The atmosphere thickens

Jan 15th, 2020 12:35 pm | By

NPR on the Parnas hotel room notepad scribbles:

The records provided by Parnas, who has been indicted in New York for alleged campaign finance violations, add to the evidence already released documenting Giuliani’s efforts to get the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to publicly announce an investigation related to former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had ties to a Ukrainian energy company.

It’s not that there’s anything new in that, it’s just that I keep wanting to underline how DERANGED it is. Trump’s personal lawyer is working with random guy Lev Parnas to try to force another head of state to damage one of Trump’s political competitors. Trump might as well be sending Barron and a couple of Barron’s classmates to South Korea to try to get that government to sabotage Elizabeth Warren – it would make just as much sense. Then again that would omit the extra poignancy in the fact that Giuliani was once a famous prosecutor in the famous SDNY.

But there is new news on this revolting Robert Hyde character.

But it’s a string of WhatsApp messages from late March 2019 taken from Parnas’ phone that is drawing the most scrutiny. In those texts, Parnas and an associate named Robert F. Hyde, a retired Marine who is running for Congress as a Republican in Connecticut, criticize Yovanovitch, who was still a U.S. ambassador at the time.

She was still an ambassador at that time because Trump hadn’t yet fired her for his own evil self-dealing reasons.

“Wow. Can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this bitch. I’ll get right in that,” Hyde wrote in an encrypted message to Parnas. He added, “She under heavy protection outside Kiev.”

People working for Trump’s personal lawyer are conspiring to harm a US ambassador, presumably because she’s not corrupt and thus won’t help them with their corrupt Cunning Plan.

The messages also seem to indicate that Hyde might have been involved in monitoring Yovanovitch and her movements.

“They are moving her tomorrow,” Hyde later wrote, quickly followed by, “The guys over they asked me what I would like to do and what is in it for them.”

Hyde said Yovanovitch had turned off her phone and computer, and that his associates in Ukraine would give updates on the ambassador’s movements. He added, “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price… Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money … what I was told.”

These random crooks are monitoring an ambassador’s phone and computer. On behalf of the president of the US. Along with being criminal it’s just so filthy.

Two days later, on March 29, Hyde wrote, “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”

But hey, he was only joking, folks!

In a a flurry of comments Wednesday, Hyde said he has never been to Kyiv and that the highlighted exchange was all in fun and had been misconstrued.

Uh huh. Just jokes.

So he’s illiterate as well as criminal and dangerous.

I do not like these people.


Jan 15th, 2020 11:50 am | By

This. Don’t. normalize. Trump.

Pencils down

Jan 15th, 2020 6:05 am | By

On another subject…

Image result for adam schiff
Image result for jared kushner

Just saying.

Personal lawyer

Jan 15th, 2020 5:55 am | By

CNN on the Giuliani-Parnas-Yovanovitch papers:

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Tuesday called for an investigation into the “disturbing” notion that she was under surveillance from associates of the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

I’ve asked this before, but the question is even more pressing now: what business would anyone’s personal lawyer have interfering with a US ambassador on the job? Giuliani was emphatic on the point that he wasn’t working for Trump the [pretend] president, he was working for Trump the person. Trump the person has even less right to sandbag an ambassador for his own criminal interests than Trump the [pretend] president has. It’s as if Trump’s dentist tried to pull an ambassador’s teeth out.

The texts released by the House Democrats Tuesday show Connecticut Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde berating Yovanovitch and suggest he was monitoring her while she was in Kiev and relaying her movements to Parnas. Hyde declined to comment to CNN when asked if he had surveilled Yovanovitch, who served as a key witness in the House impeachment probe.

Robert Hyde is a strikingly horrible character. He’ll probably be president after Trump.

Three retired ambassadors who know Yovanovitch expressed shock and horror Tuesday at the idea that the longtime diplomat was being surveilled by an American.

“It’s horrifying, it’s just unbelievable,” retired ambassador Jim Melville said in a phone conversation with CNN. “The very idea that there were elements, possibly of the US government or connected to the US government, who were trying to do an end run around everything that we’ve established to keep our mission safe is just outrageous.”

Connected to the US government but not officially. Off the books connected. “Private” connected. Connected the way the plumbers were connected to Nixon.

Retired ambassador Nancy McEldowney echoed that sentiment.

“I find this really shocking and alarming and the idea that American citizens would be surveilling an American ambassador with the endorsement of the President’s personal attorney, it’s just so troubling to me,” McEldowney told CNN.

Another retired ambassador said they had “never heard of anything like it.”

“It’s common that terrorists and former communists do this to us. It’s appalling and incomprehensible that somebody who is working for the President’s personal lawyer would have been doing this to our ambassador,” they told CNN.

We get such an onslaught of outrageous criminal actions from Trump and his trumpers that we lose track of how outrageous some of the actions are. This business of having shadowy gangsters abusing an ambassador who is doing her job (and by all non-trumpian accounts doing it brilliantly) is hard to take in.

Asked whether they believed it would be helpful for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come out in Yovanovitch’s defense in light of the latest developments, both Melville and McEldowney slammed the top US diplomat.

Pompeo isn’t the top US diplomat. He’s a hack, in way over his head. Diplomats are professionals; Pompeo is a hack.

“He hasn’t stood up for anybody in the foreign service. All he’s looking out for is his own back and the President,” Melville said. “He has no interest in the good of the service and its people and he’s made that abundantly clear repeatedly.”

McEldowney told CNN she believes Pompeo is “derelict in his duty for refusing to speak out about diplomats who are loyally and faithfully and professionally carrying out their responsibilities and who are being slandered by political attacks.”

Oh well, it’s only the State Department.

The announcement is everything

Jan 15th, 2020 5:26 am | By

Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer in the Post:

The new documents released Tuesday evening by the House Intelligence Committee were devastating to Trump’s continuing — if shifting — defense of his Ukraine extortion scandal, just days before his impeachment trial is likely to begin in the Senate. These new documents demolish at least three key defenses to which Trump and his allies have been clinging: that he was really fighting corruption when he pressured Ukraine on matters related to the Biden family; that Hunter Biden should be called as a witness at the Senate impeachment trial; and that there’s no need for a real, honest-to-goodness trial in the Senate.

They point out that even Nixon didn’t think he could just say No to impeachment.

That’s why the House added Article II to Trump’s impeachment: “Obstruction of Congress.” It was a response to an unprecedented attempt by Trump to hide the truth.

The documents released Tuesday show what Trump has been so afraid of. For starters, they prove that Trump’s already-eyebrow-raising claim to have been fighting corruption in Ukraine was bogus. Notes taken by an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, Lev Parnas — now facing federal criminal charges — show what his and Giuliani’s mission was when they got in touch with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: “get Zalensky to Announce that the Biden case will Be Investigated.” Look hard at the real goal here: not to prompt an investigation of Hunter Biden, but to score an announcement of a Biden investigation. Pursuing an announcement, rather than an investigation, makes sense only if Trump’s objective was to dirty the reputation of a leading political rival, Joe Biden.

It’s very Trump though. It’s incriminating but it’s also just so Trump – so about the appearance and so not about the substance. He’s a pretend genius pretending to be a president pretending to do serious grown-up presidenty things. It’s all performance; there is nothing else. He doesn’t know there’s anything else. He thinks what he sees is all there is. He’s that simple.

All told, the documents help to explain Trump’s consistent push to bury the evidence against himself. Every week, it becomes clearer why Trump has withheld documents from Congress, blocked executive branch officials and even private citizens from testifying before Congress, and overall, well, obstructed Congress, as the second article of impeachment rightly describes it. It’s because Trump is a man with something to hide. Let’s see what else he’s hiding — in front of the Senate next week, in a good, old-fashioned American trial for all to see.

