Notes and Comment Blog


A way to leave other people holding the bag

Dec 30th, 2016 10:46 am | By

Back at the beginning of the month Paul Krugman pointed out at the Times the way scamming works for Trump. There was the issue of his tax returns for instance – he got away with simply not releasing them, and lying that it was because he was being audited.

[A]t this point it’s apparent that Mr. Trump believed, correctly, that he could violate all the norms, stonewall on even the most basic disclosure, and pay no political price.

Indeed, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton was in effect punished for her financial transparency, while Mr. Trump was rewarded for his practice of revealing nothing about how he makes money.

Which shouldn’t be how any of this works – and yet it did.

Therefore they will just go on refusing to be transparent, and probably get away with it.

Take, for example, the budget process. Normally, an incoming administration issues a fiscal plan conveying its priorities soon after taking office. But as the budget expert Stan Collender notes, there are strong indications that the Trump administration will ignore this precedent (and, possibly, the law) and simply refuse to offer any explanation of how its proposals are supposed to add up. All we’ll get, probably, are assurances that it’s going to be great, believe me.

We can guess that, Krugman says, because we can already see that it’s what they’re doing about the health insurance scam.

Obamacare has worked. It’s not perfect, by a long shot, but the number of uninsured Americans has plummeted to its lowest level in history. And Americans newly insured thanks to Obamacare are highly satisfied with their coverage.

So what can the G.O.P. offer as an alternative? We know what Republicans want: a free-for-all in which insurance companies can discriminate as they like, with minimal regulation and drastic cuts in government aid.

They want what there was before: basically a fuck you to people who didn’t get insurance through their jobs – coupled with complete freedom for employers not to provide insurance to their workers. Indeed, and to the surprise of no one, health insurance was one of the benefits Trump was refusing to provide workers at his Las Vegas casino until he hurriedly settled with the union a couple of week ago. Republicans want Nothing: a “whatever” system where the fortunate get coverage and the rest get Nothing.

Their plan is to delay doing anything until after 2018 (but then why not delay until after the next election, and the one after that, and so on? I don’t know), and figure out a way to blame the Democrats when they do repeal it.

It’s all very Trumpian, if you think about it. An honest memoir of the president-elect’s business career would be titled “The art of the scam.” After all, his hallmark has been turning a profit on failed business projects, because he finds a way to leave other people holding the bag.

In this case, the effort to replace Obamacare will clearly fail miserably in terms of serving the American people, perhaps especially the white working-class voters who backed Mr. Trump. But it could nonetheless be a political success if the public can be convinced to blame the wrong people.

And after seeing what just happened, we know that the public probably can be convinced of that, because it can be convinced of anything. (Enough of the public, that is. Not the whole public. Not even the majority…) As Krugman says –

You might think that this would be impossible, given the obviousness of the ploy. But given what we’ve seen so far, you have to take seriously the possibility that they’ll get away with it.

Especially when they have so much of the opinion-offering class helping them, with all this bullshit about the angry white working class, as if Mr No I’m Not Going To Provide Health Insurance Trump were the buddy of the working class. Oh never mind all that, they murmur, anxiously pushing it behind a door. Just read that brilliant J D Vance fella and repent your elitist ways.

Scam scam scam.



The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Dec 29th, 2016 6:04 pm | By

The self-pity of godbotherers never ceases to amaze.

Pop open the mulled wine, fill-up on minced pies, enjoy the office parties, swap presents, take a holiday – but whatever you do, don’t mention Jesus. In fact, don’t even mention the word ‘Christmas’ – say festive season, winter break, or happy holidays.

Sounds like a joke, right? Wrong. It’s Christmas in Britain 2016. No, it’s not all pervasive, but it’s happening, the fist-in-a-velvet-glove reality for any number of people, particularly Christians, in workplaces up and down the country.

And it has led the British Prime Minster, a Catholic bishop, and the UK’s equality commissioner to speak out about this sort of nonsense – it has to stop.

Ah there it is – the fuming outrage at non-existent fists in gloves combined with eagerness to tell other people what to do. “It has to stop” – what does? People not wanting religion forced on them? That has to stop, does it? According to whom, and what will be the penalties for disobedience?

Bishop Mark Davies has warned of a ‘strange silence’ fuelled by a ‘terrible perversion’ of political correctness that is making Christians fearful of speaking publicly about their faith.

Bollocks. Nobody’s afraid. Nobody’s being attacked or punished, and nobody’s afraid. Some of us don’t want to hear people blithering on about “their faith” but that’s not a reason to be afraid. People don’t go around quaking in terror about being asked to stop talking during the movie at movie theaters, and they don’t go around quaking in terror about being asked to keep their religion to themselves, either. They may not like it, but that’s not fear.

“There has been a danger of a strange silence falling over our land which has recently led the Prime Minister to urge Christians never to be afraid of speaking freely in the public space,” said Bishop Davies.

