Being American

If you only like democracy when it goes your way, you don’t like democracy.

Justin Kanew

We sort of have general agreement that government should help Americans, but what we disagree over is who gets to be American.

Lilliana Mason

This week’s featured post is “Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media“. When I went to post that link on Twitter, I discovered that David Roberts was saying almost the same things.

This week everybody was talking about Afghanistan

See the featured post.

Noah Smith:

Refugees are legal immigrants, and yet all the anti-immigration people get just as freaked out about refugees as they do about illegal immigration. It was never about the legality.

and the pandemic

Just like last week, things are getting worse at a slower rate. Last week, the 14-day increase in new Covid cases in the US was running over 60%. Now it’s 36%. The only two states where case numbers are shrinking are the states where the current wave started: Missouri (-12%) and Arkansas (-2%).

Mississippi has both a high new-case rate and a high rate of increase (and, not coincidentally, the nation’s lowest vaccination rate). Things are bad there already, and they’re going to get apocalyptic.

Much attention is being given to the high rates of Covid among children, which are surpassing the January peak. I haven’t seen much analysis of what their ineligibility for the vaccine has to do with this. Maybe the whole country would already have passed the January peaks — in deaths as well as cases — if not for the vaccines.

The FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine today. (Like the other vaccines, it’s been available via an emergency use authorization.) We’ll see if this makes any difference to the people who have been avoiding the vaccines because they’re “experimental”.

Post-Sturgis, South Dakota once again has the nation’s highest rate of increase in new Covid cases (312%). Thanks, Governor Noem.

In general, it was a bad week for the pro-Covid governors. Tennessee’s Bill Lee got denounced by a member of his Covid task force. Florida’s Ron DeSantis is facing revolt from several school districts over his ban on mask mandates, and a lawsuit challenging his order goes to trial today.

Texas’ Greg Abbott didn’t just lose at the state supreme court, he caught Covid himself. Fortunately, it was a mild case.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take over-the-top anti-vax activists like this one, who threatened Springfield, Missouri pharmacists with execution under the “Nuremberg Code”, which bans involuntary medical experiments. Maybe this is all a publicity stunt, in which case we’re giving him what he wants by paying attention. On the other hand, maybe he and his small band of followers really are whipping themselves up to kill people.

Anti-vax nonsense brings to mind SketchPlantations’ illustration of Brandolini’s Law.

but I’d like to tell you about a book

Geoffrey Cain’s The Perfect Police State is the story of the oppression of the Uyghur minority that lives in Xinjiang province in China’s far northwestern corner.

Bouncing back and forth between discussions of Chinese high-tech companies and interviews with Uyghurs who have escaped to Turkey, Cain argues that technology has at long last caught up to our imaginary dystopias. It’s now reasonably cheap to post cameras everywhere and network them together. The bottleneck in the dystopian process used to be paying enough people to watch all those feeds, but now artificial intelligence has learned to recognize faces and voices. It can also track smartphones and sift through everyone’s social media feeds.

What this means for the Uyghurs is a unified “social credit” score, an algorithmic assessment of how “trustworthy” the government thinks you are. If your score falls below a certain level, you can’t travel. If it falls further, you can’t buy or sell. Below that, you must report to a reeducation camp, where you are constantly on camera, and your face’s every expression is evaluated (by a tireless algorithm, of course) for signs of “ideological viruses” like terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

Naturally, one sure way to lower your score is to hang around with other untrustworthy people. So once your score starts to drop, others will shun you to protect themselves.

Like 1984, where Winston Smith eventually learns to love Big Brother, the goal isn’t simply that you reject these “poisons of the mind”. Ultimately, you are expected to express gratitude to the Chinese government for curing you.

You may or may not care about the Uyghurs. (I certainly didn’t before reading this book.) They’re ethnically Turkic Muslims on the other side of the world, after all, and there are only about 12 million of them in Xinjiang, less than 1% of China’s total population. You probably don’t know any of them.

But here’s why you should pay attention: Authoritarian governments perfect their tactics on sub-populations that no one wants to defend. But once the bugs are worked out, those tactics never stay in their boxes. Surveillance and facial-recognition software are already spreading. Data-hungry algorithms are already studying every footprint you leave on the internet. “Social credit” is an idea with many potentially beneficial applications.

Case in point: Apple is rolling out an algorithm to detect child-sexual-abuse photos and videos, even if they’re encrypted, by doing some higher-level evaluation of the databases they come from. But developers who abandoned work on a similar system point out a key problem: The tech is not subject-matter specific. If Apple can help US law enforcement detect encrypted child-abuse materials, it can help Chinese law enforcement detect encrypted pro-democracy materials.

