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Nederlog

May 30, 2018

Crisis: Trump Resistance, Authoritarianism, Dealmaking, Paris: May ´68, Conservatism, Feynman


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from May 30, 2018
     B. One Extra Bit
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from May 30, 2018:
1. Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance
2. 9 Ways Authoritarianism Is Taking Hold Under Trump
3. The Art of Screwing Up the Deal: Trump Is Proving to Be the World's
     Worst Dealmaker

4. Paris: May 1968
5. Pity the Right-Winger: He Gets No Respect!
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance

This article is by Thomas Friedman on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

With the primary season winding down and the midterms soon upon us, it’s time to point out that this election is not about what you may think it’s about. It is not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by the candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline. No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Donald Trump.

As far as I am concerned, that’s the only choice on the ballot. It’s a choice between letting Trump retain control of all the key levers of political power for two more years, or not.

Yes, I agree. Here is more:

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

If your answer is the former, then it can only happen by voting for the Democrat in your local House or Senate race.

Well... I suppose I don´t agree about ¨Russia’s interference¨, indeed not because they did nothing (they very probably did something) but because there is - after nearly two years - still no evidence that says that Russia´s interferences did switch the elections from Clinton to Trump (and I think the triple Facebook + Cambridge Analytica + Steve Bannon are very much better candidates for shifting the election to Trump than ¨Russia¨ - but then indeed this triple has little to do with Russia).

But otherwise I mostly agree, although I am no fan of voting for either the Republicans or the Democrats, but as things are, it must be either. And the Democrats are less bad than Trump.

Here is more:

Because what we’ve learned since 2016 is that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

These Republicans have made the craven choice to stand with Trump as long as he delivers the policies they like on tax cuts, gun control, fossil fuels, abortion and immigration, even though many privately detest him.

I do not know about the literal truth ¨that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican¨ indeed because many elected Democrats seem to be quite like Republicans, and seem much more interested in extending their personal riches than in doing real politics, but basically I agree.

There is more, and this is the ending:

Again, this is Code Red: American democracy is truly threatened today — by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass.

Yes, I agree, and this is a recommended article.


2. 9 Ways Authoritarianism Is Taking Hold Under Trump

This article is by Thom Hartmann on AlterNet and originally on the Independent Media Institute. It starts as follows:

As our country slides into an ugly Americanized form of neofascism, there’s good news: nonviolent protest, when in the service of progressive, egalitarian goals, almost always wins out when it reaches a national critical mass. And we may well be on the verge of that right now. But we must understand what we’re up against.

Donald Trump and his neo-authoritarian acolytes are following an ancient playbook.

I agree, and especially with the term ¨neofascism¨, which is quite correct, especially if you compare the points in my definition of neofascism with characteristic words and sayings by Trump: Trump has displayed all the marks of neofascism plus some (for racism is not part of my definition, but is one of the marks of Trump).

Next, Hartmann gives a list of 9 points in which Trump agrees with auhoritarians. I think they are all well chosen, but the following list consists only of the titles, and deletes the textual explanations Hartmann gives (simply because they are too long to quote more or less adequately in a Nederlog).

So here is the list of titles that Hartmann uses for his sections (and each title comes with text in the original):

Here's how the president is building authoritarian institutions.

1. Lie Often — Lie Big.
2. Consolidate Power While Challenging or Co-Opting Institutions That
     Enforce Accountability.
3.
Attack the Press.
4. Vilify Protesters, Minorities, and Political “Enemies” to the Point of
     Provoking Violence.

5. Scapegoat Minority Groups to Rile Up a Mob Mentality.
6. Elevate One Religion That You Can Control (and Reward) While Trashing
     Others.

7. Co-opt and Make Institutions of Military and Police Power into Loyal
     Sycophants.
8. Ignore Competence and Incompetence; Only Loyalty Matters—and Is
     Richly Rewarded.
9. Foster a Sense of Helplessness Among the Opposition.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which in fact makes me quite pessimistic about the chances of the left (and my reasons are completely new in history):

Today, with government agencies able to turn a cell phone into a remote spy device, even people planning simple protests (from the RNC in 2004 to inaugural protests in 2017) often find themselves in jail cells or court before they take any direct actions whatsoever. Trump’s regime ramped up the charges against the 2017 inaugural protesters to the point where hundreds were facing over a decade in federal prison, further terrorizing any potential future protesters.
As I have been explaining now for quite a while, my own opinion is that the internet-such-as-it-is is a creation by DARPA that is and was meant to give ALL the advantages to the governments + their spies by making everyone´s mail and all his further privacies part and parcel of the information the governments´ secret spies now can assemble at their ease, which they also have been doing since 2001 (at the latest: See William Binney).

