Sunday, January 14, 2024

Speaking of Which

Quite a bit below. I figure this as a transitional week, mostly cleaning up old stuff (like EOY lists), as I get ready to buckle down and do some serious writing next week. So it helps to do a quick refresher about what's happening these days.

Although pretty much everything you need to know about the wars in Gaza and Ukraine is touched on below, you'll be hard pressed to find much of this elsewhere. The lack of urgency is very hard to square with reports of what's actually happening.

One thing I will note here is that I made a rare tweet plugging someone else's article (Joshua Frank's "Making Gaza Unlivable," my first link under "Israel" this week). I found it very disappointing that a week later the total number of views is a mere 91. (My followers currently number 627. The number of views for my latest Music Week tweet was only 142, which is less than half of what I used to get 4-6 months ago, so one thing being measured here is how many people no longer bother with X.)

Still, it is an important piece, making a point (one I tried to make last week, with fewer concrete details but more historical context) that really must be understood.

Top story threads:


The genocide trial:

Elsewhere, the world reacts to the genocide, while the US, UK, and Israel spread the war:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-12] Diplomacy Watch: Italy calls for diplomatic effort to end Ukraine war.

  • George Beebe/Anatol Lieven: [01-11] Russia's upper hand puts US-Ukraine at a crossroads.

  • Douglas Busvine: [01-11] Russia finds way around sanctions on battlefield tech.

  • Dave DeCamp: [01-11] Pentagon did not properly track over $1 billion in weapons shipped to Ukraine.

  • Thomas Geoghegan: [01-09] Why does Ukraine aid drive the Trump right nuts? "It's not just because the 45th president has a crush on Putin and hates Zelensky." It's because "the war it really wants to fight is at home -- on our form of government itself." One of my favorite political thinkers, but I don't buy this, on several levels. I didn't object to sending arms to Ukraine to help fend off Russian invasion, although I never bought the notion that either they or we were fighting Russia to defend democracy. Russia and Ukraine were both corrupt oligarchies with thin democratic veneer and diverging economic interests. It was credible that the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine reacted to the 2014 elections by attempting to realign with Russia. The crisis this caused should have been negotiated away, but festered as a civil war for six years before Russia grew desperate enough to invade. Putin deserves most of the blame for this, but Russia had been pressured by NATO expansion, economic sanctions, and sharply increased military support after Biden replaced Trump. The result was a huge boost for the US arms industry -- not just directly in supplies for Ukraine but in increased sales in other NATO countries, Taiwan, and South Korea -- but at enormous costs to the Ukrainian people. The Trumpists care hardly for any of that (and, sure, democracy is one of many things they have no concern for). They simply hate Biden. They associate him with Ukraine, and more than anything else want to see him fail. Much of this is stupid domestic politics -- the Ukraine-Biden axis starts with Trump's scheme to implicate Hunter Biden, while the Democrats' fixation on Trump-Putin starts with the 2016 election interference. What neither side seems to understand is that war only destroys and degenerates. Ukraine shows us that deterrence is as likely to provoke war as to prevent one, and that sanctions mostly just harden resistance.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [01-08] What could tip the balance in the war in Ukraine? "In 2024, the most decisive fight may also be the least visible: Russia and Ukraine will spend the next twelve months in a race to reconstitute and resupply their forces."

Around the world:

Other stories:

Zack Beauchamp: [01-10] How a horny beer calendar sparked a conservative civil war: "It's called 'Calendargate,' and it's raising the question of what -- and whom -- the right-wing war on 'wokeness" is really for."

Luke Goldstein: [01-09] Boeing 737 MAX incident a by-product of its financial mindset: "The door plug that ripped off an Alaska Airlines plane only exists because of cost-cutting production techniques to facilitate cramming more passengers into the cabin."

By the way, this is old (2011), but never more relevant: Thomas Geoghegan: Boeing's threat to American enterprise:

Here is yet another American firm seeking to ruin its reputation for quality. Why? To save $14 an hour!. Seriously: Is that going to help sell the Dreamliner? . . .

