Three things should be clear:
1. Trump's fantasy that he lost the popular vote due to voter fraud is just that.
2. An investigation into voter fraud by the Trump administration, especially one by Sessions-led DOJ, cannot be trusted.
3. A fraudulent investigation report that has not been pre-emptively or simultaneously met by independent investigations, and that legitimizes Trump's fantasy, would be an unmitigated disaster for democracy in the US.
To prevent the disaster in 3., a fund, or multiple funds, should be established by universities and private foundations to support multiple independent investigations for whatever Trump orders investigations for. I say multiple because Trump's admin. can be expected to give the results an "alternative facts" spin, which looks more ridiculous the more investigations there are. Let them offer to do it for Trump first, and then do it independently when he refuses. Let them have all the transparencies and checks that Trump investigations will not. Let them include scientists and researchers from multiple points on the ideological spectrum. Just don't let them be tied to the Trump administration in any way, shape, or form.
Point 1. is clear because there has already been research done and it indicates that voter fraud is rare. Even the highest estimates of fraud do not come close to justifying Trump's wild speculations. There is also no independent reason to believe that whatever fraudulent votes there were in the election favored Clinton by that wide of a margin.
Point 2. is clear because Trump himself repeatedly lies, and everybody has already seen that he sends his representatives out to lie to the American people. His administration betrayed the trust of all Americans from Day 1 and cannot be relied on to tell the truth. Period. Further, Trump lives by a tribalistic/Mafioso ethic of loyalty and vengeance. Sessions was Trump's earliest and most loyal defender, and has been duly rewarded. For Sessions to deliver anything other than a confirmation of Trump's fantasy would be a betrayal of the loyalty pact they have now consummated.
The way the investigation has been pitched so far is also unacceptable and indicates intended mischief. There has been talk of the investigation only targeting "big states", which is completely arbitrary. Even if there were some antecedent reason to think that fraud only occurs in "big states" it must ultimately be treated as an empirical hypothesis that cannot be tested if "small states" are left out of the investigation.
Finally, there is actual evidence and reason to think that voter suppression could have influenced the vote tallies in places like Wisconsin and North Carolina. If we are going to have a comprehensive investigation into mischievous influence on vote totals, investigating the effects of voter suppression must be a part of that. Truly principled conservatives should agree. If anything, government should facilitate voting. But the history of government regulation of voting is a history of restricting and suppressing the voting rights of particular groups in society. If this is genuinely a non-partisan issue for conservatives, they should be fully onboard with investigating whether and how current government regulations limit the abilities of people to exercise their voting rights.
Point 3. is clear because fraudulently legitimating this delusion of Trump's would genuinely put the USA deeply into Orwellian 1984 territory. It would provide conservative states all the justification they need to put even more restrictive regulations on voting rights. And the Trump admin. would employ intimidation tactics in an effort to force more liberal states to do the same. All of this together would more deeply divide the nation, possibly to the point of political violence.
Doesn't this reward Trump's childish behavior? Can we really expect investigators to hunt down every crazy claim Trump thinks should be investigated? Almost certainly no, to the first question. The results of a truly independent and thorough investigation are certain to disprove Trump's delusions, even if they turned up a little more fraud than previous investigations have. It would make the still sane, rational people in his administration discourage him from trying again. And when he nevertheless does try again, because he has that little self-control, he may be so discredited that it may not matter. Besides, 4 years (or less) of this is worth it to prevent disaster. Trust me, there are enough researchers, statisticians, and scientists out there who could and would love to take an outrageous Trumpism and use it for fodder to fund a legitimate investigation into something worthwhile.
To say more of what I envision: the fund or granting organization should be governed by a team of scientists/statisticians/researchers (SSR's), preferably well established ones (perhaps emeritus or close to retirement who are willing to volunteer some time) with well regarded records of work. For this particular (voting) investigation, assemble a team of political scientists, sociologists, statisticians, etc. to establish (and publish) a set of objectives for the investigation, and methods for achieving them. A team of SSR's with diverse ideological backgrounds should be found, though quality of past work should not be sacrificed to include every one who thinks they should be on it. This may inevitably cause some to denounce the investigation and say that they were locked out for no good reason. That's, like I said, inevitable, and what's more important is that there be a good deal of transparency, which will certainly be more than whatever the Trump team goes ahead with. Then let them hire fledgling SSR's to carry out the investigation.
Unfortunately, I don't have the kind of influence necessary to get something like this going. But I'm putting it out there anyway, believing that there is a minuscule chance that someone who does will see it and act. This investigation is the first major battle in the war against Trump's Orwellian nightmare and we, the American people, cannot afford not to have an army of our own.
www.albumism.com is a young internet gem started last year that has very thoughtful, knowledgeable reviews and a fresh set of preferences compared to, say, pitchfork. Examples:
They do tribute reviews of all time great albums!: http://www.albumism.com/features/tribute-celebrating-40-years-of-bootsys-rubber-band-ahh-the-name-is-bootsy-baby
They do nice, better than most in memoriam's and I appreciate that they didn't forget Bernie Worrell like so many others did: http://www.albumism.com/features/in-memoriam-celebrating-the-life-and-legacy-of-bernie-worrell
Check out their other stuff!
I just took a swipe at Pitchfork, whom I can't forgive for their decade long fawning all over Kanye West to the detriment of other great, better hip-hop. But here are some nice reviews from them, including one on a first-time-on-vinyl issue of a rare Funkadelic live album:
It's really a criminal shame how under appreciated Prince is when it comes to his musical range and genius. He released around 40 albums in his lifetime with songs that span the range of hard rock, pop, R&B, funk, hip-hop, blues, jazz, folk, and disco-ish/dance. And he has a vault that is storied to have even more recorded music. I like to believe that what's in it could make 3-4 more superstar careers, and he purposefully left it in there for that reason. Hopefully we'll find out.
Prince was one of the more successful artists at keeping his stuff off the websites. But there are bootlegs and recordings floating around out there that have been put on youtube and elsewhere. I've been getting into more of it recently, especially live stuff, and decided to share some of the best--mostly of what highlights his instrumental virtuosity and how different so much of what he did is from what he is famous for:
"Ultimate Blues Collection"; "Acoustic Collection"; An incredible collection of collections
In his later years, Maceo Parker toured with him, and jamming together brought out the best in both: funky guitar solo; funky bass solo.
There's a big asymmetry in what happens when funk and non-funk artists try to cover each other's songs. "Whole Lotta Love" was one of Prince's favorite songs to cover at one point. He would improvise a lot, so here are two of the best: from Indigo Nights and Vegas.
Prompted by the post from a few days ago on the best sentences in literature, I began thinking of favorite lines (not verses, not whole songs) from popular music. The websites don't have very good lists as far as I'm concerned, so below is a partial list of my own. Like any good song lyric, they each need to be heard in their musical context to be adequately appreciated, so I include links. Despite a couple of exceptions, I did not include rhymed lines--that can wait for another post. As you'll see, my own taste is for the expressive, direct, surreal, etc., but I welcome any flavor, so I hope you'll share your own favorites in the comments!
"I guess I shoulda known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn't last" --Prince, Little Red Corvette
"Me, and everything around me, is unstable like Chernobyl" --Andre 3000 (Outkast), Millenium
"Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps" -- Chuck D, Public Enemy, Fight the Power
"Have you ever felt the presence of a brain?" -- Parliament, The Presence of a Brain
"Raise up!, get yourself together, and drive that funky soul!" -- James Brown, People, Get up and drive your Funky Soul
"Give me your dirty love, like some tacky little pamphlet in your daddy's bottom drawer" --Frank Zappa, Dirty Love
"Long gone, like a turkey through the corn" -- Lightning Hopkins, Like a Turkey through the Corn
"God help us, help us lose our minds!" -- Talking Heads, Slippery People
"Baby, take off your cool" Andre 3000 and Norah Jones, Take Off Your Cool
"I'm all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily" --The Clash, Lost in the Supermarket
"You know he loved to drink good whiskey, while laughing at the moon"--War, Slipping Into Darkness
"Do I move you?" --Nina Simone
"Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego!" --Sly & The Family Stone, Loose Booty
(The only one I'll comment on: this one depends entirely on musical context to really appreciate, and it isn't a typical verse 'line' at all. I include it because it is an instance of how Sly Stone is popular music's unparalleled genius in using the human voice as a creative musical instrument, something he deserves more recognition for).
"Tangerine green, I know you don't know what I mean, it's just a feeling i get when i think about you" --Fuzzy Haskins, Tangerine Green
"I can't get into the neutron bomb" -- Funkadelic, Into You
"You're so retrosexy, whoa, so fine. Won't you go back in time to me?" -- Chucklehead, Retrosexy
And, as far as the weird, surreal, and absurd go, Beck should have a list unto himself.
Atlanta is one of the best new TV shows. Brain child of multi-talented Donald Glover, it portrays (in Glover's words) black experience, via (roughly) following the travails of Glover's character as he tries to manage his cousin's budding rap career. The best review I've come across, and well worth reading, is at The Verge . The show is witty, surreal, smart, subtle, beautifully shot, and excellently acted. I've laughed, experienced a range of emotions, and had my eyes opened. I can't speak to how adequately it captures black experience, but I would still recommend it to anyone 45-ish and under, and to anyone older who is curious about younger generations.
One of the things that really struck me was its (sparing) use of music and how it immediately aroused my attention to the contrast with most film and TV which, of course, has been primarily aimed at white audiences. Now, everybody loves the well placed song that triggers just the needed mood, and enlivens the action. It makes us all wish for a soundtrack at certain moments of our own lives. It is very often nostalgic. Think of the use of music in Forrest Gump for an anything-but-subtle version of this. But often the nostalgia is more hip, edgy: think of (more recent) Martin Scorsese and especially Quentin Tarantino who make virtues of finding forgotten, but-not-too-forgotten, songs from a bygone era of pop music to carry out their versions of this practice. It is often a "cool" rock song from the 60's or early 70's. If it is ever by a black artist or group, it is usually one that has a tradition of being hip or cool within the parameters of mainstream culture.
We are all familiar with the trope of an embattled protagonist summoning the courage to do the hard thing that they have to do and, as they set out to do it, a rousing, bold song cuts in, shining god-like upon them to buoy their determination. A particularly clever, funny version of this happens with one of the recurring characters in one of the episodes in Atlanta. And the song used, which made the episode for me, was Funkadelic's "Hit it and Quit it". Now, there is some reason for Funkadelic to fall within the wider parameters of what's "cool" in mainstream culture. Samples of its music powered some of the most popular and memorable periods of hip-hop, after all. But most of those samples came from Funkadelic's late period, when it began to move more toward dance rhythms and keyboards, like its counterpart band, Parliament. Because the latter was also sampled a lot, and because the collective was known as P-Funk, most people today associate a few funky dance songs with "P-Funk". But "Hit it and Quit it" comes from Funkadelic's early, psychedlic guitar-driven years. And that hasn't been included within the mainstream parameters of coolness yet. Perhaps that will now change. (Although, it should be noted that "coolness" is, explicitly, the antithesis of being funky in the ethical universe of P-Funk).
The best uses of songs in film/TV meld with the events in a way that alter and enrich your understanding of both the song and some element of the movie--a character, plot line, event, etc. And the very best uses help you see the world itself in a new way. Atlanta achieves this brilliantly in the last episode with a "minor" 90's hip-hop hit. One that is oft forgotten, but not-too-forgotten. Everything about it just works, and I encourage you to watch the series to find out why.