Trump has almost everything to hide.

Guest post: Tactics common in abusive relationships make bad activism

Jan 15th, 2020 4:30 am | By

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on All the poles are reversed.

If there is no difference between a cis woman and a trans woman, if “trans women are women” – then it shouldn’t make any difference.

But of course, there is a difference.

Anyway the more I see these stories, the more this runs through my head:

You’ve heard of TERFs, you’ve heard of SWERFs, now introducing the hot new radical feminism, WERFs.

That’s right, Women Exclusionary Radical Feminism, for when you want to call yourself a feminist but think the only women whose voices matter, are those women who have penises.

Do you think it is okay to threaten 60 year-old-women with baseball bats while still claiming to be a radical feminist? Being a WERF is right up your alley.

Are you basically a frat boy who thinks putting on a dress means you get to call lesbians who don’t want to have sex with you bigots? Congratulations, you’re a WERF.

Do you present yourself as the most insulting possible parody of a female, with the barest essentials are “a willing asshole, an open mouth and blank, blank eyes” and think this makes you more legitimate than someone who was actually born female? You’re a WERF mate.

Do you think that harassing female athletes for having doubts about whether male bodied athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports is a good thing to do? That’s why you’re WERF.

Do you think you threatening to commit suicide when feminists say things you disagree with makes their words tantamount to violence? WERF.

Now note: Not all trans people are WERFs. Not all WERFs are trans. Most trans people are much like most other people, and not dickheads about it. One can argue in favour of trans inclusion in women’s sports without trying to silence the opposition.

One can legitimately argue in favour of “trans women are women” without harassment campaigns against the opposition, and calling people bigots because they’re not on the same page as you.

It is perfectly possible to do these things, but doing them requires actually having enough respect for women to be willing to listen to what they have to say. It requires respecting women having freedom to speech, even speech that you might find hurtful.

It requires arguments not dictates. And those are very rare from the trans activist community.

This is not a matter of simple disagreements between the TERF and WERF movements right now – it is a set of tactics which are common in abusive relationships being turned into activism.

We see gaslighting going on where women are dismissed as being crazy for having concerns. We see threats of suicide used as a silencing tactic. We see outright violence occasionally and a lot of harassment.

We see the idealisation of what it is to be female – in a way that a lot of feminists would regard as outright misogynist. We then see feminists who object to this being threatened.

Years ago my view on trans rights was this: I’m not in support of having a situation where people have their genitals checked before they go to the bathroom. I wouldn’t want somebody checking I’ve got a penis before going to a men’s restroom, and urinals are a lot more public than cubicles.

I can respect that people disagree – but I think in practical terms for the day-to-day, trans women should be treated as being women because nobody wants anybody going and looking up people’s skirts or in people’s pants to check.

But my view has warped. I still think nobody wants to institute the gender-police, but honestly trans activism has gone so far that it is now unsupportable.

I don’t believe in “double vision” – I think people are people. The oppressed are not suddenly granted super-perception by being oppressed, people are people, we see what we see, and we all make assumptions of varying accuracy.

My country has been governed by identity politics since 1994, and the result has been some of the highest rates of murder and rape in the world, a unemployment rate of over 29%, xenophobia, our 2019 GDP growth was 0.1%, and we’ve not even had any movement on those identity issues.

I still believe that Thabo Mbeki is the worst president South Africa has had. Not just because of the AIDS crisis, but because of how he handled the crime crisis. Mbeki responded to that crisis by calling the reporters who highlighted it racist.

It’s not worked because it doesn’t treat people as people, but as identities – so we’ve got a government that thinks it has “double vision” and thus ignores a lot of expertise from the old oppressor class, who had a greater chance to become experts due that oppression.

