-democracy. And that’s significant. We’ve mutated into something else: a different kind of mass democracy, linked together by a different set of institutions with a different set of principles, leading to a different set of possibilities.

Fear and Loathing in the Trump White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Bob Woodward’s much-anticipated book, Fear: Trump in the White House, comes out next week. The Washington Post somehow “obtained” a copy (did they swipe it off Woodward’s desk?) and provided a summary of some of the book’s main points.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

The degree to which the people around Trump handle and describe him like a small child is still, after more than a year and a half of this nightmare, completely batshit insane and unbelievable. Arrested development.

Update: All other considerations about the anonymous NY Times opinion piece written by “a senior official in the Trump administration” aside, it’s another example of Trump being treated like a toddler by his staff.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

“Half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back” … “literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next” — is he 3 or 72?

Offering a more progressive definition of freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is a progressive Democrat, Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to recast concepts that conservatives have traditionally “owned” — like freedom, family, and patriotism — in more progressive terms.

You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Clean drinking water is freedom. Good public education is freedom. Universal healthcare is freedom. Fair wages are freedom. Policing by consent is freedom. Gun control is freedom. Fighting climate change is freedom. A non-punitive criminal justice system is freedom. Affirmative action is freedom. Decriminalizing poverty is freedom. Easy & secure voting is freedom. This is an idea of freedom I can get behind.

Every US President at their worst

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

On Twitter, @InstantSunrise wrote an entertaining thread “in which I drag every single US president in order”. She starts off with The Founding Fathers:

Thomas Jefferson: Motherfucker owned slaves, and was a rapist, committed forced removal against Native Americans. Started an actual war in North Africa and a trade war with Britain that would eventually escalate into an actual war.

Andrew Jackson is deservedly dragged more than most:

Ohhhhhh my god. This absolute motherfucker garbage president. Literally committed genocide. Owned slaves, gave govt. jobs to people who gave him money. Decided that a central bank was a bad idea and closed it in 1837, breaking the entire economy.

Teddy Roosevelt gets a B/B-:

Did some good busting trusts and monopolies with his big dick energy. Discovered that if you bait the media with “access” they’ll eat up whatever shit you say. Had a lot of policies that were racist as shit, like banning all Japanese ppl from entering the US.

Woodrow Wilson gets a Jackson-esque OMG:

Ohhhhhh my god. Dude was like super fucking racist. So racist that his election emboldened racists enough where they literally revived the KKK. His AG, Palmer, loved to deport leftists for no reason. There’s so much shit about Wilson I can’t fit it into 280 chars.

I think she could have gone in on Nixon a bit harder (for creating the war on drugs for example):

Created the southern strategy and stoked racial tensions. Sabotaged the peace negotiations for Vietnam in order to get elected, then prolonged the war. Bombed the shit out of Laos and Cambodia for no real reason. Also watergate.

Only Lincoln and John Quincy Adams get off relatively unscathed.

“I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

Beto O’Rourke is running against Ted Cruz for one of Texas’ two Senate seats. At a recent event, he was asked if he thought that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people was disrespectful.

I kind of wanted to know how you personally felt about how disrespectful it is — like, you have the NFL players kneeling during the national anthems. I wanted to know if you found that disrespectful to our country, to our veterans, and anybody related to that.

O’Rourke’s answer, which connects this protest to past non-violent protests undertaken by black Americans, is pitch-perfect — honest, respectful of the questioner & the audience, and inclusive.

I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.

That’s how you politic.

P.S. In his campaign against Cruz, O’Rourke is relying solely on individual donors, no PAC money. If you’d like to help him out, you can donate to his campaign here.

The Economist: “America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2018

The Economist writes about how the US Constitution, our first-past-the-post voting system, and demographic changes have combined to give Republicans a significant advantage in legislative elections.

The source of this discrepancy is that Democrats will win their seats with big majorities in fewer districts, whereas Republicans will prevail by narrower margins in a larger number of districts. In 2016 Democrats who beat Republican opponents won an average of 67.4% of the two-party vote in their districts, whereas Republicans who defeated Democrats received an average of 63.8%. This imbalance is partly due to deliberate attempts to create districts that provide such results, and partly just down to the fact that Democrats tend to live more tightly bunched together in cities. Together, these two factors put up quite an obstacle. According to our model, the Democrats need to win 53.5% of all votes cast for the two major parties just to have a 50/50 chance of winning a majority in the House.

If this imbalance were limited to a single chamber of the legislature, or a single election cycle, the Democrats’ frequent carping about a stacked electoral deck might sound like sour grapes. All electoral systems have their oddities. But changes in where Americans live and contradictions in their constitution — a document designed to work with many weak factions that has instead encouraged and entrenched an increasingly polarised two-party system — have opened gaps between what the voters choose and the representation they get in every arm of the federal government. In recent decades these disparities have consistently favoured the Republicans, and there is no reason to think that trend is going to change on its own.

In the past three House elections, Republicans’ share of House seats has been 4-5 percentage points greater than their share of the two-party vote. In 2012 they won a comfortable 54% of the chamber despite receiving fewer votes than their Democratic opponents; in 2014 they converted a 51% two-party-vote share into 55% of the seats.

Such comparisons are harder for the Senate, where only a third of the 100 seats are contested in any election. But adding together all the votes from the most recent election of each senator, Republicans got only 46% of them, and they hold 51 of the seats.

And let’s not even talk about the presidential elections…

In all the world’s other 58 fully presidential democracies — those in which the president is both head of state and head of government — the winning candidate gets the most votes in the final, or only, round of voting. But due to the “electoral college” system that America’s founders jury-rigged in part to square the needs of democracy with the demography of slavery, this does not hold true for America. States vote in the college in proportion to their combined representation in both houses of Congress. This set-up means that a candidate who wins narrowly in many small and smallish states can beat one who gets more votes overall, but racks most of them up in big majorities in a few big states.

During almost all of the 20th century this did not matter much; the candidate who got the most votes won every election from 1896 to 1996. But both of the past two Republicans to win the presidency have received fewer votes when first elected than their Democratic opponents did. In the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, this margin was a modest 0.5 percentage points. In 2016, however, it was substantial: Hillary Clinton’s lead of 2.1 percentage points was larger than those enjoyed by the victorious John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.