Quite Linkly 10/3-10/10 2021

Life Advice

Don’t go to grad school in the humanities: https://acoup.blog/2021/10/01/collections-so-you-want-to-go-to-grad-school-in-the-academic-humanities/

Switch to Signal: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/other/millions-flock-to-signal-as-facebook-whatsapp-suffer-outage/ar-AAP8OSD

UK

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/10/keir-starmer-socialists-labour-party-conference-uk/

Interesting article giving the steelman of the Starmerite “must destroy the left at any cost” political strategy. The long and short of it is that British institutions are so powerful and so desperate to crush the left that Starmer may have a point that he’ll only be allowed to win if he makes sure that there’s never a chance for the Labour left to take power again: https://mainlymacro.blogspot.com/2021/10/are-there-good-reasons-why-starmer.html

Media

Read this article and then go check out out American Crime Story: Impeachment, which is great. https://www.vox.com/culture/22672346/monica-lewinsky-bill-clinton-impeachment-american-crime-story

https://theweek.com/business/1005721/a-new-model-for-modest-middle-class-journalism

Europe

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/10/pablo-iglesias-spain-far-right-franco-podemos-vox-state

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/05/business/germany-economy.html

Labor

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/10/teamsters-tdu-convention-reform-amazon-election-ups/

The best way to support your favorite college football team is to support the players unionizing: https://inthesetimes.com/article/college-football-players-union-labor-nlrb-cfbpa

Legislation

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/democrats-must-raise-the-debt-limit-to-a-quadrillion-dollars.html

Renewable Energy

https://rethinkdisruption.com/part-1-the-mythology-of-mineral-shortages/

https://www.slowboring.com/p/energy-abundance

New York

I’m a firm yes on each of these 5 ballot proposals: https://gothamist.com/news/five-ballot-proposals-breakdown-november-2021

https://citylimits.org/2021/10/06/opinion-as-nyc-officials-weigh-outdoor-dining-rules-listen-to-restaurants/

https://www.thenation.com/article/society/crime-reporting-failure/

Law

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/10/steven-donziger-loretta-preska-law-corruption-courts-corporate-influence/

https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/15340

If you’re on a jury, don’t send people to prison for things that shouldn’t be a crime: https://ballsandstrikes.org/legal-culture/how-courts-robbed-juries-of-a-powerful-tool-for-doing-justice/

Quite Linkly 9/26 – 10/2 2021

Little known fact: the cause of labor is the hope of the world

Labor

https://www.labornotes.org/2021/09/auto-workers-vote-direct-elections-officers

https://labornotes.org/blogs/2021/09/workers-have-leverage-its-time-use-it

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/oct/01/us-labor-unrest-unions-strikes

Urbanism

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2021/9/29/the-secret-sauce-maybe-of-californias-zoning-reform

https://www.slowboring.com/p/cities-democracy-multiparty

https://buildingtheskyline.org/housing-gotham-1/

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2021/9/24/freeway-widening-grifters-woke-washing-fraud-and-incompetence

Socialism

https://inthesetimes.com/article/sidewalk-socialists-municipal-socialism-dsa-city-council

https://www.ianwelsh.net/the-advantage-of-permission-the-fall-of-oligarchies/

https://inthesetimes.com/article/democratic-socialism-politics-election-dsa-convention-aoc

https://socialistforum.dsausa.org/issues/summer-2021/reflections-on-the-2021-dsa-national-convention/

Media

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/10/jeremy-corbyn-hammam-chott-israel-palestine-tunisia-cemetery

https://newrepublic.com/article/163799/supreme-court-gallup-approval-rating

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/somethings-very-wrong-with-the-times

Legislation

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/09/bernie-sanders-house-progressives-biden-administration-reconciliation-infrastructure-bill-vote/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/27/opinion/biden-centrist-democrats.html

Anthropology

https://razib.substack.com/p/a-whole-new-world

UK

https://adambienkov.substack.com/p/keir-starmers-war-with-the-labour

Quite Linkly 9/19-9/25 2021

I’m going to experiment with doing a weekly link-list. This is the first one!

