June 12, 2020

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UN says missiles used for devastating strikes on Saudi Arabia were of Iranian origin (New Arab, 12 June, 2020)

Cruise missiles and drones used in attacks last year on Saudi Arabia were "of Iranian origin," including components that had been made in Iran or exported there, according to a report by the UN Secretary-General.

It's our job, but our Shi'a allies have it covered.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


DOJ, Flynn attorney face skeptical panel of judges in bid to throw out case (Alexander Mallin, June 12, 2020, ABC News)

The Justice Department and the legal team for former national security adviser Michael Flynn faced tough questions from a skeptical panel of federal appeals court judges this morning in their bid to overrule a district judge who has not yet accepted the department's request to throw out the case. [...]

At least two of the judges on the panel, judge Karen Henderson and judge Robert Wilkins, expressed clear reservations in their questioning of Powell and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who was arguing on behalf of the government.

"There's nothing wrong with [Sullivan] holding a hearing as far as I know," Henderson said. "I don't know of any authority that says he can't hold a hearing before he takes action."

It's always hard to tell how much Trumpbot ignorance is willful and how much a function of their fact-starved bubble, but their belief that scheduling this hearing was some kind of victory for the cause of collusion was especially demented. 

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中間王國 (Jonah Goldberg, 6/11/20, The Remnant)

AEI scholar and China expert Oriana Skylar Mastro joins The Remnant to help us all understand the "Middle Kingdom" and its moves on the world stage. At a time like this, where the U.S. is retreating from its global responsibilities, how is China going to try to spin this into a positive outcome for themselves? Oriana has some ideas.

This is an especially good episode that will actually change some of the ways you think about the PRC, for better and worse.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Suburban Commute Is a Soul-Crushing, Environment-Destroying Invention: The last few months have shown us that we can do away with it forever. (Elie Mystal, JUNE 2, 2020, The Nation)

Despite technological advances that would look like magic to Alexander Graham Bell, we've remained tied to an Industrial Revolution idea of workers showing up to the giant widget place so an overseer can motivate them to produce profits. Many nonservice industries have had the technology to exist without a centralized office for 30 years, and over the past 20, the Internet could have made a central office nearly obsolete. But until 10 weeks ago, most people were trudging in to work every day.

That's maddening because, while the technology is there to allow many people to work from home, the infrastructure is not there to support the overwhelming and ever-increasing number of commuters. Our infrastructure hasn't kept up with our suburban expansion (or any expansion, really). Our bridges and tunnels are crumbling. Our trains and buses are so inefficient that Europeans wonder why we don't set them aflame in riots. Our roads and highways are poisonous parking lots warming the planet one traffic jam at a time.

The negative environmental impact of commuting is undeniable. Studies show that the average drive to work adds 4.3 metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere a year--per car. If everyone in the US drove just 10 percent less, it would have the equivalent environmental effect of taking 28 coal-fueled power plants off-line for a year. And let's not forget: Commuting is unhealthy. People with longer commutes tend to be less physically active and have higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure. Every commuter has been told to take the stairs as a way to build in some daily exercise, but "don't spend three hours a day sitting on a train" is also solid physical fitness advice.

And that's where we were before Covid-19 made us more aware that our public transportation systems are petri dishes for communicable diseases. One of the most mind-blowing moments in the whole pandemic was when New York City announced, triumphantly, that it would start bleaching its subway cars every night. I did not know until that moment that I had spent most of my life riding around in yesterday's filth, not just today's. I'm going to need a hazmat suit before I get on the subway again.

I simply cannot fathom a world in which the pandemic is declared over and everybody starts commuting to work again. I do not think that we can go back to expecting people to fork over hours and hours a day sitting in traffic or trapped on a disease tube simply because they have a meeting. Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts might not be the ideal way to conduct face-to-face business, but the lockdown has shown that any number of daily, mind-numbing check-in meetings can be handled remotely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Out of Apathy: The Transcendence of Morality in The Mandalorian (K. B. Hoyle, 12/10/19, Christ and Pop Culture)

But the idea of non-essentiality is a lie, as no one is ever nonessential. If we view ourselves this way, it can be easy to believe that our actions don't impact anything or anyone outside our immediate sphere. Right and wrong become a matter of daily survival--choices that would have great impact if we were anyone of "importance" feel truly subjective. There is a futility to life on the edges and the graying of morality that accompanies it. Those of us regular folk feel this futility in our supposed inability to impact major, national, or world events. It feels futile to watch things like a Kurdish genocide play out on TV--or even a national election. When we believe the lie that we don't matter, then we may be tempted into morally gray areas, too. We may seek only our good, preserve and protect only our own, act in ways, pray in ways, think in ways apathetic to the world around us. What will, or can, snap us out of this apathy?

For the Mandalorian, it comes in the form of a baby.

The Mandalorian follows a traditional formula. Once upon a time there was a Mandalorian bounty hunter. Every day he collected bounties and turned them in for profit. One day, his bounty was a child, and when he saw the child, everything changed...

When Baby Yoda drops into his lap as a bounty, we get the idea that this child is more traditionally "essential," but we are not told why any more than the Mandalorian is. In this regard, what becomes the most important thing about our title character's life is very unlike any of the other Star Wars stories in that we don't know what it is that makes the catalyst or the story that surrounds it special. Our non-traditional, non-essential antihero must decide to move from moral apathy to moral integrity without any special knowledge of the child-catalyst to propel him to do so, and this is so important for the sort of story they are telling. In episode three, at the formulaic turn, we see a heart change, a conviction. The Mandalorian has his conscience pricked by some innate sense that it is not right to give over a child to death, and it is because of this that he moves out of moral apathy into sacrificial action, betraying himself for the sake of another for (we're given to believe) the first time ever.

By his actions, he acknowledges that right and wrong are not subjective to his personal needs and his Mandalorian religion, but that they transcend both. He places another life ahead of his own for no real reason we know of other than a sense of moral compulsion.

And taking this step out of moral apathy has a compounding effect. Protecting one life in episode three leads to the protection of a community in episode four. We see how, as C. S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, "Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance." An active decision to acknowledge the transcendence of right and wrong moves the Mandalorian into community, into relationship with others. His obedience to a new moral standard will be tested again and again, as we see not only in episode four, but also in episode five where--when he steps back into the moral gray to earn some money--he suffers betrayal, enmity, isolation, and nearly loses the child he has chosen to protect.

The culture wars are a rout.
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How talking more about our history can defuse a culture war (Sunder Katwala, 6/12/20, Cap X)

History matters. Britain is an old country, even if Tony Blair once sought to implausibly suggest the opposite. So, a fortnight after the brutal killing of George Floyd saw Black Lives Matter protests spread across the Atlantic, the British now seem to be talking mainly about statues.

This shows the extent to which people in the UK care deeply about the past. How we think about history can shape our sense of who are today. The multi-ethnic society that Britain has become is a direct product of our long history of Empire and decolonisation, and the post-war Commonwealth immigration which followed from it. But are we able to talk about what to do when there are different views of historic symbols - like statues - without descending into a dangerously polarised culture war?

People on both sides of our most polarised debates will often agree that they don't want a culture war, before setting out all of the things the other side needs to change. We can agree that the angry shouting-matches seen in the US are not something we particularly want to replicate. It should be possible to make the case for both racial equality and for Britain's history and identity - and would be a deep shame if one had to choose only one.

A good rule in politics is not to become the caricature that your opponents describe. The cultural left risks falling into the trap of adopting the type of "year zero" thinking that sees the right worry about a slippery slope. Yet the cultural right would be out of touch too with mainstream conservative opinion should it seem to make the defence of every statue of a slaver a litmus test for national pride. Thinking through the issues more rigorously could help those with different instincts to talk about where we might find common ground.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


'It is patriotism': Seattle's mayor rebukes Trump for saying 'autonomous zone' protesters are terrorists (Bill Bostock, 6/12/20, Business Insider)

"It's clear @realDonaldTrump doesn't understand what's happening on five square blocks of our City," Durkan said in a series of tweets published late Thursday.

"Lawfully gathering and expressing first amendment rights, demanding we do better as a society and provide true equity for communities of color is not terrorism -- it is patriotism."

"CHAZ is not a lawless wasteland of anarchist insurrection -- it is a peaceful expression of our community's collective grief and their desire to build a better world," she added.

Durkan continued her attack on the president, tweeting "one of the things the President will never understand, is that listening to community is not a weakness, it is a strength."

"Seattle is passionate, we demand justice, and I believe we will be at the forefront of true, meaningful change. Nothing will distract our city from the work that needs to be done."

"Black Lives Matter" has become a global rallying cry against racism and police brutality: The police killing of George Floyd has sparked a worldwide reckoning. (Jen Kirby, Jun 12, 2020, vox)

It wasn't just Brussels. Protests have erupted on nearly every continent, many defying coronavirus restrictions. People took to the streets in London, in Seoul, in Sydney, in Monrovia, in Rio de Janeiro. A mural honoring Floyd was painted amid the rubble in opposition-held Idlib, Syria.

The video of Floyd's assault, shared widely on social media, made "people think about how it was relevant where we were," Stephanie Collingwoode-Williams, a spokesperson for Belgian Network for Black Lives, a collective formed this week to bring activist organizations together in Belgium.

When Americans went out on the streets to protest, and kept going out day after day after day, it sparked a movement around the world.

And, as in the United States, there are glimmers that, this time, it might be different.

Statues of figures from countries' colonial pasts are falling. Governments are reexamining policies when it comes to policing. Protesters worldwide are saying the name of George Floyd, but also Collins Khosa and Adama Traoré and Belly Mujinga, black men and women in other countries who died in police custody or whose deaths have not been fully investigated.

What comes next is uncertain -- whether protests will continue, whether there will be real change. At this moment, though, "Black Lives Matter" is a global rallying cry and a gut-punch reminder that this message still needs to be repeated everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM

AUDIENCE WITH THE GUY (profanity alert)

Humor and Humility in the Music of Father John Misty (Alisa Ruddell, 6/11/20, Christ and Pop Culture)

Tillman's humiliating confessions are just as much his musical trademark as his humor. While his earliest confessional songs on Fear Fun contain more romp and revelry than regret, his later, more mature songs are an invitation to empathy and grace. The good exists as a shadow cast by his misadventures, failures, and parable-parodies. He seldom sings directly at the good, but manages nevertheless to conjure an image of it, however obliquely. Whatever the good is, it's not what I just did last night. Whatever love is, I'm terrible at it. Whatever wisdom is, it's something better than my intellectual sarcasm. And as soon as he's caught in the act of caring deeply in an interview, he'll interrupt himself with an ironic comment or smirk, putting that tenderness in brackets to keep the sacred at bay. He has a love of truth, goodness, and beauty, but he's somewhat shy about it, and his constant humor protects him from the accusation of sentimentality. 

Tillman reveals the worst of his character in his musical stories, while the best of him--his voice and melodies, his insight, humor, and writing--frames his failures with beauty. In "Leaving LA", a 13 minute folk hymn in which he walks through his fears and failures, he is accompanied by strings so tender, it's like hearing the voice of God's forgiveness in real time, responding to each confessional offering. Framing ugliness with beauty is more authentic for Tillman than framing beauty with an ugly, failed effort (e.g. fluffy pop music created by committee to be lucrative and radio-ready, but it's about God, and meant to be taken seriously). In his mind it's better to be genuinely sordid (but honest) before the sacred, than to produce kitsch in its honor without realizing it. In the words of philosopher Roger Scruton,

Real beauty can be found even in what is seedy, painful, and decayed. Our ability to tell the truth about our own condition, in measured words and touching melodies, offers a kind of redemption from it.... If we can grasp the emptiness of modern life, this is because art points to another way of being.... It describes what is seedy and sordid in words so resonant of the opposite, so replete with the capacity to feel, to sympathize and to understand, that life in its lowest forms is vindicated by our response to it.

Tillman sees the inescapable ambivalence of the human experience: it's pure comedy and horrific tragedy at the same time, an insight drilled into him at the age of six in JC Penney's. And he isn't out to solve this mystery; in his view, music is "not a delivery system for answers, or to make complex issues less complex." He doesn't resolve the questions his songs raise; he lets them sit and (depending on your perspective) fester or bloom. The goal, though, is that you let the question grow into something meaningful and transformative. To encounter his more serious songs is to allow them to trouble you. His Job-like rebuke of the Almighty in "When the God of Love Returns, There'll Be Hell to Pay", is one of his most beautiful and troubling explorations. "Being someone who cannot get Christianity out of my system--I no longer even really want to--it's an intimate thing to question God," Tillman says. "If this is truly my maker, and I have an audience with this guy in the way that Christianity claims I do, am I limited to a certain conversation? Are there talking points I have to run through or can I have an intimate conversation with my God?"

And this is why--no matter his graphic language, depression-stoked benders, and religious satire--he still orbits Christianity with a gravity he can't escape. His critiques and questions show how deeply he values truth and genuine human connection. When he mocks religion, and Christianity in particular, it's largely because he assumes all people actually worship themselves, and pious religiosity can blind a person to the gods they really serve. He's not criticizing the church for worshiping God; he's criticizing them for worshiping themselves without knowing it. It's the oblivious phoniness of idolatry that he can't stand, not the idea of God per se. Tillman has many cutting remarks about the church, and many piercing questions for God, but he hopes Christians would be relieved, grateful even, that at least someone is talking about these issues.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Who Was the American in 1775? (Bradley J. Birzer, September 20th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

In his famous Letters from an American Farmer, Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur wrote about "this new man. . . . That strange mixture of blood which you will find in no other country. . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. . . . [he] leaves behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds."

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Sonny Rollins on the Pandemic, Protests, and Music: The legendary saxophonist, approaching ninety, discusses civil rights, jazz, and creative change. (Daniel King, June 11, 2020, The New Yorker)

The future of jazz is concerning in this pandemic. It's a music of collaboration and improvisation on bandstands and backstage, not isolated at home. The Jazz Foundation of America is doing heroic work with fund-raisers, but how can the music move forward?

Jazz has got to retain its integrity, its spirituality. It's got to mean something. That's No. 1. There are a lot of great players thinking that way in the music. It's all good. I don't think we should lament the fact that, Oh, we can't play in the club anymore. That's passing. We'll be able to, as musicians, play serious jazz. I think that will prevail. I can't prophesize, but I have a strong intuitive feeling that it will be stronger than ever and have another shot at trying to turn this world around.