This week, dotard and moron Donald Trump flew to Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Your funny toilet bowls keep squirting me in the ass. I feel like a samurai.

Maybe after the koi eat, they’ll give each other blowjobs.

It’s great being here on the golf course, far away from all that fake news about Russiagate.

Hi Donald. Meet me in the clubhouse to pick up your latest instructions.

Okay, boss.

 

• Several of America’s most prominent institutions are simultaneously collapsing before our eyes. That’s likely mostly for the good, ultimately.

• John Boehner is disgusted by Donald Trump. Too bad he enabled him.

• Before Trump’s “Build the Wall” there was McCain’s “Complete the Danged Fence.”

• As Facebook’s connection to the Kremlin becomes clearer, Sheryl Sandberg is sounding more like Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Megan McCardle is troubled by online shaming, but she’s earned some of what she’s received.

• Artificial Intelligence is either depressingly limited or on the cusp of taking all our jobs and becoming superintelligent. It depends on who you ask.

• Old Print Article: Adolf Hitler feared alive and escaped. (1945)

• This week’s Afflictor keyphrase searches: Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Winograd, etc.

Several of America’s most prominent institutions are simultaneously collapsing before our eyes. That’s likely mostly for the good, ultimately.

The gravest danger is in Washington, of course, where a Manchurian Russian candidate made his way to the White House with a Putin push and is sick enough to be willing to destroy democracy to save himself. A complicit, corrupt Republican Congress seems intent on allowing the Simon Cowell-ish strongman to do just that. Only Robert Mueller’s team and tens of millions of citizens can prevent such an outcome. One way or another, the whole thing is coming down and Trump will be covered in disgrace. The shape the rest of us will be in is TBD.

After Weinstein, Hollywood is also on the chopping block, with a century-old studio like Warner Brothers potentially facing an ignominious death thanks to the perpetually predatory behavior of Brett Ratner. Weinstein, Ratner, Toback and Spacey are almost definitely only the first names on the list, with the film and music business scandals just beginning. There are numerous movie and record company execs and stars on Ratner’s professional level (or higher) who’ve long been rumored to have behaved as badly or far worse. As it concerns the children in show biz, all it would take is one former tween performer to name A-list names to cause an earthquake. And these outrages have a chance to reverberate far beyond entertainment circles, ensnaring any number of politicians and financiers who move in these moneyed circles.

Silicon Valley isn’t vanishing anytime soon, but it’s clear now the industry is either too inept or too unwilling to enact a course correction in the wake of Kremlin interference in our election. Furthermore, the community is betting a big part of its future on a surveillance capitalism that has already become part of the firmament but is only in the foundational stage. Oversight is desperately needed, and for the first time it seems like it may come to fruition.

The media is also faltering, but some of the reasons are troubling. It’s great to see Ailes, O’Reilly, Halperin, Wieseltier and other shitty media men get their comeuppance, but the seismic shift from print to the Internet is still an existential threat. Let’s remember that it wasn’t tweets or likes that began the cascading Harvey Effect but rather two pieces of exorbitantly expensive journalism produced by the New York Times and the New Yorker, a pair of the country’s legacy reporting companies. There is no cheap substitute in a healthy democracy for this kind of work, though that’s what we’re being offered more and more.

Wall Street so far has remained unscathed by the tottering of these other sectors, which I guess is fitting, seeing how uncoupled it’s become from Main Street. There’s no guarantee, however, that this raft of scandals won’t also cause it to crater.

Janice Min is correct, I think, when she says Weinstein finally being defenestrated from the penthouse is the result of a serial sexual predator like Donald Trump and his anti-woman agenda landing in the Oval Office. While that may have been the original impetus, the landslide has now taken on a life of its own. Much of this was long overdue, but there will be collateral damage. Let’s hope liberal governance is not among the casualties.

From Stella Bugbee’s latest Editor’s Letter at “The Cut“:

I want to feel less furious. Less unsettled. I want to write a novel about an ordinary man in a mid-level position of power who knew he had abused women and was waiting to be outed. I want to capture the twilight of uncertain fear, the swirling cesspool of anger and panic he must be swimming in for the first time and the denial necessary for him to have carried on with his life all along.

I want to understand what men know about WANTING. Because men know about wanting. Men have been told for their whole lives that to be a man means to take and do what they want. I retain so few specifics from what I read in high school, but for some reason I have never forgotten this bit from Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King:

“Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it got even stronger. It said only one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, ‘What do you want?’ But this is all it would ever tell me.”

That voice told Mark Halperin to rub his boner on unsuspecting female assistants. It told Harvey Weinstein to jerk off into a potted plant, among other things. And Bellow told me what I was already beginning to understand: Men want what they want, and that wanting is more powerful than what I want. And the crazy thing is how much I liked that book, even identified with Henderson — bored in my high-school classroom, sitting with all my unexpressed wants.

I want. I want. I want. All I want right now is to be around other women that make me laugh, like Aidy Bryant, the Cut’s November cover woman. I want to root out more stories and listen intently. I want to talk ad nauseum with Rebecca Traister about shitty men and how we deal with them.

The other day Traister told me, “This is some renegade ’70s-era feminist shit going on — I’ve never lived through anything like it.” I want to revel in this moment, even as I am scared and uncertain where it will lead us.•

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If your reflexive response to the Grenfell Tower Fire tragedy, expressed even before all the charred bodies have all been recovered and identified, is to pen an essay-form cost-benefit analysis of the sprinkler system that the British government didn’t force the public-housing builder to install, you probably will be inundated with criticism online. You should be. 

Megan McCardle did just that in Bloomberg View earlier this year in a column that ran with the subheading: “Perhaps safety rules could have saved some residents. But at what cost to others’ lives?” It’s unlikely the essayist herself came up with that line, but the editor who did perfectly captured the gist of the piece. It’s one of the more stunning examples of McCardle’s Libertarian delusions, in which the invisible hand of the free market will magically guide us to the correct decisions, something proven to be utter bullshit from the Shirtwaist Triangle Fire to Grenfell and many terrible moments in between.

An excerpt:

A few days ago fire swept through Grenfell Tower, a large apartment building in London. It’s not yet known what caused the fire, and we aren’t conclusively sure how it spread so quickly, consuming the entire 24-story building. Nor is it known how many died in the fire; as of Friday, the count is at least 30.

What we do know is that there are ways to help control the spread of fire in apartment buildings, such as sprinkler systems. This has the makings of a scandal for Prime Minister Theresa May’s beleaguered government. Her immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, was formerly the housing minister. He declined to require developers to install sprinklers. The Independent quotes him as telling Parliament in 2014: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation. … The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building — something we want to encourage — so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has.” 

People who died in the Grenfell fire might be alive today if regulators had required sprinkler systems. This does not play well for the Tories. 

But before we start hanging them in effigy, there are a couple of things we should consider. The first is that, even if the regulation had passed, and required existing developers to retrofit sprinklers into older buildings, Grenfell Tower might not have gotten a sprinkler system before the fire occurred. Regulations are not implemented like instant coffee; they take time to formulate, and further time for businesses to comply. All the political will in the world cannot conjure up enough sprinkler systems, and sprinkler-system installers, to instantly transform a nation’s housing stock. 

This, however, is only a quibble; even if Grenfell Tower could not have been saved, there are surely other buildings where fires will soon occur that would benefit from sprinklers. Must we wait for those deaths before we can say that his was a bad calculation?

Well, no. But we should wait until we can establish that it was actually a bad calculation.

It may sound heartless to discuss life-saving measures as a calculation. But the fact is that we all make these sorts of calculations every day, about ourselves and others. We just don’t like to admit that we’re doing it. …

Back to the case at hand: Maybe sprinkler systems should be required in multifamily dwellings. It’s completely possible that the former housing minister made the wrong call. But his comment indicates he was thinking about the question in the right way — taking seriously the fact that safety regulations come at a cost, which may exceed their benefit. Such calculations have to be made, no matter how horrified the tut-tutting after the fact.

And he is certainly right about one thing: When it comes to many regulations, it is best to leave such calculations of benefit and cost to the market, rather than the government. People can make their own assessments of the risks, and the price they’re willing to pay to allay them, rather than substituting the judgment of some politician or bureaucrat who will not receive the benefit or pay the cost.

Grenfell Tower, of course, was public housing, which changes the calculation somewhat. And yet, even there, trade-offs have to be made.•

In a recent EconTalk podcast, Russ Roberts, a scholar at the Mercatus Center, a think tank funded by the regulation-loathing Koch brothers, discussed “Internet shaming and online mobs” with McCardle, who still doesn’t seem to get the effect her polite essays in legitimate publications can have on the lives of others. She’s certainly correct that nobody should be harassing others online or off with death threats over ideas, even ugly ones, but she comes across far more concerned about the standing of those who try to oppress others than the oppressed ones fighting back. Case in point: She’s worried about the earning power of amateur biologist and former Googler James Damore more than the women he dismissively and falsely depicted. Perhaps the free hand of the market gave him just the slap he needed?

