June 19, 2021
ANTI-AMERICANS OF A FEATHER:
Always bet on the Deep State.The loop is now completeIn the youth of our Dissolution, we worried about foreign disinformation.We worried about Russian fake news, bots, and troll factories. We were troubled by the prospect that malicious foreign actors would spread conspiracy theories and division.How silly. As it turned out we have met the enemy and he is us. And he is legion.Our current sludge of disinformation, bilge, and crackpottery is thoroughly domestic, amplified by a million voices on social media, national networks, and until recently, the White House itself.And now it has come full circle, as Russian President Vladimir Putin, feeds back our homegrown disinformation. Dana Milbank notes the symmetry: "For the past few years, Republicans in Congress have echoed Russian propaganda. On Wednesday, in Geneva, Vladimir Putin returned the favor: He echoed Republican propaganda."With unconcealed relish, the Russians have adopted the talking points of right-wing media about January 6.The first sign of trouble came a week ago, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sounded a bit like a far-right Republican when talking about the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Lavrov told reporters last Monday that the Kremlin is "following with interest" the "persecution" of those "accused of the riots on Jan. 6."Putin has amplified the point, insisting that the January 6 insurrectionists are not looters or thieves." Many of the suspects, Putin said, have been hit with "very harsh charges.... Why is that?"
Democracy and democratic values do not lose their importance because of human failing. Human failing reminds us of the need for democracy and democratic values.While Juneteenth signifies the long-awaited victory of freedom and democracy over injustice in the mid-1800s, it is easy to miss how this story informs the need for democracy today. Reflecting on Juneteenth's significance amidst our current political context is admittedly challenging as we struggle with stories of police violence, inequality, and debates over voting rights, a foundation of democracy--withmany of our problems disproportionately victimizing people of color.This first official Juneteenth holiday, 156 years after the Union took Galveston, is the ideal opportunity to remember--actively, with the present and future in mind as much as the past--the contributions made to American democracy by those to whom it failed to keep its promises.American history is complex and quite often paradoxical. It is characterized both by brilliant articulation of democratic principles and blatant violations of these very principles over centuries. Both realities are true. We can neither dismiss the foundations of our nation because of a history of injustice, nor minimize the reality of injustice to honor the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded. This is the paradox of American history and the very reason why democracy--the structure, the culture, the act of self-government--is needed to reconcile our history and our principles.This paradox has been obvious to generations of American activists. In his 1852 speech, Frederick Douglass, an outspoken abolitionist who was enslaved in his early life, both extolled the Constitution as a "glorious liberty document" encompassing our nation's democratic principles and painted an accurate picture of the brutality of slavery, which stood in such stark contrast to these principles.Similarly, in his 1967 speech at the Hungry Club in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King illuminated the gap between our founding principles and the reality of life in the 1960s. In highlighting the work of courageous democracy activists who used sit-ins, Freedom Rides, boycotts, and civil disobedience to protest racial injustice, he observed thatwhen they decided to sit down at those counters, they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and carrying the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.To Douglass and King, the significant shortcomings of American democracy did not negate the importance of democracy itself. Instead, they demanded more of it.Douglass, King, along with Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis, and others, have pointed to our founding documents' commitment to liberty, freedom and equality, as they also pushed our nation to fully live up to these principles. They used democratic institutions and values to close this gap between our aspirational founding principles and daily realities.
Despite the moral panic from conservative politicians that it was designed with "kids" in mind, critical race theory has largely been limited to law schools and advanced graduate programs. (As many joked on social media, if your "kids" are really being taught critical race theory, you should be proud they're in law school.)Moreover, far from stressing that race is "the most important thing," critical race theory challenges the idea that race is a thing at all. It starts with the premise that there is no biological or scientific justification for racial categories and that race was a socially constructed invention -- a fiction, but one that has nevertheless been written into our laws and legislation.Those who work on critical race theory are baffled by the seemingly deliberate mischaracterizations of their work. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the noted law professor at UCLA and Columbia and a pioneering scholar in the field, dismissed Trump's and DeSantis' specific claims as "false and slanderous." As she explained in a recent interview, "Critical race theory just says let's pay attention to what has happened in this country and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes, so we can become that country that we say we are." [...]Talking honestly about inequality, it turns out, was a special point of emphasis for Martin Luther King Jr. He devoted a considerable amount of his activism and authorship doing it. But the limited knowledge that Trump, DeSantis and Toth all have of King's work apparently begins and ends with that one line about "character."To appreciate this reality, and to see how wrong those are who see MLK and critical race theory as diametrically opposed, look no further than two iconic moments the Texas law encourages teachers to use: "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' and 'I Have a Dream' speech."In his landmark address at the March on Washington in August 1963, King did note his hope that "one day" his children would be judged by their character and not the color of their skin, but that was only one line in a more nuanced address.While King looked ahead to that day, his vision remained firmly fixed on the realities of racism and discrimination in his own time.More important, while King looked ahead to that day, his vision remained firmly fixed on the realities of racism and discrimination in his own time; he devoted the bulk of his address to identifying and articulating them. King chronicled the ways African Americans faced systemic patterns of discrimination and inequality, from "the unspeakable horrors of police brutality" to the discriminatory public and private policies that put African Americans on "a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.""We've come here today," King patiently explained again, "to dramatize a shameful condition."In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which he wrote four months before the March on Washington, King had already sounded out these same things, in greater length.The letter, which was King's response to chiding from moderate white ministers, patiently explained that the first "basic step" in his activism was the "collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist."Asserting that "privileged groups" fail to see how others often lack the same privileges and therefore dismiss their complaints, King rattled off for them -- and us -- a litany of the systemic and structural inequalities that faced African Americans, including police brutality, voting discrimination and an unequal economy that locked "the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society."Notably, King spent a great deal of the letter outlining how "the unjust law" -- which he defined as "a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself" -- worked to prop up those racial and economic inequalities. The racist intent or racial impact of such legislation might not be overt, King noted. "Sometimes a law is just on its face," he wrote, "and unjust in its application."Civil rights activists like King adopted the word "demonstrations" to characterize their protests, because they sought to demonstrate the realities of segregation and discrimination in undeniable terms. In the letter, King explained that he sought to expose the hypocrisies in Jim Crow laws and demonstrate the inequalities they obscured."We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive," he wrote. "We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."King's summons to identify and illuminate the racial, economic and political inequalities in American life runs counter to the conservative culture war against critical race theory and related publications like The 1619 Project.
IT FAILS ON ITS OWN TERMS:
It is certainly true that contemporary physics has shortcomings, quite possibly because the laws that we currently use in physics all work the same way. First, they require us to fully specify the configuration of a system at one moment in time, known as the initial condition. Then, we have an equation--often called the dynamical law or evolution equation--which acts on the initial condition. Finally, by applying the evolution equation to the initial state, we can calculate the configuration of the system at any moment of time. For example, if you specify the position and initial velocity of an arrow, you can use Newton's laws to calculate where it will land.It's turning reductionism on its head.All fundamental theories in physics currently use this division of initial condition and evolution equation. And these theories have gotten us far, but, as Marletto points out, they have limits. The most important one may be that no such theory can ever explain its own initial condition: We have to provide the initial condition as input to make predictions, otherwise we can't calculate anything.
June 18, 2021
WHO NEEDS 'EM; THEY AREN'T EVEN METH ADDICTS (profanity alert):
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Republican National Committee opted not to order an autopsy into what exactly led to the party's decline in suburban communities that were, until recently, considered deep red.But if RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel wanted to understand what happened, she could do worse than to look back at the place she was raised: Oakland County, Michigan."Oakland County was kind of the quintessential suburban Republican stronghold over the postwar period," says Jeff Timmer, a longtime GOP strategist who was executive director of the state party from 2005-2009. It was (and is) a huge source of campaign donations for the party and its candidates. It had massive influence in Lansing, and an influential bipartisan delegation in Washington. It was a must-visit locale for every aspiring Republican presidential candidate."When I ran the Michigan Republican Party, we always pointed to Oakland: 'These guys have got their [****] together,'" says Timmer.To put it bluntly, the [****] is no longer together.Ten years ago, Republicans held two of the four GOP-drawn U.S. House seats in Oakland (the other two were safe Democratic); now, all four are in Democratic hands. Democratic women now represent the Romney family's hometown in the state House, state Senate and U.S. House (Rep. Haley Stevens). Ten years ago, Brooks Patterson, the silver-tongued sun-God around whom all local politics orbited, was county executive, and Republicans held four of the six countywide elected posts; Democrats now hold five of them, including the executive. After GOP-controlled redistricting in 2012, Republicans had a 14-7 majority on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; now, Democrats have an 11-10 edge and will control the county-level redistricting process for the first time in a half-century.The change is happening in lush, sylvan communities like Birmingham and Bloomfield--a place at least three generations of Romneys, McDaniel included, have called home. Here, generations of families with auto-baron surnames set roots. Here, they enrolled their kids at affluent public schools or even-more-affluent private schools with idyllic names like Country Day and Cranbrook. Here, they donated to and elected Republicans. At least, that is, until recently."That's how I describe it to literally anyone from out of state," laughs Mari Manoogian, a Democratic state Representative whose district encompasses much of the community. "They're like, 'Wait, you're the state representative for Mitt Romney's hometown?' And I'm like, 'Yeah!'"This was "'Romney Republican' territory, but the Republican Party has gone so far away from that," says Mallory McMorrow, the Democrat who represents the area in the state Senate. "Even looking at the types of things Mitt Romney is proposing on the federal level right now, I think if he were still at home, he'd be a Democrat. The party has shifted so much."
The electric vehicle maker Canoo announced Thursday that it would take a mega-factory and thousands of high-paying jobs to the Tulsa region, citing Oklahoma's "energy-forward initiatives."North Texas was "definitely in the race" in the multistate competition for the new assembly plant, but Texas energy infrastructure issues and other factors led the company to choose Oklahoma, chairman and CEO Tony Aquila told The Dallas Morning News. [...]The announcement was made at Canoo's first-ever investor day at Texas Motor Speedway, and it came with residents of the state on high alert for potential power blackouts. On Monday, ERCOT warned residents to conserve energy or risk rolling blackouts like the ones the state saw during February's winter storm.
"LAW & ORDER" (profanity alert):
Trump had staked nearly his entire campaign in 2016 around a law-and-order image, and now groaned that the criminal justice reform that Kushner had persuaded him to support made him look weak and--even worse--hadn't earned him any goodwill among Black voters."I've done all this stuff for the Blacks--it's always Jared telling me to do this," Trump said to one confidante on Father's Day. "And they all f------ hate me, and none of them are going to vote for me."The weekend after Father's Day, Trump canceled a trip to Bedminster at the last minute--after Kushner had already left for the New Jersey golf club--and instead scheduled a round of political meetings at the White House without him.A month after the murder of Floyd, Trump was dumping on his son-in-law, and he was also abandoning the chance to improve his relationship with Black leaders and Black voters during a particularly tumultuous moment in U.S. race relations and the presidential campaign. The story of this month, from the murder of Floyd to Trump's assertion that his outreach to Black voters wasn't working, is one of missed opportunities and bungled messaging, even in the eyes of some of Trump's closest advisers, who described their firsthand accounts with me during the past year. Many of the sources spoke to me on the condition of deep background, an agreement that meant I could share their stories without direct attribution.Trump had long struggled with addressing the nation's racial issues, and his senior staff hadn't included a single Black staffer since he'd fired Omarosa Manigault Newman--a former contestant on his reality television show--at the end of 2017. In August 2018, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had been asked on NBC's Meet the Press to name the top Black official in the Trump White House and could only come up with his first name: Ja'Ron.But Ja'Ron Smith was two pay grades below the top ranks. After Conway's interview, Smith asked for a promotion to formalize his role as the West Wing's senior-most Black official and close the $50,000 salary gap. Kushner agreed but then put him off for the next two years.Still, Smith remained in the White House, where he continued to work on Kushner's criminal justice issues and played a crucial role in outreach to Black community leaders. In June 2020, Smith was writing a proposal for Trump to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. But the outcry over Trump's rally on the day that commemorated the end of slavery convinced Smith to shelve the plan.Trump hadn't thought to ask his seniormost Black official about holding a rally on Juneteenth.Trump's first test at addressing the country's racial tensions came in the summer of 2017. On a Saturday in August, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed, and 19 others injured, when a 22-old neo-Nazi drove his souped-up 2010 Dodge Challenger at about 30 miles per hour into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer, who was white, and the others were protesting a white supremacist rally organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Virginian who commanded the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. Trump had been golfing at his Bedminster club that morning. It had been about two hours since Heyer's death, and Trump said he wanted to "put out a comment as to what's going on in Charlottesville.""We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides--on many sides," Trump said.The White House tried in vain to focus cable networks and newspaper reporters on the first words of his statement instead of the final phrase--"on many sides"--that he'd ad-libbed and then repeated. But the obvious question they couldn't answer was how the president could put any blame on the peaceful counter-protesters. His remarks seemed to justify the white supremacist violence, and Trump's silence over the next 24 hours unnerved even those around him.Back at Trump Tower in New York two days later, Trump had a news conference scheduled to discuss the nation's infrastructure. Responding to questions about Charlottesville, he again blamed the counterprotesters."You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides," Trump said.The next day, Stephen Schwarzman, a longtime friend of Trump's and chief executive of Blackstone Group, called the president and told him he had disbanded the White House Strategic and Policy Forum, a coalition of businesses chaired by Schwarzman that Trump had convened in February 2017 to advise him on economic issues. There weren't enough executives left who would stand by Trump after his repeated failures to adequately address Charlottesville, Schwarzman said. Trump hung up and beat his friend to the punch by quickly tweeting that he was shutting down the panel.Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser--and a registered Democrat--was even more despondent. Raised Jewish on the East Side of Cleveland and a longtime New York resident, he stood next to Trump for the infrastructure news conference and grew increasingly alarmed and uncomfortable. Later, in a private meeting inside the Oval Office, Cohn unloaded on the president.Cohn told Trump that his lack of clarity had been harmful to the country and that he'd put an incredible amount of pressure on people working in the White House. He told Trump that he might have to quit. No one backed Cohn up. Others in the room, including Pence, remained quiet.Cohn returned to his office after the meeting broke up. Following a few minutes behind, Pence climbed the flight of stairs and appeared at the threshold of Cohn's door."I'm proud of you," Pence told him, safely out of earshot of the president.
WHATSSA MATTER? YOU:
Perhaps even harder than this question of what kind of stuff could become conscious, and therefore what kind of stuff the universe is made of, is the historical question: in the unfolding story of the universe, even if conscious organisms were possible all along, why is it that they actually did arise? Even if consciousness could give an organism an edge over the competition -- a hypothesis that is far from proven -- this would only explain why consciousness stuck around once it arose, and not why it came into being in the first place. It would offer no truly satisfactory explanation for why natural selection should cause material processes to become organisms sufficiently self-aware to know which behavior is to their advantage. After all, it would be of great advantage for a beast, faced with a predator, to be able to dematerialize and rematerialize at some considerable distance, but this advantage would not be sufficient to explain the emergence of this property.The nature of cognition -- thinking, reasoning, and so forth -- presents an even greater challenge than subjective experience. Notwithstanding the claims of those who ascribe knowledge and thinking to unconscious objects such as computers, Nagel argues that these features are available only to conscious beings. Found most fully in human beings but present in less developed forms in other species, these higher functions of the mind "have enabled us to transcend the perspective of the immediate life-world given to us by our senses and instincts, and to explore the larger objective reality of nature and value." This makes obvious sense: without a ground-floor subjective viewpoint, there cannot be progression to higher-level viewpoints such as that which underpins the objective knowledge of science.If the nature and existence of basic subjective consciousness cannot be fully explained through evolutionary theory, then neither can the higher cognitive functions, regardless of any putative survival advantage they may ultimately confer. There is, moreover, a problem in trying to envisage a process of natural selection generating creatures like ourselves that have the capacity, as Nagel puts it, "to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances." It is strange that such a capacity should have been produced by natural selection, given that the advantages it has brought have been fully realized only in theoretical pursuits which are relatively new. Just how strange this is becomes evident if we accept -- as many evolutionary psychologists do -- the "truths" in question do not correspond to anything constitutive of the natural world. If reason, knowledge, and thought are merely devices to improve our chances of survival, then it is appropriate to adopt an anti-realistic view of what they tell us about the world. Scientists, like the rest of us, would have to define "truth" as whatever set of beliefs happen to be of adaptive value -- regardless of whether they are, well, true. This makes it difficult to understand how they could gradually build up to the great theoretical edifices of natural science that have huge scope and immense explanatory, predictive, and practical power.Consider, for example, the words of British political philosopher and celebrity misanthrope John Gray. In his diatribe against humanism, Straw Dogs (2003), Gray argued that the belief that "through science humankind can know the truth" is a mere article of faith -- and one that is ill-founded, as Darwin has taught us that "the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals." Unlike Gray, Nagel is able to see the self-contradiction in this claim: The theory put forward by the bearded, upright primate Charles Darwin would have demonstrated itself to be groundless -- a consequence that could be considered ironic were it not logically impossible.This part of Nagel's case is closely connected with his discussion of the final defining feature of consciousness that cannot be accommodated by scientific naturalism: value -- our sense of what is good and what is bad, and our judgment of right and wrong. He critiques a different type of subjectivism, the one which holds that moral and value judgments of all kinds can be traced to natural, adaptive responses of attraction and aversion to pleasurable and painful experiences. Against this view, Nagel upholds a kind of moral realism which views our value judgments as attempts, however error-prone, to apprehend real truths about the world, just as mathematics attempts to discern real logical truths and science aims to uncover real empirical truths. Even if one does not accept the notion that value judgments have "truth," there remains the awkward fact that they are explicit, argued over, and associated with the idea of unassailable validity -- not characteristics one associates with the material world as described by the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.For all these reasons, Nagel rejects not only theories of consciousness that reduce it to the brain, but ones that reduce it to the sum of purely accidental physical processes played out across a grand time scale. This claim leads him into dangerous territory; he questions whether we have any theoretical framework from which we can understand how life arose out of chemical elements by purely physical processes, and (even more dangerous) whether the emergence of complex, not to mention conscious, organisms can be accounted for by natural selection.This willingness to court danger, and execration by the materialist mainstream, is made more admirable by the fact that Nagel has no hidden agenda: Although he seems to be flirting with Intelligent Design and (God help us) theism, he is careful to note both his own atheism and the failings of design theory.Instead, Nagel toys with a non-theistic, non-intentional, yet teleological hypothesis for the existence of life, mind, and value. A truly complete theory of mind, he suggests, would have to account for how the proto-mental character of the basic stuff of the universe played a role in the generation of the full-scale minds we see today -- how, in a sense, mind created its own higher manifestations. Similarly, the existence of value ought to be explored not just as an accidental side effect of life, but as the thing that life was brought about in order to realize or apprehend: "there is life because life is a necessary condition of value."This hypothesis, of course, is at odds with the Darwinian picture and the naturalism it seems to license. Indeed, this notion that life, consciousness, and value are determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but by a cosmic disposition to form them, is a radical break with the predominant mindset of the entire scientific establishment. According to this orthodoxy, consciousness is a definite parvenu, and value a precarious new kid on the block. It will take some overturning -- and so it should. After all, the Darwinian view seems to be supported by some fundamental truths: that matter must have preceded living matter, that living matter seemingly must have preceded conscious living matter, and that likewise conscious living matter preceded morally fastidious conscious living matter. And the assumptions with which this view begins have of course contributed to many of the great scientific advances of the last few centuries.Nagel is aware that in the present intellectual climate any discussion of a teleological hypothesis is unlikely to be taken seriously, notwithstanding the fact that we are far from having any idea of the kind of processes that could possibly have given rise to life out of nonliving matter, conscious life out of living matter, or conscientious life out of conscious life. Even so, the fact that even a respected naturalistic luminary like Francis Crick asserted that life seems miraculous -- so much so that he was willing to entertain the theory (also taken seriously by many other famous scientists) that life on earth was seeded by showers of unicellular organisms deliberately sent by an advanced civilization from elsewhere -- does not help Nagel's case as much as he seems to think. Even Homer nods.The standard belief that we are unimportant events generated by an entirely absentminded universe commands wide, if insincere, acceptance. Stephen Hawking's declaration that "the human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies" is more often quoted than challenged. Just the same, Nagel concludes with a confident prediction "that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two."
NIHILISM IS THE RUSSIAN BRAND:
The fan zone near the capital's Luzhniki Stadium previously admitted 5,000 pre-registered fansMoscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin said Friday the tripling of the number of COVID-19 cases in recent days has prompted the need to close the Euro 2020 fan zone and take other preventive measures to stop the virus from spreading."I don't want to do but I have to do it," Sobyanin wrote on his blog.Sobyanin blamed new variants for the sudden spread while the Kremlin cited nihilism and low vaccination rates.
SO MUCH WINNING!:
Most GOP lawmakers privately admit (and some will even say publicly) they don't want to deal with health care again. The issue generally isn't a good one for them with voters -- as they learned the hard way after they failed to repeal the ACA in 2017.Now they're happy instead to make Democrats own problems with the health care system and brand their ideas to improve it as "radical."The big picture: Years on from their 2017 failure, Republicans haven't gotten any closer to rallying around any alternative health care proposal.Along the way, they've also lost both chambers of Congress -- and the White House.
June 17, 2021
GAME. SET. MATCH.:
Alas, we'll never know if Lincoln would have supported Juneteenth. A supporter of the treasonous bastards who committed themselves to making sure that what Juneteenth represents would NEVER become "reality" MURDERED Lincoln two months before. A shame indeed. https://t.co/I00vGd0JYW— Robert A George (@RobGeorge) June 17, 2021
FACES ARE PUBLIC:
Police typically have image search engines at their disposal that pull drivers' license pictures or other photos among police records.Clearview AI, in contrast, has gathered billions of images from social media sites and other websites, which internet firms say were obtained by breaking their rules.Clearview AI's Ton-That says that the company only pulls publicly available information.In one case, federal agents were able to identify a man suspected of sexual abuse of a girl using a single image from the "dark web," an area of the internet only accessible by special software and matching it through Clearview AI."He was in the background of someone else's photo at the gym, in the mirror," said Ton-That. "They were able to identify where the gym was, identify the person, he ended up doing 35 years in jail and they saved a seven-year-old."The software was also instrumental in helping federal as well as state and local law enforcement identify suspects that stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, according to Ton-That.In one way, Clearview AI, which has created its database from people's social media accounts and other public parts of the internet, was well suited to help with this massive investigation of people whose mugshots wouldn't necessarily be in police databases, he said.Police were able to use Clearview AI, which runs about a second per search, he said, and find matching photos online of some suspects."So they were able to quickly identify them, and reduce a lot of false-positives, and also speed up the investigative process," he said.
HARD TO LOOK SMALLER THAN WHEN YOU'RE DEPENDENT ON DONALD:
Vladimir Putin has never looked smaller.When the big moment in Geneva finally came, the Russian leader faced the cameras after his shorter-than-expected private meetings with President Joe Biden, and the often-shirtless Russian bear looked and sounded, well, weak. The legendary master of hours-long press appearances before packed houses of fawning Moscow apparatchiks instead played to a half-empty room of COVID-distanced reporters in Switzerland. He spoke with the soft tones and empty tropes of a fading autocrat defiant at the walls of reality closing in around him. His schtick was boring, his message tired, and his talking points worn out.Geneva wasn't the disinformation victory Biden's opponents feared it would be. It was a rerun of a million Putin appearances we've seen before. The only man Putin made look feeble was himself. His speech was rambling, off-topic, and filled with confusing and nonsensical misdirections and blatant lies. He looked thoroughly disconnected from his own myth. The cunning power once attributed to him seemed tiny compared to how actual power is measured. He was a man standing alone. In other words, Putin looked positively Trumpian.It's no coincidence that Putin has but one prominent supporter in the West: private citizen Donald Trump, which means very little, now.
NOT A DIVIDED COURT:
The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a unanimous defeat to LGBT couples in a high-profile case over whether Philadelphia could refuse to contract with a Roman Catholic adoption agency that says its religious beliefs prevent it from working with same-sex foster parents.Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion for a majority of the court that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by refusing to contract with Catholic Social Services once it learned that the organization would not certify same-sex couples for adoption."The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that 'Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise' of religion," Roberts wrote."As an initial matter, it is plain that the City's actions have burdened CSS's religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs," he added.
THANKS, FEDERALIST SOCIETY!:
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Obamacare for the third time and rejected a sweeping challenge backed by former President Trump and Republican state attorneys.The 7-2 majority found that the state of Texas and other plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to sue.The decision preserves health insurance subsidies for more than 20 million Americans and protections for tens of millions more whose preexisting medical conditions could otherwise prevent them from obtaining coverage.The ruling stands as a final thumbs-down verdict against Trump's promise that he would "repeal and replace" the 2010 Affordable Care Act sponsored by President Obama. Trump never devised a plan to replace the law, and both the Republican-controlled Senate and the high court with a solidly conservative majority rejected his legislative and legal bids to repeal it.Two Trump appointees -- Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett -- joined Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the three liberals in dismissing the Texas suit.
Nearly a dozen Fox News guests presented as concerned parents or educators who oppose the teaching of so-called "critical race theory" in schools also have day jobs as Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities https://t.co/aycIAqD8ce pic.twitter.com/RcPbNgiCch— Media Matters (@mmfa) June 17, 2021
NOTHING SO UNITES THE rIGHT/lEFT AS THEIR HATRED OF AMERICA:
On Wednesday, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) without evidence accused the FBI of orchestrating the January 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.Gaetz posted a video of an appearance by former Donald Trump speechwriter Darren Beattie on Fox News, embedded in a tweet that reads, "BREAKING: @DarrenJBeattie of Revolver News breaks down the involvement of FBI operatives who organized and participated in the January 6th Capitol riot."Greene shared Gaetz's post and added, "We need names and answers about the FBI operatives, who were involved in organizing and carrying out the Jan 6th Capitol riot," Greene tweeted. "First they had a 'back up plan' to stop Trump in Russia Collusion witch hunt, now we are finding out they were deeply involved in Jan 6th. Deep State."
Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson falsely told Fox News viewers that it's possible that the FBI dressed up like supporters of President Donald Trump and attacked the U.S. Capitol as part of a false flag event. It's the same kind of conspiracy that Alex Jones has been touting about mass shootings starting with Sandy Hook Elementary. Jones was ultimately sued by the parents of the children who died."The same people like Kevin McCarthy whose adrenaline was rushing through their cheeks in the wake of the fight or flight response when they huddled into secret locations or could recognize the danger of what they saw in the moment," said host Chris Hayes. "All of the folks, up to and including Mitch McConnell are now running cover for this propaganda."Speaking to Hayes on Wednesday, history professor and propaganda expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat explained that she is growing increasingly more concerned that the right-wing and Russian far-right are converging on the same propaganda."Some of the through lines are the same as the right-wing playbook for 100 years and where the GOP and Russian far-right are converging. One of them is that liberal democracy is a failed system and brings chaos and anarchy and, so, you are trying to build an appetite for authoritarian rule," said Ben-Ghat. "And another is that liberal democracy is tyranny. So, we hear talk of Biden being a dictator and wanting to impose a dictatorship and he's going to take our guns away and make us wear masks and force-feed critical race theory."
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, 2021.America reclaimed some lost pride Wednesday when President Joe Biden met in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin - and did so without bowing and scraping to a smug and devious autocrat.That's a low bar, to be sure. But it's one that President Donald Trump failed utterly to clear - to the nation's everlasting shame - when he held a meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018 and played supplicant to a man impervious to human rights concerns, who leads a nation with only a fraction of America's economic prowess. (California's gross domestic product is nearly twice that of Russia's.)The memory remains painful. After their two-hour talk, the details of which are still a mystery because only interpreters were allowed to sit in, the leaders emerged for a brief news conference, in which Trump praised Putin's "extremely strong and powerful" denial of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
THE CONFEDERATE CAUCUS:
"To honor Donald Trump, you now have to dishonor the police, that's the only explanation I have for you," said Swalwell. "Officer Fanone and Officer Harry Dunn stopped by my office earlier today unannounced. They popped in, I chatted with them for a while. They told me how much it hurt to watch the vote yesterday where 21 Republicans voted against giving these hero officers the gold medals. They said they wanted to embark on going to those offices to meet the members of Congress, tell them about their experience and hopefully change their minds.""So Fanone called me about 20 minutes after he left my office and he was enraged," continued Swalwell. "He said, is this really how it works around here? ... He said that Congressman Clyde, after he refused to shake his hand, pulled out his cell phone and started recording him like he was some sort of criminal, that he had to document the interaction. That's just where these guys are right now. I saw Clyde on the floor, scared for his life as all of us were, and I saw the brave officers who put their lives in front of ours and everyone else in that building. This is just no way to treat them."
THERE WAS NEVER A HOUSING BUBBLE:
The Treasury Department is waving a warning flag to Congress and other policymakers about the housing market. Its message? The country is quickly running out of homes, and you need to do something about it.Traditionally, the federal government's housing policies have been demand-side interventions. Things like the mortgage interest deduction, which reduces homeowner's taxes (stimulating demand) or the Fed buying up over a trillion dollars in mortgage bonds to help bring down mortgage rates (also stimulating demand). These types of policies are broadly popular since they help people afford something expensive. But they don't do anything to reduce the cost of housing.Now, in a memo authored by Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, he makes the case for an increased focus on supply-side interventions. Simply put: We need to build more homes."Ultimately, the biggest driver of the lack of affordable housing today is a supply constraint that has existed before the COVID pandemic but has been exacerbated by the pandemic," Adeyemo tells Vox.
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS SPECIES:
A recent re-examination of artifacts collected from Israel's central Negev desert has revealed important details about the development of human culture in the region, according to a new study published in the journal PNAS. Precise archaeological dating techniques of artifacts from the Boker Tachtit site have shifted the known timeline of the arrival of modern humans to about 50,000 years ago. This would make Boker Tachtit the oldest modern human settlement in the Levant, and means that early Homo sapiens occupied the region at the same time as the Neanderthals. [...]One of the most notable consequences of the study was its verification that modern humans and Neanderthals were present in the central Negev desert at the same time. "This goes to show that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in the Negev coexisted and most likely interacted with one another, resulting in not only genetic interbreeding, as is postulated by the 'recent African origin' theory, but also in cultural exchange," Boaretto and Barzilai theorized in a Weizmann Institute press release announcing their discoveries.
JUST GRANT A BLANKET PARDON:
Today, 10.2 million undocumented immigrants are living and working in communities across the United States.1 On average, they have lived in this country for 16 years and are parents, grandparents, and siblings to another 10.2 million family members.2 At the same time, it has been nearly 40 years since Congress has meaningfully reformed the U.S. immigration system, leaving a generation of individuals and their families vulnerable. Poll after poll has illustrated that the vast majority of Americans support putting undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. And as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and looks toward the future, legalization is a key component of a just, equitable, and robust recovery. [...]Scenario 1: Providing a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create 438,800 new jobs.
THEY CAN'T BE REPLACED FAST ENOUGH:
Fear is the common denominator: fear of losing their place atop the social hierarchy, of their culture being replaced by something that feels foreign, of their children seeing through the self-serving narratives they've told themselves for generations. The same fear that justifies misleading students about the history of their country justifies a zero-sum politics that views democracy as the enemy of (their) liberty.These purposes intersect. By minimizing the legacy of the Black experience, by imagining the past is dead, conservatives can sever modern voter suppression efforts from their Jim Crow forerunners. The old version was racist; version 2.0 is about "ballot security" -- or, if they're honest, raw power. They design laws to disadvantage Democrats; it's not their fault those Democrats are Black.But there's an irony here. Laws that limit ballot access and gerrymander white conservatives into an outsize share of congressional and legislative seats rest on a fundamental, if unacknowledged, belief that some votes matter more than others. The same, of course, was also true for poll taxes and literacy tests. But connecting those dots requires seeing American history as more than a series of dates and facts -- history that asks how and why as much as who and when.The kind of history Ron DeSantis is eager to eliminate.
Many Americans, certainly those I've spoken to but also others in the media, appear supremely confident about a post-Covid-19 recovery that is both economic and societal in nature. One reason such ebullience is so striking is because it contrasts so sharply with how Brits tend to speak and act nowadays when discussing Covid-19 and opening up. That cautious, sucking-through-your-teeth hesitation appears to be a national default position.In her book A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponized Fear During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Laura Dodsworth argues that the pandemic has left us "one of the most frightened countries in the world." From the government's behavioural scientists straight out of a cautionary Aldous Huxley novel, to "roadside signs telling us to 'Stay Alert', the incessantly doom-laden media commentary, to masks literally keeping the fear in our face, we've become afraid of each other," Dodsworth says.She cites an international study last September of public attitudes across Europe, the US and Asia which found that people in the UK had the highest overall levels of concern about Covid-19, while another study reported that Britons were the least likely to believe that the economy and businesses should open if Covid-19 was not "fully contained."Dodsworth has much sympathy for the British population and their reactions -- as do I for the same reasons -- primarily stemming from their being coerced through fear-mongering tactics. In a recent article about the risks of over diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder, I noted how after a profound disruption like Brexit, it's plausible that Brits and their emotional well-being were more vulnerable than other nationalities to the arrival of a new virus.Either way, it's clear there isn't a solid bedrock in this country for breeding confidence and instigating that virtuous feedback loop, as Robertson notes, whereby "confidence begets more confidence." Robertson highlights the "disturbing" findings of a Prince's Trust survey done mid-pandemic in 2020. From 2,000 people in the UK aged 16 -- 25 years old, it found that 41 per cent of respondents felt that their future goals now seemed "impossible to achieve" and 38 per cent felt they would "never succeed in life."If that's an accurate indicator across the entire age group, it's hard not to share Robertson's concern that "such a drop in the confidence of nearly half a generation could reverberate for decades in the social, economic and political fabric of Britain." Cue the inspiration of Lady Liberty and those sporting events and everything else happening, and opening up, in the US to spark confidence here.Another unexpected reminder of the potent spiritedness of the US happened as I read Simon Akam's brutal takedown of the British Army's conduct since 9/11 in his book The Changing of the Guard. A clear theme throughout the book is how dependent the British military is on the might of US forces. Without it, we became unstuck, basically, hence the US military had to keep bailing out the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.Amid the depressing story, I found a strangely uplifting moment. Akam recounts a British officer during the 2003 invasion of Iraq liaising with US forces regarding their providing fast jets 10 minutes ahead of the British force and a swarm of attack helicopters in close support. The British officer "asks how long they can keep that act up for," aware, as an ex-pilot, of the massive logistical challenges of providing air power. The reply from the Americans: "Indefinitely, sir." Akam notes how the British officer's "jaw drops so far that another American -- out of genuine attempted kindness -- elaborates: "That means forever, sir."
THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT:
The new holiday comes a year after the death of George Floyd, a flashpoint incident in Minneapolis that has led to a national reappraisal of race and police relations."Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who sponsored the legislation.
June 16, 2021
THE MYSTERY OF MOVEMENT WITHOUT THE BALL:
Deepmind has created an intelligent agent that has learnt how to play soccer. Not just high level skills such as how to tackle, pass and play in a team, but how to control a fully articulated human body in a way that performs these actions like a human. The result is an impressive simulation of soccer in a way that is reminiscent of human players, albeit naïve and ungainly ones.The approach is described by Siqi Liu and colleagues at Deepmind. The first task is to give the intelligent agent full control over a humanoid figure with all the joints and articulation -- 56 degrees of freedom that a real human has.The agent learns to control this humanoid in a simulated environment with ordinary gravity and other laws of physics built in. It does this by learning to copy the movement of real footballers captured via standard motion capture techniques. These movements include running, changing direction, kicking and so on. The AI humanoids then practice mid-level skills such as dribbling, following the ball and shooting. Finally, the humanoids play in 2 v 2 games in which the winning team is the one that scores first.One of the impressive outcomes from this process is that the humanoids learn tactics of various kinds. "They develop awareness of others and learn to play as a team, successfully bridging the gap between low-level motor control at a time scale of milliseconds, and coordinated goal-directed behaviour as a team at the timescale of tens of seconds," say Liu and colleagues. Footage of these games along with the way the players learn is available on line.What makes this work standout is that Deepmind takes on these challenges together while in the past, they have usually been tackled separately. That's important because the emergent behaviour of the players depends crucially on their agility and their naturalistic movement, which shows the advantage of combining these approaches. "The results demonstrate that artificial agents can indeed learn to coordinate complex movements in order to interact with objects and achieve long-horizon goals in cooperation with other agents," say the team.Interestingly, the players learn to pass but don't seem to learn how to run into space. Perhaps that because this often requires players to run away from the ball. Without that ability, the patterns of play are reminiscent of those of young children, who tend to chase the ball in a herd.Older children develop a sense of space and adult players spending large portions of the game running into space or closing down space that opposition players could run into, all without the ball.But Deepmind's approach is in its infancy and has the potential to advance significantly. The obvious next step is to play games with larger teams and to see what behaviour emerges. "Larger teams might also lead to the emergence of more sophisticated tactics," say the researchers.
ON THE OTHER HAND, HOW MUCH FURTHER CAN RUSSIA BE DIMINISHED?:
Biden had just finished a press conference following his summit with Putin in Geneva when Collins, 29, shouted out a question as the POTUS walked away from the stage."Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?" she asked.Biden stopped in his tracks, turned around, and responded with noticeable irritation in his voice."I am not confident he will change his behavior. Where the hell ... What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?" asked Biden. "I said ... what I said was, let's get it straight, I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I am not confident of anything. I am just stating the facts."
WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF YOU FIND FLAWS:
[I]n today's woke age, Americans have yet to find an equilibrium for evaluating who they are. Recognizing the country's legacy of flawed, incomplete national stories does not entail replacing one lopsided narrative with another. After all, in an ideal world, US citizens of all colors, ethnicities, and classes would honor and discuss multiple layers of the past.The problem for many Americans is that embracing "wokeness" requires them to grapple with their whiteness. Although much of the United States' past has been racially whitewashed, Americans can't simply erase that whiteness or treat it primarily as a problem to be overcome. We cannot resolve one imbalance by creating another.Part of the challenge is America's unusually binary culture, at least in terms of its prevailing national narrative. In the 1950s, the dominant narrative featured a country uniquely driven by freedom, middle-class prosperity, democracy, and a voice for all. The story of slavery was a redemptive one, with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation demonstrating that the US had morally strayed but ultimately returned to the righteous path. The end of post-Civil War Reconstruction and the subsequent Jim Crow era of legally enforced racial segregation in the former Confederate states were elided almost completely.This was a triumphant narrative whose heroes were, by and large, white men. Native Americans were visible, if at all, only in brief benign cameos at the first Thanksgiving and then as enemies on the frontier. A few African-Americans - such as George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington - made brief appearances to reinforce the story.In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was an almost complete reversal of that narrative, and one-time heroes became villains. This narrative discovered new heroes like the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and the women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony, and brought out of the shadows buried injustices, including widespread lynchings of blacks and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (100 years ago last month). The oppression that America had conveniently and purposefully air-brushed from the historical picture was now crowding back in. As Malcolm X memorably put it, "Our forefathers were not the Pilgrims. We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; the Rock was landed on us."Today, rejection of the "whitewashing of American history" and efforts to confront structural racism have triggered a conservative backlash, with Republican lawmakers pushing bills through state legislatures that ban the teaching of "critical race theory" in school curricula.
THE REVOLUTION WAS A MISTAKE:
The main reason behind the economic performance of monarchies in the contemporary world is that the constitutional monarchy represents a compromise between tradition and modernity. It represents a brake on the boundless ambition of politicians. And it works as a mechanism preserving what deserves to remain while incorporating what the circumstances call for. While not alone in serving all of these different purposes, the constitutional monarchy is a beautiful solution to a wide array of governance problems.In his Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu wrote that England was "a republic, disguised under the form of monarchy." One of the ironies about the constitutional monarchy is that it has become associated, first and foremost, with a country that lacks a formal constitution. The United Kingdom, with its unique parliamentary and monarchical traditions, is frequently proposed as the model for everyone else to emulate.People often argue that the advantages of a constitutional monarchy can be obtained with the parliamentary system that republics offer, that is, when an elected head of state who acts as arbiter and figurehead is combined with that of a prime minister appointed by parliament following the will of the people. One example is Germany, where the Federal President is the head of state while the Chancellor is the head of the executive branch. Nowadays, there are 46 such parliamentary republics in the world, compared to 100 presidential republics, such as France or the United States.The defenders of constitutional monarchy observe that the ability of the sovereign to play the role of impartial arbiter is much greater than that of the elected head of state in a parliamentary system. Elected presidents, they argue, can more easily become enmeshed in political maneuvering because they were elected to that position, either directly or indirectly, while hereditary sovereigns do not generally have the legitimacy or the constitutional mandate to do so.A second way in which the constitutional monarch may be better positioned than the elected president-figurehead involves the tendency for politicians to perpetuate themselves in power. Inevitably, longevity in the executive branch tends to result in abuse of power. In my own research I found that the longer the head of the executive branch stays in power--be it a prime minister, president, absolute monarch, or dictator--the more property rights come under attack. My study comparing monarchies and republics between 1900 and 2010 also unveiled that monarchies in general are more effective than parliamentary republics when it comes to minimizing the abusive behavior of leaders of the executive branch who perpetuate themselves in power. The institution of the monarchy includes the idea of dynastic succession as a key element, one that can potentially temper the ambition of politicians. This is an aspect that parliamentary republics with an elected head of state cannot possibly provide.
When I returned to London, and told my editor that I'd visited 22 countries on four continents and interviewed people and begun writing the book, he raised my advance by another £1500. I think he had never actually expected me actually to go off and do it. In 1993, while I was back in my parents' house trying to write up the book, I read a newly published football memoir: Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch.When Hornby began writing the book, he was an unsuccessful journalist in his mid-thirties who taught English to foreigners on the side. His friends thought, "Poor Nick, he's writing this crazy book about how being an Arsenal fan explains his life. Nobody's going to buy it."Fever Pitch is a completely original book, the first to examine the apparently unremarkable experience of being a football fan. It's also a hilarious but true social history of Britain from the 1960s through the 1990s. It became the most influential football book ever written, the one that did more than any other to launch the genre.Like mine, Hornby's original inspiration for Fever Pitch had come from the US. He was a literary critic, and his very first book - published in 1992, the same year as Fever Pitch - was a study called Contemporary American Fiction. He had been particularly influenced by two American memoirs: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, about being an alcoholic dysfunctional New York Giants fan. As a tribute to both books, Hornby gave Fever Pitch the subtitle "A Fan's Life".But he was also inspired by a now defunct London bookshop. In 1985 a New Zealander named John Gaustad had opened a tiny store in Caxton Walk, off the Charing Cross Road in London called Sportspages, which had the crazy idea of only selling sports books. At first, Gaustad was the only employee. Initially, inevitably, most of the books it sold were about cricket.Gaustad - who probably knew the history of football writing better than anyone else - once told me the genesis lay in about 1987, when a tiny publisher in the provincial English town of Derby produced a statistical history of Derby County Football Club. Hardly anybody noticed at the time, but the book turned out to be a precursor. Within a few years almost every British club had its statistical history. Gaustad also told me: "Pete Davies was John the Baptist to Nick Hornby."Hornby used to spend hours in Sportspages, reading the fanzines of different clubs that the shop sold. These fanzines were a product of the late 1980s, and now exist mostly online; most clubs have at least one. Fanzines typically publish articles by fans of a particular club, people who in real life are schoolteachers or taxi drivers, but who write so well that as a professional journalist it often scares me. The most prominent and literate British fanzine still exists today: When Saturday Comes.Hornby said years later that Sportspages "showed me there was a market for a book like Fever Pitch. Publishers may have refused to accept that there was such a beast as the literate soccer fan, but there were always hundreds of them in Caxton Walk, so I knew who I was writing for." Sadly, Gaustad was eventually ousted from Sportspages, and in the internet era the shop closed, because nobody needed to leave the house anymore to find sports books. John Gaustad died in 2016, but without him, literary football writing might never have existed.