At this moment especially, deep in debt, we cannot afford to let another company like Boeing self-destruct. Boeing is not a product of the free market -- it's an extension of the U.S. government. Over the years, our taxpayers have paid to create a Boeing work force with exceptionally high skills. That work force is not just an asset for Boeing -- it's an asset for the country. Why should the country let Boeing take it apart? . . .

Most depressing of all, Boeing's move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing. It is a message that corporate America has delivered over and over: Don't go to engineering school, don't bother with fancy apprenticeships, don't invest in skills. No rational person wants to take on college or even community college debt to come out and work on the Dreamliner -- which should be the country's finest product -- for a miserable $14 an hour. If a single story in the news can sum up the reasons for America's global decline, it's the decision to build a Dreamliner that will gut the American dream.

Sarah Jones: [01-11] Death panels for women: The abortion ban in Texas. Related:

Dylan Matthews: [01-11] Do we really live in an "age of inequality"?

Harold Meyerson: [01-08] Why and where the working class turned right: "A new book documents the lost (and pro-Democratic) world of Pennsylvania steelworkers and how it became Republican." The book is Rust Belt Union Blues, by Theda Skocpol and Lainey Newman.

Nicole Narea: [01-11] How Iowa accidentally became the start of the presidential rat race: "The history of the Iowa caucuses (and their downfall?), briefly explained."

John Nichols: [12-12] Local news has been destroyed. Here's how we can revive it.

Rick Perlstein: [01-10] First they came for Harvard: "The right's long and all-too-unanswered war on liberal institutions claims a big one."

Lily Sánchez: [01-14] On MLK Day, always remember the radical King.

Michael Schaffer: [12-22] Liberal elites are scared of their employees. Conservative elites are scared of their audience. "It's hard to tell who's more screwed by the new politics of fear."

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins: [01-10] Wendy Brown: A conversation on our "nihilistic" age: Interview with the author of Nihilistic Times: Thinking With Max Weber. Sample (and yes, this is about Trump):

All of these elements -- instrumentalized values, narcissism, a pure will to power uninflected by purpose beyond the self, the irrelevance of truth and facticity, quotidian lying and criminality -- are expressions of nihilistic times. In this condition, values are still hanging around -- they're still in the air, as it were -- but have lost their depth, seriousness, and ability to guide action or create a world in their image. They are reduced to instruments of power, branding, reputation repair, narcissistic and other emotional gratifications -- what we today call "virtue signaling."

This also raises another feature of nihilism, namely the refusal to submit emotionality to reason and a more general condition of disinhibition. . . . So once values become lightweight, as they do in nihilistic times, so does conscience and its restricting force. Conscience no longer inhibits action or speech -- anything goes. Relatedly, hypocrisy is no longer a serious vice, even for public figures.

Finally, nihilism generates boundary breakdowns and hyper-politicizes everything. Today, churches, schools, and private lives are all politicized. What you consume, what you eat, who you stream or follow, how you dress -- all are politically inflected, but in silly rather than substantive ways. "Cancel culture" -- again, on all sides of the political spectrum -- is part of this, as an utterance, a purchase, an appearance, becomes a political event and responding to it a political act! This is politics individualized and trivialized.

Brown traces nihilism back to 19th century existentialists like Nietzsche, which in turn leads her to focus on Weber. Despite an early interest in existentialism, I've never really thought of this being an "age of nihilism." But I have lately referred to Republicans as nihilists. It's hard to discern any consistent core beliefs, but more importantly they seem to have no concern for consequences of their acts and preferred policies. As for nacissism, sure, there's Trump (and a few more billionaires jump to mind). Whether this amounts to "an age" depends on how widely people support (or at least condone) such behavior. The 2024 elections will offer a referendum, and not just on democracy.

Emily Withnall: [01-13] For some young people, a college degree is not worth the debt. I can relate, as someone who forfeited the chance for a degree for economic considerations, but also with a sense of regret. "Economic considerations" are the result of policy decisions, which ultimately are bad both for the people impacted and for the country as a whole.

Li Zhou: [01-08] The Epstein "list," explained.

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