June 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Why Are We So Resistant to the Idea of a Modern Myth? (Philip Ball, June 2, 2021, LitHub)

Our popular narrative, then, is that we shed mythology in its traditional sense, probably during the process that began in the Enlightenment, in the course of which the world became "disenchanted" by the advance of science, and that has led since to a secular society on which the old deities have lost their grip. We grew out of gods and myths because we acquired reason and science.

This picture is tenacious, and I suspect it accounts for much of the resistance to the notion (and there is a lot of resistance, believe me) that anything created in modern times might deserve to be called a "myth." To accept that we have never relinquished myths and myth-making might seem to be an admission that we are not quite modern and rational. But all I am asking, with the concept of myth I use in this book, is that we accept that we have not resolved all the dilemmas of human existence, all the questions about our origins or our nature--and that, indeed, modernity has created a few more of them.

Our popular narrative, then, is that we shed mythology in its traditional sense, probably during the process that began in the Enlightenment, in the course of which the world became "disenchanted" by the advance of science.
One objection to the idea of a modern myth is that, to qualify as myth, a story must contain elements and characters that someone somewhere believes literally existed or happened. Surely myths can't emerge from works of fiction! The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski asserted as much, saying of myth that "it is not of the nature of fiction, such as we read today in a novel, but it is a living reality, believed to have once happened in primeval times, and continuing ever since to influence the world and human destinies."

But this is simply the grand narrative with which Malinowski and his generation framed their study of the myths of "primitive" cultures. It allows us to insist (as they wished to) that we advanced societies have no myth left except religion (and even that is no longer believed in quite the same way as it was a couple of centuries ago). As Baldick puts it, in this view "myth is the quickest way out of the twentieth [and now the 21st] century."

Even in its own terms, however, Malinowski's definition is tendentious. Did the author(s) we know as Homer believe he was merely writing history, right down to, say, Athena's interventions in the Trojan war? To assert this would be to neglect the long and continuing scholarly debate about what Homer was really up to--was he, for instance, a skeptic, or a religious reformer? Worse, it would neglect the even longer and profound debate about what storytelling is up to. It might be unwise to attach any contemporary label to Homer, but one that fits him more comfortably than most is to say he was a poet, and that he used poetic imagination to articulate his myths. Stories like his relate something deemed culturally important and in an important sense "true"--but not as a documentary account of events. Plato admitted as much in the 5th century BCE; are we then to suppose that Greek myth was already "dead" to him?

To ask if ancient people "believed" their mythical stories is to ask a valid but extremely complex question. It is much the same as asking if Christian theologians, past and present, "believe" the Bible. Yes, they generally do--but that belief is complicated, multifaceted, and contentious, and to imagine it amounts to a literal conviction that all the events and peoples described in the holy book occurred as written is to misunderstand the function of religion itself. What's more, while we can adduce a range of interpretations about these beliefs today, it is not clear we can ever truly decide how these correspond (or whether they even need to correspond) to the convictions of the people who created the original text.

All he needs to do here--to achieve genuine insight--is to replace "narrative" with "myth," which establishes one of the meta-myths of modernity, and then recognize that the sciences (paradigms) are mere sub-myths.  The Age of Reason is just a matter of rational myth-making.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Xi's Historic Mistake (J. BRADFORD DELONG, 6/02/21, Project Syndicate)

In my view, it is in China's own interest that the government in Taipei remains the sole authority on the island, so that it can continue to follow an institutional and governance path that is different from that of the People's Republic. Likewise, it is in China's interest that Hong Kong remains a second system. The government in Beijing ought to recognize that substantial regional autonomy, especially for areas with non-Han-majority populations, will serve its own long-term ambitions.

The appalling and tragic history of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation in the twentieth century suggests that top-down, imperial Sinicization will sow resentments that will last generations and create conditions for serious trouble in the coming years and decades. Humanity has grown up enough to know that diversity, regional autonomy, and cosmopolitanism are better than the alternatives. A regime that aspires to lead the world toward a brighter future should be especially cognizant of this.

Nonetheless, China's current paramount leader, Xi Jinping, very much wishes to centralize authority in Beijing. Rightly fearing careerism and corruption in the Communist Party of China, he seeks not a Cultural Revolution but a Cultural Renaissance to restore egalitarian values and utopian aspirations across the leadership ranks. Supremely confident in his ability to read the situation and issue the right commands, his main concern is that his orders won't be implemented properly. The solution to that problem, he seems to have concluded, is much greater concentration of power.

But even if Xi has made the right tactical calculation for the current moment, his own senescence, together with the logic of how authoritarian command organizations evolve, all but ensure that his strategy will end in tears.

Xi is just managing the decline from the rather low height that capitalism helped the PRC reach. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Is Glenn Greenwald the New Master of Right-Wing Media?: The leftist scribe has become "a practitioner of manufactured controversy" for outlets like Fox News, say his stunned former colleagues. (Lloyd Grove & Justin Baragona, Jun. 02, 2021, Daily Beast)

And so during a recent episode of The Ingraham Angle, Glenn Greenwald--who is so familiar to the top-rated cable channel's millions of viewers that he requires only a surname--put on a suit and tie in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives, to continue doing what has occupied his energies for much of the past month.

That's deploying every conceivable platform--from Twitter (where he has 1.6 million followers) to YouTube to Substack to an array of popular conservative websites to the very top of the ziggurat, Rupert Murdoch's corporate cash cow--to denounce former friends and colleagues at The Intercept, the left-leaning digital news and opinion site he co-founded with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill in 2013. [...]

"I did not see this coming," said The Nation's national affairs correspondent, Joan Walsh, who was editor-in-chief of Salon more than a decade ago when Greenwald gave up practicing law to spend five-and-a-half years as a star writer there. "It's kind of sad. He won awards for us. He was a beacon during those dark days [of the Bush-Cheney military adventures and Barack Obama's first term]. He was a lovely colleague, he really was. The difference between the cantankerous guy we sometimes had to wrangle with--it wasn't all roses--and this person? Who's this?" [...]

As a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013, Lee connected Greenwald, then at The Guardian, with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (after Greenwald hadn't responded to Snowden's attempts to contact him), teaching him how to use encrypted communication and helping him navigate Snowden's classified data dump that revealed the NSA's widespread surveillance of private citizens--reporting for which The Guardian shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (The Washington Post's Barton Gellman, whose Snowden reporting also won the 2014 public service Pulitzer, recounted in Dark Mirror, his book about the episode, several instances of Greenwald's alleged duplicity in the throes of competition as the two jousted for scoops and credit--oozing charm in a conciliatory email and then bad-mouthing him behind his back to a New York Times reporter.)

He serves Vlad, no matter who's in power. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Did Donald Trump finally kill his blog? (Sarah K. Burris, June 01, 2021, Raw Story)

President Donald Trump's blog appears to have been shifted away from The Desk of Donald Trump back to news releases. RawStory contacted the Trump office asking if it was an error or if the website was changing things around but hasn't heard back.

The blog crashed on Saturday after he posted an unverified conspiracy theory about the false Arizona "audit." The piece claimed there were "broken seals on boxes, ballots missing, and worse." The site went down, leaving only a message saying, "something has gone wrong and this URL cannot be processed at this time."

No one reads blogs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Texas's Best Young Accordionists Carry on a Conjunto Legacy: At the Big Squeeze, the state's most talented teen accordion players are keeping a historic Texas tradition alive (Roberto José Andrade Franco, May 21, 2021, Texas Monthly)

Ramirez, fourteen, a San Antonio eighth grader with jet-black hair that goes past his shoulder blades, played "Stocky Polka" and "Picame Tarantula" on his light orange Gabbanelli accordion. He selected those songs because they're two of his favorites--something about their chords touches his heart, he says. It's the same feeling he had the first time he heard a strange sound coming from the radio, when he was about nine years old. His parents told him it was an accordion. Later, at a San Antonio music festival, he not only heard it again but also saw the instrument making that sound. He returned home and tried to make his own. "I grabbed a little paper," Ramirez remembers. "Drew the buttons, trying to simulate the accordion."

When Christmas came and he got an iPad, he started playing an accordion game. That's when his parents knew their son was serious about playing the instrument that's been a part of Texas's culture for more than 170 years. They soon gave him an accordion and signed him up for lessons, and he's scarcely stopped practicing since. This year was Ramirez's third time competing in the Big Squeeze, which is organized by the nonprofit Texas Folklife. Roughly 35 young musicians from across the state--and from Louisiana, in the cajun and zydeco categories--participated this year. Now in its fifteenth year, the event aims to help preserve and promote Texas's traditional cultural practices. 

That includes playing the accordion, which German settlers brought to Texas and northern Mexico in the mid-1800s. Texas Mexicans soon adopted the instrument and made it their own, blending German polkas and waltzes with Mexican music to create the style that would later become known as conjunto. The instrument's versatility was key to its appeal. "Poor rural Tejanos took to it quickly since it could mimic several instruments simultaneously and it was cheaper to pay one acordeonista than an orquesta," writes Carlos Guerra in the book Puro Conjunto. By the early 1900s, the accordion was widespread on both sides of the border.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Being optimistic can extend your life, Israeli study finds (Times of Israel, 6/01/21)

Optimism was measured through questions about participants' positive experiences and expectations for the future, the study said.

"Our findings indicate that optimism has an impact on survival, whereas other studies have shown that it improves health-related functions, such as our immune systems, reducing risk factors for high blood pressure and cardiac issues, and maybe even cancer," Maaravi said.

The researchers said they looked at the participants' medical and, later, death records, and factored in parameters such as gender, economic status, marital and parental status, education levels, and physical and social activity. They also carried out one-on-one interviews over the years.

Using the data collected since the 1990s, the researchers said they have determined a direct link between a positive outlook and a longer life.

They said that participants ages 85-90 with a high optimism score had a 20% higher rate of survival over those who were less optimistic, and in the 90+ age bracket that number rose to 25%.

"Optimism doesn't have to be viewed as a trait we're born with, but one that we can develop," Maaravi said, adding that "it's important to think of ways to increase optimism because it's more clear than ever that it can help people at all stages of their lives."

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Bill Barr had an 'intake process' to evaluate the 'dirt' on Joe Biden given to Rudy Giuliani from a Russian agent (Sarah K. Burris, June 01, 2021, Raw Story)

In an exclusive report Tuesday, TIME Magazine revealed that Russian foreign agents called Rudy Giuliani "useful" in their efforts to undermine the 2020 election. [...]

"In the fall of 2019, he gained access to Trump's inner circle through Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer," the report explained. "He then provided Giuliani with documents purporting to show that Joe Biden and his family were involved in corruption. After their first meeting, Derkach even posted a photo of himself with Giuliani on Facebook, mugging for the camera as they exchanged a stack of documents. In the months before Election Day, he released a series of secret recordings of Biden pressuring top Ukrainian officials to fight corruption. The source of those tapes remains a mystery to this day."

The story cited both the FBI and CIA who warned Trump's team that Derkach was pushing a Russian disinformation effort, but his allies didn't care and continued promoting the conspiracy all over social media. A month before Election Day and the first debate, QAnon cult members, and Q himself, began promoting Derkach too.

"The plot served multiple interests," the report continued. "Derkach could not have gotten through to American voters without help from Trump and Giuliani, while the Trump campaign's attacks against the Biden family relied in large part on the ammunition Derkach provided. Whatever the truth of the U.S. allegations against Derkach, Russia benefited from his efforts."

Imagine being the Charlie McCarthy to Rudy's Edgar Bergen? 
Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


America Remains Indispensable (JOSCHKA FISCHER, 6/01/21, Pacific Standard)

In addition to openly signaling its intent to withdraw the US from the region, the Trump administration also abandoned America's traditional role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, successive US administrations had pushed for a two-state solution and a fair compromise between Israel and the Palestinians, even while remaining wholly committed to protecting Israel. But the Trump administration backed Israel fully and unconditionally, creating the impression that the Palestinians no longer had any role to play.

The Trump administration's approach to the issue, together with the danger emanating from Iran, did lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab states, including two - the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - in the Gulf. But with the latest armed confrontation between Hamas and Israel, the fantasy in which the Palestinians could simply be sidelined forever has been dispelled.

The latest conflict has included violent clashes on the Temple Mount around the al-Aqsa mosque, and, unlike in previous episodes, between Jewish and Arab citizens in mixed cities across the Israeli heartland. Four lessons should be drawn while the current cease-fire holds.

First, even if a two-state solution hardly seems realistic anymore, its political renunciation will lead more or less directly to a highly charged confrontation. Second, Palestinians and Arab Israelis will not simply stand by and allow themselves to be ignored in regional political settlements. Third, the Israeli occupation cannot be continued indefinitely. And, lastly, the US cannot simply abandon the region out of a lack of interest, at least not if it wants to maintain its role as the leading global power.

The return of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exposed the real distribution of power in the Middle East. Notwithstanding all of the changes of the past few decades, the fact remains that stability depends on the US.

This badly misunderstands the role of America in the world--as the Ender of History--which is what Donald opposed.  He offered Zionists and Wahhabists an endless vision of thwarting Muslim democracy.  This is the stability that Isolationists and Realists have always treasured--a world that is quiet because foreign citizenries are oppressed, in this case the Arabs. 

In returning to a foreign policy based on American values, Joe Biden promises instability.    

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Dems notch easy win in New Mexico special election (ALLY MUTNICK, 06/01/2021, Politico)

Democrat Melanie Stansbury claimed a resounding victory Tuesday night in a contested special election for Congress in New Mexico, easing her party's fears of a closer result that could have portended a brutal midterm next year.

Stansbury, a state representative, led Republican Mark Moores, 63 percent to 33 percent, when The Associated Press called the race in her favor, a little more than an hour after polls closed. While that margin was likely to narrow somewhat as additional votes were tallied, Democrats hailed her comfortable win as a sign that their base enthusiasm has not waned and that the GOP's doubling down on "defund the police" attacks backfired.

"While Mark Moores and the GOP spent this special election doing their best Trump impression, Melanie focused on building our country back better, getting folks back to work, and creating an economy for all New Mexicans," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Gosh, it seemed so likely Trumpism had grown in popularity.