Saturday, December 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

Several things have nudged me toward shifting my usual posting schedule this week. The first is that I usually do Music Week on Monday, but I also like to finish the last Music Week of the calendar year on the 31st, which this year is Sunday. Delaying last Monday's post seemed like too much, but moving this week's up one day makes enough sense. But then, I normally do Speaking of Which on Sunday. I could post both on the same day, but I like separate days, which suggests moving this one up a day, too. Besides, my big job this weekend is to get the Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll ready to go up next week, so it would be nice to get this out of the way.

Besides, not much happens on holiday weekends, although there seems to be no letting up in the unfolding genocide in Gaza. At least Congress and the Supreme Court are safely home with their families (or sugar daddies). Meanwhile, the usual media sources are chock full of lookbacks at 2023, projections for 2024, and occasional (but rare) cross-checking. I can't ever recall feeling less enthusiasm for such fare. Very few made my first pass here.

Of course, if I notice anything that should be added to this week's list, I can always add it later, flagged with the bit of red right border. [PS: Some were added when I posted Music Week, and some more on Jan. 1 -- mostly ones I had open but hadn't gotten to in the rush to post. Also some more on Jan. 4, although the articles themselves are still in bounds.]

Paywalls are the bane of my existence, but this one strikes me as especially pernicious: all of a sudden, I can't read a single article on AlterNet without paying them money? I rarely cite them, unless I'm looking to reinforce a political point I've already made. Paywalls make sense for media that caters to specialized business interests, but are suicidal as political outreach.

Top story threads:

Israel: The genocide, and there's really no other word for it, continues, with the Biden administration, to its eternal shame, deeply complicit.

Israel and America: And Iran, which Israel doesn't care that much about, but finds useful to goad America into reckless conflict.

Trump, and other Republicans: With Maine joining Colorado in banning Trump from Republican primary ballots -- see Maine declares Trump ineligible under disqualification clause -- that story is going to take a while to play out, though I haven't seen anyone yet who thinks the Supreme Court will let the bans stand. The lawyers will deal with that in due course. Meanwhile:

Other stories on Trump and/or other Republicans:

  • Ed Kilgore: [12-30] The real reason MAGA-World is trying to rehabilitate Nixon.

  • Josh Kovensky: [12-26] Dictator on day one: The executive orders that Trump would issue from the start: "Ending birthright citizenship and politicizing the civil service rank high among Trump's planned first acts in office."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [12-29] GOP's biggest losers of 2023: George "it's a witch hunt" Santos. Actually, for a nobody two years ago, he seems to have done pretty well for himself -- even though he only came in fourth in this series, behind Kevin McCarthy, Moms for Liberty, and Lauren Boebert. PS: Last in this five-part series [12-30]: Donald "smells like a butt" Trump and his fellow insurrectionists.

  • Heather Digby Parton: [12-29] Nikki Haley deserves no grace for Civil War gaffe. Refers to her hesitancy to identify slavery as the "cause" of the Civil War. Her actual answer was far worse:

    I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was gonna run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn't do. . . . Government doesn't need to tell you how to live your life. They don't need to tell you what you can and can't do. They don't need to be a part of your life. They need to make sure that you have freedom. We need to have capitalism, we need to have economic freedom, we need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties, so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.

    Clearly, no Republican actually believes this crap, because they're always trying to use government to force people to "behave themselves" (i.e., to conform to their political dictates). Freedom, for them, is reserved for the capitalists Haley says we "need." Most of us recognize slavery as the total abnegation of freedom, but Haley identifies with capitalists completely, understanding that their freedom is paid for by exploiting others. Perhaps "slavery" is too abstract to be the one-word cause of the Civil War. A more precise answer is "slaveholders." They are the ones who seceded to protect their "peculiar institution" with laws and arms they safely controlled. And when they lost, the first thing Americans did was to abolish slavery. After all, if freedom can't be enjoyed by everyone, it's really just a euphemism for tyranny. But, they stopped short of abolishing other forms of capitalism, allowing tyranny to return, dressed up as "freedom" for the rich.

    Also on the Haley "gaffe":

    I should also note that when I first saw the top headline here, I blanked out "Civil" and just registered "war gaffe." Haley's been making them all along. Kinsley's famous definition is: "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth -- some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." Of course, it needn't be true. It's just something that the politician thinks but should know better than say in public. Haley's worst gaffe in recent weeks was when she urged Israel to "finish it" in Gaza.

  • Maeve Reston/Hannah Knowles/Meryl Kornfield: [12-30] Led by Trump, GOP candidates take polarizing stances on race and history: It's not like Haley is the only one saying stupid things. It's more like a contest, a race to the bottom, which is ground Trump has clearly staked out.

  • Peter M Shane: [12-26] Trump's laughable claim of immunity.

  • Reis Thebault: [12-31] DeSantis, Haley pledge to pardon Trump if convicted: Angling for leadership of the pro-crime party. Aside for all you pundits arguing that Christie should drop out so the "anti-Trump" GOP can unite behind Haley, please start eating your hats now.

  • Li Zhou: [12-27] House Republicans' humiliating year, explained.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Ben Armbruster: [12-29] Mainstream media wasn't good for US foreign policy in 2023: "Major themes this year focused on feeding the Ukraine war, hyping the China threat, and avoiding context in Israel-Palestine." Some more general pieces relating to America's incoherent inability to understand the world needs and how to interact with others:

Dean Baker:

Dan Diamond: [12-28] America has a life expectancy crisis. But it's not a political priority.

EJ Dionne Jr: [12-31] Why 2024's vibes are so perplexing: 'Everybody thinks they're losing'. Well, they're right: pretty much all of them are losing. Even the super-rich, who've never looked wealthier on paper, are losing. Democrats need to ditch the campaign to convince people how much better off they are under Biden, and try to make people understand how much worse off they'd be with Republican denialism and dystopia. Crises are coming. Do you want a government that helps people cope, or one that just accelerates the dangers?

On the other hand, this piece is also true (mostly): Jennifer Rubin: [12-31] Get real and read some history. The past was worse. But she's mostly warning against the allure of nostalgia, as in "Make America Great Again." But I rather doubt that nostalgia's a serious concern on the right -- unlike rage and spite.

By the way, when people talk about good things that happened in any given year, they're mostly thinking of technology, whereas bad things tend to be politics and war (the so-called "other means"). Part of this is what you'd call structural. It's easy to see the upside of technology: it's literally designed to obtain that upside, so that much is conscious in mind even before you see it work. And then the marketing folk get involved. If someone can figure out a way to make money off it, there's no stopping them. On the other hand, there usually are trade-offs, and hope and spin do their best to obscure them. You often have no idea what it will cost you, until it already has.

Politics doesn't have to be so relentlessly negative, but our system is modeled on competing special interests, most pursuing zero-sum gains against everyone else, seeking leverage through power, clouded in myth and cliché. You'd think that the disasters that inevitably follow would trigger some rethinking, but special interests mostly they just recoil into ever deeper myths.

Connor Echols: [12-29] The 7 best foreign policy books of 2023: Worth listing:

  • Henry Farrell/Abraham Newman: Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy
  • Steven Simon: Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East
  • Keyu Jin: The New China Playbook: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism
  • Paul Kennedy: Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II
  • Nathan Thrall: A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy
  • Thomas Graham: Getting Russia Right
  • Paul R. Pillar: Beyond the Water's Edge: How Partisanship Corrupts U.S. Foreign Policy

Greg Grandin: [12-27] Arno Mayer has died. He leaves us an unorthodox Marxism. I noted his death last week, complained about the lack of obituaries much less of appreciation, but predicted they would come. This is a very useful review of one great historian by another.

Eric Levitz: [12-29] Are America's cities overpoliced? Podcast debate between Alex Vitale (author of the 2017 book The End of Policing, cited by many who argue to "defund the police," and Adaner Usmani, a Harvard sociology professor who "argues that America is suffering from a crisis of mass incarceration but not one of overpolicing." Levitz's concept is to set up debates on issues that divide folks on the left, but I suspect that there's pretty common agreement here on the core fact, which is that a lot of police work is being done very badly (see St Clair, below, for hundreds of examples).

Raina Lipsitz: [10-13] Why haven't the protest movements of our times succeeded? Review of Vincent Bevins' book: If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution.

Eric Lipton: [12-30] New spin on a revolving door: Pentagon officials turned venture capitalists: "Retired officers and departing defense officials are flocking to investment firms that are pushing the government to provide more money to defense-technology startups."

Brian Merchant: [12-28] The 10 best tech books of 2023: Surprise pick here is Naomi Klein's Doppelganger, with Cory Doctorow's The Internet Con at the bottom of the list:

  1. Naomi Klein, Doppelganger
  2. Malcolm Harris, Palo Alto
  3. Kashmir Hill, Your Face Belongs to Us
  4. Joy Buolamwini, Unmasking AI
  5. Zeke Faux, Number Go Up: first of a cluster on crypto
  6. Rachel O'Dwyer, Tokens
  7. Jacob Silverman/Ben McKenzie, Easy Money
  8. Lee McGuigan, Selling the American People
  9. Taylor Lorenz, Extremely Online
  10. Cory Doctorow, The Internet Con

Andrew Prokop: [12-26] The weird, true story of the most successful third-party presidential candidate in the past century: "Why did Ross Perot do so well in 1992? And could something like that happen again in 2024?"

Nathan J Robinson:

Areeba Shah: [12-30] The worst right-wing influencers of 2023: Pictured and profiled: Nick Fuentes, Alex Jones, Andrew Tate.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-29] From taser face to the goon squad: The year in police crime. A staple of his most-weekly "Roaming Charges" reports, still the sheer length of this post is striking.

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