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Friday, December 29, 2023

Presidential candidacy eligibility: Cutting to the chase

Donald Trump won the presidency with fewer votes than his opponent?
"We’re a republic, not a democracy."
State Republican parties in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and other states gerrymandered themselves into supermajorities?
"We’re a republic, not a democracy."
Forty-one senators block laws favored by 59? A single senator blocks promotions across the Defense Department?
"We’re a republic, not a democracy."
Florida voters restored voting rights to felons, only to see the reform disregarded by the state legislature?
"We’re a republic, not a democracy."
States rule that Trump is an insurrectionist under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, barring him from their ballots?
"Let the people decide!"
There’s not much use in pointing out hypocrisy in the Trump era. Trump and his core supporters are governed only by the Cartman principle—“I do what I want!”—and to that principle, they are always faithful …

How should people who are serious about democratic principles respond to this avalanche of bad faith? Democratic ideals don’t cease to be true just because they can be exploited by dishonest actors. Yet democracy also cannot become an optional principle that authoritarians can use when it suits them and then discard without consequences when it becomes an obstacle to their goals. Democratic systems have constitutions and constitutional remedies precisely to protect themselves against those who toggle in this way between breaking inconvenient rules and demanding the benefit of favorable ones.

A key provision of the suddenly famous Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment is that it applies only to those who previously swore an oath of office. It’s not a general punishment for revolts against legal authority. It is a highly targeted penalty applied to those who—like Trump—try to play the system both ways, swearing to execute the laws and then rebelling against the laws they swore to enforce…

… [R]emember that old joke about the man who murdered both of his parents and then asked for mercy as an orphan? It needs to be replaced by a new joke about the ex-president who trashed democracy when he had the power, and then pleaded for the protection of democracy so he could have one more chance to trash democracy again. —David Frum
David goes on to remind us that Donald Trump argued vehemently—ad nauseum—that Barack Obama was constitutionally ineligible to run for President because he was "born in Kenya," and that, likewise, Ted Cruz was also POTUS-ineligible given that he'd been born in Canada. And most recently, in 2020, Trump repeatedly sought to have millions of Covid-aftermath mail-in votes invalidated (on equally spurious, unsuccessful grounds).
SCOTUS faces a real political pickle with this one. Although, Trump's "blanket immunity" appellate assertions also loom consequentially large.


Lordy Mercy. Just for grins, scroll back through the prior three posts. I guess we're going to see this incoherent bleating multiple times per day until next November.

Donald Trump is an astoundingly dangerous candidate for president. He is a pathological liar, with clear authoritarian instincts. Were he elected to a second term, the damage he would do to the institutions of our republic is profound. His reelection would be worse than any political event in the history of America — save the decision of South Carolina to launch the Civil War.

That fact has motivated many decent lawyers and law professors to scramble for ways to ensure that Trump is not elected. On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court gave these lawyers new hope by declaring that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars Donald Trump from the Colorado ballot. That decision will certainly reach the United States Supreme Court as quickly as any. And if that court is to preserve its integrity, it must, unanimously, reject the Colorado Supreme Court’s judgment. Because Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not apply to Donald Trump…
In a nation overpopulated with bloviating Barstool ConLaw "experts," Lessig has major legit chops.


The Power of Photoshop Compels Me...
Harks to this post.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Monday, December 25, 2023

2023 Christmas Day glad tidings from Your Favorite President

@realDonaldTrump: Dec 25, 2023, 1:43 PM
Softball question from ABC Fake News to A.G. Garlands BOSS, Lisa Monaco: “Has President Biden EVER raised the Classified Documents Investigation, the probe of Hunter Biden, with you or the A.G., or tried to influence you? Has he ever done that with regard to President Trump?” LISA MONACO’S FAKE ANSWER,“No, and the Attorney General has been exceptionally clear on this point.” What a complete lie. He speaks to them all the time, and she speaks to Deranged Jack Smith, and others. She also speaks to the Scum outside of her office, like Andrew Weissmann, essentially her boss, who has desperately fought for years to “get Trump,” or the new attorney brought in to help Deranged Jack Smith? It’s all about Election Interference, and Biden was pushing Garland and Monaco to act, AND FAST. They think the American public, and even the Supreme Court of the United States, are stupid. No,  Crooked Joe Biden has NEVER SPOKEN to Garland or Monaco about Hunter or “TRUMP.” That one gets, “LIE OF THE YEAR!”

