Noted & Quoted

2017FebruaryWeek of February 6 to February 12

If you came across someone in your everyday life who repeatedly said fantastically and demonstrably untrue things, what would you think of him? If you showed up at a neighbor’s, say, and your host showed you his newly painted living room, which was a deep blue, and then insisted repeatedly — manically — that it was a lovely shade of scarlet, what would your reaction be? If he then dragged out a member of his family and insisted she repeat this obvious untruth in front of you, how would you respond? If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.

I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.

There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.

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You don't need to be a nationalist to understand that voters will expect policies to be made in their interest.

You can even think of this as identity politics, as applied to the whole electorate. How can something be identity politics if it applies to the whole electorate? Well, the whole American electorate has a shared identity characteristic: They are all American citizens.

Yet on immigration, Democrats have somehow ended up with policies premised heavily on their benefits to non-citizens, and therefore with an identity politics aimed at people who aren't eligible to vote.

In other words, they are doing identity politics badly, and will have to do it better — and rethink their ideas to put more of a focus on American citizens' interests — to beat Trump on immigration.

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When Ratcliff and his team mixed two strains of Vibrio cholerae bacteria with different T6SS toxins on petri dishes, one strain or the other always killed off its opponent at any given place. The two strains gradually separated into patches of one strain or the other, just like a thin film of oil and water separates into pure droplets.

This separation, or population structure, should allow cooperators to share their secretions only with other similar cells, which would increase the survival of those cells and mean cooperation would be evolutionarily advantageous.

To probe whether that is true in the real world, the team examined the genomes of 439 species of bacteria, counting both the number of T6SS toxins – a measure of how aggressively they kill bacteria unlike themselves – and the number of secreted gene products, a measure of their level of cooperation. Sure enough, species with more T6SS produce more secreted products.

Lethal competition may make cooperation more likely to evolve in other organisms as well, such as plants that secrete toxins into the surrounding soil. “Localised warfare is a pretty general route to generating structured populations, which itself is a general route to evolving cooperation with relatives,” says Ratcliff.

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...[L]iberalism, under pressure from the left, has become steadily more anxious about its political and cultural progenitors, with Woodrow Wilson joining Jackson and Jefferson in the dock. Meanwhile the right’s narrative has become steadily more exclusionary — religious-conservative outreach to Muslims has given way to Islamophobia, racial optimism has been replaced by white resentment.

Maybe no unifying story is really possible. Maybe the gap between a heroic founders-and-settlers narrative and the truth about what befell blacks and Indians and others cannot be adequately bridged.

But any leader who wants to bury Trumpism (as opposed to just beating Trump) would need to reach for one — for a story about who we are and were, not just what we’re not, that the people who still believe in yesterday’s American story can recognize as their own.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Tunis 2011 - Chris Belsten/Flickr[/caption]

Looking farther into the more distant future, had democratic transition been successful, one could envisage the creation of what might have become known as the United States of the Middle East, a formidable power with enormous resources, both human and material, and with considerable potential.

The impact of such transformation would have been unprecedented. It would have been no less significant and history-making than the American and the French revolutions. The emergence of such a magnificent regional power would have immediately put an end to Iranian expansionist and imperial ambitions in the region. It is no wonder that Iran, which today has a regime that claims to have been itself the product of a popular revolution against tyranny, was a staunch opponent of the popular Arab Spring revolutions. The emerging power would not have just been more genuinely democratic but it would have also been Sunni. It would have had the immediate impact of inciting the oppressed peoples of Iran, many of whom happen to be Sunnis or Arab Shiites, to rise and seek emancipation from a Shiite theocracy disguised as some kind of ‘democracy’. Iran’s endeavour to self-promote as the model for the oppressed peoples of Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East to follow would have been dealt a fatal blow. The emergence of a successful Sunni democratic model would have signalled the beginning of the end of the self-proclaimed role of global Muslim leadership by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

...The pressure cooker will once again explode and a new generation of young men and women will take to the streets to resume the dynamic. Just like before, they will look for leadership and will find it nowhere but with those who have been truthful to the cause, those who paid with their lives and wealth, in order to bring about a new Arab dawn.

