May 16, 2018 in 4,538 words

How Rhetoric on the Left Fuels Bigotry on the Right

The latest disagreement dividing opponents of Donald Trump


Few questions divide opponents of President Donald Trump more than this one: Should those who hope to defeat the president exercise more care in how they talk about the American right to avoid fueling the most bigoted strains of populism?

Lots of liberals think so. Dozens of variations on that advice appear in books, newspaper op-eds, magazine articles, lectures, and conversation threads on social media. And while many of those variations are unconvincing, and ought to be refuted and rejected, even the strongest variations on the theme are met with hostility from the left. Such arguments are more likely to be mischaracterized (always uncharitably) and dismissively mocked than debated.

The latest example of this dynamic unfolded with these claims from Bari Weiss of The New York Times: “Failing to draw distinctions between people like Sam Harris and people like Richard Spencer strips the designation ‘alt-right’ of its power and meaning,” she wrote on Twitter. “When that label is used promiscuously, people start to take it less seriously … And when conservatives, classical liberals or libertarians are told by the progressive chattering class that they—or those they read—are alt-right, the very common response is to say: ‘Screw it. They think everyone is alt-right.’ And then those people move further right.”

Weiss’s concerns did not imply the need for any great progressive concession—merely describing people like Sam Harris accurately would suffice to address them.

Yet they were met with anger and mockery.


The Lingering Mysteries of a Trump-Russia Conspiracy

A year of dizzying developments have bolstered both Mueller’s critics, who say he’s on a “fishing expedition,” and his defenders, who believe he’s leaving no stone unturned.

The day after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to lead the investigation into Russia’s election interference, it seemed to some that President Trump’s “worst nightmare” had come true. A year and nearly 20 indictments later, there’s no sign it’s winding down.

Dozens of dizzying developments and near-daily news alerts have bolstered both Mueller’s critics who say he’s on a “fishing expedition,” and his defenders, who believe he’s leaving no stone unturned. All along, Mueller has never said a word, preferring to speak through the criminal charges he’s levied against multiple Trump associates, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Trump has taken the opposite approach, ramping up his attacks on Mueller’s “witch hunt” and against the special counsel himself in tweets and interviews.

To the president, the investigation may seem like it has dragged on. But the longest special-counsel probe—Iran-Contra under former President Ronald Reagan—lasted nearly seven years. The Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky inquiry involving former President Bill Clinton, which ultimately led to Clinton’s impeachment in the House, lasted four years. And the investigation of the Valerie Plame affair under former President George W. Bush lasted three-and-a-half years. Mueller’s pace has been breakneck, legal experts tell me—especially for a complicated counterintelligence investigation that involves foreign nationals and the Kremlin, an adversarial government.

As the probe wears on, the fundamental legitimacy of Trump’s presidency hangs in the balance: Did his campaign conspire with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton and win the election?

Here, the most significant revelations the country has learned since Mueller began his probe—revelations that could eventually answer that question.


Facebook lets advertisers target users based on sensitive interests

Social network categorises users based on inferred interests such as Islam or homosexuality.


Facebook argues that classifying a user by their interests is not the same as classifying them by their personal traits.

Facebook allows advertisers to target users it thinks are interested in subjects such as homosexuality, Islam or liberalism, despite religion, sexuality and political beliefs explicitly being marked out as sensitive information under new data protection laws.

The social network gathers information about users based on their actions on Facebook and on the wider web, and uses that data to predict on their interests. These can be mundane – football, Manhattan or dogs, for instance – or more esoteric.

A Guardian investigation in conjunction with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation found that Facebook is able to infer extremely personal information about users, which it allows advertisers to use for targeting purposes. Among the interests found in users’ profiles were communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity.

The EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May, explicitly labels such categories of information as so sensitive, with such a risk of human rights breaches, that it mandates special conditions around how they can be collected and processed. Among those categories are information about a person’s race, ethnic origin, politics, religion, sex life and sexual orientation.


When respect for diversity is taken to crazy extremes

The idea of “cultural appropriation” is a dubious, harmful concept. Bin it

EVERY year the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts a gala. A single ticket costs $30,000. New York’s A-listers and wannabes deck themselves in overwrought garments designed for the party’s theme. Three years ago “China: Through the Looking Glass” inspired dresses with dragons (pictured), hair held in place with chopsticks and, from a few sartorially confused celebrities, kimonos.

The attire prompted an outcry over “cultural appropriation”—an elastic, ill-defined gripe. No such furore arose over the outfits at this year’s gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, even though they included a stilettoed and sequinned pope, Jesus Christ in a gold tiara, and a spectacularly winged angel. Why not?