An excerpt:

Russ Roberts: 

Before we go on, I want to challenge one thing at the root of your concerns; and then I want to talk about some of what I think we can do about it. And then you can suggest whether you agree or what your own ideas are. But, the thing I want to raise is: Some would argue, perhaps legitimately–I don’t agree, but I’m not sure how I feel about this, actually–that shaming is good. That, all of this stuff that you are worried about–yes, people are scared about what they say: Well, they should be scared, goes this argument. Because, words can hurt people. Words are important. And, it’s a glorious thing that we have made people sensitized about the harmful effects of their words. And, the things that you are decrying, Megan, are actually good. One extreme version of this would be–and this drives me crazy, but I’ll put it forward anyway: ‘Well, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing–if you don’t say anything bad–there’s nothing–you are not going to get hurt.’ All this shaming is to punish people who tell disgusting jokes, write grotesque memos that say things at the water cooler that intimidate and harm people. And those people should be shamed.

Megan McArdle: 

So, I think that that is actually true up to a point. I’ve made this point before. In fact, the first column I ever wrote on online shaming, which was based on Jon Ronson’s excellent book on the topic, in which I coined the term “shame-storming,” which sadly failed to catch on, denying—

Russ Roberts: 

I’m surprised. It’s a great name—

Megan McArdle: 

Yeah. Somehow, I try to coin these things periodically, as all writers do. And mine never catch on. Julian Sanchez, on the other hand, like, just tosses them offhand and they are always amazing, you know, apt and meaty. But, yeah. Look. When people tell racist jokes, and their friends turn around and say, “That’s not funny and you shouldn’t say that,” right? That’s useful. Completely useful.

Russ Roberts: 

It’s how society evolves. Those are the norms–

Megan McArdle: 

How society has to happen. There is no society–

Russ Roberts: 

Those are the Smithian norms of judgment. And people’s desire to be lovely, and to be respected by their friends. And it constrains behavior. It is great.

Megan McArdle: 

There is no society that gets along without that. That’s not what we’re doing at this point, though. Right? We’re not just–look, I have been on the Internet 15 years. I have said some things I should not have said, and gotten people screeching at me. Justifiably. And then sometimes not justifiably. I have had pictures of my house even mailed to me with a gun-sight over the house. I have had death threats. I have had all this stuff. You shouldn’t send death threats to people; you should not make even photographic even kind of pseudo-death threats. But I get—”I hope you and your family die”; “I hope etc., etc.” I get that all the time. And, some of it is productive. Some of it is not. But, that’s all, to me, kind of all in the game. And it’s terrible—I feel terrible for this, that girl at Yale who got filmed saying some really intemperate and unwise things to her professor–screaming profanity at her professor–

Russ Roberts: 

In a moment of emotion—

Megan McArdle: 

In a moment when–she should not have screamed profanity at her professor; I will say that. But I will also say that the Internet definitely should not have deluged her with horrible, ugly messages. Right? And I’ve been through it; and I know, like, the first 10 or 20 times it happens to you it’s really terrible. Now, it just rolls off my back. I can’t even—

Russ Roberts: 

That’s because that comes with the territory. And it shouldn’t come with being an 18-year-old in college as a freshman, or a junior, or a senior and having to deal with it out of the blue, unexpectedly. It’s not right.

Megan McArdle: 

But, it’s also a different thing. However terrible it is, you move on. You kind of huddle for a few days. You feel bad; you tell all your friends how bad you feel. And then, a year later–yeah, it was bad, but you’ve gotten over it. Right? The difference now is–there’s a couple of things. One of them has to go to that tweet that you talked about–the global warming tweet. It’s like a year old. And periodically it just comes back to life. And how it comes back to life? Someone finds it; someone retweets it; there’s a whole new level of people screaming at you. And again, for me, this is my job. It’s all in the game. You want to scream at me, go right ahead. But, that happens to these people who get Internet shamed. But, more than that, there’s a lot of economic consequences here. You look at someone like Memories Pizza, the pizza place in Indiana that told people they wouldn’t do, cater gay weddings. Like, what are the odds that a pizza place in a small town in Indiana was actually ever going to be asked to cater gay weddings? But, the Internet went crazy. And these people were just deluged with horrible messages. The ultimately had to close down. Then they got a lot of donations. So, there’s two camps; and there can be counter-benefits as well. But, when you are talking about depriving someone of their livelihood–and this goes back to Brezhnev, right? If someone told the Brezhnev joke and all of your friends said, “That’s not funny, and you should not question our fearless leader,” you know, that would be creepy. Maybe you would want to get new friends. But, it would be within the kind of bounds of normal, human, social reaction. The problem is when you are actually afraid they are going to take away the means by which I make my living. That is an enormous amount of power. And that is ultimately what I ended up talking about in this article–is that, classical liberals, and libertarians, of which I think you and I are both one–we normally have two categories: Private power, which is fine, because it’s bounded; because there’s exit. And then there’s Public power, which has guns behind it, and it’s not bounded; and is a different animal; and that’s the animal that we focus on. Right? And there can be some cases of companies that kind of get so much monopoly power that they start acting like governments. But it’s actually pretty rare. This is a third creature, that seems to be in between those two things. Right? Because it’s not one company. Someone Google–this guy just got fired from Google. Well, you go work for another company that’s–maybe doesn’t care so much. Where you haven’t made your co-workers angry, or whatever. All companies are probably going to be afraid to hire this guy.

Russ Roberts: 

I think small companies might take a chance on it, if his skills are such.

Megan McArdle: 

Sure, but he’s never going to get a–

Russ Roberts: 

He’s damaged—

Megan McArdle: 

He’s damaged. In a way that was not true 10 years ago when it was just, you said something bad on the Internet and then people screamed at you and felt bad. And sometimes you said, “Yes, I shouldn’t have said that.” And sometimes you earned it back. But either way, it was bounded. When you threaten someone’s economic livelihood, you are threatening pretty close to killing them. Right? If you can’t make money to survive, then–it’s not the same as threatening to kill them, but it’s probably the next worst thing a government can do, is after bodily harm and threat or death, what can the state threaten you with? They can take away all of your money. They can take, freeze your bank accounts. They can make it impossible for you to live in society. And that is a thing that this power is starting to approach. And when we talking about freezing accounts, a Southern Poverty Law Center designated a small, kind of religious values institute–they are quite conservative; the head of the institute seems to be Catholic and quite traditional Catholic. They were rated a hate group and their payment provider cut them off. So, they couldn’t take donations. Those kinds of powers, when they are ubiquitous–when it isn’t just, this happens and then like it was just, you know, “My bank didn’t want to deal with me because of my views, so I went and got another bank.” Right? That is a fundamentally different thing from ‘Now, all the banks don’t want to touch me.”•

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Currently, Artificial Intelligence is either depressingly limited or on the cusp of taking all our jobs and becoming superintelligent. It depends on who you ask. 

No one really knows the answers to these questions, not completely. Garry Kasparov doesn’t fret much about AI because he believes that outside of “closed systems,” like chess, humans are far better at navigating the world. Perhaps. But what of another board game like Go, which is technically a closed system but far more complex, almost infinitely so? Humans have been crushed far ahead of schedule in this pastime, so much so that its strategies are incomprehensible to even the world’s best carbon-based players. Is society, ultimately, more like chess or Go? I would say the latter.

The truth about AI lies somewhere in between—or at one of the poles. Time will tell.

Two excerpts follow.

_____________________________

In “The AI That Has Nothing To Learn From Humans,” Dawn Chen’s excellent Atlantic piece, the author examines the almost otherwordly performance of Alpha Go Zero, which plays the game with an inscrutability so pronounced that trying to divine its motivations is akin to attempting to understanding the thinking of an octopus. An excerpt:

Since May, experts have been painstakingly analyzing the 55 machine-versus-machine games. And their descriptions of AlphaGo’s moves often seem to keep circling back to the same several words: Amazing. Strange. Alien.

“They’re how I imagine games from far in the future,” Shi Yue, a top Go player from China, has told the press. A Go enthusiast named Jonathan Hop who’s been reviewing the games on YouTube calls the AlphaGo-versus-AlphaGo face-offs “Go from an alternate dimension.” From all accounts, one gets the sense that an alien civilization has dropped a cryptic guidebook in our midst: a manual that’s brilliant—or at least, the parts of it we can understand.

Will Lockhart, a physics grad student and avid Go player who codirected The Surrounding Game (a documentary about the pastime’s history and devotees) tried to describe the difference between watching AlphaGo’s games against top human players, on the one hand, and its self-paired games, on the other. (I interviewed Will’s Go-playing brother Ben about Asia’s intensive Go schools in 2016.) According to Will, AlphaGo’s moves against Ke Jie made it seem to be “inevitably marching toward victory,” while Ke seemed to be “punching a brick wall.” Any time the Chinese player had perhaps found a way forward, said Lockhart, “10 moves later AlphaGo had resolved it in such a simple way, and it was like, ‘Poof, well that didn’t lead anywhere!’”

By contrast, AlphaGo’s self-paired games might have seemed more frenetic. More complex. Lockhart compares them to “people sword-fighting on a tightrope.”

Expert players are also noticing AlphaGo’s idiosyncrasies. Lockhart and others mention that it almost fights various battles simultaneously, adopting an approach that might seem a bit madcap to human players, who’d probably spend more energy focusing on smaller areas of the board at a time. According to Michael Redmond, the highest-ranked Go player from the Western world (he relocated to Japan at the age of 14 to study Go), humans have accumulated knowledge that might tend to be more useful on the sides and corners of the board. AlphaGo “has less of that bias,” he noted, “so it can make impressive moves in the center that are harder for us to grasp.”

