When I finish a particular edition of Friday Links, I’m sometimes pleased with the analysis- “OK, I delivered particularly honest, heartfelt, or original takes this week.” Sometimes the analysis is as pedestrian as a ham sandwich, but I feel like I brought the funny- “OK, nobody learned much they didn’t already know, but those were solid jokes.”
Sometimes, like today, the links themselves actually steal the show. This week, I would encourage you to take the time to read, in particular: (1) Cracked’s summary of life in North Korea; (2) Slate’s interview with Daryle Jenkins, the founder of an Anti-Fascist Group; (3) Io9’s ranking of Summer ’87’s best movies; (4) the sobering reaction of Charlottesville’s African-American population to recent events in that city; (5) The Atlantic‘s take on why we shouldn’t seek to outlaw hate speech; and (6) David Wong’s article about why hate doesn’t have to win (which I’ll link to here for lack of a better place to put it).
The rest is good too (or I wouldn’t link to it), but the above are particularly enlightening (or, in the case of the 1987 movies article, serves as a healthy dose of nostalgia heading into the weekend).
We’ve got Links! Let’s click ’em!
Leaving the starting gate on a somber note, we lost an American in the Barcelona attack last Friday. He was on his honeymoon, and stepped away from his wife to go find a bathroom. As someone who has enjoyed the sights and sounds (and drinks and more drinks) of Las Ramblas, this one really bothered me. Short of curtailing freedom, there’s just no way to prevent an idiot from turning a car into a WMD in a crowded space. All you can do is keep going out, keep paying attention, and keep refusing to be cowed.
We’ve Met the Enemy.
Cracked, America’s best news source, took some time to explore what life on the ground in North Korea is actually like. In trying to de-program some of the misconceptions, the article takes a look at the idea of tourists taking pictures:
One site presents a picture of a department store as a secretive work of “very stressful” spy craft that risked the photographer’s life. In reality, you weren’t allowed to take photos of department stores for the same reason that you wouldn’t set 20 Korean tourists armed with cameras loose in a Safeway — it’s a busy place of work where locals are going about their day and wouldn’t appreciate cameras being shoved in their faces while they try to pick out a cereal. According to our Western guide, who has had to deal with people who broke photography rules, the end result isn’t years of hard labor — it’s a bureaucratic nightmare for the guides while the offender gets to go back to the hotel and have a swim.
The anti-Americanism exists, and the North Korean government really does fill the citizens with constant propaganda about the looming and constant threat of American invasion. But, like all prejudice, it tends to vanish at the face-to-face level:
But that doesn’t mean that North Koreans have been reduced to a blind hatred and fear of Americans. The museum guide’s lecture on the evil American imperialists was delivered with the tone of someone who just wanted to get through another day, and she was happy to chat and pose for photos. Despite the endless militaristic tone, politeness and curiosity tended to win out. We were constantly asked about where we were from, one guide joked that he liked American women because they were tall, you can scrounge up cans of Coke, and Titanic (sans boobs) and Disney films make it onto TV. Other Western pop culture exists in limbo — James Bond movies, for example, are tolerated as long as you keep your love of them private (can we use that system in the West too, please?) and we were told that it’s not hard to track down some other Western films if you know a guy who knows a guy. It seems the average person would rather watch a movie than fight a war, no matter where you’re from.
Although, if they don’t hate us, it’s not for some people’s lack of effort. The article also performs a take-down of asshole tourists who try to break North Korea’s laws for giggles:
So, to a select minority, part of the appeal of visiting North Korea is police-state tourism — pretend to experience the oppression that the locals have to put up with daily, then be arrogant about having the freedom to respond with sarcasm. There are blogs and videos of tourists sneaking into restricted sections of the main tourist hotel, convinced they’ll find an elaborate spy network dedicated to watching guests shower and sleep, as opposed to — and I’m just spitballing here — somewhere employees can have a break from nosy Westerners, or work in private.
North Korea is thus a very weird, very poor, very broken down place, almost as deserving of pity as scorn; but it’s not necessarily the dystopian cliche that we hear about in our own media.
It’s a long article and a bit of a time investment; but any time we’re even sort of mentally gaming out vaporizing a place, there’s a concomitant responsibility to at least try and get to know the people we want to turn into free-flowing particles.
Nothing New Under the Sun.
One of the saddest aspects of American society involves the African-American reaction to explosive, in-your-face racism. White people see something like Charlottesville or Dylann Roof, and we think, “Oh my God, where did these evil bastards magically appear from?” African-Americans see it and they think, “This shit again.” As the author notes, “What I encountered in Charlottesville wasn’t fear, but familiarity.” And, per one black Charlottesville resident:
“It scared people that didn’t expect it,” Cooke said. “I was raised by somebody who came through the civil-rights movement and saw the Klan firsthand. I didn’t think I would see it, but I knew people were capable of it. It’s not acceptable for blacks or Hispanics to act that way, but people accept this kind of stuff, because they’re doing it in the name of heritage or white supremacy.”
And they’re right. White people see this oppression on the news, if it gets big enough to punch through our bubble. African-Americans live with the oppression (and the fear of oppression, and the confidence-sapping inevitability of oppression) every single day. Maybe it’s not the Klan each time. But is it substantively different if the oppression doesn’t appear in parade-cum-riot form, but stems from a loan officer, or an unfairly suspicious store owner, or Human Resources, or a police officer?
And then, the out and proud racists come to town and we white people put on our savior costumes with the extra silky capes and…well, most of us just talk about how much we hate the Klan at book club. Maybe we put the wine glass down so we can gesticulate angrily with both hands. If we’re really feeling spry, maybe we send some group like SPLC or BLM a one-time donation on $20.00.
Meanwhile, African-Americans settle back into their lives and get ready to go through the cycle again.
Y’all ‘Bout to Lose Y’all’s Free Lunch.
Do you use ad-blocker software? You may be part of the problem. See, ad revenue isn’t really working out as a revenue model for websites- in large part because we either block or ignore the ads. That’s not really news, but, David Wong of Cracked, who is very smart, thinks its a harbinger of a world to come in which the Internet is bundled like streaming services. Only nobody is going to be able to afford the entire Internet, so our bubbles will simply grow smaller and thicker and more opaque as we increasingly specialize content to our personal taste.
Read the anecdote about the Mother Jones article and tell me that doesn’t make you nervous about the future of free content. Yes, Wong is, in part, pitching for a Cracked donation, but nothing he says is wrong. Twenty years from now, we could be looking back at the halcyon days of limitless surfing and wondering where it all went wrong.
Facebook is always asking me to link my phone to my account. I never do, and the hacking referenced in this article is a large part of why. But it’s not like I’m completely safe, since there are at least a couple of services that require me to link to my phone. And since phone numbers are pretty damned easy to get, well, that’s a lot of exposure. Fortunately, the hacks described in the article are presently limited to virtual currency investors, precisely because those investors can’t undo fraudulent transactions. But, the article should make you nervous all the same.
Summer of Awesome
I was 10 going on 11, between fourth and fifth grade, in the summer of 1987, when some of the greatest (enh, best loved?) movies ever came out. This list was a lot of fun to read because this was maybe the first year I was all-in on pop culture. I didn’t see every one of these movies, and I didn’t see a lot of them until later (MUCH later for Robocop– thanks Mom), but I remember the ad campaigns and the theater presence for every single one of them- even Benji the Hunted (which, justifiably, ranks higher on the list than Superman IV).
They Don’t All Look Alike.
There’s been a lot of false equivalence lately between white supremacy groups on the right, and anti-fascist (Anti-Fa) groups on the left. Peter Beinart explained in The Atlantic why white supremacy groups are a bigger threat by orders of magnitude (e.g., they work more within the political system, where as leftists tend to be anarchists). For my money, another key distinction is that Anti-Fa groups aren’t all working with the same playbook. With white supremacist groups, no matter how you slice it, white supremacy, an indisputable evil, is the goal. There’s no way to put lipstick on that pig. So even if a white supremacist group is somehow non-violent, they’re still a massive threat to everything this country (is supposed to) stand for.
With Anti-Fa, you have some legitimately bad folks- ultra-anarchists, and groups that overreach (physically threatening people for wearing those silly red hats is too far). But you also have groups that actually do serve a good purpose in the fight against white supremacy. Sure, many of these groups will physically fight if they have to (in self-defense or defense of others), but they primarily operate to expose and harass white supremacists. in other ways. For example, by outing them to their employers and neighbors. Michelle Goldberg at Slate takes the time to interview Daryle Jenkins, the founder of One People’s Project. It’s a good read, and while I’m not going to send any Anti-Fa groups a donation, I’m willing to accept that certain of their methods in the right context are very useful at this moment in time.
Hate Speech? Outlaw Hate Speech.
Outlawing hate speech is a disastrous idea. Here’s why.
And here’s another interesting article, where a UVA professor from the Netherlands compares the speech laws of the U.S. and his home country. In the Netherlands, the government regulates and outlaws certain types of hate speech. The unintended consequence is that citizens don’t really police each other. Contrast with here where, in the absence of government regulation, people police each other in what really is a market-based environment. If you think about it, that’s all political correctness is: a form of market.
And, I may be biased, but I like the market-based approach better.
This Week in Trumpville.
This week was A Tale of Two Presidents, the bad one and the worse one. Trump came out early in the week and gave a speech on Afghanistan. Its chief virtue is that it wasn’t terrible. I’m not a gullible, fawning dumbass like national television media, so I won’t be relativizing or normalizing “not shitty” as good. But Trump was, “not shitty” on Monday. In fact, he reserved all the “shitty” for his nationalism rally in Phoenix on Wednesday, reminding us that he’s not only a liar and an asshole, but maybe stark-raving crackers in a diagnosable sense.
(1) Let’s start high(ish). Trump gave a speech on Monday (read it here) where he re-committed to the war in Afghanistan and announced plans to see more troops. He acknowledged that he’d campaigned on getting out, but that his generals changed his mind.
Unlike a lot of folks who take shots at Trump to take shots at Trump, I’m not going to chastise him for changing his mind on Afghanistan. Sometimes being, errr, in charge (still can’t say it), and seeing all of the intel briefings that go along with the job changes a man’s perspective. Barack Obama never made good on a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay, and I genuinely believe it’s because the intel briefings caused him to re-assess the threat and culpability levels of the people we imprison in sunny Cuba. With Trump, I think his generals and intelligence folks made clear to him that while a premature pull-out might be something Trump’s father should have contemplated*, it really isn’t in America’s best interests right now.
*(I stole that joke, but can’t remember the source).
Here’s the problem with Afghanistan: not all foreign engagements are created equal. Unlike Iraq, we had a legitimate reason to invade Afghanistan in the first place. Unlike North Korea, there’s no massive logistical impediment to either enhancing or continuing operations in Afghanistan.
Unlike Vietnam, America’s other sinkhole of a war, there’s no reason to expect the troublemakers in Afghanistan to leave us alone once we’re gone. Communism, which we fought to staunch in Vietnam, is a political ideology that advances by taking over political structures in a centralized manner. Terrorism is more akin to random gang violence. Communism may aspire globally, but it functions locally, advancing territory by territory. Terrorism operates wherever it can. Communism is gangrene and can only spread linearly, while terrorism is cancer, looking to appear at random anywhere in the broader system. Accordingly, cutting off the infected leg and limping home isn’t the answer in Afghanistan, because the disease will just hitch a ride in the lymphatic system and pitch camp in the brain, or the lungs, or some other place.
If anything, post-U.S. Iraq is the best comparison for the decision-making process here. Without getting into why we left or whether we should have left, the fact is the power vacuum (that we created in the first place) grew tremendously and caused way more problems than staying would have created. I can forgive Iraq as a function of sailing in uncharted waters (and recrimination over whether we should have been there in the first place). Making the same move to withdraw from Afghanistan in light of superior knowledge would be irresponsible.
So, while I won’t excuse Trump’s ignorance of any and all things related to this conflict, he gets a kudo for listening to his generals.
(2) And that’s all for the Trump kudos. Because The Mad King took a trip to America’s hotbox in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday and made the kind of speech only a man in the advance stages of syphilis would make. And he made it to the kind of people who don’t have anything better to do than to stand in three-digit heat for hours on end to hear the inane ramblings of a man who no-so-secretly despises them. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce put it:
“A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you, and you cheered and booed right on cue because you’re sheep and because he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three decades.”
The most intellectually insulting moment involved Trump trying to claim the media lied on him when they reported his Charlottesville remarks by restating those remarks and intentionally omitting the parts that pissed off everybody. That’s the equivalent of getting in trouble for breaking a lamp and telling your mom that there was never a lamp to begin with and anybody who told her otherwise is a damn dirty liar. Only an idiot would fall for…
The most shameful moment came in the contrast of Trump lauding racist and lawbreaker Joe Arapaio, while criticizing Senator John McCain, a former POW, United States Senator, and former Presidential candidate.
To paraphrase an old college buddy, people judge you by your friends, Trump.
If you’re up for it, read the transcript. The maniac spoke for something approaching 78 minutes, and hit a point where even his fans started leaving early. Turns out, well over an hour of unbridled, spit-riddled solipsism will chill the ardor of even the most devoted of lovers.
(3) Julius Kreen, one of Trump’s chief intellectual enablers finally saw the light and explains in a New York Times op-ed how the scales dropped from his eyes and he dropped his support for Trump.
The thing that struck me in reading this: I get the allure of a populist outsider, disassociated from the standard party lines, looking to lift up the poor and the downtrodden, and stick it to the elites. Under the right circumstances, I could even vote for that candidate. But Trump? How desperate or gullible did Kreen have to be to think that Trump was that guy? And even if Kreen had no familiarity with Trump’s lackluster success as a business man (how do you go bankrupt when the house always wins?), shouldn’t he have caught a clue from listening to speeches that Trump is neither informed nor particularly bright? Or hell, give Trump the benefit of the doubt that a big bag of marbles between his brain and his mouth is precluding him from expressing himself as clever, erudite people do- how does the zero-sum race-baiting not confirm that this man is not interested in elevating anyone or anything? You can do populism without race-baiting. Huey Long (whom, as reader Richard pointed out, I unintentionally defamed last week) excelled at it. And a populist seeking to unite America’s “left behind” regardless of race could have done amazing things in 2016. But a populist seeking to advance his political fortunes on a wave of classic American racial resentments? What’s new and different about that so as to inspire Kreen with hope for something different? To draw on Jon Snow’s speech to Daenerys Targaryen on a recent Game of Thrones, Trump made clear from the outset that he was just more of the same.
Ah well. One dupe at a time, I suppose.
(4) Reverend Michael Eric Dyson is not a shy man. I read his book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America this year, and it’s about 200 pages of Dyson letting white America have it with as many barrels as he could commission. I don’t agree with everything Dyson says in the book, but his rage was both illuminating and refreshing. Here, he takes out an op-ed in The Washington Post to ruminate on how much responsibility Barack Obama, and his ambitions to be a post-racial President, bear for the rise of Trump. He’s provocative and maybe extreme, but Dyson makes a case worth considering.
(5) Speaking of pastors, one of the more telling moments from last week’s Charlottesville fall-out involved the failure of Trump’s “religious” enablers to call him out on his bullshit. As we discussed last week, CEOs, generals, politicians, celebrities, media (right and left), and ordinary citizens roundly disapproved of Trump giving cover to his white supremacist supporters by refusing to repudiate them. Curiously absent from that cavalcade of righteousness? Trump’s church pals, a collection of mostly hypocrites and prosperity gospel hucksters. These Pharisees either offered up mealy-mouthed, back-and-forth non-condemnation (Franklin Graham) or outright support (Jerry Falwell, Jr.). This con-gal cultist has even equated opposition to Trump to defying God. Only one pastor, A.R. Bernard, had the courage to bail on Trump’s evangelical advisory council (whatever that is).
Of course, when all you care about is banning abortion and ridding society of homosexuals, Trump’s like a super-hero or something. And if God is so opposed to white supremacy why’d he come to Earth as a European white guy anyway?
So yeah, when National Review, this week, decried the idea that corporations have replaced churches as the conscience of America, I bet I wasn’t the only Christian who looked at the state of political Christianity and said, “Thank God somebody stepped up.”
(6) Hey, its White House Apprentice. One of these guys hasn’t been fired.
And let’s remember, it has barely been seven months (or 500 years in Trump time) since the Inauguration.
(7) There’s a decent probability that The Mad King’s demented ways will lead to a GOP primary challenge even if we don’t impeach him. If that happens, I know a talented lady who is doing quite the job of burnishing her profile in anticipation of a potential run.
Full disclosure: Friday Links is anti-impeachment. Impeachment generates sympathy for the impeached, demeans the nation, involves a lot of sausage-making and technicalities, risks unintended and unknowable consequences, and hands Trumplets a ready-made grievance against “elitists.” Conversely, flat out beating his ass in an election is a victory for the system, and a bigger humiliation for Trump.
(8) Last week, we talked about the Trump DOJ trying to get identifying information on every single person who visited a website that organizes protests against the President. Sensing the glare of public opinion, the DOJ scaled back their request. But stay vigilant- it’s creepy they even tried it to begin with.
Oh, and here’s a firsthand account of an experienced political activist who, near as I can tell (assuming she’s a reliable narrator), engaged in a peaceful protest and got dragged into Secret Service land. I’m not sure whether she did, or should have any culpability in the encounter, but it was an interesting read. I especially enjoyed the part where the Secret Service canvassed her neighborhood and found neighbors who wanted to instead criticize the “racist in the White House.” Like the author, I used to live in West Philadelphia, and I staffed my dining hall with a good number of folks from the area. Great folks, hard workers, but they don’t have patience for bullshit.
Friday Links doesn’t presently have the reach to get harassed by the government, but if it happens, you’ll be the first to know.
(9) Remember when really desperate anti-Trumpers looked at Ivanka and Jared and, with no basis whatsoever, engaged in an awkward and pathetic bit of transference where they assumed that surely Ivared (I like it better than Javanka) would bring their elitist, (relatively) progressive credentials to bear and serve as a check on The Mad King?
Pfffft. Jared and Ivanka are as sorry as owl turds. In reading this article, I was reminded of a time about eleven years ago, when I had traveled to San Diego (where I’m headed as I type this). I got a voicemail from a friend saying they had an emergency. I called back and learned that he and his wife took another friend to an SEC football game. The other friend had gone on a gin-fueled rampage downtown and had disappeared into the hills like David Banner at the end of the a Hulk episode, with mournful piano accompaniment and everything. As the sordid tale of bar eviction and fighting and food throwing unfolded, I began to detect a distinct and satisfying aroma of “Not my problem.” I made myself sound sad on the phone, but couldn’t restrain the grin on my face when I said, “I wish I could help, but I’m three thousand miles away. But be sure to text me with updates on how this plays out. I’m very concerned.” That’s Jared and Ivanka. They want to sound sympathetic and engaged, but in the end, they’re just happy it’s someone else’s shit show, and all they have to do is watch and giggle.
Hell, want proof of how useless they are. Apparently, Trump’s tweets about banning transgender soldiers from the military was more than just drunk talk. If Jared and Ivanka, supposed New York social moderates, had any sway and/or inclination to help at all, they would have done anything to stop this clearly pointless (and easily avoided and forgotten) piece of red meat to Trump’s base. Instead, it will go forward. While they go skiing or something.
(10) Hey, we had a week where we didn’t
get have to talk about the Russian investigation!
Music I’m Listening To.
Mostly Bruce Hornsby and the Range this week. Yes- at some point, I became less your friend and more your dad.
Books I’m Reading.
I’m still working on A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens is neither light nor breezy. I’ll try to pick things up and finish so you don’t have to hear about it again.
TV I’m Watching.
Zilch. My wife put something on while I was sleeping the other night, but that doesn’t count. Fall Season is starting soon, though, so we’ll have football, the end of golf, and at least NCIS and The Flash to keep things more interesting.
White Russian Wednesday.
I was all set for Gran Torino, but my wife went jogging and fell and scraped her knees and elbow really badly. By the time she got cleaned up and properly bandaged, it was really too late to watch a movie.
Among his many sins at his speech in Phoenix (sins against truth, sins against reason, sins against decorum, sins against syntax), Trump also teed up some good ole’ fashioned red-baiting when he said:
Here’s how Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise responds to red-baiting.
Would that a timely speech by Patrick Stewart (or, say, Jim Mattis) could bring America to its senses so quickly, so easily, or so dramatically. But little by little, there are more and more people watching this maniac with a growing sense of unease. We just need enough of them to get there to either force him to have a complete, undeniable, tipping point of a meltdown. Or, failing that, to primary him..