Law

Stephen Breyer wrote a terrible, self-justifying book and this review just annihilates it:

https://ballsandstrikes.org/scotus/stephen-breyer-book-review/

https://lpeproject.org/blog/transunion-is-a-double-edged-sword-should-the-legal-left-wield-it/

Legislation

These are a ton of different takes on the ongoing Infrastructure and Reconciliation bill negotiations. This is a very big week for every variety of policy-making in America!

https://inthesetimes.com/article/democratic-reconciliation-sanders-warren-manchin-sinema-infrastructure

https://theintercept.com/2021/09/22/senate-parliamentarian-filibuster-reform/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/22/opinion/biden-moderate-democrats.html

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/09/senate-parliamentarian-democrats-immigration-citizenship/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/24/great-good-bad-unknown-reconciliation-bill/

Israel

https://mondoweiss.net/2021/09/israel-cant-be-faulted-for-anything-thanks-to-hasbara-cultures-narrative-of-jewish-victimhood/

Internet Freedom

The government doesn’t have a right to tell you what substances you can buy or put in your body. Patronize the parts of the internet that will help you get around those unjust restrictions if you feel like it:

https://c4ss.org/content/55324

Rhode Island

Progressives in every state should look at what’s going on right now in Rhode Island as a model:

https://theintercept.com/2021/09/22/rhode-island-progressives-matt-brown-cynthia-mendes/

That’s all, see you next week!

Crowdfunding is a Big Deal

The development of easy mass donation features on the internet might seem like a small thing, but it’s feeling more and more to me like it’s going to be incredibly important. ActBlue is the representative of this phenomena in the political arena. It allows anybody to make an account in seconds and instantly transfer money to the candidate of their choosing. In a very real way that’s what enabled Bernie Sanders’ presidential runs and the the whole rise of the modern radical left in America. It allowed political campaigns to be effectively funded by a mass support base of ordinary people rather than through traditional fundraising gatekeepers. It’s a development that is just getting started and clearly here to stay, and which promises to transform the political system even more than it already has.

So clearly that’s a big deal, but then these small donor bucks loom as a hugely transformative force in another arena – cultural production. What ActBlue is for politics Patreon is to culture. Any writer or artist or anybody producing any content that other people enjoy can set up a Patreon account and – if people do indeed enjoy what they’re creating – create a nice little income stream for themselves. I really recommend you go browse around and look at the incomes your favorite artists are making on there, it’s fascinating. But the upshot is that rather than competing for the favor of funding gatekeepers, individual scale cultural production can go directly to a mass audience and subsist economically while relying solely on the good will of its most devoted fans. Again, a trend that is just getting started and likely to be truly transformative.

Now there’s a third one, which you might say is implied by the cultural category but which I want to separate out: journalism, commentary, and everything else in the broad category of getting paid to talk about current events and what to do about them. Many people in that industry are already on Patreon, and now there is also a very interesting new development in the form of Substack.com. Substack is basically a platform for writers to set up a subscription based newsletter service. Like Patreon it allows creators to post both free to access content and content behind a paywall. This is an even more recent development than the political and cultural ones, but it looks like it will indeed be possible for an independent journalist or commentator to support themselves on the subscription revenue from a few thousand of their most devoted fans. Seems like a pretty big change from our current institutional model of journalism and commentary, where you only hear the voice of people hired by whoever is running media institutions.

What all of these have in common is an incredible democratization of the ability to support action that you want to be taken – whether that’s an political campaigning, journalism, or artistic creation. Since I’m someone who is into that sort of democratization I am pretty thrilled by this development. Certainly it already seems to be working in favor of the kind of outcomes I am looking for in the political system by improving the ability of the radical left to compete. The journalistic and cultural consequences are murkier, but based on that preference for democratization I’m optimistic.

There are also probably further areas where this mass crowdfunding model has or will be a huge deal. One that occurs to me is knowledge production – can internet mediated amateur science or other academic inquiry compete with the university version?

Why are people talking about Epstein like it’s a sex scandal?

It’s looking more and more likely that Jeffrey Epstein was neither a billionaire nor a money manager, but was instead running a blackmail factory for some intelligence agency.

Epstein appears to have been inviting powerful people over to his various mansions and private islands, providing them with underage girls to do what they want with, and then blackmailing them.

From The Week:

“Back in 2015, a woman named Virginia Roberts alleged that U.S. authorities had footage of her having underage sex with powerful friends of billionaire Epstein, who was charged by federal prosecutors on Monday with sex trafficking, including trafficking minors. Roberts said Epstein “debriefed her” after she had sex with these “associates” so that he would possess “intimate and potentially embarrassing information” that could be used for blackmail. Epstein’s allies dismissed Roberts as “a liar and a fantasist.”

But after Epstein was arrested on Saturday, a law enforcement search of his Upper East Side apartment reportedly revealed compact discs in a locked safe labeled “Young [Name] + [Name],” which, as The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim points out, could buttress Roberts’ allegations.”

The media has thrown around claims that Epstein is a billionaire and successful hedge fund manager, but there’s not a lot of evidence to back it up. His supposed peers, hedge fund managers, have been suspicious about him for years. From NY Mag Intelligencer:

“Intelligencer spoke to several prominent hedge-fund managers to get a read on what their practiced eyes are detecting in all the new information that is coming to light about Epstein in the wake of his indictment by federal prosecutors in New York. Most saw signs of something unsavory at the heart of his business model.

To begin with, there is much skepticism among the hedgies Intelligencer spoke with that Epstein made the money he has — and he appears to have a lot, given a lavish portfolio of homes and private aircraft — as a traditional money manager. A fund manager who knows well how that kind of fortune is acquired notes, “It’s hard to make a billion dollars quietly.” Epstein never made a peep in the financial world.

Epstein was also missing another key element of a typical thriving hedge fund: investors. Kass couldn’t find any beyond Epstein’s one well-publicized client, retail magnate Les Wexner — nor could other players in the hedge-fund world who undertook similar snooping. “I don’t know anyone who’s ever invested in him; he’s never talked about by any of the allocators,” says one billionaire hedge-fund manager, referring to firms that distribute large pools money among various funds.””

So where did he get that money? What was he accomplishing with all this blackmail? Disgraced former Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta just resigned over the bizarrely lenient deal he cut with Epstein in 2007 when Acosta was the US Attorney for southern Florida. When asked ““Is the Epstein case going to cause a problem [for confirmation hearings]?” while being interviewed by the Trump administration for the Secretary of Labor position Acosta said “He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,”” Acosta dodged the question when asked more recently about that exchange.

So can we all stop talking about this story like it’s a lurid scandal that might be embarrassing for a few famous people and start talking about it as some intelligence agency, foreign or domestic, implementing a blackmail honeypot on a massive scale among the shadier elements of the American elite?

Arizona Senate Shenanigans

“Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, is legally required to fill vacancies in Arizona’s US Senate delegation. Whoever Ducey chooses will stay in office until 2020. The governor has remained silent on who he has in mind out of respect for McCain and his family. By Arizona state law, he must tap someone of the same party as McCain — meaning a Republican — and he’s ruled himself out.”

“If McCain’s seat doesn’t open up soon, there is a possibility that it won’t be Gov. Ducey who appoints his replacement, as he is up for reelection this year. He is expected to win his primary on Tuesday against Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who earlier this year found himself in hot water over declarations that he wouldn’t choose Cindy McCain as the senator’s replacement. Ducey will face the winner of the Democratic primary — former Arizona Department of Education official and professor David Garcia, state Sen. Steve Farley, or Kelly Fryer, the CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona — in November. They’ve all declined to say who they might appoint to McCain’s seat if elected.”

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/25/17781526/john-mccain-replacement-arizona-governor-doug-ducey

Okay did you read the above? The situation as I see it is this: Whoever is governor of Arizona when McCain dies has to appoint a Republican to replace him and serve through 2020. Arizona is coming up on a competitive gubernatorial election. So there’s a very real possibility that we could have a Democratic governor in Arizona bound by law to appoint a Republican to the Senate.

If it comes to that, who should they appoint? Who are the best available registered Republicans, ideally Arizona Republicans, for a Democratic governor to pick?

 

Drug Legalization

I find this article pretty outrageous: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/6/17649036/fda-fentanyl-opioid-epidemic-drug-legalization

It’s basically saying that the opioid epidemic demonstrates why we shouldn’t legalize more drugs. To me the evidence it presents lends itself more to an indictment of the current system and thus advocacy for legalization.

High potency synthetic opioids like fentanyl were not “legalized” in the sense that you can now go buy them at the store, they were approved by the FDA to be prescribed in a somewhat wider variety of circumstances than previously. This was all about pharmaceutical companies lobbying doctors to prescribe more of those drugs, and then relying on people’s health insurance to pick up the tab for the insanely high prices ($30,000 per month!).

Needless to say that’s not what a legal but regulated market for recreational drugs looks like. There will not be any doctors trying to tempt you to partake in a bit of heroin, nor will your health insurance be interested in buying it for you. Ideally drug advertisement, whether the drugs are medicinal or recreational, currently illegal or currently legal, could be banned altogether.

The way the legal opioid dealers in big pharma have managed to capture the drug regulation apparatus to push their pills on people looking for medical health is disgusting and we need to do something about it, but banning people from putting what they want in their bodies is not the way to go about it.

The irony of Marxist materialism

The history of Marxism is really weird because it’s an ideology premised on materialism that then had huge idealist effects on the world.

Materialism in this sense means history is explained by material factors – population growth, economic growth, technological advance, etc. This is in contrast to idealism, which says ideas, from religions to philosophies to… Marxism are more in the driver’s seat.

Marx had this spectacular analysis of capitalism in the mid-1800s. He was seeing the infancy of industrialization and was remarkably insightful as to what had happened, and prescient in where it was all leading. He saw that industrial capitalism was going to eat the world, and predicted that after that had happened the situation would become clear to the working class and the revolution would come.

This is where the strangeness comes in – the biggest obstacle to everything playing out as Marx anticipated turned out to be Marxism! Countries that in his materialist understanding were just ready for a liberal revolution to replace feudalism and monarchy with capitalism and democracy started to have communist revolutions instead! A lot of the people in those countries who in an earlier era would have been liberal dissidents instead ended up as socialists, and when the opportunity came to take power they didn’t content themselves with ushering in the same liberal capitalism they saw their socialist comrades fighting in more advanced countries, they tried to build socialism!

So then while capitalism was still in the process of eating the world there emerged this force Marx never anticipated – Leninists. They created a whole different kind of society from any Marx had experienced: the planned economy. Whether you define it as socialist or Marxist or not is immaterial, it was quite different from capitalism. Imagine if the Soviets had won the Cold War! Unlikely but not inconceivable, and it would have put us on a historical track Marx didn’t envision. And of course the very existence of that real threat forced capitalist regimes to accept a level of social democracy they haven’t shown much interested in before or after that threat was around. An external enemy does wonders for submerging the class conflict.

But instead the various Leninist states fell apart or at least gave up on the planned economy, proving to be just a particularly hardy version of all the other unsuccessful efforts by the periphery to resist capitalist domination. The post-WWII social democratic experiment turns out to have just been a longer term version of the benefits workers tend to get from any war mobilization. And we are back on track with Marx’s predictions, with capitalism having made a lot of progress on eating the world and socialism on the rise politically in the core capitalist economies.

So maybe Marx would tell us he was right all along, and that the whole Leninist global movement was just a minor thing on the grand scale of the dialectic. The real irony might be that the strongest argument against Marx would be that the Leninists really could have changed everything.

Free Will

It’s bizarre to me that people act like “do we have free will?” is such a difficult philosophical question. Yes, we live in a deterministic universe and any conception of “free will” in the sense of decision making that isn’t just the inevitable consequence of our nature and our experiences is ridiculous. But also yes we really do think about things, make conclusions, and take action on that basis.

To see how those aren’t contradictory at all, think of a calculator. When I punch in an equation to a calculator and press enter the result it calculates is totally predictable based on how the calculator works and what number I entered. I could do it again a thousand times and get the same result. But the calculator still did do a calculation. It just gives the same response every time because that’s the right answer. It would have given a different response to different inputs. Our brains are the same. They really do consider and calculate and act. Sure those actions were determined based on the inputs you received, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t make a choice. A different person with a different brain, or you with different inputs, would have made a different one.

I think it’s religion that got this all confused. If there’s a god or gods who set the universe in motion then the fact of a deterministic universe means that they really just decided how everything would go. In that context “free will” becomes a big issue because of the weird philosophical implications of god having planned out your every move, including sinful ones, in advance. On the other hand if you start with the assumption that there’s no determiner of our deterministic universe the whole question just dissolves into an uninteresting debate about semantics.

Am I an idiot? Am I missing something here? Anybody want to throw out a defense of free will as a concept that’s more meaningful than I’m giving it credit for?