Also, it’s been making unorthodox opening moves. Some of those gambits, just two years ago, might have seemed ill-conceived to experts. But now pro players are copying certain of these unfamiliar tactics in tournaments, even if no one fully understands how certain of these tactics lead to victory. For example, people have noticed that some versions of AlphaGo seem to like playing what’s called a three-three invasion on a star point, and they’re experimenting with that move in tournaments now too. No one’s seeing these experiments lead to clearly consistent victories yet, maybe because human players don’t understand how best to follow through.

Some moves AlphaGo likes to make against its clone are downright incomprehensible, even to the world’s best players.•

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In “The Human Strategy,” Sandy Pentland’s piece at Edge, the Artificial Intelligence pioneer writes that “current AI machine-learning things are just dead simple stupid.” Perhaps, but that will change, and as a means of creating a less dystopic path forward, Pentland believes humans can be informed about our own systems by studying our silicon counterparts. He also thinks we can tame AI to a good degree by keeping a “human in the loop,” which is either hopeful about the future of our species or ignorant about our past. Even if we can chasten machines, society will only be as good as the humans who inhabit it. That’s as much a risk as a guarantee, especially since the tools at our disposal will be far more powerful.

An excerpt:

On Polarization and Inequality

Today, we have incredible polarization and segregation by income almost everywhere in the world, and that threatens to tear governments and civil society apart. We have increasing population, which is part of the root of all those things. Increasingly, the media are failing us, and the downfall of media is causing people to lose their bearings. They don’t know what to believe. It makes it easy for people to be manipulated. There is a real need to put a grounding under all of our cultures of things that we all agree on, and to be able to know which things are working and which things aren’t.

We’ve now converted to a digital society, and have lost touch with the notions of truth and justice. Justice used to be mostly informal and normative. We’ve now made it very formal. At the same time, we’ve put it out of the reach of most people. Our legal systems are failing us in a way that they didn’t before precisely because they’re now more formal, more digital, less embedded in society.

Ideas about justice are very different around the world. People have very different values. One of the core differentiators is, do you remember when the bad guys came with guns and killed everybody? If you do, your attitude about justice is different than the average Edge reader. Were you born into the upper classes? Or were you somebody who saw the sewers from the inside?

A common test I have for people that I run into is this: Do you know anybody who owns a pickup truck? It’s the number-one selling vehicle in America, and if you don’t know people like that, that tells me you are out of touch with more than fifty percent of America. Segregation is what we’re talking about here, physical segregation that drives conceptual segregation. Most of America thinks of justice, and access, and fairness as being very different than the typical, say, Manhattanite.

If you look at patterns of mobility—where people go—in a typical city, you find that the people in the top quintile—white-collar working families—and the bottom quintile—people who are sometimes on unemployment or welfare—never see each other. They don’t go to the same places; they don’t talk about the same things; they see the world very differently. It’s amazing. They all live in the same city, nominally, but it’s as if it were two completely different worlds. That really bothers me.

On Extreme Wealth

Today’s ultra-wealthy, at this point, fifty percent of them have promised to give away more than fifty percent of their wealth, creating a plurality of different voices in the foundation space. Gates is probably the most familiar example. He’s decided that if the government won’t do it, he’ll do it. You want mosquito nets? He’ll do it. You want antivirals? He’ll do it. We’re getting different stakeholders taking action, in the form of foundations that are dedicated to public good. But they have different versions of public good, which is good. A lot of the things that are wonderful about the world today come from actors outside government like the Ford Foundation or the Sloan Foundation, where the things they bet on are things that nobody else would bet on, and they happened to pan out.

Sure, these billionaire are human and they have the human foibles. And yes, it’s not necessarily the way it should be. On the other hand, the same thing happened when we had railways. People made incredible fortunes. A lot of people went bust. We, the average people, got railways out of it. Pretty good. Same thing with electric power. Same thing with many of these things. There’s a churning process that throws somebody up and later casts them or their heirs down.

Bubbles of extreme wealth happened in the 1890s, too, when people invented steam, and railways, and electricity. These new industries created incredible fortunes, which were all gone within two or three generations.

If we were like Europe, I would worry. What you find in Europe is that the same family has wealth for hundreds of years, so they’re entrenched not just in terms of wealth, but in terms of the political system and other ways. But so far, the U.S. has avoided this: extreme wealth hasn’t stuck, which is good. It shouldn’t stick. If you win the lottery, you make your billion dollars, but your grandkids have to work for a living.

On AI and Society

People are scared about AI. Perhaps they should be. But you need to realize that AI feeds on data. Without data, AI is nothing. You don’t actually have to watch the AI; you have to watch what it eats and what it does. The framework that we’ve set up, with the help of the EU and other people, is one where you can have your algorithms, you can have your AI, but I get to see what went in and what went out so that I can ask, is this a discriminatory decision? Is this the sort of thing that we want as humans? Or is this something that’s a little weird?

The most revealing analogy is that regulators, bureaucracies, parts of the government, are very much like AIs: They take in these rules that we call law, and they elaborate them, and they make decisions that affect our lives. The part that’s really bad about the current system is that we have very little oversight of these departments, regulators, and bureaucracies. The only control we have is the ability to elect somebody different. Let’s make that control over bureaucracies a lot more fine-grained. Let’s be able to look at every single decision, analyze them, and have all the different stakeholders come together, not just the big guys. Rather like legislatures were supposed to be at the beginning of the U.S.

In that case, we can ask fairly easily, is this a fair algorithm? Is this AI doing things that we as humans believe is ethical? It’s called human in the loop.•

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You could argue that Facebook and other social media and search-engine companies allowed Russia to corrupt our Presidential election because of a lack of concern or a lack of competency, much the same way you can wonder whether Trump voters chose their candidate because of foolishness or malice, but it’s inarguable that these systems were utilized by an adversarial country to harm our own.

Just as bad has been the response by these businesses in the aftermath of their utter failure. Google is still, to some extent, accepting money to disseminate Fake News. Twitter has seriously under-reported how many Russian bots swarmed their service during the election (and afterwards). Facebook has employed deflection, dismissiveness and disavowal in answering charges.

In “This Could Be the End of Facebook” at Vanity Fair “Hive,” Nick Bilton responds to the stunning Zuckerberg-Sandberg failure in context of Johnson & Johnson’s sweeping and successful antidote to the 1982 Tylenol cyanide poisonings, which could have tanked the entire brand but ended up instead elevating the company’s standing. In rapidly removing every last bottle from store shelves throughout the country and creating a tamper-proof bottle, the powers that be were as concerned about the bottom line as public safety, but in the process of securing their reputations they protected the public. Facebook, conversely, has tried to cover ass and shift blame in regards to the poison it distributed, exacerbating what had already seemed a worse-case scenario.

It’s clear now that these Silicon Valley companies either can’t or won’t police themselves and need to regulated by Washington.

From Bilton:

This sort of upfront, responsible, adult form of crisis management offers a useful foil to the manner in which Facebook has explained how Russian operatives used its platform to meddle in the 2016 election. In a recent interview with Axios’s Mike Allen, Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that she wished the meddling “hadn’t happened” on the company’s platform, but she stopped short of owning up to the mess. Instead, she rehashed bizarre arguments about how Facebook is not a media company. “At our heart we’re a tech company—we don’t hire journalists,” she told Allen.

It’s worth recalling, of course, that it wasn’t the makers of Tylenol who put cyanide in the pills that killed seven innocent people; nevertheless, the company felt a responsibility to come up with a solution to the problem. While Facebook’s engineers may not be posting fake news, the dirt is still on their hands. “The damage done to organizations in crises isn’t the crisis itself— it’s how you handle the crisis,” Scott Galloway, author of the new book The Four: The Hidden D.N.A. of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, told me this week on the latest episode of the Inside the Hive podcast. “There’s only one thing you have to remember: you have to overcorrect. You have to clear every shelf of all Tylenol nationwide. You can’t say this is an isolated incident and it won’t happen again.”

Galloway specifically pointed to Sandberg’s comments in Washington, both to Allen and on Capitol Hill the day before, as examples of insincerity. “It’s not only bullshit, but from a pure shareholder standpoint at Facebook, it’s stupid,” Galloway said. “Martha Stewart didn’t go to jail for insider trading; she went to jail for denying she had traded on insider information; she went to jail for obstruction of justice.” He went on to point out that in his mind, Sandberg was intentionally blurring lines around what happened, and that she may not actually believe what she is saying publicly. “I feel that Sheryl Sandberg was eerily reminiscent of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was forced to go out and say something that I believe she knows is not true. I believe that anyone who is as intelligent as Sheryl Sandberg is—I think she is a remarkable woman—I think she knows they are a media company, and for her, I think she’s towing the party line on behalf of her boss, and eroding her own credibility. I think she had her Sarah Huckabee Sanders moment, and it’s really a shame.”•

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Senator McCain is right, but let’s recall that he and other so-called moderate Republicans helped pave the way for Trump by willingly embracing xenophobia, if in less overt and profane terms, and by not allowing Merrick Garland a fair hearing. McCain also vowed that no Supreme Court nominee would get one should Hillary Clinton win the Presidency. It’s great if he wants to be party now to the raising of American political discourse, but he also played a role in its descent. “Complete the Danged Fence” was the gateway to “Build the Wall.”

From NPR in October 2016:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said Monday that if Hillary Clinton is elected, Republicans will unite to block anyone she nominates to the Supreme Court.

Speaking on WPHT-AM radio’s “Dom Giordano Program” in Philadelphia, McCain pledged to obstruct any Clinton Supreme Court nomination for the current or any future vacancy.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” he declared.•

_____________________________

From McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign:

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The last picture of Hitler alive.

U.S. Intelligence renderings from 1944 of how Hitler may have looked in disguise.

Adolf Hitler committed suicide by gun 72 years ago, but evil never really dies. In fact, it often returns in a variation on an old theme, with new villains picking up the torch—even if it’s made from tiki the next time around.

I quipped in the aftermath of last November’s Presidential election that America was trying to retroactively lose World War II and the Cold War, so taken was Trump and much of the right with neo-Nazis and Putin’s poisoners. The winner of those revived battles still remains in doubt a year later.

Hitler left such a jagged wound on the globe by the end of WWII that some among the Allies couldn’t wrap their heads around the demise of such an outsize heinous figure. Did he escape to Japan on a submarine? Was he spirited away to Sweden? Could some other machinations have helped him avoid ignominious death in the Führerbunke?

From the September 9, 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Trump hit the iceberg today and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the band that played on.

Whether American democracy itself winds up collateral damage to the hulking political scandal that’s just begun taking on water—the biggest breach of ethics in the history of American governance—is still TBD. A constitutional crisis is as likely than anything else. But it’s important to remember that while Trump was the absolute worse roll of the dice (and loaded dice, at that), it was the house that was crooked. Nearly 63 million citizens cast a ballot for a bigoted, incompetent, money-laundering game-show host, and that’s a deep indictment on many of our systems—political, educational, media, etc. Even if we remain standing during Trump’s ignominious fall, we’ll continue wobbling on the precipice unless some deep fixes are enacted.

· · ·

It’s an American tradition to rehabilitate crooks and liars of years gone by who are no longer in possession of power to do grave damage, making them seem harmless in their dotage: Nixon, Kissinger, Goldwater, etc. The latter politico, the architect of society-busting Reagonomics, was sometimes seated next to Jay Leno in the 1990s, apparently humbled as he shared anecdotes. It’s not likely he’d changed; we’d just forgotten. 

The same tendency is at play with more recent goats, including George W. Bush, an interesting outsider artist who broke the world through incompetence and dishonesty, and John Boehner, the former teary-eyed and often destructive Speaker, who is his retirement is willing to say shitty things about shitty Republicans in between Marlboro drags and coughing fits. Some in the media and populace applaud because he was never as bad as Trump, but let’s recall that he was one of the agents who led to our current calamity.

From Tim Alberta’s fascinating Politico profile about Boehner at rest (or as close to it as he can manage): 

A bipartisan group of eight senators had crafted a comprehensive immigration bill that appeared to have support in the House GOP. But in June, when the Senate passed it—68 to 32, with 14 Republicans voting yes—House members found themselves under siege from constituents and conservative groups. The fatal flaw: It provided a path to citizenship, albeit a winding one, for people in the country illegally. Many conservatives could support a path to legal status but not citizenship; Democrats, on the other hand, essentially took a citizenship-or-nothing approach. Boehner was boxed in: He wanted immigration reform, and personally didn’t mind citizenship—especially for minors brought to the U.S. unwittingly. But putting the bill on the floor meant it might pass into law with perhaps as few as 40 or 50 of his members voting yes. Conservatives would never forgive him for overruling the vast majority of his membership. Looking back, Boehner says not solving immigration is his second-biggest regret, and he blames Obama for “setting the field on fire.” But the former speaker doesn’t mention the nativist voices in his own party that came to dominate the debate, foreshadowing the presidential campaign three years later. Ultimately, the speaker’s immigration quandary boiled down to a choice between protecting his right flank and doing what he thought was right for the country—and Boehner chose the former.

It wasn’t the only time. That summer, conservatives were also getting an earful about the Obamacare exchanges opening on October 1. House Republicans had voted repeatedly to repeal the law but the Senate refused to act, and their constituents, justifiably, wanted to know why Obamacare still existed when they had been promised otherwise. “Somehow, out on the campaign trail, the representation was made that you could beat President Obama into submission to sign a repeal of the law with his name on it,” Cantor says. “And that’s where things got, I think, disconnected from reality.” (In Ohio, listening to his pals groan about Obamacare, Boehner explains why his former colleagues haven’t repealed it: “Their gonads shriveled up when they learned this vote was for real.”)

Republicans’ penchant for overpromising and underdelivering would ultimately enable the ascent of Donald Trump, who positioned himself as a results-oriented outsider who would deliver where politicians had failed. In the shorter term, it invited something less dramatic: a government shutdown. Eager to demonstrate that all options were being exhausted to defeat Obamacare, Ted Cruz in the Senate and conservatives in the House concocted a plan: Because the government needed new funding on October 1, the same day the exchanges would open, they would propose funding the rest of the federal government—while defunding Obamacare.

Boehner objected. Not only would Democrats never go for it; Republicans would be blamed for the resulting government shutdown. “I told them, ‘Don’t do this. It’s crazy. The president, the vice president, Reid, Pelosi, they’re all sitting there with the biggest shit-eating grins on their faces that you’ve ever seen, because they can’t believe we’re this fucking stupid.’” (Boehner, at one point, surprises me by saying he’s proud of Cruz—whom he once called “Lucifer in the flesh”—for acting responsibly in 2017. Do you feel badly about calling him Lucifer, I ask? “No!” Boehner snorts. “He’s the most miserable son of a bitch I’ve ever had to work with.”) 

After railing against the defund strategy, however, Boehner surveyed his conference and realized it was a fight many members wanted—and some needed. Yielding, he joined them in the trenches, abandoning his obligations of governance in hopes of strengthening his standing in the party. But the 17-day shutdown proved costly. Watching as Republicans got butchered in nationwide polling, the speaker finally called a meeting to inform members that they would vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. “I get a standing ovation,” Boehner says. “I’m thinking, ‘This place is irrational.’”•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. kurt vonnegut criticizing bob dylan
  2. larry flynt and the first amendment
  3. terry winograd artificial intelligence
  4. tillerson calls trump a moron
  5. privacy and facial recognition
  6. google is knowledge
  7. you are already living inside a computer
  8. william “hope” harvey coin’s pyramid
  9. heaven’s gate cult mass suicide
  10. arthur janov john lennon

This week, pumpkin-headed President Trump welcomed children to the Oval Office for Halloween.

I have larger hands than all you little shits.

I’m normally a germophobe, but in Russia urine is a delicacy.

One look at Eric’s face, and I really considered a vasectomy.

I gave all you brats candy, but did anyone bring anything for me?

 

Bigotry, not economics, appears to be the driving force behind the widespread nativism.

• Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is alarmed by the rise of the AfD.

• A lack of information can get you killed but so can the wrong information. Consider North Korea and Myanmar.

Garry Kasparov isn’t very worried about AI dominance in so-called open systems.

• Former New Yorker theater critic Mimi Kramer addresses the pernicious influence of former boss Tina Brown.

• In 1991, George H.W. Bush discussed decency, and Barbara Bush opined on sexual harassment.

• Physical beauty is, unsurprisingly, a focus of the contemporary fertility industry.

A note from 1845 about Samuel Morse sending a telegram at the Polk inauguration.

• This week’s Afflictor keyphrase searches: Ruth Brown Snyder, Marlon Brando, etc.

When Tina Brown was the Editor-in-Chief of the New Yorker, she would comment that “cuteness” was a factor in hiring writers. It seemed like more than a flippant remark. That was the world she wanted to inhabit, one in which appearance, in a number of ways, was preeminent. It’s a mindset that’s added little to the culture.

There were many changes the New Yorker needed to be make in 1992 when Brown was brought in to perform as a wrecking ball for the then-staid institution. Many of her reinventions weren’t the right ones, however. David Remnick often gives his predecessor credit for doing the heavy lifting in recreating the title, but female writers and editors (besides herself) were often pushed from the foreground on her watch. It’s only deep into Remnick’s reign that this egregious shift has been largely remedied. Hollywood and celebrity became central to the publication under Brown, and I will never forgive her for allowing Roseanne to guest edit an edition, the cheapest ploy in magazine’s history. (That’s no offense to Roseanne, who’s an excellent comic, but to the Editor-in-Chief who put her in that ridiculous position.) In addition to paring down the staff of scribes who’d ceased being useful, Brown also drove out many great and productive writers. The use of language in the New Yorker suffered under her tenure, though, to be fair, that was as much a problem of a troubled wider culture. It’s no shock Brown ended up in business with Harvey Weinstein—they were always on the same team.

Funny that Brown’s first cover featured a punk. Her punk phase was as genuine as Ivanka Trump’s.

· · ·

In “A Likely Story,” Mimi Kramer’s Medium essay, the former New Yorker theater critic has crafted one of the most intelligent pieces on shitty men in media and elsewhere. In one section, she excoriates Brown, her former boss, with surgical precision. An excerpt:

There are — if I may be permitted to oversimplify wildly for a moment — two kinds of women in the working world who achieve great power. Those who are good at what they do and enjoy working with other smart or talented or thoughtful women. And there’s another kind that isn’t really good at much of anything at all but self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and manipulating other people. That kind of woman will always enable and protect the Weinsteins of the world and encourage men in the demeaning of other women. There may be an element of self-loathing there, like the self-loathing Smith attributes to Weinstein himself; the women enablers may have some unconscious need to diminish and devalue something they lack.

There can be something almost sexy about working with gifted, brilliant people of either gender, whether you’re gay or straight. I remember once being stopped in the hallway by a veteran editor (she wasn’t even my editor) who had seen Bill Irwin’s The Regard of Flight, which I was writing about, and told me — with great tact and even more passion — that I’d left out the most important point about the show, how it was really all about race in America; and she was right. That was probably the most exciting moment in all my time at The New Yorker.

And I remember a story told me by Veronica, who was in on a few of Brown’s early editorial meetings. The question of how certain managerial roles would be meted out came up and someone brought up the name of the editor who had stopped me in the hall that time. Veronica told me that Brown quipped, “Oh, you mean the fat, homely girl with glasses,” and the men all laughed. Yes, they agreed, that was who was meant. Veronica pointed out that the woman under discussion was an accomplished poet and translator, and the men, chastened, all quickly agreed, “Yes, yes, very accomplished.

Tina Brown was the enabler-in-chief. It’s absurd for her to carry on as though she didn’t know of Weinstein’s depredations and wasn’t complicit. She’s the woman who put a young actress who wouldn’t sleep with Weinstein on the cover of the premiere issue of Talk dressed in S&M garb, crawling painfully toward the camera on her stomach like a submissive, and so generically made up as to render her unrecognizable as an individual. What the hell did she think that was saying?

It’s equally hard to stomach Brown on the subject of Weinstein’s grossness and unloveliness. Brown did more to vulgarize and uglify American letters than any other single person in America. She was the queen of the nothing-is-sacred mentality, establishing a redefinition of writing and journalism whereby nothing had any value at all but sex, shock, money, power, or celebrity.

She came to this country and, having failed to revive Vanity Fair, leaving it to a better editor and journalist to shape it into the very thing she’d hoped to achieve, went on to take a great literary institution — historic because it had introduced the vernacular into the American literary landscape, establishing that good writing could sound more like speech than like some gouty old Brit in a smoking jacket — and transformed it into something so crass you scarcely wanted to touch it, let alone look at or read it. (Actually, that last bit’s not me; it’s something I remember Louis Menand saying to me once.) This is a woman who thought declaring that The New Yorker would remain “text-driven” would reassure writers and journalists, who thought that putting topic-sentences at the top of every page of the magazine to make it easier to read was a good idea.

Brown’s performances on Charlie Rose and on BBC Newsnight offer up a demonstration of what she is very good at. She’s good at cant, and she’s good at a certain kind of corporate-political self-protection. It’s cunning, if mistaken, to try to get herself off the hook by blasting Donald Trump in the same breath as Harvey Weinstein. It’s enemy-of-my-enemy logic; she’s banking on the idea that Americans are too stupid to hold more than one idea in their heads at a time, hoping if she goes on record as a non-endorser of Trump, no one but Republicans will call her out on her hypocrisy. For her to get away with that would be more than a farce; it would be an obscenity. Not endorse Trump? She helped create the cesspool that made it possible for someone like Donald Trump to become the President of the United States. She’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in now.•

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Since I was never a chess player, one of the things that surprised me when reading the long centerpiece of Garry Kasparov’s Deep Thinking, in which he recounted at length for the first time his two titanic battles in the 1990s with IBM’s Big Blue, was just how many seemingly obvious mistakes great human players make. I always assumed the best of the best went long flawless stretches before finally tripping up, but that’s not so. A game in which the two best players square off can see countless mistaken maneuvers—and that’s the case even if one of the competitors is a supercomputer. 

In a smart New Standard interview conducted by Will Dunn, Kasparov compares his own humblings at the feet of technology to the lot of us potentially encountering an AI enhanced enough to remake society over the next several decades. He’s more sanguine than most when confronted by the specter of machine dominance, believing as industries fall before computers, others will rise to provide new employment, and that humans will succeed in what he terms “open systems.” 

I think he’s making assumptions that may not prove true. Well-trained human telephone operators are to this point far better at handling caller queries than automated systems are, but that hasn’t stopped corporations from opting for the cheaper alternative. That doesn’t mean all jobs will disappear—though I bet lots of them in the medical field, including doctor, will be diminished—but it does mean that machines don’t necessarily have to be better to win, even outside of a closed system. Facebook and Google have all but proven that with their lackluster response to cyber espionage. And the more AI that slides into our lives, the more surveillance capitalism will become ubiquitous. 

An excerpt:

By the mid-90s, Moore’s Law had held true for three decades. As in so many areas, the machines appeared to be little more than a novelty until, following the curve of exponential growth, their power became suddenly apparent. “The whole idea that if we had enough time, we would avoid making mistakes,” says Kasparov, “was ignorant. Humans are poised to make mistakes, even the best humans. And the whole story of human-machine competition is that the machines – first it’s impossible [that they could play], then the machines are laughably weak, then they are competing, for a brief time, and then, forever after, they are superior.”

But the inevitability of the machines’ success, says Kasparov, is not a matter of brute force, but of reliability. “Machines have a steady hand. It’s not that machines can solve the game” – the number of possible moves is so high that, even calculating at 200 million moves per second, it would have taken Deep Blue longer than the life of its opponent, or the solar system or quite possibly the universe itself, to calculate them all – “it’s about making moves that are of a higher average quality than humans.” The machine, says Kasparov, need never fear losing its concentration because it can never feel fear and it has no concentration to lose. “It doesn’t bother about making a mistake in the previous move. Humans are by definition emotional. Even the top experts, whether it be in chess, or video games, or science – we are prisoners of our emotions. That makes us easy prey for machines, in a closed system.”   

In 1997, Kasparov played his second match (he had won the first) against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue and lost in the deciding game. He had been the World Champion since 1985, and would remain the world’s highest-rated human player until his retirement in 2005. He found losing to a machine to be “a shocking experience,” although this was partly, of course, because “I haven’t lost many games… Now, two decades later, I realise it was a natural process.”

But Kasparov does not think humans are about to be replaced entirely by machines. Even in cyber security, where automation and machine learning are necessary, “It’s not a closed system, because there are no written rules. Actually, it’s one of the areas where human-machine collaboration will have a decisive effect. I think it’s naïve to assume that machines could be totally dominant, because the angle of attack can change. There are so many things that can change. It’s an unlimited combination of patterns that can be manipulated.”•

__________________________

“It was very easy, all the machines are only cables and bulbs.”

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There are structural reasons why Germany couldn’t elevate a Donald Trump in its recent election, but that doesn’t mean the nation isn’t swaying rightward below the top. The populist, anti-immigrant AfD did stunningly well, which may be a harbinger or perhaps an aberration. No matter the political architecture in place, eventually a country’s momentum can upset its delicate balance, for better or worse. Ultimately, the Overton window can be shattered.

What seems explicit at this point is that a dangerous xenophobia and nationalism has gone viral globally. It’s not that this element didn’t always exist, but it took many decades after World War II before shameless provocateurs dared exploit for idiotic ideology and personal gain these dark currents. The lessons of history had to first be forgotten. 

From Ann-Katrin Müller and Ralf Neukirch’s Spiegel interview with former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer:

Spiegel:

You view the AfD as a party in the same tradition as the Nazi party?

Joschka Fischer:

Absolutely! I grew up in the 1950s. Everyone from my generation can still recall these German family gatherings. There was the Nazi grandfather and the uncle who was a member of the SS, and they would let fly with their maxims – and those maxims are suddenly making a comeback. Is Mr. (Björn) Höcke a right-wing populist or a Nazi? I’m tired of the waffling.

Spiegel:

You are referring to Björn Höcke, who has demanded that Germany emancipate itself from its World War II guilt. But he is also on the far-right wing of the AfD.

Joschka Fischer:

There are a lot of active AfD members and people in party leadership positions who speak like Nazis and think like Nazis. Gauland (Eds. Note: AfD parliamentary floor leader Alexander Gauland) wants to “take back our country and our people.” Umm, hello? Haven’t we heard that before? I had hoped and thought that our society had advanced beyond that. But we have to realize: They’re back.

Spiegel:

Are the 12.6 percent of the electorate who voted for the AfD also Nazis?

Joschka Fischer:

You have to make a distinction. But we shouldn’t forget that after 1945, we were told: We were hijacked, the Nazi bigwigs were guilty of everything Germany did to others and to itself. When I listen to Mr. Gauland or Mr. Höcke today, I always think of the image of the devastation in Cologne after the war, with the cathedral jutting out of the rubble. Today, you just cannot say anymore: I didn’t know, I was frustrated. We know how this movie ends.

Spiegel:

Going back to those maxims that you know from your family gatherings: Are they suddenly back again or were they always there and we just didn’t want to hear them?

Joschka Fischer:

I can’t answer that question. It’s impossible to explain some people’s convictions. The things that are said, like that Germany is an occupied country: That’s preposterous. It took me aback. I had honestly thought that we had come further.

Spiegel:

Why do you think it is that we haven’t come as far as we thought we had?

Joschka Fischer:

You can search far and wide for explanations. I haven’t yet heard or read one that I found convincing. Now, it is what it is. And we have to react to it.

Spiegel:

How?

Joschka Fischer:

We must be uncompromising and unrelenting on each individual issue in this confrontation and not sacrifice Germany to these people – and we certainly shouldn’t be led around by them. On the other hand, we can’t let ourselves get riled up by each and every one of their provocations. They are often intentional. From my own experience in dealing with the Nazi-grandpas, who have now clearly made a return, I would recommend a bit of fundamental imperturbability.•

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It would be great if human beings agreed to take a break from referring to each other as heroes and building statues of one another—apart from Harriet Tubman—since we’re all deeply flawed and in need of improvement. Even Elie Wiesel, for all his good work, was kind of a creep. Just four days ago, President Obama lauded President George H.W. Bush at a fundraiser for hurricane survivors:

The elder Bush and the volunteer programs he started came in for special praise before the crowd of Texans.

“He sets an example for all of us, as does first lady Barbara Bush,” Obama said.

In light of the confirmed allegations of sexual misconduct by Bush, which occurred with his wife’s knowledge, here are two passages from a 1991 People article.

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A lack of information can get you killed but so can the wrong information. Consider North Korea and Myanmar.

The former is infamously unplugged from all worldviews but the delusional one of Great Leader. It’s unclear how benighted the totality of the North Korean population has been made to be, but Suki Kim’s 2014 book, Without You, There Is No Us, reveals “educated” elites to be all but automatons in the service of the fratricidal provocateur Kim Jong-un. It’s all a dream and very much a nightmare. The only hope is that those who are less privileged and not so directly indoctrinated aren’t as enamored with the state-wide cult, though that’s probably wishful thinking.

Like most of the world, the latter nation is connected to the Internet, which has become an airstrip for weaponized information drones. Facebook seems to be the particular social-media vehicle that’s helped foment the current ethnic-cleansing furor which has exploded the relatively tiny and diverse Asian nation onto the world-news page and the obituaries. Anyone who doubted social media aided the Arab Spring was incorrect. Those who now believe its effect in regards to Brexit, Trump and Myanmar has been overstated, are similarly naive. 

Two excerpts follow.

__________________________

From Hannah Beech’s NYT article “Across Myanmar, Denial of Ethnic Cleansing and Loathing of Rohingya“:

Mr. Aye Swe admitted he had never met a Muslim before, adding, “I have to thank Facebook because it is giving me the true information in Myanmar.”

Social media messaging has driven much of the rage in Myanmar. Though widespread access to cellphones only started a few years ago, mobile penetration is now about 90 percent. For many people, Facebook is their only source of news, and they have little experience in sifting fake news from credible reporting.

One widely shared message on Facebook, from a spokesman for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, emphasized that biscuits from the World Food Program, a United Nations agency, had been found at a Rohingya militant training camp. The United Nations called the post “irresponsible.”

The Myanmar government, however, insists the public needs to be guided.

“We do something that we call educating the people,” said U Pe Myint, the nation’s information minister. He acknowledged, “It looks rather like indoctrination, like in an authoritarian or totalitarian state.”•

_____________________________

From Jon Schwarz’s Intercept Q&A with Kim:

Question:

I’ve always believed that North Korea would never engage in a nuclear first strike just out of self-preservation. But your description of your students did honestly give me pause. It made me think the risk of miscalculation on their part is higher than I realized.

Suki Kim: 

It was paradoxical. They could be very smart, yet could be completely deluded about everything. I don’t see why that would be different in the people who run the country. The ones that foreigners get to meet, like diplomats, are sophisticated and can talk to you on your level. But at the same time they also have this other side where they have really been raised to think differently, their reality is skewed. North Korea is the center of the universe, the rest of the world kind of doesn’t exist. They’ve been living this way for 70 years, in a complete cult.

My students did not know what the internet was, in 2011. Computer majors, from the best schools in Pyongyang. The system really is that brutal, for everyone.

Question:

I was also struck by your description of the degeneration of language in North Korea. [Kim writes that “Each time I visited the DPRK, I was shocked anew by their bastardization of the Korean language. Curses had taken root not only in their conversation and speeches but in their written language. They were everywhere – in poems, newspapers, in official Workers’ Party speeches, even in the lyrics of songs. … It was like finding the words fuck and shit in a presidential speech or on the front page of the New York Times.”]

Suki Kim: 

Yes, I think the language does reflect the society. Of course, the whole system is built around the risk of an impending war. So that violence has changed the Korean language. Plus these guys are thugs, Kim Jong-un and all the rest of them, that’s their taste and it’s become the taste of the country.

Question: 

Authoritarians universally seem to have terrible taste.

Suki Kim: 

It’s interesting to be analyzing North Korea in this period of time in America because there are a lot of similarities. Look at Trump’s nonstop tweeting about “fake news” and how great he is. That’s very familiar, that’s what North Korea does. It’s just endless propaganda. All these buildings with all these slogans shouting at you all the time, constantly talking about how the enemies are lying all the time.

Those catchy one-liners, how many words are there in a tweet? It’s very similar to those [North Korean] slogans.

This country right now, where you’re no longer able to tell what’s true or what’s a lie, starting from the top, that’s North Korea’s biggest problem. America should really look at that, there’s a lesson.•

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Tyler Cowen has made it difficult to take him seriously with his tepid performance during this great threat to America’s decency and democracy. He’s gone out of his way to make it seem his fellow Libertarian Peter Thiel is an innocent bystander who just hopes to do good work inside a somewhat dysfunctional Administration. What bullshit. Thiel was one of the driving forces of a deeply bigoted white nationalist campaign that used any and all means—including espionage, perhaps—to push an ignorant, mentally unfit incompetent and a raft of tiki-torchers into the White House. Pretending otherwise is intellectually dishonest. Thiel doesn’t move in the political circles he does by accident. That’s who he is.

It’s at least dawned on Cowen that bigotry, not economics, was the driving force in the U.S. election, a phenomena that has been witnessed in recent elections around the world. That’s not to say legitimate concerns about wealth inequality are absent from this new abnormal, but that the bigger issue is a sad tribal meme that’s gone viral all over the globe.

The opening of the Bloomberg View column “The New Populism Isn’t About Economics“:

Economic theories of populism are dead, we Americans just don’t know it yet. Over the past week, two countries have brought populists to power, but in both cases those places have been enjoying decent economic growth.

Andrej Babis’s party dominated the Czech national election Saturday, and he is almost certain to become the next prime minister. Babis has been described as “the anti-establishment businessman pledging to fight political corruption while facing fraud charges himself” — sound familiar? Yet in 2015, the Czech Republic had the European Union’s fastest growth rate at more than 4 percent; earlier this year, it was growing at 2.9 percent, with potential seen on the upside.

Last week’s negotiations in New Zealand brought Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern to power, with populist firebrand Winston Peters in the coalition government. Ardern wants to cut immigration, possibly in half, and place much tighter restrictions on foreign investment. Although New Zealand’s economic growth has been slowing, it’s mostly been above 2 percent since the end of the financial crisis.

Among emerging economies, the Philippines moved from being an Asian growth laggard into some years of 8 percent growth. Voters responded by electing as president Rodrigo Duterte, one of the most aggressive and authoritarian populists around. In eastern Europe, Poland has been seeing average 4 percent growth for more than 25 years, yet the country has moved in a strongly nationalist direction, flirting with sanctions from the EU for limiting judicial independence. Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and now the Czech Republic all are much wealthier than 20 years ago and mostly have been booming as of late. Yet to varying degrees they too have moved in nationalist, populist and possibly even anti-democratic directions.

Although these countries have rising inequality, their growth rates have elevated a wide swath of the citizenry, not just a few extremely wealthy people.

Even the U.S. fits this mold of prosperity and populism more than many people realize. For all the talk of stagnant wages, poll data indicated that Donald Trump’s supporters in the Republican primaries had a median income of about $72,000, which is hardly poverty. Wages and household median income have started to rise once again.

The trend continues outside the world’s democracies. …

It’s time to admit that the nationalist turn in global politics isn’t mainly about economics or economic failures.•

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The first live media coverage of an American Presidential inauguration occurred in 1845 when James Polk’s swearing-in process was reported on in real-time by Samuel Morse, who brought his telegraphic equipment to Washington D.C. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Even under the best of circumstances, sperm banks aimed at creating “superior babies” are a faulty proposition. Want the donor father to be a Harvard grad? Remember that Anthony Scaramucci, Jared Kushner and Lou Dobbs—not particularly good or bright people—all fill that bill. Even the so-called “Nobel Prize sperm bank” didn’t really birth any great genius. Despite proactive planning, producing prodigies is a hit-or-miss proposition.

If such a sector serves any purpose at all, it’s as a harbinger of what’s to come when biotech eventually allows adults to “design” their offspring with greater precision. Such “remixing” probably won’t be possible in any profound way in our lifetimes, but something tells me that when it is, we’ll all be smart and beautiful and still kind of shitty.

From Ariana Eunjung Cha’s Washington Post article on the contemporary fertility industry:

Fertility companies freely admit that specimens from attractive donors go fast, but it’s intelligence that drives the pricing: Many companies charge more for donors with a graduate degree.

Talent sells, too. One cryobank, Family Creations, which has offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Austin and other large cities, notes that a 23-year-old egg donor “excels in calligraphy, singing, modeling, metal art sculpting, painting, drawing, shading and clay sculpting.” A 29-year-old donor “excels in softball, tennis, writing and dancing.”

The Seattle Sperm Bank categorizes its donors into three popular categories: “top athletes,” “physicians, dentists and medical residents,” and “musicians.”

And the Fairfax Cryobank in Northern Virginia, one of the nation’s largest, typically stocks sperm from about 500 carefully vetted donors whose profiles read like overeager suitors on a dating site: Donor No. 4499 “enjoys swimming, fencing and reading and writing poetry.” Donor No. 4963 “is an easygoing man with a quick wit.” Donor No. 4345 has “well-developed pectorals and arm muscles.”

Some companies offer a face-matching service that finds donors who look most like the prospective mom or dad. Or, if they prefer, like Jennifer Lawrence. Or Taye Diggs. Or any other famous person they want their offspring to resemble.•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. ernest hemingway presidential candidate
  2. stephen fry essay “the way ahead”
  3. robert zubrin utah desert mars
  4. marlon brando acting course
  5. electra glide in blue robert blake
  6. gandhi apple computers
  7. macron grand narratives
  8. steve bannon ronald reagan documentary
  9. donald trump freak factor
  10. ruth brown snyder first woman in electric chair

This week, after Donald Trump told a military widow her slain husband “knew what he was signing up for,” he announced he would allow classified files on the JFK assassination to be opened as scheduled.

Wow, Kennedy’s head opened up like a piñata. The blood really rushed out of his skinbag. That Lou Diamond Phillips got him good.

That’s Lee Harvey Oswald, sir.

Whatever. I’ll call the widow and tell her her husband croaked.

Mrs. Kennedy’s dead, sir.

What?! Lou Diamond Phillips got her, too?

Okay, then I’ll call the assassin’s son.

 

• Masha Gessen now fears America could be headed for a military coup, though in April she thought that was preferable to four years of Trump.

Facebook and Google are still bad for American democracy.

• Google wants to manage a stretch of Toronto, which sounds like a bad idea.

• Margaret Atwood thinks we’re perilously close to reviving 1930s fascism.

• In regards to Harvey Weinstein, screenwriter Scott Rosenberg says “everybody fucking knew.”

• Old Print Articles: Norman Vincent Peale worries about American fascism. (1935)

• This week’s Afflictor keyphrase searches: Denis Johnson, Chuck Barris, Nicole Wallace.

It’s one thing to respect those in the military and quite another to be required to pretend generals are sacred. There’s no way around stating the obvious that yesterday Gen. John Kelly behaved like an arrogant, rude, dishonest bully. Funny that when he’s overtly disdainful of the country, which he was, it’s considered patriotic, but when black NFL players politely dissent, it’s treason.

Masha Gessen has an essay in the New Yorker which refers to Kelly’s undemocratic press briefing as one that “could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like.” The writer employs ominous terminology, deeming such a turn of events as a “nightmare scenario.” You’d think she’d be pleased, since as recently as April she thought a military coup likely preferable to four years of our Simon Cowell-ish strongman. It was then she had the following exchange with Yana Kuchinoff of In These Times:

Question:

The presidential election has sparked a conversation about the role of the CIA and FBI, and some liberals in the United States have taken a political position that even a CIA coup against Trump would be welcome. How should the Left approach the interference by organizations like these?

Masha Gessen:

If suddenly, tomorrow, there’s a military coup, that may not be a horrible thing. I sort of agree with some people who say, “Anything is better than him.” In a static imagination, where we go directly from here to there, anything is better.•

Maybe there’s no better-or-worse scenario? There’s a good chance we’ve already experienced a non-military, enemy-enabled coup and changing it into a uniform might produce less damage in some ways and more in others. In fact, it’s possible we could get the worst of both worlds, with some grotesque hybrid of Trump and generals trying to clamp down on our freedoms. It’s the least likely scenario, but it can’t be dismissed.

Gessen’s opening:

Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like, for it was in the logic of such a coup that Kelly advanced his four arguments.

Argument 1. Those who criticize the President don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military. To demonstrate how little lay people know, Kelly provided a long, detailed explanation of what happens when a soldier is killed in battle: the body is wrapped in whatever is handy, flown by helicopter, then packed in ice, then flown again, then repacked, then flown, then embalmed and dressed in uniform with medals, and then flown home. Kelly provided a similar amount of detail about how family members are notified of the death, when, and by whom. He even recommended a film that dramatized the process of transporting the body of a real-life marine, Private First Class Chance Phelps. This was a Trumpian moment, from the phrasing—“a very, very good movie”—to the message. Kelly stressed that Phelps “was killed under my command, right next to me”; in other words, Kelly’s real-life experience was recreated for television, and that, he seemed to think, bolstered his authority.

Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.”

The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.

The number of Americans killed in all the wars this nation has ever fought is indeed equal to roughly one per cent of all Americans alive today. This makes for questionable math and disturbing logic. It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom. No Soviet general would have dared utter the kind of statement that’s attributed to General George S. Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”•

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Larry Page long promised to keep the more anarchic elements of Google discrete from mainstream society. In 2013, he openly pined for a patch of America which his company could employ as a lawless laboratory—a Burning Man of sorts in which the fire could really run wild. From a Verge article of that year:

“There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation,” Page said. “And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world.” He likened this potential free-experimentation zone to Burning Man and said that we need “some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.” Google is already well-known for coming up with some pretty interesting ideas — the idea of seeing what Page could come up with in this lawless beta-test country is simultaneously exciting and a bit terrifying.•

Of course, Page’s promise was always an empty one. Eric Schimdt was more forthcoming three years earlier when he wrote that the Internet was the “largest experiment in anarchy we’ve ever had.” Since Google was the biggest search engine by far, it’s place in this brave new world was central. Our gamble on an interconnected, unregulated global village played out astoundingly badly over the last calendar year as weaponized Russian bots were deployed on the lane-less highways of Google, Facebook and Twitter to disrupt important elections in the UK and USA. The interference led to Brexit and President Trump, so the Kremlin was elated, but it wasn’t without a backup plan should it fall short of those gargantuan goals: Simply fomenting a race war would have also been acceptable. That Google nearly a year after America’s Election Day is still publishing obvious misinformation for profit suggests the perilous experiments which have played out on Main Street in broad daylight will continue to do so as long as there’s money to be made.

· · ·

As for Google getting a barren stretch of remote land to use as its physical testing grounds, the dream has been changed and upgraded. Why settle for the sticks when you can get a place downtown? Once of Ray Bradbury’s worst ideas, which he discussed in 1996, was that “enlightened corporations” could take over cities. Along those lines, Google aims to have its Sidewalk Labs build a futuristic neighborhood in Toronto. Not to say that Page, Brin, Schmidt et al., want to detonate explosives on Spadina or bring flying cars to Yonge, but that a scenario in which billionaire technologists are allowed control over a city or even a few city blocks is in and of itself a dangerous experiment.

The opening of Emily Badger’s New York Times piece “Google’s Founders Wanted to Shape a City. Toronto Is Their Chance.“:

Google’s founders have long fantasized about what would happen if the company could shape the real world as much as it has life on the internet.

“Years ago, we were sitting there thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take technical things that we know and apply them to cities?” Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet (now Google’s parent company), said Tuesday. “And our founders got really excited about this. We started talking about all of these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge.”

That is, of course, an outlandish idea. “For all sorts of good reasons, by the way, it doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Schmidt acknowledged. But there he was standing Tuesday before an array of Canadian flags, in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario officials, to announce the closest thing anyone has seen to a tech company that takes the reins in a major city.

Toronto has about 800 acres of waterfront property awaiting redevelopment, a huge and prime stretch of land that amounts to one of the best opportunities in North America to rethink at scale how housing, streets and infrastructure are built. On Tuesday the government and the group overseeing the land announced that they were partnering with an Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, to develop the site.

They want it to embody the city of the future, a technological test bed for other communities around the world, “the world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.”•

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Politely dissented yesterday when a consistently smart commentator on Twitter suggested social media led to the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. It was actually two incredibly expensive, old-school journalism pieces from legacy news organizations (the New York Times and the New Yorker) that deservedly laid him low. The latter of those two outlets is owned by Condé Nast, which is reportedly set to rack up $100 million less in revenues this year than last. We always hear about how much traffic such erstwhile print powerhouses are gaining, but it simply doesn’t translate into a suitable replacement for funds formerly brought in by display ads and classifieds. It’s not clear that video (a bubble, really) or micropayments or some other means will rescue costly, vital journalism, but it won’t be easy sustaining a healthy democracy without it.

Two excerpts follow about liberty in peril.

_______________________

In Douglas Busvine’s Reuters report on Margaret Atwood, the novelist asserts the world is closer than any time since World War II to falling under the sick spell of totalitarianism. That’s true since it hasn’t been a very realistic scenario for the past 70 years, but perhaps the statement lacks necessary proportion. We’re living in a threatening time but not one fated to devolve into dictatorship. 

An excerpt:

Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president has, for some critics, brought that vision closer to reality as he uses social media to browbeat opponents, and lawmakers in a number of states seek to restrict women’s reproductive rights. 

“It feels the closest to the 1930s of anything that we have had since that time,” the 77-year-old Atwood told a news conference, drawing parallels with the fascist and communist regimes which then ruled parts of Europe. …

Atwood, author of more than 40 books of fiction, poetry and critical essays, said it was surprising to many that signs of totalitarianism were manifesting themselves in the United States of today.

It’s a far cry from the Berlin of the Cold War, still surrounded by the wall that divided Germany, where she started writing The Handmaid’s Tale, she recalled.

“People in Europe saw the United States as a beacon of democracy, freedom, openness, and they did not want to believe that anything like that could ever happen there,” she said.

“But now, times have changed, and, unfortunately it becomes more possible to think in those terms.”•

· · ·

In the New York Review of Books, Sasha Polakow-Suransky asks “Is Democracy in Europe Doomed?” The writer uses polling stats to argue that U.S. senior citizens appreciate democracy but millennials do not. That’s odd since it was older Americans, not our youngest voters, who supported Trump into the White House. An excerpt:

On the morning of April 23, 2017, as the polls opened in the ninth arrondissement of Paris, an old man with a cane positioned himself in front of a bright yellow mailbox and began to scrape. After a few minutes, he sauntered away toward the markets of the rue des Martyrs, leaving a torn and scratched relic of the modified hammer-and-sickle logo of the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, La France Insoumise (“Rebellious” or, literally, “Unsubmissive France”).

The old man, evidently no fan of Mélenchon’s anticapitalist, anti-NATO, pro-Russian rhetoric, had reason to worry. In neighborhoods like this, the epicenter of Paris hipsterdom, Mélenchon polled well. Everyone from student protesters to academics and the well-to-do scions of one of the city’s wealthiest families told me they were voting for the ex-communist firebrand. His soaring oratory and rage at the system captivated the left and almost propelled him into the second round; he finished with almost 20 percent of the vote, just 2 percent less than the leader of the National Front (FN), Marine Le Pen.

After the results came in, Mélenchon was the only defeated candidate who did not call upon his followers to back the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron against Le Pen in the second round. He instead consulted 250,000 of them online and found that two-thirds refused to support Macron. In the days leading up to round two, there was panic on the left. Even the former Communist Party organ L’Humanité printed op-eds calling on readers who had voted for Mélenchon to grudgingly back Macron. According to postelection polls, only half of Mélenchon’s voters did so; many simply stayed home, contributing to the highest abstention rate in decades (25 percent) and the largest number of blank or spoiled ballots (over four million, or 12 percent of all votes) ever recorded.

Le Pen and Mélenchon together drew nearly 50 percent of the youth vote in the first round, splitting the 18-34 age bracket evenly. Unlike in Britain’s Brexit referendum, the young did not support the status quo; they voted for extremists who want to leave the EU.

Those who believe millennials are immune to authoritarian ideas are mistaken. Using data from the World Values Survey, the political scientists Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk have painted a worrying picture. As the French election demonstrated, belief in core tenets of liberal democracy is in decline, especially among those born after 1980. Their findings challenge the idea that after achieving a certain level of prosperity and political liberty, countries that have become democratic do not turn back.

In America, 72 percent of respondents born before World War II deemed it absolutely essential to live in a democracy; only 30 percent of millennials agreed. The figures were similar in Holland. The number of Americans favoring a strong leader unrestrained by elections or parliaments has increased from 24 to 32 percent since 1995. More alarmingly, the number of Americans who believe that military rule would be good or very good has risen from 6 to 17 percent over the same period. The young and wealthy were most hostile to democratic norms, with fully 35 percent of young people with a high income regarding army rule as a good thing. Mainstream political science, confident in decades of received wisdom about democratic “consolidation” and stability, seemed to be ignoring a disturbing shift in public opinion.

There could come a day when, even in wealthy Western nations, liberal democracy ceases to be the only game in town. And when that day comes, those who once embraced democracy could begin to entertain other options.•

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Meryl Streep may not have known Harvey Weinstein was a rapist, but she certainly had to have heard of his loutish, predatory and sometimes criminal behavior with young actresses, despite her protestations of innocence. Not that the producer was grabbing her or Judi Dench by the pussy—he liked his prey parched and powerless—but for the last decade or so, blind items, tweets and journalistic reports have on some occasions hinted at his actions and on others named his name. The same goes for other A-Listers who worked with him and are now feigning ignorance, like George Clooney, and certainly for Harvey’s brother, Bob, who can go fuck himself. If we knew about it, they did, too.

From Miramax screenwriter Scott Rosenberg’s post about those, including himself, who were complicit in enabling Weinstein’s reign of terror:

Harvey and Bob made my first two movies.
Then they signed me to an overall deal.
Then they bought that horror script of mine about the Ten Plagues.
For a lot of money.
Also bought that werewolf-biker script.
That no one else liked but was my personal favorite.
They were going to publish my novel.
They anointed me.
Made it so other studios thought I was the real deal.
They gave me my career.

I was barely 30.
I was sure I had struck gold.
They loved me, these two brothers, who had reinvented cinema.
And who were fun and tough and didn’t give an East Coast fuck about all the slick pricks out in L.A.

And those glory days in Tribeca?
The old cramped offices?
That wonderful gang of executives and assistants?
All the filmmakers who were doing repeat business?
The brothers wanted to create a “family of film”.
And they did just that…
We looked forward to having meetings there.
Meetings that would turn into plans that would turn into raucous nights out on the town.
Simply put: OG Miramax was a blast.

So, yeah, I was there.
And let me tell you one thing.
Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing:

Everybody-fucking-knew.

Not that he was raping.
No, that we never heard.
But we were aware of a certain pattern of overly-aggressive behavior that was rather dreadful.
We knew about the man’s hunger; his fervor; his appetite.
There was nothing secret about this voracious rapacity; like a gluttonous ogre out of the Brothers Grimm.
All couched in vague promises of potential movie roles.
(and, it should be noted: there were many who actually succumbed to his bulky charms. Willingly. Which surely must have only impelled him to cast his fetid net even wider).

But like I said: everybody-fucking-knew.

And to me, if Harvey’s behavior is the most reprehensible thing one can imagine, a not-so-distant second is the current flood of sanctimonious denial and condemnation that now crashes upon these shores of rectitude in gloppy tides of bullshit righteousness.

Because everybody-fucking-knew.

And do you know how I am sure this is true?
Because I was there.
And I saw you.
And I talked about it with you.
You, the big producers; you, the big directors; you, the big agents; you, the big financiers.
And you, the big rival studio chiefs; you, the big actors; you, the big actresses; you, the big models.
You, the big journalists; you, the big screenwriters; you, the big rock stars; you, the big restaurateurs; you, the big politicians.

I saw you.
All of you.
God help me, I was there with you.•

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Came across the above online ad quite by accident when searching yesterday on Google, nearly a year after our Presidential Election was bombarded by weaponized disinformation via the search giant as well as Facebook and Twitter, exploding our democracy. It’s difficult to believe that the Page-Brin company, valued at $498 billion, couldn’t have invested in emergency measures to make sure the flow of sludge stopped until the algorithms could be improved. If they couldn’t be adequately upgraded to curb the problem, then a relatively small amount of money could be directed to hire sentient beings to curtail much of the Kremlin-coded mayhem. Social media, a tool America created, has been turned on us, and it’s clear by now that Silicon Valley giants have neither the way nor the will to arrest the trouble without oversight.

From Alexis Madrigal’s Atlantic article “What Facebook Did to American Democracy,” a passage about how Fake News became Big Business, with Silicon Valley profiting from it handsomely:

In a December 2015 article for BuzzFeed, Joseph Bernstein argued that the dark forces of the internet became a counterculture.” He called it “Chanterculture” after the trolls who gathered at the meme-creating, often-racist 4chan message board. Others ended up calling it the “alt-right.” This culture combined a bunch of people who loved to perpetuate hoaxes with angry Gamergaters with “free-speech” advocates like Milo Yiannopoulos with honest-to-God neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And these people loved Donald Trump.

“This year Chanterculture found its true hero, who makes it plain that what we’re seeing is a genuine movement: the current master of American resentment, Donald Trump,” Bernstein wrote. “Everywhere you look on ‘politically incorrect’ subforums and random chans, he looms.”

When you combine hyper-partisan media with a group of people who love to clown “normies,” you end up with things like Pizzagate, a patently ridiculous and widely debunked conspiracy theory that held there was a child-pedophilia ring linked to Hillary Clinton somehow. It was just the most bizarre thing in the entire world. And many of the figures in Bernstein’s story were all over it, including several who the current president has consorted with on social media.

But Pizzagate was but the most Pynchonian of all the crazy misinformation and hoaxes that spread in the run-up to the election.

BuzzFeed, deeply attuned to the flows of the social web, was all over the story through reporter Craig Silverman. His best-known analysis happened after the election, when he showed that “in the final three months of the U.S. presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election-news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.”

But he also tracked fake news before the election, as did other outlets such as The Washington Post, including showing that Facebook’s “Trending” algorithm regularly promoted fake news. By September of 2016, even the Pope himself was talking about fake news, by which we mean actual hoaxes or lies perpetuated by a variety of actors.

The longevity of Snopes shows that hoaxes are nothing new to the internet. Already in January 2015, Robinson Meyer reported about how Facebook was “cracking down on the fake news stories that plague News Feeds everywhere.”

What made the election cycle different was that all of these changes to the information ecosystem had made it possible to develop weird businesses around fake news.•

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