Below: Another cool Christmas gift.


Friday, December 22, 2023

"Data Sovereignty" and its implications for international political internet chokeholds

Sovereignty 2.0

The Internet was supposed to end sovereignty. “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, you have no sovereignty where we gather,” John Perry Barlow famously declared. Sovereignty would prove impossible over a world of bits, with the Internet simply routing around futile controls. But reports of the death of sovereignty over the Internet proved premature…

The state (both nation-state as well as nearly every U.S. state) strikes back. When Thomas Hobbes imagined an “Artificial Man” in the form of a state, he was not picturing Facebook. But the reality is that modern leviathans like Facebook and Google, and even Reddit, Spotify, and Twitter, exercise enormous power over daily life. Increasingly, governments across the world have sought to bring these companies under their control. While China pioneered data sovereignty, it is now the demand of governments from Australia to Zimbabwe. The era of countries unsure whether they had the power to regulate the Internet is over.

Consider, for example, Vietnam’s 2018 Law on Cybersecurity, which explicitly declares as its goal the protection of “national cyberspace.” Its definition of security includes not just national security, but explicitly also “social order and safety, and the lawful rights and interests of organizations and individuals in cyberspace.” While there may be no official signs that one is “Now Entering Vietnamese Cyberspace” to greet visitors, the government clearly believes that Vietnamese cyberspace is not some metaphysical place outside its control.

In February 2022, Vietnam’s Southeast Asian neighbor Cambodia suspended its plans to route all Internet traffic into or out of the country through an Internet gateway. Human Rights Watch declared that the true purpose of this infrastructure plan was to “tighten the noose on what remains of internet freedom in the country.” Even while suspending its plans, the Cambodian government defended itself, arguing that its goals were to “strengthen national security and tax collection as well as to maintain social order and protect national culture.” At the same time, the government insisted, without evidence, that such national Internet gateways “prevail in almost all countries around the world.”

Against this backdrop, scholars are sharply divided about the increasing assertion of what is called variously “data sovereignty” or “digital sovereignty.” Some scholars see it as a natural extension of traditional Westphalian sovereignty to the 21st century. They are joined by other scholars, often from the Global South, who support data sovereignty in order to repulse imperial ambitions for data colonialism, a barricade against the exploitative and extractive practices of Western (and Chinese) technology giants. Other scholars, however, worry that data sovereignty will break the Web apart, jeopardizing its numerous global benefits. As Mark Lemley astutely laments, “The news you see, the facts you see, and even the maps you see change depending on where you are.”

 (2023-11-29T22:58:59.000). Data Sovereignty. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 
Just saw a review in my new Science Magazine.
There's a solid prior post tie-in here:
There's a fairly ample Amazon "look inside" preview of Data Sovereignty (about a one-hour read). However, the Kindle edition price is $104.99 ($140.00 hardcover). Given all of the other titles I need to buy and read, this one is way too pricey for a 408 pg book. The sample includes some 17 pages of end-notes pointing to many of the subtopics (147 in all, most w/URL links). I will certainly gumshoe that stuff.
Recall the recent calamitous dustups around the fatuous non-state libertarian "cryptocurrency" craze? I've posted numerous times on the topic. Yeah, digital "DeFi" (Decentralized Finance). Never mind that around 40% of humanity has no internet access.

apropos of the issue, the current issue of Science Magazine has this little morsel:


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

14th Amendment Section 3 and Donald Trump

Amendment XIV, Section 3
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Colorado Supreme Court just ruled 4-3 to bar Donald Trump from the state's 2024 primary ballot owing to his acts on January 6th, 2021 in DC as the U.S. Capitol was overrun by violent protesters who supported his claim that his "rightful re-election" had been "stollen" (his spelling) from him.
The lawyers are all over the map on this, as are the contending political partisan tribes.
A commenter recently on the highly respected (& vociferously anti-Trump) Emptywheel site:
“[D]isqualifying any presidential candidate from the primary ballot absent a criminal conviction establishes a dangerous precedent ripe for future abuse.”
At this point, I am marginally inclined to agree. But, read George Conway’s assessment. And, this one by Dean Obeidallah.

Amy Davidson Sorkin, in The New Yorker:
The analysis of Section 3 is not necessarily determined by partisan alliance. All seven Colorado justices were appointed by Democrats. But it is not too dramatic to say that if the Supreme Court were to adopt the reasoning of the Colorado majority wholesale, with no serious adjustment, it could lead to an unravelling of the electoral system. Some Republican-controlled states might even try to use Section 3 to disqualify Joe Biden: Texas’s lieutenant governor said that the Colorado ruling made him wonder about taking Biden off that state’s ballot for allowing millions of people to cross the border. And what role might individuals in the Electoral College play? Section 3’s broad, undefined terms should give anyone pause. For example, the provision mentions not only insurrection and rebellion against the Constitution of the United States but giving “aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” as a basis for disqualification—at a time in this country when there is talk of enemies everywhere...
Predictably, Trump has wasted no time pimping donations from the ruling.

And, of course...


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Jen Taub's latest podcast

“Private Equity.” Those two words together sound ever so restrained and elite, even contained.  In reality though the world of private equity is rough and destructive and affects all of us from patients seeking health care to workers losing their jobs. There are more than $10 trillion in private equity assets under management. And many public pension funds as well as ordinary members of the public are invested. Not private at all...
I've been following financial sector malfeasance and scandals my entire adult life. And, I did an instructive 5-year stint in subprime credit risk management during the period 2000-2005. See my 2008 post "Tranche Warfare."
Great discussion, this podcast.

Long-time fan of Jen's book.

I have some lengthy personal experience with this rapacious "private equity" leveraged buyout "vulture capitalism" stuff. First, healthcare "out-of-network ERs?" been there, done that. See my 2015 post:
Those of us who worked in the healthcare sector have known for quite some time that, increasingly, hospital execs are really just "contract administrators." ERs and just about everything else are (frequently non-ID'd) buyout/"subcontract" entities—Housekeeping, Food Services, Imaging, PT/OT, Pharmacy, Scheduling, Billing, etc. The problem extends to the outpatient sector (particularly more lucrative "proceduralist" specialties), under the rubric of "Practice Management."
See also my posts on "An American Sickness."

Another history: In January 1986, just prior to my 40th birthday I got my "first day gig" at a radiation laboratory in Oak Ridge after getting my undergrad at UTK in 1985 (yeah, I'm slow; old washed-up guitar player). "ASL" ("Applied Sciences Laboratory"). It was founded by PhD nuclear engineer John A. Auxier, the nation's premier "certified health physicist" (CHP, basically a radiation dose/exposire epidemiologist). John had just retired as the Director of Industrial Health and Safety at ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). He'd been a member of the Three Mile Island Commission. He was a pilot since his days in the military. He owned several fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter, serviced by the Smoky Mountain Aero FBO at McGhee-Tyson Airport near Alcoa TN. 

My wife was the customer service manager there while I was in school at UT. She managed his aviation account.

Recognizing supreme talent (she's the smartest woman I ever met), he pilfered her to become his Customer Service/Marketing Manager (and eventually QA Lead). Through her he learned of my studies in applied statistics.

"We need to computerize our operations and QC analysis, Cheryl. Would Bobby like to come out and work for us?"

I arrived right after New Year's Day 1986. QC data were computed on yellow pads in pencil by old school scientists brandishing slide rules. Sums of squares done long-hand for QC Sigma limits.