Nobody had “double vision” and now we can’t keep the lights on. Don’t assume you know better because you think you’re oppressed, at best you’re just as informed as your oppressor, maybe just on different issues, at worst you might not even be oppressed but rather feel oppressed and be justifying your own vile behaviour by that. This is why conversations and working together matter, why you should be prepared to listen even when it is something that you find deeply personally offensive.

It is also why you shouldn’t justify things by claiming you’re “punching up”, the people who are willing to tolerate really getting punched aren’t that far up, and all too often are actually too far down to retaliate. There is a reason why in any social justice activism, women are generally more in the firing line than men.

And this is why the trans activist community is part of what is driving situations where leftwing parties are losing – because this dictatorial style where everyone who disagrees is a bigot? It breaks countries. You don’t have to converse politely, mockery and all of that is fine, but don’t think just shutting down the opposition is going to do away with the opposition, you might just be doing away with your support.

The corrupted who?

Jan 14th, 2020 5:38 pm | By

More from The Festering Sewer Dispatch:

On Monday, President Trump retweeted a fake image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer in Middle Eastern garb standing in front of an Iranian flag. The badly-photoshopped image showed Pelosi wearing hijab and Schumer with a turban on his head. “Democrats 2020,” the text on the bottom of the image read.

Hur hur hur.

Telling Trump he can’t unilaterally commit an act of war is not the same as embracing the target of the act of war. It’s a little more complicated than that.

The fake image was just one of the anti-Pelosi messages the president retweeted on Monday, many of them using the same hashtag: #NancyPelosiFakeNews. Bot Sentinel, a site that analyzes the behavior of Twitter accounts, said the hashtag was being widely spread by “inauthentic accounts” such as automated bots and anonymous trolls.

Trump is an automated bot kind of guy.

Mr. Hyde wrote

Jan 14th, 2020 4:35 pm | By

The Daily Beast has the least cryptic reporting I’ve found on the Parnas Papers so far.

On the eve of a Senate trial to remove President Trump, House Democratic investigators have released a trove of documents obtained from the phone of Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who was tasked with carrying out key parts of the plot to pressure the new president of Ukraine to do political favors for Trump.

In one exchange from March 2019, Robert F. Hyde, a Trump donor and Republican Congressional candidate whose involvement in the Ukraine saga has not been previously detailed, sent texts to Parnas that implied he had access to people spying on Yovanovitch in Kyiv, according to the newly released documents.

“They know she’s a political puppet,” Hyde texted. “They will let me know when she’s on the move… They are willing to help if you/we would like a price.”

A photo of Hyde on Parnas’ phone matches that of the Connecticut-based Republican running for U.S. House, and Parnas’ attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed to The Daily Beast that is indeed the same Hyde. Up until this point, Hyde was best-known for an offensive tweet about Sen. Kamala Harris that drew widespread condemnation. 

Reached for comment on the text messages by The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, Hyde texted, “Bull Schiff is a giant bitch.” 

Yes he definitely sounds like someone we need in Congress.

Another detail:

Get. Them. Out.

Hey brother

Jan 14th, 2020 4:10 pm | By

Breaking news.

I have to wonder what business a congressional candidate – of any party – had surveilling an ambassador. I would wonder the same about a member of Congress.

All the poles are reversed

Jan 14th, 2020 12:02 pm | By

Let’s look at this one again.

3. Two cis women debating trans equality is like two men debating women’s equality – paternalistic and inappropriate. We are not the voices that should be centred.

You see what she’s doing there. It’s what the “activists” do…including, so often, so bafflingly, women. They pretend the magic of “trans” makes men the subordinated party as opposed to the subordinating. They pretend the magic of “trans” makes women Privileged in relation to men. They pretend the magic of “trans” flips the terms and makes women the people who oppress and dominate men.

I will never understand it. Never. I can see thinking that men who are acutely uncomfortable being men have an unhappy lot, and deserve support and sympathy and so on. I cannot see thinking they are actually the underlings while women are the sneering prosperous overlords.

Helen Joyce nails it.

