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Links and Notes for December 18th, 2020

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

COVID-19

Could COVID delirium bring on dementia? by Carrie Arnold (Nature)

A set of simple steps, such as ensuring a family member is present to help people orient themselves, can reduce the incidence of delirium by 40%, but doctors struggle to follow that advice on COVID-19 wards.”
“An April 2020 study in Strasbourg, France, found that 65% of people who were severely ill with coronavirus had acute confusion — a symptom of delirium. Data presented last month at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians by scientists at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, showed that 55% of the 2,000 people they tracked who were treated for COVID-19 in intensive-care units (ICUs) around the world had developed delirium.


How to Cure America’s Vaccine Paranoia by Sonali Kolhatkar (CounterPunch)

“[…] do we expect the same people refusing to wear a face mask to take not one, but two doses of a brand-new vaccine? We may have safe and effective vaccines soon enough, but through a cruelly ironic twist of our nation’s perverted political climate, society may simply refuse to save itself.”
“Among liberal elites, the growing popularity of “clean eating,” “wellness,” and taking personal responsibility for one’s health through expensive diets and rigorous exercise regimes has seeded an insidious movement that strives for purity as a pathway to well-being and health. Part of that movement includes prizing natural remedies over chemical ones, including for such life-threatening diseases as cancer. It has also fueled the idea that medications including vaccines are “dangerous” contaminants to our bodies.
“The concept of collective action to protect the common good flies in the face of “individual liberty” and the Ayn-Rand-inspired notions that each American is solely responsible for their own happiness and well-being.”
“Because we have lived (until this year) in a world relatively free of preventable but horrific diseases like smallpox and rubella—achieved through mass vaccination—many Americans have taken for granted the quality of life made possible through inoculation efforts.
“Unfortunately, the vaccine refusers among us will likely continue to benefit from living in a largely vaccinated community, mooching off of the herd immunity they refuse to contribute to.

This article reminded of stuff I’ve heard Americans say about the vaccine:

  • “Hopefully now that there’s a vaccine out, people will stop caring.” (as if the main problem is people who are overcorrecting)
  • “I won’t be flying to Australia, then, I guess. I’m not taking any of that nonsense [vaccine]. You should be able to do with your body what you want.”
  • “It [Covid] is annoying.”

These people don’t believe in science. Or, rather, they only believe in it when it’s convenient, when it’s running nearly everything they depend on for life. They sound dumb—just spectacularly uninformed about everything, but especially COVID … no awareness whatsoever. It’s nothing, but they have a 20:00 curfew (implication is that it’s just stupid).

But they’re 100% confident in their belief that vaccines are useless and/or evil.

They don’t seem to entertain the possibility that anyone they know might get it (it’s just annoying). I wonder who’ll be to blame when one of them gets it?


Capitalism on a Ventilator by Kollibri terre Sonnenblume (CounterPunch)

“While China isn’t perfect, the treatment it routinely receives from the US media and political class is decidedly dishonest. If China was a public figure living in the US, they’d be able to sue for slander. They are not the merciless, diabolical force they are made out to be. (For that, US Americans need only look in the mirror.)”
“When the US does attempt emergency response, it’s too often a sick joke, with more concern over protecting property and businesses than people. Our for-profit healthcare system is yet another barrier to effective response.”
“The first section, “Warnings from China,” details China’s response to the virus, which included quarantines, closing businesses and schools, and restricting travel right away. The government also built new hospitals, ordered factories to increase production of medical supplies, set up free testing, and sent thousands of medical professionals to the city of Wuhan and its province, Hubei. Rent, mortgage and debt payments were frozen. Education campaigns to prevent spread were rolled out on social media, in the news and on posters everywhere. Statistics about the outbreak were public and frequently updated.”
“We are told that 1 million Uighurs are imprisoned when there is quite literally no proof of any such thing.”

The number has since risen to seven million in official sources (e.g. the NY Times, which is fond of throwing out numbers without context or source, when they can get away with it).

“The international contributions of Cuban doctors have long been suppressed in the US media, which is showing no more enthusiasm for reporting on Chinese humanitarian outreach during COVID. When their work is acknowledged, it is painted as mere public relations, or as a way of inserting their claws. Not that China or any country has purely angelic motives, but these accusations have the ring of US projection.”
““The state-owned Sinopharm announced on Nov. 19 that its coronavirus vaccine had been administered to nearly 1 million people with no sign of adverse side effects.””
““On the one hand, countries such as Cuba and China sent out medical brigades to assist other countries. This important intervention was based on solidarity. On the other hand, those that are guided by the profit maximising greed at the expense of human life were looking for opportunities to benefit financially from the pandemic, no matter the fatalities.””
Dr Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo
““But even in decline, the U.S. has a vast military structure that it can use to threaten and cause massive death and destruction. This makes the U.S. a threat to the planet and collective humanity because U.S policy-makers appear to be in the grip of a deathwish in which they are prepared to destroy the world before voluntarily relinquishing power, especially to a non-European power like China. “For example, when Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo declared in public that the United States and its Western European allies must put China in “its proper place,” this represents a white supremacist mindset that inevitably will lead to monumental errors of judgment.””
Ajamu Baraka


That Personal Touch by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“The things we do now to avoid infection may well be understandable and prudent, but just because we’re managing for the moment doesn’t mean human beings no longer need to establish real, physical connections with each other. Even though those of us who spent decades in offices with our friends and co-workers may barely be able to overcome the sense of isolation, people who have never had that experience will not know what it means to be part of a team where we have actual human connection.


The Joys of Frivolous Sex: The pandemic has brought out a nasty puritanism by Megan Nolan (NY Times)

“There has been no serious effort to confront the particular challenges of what it is to be single — to be alone — in 2020. There have been no major harm-reduction initiatives, just the deluded implication that all of us who failed to partner up by March 2020 should live without meaningful connection until there is a vaccine.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out a nasty puritanism in some people, who luxuriate in the ability to police the way others live. One doesn’t even need to actually break a rule to earn their disgust, only to express dismay over things they consider unimportant or, worse, hedonistic. To even complain about what it feels like to live alone and not be able to date right now is regarded as unseemly, dismissed as trivial.”
“Most of society does not really believe that casual, nonmonogamous encounters can actually hold meaning, rather than simply serve as crude ways to blow off steam. I know that they can. Living as a purposefully single and promiscuous person was one way to know others, one way to find joy in the world, and it’s gone for now.”


Here’s what we know about the new variant of coronavirus by Sharon Peacock

“The data that it looked at included a genomic analysis showing that this particular lineage was growing around 70% faster. In addition, it found a correlation between a higher R value and the detection of the new variant in testing samples. (The R value, remember, is the number of people each person passes it to. The higher it is, the more widely it spreads.) They also noted that the variant grew exponentially during a period when national lockdown measures were in place. It’s still possible that there are other explanations for this rapid spread, but the idea that this variant is more transmissible is plausible and seems increasingly likely. Laboratory studies that are now being done will answer this for certain.
“For now, the way we identify mutations that might be important for human health is by tracking the rate of virus spread, carefully monitoring severity of disease, and having systems in place to alert us when the virus has been able to evade immunity generated by past infection or vaccination.


The NIH’s top vaccine maker wants Warp Speed to be the new normal by Adam Rogers (Ars Technica)

“We were able to look just at the genetic sequence of the virus and the genetic sequence of the spike protein, and then transfer what we did from the original SARS into this new SARS-CoV-2. Those mutations worked right out of the box. So we were way ahead of the game.
“But with COVID-19, number one, the vaccines were coming in at different times. So you can never really test them head to head. And your control group, which is pivotal, changes, because the epidemic changes. So your control group really has to be contemporaneous with your vaccine. Two, the vaccine trials are enormously large, as you know—30,000, 40,000, 60,000 people. Multiplied by five, that’s larger really than any one entity can coordinate.”
“Now we need a much better global surveillance system that’s worldwide and integrated, and uses modern technologies to do testing, so we know what’s out there.”
“We know that there are about 20 major virus families in the world that infect humans, and almost every outbreak we’ve seen in the past 50 years or more has come from one of those 20 virus families. What if we made a concerted effort to study every family in detail, to make vaccines to every family, and do what we did for coronavirus? Make some prototypes. So that if a cousin in that family emerges, a virus we’ve never seen before, we at least have laid some groundwork for vaccine design. One could do that for what used to be considered a lot of money, but what now would be considered a small investment compared to what happens when you have a pandemic.”


