…better days? [DOT 1/1/22]

we could use a few...

…so that was the year that was

Some of these stories have gotten a fair bit of coverage, including this one. But “undersold” is a relative term, and the GOP’s efforts to change how elections are conducted at the state and local levels have not gotten their full due. That’s in large part because of how disparate they are and how difficult they are to quantify. But it’s also because of the potential practical implications for the future of democracy.
To be clear, we’re not just talking about Congress being stuck in gridlock, which has been more or less true for some time. What’s less discussed but also important is how things do pass, which is increasingly with less actual debate and without the traditional committee process.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane has dug into this, including earlier this month while discussing Democratic efforts to change filibuster rules, which thus far have included no formal debate. And that’s no coincidence: According to C-SPAN data, in 2021, the Senate spent just 12.5 percent of its time in session actually debating things. That’s down from over 50 percent in each Congress between 2013 and 2019.
Another key and related point is the steady, long-standing decline of the committee process. Rather than working their way up through the process, bills are often assembled outside that process and sent straight to the floor for a vote. Kane noted the sharp decline in committee hearings a few years back — from 252 Senate hearings in the 2005-06 Congress to just 69 a decade later. And that has continued, as political scientist Jonathan Lewallen has documented.

Lewallen said the committee process is “where we’re seeing a lot less time, a lot less effort, being spent on legislation today compared to the 1980s. So when committees do hold a hearing, that hearing is much less likely to be legislative. It’s more likely to just kind of focus on an issue generally.”
Police reform has not received a ton of attention this year […] especially in the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s conviction early this year for murdering George Floyd, there seemed to be some actual hope for such legislation. At the very least, there was bipartisan recognition that problems needed to be addressed.
The fact that nothing resulted from these talks isn’t hugely surprising in the grand scheme of things. It was always going to be tough to get enough votes from both parties in the Senate with the filibuster in place, on this or any other issue. But if there was a moment that might have been conducive to passing something, this seemed to be it. And the whole thing ended rather unceremoniously.
These lists have for years included something on redistricting; such is the import of the issue, which is a very difficult story to tell and comprehend and often isn’t told or comprehended, precisely because of that. And this year is no exception.
Over the past decade-plus, left-leaning groups have pushed things like commissions to replace legislators’ roles in redrawing the lines. The problem for Democrats is that this has been more successful in blue states, but less so elsewhere, where Republicans continue to wield the power to redraw their lines. Practically speaking, some on the left view this as unilateral disarmament — i.e. actually hurting efforts to make the process less political by ceding power to those who have no desire to reform it.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman described this a couple of months ago asThe Decision That Could Doom Democrats for a Decade.” Nicholas Riccardi of the Associated Press wrote this month that Democrats were “about to feel the consequences of their focus on fairness.” Redistricting analyst David Wasserman has estimated that maps drawn to be more or less neutral in blue states could cost Democrats as many as 10 to 15 seats — which matters greatly in a House in which Democrats’ majority is currently eight seats.
While that debate hasn’t fully formed — and there is evidence that the GOP won’t gain as many seats because some commission-drawn maps like California’s might turn out quite favorably for Democrats — the backdrop is an increasing recognition in the Democratic Party that the GOP is much better at exploiting the rules of politics. Democrats can complain about that or “fight fire with fire.” And as with things like filibuster reform, there’s plenty of evidence they might opt for less of a good-government approach — because it hasn’t been good for their ability to govern.


…& this is a new year

When clocks strike midnight on Dec. 31, the year 2021 and all it has brought will come to a close, leaving people around the world reflecting on the passage of time. Typically, New Year’s Day is an occasion to consider the past and celebrate the future. We make resolutions. We remember those who have died. We make lists of the traumas and the joys that have impressed themselves upon our lives.

But this year of all years, what does it mean for a year to be new? How do we measure our lives? The past year began with the promise of mass vaccination and the hope that life as we had known it would return. The year is ending with unmet expectations — Omicron’s spread, people lighting candles for their third Covid birthday cakes, and meager jokes that 2022 could really be “2020, two.” How do we make sense of time when calendar pages turn, and yet time feels lost?