“She insisted that our Christian heritage is something of which everyone can be proud, and Christians must ‘jealously guard’ their right to speak publically about their faith. The Prime Minister is doubtless conscious of the strange phenomenon of local authorities and public bodies who fear that even to mention the word ‘Christmas’ might be a cause of offence.”

Christians don’t have an unfettered “right to speak publicly about their faith.” They have the normal free speech rights that everyone has (in the UK, which is the issue here), but that does not mean they get to force religious discourse on people who don’t want it.

“Somewhat more sinisterly, people tell me how they have felt inhibited or even intimidated in their places of work when speaking of their Christian faith and how it shapes their conscience and values.

“In a country founded on the Christian faith, it is a terrible perversion of political correctness that would so intimidate people from speaking of Christianity: the very faith and moral path which has shaped our way of life.”

That’s so ludicrous. If co-workers don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to hear it. Bishops don’t get to force them to hear it. It’s not persecution to say no thank you, I’m not interested.

Prime Minister May, a practising Anglican and the daughter of an Anglican vicar, expressed her opinions on the treatment of Christians in the public square in response to a question from Fiona Bruce, a member of parliament, in late November.

Mrs Bruce asked the Prime Minister to welcome a new report by the Evangelical Alliance and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, called Speak Up.

The report, she said, “confirms that in our country the legal rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech to speak about one’s faith responsibly, respectfully and without fear, are as strong today as ever.”

The Prime Minister welcomed the report, adding: I’m sure that we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith, and also be able to speak quite freely about Christmas.”

Mrs Bruce also highlighted comments made by David Isaacs, the UK’s Equalities Commissioner, who is concerned that Christians were now fearful about mentioning their faith in public.

Speaking to The Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Isaacs criticized organizations, including public institutions, which have dropped references to Christmas unnecessarily from cards and celebrations out of fear of offending people of other faiths or none.

Or maybe not out of “fear of offending” but rather out of desire to be considerate. What about that, eh? And what’s wrong with that? Not a damn thing. It’s simply true that Christians are not the only people there are, and that a lot of people enjoy the solstice party who are not Christians.

There’s no war on Christmas, but there certainly is a war on being thoughtful.



Hapless Adm yourself

Dec 29th, 2016 2:08 pm | By

Throwdown. 35 Russian diplomats have 72 hours to get out of Dodge.

The US has expelled 35 Russian diplomats as punishment for alleged interference into last month’s presidential elections, giving them 72 hours to leave the country.

It will also close two compounds used for Russian intelligence-gathering.

President Barack Obama had vowed action against Russia amid US accusations it directed hacks against the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Well at least no harm was done, because Clinton’s opponent is a responsible, thoughtful, reasonable, compassionate guy who will do a good job.

Or, rather, he’s the opposite of all that, as well as a liar and a thief and a pussygrabber, so I don’t admire the Russians’ prank.

The move follows calls from senior US senators to sanction Russian officials who are believed to have played a role in the hacking, which some lawmakers referred to as America’s “political Pearl Harbor”.

Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who led the calls for sanctions, said they “intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia”.

A Kremlin spokesman told journalists in Moscow that President Vladimir Putin would consider retaliatory measures.

Dmitry Peskov said the actions were “a manifestation of unpredictable and aggressive foreign policy”, and called them “ungrounded and not legal”.

And the Russian embassy in the UK tweeted a visual gag calling the Obama presidency a lame duck.

Russian Embassy tweets: President Obama expels 35 🇷ussian diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl american people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.

Cold War nothing. Putin is no communist, so this is not a continuation of the Cold War.

In a joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Security, and the FBI, US officials appeal to companies to “look back within their network traffic” and report any signs of “malicious cyber activity” to law enforcement.

The Russian hacking, which the US intelligence agencies describe as a “decade-long campaign” included methods such as “spearphishing, campaigns targeting government organisations, critical infrastructure, think-tanks, universities, political organisations, and corporations; theft of information from these organisations; and the recent public release of some of this stolen information”.

Emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and from the servers of the Democratic National Committee were released during the 2016 presidential election by Wikileaks.

Yet many people are still insisting Julian Assange is a lefty hero.



For visiting a city without her husband

Dec 29th, 2016 5:58 am | By

News from Afghanistan:

A woman has been beheaded for visiting a city without her husband, officials in Afghanistan have said.

The 30-year-old was decapitated and stabbed to death on Monday evening in Lati in the Sar-e-Pul province of northern Afghanistan.

The Middle East Press claims a government spokesman told them Taliban militants killed her for the “infidelity act” of going shopping without a male guardian.

National broadcaster Tolo News reports that the provincial governor spokesman Zabiullah Amani said the woman’s husband is in Iran, and that they do not have children.

No doubt they did the stabbing first, to make sure she would feel it.



They are are saddened, but not surprised

Dec 29th, 2016 5:46 am | By

The Bundy gang issued a “press release” on Facebook – in other words they wrote a short Facebook post. But they wrote PRESS RELEASE at the top so that we’d know it’s not an ordinary Facebook post. Still has comments like a Facebook post though.

PRESS RELEASE

Bundy Ranch Response to Gold Butte National Monument Designation

We, the Bundy Family, would like to say to President Obama that we are saddened, but not surprised, by the your decision to make our ranch and home a national monument. If any of this were really about protecting the land, you would come here, work with the local people who love this land, those who have a vested interest in this land, and take the time to learn what this land really needs. This is about control, pure and simple. You don’t love this land, you have never visited here, but you love being in control of this land. The problems we have had with federal land management have never been about cows, tortoises, or fees. It has always been about the constitutional limits on the federal government’s authority. While you enjoy a vacation in Hawaii we are here caring for this land and resisting federal overreach. Shame on you for undoing with your pen the good work we have done with our sweat for generations. We call on Attorney General Adam Laxalt to fight this to the fullest extent of the law!

Yeah, how dare those awful federal people not let the Bundys help themselves to land that isn’t theirs?



Gold Butte and Bear’s Ears

Dec 29th, 2016 5:34 am | By

The US has a new national monument, and no it’s not Trump’s Ego. It’s Gold Butte, in Nevada.

The declaration places 300,000 acres of land under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management. Obama used the Antiquities Act to shelter land between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon.

In addition, Obama declared the Bears Ears region of Utah a national monument under the same law.

“I am designating two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

They have Native American artifacts, such as petroglyphs. Gold Butte also has a difficult neighbor: Cliven Bundy. He thinks that land should belong to him, to exploit as he sees fit.

Gold Butte is near the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who along with local farmers and ranchers has sought to keep the property available for agricultural use.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., urged Obama not to designate the land as a national monument because of concerns by local constituents.

What kind of “concerns”? The kind that want public land to be for private exploitation, not conservation and education.

Conservatives have voiced concern about the lack of input in designations.

Those concerns resulted in an armed standoff with Bundy, his sons and their supporters, including militia and patriot groups that had gathered on the family’s Bunkerville ranch in April 2014.

That is, these bogus “concerns” were Bundy’s excuse for trespassing on federal land and pulling guns on federal workers who attempted to evict them – evict them from public land, land that did not and does not belong to them. It wasn’t some agentless “armed standoff,” it was Bundy and his gang illegally occupying other people’s land using the threat of lethal force.

Bureau of Land Management officials left the property following the standoff and did not return until 2016. A White House official downplayed any safety concerns and said there is no elevated enforcement status at Gold Butte.

Bundy faces criminal charges in federal court over the confrontation. He has claimed ancestral rights to the Gold Butte property.

Those aren’t “concerns.” They’re just a desire to exploit public lands for a steeply discounted price, in order to make money. Sure, I’d love it if the feds gave me a bunch of money too, but that’s not a “concern.” The feds don’t owe Cliven Bundy cheap grazing for his cattle. We the people don’t owe Cliven Bundy cheap grazing for his cattle.

Also, again, it wasn’t a “confrontation.” It was a slew of criminal acts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld previous actions by presidents, despite controversy over the use of the Antiquities Act to set aside public lands for conservation and to save artifacts.

No national monument declaration has been overturned by another president. Any repeal would take congressional action.

Conservationists and Native American tribes have long sought the protection of the Gold Butte area.

Gold Butte is filled with ancient rock art, sweeping desert vistas and twisted pastel-colored sandstone formations.

The area has suffered a great deal of damage from vandals and off-road vehicles since 2014, according to the Friends of Gold Butte, a local nonprofit group whose members monitor the area and advocate on its behalf.

Which is better – to let people destroy Gold Butte for the fun of it, or to conserve it? I’m going to go with the latter.

The designation will help the Paiute tribes better protect the lands by allowing them to work hand-in-hand with the federal government, according to William Anderson, former chairman for the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

Anderson said the tribe members can provide expertise on what is culturally sensitive in the area while the federal government brings better protection and upkeep to the historic area.

But Cliven Bundy wants to graze his cattle there – will no one think of what Cliven Bundy wants?

Since the Antiquities Act was passed, 16 presidents have designated 152 national monuments using the legislative authority, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has urged Congress to repeal the law, citing Obama’s use to set aside land in Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois as abuse of legislation originally passed to protect against the looting of archeological sites.

The Heritage Foundation said recent declarations have thwarted economic opportunity and removed states and private citizens from decisions made on land use.

Funny how the Heritage Foundation is called conservative yet it opposes conservation.



Living in opposition to the zeitgeist is hard

Dec 28th, 2016 11:58 am | By

Michelle Goldberg is wondering if maybe men will always rule. Yeah same here.

For the last couple of years, feminism has been both ubiquitous and improbably glamorous, its pop culture currency symbolized by Beyoncé silhouetted before a giant glowing FEMINIST sign at the 2014 Video Music Awards. On television, women went from ornaments to protagonists, starring in a slew of raunchy comedies in which men were often afterthoughts.

Erm no. That’s overstating it. The fact (if it is a fact) that there are a number of such comedies doesn’t demonstrate that women have become protagonists across the board. They haven’t.

But that’s a detail. Her larger point is that it’s not looking good. She’s right about that.

Before Nov. 8, it looked as if the arc of history was bending toward women.

Trump’s victory has obliterated this narrative. In many ways it was a fluke; had a few thousand votes in a few Rust Belt states gone another way, we’d be talking about Clinton’s popular vote landslide and the decisive defeat of Trumpian reaction. However freakishly contingent his triumph, it forecloses the future feminists imagined at least for a long while. We’re going be blown backward so far that this irredeemably shitty year may someday look like a lost feminist golden age. The very idea that women are equal citizens, that barriers to their full human flourishing should be identified and removed, is now up for grabs. A pastor warming up the crowd at a post-election Trump rally in Louisiana promised that with Trump in office, the White House would be a place “where men know who men are, women know who women are.” The massive power of the American state is about to be marshaled to put women in their place.

And maybe that will result in a feminism that is more focused and ferocious than ever before. That would be good.

Or, abortion rights could be lost.

There is a particular insult at the thought of a sybarite like Trump, who still won’t say whether he’s ever paid for an abortion himself, imposing a regime of forced birth on American women. When and if Trump strips us of bodily autonomy, there won’t be any illusions that he’s doing it to protect life or the family or sexual morality. It will be because he has power, and women’s hopes and plans for their own lives don’t matter to him at all.

And more than that: it will be because he likes using his power to harm and damage and injure other people.

If a new backlash comes, some women will embrace it. The uphill struggle for freedom and equality can be enervating. Many women find comfort and consolation in being provided for by a man—or in the dream of being provided for by a man—and are sick of feminists making them feel guilty. Others know how to negotiate the male power structure without challenging it, like Ivanka Trump. In a time of backlash, women will redouble their efforts to accommodate men, and the culture will celebrate their choice in making that accommodation. The backlash, wrote Faludi, “manipulates a system of rewards and punishments, elevating women who follow its rules, isolating those who don’t.”

People who are committed to gender equality will try to salvage what they can of the last 40 years of progress. They’ll try to maintain their morale, but living in total opposition to the zeitgeist is hard. In the defining drama of our time, a woman who was the most qualified person ever to run for president lost to a man who was the least. That can’t help but reverberate through the culture, changing our sense of what is possible for women. My abiding fear is that the idea of women running the world will start to seem like an innocent, dated dream, akin to communes, lesbian separatism, and spelling “women” as “womyn.” Someday I’ll tell my daughter about the time we all thought the future was female. I hope she doesn’t laugh at our naïveté.

Well, maybe global warming will get there first.



Guest post: No respectable charity would ever make that ludicrous claim

Dec 28th, 2016 11:13 am | By

Originally a comment by Josh Spokes on More lies.

I realize this is probably obvious to many, but I want to point out another way in which he’s not only lying but doesn’t even know how to lie convincingly about this.

I’m the executive at a nonprofit charity. The kind with the IRS tax designation 501(c)(3). This is this the kind of charity where a donor can deduct the contribution from her taxes. Think the Red Cross, your local food pantry, animal shelter, educational nonprofit. Also the same designation as charities like those run by Trump or Hillary Clinton. It’s all the same beast for tax purposes:

1. No charity in the world sends 100 percent of its money to other charities, nor does it spend 100 percent of its money “on the mission.” That is not objectively possible.

2. Why? Because humans have to be paid to carry out the mission. This is why charities have staff. Only the tiniest charitable groups of maybe a few hundred or thousand active donors run entirely on volunteer support.

3. Even those few charities that are all volunteer have costs. The minute a volunteer puts a first class stamp on an envelope to send a donor a thank you letter, that’s a percentage of the charity’s money that it spent on something other than the core mission. It’s an administrative expense.

Again, it’s not possible for any charity under any circumstances to have no overhead costs.

4. No respectable charity would ever make that ludicrous claim. First because it’s not true, and second because it’s not believable. We in the nonprofit sector work hard to spend as much as we can directly on the mission and as little as possible on “administration.” But that itself is a game anyway, since the mission happens through the administrative expense of paying professionals to carry it out.



Helping girls combat the shame

Dec 28th, 2016 8:49 am | By

One thing people can do to promote freedom and equal rights for girls and women is destigmatize menstruation. Behold one such effort:

This comic book is helping girls combat the shame around periods in India.

Menstruation is still a taboo topic in the country, with millions of girls having no knowledge of the process until it happens to them.

It’s seen as a creepy disgusting contaminant. In reality it’s discarded nutrients for a future human, which you would think would be sacred rather than disgusting.



More lies

Dec 28th, 2016 8:13 am | By

Trump’s been telling porkies again, or still – these about his charitable donations. It’s the familiar pattern: he brags about how great he is, reporters ask questions, it turns out he was telling lies.

Even the most unsparing critic of the news media cannot deny the tremendous effort put forth by Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold as he spent months doggedly trying to document all of Donald Trump’s donations to charity. The task wasn’t easy—the candidate refused to release his tax returns—so Fahrenthold probed records going back decades, repeatedly questioned the Trump campaign, and contacted more than 400 nonprofit organizations while showing his work.

They show us a page from his notes – a list of nonprofits with a big NEVER beside nearly all of them. There are some no comments and some blanks. The big dollar amounts must be…on some other page.

This transparently conducted reporting yielded much information. The public learned that the Donald J. Trump Foundation once spent $20,000 on a portrait of Donald Trump; that $258,000 from his charitable foundation was used to settle legal problems; that he misled the audience of The Celebrity Apprentice about his giving.

He’s given away some money, but far less than he claims. He’s used some “donations” to his own advantage, like the one to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. He hides everything.

Records show Trump has given nothing to his foundation since 2008. Trump and his staff are adamant that he has given away millions privately, off the foundation’s books. Trump won’t release his tax returns, which would confirm such gifts, and his staff won’t supply details.

“There’s no way for you to know or understand,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told BuzzFeed recently.

And yet, Conor Friedersdorf points out, he goes on bragging anyway.

I gave millions of dollars to DJT Foundation, raised or recieved millions more, ALL of which is given to charity, and media won’t report!

The DJT Foundation, unlike most foundations, never paid fees, rent, salaries or any expenses. 100% of money goes to wonderful charities!

He’s such a shameless liar.



A creeping authoritarianism

Dec 27th, 2016 8:08 am | By

Uri Friedman at the Atlantic talks to Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, about the Russian hack and the abject failure to do anything about it.

Well before the White House or U.S. intelligence agencies publicly blamed the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, two members of Congress did. Back in September, Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement accusing Russian intelligence agencies of hacking Democratic Party institutions. “Americans will not stand for any foreign government trying to influence our election,” they declared.

Ha. If only that had been true. Many Americans were and are delighted.

Over 40 percent of Americans now say they’re not especially bothered by reports of hackers working with the Russian government to influence the U.S. election; most Democrats say they’re bothered by the interference, while most Republicans say they aren’t. President Obama waited until after the election to personally detail Russia’s involvement in the hacks and leaks; President-elect Trump hasn’t even acknowledged that involvement.

Well he wouldn’t, would he. He’s THE KING; he doesn’t need any help from Russia.

Schiff is refusing to move on. The future of liberal democracy in the United States and around the world is at stake, he told me, and the U.S. government is rapidly running out of time to respond to the threat (Schiff says he has no confidence that Trump will punish Russia over its role in the election). In Trump’s denial of Russian meddling, Schiff sees a “president-elect who cannot accept any facts that diminish any of his achievements, no matter how well-established the facts are.” But Schiff is also critical of Obama, whose “excess of caution” ended up “inviting too much Russian interference.” And he’s critical of his own party. “Democrats failed to persuade the American people why they should care” about Russia’s intervention, he said.

Friedman interviewed Schiff.

Adam Schiff: I do agree with the assessment that the combination of cyber hacking, dumping of information, dumping of potentially forged information in the future, the propagation of fake-news stories—all of these “active measures” by Russia to interfere in our elections, to interfere in European elections—is a game-changer. It is of phenomenal importance and it’s a grave danger to the country. It’s a grave danger to liberal democracy, period. We’ve seen a creeping authoritarianism around the world, and this has been enabled by the cyber revolution. What we saw the Russians do in our presidential election was just utterly unprecedented in its scope and in its impact.

Putin helped another authoritarian win power. I think we still haven’t taken in just how terrible this is.

What made it so powerful was that we had the unusual specter of a major party and its nominee giving the Russians deniability. In any other election in modern U.S. history, had Russia been interfering in the political process in a way that benefitted one candidate, you would have had both candidates repudiating it. Neither would want to be associated with Russia, neither would want to be the beneficiary of stolen information. But here you had, in Donald Trump, someone who was willing, on the one hand, to egg on the Russians to hack more, but on the other to give them deniability—a feat of both mental and rhetorical gymnastics that few could pull off. But he did.

The reason he could pull it off when few others could is not because of his supreme skill, but because of his supreme lack of a conscience. He can lie and cheat like a psychopath, because there’s nothing inside him that resists.

They talk about why Obama didn’t go public with what they knew about the hacking until after the election, and what a bad decision that was. Then they talk about the fact that Trump dismisses the whole thing, saying it’s just Democrats trying to thwart him.

It’s not unlike the issue that Donald Trump has with losing the popular vote. The two most disturbing things I’ve seen since the election by the president-elect were, first, his claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted; otherwise he would have won the popular vote. That’s pure fiction. For someone who is about to be our president to publish that falsity is alarming. What followed close on the heels of that was the unwillingness to accept that the Russians had meddled in a way that helped him. And so he has to deny the underlying facts.

Both of those things tell me this is a president-elect who cannot accept any facts that diminish any of his achievements, no matter how well-established the facts are. That worries me a great deal for when he becomes president. Does that mean that he is going to ignore intelligence that contradicts his personal views because [it’s] less beneficial to him? That is a very dangerous trait to have in a commander in chief.

Yes, it is, but that’s Trump. He’s a liar and a narcissist. That’s not what you want in a commander in chief.



Many attributed the oversight to gender bias

Dec 27th, 2016 7:03 am | By

The Washington Post on Vera Rubin:

Dr. Rubin’s groundbreaking discoveries, made primarily with physicist W. Kent Ford, have revolutionized the way scientists observe, measure and understand the universe.

The concept of “dark matter,” an unknown substance among stars in distant galaxies, had existed since the 1930s, but it was not proved until Dr. Rubin’s studies with Ford in the 1970s. It is considered one of the most significant and fundamental advances in astronomy during the 20th century.

“The existence of dark matter has utterly revolutionized our concept of the universe and our entire field,” University of Washington astronomer Emily Levesque told Astronomy magazine this year. “The ongoing effort to understand the role of dark matter has basically spawned entire subfields within astrophysics and particle physics.”

Dr. Rubin, who spent most of her career at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, continued to make new discoveries — including of previously unknown galaxies — into the 21st century. For years she was considered a leading contender for the Nobel Prize, but the award never came. Many attributed the oversight to gender bias among male scientists and prize committees.

The last woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics was Maria Goeppert Mayer, who shared the 1963 prize for her work on atomic structure. The only other woman to win a Nobel in physics was Marie Curie in 1903.

“Alfred Nobel’s will describes the physics prize as recognizing ‘the most important discovery’ within the field of physics,” Levesque told Astronomy magazine. “If dark matter doesn’t fit that description, I don’t know what does.”

Sometimes I get very fed up with this filter that prevents people from recognizing women’s achievements.

Dr. Rubin peered into the cosmos and examined the rotation of more than 200 galaxies. Among other findings, she determined that stars orbiting on the outer edges of galaxies moved at the same speed as those near the interior.

The discovery defied the accepted norms of astronomy, which held that the far-flung stars should move more slowly. To account for the uniform speeds, Dr. Rubin concluded that the distant regions of galaxies contained considerable amounts of a dense, unseen mass, or dark matter, which affected everything from gravitational pull to the shape of galaxies to how stars move in relation to one another.

Dark matter has not been directly observed, and its precise composition remains unknown, but scientists think it constitutes about 84 percent of the cosmos.

“So important is this dark matter to our understanding of the size, shape, and ultimate fate of the universe,” Dr. Rubin wrote in Scientific American in 1998, “that the search for it will very likely dominate astronomy for the next few decades.”

I hope women will be allowed to participate.



Where did all the women go?

Dec 26th, 2016 5:24 pm | By

Susan Cox argues that lesbian spaces are still needed.

We’re told we live in an era of greater acceptance of homosexuality, yet the loss of hard-won lesbian spaces and events is a growing trend. San Francisco, known as one of the most prominent LGBT communities in the world, doesn’t have a single lesbian bar, and New York City’s lesbian spaces have dwindled severely. There are no explicitly lesbian bars in Vancouver (Lick — once the city’s only lesbian bar — closed in 2011), though there are a number of bars for gay men and “queer nights” that take place within various venues.

Well you see gay men need to have bars but lesbians don’t. Lesbians are women, and women are no fun. Women would rather be at home scrubbing the sink than out partying, so lesbian bars just aren’t necessary. Right?

This “progress” explanation not only falls flat because stigma around lesbianism remains, but because it fails to account for the fact that spaces for gay males have remained largely intact. In my hometown of Philadelphia, for example, a peek at any “gayborhood” calendar offers a plethora of events catering to gay men, including: gay bingo, gaybill (musical theater night), gay burlesque roulette, free country line dancing, gay antiques show, and a best gay mac and cheese contest.

By contrast, the latest Phillesbian Fall Guide lists events such as: a beer festival… No, not a lesbian beer festival — just a regular one. In fact, there’s not a single explicitly lesbian event in the guide (unless a Tegan and Sara concert counts).

The last lesbian bar in Philadelphia, Sisters, closed in 2013, turning the country’s first gayborhood into a mostly male affair. So although rainbows proudly decorate street signs and crosswalks, there’s little real diversity to be found.

Well it’s natural. It’s how god intended it. Men are for the world and women are for the home, you know. Men get to go out, and women get to stay home. Besides, women are exclusionary.

It seems the burden of “queering” “identity” always falls on women in particular. For example, why is it usually women’s bathrooms that are turned into “all-gender”/“inclusive” bathrooms, while men’s rooms remain unchanged? Why are lesbian events accused of bigotry and bullied out of existence, while those for gay males continue on their merry way?

Feminist writer Sarah Ditum points out that it is primarily women’s spaces and organizations, “not services intended for men,” that are attacked for being “non-inclusive.” She names “rape crisis centres (Vancouver Rape Relief), abortion rights campaigns (A Night of a Thousand Vaginas), and women-only music festivals (Michfest)” as just a few examples. “Gentleman’s clubs — those all-male bastions of the Establishment — have not been targeted for protests,” Ditum writes.

It appears that even though the project of “queering” is, we’re told, about going beyond gender, the movement disproportionately affects females in negative ways.

That’s because everybody hates women.



Observations

Dec 26th, 2016 5:01 pm | By

Jennifer Ouellette remembers Vera Rubin:

Astronomy lost a great scientist today.

Image may contain: 1 person, text



Twitter nuclear war

Dec 26th, 2016 4:24 pm | By

Is Trump’s use of Twitter to air his thoughts about nuclear weapons at all dangerous? Yes it is. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post talked to some experts on the subject and they said yes: dangerous is what it is.

As we prepare for President Trump to take near-unchecked control of our nuclear machinery, his nuclear Tweet is best seen as a window into his temperament. Trump still does not appreciate that every word he utters carries tremendous weight and could have dramatic, untold, far-reaching, unpredictable consequences — something that is especially true in the nuclear arena. Or, perhaps worse, Trump may be entirely indifferent to this fact.

It’s probably both. He doesn’t fully grasp it, because he doesn’t think and because he’s stupid, and he doesn’t care in any case, because he’s a sadistic bully drunk on his own conceit.

Arms control experts I spoke with suggested that Trump’s willingness to Tweet about nuclear weapons raises the possibility of Trump doing the same as president — and more to the point, the possibility of him doing so amid some species of international crisis or escalation.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, points out that in peacetime, any belligerent Trump Tweet about nuclear weapons might not appear as alarming, simply because “confirmation bias” might lead key actors not to interpret it in its most frightening light at that moment. Amid rising international tensions, though, that confirmation bias might work in the other direction, he says.

The North Koreans, for instance.

Trump’s Tweet suggests an inability to appreciate that Twitter is far too blunt instrument to handle dangerously sensitive, complex international challenges, and indeed could lead to misunderstandings — and potential catastrophe.

As a potential example, Lewis points out that earlier this year, Trump said he would handle the North Korean nuclear threat by getting China to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “disappear.” Lewis notes that imprecise language in an errant, bellicose Trump Tweet — particularly amid rising tensions — could conceivably amount to an “accidental assassination threat.”

“Imagine if the North Koreans are looking for any signs that we’re about to attack as their signal that they have to go,” says Lewis, adding that if Trump “says the wrong thing” and “gives the impression that we’re about to act,” the North Koreans might “decide not to wait around to find out if that’s true or not,” and might hit “targets throughout South Korea and Japan where U.S. military forces are stationed.”

Would that be bad? Yes.

Twitter “is a tool of provocation and belligerence in the hands of Donald Trump,” Bruce Blair, a nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University, tells me, adding that it’s easy to envision Trump Tweeting a warning to another world leader that “if you do this or that, you’ll be sorry.”

Blair says the worry isn’t necessarily that a single Trump Tweet might alone unleash nuclear catastrophe, but rather that one could very well exacerbate an already-existing situation in far worse ways than otherwise might have happened.

Also? That there wouldn’t be only one Trump tweet in that situation.

“Almost any threat could be perceived as warranting some sort of response that’s not only rhetorical, but operational,” Blair tells me.

Operational. With nukes. You don’t want to put those two words together.

And so, whatever Trump’s actual intentions for our nuclear arsenal and the future of international disarmament efforts, his willingness to use Twitter to posture and chest-thump around nuclear matters should itself stir urgent concern. This will be particularly true if it holds over into situations involving escalating tensions.

In fact, one thing that Trump and his advisers should be pressed to answer right now is whether Trump will put his Twitter feed on ice in such situations. Given what we’ve seen from Trump thus far, there’s simply no reason to assume that he will be so inclined.

It’s mind-boggling that we’re in this situation. Should we get up a Change.org petition begging Jack Dorsey to close Trump’s Twitter account?



Don’t forget to marvel

Dec 26th, 2016 3:26 pm | By

Vera Rubin wasn’t very active on Twitter, in fact she sent only six tweets, all on February 6 this year. But they’re good ones.

That’s what she did. Result: discovery of dark matter.

Best of all the last one:



Vera Rubin

Dec 26th, 2016 3:09 pm | By

The BBC:

Astronomer Vera Rubin, whose pioneering work on galaxy rotation rates led to the theory of dark matter, has died at the age of 88, her son says.

Allan Rubin said she died on Sunday of natural causes, AP reported. She was living in Princeton, New Jersey.

Her studies earned her numerous honours, including being the second female astronomer to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

But many questioned why she was never awarded a Nobel Prize.

I bet I know. I bet you do too.

In 1974, Rubin discovered that the stars at the edges of galaxies moved faster than expected.

Gravity calculations using only visible matter in galaxies showed that the outer stars should have been moving more slowly.

To reconcile her observations with the law of gravity, scientists proposed there was matter we cannot see and called it dark matter.

Dark matter is an unidentified type of matter comprising approximately 27% of the mass and energy in the observable universe.

So basically she discovered dark matter. No biggy.

Vera Rubin’s interest in astronomy began as a young girl and grew with the involvement of her father, who helped her build a telescope and took her to meetings of amateur astronomers, according to a profile of the American Museum of Natural History.

She was the only astronomy major to graduate from the prestigious women’s college Vassar in 1948. When she sought to enrol as a graduate student at Princeton, she was told that women were not allowed in the university’s graduate astronomy programme, a policy that was not abandoned until 1975.

So she went to Cornell and then Georgetown. She won the US National Medal of Science in 1993.



How are ya

Dec 26th, 2016 11:43 am | By

I wrote this column for the Freethinker. Barry found a couple of great cartoons to illustrate. I chose the tweet at the end, because it’s so very Hitler.

Playing the part



Beyond narcissism

Dec 26th, 2016 11:05 am | By

Trump the narcissist.

I recently spoke with former FBI agent Joe Navarro about Donald Trump. Navarro was one of the FBI’s top profilers, a founding member of their elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, and author of several books on human behavior, including Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People.

To be clear, at no time did Navarro diagnose Trump as having a narcissistic or predator personality. He says we should leave formal diagnoses to professionals …

Formal diagnoses, sure, but “narcissist” is also an ordinary vernacular descriptive word. Of course Trump is a narcissist in that sense.

Navarro’s book warns that if a “person has a preponderance of the major features of a narcissistic personality,” then he “is an emotional, psychological, financial, or physical danger to you or others.”

And if he’s the president of your country you’re in deep shit.

It’s even more important for journalists to decide if Trump behaves like a narcissist—as James Fallows explains in his must-read post at The Atlantic, “How to Deal With the Lies of Donald Trump: Guidelines for the Media.” Fallows cites a reader’s note to him “on how journalism should prepare for Trump, especially in thinking about his nonstop string of lies.”

“Nobody seems to realize that normal rules do not apply when you are interviewing a narcissist,” this behavior expert explains to Fallows. “You can’t go about this in the way you were trained, because he is an expert at manipulating the very rules you learned.” He criticizes the New York Times for believing what Trump said when they interviewed him (which is the same point I’ve made).

Again – it’s obvious that he lies constantly.

 

Interestingly, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in August that Trump’s behavior “is beyond narcissism.” In mid-October, he listed “a dazzling array” of “reasons for disqualification: habitual mendacity, pathological narcissism, profound ignorance and an astonishing dearth of basic human empathy.” And so despite how much he despises Hillary Clinton, he could not bring himself to vote for Trump.

What I keep saying. It transcends politics – he’s a horrible human being.



Does Erdoğan have any skin?

Dec 26th, 2016 10:36 am | By

Turkey doesn’t allow any lèse-majesté when people mention Erdoğan. People who lèse the majesté of Erdoğan get busted.

The boss of a cafeteria at a Turkish opposition newspaper has been detained after saying he would refuse to serve tea to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Senol Buran, cafeteria head at Cumhuriyet, was remanded accused of insulting the president. He denies the refusal was an insult, his lawyer said.

Trump would do the same thing if he could, but fortunately he can’t. He can’t stop us calling him a short-fingered vulgarian, a fascist, a bully, an ignorant shallow conceited stupid loudmouth, a tiny-fisted Nazi, a Cheeto, the pussygrabber-in-chief, a sexist racist pig, a fraud, a thief, a very bad man.

Mr Buran was on his way to work on 24 December when he found roads were closed as part of security measures for a speech being given by Mr Erdogan.

Mr Buran told police officers: “I would not serve that man a cup of tea.”

A judge at the Istanbul criminal court jailed Mr Buran pending a trial.

Insulting the president can carry a four-year jail term.

Senol Buran is in jail awaiting trial for saying he wouldn’t serve Erdoğan a cup of tea. It’s revolting.