Things that affect real people

Jan 14th, 2020 11:20 am | By

Earlier today –

Fellow academic Alison Phipps responds:

I am particularly struck by “These issues are not abstract thought experiments but things that affect real people.” This is a working academic talking, remember – a working academic claiming there is a gulf between things that affect real people and discussion of such things among academics. If that’s what she thinks why is she even an academic?

Sex, gender, justice, equality, identity, material reality, truth, fantasy, lies, social contagion, intersectionality, rights, law, justice, fairness, body, mind – all are “things that affect real people” and that’s why we discuss them and try hard to get them right. What an admission it is for an academic to say she thinks that discussion is just idle chat between unreal people.

The item about “Two cis women debating trans equality” is also absurd, of course. It would be two women discussing whether men who call themselves women are literally women in all senses and also more marginalized than not-trans women and thus entitled to demand that feminism “center” them.

I guess we should conclude that Phipps isn’t confident she can defend that claim and so is making silly excuses.

Cancel all previous excuses

Jan 14th, 2020 10:45 am | By

Take a moment to feel compassion for a guy who wants to be a criminal genius but is constantly hampered in his quest by a stupidity so profound it can’t be measured. Poor schmuck can’t keep his story straight from one day to the next.

President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran’s increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials.

The presidential directive in June came with the condition that Trump would have final signoff on any specific operation to kill Soleimani, officials said.

Which isn’t much of a condition, because how likely is it that Trump would ever say no?

That decision explains why assassinating Soleimani was on the menu of options that the military presented to Trump two weeks ago for responding to an attack by Iranian proxies in Iraq, in which a U.S. contractor was killed and four U.S. service members were wounded, the officials said.

The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration’s stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.

After Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser at the time, urged Trump to retaliate by signing off on an operation to kill Soleimani, officials said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also wanted Trump to authorize the assassination, officials said.

They destroy a piece of our hardware, we assassinate one of their top guys. It’s the American way. It’s interesting that in this case Trump was slightly less murder-happy than Bolton and Pompeo: he said no, only if they kill one of ours.

But he’s more casual about it now.

“We get to assassinate him because of his horrible past!”

Charles Pierce at Esquire points out that this makes Trump’s previous claims a pack of lies.

So the “imminent attacks” story was bullshit. The “imminent attacks on four embassies” were bullshit. According to his own Secretary of Defense, the intelligence didn’t support either of those conclusions—which means either that the SecDef is oblivious, or his boss is. In any event, the line now is that Qasem Soleimani was a bad guy who deserved to die in a tower of flame and only El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago had the giant presidential cojones to rain down death from above. You can’t have somebody running war powers like this. Also, you can’t have someone making up attacks, imminent or eminent, because he can’t think of anything else to say to Laura Ingraham.

We can’t but we do.

He wouldn’t harm a fly

Jan 13th, 2020 6:02 pm | By

Oh, look, it’s “Jessica” Yaniv getting handsy again.

Caution in case you’re at work: there’s a lot of “fuck” and “fucking.”

Funny, gorgeous, n sexy

Jan 13th, 2020 5:38 pm | By

Gwyneth Paltrow is mocking us.

So Gwyneth has made a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina because, well, of course she has. It is priced at a comparatively bargain £58…

Hadley Freeman isn’t making it up, they do sell it.

$75 US. That’s quite pricey for a candle, even a scented one. Maybe harvesting the scent has high overheads.

Whole religions have been founded trying to answer the big questions: what is the meaning of life? What is reality? How can we cope with the concept of mortality? Goop is a quasi-religion in itself, from its messianic head figure, its deluded self-belief, its ludicrous claims and its overflowing bank account accrued from the desperate and vulnerable, estimated to exceed $250m. It has answered perhaps the greatest question of all: what does Gwyneth’s vagina smell like? According to the candle, it is a “funny, gorgeous, sexy and beautifully unexpected scent”, a mix of “geranium, citrusy bergamot, and cedar absolutes juxtaposed with damask rose and ambrette seed”.