Here are some of the best web resources I've found for aiding the resistance. Please share ones you've discovered in the comments.
Guide to Getting Involved:
'Anti-Inauguration' (Mostly of temporary importance, but some good general ideas and links of lasting value)
Searchable database of virtually everything Trump has said:
Website tracking reports of Trumpian corruption:
"Trumpgrets": Website collecting reports of regret over voting Trump. Anecdotal, but revealing:
An excellent reading list concerning the times we now live in. It links to a couple of other reading lists, and this one is also a must see.
Trenchant analysis of behavior of Trump as Pres-elect as a guide to what to expect:
Trump already like an ape battling for domination over any perceived/possible rival, does not care for/understand separation of powers or other democratic norms. Expect more of same:
Trump's talent has always been PR. For how he is setting the stage for enacting his PR-without-substance genius is already under way and may cover up general failures:
On Journalism under Trump and our "post-truth" atmosphere generally:
Part I Analysis: pressthink.org/2016/12/winter-coming-prospects-american-press-trump/
Part II What to do: pressthink.org/2016/12/prospects-american-press-trump-part-two/
It is my conviction that citizens of both the US and the world can and ought to cooperate to resist Trump (and the rise of nativistic populism) despite otherwise wildly diverging ideological backgrounds. With that in mind, I recommend writers and media outlets from across the political spectrum. While I have a radical heart, I'm not interested in wading into debates over what approach/alternative media outlet is most authentically "LEFT!" and "therefore" best poised to resist Trump. So, I'll actually have more to say about right-wing resistors. And I'm happy for commenters to link to quality writers and sites on the far left that I leave out.
A recommendation for news aggregators is good to start, including ones that inform us about what the opposition is saying. So have Real Clear Politics available.
Republican and Conservative voices against Trump:
Evan McMullin, Mormon independent challenger to Trump in election, is emerging as one of most consistent conservative voices seeking bipartisan/broad spectrum collaboration against Trump. Even calls out fellow Republicans on racism/white nationalism stuff. Mostly on Twitter, but you can access his feed even if you aren't on Twitter here. In NYTimes. Interviewed.
As far as legislators go, McCain and Graham are getting press over the Russia stuff, and Rand Paul is likely to stand up to Trump as he has against most forms of strong government. But Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, is someone to watch. His opposition to Trump has been principled and consistent from the start, despite being a rookie Senator in a Trump loving state. His office was even receptive when I called to encourage him to keep opposing Trump on specific things.
Jennifer Rubin at Washington Post. Here she singles out conservatives w/ influence not folding to Trump.
David Frum at the Atlantic continues the conservative fight against Trump that he fought before the election (he even endorsed Clinton).
Rick Wilson, Michael Gerson continue their charge. George Will (syndicated), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard), Kevin D. Williamson, Jonah Goldberg, and David French (last three of National Review) were all excellent critics of Trump right up until election day, often garnering the wrath of the worst of Trump's racist base. Since the election they have quited a bit and have been focused on getting parting jabs in against Obama. But they may arise again (they can earn a link when they do).
On to the center ---> left:
ProPublica should be on everyone's list anyway.
truthdig and truthout are two of the best independent outlets with great stuff re: Trump.
Bill Moyers often collects good things.
The Intercept is principled in holding conservative and liberal media and gov alike to account. That will be of increasing importance. Recent time spent in conservative internet land suggests that WashPost, NYTimes, and others have lost any credibility they still had among people inclined to support or be friendly to Trump. Places like The Intercept, which has been highly critical of WashPost on some recent shoddy journalism, can be insisted on as consistently credible.
Robert Reich with consistent analysis and recommendations of what to do and to look out for.
Sarah Kendzior has good insight. Often, her Twitter feed has stuff that the usual media misses or that she is way in front of them on.
Yascha Mounk, a political scientist working on rising threats to liberal democracy, now has a weekly column at Slate focusing on Trump, his tactics, and what can be done.
Shaun King of Black Lives Matter fame often has good stuff and often focuses on how Trump is emboldening the racist underbelly of US.
Robert Paul Wolff, retired professor, but not retired from decades of activism. He offers great analysis, observations, ideas, and encouragement. The kind of older, wiser comrade we all need!
Again, send stuff I'm missing in the comments!
Here's one list of best sentences in literature:
Here's an interesting analysis of the list:
Would love to know of others' favorite sentences.....
2016 had a lot to be grateful for. More generally, we live in the best of times, thus far. Of course, the perch we've reached is fragile and precarious, for many reasons, including the fact that an ignorant, impulsive, pathological narcissist will soon control the world's most powerful military with the capacity to wipe out most of humanity at the press of a few buttons. But the malaise preyed upon by the opportunistically pessimistic Trump is likely due to three factors: 1. Mismatch between conditioned expectations and reality 2. Anxiety over various trending changes in society that are mostly good but also threaten many people's perceived place in the social order. 3. Rightful anger at government, which was distorted by long term psychological and media factors to which many millions fell prey: the need for a concrete scapegoat which right, left, and media had been turning Clinton into for decades; and the culmination of celebrity idolatry and "reality" TV which had lent Trump an aura of credibility to millions (which would be undercut for anyone by an afternoon, if not a scintilla, of critical reflection). Also, the above links should not be taken to imply that we live in the best possible times, or are anywhere near to them (see here and here). The world is complex.
Before getting to entertainment and such, here are two people who died in 2016 who deserve far more recognition: Donald Henderson and Thomas Schelling. If we were a society that recognized people like these more than celebrities, things would be closer to what they should be.
That's mostly enough of politics. My "best of 2016" or "review of 2016" or "varia of 2016" will mostly focus on books, music, movies, TV shows, websites, blogs, and articles (including some political). And I'll include stuff that I encountered or even re-encountered in 2016, even if it didn't originate in 2016.
