Marching orders

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Markos Moulitsas, the Duce of Daily Kos, shown above, has laid down the law for his troops, in a characteristically arrogant, managerial tone, with corporate cliches, sports metaphors and all:

If Sanders eats into Clinton’s big delegate lead by March 15, then we carry on. But if he doesn’t, then on March 15 this site officially transitions to General Election footing…. If you want the most liberal government possible, we aren’t going to get that this cycle in the White House, but we can keep building the bench down the ballot so that come 2024, we have lots of great liberals to choose from….

Even assuming the worst crazy shit people say about Clinton, fact is the next president will get to determine the Supreme Court’s direction for at least a generation, if not longer than that. It will be a new liberal Supreme Court that will overturn Citizens United, that will protect voting rights, that will protect labor unions, that will end partisan gerrymandering, that will undo the myriad roadblocks to citizens participation in our democracy — the very roadblocks that are keeping the Republican Party nationally relevant when they should be a rump regional party.

Did I mention the pony for everybody? And of course the notion that the Republicans ‘ought to be a rump party’ — unlike, say, the Democrats — sheds an interesting light on Moulitsas’ inner world, where one sports team apparently ought to win all the time.

This general order has a good many highly specific lemmata, which the rather Napoleonic little Kos doesn’t hesitate to spell out, with commendable frankness:

I will no longer tolerate malicious attacks on our presumptive presidential nominee….

Constructive criticism from the Left is allowed. There’s a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Do I need to spell it out? … In general, if you’re resorting to cheap sloganeering like “oligarch” or “warmonger” or “neocon”, you might want to reframe your argument in a more substantive, issue-focused and constructive matter….

Saying you won’t vote, or will vote for Trump, or will vote for Jill Stein (or another Third Party) is not allowed….

If you are going to be pessimistic, you better support it…. Rank, unsupported pessimism is anathema to our data-driven, reality based culture.

If you are a Clinton supporter, spiking the football in the face of Sanders supporters isn’t a productive way to move us forward. After March 15… such spiking [is] bannable.

One wonders how many people are still drinking this authoritarian Kool-Ade. It seems likely that Daily Kos has dwindled a good deal since the Howard Dean glory days, but who knows? In any case, there will always be people who enjoy being bossed around in this fashion.

Surprise, surprise

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Looks like it’s going to be The Donald vs. The Hill. Bernie flamed out, as expected, and will return, no doubt, to his placid round as a Democratic Party sheepdog in the Senate. The other Republican contenders, each more pathetic than the last, poor stiff scripted overthought nudniks, will have to hope they live so long as to try again.

Now of course the fun thing about this setup is that it’s Hillary’s dream. She couldn’t have asked for a better opponent. As has been observed before, Trump is the only guy scary enough to the average well-meaning white liberal to get him or her to turn over in bed and leave the house early and pull a lever for Hillary. Nobody, but nobody, really likes her; and nobody, but nobody, has any really hopeful expectations of her.

Hillary’s only card is the fear that somebody else — somebody with really strange hair, say — might be worse. She is, you might say, the pure Lesser Evil candidate — the person you love to hate only slightly less than the other guy. No positives at all; but perhaps slightly fewer negatives than Hobgoblin or foul fiend. At least from certain points of view — points of view confined, I suspect, to a rather narrow demographic.

There’s an old Yiddish proverb: It could always be worse. Deep wisdom here. It could — in fact — always, absolutely always, be worse. Misery is bottomless. Turtles all the way down, as the famous lady said to Arthur Eddington.

The Democratic Party’s appeal, these days, is like a reverse Madoff scheme. With your investment in our hands, say the Democrats, it will lose only 25% of its value per annum. The other guys, it’ll lose 26%.

There are no other investment vehicles, and you can’t cash out and put the money under the mattress and hope that conditions will improve. It’s Merrill Grinch or Spamguard. Take your pick.

You could, of course, write your investment off and walk away. This is the reasonable thing to do — you’ll never get it back, so why stick around and watch it vanish? But I recognize that this is emotionally challenging. People are notoriously irrational about their investments.

The Devil can quote Scripture to his purpose

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Never had much use for Apple, and even less for Steve Jobs, the guy who made jail seem cool, as Richard Stallman said. So it was with some surprise that I found Apple on the side of the angels, resisting an FBI demand — supported, of course, by Obie — that they create a backdoor into the security software on their phones.

The technical details of this wrangle have been poorly explained in the media, so perhaps it’s useful to do so here. This stuff, at this level, really isn’t hard.

Phones like the one the San Bernardino shooter had possess a security feature, which is not enabled by default, as I understand it, but can be enabled by the user. It works like this: A certain number of unsuccessful password attempts, and the phone wipes all its data. The assumption is that after that number, the phone has fallen into hands other than the user’s, and those hands are attempting a brute-force password-guessing attack. Which, of course, will sooner or later succeed, and much more often sooner than later.

Now this is a nice feature. It has what are by computing standards ancient antecedents: Unix systems, since the late Pleistocene, have locked a user account after a certain number of consecutive failed login attempts.

What the Fibbies want Apple to do is write custom software — and give it to them — software which will disable this security feature, and permit J Edgar’s boiz to run a brute-force attack on this phone, and of course on any other phone which falls into their hands, or say the Israelis’ hands, or the Saudis’, or the Brits’, or any of our other disreputable ‘allies’, or for that matter into the hands of any crook who bribes a Fibbie to give him the software.

Physical analogies for data security systems are always problematic, but roughly speaking, this is not like asking Apple to hand over the physical key to a house, a key which happens to be in Apple’s possession, for some reason. Apple — as far as we know — doesn’t know the password (though I wouldn’t put anything past them; but that’s another topic). In the physical-equivalent world, this would be like saying that Apple doesn’t possess the key.

What this is like doing is demanding that the manufacturers of locks build locks which are guaranteed breakable. This is Apple’s claim, and so far, it has a certain plausibility.

However there is a further wrinkle.

The reason why this demand is even possible at all is that Apple phones have a huge, glaring security hole already. The operating system of the device — the software that controls it — can apparently be overwritten and replaced with other software, even without the owner’s password, or for that matter without the owner’s knowledge.

The phone, however, won’t accept such new software unless it is digitally signed with a key that Apple does possess. So in theory, such software couldn’t be written, or rather signed, by just anybody.

So our physical analogy has to change somewhat. What Apple has done is produce a lock which is already compromised — compromised by design. It has a second keyhole, if you like, to which Apple has the key. The cops are demanding that Apple give them that key, a key that they can copy at will, and share with whomever they please, and use on whatever lock they please.

Now I am not a lawyer, but if I understand the matter at all, this state of affairs means that Apple has already forfeited, for these phones, whatever tenuous legal protections privacy still has in the United States, and moreover, has forfeited them on behalf of who knows how many of its customers.

This needn’t have been the case. All they had to to was provide that software upgrades couldn’t be done without the device owner’s password — subject to the usual autodestruct behavior, if enabled. But they didn’t do that. This isn’t a subtle thing, that somebody overlooked. It’s too big for a bug. It must be a feature.

So…. what were they thinking of?

Guesses welcomed. I have a couple of my own, which I will share in due course.

Meanwhile, the usual complicit media treatment of Apple continues to depict them as the guys in the white hats.

I suppose, by comparison with the FBI, they do in fact look pretty good. But that’s setting the bar rather low.

Clap, you son of a bitch, or Tinker Bell will die

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I always liked Tinker Bell, even at her bitchiest. The illustration above unfortunately doesn’t make clear how extraordinarily sexy she was, but at my age, I must avoid over-excitement.

I never liked Bernie nearly as much as Tinker Bell, though of late, the grief he’s been giving Clintons, Inc. has rather endeared him to me. The enema of my enemy, and all that.

But a most depressing kerfuffle erupted today in my little corner of Facebook. Somebody posted a link to a piece at Counterpunch by Joshua Frank, which seemed pretty sensible to me, as Frank’s stuff usually does. Excerpt:

Bernie has fought a good fight, but he’s toast. The Clintons are just too ruthless and the primary process too rigged in favor of the establishment. The worst thing about the whole ordeal is that Bernie’s vowed to back Hillary when she ends up becoming the nominee.

Now this, of course, is precisely the reason why I haven’t been able to get too worked up about the Sanders phenomenon. Or primaries in general. It’s a contrived spectacle, engineered to offer the illusion of democracy, and ultimately achieve ‘buy-in’.

But the Dog-Star seems to have risen early this year. The response to this post by Bernie fans was… well… hysterical.

Most of it settled fairly close to the nadir: “Fuck you, asshole,” or words to that effect. A few more erected spirits were able to rise to the level of cliche, and reproach Frank for being unrealistic, or purist, or morally superior, or a party-pooper, or maybe a saboteur on the Clinton payroll.

Of course the amusing thing about this particular catechism of cliche is that it is precisely, word-for-word, identical to the reproaches that ‘centrists’ (read: reactionary monsters) like Clinton, and Albright, and Steinem, have been heaping on Bernie fans.

I wish somebody would write a history of this ‘purism’ trope. I bet it goes back at least as far as the English Revolution of the 17th century. In fact I bet somebody in Wat Tyler’s retinue hurled it primordially at a mediaeval comrade — accompanied, no doubt, by a generous fistful of Monty-Pythonesque horse manure.

One down, eight to go

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Shown, Huck and Jim. Behind them, presumably, a Mitteleuropa headwaiter.

I say with shame that I never had a good enough sense of humor to enjoy Scalia. My first spontaneous response to the news of his death was, Well, that sack of shit will make a fine old fryup on the Devil’s gridiron. Perhaps I do still have a liberal bone left somewhere in my body, painfully trying to work its way out. Perhaps it’s the source of that annoying new ache in my left shoulder.

At any rate, though I have always said that anything which tends to bring the Supreme Court into disrepute is to that extent a good thing, Scalia always got under my skin. He seemed to me like a classic white-collar bully, the uncool goofy kid who finally got a chance to send people to the electric chair. Particularly the kinds of people he was always afraid of when he was young.

But he really did seem to enjoy himself on the Supreme Court bench, and though I hate to say it, he did seem to have a sense of fun, and even a certain inclination toward self-parody. These are attractive qualities. One has the uncomfortable sensation that one might have found him rather amiable and amusing in person.

So although I am not invited to the meetings where these things are decided, I would like to file an amicus brief in favor of commuting his damnation — well-deserved, of course, as whose is not? — to a good long stint in Purgatory. He was such a faithful Catholic that I’m sure he would have taken this plea. Even if it meant that all the people he pissed on in his life in the law got to piss molten lead on him.

Which I hope happens.

Curb your enthusiasm. But give free rein to your Schadenfreude

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So dear old Dobbin, aka Bernie Sanders, seems to have ‘won’ the New Hampshire primary by a rather impressive margin.

This is, of course, good news. As far as it goes. Which isn’t very far.

What’s good about it is the fury and chagrin it seems to have caused among the Clintons, mere, pere, et fille, and people like Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem. Only a heart of stone could fail to rejoice at the discomfiture of these monsters. One hopes their various heads explode on live television, though this seems unlikely, alas. We are speaking here of people with a vast sense of entitlement and self-regard; but they are also experienced, tough-fibred old stagers, accustomed from of old to the ups and downs of electoral politics. As regards the vile Clintons, it’s the family business. No doubt Chelsea was reading polls, instead of the Berenstain Bears, at the age of four.

Still, a guy can dream, eh?

But there are dreams we should not entertain, for the sake of our own self-respect. One such is that Bernie might be the Democratic Party nominee. In general, I think that people who try to predict the future are fools, on the the principle that You Can’t Make This Shit Up, but I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that the machine will end up operating in its usual way.

But say he were the nominee? Say he won the general election? Oddly, it doesn’t seem impossible to me that if he were the nominee, he might win against Trump, or Cruz, or whatever loon the Republicans nominate. I could see young people turning out, the way they did for Obie. You have to be disappointed more than once or twice before you give up.

But suppose, piling one Pelion of improbability upon another Ossa of unlikelihood — suppose he won? What might we expect from him?

The record is unencouraging. Basically, he’s just another Democrat, in spite of his coy independent/socialist grass skirt.

But Terence, this is stupid stuff. Here I am trying, yet again, to find a way to tell my friends not to take this pantomime seriously — and in order to do that, I must pretend to take it seriously, and entertain all the far-fetched hypotheticals, and run regressions on the stats, and pay attention to polls.

What I would like to do is persuade my friends to stop doing all that. It’s like handicapping the Oscars, or the Super Bowl, and the outcome makes just about as much difference.

Waterloo for the Lobby?

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Or maybe just Stalingrad?

The times are definitely a-changin’. It’s amazing enough that a machine politician from Chicago would go up against the Israel Lobby at all on this Iran nuclear deal; and even more amazing that the Lobby, having gone balls-to-the-wall in an attempt to defeat it, would fail. Since an aura of invincibility is a big part of their stock in trade, this seems like a very serious reversal for them. (Of course they failed on Syria two years ago, too, which seemed like a straw in the wind; but they weren’t quite so high-profile about that.)

Even Hillary, always a reliable water-carrier for Israel, seems to be going along with this one, though of course she’s triangulating so strenuously that we need a new category of behavior disorder: trigonophrenia, perhaps?

It’s difficult to imagine Obie taking this initiative without a fairly solid elite consensus behind him, which suggests in turn an emerging elite disenchantment with Israel. No doubt it seemed more of an asset during the Cold War than it does now, and less of a liability when its ambitions weren’t quite so grandiose as they are now.

It’s also interesting to note the Lobby’s complete realignment with the most reactionary, troglodyte elements in US politics. Remember “liberal Zionists”? Ah, those were the days.

Social Construction & Demolition, Inc.

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The Rachel Dolezal story has provided me some innocent merriment for the last few days. For those pillar saints who haven’t yet heard, Rachel has been making a living for some years by impersonating a black woman. Recently her parents went public, swearing up and down that she’s ‘Caucasian’ — an Azerbaijani, perhaps? — with the usual American fictive admixture of an odd Cherokee somewhere in the more tenuous boughs of the family tree.

One does wonder why the parents decided to out her now. We’ll never know, probably. Families!

A great deal of metaphysical energy has been spent on the ontological conundra hereby posed. It seems that race needs to be simultaneously a bogus category (so racism has no basis) and a real one (so we can recognize the indisputable fact that there are racist people, racist practices, racist institutions, and that these harm some people more than others — people whom it’s mostly not very difficult to identify).

Speaking of identification, there’s also the highly charged question of ‘identity’ — what it consists of, what it’s good for, who’s allowed to claim it, and who’s entitled to say who’s allowed to claim it. The default position is that those who already have it are the ones allowed to rule on who can claim it. A bit like a country club. Though this standard has not gone undisputed.

Perhaps some, at least, of the animus against Rachel arises from the fact that her imposture has given her a not-bad career, a career which was, in effect, stolen from some real black person who would otherwise have had it. The Lump Of Opportunity Theory. She’s been a cuckoo’s egg in the nest, you might say. She forged a diversity card!

Perhaps one might suggest that there are some implications here about the value of ‘diversity’ as a response to racism.

Perhaps there are further implications. Transgender is a thing now, right? It’s universally acknowledged that there are people who are really women born into men’s bodies, and vice-versa. Soooo… why shouldn’t transracial be a thing, too? Maybe Rachel really is a black person, who had the misfortune to be born with ‘Caucasian’ ancestors and pale skin. I gather there’s been some disagreement among feminists about whether trans women are ‘really’ women, and no doubt similar perplexities will arise in connection with trans black people. Will the foundations of essentialism begin to crumble at every corner of the citadel? Probably not; but a guy can dream.

[Update: I thought this was an original idea, when I had it an hour ago, but I now discover that as usual, Twitter is way ahead of me, and the tweets are flying fast and furious from both sides, with the usual fervent dogmatism. Transrace is a thing! No, transrace is NOT a thing, you racist boob!

Just as a matter of logic, it seems to me that anybody who accepts transgender and rejects transrace has to carry the burden of proof. It shouldn’t be too difficult; when an analogy is bad, it’s usually easy to see why it’s bad.]

At the very least, one certainly senses a great opportunity here for medical entrepreneurs. And it’s very exciting to have been present at the birth of a whole new identity.

The grievance entrepreneurs

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Northwestern University, situated in a bosky North Shore suburb of Chicago, has, or used to have, anyway, a particularly pampered, spoiled customer base — sometimes referred to as the ‘student body’ — mostly drawn from other similar suburbs. I would have said it was the Nordstrom’s of higher education; but this may be a poorly calibrated comparison. I invite better-informed suggestions.

Laura Kipnis, a very engaging writer, has the mixed good and bad fortune of being a tenured professor there. She has recently found herself in hot water because she has written a couple of sprightly and entertaining articles in the Chronicle Of Higher Education — now, unfortunately, paywalled — about the demented excesses of thought- and speech-policing on American college campuses these days. Summing it up, she has found herself the subject of Title IX sex-discrimination complaints because she wrote an essay in the aforementioned Chronicle; and she subsequently wrote an account, alternately horrifying and hilarious, about the hugger-mugger Star Chamber proceedings to which she was subsequently subjected by her employers.

This shitstorm of campus imbecility around trigger warnings, harassment, discrimination, comfort, safety and what not, like all social phenomena, is overdetermined. Partly the Unis have brought it on themselves with their ambition to be totalizing environments, where every aspect of the customer’s experience is carefully controlled, and nothing unpleasant is permitted to intrude. Disney World is the obvious prototype.

Then too there’s just good old-fashioned entrepreneurship, in this case grievance entrepreneurship. The kids who are making all this noise are, I suspect, a not very numerous part of the customer base, but they seek opportunities for self-aggrandizement and an influence on events. Of course in the contemporary US there is no better lever for such self-promotion than a grievance. The ‘Nineleven Families’ might be cited as the locus classicus here, though at the same time it must be admitted that they suffered an actual harm, unlike these twaddling embryo Inquisitors at Northwestern.

The noisy minority, however, does have a way of bringing a larger penumbra of camp-followers with it. At the last college graduation I attended, about half the credentialees had taped the numerals ‘IX’ on top of their mortarboards. I gather this was meant to communicate that rape was a Bad Thing.

The cost-free advantages of a gesture like this are fairly obvious. It feels ever so mildly, though safely, always safely, transgressive, and yet it’s in aid of an eminently uncontroversial proposition. Win/win!

I like to think the kids are alright, as I may have said before, so I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about how coddled they are or how aggressive and entitled they are, as some other old-fart observers of this collective mania have done. I think the institutions are mostly to blame.

At any rate, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it. As the man said.

Demophobia; or, fear of the rabble

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I recently had an interesting conversation with a young friend of mine — ‘young’, in this case, meaning less than half my age. My friend and I started off by agreeing that the recent referendum in Ireland, endorsing same-sex marriage by a rather amazing 60% majority, was excellent and gratifying news. But then my young friend gobsmacked me by saying that he wished this result had been achieved by some other means than a popular vote. Unless I misunderstood him, which is possible, he seemed to believe that a court decision, based ostensibly on some text like the US constitution, would have been preferable, as offering a more secure foundation for the right so obtained than the fickle whimsies of… 60% of the people. In Ireland!

I don’t think my friend is a particularly political guy — at least, the topic has never come up before — but I would be amazed if he were a right-winger. In fact, I would bet he isn’t.

I think what he may have been exhibiting is something very American, namely a dislike and distrust of the rabble, cherished even by many of the rabble themselves (a category to which I certainly belong; perhaps my friend has a trust fund I don’t know about, but I suspect he’s rabble too).

This is a pretty extraordinary phenomenon, when you think about it. Of course it’s not surprising that the ‘founding fathers’ hated and distrusted the people; they were a thoroughly elite body. But it’s pretty remarkable that this mentality has been able to reproduce itself so well for so long, among people who are anything but elite, and have had plenty of opportunities to figure out what the elites are really up to. My friend, for example, has certainly lived long enough to see the Supreme Court in action for a while now, and might have drawn some conclusions about what that sorry row of scarecrows is all about. But unless I misunderstood him, he would be happier with his rights in their custody than in the custody of his fellow-citizens.

Is this just the tyranny of received opinion? Or does it reflect a certain factitious sense of elite status among relatively educated liberal folks?

Or am I just over-interpreting? A very insightful former girlfriend of mine once said that I was the sort of guy who would show up for a friendly backyard game of touch football, all kitted out in cleats, shoulder pads, and a regulation helmet.