Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Current Affairs (page 1 of 27)

On truth and Brexit

“Hardline Brexiters now revel in their disregard for the statements of experts and fact-checkers,” William Davies writes in the London Review of Books, in an essay on politicans and the truth in the era of Brexit:

The reason there are so many mechanisms in place to remind powerful people of the actual facts of matters – mechanisms that include quangos and policy research institutes and publicly funded broadcasters – is that we assume they need constant reminding. A functioning constitution should be able to cope with the odd charlatan and bullshit artist, steering them gently away from the levers of power like a friend removing car keys from a drunk….

The beauty of ‘sovereignty’ as a political ideal is its metaphysical character, which evades efforts by economists and civil servants to pin it down, and seems to release political speech from the straitjacket of verifiable evidence.

Thus the idea “Leave” expands from “freedom to Leave the EU” to “freedom to take leave of the truth.” As it’s been in the US for the last couple years, it’s going to be very exciting to be a Conservative politician: you’ll get to wake up every morning, not knowing what your core beliefs are. Deficits are nothing to worry about! Russia is our friend!

Davies goes on to argue that the lies politicians tell— and among UK conservatives, have discovered that they can not only get away with (for a while), but are rewarded for telling— come in two varieties: campaign exaggerations and distortions of the truth, and a blithe disregard for keeping one’s promises. The first is “£350 million for NHS!”; the second is less spectacular but for economies and nations is a lot more serious. “Business investors can cope with various models of capitalism,” Davies argues. “What they can’t cope with is perpetual uncertainty.”

Monica Hesse on women voters

Great title:

Women are expected to swing this election — because, of course, we expect them to do everything

“Trump’s definition of an attack on the U.S. is when his lawyer’s home is raided by the FBI, not when Russia attacks our elections”

Sarah Kenzidor is always worth reading:

Trump’s definition of an attack on the U.S. is when his lawyer’s home is raided by the FBI, not when Russia attacks our elections and infrastructure. As president, his main goals have been building a kleptocracy and dodging criminal prosecution, and any war– particularly when it involves Russia–will be enacted with those twin aims in mind. If Trump distracts the public from his own misdeeds, and financially benefits and consolidates power through war, it will not matter to him how many lives are lost–including the lives of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen. His callousness toward U.S. troops places him in stark contrast to any predecessor.

There’s also an interesting article about her in the Columbia Journalism Review..

The world is flat, episode #20,331

This New Yorker piece about Chinese clothing and apparel manufacturers working in Italy is awesome. Apparently Chinese workers started coming to Italy in the 1990s, then started setting up their own workshops. Now they’re

manufacturers for Gucci, Prada, and other luxury-fashion houses, which use often inexpensive Chinese-immigrant labor to create accessories and expensive handbags that bear the coveted “Made in Italy” label. Many of them are then sold to prosperous consumers in Shanghai and Beijing.

Trump has “governed explicitly as a president for white Americans and the racial reactionaries among them”

Jamelle Bouie on “The lasting damage of Donald Trump’s bigotry” argues that in his first year as president, Donald Trump has abandoned his populist and reformist agenda, but held true to his promises to enact policies simmered in racial grievance:

Trump promised generous health care reform. Instead, he delivered a monthslong effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and end a Medicaid expansion that brought insurance and health services to millions of people, many of them his supporters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. He promised to bring in the “best people” to staff his administration and—upon taking office—promptly staffed his White House and the larger bureaucracy with a cadre of sycophants, opportunists, and ideologues hostile to the missions and values of the departments they lead. Trump promised tax reform that wouldn’t benefit the rich and delivered just the opposite. And, most famously, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and wash corruption from Washington. What that has meant, in practice, is an open effort to enrich himself and his family at the expense of taxpayers, directing public funds to his private clubs and resorts.

But there’s another way to read Trump’s promise—not as a commitment to economic populism but as a statement of racial solidarity. Far from acting as a president for all Americans, he’s governed explicitly as a president for white Americans and the racial reactionaries among them. He’s spoken to their fear and fanned their anger, making his office a rallying point for those who see decline in multiracial democracy and his administration a tool for those who would turn the clock back on racial progress. If those Americans are the “forgotten men and women” of President Trump’s inaugural address, then he’s been a man of his word. That simmering pursuit of racial grievance has been its defining characteristic and threatens to be its most enduring achievement.

I would add one thing. Ever since the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, it’s seemed to me that Trump has been halting in his criticism of such people because he can’t give up their adulation of him. He can back away from them, criticize their actions, and say that American is bigger than them; yet so long as there’s a sliver that can be interpreted as praise, they’ll stick by him. For someone who needs attention and praise and the spotlight, and yet also needs to lash out and subjugate people, they’re the perfect audience. He’ll never leave them, and they’ll never leave him.

“I recommend never taking off one’s pants at work, for any reason whatsoever”

Daniel Drezner, riffing on a hilarious article in which Sebastian Gorka explains why he never leaves the house without two guns, a one-handed tourniquet, and a pocket Constitution, describes a real public intellectual’s everyday carry. At the top of the list?

Pants. This being 2017, I feel it is important to point out how useful a nice pair of pants are to my everyday life. There is nothing like a functional, aesthetically appropriate set of trousers that are kept on for the entire work day. The great thing about men’s pants is that they have pockets that can carry almost all of my EDC. I recommend never taking off one’s pants at work, for any reason whatsoever. I highly recommend keeping those trousers on whenever one has to invite a colleague into one’s office.

For more on the Gorka article, check out this critique in Task and Purpose. (When I read the article it sounded like he only carried one gun, and toggled between his two favorites. Though it was hard to tell.)

Watching Carter Page tumble down Uncanny Valley

Rick Wilson on The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire:

[Carter Page] gives off the creepy Uncanny Valley vibe of a rogue, possibly murderous android or of a man with a too-extensive knowledge of human taxidermy and a soundproofed van.

I do sometimes wonder if he escaped from a lab in Mountain View and refuses to respond to his firmware updates. Or maybe he’s hoping for a dramatic exit:

“Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf”

Another journalist reports from Trump country about the president’s popularity and its origins:

Johnstown voters do not intend to hold the president accountable for the nonnegotiable pledges he made to them. It’s not that the people who made Trump president have generously moved the goalposts for him. It’s that they have eliminated the goalposts altogether.

This reality ought to get the attention of anyone who thinks they will win in 2018 or 2020 by running against Trump’s record. His supporters here, it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments. For them, it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting. Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf….

So many people in so many other areas of the country watch with dismay and existential alarm Trump’s Twitter hijinks, his petty feuds, his penchant for butting into areas where the president has no explicit, policy-relevant role. All of that only animates his supporters here. For them, Trump is their megaphone. He is the scriptwriter. He is a singularly effective, intuitive creator of a limitless loop of grievance and discontent that keeps them in absolute lockstep.

Then there are gems like this:

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”…

If Obama, I asked, is the antichrist—whose arrival is said to precede the second coming of Christ—what would that make Trump?

“The savior?” Del Signore suggested.

“Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”

Lindy West admits that “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.” It’s a terrific piece:

When Allen and other men warn of “a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere” what they mean is an atmosphere in which they’re expected to comport themselves with the care, consideration and fear of consequences that the rest of us call basic professionalism and respect for shared humanity. On some level, to some men — and you can call me a hysteric but I am done mincing words on this — there is no injustice quite so unnaturally, viscerally grotesque as a white man being fired….

In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.

The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy. The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them. Happy Halloween.

I look forward to the day when great writers don’t have to spend time writing about things like this (I wish I could write as well as her), but this is the world we live in.

Come for the salmon and natural beauty, stay for the white nationalism

This piece by David Lewis about a white nationalist convention in Seattle is something:

Seattle had somehow gone from virtually no open racists (although I’ve worked retail at places with pretty open whites only management policies) to being the kind of place to which you’d travel all the way from Sweden to study a new style of racism….

Former skinhead movements fizzled out because, in addition to requiring fanatical racism from their followers, they also required severe lifestyle changes like going off to live in survivalist compounds or being a Nazi 24/7. The Johnson Seattle approach to racism is more like, “let’s get a cake for Hitler’s birthday after picking the kids up from soccer practice,” making it more compatible with the way a lot of these people already live and the way they grew up.

Between this and the Buzzfeed article about Milo, it seems clear that while in most circles it’s still socially unacceptable to be openly white nationalist, they’re trying hard to change that.

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