URLs du Jour

2022-02-22

  • Whoa, that's a lotta twos in today's date. And, shoulda seen that coming, people with nothing better to do are going a little crazy.

    Social media is awash with excitement as February 22, 2022 approaches, the date all numbers will line up to give the 2.22.22 date.

    The unique date is a palindrome, which means it reads the same forwards and backwards, and has been dubbed 'Twosday' by social media users as it happens to fall on a Tuesday.

    And some other social media users wonder why people are getting so excited about <voice imitation="neil_degrasse_tyson">a coincidence springing from a combination of our essentially aribitrary numbering system with our equally arbitrary calendaring conventions and spacial arrangment of the sun, earth, and moon?</voice>

    Ooh, look, my car's odometer is about to roll over!

    [Neil deGrasse Tyson voice added via inspiration/plagiarism of an Iowahawk tweet.]


  • Those darn neoliberals. Okay, we talked about the thorny history behind the term "neoliberal" just the other day. So try to ignore that word in Glenn Greenwald's headline: The Neoliberal War on Dissent in the West. The article works just as well without it.

    When it comes to distant and adversarial countries, we are taught to recognize tyranny through the use of telltale tactics of repression. Dissent from orthodoxies is censored. Protests against the state are outlawed. Dissenters are harshly punished with no due process. Long prison terms are doled out for political transgressions rather than crimes of violence. Journalists are treated as criminals and spies. Opposition to the policies of political leaders are recast as crimes against the state.

    When a government that is adverse to the West engages in such conduct, it is not just easy but obligatory to malign it as despotic. Thus can one find, on a virtually daily basis, articles in the Western press citing the government's use of those tactics in Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and whatever other countries the West has an interest in disparaging (articles about identical tactics from regimes supported by the West — from Riyadh to Cairo — are much rarer). That the use of these repressive tactics render these countries and their populations subject to autocratic regimes is considered undebatable.

    But when these weapons are wielded by Western governments, the precise opposite framework is imposed: describing them as despotic is no longer obligatory but virtually prohibited. That tyranny exists only in Western adversaries but never in the West itself is treated as a permanent axiom of international affairs, as if Western democracies are divinely shielded from the temptations of genuine repression. Indeed, to suggest that a Western democracy has descended to the same level of authoritarian repression as the West's official enemies is to assert a proposition deemed intrinsically absurd or even vaguely treasonous.

    But (GG goes on to point out) we are democracies. Which goes to show that "democracy" just ain't enough to prevent that boot stamping on a human face, for ever.


  • It's left-wing day at Pun Salad. First Glenn Greenwald, now (actual Marxist) Freddie deBoer, who notes: We Are Experiencing Definitional Collapse. As if that were new. Again, search Orwell's essay for his observation on "the word fascism". But Freddie's got some good points. Excerpt:

    What we are living through is definitional collapse. Our moment is one in which anything is possible because nothing means anything. Every last set of orienting principles in politics is being dissolved in the acid bath of culture war, before our very eyes. I am telling you: never in my lifetime have political terms meant less. You can easily imagine a world where vaccine skepticism was left-coded - indeed, in the Trump years it was! - but in this particular reality your thoughts on vaccines overrule your feelings about the means of production. That condition is the product of pure contingency, chance; there is no a priori reason the left-of-center would treat vaccination status as a definitional landmark. But right now that is what yelling people yell about, and there is no ideology anymore, no ideas, only Yooks and Zooks.

    In other words there is a vacuum of meaning, in our politics, and the really scary question is what will fill it. The right strongman, whether R or D, could ride in and get 65% of the electorate to support him as he casually dispensed with law and democracy, giving the people the firm hand they so desire. We’ve just been lucky that our recent leaders have been so corrupt, feckless, and decrepit that no one’s taken the reins. But we won’t be lucky forever. If Obama tried to seize dictatorial power he’d do so with the permission of half the country. I would bet my life on it.

    He's very pessimistic about the future. I'm more optimistic, because (1) that's my nature; and (2) I've lived through chaotic times before.

    Of course, this time could be different.


  • It really is left-wing day at Pun Salad. Because here's Matt Taibbi with the days best headline, When Boring People Turn Dangerous: Canada's Insane Power Grab.

    On Christmas Eve, 2018, New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin published, “How Banks Unwittingly Finance Mass Shootings.” Chronicling the credit card history of the man who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida Sorkin noted Omar Mateen had not merely spent $26,532 on weapons and ammo in the eight months before the 2016 attack, but had wondered if his doing so had raised red flags:

    Two days before Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he went on Google and typed “Credit card unusual spending…” His web browsing history chronicled his anxiety: “Credit card reports all three bureaus,” “FBI,” and “Why banks stop your purchases.”

    He needn’t have worried. None of the banks, credit-card network operators or payment processors alerted law enforcement officials about the purchases he thought were so suspicious.

    Sorkin’s piece ended up being an argument in favor of credit-card companies, payment processors, banks, and others working together to bring about a Minority Report-style panacea in which society’s dangerous folk could be cyber-identified and stopped before they commit horrific acts. At one point he quoted George Brauchler, the District Attorney who prosecuted the Century 16 movie shooter in Aurora Colorado, James Holmes:

    “Do I wish someone from law enforcement had been able to go to his door and knock on his door and figure out a way to talk their way into it or to freak him out?” he said of Mr. Holmes. “Yeah, absolutely.”

    I’ve never owned a gun and have been sympathetic to gun control ideas for as long as I can remember. Sorkin, however, was not talking about gun control. He was theorizing a quasi-privatized vision of social control that would bypass laws by merging surveillance capitalism and law enforcement.

    Okay, stop rolling your eyes at Taibbi's use of "surveillance capitalism". (Maybe you can come up with three or four more accurate labels.)

    Why, I'm old enough to remember the freakout when people thought that the Patriot Act would allow Dubya to snoop through your library checkout records.


  • It's Tuesday, so… it's time to take a look at today's newsletter from Kevin D. Williamson, with the provocative headline: Taft’s Revenge. That's Robert Taft. It's very good, which is not surprising. But I want to skip down for my excerpt to his musings on the word "libertarian":

    Our use of the word is complicated by the fact that there are small-l libertarians as well as a capital-L Libertarian Party. Small-l libertarians in the United States have mostly been associated with the Republican Party and, to a lesser extent, the Libertarian Party, though there is a strain of libertarian who feels more at home with the Democrats.

    The libertarian intellectual David Friedman once commented: “There may be two libertarians who agree with each other on everything, but I am not one of them.” David Friedman, who is associated with the radical “anarcho-capitalist” model of libertarianism, is the son of Milton and Rose Friedman, who are associated with the Republican-leaning kind of libertarianism. There is a lot of diversity within the libertarian family. F. A. Hayek, a hero to many libertarians, rejected the word libertarian in favor of liberal, and Ayn Rand, another hero to a certain kind of libertarian, hated the word libertarian — and the people, too, whom she regarded as morally degenerate, making common cause with “religionists, anarchists, and every intellectual misfit and scum they can find.” Rand’s denunciation reminds me of George Orwell’s similar feelings about his allies on the left: “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”

    I sometimes describe myself as a libertarian, and William F. Buckley Jr. subtitled one of his books “Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist,” though many orthodox libertarians would disclaim him (and me). The closer you look at libertarian, and other words of that kind — liberal, conservative, etc. — the less useful they will seem. Bill Buckley was a conservative, George Will is a conservative, and people keep telling me that Donald Trump is a conservative, and many people who have called themselves conservative for a long time define their politics as opposition to George Will’s most recent column, or Bill Kristol’s, or Jay Nordlinger’s. So it is fair to wonder if conservative actually means anything — which is a separate question from what it should mean. Hayek called himself a liberal, and in Europe the sort of people we call libertarians are called liberals, as they are in some English-language political writing, including in the United States. Some of our newly minted nationalist-populists have picked up liberal in that sense, and they deploy it as a term of abuse for free-trade, market-oriented conservatives. At least they are using the word more or less correctly, so they have that going for them.

    And, well, that's enough, but if you're worried about self-pigeonholing via claiming allegiance to a one-word label… well, you should be. RTWT.


  • I thought I noticed a faint halo around my head when I looked in the mirror this morning. And it turns out there was a good reason for that, upon reading WalletHub's ranking of 2022’s Most Sinful States in America.

    Some states are more well-behaved than others. In order to determine the states that most give in to their desires, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 47 key indicators of immoral or illicit behavior. Our data set ranges from violent crimes per capita to excessive drinking to the share of the population with gambling disorders.

    Quibble with their methodology if you want, but New Hampshire comes in at number 45. Very well-behaved. (Who beat us? Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont(!), Wyoming, and Idaho.)


Last Modified 2022-02-25 6:03 AM EDT

Broken

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I've been reading Don Winslow's books for a long time. I thought his previous book, The Border, was wrecked by injecting of his (tedious unhinged lefty) political views into the plot. So I started in on this most recent work with trepidation: more of the same?

Good news: there's only a little bit of that here, and it's kept within tolerable limits.

It's a collection of six novellas, each running approximately 50-60 pages. With lots of short paragraphs and incomplete sentences, a staple of Winslow's prose. Reading Winslow is as easy as eating ice cream. (Not too quickly, you'll get a headache. Not too much, you'll get a myocardial infarction.)

We have:

Broken — A very dark, very gritty tale of two cop brothers. (And mom is a cop dispatcher.) One brother is rule-breaking, ultraviolent, super-effective at taking down the operation of a local drug kingpin. Unfortunately, the kingpin retaliates against the other brother, very nastily. It's not hard to see what's coming: a (literally) explosive, bullet-filled climax.

Crime 101 — The infamous "101 Bandit" operates up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, pulling meticulously-planned heists of high-value merchandise. He is looking to pull off (oh oh) one last big job, then retire. Things don't go as planned, thanks to a cop obsessed with his capture.

The San Diego Zoo — This one is hilarious. Opening sentence: "No one knows how the chimp got the revolver." But a young cop is tasked with getting it away from him. And gets tangled up in the aftermath, as he investigates the pistol's provenance. And finds love.

Sunset — A legendary bail bondsman is coming to the bittersweet end of a lucrative career. But not before he needs to have a bail-skipper tracked down.

Paradise — California pot growers go to Hawaii on vacation, see an opportunity to open up a little new agricultural territory on Kauai. Unfortunately, that is deeply resented by the existing organization, and things quickly turn violent.

The Last Ride — This one gets a little political, as a Border Patrol agent working down in Texas gets concerned about the family separation/kids in cages thing. He's especally concerned about Luz, separated from her mom, kept apart by bureaucratic snafus. He becomes obsessed with their reunification, at a steep price.

What's surprising is Winslow's occasional resurrection of characters from his previous work. Including one that I'm pretty sure hasn't been around since 1996. (I've avoided using names above.) It's not necessary that you read Winslow's complete oeuvre before reading this, but you will miss out on those little thrills of recognition.


Last Modified 2022-02-22 9:51 AM EDT