Notes and Comment Blog

Swapping stereotypes

Mar 14th, 2018 10:35 am | By

The new Jesus and Mo:


The first comment objects that that’s “punching down at transgender folks.” But is it? It’s reality that a good many trans activists on social media do threaten women (not men so much) with violence for putative crimes such as “misgendering.” Isn’t that “punching down”?

When he’s under pressure

Mar 13th, 2018 4:44 pm | By

Scary. Trump is now acting on his impulses more than before.

In the past two weeks, Trump has ordered tariffs on steel and aluminum imports over the fierce objections of his top economic adviser and agreed to an unprecedented meeting with North Korea’s dictator despite concerns from national security aides. On Tuesday, Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had forged a tight working relationship with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to try to rein in some of Trump’s most impetuous decisions.

“I made that decision by myself,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. Though he was talking about North Korea, it is a mantra that has never rung truer in his nearly 14 months as president.

Trump’s moves have shaken and alarmed a West Wing staff who fear the president has felt less restrained about acting on his whims amid the recent departures of several longtime aides…

Yeah. If so, that’s terrifying.

(Also – “I made that decision by myself” – seriously? What’ll it be next, “you can’t stop me!!”? “You’re not the boss of me!”?)

White House allies in Washington suggested that Trump has been liberated to manage his administration as he did his private business, making decisions that feel good in the moment because he believes in his ability to win — regardless of whether they are backed by rigorous analysis or supported by top advisers.

This, they said, is the real Trump — freewheeling by nature, decisive in the moment, unafraid to chart his own course.

But now the stakes are a little bit different. He could do plenty of harm with his private business, by making Fifth Avenue and other bits of geography uglier and more vulgar than they were before, but the harm he can do now is existential and global.

“When he’s under pressure is when he tends to do this impulsive stuff,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. “That’s what I saw in the business. When he began to have pressure with debts, when the [Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City] was underperforming, is when he began acting very erratically.”

O’Donnell pointed to the mounting pressure on Trump with the Russia investigation by independent counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the scandal surrounding Trump’s alleged affair with a pornographic film star. “I think he likes the vision of himself being in control,” O’Donnell said. “I doubt he realizes the consequences of North Korea just like he didn’t realize the consequences in business of walking in and firing someone at the Taj without thinking about it. It’s Trump.”

So that’s reassuring.

Up to her eyeballs

Mar 13th, 2018 3:36 pm | By

Oops, Trump’s pick to replace Pompeo at the CIA was involved in torture.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday condemned President Trump’s decision to nominate Gina Haspel to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), saying she was involved in “one of darkest chapters in American history.”

He put out a statement saying she needs to explain her position on torture.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration “squandered precious moral authority” to get intelligence, McCain said.

Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and faced scrutiny for her role surrounding waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used on detainees at a secret CIA prison in Thailand in 2002.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Haspel was “up to her eyeballs in torture, both in running a secret torture prison in Thailand and carrying out an order to cover up torture crimes by destroying videotapes.”

Progressive foreign policy groups are fighting back against her nomination, saying her direct role in the torture program should “disqualify her” from the position.

Trump, on the other hand, is a big fan of torture as long as we’re the ones doing it.

Maybe it’s the climate

Mar 13th, 2018 3:21 pm | By

This is not at all chilling:

Russian state television has warned “traitors” and Kremlin critics that they should not settle in England because of an increased risk of dying in mysterious circumstances.

“Don’t choose England as a place to live. Whatever the reasons, whether you’re a professional traitor to the motherland or you just hate your country in your spare time, I repeat, no matter, don’t move to England,” the presenter Kirill Kleymenov said during a news programme on Channel One, state TV’s flagship station.

“Something is not right there. Maybe it’s the climate. But in recent years there have been too many strange incidents with a grave outcome. People get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes and fall out of windows in industrial quantities,” Kleymenov said.

Fake news?

A number of Kremlin critics have met grisly ends in Britain in recent years. Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch turned government critic, was found hanged at his home in Berkshire in March 2013. The coroner delivered an open verdict. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB security service officer, died in 2006 after being poisoned with polonium-210 in the lobby of a Mayfair hotel, allegedly by Russian hitmen. Vladimir Putin dismissed accusations of Russian involvement.

In 2012, Alexander Perepilichnyy, a former banker who was helping Swiss prosecutors investigate a Russian-linked money-laundering scheme, died after collapsing in Surrey. A pre-inquest hearing heard that traces of a chemical that can be found in the poisonous plant gelsemium were later found in his stomach. The inquest is due to resume next month.

Stephen Curtis, a millionaire lawyer with close ties to the exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, died when his helicopter crashed close to Bournemouth airport in 2004. Curtis is reported to have told a close relative that if he were to die, it would not be an accident. One of Curtis’s associates, Scot Young, who had business links to Berezovsky, was found impaled on railings after falling from his apartment in Marylebone, central London, in 2014. The coroner found insufficient evidence to rule it a suicide, and his family suspect he was murdered.

We get The Sopranos and The Wire, they get threats on the news.

Escorted from the White House

Mar 13th, 2018 12:23 pm | By


John McEntee, who has served as President Trump’s personal assistant since Mr. Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said.


But don’t worry! He’s ok!

But Mr. McEntee will remain in the president’s orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign announced Tuesday that Mr. McEntee has been named Senior Adviser for Campaign Operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.

The brass won’t talk about why he was fired, but.

But a senior administration official said that many of the president’s top aides were shocked and dismayed by the abrupt departure, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said Mr. McEntee had been expected to travel with Mr. Trump — as he always does — when the president departed for a trip to California Tuesday morning.

So it must have been pretty bad then. Late night phone chats with Putin?

Mr. McEntee’s departure has several of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers worried about the effects on the president’s mood. The senior administration official said that the president has been in a “good place” recently, but said that it is hard to overstate the effect of the departure, along with that of Ms. Hicks. Both Mr. McEntee and Ms. Hicks have had offices just outside the Oval Office.

It’s a little bit like working with a grizzly bear.

Unceremoniously dumped

Mar 13th, 2018 11:32 am | By

Next up in the Don-Rex news is the meta-story of how the firing really went down.

President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet on Tuesday and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, abruptly ending Tillerson’s turbulent tenure as America’s top diplomat and escalating the administration’s chaotic second-year shake-up.

Tillerson was ousted barely four hours after he returned from an Africa mission and with no face-to-face conversation with the president, the latest casualty of an unruly White House that has seen multiple top officials depart in recent weeks.

And, apparently, with no official notification: no letter, no phone call, no message sent by courier – only a tweet declaring the fact. A tweet. A tweet.

In an illustration of the gulf that has long separated Tillerson and Trump, the White House and the State Department vigorously disagreed about the circumstances of his firing.

Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said Tuesday morning that Tillerson hadn’t learned he was dismissed until he saw Trump’s early-morning tweet, and hadn’t discussed it directly with Trump. Goldstein said the former Exxon Mobil CEO was “unaware of the reason” he was fired and “had had every intention of staying.”

A tweet.

The president fired the secretary of state in a tweet.

A tweet.

Then Goldstein, hours after making those comments, was fired, too.

But, being an underling, he didn’t get even a tweet.

Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. One official said chief of staff John Kelly had called Tillerson on Friday and again on Saturday to warn him that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not resign and that a replacement had already been identified. Tillerson canceled his entire schedule that Saturday in Ethiopia, with the State Department telling reporters he was sick.

When Tillerson didn’t step aside, Trump fired him, that official said.

A distinction without a difference.

On Tillerson’s plane trip back from Africa, he had told reporters he had cut short his mission by one night because he was exhausted after working most of the night both Friday on Saturday and falling ill. He mentioned that after his 2:30 a.m. call with Trump on Friday about North Korea, the next night he “got another call at 2:30 that woke me up,” but declined to say what that call was about.

“I felt like, look, I just need to get back,” Tillerson said.

So that at least he wouldn’t be in Nigeria when The Tweet fell, having to buy his own plane ticket back.

Nothing to see here folks, don’t worry.

You may get a tweet

Mar 13th, 2018 10:18 am | By

Good morning Chaos.

Trump fired Tillerson.

As is typical of His Rudeness, he told the world without telling Tillerson.

Mr. Tillerson learned he had been fired on Tuesday morning when a top aide showed him a tweet from Mr. Trump announcing the change, according to a senior State Department official.

Well at least His Rudeness didn’t wait until Rex was in Ulan Bator and then expect him to make his own way home.

Oh wait, yes he did.

But he had gotten an oblique warning of what was coming the previous Friday from the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who called to tell him to cut short a trip to Africa and advised him “you may get a tweet.”

So if Kelly hadn’t warned him, Tillerson would have been stranded somewhere in Africa the way Comey was stranded in LA when HR fired him. Trump is a sadistic pig on top of everything else he is. I have no brief for Tillerson, I think he’s awful, but that doesn’t justify Trump’s behavior.

Also that “you may get a tweet” – what kind of garbage is that?

Let’s look at the tweet that Rex “got”:

That is a very strange way for a president to tell the Secretary of State “you’re fired.”

In even worse news, Pompeo is replacing Tillerson, so everything will get more terrible still.

“We were not really thinking the same,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, explaining his decision to replace Mr. Tillerson.

What Trump does can’t be called “thinking.”

The move caught even the White House staff by surprise. Just the day before, a White House spokesman berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Mr. Tillerson and the White House because of disparate comments on Russian responsibility for a poison attack in Britain.

But a senior administration official said that Mr. Trump decided to replace Mr. Tillerson now to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader he plans to meet by May. The president also wanted a new chief diplomat for various ongoing trade negotiations.

Of course none of that explains the insanely abrupt and informal way the “replacement” was put into effect.

The White House’s purge extended to Mr. Tillerson’s inner circle. The under secretary of state for public affairs, Steve Goldstein, was fired, and the status was unclear of Mr. Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, and his deputy chief of staff, Christine Ciccone.

Mr. Tillerson, who was at the State Department on Tuesday morning, may speak to the staff around 2 p.m.

Or he could just do a couple of tweets on his way out the door. Whatever.

While other cabinet officers made their goals plain, Mr. Tillerson never set clear diplomatic priorities other than to pursue Mr. Trump’s slogan of “America First,” a term he never really defined. In an odd admission more than eight months into the job, Mr. Tillerson told employees in September that his top priority was to make the State Department more efficient. Yet he never fully addressed what diplomats should be doing with that greater efficiency.

Congress rebelled, declining to endorse his suggested 30 percent cuts in the State Department’s budget. But the message of his tenure seemed clear: At a moment when money was being poured into the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, diplomacy seemed less valued than at any time in recent American history.

He’s no loss, but Pompeo will probably be even worse.

But perhaps the most puzzling part of Mr. Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department. As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset.

But he failed to quickly pick a trusted team of leaders, left many critical departments without direction and all but paralyzed crucial decision making in the department.

He approved one global conclave in Washington just eight days before the event was to start, ensuring that few leaders from around the world were able to attend. He rarely sat for comprehensive briefings with many of his top diplomats and often failed to consult the State Department’s experts on countries before visiting.

Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Mr. Tillerson neither returned phone calls nor, with much advance warning, set up meetings with his counterparts. Strategic dialogues with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation.

The State Department’s policymaking process devolved into conversations between Mr. Tillerson and a lone top aide, neither of whom had much experience or knowledge about many of the countries they discussed.

The State Department’s policymaking process devolved into conversations between Mr. Tillerson and a lone top aide, neither of whom had much experience or knowledge about many of the countries they discussed.

Utterly shambolic.

Worse to come.

Or, better yet, FemmeMarch

Mar 12th, 2018 5:14 pm | By

Jacob Tobia’s tweets about how we need to stop talking about women and feminism were a short version  of an article he wrote explaining that we need to stop talking about women and feminism. It’s good to get his full article in all its profundity.

This month is Women’s History Month. From Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes, to the fervor of the #TimesUp movement, to Women’s Marches across the country and around the world, women’s power has been growing and spreading and amplifying like whoa. Which is, obviously, something I am thrilled about.

Obviously. But. We can tell there’s a “but” coming. We’d be able to tell even if we hadn’t read his tweets.

But amid all of this pussypower, I’ve found myself struggling to communicate with feminist allies, organizers, colleagues, and friends about something that’s been putting me off: the word “woman” itself.

That’s one hell of a “but”! Weeeeeee I’m thrilled about all this women’s power only there’s just this one tiny thing…the “women” part. Other than that I’m over the moon!

I don’t want to be difficult or anything, but I’m just not sure that the word “woman” can hold all of the political weight that we need it to in 2018. Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that organizing solely around “womanhood” is also organizing solely around the gender binary. In an era when so many genderqueer and nonbinary young folks are throwing off the idea of manhood and womanhood altogether — the idea that people can be reduced to one of two gender categories in the first place — “woman” as a sole identity around which to organize feels, I dunno, retro? Counterproductive? A touch off-base?

When many of my organizer friends use the term “woman,” I know that they don’t mean it in an exclusionary way. They use it as an abbreviation for a more complex, nuanced set of identities. In their minds, “woman” is just shorthand for “transgender women, cisgender women, and feminine-of-center gender nonconforming/nonbinary people.” But the trouble with this shorthand is that, in the public imagination, it can quickly feel like erasure.

Whereas getting rid of the word that names half of fucking humanity is the kind of erasure that is A-ok.

Though contemporary, enlightened, intersectional feminists understand the term “woman” as a wide and all-inclusive net, that understanding gets lost more often than not.

If it’s “all-inclusive” then what does it mean? And why isn’t Jacob Tobia yammering at men about being inclusive and intersectional? Why does Jacob Tobia take it for granted that it’s women who have to move over and shut up and stop talking about their rights?

Most people don’t realize that the term “woman” could even be shorthand in the first place. We have to face the fact that, to most people, the term “woman” doesn’t paint a rainbow picture of all people on the feminine spectrum. When the average person hears “woman,” they hear only “person born with a vagina.” So when we say “woman,” they assume it means the same thing as “female.”

Again – what about men? Why aren’t men being rebuked and lectured for using the word “men”? Why aren’t we being splained how rainbow and spectrumy the word “men” is? Why aren’t we being told that when the average person hears “man,” they hear only “person born with a penis”? Why is it only women who are told to make way?

As much as folks want to claim an intersectional approach, organizing that occurs solely under the label of “woman” always feels to me — a genderqueer, male-assigned, feminine-of-center cutie with facial hair and a bold lip — like something of a fuck-you.

Well you know what, Jacob? Your eagerness to get rid of the word “women” feels to us like a massive, calculated, impudent, entitled, male-centered fuck-you.

I look around a room full of Women’s March supporters and I wonder to myself, “Do they understand me as a woman? Do they really get how much I belong here? Or do they just think that I’m some sort of cute ally?” I look around a room full of celebs proclaiming time’s up and I wonder if they really see me in their movement. I listen to Oprah talking about “every woman who chooses to say, ‘Me too.’ And every man who chooses to listen” and I wonder: What doesshe mean by “woman” and “man”? How does she understand those terms? What do they mean to her?

Is she thinking about me enough? Is she thinking only about herself and the other women? How can I stop her?

Naturally, it’s scary to bring this up. As a nonbinary trans person whose femininity is invalidated and attacked at every turn, I often lack the courage to talk with cis women about the way that their language feels to me.

Because he realizes how outrageous it would be?

I’m afraid (and reasonably so) that the moment I open my mouth to critique language used by the women’s movement, I’ll have my femininity attacked all over again.

Oh. I see. It’s all about his “femininity,” and the women’s movement has a hell of a nerve not putting him first.

He offers the “elegant” women and femmes solution.

Think about it. What if, in her Golden Globes speech, Oprah had instead said, “I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women and femmes who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.” What if she’d declared loudly and for all of America to hear, “For too long, women and femmes have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”

Everyone who watched her speech would’ve been productively challenged, perhaps even confused. There would be questions, sure: “What does femmesmean?” “Why did she say that?” but those questions would be a good thing for feminism. Overnight, the entire Internet would’ve exploded with essays about what “and femmes” meant. It would prompt an outpouring of discussion, the likes of which we have never seen, about exactly what it means to welcome trans women and gender-nonconforming femmes into the fold.

If, as trans-inclusive feminists, we stop saying “women” and start saying “women and femmes,” I think we might be able to ensure that our message is no longer lost in translation. I mean, “The March for Women and Femmes” has a nice ring to it, no? Or, better yet, FemmeMarch. Now that is a sexy, overtly-trans-and-nonbinary-inclusive title I can get behind.

There it is. In the first post I said it would happen next year, but there it is already – no more women, just “femmes” – and not real femmes, not girly lesbians, but men appropriating the word for themselves.

You couldn’t make it up.

Bannon’s tour

Mar 12th, 2018 4:10 pm | By

Bannon is in Europe hoping to make it as horrible as he helped make the US. The  guy dreams big.

“All I’m trying to be,” he said, “is the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.”

“Populist” is code for sexist racist belligerent hateful and far-right.

On Saturday, he is set to headline the annual conference of France’s far-right National Front in the northern city of Lille, where he will be introduced by its leader, Marine Le Pen. People with knowledge of Mr. Bannon’s itinerary suggested that he might meet later in the weekend with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, but Mr. Bannon declined to say whether or not he would, only saying that he admired Mr. Orban as a “hero” and “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”

In Zurich, Mr. Bannon says, he had a “fascinating” meeting on Tuesday with leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party.

He wowed the crowds in Lille.

Former White House senior staffer Stephen K. Bannon addressed France’s far-right National Front on Saturday, heralding the global populist tide and attacking the “opposition party media.”

Bannon’s surprise visit to the party’s conference in Lille — announced via Twitter late Friday — was his most recent stop on a European tour that has included Switzerland along with Italy, where last week, voters abandoned establishment parties and opted for a hung Parliament dominated by right-wing anti-immigrant populists.

“I came to Europe as an observer and to learn,” Bannon said, wearing his typical rugged attire before a cadre of the party elite dressed in suits.

“What I’ve learned is that you’re part of a worldwide movement, that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary — bigger than all of it. And history is on our side,” he said. “The tide of history is with us, and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory.”

He also encouraged the party to stick to its nationalistic roots. “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists,” he said.

Racism Pride.

Qatar won’t be providing materials

Mar 12th, 2018 3:24 pm | By

Well this is appalling. NBC reports:

Qatari officials gathered evidence of what they claim is illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner and other Trump associates, including details of secret meetings, but decided not to give the information to special counsel Robert Mueller for fear of harming relations with the Trump administration, say three sources familiar with the Qatari discussions.

Kushner and other Trump minions did corrupt things but Qatari officials opted not to tell Mueller because they want to have good relations with the corrupt administration and its corrupt family members and their corrupt minions. Corrupt enough yet?

Lebanese-American businessman George Nader and Republican donor Elliott Broidy, who participated in the meetings, have both been the focus of news reports in recent days about their connections to the UAE and Trump associates.

NBC News previously reported that Qatari officials weighed speaking to Mueller during a visit to Washington earlier this year, and has now learned the information the officials wanted to share included details about Nader and Broidy working with the UAE to turn the Trump administration against Qatar, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

It is so dirty.

I still cannot believe this is our government.

Qatari officials believe the meetings — as well as fallout from Qatari business dealings with Kushner — may have influenced President Donald Trump’s public endorsement of a blockade of Qatar by its neighbors that began last year.

But! Then they came to DC last month to talk to Trump minions and the talks went well so they decided not to tell Mueller about all the filth.

A spokesperson for the Qatari embassy in Washington said in a statement last week that Qatar won’t be providing materials to the Mueller investigation.

The Qataris also met with FBI Director Chris Wray while they were in Washington, but never shared their information about the UAE’s alleged influence on the administration.

Corruption wins the round.

Peak intersectionalityism

Mar 12th, 2018 12:27 pm | By

Let’s just stop talking about women, mkay? Can we do that now finally at last? It’s so excluding.

Yeah and organizing around anti-racism excludes white people. Organizing to protect immigrants’ rights excludes people who were here all along. Anti-poverty campaigns exclude rich people. Organizing workers excludes bosses. Won’t somebody please think of the bosses?

I look around a room full of women and I wonder why they’re not focusing on me.

I look around and wonder why they’re not looking at me.

I listen to Oprah and I wonder why she’s not talking about me.

So for fuck’s sake let’s finally stop talking about women, OKAY?

That’s a step on the way to talking about me instead of those stupid boring women.

By the way it’s not Jacob Tobia’s solution. Jacob Tobia is late on the scene. Sincere Kirabo treated it as established way back in October 2016:

Huh. It turns out that Women in Secularism isn’t about women. It’s about “women and femmes.” I have no real idea what that’s supposed to mean, since it obviously doesn’t mean femme lesbians, because they are of course women so there’d be no need for an “and.”

At least, it’s about that according to Sincere Kirabo, who attended the one last weekend. It’s not about that according to CFI, which holds the conference, but hey what do they know.

This past weekend, my colleague Jessica Xiao and I had the honor of attending the Center For Inquiry’s Women In Secularism 4(WIS).

The honor? Attending isn’t an honor. That sounds like having the honor to ride the bus or see a movie. Buying a ticket to something doesn’t confer honor.

Anyway – on to the femmes.

This conference brought together a diverse lineup of speakers—including American Humanist Association President Rebecca Hale—to address both the progress and challenges uniquely related to the lives of women and femmes.

I didn’t understand then and I still don’t understand why Sincere Kirabo thought it was up to him to claim that Women in Secularism was really Women and Femmes in Secularism, but anyway, he was there well before Jacob Tobias’s “elegant” solution.

We’ll take women’s movement away from them while pretending we’re doing it to be more “inclusive.” It’s only women who are stupid enough and accommodating enough and kind enough to let this be done to them…which is why they need to organize, but we’re taking that away from them, so, score!

Next year we’ll drop the “WOMEN” part.

Baby Donnie’s parade

Mar 12th, 2018 11:24 am | By

Trump’s stupid childish greedy “military parade” is planned for November. Newsweek points out that it will cost many dollars.

President Donald Trump’s military parade is set to kick off on Veterans Day, but at a cost that even conservative estimates show could feed every homeless veteran for at least two weeks, a Newsweek analysis found.

Using the most conservative estimates available from federal agencies and non-profit organizations, Newsweek found Trump could completely eliminate hunger among homeless veterans, serving them three meals a day, for at least 14 days.

But Trump wants a show. Providing meals to homeless veterans across the country isn’t a show.

In February, Trump told Fox News he wouldn’t hold the parade if the cost was exorbitant.

“We’ll see if we can do it at a reasonable cost, and if we can’t, we won’t do it, but the generals would love to do it, I can tell you, and so would I,” he said.

No, they wouldn’t. That’s just one of those things he made up in his moth-eaten head.

Brand name toxin

Mar 12th, 2018 10:28 am | By

Breaking news from the Beeb:

A former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The prime minister said the government had concluded it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March.

She’s summoned the Russian ambassador to talk it over.

My first thought was: stupid of them to use an agent with their fingerprints on it. My second thought was: oh wait, no it isn’t, because they’re sending a message. We will get you.

It would spread a lively terror

Mar 11th, 2018 5:50 pm | By

Shashi Tharoor points out that the Hollywood Churchill was first the mass murderer Churchill.

During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result.

In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them.

Like what the fascists carried out in Guernica, but decades earlier. The fact that Churchill liked the idea doesn’t mean it happened, and I don’t think it did, though there was plenty of violence without that – but the fact that Churchill was keen is of interest.

Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.

In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.”

In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.

But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.”

Figuratively shot down that is, which is not what he had in mind for the Indians.

This isn’t one of those “yes but things were different then” situations. Churchill was way out there even for 1920 or 1940. (Also, we don’t give Roosevelt the “different times” excuse for the internments; he was wrong and he had plenty of people telling him he was wrong.)

In such matters, Churchill was the most reactionary of Englishmen, with views so extreme they cannot be excused as being reflective of their times. Even his own secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery, confessed that he could see very little difference between Churchill’s attitude and Adolf Hitler’s.

Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”

Not just a cute old geezer with a cigar and and a gift for rhetoric.

She’s not saying anything

Mar 11th, 2018 5:23 pm | By

No automatic alt text available.

H/t Lady Mondegreen

The shame of a nation

Mar 11th, 2018 5:21 pm | By

Steve Mnuchin has no problem with Trump’s calling Maxine Waters “low IQ” or Chuck Todd a “son of a bitch.” It’s just his adorable sense of fun.

On Saturday, the president attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), a veteran African American congresswoman and outspoken Trump critic, saying, she’s a “a very low IQ individual — you ever see her?” On Sunday, his Treasury Secretary dismissed this and other attacks made by Trump at a Pennsylvania event as irrelevant “campaign rally issues.”

“You know I’ve been with the president and at campaigns,” Steve Mnuchin told NBC’s Meet the Press. “He likes to put names on people.”

“The president likes making funny names,” he added.

The president likes making sexist, racist, insulting, belittling names.

The university is not the only one to take action

Mar 11th, 2018 1:25 pm | By

The Times reported a few days ago:

Arizona State University has suspended Lawrence M. Krauss, a prominent theoretical physicist, while the university investigates accusations of sexual misconduct over a decade.

“In an effort to avoid further disruption to the normal course of business as the university continues to gather facts about the allegations, Krauss has been placed on paid leave and is prohibited from being on campus for the duration of the review,” the university said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Oh but I’m sure they’re just a bunch of fanatical SJWs out to get Krauss for no other reason than terminal political correctness.

Dr. Krauss, a professor in the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, is director of Arizona State’s Origins Project, a multidisciplinary research effort to tackle questions about life, the universe and complex social problems. He gained prominence for his book, “The Physics of Star Trek” in 1995. He later became one of the leaders of the so-called “skeptics” movement that espouses science over religion. He has also written essays and Op-Ed articles that were published in The Times.

Well, no, not exactly. There are no “leaders” in such a formal way that he could “become” one. They’re not literally “leaders” at all. What they are is guys (always guys – always) with name recognition because of best-selling books or similar achievements. They get invited to talk and present and front because of the name recognition, so their name recognition expands, repeat forever. It’s not a terrible arrangement in every way, because some of the best-sellers are outstanding and some of the “leaders” are good at talking and presenting and fronting. It does, however, tend to result in hero-worship which in turn tends to result in ferocious verbal harassment of anyone who dares to criticize – plus there’s the always guys aspect.

The university is not the only one to take action against Dr. Krauss. The American Physical Society and other organizations have withdrawn invitations to Dr. Krauss for upcoming talks. The Center for Inquiry, an organization that promotes secularism, suspended its association with Dr. Krauss on Monday.

On Tuesday, Dr. Krauss resigned from the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is best known for its Doomsday Clock that represents that danger of atomic war and other calamities to the planet. In his resignation letter, he said he was resigning from the board because he did not want to distract from the organization’s work.

Additionally, a conference scheduled for next month to mark the 10th anniversary of the Origins Project has been canceled. “What we hope to do is reschedule it for another time,” Dr. Krauss said in an interview on Wednesday.

Since then several other “leaders” have abandoned him, though Sam Harris took pains to trash women on his way out.

Scary guy in Pennsylvania

Mar 11th, 2018 12:26 pm | By

Trump did one of his campaign rallies last night and was his usual reasonable thoughtful self.

Trump said that allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers — an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping — is “a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don’t know if this country’s ready for it.”

“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump asked. “The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness. When you catch a drug dealer, you’ve got to put him away for a long time.”

As if we didn’t put enough people in prison for a long enough time.

It was not the first time Trump had suggested executing drug dealers. Earlier this month, he described it as a way to fight the opioid epidemic. And on Friday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was considering policy changes to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Trump’s audience? They cheered, of course.

Chris Cillizza at CNN is less respectful.

4. “A lot of evil. A lot of bad people. A lot of bad people.”

This is Trump talking about Washington. It’s a throwaway line, but think about what he is saying here. It’s not just that there are people who disagree with him in Washington. It’s that these people are bad, they are evil. Rhetoric like this has consequences. I think Trump knows that but doesn’t really care because it works for him.

7. “He’s a sleeping son of a bitch.”

This is a sentence from the President of the United States. (He’s talking about “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd.)

10. “A certain anchor on CNN … fake as hell CNN, the, fake as hell CNN, the worst, so fake, fake news.”

This is a “sentence” from the President of the United States.

11. “Arnold Schwarzenegger failed when he did the show and he was a movie star. Martha Stewart failed.”

How did Trump get onto the ratings for “The Celebrity Apprentice”? Oh, I have no idea.

12. “NBC is perhaps worst than CNN, I have to tell you. And MSNBC is horrible.”
Updated Trump media rankings: 1. CNN 2. NBC 3. MSNBC (“horrible”).

Not for nothing: Waters is an African-American woman. And, yes, Trump is well aware of that fact.

27. “She’s a low IQ individual. She can’t help it.”

So: Trump is suggesting that the reason Waters criticizes him is because she is dumb and can’t help herself. Yes, that’s it.

And that’s only a small sample. He’s off his head.

The allegations that convinced him are not public

Mar 10th, 2018 5:20 pm | By

Lawrence Krauss has resurfaced on Twitter; his fans are rushing to give him support and air hugs.

Jerry Coyne was doubtful at first but looked into it.

I didn’t find the specifics of most allegations fully convincing, yet the fact that there were so many of them that resembled each other meant that they could not be ignored. As I’ve said, the more independent claims there are against a person, and the more they paint a consistent pattern of behavior, the greater the likelihood that the accused is guilty.

After that article appeared, I did some digging on my own, and came up with three cases that have convinced me that Krauss engaged in sexual predation of both a physical nature (groping) and of a verbal nature (offensive and harassing comments). The allegations that convinced me are not public, but the accusers are sufficiently credible that I believe their claims to be true. Further, these claims buttress the general allegation of sexual misbehavior made in BuzzFeed. In my view, then, Krauss had a propensity to engage in sexual misconduct. I therefore disassociate myself from the man. He has, of course, denied every allegation in the BuzzFeed article, but the cases that pushed me to write this post aren’t in that piece. But to me these other cases make it likely that at least some of the allegations in BuzzFeed are true.

Oddly enough, that’s also how the BuzzFeed reporters saw it, which is why they reported on the story. There were a lot of allegations, independent of each other, describing a pattern.

Sam Harris tells a bunch of lies about BuzzFeed.

I’m transcribing the worst bits so I’ll be updating to add more.

At 1:30:

BuzzFeed is, on the continuum of journalistic integrity and unscrupulousness, somewhere toward the unscrupulous side…Salon, Alternet – these are not websites that are especially assiduous in how they fact check.

At 2:24

There were a couple of people cited in the article who I know to be totally unethical and one is probably a psychopath; these are people who’ve made it their full-time job to destroy reputations of prominent atheists. So there are reasons to be cautious in accepting this BuzzFeed piece.

Parenthetical – I hate listening to him. His voice sounds so dead. He sounds so empty of affect. He creeps me out. I don’t think that’s entirely irrelevant to all this – I think his lack of affect is connected to his total inability (unless its refusal) to see things from the women’s point of view. He talks and seems to think like a robot; it’s creepy.

That’s rude, but not half as rude as he was about BuzzFeed.

Interestingly, however, he then goes on to say that though he felt there was good reason to be cautious about the BuzzFeed story, still, where there’s smoke there’s fire, but on the other hand he didn’t think he and Matt should be expected to pronounce on the subject on stage 24 hours later, but on the other other hand his decision not to share the stage with Lawrence that night “was based on a sense that there’s very likely some truth in it, and that it would be bad for me and Matt to be onstage, accepting his blanket denials, and then pretending to move on to other topics.” What’s interesting about that is that it’s not what he said at the time. At all.

That bit ends at 3:40.

Update: Matt Dillahunty says he won’t be working with Krauss in future.

Update: more from the podcast:

4:05 Generically, BuzzFeed is terrible. There were certainly signs of bad faith in the article.

BuzzFeed is not terrible. BuzzFeed broke the story on the Steele dossier, remember? Sam Harris is just throwing mud…the way he claims women are throwing mud when they say Krauss is handsy and obnoxious.

4:25 The fact that there’s this much chatter about how he’s behaved is certainly a cause for concern.

He just can’t help himself, can he. Chatter. Would he have said that if it had been men reporting something men care about? No. It’s stupid women, who can’t talk without chattering.

But then he does admit that he’s heard from people who don’t want to go public but do confirm that this is how Krauss behaves, so he can’t defend him. He can first throw shit at BuzzFeed and express contempt for women, but he can’t defend Krauss.

What he can do, though, is inform us that there are gradations. Oh thank fuck he told us; we had no idea.

At 5:25 he announces that if you’re not going to make the distinctions then it’s very hard to take the allegations seriously.

Then he says again he can’t defend Lawrence but – BUT – BUT – we must be careful, it’s so easy to destroy people’s reputations. He means men’s, not people’s. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about women’s reputations, or BuzzFeed reporters’ reputations when they’re reporting on sexual harassment.

One more update: he goes on to explain that there are gradations, as if we didn’t know that. At 8:00:

It stretches all the way to cases where had the guy been desirable to the woman his behavior would have totally passed as flattery and successful flirting…but because he was undesirable it was viewed as unwanted attention and in some cases is being classes as a kind of assault, or a kind of harassment.

In other words, women have the audacity to have preferences.

He only wanted mementos

Mar 10th, 2018 12:07 pm | By


A felon pleaded his case on ‘Fox & Friends.’ Days later, Trump pardoned him.

Some 1.6 million people tune in to “Fox & Friends” every morning, but when Kristian Saucier told the network why he believed he should be pardoned for his national-security-related felony conviction, he clearly had one very specific, very powerful fan of the show in mind: the viewer-in-chief.

“Obviously, there’s two different sets of laws in this country, for the politically elite and for those lower-level individuals, Americans like myself,” he said on the network Sunday. “And I think that’s very upsetting on a basic level for most people. It should be.

“I accepted responsibility. I didn’t go to trial. I pleaded guilty. I said, ‘Look, I made a mistake when I was a young kid, and my family still continues … to be punished for that mistake.’ Whereas Hillary Clinton not only was not punished, but was allowed to run for the highest office in the country, and that should be very upsetting to the American people.”

And Trump took the bait. Of course, Clinton didn’t do what Saucier did, but don’t let that stop you. Less than a week later Trump pardoned Saucier and gave him a high five on Twitter.

So what did this hero do?

Saucier’s self-imposed saga started in 2009, when he snapped photos inside the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Alexandria while it was in Groton, Conn. The sailor, then 22, said he only wanted mementos of his service as a machinist’s mate on the sub. But federal prosecutors painted him as a disgruntled Navy man whose pictures of the sub’s reactor compartment and propulsion system were a national-security risk.

The “mementos” claim doesn’t wash. Here’s how I know: my brother was in the Navy (the fam had a good time for awhile calling him Ensign Benson, until promotion to Lt jg spoiled that fun), and we once went to visit him and his ship. It was some kind of open house for relatives thing, I guess, because we got to go on board and walk around on deck a little. But. At some point while we were on shore looking at all the ships and chatting, I took a snap of one, and my brother told me that was a big no-no. I was surprised because it seemed to be such a public place and the ships were just sitting there in plain view, so how were they enforcing that? I don’t remember what the explanation was, but I do remember that photography was a Big Red Flag. There’s no way Mr SauceMaker thought it was fine to take snaps inside the sub.

(Irrelevant detail: my brother’s ship was an aircraft carrier; it picked up the astronauts after one of the missions.)

The photos were discovered by chance in 2012. Saucier left his phone at a garbage dump in Hampton, Conn. A supervisor who found the phone powered it on, and showed the photos of the submarine to a retired Navy buddy who recognized the pictures for what they were. They went to authorities.

When federal agents confronted Saucier about the photos, he said the phone was his but initially denied snapping the pictures. Later, the FBI says, he went home, smashed his computer and camera, and flung the pieces in the woods behind his grandfather’s house.

Not all that similar to what Clinton did, is it. Nothing like it, in fact.

But Trump bought the lie. Of course he did.