Of the legends that died this year, two did not get attention commensurate with their talent, achievements, and influence. I'm talking about Maurice White, best known as bandleader of Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Bernie Worrell, best known as keyboardist and one of the leading songwriters for Parliament-Funkadelic. Their influence extends to countless other musicians whom they either worked with directly or inspired, as well as to the entire hip-hop genre via extensive sampling of their work. Just this year, Childish Gambino, star of acclaimed TV show Atlanta and current Hip-Hop, released an album with the inspiration of P-Funk explicitly acknowledged to be all over it.
Of those who died, Bernie Worrell is the one whose music has affected me most. Two of my most memorable live shows from the last few years were concerts by the Bernie Worrell Orchestra at small, Boston area clubs (get a sense for them there). It was an honor to be able to meet him--he came across as quiet, humble, world-weary. And then when he started to play, an incredible ferocity erupted. One of the things I most love about the great funk artists, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown and the JB's, and P-Funk, is how they invented new ways to be: new expressions, new emotions even. In his waning years Bernie invented a way to be a gracefully aged embodiment of both psychedlic energy and world-weary wisdom. That's what I saw in him at those performances and what one might have thought impossible based on how other musicians from the psychedelic era have aged. This, for a sense of his range that continued long after the heyday of P-Funk. This, for a perspective that I could never give. And this, which is one of the hidden treasures of the internet.
Prince is next for me. It's fitting that there is no easy way to link to him on the Websites to give a sense for his music. No single song or playlist could adequately convey who or what he was. He was genuinely one of a kind and his genius is still underappreciated. My guess is that his storied vault contains music for a multitude of legendary music careers. I never guessed how little his radio hits conveyed until I attended a concert by a Boston gem, The Nephrock! Allstars. They played songs from his early "Nasty" period that blew me away and convinced me I needed to get to know Prince. A memorial Prince dance party I attended at this year's Burning Man was one of the funnest, most magical parties I've been to in a long time, with so many singing and dancing their hearts out in mutual recognition of what Prince's music expresses. A fitting farewell for me. I wish I could share his rendition of "Bambi" from a few years ago on Jimmy Fallon, which was, of course, quickly removed from the Websites. Nasty.
Phife Dawg was a staple of my teenage years. I saw A Tribe Called Quest on their farewell tour and his energy was still fresh and infectious. He embodies a period of hip-hop that feels like an alien world today. What a revelation to learn that he and his mates had teamed up for one more album. What a treat that it turned out so well. Buy it! Read why that goes for good music generally.
I love so much of George Michael's music. His voice; how easy each song puts you in the mood it so effortlessly embodies. And I despair over how he was shamed and disparaged during his too brief life. His music is easily available so I'll just include a link concerning his astounding, mostly unknown generosity.
Of course, there were so many others whose music made this world vastly deeper, richer, and more textured.
Some of my favorite discoveries this year: Blaze Foley, Whitefield Brothers, BadBadNotGood, TOPS, Dirty Love, Chicano Batman, Little Beaver, Brownout, Herbert Harper's Free Press News, Orange Juice, Soft Hair. And re-discoveries: Mazzy Star (This song made an incredibly haunting scene in The Night Of), Jungle Brothers, Midnight Oil.
For the most part I enjoy TV much more than movies these days. I like extended stories to keep coming back to. I like the little known actors that get to show off their chops. They're often much better than the stars of Hollywood, or even the repeat darlings of popular "indie" film. Similar things go for the writers, directors, and photographers. I like the degree of experimentalism that must balance itself with the need for repeat viewers. I like the convenience and the price. Getting friends together to watch this week's GoT's episode is usually more fun than meeting them at most of today's movie theaters.
I discovered Luther toward the end of 2015, and it was over just before 2016, but I'm including it anyway. Definitely one of the best detective-crime dramas ever. Dark, devastating, brilliant. Idris Elba is masterful. Ruth Wilson's great as well.
Better Call Saul may be the first spin-off series that shamelessly exploits many of the tropes and techniques that made its predecessor so successful--and totally pulls it off. The series never feels (to me) as though it is yearning to be just another Breaking Bad. It just does what the latter did well, but in its own way. The back story of Saul Goodman is written really well and, at least so far, the character that eventually becomes Saul Goodman is better at conveying moral mixture and ambiguity than Walter White's character was. Its second season came out this year, and I highly recommend both.
Twin Peaks. Yep, I had never watched it before this year. Another reason I'm grateful for Netflix. As those who have seen it will understand, this deserves an essay of its own. I'll just say that it is one of those series worth watching again and that it is worth watching to compare to TV today (came out in early 90's). I'm looking forward, with some trepidation, to its promised return this coming year.
Mr. Robot, Season 2. I think this already counts as one of the best series ever. The second season got even more experimental, and while some of it failed (that Alf thing went on for far too long), overall it pulled it off and was amazing. I'll nominate the tenth episode for the best episode of any show this year.
Stranger Things was wonderful. The Night of had so many different kinds of virtues, it also deserves its own thing. Everyone should watch it for messages about justice, evidence, bureacracy, uncertainty, desire, escape, and more. This season of Game of Thrones had some incredible episodes. Westworld was neither as bad nor as good as it could've been.
Websites, Blogs, Writers, Journalists, etc.
As far as broad ranging websites that collect work from multiple authors: Aeon, Nautilus, and The Conversation continue to be excellent outlets for academics (and others) to write for wider audiences. 3QuarksDaily and Arts & Letters Daily are the best I know of for collecting the best from around the web. If anyone knows of stuff in the same vein, I'd love to hear about them.
Regarding individual blogs and websites, I'll start with Robert Paul Wolff, who is an internationally known political and social philosopher who has spent a lifetime of activism in support of socially progressive causes and opposed to regressive ones. If you think that Marxian economics is dead, you may be under the sway of an ideology that Wolff can help disabuse you of in his many works collected online and linked to on his blog. It was my great privilege to get to know Professor Wolff, who is retired, while on a postdoc at UNC-Chapel Hill this past year, where he continues to lead reading groups and give lectures to post online. He is one of the better people I've met, and I recommend his blog which, among so much else, is becoming a great place for reflection on the incoming presidency-disaster, as well as a site of coordination for resistance (email him to tell him you wish to be on his list).
