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Friday, August 25, 2023

The Golden Years.

Not exactly what I'd had in mind.
But, here we are.
Trump and I are ~the same age (I'm 4 months older). And I too am from the NYC area (W. Long Island just adjacent to Trump's Queens Borough). Though I've been aware of him and his gauche nouveau-riche antics for decades, he never hit my radar fully (the world being chronically overpopulated with narcissistic grifters) until he started in on that lowbrow "Obama Birtherism" stuff that first surfaced in the national media in early 2011.

Five years later I had the increasingly gnawing anxiety that he would win the 2016 election. Nearly all libs thought Hillary was a Lock.


Five weeks after his dark "American Carnage" Jan 20th 2017 inauguration ceremony, my late younger daughter was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, which claimed her life in April 2018. That entire period, from 2016 through this day has been a bizarre metastasizing shitshow that shows no signs of materially abating. Four years ago I got dx'd with Parkinson's. The stress has gotta be a factor. The latest developments aren't helping matters. Mr. dyskinesiac dysphoric.

Not how I wanted to spend the final 10% or so of my life. But, then, my personal first-world frustrations are trivial in the context of existential global crises affecting far more people way more severely. Recall...

Nonetheless, under "Threats to Democracies":
As I write this sentence we have 438 days to the 2024 national U.S. elections. Less than 15 months.
Ugh.  Should I assume you've been paying attention?
“I really believe this is a very sad day for America, this should never happen. If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election, I thought the election was a rigged, election, a stolen election, and, I should have every right to do that, as you know, you have many people that you’ve been watching over the years do the same thing, whether it’s Hillary Clinton, or Stacey Abrams, or many others, when you, uhhh… have that great freedom to challenge, otherwise you’re going to have very dishonest elections, what has taken place here is a travesty of justice, we did nothing wrong, I did nothing wrong, and everybody knows it. I’ve never had such support, and that goes with the other ones too, what they’re doing is election interference, what they’re trying to do is interfere with an election, there’s never been anything like it in our country before, this is their way of campaigning, and this is one instance, but you have three other instances, it’s election interference. So I want to thank you for being here, we did nothing wrong at all, and we have every right, every single right to challenge an election that we think is dishonest, and we think it’s very dishonest, so, thank you very much, and I’ll see you all very soon. Thank you very much.”
And, should that not suffice to get your exculpatory eloquence juices flowing, Sarah Palin is pleased to help out on Fox News:
“Do you want us to be in a civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen.We’re not going to keep putting up with this, and Eric, I like that you suggested that we need to get angry. We do need to rise up and take our country back. I would say the RNC though—that’s what’s lacking when it comes to collective anger that can be healthy, and it can be useful… where is the RNC—they hold the purse strings to the party, they hold, they hold the funds that could be helpin’ out in this situation, they have the platform, and yet they’re too timid—a buncha frickin’ RINOs, so, the RNC, they better get their stuff together, or, ya have to ask them too,  What do they want as an outcome of this? Civil War?”
Please. Reliably babblelicious.

Astonishing 29 yr old British musical genius Jacob Collier and his jaw-dropping tribe. Pure goodness.

Pure goodness. By the way, these young people are about way more than dramatic high-tech liveshow production. Below, Jacob and some of his band walking the streets of a Paris open-air flea market:

Do yourselves a favor, glom onto these young artists. I certainly have. I had my 43 mo old Grandson Calvin watch the London concert song with me the other day. He was mesmerized.
Prior to re-focusing on the shitstorm. Just ran across this review in Science:

In The Dawn of a Mindful Universe, physicist Marcelo Gleiser attempts to save the world by way of a pessimistic but spiritual application of the Drake equation—the mathematical framework used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations likely to exist in the Milky Way Galaxy. Gleiser has written a number of stimulating books on the existential implications of modern science, and here he continues that trajectory in what he calls a manifesto of “urgency and hope.” His goal is to change humanity’s collective mindset to divert us from the “delusional and suicidal” climate path on which we find ourselves by reframing the stories we tell ourselves about the Universe and about humankind.

The Dawn of a Mindful Universe is a wide-ranging, fast-paced journey from the pre-Socratics to Star Trek. It is both a story of the evolution of the Universe and life and a story of our understanding of them—a very wide scope for a relatively short book, which means that not every topic gets equal coverage or analysis. At times, this leads to some unevenness, but it is a worthwhile price to pay for gems such as Gleiser’s insightful discussion of the multiverse as a secular “God of the gaps.”

Gleiser’s overall goal is to chart how we came to value ourselves over nature and, in parallel, came to think that the Universe should be full of life-forms like us. He argues instead for a “post-Copernican” mindset, one that embraces the preciousness of our planet over its similarities to other worlds. Here, he builds on his earlier writings about the limitations of science to cast doubt on the uniformity principles used to assume that life is common in the Universe, warning readers not to extrapolate what we know about life on Earth to the rest of the cosmos. His arguments echo those made by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who stressed the contingency of life’s emergence and development, arguing that if a single event had been different, we might not be here…

Going against the tide of opinion, Gleiser argues that the failure so far to find life elsewhere means that we are, essentially, the only intelligent beings in the Milky Way—a conclusion he uses to call for a resacralization of nature. We should embrace a biocentric view that life must be protected as something unique and endangered, he maintains…

As with the long-standing tradition of natural theology, it seems unlikely that The Dawn of a Mindful Universe is going to convince anyone who does not already agree with Gleiser’s position that the biosphere needs protecting. However, it will no doubt provide ammunition and many interesting ideas to those who already believe.
Just a tad passive-aggressive in that final review sentence? A waft of imputed "confirmation bias affinity?" I guess I'll have read the book to see. Although, have I already waived my 5th Amendment privilege, tipped my hand?
Props to the reviewer for noting the late Stephen Gould (while it wasn't an explicit endorsement, we'll take all we can get). I am all in on "The Drunkard's Walk Theory of Evolution."
The Left Wall of Zero Cells. Popper problems (?) notwithstanding, that's about as Occam's Razor as paleo-biological evolution assertions get. You need but 3 foundational, starting-line assumptions (all of them true): [1] a stable, low-entropy local environment hospitable to replicating microbial life (in our case carbon-polymer-based); [2] the left wall-bounded emergence of such replicable microbial life; and [3] a LOT of ensuing time. What follows is nothing beyond the empirical Random Walk and its upshot by time x.

Billions of years hence on this run, you get stuff like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Vladimir Putin, Tucker Carlson ... and films like "Don't Look Up."

Helluva price to pay for Jacob Collier et al.

A price unequally distributed, woefully.
apropos of the topic, see my prior cites of this book:

No one wants to appear before a judge as a criminal defendant. But court is a particularly inhospitable place for Donald Trump, who conceptualizes the value of truth only in terms of whether it is convenient to him. His approach to the world is paradigmatic of what the late philosopher Harry Frankfurt defined as bullshit: Trump doesn’t merely obscure the truth through strategic lies, but rather speaks “without any regard for how things really are.” This is at odds with the nature of law, a system carefully designed to evaluate arguments on the basis of something other than because I say so. The bullshitter is fundamentally, as Frankfurt writes, “trying to get away with something”—while law establishes meaning and imposes consequence…
    — Quinta Jurecic
Yeah, right.
Fade to black?

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


When you make the same "mistake" more than once, that's a Decision.
As alluded to in prior posts, Lee McIntrye's new book is out.
Chapter 1 Truth Killers

The storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an American tragedy. It was also completely predictable. The “patriots” in face paint—who carried sharpened flagpoles, bats, and zip ties into the Senate chamber—were the inevitable result of seventy years of lies about tobacco, evolution, global warming, and vaccines. After the “truth killers” provided a blueprint for how to deny scientific facts that clashed with their financial or ideological interests, it was a small step for unscrupulous politicians to figure out how to use this strategy to lie about anything they wanted, such as the baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that the January 6 insurrectionists were actually “peaceful protestors” or Antifa in disguise.

Welcome to the world of reality denial, where truth is subordinate to ideology, feelings have more weight than evidence, and democracy hangs in the balance. Throughout history, autocratic leaders and their wannabes have understood that the quickest way to control a population is to control their information sources. But in a society that still has a free press, disinformation is the new censorship. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Harrison Ford has finally found the Holy Grail but can’t tell which one it is because it’s surrounded by a hundred fakes? That’s the point of disinformation. If you can’t hide or destroy the truth, surround it with bullshit. You can always kill it later…

McIntyre, Lee. On Disinformation (pp. 1-3). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
The topic scarcely be more timely, exigently so. It's a quick read. Well worth your time.
I'll cut straight to the chase. From the closing chapter:
CHAPTER 6: How to win the war on truth

What might ordinary citizens do to fight back?

First, confront the liars. This a lesson learned from how to effectively combat science deniers. If you just let the liar have the microphone, things will only get worse and new recruits will come aboard…

Second, heed history. Autocrats understand the danger of truth tellers. This is why they make such enormous efforts to shut down dissenters, even when they are few in number and would seem to represent a small threat…

A third step that ordinary citizens might take to fight back against reality denial is to resist polarization. Even if you are on the virtuous side of facts and truth, fragmentation is dangerous…

Fourth, as hard as it is, recognize that in some sense deniers are victims. They have been duped. They are the zombie foot soldiers of the creators of disinformation, who are profiting by their ignorance, while the believer gets nothing…

Fifth, tune out the bullshit. As we’ve seen, even credible media outlets have a preferred narrative of conflict, failure, and chaos. And this can make you feel powerless. Don’t give in to the idea that there is nothing you can do. Even better, insist that your favorite media outlets stop feeding the “both sides” beast that got us here…

Sixth, don’t fall for the sop that this can all be solved by “better education” or “critical thinking.” That is important, but it takes a while. And it is hard to get someone to think clearly when they are already in the grips of a conspiracy theory. Yes, we need to teach better critical thinking skills to our children, but we can’t wait for them to grow up to save us…

Seventh, stop looking for facile solutions to the problem of disinformation. If this were easy, we would have solved it by now. People around us—especially those who worry about censorship and free speech—love to say that the solution to bad information is good information. But that is not true. Good information is a virtue, but it is not sufficient. We must find a way to stop bad information from being amplified…

Eighth, engage in political activism to try to get Congress to regulate social media. In particular, draw policy makers’ attention to the importance of transparency in the algorithms that are used by social media companies to decide what news we will see in our news feeds. It doesn’t take that many letters or phone calls from dissatisfied constituents to change a politician’s mind…

Ninth, take solace in the fact that there are many others out there who are also engaged in this battle. You are not alone. There are millions of people who would like to defend truth and democracy but don’t know what to do. Reach out to them...

Tenth, continue to learn more about the problem of reality denial and its consequences for democracy…
[ibid, pp. 119-126]
I've riffed episodically (and, well, critically) on "critical thinking" before. e.g., see my post "Mental Immunity."
"Protect Democracy?" Time draws short, my friends.
 441 days until the U.S. 2024 national elections.

"The world of reality denial, where truth is subordinate to ideology, feelings have more weight than evidence, and democracy hangs in the balance."
Ahhh... "Evidence."
To be sure, these latter titles are focused "denial" specifically. Disinformation is a significant ethical level down, w/ cultural "Gresham's Dynamic" sociopolitical inferences. The "tribal" implications are pretty obvious:
…Kahan concludes, the goals of dissonance reduction and maintenance of group standing can work together in favor of denial. Of course, as Sperber points out, this tendency fuels groupthink: “From an epistemological point of view, the fact that an idea is widely shared is not a good reason to accept it unless these people have come to hold it independently of one another.” Consensus can result from independent thinkers coming to the same conclusion, or it can result from cultural forces; trusting in the latter sort of consensus is good for getting along, but not so good from the standpoint of actually getting things right.

Further, social groups that share ideological common ground can be expected to show greater cooperation and resilience in the face of external threats. When the group as a whole is more successful, traits shared by group members may be more successfully preserved over the long run. To the extent that group-selection pressures have a role to play in evolutionary adaptation, the cognitive flexibility necessary to consistent ideological conformity could also play a role here.

Nor is it necessarily a bad idea, from an evolutionary standpoint, to be in the habit of placing more trust in members of the group with which you identify: Someone with whom you share cultural values or background is more likely to have your best interests at heart…

Bardon, Adrian. The Truth About Denial (p. 41). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
One might even like to go full-bore anthropologically/ontogenically "Evo-Devo" here.

Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny

In Search of Human Uniqueness

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man Charles Darwin proposed, in effect, that humans were just another branch on the evolutionary tree. Victorian Englanders, many with significant scientific training, were incredulous. Humans’ closest living relatives, the great apes, still lived in forests and jungles “red in tooth and claw,” but humans lived in a world of telescopes and steam engines, symphony orchestras and the British Parliament, and morning prayer followed by afternoon tea. It was a puzzle, to say the least, how just another branch on the evolutionary tree could live a life so utterly different from that of other animals.

Today this puzzle is essentially solved. At some point in human history a new evolutionary process arose. A telltale sign of this new process is that not all humans live amid telescopes, symphony orchestras, and the British Parliament but instead live among their own distinctive artifacts, symbols, and institutions. And because children, whatever their genetics, adopt the particular artifacts, symbols, and institutions into which they are born, it is clear that this societal variation cannot be coming from the genes but rather is socially created. The full puzzle is thus that humans are not only a species of unprecedented cognitive and social achievements but also, at the same time, one that displays a novel kind of socially created, group-level diversity.

The solution to the puzzle—the new evolutionary process—is of course human culture. But the traditional notion of culture as something apart from biology and evolution will not do. Human culture is the form of social organization that arose in the human lineage in response to specific adaptive challenges. Its most distinctive characteristic is its high degree (and new forms) of cooperation. Synchronically, the members of a cultural group coordinate with one another in the context of self-created cooperative structures such as conventions (including linguistic conventions), norms, and institutions, and they relate to one another based on cooperative motives such as trust, commitment, and fairness. Call this the coordinative dimension of culture. Diachronically, the members of a cultural group pass along skills and knowledge to succeeding generations via cooperative processes of cultural learning, such as active instruction and conformist learning, resulting in a kind of “ratchet effect” in which cultural practices and products (including conventions, norms, and institutions) evolve, perhaps “improve,” over historical time. Call this the transmitive dimension of culture. The outcome is that virtually all of humans’ most remarkable achievements—from steam engines to higher mathematics—are based on the unique ways in which individuals are able to coordinate with one another cooperatively, both in the moment and over cultural-historical time.

But this explanation of human uniqueness in terms of cultural processes creates another puzzle, and this one is not yet solved. In this case the focus is not on the level of the species and its achievements, but rather on the level of the individual and its psychology: how do human individuals come to the species-unique cognitive and social abilities necessary for participating in cultural coordination and transmission? To answer this question the obvious first step is to establish exactly how human psychology differs from that of other primates—precisely how humans as individuals are unique. The difficulty is that over the past few decades empirical research has established that humans’ nearest living relatives, the great apes, possess cognitive and social skills highly similar to those of humans, including many that are seemingly relevant to cultural processes. For example, there is recent research demonstrating that at least some great apes (1) make and use tools, (2) communicate intentionally (or even “linguistically”), (3) have a kind of “theory of mind,” (4) acquire some behaviors via social learning (leading to “culture”), (5) hunt together in groups, (6) have “friends” with whom they preferentially groom and form alliances, (7) actively help others, and (8) evaluate and reciprocate one another’s social actions.

But do apes do these things in the same way as humans? To make this determination in particular cases we must look beneath the sweeping claims that both apes and humans “have x” or “do y,” even though such claims may be true on a general level. To penetrate beneath such generalities, we need to make more fine-grained comparisons by performing comparative experiments in which humans and great apes (especially chimpanzees and bonobos, as humans’ nearest living relatives) are observed in as-similar-as-possible circumstances. Such controlled experimental comparisons make it possible to detect subtle differences of behavior and, ideally, the cognitive and motivational processes underlying them. In this way we seek to identify the differences on the individual psychological level that ultimately lead to humans’ unique forms of cultural coordination and transmission (and so to telescopes and parliaments).

Given a description of the key differences between humans and their nearest great ape relatives, the next task is to explain those differences. In an evolutionary framework, the axiomatic explanation is, of course, natural selection: the human individuals alive today have been naturally selected to meet certain species-unique ecological or socioecological challenges. For example, one proposal is that humans evolved many of their unique cognitive and social capacities in response to ecological challenges that first forced them to collaborate with one another in acquiring food, and then later prompted them to form larger cultural groups to defend their resources from other groups (Tomasello 2014, 2016). Under these conditions, individuals who could best cooperate with others—individuals who were both capable and motivated to put their heads together with others to collaborate or form a culture—were at an adaptive advantage and so proliferated.

But natural selection creates nothing. Natural selection is only a sieve that sorts, after the fact, viable from nonviable organisms. Evolutionary novelties originate not from natural selection but rather from the other main dimension of the evolutionary process: inherited variation. Classically, inherited variation in evolution emanates from genetic mutation or recombination, which produce, via ontogenetic processes, novel traits. But recent advances in evolutionary developmental biology (so-called Evo-Devo) suggest that the constructive role of these ontogenetic processes has not been fully recognized. Not only do new traits always come into existence via ontogenetic processes—which direct and constrain genetic expression—but by far the most frequent source of new traits is changes in the timing and manner in which already existing genes are expressed and transact with the environment.

Thus, even relatively modest changes in the way that regulatory genes orchestrate ontogenetic timing and plasticity can have enormous and cascading phenotypic effects—not encoded directly in the genes—as developing systems interact with one another and with the environment in unexpected ways. The implication is that if we wish to explain how uniquely human psychology is created, we must focus our attention on ontogeny, and especially on how great ape ontogeny in general has been transformed into human ontogeny in particular.

And that is my goal here. I wish to describe and explain the ontogeny of uniquely human psychology, using as a starting point great ape ontogeny. Great apes engage in basic processes of perception, memory, and categorization, as well as more complex processes of intentional communication, prosocial behavior, and social learning. From this starting point, we may then attempt to identify the unique aspects of human psychology as they emerge ontogenetically over the first years of life. A natural end point for this investigation is children of six to seven years of age. In the eyes of many cultural institutions and traditions, across many centuries and societies, children’s sixth or seventh birthday heralds their entry into the “age of reason.” In British common law, this is the first age at which a child may commit a crime. In the Catholic Church, this is the age at which a child may first take communion. In cultures requiring formal education, this is the age at which a child is ready for serious instruction in literacy and numeracy. And in traditional societies, this is the age at which a child is first given important independent tasks such as tending a flock, gathering firewood, or delivering a message (Rogoff et al. 1975). Overall, children of this age have become, from a cognitive point of view, mostly reasonable—beings with whom one may reason, and expect a reasonable response in return—and they have become, from a social point of view, mostly responsible—beings whom one may hold accountable, and expect to hold themselves accountable, for their beliefs and actions. The result is nascent “persons,” who have taken a giant first step toward internalizing the culture’s norms of rationality and morality, making them for the first time capable of and indeed responsible for normatively self-regulating their own beliefs and actions.

Our working hypothesis to explain the ontogeny of uniquely human psychology is Vygotskian: uniquely human forms of cognition and sociality emerge in human ontogeny through, and only through, species-unique forms of sociocultural activity. But the theory we develop updates and modifies Vygotsky—it is Neo-Vygotskian—in placing human sociocultural activity within the framework of modern evolutionary theory. This means that we begin by seeking to identify the ways in which humans are biologically prepared for engaging in their unique forms of sociocultural activity; indeed, we may argue that it is precisely this biological preparation—in the form of maturationally expressed capacities—that makes uniquely human sociocultural activities and experiences possible in the first place. This does not contradict Vygotsky’s argument for the key role of sociocultural context in human psychological development. Modern evolutionary theory emphasizes that organisms inherit their environments as much as they inherit their genes: a fish inherits not only fins but also water. Human children inherit a sociocultural context replete with cultural artifacts, symbols, and institutions, and their unique maturational capacities would be inert without a sociocultural context within which to develop (Richerson and Boyd 2005). Normal human ontogeny thus requires both the maturation of species-unique cognitive and social capacities and also individual experience in such things as collaborative and communicative interactions with others, structured by cultural artifacts such as linguistic conventions and social norms…

Tomasello, Michael (2019-01-06T22:58:59.000). Becoming Human. Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

Yeah, I know. I have no life. Michael Tomasello rocks. I have other of his works. Bring a box of Snicker's.

Mr. No Life: It gets worse. From anthropology let's fast-forward to contemporary Scripts People Live.

Elevator speech: "Many/(most?) of us live lives in which we are at once the Stars and Victims in our own neural award-winning melodramas." We gotta have "our Stories." Seems to me such would likely up the ante for susceptibility to the types of irrationalities under discussion here.

Yeah. I have no life.
(BTW: My wife and I came together in 1974. This was the first book we read together.)
Another illustrative title I neglected to mention.
...In 2018, the Policy Planning Staff, a think tank within the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a dire warning about information manipulation that exploits our cognitive loopholes, especially confirmation bias, as a major threat to democracy worldwide.48 Just slightly over two years later, the warning became real in the United States. On January 6, 2021, thousands of violent rioters stormed the Capitol Building and attacked Congress, while chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” The rioters vandalized the building and sent members of Congress into hiding to save their lives. In more than two centuries, American democracy had never been so seriously challenged.49 And all of it started on the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Who had expected that disinformation could suddenly become a major challenge to the survival of American democracy? Fighting disinformation, consequently, has become a new and urgent duty for citizens…

Sun, Lixing. The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars (p. 210). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
More shortly...

Friday, August 18, 2023

What a surreal week.

And, The CRA-zy will surely continue to ramp up.
As students of the United States Constitution for many decades—one of us as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, the other as a professor of constitutional law, and both as constitutional advocates, scholars, and practitioners—we long ago came to the conclusion that the Fourteenth Amendment, the amendment ratified in 1868 that represents our nation’s second founding and a new birth of freedom, contains within it a protection against the dissolution of the republic by a treasonous president.

This protection, embodied in the amendment’s often-overlooked Section 3, automatically excludes from future office and position of power in the United States government—and also from any equivalent office and position of power in the sovereign states and their subdivisions—any person who has taken an oath to support and defend our Constitution and thereafter rebels against that sacred charter, either through overt insurrection or by giving aid or comfort to the Constitution’s enemies…
Click the photo for the link. I'd love for them to be right, but I have some reservations. This will surely be SCOTUS-bound should it be invoked by Trump opponents.


Release date Aug 22

Nice podcast.

Trump Discovers That Some Things Are Actually Illegal

The cases against the former president aren’t criminalizing politics. They’re criminalizing, well, crimes.

The Trump presidency generated an enormous amount of discussion about “norms”—the unwritten rules of American political life that everyone tacitly agrees to and that keep democracy functioning. Many of these norms had been somewhat invisible until Trump began shattering them, by doing things like profiting from his business during his time in office or demanding that the Justice Department investigate his political enemies…

But what makes a norm a norm is, at least in part, the fact that it’s not necessarily a legal obligation. When Trump bulldozed through these collective agreements about how politicians and particularly presidents should behave, in many cases there was no obvious means by which to punish him, legally speaking, or hold him back. Much of the public learned for the first time that many things they believed had been required by law—such as the expectation that presidential candidates release their tax returns—were essentially just gentlemen’s agreements. Trump’s actions raised this question so frequently that The Washington Post launched a podcast titled, simply, Can He Do That? Often, the Post’s reporters discovered, the answer was “yes.”

The power of the presidency is far-reaching, and Trump proved uniquely skilled at exploiting his authority in the areas where controls were weakest. In many instances, the reach of that power was precisely what had made normative constraints so crucial: For example, because the Constitution places few limits on presidential authority over the Justice Department, it’s all the more important that presidents restrain themselves from demanding that the attorney general investigate their enemies. (Trump, as the Mueller report revealed, did not abide by this tradition.)

In addition, the Justice Department’s internal guidance advises against indictment of a sitting president, reasoning that criminal charges would make it impossible for the chief executive to carry out his constitutional role. That policy helped Trump escape charges of obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation. Instead of the threat of prosecution, the only real constraint on a president’s actions—other than impeachment, which Trump survived twice—is that of political norms. This taste of presidential power may have given Trump a sense of invincibility—perhaps a misguided one.

Among the many norms that have long held up American democracy is the shared belief that political candidates should accept the outcome of a free and fair election. And if, after the 2020 election, Trump had confined his discontent to grousing on Twitter about supposed fraud, that would have violated this norm but, in all likelihood, not have been illegal. Yet according to both Jack Smith and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Trump’s actions moved from destructively poor sportsmanship to outright illegality when he began actively scheming to hold on to power. “The Defendant had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won,” the Smith indictment states. But Trump “also pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results.”…
Ahhh... those "Norms."
The Trump cases help us understand how America’s democracy can be both strong and weak at the same time

Democracy is, at the very highest level, a system for turning the idea of human equality into practical political reality. When leaders can get away with whatever they want, there is no real political equality: We are electing kings, not fellow citizens. If powerful actors try to act above the law, independent institutions need to check their misbehavior…

Where American democracy works
In political science, healthy democracies are often referred to as “consolidated democracies.” It’s a typically bloodless academic term, but it refers to an important idea: that democracy becomes truly stable when it is understood as “the only game in town,” meaning that basically all relevant political players accept that free and fair elections should determine who gets to wield power.

In a completely consolidated democracy, this most fundamental rule of the political game is accepted by all. Challenging it would be as absurd as a football player demanding 20 points after scoring a touchdown.

Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election threw America’s status as a consolidated democracy into question — as did, in a less obvious way, his habit of ignoring laws and political norms whenever he felt like it.

In a 1996 article, leading political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan wrote that democracies check such potential threats from elected strongmen through the rule of law — enforced, primarily, through countervailing political institutions that can prevent leaders from going out of control. Achieving full democratic consolidation, they write, means “that the government and the state apparatus would be subject to the law, that areas of discretionary power would be defined and increasingly limited, and that citizens could turn to courts to defend themselves against the state and its officials.”

In 2020, Trump’s absurd legal arguments against the election results failed over and over again in court, often in front of Republican-appointed judges. His supporters’ effort to overturn the election by force on January 6 didn’t work either. The new Congress passed a bipartisan bill reforming the Electoral Count Act, one explicitly designed to block any future presidential candidate from using the same (dubiously) legal tactics Trump employed to try to overturn the election.

In the 2022 midterms, election deniers running for governor and secretary of state in swing states lost every single time they were on the ballot. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Supreme Court repudiated a key Trumpian legal argument — the so-called “independent state legislature” theory — that would have given a green light for state legislatures to rig future elections in Trump’s favor.

Put together, this looks like a striking display of democratic resilience. Faced with a serious challenge, all sorts of independent power centers inside the American system reacted in exactly the way they should — by using their authority to defend the integrity of the country’s elections.

Young and weak democracies are not always capable of such a response. In such countries, institutions are often corrupt or heavily politicized; the people who staff them have little interest in neutral defenses of democratic principle when said principle clashes with their bottom line or political party’s hold on power…
444 days until the U.S. 2024 national elections. Democracy: will it survive?

Wildfires are burning largely out of control across Washington State and western Canadian provinces. Hurricane Hilary roams up the Baja (peaking at a Cat 4) and into SoCal, AZ, and Nevada (some areas are predicting a year's worth of rain in just one day). And, as of Sunday evening a 5.1 earthquake is reported just west of L.A. The Maui catastrophe aftermath remains gut-wrenching. Abroad, fighting continues to rage across Ukraine and other Eurasian / African hotspots.

A surreal year in one week.


Book review in the new Science Magazine:

Aug 22 release
 Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Southern Hospitality, RICO Indictment Style

Kevlar wardrobe?
Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election held on
November 3, 2020. One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.


At all times relevant to this Count of the Indictment, the Defendants, as well as others not named as defendants, unlawfully conspired and endeavored to conduct and participate in a criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere. Defendants Donald John Trump, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, John Charles Eastman, Mark Randall Meadows, Kenneth John Chesebro, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Jenna Lynn Ellis, Ray Stallings Smith III, Robert David Cheeley, Michael A. Roman, David James Shafer, Shawn Micah Tresher Still, Stephen Cliffgard Lee, Harrison William Prescott Floyd, Trevian C. Kutti, Sidney Katherine Powell, Cathleen Alston Latham, Scott Graham Hall, Misty Hampton, unindicted co-conspirators Individual l through Individual 30, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury…
448 days to the 2024 U.S. National Election.

“They never went after those who 'Nigged' the election…”

OK, putting aside the obvious racist dog-whistle, we are to believe that Donald Trump has been sitting on totally exonerating “proof” of his innocence this entire time since he left office in January 2021? That, totally coincidentally, he will now release a dispositive “report”—announced on the day of his Georgia indictment.
Yeah, sure...

Hashtag of direct relevance:
It's certain to become even uglier.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Georgia On Don's "Mind."

Momentous week ahead?
Indictments coming in Georgia?

Tick, tick, tick...
449 days to the 2024 U.S. National Election.

Imagine my surprise.



Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Timely new book release pending

Disinformation. Where have we heard that word before?
Release date Aug 22, 2023

[Amazon blurb] A powerful, pocket-sized citizen’s guide on how to fight back against the disinformation campaigns that are imperiling American democracy, from the bestselling author of Post-Truth and How to Talk to a Science Denier.

The effort to destroy facts and make America ungovernable didn’t come out of nowhere. It is the culmination of seventy years of strategic denialism. In On Disinformation, Lee McIntyre shows how the war on facts began, and how ordinary citizens can fight back against the scourge of disinformation that is now threatening the very fabric of our society. Drawing on his twenty years of experience as a scholar of science denial, McIntyre explains how autocrats wield disinformation to manipulatea populace and deny obvious realities, why the best way to combat disinformation is to disrupt its spread, and most importantly, how we can win the war on truth.

McIntyre takes readers through the history of strategic denialism to show how we arrived at this precarious political moment and identifies the creators, amplifiers, and believers of disinformation. Along the way, he also demonstrates how today’s “reality denial” follows the same flawed blueprint of the “five steps of science denial” used by climate deniers and anti-vaxxers; shows how Trump has emulated disinformation tactics created by Russian and Soviet intelligence dating back to the 1920s; provides interviews with leading experts on information warfare, counterterrorism, and political extremism; and spells out the need for algorithmic transparency from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. On Disinformation lays out ten everyday practical steps that we can take as ordinary citizens—from resisting polarization to pressuring our Congresspeople to regulate social media—as well as the important steps our government (if we elect the right leaders) must take.

Compact, easy-to-read (and then pass on to a friend), and never more urgent, On Disinformation does nothing less than empower us with the tools and knowledge needed to save our republic from autocracy before it is too late.

The author:

 I'm close to finishing one of his prior books.

Very interesting, very well-written. Squares with a ton of my prior study. Goes to my Deliberation Science Jones.
Finished the McIntyre book. Loved it.
As of August 12th, there are 451 days left until the 2024 U.S. national election. Will our Democracy remain thereafter? Can we continue to successfully juggle all of these major existential balls?

Some days my dubiety enervates me. But, stay calm and carry one, I guess.
[AUG 12th UPDATE] A catastrophe. Death toll will likely soon surmount three figures. Lahaina (on Maui) has been reduced to ash.

Highly recommend her book.

A thermometer doesn’t give you a different answer depending on how you vote. Even in the U.S., climate change used to be a respectably bipartisan issue well within most of our lifetimes. In 1998, a Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats agreed that the effects of global warming had already begun. In 2003, Senators John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, then a Connecticut Democrat, introduced the Climate Stewardship Acts. As recently as 2008, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and current House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, cozied up on a love seat in front of the U.S. Capitol to film a commercial about climate change. “We do agree, our country must take action to address climate change,” Gingrich said, while Pelosi added, “We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.”

Hayhoe, Katharine. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (p. 5). Atria/One Signal Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Iowa Trump supporter's conspiracy theory leaves CNN's John King stunned

CNN's John King came away stunned after an Iowa supporter of former President Donald Trump argued that Western support for Ukraine in defending itself against Russia is part of an elaborate plot to cover up President Joe Biden's corruption.

While talking with Iowa Trump fans, King asked them if any of them supported aiding Ukraine against Russian aggression -- and none of them raised their hands.

One of the Trump supporters then outlined how he believed the entire war was an effort to cover up crimes committed by the Biden family.

"You don't have to that smart to connect the dots, right?" he said. "And so is the war to cover up sins committed to cover your tracks? There is too much money that has been thrown over there!"

King appeared skeptical of this and asked the man if he really believed every NATO country would spend massive amounts of money and send over huge troves of military equipment to Ukraine just to help keep Hunter Biden out of prison.

"It all depends on [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky, how much dirt he has on Biden, to keep the money coming," the man said…
Asked and Answered. The Show Must Go On.
apropos of the foregoing topic: Amanda Ripley's "High Conflict."
One of my Swedish friends (a fellow Santa Fe fan), hipped me to Henrik Hansson, also from Sweden. Lives in Japan. This is perhaps the most wrenchingly beautiful and painful song I've ever heard. Astonishing vocal.

More to follow...