Against Violence

The best thing you can do today is to speak out against violence toward Asians in this country, especially if you yourself are not Asian.

George Takei

This week’s featured post is “Race in US History: 4 Facts Every American Should Know“.

This week everybody was talking about the Atlanta shootings

Tuesday night, a gunman killed eight people at three spas or massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Six of the victims were Asian-American women. He used a gun purchased only hours before. He was apprehended on his way to Florida, where he presumably intended to kill more people.

The shootings touched off a number of discussions: First, about anti-Asian violence, which has been growing during this past year, as Asians get blamed for Covid-19’s origin in China. Rather than try to tamp this down (as President Bush sometimes tried to calm anti-Muslim sentiment after 9-11), Trump often seemed to be intentionally stoking it, going out of his way to use inflammatory phrases like “the China virus” or “Kung Flu”.

Another discussion concerned misogyny: The shooter appeared to blame women for the temptation of his “sex addiction”. Much of the media struggled with the intersectionality of racism and sexism, as if the motive had to be one or the other. AP seemed to handle it best:

While the U.S. has seen mass killings in recent years where police said gunmen had racist or misogynist motivations, advocates and scholars say the shootings this week at three Atlanta-area massage businesses targeted a group of people marginalized in more ways than one, in a crime that stitches together stigmas about race, gender, migrant work and sex work.

In short: Sexism makes women objects, and racism makes Asian women a particular kind of object.

A discussion the media generally handled even worse than intersectionality was the role of religion in this killing spree. The shooter blamed his crime on “sex addiction”. Apparently he was killing women in the sex industry (if indeed they were; that hasn’t been established) to eliminate temptation.

This is a peculiarly evangelical narrative. Repressive religion turns ordinary desires into sins, which can complicate the challenge rather than resolve it. Blaming women for the desires they raise in men also has a long history in patriarchal religion. The shooter’s church, meanwhile, seemed more interested in escaping blame than doing anything useful.

In accordance with the biblical pattern and our church bylaws, Crabapple First Baptist Church has completed the process of church discipline to remove Robert Aaron Long from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.

As Jesus said: “I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

Finally, the shooting and the police response brought up issues of white privilege. Some wondered whether a non-White shooter (particularly if he had killed White women) would have been apprehended without injury. A sheriff department spokesman seemed far too sympathetic when he summed up the crime spree like this:

He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.

In general, the media assumes White murderers are anomalous in a way that Black or Muslim murderers aren’t. Coverage is far too likely to generate explanations of how a good boy went bad, rather than promote the idea that White people are dangerous. News sites seem to worry a lot less about giving people the idea that Blacks or Muslims are dangerous.

McSweeney’s, as it so often does, uses humor to say something deadly serious in “Editorial Template for Every Time a White Person Commits an Atrocious Crime“.

and the border

I’m having trouble finding a good reference that puts the border story in its proper perspective. There’s been a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration had been sending them back, but the Biden administration isn’t, so it has the problem of where to put them while it determines whether someone in the US is willing and able to take care of them until their asylum status can be assessed.

People are being far too glib about comparing this situation to the one that arose from Trump’s family-separation policy. In this case, the family separated itself and sent a child here. The US government didn’t take the child away by force. Under Trump’s policy, cruelty was the point: He wanted people thinking about coming here to know that we’d take their children. That threat was supposed to keep them from coming. Under Biden, kids are showing up and we’re doing the best we can with them.

Any fair discussion of the border also needs to point out that Biden inherited an unsustainable situation: Trump’s policy of ignoring migrants’ right to claim asylum violated both our laws and our treaty obligations. Biden has to do something different.

and Russia’s support for Trump

This week gave us many opportunities to appreciate just how often and how blatantly the Trump administration lied to us. The Biden administration released a declassified version of the report “Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections” that the National Intelligence Council submitted on January 7, when Trump was still president.

The upshot: No foreign actor influenced the counting of votes, as Trump lawyers often claimed. Of the nations trying to influence voters, the most egregious was Russia, who once again supported Trump. In Max Boot‘s words: “there are suspiciously strong parallels between Trump’s propaganda and Russia’s.” Such as: manufactured stories of the Biden family’s corrupt dealings with Ukraine, fearmongering about the untrustworthy nature of mailed ballots, and manufactured stories about the sinister origins of Covid-19.

One country the report says didn’t interfere in the 2020 election was China. China “considered but did not deploy influence efforts” because it “did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught”.

Rachel Maddow found the video of Trump, Bill Barr, and other Trump officials claiming the exact opposite: that China, not Russia, was the major power interfering. They claimed to base this opinion on intelligence that we couldn’t see. Now that we see it, we know they were lying. “None of that was true when they said it, and they knew it.”

Another claim that unraveled was that the post office in Erie, Pennsylvania backdated the postmarks on ballots so that more votes would count. More votes counting is a bad thing in Republican circles, so this was a key part of the stolen-election conspiracy theory. This week, the Post Office inspector general report came in, and found no evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, four Proud Boy leaders were indicted for conspiring to attack the Capitol on January 6.

and the virus

Numbers: The new-case-per-day averages have flattened out again, running in the 55K-56K range all week. Deaths continue to go down; the 7-day average is now under 1,000 per day for the first time since early November.

Michigan has the most disturbing statistics: The 7-day average of new-cases-per-day bottomed out a little over 1,000 on February 21, and have risen back up to just under 3,000. Deaths per day have also started increasing, but not nearly so much: After bottoming at 16 per day, they’re now up to 20 per day. In the past week, Covid-related hospitalizations in Michigan went up 32.5%. Nationally, hospitalizations are still falling, down 4.2% last week. Local experts speculate that a combination of factors might be responsible for the Michigan surge: the more-contagious U.K. variant of the disease, “Covid fatigue” that caused people to be less careful, looser restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, and the resumption of school sports programs.

As of yesterday, 81.4 million Americans had received at least one vaccine shot, and 44.1 million were fully vaccinated.

and cancel culture

I’m resisting doing a third-week-in-a-row article, because I’m afraid I’m falling into the right-wing culture-war distraction trap. But the commenters on last week’s “Is an Intelligent Discussion of Cancel Culture Possible?” posted a lot of good links that did in fact point in the direction of an intelligent discussion. So I’ll eventually get back to this topic (after paying attention to some other timely issues). But for now I’ll just take note of this week’s developments.

Using opposition to cancel culture as an excuse to keep displaying the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee state capitol could be an SNL skit if it weren’t really happening. (Forrest — slave trader, war criminal, KKK founder — is essentially the patron saint of white supremacy.) The state’s Republican governor appointed a historical commission to decide what to do with the statue, and when the commission recommended moving it to a museum, even-further-right members of the legislature started pushing to dissolve that commission and appoint a new one.

Even National Review isn’t buying it.

We need to get better at having direct and honest conversations about the ethical boundaries of our culture. … I’m sure if we put our heads together and tried some public moral reasoning for a change we could come up with a way of canceling the Klan without canceling Dr. Seuss. The question isn’t whether or not we’re going to have a “cancel culture,” it’s what we’re going to cancel people for.

This week’s other development was Teen Vogue letting go of new editor Alexi McCammond before she even started, apparently because of a staff revolt over 10-year-old tweets, which now look homophobic and anti-Asian. (I’m saying look because I haven’t read the tweets myself, so I make no judgment on what they are.)

Atlantic’s Graeme Wood laments that “American has forgotten how to forgive“, but I think he’s missing something. He’d be totally right if Atlantic or the NYT fired a new editor for something she posted when she was 17 and now recognizes as a mistake. But to the limited extent that I understand Teen Vogue, I think it’s committed to the idea that teens do things that matter. They can’t shrug off McCammond’s tweets with “Eh, she was just a teen-ager.”

and you also might be interested in …

Here’s the difference between dormant and extinct: Mount Fagradalsfjall in Iceland hadn’t erupted for 6,000 years — until Friday night.

One reason Iceland is so geologically interesting is that North America and Europe meet near there, just a bit below sea level. Here a diver bridges the gap between the continents.

Maybe the saddest thing about QAnon is all the loved ones people leave behind when they vanish down the rabbit hole.

Conservative Supreme Court justices have been voicing support for a strict view of the separation of powers that is called the “nondelegation doctrine“. Wikipedia defines it as

the theory that one branch of government must not authorize another entity to exercise the power or function which it is constitutionally authorized to exercise itself

That sounds abstract and technical, but it has real implications. If making rules is a legislative function, then Congress can’t delegate that power to an agency like the EPA or the FCC. In practice, this would make regulations rigid and cumbersome. Since polluters, con-men, and other bad actors can adjust their tactics much faster than Congress can pass laws (particularly if it retains the filibuster), large segments of the economy would essentially go unregulated, at least at the federal level.

A recent article in Columbia Law Review “Delegation at the Founding” points out that although non-delegation is pushed by judges who claim to be “originalists”, there’s nothing original about it: The Founders did not view the separation of powers in this way.

The nondelegation doctrine has nothing to do with the Constitution as it was originally understood. You can be an originalist or you can be committed to the nondelegation doctrine. But you can’t be both.

and let’s close with something strangely appropriate

I can’t think of any widely known song that has ever been so appropriate for timely parodies as “My Shot” from Hamilton. In its original context, “My Shot” is the young Hamilton pledging that he will not miss his chance to succeed. The song defines his character as a man who can’t stop, because he will always see opportunities to accomplish more and rise higher. It contrasts with the song his wife sings later, “That Would Be Enough“, in which she urges him to be happy with all that life has offered them. The tragedy of Hamilton is that he can’t hear this message; nothing will ever be enough.

But now, of course, we’re all waiting for our shot of a vaccine — or maybe we’re avoiding it for some crazy reason. Either way, we’re singing about our shot.

Seven doctors in the Sacramento area have formed Vax’n 8 and made a video to promote vaccination. I haven’t found an embeddable version yet, but here’s a TV report on the backstory.

But of course Dr. Liu couldn’t possibly be the only person to think of this. Adam Shain says “I’m not gonna delay my shot.

Last summer already, the Holderness Family did a Covid/Hamilton medley to encourage mask-wearing.

And Inverse K uses “My Shot” to make fun of the anti-vaxxers.

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  • frankackerman0617  On March 22, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    While the current actions of the Republican party don’t appear to be worthy of thoughtful analysis, the current policies and action of genuine conservatives might be. HCR (Google “Letters from an American” – 3/21/21) claims that there is a widespread, effort by conservative politicians, judges, and pundits to:
    – Curtail (or eliminate) the federal government’s power to “level the playing field in the US between workers and employers”,
    – Address inequality,
    – Combat climate change, and
    – Curtail (or eliminate) the federal government’s power improve/provide infrastructure
    She maintains that “We are caught up in a struggle between two ideologies: one saying that the government has a significant role to play in keeping the playing field level in the American economy and society, and the other saying it does not.”

    I can understand why the wealthy and the powerful want a society in which there are no restrictions on their individual ability to expand their wealth and power, but how do thoughtful conservatives support this view? Is there any historical or current data to support a view that weak government at any level results in a peaceful, stable, and creative society? I have only a passing understanding of history, but it appears to me that all the reality-based evidence contradicts this view.

  • snahgle  On March 23, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    The different news coverage for white and non-white shooters reminds me of the Fundamental Attribution Error. When I punch a wall I know all the reasons I am currently angry, but when I see someone else punch a wall I think “that is an angry person”. That is, we see ourselves as having reasons for our behavior but see others behavior as just being a characteristic of them. This difference between the (complex, causative) inside view and the (simple, static) outside view is a mental bias that might apply here, if we (that is, the media) can more easily imagine the inner life of a white person than a non-white one. The easier remedy I suppose is to give white shooters the outside view, but the more useful one would be to extend the inside view to non-white shooters. The outside view won’t help us stop the causes of these tragedies.

  • Brian Shanahan  On March 24, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    The sum total of current US conservative jurisprudence:

    “There are people for whom the law protects but does not bind, and there are people for whom the law binds but does not protect. We are the former, n*****s are the latter.”

    The supreme court is quickly descending into a Volksgerichthof, with six Roland Freislers on the bench.


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