Mind Hacks is a great blog run by psychologist Tom Stafford who tries to make research from psychology and neuroscience accessible and addressable to real human problems. He does a beautiful job and is an exemplar of what more academics should be doing. I also recommend his online book defending, against much of his profession, the idea that reason really can play an important role in people's lives.
Slate Star Codex appears to be run by a superhuman who is a proof of existence that beings can regulate their cognitive lives in much more accordance with standards of reason and evidence than is the norm. His advocacy posts are incredibly well researched and reasoned, with markers for what he considers to be his weakest points. He usually gets at least dozens of comments and then revisits his post with the best of the objections, either rebutting them, or admitting that what they have said changes his mind. Plus so much else.
Many conservatives started, and continue, to lead the Trump resistance. George Will, one of the better writers in the media, repeatedly excoriated Trump better than just about anyone. Jonah Goldberg, David French, and Kevin Williamson at the National Review all consistently denounce Trump. Lately, I particularly like Williamson's style and perspective, even if I vehemently disagree with him on several issues. Evan McMullin deserves special praise for leading a charge, mostly on Twitter, against Trump. Sure, he probably has political aspirations that are in the background. But for now, he is combatting Trump in a way that anyone can get behind, and that everyone should.
A bit more on Trump resistance: This website collects articles on what the mainstream media particularly failed at prior to the election: Trump's massive conflicts of interest. These issues will loom larger and larger and may be his undoing sooner than later. Shaun King, of Black Lives Matter fame, is a voice, mostly on Facebook, to pay attention to. Sarah Kendzior recently wrote a book about Trumpland, collects stuff she's done on her website, and is often way ahead of the press with her own research on Twitter.
As befits the usual level of care in this country for justice for Native Americans, the Standing Rock issue (not over!) hasn't gotten the attention or care it deserves. This Atlantic piece deserves close reading and I encourage people to visit the websites of the people involved (here and here).
While I have some criticisms of Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept (Naomi Klein incisively gets at that here), I admire and commend their consistent stance on demanding publicly available evidence concerning the "Russian hacks" as well as their warning to the main stream media about giving up any and all pretense of fair play in order to stop Trump. Subsequently, they maintain a higher degree of credibility on many issues than most--so pay attention!
Jay Rosen at Press Think has the best take on Trump and the press I've seen yet. I can't recommend his article highly enough.
The idea that Obama is responsible for whatever widening of racial divides there has been during his presidency is ludicrous on its face, as far as I'm concerned. But I still didn't appreciate what lies behind such claims as much as I do now, having read Ta-Nehisi Coates' My President Was Black which deserves all the praise it has gotten, and then some. In addition to the way it addresses its topic, the understated prose style has a distinctive kind of beauty that all should enjoy. Just as important are his interviews with Obama that are now being published in a flurry as the year ends.
Finally, on a lighter note, Clickhole seems to be hitting its stride, getting funnier and more clever by the week this year. But maybe that's just me.
I don't see movies as much anymore. But Moonlight and The Handmaiden were two of the best I've seen in a while. If I had to pick just one to recommend, it would be Moonlight. It is a gorgeous, heartbreaking film, with understated dashes of hope. See it.
While I liked Arrival, I think it is a bit overrated. I also suspect that I liked it for different reasons than most. My interpretation of it is that pretty much all the happenings and themes that people tend to focus on and that take up the bulk of the film are distractions, side shows for the most important part of the film, which is the monumental, existential choice the main character makes concerning her daughter. Of course, all that other stuff makes the choice possible/inevitable. But my interpretation makes the main point of the movie something that is largely understated in comparison to the rest. I guess that makes me like it more than I otherwise would.
The movie I most regret not seeing (yet) is Elle.
Movie to watch/re-watch for 2017: Dr. Strangelove.
Reading is kind of weird for someone in academia who is supposed to specialize in narrow topics. While I often enjoy what I read, it is usually in the form of journal articles and it isn't stuff I would recommend to other people. However, two books I'm reading right now that give good insight into the issues I think a lot about and that I would recommend to anyone, share the feature of having cheesy titles that belie the seriousness of the authors and how good the books are. They are: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Culture, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, by Joseph Henrich; Algorithsm to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.
I also recommend a book that is sure to spark serious controversy, by renowed Yale psychologist Paul Bloom: Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. Please also see the Boston Review forum with Bloom's target article followed by responses from several philosophers and psychologists. This is good as well.
My friend, Phil Torres, The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse is a great achievement, and very important for our times.
Finally, a recommendation for 2017: Daniel Dennett's From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds and Culture.
I intend to have more to say about fiction next year.
...with friends. With my future self. I've decided that every once in a while I'll share a playlist representing stuff I've recently discovered or re-discovered. Here's the first one.
Of course, I'd love to hear from anyone who is either into some of the stuff I share, or has recommendations of their own. And I highly encourage anyone who finds something they like to GO BUY THE ALBUM (electronic, CD, vinyl, whatever). Here's a great article from a former teacher on why.
It's STILL not ok for Steve Bannon to be in the white house. Join me in calling Republicans who consistently opposed Trump to encourage them to make a bi-partisan effort to #StopBannon. Three who seem to me to maybe be most amenable:
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida Rep) 202-225-3931
Robert Dold (Illinois Rep) 202-225-4835
Ben Sasse (Neb Senator) 202-224-4224
Say that you admire them for their consistent stand. Say that putting Steve Bannon in the White House makes Trump's acceptance speech *promise* to heal divides and be a President for all Americans impossible.
Useful guides to Republicans with spines:
How to contact other senators and representatives:
Power to the people! I have to think that Fred Hampton would be pleased to know that on December 4, 2016, 47 years after his murder by the U.S. government, that same government bent ever slightly toward justice, and the will of an oppressed people, and stopped construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. It did it in response to a grassroots movement begun by a people, the Sioux Nation, whose rightful land, long stolen, the pipeline was slated to invade. And Fred Hampton would have been glad, for there is so much about this story that speaks to his ideals.
Fred Hampton would be glad, for the people stopped the onslaught of corporate oil interests, if only for a moment. But the moment should be celebrated for what it is. Fred Hampton knew that capitalism made the interests of corporate profit maximization reign supreme, and fought it. He would have been glad for this victory of people over capitalist profit.
Fred Hampton would be glad for a people who have struggled for well more than a century against brutal oppression and vile deceit by the US government, but were tenacious and gained a victory. In fact, the Sioux turned down $106 million awarded to them by the Supreme Court in 1980, which ruled that the government had violated its agreements with the Sioux over their lands. Their lands, their sacred sites, their heritage were more important to them. And now, 37 years later, the people have won a victory for that heritage. Fred Hampton would be glad.
Fred Hampton would be glad for the unprecedented unity that the struggle against the DAPL has brought to Native peoples. Native Americans from more tribes have joined together at Standing Rock than for any other movement. I've heard, personally and through social media, of many Native Americans who say that this movement has brought hope that Native peoples will be able to fight for justice in a more united way than ever before. That this could be true after centuries of genocide and cultural devastation is a sure sign of hope and inspiration for Native Americans and for all those who struggle against oppression. Surely, Fred Hampton would be glad.
Fred Hampton would be glad for the unity of all races and creeds who came together to support the Sioux. As he said in many of his inspired discourses, what united the people was far stronger than what divided them, and the divisions were a distraction from fighting oppression. He built bonds of peace across racial and ethnic lines in his Chicago community. Fred Hampton would be glad for the common unity found at Standing Rock, a source of the people's power.
Fred Hampton would be glad for the power of the people's peaceful protest. Yes, there may have been a few yahoos who threw beer cans (or some such) at police. But that shouldn't distract in the slightest from the thousands who peacefully stood against millitarized law enforcement brought in from all around the country who met them with violence and used despicable tactics that risked the peoples' lives in freezing temperatures. Fred Hampton would be glad that veterans who had been sent to fight unjust wars came to join and defend the people, some saying that they felt like this would be the first time they had truly served their country.
Fred Hampton would be glad for this people's victory to strengthen them in a gathering storm. Surely he would not have been surprised that the people now face an incoming presidency that built its movement by exploiting racist sentiment and by seeking to delegitimize the first Black President through the most craven and vile means. He was too smart to think that the US could be past something like that, even half a century later.
Then let us put our own naivety away. Let us awaken to our common interests, and to the threats that loom against us from the incoming presidency and the forces that put it in power. Let us carry the banner of liberty, freedom, justice, and equality against the forces of "("economic", "white") nationalism" and "populism" which are only covers for fear, resentment, and the powerful who exploit them to their own ends. Let us have the courage to fight on. Let us make Fred Hampton, may he Rest In Power, glad.
In the weeks leading up to the election I tried to offer several extra- or non-partisan reasons why Clinton would be a vastly superior choice to Trump. Now that Trump will go to the White House (during the week), it is important to keep vigilant about those reasons, which still stand. Let's take the issue of freedom as an example. While people on the right like to corner the market on "eroding freedom" rhetoric, once we sit down together for an adult conversation about it, we can all freely admit that the right and left have different visions of what freedom amounts to and how best to encourage and protect it. In an election with a normal candidate to oppose Clinton, we could have then debated which freedoms are most under threat, which are most crucial to address right now, what the best way to do so is, etc. And if Clinton had lost such an election, we all could have accepted that one vision of freedom had won out for the time being, and that proponents of other visions would have to be content with seeking continued recognition of their concerns, as well as gearing up to improve their case for the next election.
Of course, Trump doesn't have a coherent vision about much of anything, let alone freedom, but he threatens it in a far more terrifying way than Clinton is constitutionally capable of. For whether or not he has genuinely fascist designs, he has the charismatic charm of a would-be authoritarian leader that woos masses of people into frenzied loyalty, and subsequently convinces seemingly smart people that Trump must be smarter and more capable than he really is. (For the record, I think Trump has little in the way of "designs" beyond self-aggrandizement, and it happens that the best way he sees of doing that requires targeting particular groups of humans. But his style is uniquely suited to bringing about the following kind of scenario: monumental failures of foreign policy leading to some kind of unprecedented attack on our national security which Trump, due to his demagogic charm, is able to blame elsewhere. He then moves for the kind of "I alone" power he feverishly dreamed of in his RNC speech, and ...... . How likely any point in the chain is to happen is partially dependent on whether the people around Trump are NOT like the advisor I discuss below). Alas, before I move to a foreboding development on this point, I can't help recalling that Clinton is not charismatic even a smidgen, and she is exactly as smart as she is deservedly reputed to be.
The frightening example of Trump's successful demagogic charm leading even the seemingly smart to lose their minds comes from this report of Stephen Moore addressing House GOP members. Moore, campaign economic advisor to Trump, is a long time conservative political insider (you know, part of the "swamp") who began championing Reagaonomics and free trade in the 80's, and didn't stop until he somehow found himself aboard the Trump train. If what is reported is accurate, he is now drunk with victory and admiration for the victor. He claims to have been converted to economic populism by meeting those who suffer on the campaign trail (fat chance). His coercive rhetoric belies: Moore employs "mandate" babble to tell GOP Reps that "Reagan's party is now Trump's party" (!!!) and that if Trump says something (like build a wall!) it should get done. Simple as that.
I hope it doesn't take more commentary to realize that the above calls for the following urgent reminders: YES, masses of "modern" democratic citizens can be wooed by a demagogue!; YES, seemingly smart people familiar with how limited power in democratic republics works can get swept up into "great movements" and aid the development of conditions ripe for tyranny!; YES, we know that outright tyranny can gradually but steadily grow under charismatic leadership! Especially when the people around the tyrant-in-embryo are dazzled by that leader's surprising success!
Here are some more reminders. Trump's only brilliance is for marketing. That combined with a craven, shameless willingness to exploit people's weaknesses and fears. That's it. His contribution to his "miraculous" victory, which also depended on some unique circumstances, is that combination of characteristics alone. There is no healthy movement here to rally around. There is no generally brilliant leader to follow, or clear-eyed vision to support. In the words of others who were clear-eyed: Trump remains a fraud, a phony, a con man. So don't believe the hype. And don't let your representatives believe it either.
Today Tallulah and I contributed to the 'Postcard Avalanche' aimed at letting Trump know that appointing Bannon breaks his promise to be a President for all Americans. At best, the sheer number of postcards arriving at Trump Tower might make the news. But Trump needs constant reminders that #WereStillHere. So #StopBannon, #StopSessions and stop all Trump's other crony capitalist appointments. If you want to join the avalanche: https://www.facebook.com/events/235432800204102/
How's this for a rationalization for procrastination: the press and our collective attentions easily move on from issues that are worth revisiting from time to time. So on occasion I'll do so on this blog.
Quite simply, I have no patience for the "whiny, overpaid athletes should stop their protests and do what they're paid to do" response to the national anthem protests inspired by 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. If people with power and a platform won't stick up for the downtrodden and oppressed, who will? It is precisely because they are where they are that they should protest. Would that more powerful people used their platforms to fight injustice.
Concerning the means of protest, people have taken to the rhetorical move of claiming that disrespecting the national anthem is something like a direct insult to military veterans. To which the reply should be that if we want to do something before sports games that directly praises and thanks men and women who have bravely served our country, we should collectively think of a way to do so and settle on one. (We should also do more to prevent our leaders from sending them to kill and die in unnecessary wars--but that topic would take us too far afield).
At least Kaepernick et al do not claim that there shouldn't be national anthems, so I'll do them one better. Healthy, free societies should not have sacred symbols, like flags and anthems, that are supposed to be above reproach and that stifle criticism and dissent. Such symbols are essentially idols demanding obeisance, which is anathema to the proper cultivation and respect for the collective use of reason that is necessary to the establishment and maintenance of free societies. There are few exercises of freedom as reinforcing and enriching of a society's "operating level of freedom" as brave dissent that calls for reform in the face of injustice. Exercises of piety and fealty toward symbols achieve the opposite.
Celebrating our ideals and historical efforts at moving closer to them can be achieved in other ways. Let there be a plethora of celebratory and thanksgiving songs, poems, stories, and works of art to be read, sung, viewed, and cheered. before public events. Let us celebrate those who fought for freedom at home as well as abroad. Let our songs celebrate our achievements rather than worship flags. Let us have moments of silence for those who have died in the struggle for freedom (again, at home as well as abroad). Let us have moments of silence for the injustices that continue to haunt our society and keep us estranged from our ideals. Let us acknowledge those whose freedoms have been denied via fear, prejudice, tradition, exploitation. These would be the practices of healthy societies actively working for the achievement of full freedom for all.
This morning brought two contrasting news items. One dumbfounding: the Washington Post reports on a new poll showing Trump with an 8 point lead on honesty. The other sane: former Republican governor and current VP Libertarian candidate Bill Weld doing an exemplary job of putting evidence and honesty ahead of partisanship, vouching for Clinton's honesty based on 40 years of personal experience with her, and simply but accurately describing what a Trump Presidency would be--chaos. This illustrates "The Gap" between how people that actually know and work with Clinton view her, and public perception that has been fueled by decades of partisan attacks. This "Gap" was investigated by Ezra Klein in Vox back in July (and has been addressed elsewhere). There are more aspects to honesty and integrity than one might presume from media oversimplification, and Klein's article relates stories that illustrate it in Clinton. As First Lady, there were several times when Clinton paid attention to detailed, technical evidence that was sent to the White House, and her attention helped change policy decisions. That is, Clinton honestly sought out contrasting evidence, paid it real attention, and allowed herself to be swayed by the balance of evidence. The Trump campaign, by contrast, makes a virtue out of doing exactly the opposite: it consistently doubles down when forced to confront clear evidence against its claims. Ignoring all the documentation that Trump rarely even cares whether what comes out of his mouth is true, for the moment, here is clear evidence that Clinton has a kind of integrity that matters to governance.
Now, I won't claim that Clinton hasn't done dishonest things. She has. But the idea that she is in the same league as Trump when it comes to dishonesty has got to be one of the greatest hoodwinks pulled on the American public in my lifetime. The best explanation for it that I can tell is a kind of hatred that is worse than the usual human frailty or bouts of irrationality. It is pathological. And, to take the gloves off, otherwise reasonable people who don't like Trump, but think that there is some kind of equivalency between Trump and Clinton, are succumbing to this pathological Hillary-Hating. To say why, I'll describe three broad kinds of Hillary-Hating: Hysterical, Hypocritical, and Historically-Blind. At the end, perhaps you'll think there is some reason I haven't touched on to justify the idea that Clinton is an exceptionally dishonest politician and even in the same league as Trump. But if you can't first bring yourself to recognize the seriousness of the phenomena I describe, then I'll doubt your reasons are serious or clear-eyed, and others should have good reason to doubt it as well.