I stayed 5 1/2 yrs. We went from a single building on Bear Creek Rd with 9 employees to a complex of 3 buildings running 24/7, employing many dozens of radiochemists, CHPs, technicians, and biz peeps.

I began using an IBM-XT, the only PC on the property. I wrote all of their code (what we now call "apps"), and installed and managed their Novell Network. I'd never touched a PC before. I was blissfully unaware that you couldn't do these things.

Eventually, ASL got bought by a growing company called "International Technology Corporation" (IT Corp), based in Pittsburgh. We became "IT/ORL."
IT Corp grew and grew and grew. in 1992 they won the DOE environmental remediation contract to assess and clean up the Nevada Test Site nuke mess. Cheryl was the QA Manager. I'd moved on to Digital Industrial Diagnostics (FFT analytics).
I quit. We moved to Las Vegas. We then lived there for 21 years.
IT Corp was now public (ITX), had grown massively via acquisitions, and had ironically now come into the takeover crosshairs of The Carlyle Group. The new CEO was essentially a plant.

Carlyle de-boned and BK'd them in short order. I'll spare you the myriad plunderers' particulars. The CEO made Bank.

Cheryl landed on her feet (most ITX people were not so lucky). ITX was sold to The Shaw Group of Baton Rouge (SGR). Shaw named her Director of Quality of the new "Environmental Division"—her entire former company. Those to whom she'd once reported now reported to her. (Like I said; crazy, scary smart.)

That was a wild period. She spent the entire fall post-Katrina working on the remediation. SGR was the contractor that pumped NOLA out, and ran the "blue tarp" and emergency mobile homes initiatives.
Eventually SGR had an internal political C-Suite dustup, the upshot of which was a demand for Cheryl to relocate from Vegas to Baton Rouge (surely for The Contrarian Bitch to be reined in).
She quit. Finished her career as worldwide Corporate Director of Quality for the esteemed Rhode Island-based Gilbane Building Companies, working out of Concord, CA.

Carlyle's Rubenstein—[bleep] you and your philanthropy and rep-washing PBS hustle. Y'all ruined a technologically adept and committed company. But, I'm sure you did well.


Deep into "The Plunderers." Excellent. Most of it is just pretty confirmatory for me, as I've long been familiar with the lengthy list of white collar perps. Very well written, this book.

I've also gone back and re-read through much of Jen Taub's book. I bought it in hardcover when it first came out. Loved it. I just bought the Kindle edition as well. My eyes are getting so bad. "...The Golden Years are here at last. The Golden Years can kiss my ass."

Friday, December 15, 2023

FACT: In a world & time overbrimming with stupidity sadly ranging up to pure intentional evil,

we have the gratifying pure goodness of Jacob Collier & his breathtaking collaborators.

Lisbon, Portugal, 2022. Two hours of unreal talent and utterly exuberant, beneficent joyfulness. (And, yeah, the random yet requisite Google ads are indeed disruptively annoying). Pay particular attention to the audience footage. That was particularly joyful to me.

My opinion, succinctly:

LOL, yeah, one of those $150 academic jargon words that really just means "interpretation." Historically mostly associated with religious topics.

Monday, December 11, 2023

"Facts are work. They require study; they require curiosity; they require patience; they require humility."

"Democracy requires the same."—Megan Garber

I have a gut, Donald Trump announced in 2018, “and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” The president’s gut would go on to inform him that climate change is partisan propaganda; that COVID-19 might be cured through the injection of bleach; that any election that fails to produce a Trump victory must be rigged. Trump gut-trusted the nation into political crisis. His first term emphasized the fragility of American democracy. A second would threaten the foundation of that democracy: the public’s willingness to accept that reality is a shared resource...
330 328 days to election day...
Dr. Reaven's admonition has been indelibly burned in my neurons ever since he first voiced it in class. Then I was blessed to get to apply the principles beginning in January 1986 when I began a 5 1/2 yr tenure in a forensic-level environmental radiation lab in Oak Ridge developing computer systems and riding herd on bench-level statistical quality control measures (pdf). My first "day gig," beginning at age 39 (a late bloomer).

"Facts?" "Evidence?" Again, "define 'evidence'"
Also again, is there a "science" of "anti-science thinking?" Hmmm... see "Denialism." And, define "science," for that matter. Oh, yeah, must not forget about "Disinformation." Here, and here.
Recently got back to—and finished—this book after my Liz Cheney digression..
apropos of "getting stuff right" (those facts, and the arguments they comprise). Cutting to the chase:
The balance of existential risk
What might end the human species altogether? These days, unfortunately, there are plenty of different scenarios to consider. The science of existential risk, which studies extinction-level events, tends to narrow the range down to four major areas of ultimate danger. The first is nuclear weapons, which retain the capacity to wipe us out many times over. Since the end of the Cold War – at least until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the risk of a global nuclear conflagration appeared to have diminished. But there are still more than 10,000 nuclear warheads around the globe, quite a few of whose whereabouts are unknown. Only two have ever been deployed, and none for more than seventy-five years. But it seems almost inevitable that at some point, someone, somewhere, will let loose another one.

The second area of risk is climate change. That continued heating of the planet due to carbon emissions will cause serious long-term harm to the human and the natural worlds is increasingly hard to dispute. However, truly cataclysmic climate change is something else again. That would occur only if runaway effects took place, driven by unanticipated feedback loops within the global ecosystem, such that the rate of warming became far worse than might presently be anticipated – not two or even three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but maybe six, eight or ten. At that point human life, no matter what steps we might take to mitigate the effects of what we had done to the planet, would become impossible. Finding another world on which to live might be the only option. This scenario remains unlikely, but climate science is pretty uncertain around the edges when it comes to worst-case outcomes. No one knows for sure.

Biological disaster is the next great danger. Martin Rees, the cosmologist who helped to launch the existential risk movement, believes this is currently where the biggest threat lies. The growing human capacity to experiment with our genetic make-up, coupled with a continuing appetite to develop new forms of biological weaponry, makes the possibility of what Rees calls ‘bioterror or bio-error’ wiping out a significant part of the human race a real one. The Covid pandemic, which may or may not have been an example of bio-error (depending on whether you believe it started in a wet market or a research lab), was just a taster of what might happen. As our ability to interfere with nature marches on apace, our ability to regulate the consequences struggles to keep up. It’s hard to build a nuclear bomb in your bedroom but tinkering with a biotech sample is a lot easier. Anything could happen.

Finally, there are the killer robots, or more straightforwardly the possibility that artificial general intelligence might render us irrelevant. When intelligent machines become smarter than we are, and especially if they acquire the capacity to decide on their own enhancement and replication, humanity may lose its centrality to the order of the world, at which point we will be as vulnerable as every other natural creature on the planet. We are at present rendering innumerable species extinct by our own indifference to their fate. What’s to say that AI technology won’t do the same to us? Even before then, while we are busily constructing machines with superhuman capabilities, we risk building some that escape our control altogether. These machines would not have to be supremely intelligent to destroy us, just relentless, and pervasive: dead behind the eyes and with no off-switch. As I said at the start of this book, it is perhaps the quintessential twenty-first-century nightmare.

In each case (nuclear, climate, bio, AI), what we are facing is the coming together of relatively unchanging human nature – we remain a curious, creative, easily distracted, ultimately vulnerable species – with the rapidly accelerating possibilities of technological havoc. To anyone who remains confident that history is still pointing in the right direction – including all the rational optimists who insist that life is getting better and humans more responsible – the pessimists point out that what have changed are the potential consequences of our residual carelessness. For almost all of human history our mistakes couldn’t prove wholly fatal to us. We might do the most terrible things, but our destructive power was constrained by the limits on our technical capacity. Now, those limits are falling away. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if things are improving, or even if we are. So long as we are not infallible, one slip-up could cost us everything. An extinction-level event only has to happen once. And we are certainly not infallible – we are still human.

