Time for a frivolous Taylor Swift conspiracy theory post.

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In the most cataclysmic news event so far this year (well, at least it is if your only source of news is JustJared… and if so, I can’t blame you given the shitshow of everything else going on), Taylor Swift wiped out all her social media accounts and seemingly deleted her webpage, leaving behind nothing but her music on streaming services and YouTube. Conspiracy theories began: Was this a further withdrawal from the public eye for the secretive star, who even canceled her customary July 4th rager this year? Is this a statement about online bullying? Was she hacked? Or have the prayers of 20-something white girls everywhere finally been answered, and this is all a publicity stunt for a new album? (The latter is what’s going on, of course, but still, gotta have some fun!)

So, time for a bit of digging around on a lazy Sunday — and, as it turns out, not everything on the singer’s website has become a blank space.

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The threats from far-left and alt-right are NOT equal.

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I’m about to piss off both sides with a single sentence. Here goes:

The alt-right is a far bigger threat than the anarcho-communist left for the same reason Islamic extremism is a bigger threat than Christian extremism.

trump rantOur esteemed president, with his usual statesmanship and full grasp of the issues, just returned to his equating the alt-right with the “alt-left” at his Trump Tower presser just now, thus flying in the face of the statement he issued only yesterday. Granted, it’s been a long, long time since he suffered the questions of the press in his presence, so perhaps he was just off his game. But more likely: He honestly buys the FoxNews line that, well, both sides are bad, so why waste time pointing fingers?

 

The conservative press, even outside of the Breitbart/Alex Jones fever swamps, has been pressing this line since the Charlottesville riots.

“Dear alt-right white supremacists and leftist Antifa thugs, you deserve each other,” wrote Matt Walsh on a piece posted on The Blaze.

“If you base your political platform on identity politics (antifa, BLM, alt right) & not the spirit of freedom, I’m not on your side,” tweeted the NRA’s Dana Loesch, herself not entirely unsympathetic to the practice, if not the ideals, of fascism.

NRO editor Rich Lowry praised the equation of the two sides: “This doesn’t make the neo-Nazis any better; they are obviously evil… But anti-fa is also hate-filled and violent and was spoiling for a fight. Any person of good will committed to liberal values should be perfectly happy to denounce them both.”

Know what? I do denounce both extremes. Here’s a post worrying about the rise of the alt-left from just last month. And here’s an older post on the far left’s corruption of the university. I cannot be accused of being a fifth columnist. Indeed, circa 1968, one could easily make the case that the far left represented the greater threat to the Republic.

But here’s the thing. Today, in 2017, only one side wants to kill me. And it ain’t the side wearing the bandanas and hoodies.

Sure, of course it can change over time. The political realities for a resident of Warsaw in 1940 were far different from one in 1950. But right now, as I write this, of the two sides, only the alt-right would follow through on an urge to kill a secular New Yorker such as myself.

This is not denying that the most rabid elements of the left are just as totalitarian and eager to put their boots on the necks of humanity as the fascists. A glance through communist postings on social media is all it takes. But for now, they lack either the numbers or the murderous intent of their enemies.

For what are the crimes of the far left? At this point, they mainly consist of smashing windows, bullying dissenting viewpoints on campus, and brawling with their enemies. All concerning, to be sure.

But all with zero body count.

Know what the recent crimes of the alt-right are?

  • A white supremacist in Portland, Ore., murdered two men who were trying to stop his verbal harassment of a black and a Muslim.
  • A black Army officer was murdered by a neo-Nazi simply because he was black.
  • A crazed white supremacist murdered an elderly black man here in NYC because, as he soon confessed, he just wanted to murder black men.
  • An alt-right loser drove his car into a crowd of liberal and leftist protestors in Charlottesville, killing one and injuring several. The Neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer celebrated the attack and taunted the victim, leading to GoDaddy to kick it off its service.

And that’s just a selection from 2017 only. I’m not even bringing Timothy McVeigh into it.

I’ve been in #BLM protest marches here in NYC. I was at the OWS “reunion” in 2012. I’ve seen lefty protesters with my own eyes. The vast majority are peaceful, want only the best for everyone, and even go out of their way to praise and support the NYPD to show they are no threat. Hate on DeRay all you want… but does anyone seriously think he could possibly be a violent threat to anyone?

Yes, there are some leftists that… veer the other way. Yes, they are assholes. Yes, they can smash windows, torch convenience stores and brawl with Nazis. But, as of now, they do not murder. Their major crimes are property crimes — which isn’t nothing, sure, but also a far cry from murder. If they brawl with anyone, it is only with the alt-right which is also spoiling for a fight.

I know which side is worse.

Which brings up the fundie Christian vs. fundie Islamic comparison. On this, I’m sorry to say to any liberal who reads this: Bill Maher and Sam Harris are absolutely right.

As of now, Christian fundies want to post the Ten Commandants in public areas, restrict women’s access to contraception, and take away LGBT rights. Islamic fundies want to execute heretics, literally enslave women, and throw LGBT people off rooftops.

Sure, things can and do change over time. Circa the year 1100, the situation was reversed. There was no question that the Christians were far more brutal and savage in that age. But we do not live in the year 1100. And we do not live in the 1920s or 1960s when anarchists/leftists waged bombing campaigns.

A Christian fundie will not try to murder me if I disagree with them, and neither will a member of Antifa. That’s the difference. It isn’t that complex. And if and when the balance shifts the other way, I will (not so) happily acknowledge it.

Self-defeating political tribalism

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Go figure: treating your political opponents as enemies you hate and fear does not lend itself to winning.

After the recent defeat of the so-called “skinny repeal” healthcare law, Sen. John McCain’s statement included this passage which is today considered rank heresy and which a generation ago would have been considered anodyne and obvious:

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote. We should not make the mistakes of the past… We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

I’m not going to delve into the intracasies of health care policy because, one, YAWN, and two, people have chosen to make it far more complicated than it needs to be. I was just thinking about what a perfect outcome for Trump would’ve really looked like.

For nobody but nobody even briefly doubted how 100% of the Dems would vote here. Their votes were foregone conclusions. What’s more, unlike with Obamacare, nobody from the majority side even bothered to try to reach out or flip some Dem votes. The reason is simple. Trump did not want a single Dem to vote for this. In his crude, bully worldview, it is actually a sign of strength if something like this is rammed through over the objections of his completely united opponents. “They put up their best fight, and even that was not enough,” he would then boast on Twitter, or words to that effect. (Liberally sprinkled with the usual catchphrases, of course: FAKE NEWS!, Sad!, etc.)

What his establishment-GOP enablers such as the recently unemployed Reince Priebus never quite grasped: It was never the Democratic Party that Trump was going to destroy.

If he really wanted a bill to destroy the Dems, he would have put together some sort of Obamacare reform, with a full and seemingly open process with hearings, that would attract just enough Democratic votes to render it filibuster-proof, perhaps with a few clever concessions such as protecting non-abortion Planned Parenthood funding. It’s not like he couldn’t count on the votes of, say, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul either way, right?

Imagine the scene if that had happened. Liberal true-believers would bitterly denounce the yea-voters as sellouts, neoliberals, DINOs. The moderates, in turn, would mock the left as out-of-touch socialist-bros too busy protecting their moral purity to allow reasonable reforms that leave Planned Parenthood intact. The Dem-on-Dem sniping on the cable-TV shout shows would make the recently completed Reince-Mooch fight look like a case of mild ribbing.

In other words, he would have exploited the lingering Hillary vs. Bernie divide, leaving his enemies confused, helpless, and too busy with infighting and relitigation of the primaries to offer any serious opposition. He could make deals with either faction as needed, as the GOP remains completely unified in his corner Instead, he now faces a Dem party that is the one that’s remarkably unified. Instead, it’s the GOP looking like a fractured clown show, with Breitbarters complaining bitterly about the moderates, the moderates finally brave enough to consider standing up to Trump, and the GOP establishment realizing that nothing is going to get done with their historic advantage.

And it all comes to the stupid, belligerent tribalism of Trump and his supporters such as Sean Hannity and Kurt Schlichter, utterly consumed by their hatred of the other side to the point that nothing else matters. Where liberals are not merely opponents but enemies that must be smashed. Where something like a health care vote is not a vote but a battle to the death. Where proper parliamentary procedure such as hearings are for wimps and cucks. This stunted, false-alpha-male chest-beating is precisely what is leading this White House to one abject loss after another, with only Mitch McConnell’s Gorsuch victory on the W side of the ledger.

These are some dark years for the country. But they are salad days for the Democratic Party who, despite themselves and their incompetent national committee, are poised for a Corbynite resurgence in 2018.

Can the left become as corrupted as Trump’s right?

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The narrative of what, exactly, happened to conservatives in order to inflict a President Trump upon us all is by now well-established.

Post-WWII, two factions emerged on the Right: the angry, highly negative Long Island Republicans who gave us Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society; and the William F. Buckley wing, represented today by his National Review magazine and its competitor, the Weekly Standard. For decades, the Buckley wing was in command of the GOP, with the rageheads, racists, and conspiracy-theory cranks of what was called at various times the “paleoconservative” or “populist” Right serving as begrudging but more-or-less loyal foot soldiers — because as much as they didn’t care for Goldwater, Rockefeller, or anyone named Bush, these guys sure hated Democrats a lot more, and their votes were guaranteed every fourth November.

Sure, the populists had a few backbenchers in Congress but, especially following Pat Buchanan’s 1992 “culture war” convention speech — which will show up again here — they were kept out of the most visible leadership spots of the party. As they grew increasingly bitter towards the GOP establishment (or “GOPe” in their lingo), an alternative media universe sprang up for them — first as newsletters and primitive pre-internet computer bulletin board systems; then as talk radio and, to some extent, FoxNews (which actually tried to serve both wings of the right, until the past year or so), on to internet forums and reddit, and finally Breitbart and its many imitators. 


It’s easy, and wrong, to dismiss all of these people as white supremacists or alt.right. Some are better described as “alt.light” or white “nationalist” instead. Mike Cernovich instead of Richard Spencer. I wrote more about the distinction here.

Despite the populists’ growing power and confidence, the establishment really did assume they could keep things under control under Jeb Bush, with Marco Rubio as his understudy. Queue the #TrumpTrain and, well, here we are.

This is important, because something analogous is going on with the other side.

antifaThe far Left views mainstream liberals and the Democratic establishment with the same contempt your typical Breitbart editor feels for the “GOPe.” Sure, they’ll attend the same protest marches and will reliably vote Dem, in opposition to the Republican candidate if nothing else. But for DNC leaders to just assume their support may be making the same fatal mistake of the GOPe before them.

As McCay Coppins notes at the Atlantic:

The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists. Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light.

Sound familiar?

I remember an amazing sight from Occupy Wall Street’s brief revival in 2012. Two left-of-center protesters, sitting side-by-side, had messages for the police. One was, “I (heart) the NYPD!” The other: “FUCK THE PIGS!” I’m pretty sure only one of these two went on to fervently cheer on Hillary.

The main thing the raging left shares with the Breitbart Right: they are fueled primarily, perhaps only, by hatred of the other side.

This isn’t new. Read any communist screed written in America from the 1960s to today and you will read very little extolling the virtues of a classless society or a dictatorship of the proletariat or any other positive selling points. Rather, it is all nonstop anti-American ranting indistinguishable from the anti-American ranting of Iran’s very much non-communist leaders. A “tankie” on social media will gladly outline 50 ways why I, due to being an American citizen, am worse than Hitler; but ask them to write two sentences describing dialectical materialism, and you’ll get nothing but embarrassed silence while they hurriedly search Google.

Indeed, the quickest way to get thrown out of a communist or anarchist meeting is to say “America is not the worst country in the history of all time” — but most of the rest is negotiable. For instance, note the grouping of “communist” with “anarchist.” Why are these two wildly divergent philosophies basically interchangeable among the far left? It’s because the philosophy is subordinate to the hate, and they sure as shit are united in their hatred of Americans. Same with the various splinter factions of the alt.right uniting in their hatred of Jews and black people.

But, just as the alt.right represents only a small faction of the Breitbart Right, so do the communists and anarchists represent a small faction within the far Left. Bridging the gap are people uncannily duplicating many of their “alt.light” counterparts’ strategies. There are the conspiracy theorists like Louise Mensch, selling any batshit tall tale their fans want as the Lord’s truth — the mirror Alex Joneses. There are the monomaniacal anti-Republican websites and Facebook pages — the reverse Free Republics. There are the just-plain-cranks — Seth Abramson serving as the shadow Mike Cernovich. Then there’s cable-news host Joy Reid happily copying the cynical hucksterism of her counterparts such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

Their enemies have noticed. As the extremism arms-race ratchets up, the Trumpist right is only too willing to crank up the heat. As per Dana Loesch’s infamous NRA tirade,

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, they are on the other side, and Donald Trump is on our side. … The mob was heading in, to ransack and loot the apartments of the terrified old men and women. When the troopers arrived, M-16s at the ready, the mob threatened and cursed, but the mob retreated. It had met the one thing that could stop it: force, rooted in justice, backed by courage.”

Oh wait, that’s actually from Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention rant, other than an obvious edit. (Told you it was going to show up again.) Don’t forget: He had the same objective as Dana Loesch and Joy Reid, as Louise Mensch and Alex Jones, as the Antifa and the Proud Boys street brawlers: to keep Americans bitterly divided against other Americans, at least partly for his own personal power and profit.

I don’t know if a liberal Donald Trump will emerge. But with a pathetically weak and confused Democratic Establishment having no real bench from which to draw for 2020, and from the precedent that has now been set, it is hardly outside the realm of possibility that Mark Cuban, say, will turn and embrace the worst aspects of liberalism to secure the nomination — and the party.

There is a reason why the hucksters and the conspiracy theorists and even the communists might start sounding attractive these days to regular liberals. Their rage and their fantasies sound sweet when Trump’s latest barely-coherent tweetstorm is in the news again. But they do not want what’s better for regular Americans of any political stripe, including your own, no more than Hannity does. Do not buy their snake oil, or the Democratic Party will surely be left as utterly corrupted as the GOP, and with it, the remainder of the nation.

Because that’s the end game here. The dissolution of the United States of America via Article V Convention. You will be hearing more and more about this in the coming years, if the extremism just keeps going. Is that what what we really want?

 

What is a scandal?

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Conservative pundit S.E. Cupp touches on one of this week’s bits of skulduggery from the Trump administration — the leaks of Israeli intel to the Russians in this case, although any week’s scandal would do — to briefly discuss the usual response we all know and are sick of by now. The conflicting denials and rationalizations that are quickly detonated by a Trump tweet. The confused media. The Twitter outrage. The ducking-for-cover of Republican congressmen. The lack of resolution by the time the next scandal hits. After all, it took just 24 hours for the Russia-leak story to get buried by the news that James Comey may have notes from a meeting where Trump committed obstruction of justice.

But then she tries to compare the above to the various misdeeds and mistakes of the Obama era, calling them “scandals,” which begs the question.

Even if you accept that the Obama administration was gravely at fault in cases like the bungled Fast and Furious gun op, Benghazi, or Solyandra: Are these “scandals” where Obama stood to personally profit? Or can they be explained as cases of negligence or incompetence?

This is an important distinction. For the average member of the public, the word “scandal” means a politician tried to abuse his position for personal benefit. Whether financial, sexual, legal, or for the benefit of a friend or family member, or to simply look cool and “in the know” to the Russian ambassador — scandals require ulterior motives in order to be scandals. S.E. Cupp and other conservatives may not like this definition of “scandal,” but that’s what the people back home go by.

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See, now this is an example of “personal profit” that the viewers back home understand.

And I have yet to see anyone make a case that Obama attempted to personally profit off of Benghazi, or his cowboy approach to drone strikes, or the bureaucratic nightmare that is the VA system. I mean, how does that even make any sense? Prove to me that he was sleeping with an incompetent VA manager or General Atomics was sending him a kickback every time he ordered a drone strike, and I’ll shut up. Otherwise, I suggest we stop calling every case of presidential bungling and screwing up a “scandal” lest that term lose all meaning and we’re comparing Reagan to Nixon over the Lebanon attacks of 1983.

The incident that most closely resembles the s-word was probably the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups for unfair audits. This, unlike most of the Obama-era problems Cupp lists, quite plainly was done in malign intent. But nobody ever proved that culpability extended beyond Lois Lerner and one IRS office in Cleveland, despite the Republicans’ best efforts. This is in contrast to Trump’s various depredations where his personal involvement, and personal profit motive, are not even in question.

Or there was former CIA head David Petraus getting into a good, old-fashioned Washington sex scandal with Paula Broadwell. Now there was a no-brainer case to deploy the s-word. We all understand how he “profited,” same as Fitz and Olivia up there. But on the other hand, that had nothing to do with Obama.

Obama’s mistakes are not called “scandals” by your average voter, and it’s not because of a liberal media pushing fake news. It’s because, absent any damning evidence that has yet to surface, they weren’t scandals. They were mistakes. Let’s stop using overheated terminology. Things are overheated enough these days.

Even the hard left is turning against Venezuelan dictator Maduro

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Every week, new stories emerge about Venezuela’s humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe as that once-proud nation slides into a nightmare of starvation, thuggery and death. Food and medicine go from scarce to unobtainable, and strongman Nicolas Maduro responds to civilian protests with further consolidation of once-democratic powers into his own hands.

Up until now, he has been aided and abetted by the usual characters of the hard left, who never need much encouragement to believe anything bad in the world is the fault of American imperialists and evil capitalists. The Maduro regime’s propaganda that Venezuela’s crisis is the fault of its right-wing opposition and American meddling found an easy home with the sort of people who put the hammer-and-sickle into their Facebook and Twitter profiles.

anti-maduroSo it is quite remarkable to stumble upon this piece in Jacobin, a magazine that makes Mother Jones look like National Review, decrying the Maduro’s regime’s slide into authoritarianism, and its gross incompetence at governance. The piece is naturally sprinkled with insults leveled at the hated anti-socialist opposition and other to-be-sures, but it is still amazing that Jacobin would ever state: “Yet while previous claims of Venezuela’s authoritarianism had little merit, this is no longer the case,” before enumerating some of the many anti-democratic moves of Venezuela’s dictator, for that is what he is by this point. And towards the end of the piece:

“Yet the Left cannot turn a blind eye to the government’s slide into authoritarianism, nor its inept policies. This is not out of an unwarranted blind faith in liberal, representative democracy, but because authoritarian rule is incompatible with the beautiful-albeit-contradictory-and-flawed project of building “participatory and protagonistic democracy,” which Chavismo helped advance.”

Any Jacobin writer putting out such a thought even a year ago would have been summarily fired and asked to surrender their A.N.S.W.E.R. membership cards.

Meanwhile, Bolshevist website counterpunch.org, which up to now has been fanatically and predictably pro-Maduro, last month dared to even ask, however tentatively and after however much obligatory America-bashing: “Does Maduro violate those [Chavismo] principles or uphold them?” The writer meanders back and forth without even coming to a conclusion. Anything less than full-throated support for Maduro in this online Pravda is an ominous sign indeed.

And it only makes logical sense for the hard left to turn its back on Maduro. For one thing, he is an embarrassment for them and has been for years, as the right may now hold up Venezuela as a socialist horror story. Wouldn’t it be smarter for the left to just declare Maduro a failure who has let his predecessor down? That it was the man who failed socialism, and not that socialism failed Venezuela?

For another, throwing the Maduro regime off the bus makes the old tankie party line of “true communism has never been tried” easier to defend. Why not just say Maduro was a fake socialist only out to rob the Venezuelan people? Perhaps Jacobin will start pushing “Maduro: Capitalist Running Dog” pieces before this is all over.

But more than anything else, the desperate straits of the Venezuelan people should be the main story here. Responding to stories of starving babies with “oh this is just colonial imperialist nonsense designed to hurt dear leader Maduro, the well-fed guy sitting in the fancy palace” exposes the cruelty of the far left. They should at least pretend to care about the plight of the proletariat, if only for propaganda purposes. Even Stalin and Mao knew that.

Naturally, there will be some dead-enders who will never blame Maduro — there are some leftists who still openly wish they lived in North Korea, after all. But the smarter among them are realizing it may not be best to hitch their wagons to a man who should be hauled before The Hague for his crimes against humanity.

Not that that’s exactly stopped them before…

Immigration needs better arguments in its favor than “you’re all racist.”

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Here’s a short piece from last month on how a small-town mayor lost his job over trying to import Muslim refugees, over the objections of his constituents. The previously popular five-term mayor lost his reelection campaign by a whopping 17 points over this one issue.

Lest you think that local election might’ve been over something other than Muslim immigration, here is the defeated mayor himself: “As much as I said during the campaign that this was not a referendum on refugee resettlement … hindsight, looking back at it, absolutely a referendum on refugee resettlement.” Obvious parallels may be made with November 8, 2016.

The Slate piece sticks with the conventional wisdom that such sentiments are held by irredeemably racist whites. Except for the part where this small town is in Vermont, home of a presidential candidate not exactly known for his right-wing views. It never occurred to the Slate writer nor (until it was too late) the former mayor that people are sick and tired of connected elites forcing Islamic immigration on them over their objections with few arguments in their favor other than “diversity is an absolute good, because reasons” and more importantly, “all immigration opponents are racist dead-enders.”

Tell people they’re racist enough times, even if they live in one of the most reliably liberal states in the union, and they’ll finally give up, agree with you, and vote for the racist. Why not? They’re racist either way in the view of Brooklyn-based journos, right? Wasn’t Trump’s campaign just one long excuse for flyover-country white people to stick it to elites who dismiss them as racist hicks?

Here’s the hard fact: Everyone is tribal. Everyone. Including, of course, the cosmopolitans themselves. White Americans and Europeans are not more or less racist or tribal than Chinese people, or Kenyans, or Arabs. Import large numbers of South Asians to serve as workers in the UAE and guess what you get? That’s right, a huge heaping dose of good ol’ racism without a single white person in sight to blame.

Hell, the Japanese mistreat their tiny Korean minority even though they are of the same race. How do you think they’d feel about Syrian refugees? Here’s a hint: according to this WaPo piece, by Oct. 2016, Japan has accepted a grand total of six. Not six thousand. Not six hundred. Six.

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16.67% of Japan’s total Syrian refugee population is in this photo. Also, they apparently have Denny’s in Japan.

The Japanese get away with it, even though they are a developed First World nation, because they are somehow exempt from the nagging tut-tutting of the diversity/inclusivity-obsessed elites who love to lecture America and Europe. But if prime minister Shinzō Abe had forced refugees upon his hostile population in order to address Japan’s very real demographic problems and curry favor with the Davos set, he’d have been out of power just as sure as that Vermont mayor.

Tribalism is baked into our DNA. You need a lot more than “they’ll do the jobs we won’t do” and “you’re all racist” to overcome that at the polls. And we need better options on immigration than Germany’s policy vs. Japan’s. Sensible immigration plans with sensible restrictions help both parties, but you won’t have power long to implement them if your only argument for your tribalist voters is telling them, in the words of the Slate guy, they “face a choice: stay white and wither, or get diverse and grow.”

Mass Effect: Andromeda, the base breaker

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Role-playing computer games are judged on two independent things: narrative, and gameplay. An RPG has to tell a good story, while also serving the basic functions of a video game — and the gaming studio often delegates the two realms to completely different teams. It needs good dialogue just as much as it needs good combat, and this is true whether you’re talking about Fallout, Final Fantasy, The Witcher, or any BioWare game. And the latest entry into the latter’s catalogue looks like it will serve as an absolute base breaker: unlike any Mass Effect game, unlike any BioWare game in a long time, Mass Effect: Andromeda enjoys deeply-layered, well-thought gameplay, including exploration, combat, and multiplayer — at the expense of truly unfortunate cut-scenes and story.

ME:A is not a game that will see universal acclaim once press embargoes are lifted and full reviews go online Mar. 21. It falls gravely short of the exquisite quality demanded of BioWare writing, characterization, and animation. I was honestly surprised to see its PC-version Metacritic score just barely break 75%. But on the other hand, its bread-and-butter gameplay — the shooting, the leveling, the crafting, the exploration, and notably, the multiplayer — stands taller than any other Mass Effect entry, or arguably even any BioWare product since the original Knights of the Old Republic. This game is going to divide Nerdworld more decisively than The Dark Knight Rises. Great gameplay with a forgettable story is the way of Mass Effect’s brother-from-another-mother and one of its greatest influences: the Gears of War series. And geeks are having a bit of a crisis over seeing BioWare, of all studios, putting out a game with better wham-bam action but worse storytelling than Gears of War 4. What follows is an overly long post about the game’s glaring negatives — followed by its impressive positives. Either way, most players should wait for full reviews before making any decisions.

This dissertation comes from the 10-hour PC preview.

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Confirmation bias and social media algorithms

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wkly47_15Slate takes an interesting deep dive into Twitter’s ranking algorithm, one that works to ensure that users see more tweets of the sort they “want” to see at the top at the expense of the kind they would not interact with. And it begs a question: why, exactly, are such sorted timelines more favored by users than a traditional non-sorted, chronological social media feed?

Twitter’s system is in the same vein as Facebook’s algorithm that has infamously turned that site into a honeycomb, where people never see or hear anything outside of their own little confirmation-biased lacunae. For instance, post your support of Trump on Zuckerberg’s site, and his machines will see to it that you will never be challenged by news that makes Trump look bad again. Trump-Putin scandal heating up again? The Trumpified Facebook user will only know about it by what sources like Breitbart tell them.

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Well, that settles that!

Twitter’s leadership, to its credit, is very conscious of what happened to their larger competitor and is trying to avoid the same pitfalls. But as Slate writer Will Oremus himself makes clear, any algorithm that favors content that users like, reply to, or repost/retweet, must therefore reinforce the echo chamber. It’s axiomatic. There is simply no way around it:

“On the other hand, the commentary it shows me about Trump’s tweets—and about politics in general—almost always comes from the left. No doubt that’s largely a function of the people I’ve chosen to follow: Most of them are liberal. Yet I’ve also taken care over the years to follow a number of pundits whose politics I disagree with… I rarely favorite or rebroadcast their tweets, or even click their links. But I do read them, and on the whole I find them indispensable.

Interestingly, Twitter’s timeline algorithm seems not to have picked up on this. For whatever reason, conservatives’ tweets virtually never seem to crack my ranked timeline or my ICYMI box.”

 

Even though unlike most people, Oremus goes out of his way to follow people he disagrees with, the algorithm still disfavors their tweets. Why? Because Oremus rarely likes, retweets, or replies to conservatives on Twitter, as opposed to the liberals who share his views. Because he mainly interacts with liberal tweets, Twitter will then show him more liberal tweets, and the echo chamber is born. Same thing happens with conservatives, who engage far more with fellow conservatives than they do the other side; their timelines inevitably become just as one-dimensional. It doesn’t matter how much Jack Dorsey tries to avoid turning his platform into Facebook — any such “more of the same” algorithm is playing by Facebook’s rules. Any such algorithm must wind up preaching to the choir, only playing the tunes they’re already humming.

And that’s exactly what people want.

People want the stories that appear to confirm what they already believe. They want to actively avoid the stories that challenge these beliefs. And not just in politics, either. How many Red Sox fans actively follow Yankees fansites?

It’s all tribal horseshit. Being liberal is more than just believing in diversity and labor rights. It’s about identifying with the liberal team. Most Trumpkins don’t go Trumpkin because they like the wall or the immigration ban. They go Trumpkin because they hate the liberal tribe. And he’s the biggest tribal warlord around who’s the avowed enemy of liberals. Who cares what his actual policy positions are? He could perform abortions in the White House, as Ann Coulter once suggested — it’s all good, as long as he skewers a few brown people or “libtards” in the process.

And because we are tribal animals, all news is propaganda. All of it. If it favors our clan, it’s gospel we’ll wolf up; if it challenges our side, we’ll run away yelling “FAKE NEWS!” because actual truth is less important measure of truth than whether it benefits our cause. We all become lawyers, pounding the table with any evidence, no matter how thin, in support of our case, and discrediting anything from the opposition. Even weather news gets filtered — reports about the unnaturally warm February this year becomes fodder to be retweeted and reposted to social media to prove your green creds, or else shouted down as enemy propaganda.

Facebook and Twitter (eagerly for the former, grudgingly for the latter) have accepted this reality of human nature, and are playing to it to grab more eyeballs and generate more clicks. This might be more dangerous for the latter’s pretensions of being a news source, but what can Jack Dorsey do about our tribal, orangutan diencephalons? Even if there were no sorting algorithms whatsoever, people’s Twitter feeds would still get slanted based just on who they follow. Oremus might go out of his way to follow conservatives that challenge his entrenched worldviews, but very few of his fellow progressives can claim likewise.

And hey, these ranking systems only get put in because they work. It’s what the consumer wants. And eventually, Dorsey has to listen more to his investors complaining about their flatlined stock than to idealists who still cling to outdated, ’90s fantasies of an “information superhighway” unpolluted by bias, propaganda or disinformation. Tweet about the Trumpkins’ echo chamber all you want — nobody outside your own will see it.

TVTropes to explain the new administration

No common theme, setting, or characterization in fiction escapes the attention of the venerable TVTropes site. Whether you are looking for an explanation of component parts of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Bride of Chucky, the Wiki-like army of geek editors has every last part nailed down.

tv-logoAnd since nobody from either side can quite figure out what the hell is going on with our new administration, why not turn to TVTropes? Starting with…

THE WHITE HOUSE: The Deadly Decadent Court. The senior, paid officials of the regime.

SURROGATES, UNOFFICIAL ADVISERS, WASHOUTS, and MISCELLANEOUS HANGERS-ON.

and finally, THE TRUMP CLAN ITSELF

Enjoy the next four years!