Will Cities Survive 2020? by Christian Britschgi (Reason)

“The result is that urban economies end up producing more wealth than would be possible if the workers and firms that inhabit them were spread out among smaller communities.”

Such a nonsensical sentence.

“There’s no obvious solution to the problem of overcrowded streets and empty transit systems. The supply of roads is relatively fixed, particularly in the most congested areas—which are congested because they’re filled with things people want to get to. Demolishing buildings to make room for roads is likely self-defeating if the buildings were the reason for the traffic in the first place.”

Yet another article about urban design by a Libertarian American seemingly unaware that the are other countries on the planet.

“One option might be to rededicate street space currently reserved for cars to other modes of transit, such as bicycles and electric scooters, which take up less room when moving and require less parking when stationary. But since bikes and scooters have a significantly more limited range than do automobiles, city planners would effectively be prioritizing shorter local trips by people living within an urban core over longer drives to those destinations from farther-out neighborhoods.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, roughly 5 percent of the workforce worked from home. As of June, 42 percent of America’s workforce was remote, according to a Stanford University study, compared to 26 percent of workers who were still reporting to work in-person and 33 percent of the labor force that wasn’t working at all.”
“Technology facilitates lectures well enough, he says; what it can’t replicate are the wine and cheese sessions he’d have with students after class, where free-flowing conversations could happen and novel ideas that didn’t get an airing in the classroom could be expressed.
“Bloom believes the most likely outcome will be a hybrid arrangement, where people work one or two days a week at the office and the rest of the time from home. People’s experience with social distancing will also encourage companies to switch to low-rise suburban office parks that don’t rely on mass transit and crowded elevators to get people to and from their desks, he says.”
“Even before the pandemic, a high concentration of homeless people and reticence on the part of local officials to prosecute petty crimes had led to a deteriorating streetscape dominated, in places, by vagrants, dirty needles, and piles of poop.”

Typical libertarian. Blame the homeless for their plight in one of the richest cities in the world. The largest concentration of billionaires can’t lift a finger to give people housing. Why? Because freeloaders would then travel from all over the country to get on the gravy train?

“Remote work lacks the “energy” people crave, firms need, and only great cities can provide. “Energy, attitude and personality cannot be ‘remoted’ through even the best fiber optic lines.”
“Houston’s development free-for-all is not a panacea. Half of renters in Harris County are considered cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. That’s slightly higher than the national average, but well below most other big cities. High rates of new construction have made Houston distinctive as a large growing metropolitan area that has nevertheless managed to stay relatively cheap.

Isn’t this the city whose flooding was made many times worse because of overdevelopment?

Finance & Economy

The Wealth Inequality Virus is Surging by Rick Baum (CounterPunch)

“[…] the share of the nation’s total wealth held by the 1% generally rose throughout Obama’s time in office starting at 27.2% in the first quarter of 2009 and ending at 31.1% when he left office. By contrast, the share of their wealth during Trump’s time through the third quarter of 2020 reached a high point of 31.3% in the first quarter of 2018 declining to 30% in the first quarter of 2020 until rising to 31% in the third quarter, never exceeding the highest point of 31.4% during both mid-quarters in 2016 when Obama was president. Trump deserves some credit for it never falling below 30%!”

“As of December 23, the Dow Jones Index is up 8.4% from where it stood at the end of the third quarter, and the NASDAQ index is up 14.3% suggesting that the gains of the 1% for the year should come in at much higher than 4% given that these folks hold 52.7% of all of what the Fed labels corporate equities and mutual fund shares.

“Don’t expect taxes to be paid on most of the gains made by the wealthiest twenty. The hundreds of billions in gains mainly represent increases in the value of the assets they hold. Gains like that are generally not taxed unless the assets are sold—something that likely did not happen with much, if any. In other words, in contrast to income people earn from working at a job, and perhaps putting their health and lives at risk, little of the gain in wealth of the top 20 is likely to be going to the IRS.”

Beating Up on Finance by Dean Baker (CEPR)

Finance is an intermediate good, like trucking. It does not directly provide value to people like housing or health care. Its value to the economy is allocating capital and facilitating transactions so that the sectors that do provide value are as efficient as possible.”
“[…] a push for full transparency on public pension fund investments should in principle be a manageable lift. After all, it might be hard for Republicans to claim that insisting the public be able to know where public money is going is “socialism.”

They could do it without breaking a sweat.


Pandemic Villains: Robinhood by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“A Robinhood investor typing in a trade is just beginning a series of transactions that might result in a string of actors being compensated. Robinhood does not and can not post orders directly to exchanges like the NASDAQ; for a fee, it sends all of its orders to market maker firms like Citadel or Virtu. Those firms in turn have what amounts to a free option on the Robinhood trader’s order. They can execute the trade themselves, or they can offload it to an exchange, which in turn posts the order and compensates the market maker firm in the form of rebates, while earning money itself by charging fees for “data feed” that include information about such retail orders.”
“Rather than receiving simple payment by volume, Robinhood receives a percentage of the spread between the bid and the ask in each trade. This is interesting because while HFT proponents insist their practices narrow spreads, some critics maintain that high-frequency trading ends up widening spreads.
“As the New York Times and others reported, one of Robinhood’s investors is the actor Ashton Kutcher, who attended a Zoom meeting for the firm in June. In that meeting, he reportedly gushed about the company’s potential by comparing it to gambling websites. Kutcher put out a statement that he was “not insinuating that Robinhood is a gambling platform,” but rather referring to the company’s “current growth metrics.””
“The obvious problem is that a lot of these younger customers have no clue what they’re doing. “Retail investors don’t understand stocks, let alone options,” sighs Saluzzi. He compares the service to bringing amateur poker players to Vegas and seating them not at a table with old ladies and tourists, but with the best players in town. “It’s throwing them right in with the sharks,” he says.”
“Ritholtz thinks Robinhood is great, so long as young investors are fully prepared to get decked in the face. It’s crucial, he says, that they only risk “fun money,” and enter into the activity being comfortable with their balance going to zero.”

In other words: Robinhood benefits from regulators enforcing rules that only have a prayer of working when the participants make rational decisions—which almost none of them do.


Chartbook newsletter #4: Financial Stability Three Ways by Adam Tooze (SubStack)

“Fundamentally, any entity that takes short-term funding and puts it into illiquid assets that have to be held over the long-run, is engaged in maturity transformation. It is, thus, exposed to run risk. After the March events there are likely to be calls for more reporting and tighter regulation.”
“The European banks have been ailing since 2008. So, the difference between the Fed and the ECB’s reports is not merely a matter of analytical approach or tone. A gulf separates the likes of JP Morgan from Deutsche Bank.”

Why aren’t American banks ailing? Because the Fed gave them—and continues to given them—trillions. The Fed has picked the winners and it’s the largest banks, which get billions per day at nearly zero interest and load it out at 5%. This is a business model even a complete idiot could make a lot of money with.

“Cliff-edge risks are very bad news for financial systems because they produce discontinuities, tipping point effects, which are difficult to insure against and can induce run risk.”
“The results are anonymized, but the IMF has in fact modeled what it thinks the development of the balance sheet of JP Morgan, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Barclays will be, depending on the forecasts of global economic development made by the Fund’s own macroeconomics team.”

