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Links and Notes for November 20th, 2020

Published by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for this week, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.


Why do so many cases go to the Supreme Court?

Because the plaintiffs have endless time and money, dragging things out with appeal after appeal, during which the prosecution, severely underfunded, is ever more likely to make some sort of evidentiary or procedural mistake which will tie the hands of even the most liberal justice into vacating the judgment.

And then the prosecution, perhaps already having gone out on a limb in the first place, is faced with a loss that is “their own fault” in the eyes of their employers and taxpayers and the media and considering an appeal that has even less support.

The fact that things end up the Supreme Court is yet another excrescence of inequality.


Defunding the police is largely unnecessary because we already have all of the laws that we need. We just don’t enforce them. The foxes are running the henhouse and we can’t think of any other way to fix the problem than to burn down the henhouse.

The police are a civic organization under the control of a democratically elected municipal and local government. Everything that’s happened is a symptom of how easily corrupted and coopted those local governments are by well-funded lobbies and police unions. If those local officials weren’t corrupt — or so easily corrupted, or put into a position that their jobs were dependent on kowtowing to brute power — the police would be managed by existing laws.

There are already enough laws and regulations; we just fail utterly to enforce them.


Largest COVID-19 contact tracing study to date finds children key to spread, evidence of superspreaders by Morgan Kelly (Princeton University)

“The researchers found that the chances of a person with coronavirus, regardless of their age, passing it on to a close contact ranged from 2.6% in the community to 9% in the household.


Interview with Charles Yang by Victor Gomes (Language Log)

“Beat them in the F-Score scheme because ultimately I think that’s how real progress is made. If you want to show your theory or your approach is valuable, you have to demonstrate its value to people who don’t necessarily hold that view. That’s how all progress is made, this is how cognitive science arose out of the ashes of behaviorism. It offered a positive solution that tackled previously intractable problems. In order for us to show the science of language would be relevant to engineering problems, we’ve gotta show it works. You need some applications. That’s a long game.”
“Problems only arise, of course, when one pretends to do another person’s job and doesn’t do it right.”
“In the last book that Jerry Fodor wrote with [Zenon] Pylyshn, there was a passage¹ that struck Lila: roughly speaking, how come only we are able to move past the perceptual circle of direct experience? All the other animals are bound by it, but we can talk about whatever. There’s a passage in that book where they said it’s about learning the rules of the language. They emphasize in brackets that it is not the language of thought, but the language of Hindi, French, and so on. Literally the grammar of a particular language. That’s music to my ears.”
“¹The passage from Minds Without Meaning (p. 136) reads “In fact, our inspiration is ethology, not epistemology. It is a constant refrain of the ethologists that every creature except humans lives in an ‘umwelt’ that travels with it and is bounded on all sides by what the creature’s sensory mechanisms can detect. Excepting us, nobody can respond to, or refer to, or remember, or even think about, anything that isn’t, or hasn’t been, within its umwelt. We’re exempted; we can refer to Genghis Khan (as it might be) because there is an intricate system of linguistic contrivances (not the Language of Thought but) real languages: English, French, Urdu, and the like)”


Passenger Aboard First Cruise Ship to Return to Sailing in Caribbean Tests Positive for COVID-19 (People)

“The doctors on board then began systematically testing passengers using three rapid COVID testing machines. Everyone on the ship had already been tested several days before departing, the day of their departure, and again several days into the trip.”

The tenacity of the virus reminds me of a sci-fi book I read long ago Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore (Gutenberg Project), which ended with a seed landing on the last surviving boat.


Redemptive Possibilities in the Failed State by Kim C. Domenico (CounterPunch)

“…the US is a failed state…. It cannot, and should not, ever be trusted. In fact, its dissolution is the only hope we have for a livable future on earth.”
Kenn Orphan
“Trump Was Never the Real Problem …the fact that circumstances can reduce us to savagery does not negate the moral life. As our empire implodes, and with it social cohesion, as the earth increasingly punishes us for our refusal to honor and protect the systems that give us life…we must face this darkness, not only around us, but within us.”
Chris Hedges (The Politics of Cultural Despair)
“Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expressions of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.”
Joseph Conrad (An Outpost of Progress)
“To this day, I distinguish between human-caused terrors of the shared world, and the terror-inducing failure of human beings to build and to provide for vulnerable others a sense of safety sufficient to protect inner beings. The former, the real oppression, violence and predatoriness that exists and has existed behind the smiling, anesthetizing, media-botoxed facade of neoliberalism for decades calls for a moral response from all sentient human beings, even from those of us apparently “exempt.” Beyond electoral politics, it calls for transforming the oppressive structures of radical evil under corporate capitalism. I’m convinced that to overcome the latter, the failure of families and communities to meet the basic human need for recognition, requires that people experience the existential safety their lives have lacked, likely since birth (a taller order yet in this pandemic).”
“Thus far, liberal reality does not acknowledge this need for the simple basics of human relatedness; it is not part of the liberal program. This is what makes liberals hypocrites, embracing all good liberal causes but anteing up, each election time, to vote for the lesser evil, in the hubristic confidence that evil is imaginary.”


Regulators! Stand Back by Lizzie O’Shea (The Baffler)

“Under the Obama administration, there was a strong relationship between Democrats and the tech industry. And the upbeat, self-actualizing brand of capitalism emanating from California has had irresistible appeal for liberals who prefer technocratic approaches to problem-solving over the messier alternatives emanating from social movements.”
“As Jathan Sadowski correctly pointed out in response to Senator Cruz’s grandstanding: “This is what happens when all those people—who for years have been posing strong leftist critiques of ‘Silicon Valley Oligarchs’ and pushing for strong leftist policies to rein in their power—are ignored. Right-wing nationalists step in to do it their way, for their purposes.””
“In her recent book calling for the breakup of these companies, Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, Teachout argues that the risk “is not that government won’t act, but that it will act just enough to make it look like it is doing something, but not enough to break up big tech’s power.”
“Stronger antitrust policy is no substitute for better laws that directly protect privacy, which would undermine business models that are based on data extraction as well as the capacity for government surveillance.”
“We need to find ways for government to use procurement powers to support open-source software. With a diverse array of voices, we have the chance to cast judgement against the predatory business models in the tech sector, not simply allow those who have profited from them to shape our future.


”Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.“ by Anne Helen Petersen (Culture Study)

“In the U.S., most of us aren’t taught to use our sociological imaginations. We’re not taught to think about social problems as structural problems. We’re not taught to see the forces that operate beyond our control […] And we’re not taught to see how those forces create many of the challenges we face in our lives and constrain our ability to make choices that could help us overcome those challenges.”
“But mothers should not be blamed for attempting to remain engaged in intensive work or intensive parenting. Both are social norms in the U.S.: Workers, especially elite professional workers, are expected to devote their whole lives to their jobs. Meanwhile, mothers, all mothers, are expected to devote their whole lives to their children and do whatever it takes to meet their children’s needs (usually while being devoted, supportive partners, as well).”


2020 Is An Election Security Success Story (So Far) by Scott R. Anderson, Susan Hennessey, Rohini Kurup, David Priess, Jacob Schulz (Lawfare Blog)

“But will we learn enough in the coming months to draw specific conclusions? Was the Trickbot takedown a sufficient warning shot to discourage ransomware? Did sanctions imposed after 2016 effectively deter foreign actors? Did the political circumstances diminish the incentives to engage in malicious conduct? Perhaps we deterred through denial—faced with fortified systems our adversaries failed or gave up. The reality, of course, is that it was some combination—or the totality—of these efforts that paid off. The details matter because the 2020 election will likely be a model moving forward.”

The world didn’t care enough, once they’d seen what a cockup the U.S. managed all on its own.

“It is still early—analysts only learned after the election about some of the foreign information operations in 2016—but so far it seems that the election saw relatively little significant foreign disinformation penetrate the U.S. information ecosystem.”

Well, yeah, all the disinformation was domestic.

“Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies did try to peddle damaging information of unknown (likely foreign) provenance about the former Vice President’s son, but the reporters at U.S. papers of record refused to take the bait.”

This characterization indicates that the authors are unfortunately quite biased, which wasn’t clear at the outset.

“And yes, there have been huge disinformation problem areas as YouTube, Tik Tok, Twitch and certain parts of Facebook have all proven vulnerable to disinformation and slower to respond.”

Apparently, the authors think anything non-mainstream is disinformation. They laud an iron control of the narrative from above.


Trump’s Cult of Personality Will be Badly Damaged by Defeat, But His Toxic Politics Marches On by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch)

“At least 70 million Americans voted to put him back in the White House, despite witnessing his constant lying, open racism and lethal incompetence over the last four years. Trump’s supporters did not choose him because they were hoodwinked about what he stood for, but because they wanted his lies to be true, shared his antagonism towards non-white people, and dismissed his incompetence as a media exaggeration or blamed its worst consequences on others.”

This is utterly braindead. The author sees demos with thousands of Trump nuts, then extrapolates the extreme views to all 70 million voters. Oddly, people don’t do this for the maniacs who voted for Bidens.

“An American commentator familiar with both countries once said to me that “everything in American political culture, at the end of the day, boils down to race, while everything in Britain boils down to class”. The adage is over-simple but useful.”

It’s not just over-simple. It’s dead wrong.


Obama Official Ben Rhodes Admits Biden Camp is Already Working With Foreign Leaders: Exactly What Flynn Did by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Once the new documents were released earlier this year showing that even FBI agents had doubts that Flynn was lying and that the interrogation seemed designed to entrap him, the DOJ moved to dismiss the criminal case, infuriating law-and-order liberals who are morally outraged that a citizen would fail to obediently confess non-existent crimes to the FBI.”


Why go high? by Adam Schatz (London Review of Books)

“Not all of Trump’s supporters have enjoyed this theatre of cruelty. But most were indifferent, and saw no reason not to support him a second time. (An estimated 93 per cent of Republicans voted for him.) They were not dissuaded by his brazen misogyny, his envious embrace of foreign strongmen, his corruption and double-dealing or his continual lies.”

That is, again, bullshit. It assumes the exact same demon figure of a Trump voter, as if they didn’t weigh options and come to a different conclusion. Figure out why instead of assuming that they are unsalvageable Nazis.

The question is more: why don’t they see corruption, lies, injustice, and incompetence when Trump does it? Same goes for the other party, though.

“Through his thunderous, nihilistic fury, he established an almost erotic connection with his base, which, unmoved by reason, often heedless of its own economic interests, found emotional compensation in his tributes to the ‘uneducated’ and his insults against members of Eastern seaboard ‘elites’.”

“Unmoved by reason” will be on the tombstone for humanity. This is a personality feature unique neither to Republicans nor even to Americans.

“The presidency and the Senate would look very different if representation were based on population.”

It’s called a bicameral legislature, you dumb fuck. And it’s designed to balance out the majority-rules House. Other countries make it work. The problem is a lack of parliamentary process. But both parties like it that way. And each slavers for power, loath to change it lest they finally get power and realize they have to share. An unfair system will be gamed by the biggest cheater.

“The Democratic Party bears a share of the responsibility for this. Since the Clinton administration, it has prioritised free trade and globalisation over jobs and economic equality, becoming a party of college-educated middle-class professionals, and largely turning its back on working-class voters.”
“Trump will cast a long shadow, especially overseas, where America’s image has suffered a calamitous blow. Every country is at times reduced to playing a crude caricature of itself, exhibiting its ugliest attributes. The question now is whether the US can move beyond its worst expression.”

The mask slipped. Put it back on? Is that the advice? Lovely.


Welcome the Trump Voters Back by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“Trump profoundly weakened the US-centred Atlantic order that had dominated Europe since the end of World War II, not because he was afraid that not doing so would cause the Russians to release “the pee tape”, but just because he was too stupid and self-interested, still too much a real-estate developer from Queens, to understand what an international strategic alliance is and why it might be good to preserve. (I am not saying the post-war global Pax Americana is good or just, only that if it is to be dismantled, this should be done consciously, rather than inadvertently.)”

I disagree. I don’t care how it’s dismantled, so long as it is. It’s been far too long with a sociopath at the wheel.

“Our man in Vegas is susceptible to white identitarianism, and will vote for identitarian reasons if that is how his options are presented to him. But this is not a reason to write him off — on the contrary to write him off is to guarantee that he will continue to conceive his political options in identitarian terms.”
“That so many millions of white Americans adopted such a conception in the 2016 and 2020 elections (though slightly less, proportionally, in the latter) is being treated as a moral failure on their part, and many liberal cringeposters over the past few days have been pompously virtue-signalling about how these people do not deserve “forgiveness”, as if 70 million rank-and-file partisan voters were really an appropriate target of such a magnanimous moral gesture.
“But the Clark County protester is not one of Trump’s boyars; he is one of Trump’s suckers, drawn to the movement out of a mix of economic desperation, a natural desire for absorption into a community of the like-spirited, and the omnipresent deceptions of the information ecosystem that occlude from him the real possibility of community with people who do not share his demographic profile or his lifestyle preferences.”
“Trump is, obviously, no Hitler — he is too incompetent ever to have accomplished even a fraction of the evil designs of any true fascist leader, and even his malevolence was mostly opportunistic and flexible. From the “birther” controversy to the pitiful and ignoble fit he has been throwing over the past few days about the legitimacy of the election, Trump’s primary character trait has been that he is a stunted and selfish liar. This alone has been profoundly damaging to the civic health of the United States, and it has been facilitated by the structures of the internet, which value truth no more than he does.”
“At his astounding, final-act-Shakespearean press briefing a few nights ago, Trump managed to make some fairly legitimate points about the hollowness of the Democratic party, its neoliberal subservience to finance, etc., which could have been a redeeming and graceful note to go out on. But of course, Trump being Trump, he blew it, and the legitimate concern, shared by Bernie Sanders and by many, many young progressives, was drowned out by the ridiculous conspiracy-mongering, which will be Trump’s only significant legacy.
“I am, again, significantly more sympathetic to his millions of disaffected voters, or at least the ones who supported him not “for the lulz”, but against the very unfunny diminishing prospects for a happy life under the emerging regime of digital serfdom, where the only real job left is that of data cow, and where we are forced to build up hastily and from scratch a sense of community for ourselves that we hope can at least partially replace our lost civic belonging.”
“The forms of community that emerge in such a vacuum are of course going to look ridiculous to those who are not participating in them from the inside. The Clark County protester looks ridiculous. But he is still our fellow citizen, and it will do no good, if we wish to prevent the further weakening of our civic bonds, to mock him and exclude him.
“There is however a very powerful contingent of liberals in the United States who take the BBQ, Beer, Freedom guy as their enemy. And just as I hope this guy can be won over to something more compelling in the coming years, I hope these liberals can be won over too, to a renewed appreciation of the bond of citizenship.”


No Matter the Liberal Metric Chosen, the Bush/Cheney Administration Was Far Worse Than Trump. by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“The Democrats’ own actions proved that they never believed their own melodramatic and self-glorifying rhetoric about Trump as The New Hitler — from their leaders joining with the GOP to increase The Fascist Dictator’s domestic spying powers and military spending to their (correct) belief that the way to oust The Neo-Nazi Tyrant was through a peaceful and lawfully conducted democratic election in which vote totals and, if necessary, duly constituted courts would determine the next president.”
“The motives for concocting this Wagnerian fantasy about coups, dictatorship, concentration camps and civil war are numerous. Politics is boring, and your life unspectacular, if it’s dedicated to a goal as banal and uninspiring as empowering a septuagenarian career-politician — the centrist-authoritarian author of the 1994 Crime Bill, the credit card industry’s most loyal servant, and key Iraq War advocate — along with his tough-on-crime prosecutor-running-mate who always seems as if she just left a meeting of the Aetna Board of Directors where massive hikes in deductibles were approved.
“Rotted and discredited institutions like the CIA, NSA and FBI re-branded themselves as patriotic guardians of liberal democracy and stalwart protectors of a besieged population.”
“In the green rooms of CNN and MSNBC, on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and in the hearts and minds (and bank accounts) of American liberals, one now finds the worst and most amoral architects and enablers of the invasion and destruction of Iraq, the worldwide torture regime, the global program of official kidnapping (“rendition”), Article II theories of a lawless and omnipotent President, the drowning of New Orleans, the slaughter of innocents by the thousands at the hands of fighter jets and drones, the targeting of U.S. citizens for assassination-by-drone, vital support for the world’s most barbaric tyrants, the saving of Wall Street at the expense of ordinary homeowners and communities of workers, and the seamless and rapid re-imagining of the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union as a country of Endless”
“There is nothing done by the Trump administration that can be rationally characterized as a radical aberration, some dramatic break, from U.S. tradition. Quite the contrary: none of Trump’s actions and policies are in some new universe of savagery, lawlessness, or radicalism when compared to those who preceded him in power.”
“And what moral calculus allows deaths from a pandemic, even if the by-product of negligence and mismanagement, to be placed on the same moral plane as deaths from bombs, drones, tanks and bullets, or the displacement of tens of millions of people from the War on Terror, or the slave markets and anarchy that still persist after the NATO bombing of Libya championed by Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, or the world’s worst humanitarian crisis from the U.S.-supported bombing campaign of Yemen that began under Obama?
“What this argument is, instead, is a vehement rejection of the grotesque historical revisionism that seeks to erase and whitewash the far worse moral evils, acts of violence and assertions of lawlessness that preceded him, all in order to propagate myths of American Exceptionalism and, worse, to rehabilitate the reputations and careers of the political and media cretins who perpetrated them.


A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon by Reed Berkowitz (Medium)

“It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.”
“Q is NOT a whistleblower. Q is a “plot device”. Q is fictional and acts exactly like a fictional character acts. This is because the purpose of Q is not to divulge actual information, but to create fiction.”
“This is not a loner on the internet that started dropping a few posts and suddenly went viral. I’ve met those people. I’ve been on those projects. It doesn’t happen like this. This is a media campaign. This is a coordinated propaganda campaign. 800 groups? An ARG with an endorsement from the President? An ARG with physical demonstrations organized for multiple countries and over 200 physical locations. These are not “organic”.”
“QAnon seeks to uncover the real story. That’s why people are calling the police, their state reps, and trafficking hotlines. Solving a tough puzzle in a game is a huge rush, but in Q it’s even more-so because IT’S REAL. They’re writing about you in every magazine. You’re on the news. Participants haven’t solved a game, they’ve solved reality! But how does the sense that the false connections the Q participants are making are REAL develop?”

I’m not seeing the difference to Russiagate.

“People make the connection before they know for a fact if it’s real or not. Maybe it is apophenia, maybe not. It’s a hypothesis. A theory. THEN YOU TEST IT. The facts determine the outcome and then, whether it feels good or not, you accept them. Even scientists may not want to let go of a good theory that just isn’t panning out. The feeling of correctness is over-powering.”

Again, not unique.


It’s Still Early Days. But Pfizer’s Stunning Vaccine Results Could Be a Real Game-Changer by Jeffrey S. Flier (Quillette)

“Though it’s still early days, this unprecedented worldwide effort to discover and develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine would seem to validate the efficacy of our modern bioscience research ecosystem.”

That is absolutely not a conclusion supported by the facts stated so far in the article. He might as well write the same about MAD for deterring nuclear war. It’s what was used, but you can’t then claim that it’s the only thing that could work.

“OWS didn’t fund the Pfizer work, but did establish an advance-purchase agreement for 100 million doses, with a commitment of $1.95 billion, and an option to purchase 400 million additional doses.”

Nice language. Way to kowtow to power. That’s The literal description of a pre-order. Kickstart works like that. What he’s written is what most people would consider to be the definition of funding. Stop blowing smoke up my ass so you can claim a patent later.

I’m sure whoever approved this language on the purchasing side got a huge kickback or is stupid or both.

“[…] the good news on the vaccine front provides one more reason to exercise caution and avoid fatalism, since it suggests that there might be a viable long-term alternative to endless lockdowns and other public-health measures. Simply put: by being careful now, you can increase your chance of staying alive long enough to benefit from a vaccine.”