What are cedar absolutes? What is a “funny” scent? How do they know what Gwyneth’s smells like? Is it her vagina they mean, or is it the happy purchaser’s? After all once the purchaser purchases, the “my” in “my vagina” becomes hers, because there it is on her dining table. Is it a universal vagina? If so, how many have they explored to confirm the scent is universal? Can we expect a my scrotum scented candle from, I don’t know, Doctor Phil?

But we must tread carefully here because Gwyneth does not like people questioning her vagina. In 2017, pre-legal case, in response to Dr Gunter’s repeated criticisms, Goop posted a gorgeously huffy reply, which Gwyneth tweeted, with the comment: “When they go low, we go high.” Who knew flogging vaginal eggs was taking the high road? Goop’s “contributing doctors” described Dr Gunter as “strangely confident” (to which Dr Gunter replied: “I am appropriately confident”) and insisted they are “empowering women” by “questioning the status quo”. The status quo being, I guess, vaginas without egg-shaped rocks stuck up inside them. Thank God that status has been quo-ed.

The status quo was not having vagina-scented candles at $75 a pop. Thank god those days are over.

The formulas

Jan 13th, 2020 11:44 am | By

Deborah Cameron has a post on how the news media talk about rape, with Harvey Weinstein and the Cyprus case as examples.

The BBC captioned a program on the latter in a…”problematic” way.

In a clip from the interview which was tweeted out from the programme’s account, you can see a ribbon at the bottom of the screen reporting on a rally which had been organised to support the woman and protest her treatment by the authorities. The caption reads: ‘Rally in support of woman in Cyprus “rape” case’.

I almost did a post on that caption last week, but then decided you could see the scare quotes in more than one way and I didn’t feel like getting into it.

What is going on with those scare quotes around the word ‘rape’?

My guess is that the formulation ‘Cyprus “rape” case’ was meant to convey a neutral or non-committal stance on the question of whether the woman had been raped. Since her allegation remains unproven, because the suspects were released without trial—but at the same time, the finding that she lied can no longer be considered definitive because of evidence that casts doubt on the authenticity of her retraction statement—the caption writer may been looking for a form of words that would not commit the BBC to either of the two competing narratives (that the woman was raped and then forced to retract her complaint, or that the original allegation was false).

That’s exactly what I was thinking, but explained better than I would have. Linguists are great.

But if that was the objective, putting ‘rape’ in scare quotes did not achieve it. Scare quotes are a distancing device, a signal that whatever the quote marks enclose should not be taken at face value. But the stance their use conveys is not agnosticism or lack of certainty, it is scepticism or disbelief. (Scare quotes can also signal irony or mockery, but in relation to rape that’s a less likely interpretation.) So, while it may not have been intentional, the caption’s reference to the ‘Cyprus “rape” case’ is likely to have been taken as supporting the false allegation narrative.

That’s what I didn’t summon the energy to explain: the “” looked like mockery but probably weren’t intended to but they still did so…

Perhaps the caption could have referred to the ‘Cyprus rape controversy’: that’s compatible with the understanding that the facts are disputed, but it doesn’t suggest the BBC itself is taking sides. However, in this context I don’t think it would have been unreasonable to use the phrase ‘rape case’ without scare-quotes. ‘Rape case’ does not just have the meaning ‘court case in which someone has been found guilty of rape’, and we really need to push back against the idea that the word can only be used in that very narrow sense. Those who think its use should be restricted in this way may be sincerely concerned about protecting defendants’ right to a fair trial, but they seem to have difficulty grasping the point that reports which systematically avoid the word ‘rape’, put it in scare quotes or replace it with euphemisms, are not just neutral and inconsequential.

So much difficulty. One can think of possible reasons for that, and then get furious all over again.

