Notes and Comment Blog

This is code-word information

May 15th, 2017 4:28 pm | By

God damn. I was out getting Cooper wet and muddy and tired all afternoon, and I was just browsing Twitter and kicking back when I encountered the Post’s latest scoop. Donnie talked about top-secret shit with his Russian guests.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

A source on IS, and Mister BewareoftheScaryMooslims blabs it because he’s showing off to the Russians.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Those must have been awkward conversations.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

No wonder they were grinning so hard in those photos that Trump didn’t realize they were going to make public.

One day after dismissing Comey, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a key figure in earlier Russia controversies — into the Oval Office. It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

Oh gawd.

Because he’s prez, he didn’t do anything illegal. It’s just that it was a very bad thing to do, that’s all.

But officials expressed concern about Trump’s handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States’ and its allies’ ability to detect future threats.

But no biggy, right? Certainly Trump has never expressed any alarm about Islamic State…

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god. This is what we all knew would happen; this is the idiocy and engorged vanity that we knew would make it happen; but how is it possible that no one can stop this?

Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.


Well, on the day when ten passenger jets are blown out of the sky, we’ll know we have Trump to thank…unless we were on one of the planes.

The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.

This is horrifying.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

At a more fundamental level, the information wasn’t the United States’ to provide to others. Under the rules of espionage, governments — and even individual agencies — are given significant control over whether and how the information they gather is disseminated, even after it has been shared. Violating that practice undercuts trust considered essential to sharing secrets.

But we have an angry toddler as head of state, so that’s that.

The officials declined to identify the ally but said it has previously voiced frustration with Washington’s inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.

“If that partner learned we’d given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship,” the U.S. official said.

Trump also described measures that the United States has taken or is contemplating to counter the threat, including military operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as other steps to tighten security, officials said.

Image result for head-desk

And this is inevitable and will go on happening because he refuses to read the briefings that tell him not to do this kind of thing, and why.

Trump has repeatedly gone off-script in his dealings with high-ranking foreign officials, most notably in his contentious introductory conversation with the Australian prime ministerearlier this year. He has also faced criticism for seemingly lax attention to security at his Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, where he appeared to field preliminary reports of a North Korea missile launch in full view of casual diners.

U.S. officials said that the National Security Council continues to prepare multi-page briefings for Trump to guide him through conversations with foreign leaders, but that he has insisted that the guidance be distilled to a single page of bullet points — and often ignores those.

“He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it, and that has big downsides,” the second former official said. “Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not? That’s what worries me.”

I keep saying – many people keep saying – this level of stupidity is dangerous in a president.

This shit has seriously got to stop.

Guest post: When ‘scholarship’ seems to be defined by counting citations

May 15th, 2017 10:51 am | By

Originally a comment by Ian on The broad, well-established, interdisciplinary scholarly fields.

All this mouthing off about ‘scholarship’ comes over to me as unbearably pretentious, especially when ‘scholarship’ seems at best to be defined by counting citations. I’ve read the article and it seems like something that, in the Journals I used to read, would have been in the Notes and Comments section. It is however clearly and unambiguously written, which in some academic fields I know will count against it.

Even if we take the claims of the writers of the open letter at face value, that they were concerned about the failure of the editors to maintain scholarly standards and it was not a personal attack on the author, they still demonstrate a breathtaking arrogance. If there are defects in ‘scholarship’ it isn’t enough to simply make the claim. It requires a counter-argument, with evidence that is more than just argument from authority.

I’m not in academia, but I spent 40+ years in a profession where I was expected to make arguments for policy decisions, often in legal or quasi-legal contexts. Had I attempted to make a case such as is presented in the open letter, I would have been almost literally laughed out of court.

I think many of them would do well to read Andreski’s ‘Social Sciences as Sorcery’ – it doesn’t look as if things have improved much since the 70s, when it was published. A quote:

So long as authority inspires awe, confusion and absurdity enhance conservative tendencies in society. Firstly, because clear and logical thinking leads to a cumulation of knowledge (of which the progress of the natural sciences provides the best example) and the advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order. Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world.

His personal charisma

May 15th, 2017 10:24 am | By

The funniest first paragraph I’ve read so far today:

Donald Trump is embarking on a week of diplomacy and preparation for his first foreign trip as president, aimed at demonstrating that his personal charisma can override longstanding global divisions and conflicts of interest with old allies.

His wut?

Trump doesn’t have charisma; he doesn’t even lack charisma; he has whatever the opposite of charisma is. He’s a force that sucks all the charisma out of the air for miles in every direction. He’s repellent.

Trump’s personality-driven approach seeks to reassert US pre-eminence in the world through consolidating bonds with foreign leaders, most notably autocrats, as long as they are aligned with the administration’s priorities of defeating Islamic State and al-Qaida while containing Iranian influence. Pressure to observe human rights has been explicitly relegated as a foreign policy mission.

The president’s critics argue, however, that abandoning such values damages long-term US aspirations to global leadership. They warn that Trump’s overweening confidence in his own persuasive powers is simply delusional and will not help resolve intractable global conflicts and the often contradictory aims of his own foreign policy objectives.

And even if he were right about his persuasive powers, what good are they if he has all the wrong goals? But he’s not right about them, so we don’t really need to contemplate that question.

[National Security Adviser HR McMaster] laid out the agenda for Trump’s trip, which starts with visits to the ancient capitals of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and culminates in Nato and G7 summits at the end of the following week, describing it in almost messianic terms.

“This trip is truly historic. No president has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths all on one trip,” McMaster said. “And what President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress, and prosperity.”

It will be like a visit from God, but more fun.

Trump’s week starts on Monday with a meeting in Washington with the Abu Dhabi crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that is supposed to underline US backing for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is deep unease in the state department and the Pentagon about the UAE’s human rights record in its role as part of an Arab coalition against Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. But Trump is not expected to raise those concerns in his meeting with the sheikh.

Of course he’s not. What does he care about human rights? They don’t put money in his pocket.

Trump has already made clear he will not let Obama-era opposition to Erdoğan’s creeping authoritarianism become a hindrance in the bilateral relationship. He formally congratulatedthe Turkish president on winning a referendum amending the constitution to give him more power.

For its part, Turkey has also focused on cultivating a personal relationship with Trump. A meeting of Turkish and US business leaders starting next Sunday has been moved to the Trump hotel in Washington.

Putting a lot of money in Trump’s pocket. That’s the important thing.

The consistent message being conveyed in this week’s meetings, and then in the trips to Saudi Arabia and Israel over the weekend, is that US support for its traditional allies is personal and no longer has to be balanced by scruples about human rights or by the pursuit of detente with Iran.

“One of the main comparisons with Obama is that he seemed to be aloof. He didn’t take sides. His temperament was cerebral and over the fray,” said Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

“Trump is the opposite. He is partisan. He is saying he is on their side. He is saying: ‘We are not the UN. We are not Sweden. We are the US and we are your ally.’”

We like authoritarians and dictators.

We must all stand with Mohamed Salih

May 15th, 2017 9:16 am | By

Maryam Namazie on Facebook:

We must all stand with Mohamed Salih

In a very brave step, Mohamed Salih, a young Sudanese, filed an official request for all mention of Islam to be removed from his documents, including his national ID. As a result, he was charged with apostasy, per Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Code, which states: “Whoever propagates the renunciation of Islam or publicly renounces it by explicit words or an act of definitive indication is said to commit the offence of Riddah (apostasy).”

Salih was, therefore, arrested on 8 May 2017 and held in Alqadisiyah police station, Ombada, a suburb of Omdurman. Since Aristide Nononsi, the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan, was on a visit, the Sudanese government released Salih after declaring him mentally unfit.

Salih is currently in hiding given that he is at serious risk of mob violence. Though his request was declined by the court, he insists on continuing his case. He is also calling for his mental capacity to be properly assessed.

The grounds for his legal defence is the contradiction between Article 126 of the criminal code and Article 38 of the 2005 transitional constitution, which allows for the freedom of choice of religion and belief: “Every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship, and to declare his/her religion or creed and manifest the same, by way of worship, education, practice or performance of rites or ceremonies, subject to requirements of law and public order; no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

Whilst Salih’s Facebook page was initially removed, it is now back online raising once again concerns about Facebook’s compliance with governments aiming to censor and silence those deemed apostates.

The Council of Ex-Muslims calls on the Sudanese government to comply with Mr Salih’s request to remove Islam from his documents and protect his safety and security. We also call on the public to stand in firm support of Salih’s brave move in defence of freedom of conscience, which includes the right to leave Islam and atheism.

A petition support Mr Salih can be found here.

For more information:

Maryam Namazie and Sadia Hameed
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB)

Pokémon Go in church

May 15th, 2017 9:09 am | By

Now that’s a crime you don’t see every day:

A Russian blogger has been found guilty of inciting religious hatred and insulting believers for playing Pokémon Go in church.

Seems like a stretch. Being disruptive during a religious service would be bad manners, certainly, but a crime? And anyway it’s not clear that he was disruptive or that a service was happening at the time.

Ruslan Sokolovsky was given a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence after he posted a video of him playing the game in an Orthodox church supposedly built on the spot where the last Russian tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed.

It is the same offence that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.

Except that it’s not much of an “offence.” The BBC doesn’t have to take the Russian theocrats’ point of view on this.

Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak said earlier Sokolovsky’s behaviour and his anti-religious videos manifested his “disrespect for society” and he “intended to offend religious sentiments”.

But that shouldn’t be a crime.

His video is pretty amusing.

Two scoops

May 14th, 2017 5:22 pm | By

I’ve seen a lot of references to the interview Trump did with TIME magazine as startling evidence of how…what to call it…under-equipped he is.

Here’s a sample on his first use of force:

I’ve been doing this, in all fairness, when I first came into the office, the first night. You weren’t here.

But they say sir, we’re ready to go. I said where? They had some people in a certain country, Yemen, where they had them [surveilled] and they needed the go ahead to kill, to kill them.

But in other words they wanted the right to go. So they’re telling me this. And this happened for two or three weeks, four weeks. And they keep coming to me, at weird times too. I don’t care about that.

And they’re in parts of the world that most people have never even heard about. They were in cities that nobody every heard about or towns. And in some cases they’re ISIS or al-Qaeda. And so they say sir, we have a situation we’d like to be able to go and they tell me what.

Then after about four or five weeks I said wait a minute. By the time they get to me, and I get back to them, usually it’s over anyway, it’s gone, they’re gone. They couldn’t fire. You know under the Obama Administration they get back to them three or four weeks later and say it’s okay to go. They say okay to go, they left three weeks ago.

Here’s some wisdom on China (or Chy-nah as he pronounces it):

You know I have a lot of respect for President Xi [Jinping]. I have great respect for him. I think we have a very good mutual liking of each other. And I told you we had tremendous dialogue at Mar-a-Lago.

And Mar-a-Lago is a great place for the dialogue because there’s a warmth to Mar-a-Lago that you just don’t find anywhere else. You can sit down in a chair and just talk for hours. Where in some places you don’t have that.

And this is great. I mean it’s very different. But you don’t have that here. It’s not the same. It’s great in a different way.

We’ve never had the relationship that we have now. Now, in all fairness to President Xi, he loves China, he loves his people, and he is representing the people of China. He’s not representing the people of the United States. So we’ll see how that all turns out.

On his genius at debt-collection:

You know we’ve gotten billions of dollars more in NATO than hat we’re getting. All because of me. I mean it’s not like a bragging thing, I’m just saying. If Hillary Clinton would have gotten in, she wouldn’t even know that we’re getting screwed by everybody.

But we have gotten billions of dollars more coming in. and coming in. I asked one simple question, I says is everybody paid up? An they bring their chart, and these countries haven’t paid for years. Haven’t paid a fair amount for years. Billions, and billions, and billions and billions of dollars. And we’re paying. We’re paying for it.

And they pay 2% and we pay close to 4%. And in all fairness it’s better for them than it is for us. It’s wonderful. But its better for them. And I get along great with Merkel. I got along great with all of them. I said folks, you gotta pay. You gotta pay.

In their story on Trump after hours, there’s a touching little item about joining him for dinner.

the Blue Room has been lit with nearly a dozen votive candles, the table is set with yellow roses, and the Washington Monument is neatly framed in the South window.

The waiters know well Trump’s personal preferences. As he settles down, they bring him a Diet Coke, while the rest of us are served water, with the Vice President sitting at one end of the table. With the salad course, Trump is served what appears to be Thousand Island dressing instead of the creamy vinaigrette for his guests. When the chicken arrives, he is the only one given an extra dish of sauce. At the dessert course, he gets two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his chocolate cream pie, instead of the single scoop for everyone else.

What elegant manners.

The scream

May 14th, 2017 4:26 pm | By

Via Eneraldo Carneiro:

Image may contain: 1 person


Guest post: Reading Whipping Girl 4

May 14th, 2017 12:17 pm | By

Guest post by Lady Mondegreen.

Welcome back to another edition of me reading Whipping Girl and shouting at Julia Serano, and sharing my shouts with you.

In my last post, I pointed out that, for Serano, sexism is about “ensuring that those who are masculine have power over those who are feminine, and that only those born male will be seen as authentically masculine.” Feminism has historically been about power relations between men and women, but Serano insists that it should also be about power relations between “those who are masculine” and “those who are feminine.” (The extra step—“only those born male will be seen as authentically masculine”—reads to me like a bone tossed to old-timey feminists who concern themselves primarily with those born female.)

So Serano’s position is that feminism should be about fighting for the rights of “those who are feminine,” regardless of their sex (which is just a matter of self-declaration anyway.)

But “those who are masculine” is not a privileged class. Yes, the non-masculine of both sexes face prejudice, but they have not historically been disenfranchised or systemically oppressed. Masculine women don’t have male privilege, and non-masculine men are not exempt from it. Furthermore, “masculine” and “feminine” are not immutable categories. People can and do become more or less one or the other over time, often at will. Either can be adopted as a disguise, or as a playful mask.

I don’t mean to say that non-masculine men don’t often have a hellish time of it. They do, and as human beings we should fight that. I think feminism has a part in fighting it. But I question Serano’s attempt to remake feminism from the movement that fights for the rights of women and girls – female people – and works to equalize power between women and men, into a movement that centers everybody who exhibits certain personality characteristics.

Never fear, though – Serano’s vision goes both ways. Feminism has to be about trans activism, trans activism has to be “a feminist movement.” On page 16, she states that

Because anti-trans discrimination is steeped in traditional sexism, it is not simply enough for trans activists to challenge binary gender norms (i.e., oppositional sexism)—we must also challenge the idea that femininity is inferior to masculinity and that femaleness is inferior to maleness. In other words, by necessity, trans activism must be at its core a feminist movement.

Trans activism can be that or not, as it chooses. But immediately after telling us that trans activism “must be a feminist movement,” Serano begins telling us in greater detail what *feminism* must be. She attacks what she calls “pseudofeminists,” then goes on to share her dream for a new, improved feminism:

Some might consider this contention [that trans activism must be at its core a feminist movement] controversial. Over the years, many self-described feminists have gone out of their way to dismiss trans people and in particular trans women, often resorting to many of the same tactics…that the mainstream media regularly uses against us. These pseudofeminists proclaim, ‘Women can do anything men can,’ then ridicule trans women for any perceived masculine tendency we may have. They argue that women should be strong and unafraid of speaking our minds, then tell trans women that we act like men when we voice our opinions. They claim that it is misogynistic when men create standards and expectations for women to meet, then they dismiss us for not meeting their standard of ‘woman.’ These pseudofeminists consistently preach feminism with one hand while practicing traditional sexism with the other.

There’s an awful lot to unpack there, and we don’t have all day. I’ll content myself with pointing out that feminists don’t ridicule men who identify as trans women because of their perceived masculine tendencies. They ridicule them, when they do, for behaving like men in relation to women. And if they “dismiss” trans women for “not meeting their standard of ‘woman’”, it’s because that standard consists of one essential: femaleness.

Serano, as she does, is simply slipping axioms into her argument and preemptively dismissing objections to those axioms. Her dismissal this time consists of calling the premise that men can’t be women “pseudofeminist.”

She continues:

It is time for us to take back the word ‘feminism’ from these pseudofeminists. After all, as a concept, feminism is much like the ideas of ‘democracy’ or ‘Christianity.’ Each has a major tenet at its core, yet there are a seemingly infinite number of ways in which those beliefs are practiced. And just as some forms of democracy and Christianity are corrupt and hypocritical while others are more just and righteous, we trans women must join allies of all genders and sexualities to forge a new type of feminism, one that understands that the only way for us to achieve true gender equity is to abolish both oppositional sexism and traditional sexism.

“It is no longer enough for feminism to fight solely for the rights of those born female….”

Notice the substitution of “gender equity” for equality between the sexes. And, because it’s bugging me, let me mention here that later in her book, Serano will reveal that she knew little or nothing of feminism until she began to transition. Yet here she is, lecturing us all on what feminism must be.

Instead of attempting to empower those born female by encouraging them to move further away from femininity, we should instead learn to empower femininity itself.

So feminism must also be about empowering femininity. How about instead we stop gendering personality types, Julia?

We must stop dismissing it [femininity] as ‘artificial’ or as a ‘performance’ and instead recognize that certain aspects of femininity (and masculinity as well) transcend both socialization and biological sex—otherwise there would not be feminine boy and masculine girl children.

Yes, certain aspects of personality may be rooted more in genetics than in socialization, but there is always a close dance between those two influences and we are nowhere near being able to confidently tease them apart. And yes, many – I hazard to say “most” if not “all” – aspects of personality are unrelated to sex. (See Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex for a discussion about how the brain works to minimize sex differences in non-sex-related behavior.)

And so? If men can be “feminine” and women can be not-feminine, why must we center femininity in feminism?

I think we need to unpack notions of femininity and masculinity much more carefully than Serano does. That unpacking – which has been going on since long before Serano and trans activism arrived on the scene – includes the recognition that much of what we call femininity is performance – and so is masculinity. As conscious performance, the two may be seen as harmless when they are not compelled (and compelled they historically have been) – but they are definitely based on notions of what women (female people) and men (male people) should be.

And that’s sexism.

* * *

Next, Serano gives us the feminism-lite, we-do-it-for-ourselves defense of femininity:

We must challenge all those who insist that women who act or dress in a feminine manner take on a submissive or passive posture. For many of us, dressing or acting feminine is something we do for ourselves, not for others. It is our way of reclaiming our own bodies and fearlessly expressing our own personalities and sexualities. It is not us who are guilty of trying to reduce our bodies to mere playthings, but rather those who foolishly assume that our feminine style is a signal that we sexually subjugate ourselves to men.

Women (and men) do play with femininity in part for themselves and each other. Again, as uncoerced performance, as play, I don’t care. I don’t think feminism is about insisting that all women must dress butch at all times in order to be taken seriously. But how anyone can deny that performance is not at least part of what’s going on when anybody adopts girlface or boyface is beyond me. In the first place, we’re social animals, and there is always going to be an element of performance – of adapting our behavior in order to have some desired effect on others – in human personality. Maybe Serano means that femininity isn’t any more of a performance than any other complex of personality traits—but if so she should say so and stop trying to essentialize it.

She does this work of essentializing gender, and then she says:

We must also stop pretending that there are essential differences between women and men….We must move away from pretending that women and men are ‘opposite’ sexes, because when we buy into that myth it establishes a dangerous precedent [precedent!?] For if men are big, then women must be small; and if men are strong then women must be weak. And if being butch is to make yourself rock-solid, then being femme becomes allowing yourself to be malleable; and if being a man means taking control of your own situation, then being a woman becomes living up to other people’s expectations.

Again. In the course of one paragraph, Serano conflates gender (masculinity, femininity) with sex. “If men are big, then women must be small…if being butch is to make yourself rock-solid, then being femme means allowing yourself to be malleable.” Men and butch (aka acting masculine) are two different categories. They are very different categories, and one of them is a concept conceived as oppositional to another. In what world does masculinity not mean something like “making yourself [appear] rock-solid” and femininity “allowing yourself to [appear] malleable”? In what world do masculinity and femininity have any coherent meaning except as binary opposites?

Femininity and masculinity were invented in order to enforce sex roles. Femininity was how women (at least those of a certain class) were supposed to behave, masculinity was how men were supposed to behave and the two were supposed to be opposites.

What’s more, one was supposed to be the boss of the other. That one, in case you haven’t guessed, was the one with the penis. And even if he didn’t conform well to masculinity, his maleness still granted him social rights and status denied to women—however feminine or unfeminine they behaved.

See the pretty torches burn

May 14th, 2017 9:38 am | By

Last night in Charlottesville, Virginia:

Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” Saturday in Charlottesville, protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument that has played an outsize role in this year’s race for Virginia governor.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at the first of two rallies he led in the college town where he once attended the University of Virginia.

At the second rally, dozens of torch-bearing protesters gathered in a city park in the evening and chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend,” local television footage shows.

Shaun King posted a photo on Facebook:

Image may contain: one or more people and night

After about ten minutes the fighting started, and the police broke up the rally.

Spencer was in Charlottesville to protest a City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A court injunction has halted the removal for six months.

The statue has become a rallying cry for a Republican running for Virginia governor this year, Corey Stewart, who was chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign in Virginia and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

Of course Lee committed treason, but I guess Republicans don’t object to that if it’s from the right as opposed to the left.

Even Republicans would never stand for that

May 14th, 2017 9:23 am | By

Nicholas Kristof asks if Don of That Outer Borough is obstructing justice.

For months, as I’ve reported on the multiple investigations into Trump-Russia connections, I’ve heard that the F.B.I. investigation is by far the most important one, incomparably ahead of the congressional inquiries. I then usually asked: So will Trump fire Comey? And the response would be: Hard to imagine. The uproar would be staggering. Even Republicans would never stand for that.

Oh ha no, Republicans will stand for anything. Trump could eat an infant on camera and they would tell us to move on.

Alas, my contacts underestimated the myopic partisanship of too many Republicans. Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, spoke for many of his colleagues when he scoffed at the furor by saying, “Suck it up and move on.”

Yeah suck it up. What’s the big deal? So Russia tilted the election to a malignant narcissist, so what? So the malignant narcissist just fired the guy leading the key investigation of that Russian activity, so what? Suckitupandmoveon.

Trump challenges the legitimacy of checks on his governance, bullies critics and obfuscates everything. Trump reminds me less of past American presidents than of the “big men” rulers I covered in Asia and Africa, who saw laws simply as instruments with which to punish rivals.

He’s our very own Mugabe.

Architect this

May 13th, 2017 5:57 pm | By

The reviews for Princess Ivanka’s “book” are rolling in and they’re not what you’d call raves. Some samples:

Take The New York Times, which called it “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes” and “witlessly derivative, endlessly recapitulating the wisdom of other, canonical self-help and business books — by Stephen Covey, Simon Sinek, Shawn Achor, Adam Grant. (Profiting handsomely off the hard work of others appears to be a signature Trumpian trait.)”

Or the Washington Postwhose reviewer Ruth Marcus wrote, “If there is an original thought in the book, it is well-hidden among new-agey platitudes (“writing a personal mission statement is an incredibly valuable way to begin”) and repackaged wisdom: Nelson Mandela, Sheryl Sandberg, Jane Goodall, more Stephen Covey than anyone should have to reread, a woman who spiralizes vegetables.” She sums it up as “a parodic pastiche of the upper-middle-class-working-mom self-help genre.”

Your typical upper-middle-class working mother whose father is the worst person in the world and the president of the US.

The Huffington Post’s Emily Peck mocks Trump’s idea that her success is due to her hard work and not her privileged position as the daughter of a very rich man. Women who Work, she writes, “is a grab-bag of generic work-life advice for upper-middle-class white women who need to ‘architect’ (a verb that pops up a lot) their lives. But underneath that, and perhaps more remarkable, is Trump’s inability to truly recognize how her own privileged upbringing was key to her success.”

How like Daddy!

Fatima Goss Graves writing in U.S. News & World Report echoes the Huffington Post, focusing on the women left out of Trump’s vision. “The how-to-succeed model in Women Who Work overlooks the complexities of overlapping sex and race bias that drive lower pay and fewer opportunities for many women,” she writes, adding. “This can-do message sounds appealing and easy to accomplish. But millions of women are in no position to follow any of this advice.”

Well they don’t count, duh.

What is this “harm” of which you speak?

May 13th, 2017 5:00 pm | By

A piece by José Luis Bermúdez in Inside Higher Ed a week ago asked a necessary question about the open letter attacking Rebecca Tuvel and the apology by the Associate Editors: what are they talking about when they talk about “harm”?

This is not the place to discuss the merits or otherwise of Tuvel’s article, which I would encourage you to read (it is clearly written, and pleasantly free of jargon) before reading the open letter and the statement. There is a persuasive analysis of the weakness of the complaints made in the open letter in this article by Jesse Singal in New York magazine. At a minimum, Tuvel appears to have been significantly misrepresented.

I want to explore a much more general issue raised by this whole affair. This has to do with concept of harm, which keeps being raised. The main charge against Tuvel is that the very existence and availability of her paper causes harm to various groups, most specifically to members of the transgender community. This is a puzzling and contentious claim that deserves serious reflection.

The editorial board statement specifically refers to “the harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication.” As the concept of harm is standardly used in legal contexts, this would be a tough claim to defend. It is certainly possible for someone to suffer material or tangible loss, injury, or damage as a consequence of a 15-page article being published in an academic journal. The article might be libelous, for example. But there is no such charge here. The only individual mentioned by name besides Rachel Dolezal is Caitlyn Jenner, and it seems implausible to say that Tuvel has harmed Jenner by “deadnaming” her (i.e., using her birth name), given how public Jenner has been about her personal history.

I think we have a rough idea what they mean by it, from long unpleasant experience of the kind of thing they say. The idea is that uttering anything other than the Currently Mandated Doctrine [which shifts constantly and among doctrinizers, but never mind] causes harm to trans people because it inspires or motivates violence against them. Getting the Doctrine wrong causes people to beat up and murder trans “folk.”

I don’t think that’s true. I think the kind of people likely to attack or murder anyone for being trans are not likely to read philosophical articles about what it means to be trans anything or to identify as anything.

The authors of the editorial board statement have nothing to say about how they understand harm. This already should give pause for thought. Philosophers, whatever their methodological orientation or training, usually pride themselves on sensitivity to how words and concepts are used. This makes it odd to see no attention being paid to how they are understanding this key concept of harm, which is central to many areas in legal and moral philosophy.

Well you see it’s a term of art, like “trigger” and “violent.” It doesn’t mean what it means in either ordinary discourse or philosophy and law; it has a special, political meaning, that has to do with the need to shun and punish a perceived Bad Person aka a Harmdoer.

Surely something else has to happen for harm to occur. Most obviously, the comparison might cause someone to behave in a way that brings about some sort of injury to a specific individual or group, for example. But then, in order to substantiate an accusation of harm, Tuvel’s accusers need to explain how her juxtaposition, in a single article, of transgender people and Rachel Dolezal might reasonably be expected to have this effect.

We’re just supposed to know. We’re supposed to be woke enough to understand instantly the kind of harm that’s at issue and the mechanism by which it takes place. Failure to be that woke could mean it’s your turn to be shunned and punished.


May 13th, 2017 12:03 pm | By

James Fallows was a novice journalist during Watergate.

So I’ve been thinking about comparisons between Watergate and the murky, fast-changing Comey-Russia-Flynn-Trump affair. As with anything involving Donald Trump, we have no idea where this will lead, what is “true,” and when the next bombshell will go off.

But based simply on what is known so far, this scandal looks worse than Watergate. Worse for and about the president. Worse for the overall national interest. Worse in what it suggests about the American democratic system’s ability to defend itself.

He goes on to give some reasons for this view.

Watergate was comparatively parochial.

And what is alleged this time? Nothing less than attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election—and doing so as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere. At worst, such efforts might actually have changed the election results. At least, they were meant to destroy trust in democracy. Not much of this is fully understood or proven, but the potential stakes are incomparably greater than what happened during Watergate, crime and cover-up alike.

Undeniable. Do we want the US to come to resemble contemporary Russia? No we do not.

Nixon was scuzzy but he put up at least a show of deference to law and norms.

Nothing Donald Trump has done, on the campaign trail or in office, has expressed awareness of, or respect for, established rules. Nixon’s private comments could be vile, but nothing he said in public is comparable to Trump’s dismissing James Comey as a “showboat,” or the thuggishly menacing tweet that Trump sent out today –

That being the infamous “Comey better hope” tweet.

Nixon was terrible in many ways, but he was neither stupid nor ignorant.

He was paranoid, resentful, bigoted, and a crook. He was also deeply knowledgeable, strategically prescient, publicly disciplined—and in some aspects of his domestic policy strikingly “progressive” by today’s standards (for instance, his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency).

Donald Trump, by contrast—well, read the transcripts of his two most recent interviews, and weep. He is impulsive, and ignorant, and apparently beyond the reach of any control, even his own.

And that’s not even all. It’s far from all. He’s also mean, and a bully, and narcissistic, and sexist, and rapey, and a liar, and a cheat, and a thief, and a fraud…and that too is not all. One can list bad things about him for a long time, and I can think of literally nothing to put in the good column. What is there? He doesn’t actually punch people on camera? Not good enough to merit placement in the good column. He’s not generous – he’s not kind – he’s not compassionate – he’s not amusing – I could go on that way for a long time too.

Then there’s the fact that people stopped Nixon, including some Republicans. Now? Cue hollow laughter.

On the merits, this era’s Republican president has done far more to justify investigation than Richard Nixon did. Yet this era’s Republican senators and members of congress have, cravenly, done far less. A few have grumbled about “concerns” and so on, but they have stuck with Trump where it counts, in votes, and since Comey’s firing they have been stunning in their silence.

The outlook is grim.

What he faces as a political outsider

May 13th, 2017 11:12 am | By

Trump, absurdly, today gave a commencement address at a “university.” The fact that it’s not a real university makes it a little less absurd, but the fact that it’s a theocratic pseudo-university makes it more sinister and repellent. The Post has details:

In his first commencement address as president, Donald Trump on Saturday drew a parallel between what he faces as a political outsider in Washington and what he said the Christian graduates of Liberty University can expect to encounter in a secular world.

Aw yeah – he’s a christian martyr and so are they.

Of course being an “outsider” is one thing and being an ignorant reckless narcissistic bully is another.

“Be totally unafraid to challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures,” Trump said. “Does that sound familiar, by the way?”

“Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he continued. “Embrace that label. Being an outsider is fine. Embrace the label, because it’s the outsiders who change the world and who make a real and lasting difference.”

“Outsider” – the guy who used his landlord daddy’s money to pile up a real estate fortune. He’s never spent a single hour as a real outsider. He’s widely despised, it’s true, but that’s because he’s a shit human being.

Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University president and evangelical icon, endorsed Trump in January 2016, calling him “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

A wonderful father? In what way? He refused to play any part at all in his children’s upbringing; he wouldn’t even go to the park with them. That’s not a wonderful father.

In the fall, after The Washington Post published a 2005 video recording on which Trump could be heard boasting about being able to “do anything” to women and get away with it, a student group called Liberty United Against Trump issued a strong rebuke of the candidate and Falwell.

“We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history,” the group’s statement read. It added that Trump “received a pitiful 90 votes from Liberty students in Virginia’s primary election, a colossal rejection of his campaign.”

Three students authored an opinion piece in The Post, writing that “Trump is the antithesis of our values.”

That was then.

The joys of working for Donnie from Queens

May 13th, 2017 9:13 am | By

Trump demands loyalty to Him from others, but heeds no corresponding obligation to others. It’s a very godlike way of viewing the world…which is to say it’s pathologically narcissistic.

After the “Access Hollywood” scandal, Mr. Trump raged at Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, for going on TV to defend him, arguing that he wanted to attack Hillary Clinton, not play defense. Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign manager until he fired him, repeatedly groused to friends that he was forced to absorb all of the criticism for the campaign’s practice of confining reporters at rallies in small pens. Mr. Trump, he told two people close to him, had ordered him to do it — but placed the blame on Mr. Lewandowski when reporters complained about it.

The firestorm touched off by the Comey firing has only reinforced the lesson Mr. Trump has usually taken away from past crises, that only one person was truly capable of defending him: the man in the mirror. It would be a “good idea” to end the daily news briefing, he told a Fox News host on Friday, suggesting that he was considering hosting his own news conferences every two weeks or so.

Like that awesome unscheduled presser he held a few weeks into his coup, the one where he told April Ryan to set up a meeting with Elijah Cummings and yelled at the Israeli reporter to sit down and be quiet. He’s good at this stuff.

“The most hazardous duty in Washington these days is that of Trump surrogate because the president constantly undercuts the statements of his own people,” said David Axelrod, a communications and messaging adviser to President Barack Obama.

“You wind up looking like a liar or a fool, neither of which is particularly attractive.”

Over the past few days, Mr. Trump deployed his two top aides — his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a top deputy — to deliver dubious or false information about his decision-making process.

He asked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to draft a letter documenting Mr. Comey’s shortcomings to leave the impression that it was Mr. Rosenstein’s judgment and not his own that led to the dismissal — an idea that was reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence, who was part of the small group of advisers who planned Mr. Comey’s ouster in near secrecy.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump himself vaporized every version of the Comey story his defenders, including Mr. Pence, had labored so earnestly to put forward. “I was going to fire Comey — my decision. There is no good time to do it, by the way,” Trump told the “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt. “I was going to fire regardless of the recommendation” made by Mr. Rosenstein, he said.

I found that “my decision,” and the way he said it, telling – it appeared to me that it was just typical Trump grandiosity and jealousy – they didn’t decide, I decided, because I’m The Man.

Few of Mr. Trump’s eruptions have had such a destructive effect on his administration or left such deep resentments among his scarred staff, according to Trump aides and surrogates.

They were expecting something different?

For his part, the president’s mood, according to people close to him, alternates between grim frustration with Washington and his news coverage, and a belief that his own political capital is regenerative. Mr. Trump saw that running against strong headwinds in the campaign worked for him, and he has frequently reverted to that playbook.

Uh-huh. It’s going to turn around for him any day now. Any. day.

Mr. Trump was not in a mea culpa mood. He was still raging over what he viewed as Mr. Comey’s “witch hunt” against him — and blaming the bipartisan condemnation of his action on the failures of his embattled and overworked communications team.

Mr. Trump is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; the communications director, Michael Dubke; and Mr. Spicer, a Priebus ally, according to a half-dozen West Wing officials who said the president was considering the most far-reaching shake-up of his already tumultuous term.

There probably aren’t a lot of professionals lining up for those jobs at this point, but no worries, there are thousands of eager Twitter trolls who would jump at the chance.

Mr. Trump’s four-decade career in real estate, casinos and entertainment has given him a sense, associates say, that a tacit agreement exists between him and the people who work for him: In exchange for the wealth, fame and power he conveys to them, they agree to absorb incoming fire directed at him.

Like a mob boss. Not much like a political leader, but very much like a mob boss.

Witness intimidation

May 12th, 2017 6:07 pm | By

The past few hours in Trump. The Times starts with the Twitter threat at Comey.

Mr. Trump chose not to clarify when asked later in the day by Fox News if there were tapes of conversations. “That I can’t talk about. I won’t talk about it,” he said. “All I want is for Comey to be honest.”

He lies every time he opens his mouth, and he’s telling other people to be honest.

Democrats were incredulous. “For a president who baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Representatives John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrats on the judiciary and oversight committees, sent a letter to the White House demanding copies of any recordings if they exist. The letter noted that “it is a crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay or prevent their official testimony.”

It’s a crime the sitting president just committed in public. What will it be tomorrow? “We know where your kids go to school”? “Hope you have good life insurance”? “Keep your mouth shut or I’ll have you killed”?

[Spicer] denied that the president was threatening Mr. Comey. “That’s not a threat,” Mr. Spicer said. “He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.”

Of course it’s a threat, Spicey. It is not true that Trump “simply stated a fact.” The wording: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Saying somebody “better” something is not stating a fact, it’s issuing a warning or a threat. If I say “You better shut up” that’s not stating a fact.

Allies and former employees of Mr. Trump have long said that he taped some of his own phone calls, as well as meetings in Trump Tower. During the campaign, Mr. Trump’s aides told reporters that they feared their offices were bugged and that they were careful about what they said.

But the implicit threat to Mr. Comey was ripped from a familiar playbook that Mr. Trump relied on during the campaign to silence critics or dissent.

He threatened on Twitter to tell stories about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, after they criticized him. He threatened to air unspecified dirty laundry about the wealthy Ricketts family as it financed efforts against him. And competing with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the Republican nomination, he threatened to “spill the beans on your wife!”

Oh god. I didn’t even know that. He is so loathsome.

This is unbearable. We knew it would be, that November night, and it is.

In this case, however, the warning came in the context of an F.B.I. investigation. Samuel W. Buell, a Duke University law professor and former federal prosecutor who led the Enron task force, said Mr. Trump’s attempt on Twitter to quiet Mr. Comey could be viewed as an effort to intimidate a witness to any future investigation into whether the firing amounted to obstruction of justice.

“If this were an actual criminal investigation — in other words, if there were a prosecutor and a defense lawyer in the picture — this would draw a severe phone call to counsel warning that the defendant is at serious risk of indictment if he continues to speak to witnesses,” Mr. Buell said. “Thus, this is also definitive evidence that Trump is not listening to counsel and perhaps not even talking to counsel. Unprecedented in the modern presidency.”

And also that he’s trying to intimidate a witness.

Why someone is okay with your kids eating crap

May 12th, 2017 5:49 pm | By

Michelle Obama is resisting.

A fiery Michelle Obama vigorously defended the healthy eating initiative that was her biggest legacy as First Lady on Friday, telling a public health summit in Washington D.C. that something was “wrong” with an administration that did not want to give consumers nutrition information or teach children to eat healthily.

“We gotta make sure we don’t let anybody take us back,” Obama said. “This is where you really have to look at motives, you know. You have to stop and think, why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you? And why is that a partisan issue? Why would that be political? What is going on?”

I’ll take a guess. Freedom? Our precious Murikan freedom to let children eat whatever crap the marketers want to shove at them? Our determination not to let Faceless Bureaucrats in Warshington [let alone Michelle Obama] force children to eat healthy foods at school?

“Take me out of the equation — like me or don’t like me,” Obama added. “But think about why someone is okay with your kids eating crap. Why would you celebrate that? Why would you sit idly and be okay with that? Because here’s the secret: If someone is doing that, they don’t care about your kid.”

The comments were Obama’s first public remarks on the Trump administration’s assault on nutrition policy, which has already seen the delay of rules meant to reduce sodium and refined grains in school lunches and provide calorie counts on restaurant menus. The former First Lady championed many of those programs.

It’s our Divine Right to fill children with salt. We can pickle them if we want to! We have freedom!

The past four months have seen the food industry seize onto President Trump’s anti-regulatory agenda, arguing for the delay or suspension of rules that Mrs. Obama encouraged. In recent weeks, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Grocers Association and the American Bakers Association have all cited the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback as reason to delay the menu-labelling rules and new nutrition labels.


Guest post: Reading Whipping Girl 3

May 12th, 2017 5:29 pm | By

Guest post by Lady Mondegreen

Still on Julia Serano’s Trans Woman Manifesto from her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Last time, you may remember, we looked at Serano’s demand that “[N]o qualifications should be placed on the term “trans woman”, and her definition of cissexism. Now let’s take a look at a neologism she seems to have invented: oppositional sexism, which she contrasts with traditional sexism.

While often different in practice, cissexism, transphobia, and homophobia are all rooted in oppositional sexism, which is the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. Oppositional sexists attempt to punish or dismiss those of us who fall outside of gender or sexual norms because our existence threatens the idea that women and men are “opposite” sexes….

In addition to the rigid, mutually exclusive gender categories established by oppositional sexism, the other requirement for maintaining a male-centered gender hierarchy is to enforce traditional sexism – the belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity. Traditional and oppositional sexism work hand in hand to ensure that those who are masculine have power over those who are feminine, and that only those born male will be seen as authentically masculine. For the purposes of this manifesto, the word misogyny will be used to describe this tendency to dismiss and deride femaleness and femininity.

I’m going to skip right over Serano’s confident declaration that the notion that female and male are rigid categories with nonoverlapping sets of attributes is somehow not part and parcel of “traditional” sexism, aka sexism. What interests me here is how Serano partners maleness with masculinity and femaleness with femininity. Serano does this because she wants feminism to be about feminine people as well as females.

Feminists since Simone de Beauvoir have insisted that femininity is an artificial construct that needs to be disassociated from femaleness. They’ve acknowledged that the qualities designated as “feminine” are human qualities that are neither inherent to womanhood, or absent in men. But Serano doesn’t want to jettison femininity, because a big part of her project is to reclaim it. Femininity, per Serano – I’m skipping ahead a bit here – is a real thing, and though it doesn’t always show up in biological women – aka people who were assigned female at birth – it should be respected on a par with its converse, masculinity.
I submit that there are several problems here. One is that femininity is indissolubly associated with femaleness – it’s right there in the word – and as long as biological (“natal”, “Assigned Male at Birth”) males insist that as trans women, they ARE women—and not just women, but FEMALES—the two aren’t going to be decoupled anytime soon.

Another is that you can’t talk about challenging “oppositional” anything and hang on to the notions of masculinity and femininity, because those two things are by their nature oppositional—at least, I’m damned if I can see how one can exist without the other. Masculinity and femininity exist only in relation to each other. And – and this is important – they’re not just oppositional, they’re unequal – not in some absolute or moral sense, I think Serano is right to oppose that sort of thinking – but as strategies for living in the world, one tends to be more functional than the other. One cultivates strength, the other doesn’t; one is active, the other is passive; one leads, the other follows. No human being really is such a walking stereotype as to manifest only one of these –inities all the time, of course, but as a way of being in the world, experiencing oneself more as subject than object, strength, and a disinclination to lean on or blindly follow others, really is superior to its opposite. “Feminine” qualities are the qualities of people who are sheltered and dominated by others. (And objectified: being decorative is an essential part of femininity.)

Now, “benevolent sexism” has been a thing since forever, and femininity has at times been granted its charms—charms seen as complementary to masculinity. Sometimes feminine qualities have even been considered superior to masculine ones in some ways, but the “ways,” when not concerned with supposed sexual purity, mostly involved qualities that made women unsuited for earning their own money. The Victorian Angel in the House was morally superior to ambitious, money-grubbing, adventurous men—as long as she stayed in her (dependent) sphere and remained “feminine.”

It should go without saying that femininity is at least to some extent historically class-based – peasant women did not have the leisure or the means to pursue femininity – but apparently it doesn’t, because Serano doesn’t mention it. Evil ol’ Second Wave feminism – the kind that tackled “traditional sexism”-discussed this quite a lot, but for all their sniping at “white feminism,” I’ve yet to read a trans activist of Serano’s school who has noticed that femininity has always been attributed to middle and upper class, privileged women.

Serano pushes her neologisms and partners “maleness” with “masculinity” and “femaleness” to “femininity” for one reason: she wants to center trans women in feminism (and promote her ideas about gender). Notice that, for her, sexism is not about keeping men in power over women, it is about “[Ensuring] that those who are masculine have power over those who are feminine, and that only those born male will be seen as authentically masculine.”

When Serano insists that “female” and “male” are not categories each possessing “a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, [etc.]” I agree. But Serano wants to retain notions of femininity and masculinity—her entire book is pro-femininity. How femininity and masculinity can exist without being mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, she doesn’t say. I suspect she’d say, well, nobody is completely, or always, one or the other, and I’d agree—but then, where does that leave the notion of “transgender”?


May 12th, 2017 11:33 am | By

I was hoping the dogpile had ended, but it hasn’t.

Brian Leiter has a brief post about the role of Lisa Guenther.

Lisa Guenther is the Vanderbilt philosophy professor and former member of Rebecca Tuvel’s dissertation [committee?] who not only was an early signatory of the defamatory “Open Letter” but also offered several public facebook explanations for her conduct.

So I decided to look up her several Facebook explanations.

Depressing shit.

April 30:

Robin James on the deep reckoning and accountability demanded of those of us who do work in philosophy — especially white feminist philosophers like myself, because we should know better than to keep using the master’s tools over and over and over again —

“Rephrasing something I said in a comment elsewhere: Hypatia is not a bad apple here–it’s symptomatic of deeper and more fundamental issues in the profession, in the institutional practice of ‘philosophy’ as such. The journal and the article’s author are doing “Philosophy” perfectly. The white supremacy, racism, and transmisognoir are embedded in the project of ‘philosophy’ itself; how many scholars have *already* said this?

Except that there was no white supremacism or racism or “transmisognoir.”

Also April 30:

Essential reading for anyone who is reeling from Hypatia’s publication of an article on transracialism, and trying to figure out what accountability means in the wake of this act of epistemic injustice. [Then a paragraph by Rachel McKinnon]

People are “reeling” – over this “act of epistemic injustice.”

May 1, linking to the Hypatia apology:

This is what accountability looks like: “Working through conflicts, owning mistakes, and finding a way forward is part of the crucial, difficult work that feminism does. As members of Hypatia’s editorial board we are taking this opportunity to make Hypatia more deeply committed to the highest quality of feminist scholarship, pluralism, and respect. The words expressed here cannot change the harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication, but we hope they convey the depth and sincerity of our commitment to make necessary changes to move forward and do better.”

There was no harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication.

Also May 1:

Via Meena Krishnamurthy: “One of the central criticism of the piece by Tuvel on the infamous Dolezal case is that it failed to engage with much of the relevant literature by POC and transgender people.”

Then a call for help drawing up a list of relevant literature. This post is innocuous in itself, but as part of a relentless series, not so much.

Also May 1:

This is what a collective demand for accountability looks like:

With a link to that disgusting Hypatia “apology.”

May 2, one I posted about at the time:

This article, like the post at the Daily Nous, goes through the arguments of Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” to argue that they’re not so bad after all: no outrageous claims, no offensive slurs, nothing but reasonable arguments. But this is precisely the problem: it’s what Charles Mills critiques as “ideal theory,” which attempts (in the words of author Jesse Singal) to “pull up one level from the real world and force people to grapple with principles and claims on their own merits, rather than — in the case of Dolezal — baser instincts like disgust and outrage.”

But ideal theory is not the only alternative to irrational “baser instincts.” What ideal theory abstracts from–and this is the reason why Mills argues that ideal theory is ideology– is the network of power relations that shape particular historical contexts and meanings.

THIS is the fundamental problem with Tuvel’s article, and with all of the defenses I have read so far: It “toy[s] around” (Singal’s words again) with a few arguments about issues that deeply and viscerally affect the lives of people whose social location is radically different from her own, with no evidence in the article of an awareness of the context, power dynamics, or stakes of these issues for trans people and people of color. This is why it should not have been published in Hypatia, and why the demand for a retraction is not simply the irrational whim of an “angry” mob, but a critique of white feminist ideal theory as transphobic and anti-black ideology.

Full disclosure: I know Rebecca Tuvel, I was on her dissertation committee, I don’t think she intended to do harm by writing this article. But intentions do not determine or reduce impact. The point is not to avoid ever saying anything “wrong” or problematic. The point is to commit to accountability — both as actors and as bystanders. This is what all of us are called upon to do in this moment.

She accuses Tuvel (somewhat indirectly) of outrageous claims and offensive slurs, then says “I don’t think she intended to do harm by writing this article.” Oh really.

May 3:

The problem is not Angry Mob vs. Vulnerable Untenured Professor. The problem is white feminism. By white feminism, I do not mean feminism that happens to be practiced by white people. I mean feminism that is invested in whiteness as power and property, and that is willing to further the interests of white women at the expense of other marginalized and oppressed groups. I mean feminism as the collective self-promotion and self-protection of the most privileged women. Feminism that would rather strategically ally itself with cis hetero anti-black patriarchy than struggle to figure out what it means to become an effective ally and accomplice of black (and) trans people. THAT is the issue here, and it’s not just an issue for one or two people, it’s an issue for all of us.

Also May 3:

YES to this post by Kristie Dotson — “Calling the righteous indignation against Tuvel’s objectifying and shoddy article a “witch hunt” is quite Trump-y. In fact, so much of the defenses and responses are Trump-y. Should you be allowed to say anything and introduce any range of “alternative facts” because you have free speech? Should you not be held accountable when your position is underdeveloped about issues that impacts people’s lives? Should you be able to speak about a class of people you are not part of in derogatory terms and claim ignorance as an excuse? Or that they are too touchy and should grow thicker skin? Should you by pass the criticisms with excuses or just double down on your right to objectify anyone you so chose because of your “good will” and PhD-privilege? Should you participate in playing a role, yet again, in securing white and cis-gendered privilege at the sake of everyone else’s well-being? Careful folks. Because this stuff is starting to get #unforgivable.”

May 4:

What SHOULD accountability look like in the wake of what some people are calling the Hypatia Affair? Some suggestions I’ve heard so far: a community accountability process; the development of professional norms for philosophical engagement with issues that affect marginalized communities; changing or clarifying the editorial review process; changing the composition of the editorial board, so that there are fewer cis het able-bodied white women on the board and more trans, queer, and disabled people of color. This is an incomplete list. Please add to it, and/or critically discuss the possibilities I’ve listed here. I have not identified the people who came up with these ideas but if you’d like to self-identify, please do.

I have an idea! Choose one white feminist every week as a target for this kind of Correction. Be sure of course she is young and untenured, and that she hasn’t actually done anything wrong. Spend the week tearing her to shreds. The Perfect World will ensue in no time.

Also May 4: a link to someone else’s long long long post on the chosen target.

May 5:

Over the past few days, I have posted a few thoughts about accountability. A close friend (and a few strangers) have challenged me to account for gaps and failures in my own scholarship as a feminist philosopher, and for my responsibilities as a mentor to past and current graduate students.

So she does a paragraph about her own omissions and then has the fucking gall to say this:

I still stand behind the book, but it has many flaws, gaps, and silences that I would want to address if I were writing it now, and that I would probably critique in a peer review process. I’m thankful for criticism of the book, even when it’s painful or difficult to hear, and even though there’s nothing I can do to un-write the book.

But I have never had to contend with personal attacks or insults about my work or calls for retraction, and I don’t want to underestimate the very different kind of pain that this inflicts on a person. And I want to express my admiration for those who have been supporting Rebecca Tuvel as a person throughout the past week. I want to apologize to her personally for any pain I caused by signing the open letter requesting retraction, especially given that I was a member of her dissertation committee. I did not sign the letter lightly, and I do not consider the call for retraction a personal attack. The letter was addressed to Hypatia as a journal, and I continue to see it as a demand for accountability, made in a very intense, fraught moment, in an effort to stand in solidarity _with_ and _as_ black (and) trans feminist thinkers whose scholarship was marginalized in this article, but not only in this article.

So in the same moment that we condemn personal attacks, I think it’s absolutely vital for us, as a community of feminist philosophers, not to conflate personal attacks with substantive critique, and not to silence black and trans critics of Tuvel’s article by dismissing the critical response as a mob of haters who didn’t even read the article. Structural inequalities in power and authority compound vulnerability. White feminists can and have deployed our own vulnerability as a weapon against others whose position is more precarious than our own. I say “we” here because I want to be clear that this is something I am deeply implicated in, and also because I want to participate in what will no doubt be a long and fraught process of abolishing white feminism and committing to a practice of feminist philosophy that is creative, responsible, and liberatory.

What a nightmare.

Two fireworks emojis

May 12th, 2017 9:47 am | By

The Post on Trump’s tantrum and what followed from it.

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Now he doesn’t have to, because Trump said it was his decision – leaving all his press people looking like liars, but whatevs.

“He wasn’t doing a good job,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “Very simple. He wasn’t doing a good job.”

But the private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans, paint a conflicting narrative centered on the president’s brewing personal animus toward Comey. Many of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to candidly discuss internal deliberations.

Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped.

Which is pretty amazing. That claim is something that Trump simply made up; it’s very delusional to expect the FBI director to support a made-up claim, especially one like that – a claim that the former president committed a felony. Imagine the legal difficulties Comey could get in by supporting that claim, even assuming he wanted to.

Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

The known actions that led to Comey’s dismissal raise as many questions as answers. Why was Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?

Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?

And how much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?

And will he get away with it, and will it work? Will he succeed in shutting down the investigation?

In the weeks leading up to Comey’s firing, Trump administration officials had repeatedly urged the FBI to more aggressively pursue leak investigations, according to people familiar with the discussions. Administration officials sometimes sought to push the FBI to prioritize leak probes over the Russia interference case, and at other times urged the bureau to investigate disclosures of information that was not classified or highly sensitive and therefore did not constitute crimes, these people said.

Over time, administration officials grew increasingly dissatisfied with the FBI’s actions on that front. Comey’s appearances at congressional hearings caused even more tension between the White House and FBI, as Trump administration officials were angered that the director’s statements increased, rather than diminished, public attention on the Russia probe, officials said.

It’s not a kind of thing that should be played down. It’s important.

In his Tuesday letter dismissing Comey, Trump wrote: “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” People familiar with the matter said that statement is not accurate, although they would not say how it was inaccurate.

I’ll make a guess: Comey didn’t say it, and anyway it’s not true.

Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the firing of Comey has left raw anger, and some fear, according to multiple officials. Thomas O’Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, called Comey’s firing “a gut punch. We didn’t see it coming, and we don’t think Director Comey did anything that would lead to this.’’

Many employees said they were furious about the firing, saying the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the FBI’s independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job.

One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,” one official said. “I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.”

There are times when an administration should declare war on the FBI. When the FBI investigates and suppresses lawful dissent, it should be pulled back. But this? This isn’t that.