Public Policy & Politics

Ronald Reagan Paved the Way for Donald Trump by Eileen Jones (Jacobin)

“Tyrnauer’s docuseries is a visceral reminder that America has always been — and likely will always be — fertile ground for reactionary showmen like Trump and Reagan. Both were celebrities savvy enough to recognize the gap between the American middle-class dream on TV and the dashed dreams of those same people struggling for their slice of the pie in reality.
“And once in the White House, both presidents did everything they could to redistribute wealth upward, further enshrining a ruling class deeper in the halls of power even as they made the working man the hero of their political vision.”
“The same Dr Anthony Fauci who tried and failed to reason with Trump about the urgency of the COVID-19 epidemic once tried and failed, as a much younger man, to reason with Reagan about the urgency of the AIDS epidemic.
“[…] however strongly they’re emphasized in the docuseries. The obvious indicators include Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign motto, “Let’s Make American Great Again,” which made an abbreviated reappearance on millions of pro-Trump MAGA hats.”


Can Progressives Save Biden From Disastrous Economic Policies? by Richard D. Wolff (CounterPunch)

“The post-1970 trauma of the working class was worsened, as traumas often are, by being minimally recognized and even less discussed in the media, among politicians, or in the academy. Workers thus encountered the end of the century of rising real wages individually as a mysterious evaporation of the American Dream or loss of an earlier American Greatness.
“The centrist leaders of the Democratic Party were those closest to the party’s capitalist donors (and vice versa). Centrist control of the party blocked it from offering a powerful voice to mobilize working-class opposition to neoliberal job exports, deregulations, attacks on unions, etc. The centrists wanted and depended on capitalists’ donations; that dependence only increased as the party’s working-class support ebbed.
“Employers are chief funders of both parties, who then limit themselves to minimal references to class issues except for occasional, fleeting campaign rhetoric.”
“Obama’s regime had likewise solved nothing in the United States’ basic economic problems while worsening income and wealth inequalities and barely overcoming the 2008 capitalist crash in ways that set up the next one.”


The YouTube Ban Is Un-American, Wrong, and Will Backfire by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“If you want a population of people to stop thinking an election was stolen from them, it’s hard to think of a worse method than ordering a news blackout after it’s just been demonstrated that the last major blackout was a fraud.
“The YouTube announcement is the latest salvo in the fight against “domestic anti-democracy information,” and the first of many problems with it is its hypocrisy. Do I personally believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump? No. However, I also didn’t believe the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton in 2016, when the Internet was bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories nearly identical to the ones now being propagated by Trump fans
“Amazing how those stories vanished after Election Day! If you opened any of those pre-vote reports, you’d find law enforcement and intelligence officials warning that everything from state and local governments to “aviation networks” was under attack.”
“What do we think the storylines would be right now if Trump had won? What would those aforementioned figures be saying on channels like MSNBC and CNN, about what would they be speculating? Does anyone for a moment imagine that YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook would block efforts from those people to raise doubts about that hypothetical election result? We know the answer to that question, because all of those actors spent the last four years questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s election without any repercussions.”
“Mass protests were held to disrupt the Electoral College vote in late December 2016, and YouTube cheerfully broadcast videos from those events. When Electoral vote tallies were finally read out in congress, ironically by Joe Biden, House members from at least six states balked, with people like Barbara Lee objecting on the grounds of “overwhelming evidence of Russian interference in our election.”
“In sum, it’s okay to stoke public paranoia, encourage voters to protest legal election results, spread conspiracy theories about stolen elections, refuse to endorse legal election tallies, and even to file lawsuits challenging the validity of presidential results, so long as all of this activity is sanctified by officials in the right party, or by intelligence vets, or by friendlies at CNN, NBC, the New York Times, etc.
“If, however, the theories are coming from Donald Trump or some other disreputable species of un-credentialed American, then it’s time for companies like YouTube to move in and wipe out 8000+ videos and nudge people to channels like CBS and NBC, as well as to the home page of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. This is a process YouTube calls “connecting people to authoritative information.”
“We allow freedom of religion not because we want people believing in silly religions, but because it’s the only defense against someone establishing one officially mandated silly religion.”
“This is especially true in light of the ongoing implication that Trump’s followers are either actual or unwitting confederates of foreign enemies. That insult is bad enough when it’s leveled in words only, but when it’s backed up by concrete actions to change a group’s status, like reducing an ability to air grievances, now you’re removing some of the last incentives to behave like citizens.


With News of Hunter Biden’s Criminal Probe, Recall the Media Outlets That Peddled the “Russian Disinformation” Lie by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“In sum, we have the extraordinary historic disgrace of media outlets collaborating with the intelligence community in the weeks before a presidential election to manufacture and peddle a propagandistic lie to justify censorship of highly relevant materials about the presidential front-runner and his family’s efforts to profit off his name — namely, that the documents were not authentic but rather “Russian disinformation.””
“[…] the Biden campaign’s decision to lean into accusations of Russian involvement in the episode, despite lacking specific proof, risks eroding public trust in U.S. allegations of foreign election interference if the suspicions in this case turn out to be unfounded.”


Democrats lavishly praising U.S. elections are overlooking a major weakness by Greg Palast

“For the next four years, it’s likely that debates about elections will focus on the nonissue of whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In the meantime, real voter suppression will continue, largely out of sight and out of mind. That dynamic redounds to the benefit of Republicans.”
“Sterling deserves credit for speaking out. He is a conservative Republican speaking truth to power, taking on the bullying president and his army of followers willing to believe the fantasies concocted by Rudy Giuliani and spread by One America News, Newsmax and Facebook.”
“The issue isn’t whether Sterling and Raffensperger are heroes (for standing up to Trump) or villains (for suppressing votes). That’s a false choice. They are who they are: conservative government officials who are perfectly content with Republican hardball tactics on voting, yet who apparently have some reservoir of integrity and human decency.”
“Defending the outcome of the 2020 election is fine — indeed, crucial — but it’s not enough. We risk spending the next four years caught in an endless, unwinnable debate about nonexistent voter fraud. If that happens, the issue of voter suppression will fade into the background — exactly where Republicans want it to be.”


Trump’s Gone, So What’s Next for the Democrats? by Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone)

“Obama’s three major acts as president were absolute continuity with Bush’s financial bailouts, a similar continuation (and in some cases expansion) of the War on Terror, and a new, hard-won health care program. The crash response inspired the Occupy movement, while Obamacare was flawed enough that it inspired a new movement on the party’s left flank. Bernie Sanders was to Obama what Obama had been to Hillary. Sanders spent 2016 and 2020 running on an implied critique of the Obama years, with Medicare for All a central plank.”
“In 2016, Clinton spent nearly a billion dollars on advertising, about twice what Trump spent. One study even showed that 90 percent of Clinton’s anti-Trump ads were based on personality. They rarely mentioned policy. Then the Dems lost and spent the next four years insisting that (choose one) racism/Russia/the media was the reason, not any long-developing issue with voters that might have arisen over a decade of war and widening inequality.”
“If the Democrats don’t remember how much failing to deliver real change cost them before, if they don’t soon find an identity more ambitious than not being Trump, they will find themselves right back where they were four years ago — vulnerable to revolts on both sides.”