First, the Hysterical Hillary-Haters. These are the mobs of people that attend Trump rallies armed with clothing and paraphernalia spouting lewd, explicitly misogynistic, and violent slogans aimed at Clinton. They engage in feverish "lock her up!!" chants that are often lead or egged on by their Dear Leader (who also often takes the opportunity to turn their rage at present Media). It should be obvious to everyone else that for these people there is no question of evidence or due process. Such behavior is utterly anathema to a just and peaceful democratic society, and should be condemned in the strongest terms by anyone who hopes for such a society. The fact that the Trump campaign encourages this kind of behavior should be immediately disqualifying. The fact that Republican leaders don't seem to have the decency or courage to go out of their way to condemn this kind of behavior or its leader's encouragement of it is an affront to us all. It shows, I suggest, that their own antipathy to Clinton is more pathological than reasonable. Even if one isn't engaging in this kind of behavior, an absence of concern to energetically distinguish one's own opposition to Clinton from it amounts to a kind of tacit acceptance. Compare McCain's famous correction of a supporter who asked him about Obama being an Arab in 2008. That kind of basic integrity is wholly absent from the Trump campaign and seemingly close to absent among Republican leadership (though not just them) now. We all have a strong common interest in denouncing and defeating this kind of Hysterical Hillary-Hating, and if you haven't been able to see that or still can't, your own Clinton-antipathy may be less than rational.
Next, Hypocritical Hillary-Hating from the right tends to claim that Clinton is about as dishonest and corrupt as politicians get, and so does at least one of the following: 1. refuses to acknowledge the intense amount of (Congressional, DOJ) investigative scrutiny directed on Clinton relative to officials in other administrations for similar things, or to accept their verdicts, while remaining perfectly happy with the lack of punishment for similar things in other administrations. 2. fails to acknowledge much worse criminality in previous Republican administrations, combined with continued promotion of some (e.g., Reagan) as heroes. 3. fails to confront the grossly asymmetric threat to truth and rationality in our media and public discourse posed by the company Trump keeps.
On the first, I'll just direct people to what others have documented. Much worse, in my view, is the failure to acknowledge just how criminal the administrations of Reagan and Bush II were. To focus on the conservative darling: Reagan had more officials indicted and/or convicted of crimes than any other administration. And if you think Reagan himself was clean of the corruption, I've got a bridge to sell you. If Reagan had been submitted to the kind of scrutiny that Clinton has been, he probably would have been impeached and removed from office. Now, if you're inclined to respond that Reagan still did a bunch of neat stuff, we can argue about that another time, but you're no longer entitled to use criminal abuse of political power as definitive proof that a politician is absolutely unfit for the presidency. You may instead be inclined to dispute the evidence of Reagan's and Bush's criminality, or argue that they weren't as bad as I'm portraying. To which the reply is that the same can be said of the evidence of Clinton's criminality. If you think that the worst accusations against Reagan and Bush are reasonably disputable, but Clinton's aren't and that, furthermore, that leaves her in the same boat as Trump, something has gone seriously wrong. As much as I dislike Reagan and Bush, I can readily admit they weren't nearly as dishonest as Trump. If you can't do the same about Clinton, I'm inclined to think the Hillary-Hating Pathology is at work.
On the third point, a quick look at the kind of company Trump keeps (see this on his inner circle) makes it likely that the Reagan administration will seem downright saintly by the end of a Trump administration. But what's most frightening about it is the kind of increased legitimacy that a Trump administration would immediately grant to the alt-right media (led by Breitbart and Drudge). Whatever one thinks of Clinton's 'duplicity in private', the number and kinds of lies Trump tells in public beggar belief. And they are fed to him by the bigoted, racist, misogynistic, nativist, conspiracy-mongering leaders of the alt-right media that lead his campaign, and who have no scruples for evidence or truth when it comes to advancing their agenda. Many of these people would make Rush Limbaugh blush. While I am happy to admit that there has been a mildly liberal bias in many parts of the mainstream media through much of my life, there is no reasonable comparison to the alt-right media. And I would be less concerned if Fox News weren't as powerful as it now is. While I don't like much of what is on Fox News, I'm also willing to admit that many liberals exaggerate and paint it with too broad of a brush. It isn't all Sean Hannity all the time. But Fox's support for Trump is leading to increasing signs of it being pulled in the direction of alt-right extremism, and that should scare everyone. It is either extremely shortsighted, or hypocritical, to be so concerned with the risk of corruption that Clinton poses while ignoring the threat to any semblance of honesty and reason in public political life that the legitimation of the alt-right worldview would pose. It is to ignore the damage that has already been done to public discourse by the peculiarly Trumpian brand of disdain for truth and reason. If Hillary-Hating is preventing people from clearly seeing the gravity of this threat, it is pathological.
Finally, there is Historically-Blind Hillary-Hating. This comes from the idea that Clinton's policies will be not just "bad, overall" for the country, but an utter disaster. This kind of Hillary-Hating is born of the failure to revise one's beliefs when they lead to falsified predictions. It has been a hobby of many on the (especially religious) right to predict disaster, or something close, upon election of Democratic Presidents. Yet the republic still stands and its current state, however it is judged, cannot be attributed to Democratic Presidents alone. I've been hearing predictions for nearly 8 years that Obama is going to take everyone's guns away. It's totally irresponsible to simply ignore the utter failure of those predictions and simply transfer them over to Clinton. This kind of irrationality infuses other claims about Clinton posing a threat to our freedoms.
My mother once told me about how her parents feared that a JFK Presidency would be disaster for our country. Obviously such fear was baseless. Over half a century later, similar fear has us on the cusp of electing the most narcissistic, bigoted, misogynistic, racist, erratic, impulsive, ignorant, hateful, insecure, corrupt, duplicitous, authoritarian, xenophobic, and juvenile candidate as President who brings with him an army of similar individuals. My hope is that we will recognize the Pathology of Hillary-Hating for what it is, admit that her weaknesses pale in comparison to Trump's and those of the Trump-posse, and vote in the way most likely to stop the worst threat from reaching the White House.