January 2022 comes as our methods of keeping time feel like they are breaking. Schools start in person again and then go back online. Tornadoes destroy entire towns in mere moments. We count minutes for rapid tests, and days for Covid exposures. In many regions, it rained too much in summer, or stayed warm into winter. Items ordered months ago suddenly arrive.

“Before, new years were landmarks in progress of a story that was unfolding,” said Jenann Ismael, a philosopher of physics at Columbia University. “Now it feels like lost time, waiting to get back to our stories.”
This New Year will arrive as it always does: in the night, as the earth begins another orbit around the sun, racing at some 67,000 miles per hour into an unknown future.


…& what we do know about some of those unknowns isn’t exactly comforting…as was pointed out in those reith lectures about AI I might have mentioned previously…although if that’s a little heavy…they did offer a side dish in the shape of a pair called rutherford & fry…who are maybe a bit closer to the infinite monkey cage school of thought…but it’s not like we can just pick another reality

People are getting married in the metaverse now, we’re told. Speculators are buying real estate in the metaverse, according to the headlines. Managers must learn to hold meetings in the metaverse, it would seem. This month, an executive at Facebook — er, Meta — gave an interview in the metaverse.

One slight hitch: The metaverse doesn’t exist yet, and it probably won’t anytime soon.

What does exist is an idea, an explosion of hype, and a bevy of rival apps and platforms looking to capitalize on both — without a clear path between the idea and reality. In techland, 2021 wasn’t the year of the metaverse. It was the year of rebranding existing technologies as building blocks for the metaverse, while leaving intact the corporate walls that make a true metaverse impossible.
In the two months since Facebook’s announcement, the term “metaverse” has taken off. A search of the Factiva database finds that it has appeared in more than 12,000 English-language news articles in the past two months, after appearing in fewer than 4,000 in the first nine months of 2021 — and fewer than 400 in any prior year. (Not surprisingly, Facebook was by far the most commonly mentioned company in those articles, with nearly 10 times as many appearances as the next most-mentioned firm, Microsoft.) Google Trends, meanwhile, shows that searches for the word have spiked roughly twentyfold since mid-October.

Many of those stories treat the metaverse as if it were a fait accompli — a real thing, like the World Wide Web or social media. After all, the metaverse has to exist in order to get married there, right?

Apparently not.

While definitions of the metaverse vary, most proponents agree it involves more than just putting on virtual reality goggles or augmented reality glasses and interacting with avatars. It implies a bridging of countless smaller digital worlds and experiences through technical standards that allow users to move between them, carrying their virtual identity, social connections and possessions as they go. The word itself — coined by author Neal Stephenson in the 1992 science-fiction novel “Snow Crash” — implies that it’s not just one app, device or experience, but an overarching system of apps, devices and experiences. (“Meta” means “beyond” or “after” in Greek, while the English prefix “meta-” connotes transcendence.)

A widely cited definition by the venture capitalist Matthew Ball starts with the premise that it is a “massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3-D virtual worlds” that persists through time and across platforms and devices.
[Currently there] isn’t a metaverse. It’s just another walled garden, the venerable tech term that denotes a self-contained online environment that’s closed off from the wider digital world. Horizon Worlds is to the metaverse as AOL was to the Web — except that there really was a Web beyond AOL, whereas at this point, there’s no [“Meta”]verse beyond Horizon Worlds.
But getting rival companies to meld their products into a single metaverse would require a level of cooperation and openness for which today’s tech gatekeepers have shown little appetite or aptitude. Historically, the development of interoperable technologies such as email and the Web has been driven by the government, academia and nonprofits — not corporate giants such as Meta.
With all the hype around the idea of the metaverse, it’s clear that Meta, Microsoft, Roblox, Epic Games and many others have an incentive to invest heavily in marketing their products as part of the metaverse. Defining the term down to the point that it already exists plays into the hands of those that already hold the most power. But calling today’s walled-off apps “the metaverse” lets them off the hook for the hardest part: building a metaverse in which anyone can participate.


…or have any particular reason to believe the metaverse would be a better one

China is turning a major part of its internal Internet data surveillance network outward, mining Western social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to equip its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets, according to a Washington Post review of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings.

China maintains a countrywide network of government data surveillance services — called public opinion analysis software — that were developed over the past decade and are used domestically to warn officials of politically sensitive information online.

The software primarily targets China’s domestic Internet users and media, but a Washington Post review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since the beginning of 2020 include orders for software designed to collect data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media.