Low Turnout, but Free, Elections in Venezuela Are a Blow To Regime Change by Leonardo Flores (Mint Press News)

“Venezuela has electronic voting machines that print paper receipts. The machines are only unlocked when a voter’s identity is verified by digital fingerprint scan and a spot-check of their national identity card. After voting on the machine (a simple process that can take as little as ten seconds), it prints out a paper receipt so electors can verify that their vote was correctly recorded. The elector then places this receipt in a secure ballot box, and then signs and places a thumbprint on the voter roll.”
“After polls close, the digital vote count is compared to a random sampling of at least 54% of the ballot boxes (a figure that is higher than necessary to have a statistically significant result). It’s a system with multiple redundancies that is backed by 16 different audits that must be signed off on by representatives of political parties.
In these elections, 14,000 candidates from 107 parties (97 of which oppose the Maduro government) ran for 277 seats. The choices ran the ideological spectrum from communists and socialists to evangelicals, Christian conservatives and neoliberals. Opposition candidates got air time on state television stations and took part in several debates.”
“The elections were monitored by 300 international observers from 34 countries, as well as over 1,000 national observers from political parties and social organizations.”
“Of course, the low turnout is bound to raise eyebrows, yet it’s important to place it into context. One factor that depressed participation is a gasoline shortage induced by U.S. sanctions, which made it difficult for some voters to travel to polls. Migration is another factor that artificially reduced turnout. Only citizens who currently reside in the country can vote in legislative elections, but most who left in recent years still appear on voter rolls as living in Venezuela. A further factor is the pandemic. Venezuela is doing significantly better than most countries in handling the coronavirus (3,694 cases per million population and 33 deaths per million population, versus 46,348 cases per million and 877 deaths per million in the U.S.).”
“Clearly, a significant factor in reduced turnout was the extremist opposition’s call for a boycott. This tactic of boycotting elections has been used by the opposition in the past, including in the 2005 legislative elections, the 2017 national constituent assembly elections, the 2017 municipal elections (partial boycott) and the 2018 presidential elections (partial boycott).”


Meet the Censored: Abigail Shrier by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“The liberal position once was that unwelcome speech was either ignored or challenged by better speech, but this has been abandoned in favor of a politics that embraces making use of technology and extreme market concentration to suppress discussion of whole topics.”
“In the U.S., though, the issue has essentially been driven out of mainstream coverage, at a time when people are losing the ability to distinguish between endorsing every idea in a study or book, and endorsing their right to be published and discussed.”
“At the very least, corporate censorship is illegitimate when it’s a betrayal of the mission of the organization. If I go into a left-wing book shop and they’ve chosen not to carry my book, that’s fine. But Amazon calls itself the “world’s largest bookstore.” It has no editorial mission that would justify blocking my publisher’s ads. Its mission is to carry the most books and serve the reading public. And it’s a severe corruption of Target and GoFundMe, similarly, to decide that the only books or fundraisers it hosts are ones that support woke-approved ideas.”
“Kirkus claims to review 10,000 books per year, including self-published titles, the purpose of which is to inform the public about new books and highlight (“star”) the ones it deems worthwhile. When Kirkus silently ignores a major publication, indeed a best-seller, as it did mine, it’s violating its own mission. That’s corruption.
“This is an area of experimental medicine where scientists and doctors should be taking a hard look at the protocols to ensure that those susceptible to regret do not undergo irreversible procedures. And yet, instead, we’re so busy congratulating and celebrating medical transition for young people who trans identify, that we’re practically guaranteeing that many of them will regret their choices.
“AS: We can have different beliefs about all kinds of political issues—environmental policy, abortion, nationalized healthcare—and those disagreements are proof of a healthy democratic society. But the foundation of civil society is a meta commitment to free speech. We must be able to discuss our differences openly. Once you decide your political commitment is more important than maintaining free inquiry, society gets very dark awfully quickly—with highly unpredictable results.”
“The lesson of McCarthyism wasn’t: ‘Don’t blacklist Leftists,’ it was: ‘Don’t blacklist Americans.’ If we can’t agree on that, the foundations of civil society will crumble.”


Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: A Certain Kind of Diversity by Maj. Danny Sjursen, USA (ret.) (Antiwar.com)

“Still, whilst fully aware of how insufferable and exhausting one can appear when seemingly opposing everyone – Gen. Austin still needs some serious critique and probably shouldn’t be the next US secretary of defense. I can think of three reasons, for starters: safeguarding civilian control of the military, rejecting “revolving door” corruption, and the necessity of expanding beyond the rather circumscribed “choices” presented to the citizenry.
“Why even have ethics and interest-conflict laws when Washington brushes them aside as a matter of course?”
“In addition to opening his own strategic consulting firm, within months of retirement Austin joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, a top-tier defense contractor. He also sits on the boards of Nucor (the largest steel producer in the US), Tenet Healthcare, and the Carnegie Corporation.”
“Austin could be the greatest guy in the universe, right? Maybe he is; maybe he isn’t. But even assuming that he otherwise is, why does the man retire, then choose to scurry off to serve on a cornucopia of war industry, big Pharma, and strategic consulting boards? Are such star-laden superstars just dying to become walking clichés?”
“I mean, it’s not as though his $230,000+ pension (with full, lifetime healthcare coverage to boot) isn’t ample enough. Or that he couldn’t earn additional cash after retirement in less ethically questionable ways. Yet that’s just what he did; just as almost all of them do.”
“Frankly, I’m beyond frustrated that We the People are repeatedly told that we’ve no choice but to accept options circumscribed by the rules of the cult-like “qualification” game that the uber-wealthy and war industry-invested elites invented, and get to define. We deserve better. We can do better. There are better men and women available … if anyone bothered to ask them.”


The 2020 Election Shows How Organized Money Devoured American Democracy by Luke Savage (Jacobin)

“Biden’s small-dollar fundraising actually fell short of his opponent’s: the Trump campaign raised some 49 percent of its money from small donors giving $200 or less, while the same figure vis-à-vis the Democratic nominee was only 38 percent.”
“As dissenting justices rightly argued back in 2010:”
“Corruption can take many forms. Bribery may be the paradigm case. But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf . . . There are threats of corruption that are far more destructive to a democratic society than the odd bribe. Yet the majority’s understanding of corruption would leave lawmakers impotent to address all but the most discrete abuses.”
“Far from taking the form of direct bribery, the outsize influence of organized money tends to be something even more insidious: a kind of gravitational force in America’s political institutions that perpetually bends politicians and public discourse around itself, marginalizes dissenters, and gives extreme wealth an omnipresent voice in elections.”


Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor? by John Stossel (Reason)

I don’t agree with a lot this guy has to say, but the exception proves the rule.

“Snowden did a good thing. He deserves a pardon.

“Julian Assange deserves one, too.”


Congress Too “Credentialed”? by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“If credentials alone have failed to correlate to good governance, that doesn’t mean lack of credentials, “Congress looked more like people do,” would produce better governance. The fact that most people are uncredentialed doesn’t make them smart, and their inability to reason logically doesn’t make illogical assumptions a viable “guess.” Is that how government should be run, by “I dunno, I guess”?”

This reminds me a bit of Idiocracy.

“As I keep admonishing, the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good; it can always get worse.”
“But if they can’t grasp law, governance or, say, economics, they’re not qualified for the job. On the other hand, a few letters after their name without integrity isn’t good enough either. Nobody gets a diploma from Harvard in integrity.


Trump Threatens to Sink COVID-19 Relief Bill Unless Congress Cuts Wasteful Spending, Spends More on $2,000 Stimulus Checks by Christian Britschgi (Reason)

““Despite all this wasteful spending and much more, the $900 billion package provides hard-working taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments and not enough money is given to small businesses and in particular restaurants,” said Trump, possibly referencing the exclusion of the $120 billion RESTAURANTS Act from the coronavirus relief bill.”


482 − War is Over, Troops are Staying (12/2½0) by Chapo Traphouse (SoundCloud)

Christman: You got $1200 under Trump; you’re getting $600 under Biden. That’s the optics. That’s literally the opposite of how you’re supposed to do politics.”
Another speaker: The $600 is just barely shaking the last piss out of their cock into your mouth, while Israel gets $500M for the Iron Dome. Money that Israel doesn’t even need. Just specifically to make you crazy.”
Christman: That there is a transformative power in art … it’s something we have to assume is there, to justify our investment in it. Because most of the time, we’re not watching stuff, or listening to stuff, or reading stuff, that’s really that good. And we fill in the gap where the art should be with the politics of it. And then that makes us feel validated for watching it, or listening to it, or reading it, and not the actual heart that went into it.”


