U.S. Marines Won’t Stop Taking LSD

A Long, Venerable Association:

(U.S. Marines Won’t Stop Taking LSD)

‘America’s 2nd Marine Division loves to trip balls. The 20,000 Marine strong division is garrisoned at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and many of its members have been caught taking LSD. It’s such a problem that the Marine Corps has begun to randomly test for the drug and publicly announced a crackdown on people taking it…

It may seem odd, but LSD has a long and storied history of use by America’s armed forces. At a military base in Wyoming, Airmen in charge of launching America’s nuclear arsenal loved to eat acid between shifts. Monitoring the nuclear arsenal is a boring job and, to pass the time, airmen in charge of the nukes would get high. “I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” one airman said in 2018 when the ring of LSD buddies was busted.

The LSD-Marine connection goes deeper. In February 2019 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, a journal published by the Marine Corps Association, Major Emre Albayrak of the U.S. Marine Corps published a paper advocating that intelligence officers microdose LSD to help them with their job.

“Our own units, such as  the  Naval  Special  Warfare  Development Group, seek cognitive advan-tages via unorthodox methods such as mind  gyms  and  sensory  deprivation  tanks,” Albayrak said. “The cognitive advantage they seek is ‘flow”—or ‘ekstasis’ from the Greek, which  Plato describes as ‘an altered state where our normal waking consciousness vanishes  completely, replaced by an intense euphoria and a powerful connection to a greater  intelligence.’ This  phenomena is described as a non-ordinary state of consciousness in which  individuals tend to have heightened focus, pattern recognition, and reaction time. Flow can be observed in a seasoned close-quarters battle team clearing a complex structure.”…’

— Via Vice

The Comedy of National Decline

 

(‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘Emily in Paris’: The Comedy of National Decline – The Atlantic)

‘Last month, the institute for advanced studies in Culture at the University of Virginia published its most recent survey of American political life. One of its findings: 66 percent of Americans view their country to be in a state of decline. The survey arrived just after the publication of the latest Social Progress Index, which found that the United States is one of only three countries where citizens are worse off than they were in 2011, when the index started tracking quality of life. The deterioration is all the more perverse because the failures, in a country as rich as the U.S., are not material, but cultural. They are abdications of moral imagination. As one of the index’s advisers put it, in an observation both evergreen and newly acute: “We are no longer the country we like to think we are.”

Loss hovers in the American air, the sense of ambient tragedy weaving its way even into works of escapism. In recent months—as a pandemic that was handled with relative efficiency by many other countries has ravaged the United States, and as the American president has waged war on American democracy—two new TV shows have considered the question of what it means to be American….’

— Via The Atlantic

Two Year Old has a unique solution to The Trolley Problem

(Two Year Old Solves The Trolley Problem – borninspace)

‘The Trolley Problem is an ethical dilemma. A train is heading down the tracks toward five people. If you do nothing, those five people will die. If you switch the tracks, the train will kill only one person. What do you do?

Exploring this conundrum is what Dr. E. J. Masicampo, a social psychologist at Wake Forest University, does for a living. He enlisted the assistance of his two-year old son Nicholas, who offers a unique and fresh solution that had never occurred to me before…’

— Via borninspace

Friday Night Kraken Massacre:

Trump campaign loses a bunch of election cases all at once”

(Friday Night Kraken Massacre: Trump campaign loses a bunch of election cases all at once, womp womp | Boing Boing)

‘The campaign of outgoing President Donald J. Trump just lost a slew of election-related lawsuits, and all of the losses were announced within the span of about an hour or so on Friday night, December 4.

A legal beatdown. Perhaps the most litigation lost in the span of an hour or so in the history of America? Not sure, but it appears to be the losingest night Donald Trump’s team of lawyers has ever had, and you love to see it.

It’s the Friday Night Kraken Massacre.

Michigan. Georgia. Nevada. Wisconsin. Look, there’s another! Arizona just kicked their butts.

The Federal Election Commission report yesterday showed that the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election results have cost his campaign about $8.8 million so far, including about $2.3 million on lawyers like Jenna Ellis and Rudy Giuliani, and Lin Wood. But those same efforts have helped Trump raise $207 million. It’s a profitable racket….’

— Via Boing Boing

Could trump Just Fade Away?

Months ago trump predicted the coronavirus would just’ fade away.’ Fittingly, it is suggested he might be the one fading away. David A. Graham, writing in The Atlantic , finds it remarkable that America is already paying much less attention to trump while cautioning that “this is not license for the nation to let down its guard.”

Yascha Mounk makes the case that “the odds that Americans will grow bored with the ever more histrionic antics of the sore loser they just kicked out of office are pretty good.”

But “we’ll likely learn a lot more than we know now” about trump’s execrable deeds both before and during his White House tenure, Timothy Noah predicts.

— via The Atlantic

Although all of us in the Atlantic-reading half of the country are relieved we can ignore him as we should have done long ago, and avert our eyes in contempt and embarrassment from his pitiful buffoonery, we represent less of a consensus in our inherently schismatic society than we would like to believe. I am much less sanguine about the death of trumpism, and certainly don’t feel he will retreat into a mortified loser’s silence whether he announces his 2024 candidacy soon or not (I think there’s a good chance he may stage a counter event simultaneous with the Inauguration) … and whether or not he is trying to wield his influence from behind bars, as I hope. Much more likely his continuing reality show will get far better ratings than previous versions by playing to the audience of 70 million cult members he now captivates, whether the mainstream media manages to persevere in their newfound skill at ignoring him.

Now: how do we make sure he is not even a footnote in the history books?

“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”


— William Carlos Williams

Ordinary Grief

‘Ordinary grief, militant heart

heart without a shadow,

not a hand

the green idiom cycling through

its enclosure

Words remembered in isolation

schoolbook words, days

to be beyond all care

sharp burin

if it was a matter of caring

Death, and death again

a startled spring inside you 

flaring out of season

leaves you not alone to wonder

where the good is in that 

held the note as long as it would hold

the strays, run, limp slipshod across the wet grass 

in wingless flight …’

— Paloma Yannakakis (via Bodega)

My House

‘i only want to
be there to kiss you
as you want to be kissed
when you need to be kissed
where i want to kiss you
cause its my house and i plan to live in it

i really need to hug you
when i want to hug you
as you like to hug me
does this sound like a silly poem

i mean its my house
and i want to fry pork chops
and bake sweet potatoes
and call them yams
cause i run the kitchen
and i can stand the heat

i spent all winter in
carpet stores gathering
patches so i could make
a quilt
does this really sound
like a silly poem

i mean i want to keep you
warm

and my windows might be dirty
but its my house
and if i can’t see out sometimes
they can’t see in either

english isn’t a good language
to express emotion through
mostly i imagine because people
try to speak english instead
of trying to speak through it
i don’t know maybe it is
a silly poem

i’m saying it’s my house
and i’ll make fudge and call
it love and touch my lips
to the chocolate warmth
and smile at old men and call
it revolution cause what’s real
is really real
and i still like men in tight
pants cause everybody has some
thing to give and more
important need something to take

and this is my house and you make me
happy
so this is your poem’

 

— Nikki Giovanni

How Trump’s Hill allies could take one last shot to overturn the election

 

(Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) addresses the crowd during a Trump campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Ocala, Fla.)

‘President Donald Trump’s arsenal for overturning the election will soon be down to one final, desperate maneuver: pressing his Republican allies on Capitol Hill to step in and derail Joe Biden’s presidency.

Although the Electoral College casts the official vote for president on Dec. 14, it’s up to Congress to certify the results a few weeks later. And federal law gives individual members of the House and Senate the power to challenge the results from the floor — a rarely used mechanism meant to be the last of all last resorts to safeguard an election.

But several House Republican lawmakers and aides now tell POLITICO they’re considering this option to aid Trump’s quest.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)….’

— Via POLITICO

R.I.P. Arecibo

Arecibo Observatory destroyed in platform collapse

(The damaged dish before today’s collapse. Satellite image courtesy of Maxar Technologies)

‘The suspended platform above the Arecibo radio telescope collapsed early this morning, destroying the observatory’s 1000-ft dish. The structure, already damaged after two of the cables supporting the dish snapped in two separate incidents, is now beyond repair….’

— Via Boing Boing

Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System

(APOD: 2020 November 29)

‘Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep — ten times the depth of the Earth’s Grand Canyon. Given Miranda’s low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar — about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The featured image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion….’

— Via APOD

Why Hollywood should steer clear of a Trump biopic

The story of the soon-to-be former president might be compelling, but recent political history isn’t simple entertainment

(White House downer)

‘Finally, the US presidential race is over. Which unfortunately signals the start of another race: who will be the first to get a Trump biopic out of the traps? For subject-hungry Hollywood, it is too juicy a story to resist: a tale of megalomania, scandal and surreally absurd incident, with a supporting cast of colourfully extreme characters. And Jared Kushner. It’s Succession, Idiocracy and Downfall rolled into one!

You can bet actors of every physiognomy – Oldman, Bale, Rockwell, Streep – are already thinking: “I could have a crack at Trump” Film-makers are doubtless considering the options, too. A “Where did it all go wrong?” flashback structure framed by the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco could work well.

But before things progress any further, as Jon Stewart once said to Tucker Carlson, “Stop. Stop hurting America.” The rush to put first drafts of political history on screen before the ink has even dried is getting out of hand, and you have to question the value. Oliver Stone’s W, which told of the last overprivileged, underqualified Republican president, was a good arena for awards-worthy impersonations and ironic satire but I wasn’t ready to laugh, seeing as how these people had recently orchestrated and profited from the Iraq war. I still wasn’t ready to laugh a decade later with Christian Bale’s snappily satirical Dick Cheney movie Vice. We’d only just gotten over the tragedy, we weren’t ready for the farce. The same applies to Trump….’

— Via The Guardian

Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Divorce from Reality

(Right-Wing Social Media Had to Divorce Reality – The Atlantic)

‘Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere….’

— Via The Atlantic

Modern flat-earthers have an insatiable demand for misinformation. How far these delusions spread depends on whether the responsible media will continue to moderate content as they finally started to do just before and after the election, in the face of the continuing demand for reality-defying ideas. Parler will take up the slack among those who see any moderation as censorship, amplifying the hyperpartisanship excluded from mainstream media, with its users barely exposed to counterexamples that might challenge their misconceptions. But will they stay on Parler? Niche social-media properties rarely take hold, and the Parler app is less user-friendly than the much slicker Facebook apparatus. Furthermore some of the wingnuts thrive on baiting and criticizing the opposition and thus are driven to Twitter, where they can “own the libs.” But if the divorce is finalized, some say Democracy is finished.

GSA formally recognizes Biden’s victory

The presidential transition begins:

‘On Monday, General Services Administration (GSA) chief Emily Murphy sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, officially authorizing the start of the presidential transition. Murphy issued the letter of “ascertainment” after weeks of delay, and amid increasing pressure from Democrats, and bipartisan pushback from national security and public health experts to start the process. Some Republican politicians had also begun to speak out, too.

The ascertainment will provide funding for the Biden-Harris transition, and most critically, give Biden’s team the opportunity to meet with their counterparts across federal agencies to prepare for the new administration to take over in January.

“As the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, I have the ability under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, to make certain post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of a presidential transition,” Murphy wrote in her letter to vice-president elect Biden.

“I take this role seriously and, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, am transmitting this letter today to make those resources and services available to you,” she said.

Those “recent developments” most likely refer to Trump’s failed attempts in court to challenge the election, and battleground states, including Michigan and Georgia, officially certifying the votes for Biden’s win. In the past, most GSA administrators have made their judgments based on media projections, after which the losing candidate typically concedes. But Murphy had held off from doing so, despite Biden being declared the winner by all major US media outlets and Trump’s legal challenges largely going nowhere in court.

The GSA recognizing Biden’s victory, and the formal start if the transition process will likely quell some of the concern about Trump’s refusal to accept the election results. With Republicans backing away from their defense of the president, and the Trump’s legal avenues quickly closing, the reality Trump has tried to keep at bay for weeks is finally catching up to him. Biden will be president on January 20 — and now, at least, he can begin to properly prepare.

Murphy, in her letter Monday, defended her decision-making, saying the looked to “precedent from prior elections involving legal challenges and incomplete counts. GSA does not dictate the outcome of legal disputes and recounts, nor does it determine whether such proceedings are reasonable and justified.” Again, the one modern example of the GSA delaying a presidential transition came in 2000 because of the Florida recount.

Murphy also denied that the White House pressured her to withhold the ascertainment. “I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and I have always strived to do what is right. Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” Murphy wrote. “To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination.”

But President Donald Trump undermined that a bit, saying in a tweet shortly after the GSA acted that “in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Though Trump said his case “STRONGLY continues”, this is one of the most direct acknowledgments from the president so far that his tenure in office is ending — even if it isn’t exactly a concession….’

— Via Vox

Op-Ed: Impeach the president again

‘If ever a presidential act qualified for impeachment, it would be openly trying to reverse an election outcome. While it sounds almost bizarre to make such a suggestion when the president’s term is over in two months, the move would have a useful byproduct: The Senate could prevent Trump from running again in 2024.

The impeachment clause of the Constitution allows the Senate to impose two possible punishments: “removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” While two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal from office in an impeachment trial, precedents involving the impeachment of judges indicate that only a majority vote would be required to make the penalty a disqualification from future office….’

— Michael A. Cohen in The Boston Globe

75 reasons we might not have connected with extraterrestrial life yet

Physicist Stephen Webb has been collecting solutions to the Fermi paradox: 

‘Many of Webb’s collected hypotheses suggest that aliens live where we’re not looking, talk how we’re not listening or resemble something we haven’t sought out. Maybe the aliens like to send messages or signals using neutrinos, nearly massless and barely-there particles that don’t interact with normal matter much, or tachyons, hypothetical particles that fly faster than light. Maybe they use the more-conventional radio or optical transmissions but at frequencies, or in a form, astronomers haven’t sought out. Maybe a signal is sitting on data servers already, escaping notice. Maybe the extraterrestrials subtly alter the emissions of their stable stars, or the blip-blip-blip pulsations of variable stars. Maybe they put something big — a megamall, a disk of dust — in front of their sun to block some of its light, in a kind of anti-beacon. Maybe their skies are cloudy, and they consequently don’t care about astronomy or space exploration. Or — hear Webb out — perhaps they drive UFOs, meaning they are here but not in a form that scientists typically recognize, investigate, and take seriously….’

— Via Astronomy.com

…or maybe we’re simply alone. 

Why can some people smell ants?

The answer to TikTok’s latest mystery:

(Why can some people smell ants? Here’s the answer to TikTok’s latest mystery. | Popular Science)

‘A recent TikTok spurred an unusual debate across social media: Do ants smell bad?

The video that started the debate began innocently enough. The creator simply asked whether other people can smell the disgusting scent of dead ants on the sidewalk. In comments and replies, many agreed that they could, while others—a far larger number of people, it seems—had no idea that ants gave off a scent, even vehemently denying the idea. If you’re in the group that doesn’t know what ants smell like, chances are you just haven’t paid enough attention to some of your tiniest local residents.

Many common species of ants release pungent smells when they are in danger, squished, or otherwise dead, according to Clint Penick, an assistant professor at Kennesaw State University and ant researcher. The most common type of ant that people find in their homes on the East Coast and in the Midwest is called the odorous house ant, and when squished, it releases a pheromone that smells like blue cheese. This odorous chemical belongs to a group of chemical compounds called methyl ketones. It’s also produced by the Penicillium mold that grows on rotting coconuts and it’s what gives blue cheese its distinctive, pungent odor.

But that’s far from the only smelly compound ants produce. Some species, including carpenter ants, spray formic acid, a caustic chemical that smells a lot like vinegar, when they feel threatened. (Some people think that the ability to smell formic acid is genetic, like asparagus, and that might be why some people are more sensitive to this particular ant smell than others.) Citronella ants are named for the distinctive citrusy scent they often produce, and trap-jaw ants release a chocolatey smell when squished. When ants die of natural causes, they also release oleic acid, so dead ants “smell a little something like olive oil,” Penick says….’

— Via Popular Science

Comments?

The Ouroboros Steak Is Meat Grown from Your Own Cells

‘What do you taste like? You can find out by eating the Ouroboros Steak, which is a project by scientists and artists in US. After you take a cheek swab to collect cells, lab technicians use expired human blood to grow cell structures from your sample, creating meat that is, genetically, you. It’s appropriately named after the ouroboros, a mythical snake that eats its own tail….’

— Via Neatorama

My Friend Steve

(APOD: 2020 November 17 – A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way)

‘What’s creating these long glowing streaks in the sky? No one is sure. Known as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancements (STEVEs), these luminous light-purple sky ribbons may resemble regular auroras, but recent research reveals significant differences. A STEVE’s great length and unusual colors, when measured precisely, indicate that it may be related to a subauroral ion drift (SAID), a supersonic river of hot atmospheric ions thought previously to be invisible. Some STEVEs are now also thought to be accompanied by green picket fence structures, a series of sky slats that can appear outside of the main auroral oval that does not involve much glowing nitrogen. The featured wide-angle composite image shows a STEVE in a dark sky above Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada…’

— Via APOD

Here Is a Photo of a Single Atom

‘Atoms are really small. So small, in fact, that it’s impossible to see one with the naked eye, even with the most powerful of microscopes. At least, that used to be true.

Now, a photograph shows a single atom floating in an electric field, and it’s large enough to see without any kind of microscope….’

— By Avery Thompson via Popular Mechanics

The Boogaloo Movement Is Not What You Think

(Not What You Think?)

‘The “Boogaloo Bois” expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States.

Mostly, they’re not even hiding it. And for the last several months, their platform of choice has been Facebook. …For now, Facebook chooses to allow the Boogaloo movement to flourish on their platform.

Open source materials suggest that, for now, the apocalyptic, anti-government politics of the “Boogaloo Bois” are not monolithically racist/neo-Nazi. As we have observed, some members rail against police shootings of African Americans, and praise black nationalist self defense groups.

But the materials also demonstrate that however irony-drenched it may appear to be, this is a movement actively preparing for armed confrontation with law enforcement, and anyone else who would restrict their expansive understanding of the right to bear arms. In a divided, destabilized post-coronavirus landscape, they could well contribute to widespread violence in the streets of American cities….’

— Investigative journalists Robert Evans and Jason Wilson via bellingcat

‘He won’ — Trump admits election loss to Biden on Twitter

‘That’s it, folks. Trump admits loss… Donald Trump just tweeted “He won”, meaning Joe Biden, and the recent presidential election — followed by a bunch of garbage lies…’

— Via Boing Boing

I have to disagree with Xeni Jardin, writing on Boing Boing on the import of this. Trump’s admission of defeat is just a reflection of the narcissistic blow we knew he took whether he said so or not. (See my post below about his noticeable greying.) His clumsy and pathetic effort to avoid the mortification of admitting he is a loser may have foundered, but more significant is his persisting capacity to take down American democracy with his response to his humiliation. Nearly fifty million of his followers believe the abiding message of the remainder of his tweet that the election was rigged (regardless of his Ignorance about How to Use Capitalization). All indications are that the GOP will continue to act as if that was the case for the foreseeable future. And, to paraphrase Twain, the reports of the death of the GOP have been greatly exaggerated.

By the way, it doesn’t matter that Twitter “blocks” assertions like the above and labels his claims about election fraud “disputed.” Soon they’ll all be talking to themselves and reinforcing their rage on Parler instead, which I am optimistic will remain an echo chamber without any influence on the broader mentality. It is a good sign that the major media have — too little, too late — finally adopted the practice of cutting away from trump’s spokespeople as soon as they start to spout their blatant lies, after featuring trump’s deranged tweets for four years because of their entertainment value. With any luck they will not dignify with any attention what is said on a medium whose founding principle is that it encourages misinformation!

Best evidence of confession of defeat?

(If you noticed something different about Trump’s appearance you are not alone | Boing Boing)

‘Most presidents go through a rapid aging transformation through their years in office, most conspicuously with a graying of the hair–unless you’re a narcissist with time for golf, spray-tanning and Just For Men hair products. In Donald Trump’s most recent press garden address, his graying was hard to deny….’

— Via Boing Boing

Question is: will his hair be flaming orange again for his 2024 presidential bid? Or, for that matter, to match his orange prison jumpsuit?

Trump Is Winning. Democracy Is Losing

Being perhaps a contradiction in terms, as a gay anti-trump conservative, has at times enhanced Andrew Sullivan (writing in The Weekly Dish)’s acumen as an observer of the political landscape. He was early out of the gate warning us of the need to take trump’s potential to win in 2016 seriously and in my opinion his contempt for the man’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy in the four years since had been unerring, articulating with illuminated prose.

Since the outcome of this month’s election, his columns have breathed a written sigh of relief at trump’s eviction and Biden’s arrival as a “president for all Americans”. Today’s is a more sobering and spot-on appraisal of the continuing menace trump will represent going forward, and how his presidency will stand as the swan song of a broken America’s democracy.

“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” an anonymous ‘senior Republican official’ mused to the Washington Post this week. “No one seriously thinks the results will change. He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”

The layer upon layer of complacency, cynicism, and nihilism in that quote sums up so much about the GOP elite these past few years. They are proof that their party is a cult controlled by one man, who can get anyone in his party to say that the sky is green if he wants to. The Georgia run-offs alone ensure that no one in the party will seriously challenge the president’s derangement until, if we are lucky, after those elections are held in January — in case he turns on his own party’s candidates. So we are left for two months with an urgent crisis of legitimacy — and for years ahead, an incoming president Biden who will be deemed the beneficiary of massive fraud by a significant chunk of the country…

How to Celebrate Diwali

(How to Celebrate Diwali)

‘Diwali, a five-day-long “festival of lights” that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, began yesterday. The holiday emerged from the Hindu religion, but has become a cultural event around the world. We could all use a little celebration of triumph over evil, right now….’

— Via Lifehacker

The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse

Nicolas Ortega

‘[Historian Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut] believes he has discovered iron laws that predict the rise and fall of societies. He has bad news…

…The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions.

His models, which track these factors in other societies across history, are too complicated to explain in a nontechnical publication. But they’ve succeeded in impressing writers for nontechnical publications, and have won him comparisons to other authors of “megahistories,” such as Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari…’

— The Atlantic

Was Nazi Germany Everyone’s Fault? Is trump’s America?

‘…[H]istorian Richard J. Evans argues against the popular conception.

— Pacific Standard
(Photo: tk_five_0/Flickr)

Historical inquiries into the rise of totalitarian regimes tend to conclude that they were either no one’s fault or everyone’s. For instance, when the US invaded Iraq, ostensibly to topple Saddam, the argument was that he had no popular support and Iraqis would welcome their liberators and rise up en masse.

On the other hand, the consensus has been that Hitler’s rise required mass acquiescence and complicity from ‘good Germans’, and thus their culpability. Most opined that Hitler did not maintain power by violence but rather popular support — pointing to votes in which he received more than 90% approval — and that Nazi terror was directed almost entirely against marginal groups in the service of Aryan supremacy, which appealed to the masses.

The counterargument is that the Germans retroactively interviewd to create that impression would have been young in the ’30’s, and that Nazi propaganda was most effective with younger Germans. A revisionist view is that it is not straightforward to determine the level of public approval for a totalitarian regime. Arguably, there is evidence that Nazi violence was directed against major segments of the German population, especially the working class. In this view, the plebiscites establishing support for Hitler were not free or fair and that those who tried to vote against him were considered traitors and at times beaten by his brownshirts.

There is probably a middle ground between mass culpability and mass innocence, and the sources of political authority are not black or white.

‘People certainly knew about the Holocaust, but that didn’t mean all supported it. Some actively participated. Some were tacitly accepting. And some substantial number disapproved, but were politically neutralized by widespread Nazi terror…’

Much of this has a bearing on the specter of authoritarianism arising in trump’s America in the past four years. The events playing out now represent the greatest potential America has seen for a descent into totalitarianism. It would be hard to argue that the 70 million red staters who supported trump were intimidated by overt terror or the threat of terror. Ballot boxes have clearly not been stuffed to distort the outcomes of the vote, except in trump’s autistic deluded statements about “BIG wins” that are evident to none but himself. And trump’s “brownshirts”, by and large, have not been beating up those who try to vote against him.

But have his supporters, in some sense, been innocent culpable ‘good Germans’? And to what extent is that true of his GOP functionaries and those who have refused to stand against him? In my earlier essay “Is The Coup Happening?” I catalogued some of the disparate motivations at work in his supporters’ complicity in trump’s defiance of the need to accept he lost the election. How do we tease apart the contribution of the appeal of totalitarianism in their support?

One might suggest that terrorizing the working class is playing a role here — duping them into acting against their own interests and suffering for it without even realizing. Some of this relates to the advances in the power of subtle mind control through the mass media in modern America as contrasted with Germany of the ’30’s. I return time and time again to the arguments of Jerry Mander in his provocative 1978 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, about halfway between the Nazis and us. One of his most powerful expositions was of the ways in which the reductionistic presentation of information on TV and the inherent passivity of the viewer create fertile grounds for our political disempowerment and authoritarian control. This may be even more true in the post-TV internet era. (Is Google making us stupid?) (Parenthetically, one of the strongest antidotes to this is — quite simply — reading.) Related to this is the explosive growth of psychological expertise in manipulative mind control in the advertising and mass marketing industries, techniques clearly exploited in the methodology of media creation trump’s will to power and fabrication of reality.

Certainly innocent susceptibility to propaganda has played a role, as has the appeal of racial purity and tribalism, as they did in Germany. That the “majority minority” US of the 2010’s is a more heterogeneous society than the Germany of the 1930’s makes the appeal to homogeneity and demonization of the outsider much less impactful, makes it easier for those of us who assert that “Black Lives Matter” to stand against, and contributes to the fact that he only garners around 50% rather than 90% support. But now, when we have to think about what degree of reconciliation and healing is desirable and possible with trump gone, we must decide how fair or unfair it is to assume that most or even many of that 70 million bear responsibility for the actions of the trump regime. Let us hope we continue to appreciate how much messier it is than that.

If this isn’t the definition of white trash, I don’t know what is

In this combination photo provided by the San Angelo, Texas police department, from left, Destiney Harbour, Christin Bradley and Dustin Smock are pictured in booking photos dated Nov. 7, 2020. Harbour, Bradley and Smock have been charged with First D

‘A 2-month-old girl who tested positive for heroin after being found unresponsive with injection marks at a West Texas home over the weekend has died, police said Thursday. San Angelo police said Brixlee Marie Lee died Tuesday at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. Police said Thursday that officers rushed Brixlee to a San Angelo hospital Saturday after responding to a report of an unconscious infant. Hospital staff found injection marks on her extremities and head, and her urine tested positive for heroin, police said. Later that day, she was transported to Cook Children’s, where she remained on life support until she was pronounced dead.

The girl’s mother, Destiney Harbour, 21, was arrested Saturday, along with her mother, Christin Bradley, 37, and Bradley’s boyfriend, Dustin Smock, 34, police said. All three have been charged with causing serious bodily injury to a child…’

(ABC News)

(Sorry to be so unempathic…)

Lucky’s Monologue from Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’

This is a repost of an older post on FmH. I just looked at the stats for the search terms that brought people to FmH over the past 12 months, and by my count, 80 of the 1583 hits were directed to this post. Why in the world should that be the case?? Whatever. It’s worth your while.

Samuel Beckett – Lucky's Monologue | Genius

‘Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per caput since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per caput approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and then the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold an sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard tennis… the stones… so calm… Cunard… unfinished…’

— Genius

These Researchers Tested Positive. But the Virus Wasn’t the Cause

Coronavirus Test Kits Sent to States Are Flawed, C.D.C. Says - The New York  Times

Five geneticists working with the coronavirus’s genome at the Harvard University lab of Dr George Church (one of the founders of the Human Genome Project) and exposed to snippets of its DNA not in themselves infectious tested positive on the widely used coronavirus test made by the Broad Institute in Cambridge when they underwent routine swabs. Unfortunately, the pieces of the pathogen’s genetic materials with which they were working in the lab were the pieces of the viral genome that the coronavirus test targeted.

‘ “I guess it is probably somewhat embarrassing,” Dr. Wannier said. (Out of an abundance of caution, he, his colleagues and their close contacts still isolated or quarantined themselves.) But given the nature of his lab’s ongoing projects, he added, “something like this was bound to happen at some point.”

Contaminated positives such as these are extremely rare, health experts said. People outside the research community should not worry about their own test results being compromised by lab chemicals. Blame also should not be pinned on the test, which did its intended job of rooting out the virus’s genetic material…’

Contaminations, as opposed to true infections, have been more and more frequent given the number of researchers studying the coronavirus. When they occur, they disrupt classes and research productivity and impact emotional wellbeing.

‘The contamination events played out similarly at several institutions. The Church lab, where five people have tested positive, was among the earliest. Nine scientists in three separate research groups at the neighboring Wyss Institute were soon to follow, as well as two members of a lab at M.I.T. run by the Crispr scientist Feng Zhang. Some 50 miles south, 10 people at Brown University suffered a similar experience shortly after the campus reopened for fall term. Six more such cases have been identified at Cornell…

New York Times

Surveying their labs, researchers found that wayward bits of the DNA with which they worked had made their way onto equipment, sinks, door handles, backpacks, clothing and in some cases had hitchhiked home on the researchers contaminating family members. The Church lab has since switched to working on a different fragment of the viral genome to avoid overlap with the Broad test.

(One potential pitfall I see in this situation is that, once a positive Coronavirus test result in a researcher or researchers at a lab has been determined to be from contamination rather than infection, subsequent positive surveillance testing might be discounted or ignored and true infections missed, with potentially dire consequences.)

Is the Coup Happening?

Trump fascism 10181

I wrote before the election outcome of the need to prepare for a possible coup by trump after his election loss and the need for a rapid decisive response if he attempted to seize power illegally. Is this happening? Could a blatant powergrab by a racist and misogynistic proto-fascist demagogue be just the culmination of the willingness of high-ranking Republicans and a rabid powerbase to go along with behavior after behavior we were deluded enough to believe could not happen here? It is not so implausible. The US government has long had the capability to interfere with the democratic process in other countries, facilitating the installation of autocrats and undermining a citizenry’s faith in the governing party and the processes of peaceful transition of power. Why not here? George Washington himself warned about Americans electing a president who would refuse to step down. But did anyone anticipate a Republican Party so willing to push the bounds of democracy?

trump has not only refused to concede — the tantrum of a petulant spoiled brat we might expect of him — but has also instructed the government to decline to provide the Biden transition team with needed resources. He told federal agencies to move ahead preparing his 2021 budget. And his spineless sycophantic followers are simply talking as if his defeat has not happened. Under fire from right wing media for not bolstering the evidence-free claims of the theft of the election and after meeting with Mitch McConnell behind closed doors, “trump’s Roy Cohn” William Barr instructed the Department of trump Justice to look into serious “allegations” of supposed voter fraud. And last night came Mike Pompeo’s matter-of-fact reference to the “smooth transition to the second trump administration”. If it wasn’t so ominous, it’d merely be ludicrous. 

Over the last few days of tweeting, trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Defense Dept.’s top policy official’s resignation was accepted. This massacre of top Pentagon officials will result in their replacement by trump loyalists and rabid conspiracy theorists, including a retired brigadier general known for calling former President Barack Obama a terrorist. The move has single-handedly swept decades of experience and stability out of the Pentagon. These actions and threats of future firing expose the national security apparatus (New York Times) to genuine instability and risk. The Washington Post and others spin this as a battle over “politicization of the military” but what does that mean? It raises the specter of plans for darker uses of a military under his grip, e.g. enforcing a declaration of martial law. After all, one of Esper’s crimes was refusing to deploy troops against American protesters on American soil, and he reportedly told the Military Times that “God help us” if his successor was “a real yes man.” Yet, there is no evidence that trump has the support of military leaders and good evidence that the Joint Chiefs despise him. Not to mention that he is held in contempt by the intelligence community and reviled by most Justice Dept functionaries. 

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And there is no evidence that trump thugs have prevented the vote count from proceeding smoothly and fairly. Election officials across the country steadfastly insist they are not seeing evidence of voter fraud. trump’s lawsuits are going nowhere given that the courts so far — except maybe SCOTUS — still work on the basis of evidentiary rules rather than as instruments of partisan wish-fulfillment. trump’s sole legal win so far has been to have election observers in Philadelphia allowed to get close enough to the vote count to see that nothing was awry. Furthermore, none of the legal challenges, even if upheld, would result in changing the outcome. The unsung heroes of the election, state election officials, just kept doing their jobs counting ballots. And, as Eli Mystal points out in The Nation, courts simply do not throw out counted votes. 

The media and the world community are treating Biden as the president-elect. There is a general consensus among many segments of American society that there is no route to a trump second term. Even Fox News isn’t echoing the stolen-election rhetoric despite Jared Kushner getting Rupert Murdoch on the horn. Notable Republicans — e.g. Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, and the governor of my state, Charlie Baker —  have been among those to congratulate Biden and pledge to work with him on a smooth transition. While we have not seen a wholesale rejection of trump’s effort to delegitimize the election and others including prominent Republicans have signed onto the trump delusion hook-line-and-sinker, they are individuals only. trump has not succeeded in coopting entire institutions. Much as he may intend to continue to operate a government-in-exile from Mar a Lago (or more likely the Caymans or somewhere else without an extradition treaty with the US) based on his denial of the reality of being thrown out of office, trump cannot govern without the machinery of government. Even if I have grown over the past four years to mightily distrust my own it-can’t happen-here incredulity, it seems like an impossible stretch to think he could consolidate a power grab.  Most recently, Richard Pilger resigned Monday night as head of the Justice Department’s election crimes branch, protesting Attorney General William Barr’s encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue allegations of voting irregularities. While this could be seen as evidence of how demoralized the Justice Dept is by being so blatantly used as a partisan tool, it is also an admirable stand. Even blocking the resources for the Biden transition comes down to the bottleneck of the misguided loyalty of a single government bureaucrat at the General Services Administration, not the collusion of the entire agency. The New York Times reports on growing discomfort at the law firms representing trump in election lawsuits about undermining the electoral process. And in private, trump advisors express pessimism about the prospects for success in perverting the election results (Washington Post). Internal dissension (NPR) is an important bulwark against coups.

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So the effort is likely to be pitifully ineffectual. As if we needed evidence, consider the Four Seasons press conference debacle (Vox) last weekend! More to the point is that those supporting trump’s narrative are far from unified in their goals. Some are simply in the thrall of trump’s primitive malignant personality and trying to spare him the agony of defeat (or spare them his narcissistic rage), although even members of his family are asking him to concede. Others may legitimately want to advance what they see as his political agenda if he were to remain in power. Difficult as it may be to believe, some remain duped into believing that a trump presidency is in their self-interest and that he cares about their welfare. The deeply anti-intellectual style of a segment of the American population predicates having their reality dictated to them rather than arrived at via active inquiry and being informed. If it wasn’t so ominous, it’d merely be ludicrous. 

Some may be duped into believing that upholding the democratic principle that we can contest elections mandates that we should, poisoning a significant segment of the electorate not only against the election results but against the electoral process. Some — evangelicals, post-teapartyers, etc. — may seek to facilitate the preservation of what they see as the “movement” ideology even if they find its figurehead to be execrable or irrelevant. Tribal racists and bigots may be motivated to undermine a democratic process which reflects  empowerment, inclusion and diversity. Some simply want to sabotage a Democratic presidency at all costs on principle, or Biden personally. For some it may be due to their inability to metabolize the prospect of a powerful woman, or a woman of color, as VP. 

And some politicians feel their own future personal political aspirations depend on not alienating trump’s redhat wingnuts or risking the infantile bully’s wrath. Columnist Will Bunch theorizes that Mitch McConnell, realizing that his power hinges on the outcome of the two January Senate runoffs in Georgia, knows the Republican incumbents will lose unless he gooses up his voters with outrage based on delusion and conspiracy theory rather than leave them demoralized and disempowered by trump’s loss. And even trump’s solicitation letters to raise money for the legal challenges to the election — from people he considers exploitable chumps and contemptible losers, as I have previously written here — acknowledge that the funds will really go to pay off the deep debt his campaign has incurred. trump may also simply be trying to set the stage for another presidential run in 2024… if he is not in jail. His remaining in power is probably the only way he could hope to avoid criminal conviction and imprisonment. It is likely that efforts based on so many disparate purposes will end up being at cross-purposes.

So if this is a coup attempt, it appears to be an erratic and farcically inept one destined to fail, albeit not without an unprecedented transition nightmare. As Bunch wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

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Watching the presidency of donald trump these last four years has been a lot like viewing a Hollywood horror flick, so you just know that right near the end of the movie — as the bruised, breathless protagonists breathe a sigh of relief over the corpse of his political career, the monster would pop back up one final time.

Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost the election will not go away when the last of the frivolous lawsuits is thrown out of court for lack of merit. Since he took office, he has always blamed “deep state” conspirators and “fake news” for his failures. Refusing to concede perpetuates the fiction that he is being forced from office precisely because he has kept the faith with his base, setting the stage for his continued dominance of the rabid right. Multiple sources have reported that trump sees the writing on the wall despite his continued refusal to concede. Reflecting a dawning realization that he leaves office in two months, he is reportedly talking privately about running in 2024. A top White House aide has reportedly said that he is only contesting the results as a form of ‘theater.” “Let me have the fight,” he is reputed to have said, even though it is not winnable. He has also allegedly started telling friends about his ambitions to start a media competitor to Fox News, which betrayed him by their honesty. 

The next stage is almost certainly going to focus on interfering with state certification of the election results and attempting to get Republican legislatures to send pro-trump delegations to the Electoral College on Dec. 14th in defiance of the popular vote. Trump would need to take at least three of the six key swing states (MI, WI, PA, AZ, NV, and GA). Democrats control most key state offices in these six states but Republicans control the state legislatures in five of the six. There is currently no clear legal authority to do so but Supreme Court Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have offered recent support for state legislatures’ right to set election rules. Some rabid state representatives have already hinted at appointing trump electors instead of Biden’s. With enough Supreme Court Justices behind them, they just might try it, especially if the “election was stolen” meme becomes so widely accepted that Republican voters demand action forcefully enough.

…[I]f we start to see certifications being delayed by the courts, or state legislators preparing serious efforts to appoint their own electors, then an attempt to steal the election from Biden could really be taking off.

said Andrew Prokop on Vox. Keep in mind that Mitch McConnell has reaffirmed that, while trump is within his rights to pursue legal options now, state certification of results and the Electoral College will settle things legitimately.

Has trump progressed from malignant narcissism to paranoid psychosis? I continue to insist we look at whether trump’s failure to concede his loss is evidence that his mental health has deteriorated to the point where he should be removed now by the 25th amendment process, sparing us this transition torture which functions either to salve his damaged ego and/or set the stage for his 2024 candidacy. Do we have the political will and the necessary support to do so? Unless I’m missing something obvious about why not, I remain flabbergasted at the lack of consideration of this available and reasonable option.

Barring that miracle, I won’t breathe a sigh of substantial relief until the trespasser is frogmarched out of the White House at the stroke of noon on January 20th. Yes, the American people have to be ready to take to the streets in massive numbers — and Saturday’s jubilant celebrations were an indication that they can do so — but now is not yet the time.

For the moment, we should be focused on continuing to celebrate trump’s dismissal, prepare for the Biden Presidency, begin to envision how a post-Orange Menace America will look, and figure out how to devote our energies to the healing ahead. Revel and heal while you can. Even barring the extremely dubious premise that trump will find a way to remain in office, we live in a country — if you can call it one country — in which, while 76 million people elected Biden, 71 million voted for trump, and believe his false statements that the election was taken by fraud. Some are convinced of the possibility of a civil war. Richard Kreitner wrote:

The United States never resolved the first civil war. The idea of a second civil war has been around literally since within months of the end of the first one. Too many Americans do not appreciate that fact… The issues that led to the first civil war remain in many ways unresolved. There is a massive reckoning over the country’s own history that has been long postponed. Resolving such matters is rarely peaceful. There are also foreign adversaries and other forces who are interfering in the election. All the elements for the story are present right now in America.

Even without an outbreak of armed domestic conflict, we will have to contend with a sort of rolling coup or quiet civil war given the grip that trump and trumpism will likely retain on the GOP, likely paralyzing control of one house of the legislative branch, control of many statehouses and consequent dominance over redistricting, and an abiding influence in the judiciary. And, even barring the extremely dubious premise that trump could find some way to remain in office, As Ezra Klein wrote in Vox

To say that America’s institutions did not wholly fail in the Trump era is not the same thing as saying they succeeded. They did not, and in particular, the Republican Party did not. It has failed dangerously, spectacularly. It has made clear that would-be autocrats have a path to power in the United States, and if they can walk far enough down that path, an entire political party will support them, and protect them. And it has been insulated from public fury by a political system that values land over people, and that lets partisan actors set election rules and draw district lines — and despite losing the presidency, the GOP still holds the power to tilt that system further in its direction in the coming years.

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Even if we dismiss the fervor of trump’s supporters as largely predicated on conspiracy theory, it looks like he has succeeded in making conspiracy theorists of the rest of us. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. 

Voices from the fight: An oral history of the four-year movement to defeat Donald Trump

(Celebrating Trump’s defeat in front of the White House, Nov. 7th 2020.)

‘Activists, politicians and ordinary citizens reflect on Trump’s presidency and the moments that compelled them to rise up….’

— Via Washington Post

A devastating walk down memory lane. Retraumatization for those of us just delivered from traumatization. And likely the first of many to come. 

What will President Biden’s United States look like to the rest of the world?

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel watch Donald Trump during a ‘family photo’ at the Nato summit in Watford, England, in December 2019.

‘What is the best the world can now hope for from the United States under President Joe Biden, now that the election has been called for him? My answer: that the US will be a leading country in a post-hegemonic network of democracies.

Yes, that’s a, not the leading country. Quite a contrast to the beginning of this century, when the “hyperpower” US seemed to bestride the globe like a colossus. The downsizing has two causes: the US’s decline, and others’ rise. Even if Biden had won a landslide victory and the Democrats controlled the Senate, the United States’ power in the world would be much diminished. President Donald Trump has done untold damage to its international reputation. His disastrous record on handling Covid confirmed a widespread sense of a society with deep structural problems, from healthcare, race and infrastructure to media-fuelled hyper-polarisation and a dysfunctional political system….’

— via Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian

Trump’s presidency will end, but first a national transition nightmare

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, writing in USA Today, plots the trump administration’s roadmap for wreaking havoc during the lame duck period. This is not unprecedented. Between Lincoln’s election and inauguration, James Buchanan did nothing to prevent Southern secession or the seizure of forts and armaments the Confederacy would need to fight its war of secession. And Herbert Hoover did next to nothing before FDR’s inauguration while the economy spiraled downward in the Great Depression. But, arguably, these were based on ideological leanings, rigid though they might be, rather than the utter malice and narcissism we are likely to see in our current damaged president’s actions.
  • Expect a slew of executive actions, e.g. to fire civil servants (Washington Post) or open public lands to logging, mining and development. While executive orders enacted by one administration can be reversed by their successor (Washington Post), as Trump did with many of Obama’s actions, this is a cumbersome process and is of course hampered if the Republicans continue to hold the Senate. And the damage cannot always be undone, e.g. with wilderness destruction or court-stacking.
  • The expected slew of preemptive pardons, including those for Trump himself and his family, will encourage them further to act with impunity through Jan. 19th. Ornstein points out that this could provide cover to those who help trump cover his tracks by destroying incriminating or embarrassing documents in violation of the laws intended to preserve records.
  • Expect trumps’ humiliation to precipitate a vindictive putsch of anyone considered disloyal, including intelligence professionals and public health professionals, including Fauci and Birx, who stood up to trump’s anti-science ignorance. Again, these decisions can be reversed under Biden, but not before the damage is done. (I actually hope Fauci is released soon so he can begin working on Biden’s transition team.)
  • trump certainly has the potential to deepen the damage he has done to the US’s standing on the world stage, e.g. by exacerbating tensions with both adversaries — such as Iran, China, etc.— and erstwhile allies. Of course, foreign policy decisions move slowly, and recipients of this behavior will realize they only have to wait ten weeks for relief.
  • I find most concerning the likelihood that trump will spend his remaining weeks on the road soothing himself with rally after rally of his red-hat loyalists, fomenting not only further divisiveness but the possible extremist vigilante actions in response to the “stealing” of the election.
“…unless trump shows a dramatic change in personality, we need to brace ourselves. Change is coming, thank God, but along the way, fasten seatbelts for severe turbulence,” concludes Ornstein. Given that these dangers arise from the psychologically well-known process of the exacerbation of the narcissist’s disordered personality by his humiliating defeat, I hope I am not alone in encouraging a fresh look at the 25th amendment for the swift removal of a president too debilitated to carry out his duties responsibly. This should be done with alacrity to mitigate the above mentioned potential damage. Trump may already be showing a descent into overt paranoia as evidenced by his preoccupation with the conspiracy against him. His removal from office would require decisive action by actors, including Republicans, responding to an urgent situation with a clear commitment to the wellbeing of the country superseding any remaining fear of trump’s wrath. This may well depend on whether trump’s vindictiveness will have any sway after Jan. 20th. I hope he will not retain any semblance of a role as an elder statesmen in the GOP (he is likely to be embroiled in endless court proceedings as both a civil and criminal defendant, if he does not flee to someplace without an extradition treaty with the US.) There has already begun to be a lot of rhetoric about healing the divisive wounds. I hope that Republican politicians will not feel they need to continue to court his redhat wingnuts.

Why did the universe begin?

Nobel prizewinner Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis:

‘While many scientists hold firm that there’s no decent evidence to support the notion that anything existed before the Big Bang, new hypotheses have cracked open the door for the possibility. The UK mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, a professor emeritus at Oxford University and co-recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, is a convert to the camp of thinkers entertaining the notion of a pre-Big Bang state. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Penrose details a somewhat mind-boggling idea he’s advanced known as the ‘conformal cyclic cosmology’ hypothesis, which proposes that our Universe is just one in an infinite series….’

— via Aeon Videos

How do you know when civilization is collapsing?

‘Only complexity provides an explanation that applies in every instance of collapse. We go about our lives, addressing problems as they arise. Complexity builds and builds, usually incrementally, without anyone noticing how brittle it has all become. Then some little push arrives, and the society begins to fracture. The result is a “rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.” In human terms, that means central governments disintegrating and empires fracturing into “small, petty states,” often in conflict with one another. Trade routes seize up, and cities are abandoned. Literacy falls off, technological knowledge is lost and populations decline sharply. “The world,” Tainter writes, “perceptibly shrinks, and over the horizon lies the unknown.”

A disaster — even a severe one like a deadly pandemic, mass social unrest or a rapidly changing climate — can… never be enough by itself to cause collapse. Societies evolve complexity, he argues, precisely to meet such challenges. …The last major pandemic makes the case well: The Spanish Flu killed 675,000 Americans between 1918 and 1919, but the economic hit was short-lived, and the outbreak did not slow the nation’s push for hemispheric dominance. Whether any existing society is close to collapsing depends on where it falls on the curve of diminishing returns. There’s no doubt that we’re further along that curve: The United States hardly feels like a confident empire on the rise these days. But how far along are we? …’

New York Times Magazine

The Criminal Case Against Donald Trump Is in the Works

‘Trump’s conviction would seal the greatest downfall in American politics since Richard Nixon. Unlike his associates who were sentenced to prison on federal charges, Trump would not be eligible for a presidential pardon or commutation, even from himself. And while his lawyers would file every appeal they can think of, none of it would spare Trump the indignity of imprisonment. Unlike the federal court system, which often allows prisoners to remain free during the appeals process, state courts tend to waste no time in carrying out punishment. After someone is sentenced in New York City, their next stop is Rikers Island. Once there, as Trump awaited transfer to a state prison, the man who’d treated the presidency like a piggy bank would receive yet another handout at the public expense: a toothbrush and toothpaste, bedding, a towel, and a green plastic cup….’

— via New York Magazine

Americans may have to take to the streets.

Even conservative pundits like David Brooks have suggested there might be a need for “a sustained campaign of civil action” to preserve democracy in the event of a trump power grab. Sean Illing interviews Harvard political scientist and expert on nonviolent civil resistance Erica Chenoweth on Vox about how we might proceed. Chenoweth suggests there will be a mass mobilization of an unprecedented scale but the need to develop new strategies and plans. She mentions the need to focus on visible defectors from trump support and prominent Republicans, even those who had backed trump, who might oppose an illegal power grab. Business elites might be pivotal, and often opt for market stability supporting their own financial interests rather than a particular political philosophy. 

When to take to the streets is not clear but groups are already working to coordinate efforts and coalesce around a clear plan. Triggers might include trump insisting he was the victor before the vote count had been completed, or his refusal to step down after losing. The accuracy of public expectations about how soon we will know the winner of the election — probably not election night (NPR) — will have to be managed. 

Chenoweth says the success of resistance to an attempted coup by trump will depend not only on the size of the movement but how diverse and representational it is. It has to penetrate within trump’s pillars of support — civil servants, military leaders, business elements, religious authorities, etc.The movement will have to sustain resistance and disruption as repression escalates, including low-cost actions encouraging widespread support without necessarily asking people to demonstrate in the streets or otherwise take on high levels of risk, e.g. stay-at-home strikes. [Covid may make that easier. – ed.]

Preparations to avoid the movement’s devolution into disarray when attacked will be important, first and foremost training to maintain nonviolence in the face of the predictable violence of the repression. A violent response by activists would allow the regime to push a narrative about the need to protect the people from “criminals” and “terrorists,” often an effective trope. Violence against the state is favorable to the regime because it is fighting on their terms.

And in the case of the trump movement, the fight would not only be against the state apparatus but pro-government paramilitary militias. Essentially the US would likely devolve into civil war perpetuated by non state actors. Chenoweth talks about the value of buying time to prevent the escalation of violence against one’s community, as well as constant everyday forms of resistance against armed actors without meeting violence with violence. “There’s nothing inevitable about violence escalating in this country.” She emphasizes the importance of community, attending nonviolent direct action trainings., and connecting with affinity groups based on work, faith community, neighborhood or political party. Many groups are already organizing around the election aftermath. Realizing that in responding to the call to defend democracy and the Constitution one is among millions of others in the US and around the world will be essential. 

Of course, since trump is essentially a weakling and a coward, he might simply seize whatever financial assets he may and flee from the prospects of an unsuccessful coup to a country without an extradition treaty with the US. 

 

In the last days of the campaign, trump wallows in his contempt for his supporters

‘ trump treats his own supporters as a pack of morons, but they don’t seem to mind and keep on adoring him anyway. …They laugh and cheer, lapping it up as he insults them right to their faces. 

It’s such a weird reaction that CNN host Don Lemon aired a supercut of trump complaining at various rallies that he didn’t even want to be there. …This bit, which he repeats ad nauseam, is trump’s apparent closing argument: Since he lowered himself to speak directly to the hoi polloi, the least they can do is vote for him. In order for the joke to work, you have to accept trump’s premise that his supporters are scum and he taints himself by having to speak to them.  Despite trump’s insistence that he hates holding his rallies, of course, the truth is that he’s hopelessly addicted to them and their main purpose to feed his ego.

…trump sees his own supporters as dupes. He revels in their adoration, but can’t even pretend to return the feeling. Being a sociopathic bully, he revels in rubbing their noses in the fact that he sees them as idiots… ‘

— Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com

Trump just made Biden’s closing argument for him

‘We needn’t look back over the past four years — joblessness, debt, racial strife and international disdain — to see why Trump is unfit. We need only look back at the past two weeks…’

— Dana Milbank, Opinion, The Washington Post

Milbank is best with these reminder columns. He must keep index cards of trump transgressions compulsively and can whip up compilations for all occasions. Without his cataloguing, I find the trump follies too overwhelming to recall the details.

trump’s face, hands show his myths and facade are falling apart

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‘President trump’s face is one color, his hands are another, and it seems the longer his presidency goes on, the more striking the difference is. trump wears makeup because he wants to seem healthy and vigorous while he is performing the character he’s created for himself over the years — because he has always placed a higher value on seeming rather than being. Over his presidency, the performance has become lazier and less capable. But people still support this hollow performance. The legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs wrote about the American tendency to substitute image for substance in her final book, “Dark Age Ahead.” In the book, this tendency — accompanied with a disrespect for science and an absence of logic in policymaking — is a harbinger of doom for this country….’

— Linette Lopez in Business Insider

Covid: Antibodies ‘fall rapidly after infection’

Antibody

Levels of protective antibodies in people wane “quite rapidly” after coronavirus infection, say researchers. …The Imperial College London team found the number of people testing positive for antibodies has fallen by 26% between June and September. They say immunity appears to be fading and there is a risk of catching the virus multiple times.

— BBC News

The loss of antibodies with time is greater in seniors and in those with asymptomatic infections as compared with those with fullblown Covid-19. Exactly how this correlates with active immunity is unclear, as there are other components of the immune system besides antibodies. However, antibody levels in general appear to be predictive of who is protected. There are four other coronaviruses which cause disease in humans (causing common cold symptoms), each of which we can catch multiple times in our lives.

There have been very few documented cases of people getting Covid-19 disease twice, but that may be because immunity is just now beginning to fade since the peak infection rates in the spring. It is hoped, although not clear, if a second infection will be milder than the first because of residual “immune memory.”

If antibody levels and protective immunity fade after an infection, what are the implications for the induction of immunity after vaccination? Researchers say that the vaccine response may behave differently than the response to a natural infection. But it is possible, as for certain other immunizations, that even if the vaccine works people might need follow-up booster doses to restore fading immunity over time.

Supreme Court: Amy Coney Barrett’s legitimacy crisis, in just 2 numbers

Barrett and soon-to-be ex-Sen. Mitch McConnell

‘In 2016, President Trump lost the national popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He lost it by a lot — 2,865,075 votes, to be precise.

Meanwhile, the Senate just voted to confirm Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) crossing over to vote with all 47 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

Yet, while pro-Barrett senators control a majority of the Senate, they represent nowhere near a majority of the entire nation. Indeed, the senators who voted against Barrett represent 13,524,906 more people than the senators who voted for her. (I derived this figure using 2019 census estimates of each state’s population. You can check my work using this spreadsheet.)

These two numbers — 2,865,075 and 13,524,906 — should inform how we view the actions Barrett will take now that she is one of the nine most powerful judges in the country. Barrett owes her new job to two of our Constitution’s anti-democratic pathologies…’

– Vox

We May Need the Twenty-fifth Amendment If trump Loses

Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker reviews the lack of political will to apply the provisions of the 25th Amendment to trump despite abundant and widespread concern about his mental fitness for office, even before his Covid infection and steroid treatment. But at first I thought it would veer off into the question of Biden’s possible cognitive decline, in line with the theme which has run through the campaign of the “two septuagenarians.” In fact, she argues for a new willingness to use the provisions of the amendment as a tool to remove trump from office if he refuses to give up power after losing on November 3: 

‘If, as seems likely, voters deliver a loss for Trump, the Twenty-fifth Amendment comes into different focus, as an essential support to the democratic electoral process rather than an end run around it. In the event that the President’s mental state leads him to try to circumvent the election result in order to stay in power, having Congress remove him via the Twenty-fifth Amendment as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” would be as legitimate a function of constitutional democracy as can be imagined….’

— Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker

Arguably, the period from November 3 to Inauguration Day is likely to be, in the words of psychiatrist John Gartner, “the most dangerous moment” in trump’s presidency. Enraging a malignant narcissist by public humiliation will inevitably lead to their desire to regain power by acting out through sadistic aggressive action. Gartner likens the US to the victim of domestic battering by an abusive spouse. The most dangerous moment in the relationship inevitably comes when the hitherto paralyzed victim finally summons up the will and the resources to leave their abuser.

[Editor’s note: Surely you have noticed by now my shift to using lower case in referring to the Orange Menace here. I hope it is clear that this is not a typo but a small symbolic enactment of my inability to show him any respect.]

Reverence For Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within...

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.trick-or-treat-nyc

All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-la...
English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)

Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’

Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,

“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’

Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

Frankenstein

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”

Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:

‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…’

Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:

‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’

In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.

Related:

How Trump could use emergency powers in the upcoming U.S. election

‘They’re easily exploitable and open to abuse, says Brennan Center for Justice co-director Elizabeth Goitein…’

— via CBC Radio

The 1976 National Emergencies Act gives the President almost unlimited and veto-proof discretion to declare a national emergency under whatever circumstances he chooses.Such a declaration triggers standby powers, some quite narrow and reasonable but some broad enough to make a dictator’s mouth water, including imposing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, freezing anyone’s assets and seizing their property, shutting down the broadcast media and “wire communications facilities,” potentially including the internet, seizing control of transport, restricting travel, and incarcerating so-called subversives. 

The scope of emergency power in emergency has been further expanded by a number of extra-legislative Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs) which has steadily proliferated over recent decades. A president-elect is briefed on these powers at the time of his inauguration (at the same time he receives the nuclear launch codes). 

Presidential abuse of emergency powers has a venerable history in American politics. FDR used that authority for the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. The growth in subsequent decades of the vast illegal domestic spying operations used to suppress the civil rights and antiwar movements in the ’60s and ’70s has also been justified by emergency powers, as was the ordering of foreign assassinations and the financing of the Vietnam War and other undeclared foreign interventions. 

There are statutes that specifically prohibit interference in elections which cannot be waived by the emergency powers, however, but emergency powers not specifically related to elections, such as the authority to deploy federal troops to suppress civil unrest, could be deployed at will at such times. If they interfere with the election process, they are illegal, but — in a word — so what?

Andrew Cockburn writes in the November 2020 issue of Harper’s of the long history of the failure of Congressional oversight of these powers, whose existence has largely escaped the public’s attention until donald trump began to brag about them (“I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about…”). 

In June, a group including former Carter administration official Joel McCleary, Clinton administration security official Mark Medish, and former senators Gary Hart and Tom Wirth, issued a warning about the president’s emergency powers.

“It looks as though a rolling coup is underway, with Trump and his confederates testing the waters for ways to scupper the election,” Medish [said] recently. Democratic leaders are meanwhile cautious, he said, “about doing anything that might demoralize voters by drawing too much attention to unconventional election threats,” which they feel would risk depressing the vote. As McCleary pithily remarked, when the president decides to ignore it, the Constitution turns out to be “no more than a gentleman’s agreement.”

Nuclear weapons treaty: Campaigners hail new era for nuclear disarmament

‘Campaigners have hailed a “new chapter” after a key step by the United Nations towards banning nuclear arms.
Honduras has become the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so it will now come into force in 90 days time…

The accord was approved by 122 countries at the UN General Assembly in 2017 but needed to be ratified by at least 50 before being enacted…’

— via BBC News

What Can You Do If Trump Stages a Coup?

Citizens prepare to take on a would-be regime:

— via The New Yorker

For months trump has hinted that he might not concede power if he loses in November. His response to questions about committing to a peaceful transfer of power was, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. THere’ll be a continuation.” Is this plausible? There has been endless speculation about ways trump could orchestrate a power grab on November 4th:

‘The possibilities include familiar tactics—contesting mail-in ballots and turning the process into Bush v. Gore on steroids—and others that sound straight out of a police state. For example, Trump could summon federal agents or his supporters to stop a recount or intimidate voters. According to some experts, this would constitute an autogolpe, or “self coup”: when a President who obtained power through constitutional means holds onto it through illegitimate ones, beginning the slide into authoritarianism…’

Organizing to combat these possibilities has been proceeding. There’s the 50-page downloadable manual Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy and the work of Quaker sociologist George Lakey, known for his 1964 Manual for Direct Action (which is often referred to as the bible for participants in the civil rights movement) and training activists throughout the world in their struggles against repressive regimes. American activists accustomed to the slow pace of organizing for social change would need an entirely new skill set to defeat a fast-moving coup.

A group Lakey helped form this summer called Choose Democracy has been asking people to take a pledge to commit to nonviolent direct action if a coup is attempted. So far it has more than 30,000 signatures. The group is giving training sessions on “Beating an Election-Related Power Grab” in Zoom based on the studies of successful occasions when citizens of a country were able to rise up and defeat a coup. Common factors have included the rapid construction of an alliance drawing from a broad cross-section of society, focusing on the center of the political spectrum, remaining nonviolent, and refusing to compromise with the wannabe despot. 

As far as tactics go, Lakey dismisses the impact of mass protests. We know from the last four years that they have no impact on trump and his cronies. Instead, there have to be ways of depriving trump of the institutional support he would need to govern by focusing on institutions such as banking, business, the military, the media, law enforcement and the judiciary as well as local bureaucracies. 

There are alarming challenges in the US to avoiding violence, mostly the millions of US citizens who are loyal trump supporters and own guns — and not just guns but semi-automatic weapons. 

‘Lakey acknowledged, “There are a lot of alarming things going on already in this country with regard to what I call Trump’s ‘irregulars.’ ” He said that protesters should plan their rallies for places where it would be difficult for violence to break out: in the lobby of an office building or in a car caravan. He told participants to imagine that they were Proud Boys looking to “rumble.” “Ask, ‘What would they welcome?’ And then not do that!” he said. One tip, from the civil-rights movement: “When in doubt, sit down. It’s counterintuitive. But it has been used in multiple cultures, and it works.” (Except with tear gas. Then, he said, “walking slowly would be best.”)…’

In the last analysis, outbreaks of right-wing violence could horrify the public and bring a surge of indecisive people into the opposition. ‘That’s what happened during Thailand’s military coup, in 1992, when soldiers shot into a crowd of nonviolent demonstrators.’

Taking the Zoom training may help people feel empowered and more hopeful. Forewarned is forearmed. 

 

Related:

What happens if Donald Trump fights the election results? ‘Stealing a Presidential election in America is difficult, but it has been done before…,’ writes Eric Lach in The New Yorker. 

A Training to Defend Democracy (Hold The Line): on Zoom, Oct 27 7:30-9:30 pm ET

National Workshops on beating an election-related power-grab (Choose Democracy), led by George Lakey on Zoom , Oct 25-Nov 1 as well as after the election

 

 

Oreo Built a Doomsday Vault in Norway for Cookies to Preserve Them for Generations to Come

‘Asteroid 2018 VP1 is scheduled to graze Earth on Nov. 2, the day before the US elections. It has a real but exceedingly slim (0.41%) possibility of entering our planet’s atmosphere, at which point it would harmlessly disintegrate. But Oreo isn’t taking any chances. The company has built a concrete doomsday vault in Norway to house its cookies.

The vault design is inspired by the famous seed vault in the Arctic that’s meant to preserve the world’s botanical legacy against natural or human-caused disasters. Oreo’s version is much smaller, but it shows the cookie company’s commitment to riding out a truly epic PR stunt….’

— via Design You Trust

Unusual Maps People Shared On This Group That Might Change Your Perspective On Things

Tracking Of An Eagle Over A 20 Year Period

‘To bring back our long-lost excitement for hard pieces of data, aka maps, plans, and geographic drawings, we’re gonna need to start from the very best of them. Luckily, there’s a whole online community on Reddit (created by Patrick McGranaghan, who started the subreddit in 2011 while living in Taiwan) dedicated to the most unusual charts of geographic areas that took maps to a whole new level….’

— via Design You Trust

Trump Revealed His Thoughts on ‘Borat 2′ & Sacha Baron Cohen Responded

Trump on Sasha Baron Cohen:

“I don’t know what happened. But years ago, you know, he [Sacha Baron Cohen] tried to scam me and I was the only one who said no way. That’s a phony guy and I don’t find him funny… To me, he’s a creep…”

Baron Cohen in response:

“Donald—I appreciate the free publicity for Borat! I admit, I don’t find you funny either. But yet the whole world laughs at you. I’m always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you’ll need a job after Jan. 20. Let’s talk!”…’

— via Just Jared

‘Well, What Do You Mean, We Can’t Join the Klan?’

Inside the bizarre, secret meeting between Malcolm X and the Ku Klux Klan in January 1961:

‘The meeting was the beginning of an uneasy alliance between the NOI and the Ku Klux Klan on shared goals of racial separation. It was also the beginning of Malcolm’s disillusionment with the Black Muslim organization and his embrace of the more mainstream civil rights movement….’

— via POLITICO

Fukushima water release could change human DNA, Greenpeace warns

‘The environmental group claims that the 1.23 million metric tons of water stored at the plant — scene of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster — contains “dangerous” levels of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 and other “hazardous” radionuclides, which it says will have “serious long-term consequences for communities and the environment” if the water is released into the Pacific Ocean.

To cool fuel cores at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has pumped in tens of thousands of tons of water over the years. Once used, the water is put into storage.

But nine years on from Japan’s worst nuclear disaster, storage space is running out, and the government is still deciding what to do with the water….’

— via CNN

Republican Pollster: Trump’s Is The ‘The Worst Campaign I’ve Ever Seen

 

‘“I’ve never seen a campaign more miscalibrated than the Trump campaign. Frankly, his staff ought to be brought up on charges of political malpractice,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said…

“It is the worst campaign I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching them since 1980. They’re on the wrong issues. They’re on the wrong message. They’ve got their heads up their asses,” he added. “Your damn job is to get your candidate to talk about things that are relevant to the people you need to reach. And if you can’t do your damn job then get out.”

Luntz said that “nobody cares about Hunter Biden,” the son of Democratic nominee Joe Biden and a favored target of right-wing media attacks. With weeks before Election Day, the Trump camp has seized aggressively on a dubious story published by the New York Post that alleges the Bidens were involved in high-level political corruption….

“Hunter Biden does not help put food on the table. Hunter Biden does not help anyone get a job. Hunter Biden does not provide health care or solve COVID. And Donald Trump spends all of his time focused on that and nobody cares,” Luntz said…’

— via HuffPost

This Is CNN’s ‘Doomsday Video’ For Apocalypse Coverage

‘The end of the world has a soundtrack, thanks to CNN.

An ex-intern supposedly unearthed a long-rumored video that CNN founder Ted Turner vowed to broadcast in the event of an apocalypse scenario. As Turner pledged when the 24-hour news channel launched in 1980, the video (above) shows a brass band playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” the same song that onboard musicians reportedly performed as the Titanic sank.

“People thought he was joking,” Michael Ballaban wrote of Turner on Jalopnik. “We have proof that he wasn’t.”

Ballaban said he found the tape in a network archive under the name “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO” while interning for “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” in 2009.

…Turner’s words to celebrate the June 1, 1980, network launch were: …“We’re gonna stay on until the end of the world. When that time comes, we’ll cover it, play ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ and sign off.” …’

— Ron Dicker via HuffPost

The legal reckoning awaiting Donald Trump if he loses the election

190919130022 20190918 trump tax forms generic medium plus 169

‘If things don’t go Donald Trump’s way on Election Day, the President may face more serious matters than how to pack up the West Wing.

Without some of the protections afforded him by the presidency, Trump will become vulnerable to multiple investigations looking into possible fraud in his financial business dealings as a private citizen — both as an individual and through his company. He faces defamation lawsuits sparked by his denials of accusations made by women who have alleged he assaulted them, including E. Jean Carroll, the former magazine columnist who has accused him of rape. And then there are claims he corrupted the presidency for his personal profits.

As President, Trump has been able to block and delay several of these investigations and lawsuits — including a yearlong fight over a subpoena for his tax returns — in part because of his official position. Many of those matters have wound through the courts and will come to a head whether he is reelected or not.
But with the polls showing that Democratic rival Joe Biden is leading in the race, the stakes become much higher for Trump if he loses the election. A raft of legal issues, including a criminal investigation by New York prosecutors, will come into focus in the weeks after Election Day….’

— via CNNPolitics

Opinion: There Will Be No Trump Coup

A final pre-election case for understanding the president as a noisy weakling, not a budding autocrat.

‘Across the last four years, the Trump administration has indeed displayed hallmarks of authoritarianism. It features egregious internal sycophancy and hacks in high positions, abusive presidential rhetoric and mendacity on an unusual scale. The president’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 vote aren’t novel; they’re an extension of the way he’s talked since his birther days, paranoid and demagogic.

These are all very bad things, and good reasons to favor his defeat. But it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis. His own Supreme Court appointees have already ruled against him; his attempts to turn his voter-fraud hype into litigation have been repeatedly defeated in the courts; he has been constantly at war with his own C.I.A. and F.B.I. And there is no mass movement behind him: The threat of far-right violence is certainly real, but America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left….’

— Ross Douthat via The New York Times

What a second trump term might look like for international relations

‘Trump is already undertaking a nuclear buildup and seems set on dismantling the one remaining treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers. And there is a real fear that a second Trump term would embolden the authoritarians around the world who have lined up to support him. Not all of his bluster translates into impact—corporations are largely navigating his trade wars, and global climate policy is working around Washington for now—but his abandonment of the international arena is almost certain to have big downstream effects as China rises to fill the gap.

“Whoever occupies the Oval Office from January has to appreciate that America’s alliance network is its greatest comparative advantage over China,” says former NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Trump is deliberately letting that network wither.

While the Trump administration notched a win for Middle East stability this year by securing deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the world as a whole has not responded well to his presidency. In a recent Pew survey of 13 democracies, confidence in his leadership on world affairs ranged from 9 percent in Belgium to a high of 25 percent in Japan. Trump is the least trusted of all major world leaders; even among supporters of Europe’s far right parties, his approval never rises above 45 percent.

This means “America First” has huge and mounting costs for America: Increasingly, it is losing the ability to rely on the easy cooperation of old allies, and the global respect that fuels U.S. soft power has almost vanished…’

— By Ryan Heath via POLITICO

25th Amendment: Pelosi pushes new bill to determine whether a President is capable of serving

‘Asked if she has questions about the President’s capability to serve in the office right now, Pelosi said, “What I said about the President was that we don’t know if somebody who — I’ve not said this, I’ve quoted others to say there are those who say that when you’re on steroids and/or if you have Covid-19 or both that there may be some impairment of judgment, but again that’s for the doctors and the scientists to determine.”
The comments prompted an angry retort from Trump, who retweeted several messages suggesting that Pelosi is trying to mount a coup. Trump ultimately responded to Pelosi: “Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!”

Trump puts his own spin on his health as doctors reveal little
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the efforts by House Democrats as “absurd” Friday.
“That’s absurd. Absolutely absurd. Again, right here in the last three weeks before the election, I think those wild comments should be largely discounted,” he said speaking at a news conference in Kentucky.
The new proposal would create a commission of 17 people — eight appointed by Republicans and eight appointed by Democrats — as well as a chair selected by the entire body. That commission could study the President’s health as well as request an exam of the President. If the President refused, the commission could make a judgment on the President’s condition with the information they already had. A majority of the commission could vote to remove the President, but only with the Vice President….’

— via CNNPolitics

Finally, this possibility is being taken seriously, but for the wrong reasons. Trump’s malignant narcissism and possible cognitive deterioration, have raised questions about his fitness to serve since soon after his election. As I have written about several times here, consideration of invoking the 25th amendment process were led by a group of concerned psychiatrists. I am glad the issue is being raised again, but the cognitive and personality impairments caused by Covid infection and/or steroid use are transient. A bipartisan investigation would be deadlocked for so long that it would be a moot point, even if it were not three months to Inauguration Day. Related: What happens if a nominee dies shortly before or after the election. Washington Post: “It’s complicated.” To what extent would these considerations apply if a nominee were unfit to continue his candidacy?

Trump Stimulus Fail: Worst Blunder in Presidential History

‘In May, the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion economic relief bill. Over the next four and a half months, Republicans in the White House and Senate dithered, alternating between good-faith engagement and lethargy. The apparent final blow came in the form of a series of tweets by President Trump announcing an end to negotiations.

It is possible Trump — who just yesterday declared his desire to cut a deal — intends this as one of his “clever” negotiating ploys, enabling him to turn around and make a deal that he can paint as a capitulation by his panicked foes. But even if that happens, the window to boost the economy in time to help him (obviously the only consideration Trump cares about) is closing fast. Walking away from the extended hand of an opposition party willing to pump trillions of dollars into the economy may go down as the single greatest political blunder in the history of presidential elections….’

— Jonathan Chait via New York Magazine

‘Possible ecological catastrophe’ in Russia’s Kamchatka region

‘Russian investigators said Saturday they were looking into “a possible ecological catastrophe” in the eastern Kamchatka region, after scores of dead sea creatures washed up in one of it bays and surfers reported burns to their eyes and throats.
Images of dead seals, octopi, starfish and urchins on the Khalaktyrsky Beach in the Avacha Bay have been shared on social media for several days.
Surfers in the area have also complained that the sea had an unnatural smell and color….’

— via NBC News

Opinion | Americans showed Trump compassion. He repaid us with contempt.

‘Americans of all political stripes wished President Trump well in his battle with covid-19. Now he is repaying our compassion with reckless disregard and callous contempt for the well-being of anybody but himself. Trump, announcing via Twitter on Monday afternoon that he was ending his hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after three days, told Americans that the pandemic is no big deal. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” he wrote. “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” he added. A more selfish man has never occupied his high office. He received a cutting-edge treatment, monoclonal antibodies, unavailable to virtually all other Americans. He received an antiviral, remdesivir, that is rationed for ordinary Americans. He required oxygen and steroids. Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic Yet Trump has the audacity to tell Americans the virus is no biggie. No doubt the families of the 209,000 dead are greatly reassured….’

— Dana Milbank in The Washington Post

How Do You Protect a Culture Against Genocide?

China’s War on the Uighurs:

‘How do you protect a culture that is being wiped out?

For Uighurs, this is more than just a hypothetical. Repressive measures against the ethnic minority have progressively worsened: the Chinese government has corralled more than 1 million of them into internment camps, where they have been subjected to political indoctrination, forced sterilization, and torture.

The targeting of the Uighurs isn’t limited to the camps: Since 2016, dozens of graveyards and religious sites have been destroyed. The Uighur language has been banned in Xinjiang schools in favor of Mandarin Chinese. Practicing Islam, the predominant Uighur faith, has been discouraged as a “sign of extremism.”

Beijing frames these moves as its way of rooting out terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. But the aim of China’s actions in Xinjiang is clear: to homogenize Uighurs into the country’s Han Chinese majority, even if that means erasing their cultural and religious identity for good. What is taking place is a cultural genocide….’

— via The Atlantic

Those ‘Doomsday Planes’ Have Nothing to Do With Trump’s Covid-19 Test

Okay, so it is interesting to discuss whether plane spotters’ observation of two E-6B takeoffs and trump’s tweet about his CoViD positivity minutes later were related (probably not, it appears). But the backstory about these aircraft is more fascinating:

 

‘…E-6Bs, which are based on Boeing 707s, are essentially communication relay stations built to receive military orders from the president of the US and the secretary of defense, and then convey those commands to US ballistic missile submarines. They’re also equipped to remotely control Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles through a platform called the Airborne Launch Control System. The idea is for E-6Bs to serve as a redundancy in case ground-based communication systems are disrupted. And they’re also crucial for establishing line-of-sight communication connections that require proximity. The E-6B mission overall is known as TACAMO, or Take Charge And Move Out…

The planes have some dramatic capabilities. One of the most significant is their Very Low Frequency communication platform, which is used to reach nuclear ballistic missile submarines down to 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. These stealth submarines must conceal their positions and often can’t rise to shallower depths or send up buoys to aid communication. Instead, both communication relay planes and the submarines themselves must be equipped with massive antennas, and even then VLF systems are still extremely low-latency, low-bandwidth, and low-throughput, meaning it takes a long time to send very small amounts of data. To transmit even the shortest messages to deep-sea submarines, E-6Bs perform special airborne maneuvers. These are essentially steep, tight turns that go on for long periods of time, looping the plane around and around to get the antennas in a vertical position transmitting straight down into the water. Other military planes are also equipped for VLF communication, but it is especially core to the mission of E-6Bs…’

— via WIRED

The Futility of Rolling Stone’s Best-Albums List

‘In 2003, Wenner and Rolling Stone engaged in a complementary act of canon-building with a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” a massive undertaking. The list’s flaws were apparent from the beginning. “Predictably,” Edna Gundersen wrote, in USA Today that year, “the list is weighted toward testosterone-fueled vintage rock.” Here was an institution, Rolling Stone, made up primarily of white men, saying that most of the best music ever was made by white men, and leaning on their authority as a counterculture icon to do so. A new Rolling Stone list was revealed last week, with a hundred and fifty-four new entries and some major moves in the rankings. It reflects an admirable attempt by Rolling Stone to evolve with the times and exhibit a more comprehensive consideration of music history. The resulting list was clearly animated by a critical push toward poptimism and an attempt to diversify the critical class.

In a column in the Guardian, from 2018, titled “Bland on Blonde: Why the Old Rock Music Canon Is Finished,” the critic Michael Hann accurately summarized the problems with the current canon: the inherent superiority of rock assumed in the long-standing hierarchy of popular music; the domination of the conversation by white men; and the construction of the canon with albums, a format that many of us still value but which is, quite frankly, obsolete. Hann predicted the rapid fading of the rockist canon and the rise of a new one defined by a more inclusive critical tribunal…’

— via The New Yorker

After Trump’s Coronavirus Diagnosis, What’s His Medical Outlook?

Trump—by virtue of his age, gender, and weight—is at relatively high risk for serious complications from the coronavirus infection. People over the age of sixty-five account for more than eighty per cent of covid-19 deaths in the United States. Compared to a twentysomething, a septuagenarian is more than five times as likely to be hospitalized and is ninety times more likely to die of the coronavirus. For Americans in their seventies, the case fatality rate—a measure of a person’s chance of dying after being diagnosed—is around ten per cent. The true rate of death in that age group is almost certainly lower, since some people who contract the virus never develop symptoms and are never tested for it. On the other hand, we know that older men are more likely to die than women, possibly because of gendered differences in the way the immune system responds to the virus. At six feet three and two hundred and forty-three pounds, the President is also obese, which increases the risk of hospitalization, I.C.U. admission, and death.

— via The New Yorker

In all likelihood, however, he will survive, as the vast majority of infected people do, but especially given his early diagnosis and the world-class attention he has already started, and will continue, to receive. On the other hand, this virus is a capricious killer. Almost surely at the current vantage point, his symptoms are worse than represented.

With his schedule of events and his execrable disdain for masks and social distancing, he is a potential superspreader at a White House with a crippled approach to the coronavirus. Given this, and the false negative rate for CoViD testing among the asymptomatic and presymptomatic, reassurances that other administration figures including Mike Pence are healthy should be viewed with skepticism and should not necessarily obviate the need for quarantine regardless of test results.

Trump did not get the ‘October surprise’ he bargained for. His infection means that his bungling of the pandemic is now guaranteed to remain the overriding story of the last month of the campaign. Those who hope for his speedy return to health should recognize that if his symptoms remain mild he will almost use his recovery as ammunition to scoff at the advice of medical experts while the virus continues to kill a thousand or more Americans per day.

The Real Nightmare Scenario: A Sick Mike Pence

‘…Given the current makeup of the executive branch, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might, with the help of an aggressive attorney general, William Barr, challenge any attempt by Nancy Pelosi to ascend to the presidency if both Trump and Pence are incapacitated by Covid-19—perhaps even preemptively putting out a legal opinion that Pompeo is legally next in line for the acting presidency.

Could Nancy Pelosi assume the acting presidency and fire Barr to get her own contrary legal opinion? Would Barr treat such an order as legitimate? Would the Supreme Court weigh in? How those questions would be answered would almost certainly hinge less on actual legal fights and more on vague public sentiments—questions such as whether the president or vice president looks likely to recover.

“The nation could thus be deeply divided, in a hard-to-resolve way, on the very basic question: Who is the (acting) president of the United States?” legal scholars Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnick wrote back in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic…’

— via POLITICO

Opinion: Trump’s taxes show why he is desperate to stay in office

‘The Times has done an impressive job of getting the truth out, and now it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to reelect a flimflam man. The Times account makes clear that Trump is desperate to stay in office in no small part because he needs to profit from the presidency — and to avoid the risk of prosecution for tax fraud and other possible crimes….’

— Max Boot via The Washington Post

There’s a historic insurrection against Donald Trump happening within the GOP

‘There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses. The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! …

…(T)he hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them…’

— Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large via CNNPolitics

Trevor Noah’s scathing theory on why Melania can’t dump trump

‘Trevor Noah said the explosive New York Times report detailing President sonald trump’s massive $421 million in debt ― most of which is coming due over the next four years ― was the “Rosetta stone” that explains everything else. 

“trump doesn’t actually want to be president. He just really needs that Secret Service protection,” “The Daily Show” host said. “Shit, if I had $400 million in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”

And the debt explains why first lady Melania Trump hasn’t left the president. 

“If she divorces him, she gets half of the $400 million in debt,” Noah cracked. 

Noah also noted that trump was rooting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination instead of Joe Biden. 

“He wanted [Sanders] to win so that the government would bail him out,” Noah said, adding: “It even explains why trump has been destroying the post office. Good luck collecting your money when you can’t mail him a bill.”…’

— Ed Mazza via HuffPost

‘My Octopus Teacher’

‘A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world….’

— via Netflix

Just watched this tonight. Compelling and visually stunning.

Microaggressions aren’t just innocent blunders

Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection, University of Washington: “New research links them with racial bias”:

‘It’s a pattern that recurs countless times, in myriad interactions and contexts, across American society. A white person says something that is experienced as racially biased, is called on it and reacts defensively.

These comments and other such subtle snubs, insults and offenses are known as microaggressions. The concept, introduced in the 1970s by Black psychiatrist Chester Pierce, is now the focus of a fierce debate.

Most research has focused on the harms done to those on the receiving end of microaggressions. SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images
On one side, Black people and a host of others representing multiple diverse communities stand with a wealth of testimonials, lists of different types of microaggressions and compelling scientific evidence documenting how these experiences harm recipients.

Some white people are on board, working to understand, change and join as allies. Still, a cacophony of white voices exists in the public discourse, dismissive, defensive and influential. Their main argument: Microaggressions are innocuous and innocent, not associated with racism at all. Many contend that those who complain about microaggressions are manipulating victimhood and being too sensitive….’

— via The Conversation

Bruce Schneier: “The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world”

‘At CNN, …security researcher Bruce Schneier and Harvard media professor Nick Couldry write about acedia, “a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.” According to Schneier and Couldry, the meta-apathy of acedia is one of the strangest and psychologically stressful consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. From CNN:

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building….

— via Boing Boing

The Mystery of “The Jet-Propelled Couch”

 

Mark Frauenfelder, writing in his newsletter The Magnet, tags this “the most interesting psychiatric case in history”. As a clinical psychiatrist I’m not sure I would be quite so ebullient, but I have a similar love for and fascination with this 1955 account by psychoanalyst Robert Lindner  (1914-1956) of his pseudonymized treatment of a physicist, referred to as Kirk Allen and likely someone who worked at Los Alamos and made important contributions to the Manhattan Project during WWII. I was fairly certain that I had written about ‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ here on FmH but a search back reveals not.

Allen’s supervisors, observing his erratic behavior and preoccupation on the job, had sent him for psychiatric evaluation and Lindner found that he had an elaborate fantasy life in which he could teleport back and forth between his earthly existence and a life in a part of the universe distant in time and space in which he was the lord of an interstellar empire. Allen kept meticulous notes of his adventures which he shared with Lindner, running to 12,000 pages of manuscript complete with notes, extensive glossary, maps, chronologies of the history of the planet over which Allen ruled, and hundreds of drawings he had made of aspects of alien life. 

Lindner ran the gamut of conventional treatment approaches of the day in trying to cure Allen of his delusion without success. Then, he describes having the “sudden flash of inspiration… in order to separate Kirk from his madness it was necessary for me to enter his fantasy and, from that position, to pry him loose from the psychosis.” Lindner joined in Allen’s fantasy life with enthusiasm and wrote of his growing relish for and obsession with his patient’s adventure stories. He encouraged Allen to return to his other life repeatedly, awaiting their sessions with impatience to hear about Allen’s further exploits on alien worlds. Little by little, however, in what I find the most fascinating aspect of the story, he began to note Allen’s growing discomfort with his coaxing until Allen reluctantly confessed that for several months he had no longer believed in the reality of his stories. He had realized he had been delusional but had continued faking it because he did not want to disappoint his fascinated psychoanalyst. Lindner wistfully mourned the loss of what had been such a passionate fantasy for himself. He was humbled and abit shocked by the ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God’ blurring of the distinction between therapist and patient he had experienced in his treatment of Allen. 

I have long used this vignette in teaching my students and trainees about the complexities and pitfalls of treating people with the difficult and challenging beliefs referred to as “delusions”. As an analyst* Lindner could not have been expected to have facility dealing with delusions. Patients with psychotic symptoms were, and are to this day, rarely if ever seen on the psychoanalyst’s couch. Those of us who treat patients with this degree of dysfunction more regularly understand that there is a much more complicated dance, rather than a simple black or white dichotomy, between combatting and joining in the delusions. And similarly the goal of treatment is much more complex and nuanced than a “cure” in which the patient gives up the “unfounded” beliefs and is restored to “reality” or “normalcy”. Through the medium of the relationship with their treater (which I am alarmed to see is seen as a deprecated part of psychiatric treatment in the current medication-centric era of treatment), patients can be helped to move toward a more comfortable degree of joining in the consensus reality of their social group and culture, as they choose.

As Lindner’s case study illustrates, one of the ways to grapple with psychiatric symptoms is to understand them as serving a purpose in their bearer’s life. Delusional systems can actually be thought of as theories the patient has constructed to reassure and comfort them by helping them understand otherwise inexplicable and alarming aspects of their mental and emotional functioning. Even when no longer believed, such a theory or worldview may continue to be enacted or expressed by a patient for various reasons, such as to save face or avoid a breach in an important relationship, as in Kirk Allen’s case. The student should learn to grapple with the complexities embodied in every such symptom and what we call “countertransference,” the effects of the treater’s own often unconsciously motivated attitudes toward and reactions to what their patient is telling them. 

UntitledImageFrauenfelder goes on to dissect the effort that has been given to figuring out who Kirk Allen really was, as Lindner had taken the secret to his grave, dying a year after the book’s publication. Lindner’s case study explained that, as an escape from his childhood unhappiness, Allen had read and reread a series of science fiction novels he found in the library starring a protagonist supposedly sharing his name, a takeoff for fantasizing about additional adventures starring his namesake. As a science-fiction fan myself, when I first read the Lindner essay I shared the feeling of many that Allen’s adventures smacked of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. However, a scientist named Carter working at Los Alamos could not be identified and, after spending many years trying to figure out who Kirk Allen was, biographer Alan Elms** published a piece in 2002 in the New York Review of Science Fiction arguing that the science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith (pen name of political scientist and psychological war expert Paul Linebarger) was a more plausible choice, despite the fact that no one named Linebarger featured as protagonist in a science fiction series from that time. 

‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ is available to read here in a Harper’s Magazine archive from 1954. The Kindle edition of The Fifty-Minute Hour can be obtained here. (‘No student’s education in psychotherapy is complete without reading this book.’)


*a practitioner of classical psychoanalysis based on “analytic neutrality” and facilitating insight via interpretation of the patient’s unconscious conflicts through free association, fantasies, and dreams. Generally occurring in 50-minute sessions multiple times a week and, typically, with the patient or analysand lying on a couch with the analyst just behind and out of sight.

**As Frauenfelder points out, Elm was coincidentally the research assistant to Stanley Milgram on the famous electric shock experiment on obedience to authority. 

Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown

Now They’re Coming Back:

(Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown. Now They’re Coming Back)

‘The return of non-Covid respiratory illnesses is putting a new strain on testing supplies around the world—and is a preview of what’s in store for the US….’

— via WIRED

What if trump succeeds in pushing through a right-wing replacement for RBG?

Toobin RBG4 jpg
Jeffrey Toobin writes about four Democratic options:

‘…[I]f Trump fills the Ginsburg seat the next question will be how the Democrats respond. If the Democrats fail to retake the majority in the Senate in November, their options are few except to grin and bear it. But, if they win the majority and Joe Biden wins the Presidency, there are four major possibilities for retribution—which all happen to be good policy as well.

The first is the abolition of the filibuster, which should have happened decades ago. Even in the minority, McConnell will do everything he can to thwart Biden, and the filibuster will be the tool. This antidemocratic relic should be retired once and for all.

Second, statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with two senators apiece, would be another appropriate rejoinder.

Third, Congress should pass a law expanding the number of lower-court federal judges; that number has not increased since Jimmy Carter was President.

Finally, the greatest and most appropriate form of retribution involves the Supreme Court itself. The number of Justices is not fixed in the Constitution but, rather, established by statute. If Republicans succeed in stealing two seats—the Scalia and Ginsburg vacancies—the Democrats could simply pass a law that creates two or three more seats on the Supreme Court. To do so would be to play hardball in a way that is foreign to the current Senate Democrats. But maybe, in light of all that’s happened, that’s a game they should learn to play….’

— via The New Yorker