Here’s another roundup post of things I’ve read recently and found interesting! (Previous lists, all chock full of good readin’, are here, here, and here.)
The last time I posted a list like this, back in March, I promised that the next one would be “ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME.”
Now, if you’re like me, you vacillate between being grotesquely fascinated with our current political theater-fire and completely disgusted by the entire catastrophe. A lot of the articles I’ve saved in my own Instapaper queue over the intervening months have been related to Trump, or the Trump phenomenon, or an examination of some facet of the whole Trump thing…
A GOOD TIME TO NOTE: I was asked, and was pleased, to contribute to a little book called
The Ghastlytrump Tinies, spearheaded by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games. It’s an Edward Gorey parody book, printed in limited edition, which can be yours for either regular cash money or a donation to help defeat Trump at the polls:
AND SO. For this list in particular, I decided that articles expounding at length on The Trump Thing are pretty easy to find, and if you’re interested you’ve probably already read your fill. Here are a few good ones if you really would like more perspectives on Trump.
The list below is populated with articles I found interesting about politics, but by design, none of them are elaborate meditations on Trump per se. You’re welcome.
The Day We Discovered Our Parents Were Russian Spies (The Guardian)
Alex presumed there had been some mistake –- the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father’s consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake.
But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.
The Long Con (The Baffler)
Via the battery of promotional appeals that overran my email inbox, I mainlined a right-wing id that was invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value. […]
Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. […]
The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place –and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.
This is how the CIA botched Iraq post-9/11: Bob Gates, careerist sycophancy, and the real history of the Deep State (Salon)
Two days later, after a decent interval, we say, “Mr. President, we have to tell you, with all respect to your blue-suited generals, the Ho Chi Minh trail doesn’t look anything like I-66 or I-95. You can’t see most of it from the air, with the [jungle] canopy and stuff, and besides it’s not one, it’s about 161 trails. No matter how many big bombs, you’re not going to be able to interdict the flow of men and supplies. And No. 2, we know Ho Chi Minh. Sam here literally took him into Hanoi after the war [World War II] on his shoulders. He’s a nationalist before he’s a communist. He’s not going to give up. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, No. 3, nobody ever gives up just on the bombing.”
So what’s the lesson from that? The lesson from that is, man, we did our job! But the president? Well, the president had other considerations. He didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. So he disregarded our advice and became the first president to lose a war. […]
From my perspective as an intelligence officer, undue weight is given to political considerations of a domestic variety. That’s why we didn’t end Vietnam when we should have. That’s why we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. Domestic considerations prevail. The system is such that that’s the way it should be. So what’s the answer? We have to elect presidents with integrity and with some kind of feel for who their advisers should be.
God and Country (MTV)
You probably haven’t heard of the Constitution Party. They have no seats in the House or the Senate, and probably never will. They don’t have any spokespeople telegenic enough for Fox News. They’ve only been around since 1991, and they’ve only been called the Constitution Party since 1999. (They were the Taxpayers’ Party before that.) Basically, it’s a party for conservatives who think Republicans are too secular. […]
Constitution Party candidates don’t win anything, and they don’t make a big show out of losing anything. I hadn’t heard of them, either, until about two weeks before the convention. And about all I knew walking in was that their current chairman is named Frank Fluckiger and their vice-chairman is named Randy Stufflebeam. These cannot be real names. These can only be rival magicians in a World War II–era English children’s novel.
Trump, the University of Chicago, and the Collapse of Public Language (The New Yorker)
…I couldn’t see where ideological disputes actually arose. Protesters painted themselves as grass-roots liberals, speaking up for poor, creative, or countercultural outsiders. The techies involved also considered themselves grass-roots liberals, creating apps to fight the Man, effect philanthropic efficacy, and support the same outsiders.
I stayed in the Bay Area awhile, interviewed forty or fifty people, watched protests, attended tech events and community meetings, and flew to New York City to tear out my hair. Writing long articles always involves muscle strain, but the parturition of this piece (which ran in the summer of 2014) was excruciating, because the material seemed to lack any conceptual edges. The ferment had been billed in the press as a “culture war.” And yet the two sides of the conflict — in terms of beliefs, ideological lineage, and language — were almost entirely the same.
I’m With The Banned (Welcome to the Scream Room)
Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We met four years ago, before he was the self-styled “most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” when he was just another floppy-haired right-wing pundit and we were guests on opposing sides of a panel show whose topic I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Afterwards we got hammered in the green room and ran around the BBC talking about boys. It was fun.
Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I hate him and everything he stands for, the more he laughs and asks when we’re drinking. I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.
The Secret Justice System That Lets Executives Escape Their Crimes (BuzzFeed)
Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.
Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”
And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals.
This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world.
None Dare Call It Treason (The Nation)
The Court majority, after knowingly transforming the votes of 50 million Americans into nothing and throwing out all of the Florida undervotes (around 60,000), actually wrote that their ruling [in Bush v. Gore] was intended to preserve “the fundamental right” to vote. This elevates audacity to symphonic and operatic levels. The Court went on to say, after stealing the election from the American people, “None are more conscious of the vital limits on its judicial authority than are the members of this Court, and none stand more in admiration of the Constitution’s design to leave the selection of the President to the people.” Can you imagine that? As they say, “It’s enough to drive you to drink.” […]
Varying methods to cast and count votes have been going on in every state of the union for the past two centuries, and the Supreme Court has been as silent as a church mouse on the matter, never even hinting that there might be a right under the equal protection clause that was being violated. Georgetown University law professor David Cole said, “[The Court] created a new right out of whole cloth and made sure it ultimately protected only one person — George Bush.”
All right. Lots of those were kind of depressing.
We’ll end with this last one, which is no less honest about the political realities we face, but which, rather than leave me despondent and floundering in a whirlpool beyond my control or comprehension, left me reeling — but in a useful way, in a way that reordered my thinking on a lot of issues, in a similar way to Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind (discussed here).
I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup (SlateStarCodex)
If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.
And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.
We have a lot of people…boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.
This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.
What is going on here?
Enjoy the reads!