Days 242–266 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

More than three weeks without an update, yet I still have a few curious readers! Thank you for your love. A whole lot has happened. With the distance of time, in-the-moment commentary seems a little strange, so I’ll pull back the camera a bit. But every link will be preserved!

  • Aurora. Sandy Hook. Las Vegas. These are not places that we should speak of in somber tones. But we do, and we will continue to do so. There will be more massacres like the one that forever snuffed out the lives of 58 people. It won’t change until our government is forced to control guns. As always, The Onion said it best. I want the Second Amendment repealed.
  • So, once again, the Gop tried to kill us all with a terrible, horrible, no good very bad law. Thankfully, Susan Collins, Rand Paul (!) and John McCain broke rank. They’ll probably try again next year, but for now the ACA remains law.
  • Historians will have to explain how Jimmy Kimmel, who once released a song called “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck,” was key to the collapse of Obamacare repeal.
  • Unfortunately, Trump is still sabotaging the ACA as best he can. He’s taken away the birth control mandate. Congress let CHIP expire. The only good news is the failure of Graham-Cassidy and the (relatively mundane) downfall of Tom Price.
  • Oh yeah, the specter of nuclear annihilation is also with us.
  • It was revolting to see Sean Spicer trotted out at the Emmys like everything was fine. Between this stunt and Jimmy Kimmel’s heartfelt ACA advocacy, I may be readjusting my late night host rankings.
  • American journalism is still normalizing Trump. They haven’t learned a damn thing. How else could Jared’s EMAILS EMAILS EMAILS not be on front pages everywhere?
  • Harvey Weinstein is yet another powerful man who abuses women with that power. Unusually pointed commentary from The Onion on this.
  • “There Is No Free Speech Crisis on Campus.” Trump supporters are the bullies who cry to teacher as soon as you fight back. Being disliked is not the same as being oppressed.
  • In astronomy news, there was a sweet little story on the deorbiting of Cassini. A less sweet story concerns the damage caused to Arecibo among the ongoing devastation in Puerto Rico.
  • Here’s an interesting article from Waging Nonviolence about an action at the Natural History Museum’s Teddy Roosevelt statue. I feel like his reputation may decline like Wilson’s.
  • Gender reveals. Read about them.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize made me happier than any other story these past few weeks.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends reveals a disturbing, autocratic moral philosophy. Sounds like a joke, but it ain’t. I still loved that show.
  • I liked mother!, but it’s not the most pleasant movie. Be warned.
  • The “We Can Do It!” poster does not show Rosie the Riveter, but was in fact a Westinghouse-produced propaganda piece that one day Demotivators would parody. The more you know…
  • The headline to this piece about rats has some flair, but it could have gone much further.
  • And finally, some Wikipedia articles to boggle your mind and close out the post. The Duracell Bunny actually predates the Energizer Bunny! Pablo Fanque, more than just a name from a Beatles song, was the first non-white circus owner in England! The Volkswagen Tiguan has a pathetically awful etymology for its name. And finally, American fried rice is a real Thai dish that functions as a vicious parody of our cuisine, with ingredients like “fried chicken, ham, hot dogs, raisins, ketchup and croutons.” I must try it some day.

 

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Days 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 236, 237, 238, 239, 240 and 241 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

The world was not ready for an Ace of Base Bond theme.

  • I generally try to put breaking news/imminent doom stuff at the top, but Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a masterpiece about Trump and it deserves its due. Read “The First White President” now. Then read his interview with Morning Edition for good measure.
  • The Gop has one last chance to repeal the ACA, and it looks like it’s going to take it. All hands on deck!
  • This is how far we’ve come, and this is what we stand to gain. Losing the ACA will be devastating to our cause.
  • The Russia news keeps coming in. I hope the indictments aren’t far behind.
  • If were to compare Hillary to any TV character, I would compare her to Skyler White.
  • China fell for Nixon’s shit and has fallen for Jared and Ivanka’s shit. It’s hard to express how disappointed I am.
  • A lot of new right-wing assholes have come into being lately, but Rush Limbaugh still sucks just as much as before.
  • Rembert Browne wrote a magnificent article on Colin Kaepernick. Kaep is a brave, brave man, and he deserves better.
  • In other football news, Michael Bennett is good and the Patriots suck.
  • Cassini has ended its mission. It was a great space probe.
  • Abe Lincoln’s image management would probably have been a great scandal if he were alive today.
  • Pizza is one of Detroit’s great strengths and I miss it more than coneys.
  • The Onion goes for the deep cut again.
  • What’s better, a Wikipedia article on the “high five” or an article on “New Jersey v. New York”?

Days 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 229 and 230 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

“Laconicity” or “laconicism”?

 

 

Days 221 and 222 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

“Butterfly” is the LAST song that you should do a mournfully slow version of. The DDR gods wept.

  • Trump wanted a deal with Russia during his campaign. Felix Sater bragged that the (aborted) deal would get Trump elected. There are no data points in favor of Trump.
  • Good hate from The Baffler:

To understand Trump is also to understand his appeal as an aspirational brand to the worst people in the United States. What his intransigent admirers like most about him—the thing they aspire to, in their online cosplay sessions and their desperately thirsty performances for a media they loathe and to which they are so helplessly addicted—is his freedom to be unconcerned with anything but himself. This is not because he is rich or brave or astute; it’s because he is an asshole, and so authentically unconcerned. The howling and unreflective void at his core will keep him lonely and stupid until the moment a sufficient number of his vital organs finally resign in disgrace, but it liberates him to devote every bit of his being to his pursuit of himself.

  • Houston’s unchecked development created an ideal environment for catastrophic flooding. We are not remotely prepared.
  • One thing I don’t understand about Trump Twitter bots is how automated they are. Do the disinformation artists have to craft each deranged Tweet manually, or are the Markov chains good enough at this point?
  • ***SPOILER*** A certain demise in the Game of Thrones finale was even more disappointing to me than the ending of Death Note. Don’t set up geniuses and then have them act stupidly. ***/SPOILER***
  • The Lions will be disappointing in ways other than allowing their franchise quarterback to walk. I am grateful.

Days 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219 and 220 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

A total eclipse of the sun is one of the most beautiful, exhilarating things you can ever see. You owe it to yourself to catch one in your lifetime.

  • Don’t take it from me, take it from Randall Munroe.
  • Luckily, we only have to wait seven years for the next eclipse, which will be twice as long and darker.
  • But nothing is safe from the taint of Trump. Not even the eclipse.
  • Stay safe, Houston.
  • Fuck Trump for pardoning Joe Arpaio. Fuck Trump for discriminating against our trans citizens.
  • Oh, and in the fight against ISIS Trump has already killed more civilians than Obama ever did. It can always get worse.
  • From anecdotal evidence and gut feeling, I think the Internet’s adoration of punching Nazis is yet another tedious expression of threatened masculinity. And global war as an analogy for social change movements within a democracy should be self-evidently nonsense, but I guess not.
  • Paul Waldman:

So let’s say this really slowly: It’s possible to simultaneously acknowledge that 1) Clinton made plenty of mistakes, and 2) there were egregious problems with the way the campaign was covered, problems that contributed to the outcome. Calling attention to the latter doesn’t negate the former.

  • You know a part of the media that hasn’t abased itself in the age of Trump? Teen Vogue, featuring Lauren Duca.
  • “Wasn’t me” is an abhorrent response to a fellow human being being mistreated. An illuminating Twitter thread on why #NotAllMen and #NotAllWhitePeople are so scorned.
  • Sam Wang put together a depressing site about gerrymandering.
  • I appreciate The American Scholar doing a series on Detroit, but could they not get a black person to write it?
  • This season of Game of Thrones was an entertaining hot mess. Take it away, Onion.
  • Valve ain’t never making games again. What could have been?
  • Malibu Beer sounds utterly revolting. At least it gave us a cathartic review.
  • Rest in peace, Tobe Hooper. A bad summer for horror.

Days 208, 209, 210 and 211 of 1,461 (or 2,922)

A certain someone is going to be watching a certain astronomical event on Monday, so updates will be sparse. Take care!

  • He’s an abysmal human being in every way.
  • Unite the Right appears to have been a tactical failure.
  • Bannon’s out. Maybe deranged on-the-record interviews are a bad idea.
  • If you condemn bad behavior, it’s also fair to at least note good behavior. Congressional Democrats are behaving well.
  • A shit-ton of Democrats are looking to join those Congressional Democrats in 2019. That’s good.
  • We are all complicit. We’ve always been complicit. The question is what we do with that knowledge.
  • Don’t let fascists rope you into debating facts that aren’t up for debate. This is when ad hominem comes in handy.
  • The inimitable Dahlia Lithwick:

The result is an alarming form of censorship: Nonviolent demonstrators lose their right to assemble and express their ideas because the police are too apprehensive to shield them from violence. The right to bear arms overrides the right to free speech.

In American history, states’ rights have been mostly a means, not an end, a tool rather than a principle—a truth demonstrated once again in the recent disputes about Florida’s ballots in the presidential election. Republicans supposedly in favor of states’ rights pressed their case in federal courts while Democrats looked to state courts. In antebellum America, Southerners controlled the national government most of the time until 1860 and they used that control to defend slavery from all kinds of threats and perceived threats. They overrode the rights of Northern states that passed personal liberty laws to protect black people from kidnapping by agents who claimed them as fugitive slaves.

Books You Oughta Read: Fear Itself

One of the book’s little detours that I wish to spotlight, because it’s relevant to the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, is the bizarre fact that southern Democrats were easily the most gung ho about going to war with the Nazis. This despite Hitler’s open admiration of Jim Crow, slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, etc. Before the war, Nazi officials even came to the South to try to build rapport, but they were rebuffed. FDR’s war policies could not have passed without the uniform support of the South.

The Book

Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

The Author

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles professor of history and political science at Columbia

The Question I Should Have Previously Asked But Did Not Ask Until Reading This Book (QISHPABDNAURTB)

“Why, if FDR won reelection in 1936 with a landslide vote and even greater Democratic margins in Congress, was his second term so lacking in lasting New Deal legislation?”

The Review

Fear Itself is amazing, all 720 pages of it. It’s hard for me to do it justice in a review, which is why I’ve been unable to complete this two months after finishing the book and seven months after checking out the book (the library closed down in the interim). Plus, the book came out four years ago. You can read better reviews here, here and here. But recent events in Charlottesville make me want to share my piece.

Fear Itself explores just how much the solid South did to shape and control the achievements of the Roosevelt/Truman years. The imperfections this created in the crown jewel of the American welfare state linger today. This is a book centered on the legislative branch; those two great presidents are in the supporting cast.

Here is the basic story: With the ascension of FDR and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, the solid South saw the New Deal as an opportunity to finally catch up economically with the North. They only felt comfortable doing this because Jim Crow was so entrenched that they couldn’t fathom any serious challenge to the racial order. Plus, FDR was friendly to the South. His Cabinet and court picks were packed with Southerners. Laws could be shaped to exclude blacks, and regulators could be selected to exercise proper discretion. It’s no coincidence that so many New Deal programs were delegated to regional or state-based administrators — the South could continue to rule itself.

However, despite the best intentions of racist southern Democrats, the New Deal couldn’t help but help blacks as well as whites. Democratic majorities were elected all over the non-South with the fusion of labor and black voters, who defected from the Republican Party en masse. And with the influence of northern Dems and people like Eleanor Roosevelt, sometimes FDR couldn’t help but be egalitarian. Some regulations started to prohibit racial discrimination. Anti-lynching laws started to get votes in Congress. Jim Crow was not invincible, it turned out.

Therefore, southern Democrats, who, being senior, still controlled the pivotal committees of Congress, started to oppose FDR whenever he would interfere with the racial order. They would even vote with Republicans if necessary. And FDR needed their support if he wanted to get anything done. So the madcap pace of Roosevelt’s first four years gave way to relative stagnation until the largest war in human history. There is your answer to the QISHPABDNAURTB. Back in high school history class, they told us that the Supreme Court was the culprit, but that doesn’t explain the anemic response by the other branches of the government.

Essentially, the New Deal represents the last time the South welcomed rather than opposed direct federal intervention with the economy. It only let its guard down for a moment; as soon as the racial order was threatened, it closed ranks. But in that window of opportunity the American government forged the modern welfare state. It was a miraculous accomplishment.

I oversimplify, for the sake of a cleaner story. The book gets into a lot more. You can read about Mussolini and get a sense of how fragile democracy and capitalism seemed to be by the time FDR took office. You can read about World War II, when America became a planned economy. You can read about a bill to let overseas soldiers vote, seemingly noncontroversial but quashed by southern Democrats nonetheless. You can read about the decline of government planning and the rise of the budget as a more hands-off approach to managing the economy. It’s not a coincidence that that suited the South. It’s all there.

One of the book’s little detours that I wish to spotlight, because it’s relevant to the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, is the bizarre fact that southern Democrats were easily the most gung ho about going to war with the Nazis. This despite Hitler’s open admiration of Jim Crow, slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, etc. Before the war, Nazi officials even came to the South to try to build rapport, but they were rebuffed. FDR’s war policies could not have passed without the uniform support of the South.

How did that happen? Katznelson speculates on a few possibilities. Was it white-on-white racism, with Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish southerners rejecting the Teutonic hordes? Was it the economic setback that war in Europe would inflict on the South? Was it a defense mechanism to cope with the fact that they weren’t so different? The answer is unclear, but the fact that it happened is astounding.

Occasionally the book doesn’t hang together. You could write separate books on the New Deal, World War II, fascism, unions, the Manhattan Project, etc. Instead, they’re all jumbled together in one. But that is the fault less of the author than of the source material. We are an assemblage of contradictions and paradoxes bundled together into something we call “America.” To draw such a powerful and persuasive narrative from it is a magnificent feat by Katznelson. Fear Itself reshapes the way you view the world while leaving you hungry for more. You should read this book.