Apple is making a bet that it can limit its system to certain content in certain countries, despite immense government pressures. We hope it succeeds in both protecting children and affirming incentives for broader adoption of encryption. But make no mistake that Apple is gambling with security, privacy and free speech worldwide.

Who wants to defend people who abuse children? Nobody. And makes them the perfect guinea pigs.

One interesting question in China’s maneuvering to take advantage of the fall of the US-backed government in Afghanistan is whether the Taliban will turn its back on its Muslim brothers in Xinjiang. China will happily fund infrastructure projects if they do.

and some long articles that are worth it

CNN explains the looming disaster of the Colorado River and what it means for the Southwest. Climate change is cutting the quantity of water the river carries, while a combination of irrigated agriculture and growing cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas need more and more.

The water shortage then creates an energy shortage: There is less water for hydroelectric dams, and one proposed water solution — desalinization plants near the mouth of the river in Mexico — would be very energy-intensive.

The NYT Magazine reports on “superweeds“: unwanted but highly evolved competitors to cash crops. They’re evolving resistance faster than the chemical companies can develop new weed-killers, threatening the whole factory-farm model.

The article flashes me back to being maybe 12 years old, and fighting an outbreak of buttonweeds by walking up and down the rows of Dad’s soybean field pulling them up. Today, after decades of get-big-or-get-out, no farming family has enough kids to do that.

While I’m listing things that are worth investing time in, I have two podcasts to recommend. NYT’s “The Argument” series has an actually intelligent, respectful discussion among people who disagree about critical race theory.

Also Ezra Klein’s more-than-an-hour interview with Lilliana Mason (from which I get the quote at the top). Klein wrote the book Why We’re Polarized, and Mason wrote Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. They discuss “How Identity Politics Took Over the Republican Party”. It’s a wide-ranging discussion that I can’t boil down to one quote, but I found this part particularly fascinating: There’s a project called the Voter Study Group that interviewed thousands of people in 2011, and then has gone back to interview the same people again at regular intervals.

these data became sort of a time machine for us, where we could go back to 2011, before Trump was a major political figure, and try to see what types of people are drawn to Trump in the future. Before Trump existed, what were their characteristics that then predicted they would really like him in 2018?

So one of the things that we found, obviously being a Republican, being a conservative, that predicted that they would like Trump in 2018. And it also predicted that they would like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the Republican Party in general. However, for Trump himself, and Trump alone, the other thing that predicted whether they would like him was that they disliked Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics and L.G.B.T.Q. Americans. Any mix of those, but largely all of them. And that animosity towards those marginalized groups did not predict support for the Republican Party. It did not predict support for Mitch McConnell or for Paul Ryan. It just predicted support for Trump.

And also, these people were coming not just from the Republican Party. Democrats who had these attitudes in 2011 liked Trump in 2018. Independents who had these attitudes in 2011 liked Trump in 2018. So it’s almost like Trump acted as a lightning rod for people who held these attitudes. He was extremely attractive to them, regardless of party, regardless of ideology.

and you also might be interested in …

Thursday morning, news networks were fixated on a guy parked near the Library of Congress. He claimed to have a bomb in his truck and was demanding that Biden resign, in addition to spouting a lot of Trumpist disinformation. When he surrendered after five hours, the truck was discovered to contain bomb-making materials, but no bomb.

By Friday morning, the incident was well down the Washington Post’s home page, and not mentioned on the NYT’s home page at all. Nothing to see here, just a guy making noise to draw attention to his fascist views. (He also tried to get noticed by throwing money on the sidewalk.) But I doubt it’s the last incident we’ll see of Trump-inspired terrorism in DC.

TPM focused a the woman who posted a picture of the bomber in his truck.

“It’s a white guy in a truck near the Capitol,” she said. “I’m not from D.C., I don’t know if that’s a regular Tuesday here.”

She said she saw some people ignore the man and keep walking, while one DoorDash delivery man stopped his bike to scoop up the bills.

One of her classmates, Bobb said, stopped a Supreme Court police officer to alert him to the situation, but he said it was the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police.

“Weird, okay,” Bobb remembers thinking. “So if there was a guy with a gun, you’re just gonna wait for the right people to come?”

Rep. Mo Brooks (F-AL) had an interesting response to this incident: He sympathized with the terrorist’s motives, while distancing himself from terrorism per se, at least for now.

I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom, and the very fabric of American society. The way to stop Socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 elections. I strongly encourage patriotic Americans to do exactly that more so than ever before. Bluntly stated, America’s future is at risk.

The underlying message, which I think Brooks’ fellow fascists will hear loud and clear, is that it’s not time for political leaders like Brooks to endorse violence YET. If Democrats win again in 2022 and 2024, though, all bets are off. The goal — overthrow of the Biden regime by whatever means prove necessary — is not questioned. When “the very fabric of American society” is at stake, “patriots” might have to destroy democracy in order to save it.

The Proud Boy leader who burned a DC church’s Black Lives Matter banner in December (in a violent demonstration that now looks like a rehearsal for the January 6 insurrection) argues that it wasn’t a hate crime: He wasn’t terrorizing a Black church, he was protesting BLM because it’s “Marxist”.

This is a primary tactic for racists who want to deny their racism: Pin a pejorative label on somebody because they’re Black, and then claim you’re reacting to that label, not to their race. It’s like the people who claimed to oppose Obama because he was born in Kenya. Of course, Hawaii early on said Obama was born in Hawaii, and that should have been the end of that controversy. Birthers continued to believe Obama was born in Kenya only because they hated having a Black president.

Similarly, BLM is “Marxist” because it’s pro-Black.

Check out this review of two Amazon groceries that don’t have check-outs.

One reason I’m not as panicked about the 2022 midterm elections as many other Democrats are: Republicans do have a number of advantages, but they are also going to have trouble unifying their conservative and fascist wings. The NYT discovered some warning signs at a Gaez/Greene “America First” rally in Iowa:

Ms. Greene denounced Covid-19 vaccines to applause. Both declared former President Donald J. Trump the rightful winner of the 2020 election.

These were facts, argued Eric Riedinger of Des Moines, 62, a small-business owner who attended the event and owns the website And he would not vote for any Republican who failed to state this clearly, he said.

“My biggest issue looking ahead: Stop the RINOs,” he said, using a pejorative conservative phrase for ‘Republicans in Name Only.’ “If they’re part of that infrastructure bill and supporting it, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.” …

“I’m not voting for anyone who won’t say Donald Trump had the election stolen from him,” said Ron James, a 68-year-old retiree from Des Moines. “And I don’t think anyone in that room would, either.”

At the moment, the only way to prove you’re not a RINO is to take positions that are not just false, but also deeply unpopular with the electorate as a whole.

Marcy Wheeler boils down a WSJ scoop to: “John Durham won’t charge any of Trump’s favorite villains.” The investigate-the-investigators probe has lasted longer than the Mueller investigation, and produced far less. A report is expected soon.

Durham will not charge anyone for spying on Trump before the opening of the investigation, because it didn’t happen. Durham will not charge the FBI or CIA for setting Joseph Mifsud up to entrap George Papadopoulos, because it didn’t happen.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have come to symbolize the corporate profiteering side of the opioid crisis. A court is deciding whether to finalize a Purdue bankruptcy deal that raises billions for settlements, but also lets the Sacklers walk away with billions and no further responsibility. Apparently we have to choose between compensation for the victims and justice for the villains.

Many close Senate races don’t get as much coverage as the competition to be the host of Jeopardy.

and let’s close with something sneaky

Have you ever thought the highway signs in your area could be better? Back in 2001, LA street artist Richard Ankrom decided to improve a freeway sign. He made and installed a new sign, and did it so well that the fake wasn’t discovered until he gave interviews about it — after the statute of limitations had expired. CalTrans left the sign up, and eventually replaced it with a duplicate.

This video was made on the 10th anniversary of the prank, and now it’s the 20th anniversary.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • George Washington, Jr.  On August 23, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Dan Savage had a good observation on Apple’s new tracking software. Apple’s stated accuracy is that only a few messages out of a trillion will lead to false accusations. Considering how many text messages are sent on Apple devices, that means anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand innocent people will find themselves accused of sending or receiving child porn. These will include grandmothers sending photos of their grandkid in the bathtub that happens to resemble a photo in the database. Savage also imagined an 18 year old Black kid sending an erotic photo to his 17 year old white girlfriend. When she clicks on the photo, her parents will be notified, and if they’re racists, this will give them the perfect opportunity to have their daughter’s boyfriend arrested.

    The idea that you shouldn’t care if you’re not doing anything wrong falls apart when innocent people are swept up in these programs. We’re not that far off from having 1984-style telescreens in our homes, where we can be observed at all times.

  • kira  On August 23, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    n tbtt8u

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: