Category Archives: Politics & Society

At present this includes posts on history of Zionism and modern Israel and Palestine as well as current events. Continue this setup? What of other histories? Adjust name of category? Currently includes Islamism (distinct from Islam) as an ideology of terrorism. Also currently includes Islamophobia and hostile denunciations of Islam — but see the question on Islam in Religion and Atheism.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Back in 2015-2016 I was trying to understand the emergence and character of Islamic State and ended up purchasing and reading four books in particular that appeared to be authored by researchers whose credentials indicated that they should know what they are talking about:

  • Cockburn, Patrick. 2015. The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution. London ; New York: Verso.
  • McCants, William Faizi. 2015. The Isis Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Stern, Jessica, and J. M. Berger. 2015. Isis: The State of Terror. London: William Collins.
  • Weiss, Michael. 2015. Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. New York, NY: Regan Arts.

I thought I’d share here with anyone interested what each of those authors had to say about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014-2015. I omit the details of Islamic State expansion and focus on al-Baghdadi’s background and rise to lead the Islamic State. (Contrary to what even official state declarations from the U.S. have said, al-Baghdadi definitely was not the founder of ISIS. al-Baghdadi does not enter the story of ISIS until after it had been up and running for about six years.) One facet not brought out in the following extracts is that al-Baghdadi’s vision of an Islamic State caliphate was flatly opposed by Al Qaeda’s leadership. Al Qaeda foresaw that any attempt to establish a territorial caliphate at that time could only face one outcome — total military defeat by Western-led armies. And that’s what happened, as we know. al-Baghdadi was the man to push for such territorial expansion, however, recruiting military leaders from Saddam’s Baathist dominated army. What happens now that Islamic State is both defeated militarily and also having lost the leader who was the force behind that military quest remains to be seen. A reunification with Al Qaeda? A focus on terrorist operations? Eventual dissipation?

. . . ISIS. Before it captured Mosul and Tikrit it could field some 6,000 fighters, but this figure has multiplied many times since its gain in prestige and appeal to young Sunni men in the wake of its spectacular victories. Its very name (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) expresses its intention: it plans to build an Islamic state in Iraq and in “al-Sham” or greater Syria. It is not planning to share power with anybody. Led since 2010 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, it has proved itself even more violent and sectarian than the “core” al-Qaeda, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is based in Pakistan.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began to appear from the shadows in the summer of 2010 when he became leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after its former leaders were killed in an attack by US and Iraqi troops. AQI was at a low point in its fortunes, as the Sunni rebellion, in which it had once played a leading role, was collapsing. It was revived by the revolt of the Sunni in Syria in 2011 and, over the next three years, by a series of carefully planned campaigns in both Iraq and Syria. How far al-Baghdadi has been directly responsible for the military strategy and tactics of AQI and later ISIS is uncertain: former Iraqi army and intelligence officers from the Saddam era are said to have played a crucial role, but are under al-Baghdadi’s overall leadership.

Details of al-Baghdadi’s career depend on whether the source is ISIS itself, or US or Iraqi intelligence, but the overall picture appears fairly clear. He was born in Samarra, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad, in 1971 and is well educated, with degrees in Islamic studies, including poetry, history, and genealogy from the Islamic University of Baghdad. A picture of al-Baghdadi, taken when he was a prisoner of the Americans in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, shows an average-looking Iraqi man in his mid-twenties with black hair and brown eyes.

His real name is believed to be Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai. He may have been an Islamic militant under Saddam as a preacher in Diyala province, to the northeast of Baghdad, where, after the US invasion of 2003, he had his own armed group. Insurgent movements have a strong motive for giving out misleading information about their command structure and leadership, but it appears al-Baghdadi spent five years, between 2005 and 2009, as prisoner of the Americans.

After he took over, AQI became increasingly well organized, even issuing detailed annual reports itemizing its operations in each Iraqi province. Recalling the fate of his predecessors as AQI leader, al-Baghdadi insisted on extreme secrecy, so few people knew where he was. AQI prisoners either say they never met him or, when they did, that he was wearing a mask.

Patrick Cockburn

Taking advantage of the Syrian civil war, al-Baghdadi sent experienced fighters and funds to Syria to set up JAN as the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. He split from it in 2013, but remained in control of a great swath of territory in northern Syria and Iraq.

Against fragmented and dysfunctional opposition, al-Baghdadi has moved fast towards establishing himself as an effective, albeit elusive, leader. The swift rise of ISIS since he took charge has been greatly helped by the uprising of the Sunni in Syria in 2011, which encouraged the six million Sunnis in Iraq to take a stand against the political and economic marginalization they have encountered since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Cockburn, Patrick. The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Verso. Kindle Edition. 2015

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Right-wing news is everywhere

Some interesting comparisons of the “left’s” and “right’s” use of social media. Again, citing Ferguson et al, with additional detail from Albright:

In the absence of data transparency, we are reserved about all claims by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or anyone else about what ads they did or did not sell or the uses of the sites; we have trouble understanding why several Congressional committees were so slow to require full public disclosure of exact information, especially once the companies admitted that the ads already ran in public. For the same reason, we are cautious about assertions by Trump campaign workers that they did not find Twitter very useful, though that assertion is potentially very telling, since so many more bots are keyed to Twitter, rather than Facebook (LoBianco, 2017).

We take much more seriously the findings of empirical studies of overall election communication patterns by independent researchers who gathered their own data. Jonathan Albright has attempted to map the “ecology” of both left and right networks in several recent studies. His work emphasizes the unusually dense, ramified character of the right wing messaging networks that developed over the last few years:

“to put it bluntly, ‘right-wing’ news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issuebased websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.” (Albright, 2016).

A Harvard study of the internet in the 2016 presidential election makes a similar point:

“Our clearest and most significant observation is that the American political system has seen not a symmetrical polarization of the two sides of the political map, but rather the emergence of a discrete and relatively insular right-wing media ecosystem whose shape and communications practices differ sharply from the rest of the media ecosystem, ranging from the center-right to the left. Right-wing media were centered on Breitbart and Fox News, and they presented partisan-disciplined messaging, which was not the case for the traditional professional media that were the center of attention across the rest of the media sphere” (Faris et al., 2017).

What’s going on here? Where are the Russians?

26 Note that Breitbart is strongly pro-Israel, as the site explained repeatedly in the wake of Charlottesville. Steve Bannon’s own movies are also quite sympathetic to African-American problems. But these facts hardly exhaust Breitbart or Bannon’s relationships to the substantial segment of the far right that is openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist. See BERNSTEIN, J. 2017. Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate. BuzzFeed, October 5, 2017. Cf. also the discussion in GREEN, J. 2017. Devil’s Bargain — Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, New York, Penguin.

By 2016, the Republican right had developed internet outreach and political advertising into a fine art and on a massive scale quite on its own (Faris et al., 2017) (Albright, 2016). Large numbers of conservative websites, including many that that tolerated or actively encouraged white supremacy and contempt for immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, or the aspirations of women had been hard at work for years stoking up “tensions between groups already wary of one another.”26 Breitbart and other organizations were in fact going global, opening offices abroad and establishing contacts with like-minded groups elsewhere. Whatever the Russians were up to, they could hardly hope to add much value to the vast Made in America bombardment already underway. Nobody sows chaos like Breitbart or the Drudge Report, as the New York Times documented in one Idaho town (Dickerson, 2017).

See the original article onsite for the full detail of the above map: https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96

Albright’s comments:

With a few exceptions, the unique “left-wing” sites are basically nowhere to be found on the right-wing side of the network. The graph confirms that, at least as far as connections (hyperlinks) go online, much of the major “left-wing” media appear to be isolated from the most active parts of the news ecosystem.

. . .

Seriously, the “right-wing” sites have Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Reddit, and YouTube in their own network “corner.” Need I say more?

. . .

To put it bluntly, “right-wing” news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issue-based websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.

. . .

Bottom line is, the right-wing sites appear to be linking heavily into most of the left-wing news media, the major news players, and also to each other. However, the “left-wing” media are not linking into most of the “right-wing” sites. To make matters worse, due to the relative lack of diversity in the left media ecosystem (see my last “macro-propaganda” post), there’s right-wing sites in more places across the network. This must have something to do with the “left-wing” news media/journalism “bubble.”

. . .

To make matters worse for the “left-wing” media, the right also appears to be much more active around the “center” of this combined news ecosystem. And what’s the site at the exact center of this L+R network? It’s Senate.gov. NOAA.gov appears to run a close second, though.


Albright, Jonathan. 2016. “Left + Right: The Combined Post-#Election2016 News ‘Ecosystem.’” Medium. December 11, 2016. https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96.

Ferguson, Thomas, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. 2018. “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election / How Money Won Trump the White House.” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Working Paper No. 66, January. https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/industrial-structure-and-party-competition-in-an-age-of-hunger-games.


 

“How Money Won Trump the White House”

From Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen:

As our Table 4 above showed [not shown here], Trump had largely financed his primary campaign with small contributions and loans from himself. As late as mid-May, he remained convinced that his success in using free media and his practice of going over the head of the establishment press directly to voters via Twitter would make it unnecessary for him to raise the “$1 billion to $2 billion that modern presidential campaigns were thought to require” (Green, 2017).

As the convention approached, however, the reality of the crucial role of major investments in political parties started to sink in. Some of the pressure came from the Republican National Committee and related party committees. Their leaders intuitively grasped the point we demonstrated in a recent paper: that outcomes of most congressional election races in every year for which we have the requisite data are direct (“linear”) functions of money (Ferguson et al., 2016). The officials could safely project that the pattern would hold once again in the 2016 Congressional elections (as it did – see Figure 3).56 But the Trump campaign, too, began to hold out the tin cup on its own behalf with increasing vehemence. As we noted earlier, small donations had been flowing steadily into its coffers. Unlike most previous Republican efforts, these added up to some serious money. But in the summer it became plain that the sums arriving were not nearly enough. In many senses, Trump was no Bernie Sanders.

. . . . .

We are able to source the revenues to individual big businesses and investors and aggregate them by sector (Table 6) and also by specific time intervals. Our data reveal aspects of the campaign’s trajectory that have received almost no attention. It is apparent that Trump’s and Manafort’s efforts to conciliate the Republican establishment initially met with some real success. The run up to the Convention brought in substantial new money, including, for the first time, significant contributions from big business. Mining, especially coal mining; Big Pharma (which was certainly worried by tough talk from the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, about regulating drug prices); tobacco, chemical companies, and oil (including substantial sums from executives at Chevron, Exxon, and many medium sized firms); and telecommunications (notably AT&T, which had a major merge merger pending) all weighed in.57

Money from executives at the big banks also began streaming in, including Bank of America, J. P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. Parts of Silicon Valley also started coming in from the cold. Contrary to many post-election press accounts, in the end contributions from major Silicon Valley firms or their executives would rank among Trump’s bigger sources of funds, though as a group in the aggregate Silicon Valley tilted heavily in favor of Clinton. Just ahead of the Republican convention, for example, at a moment when such donations were hotly debated, Facebook contributed $900,000 to the Cleveland Host Committee. In a harbinger of things to come, additional money came from firms and industries that appear to have been attracted by Trump’s talk of tariffs, including steel and companies making machinery of various types (Table 6).58 The Trump campaign also appears to have struck some kind of arrangement with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns more local TV stations than any other media concern in the country, for special access “in exchange for broadcasting Trump interviews without commentary (Anne, 2017).”

Crisis

In mid-August, as Trump sank lower in the polls, the crisis came to a head. Rebekah Mercer had her fateful conversation with Trump at a fundraiser. Manafort, already under pressure from a string of reports about his ties with the Ukraine and Russia, was first demoted and then fired. Steve Bannon took over direction of the campaign and Kellyanne Conway was promoted to campaign manager (Green, 2017). . . . .

Breaking Through

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Testing the Water — Dimmericks

Longtime readers of Vridar may recall my “Bad Five-Line Poems.” As you know, a true limerick is not simply a poem that follows the form AABBA; it must also be dirty. Since a “clean limerick” is an oxymoron, we must call them something else.

I’ve been writing politically charged bad five-line poems on Facebook for a few years now, using the term “#Dimmerick.” (My wife often calls me “Dim,” and not without reason. Several old friends from my enlisted days still sometimes call me Dimmy or Dimmer.)

At any rate, for various reasons, I now believe that Facebook is a terrible place to post original content. I’m going to try them out here. And if I can find the inspiration, I’ll try to make them a regular feature.

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Time to Return

Street Art — Pixabay

I took some leave from blogging, quite unplanned, but it was a compulsive digression. I have been reading, almost non-stop, book after book and article after article, trying to get a firmer handle on what has been happening to make the world (specifically, our “democracies” in the USA, Europe, Australia) what they are today. I knew something big was changing back in the 1980s and then through the 1990s but you know what it’s like, one is busy getting on with life and carries on like all the other frogs (cooking, washing, driving, working, watching tv) who are in the pot that is slowly coming to a boil.

It all started when someone here posted a video of an interview with Noam Chomsky. I had seen the video before but this time for some reason I took notice when Chomsky directed his interviewer to a study on the influence of corporate dollars on the political system. So I looked it up. It was a book published way back in 1995 by Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.

The central argument of the book is that political parties are not primarily out there trying to win most votes. That’s a secondary exercise and one that falls into place after achieving their first priority: winning the financial backing of whoever can financially back them the most. In its simplest form the idea can be illustrated this way. (I use the issue of unionized labour because that was Ferguson’s illustration; I thought of changing it to the question of carbon emissions and global warming.)

Imagine 97% of the electorate want strong labour unions to ensure job security and fair compensation. These are the ordinary people with only the basic incomes to get by reasonably happy.

Now imagine 3% of the electorate oppose unionization of labour entirely. These are the rich factory owners who employ everyone else.

Election time comes. None of the 97% has the private means, the money, to stand for election. It costs money just to get around from venue to venue and more money to take care of basic income to support one’s family while doing that, etc etc. But one person hits on an idea of how to get money to do everything necessary to campaign for votes. The only people with the money are the 3%. So our would-be candidate asks them to fund the campaign. Some of that 3 % are willing to do so but only on the condition that the candidate promises not to support unionization, but even oppose the idea.

Another would-be candidate finds a few among the 3% who are willing to allow just a small amount of unionization, say for only 5% of the workforce.

Come election day, assuming the two candidates had equal advertizing and equal coverage of the electorate, that is, they each had the same amount of funding, the best that the 97% of the electorate would get out of the election is a representative who will support no more than the unionization of 5% of the workforce. They would not even be likely to get that candidate if he or she only got a fraction of the campaign contributions as their rival.

Obviously real life is more complex than that simplest of models but Ferguson and his colleagues who study the complexities of funding find the rule works essentially every time: to understand who rules look for who has the gold. That’s the golden rule.

Earlier I posted on what I believed to be an insightful article by Nancy Fraser, From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump — and Beyond. Thomas Ferguson’s work is coming from the same direction. But Golden Rule is old. Published 1995. So I looked for more recent work. And that’s where I’ve been the past several days, reading and following up more recent studies by Ferguson and by others he cites and others who appear to be working from the same datasets of evidence.

The most dramatic shifts have happened with the emergence of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, of course, and that’s where I have been trying to catch up with. What the hell is going on? It’s not completely alien to human experience, though. One recent study even sent me back to reading the 1973 edition of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (first published 1948). (That was to revisit other historical alliances of what Arendt calls “the alliance between mob and capital”.)

It’s been a fascinating, though troubling, journey, covering shifts and divisions in the corporate class, propaganda manipulations, and, I think, a deeper understanding of how this complex and confusing world works. Once again one finds scholarly research tackling questions that have traditionally been forbidden in their field and the need for those pioneers to branch out into interdisciplinary studies before eventually making significant inroads into the conventional wisdom.

I expect to be posting more along the lines of these sorts of studies.

many of them tribal

 

Of course, the Arab or Kurd is only ever in it for the money and tribal warfare is their way of life. How happily enlightened we are.

On an “Independent” Mainstream Media Standing Up to Trump

The Lesson of the Watergate affair:

The major scandal of Watergate as portrayed in the mainstream press was that the Nixon administration sent a collection of petty criminals to break into the Democratic party headquarters, for reasons that remain obscure. The Democratic party represents powerful domestic interests, solidly based in the business community. Nixon’s actions were therefore a scandal. The Socialist Workers party, a legal political party, represents no powerful interests. Therefore, there was no scandal when it was revealed, just as passions over Watergate reached their zenith, that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade, a violation of democratic principle far more extensive and serious than anything charged during the Watergate hearings. What is more, these actions of the national political police were only one element of government programs extending over many administrations to deter independent political action, stir up violence in the ghettos, and undermine the popular movements that were beginning to engage sectors of the generally marginalized public in the arena of decision-making. These covert and illegal programs were revealed in court cases and elsewhere during the Watergate period, but they never entered the congressional proceedings and received only limited media attention. Even the complicity of the FBI in the police assassination of a Black Panther organizer in Chicago was not a scandal, in marked contrast to Nixon’s “enemies list,” which identified powerful people who were denigrated in private but suffered no consequences. As we have noted, the U.S. role in initiating and carrying out the first phase of “the decade of the genocide” in Cambodia entered the Watergate proceedings only marginally: not because hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were slaughtered in the course of a major war crime, but because Congress was not properly notified, so that its privileges were infringed, and even this was considered too slight an infraction to enter the final charges. What was true of Congress was also true of the media and their investigative reporting that “helped force a President from office” (Lewis) in what is held to be a most remarkable display of media independence, or arrogance, depending on one’s point of view.