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Germany must stand up in opposition to the 45th president of the United States and his government. That's difficult enough already for two reasons: Because it is from the Americans that we obtained our liberal democracy in the first place; and because it is unclear how the brute and choleric man on the other side will react to diplomatic pressure. The fact that opposition to the American government can only succeed when mounted together with Asian and African partners -- and no doubt with our partners in Europe, with the EU -- doesn't make the situation any easier.

So far, Germany has viewed its leadership role -- at least the leadership understanding of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble -- as one that is by all means in opposition to the interests of other European countries. Whether Schäuble's austerity policies or Merkel's migration policies, it all happened without much co-coordination and with considerable force. It is thus somewhat ironical that it is Germany, the country that is politically and economically dominant in Europe, that will now have to fill in many of the gaps created by America's withdrawal from the old world order, the one referred to by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as "Pax Americana." At the same time, Germany must build an alliance against Donald Trump, because it otherwise won't take shape. It is, however, absolutely necessary.

It is literally painful to write this sentence, but the president of the United States is a pathological liar. The president of the U.S. is a racist (it also hurts to write this). He is attempting a coup from the top; he wants to establish an illiberal democracy, or worse; he wants to undermine the balance of power. He fired an acting attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of "betrayal." This is the vocabulary used by Nero, the emperor and destroyer of Rome. It is the way tyrants think.

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As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.

But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.

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I’m not suggesting that Trump’s next move will be drone strikes targeting his journalist critics. But I am suggesting that we are no longer living in a time of normal politics. Trump and Bannon have told us as much.

This makes it more important than ever for the rest of us to keep asking hard questions and having uncomfortable conversations, no matter how many filthy and threatening emails and tweets we get. The alternative is worse: If journalists and commentators let themselves be intimidated into silence; if Trump’s attacks on judges and civil servants lead them to back away from their commitment to the rule of law; if the FBI and Secret Service become tools of executive vengeance rather than impartial instruments of justice; if military leaders become too cowed to recall that their most fundamental duty is to the U.S. Constitution, not to Donald Trump….

Well, then Trump will be right that America is no better than Putin’s Russia.

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Perhaps because judges are the greatest impediments to autocratic rule, Trump has singled them out most insidiously. Having inflamed global tensions by antagonizing millions of Muslims in a legally dubious way, Trump not only seeks to attack those who accurately describe the steps he’s taken, but to set up anyone standing in his way for blame when the backlash occurs.

Trump is courting terrorism to gain political power at the expense of his power rivals. He doesn’t need a masterplan or even a high level of consciousness about it for us to recognize that this is what’s happening.

In the absence of a major crisis, this has the effect of pitting his most committed supporters against a broad opposition: The significant majority of Americans, who find his political style unappealing, alarming, or grotesque. Trump cannot render the country’s massive democratic institutions impotent when most Americans will make common cause with them over him. If the attack Trump is courting comes, the ensuing battle for narrative control will determine whether he, or his opposition, is held responsible for it, and thus, how durable the resistance to authoritarianism will be. His opponents will have facts on their side, but he will have the largest bully pulpit and the means of retribution at his disposal. If at some point, without changing tactics, Trump wins over a broader swath of the public, the real damage to democracy will begin.

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In the 1930s, economic crisis and rising nationalism led many to doubt whether either democracy or capitalism was preferable to alternatives such as fascism and communism. And it is no coincidence that the crisis of confidence in liberalism accompanied a simultaneous breakdown of the strategic order. Then, the question was whether the United States as the outside power would step in and save or remake an order that Britain and France were no longer able or willing to sustain. Now, the question is whether the United States is willing to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power or whether Americans are prepared to take the risk — if they even understand the risk — of letting the order collapse into chaos and conflict.