The documents, publicly accessible through domestic government bidding platforms, also show that agencies including state media, propaganda departments, police, military and cyber regulators are purchasing new or more sophisticated systems to gather data.

These include a $320,000 Chinese state media software program that mines Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics; a $216,000 Beijing police intelligence program that analyses Western chatter on Hong Kong and Taiwan; and a Xinjiang cybercenter cataloguing Uyghur language content abroad.
These surveillance dragnets are part of a wider drive by Beijing to refine its foreign propaganda efforts through big data and artificial intelligence.

They also form a network of warning systems designed to sound real-time alarms for trends that undermine Beijing’s interests.
Some of the Chinese government’s budgeting includes buying and maintaining foreign social media accounts on behalf of police and propaganda departments. Yet others describe using the targeted analysis to refine Beijing’s state media coverage abroad.

The purchases range in size from small, automated programs to projects costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that are staffed 24 hours a day by teams including English speakers and foreign policy specialists.

The documents describe highly customizable programs that can collect real-time social media data from individual social media users. Some describe tracking broad trends on issues including U.S. elections.
China’s systems for analyzing domestic public opinion online are a powerful but largely unseen pillar of President Xi Jinping’s program to modernize China’s propaganda apparatus and maintain control over the Internet.
These operations are an important function of what Beijing calls “public opinion guidance work” — a policy of molding public sentiment in favor of the government through targeted propaganda and censorship.


…so we may need to do a better job with this one

Roosevelt Montás […] has a doctoral degree from Columbia University and is a senior lecturer at Columbia’s Center for American Studies and director of its Freedom and Citizenship Program. He is the former director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum, the oldest “general education program in higher education,” which he celebrates in “Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation.
He thinks the primary reason to require undergraduates to read canonical works is for them to acquire self-knowledge. Actually, they should not be encouraged to have more of what they spontaneously have — a high ratio of interest in themselves to their interest in more substantive things. Montás does, however, admirably defend the concept of a canon, critics of which “always come wagging the finger of social justice,” hot to purge elements of any canon for reasons that are “ethical rather than intellectual.”

He says, “Today’s academic criticism bends toward moral reprimand … it doesn’t just judge, it condemns; it doesn’t just reject, it cancels.” Too Western, too White, too male, etc. This encourages the soft bigotry of low expectations: “We do minority students an unconscionable disservice when we steer them away from the traditional liberal arts curriculum.” Western texts “underpin much of the emerging global culture,” and ideas such as “human rights, democracy, gender equality, scientific objectivity, the free market, equality before the law” are inseparable from the Western tradition that was incubated in the “large and porous cultural configuration around the Mediterranean Sea.”

There, Socrates taught the West the art of civilized arguing. Ward Farnsworth, dean of the University of Texas School of Law, wrote “The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook” to explain something that is unintelligible to people desensitized by social media and that is unappealing to people intoxicated from inhaling clouds of righteousness on campuses. A democratic culture must be a culture of persuasion, and Farnsworth says that persuasion, properly pursued, is, as Socrates demonstrated, a collaborative process.

The Socratic method, although argumentative, is more oblique than adversarial. It amiably poses probing, leading questions to clarify the definitions of terms and to test the links in chains of reasoning. It is what public discourse in today’s America does not resemble.

Social media, Farnsworth writes, amount to “a campus on which atrocious habits of discourse are taught” with “sad and sometimes calamitous” consequences. Social media, he says, exacerbate some dangerous susceptibilities — to demagoguery and moral vanity — that are neither new nor entirely expungable. The Socratic method decelerates reasoning, making space for deliberation when disagreements arise. So, the Socratic method is, Farnsworth says, an antidote to some social pandemics of our day — “fury, ostracism, etc.” These vices “are embedded in human nature” but social media are powerful accelerants of them.

“Socratic habits,” Farnsworth writes, “require patience to develop and use.” They are not developed using “technologies that encourage quick reactions in short bursts” and that foment a cultural shift away from the patience of persuasion.


…& it’s not just the GOP that could do with reading up on some of that

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warned on Friday that the Kremlin perceives the United States and its allies as stoking the war in eastern Ukraine, a shift in tone from Moscow just hours after another Russian official had said the Kremlin was satisfied with a phone call between the leaders of the two countries.
Amid high-stakes diplomatic talks over what the United States has described as a serious Russian military threat to Ukraine, Mr. Lavrov’s remarks were the latest in a series of conflicting commentary from the Kremlin that has seesawed between ominous and conciliatory, sometimes within the space of a few days. Earlier in December, Mr. Putin said Moscow might resort to “military technical” means, referring to the use of force, if talks failed.


…but…could we at least have a little less of the sophistry

Amid a drop in public confidence in the Supreme Court and calls for increasing its membership, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. devoted his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary on Friday to a plea for judicial independence.

“The judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and coequal branch of government,” he wrote.

The report comes less than a month after a bipartisan commission appointed by President Biden finished its work studying changes to the federal judiciary. While that panel analyzed proposals like imposing 18-year term limits on justices and expanding, or “packing,” the court with additional justices, much of the chief justice’s report was focused on thwarting less contentious efforts by Congress to address financial conflicts and workplace misconduct in the judicial system. Both issues are the subject of proposed legislation that has drawn bipartisan support.


…particularly from those who seem to be scared of books

Then, on Dec. 16, Oklahoma state Sen. Rob Standridge, also a Republican, merged two toxic streams flowing across his state’s southern border. He combined Texas’ book banning initiatives with its anti-abortion bounties law that the Supreme Court has so far refused to invalidate. Standridge proposed legislation that would allow a parent to compel book removals in schools. If the book is not gone within 30 days, the complaining parent could collect at least $10,000 in court, and the librarian could be fired.
These Texas and Oklahoma book-banners are not alone. In the last four months of 2021, conservative community members’ protests led school libraries in states like Kansas, Virginia, Missouri, Utah and Florida to remove books from their stacks.
Stalin’s USSR banned the novel “Doctor Zhivago” for its unflattering portrayal of the Russian Revolution. East Germany’s communists forbade Mickey Mouse comics in East Berlin because they said the cartoon figure was an “anti-Red rebel.” As journalist Sophie Whitehead wrote in the University of Edinburgh’s Retrospect Journal in the spring, “All book banning revolves around fear of change.”


…so fireworks would seem to be a given


…but it’s the weekend…so if you’re nursing a hangover & hoping ’22 isn’t going to be hungover all the way…maybe you’d rather read john crace’s predictions than anything I might come up with


…or even listen to the man?


…or…if you want to feel some actual nostalgia…you could just spend all day being reminded of why betty white was amazing

…& I’ll try to find some tunes



    • Not really. Andy Cohen is an insufferable dweeb and Eric Adam’s isn’t going to be an improvement over de Blasio. Plus, any NYE programming that doesn’t include Mimi lip syncing up a hot mess of a storm is inferior.

  1. And another thing, as tequila-soaked Andy Cohen might say, soothe your first hangover of 2022 (if you have one) with this episode of Password where host Allen Ludden welcomes his new wife Betty White as a contestant:

  2. rather amusingly the hardcore antimasker/vaxxer protesty types are pissed off the whole country ignored the fireworks ban

    apparently we’re doing civil disobedience wrong by only ignoring firework bans but not covid measures….


  3. omg…old people…you just cant leave them unsupervised

    mil is in the hospital…misunderstood take this medication so you wont feel sick after eating as eating when you take this medication will make you feel sick

    sooo she didnt eat for a week


    at least she’ll be right as rain once the hospital feeds her up again

  4. You know, I meant to post this last night, but here’s the thing:  I don’t really have friends, I don’t go out a lot, I don’t have a ton of family I’m super-psyched to get together with, I don’t socialize with people from work because I don’t particularly like many of them.  Other than missing some of my kids’ sports and live music, my life doesn’t feel like it’s been affected all that much the last couple of years.  Fuck 2021?  Nah, I’m pretty indifferent to it all.

    • I hear ya, but I like to go off and do things independently, which closures have greatly impaired my ability to do. Also, I unfortunately have to live with and around others, and these past years have shown me how little they consider the effect their choices and actions have on others.

  5. Also regarding any chucklefuck who wants to ban books, it will always fail when their kids actually meet people (either in person or online) who have the same backgrounds and experiences they should have been reading about in books. It’s like they forget the internet exists.

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