There is, however, another way to look at this. A lot of the rhetoric around existential risk emphasises the randomness of the dangers we face in an increasingly networked, interconnected, accessible world. The slip-up could come from anywhere – the lone terrorist, the mad scientist, the corrosive malware, the mutant virus. Science-fiction dystopias – from Planet of the Apes to Twelve Monkeys – home in on the possibility of these calamitous mishaps, in large part because they are much easier to narrate … Yet in truth, the bigger risk by far seems to be neither rogue individuals, nor rogue technology, nor rogue monkeys – it is artificial persons gone wrong.

Of the four areas of danger, three are largely in the hands of states and corporations. A terrorist could detonate a nuclear warhead – it is perhaps still more likely that the nuclear taboo will be broken by a lone actor than by a state – but a species-ending conflagration could occur only if states joined in. Runaway climate change is not something that any rogue individual could engineer – if it happens, it would be because the biggest polluters on the planet were unable to restrain themselves. These are all corporate agents of one form or another – just a hundred companies are responsible for 71 per cent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The worst of bioterror or bio-error is likely to originate with the state funding of scientific research, even if it might end with something inadvertently escaping from a government lab. Species-ending experiments are what artificial persons contemplate; after all, it is not their species...

Runciman, David. The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs (pp. 254-257). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
David gets my latest "Best-Place to Hide a $100 Bill From Donald Trump" award. Another 10-11 hour read. Worth every minute.
Once more: Take it From The Top.

Imagine a world of superhuman machines, built in our image and designed to make our lives go better. Imagine that these machines turn out to be vastly more powerful than we are. It’s not only that we can’t do what they do; we can’t really understand how they do it either. Still, we come to rely on them. They are there to serve our interests, offering us convenience, efficiency, flexibility, security and lots of spare time. Imagine that it all works. As a result of our inventions, we become longer lived, richer, better educated, healthier, and perhaps happier too (though that remains up for debate). We enjoy lives that would be unrecognisable to people born just a couple of generations earlier. The human condition is transformed.

Yet we know – surely, we know? – that there are enormous risks in becoming so dependent on these artificial versions of ourselves. They are superhuman but they are also fundamentally inhuman. They lack the essence of what makes us who we are. Call it a conscience. Call it a heart. Call it a soul. The potential power of these machines in the service of conscienceless, heartless, soulless human beings, of whom there are still plenty, is frightening. But more frightening still is the possibility that these machines will start taking decisions for themselves. They are meant to serve us, but they also have the capacity to destroy us. What if their power were to be turned against their creators? We might have ended up building the agents of our own obsolescence.

This is a very twenty-first-century story, and perhaps the quintessential twenty-first-century nightmare. On the cusp of the AI revolution, we are now constructing machines capable of doing things that leave us exhilarated, baffled or terrified...
Runciman (pp. 1-2)
A ton to ponder in this eloquent book. Below, great companion video interview, UnHerd's Flo Read with Nick Bostrom.
A final David Runciman Handover cite:
Changing demographics will also mean increasing demand for lifelong educational services. The traditional view of education as a preparation for the world of work makes little sense any more. ‘Birth, school, work, death’ was never much of a life prospectus, but now, with the gap between the first and the last growing all the time, the relationship between the second and the third is getting more tenuous. It is far from clear that the modern mantra has the order the right way round. Why try to cram in the education before people start working? Why not educate them along the way, as they adapt to the shifting demands of an ever-changing workplace? And if education is no longer simply a preparation for something that ceases with old age, why stop educating them at all…

Traditional societies rest on an implicit contract between the human generations: the old teach the young and the young care for the old. In modern societies that exchange has grown increasingly strained, as more and more of teaching and care has been delegated to the state. Under modern employment conditions, however, there is still an implicit contract: working-age adults undertake the labour to generate the economic activity that allows the state to pay for the education of the young and the care of the old. But once work is collapsed into education and care, that arrangement no longer makes sense. The young could well be the ones teaching the old; the old could well be the ones working instead of the young. As a result, we may become less reliant on the state to manage the transfers between the generations. But we might have to become more reliant on the state to manage the machinery that makes all this possible in the first place…

This vision of the future does, however, envisage both states and corporations moving decisively away from their more recent strategy, which has been to franchise out economic activity to cheaper human labour around the world instead. That is where we had been heading for the past generation until a series of events, from the vote for Brexit and the election of Trump to the advent of Covid and the war in Ukraine, helped stop the inexorable march of globalisation in its tracks, though some of the pause had been happening anyway…
Runciman, (pp. 243-245) 
Yeah. I find that quite intriguing. I am now almost 78, and joke about being "a life-long unlearner," notwithstanding being retired and physically "ailing" (the sucky Parkinson's). I continue to consume 2-3 books a week plus my numerous periodicals (and inveterate online info-surfing). I continue to post here just on the off-chance I might contribute some stuff of cognitive and moral utility. Never been about money or "branding." Myriad others have that covered. I've done relatively well across my life. Grateful for nearly everything.

Miss my girls. There are no words in that regard.

So, here I am. Grandpa ("Pop"), Great-Grandpa ("GGD"), washed-up old guitar player, now full Associate Member in the OCC ("Old Coots Club").
We continue to have much to yet tend to.

Question: do enough of us still care about preserving U.S. democracy? There is worrisome credible evidence that a committed relatively small minority could extinguish democracy—rather quickly.

We now have 326 days until the 2024 national elections.

Friday, December 8, 2023

333 days and counting down

If Trump wins.
A topical series by eminent writers at The Atlantic. As I post this today, there are 24 essays. I've read them all. Should they append the list with additonal pieces, I will update it.

David Frum on autocracy
Anne Applebaum on NATO
McKay Coppins on the loyalists
Caitlin Dickerson on immigration
Barton Gellman on the Justice Department
Sophie Gilbert on misogyny
Zoë Schlanger on climate
George Packer on journalism
Sarah Zhang on science
Franklin Foer on corruption
Michael Schuman on China
Adam Serwer on the courts
Juliette Kayyem on extremism
Elaine Godfrey on abortion
Megan Garber on disinformation
Clint Smith on history
Ronald Brownstein on partisanship
David A. Graham on normalization
Vann R. Newkirk II on civil rights
Spencer Kornhaber on freedom
Tom Nichols on the military
Helen Lewis on the left
Jennifer Senior on anxiety
Mark Leibovich on America’s character


Evidence had been the prime, almost exclusive, focus of our hearings. Our report also had to avoid exaggeration; we wanted its every paragraph and section to be meticulously sourced and supported.—Liz Cheney, Oath and Honor, pg 355

I finished Liz Cheney's new book last night. Bracing, impressive, important. I share very little in common with her politically, but I pored over this 11 hour read with extreme care and came away with great new respect for her and her J6 Committee effort. "Meticulously sourced and supported." Mission accomplished. You should read this book. And, all of The Atlantic pieces cited and linked above. I've been a subscriber for decades. Their latest stuff is better than ever. Highly recommend  that you subscribe.

Trump must be lawfully held to account, and politically defeated in 2024. The incriminating evidence against him is dispositive (an assertion I don't make lightly).

For all its marvelous creativity, the human imagination often fails when turned to the future. It is blunted, perhaps, by a craving for the familiar. We all appreciate that the past includes many moments of severe instability, crisis, even radical revolutionary upheaval. We know that such things happened years or decades or centuries ago. We cannot believe they might happen tomorrow.

When Donald Trump is the subject, imagination falters further. Trump operates so far outside the normal bounds of human behavior—never mind normal political behavior—that it is difficult to accept what he may actually do, even when he declares his intentions openly. What’s more, we have experienced one Trump presidency already. We can take false comfort from that previous experience: We’ve lived through it once. American democracy survived. Maybe the danger is less than feared?
—David Frum

Keepin' things classy, as always.
...In a second term, Trump would combine his instincts for revenge and self-protection. He would seek not only to get even with an officer corps that he thinks betrayed him, but also to break the military as one of the few institutions able to constrain his attempts to act against the Constitution and the rule of law.

Publicly, trump presents himself as an unflinching advocate for the military, but this is a charade. He has no respect for military people or their devotion to duty. He loves the pomp and the parades and the salutes and the continual use of “sir,” but as retired Marine General John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, said in 2023, Trump “couldn’t fathom people who served their nation honorably” when he was in office. Privately, as Goldberg has reported, Trump has called American war dead “losers” and “suckers,” and has said that wounded warriors are disgusting and should be kept out of sight.

Trump instead prizes military people who serve his ego and support his antidemocratic instincts. He thinks highly of Flynn, for example, who had to resign after 22 days as national security adviser and is now the marquee attraction at various gatherings of Christian nationalists and conspiracy theorists around the country. In late 2020, angered by his election loss and what he saw as the disloyalty within the national-security community, Trump fired or forced out top Defense Department leaders and tried to replace them with people more like Flynn. The brazen actions that the 45th president took in his final, desperate weeks in office—however haphazard—illustrate the magnitude of the threat he may pose to the military if he is reelected.
—Tom Nichols

Facts are work. They require study; they require curiosity; they require patience; they require humility. Democracy requires the same. The demands of both become greater in an information environment teeming with stories that are ever more suspect—a place where truth has plausible deniability. Trump will ease the burden, he suggests: You can outsource your mind to his gut. You would be foolish not to. Science lies to you. Hollywood lies to you. The media lie to you. Books lie to you. Courts lie to you. Teachers lie to you. Other people lie to you. Democracy lies to you. The only thing you can trust, in this dizzying world, is the inveterate liar who would never lie to you.

A good pitchman identifies a problem and sells a solution. A great one creates the problem to be solved. Trump, having lived his life as an endless ad, has mastered the art of problem-making. He churns out shock and amusement and outrage and absurdity with factory efficiency. He makes the world seem hard. And then he offers himself up as the person who will make America easy again.

This is how he has been so able to transform lies from liabilities into selling points. The falsehoods do not merely bend the truth. They obliterate it.
Megan Garber
“We are divided,” Stephen Colbert once observed, “between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.” He was speaking in 2005, as the character he played on his TV show at the time: a buffoon who shouted his way into political relevance. Back then, that line was still a joke.—Megan Garber

In the winter of 2020, on one of my aimless, frigid quarantine walks around my silent neighborhood, I remember being struck by a thought: did a medieval European peasant know that he was living through what is now widely known as the Dark Ages? Was there some moment when he leaned against his hoe in the fields, gazed up at the uncaring sky, and dimly perceived that he was unlucky enough to have been born into a bad century, perhaps even a bad millennium, too late for classical antiquity and too early for the Renaissance? I was sympathetic toward that notional peasant, because I was feeling the same way. The tide of history was overwhelming; I was minuscule, my life brought to a terrifying standstill by an airborne virus. I thought that if the humans who survived into the year 2500 looked back on my era, they would see it as cursed or benighted, the beginning of a downward slide.

Of course, that was before rioters broke into the Capitol on January 6th of 2021 to try to overturn the election of President Biden; before Russia invaded Ukraine; before artificial intelligence became both a public tool and an imminent societal threat; before a summer of climate-change-induced floods and fires ravaged cities around the world; and before, in October of this year, Hamas attacked Israel, prompting a catastrophic war in Gaza and destabilizing the global geopolitical order. Some have argued that the aggregate events of recent years call for a new label that we can apply to our chaotic historical moment, a term that we can use when we want to evoke the panicky incoherence of our lives of late. Such coinages usually happen in retrospect, but why not start now? Think of it as a universal excuse: It’s hard living through the _______, you know?
Kyle Chayka, The New Yorker