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Trump wants to identify all opposition to him with the black-masked crowbar thugs who smashed windows and burned a limo on his inauguration day. Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag. Open with the Pledge of Allegiance. Close by singing the Star Spangled Banner––like these protesters at LAX, in video posted by The Atlantic’s own Conor Friedersdorf. Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.

Don’t get sucked into the futile squabbling cul-de-sac of intersectionality and grievance politics. Look at this roster of speakers from the January 21 march. What is Angela Davis doing there? Where are the military women, the women police officers, the officeholders? If Planned Parenthood is on the stage, pro-life women should stand there, too. If you want somebody to speak for immigrants, invite somebody who’s in the country lawfully.

Since his acceptance speech in Cleveland, Donald Trump has made clear that he wants to wage a Nixon-style culture war: cops against criminals, soldiers against pacifists, hard hats against hippies. Don’t be complicit. If you want to beat him, you have to reject his categories.

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So far, just about the only prominent American institution that could oppose Trump's agenda, and that he has not attacked, is Congress. That may be because, thus far, the Republican-controlled body has largely deferred and acceded to his demands. The truer test will come if and when, in the context of Trump's record-setting disapproval rating, the Republicans refuse to support unpopular Administration policies, or, as happened under Barack Obama, the opposing party eventually wins control of one or both houses.

Already, Trump's sustained assault on our most important institutions raises legitimate and enormously consequential questions. One is whether he is, at his core, a (small d) democrat and intends to govern as one, or as something else entirely. Another is whether other institutions with a voice in American society, such as the private sector, artists and entertainers, professional athletes or academia, will increasingly join the fray, and at what cost? And finally, will the institutions he already seems to be systematically eroding have the fortitude to continue standing against a withering onslaught that seems likely to continue in the coming years?

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Week of January 30 to February 5

What these modern-day Jacobins don’t realize, alas, is that destroying institutions is easier than building them. If their assault on our core political traditions and institutions is successful, the United States will at best end up weaker and poorer. At worst, it will cease to be a meaningful democracy. The fact that the generally conservative Economist Intelligence Unit recently downgraded America — that’s right, the “Land of the Free” — from a “full” to a “flawed” democracy tells you just how serious this problem is. Based on the early evidence, Trump and Bannon want to accelerate that trend.

Some of Trump’s supporters may have flocked to him because they were tired of the failed strategy of liberal hegemony and worried that Hillary Clinton and her team were going to repeat the same mistakes that Obama, Bush, or her husband made. If so, it’s increasingly clear they aren’t going to get the smart and more restrained approach to the world they were hoping for. By that standard, in short, Donald J. Trump is already a failure. Didn’t take him long. I would say it was “Sad!” but it’s not. It’s tragic.

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Forfeiting the ideals of Never Trump, National Review is starting to embrace, slowly and awkwardly, the Republican president out of fealty to the party. This was perhaps an inevitable development. The magazine was born in 1955 as a revolt against the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower. When the conservative movement inspired by National Review took over the GOP, the magazine became intimately linked with the party, and started having trouble criticizing Republican administrations. As John Judis showed in his biography of William F. Buckley, the National Review founder began to forgive conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan who strayed from right-wing orthodoxy in order to win elections. The balancing act Buckley learned to perform, of being both a supporter of the party and a keeper of ideological purity, tilted increasingly in the direction of partisanship.

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What all this means, in practical terms, is that the implementation phase of Trump’s grand strategy — the period in which the ideas upon which one campaigns are translated into the day-to-day initiatives by which one governs — is likely to be far messier than is normally the case. The Trump administration will have to determine how to proceed on those issues — such as Russia, Iran, alliance relations, trade, and homeland security — where key advisors have staked out positions very different from those of the president. More fundamentally, the Trump administration will have to determine how to reconcile the president’s various promises and impulses — and where those things cannot be reconciled, how to prioritize among them.

This could be good news for the country and the world. As the Trump team realizes how intractable the contradictions are among the president’s various policy pronouncements, it may see the wisdom in backing off of some of the more problematic or dangerous ones. And the fact that there are so many profound disconnects between what Trump says and what is wise may create space for the president’s more sober advisors — such as James Mattis, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and Nikki Haley — to shift policy and even influence the president’s thinking. We can hope that this is the scenario that ultimately unfolds. But in the meantime, both the content and contradictions of Trump’s grand strategy make it seem likely that U.S. foreign policy and the international order are in for a rough ride.

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To paraphrase what the neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol wrote about Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1952, there is one thing that Jacksonians know about Trump—that he is unequivocally on their side. About their country’s elites, they feel they know no such thing. And their concerns are not all illegitimate, for the United States’ global order-building project is hardly flourishing.

...In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as Gemeinschaft (community) fought back against the onrushing Gesellschaft (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.

The challenge for international politics in the days ahead is therefore less to complete the task of liberal world order building along conventional lines than to find a way to stop the liberal order’s erosion and reground the global system on a more sustainable basis. International order needs to rest not just on elite consensus and balances of power and policy but also on the free choices of national communities—communities that need to feel protected from the outside world as much as they want to benefit from engaging with it.

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January

Our smartphone, Kosinski concluded, is a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously.

Above all, however—and this is key—it also works in reverse: not only can psychological profiles be created from your data, but your data can also be used the other way round to search for specific profiles: all anxious fathers, all angry introverts, for example—or maybe even all undecided Democrats? Essentially, what Kosinski had invented was sort of a people search engine. He started to recognize the potential—but also the inherent danger—of his work.

...

Many voices have claimed that the statisticians lost the election because their predictions were so off the mark. But what if statisticians in fact helped win the election—but only those who were using the new method? It is an irony of history that Trump, who often grumbled about scientific research, used a highly scientific approach in his campaign.

Another big winner is Cambridge Analytica. Its board member Steve Bannon, former executive chair of the right-wing online newspaper Breitbart News, has been appointed as Donald Trump’s senior counselor and chief strategist. Whilst Cambridge Analytica is not willing to comment on alleged ongoing talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Alexander Nix claims that he is building up his client base worldwide, and that he has received inquiries from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. His company is currently touring European conferences showcasing their success in the United States. This year three core countries of the EU are facing elections with resurgent populist parties: France, Holland and Germany. The electoral successes come at an opportune time, as the company is readying for a push into commercial advertising.

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America’s adversaries are unlikely to waste much time before testing this erratic administration and pursue their interests. When America’s enemies advance, who will win out in the administration? The ironically cooler-headed “Chaos” Mattis or the astonishingly angry Bannon?

If it’s the latter, and Trump’s “Zealots” reign supreme, America should prepare for war, which may be exactly what the inner circle seeks as conflict often brings allegiance when its against a foreign adversary — i.e., the “rally `round the flag” effect. But let’s hope it’s the former, and the “Pragmatists” can keep things calm, weigh options, and pursue for America strength through patience, partnerships, and principles.

My guess: we’ll know which side wins the war inside the Trump administration in the summer of 2018. Past administrations with strong internal rivalries usually see the first causalities of bureaucratic war emerge during year two when they’ve lost favor with the White House. The first appointees and strategists we see exit the Trump administration because “they achieved what they set out to do” or “to spend more time with their family” will be the public sign to America as to who wins the battle between the “Pragmatists” and “Zealots.”

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Week of January 23 to January 29

President Trump’s position on the Mexican wall is bizarre and embarrassing, but his views on Iraqi oil that he repeated during the campaign and during his first week in office are downright dangerous and illegal. Mr. Trump has been criticizing the Obama administration because it withdrew from Iraq early, and did not seize, control and exploit Iraq’s oil fields. When he visited the CIA on his second day as president he repeated the old lament but added flippantly, “so we should have kept the oil. But, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.” Trump kept insisting on his position and claimed that his critics are “fools”. The president of the United States, circa 2017 was thinking out loud about the possibility of using America’s armed forces to violate International Law and act like pirates by occupying and stealing the natural resources of another country.

And on the seventh day, it was the Muslims’ turn to get Trump’s angry attention...

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I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people.

Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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Donald Trump’s “emotional maturity [and] stability” are being discussed in private by senior members of his own political party, according to veteran Washington journalist Carl Bernstein, in a turn of events he has described as unprecedented.Bernstein was speaking on CNN late on Wednesday night, when he revealed there was “open discussion” among Republicans about Mr Trump’s fitness to rule.

...Bernstein said discussions going on in Washington this week were “unlike anything I have seen in 50 years as a reporter”.

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Erickson is so busy thrusting his arm down into the sewer of this Presidency, in hopes of finding a quarter, that he can’t even see the big picture anymore. The cornerstone of “Never Trump” was the knowledge that the dangerous ideals of an egomaniac, one with a heart that beats to the rhythm of authoritarianism, overshadows any minor positives – this is still the case.

Political commentators on both sides of the aisle love tribalism more than anyone else, and they tend to thrive in a world where two sides are constantly at war with one another. The vast majority, including Erickson, have granted little grace – if any – to the leaders of the opposing party. In Erickson’s intellectually dishonest claim that “Donald Trump has also been a leader of sound judgment with his executive orders,” he exposes himself as just another player who wants to be back on the team more than he wants to be an umpire.

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Pig embryos that had been injected with human stem cells when they were only a few days old began to grow organs containing human cells, scientists reported on Thursday, an advance that promises — or threatens — to bring closer the routine production of creatures that are part human and part something else.

These human-pig “chimeras” were not allowed to develop past the fetal stage, but the experiment suggests such creations could eventually be used to grow fully human organs for transplant, easing the fatal shortage of organs: 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for lifesaving transplants, but every day two dozen die before they get them.

From: First human-pig chimeras created, raising hopes for transplantable organs

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The animations all come from direct imaging methods, meaning that the telescopes measure the Jupiter-sized planets directly. So-called “Hot Jupiters” are so young that they still emanate infrared light, said Wang. “They formed after the dinosaurs.”

The top video shows Beta Pictoris b orbiting the 40-million-year-old star Beta Pictoris. The planet looks like it’s diving into the star because the Gemini Planet Imager on the Gemini South Telescope in Chile observed the star head on.

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Meanwhile, the gif above shows four planets orbiting the 60 million year old star HR 8799, around 130 light years away, as seen by the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The planets might even be in resonance with each other, meaning their gravity causes them to move in harmony, Wang told the Lunar and Planetary Institute-supported blog, Many Worlds.

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Great. Terrific. Phenomenal. Tremendous. Fabulous. Beautiful. How Trump has hollowed out these words. How arid, even nauseating, he has made them. They mean nothing. They are space-fillers issuing with a thudding regularity from his uncurious mind, and in the end of course they are all about him. Emptying words of meaning is an essential step on the road to autocratic rule. People need to lose their bearings before they prostrate themselves.

From Trump’s White House there now seeps a kind of ignorance mixed with vulgarity and topped with meanness that I find impossible to wash from my skin. I wake up to its oleaginous texture.

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As O’Mara emphasises, torture does not produce reliable information largely because of the severity with which it impairs the ability to think. Extreme pain, cold, sleep deprivation and fear of torture itself all damage memory, mood and cognition. Torture does not persuade people to make a reasoned decision to cooperate, but produces panic, dissociation, unconsciousness and long-term neurological damage. It also produces an intense desire to keep talking to prevent further torture.

...Interrogators often escalate torture when they think a suspect is withholding information or lying, but there is no good evidence that interrogators are better than the rest of us at detecting lies. In fact, there is evidence that when people are trained as interrogators, they become more likely to think others are lying to them. This belief can lead to alarming errors, whereby people are tortured because their torturer wrongly believes they are lying. New technologies to detect lies do not work either, says O’Mara.

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Ultimately, though, the most astounding sentence in the Post’s write-up might be the following:

This account of Trump’s tumultuous first days in office comes from interviews with nearly a dozen senior White House officials and other Trump advisers and confidants, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations and moments.

Nearly a dozen of Trump’s closest confidantes helped plant an embarrassing news story about how their boss can’t handle embarrassing news stories. Which is to say: A president who prizes loyalty in his subordinates has already been betrayed by a huge swath of his inner circle.It isn’t hard to understand why Trump’s aides would want to distance themselves from the mogul’s decision to begin his presidency by shouting self-aggrandizing delusions at CIA employees, congressional leaders, and the Fourth Estate. But we aren’t in the late days of a losing campaign, when it’s normal for advisers to start leaking dirt on the boss to save their reputations. We’re less than four full days into the Trump presidency, with (barring death, impeachment, resignation, or coup) at least 1,461 to go.

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It matters that Trump drew a sparse crowd to inaugural festivities that he had billed beforehand as a historic, Jacksonian uprising of the People. And it matters much more that millions of Americans came out on a Saturday to register their protest. It is not only catharsis; though, catharsis is better than depression. The message has been heard by the political class, Republican and Democratic alike.

...One of the great weaknesses of American liberalism is a congenital tendency toward depression when their party holds power. The demobilization of the Democratic base is over. The prospect of a Democratic wave may not stop Republicans, and it may not even give them pause. But the governing party had probably assumed the clock would not start for months on the liberal backlash. Now the clock is ticking already.

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With the enormous successes of Star Trek and Star Wars, the idea was firmly planted in the popular imagination: if we survived as a species, we would be moving out into the galaxy. This awesome diaspora would mark our maturity or success as a species, and would enable us to outlive the Earth itself, should it suffer a natural disaster or be destroyed by some human folly. The thought of long-term galactic survival for humanity was comforting to some, and in any case it seemed inevitable, humanity’s fate or destiny. When we landed people on the moon in 1969, and robots on Mars in 1976, it seemed we were already on the way.

But in the same century the idea spread, we were also learning things that made it seem less and less likely that we could do it. When the notion was first broached, we didn’t even know how big the universe was; now we do, and it’s bigger than we thought. Meanwhile, the tremendous increase in our knowledge of biology has taught us that human beings are much more complicated than we thought, being in effect complex assemblages interpenetrated with larger ecologies.

These and other findings make a contemporary evaluation of the starfaring plan rather startling: one begins to see it can’t be done.

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The later Star Trek series are frequently concerned with the wisdom of command—Picard, in particular, obsesses about choosing the wise path and being a responsible leader. Deep Space Nine and Voyager try to take away some of Starfleet’s awesome power (by showing a crew without a giant starship, or a starship without starbases) but still end up being about Federation values, and the responsible use of power.

This is obviously a broad-brush generalization, and it’s true that both Star Trek and Star Wars were both, in their own ways, products of the counter-culture. Star Trek very much wants to interrogate the dangers of too much state power, while Star Wars very much yearns for the possibility of an enlightened government, the good Republic which is Star Wars’ Paradise Lost.

But I can’t help wondering if this is one reason why Star Wars looms so much larger in the popular imagination than Star Trek: Because we always want to identify with the scrappy rebel against the evil empire. Even when we actually are the world’s main superpower, with unparalleled military and economic might, we Americans like to think of ourselves as still a ragged group of revolutionaries, fighting the American Revolution against the overbearing redcoats. Star Wars plays into our national fantasy of righteous underdoggery, while Star Trek is actually closer to reality.

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The message will be stated and restated this day: For the 58th time, the system has worked, and power has smoothly transferred from one heir of George Washington to another. The truth is not so happy. With full advance notice, and despite the failure to gain a plurality of the nation’s vote, the United States will soon inaugurate someone who owes his office in some large part to a hostile foreign intelligence operation. Who is, above and beyond that, a person whose character that leaves him unqualified to hold the presidency, and threatens the country with an impending sequence of financial and espionage scandals—a constitutional crisis on two legs.

The real message of today is that the system has failed. The challenge of the morrow is to know what to do to save the remainder.

From: Why Trump's Inaugural Celebration Rings Hollow - The Atlantic

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Today, as of noon, the president of the United States is a man who boasted of sexually assaulting women. The nation’s leader is a purveyor of fake news and conspiracy theories who led the racist birther campaign. The commander in chief in charge of the US nuclear arsenal is a fellow who was unfamiliar with the nuclear triad but who is obsessed with revenge. The head of the federal government is a businessman who vowed to "drain the swamp" but who has taken office loaded with troubling conflicts of interest and flouting multiple ethics norms. The defender of the Constitution is a record-setting prevaricator and fabulist who has repeatedly attacked journalists who challenge his false assertions. The guy who oversees national law enforcement is a dishonest developer who was sued for racially based housing discrimination and who lied about his mob ties. The person in charge of US national security is a foreign policy novice who has called for enhancing relations with a foreign power that covertly worked to subvert American democracy in order to benefit him and whose associates are under investigation by agencies he now oversees for possible contacts with that foreign power. The most powerful man in the world is a thin-skinned, arrogant, name-calling, bullying, narcissistic hotelier.

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Week of January 16 to January 22

...We have social and legal norms, including "don't punch people because their speech is evil, and don't punish them legally." Applying those norms is not a judgment that the speech in question is valuable, or decent, or morally acceptable. We apply the norms out of a recognition of human frailty — because the humanity that will be deciding whom to punch and whom to prosecute is the same humanity that produced the Nazis in the first place, and has a well-established record of making really terrible decisions. You — the bien-pensant reader, confident that sensible punchers and prosecutors can sort out Nazis from the not-Nazis — will likely not be doing the punching or prosecuting. The punching and prosecuting will be done by a rogue's gallery of vicious idiots, including people who think that Black Lives Matter should be indicted under RICO and that it's funny to send women death threats if they write a column you don't like.

From: On Punching Nazis | Popehat

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The author, Farhad Manjoo, is astounded to find so many educated and ignorant people who apparently believe that two spaces are okay. He even polls people over Thanksgiving dinner, just so he can tell them how wrong they are! The author subsequently decides to go on a mission to show them why they are wrong, resulting in the linked article.Unfortunately, this whole story is a fairy tale, made up by typographers to make themselves feel like they are correct in some absolute way. The account is riddled with historical fabrication. Here are some facts:

  • There were earlier standards before the single-space standard, and they involved much wider spaces after sentences.
  • Typewriter practice actually imitated the larger spaces of the time when typewriters first came to be used. They adopted the practice of proportional fonts into monospace fonts, rather than the other way around.
  • Literally centuries of typesetters and printers believed that a wider space was necessary after a period, particularly in the English-speaking world. It was the standard since at least the time that William Caslon created the first English typeface in the early 1700s (and part of a tradition that went back further), and it was not seriously questioned among English or American typesetters until the 1920s or so.
  • The “standard” of one space is maybe 60 years old at the most, with some publishers retaining wider spaces as a house style well into the 1950s and even a few in the 1960s.
  • As for the “ugly” white space, the holes after the sentence were said to make it easier to parse sentences. Earlier printers had advice to deal with the situations where the holes became too numerous or looked bad.
  • The primary reasons for the move to a single uniform space had little to do with a consensus among expert typographers concerning aesthetics. Instead, the move was driven by publishers who wanted cheaper publications, decreasing expertise in the typesetting profession, and new technology that made it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to conform to the earlier wide-spaced standards.
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