As the Glasgow Media Group long ago pointed out in an analysis of the reporting of industrial disputes (where it was always the management who made ‘offers’ while the unions made ‘demands’ or ‘threats’), the repetition of certain formulas over time tends to normalise their underlying assumptions.

Yes. This is why I’m always harping on those formulas. The language is full of them, and they do their work on a level below our awareness. They matter.

Blame the nearest woman

Jan 13th, 2020 11:02 am | By

Mary Beard takes a look at the whole “blame the woman” phenomenon in connection with the bizarre way the UK gutter press has “reported” on Meghan Markle. (Buzzfeed has a piece that places stories on The Other One next to stories on MM and the contrast is quite startling. I don’t know for sure of course whether the examples are representative, but it seems likely that they are since otherwise Buzzfeed would get swiftly eviscerated. The creepiest one I saw before I stopped reading was “aw how sweet the way Kate cradles her bump” compared to ” ew look at Meghan virtue-signaling with all this touching her bump.”)

I wrongly thought that the Harry and Meghan story would be a flash in the pan, quickly overshadowed by all the really important things in the world. But as it has turned into a full-grown bonfire and has become important for the issues that it raises, I think it is worth having a more serious look at what the Roman world might tell us here…

More than a couple of decades ago, I ran a final year course in Cambridge on the “Roman Emperor: construction and deconstruction of an image”. It was partly an attempt not to look beyond all those unreliable stories of Roman emperors (Domitian killing flies, Caligula getting his soldiers to collect pebbles on the beach), but to ask head-on what those stories told us about the way emperors in Rome were perceived, how they related to imperial power (or lack of it). It was also an attempt to look at the structures of how “palace cultures” are perceived and explained by contemporaries outside them…

One of the most obvious things to come out was the way women were repeatedly used as explanatory tools for otherwise unexplained events. Now in the case of Meghan Markle, you would have to be blind not to see a strong vein of “popular” racism in some of the treatment of her. But there is also what I call the “Livia Phenomenon” at work here.

If you’ve ever seen the BBC I, Claudius you’ll know where this is going.

It is not just Robert Graves and Sian Phillips who have given us the image of the emperor Augustus’ wife as a schemer and poisoner, stopping at nothing to get her own way behind the throne. That goes right back to the ancient world itself, and to the writing of Tacitus and Suetonius among others. The basic principle is this. Things happen behind palace walls that we don’t understand. People die, some appear to fall from favour, others come unexpectedly into prominence … or even onto the throne. In the early Roman empire, Livia was the economical explanation for all of that. If someone died, it wasn’t a mysterious or unlucky bug, it was Livia’s poison concoctions. If an unlikely princeling got lucky, it was thanks to her, etc etc. Now, we have no idea whether any, all or none of this is correct. But there is just as good a chance that Livia spent the forty-plus years of Augustus’ reign minding her own business, as that she spent it in the pharmaceutical cupboard.

It is, of course, predictable low-level misogyny, bolstered then as now by unreliable leaks from “palace sources”. It was used against Nancy Reagan, who became a convenient solution to the question of why Ron did odd things, and against Cherie Blair too. And now Meghan Markle is in the firing line.

It’s interesting that this doesn’t apply to Melania Trump. She got heat for that “I really don’t care” jacket, but that was a blip. There’s no need for a Melania in this case because Trump is so very open and public and ostentatious with his crimes and lies and abuse. Mystery is not the issue with him.

Anyway it’s interesting, how persistent and shameless misogyny still is, along with racism and snobbery and the rest of the poisonous brew. Who needs poison in the soup when it’s all over the media?

Irrefutable and inexorable

Jan 13th, 2020 10:10 am | By

Oops we seem to be boiling the oceans.

The heat in the world’s oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet.

The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities.

Boiling the oceans seems like something we don’t want to do, as well as a sign that we’re doing other things we don’t want to do (like frying the lands).

Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an inexorable rise in sea level. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with the number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply.

Note that word “inexorable.” It’s too late to exor the warming, and we’re stuck with it, aka doomed.

“The oceans are really what tells you how fast the Earth is warming,” said Prof John Abraham at the University of St Thomas, in Minnesota, US, and one of the team behind the new analysis. “Using the oceans, we see a continued, uninterrupted and accelerating warming rate of planet Earth. This is dire news.”

“We found that 2019 was not only the warmest year on record, it displayed the largest single-year increase of the entire decade, a sobering reminder that human-caused heating of our planet continues unabated,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, US, and another team member.

It’s as if we’re sledding down a steep hill toward a cliff and refusing to steer the sled sideways to safety. Too bad we’re taking most of the other life on the planet with us.

The analysis, published in the journal Advances In Atmospheric Sciences, uses ocean data from every available source. Most data is from the 3,800 free-drifting Argo floats dispersed across the oceans, but also from torpedo-like bathythermographs dropped from ships in the past.

The results show heat increasing at an accelerating rate as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. The rate from 1987 to 2019 is four and a half times faster than that from 1955 to 1986. The vast majority of oceans regions are showing an increase in thermal energy.


She was literally just a vessel

Jan 12th, 2020 3:40 pm | By

It’s just right below the surface. Sometimes a mere scratch will reveal it.

It takes my breath away.

A woman gestated twin babies for a gay couple, and Pink News calls the babies “their” (meaning the two men’s) daughters. A woman goes through all the exhaustion and discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, and Pink News refers to her daughters as belonging to two men who have done no work so far apart from one ejaculation.

And then some bystander guy says “they aren’t her kids” and “she was literally just a vessel.”

A vessel is something like a pot or vase or urn, an inanimate object that can contain liquids. A vessel has no mind, no body, no feelings, no pain, no fatigue, no longing to be able to sleep comfortably. A pregnant woman? Not so much.

I never can get used to it, the contempt men have for women – the failure even to grasp that we have minds.

There is no “reproductive system” common to females

Jan 12th, 2020 12:25 pm | By

Good to know.

Each one is a mystery. Some are like coconuts, some are like locomotives, some are like Kansas City, some are like law school, some are like November…it’s all totally various and random and ??????

What are rights?

Jan 12th, 2020 11:46 am | By

Human Rights Watch tells us the Trumpers are messing with human rights.

The United States State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights risks calling for a dangerous downgrading of international human rights protections. On January 10, 2020, the Human Rights Watch executive director, Kenneth Rothtestified at the commission’s fourth open session.

While the fundamental rights set out in the human rights treaties are clear, the Trump administration has taken issue with the rights they uphold, such as reproductive freedom or the rights of LGBT people not to face discrimination. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the commission’s exercise in identifying “unalienable” rights is the administration’s unilateral attempt to rewrite international law based on its own beliefs.

That certainly seems plausible.

“The US government’s voice is needed on human rights, but it should be a voice that upholds the principled defense of all rights, not a pick-and-choose approach,” Roth said. “Repressive governments frequently justify their human rights violations by claiming that some rights are more important than others. If the Trump administration adopts its own selective approach to human rights, it will only facilitate this classic excuse to evade the requirements of international human rights law.”

Well…I certainly don’t want Trumpers deciding what rights we can have, but on the other hand, it’s not wrong to say either that some rights are more important than others, or that some claimed “rights” aren’t rights at all. Trump, for instance, thinks he (and he alone) has all kinds of rights that in reality aren’t rights. Trump thinks he has a right to punish reporters who criticize him or even just tell the truth about what he’s doing.

Rights are in fact a human artifact, and they are contestable. You know the UDHR, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Fun fact: there’s a competing Islamic version, in which all the rights depend on consistency with the Koran.

ARTICLE 1:(a) All human beings form one family whose members are united by their subordination to Allah and descent from Adam.

So much for universality then.


(a) Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.

1.. Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah.

(c) Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical Values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith.