27 November, 2016

The Digest—Sunday, 27 November, 2016

[The Digest is a collection of articles, videos, and other media I've viewed and found significant throughout the day. It is a way to divest myself from other social media that is more reliant on likes, click-bait, and peer-approval rather than quality, intelligence, and diversity of opinion, which are the qualities I find important. It is also a way to devote myself to daily contributions to this space...at least in theory.]

-=Summary: Trump's legal wakeup call, makeup tips for domestic abuse, 81x the wealth for whites in D.C., educational saturation a predictor of unTrumpiness, inventing the Russian threat, modern meanings of 'like', fundamentalist white America, Dollhouse, & Spanish Lake=-


'A recipe for scandal': Trump conflicts of interest point to constitutional crisis
from The Guardian

Apparently Trump has it all legally wrong that the President can have no conflicts of interest (ahem); he says he's giving his business to his kids, yet his kids are sitting in on meetings with foreign leaders, and foreign leaders seem to be making way to ease Trump's business interests in their countries, not to mention booking rooms in his many hotels across the globe.

The constitutional problem is specifically about receiving payments and/or gifts from foreign leaders, and the existential problem is about whether Trump will or will not intervene in foreign governments based on his business interests. Apparently the electoral college can block his ascendance to the Presidency if he does not figure out this business boondoggle, though I wouldn't count on it. No...pun...intended.

Moroccan state TV shows women how to hide domestic violence
from The Guardian

Lovely. At least there was appropriate uproar as reaction. There's a link to the video embedded in a tweet embedded in the article, and it's just as sad as it sounds. 

In D.C., White Families Are on Average 81 Times Richer Than Black Ones
from The Atlantic

This article touches on the vital components of prejudicial state programs that created the white middle class at the expense of African Americans, though it could have gone into more depth, like how inner-city schools are failing because their budgets are tied to property taxes, and inner-city property has long been devalued by predatory banks and loan schemes to push post-war segregation between white suburbia, which refused to sell to black families, and white flight from city centers. 

America's Educational Divide Put Trump in the White House
from The Atlantic

Census data shows that counties with greater concentrations of college-educated voters was the greatest predictor of voting for Clinton. The greater conversation might be: what about the college experience predisposes people to vote for more liberal candidates? I would suggest reasons such as,

  • College introduces you to many different types of people outside your normal realm of experience
  • College teaches you to work collaboratively with other people
  • College (supposedly) teaches critical thinking skills, research skills, creative problem solving, and grants access to greater resources of knowledge, ideas, and concepts
  • College taught me, personally, that other points of view are valuable resources, as opposed to empirical threats to my existence
Most of these boil down to having a more open mind about the world and the many people in it. Any other thoughts?

The New Red Scare: Reviving the Art of Threat Inflation
from Harper's (note: must subscribe to read this article...until next month)

The use of manufactured threats to maintain defense spending in a world where "maintain" means "explode," and in more ways than one. To this end, commitment to reduce nuclear arsenals also means modernizing and remaking those arsenals, not destroying the older ones, to the cost of multiple trillions of dollars overall. 
Thus the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico plans to expand its facility for producing plutonium “pits” — the fissile core at the heart of a nuclear weapon. Instead of an annual total of ten such pits, Los Alamos now plans to manufacture eighty, at a cost of some $3 billion. This is despite the fact that the United States has roughly 15,000 pits in storage, most of which will be in working order for another century. 
This approach, of course, generates a staggering amount of waste. Many of the headline scandals, such as the $200 million F-35 fighter that could not fly within twenty-five miles of a thunderstorm, have become notorious — but the list is long. The Army in particular has spawned an impressive list of procurement projects, including helicopters, radios, and armored troop carriers, that have come to nothing. The Future Combat Systems referred to above is said to have been launched by Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki as a kind of preemptive strike on the taxpayer’s wallet. “If I don’t buy something new,” he reportedly declared, “no one on the Hill will believe that the U.S. Army is changing.” The project ultimately absorbed $20 billion with nothing whatsoever to show for it.
In other words, the military has to promise to design and build new weapons to get their money, but such projects often result in absolutely nothing to show for all that money or systems so faulty they cannot be used. 

Regarding the war in Iraq:
Though the weapons cost more and more, we produce fewer and fewer of them. For example, the Air Force originally told us they were buying 749 F-22 fighters at a cost of $35 million each. They ended up with 187 planes at $412 million apiece. The trend persists across the services — and sometimes, as in the case of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, no weapons are produced at all.
This, despite slashing budgets to schools and health care and unemployment insurance and food stamps and things people need to survive and thrive in this country. Which do you count as a measure of success? A healthy, well-educated, well-employed population, or a military so awash with cash they have to invent fake projects to justify their budgets?

The other lesson of this article is that we're inflating the perceived threat of Russian capability and intention to justify such budgets, and in doing so, along with token displays of force, we're escalating tensions for wholly unnecessary reasons to levels far more dangerous and potentially catastrophic than things like reality prove are required to assure safety and protection of allies, needless provocations that are designed precisely to provoke and escalate for no good damn reason whatever except to keep the money flowing.

Last I checked, nuclear annihilation was an undesirable outcome. The politics of fear are on the rise, and in such conditions the media must hold these hyperbolic hawks to task. 

The Evolution of 'Like' by John McWhorter (awesome awesome awesome!)
from The Atlantic

Oh oh oh, I love articles like this, full of etymologies and exhibits of language run amok, as language always does, growing and shifting and metamorphosizing to unrecognizable shifts and slips of tongue. Swive it! Swive it all!
Like is a word, and so we’d expect it to develop new meanings: the only question, as always, is which one? So is it that young people are strangely overusing the like from the dictionary, or might it be that like has birthed a child with a different function altogether? When one alternative involves saddling entire generations of people, of an awesome array of circumstances across a vast nation, with a mysteriously potent inferiority complex, the other possibility beckons as worthy of engagement.

The dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America: a view from the inside
from The Raw Story

This would really piss people off if it had more coverage, but it doesn't, so it won't, but it should. Some of my family belongs to this demographic, so I've also seen it up close. What's struck me most about them is the utter lack of curiosity about the world, about anything outside their everyday. This doesn't apply to all of them, of course, but is the overall impression I receive. When I told a family member I was going to study in Switzerland, the answer I got was, "Oh, yeah, Switzerland. I've heard of that."

The other side of this argument that I think is even more important is the fact that, while we're told these people are ignored, powerless, left out, they are still the image of America projected by the status quo, the embodiments of white privilege, in that they believe in the "American dream" projected by the financial elite, that they too could become one of them, that this is what they deserve, and all assistance should come to them to help them achieve it. 

I likewise don't know how to reach people whose beliefs preclude them from accepting outside sources, but I agree that it has to be personal, emotional, and life-changing. I don't think, however, that it must be catastrophic. Exposure to a series of emotionally complex, empathy-induing media might help just enough. This is untested, though. I don't write these people off, and I feel more sadness and frustration than anger and bitterness toward them. I do feel anger, however, toward the people who claim this population is ignored and powerless when they know better. 

This narrative must be even more upsetting to those who actually are ignored and powerless, like single mothers, kids who have to get themselves to school everyday, teachers in schools with 35 kids in their mobile classrooms that go uncooled in summer and unheated in winter, women who work 18-hour days and still require food stamps but are told they're lazy "takers" who contribute nothing to the world. 

For the record, I'm not opposed to religion, but I am opposed to any ideology or belief system that is closed, discourages questions, that claims to have all the answers already. Such systems are tools of control that demand absolute obedience, that erode choice and personal freedom, that monitor thought as well as action and feeling. Dissent is the foundation of democracy. The unknown is the foundation of learning. Error is the foundation of ingenuity. When systems close, they not only shut out everything else but also lock themselves in, shrink within constrained interiors, and ultimately collapse.


Dollhouse, episodes 1 & 2
via Netflix

Show by Joss Whedon programming people to become whatever fantasy-date or necessary-assassin/negotiator/whateverer the ultra-rich can afford through amalgams of personality. Rather standardly episodic in nature, but it does raise interesting ethical questions.

What is a person without his or her identity? Can someone give consent for the unknown? I suppose the legality is moot in an illegal scenario, but my presumption was that this underground facility was a test run for wider distribution. Helo from Battlestar Galactica is also a bonus.

Spanish Lake (2014)
via Netflix

This does address the systemically racist housing practices of the post-war era that were neglected in the article above, and it's a film perhaps more relevant in the wake of this election (and its surrounding discussions) than when it was made. I'm still mulling it over; the emotions involved are too complex for impulse reactions.

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