History has been kind enough to contrive for us a “controlled experiment” to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media reached its peak. The answer is clear and precise: powerful groups are capable of defending themselves, not surprisingly; and by media standards, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened. By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are confined to marginal groups or distant victims of U.S. military attack, or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is muted or absent altogether. This is why Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the watchdog only barked when he began to threaten the privileged.

Exactly the same lessons were taught by the Iran-contra scandals and the media reaction to them. It was a scandal when the Reagan administration was found to have violated congressional prerogatives during the Iran-contra affair, but not when it dismissed with contempt the judgment of the International Court of Justice that the United States was engaged in the “unlawful use of force” and violation of treaties—that is, violation of the supreme law of the land and customary international law—in its attack against Nicaragua. The sponsorship and support of state terror that cost some 200,000 lives in Central America in the preceding decade was not the subject of congressional inquiries or media concern. These actions were conducted in accord with an elite consensus, and they received steady media support, as we have seen in reviewing the fate of worthy and unworthy victims and the treatment of elections in client and errant states.

Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 1994. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage. pp. 299-300

 

The Mind of the Trump Supporter

This post is about propaganda and how it works, and how it is working today in an unhealthy way in the United States — as perceived by me, an Australian.

When I was struggling in my last days in a religious cult I picked up The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen and I hated so much of what I read. My copy of the book is riddled with pencilled notes that do sometimes tick and underline stong agreement but at other times asterisk outraged disagreement. It was early days for me. Take the fourth chapter, The Evangelical Mind-Control System. Its first subsection is headed Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. I have a pencilled note against that heading:

No — Bible is an open book. In fact many without in depth study of the Bible say it is very unattractive.

I see now in hindsight that I was missing the point of the argument. But let’s get to the point. This post is a follow up to Characteristics of Trump Supporters. I once posted The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. Let’s compare the mind-control methods that trap the bible-believer with the propaganda of Trump.

 

Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of Trump

He’s a winner. He promises his supporter’s they’ll get sick of winning. And he’s an underdog, a mere outsider, and boasts that the outsider can change the system. And Fox cable TV is sexy.

 

Cohen began his discussion of the Bible thus,

The best things in the Bible are superficial. Another way of understanding the kindly, philanthropic, and surprisingly tolerant old-time religion we described earlier is to note that its proponents took the lovely surface impressions of Jesus in the Gospels and built a whole new religion out of them alone.

. . . .

What I mean by the persona of the Bible, then, is an apparent relevancy of teaching and promise of benefit that finally turn out to have totally different meanings from what the new inductee was led to think. We will encounter it many times, as our analysis unfolds. Little by little, newcomers are brought along to understand the teachings to mean something altogether different from what appeared on the surface—

(pp. 170, 171. My bolded highlighting)

What comes to mind here are points such as “draining the swamp“. That phrase once meant shutting down the ability of rich and powerful elites from using their wealth and power to catapult them to even more wealth and power. We have seen in the last few days how a President who has used his office to benefit his own companies and those of his family (Trump enterprises and those of his daughter and wife) while attacking political opponents (e.g. Joe and Hunter Biden) who appear to have been doing much the same.

 

Device 2: Discrediting “The World”

Edmund Cohen writes, p. 172:

We earlier covered representative biblical teachings requiring the believer to distrust and to disparage reliance on his own mind for knowledge.

Trump continually pounds the message that nothing said by his critics has any credibility. They are all making up “fake news”. The Democrats are motivated by an inability to accept that they lost the 2016 election and that’s why they continually look for ways to attack “your favourite president”. They even “make up fake sources” for their stories. read more »

Characteristics of Trump Supporters

If it fits. . . .

I live in Australia but some things I have seen of ardent Trump supporters seem . . . not entirely desirable. Am I mistaken for thinking that there is a certain clamorousness, a certain closed-mindedness against the views of “the other”? Back in 2007 I posted 10 characteristics of religious fundamentalism and earlier today I ran through the points and wondered. . . .

1. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. It (fundamentalism) manifests itself as an attempt by “besieged believers” to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that “golden past”.

My impression: They (Trump supporters) are opposed to “liberals” and what we might see as progressive liberal values, yes? They like the idea of tossing aside all that PC speak, for example, and just going back to the common-sense world of the old days, — Americans, tell me if I’m right. Also, to get America back where it was when it “was great” — with car manufacturing jobs etc abounding again. And what’s with all the rules trying to stop people driving SUVs and dumping waste into rivers? It even extends to envisioning some sort of biblical Israel restored at their behest.

-o-

2. They (fundamentalists) are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”.

Oh yes. I don’t think there is much doubt there, is there?

-o-

3. They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”. And as such, they are “privileged” or “burdened” with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world. . . . “To be chosen is to be marked for a superior fate; one is marked by virtue of being superior“. 

Those are religious terms. Is it fair to think there is an analogy, though? They certainly seem to me to look down upon those who are still somehow lost in the “extreme left”, “liberal values”, “Democrats…”, so much so that they don’t need to listen to them seriously. And we do have “white supremacists” among the Trump supporters. America should be for Americans, yes, so a wall is needed to keep out those not part of “the elect”.

-o-

4. Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity. Not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity, but also as “part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special.” (p.30)

Do MAGA caps count?

-o-

5. There is only one true religion and one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism.

And that true way of life sure as hell doesn’t include “PC nonsense”. And it has to be defended against criminals and other subversives from over the southern border; and from “socialists” and “greenies”, and “the deep state”, and the “fake media”.

-o-

6. There is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory.

No holy book or Mein Kampf can come from a semi-literate. And can the leader do any serious or real wrong? It seems not. Accusations to the contrary are entirely fake, we are told. And the only view worth listening to, it appears, is the leader’s. All others are “fake”. Simply ignore them. Deny them. Mock them.

-o-

7. Law and authority come from God.

Evangelical supporters of Trump think Trump is God’s agent. Other secular supporters appear to think that they subscribe to a “higher law” that has the right to thumb its nose at the way things have always been done, at the Constitution and legal procedures, the latter being redefined according to the will of Trump. There is clearly an authoritarian streak.

-o-

8. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women.

Abortion is now deemed to be a crime.

-o-

9. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists — Christian, Jewish, Islamic — without exception. Especially the fear of and opposition to homosexuality.

I don’t know if there is anything of note here apart from the Fundamentalist church groups who support Trump. Trump has known how to align with this demographic. Is homosexuality an issue beyond the Christian supporters?

-o-

10. Fundamentalism and nationalism converge. The moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow-practitioners of the belief. This can only be achieved through God’s rule — through the national executive and legislature itself. Hence the importance of bringing about a government that will prioritize the right morals and right culture for the nation — relegating other (economic) functions to a secondary place.

Oh yes. Definitely.

I like this article: Why Greta Thunberg triggers the troglodytes among us

Photo: The teardowns and tirades against Greta Thunberg aren’t everywhere, but sometimes it can seem like it. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)

It’s by Lauren Rosewarne and it’s worth reading in full and seriously thinking about:

Why Greta Thunberg triggers the troglodytes among us

. . . .

But there’s an underbelly. A cruel and creepy world where it’s apparently perfectly fine — nay, encouraged — for adults, generally but not exclusively male adults, to shred a 16-year-old to pieces.

Greta ticks all the boxes — triggers the troglodytes amongst us — in some wholly predictable ways.

She’s a girl. To say our culture hates girls is, of course, an overstatement. Afterall, we enjoy looking at girls and having them sing and shimmy for us.

If a book, a band, a film, a foodstuff has a disproportionate teen-girl following — think Twilight, think Taylor Swift, think Billie Eilish — it’s rendered culturally unimportant at best and as vacuous crap at worst.

The moment girls scream and cry over something is the moment our culture has decided it’s wholly unimportant.

She’s not just a girl — she’s a girl with Asperger’s

She’s not just a girl though.

We like certain 16-year-olds. Ideally, ones that look like they’re on the cusp of blossoming womanhood. Barely legal in porn parlance.

…..

If we’re going to pay her any attention, the least she can do is offer us something enticing to look at. To smile for us. To not be too strident. To play nice.

Greta Thunberg isn’t a 16-year-old doing sexiness for us. She’s not performing femininity, she’s not exchanging eroticism for a platform to talk about the environment.

She’s a soft-spoken girl with bare skin and pigtails. And because this packaging is so unfamiliar on the world stage — because we have no real track record of paying attention to girls who look like this — it’s acceptable to ignore her.

….

They’re naive, and their words — their wants, their hopes — get discounted.

But she’s not just a girl. She’s a girl with Asperger’s. And Asperger’s is commonly perceived as a disability.

I found a lot to think about in the full article. It’s worth a read, I believe.

(I’m reminded a little bit of Joan of Arc, for some or several reasons.)

 

Truly Amazing

Nuclear Power: What’s Behind the Latest Propaganda Blitz?

Hardly a day goes by without somebody on social media sternly reminding me that we desperately need nuclear power in order to fight climate change. I’m always tempted to respond that I agree, but only if they happen to have a time machine — because, if you really wanted to fight climate change and stop runaway global warming with nukes you should have started building 20 years ago. We’re too late.

Of course, I don’t actually bother responding, since one cannot dissuade a true believer. And one can only stomach so many lectures about the incredible safety record of nuclear power. The safety argument comes to the fore, because so many people think atomic energy isn’t safe. They’re wrong, but the underlying argument is only so much theater.

Large numbers of people would like to stop fracking, and they have plenty of good reasons for it. Fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates groundwater. It wastes huge amounts of fresh water. Its continued use makes petroleum less expensive, which encourages the use of carbon-generating gasoline and diesel fuel.

It’s dangerous. Yet, despite all of the protests and no matter how many videos we see with people setting their tap water on fire, fracking continues.

The same goes for coal-fired power plants. Ditto for pipelines. Nobody wants coal burning in their backyards. So, naturally, we build them in poor areas. We run the pipelines through Native American burial grounds so as not to disturb nice, clean white people in the suburbs.

Nuclear Boondoggle in SC (ieee.org)

The myth that nuclear power’s decline in the US came about because of the fears of an irrational public continues to persist. However, if the “bewildered herd” had any real influence, fracking would certainly cease. And truth be told, the only reason coal is finally dying has everything to do with economics.

Two recent news stories will serve to demonstrate what’s really going on. First, I would direct your attention to these news items: “U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned” (NYT) and “A Dissenter’s Tale of South Carolina’s Nuclear Project Fiasco” (ENR). The short story is that the South Carolina nuclear project at Jenkinsville failed to make it to the halfway point of construction. This failure drove Westinghouse into bankruptcy. And finally, consumers had to pay for most of it, since in our country, profits are private and losses are public.

Here is the key point: read more »

Roger Ailes and that German Lance Corporal

After having bought the book five and a half years ago I finally got around to reading last week The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country by Gabriel Sherman. Hopefully, now, I’m a little better informed about the role of the media in the United States. Not only the media, but I kept reflecting on the entire capitalist system, virtually unbridled. Courts appear to be sporting arenas where the rich can have their final showdowns against one another. But it was encouraging to be reminded that journalism is a profession and that journalistic ideals are still treasured by many trained in that area, though they may too often be frustrated by their corporate bosses.

If Sherman’s book is a true indicator then I was surprised to learn that Fox News has had a far more powerful effect on both politics and the entire media landscape than I had realized. Simply ignoring and laughing at it did nothing to stop its growing influence in society and the political arena. Ailes so often reminded me of Donald Trump, too, and this book was written before Trump emerged on the political scene.

I don’t know who is directly in charge of Fox News now but I do learn from Trump that Fox occasionally broadcasts a story that is not favourable to him. I cannot imagine that happening under Ailes, but Rupert Murdoch does have a reputation (certainly in Australia and UK) of being something of a kingmaker through his media arms.

It’s an ugly scenario. News transformed into entertainment, more about making people “feel empowered/informed” than truly informing them.

But two days ago a new book arrived, one originally published in the late 1930s, that put a different perspective on it all. Theodore Abel’s Why Hitler Came to Power, is a presentation of the words of Germans who lived through the Germany at the end of the First World War and who were influenced by Hitler. Their description of Germany in 1918 and 1919, the breakdown of society, the traumas of the population and of the armed forces, — one can see at a glance how WW2 was pretty much inevitable. There were moments when it did look like peace would emerge, but it only took a few more economic setbacks to put the whole thing back into a tailspin. Also interesting was the amount of loathing of the Nazis in Germany. Those who blame “the Germans” for WW2 do not do justice to the many.

Another “little” analogy that came to mind: We cannot abide futility, of losing all, our dearest ones, our honour, everything, for nothing. It has to have meaning; it cannot have been all in vain. So grieving parents of a suicide bomber would be caught on TV saying that they were proud of their child, — and returning soldiers cannot agree that all they experienced was for nothing but loss of identity, loss of everything they held dear. The fight has to continue.

What sticks out through my early years as a lover of history in high school is the power and responsibility of a single person. I was taught to believe that “historical forces” created history: learn both (1) the background causes and then (2) the immediate causes of this or that historic moment. Really, though, it’s not so predictable. Sure, there are “forces” there, but unless a certain person with a certain makeup happens to exploit them for either personal or ideological motives, there is no telling which forces will simply wash themselves out which ones will continue to grow and consume others and change a nation’s direction.

And some readers thought I only read books about the bible!

When an Atheist Gets EVERYTHING Wrong

An A for learning what your teacher said in history class???!!! Adapted from https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/02/12/bad-grades-1960-vs-2010-cartoon/

There is an atheist out there on the internet who should hang his head in shame and disgrace. In 26 minutes of presentation in a debate with an apologist the video record shows he took up 3 whole minutes (667 words) repeating what he had read in books at school and had heard from science writers not realizing he was repeating a popular misconception, a misconception he had almost certainly been taught in school as fact. He dared to say that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. That’s as good as getting EVERYTHING about history wrong, we learn from the author of History for Atheists (“ARON RA” GETS EVERYTHING WRONG), earning nothing less than a blistering 6,280-word response which included the following excoriation of both mind and character:

his profound ignorance of history

burst of pseudo historical gibberish

smug self-assurance

virtually everything he said was wrong.

When he turns to history, however, the results are truly woeful,

I make no apologies for coming down hard on crappy pseudo history like this. Nelson may be a well-meaning fool, but he is a fool nonetheless.

no excuse for peddling the lazy nonsense he spouts about history

doing it with such blithe pomposity

is terrible at history and believes many stupid and erroneous things.

someone with little to no grasp of the relevant material

he swaggers and bloviates

boneheaded fanaticism

We all have our bad days when we get a bit cranky.

Oh yes, here are some choice criticisms of our atheist’s presumed sources:

relying on bungled online rehashing of nineteenth century myths and confused nonsense by fellow polemicists.

has read some stuff that he likes from fellow historically illiterate polemicists and decides to present it as fact.

One thing I learned in my educational psychology classes was that the best way to correct facts and gaps in knowledge is to do exactly what the chair of the debate said at the beginning:

And we just ask that you be respectful.

I like that approach.

Yes, Aaron Ra or Nelson, you were guilty of repeating a popular misconception, not only among atheists but even among many Christians. Gosh, I believed what you said for years when I was a God-fearing Protestant. And I am sure I was even taught the same erroneous information in school at some point.

So let’s take a step back and see what has gone wrong. How did this piece of fiction come to be so widely accepted as a fact of history? This will be a slice of History for Atheists and Theists.

Jeffrey Burton Russell (Wikipedia)

The rest of this post consists of notes from Russell’s book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. Russell does nothing to hide his view that faith and science are not really incompatible but we can live with that (up to a point).

You Are Not Alone

To begin, let’s try to reassure any of you who have believed this little datum that you are not alone. A 1991 book by Jeffrey Burton Russell contains the following

This Flat Error remains popular. It is still found in many textbooks and encyclopedias. . . .

By the 1980s, a large number of textbooks and encyclopedias had corrected the story, but the Flat Error was restated in a widely read book by the former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983). Boorstin wrote :

A Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia . . . afflicted the continent from A.D. 300 to at least 1300. During those centuries Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.

He called this alleged hiatus the “Great Interruption.” His fourteenth chapter, “A Flat Earth Returns,” derided the “legion of Christian geographers” who followed the geographical path marked out by a sixth-century eccentric. In fact the eccentric Cosmas Indicopleustes had no followers whatever: his works were ignored or dismissed with derision throughout the Middle Ages.

Daniel J. Boorstin (Wikipedia)

How could Boorstin disseminate the Flat Error and the public accept it uncritically?

Those damned librarians! (But he was also a historian.)

So what went wrong? Russell takes us on a journey through the literature that led us astray. It had much to do with the evolution debate of the nineteenth century inflaming passions over reason, and with the centuries-old Protestant distrust of Catholics.

An early culprit was Andrew Dickson White who wrote in 1896 . . .

Many a bold navigator, who was quite ready to brave pirates and tempests, trembled at the thought of tumbling with his ship into one of the openings into hell which a widespread belief placed in the Atlantic at some unknown distance from Europe. This terror among sailors was one of the main obstacles in the great voyage of Columbus.

But the voyage towards wholesale acceptance of error was not a smooth one: read more »