The Pardon Power and The Value of Mercy by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“But it can be abused by a corrupt president? That’s not a flaw of the pardon power, but of the president. The president possesses vast powers that can be used for good or evil. It’s one of the reasons our election of a president is such an important decision, and why we should vote wisely.
“This is the nature of the office and if we don’t trust a president to exercise the authority of the office, we would do well to elect someone else.
“The solution isn’t for presidents to pardon fewer people; it’s to pardon more, with more consideration and more consistency.”


Roaming Charges: Welcome to the Malarky Factory by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“Justin Amash: “I’ve spent ten years warning about the erosion of representative democracy resulting from increasingly centralized power, but even I didn’t imagine a Congress that would be handed a 5,593-page bill at 1:46 p.m., vote on it at 7:35 p.m., and then brag about the good job they did.””

“Revoltingly, Trump has pardoned soldiers and US mercenaries who committed war crimes in Iraq. Obama didn’t even bother trying to prosecute their superiors, who told numerous lies to send them there, supervised their atrocities and then helped cover them up. I don’t know which is worse. But both are fully consistent with the arc of American history.

“[…] In a way, you can understand Trump’s pardon of the Blackwater child-killers. Their prosecution was pushed by the Pentagon in order to make their actions seem like aberrations, when in fact similar atrocities were happening every day. There have been more than 200,000 civilians killed in Iraq, including 850 this year alone, each death a homicide. The war was the crime and, across three presidencies, its political architects, Pentagon managers, congressional funders, and journalistic enablers have gotten off scot free. In fact, most of them have been rewarded for their lethal complicity.”

“The state of progressivism in America: 54 of the 97 members of the House “Progressive” Caucus voted for the $740 billion military budget for 2021 (HR 6395).”
Half a century ago, the Russian scientist Mikhail Budyko predicted 1°C of warming by the 2019 and the disappearance of about 50% of Arctic sea ice. At the end of 2020, there has been 0.98°C of warming and Arctic sea ice has declined by 46%.”


TK Newsletter: Yuletide Edition by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“We’ve become a society awash in data and options, while fewer and fewer old guiding principles pass smell tests, leaving us in an accelerating cycle of increased choice and dwindling conviction.”

The modern American lacks such a spiritual permission mechanism and is paralyzed by floods of data about the impact of recreational decisions. Eat bacon, and you’re helping build disgusting, pathogen-filled manure lagoons. Buy a burger, you’re deforesting Brazil. Your awesome sneakers were stitched by Indonesian 12-year-olds. That soda bottle you just tossed will end up in an expanding Pacific Ocean garbage patch already three times the size of France. Part of that will be your fault. Beyond that, social scientists are claiming to learn more all the time about how your words and even your involuntary thoughts and actions are constantly harming those all around you, in thousands of “micro” sins you never imagined possible.

“The more you learn, the harder it is to avoid the conclusion that any human community including you is a destructive force, ironically like a virus, making it the responsibility of all educated people to work toward lessening its destructive footprint before any of us can even think about enjoying ourselves again. If only we could un-know it all! The Unabomber was right: not only has technology enslaved us, making us permanent handmaidens to machines supposedly designed to save us time, it has vastly expanded the scope of perceivable responsibility, saddling each of us with the task of fixing a whole world that, in years like this one, seems beyond repair.


The “Crime Beat” Questioned by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“Newsrooms aren’t “supposed to serve” anybody. Not the cops. Not the accused. Not the “communities,” which strikes me as missing an adjective that’s taken for granted. What the public needs is factual, accurate, complete and well-sourced information written by people who have a clue what they’re talking about.
“An odd connection forms between reporters and cops, a reliance on friendship even when they know, or have damn good reason to know, that the cops are telling them things designed to falsely push their agenda and, well, is just a lie. They get to know who’s who, who plays it straight and who doesn’t. They get to know who’s a lying liar, but to call them a liar is to burn their personal connection and likely burn their relationship with the police department as a whole, since the cops are nothing if not defensive of each other. Want to get the poop on a big news story? You can’t if the cops don’t like you. Call them mean names and you’re dead.
“We need the crime beat. We need the legal beat. We just need it factual, accurate and with as little bias as possible, and that goes either way, for or against the cops. Crime beat reporters aren’t police publicists. They aren’t social justice warriors either. They’re just reporters, and we need them to be reporters.”


By Taking a Stand Against Billionaires, Hockey Players Did Us All a Favor by Abdul Malik (Jacobin)

“For all the stereotypes of greedy, overpaid athletes, sports labor stoppages usually take the form of lockouts rather than strikes, with owners taking the initiative by freezing out players. This approach is often successful, because professional athletes have relatively short careers and can’t afford the lost earning potential.”

“NHL players were under no obligation to agree to the recent salary deferral request. However, the league presented that request as part of the return-to-play negotiations, and probably expected that this approach would compel players to accept it.

“But players would not budge. With revenues from the last NHL season down because of the pandemic, owners had to lump it if they wanted to get things moving again. They disingenuously presented the deal as one in which “both sides” had agreed to keep the July agreement in place, obscuring the fact that there was only one side looking for changes in the first place.”

Player struggles are worker struggles, and the collective achievements of unions like the NHLPA can set an example well beyond the sports arenas, at a time when employers everywhere are using the pandemic as an excuse for austerity. The NHLPA took a stand and reaped the benefits. We should all be doing the same.”


Cop Myths Debunked, Or Not by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“It’s certainly true that the idea has been pounded over and over that cops are regularly, maybe even constantly, slaughtering people in the streets, particularly black people, which gives rise to the outrage, protests and riots whenever a black person dies at the hand of the cops. The details of the death are almost insignificant at this point, the assumption inherently being that if a black guy is killed, it must be “systemic racism” as opposed to circumstance.

“But then, the number of cop killings doesn’t tell the story. How many beatings? How many wrongful arrests for contempt of cop? How many acts of needless humiliation at the end of a gun or threat of arrest?

“Whether the money could be better used elsewhere is another, far more complicated, question, but that the numbers and expense should be subject to review and reduction is hardly beyond question. New York City has about 38,000 cops and almost 20,000 non-officer support staff. Do they need that many? It’s a fair question to ask and a question in need of a serious answer.”


Neoliberal Champion Larry Summers Opens Mouth, Inserts Both Feet by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“The whole piece reads like an extended New Yorker cartoon, in which an evictee with empty pockets is about to dive after a rotten apple core in a dumpster, only to be blocked by a cauldron-bellied Harvard economist in a $3000 Zegna suit. Caption: “Actually, total household income relative to the economy’s potential sits at abnormally high levels.”


Congress Again Proves That the Business of Washington Is War by Ron Paul (Antiwar.com)

“[…] the yearly monstrosity called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed with an amendment severely restricting the US president’s ability to remove troops from Afghanistan and Europe. Offered by neoconservative Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of the warmongering Dick Cheney, the amendment all but guarantees that America’s longest war in history will continue pointlessly onward.
“Congress has for decades believed that the president can go to war whenever or wherever he pleases without a declaration, but if the president dares attempt to end a war their belief in a “unitary executive” is thrown out the window. What hypocrisy.”


Come on Now, Boys by Valzhyna Mort (The Baffler)

“Since then, he has been held in jail without a trial. Of course, all Belarusians live inside a prison anyway. But inside this open prison, like a Russian matryoshka doll, there are actual prisons with small cells. This is where Maxim Znak is at present.

“Max is a lawyer. He worked on the legal team of presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, who himself was jailed in June, a month before the election that marked the twenty-sixth year of Aliaksandar G. Lukashenka’s presidency.”

“As I write this, I learn about the thirty-one-year-old artist Raman Bandarenka, who stepped out of his apartment building in Minsk on a November night after noticing an unmarked van stop by his courtyard. Men in civilian clothes had arrived to take down white-red-white ribbons tied over a fence, like wishing ribbons on a wishing tree. When Raman came out to speak with the police, they dragged him into a van, dropping him at a police station an hour and a half later, by which time he was in a coma. At to the intensive care unit, doctors declared his chances of survival were one in a thousand.”

It is by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Here is a straightforward translation:

Come on now, boys.
When we cease being cruel,

we cease being young.
Come on now, boys,
but keep in mind that as you age,
your cruelty will lessen,
your empathy will enlarge.
But other boys, arrogant and despotic,
will come clutching their sweaty fists.
Come on now, boys.

The fact that Maxim is neither out, nor on trial, can mean only one thing: they haven’t broken him. Bloom, Maxim. “Conduct your blooming,” as Gwendolyn Brooks put it, “in the noise and the whip / of the whirlwind.””


Biden’s Choice For Pentagon Chief Further Erodes a Key U.S. Norm: Civilian Control by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“[…] many of Biden’s key national security appointees were WestExec founders right along with Flournoy, including his pick for Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, and his Director of National Intelligence, Avril Hines. Why would Flournoy’s work with these firms be disqualifying when other Biden picks — Blinken, Hines, White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki — was not? Moreover, Biden’s picks for top administration positions in general are people who have spent years deeply entrenched in the corporate and lobbyist world that controls the U.S. Government.
“Biden’s choice to lead the Pentagon is also currently a member of the Board of Directors of Raytheon Technologies, the world’s third-largest defense contractor.”

How is that OK with anyone? That doesn’t even pass the laugh test. This kind of thing has been normalized. That is a mistake.

“Worse, many in the media and D.C. professional class cheered outright subversion by military brass and the intelligence community of the policies of the elected President — including when they withheld classified information from Trump, “slow walked” his orders, and deceived him about troop positions to prevent him from leaving Syria.”
“But all of this underscores why the values and methods embraced by Democrats and their allies in the name of opposing Trump were often at least as dangerous, if not more so, than the worst excesses of the Trump presidency itself. Those who warned of the anti-democratic dangers of empowering the CIA and the military to act as a bulwark against Trump in the name of #Resistance, and of restoring the mythology of intelligence agencies as a noble instrument to protect democratic values rather than what they are in reality (one of the greatest menaces to democratic values), were often accused of being pro-Trump partisans.

Gangsterism as Foreign Policy: Assassinations are Becoming the New Norm by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch)

Iranian enthusiasm for the 2015 agreement has also ebbed since they discovered that it did not in practice end economic sanctions. They have since found that these can to some degree be circumvented by secretly selling oil at a discounted price.”


Hillbilly Elegy: Bad Politics, Even Worse Cinema by Eilleen Jones (Jacobin)

“The irony of the roaring success of Vance’s best-selling memoir is that it reads like an outsider’s judgy account of Appalachian poverty, but it’s been sold on the claims that it’s an insider’s account. You can make the simple case that it’s both — Vance is the family member who’s made it and can look back smugly on how his summer visits to his poor but proud extended family in Kentucky created the rich soil out of which his own amazing strength and brilliance grew.”
“We who suffer under conditions of cruel socioeconomic inequity tend to love the poignant thrill of aligning our point of view with that shocked gaze through the cab window on the way to the party. We can no more give up those thrills than we can stop buying lottery tickets.”


The Donald, According to David Roth by Alex N. Press (Jacobin)

“The takeaway from all of this is that while Trump didn’t sound like a traditional Republican or act like one — because he is too vain and because he wouldn’t speak in that language if he even understood it — he is one. His is a theatrical presentation of a very familiar administrative brutality.
“[…] when these guys talk to you about “options” or, “restricting immigration flows,” what that actually means is camps. When they talk about “creating opportunity,” what they mean is cutting some rich person’s taxes so they can invest it in some bullshit.
“Trumpism as an approach to doing politics is what Republicans have. It’s that or going back to the mealy-mouthed American Enterprise Institute shit where you describe something that is not what you’re actually proposing and hope that no one notices it.
“Voters from mainstream liberal Democrats to mainstream conservative Republicans have accepted that they aren’t going to get much from the government. What it is then is a television show. This last election played out that way. Trump said, “it’s me, Donald Trump, your president.” Then Joe Biden’s thing, to the extent that he had one was “I’m a good guy, I’ve been sad before, I know what it’s like to suffer.” However true that is or isn’t, at that point you’re basically picking the person that you want to watch on television for the next four years as they manage whatever version of decline we get.
“It’s like being a Jets fan: you already have all the hats, and you know the team sucks, that the people in charge are stupid and the guys they’re putting out there are obviously not ready for primetime, but if you went to the trouble of getting a jersey, you’re going to wear it.
“To a certain extent, to be a hardcore Democrat now? This is an organization that was trying to win the presidency, but I don’t get the sense that they have been competing in a way that suggests that they want to win a World Series. I haven’t seen any sense that they’re out there to get power, govern, and keep power. But who else are you going to cheer for?”
“[…] the idea that you’re just going to turn the clock back to 2015 by having a third term of the Obama-Biden administration with many of your favorite friends administering policies that makes 13 percent better by 2030 for people in certain brackets.
“This is Trump going out exactly as he governed—by telling someone whose name he’d soon forget to fix a problem he didn’t care enough about to understand, and then watching television to see how well he was doing.”
“Nothing about Trump ever improves or even changes; the end was always going to be a parodic reprise of the beginning.”
“These are earnest attempts to overturn the election but in a half-assed way, led by incompetent people. How do you make sense of all this when combined with the fact that Trump didn’t push to send out a new round of checks before the election, which would have possibly won him the election?”
“Him not pushing on the checks may be because the institutional Republican Party thought they were out of luck at that point; as a general rule, they air on the side of not giving people money, as a general principle. They might have felt they’d gotten as much from Trump as they could, or they were simply exhausted by all of it, much like a majority of American voters were.


OPCW executives praised whistleblower and criticized Syria cover-up, leaks reveal by Aaron Maté (The Grayzone)

“One top official acknowledged the doctoring of the Douma evidence. But rather than order an investigation into how it occurred, this official sought to have an email protesting the censorship erased from the OPCW’s servers.
“Neither nerve agents nor their degradation products had been detected, and there was no proof of chlorine gas use. A group of toxicologists from a NATO-member state ruled that the cause of death was inconsistent with exposure to chlorine gas, and could find no other chemical agents as a plausible alternative.”
“The ramifications of this subterfuge were staggering. In effect, the investigation team were blindsided and undermined by an imposter report that would, based on unfounded conclusions, give post facto justification for the US, UK, and French military strikes on Syria on April 14, 2018.
“In early July, OPCW officials announced the establishment of a new “core” team that would be selected to write the final report. The so-called “core” team excluded not just Whelan but also the team members who deployed into Douma. There was one exception: a paramedic. In place of the experienced inspectors, the “core” team now included junior officials who were just beginning their career with the organization.
“In fact, it appears that the OPCW deliberately procrastinated and prolonged the investigation so as to give the false appearance that significant “work” was taking place.

This is why it’s so hard to trust official-sounding sources. The report was written by completely different people. A complete and deliberate fraud, papering over a crime.

“These qualms about bolstering a perceived “Russian narrative” after the report’s release stand in stark contrast to the OPCW’s documented willingness to enable a US narrative since the start of the investigation.”


US Congress and corporate media deploy massive lie, claiming Venezuela’s gov’t threatened to starve non-voters by Max Blumenthal and Anya Parampil (The Grayzone)

“A bipartisan US congressional letter condemning Venezuela’s election as a “sham” also echoed the opposition leader’s dubious interpretation, stating, “the regime has threatened to withhold food from Venezuelans who do not vote in the sham elections.” In their haste to shape a narrative delegitimizing Venezuela’s legislative elections, the US government and its loyal pack of corporate media stenographers have relied on López, a lead participant in at least two military coup attempts and a series of violent right-wing riots, as their house interpreter.
“[Citing Cabello] Of course, and those who do not vote, do not eat. For those who do not vote, there is no food. Whoever does not vote, does not eat, a quarantine is applied there without eating.”
“In Venezuelan culture, “comer” not only means “to eat,” but is also slang for having sex. Thus Cabello was not threatening to withhold food to anyone; he was conjuring up a humorous and hypothetical scenario about revolutionary women denying sex to their husbands and boyfriends if they refused to vote.”