It is not as though the concept of cultural appropriation has fallen out of use. Gonzaga University issued a firmly worded statement warning “non-Mexican individuals” against celebrating Cinco de Mayo; the campus multicultural centre published a minatory infographic ordering, “Don’t you dare try on that ‘sombrero’.” About a week earlier an 18-year-old white student in Utah received hundreds of hostile comments after she wore a Chinese-inspired dress to her school prom.

The accusation is great at stirring up Twitter outrage. But what is cultural appropriation?


Yale student Lolade Siyonbola has a solution to the systemic problem that got her interrogated for a nap

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE


Why are we still debating this?

On May 7, 2018, Lolade Siyonbola, a black graduate student in African studies at Yale University, was writing a paper in her common room when she fell asleep. That’s a common enough affliction for college students—but what happened to her when she woke up is not. A white student told her she didn’t have a right to sleep there, and called the police.

What happened to Siyonbola is indicative of a systemic problem in the US: White people consistently call the police on black people in the midst of accomplishing pretty mundane activities. “To anyone who thinks it’s ok to use the police force in this manner, examine yourself for bias against black people,” Siyonbola told me via email. “Question whether you would do that to someone white, and whether you would tolerate such treatment towards your loved ones.”

Siyonbola makes a crucial point: The problem of race-based discrimination in the police force is an issue that pertains not just to law enforcement, but to people whose first instinct in any situation involving a person of color is to call the cops. That explains why the argument that the US needs to find a way to discourage people from needlessly calling the police is gaining traction today.

Bystanders often call the police on black people for minor reasons

The Yale incident is the latest in a series of high-profile cases in the US of black people being confronted by the police while doing nothing wrong. In April 2018, a white woman reported a group of black women, including Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast, who had rented an Airbnb for a music festival near San Bernardino, California. The neighbor reported a possible burglary partially because, she later explained, the women did not wave to her. In another recent incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks, two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were reported to the police by a Starbucks employee for simply waiting for their friend without ordering anything.


The Rage of the Incels

Incels aren’t really looking for sex. They’re looking for absolute male supremacy.


What incels want is extremely limited and specific: they want to be able to have sex on demand with young, beautiful women. They believe that this is a natural right.

Lately I have been thinking about one of the first things that I ever wrote for the Internet: a series of interviews with adult virgins, published by the Hairpin. I knew my first subject personally, and, after I interviewed her, I put out an open call. To my surprise, messages came rolling in. Some of the people I talked to were virgins by choice. Some were not, sometimes for complicated, overlapping reasons: disability, trauma, issues related to appearance, temperament, chance. “Embarrassed doesn’t even cover it,” a thirty-two-year-old woman who chose the pseudonym Bette told me. “Not having erotic capital, not being part of the sexual marketplace . . . that’s a serious thing in our world! I mean, practically everyone has sex, so what’s wrong with me?” A twenty-six-year-old man who was on the autism spectrum and had been molested as a child wondered, “If I get naked with someone, am I going to take to it like a duck to water, or am I going to start crying and lock myself in the bathroom?” He hoped to meet someone who saw life clearly, who was gentle and independent. “Sometimes I think, why would a woman like that ever want me?” he said. But he had worked hard, he told me, to start thinking of himself as a person who was capable of a relationship—a person who was worthy of, and could accept, love.

It is a horrible thing to feel unwanted—invisible, inadequate, ineligible for the things that any person might hope for. It is also entirely possible to process a difficult social position with generosity and grace. None of the people I interviewed believed that they were owed the sex that they wished to have. In America, to be poor, or black, or fat, or trans, or Native, or old, or disabled, or undocumented, among other things, is usually to have become acquainted with unwantedness. Structural power is the best protection against it: a rich straight white man, no matter how unpleasant, will always receive enthusiastic handshakes and good treatment at banking institutions; he will find ways to get laid.

These days, in this country, sex has become a hyper-efficient and deregulated marketplace, and, like any hyper-efficient and deregulated marketplace, it often makes people feel very bad. Our newest sex technologies, such as Tinder and Grindr, are built to carefully match people by looks above all else. Sexual value continues to accrue to abled over disabled, cis over trans, thin over fat, tall over short, white over nonwhite, rich over poor. There is an absurd mismatch in the way that straight men and women are taught to respond to these circumstances. Women are socialized from childhood to blame themselves if they feel undesirable, to believe that they will be unacceptable unless they spend time and money and mental effort being pretty and amenable and appealing to men. Conventional femininity teaches women to be good partners to men as a basic moral requirement: a woman should provide her man a support system, and be an ideal accessory for him, and it is her job to convince him, and the world, that she is good.

Men, like women, blame women if they feel undesirable. And, as women gain the economic and cultural power that allows them to be choosy about their partners, men have generated ideas about self-improvement that are sometimes inextricable from violent rage.


Why Alex Jones Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Noted conspiracy theorist and human tire fire Alex Jones is being sued by the parents of two Sandy Hook victims over his repeated claims that they were “crisis actors” in a fake shooting. Jones responded that the lawsuit was an elaborate character assassination that would end with him either jailed or dead, in a classic example of a win-win scenario. But Jones is famous for being crazy, right? What’s the story here?

It’s easy to dismiss Jones as a raving lunatic, because on the surface that’s all he is. Some recent top stories on his websites, Infowars and PrisonPlanet, are “GOVERNMENT LEAKS FILE DESCRIBING ‘REMOTE MIND CONTROL,’ ‘FORCED MEMORY BLANKING'” and “CNN ASSOCIATES INFOWARS WITH PEDO CHANNEL IN BID TO SHUT DOWN ITS COMPETITION.” From calling schools “government internment camps,” to 9/11 trutherism, to worrying that genocide is being committed against white people (at a leisurely pace, it seems), Jones has never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like to endlessly scream. When he’s not perpetually on the verge of having a heart attack, he’s shilling books, DVDs, survivalist gear like “Patriot Seeds” which presumably play the National Anthem as they’re planted, and “health” supplements such as “Caveman True Paleo Formula” and the “True Alpha Male Pack” (only 69.95!), which are supposedly chock-full of “Ancient Supernutrients” (and also lead).

John Oliver did a widely shared segment on Jones’ merchandise empire and tendency to preach like an enraged buffalo in heat. But while it’s an entertaining piece, mocking Jones’ mannerisms is like dunking on a serial killer’s ugly shirt while he waves a chainsaw in your face. People give Jones 70 bucks to become a True Alpha Male because they believe in what he’s doing, and he’s doing a lot. On a typical day, his show airs for around three hours, his YouTube channel uploads four hours of additional content, his websites publish a dozen stories, and he has an active, labyrinthine forum you can lose yourself in for hours more. Jones has his own world that you can immerse yourself in 24/7, and it’s a world that’s paranoid and hateful.


Ancient Rome’s Collapse Is Written Into Arctic Ice

Scientists can finally track the civilization’s economic booms and recessions—thanks to the exhaust of its massive coin-making operation, preserved for centuries in Greenland’s ice sheet.

On March 15, some time ago, several dozen famous politicians—sturdy men, duly elected senators who claimed to love their republic—attacked their chief executive while he walked into the Senate. They stabbed Gaius Julius Caesar 23 times, as he fell to the floor, defenseless, and bled to death, setting off a chain of wars that formally ended the Roman Republic and initiated the Roman Empire.

Some 2,062 years have passed since that day, but we haven’t stopped arguing about it. From Central Park productions of Julius Caesar to op-ed accusations of “Caesarism,” the Roman dictator—and the world he inhabited—still looms in our political conversation. Even the architecture of Washington, D.C., suggests that it is a kind of New Rome.

But for all those years, the source material for the arguments have remained largely the same. Archaeologists can locate new sites and excavate for coins, plates, or jewelry; scholars can read and reread Roman writers like Cicero, Sallust, and Catullus, who all documented Caesar. These have been the techniques for learning about Rome for centuries, and they are indispensable. But lately, they have been joined by something new.

On Monday, scientists announced the discovery of an entirely new resource that has the potential to remake some of those centuries-old arguments over Roman politics and history. A team of archaeologists, historians, and climate scientists have constructed a history of Rome’s lead pollution, which allows them to approximate Mediterranean economic activity from 1,100 b.c. to 800 a.d. They found it hiding thousands of miles from the Roman Forum: deep in the Greenland Ice Sheet, the enormous, miles-thick plate of ice that entombs the North Atlantic island.


ERECTION WINE AND PENIS FISH: THE CHANGING PERCEPTIONS OF “MANLY FOODS” IN SOUTH KOREA

GOOD FOR MEN


Boy’s club.

South Korea’s consumption of dog meat is well-known, and was recently in the spotlight again as athletes from around the world descended on the country for the Winter Olympics. What’s less frequently discussed is the connection between dog meat and the country’s long tradition of gendered foods—specifically “masculine” foods.

Many foods in Korea, such as dog meat stew (bosintang), are deemed to be “good for men.” From everyday foods, such as garlic or chives, to eel soup and gaebul—“penis fish,” a species of marine worm that resembles the male appendage—these ingredients are recommended for their ability to enhance male sexual performance. Bbeolddok-ju, or “erection wine,” is a rice-based wine that’s made with fruits, and comes with a phallus-shaped cap bearing a smiley face.

But these traditions are changing rapidly in a Korea where the younger generations are pushing back against long-established patriarchal norms, meaning the desire for gendered foods is increasingly the hallmark of a man of a certain age.

JONGRYUK FOODS

In Korean, the term jongryuk, or stamina, is used interchangeably to refer to one’s daily energy as well as one’s sexual endurance, though it’s more often used to mean the latter. Influenced by concepts from traditional Chinese medicine and ideas of yin and yang (“hot” and “cooling”), these foods come with their own folklore celebrating male virility. Dog meat, for example, is said to be particularly good for the body in the summer months.


If you hear Yanny, you are wrong

REST ON YOUR LAURELS


It’s Laurel.

A debate has been raging across the internet for the last few days. What does the audio in this viral video say—is it Laurel, or Yanny (which is not even a word)?

It’s entirely possible, for scientific reasons laid out by my colleague Zoë Schlanger in her story May 15, that you might perceive the audio here as either Laurel or Yanny. But if you’re hearing Yanny, you’re empirically wrong.

Beyond the fact that Yanny is, again, not a word, Virginia Tech linguistics professor Abby Walker seems to have nailed down the source of the audio file. “There are lots of unnatural things going on, but it almost looks like there are two files on top of each other,” she said in a blog post. “At first I thought someone had intentionally made a weird file to mess with people, but apparently is just a bad automatic synthesis from vocabulary.com.”


The Owl Thieves of Sweden

As the country ditches cash, criminals turn to stealing owls.

Here’s a dead-end job: Swedish bank robber. In 2016, there were only two bank heists in all of Sweden, compared with 110 eight years earlier. Why the steep plunge? The country’s bent on going cashless.

In 1661, Sweden became the first European country to print banknotes; several centuries later, it might become the first country to get rid of them. Card readers and mobile-payment apps are now used even in situations that were once reserved for dog-eared bills and pocket change, like donating in church. Buses in Sweden don’t accept cash. Neither do many street vendors.

Though the government is still printing Sweden’s national currency, the krona, two-thirds of Swedes say they feel that they could live without bills and coins. According to the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, cold hard kronor accounted for barely 2 percent of the value of all payments made in Sweden in 2015. The bank projects that “cash will stick around until the 2030s,” but not necessarily longer. Already, fewer than half of Swedish banks keep any on hand. Sweden also has the lowest rate of ATM withdrawals as a percentage of GDP in the world, at a measly 2.5 percent. The word is out among the brotherhood of muggers and pickpockets: In Sweden, crime doesn’t pay like it used to.

Which might be why Swedish thieves are embarking on ever more outlandish crimes, including a recent series of heists worthy of The Fast and the Furious. Imagine breaking into the back of a moving delivery truck by night and stealing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Apple products. Now imagine reaching for that truck from the hood of a car traveling 50 miles an hour, its lights off to avoid detection. After enduring several such attacks, the Swedish postal service, PostNord, busted the highway robbers by wiring a truck with cameras, filling it with Apple products, and waiting. On a road somewhere between Vara and Alingsås, in southwest Sweden, the robbers took the bait, and cops moved in. “Criminals are more interested in high-value goods now,” says Alexis Larsson, PostNord’s head of security and claims. “This trend will probably increase as less cash is available.”


Hippos Poop So Much That Sometimes All the Fish Die

Their dung consumes the oxygen around it, creating lethal pulses of suffocating water.

At first, Chris Dutton and Amanda Subalusky had no idea why the fish were dying.

At a bridge on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, they noticed that whenever the Mara River rose by a few feet, dead fish would wash up on its banks, sometimes in the thousands. Storks, vultures, crocodiles, and hyenas made short work of the carcasses, so “if you weren’t there to see it, you’d never know it was happening,” says Dutton. Local rangers knew about the die-offs, but they blamed the events on farmers who sprayed pesticides in upstream fields.

It wasn’t the farmers. Through an increasingly bold set of experiments, involving remote-controlled boats, computer simulations, a makeshift dam, and vast tankers of excrement-filled water, Dutton and Subalusky identified the real culprits: hippos.

The duo, who are married, published their results in a paper with the remarkably polite title of “Organic matter loading by hippopotami causes subsidy overload resulting in downstream hypoxia and fish kills.” To translate: Hippos sometimes poop so much that all the fish choke to death.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Voting rights expert Heather McGhee explains how Big Money distorts our political system and what we can do to reform campaign finance.


When it comes to the division of wealth, many Americans believe that the country is split between the 1%, which possesses a significant share of the country’s money, and the 99%, or “the people.” In reality, The Atlantic writer Matthew Stewart argues, 9.9% of the population comprises America’s new aristocracy, which often “takes wealth out of productive activities and invests it in walls.” But this group of people is rich in more than mere money, and its constancy poses an insidious threat to the promise of American democracy.

Read Matthew Stewart’s cover story on the new American aristocracy in the June issue of The Atlantic.


Olga Brudastova, Margot Sergent, and Samed Walker have spent the last six months waiting to see if they won the green card lottery. Today, they found out their fates.

Sergent is a 40-year-old musician and actress from France, who is currently in the U.S. on an “extraordinary abilities” visa. Brudastova came from Moscow in 2013 to pursue her doctorate in civil engineering at Columbia University on a student visa. And Walker traveled to United States after escaping violence in Ghana. He arrived at the U.S. Mexico border by way of South and Central America from Brazil, and is currently seeking asylum.

The green card lottery, known officially as the diversity visa program, was established by Congress as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. Its purpose is to increase the geographic and cultural diversity of the U.S. population, and the vast majority of applicants apply from their home country.

No other country in the world has a visa lottery like this, but the downside is that it’s almost impossible to win. In 2017, only around one quarter of 1 percent of applicants ended up with a green card.

Today, Olga, Margot, and Samed all logged on to the State Department website to get their verdicts. VICE News was there.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


President Trump lashes out at leakers amid reports that White House aide Kelly Sadler made a cruel joke about Senator John McCain’s failing health.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


Trump’s White House have turned leaking into an artform.


Stephen talks about D.C. every night but, after a visit from Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), it appears the Late Show is part of the Marvel Universe.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Citizen Journalist and freelance fixer Tim Baltz steps in to handle President Trump’s personal problems, including a swarm of sharks headed toward the East Coast.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Opposition with Jordan Klepper for making this program available on YouTube.


Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds an impromptu press briefing to answer burning questions, like “what is the Trump administration’s biggest weakness?”

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.


Berlin-based industrial 3D printer manufacturer, BigRep, are introducing a whole new concept for bicycle tires. The company claims that they have created the world’s first 3D printed airless bicycle tire. Unfortunately, the cyclists who want to try it will have to print it themselves, as this prototype is just a concept design.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on some A grade slapstick. First seen on the Belfast Banter FB page.


ゆらゆらなまる。だんだん慣れてきて静止状態に。Maru enjoys wobbling.


FINALLY . . .

THANKS FOR BRINGING US ON THE BUS, TOM WOLFE

A LONG, STRANGE TRIP


Get on the bus.


It had been a good 15 years since I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but when I learned of Tom Wolfe’s death on Tuesday morning, I pulled my old copy off the shelf.

The seminal 1968 chronicle of the counterculture is Wolfe’s account of living and traveling with the writer Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, in a day-glo bus equipped with loads of LSD. In today’s Los Angeles, 50 years after the book was published, that metaphorical bus is still rolling, but it looks very different: corporate-sponsored music festivals, luxury cannabis dispensaries, micro-dosing as a productivity hack, Goop-endorsed crystal healing, and the artfully staged Instagrams of #vanlife.

Wolfe made the case that the Acid Tests—LSD-laden parties with trip-enhancing experimental live music by the Grateful Dead, art nouveau visuals, black lights, and multi-color projections—laid the foundation for psychedelic style. And he anticipated, correctly, that the Merry Pranksters legacy would be idealized and imitated far beyond that moment:


Later other impresarios and performers would recreate the Prankster styles with a sophistication the Pranksters never dreamed of. Art is not eternal, boys. The posters became works of art in the accepted cultural tradition. Others would even play the Dead’s sound more successfully, commercially, anyway, than the Dead. Others would do the mixed-media thing until it was pure ambrosial candy for the brain with creamy filling every time. To which Kesey would say: “They know where it is, but they don’t know what it is.”

It’s easy to feel nostalgic for the simpler world of the counter-culture 1960s. And in the midst of a new “new age”—think Burning Man, post-work sound baths, and weekend ayahuasca retreats—our perception of its cultural precedents is often scrubbed clean, romanticized, and repackaged.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?