And for more on the background of the internet see
Europe’s Data Protection Law Is a Big, Confusing Mess (that is from May 17, 2019). This is a strongly recommended article.

3. The Art of Screwing Up the Deal: Trump Is Proving to Be the World's Worst Dealmaker

This article is by Mark Summer on AlterNet and originally on Daily Kos. It starts as follows:

A week after declaring the trade war between the US and China “on hold” Trump has reversed himself by breaking that armistice. He has announced a series of actions, including an as-yet-undetermined set of Chinese-made goods that will be subject to a 25 percent tariff along with new restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States. This action seems to take positions back to where they were in April, with Trump threatening one set of tariffs and China preparing their own tariffs in reply. 

The most obvious casualty of that earlier round of threats was US farmers, who stood to lose an enormous portion of their export market. Then Trump declared that the problem had been solved, when a week ago China and the US supposedly reached a broad agreement that would see China buy more instead of less. So much more that, according to Trump, China would buy “practically as much as our Farmers can produce.” However, everything from last week now seems to be out the window, and Trump is once again promising a “final list” of items to face tariffs. Farmers are once again the most likely to immediately suffer from any retaliation.

Yes indeed - this seems all quite true. And while it doesn´t prove the article´s title that ¨Trump Is (..) the World's Worst Dealmaker¨, I think it does make it quite plausible that Trump is not the kind of dealmaker that ought to be president of the USA (or Senator etc.) For more see item 1.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

The Post calls Trump’s stances on economics and diplomacy “fluid.” By which they don’t mean flexible. More like unpredictable, erratic and nonsensical. It’s not just the positions themselves that are harming America’s standing in the world. The way Trump negotiates—by deception, bullying and sudden changes of direction—is leaving the US isolated and with few willing partners.

Yes, I quite agree - and as I have been saying for over two years now, I am a psychologist who agrees with what seem to be at least 70,000 psychologists and psychiatrists that Trump is not a more or less normal man, but he is a megalomaniac aka narcissist, which is (in my opinion) more than enough reason to get rid of him as soon as possible.

4. Paris: May 1968

This article is by Maurice Brinton, on marxist.org (and several other sites). Also, it was written in 1968.

It is here for three reasons: (i) I have been in Paris in 1968 as well, indeed both in May and in June, and the article very well rhymes with my own experiences then (but I was much younger than Brinton was, for I had just turned 18 then); (ii) I have been looking for articles written in 2018 about 1968, not as serious as I would have done had this been my only interest, but serious enough (simply because I look at 35 sites every day); while also (iii) the article that I had originally selected in this place, that was written in 2018 -
50th Anniversary of May 1968, Paris: Memories of an Illusory Revolution - I found so bad, so one-sided, so speculative and simply false that I discarded it and replaced it by Brinton´s article, which is at least good and quite clear, and which was written in 1968. (You can compare the two if you wish.)

Also, since I am reviewing an article by Maurice Brinton, I think I need to explain that this was the alias of Chris Pallis (1923-2005) who was both an intelligent anarchist and a rather prominent neurologist. (I like him, and am busy with annotating his ¨The Irrational in Politics¨. I hope to publish this fairly soon.)

Finally, I will be quoting here only from Brinton´s introduction to his text, which I think is quite interesting and also honest and fair, but far too much to quote and review in Nederlog.

The introduction starts as follows:

This is an eyewitness account of two weeks spent in Paris during May 1968. It is what one person saw, heard or discovered during that short period. The account has no pretence at comprehensiveness. It has been written and produced in haste, its purpose being to inform rather than to analyze - and to inform quickly.

The French events have a significance that extends far beyond the frontiers of modern France. They will leave their mark on the history of the second half of the twentieth century. French bourgeois society has just been shaken to its foundations. Whatever the outcome of the present struggle, we must calmly take note of the fact that the political map of Western capitalist society will never be the same again. A whole epoch has just come to an end: the epoch during which people could say, with a semblance of verisimilitude, that "it couldn't happen here". Another epoch is starting: that in which people know that revolution is possible under the conditions of modern bureaucratic capitalism.

I think this is correct. Here is more:

For Stalinism too, a whole period is ending: the period during which Communist Parties in Western Europe could claim (admittedly with dwindling credibility) that they remained revolutionary organizations, but that revolutionary opportunities had never really presented themselves. This notion has now irrevocably been swept into the proverbial "dustbin of history". When the chips were down, the French Communist Party and those workers under its influence proved to be the final and most effective "brake" on the development of the revolutionary self-activity of the working class.

I agree more or less, and like to point out that in 1968 the world was still divided in ¨a capitalist block¨ and ¨a socialist block¨, that only ceased to be the case in 1991.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this - long - article:

A full analysis of the French events will eventually have to be attempted for, without an understanding of modern society, it will never be possible consciously to change it. But this analysis will have to wait for a while until some of the dust has settled. What can be said now is that, if honestly carried out, such an analysis will compel many "orthodox" revolutionaries to discard a mass of outdated slogans and myths and to reassess contemporary reality, particularly the reality of modern bureaucratic capitalism, its dynamic, its methods of control and manipulation, the reasons for both its resilience and its brittleness and - most important of all - the nature of its crises. Concepts and organizations that have been found wanting will have to be discarded. The new phenomena (new in themselves or new to traditional revolutionary theory) will have to be recognized for what they are and interpreted in all their implications. The real events of 1968 will then have to be integrated into a new framework of ideas, for without this development of revolutionary theory, there can be no development of revolutionary practice - and in the long run no transformation of society through the conscious actions of men.

I think Brinton/Pallis was quite correct about the need for a ¨full analysis of the French events¨ but history has shown (I think) that this was never - properly, factually - done, as indeed is the case with most revolutionary actions that failed, also if they are quite important.

Finally, in the article there is around 130 Kb more information, all about May 1968 and written in May 1968. If you want to know what Paris was like in May 1968, this is a good explanation (and better than most I´ve read the last 50 years). It is strongly recommended.

5. Pity the Right-Winger: He Gets No Respect!

This article is by Mike Lofgren on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

One of the signature stereotypes of present-day political controversy is the privileged and coddled Social Justice Warrior, usually resident on a university campus, who lives to take offense at the unfairness of life. Unlike hardworking, uncomplaining, and morally grounded Real Americans, the Social Justice Warrior is a petulant whiner whose troublemaking has brought us cringe-worthy notions like trigger warnings, safe spaces, and cultural appropriation. Not for nothing are they dubbed “snowflakes:” each one unique (in his or her own mind), and oh, so fragile.

With that in mind, a segment on NPR’s “All Things Considered” left me practically convulsed with laughter. It featured a series of what might generously be called conservative opinion leaders bellyaching about how, despite controlling all three branches of the federal government and the majority of state governments, the right isn’t sufficiently esteemed by the broader American culture. Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, they just don’t get no respect.

Yes, I think this is correct, and also that Mike Lofgren is a quite interesting man. Here is one of the greedy bastards that write for the GOP:

Kurt Schlichter, a blogger at Townhall.com, continues in this self-pitying vein:  "We want to be treated with respect, and we will not tolerate anything less which is just unacceptable for this to continue. I'm tired of Hollywood spitting on us. I am tired of academia spitting on us. I'm tired of the news media spitting on us."

Dammit, I am a man!

At first sight, it is passing strange that the shock troops of the conservative movement should be so wiltingly sensitive. The whole gestalt of conservatism is closely bound up with its adherents’ self-image as rugged individualists, proud of their autonomy and contemptuous of the horde of other-directed, Nanny State-worshipping collectivist slackers that liberalism has bred.

Yes, I agree - and I also note, as an aside, that over 50 years ago ¨I Am a Man!¨ was the thesis under which quite a few black men demonstrated against discrimination and poverty.

Then there is this by Lofgren, who started as a Republican, on conservatism:

Yet ever since the French Revolution, conservatism has been at odds with nearly all the major trends within Western Civilization that have emerged from the Enlightenment, trends that, for all their halting reforms and backsliding, have made it unique compared to other historical civilizations: science and empiricism, legal equality, human rights and the emancipation of women, abolition of torture, free intellectual inquiry, and the general attitude that life’s conditions ought to be made humane to the extent practicable. Conservatives, by contrast, are staunch defenders of the West – but only if you throw out the last 250 years of positive developments, including, apparently, vaccines and modern sanitation.

No, I don´t quite agree: I am not a conservative, but it is clear to me that ¨conservatism¨ has quite a few senses (of which Lofgren picks out one) that are not (quite) compatible, and it is also clear to me that one can be quite conservative, indeed in a for me possibly quite sickening way, without being willing to discard the science and technology of the last 250 years.

Then there is this about modern conservatives:

As the Austrian writer Robert Musil warned, “a man cannot be angry at his own time without suffering some damage,” and conservatives, venting about how the dominant culture disrespects them, display their permanently aggrieved, adversarial stance towards the system they believe is persecuting them. It is not enough that they dominate government, have their own 24/7 propaganda network (Fox, of course), the largest corporate chain of TV stations in the country (Sinclair), and utterly control talk radio; nothing less than complete social hegemony can still their nagging fear that someone, somewhere, is laughing at them.

Again I don´t quite agree.

First about modern conservatives´ ¨permanently aggrieved, adversarial stance¨: I think this is rather a technique, a ploy, a deception than real fact, although I am quite willing to grant that the more stupid conservatives probably are ¨permanently aggrieved¨.

And second about the facts that the modern conservatives ¨have their own 24/7 propaganda network (Fox, of course), the largest corporate chain of TV stations in the country (Sinclair), and utterly control talk radio¨: I agree, and I explain this myself in terms of the totalitarianism of many modern conservatives.

Alas, while ¨totalitarianism¨ was well-defined on Wikipedia, it is not anymore: It seems as if some assistant of Brzezinski has been allowed to falsify the concept (very intentionally) so that now it means, according to the lying and falsifying Wikipedia, no longer what George Orwell or I understand by it, but what Brzezinski wants it to mean, which is something that is only possible in the Soviet Union and China, and has nothing whatsoever to do with persons, plans, proposals, political parties, feelings, attitudes, or whatever else pertains to persons: You are - in Brzezinski´s terms - a totalitarian if and only if you are in the Soviet Union, possibly Putin´s Russia, or China, and not because of what you, your plans, your political party, your feelings or your attitudes are, but simply because these are totalitarian states.

And the USA is not, and therefore no real American can ever be a totalitarian: because the American state is not totalitarian.

For me, the above is so insane and so dishonest that I have given up on Wikipedia as an even possibly honest institution: This is all utter bullshit and all total propaganda, and it has little or nothing to do with how ¨totalitarianism¨ has been used the last 65 years or so by intellectuals and academics.

But neither Wikipedia nor Brzezinski care. Here is more by Lofgren:

With that in mind, consider the 45th president of the United States, whose popularity among conservatives is such that they may soon nominate him for the next available vacancy in the Trinity. Trump is not only a walking negation of every single feature I have mentioned, his character coincides perfectly with the old-fashioned, harshly negative sexist stereotype of the bitchy, hysterical woman. From his preening vanity about his looks to his vicious, catty tongue, Trump is a compilation of every alleged unbearable shrewish trait that misogynists have zealously catalogued for millennia.

Petty, boastful, full of spite and petulance, yet deeply insecure and always craving praise and attention, this pathological cry-baby is the personification of the neurotic diva that Bette Davis made into a bankable formula in dozens of melodramas. Yet here we are, living with someone whose finger rests on the nuclear button (...)
I somewhat agree, but I think my analysis of Trump is probably different from Lofgren´s:
I am a psychologist (unlike Lofgren, and unlike most people) and I think - it seems with at least 70,000 other psychologists and psychiatrists - that Trump is not sane: He is a megalomaniac aka a narcissist. (Which also means that, simply because he is not sane, he should not be president.)

Besides, megalomania does explain most of Trump´s characteristics, including his - quite sick - utterly false pack of lies every day: A sane man does not insist and insist and insist and insist (and still insists, over a year later) on the utterly false thesis that there were more people attending his inauguration than attended Obamas. And if he does so - more than a year, also - the explanation is that he is not sane.

The article ends as follows:

Conservatism in its present form is a funhouse-mirror exaggeration of many of the pathologies that have built up in the United States under the rubric of American Exceptionalism. That national myth may yet lead our country to destruction under Donald John Trump, American Exceptionalism’s most vociferous proponent, and the man who best embodies the schizophrenic wish-dreams of contemporary American conservatism.
I quite agree that Trump ¨may yet lead our country [the USA - MM] to destruction¨ but - as I have indicated above - I do not quite agree with Lofgren´s conceptions of conservatives. But this is a recommended article.

B. One Extra Bit

This is an extra bit in the crisis series. I did so before a few times. And the following article is quite good, although I fear it is only for the physically or mathematically interested. It is by mathematician Peter Woit:
Incidentally, yesterday´s Extra Bit was also about an article by Peter Woit, but I think the present sequence is accidental. (I think so because I have been following Woit the last five years, simply because I am a philosopher and a psychologist who is interested in mathematics and physics.)

Here is how this article starts:

The past month has seen quite a few events and articles celebrating the 100th anniversary of Richard Feynman’s birth (see for example here, here, here and here). Feynman was one of the great figures of twentieth century physics, with a big intellectual influence on me and on many generations of particle theorists. In particular, his development of the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics and the Feynman diagram method for calculating and understanding what quantum field theories are telling us are at the center of how we have learned to think about fundamental physics and apply it to the real world.

When I first started studying physics, in the seventies, Feynman was a major figure to physicists, but not that well-known outside the subject. After the 1985 appearance of the book of anecdotes “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and his 1986 role in the report on the Challenger disaster (followed by more anecdotes in the 1988 “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”) Feynman became a huge public figure.
I had forgotten Feynman was born 100 years ago. And what Woit says is correct. (I discovered Feynman between 1977 and 1983, which came about because I was a mathematically interested philosopher. But indeed neither a mathematician nor a physicist.)

Here is some about Woit´s reaction to Feynman´s ¨anecdote books¨:
I avidly read the Feynman anecdote books when they came out and was suitably entertained, but I also found them a bit disturbing. Too many of the anecdotes seemed to revolve around Feynman showing how much smarter he was than someone else.
Well... I respect Woit, but my own reaction was a bit different, and is based on two points.

First, Feynman simply was a lot smarter than most mathematicians and physicists, indeed in quite objective terms. (There were a few others as well, notably Von Neumann.)

And second, I never studied physics or mathematics in university (which probably was a mistake, which cannot be undone) but I did study philosophy, psychology and Norwegian (all in the university), and was quite active in the university, and what I found there were many - not: all, but yes: many - professors and even lecturers who pretended to be little geniuses, quite brilliant people, very much more learned and with much more insight than any student and anyone who was not academically qualified, and so on and so forth, indeed probably less extreme than Feynman did in his ¨anecdote books¨, but then the reason was that absolutely none of them really was a genius, or brilliant, or indeed quite learned. But many did want to be considered to be, at least by their students.

And being a psychologist, and knowing about the vanity and the egoism that are inherent in virtually all men, I found and find it quite easy to forgive Feynman for - often quite amusing - descriptions of his own undoubted cleverness, simply because he was cleverer and smarter than almost all other intellectuals.

Here is the last bit that I  quote from this article:
While Gross described a major legacy of Feynman as “a healthy disrespect for authority” and “a total aversion to BS”, those characteristics led Feynman to have a very negative view of string theory, up until his death. He was known to remark that “string theorists don’t make predictions, they make excuses”, and in a 1987 interview stated:
Now I know that other old men have been very foolish in saying things like this, and, therefore, I would be very foolish to say this is nonsense. I am going to be very foolish, because I do feel strongly that this is nonsense! I can’t help it, even though I know the danger in such a point of view. So perhaps I could entertain future historians by saying I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction.
What is it you don’t like about it?
I don’t like that they’re not calculating anything. I don’t like that they don’t check their ideas. I don’t like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation – a fix-up to say “Well, it still might be true”.
And 31 years later, it seems that Feynman is - still - quite correct about physics-as-string- theory: It may be interesting mathematics, but without experimental tests, it is metaphysics if presented as physics.

Note

[1]I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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