Even a superficial, at-all generous interpretation would see that this is metaphorical: he is clearly paraphrasing a matriarch who withholds dinner until her family has voted. As we see below, the “real” meaning is just making a play on words. Another march to war on lies. Belligerence literally.

“The State Department has simultaneously praised coup leader Juan Guaidó and the US-funded extremist factions for boycotting the elections, branding them “Venezuela’s champions for democracy.””


Trump’s Pernicious Military Legacy by Michael T. Klare (CounterPunch)

“The Pentagon’s annual spending authority climbed every year between 2016 and 2020, rising from $580 billion at the start of his administration to $713 at the end, with much of that increment directed to the procurement of advanced weaponry.”
“The posture he’s bequeathing to Joe Biden is almost entirely focused on defeating China and Russia in future “high-end” conflicts waged directly against those two countries — fighting that would undoubtedly involve high-tech conventional weapons on a staggering scale and could easily trigger nuclear war.”
“This shift in outlook from counterterrorism to what, in these years, has come to be known in Washington as “great power competition,” or GPC, was first officially articulated in the Pentagon’s National Security Strategy of February 2018. “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security,” it insisted, “is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers,” a catchphrase for China and Russia.”
“As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis put it to the Senate Armed Services Committee that April, “The 2018 National Defense Strategy provides clear strategic direction for America’s military to reclaim an era of strategic purpose… Although the Department continues to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, long-term strategic competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.””
“Not surprisingly, top Pentagon officials embraced the president’s big-Navy vision with undisguised enthusiasm. The reason: they view China as their number one adversary and believe that any future conflict with that country will largely be fought from the Pacific Ocean and nearby seas — that being the only practical way to concentrate U.S. firepower against China’s increasingly built-up coastal defenses.”
“In that address, Esper made it clear that the U.S. Navy remains vastly superior to its Chinese counterpart. Nonetheless, he asserted, “We must stay ahead; we must retain our overmatch; and we will keep building modern ships to ensure we remain the world’s greatest Navy.””

The naval gap, this time, but still the same argument as back in the 50s about missiles. Recycled arguments that didn’t apply then—and don’t apply now.

“If a war with Russia were to break out, much of the fighting would likely occur along this line, with main-force units from both sides engaged in head-on, high-intensity combat.”

Are you nuts? Who talks like this?

“While their own war planning remains, to date, a mystery, it’s hard not to imagine that the Chinese and Russian equivalents of the Pentagon high command are pondering the possibility of a nuclear response to any all-out American assault on their militaries and territories.”

I fucking doubt it. Because they’re not insane. They have never been as recklessly insane, as heedless, as ignorant, as America.

“As in so many of the developments described above, this Trump initiative will prove difficult to reverse in the Biden years. After all, the first W76-2 low-yield warheads have already rolled off the assembly lines, been installed on missiles, and are now deployed on Trident submarines at sea.


After the Deep State Sabotaged His Presidential Bid, Bernie Sanders Mocks Those Who Believe it Exists by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“It is hard to overstate how damaging a leak like this would be for a politician seeking the Democratic Party nomination. Democratic voters for years had been fed a steady media diet of incessant xenophobic fear-mongering over Russia, elevating Vladimir Putin from a leader of a mid-sized regional power into the world’s most powerful and dastardly villain.”
“It’s somewhat difficult to understand how one can wage a “revolution” against the political establishment while delegitimizing the obviously true claim that establishment news outlets disseminate fake news against establishment enemies.”
“[…] the Democratic Party systematically cheated in 2016 to prevent him from defeating Hillary Clinton — to the point that the top five officials of the DNC were forced to resign when WikiLeaks published emails proving their corrupt rigging efforts. Even Elizabeth Warren and former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazille acknowledged that the 2016 Democratic primary was “rigged” against Sanders — a claim he now apparently believes is the province only of dictators and fringe conspiracists.
“A three-part Washington Post exposé in 2010, by two-time-Pulitzer-winner Dana Priest and William Arkin, was entitled “Top Secret America.” It described the “hidden world, growing beyond control,“ which “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” This, said the Post, all “amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.””
“Sanders knows all of this. He knows it as well as anyone, since the very weapons he’s now suggesting are the hallucinations of authoritarians and lunatics — rigged elections, fake news and the Deep State — were deployed against him as much as anyone. But it is now standard Democratic Party agitprop to ridicule anyone who recognizes their undeniable reality and, for whatever reasons, Sanders continues to dutifully recite from that script even now that the transition to Biden/Harris is well underway.”

Programming

2020.12.06: Optimizing for the wrong metric, part 1: Microsoft Word (The cr.yp.to blog)

“Microsoft Word isn’t completely missing abstractions, but these abstractions are competing for user-interface resources against features encouraging the user to work at lower abstraction layers. The extra effort to use the abstractions ends up pushing users into doing something simpler, something that just works now, and paying heavily for this choice later when the document is being revised.”
“They considered only the efficiency of an initial fragment of the document-creation process, ignoring the time spent revising documents. They provided no reason to believe that the efficiency of this fragment was well correlated with what they had previously claimed to be measuring.”
“Compared to researchers who use LaTeX, researchers who use Microsoft Word produce papers that are significantly worse, not just in appearance but also in content. One of the reasons for this is that researchers who use Microsoft Word need much more time for revisions than researchers who use LaTeX, and as a result are systematically deterred from making revisions that would significantly improve the content of their papers.

Citing the study itself:

“… Given these numbers it remains an open question to determine the amount of taxpayer money that is spent worldwide for researchers to use LaTeX over a more efficient document preparation system, which would free up their time to advance their respective field.”

That study basically accuses Latex users of wasting time protecting their fragile egos instead of doing real work. All because they only think they feel more efficient with Latex vs. Word, when it’s really that they feel more superior. What a load of horseshit. Was the study sponsored by Microsoft?

My own experience with Word bears this out: it is an editor filled with many pitfalls that does nothing to help you maintain a consistent and easily modified style. It’s not impossible to do, but it does nothing to help you do it. Not only that, but it can’t even consistently apply the most basic features (e.g. bullet points that mysteriously disappear every once in a while, or heading numbers that only work as expected with the right incantation—i.e. when the correct combination of magical checkboxes is set just so.

Science & Nature

Light-Based Quantum Computer Exceeds Fastest Classical Supercomputers by Daniel Garisto (Scientific American)

“[…] the USTC team estimates that it would take the Sunway TaihuLight, the third most powerful supercomputer in the world, a staggering 2.5 billion years to perform the same calculation as Jiūzhāng.”
“Why do quantum computers have enormous potential? Consider the famous double-slit experiment, in which a photon is fired at a barrier with two slits, A and B. The photon does not go through A, or through B. Instead, the double-slit experiment shows that the photon exists in a “superposition,” or combination of possibilities, of having gone through both A and B. In theory, exploiting quantum properties like superposition allows quantum computers to achieve exponential speedups over their classical counterparts when applied to certain specific problems.
“Even so, she acknowledges that the USTC setup is dauntingly complicated. Jiūzhāng begins with a laser that is split so it strikes 25 crystals made of potassium titanyl phosphate. After each crystal is hit, it reliably spits out two photons in opposite directions. The photons are then sent through 100 inputs, where they race through a track made of 300 prisms and 75 mirrors. Finally, the photons land in 100 slots where they are detected.”
“The USTC quantum computer takes its name, Jiūzhāng, from Jiūzhāng Suànshù, or “The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art,” an ancient Chinese text with an impact comparable to Euclid’s Elements.”
“Things are unlikely to be static. At the end of October, researchers at the Canadian quantum computing start-up Xanadu found an algorithm that quadratically cut the classical simulation time for some boson sampling experiments. In other words, if 50 detected photons sufficed for quantum primacy before, you would now need 100.


Quantum device performs 2.6 billion years of computation in 4 minutes by Chris Lee (Ars Technica)

“I suspect that the current architectures are akin to the Colossus or the ENIAC: they are breakthroughs in their own right, but they are not the future. My admittedly biased opinion is that the future is optical.”
“The number of output states scales very quickly with the number of inputs and beam splitters. In the current demonstration, the researchers used 50 inputs and—the exact type of device is not described—a chip with the equivalent of 300 beam splitters. The total number of possible output states is about 1030, which is about 14 orders of magnitude greater than the next biggest demonstration of quantum computing.
“This was followed by careful tests to check that the behavior was indeed quantum. Now, of course, computing the exact output for a full input is impossible. But it is possible to calculate what would happen given specific input states and compare the output states with the results of those calculation. It is also possible to calculate the output of the network if the light is not in a quantum state or if the photons are not identical. In the first case, the measurement results match the predictions, and in the second two cases, the measurement results don’t match the predictions. This provides strong evidence for the result being due to quantum effects.
“On the other hand, the work is no different to other quantum-advantage experiments: take a problem that is mostly useless but happens to map exactly to the architecture of your computer. Naturally, the computer can solve it. But the point of a computer—and this is why the researchers do not refer to the device as a computer—is to solve many different useful problems. And for these cases, we have not yet seen undisputed evidence of the promised quantum advantage.”

Philosophy

What Are the Humanities? by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“[…] to share 10% of one’s views with the political right is to invite constant entreaties and attempted seductions from the right, while to share 90% of one’s views with the left is to invite categorical ostracism from the left for not being able to get on board for that remaining 10% — even when that remaining 10% concerns “superstructural” questions of art and sensibility, and has nothing to do with fundamental questions of economic justice.”
“I remain open about my concerns regarding the loss of a meaningful tradition of humanistic inquiry, where students are left to pick up decontextualised shards of cultural production and to make whatever sense they can from these of our common experience: post-humanism, if you will.”

This, from a guy who writes books about sixteenth-century animal woodcuts.

“(Side note: when The Who deployed this phrase in 1979, it was ironic, intended to convey the idea that the kids are actually kind of messed up.)”

So … Spider-man is garbage, although quasi-subversive if you actually read it, but the Who can be cited as a revolutionary source? Ok, Justin.

That’s a classic mistake I’ve seen a lot lately: judging people’s enjoyment of something without understanding or even having really seen/read/heard the source material or even considering why or how or on what level people are enjoying it. Spider-man is older than the Who, but somehow is undeserving of any consideration because it’s been coopted 45 years later into a decidedly simpler form. The Who is frozen in time and hasn’t been reexamined in any, but their lyrics are taken as some sort of sage wisdom with multilayered purpose and meaning rather than just the ravings of a bunch of drunk musicians who lucked into worldwide reknown.

I just saw some of Spider-Man: Far From Home last night. I understand how people will dismiss the entire Marvel canon if they’ve only seen the most recent films, if they haven’t read any of the comic books. The latest installments have made Peter Parker essentially wealthy beyond counting. He is well-integrated with a strong peer group and has plenty of attention from girls. This is all completely at-odds with Peter’s story in the 70s and 80s.

To pay attention to the degradation of the humanities as evidenced by the course-work of undergraduates is not to turn into an anti-woke crank, but to remain attuned to the political economy of the university and the existential crisis it faces under pressure from market forces.”
Part of the threat, of course, is that absolutely everything these days is being optimised, directly or indirectly, for social-media impact. This includes faculty decisions about university curricula, and it includes student protests against faculty decisions. It includes search-engine optimisation of media headlines, and it includes media editors’ tweets about articles about the crisis of the humanities, notably my own.”
“The argument from intrinsic interestingness moreover has an air of trivial hobbyism about it: it makes humanistic inquiry out to be an activity suitable for someone who has no deep commitments or beliefs, and simply needs to be distracted by something or other in order not to grow completely dissolute. If this were all humanistic inquiry were, it would indeed be the special purview of an idle elite, as many already suspect it is.”
“[…] rather than an I-It relation. Admittedly, in principle such a dyad could be achieved with Marvel comics as much as with Nahuatl inscriptions. But in reality the institutional and cultural context in which pop-culture-focused pseudo-humanities are studied ensures that the student usually remains at the level of I-I identity, which is not a relation at all but pure narcissism,
“This sort of oversight positioned subsequent modern philosophy for the most part with an overwhelming focus on I-It relations, on how we know the world exists and how we access truths about the world. And it was only much later on, with the rise of phenomenology at the end of the nineteenth century, that philosophers began to appreciate how deeply different the experience of, say, being in a room with another person is from being in that same room with a couch or a pile of sawdust.”
“This all looks like the delirious phantasms of a very different cultural moment, but Sartre is getting at something deeply important here: voyeurism is a crime and a transgression; looking into someone’s house to check out their furniture is of an altogether different character, and this difference tells us something about our place in the order of reality.”
“If you have spent a whole summer trying to grow cucumbers, and just one little runt appears by the end of the season, you might be familiar with the experience of an I-Thou relationship with a being from the vegetal world, expressed in a hesitation to destroy the cuke you worked so hard to bring into being by putting it in a salad.”
“You might at some point even have kicked a friable dirt clod while crossing a field, watched it break into pieces, and immediately regretted that wanton destruction of something which, if not exactly a being by most metaphysical reckonings, at least had some integrity to it that made it, too, a sort of other, and worthy of moral consideration.”

Or you might consider your role as an agent of entropy.

“To take an interest in something (aphids, Virgil’s bucolic poetry, Mexica calendars) is to relate to it with the sort of solicitude that no mere object of scientific study in the post-nineteenth-century sense can be said to have. This solicitude comes not from the thing’s pre-given features, no more than our love for another person comes from a survey of that person’s virtuous traits.
“Think for a moment about how strange it is to specify to other people which third-person pronouns you would like for them to use when they are talking about you, but not to you, as if this were the primary communicative context in which you might be expected to come up.”
“How can we sustain an I-Thou relationship with the things we study if we can’t even sustain it with the people who are in the same conference room pretending to be studying alongside us?”
“If universities don’t want to teach and to preserve real humanities, then those of us who do may have to go and do so elsewhere under a different arrangement, one that permits us to pay attention to the things we study in the way that they merit.”
“We might be able to preserve university-based humanities — I think this is at present an objectively open question. But we are not going to do so if we keep acting like the dog in the meme of the house on fire who smiles and says, “This is fine”. Nor should we be cowed into saying “This is fine” by the truly perverted suggestion that to say anything else plays into the hands of the reactionary press, or is unfair to the students, or is just so much cranky contrarianism.
“While the culture-warriors on both sides remain focused on the epiphenomena, the massive shift is subducting humanistic inquiry so far beneath the ground, so fast, that most of us can’t even find the words to account for its disappearance.

Fun

Year in Review 2020 by Dave Barry (Washington Post)

“… and we are, as a nation, exhausted. We are literally sick and tired of the pandemic. But amid all the gloom, there is a ray of sunshine: As we go through this harrowing experience — affecting all Americans, in both red states and blue states — we are starting to realize that our common humanity is more important than our political differences.

Ha-ha! Seriously, we hate each other more than ever. We disagree about everything — when to reopen the economy, whether to wear masks, whether to go to the beach, whether it’s okay to say “China” — everything. Each side believes that it is motivated purely by reason, facts and compassion, and that the other side is evil and stupid and sincerely wants people to die. Every issue is binary: My side good, other side bad. There is no nuance, no open-mindedness, no discussion.

“President Trump continues to provide leadership during the crisis by repeatedly pointing out that he knows an incredible amount about viruses — more than most medical doctors! — and is frankly doing a terrific job. For its part, the White House press corps, seeking as always to be fair and objective, asks the president many probing questions, all of them variations of “Why are you so despicable?””