Black Lives Matter and First Principles

Posted by Sappho on January 31st, 2023 filed in News and Commentary, Race


These are the first principles that I apply, in looking at responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, and proposals for what how we should handle policing. Going by these principles, there are a lot of solutions that I’m willing to consider – but also some that I don’t look at.

  1. I start from the presumption that people of different races, ethnicities, or populations are born equal, and, given the same circumstances, would have the same reactions.
  2. A liberal society with rule of law should have no place for “people the law binds but does not protect” or for “people the law protects but does not bind.”
  3. The effects of centuries of enslavement and another century of Jim Crow, on the enslavers and the enslaved alike, don’t vanish the second those laws end. If you tell me all Black people’s problems since the 60s have been caused by affirmative action and welfare, I’ll give you the side eye.
  4. Civilizations that have towns and cities large enough that people encounter many people who are strangers to them have something like police. We haven’t figured out a way to operate without them, and literally abolishing them would result in replacing them with less accountable vigilantes.
  5. Power attracts the corruptible, and every job is appealing to those who would abuse it. Power doesn’t only attract the corruptible, but you need to be sure you’re weeding them out, rather than advertising in ways that may get more of them.
  6. Watch the Watchers.
  7. The culture surrounding police also matters to what kind of policing you get. How likely is it that cops will encounter people with guns? Who calls the cops for what? What kind of enforcement is a city demanding for what offenses?
  8. “Everybody lies” at least in the sense that you can’t automatically trust a story because of what sort of person is telling it. Also, even truthful eye witness testimony is sometimes unreliable. “Trust, but verify.”
  9. Presumption of innocence is a standard to meet before punishment, not a standard to meet before investigation.
  10. In looking for problems to solve, look most closely at those that will produce actionable solutions.
  11. If one piece of the puzzle is reformed, but at the same time another piece of the puzzle is further broken, reforms may not get very far.

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Lasaraleen and Enid

Posted by Sappho on January 19th, 2023 filed in Speculative Fiction and Other Geekiness


As I watched Enid and Wednesday (now finished with season 2), I was reminded of Lasaraleen. Both characters are girly (Lasaraleen with her giggles and Enid with her pink snood), extroverted, happy at parties, and, at least initially, each expresses more devotion to her best friend than her best friend does to her (Lasaraleen to Aravis in A Horse and His Boy, “And you’d see such a lot of me” as a reason for Aravis to marry the man chosen for her). Each friend (Aravis for Lasaraleen, Wednesday for Enid) treats the more girly friend as silly.

And there the characters part ways. You can make the case that Lasaraleen is brave (she risks the Tisroc’s wrath for her friend), loyal, and clever at covering for Aravis and keeping her secret. You can make that case. But C.S. Lewis doesn’t seem to see the character that way. Not only Aravis, but also the horses dismiss Lasaraleen as silly. And she remains a minor character, one whose own arc and state of mind Lewis chooses not to follow.

Enid, in contrast, starts to see some development even in season 1 (for example, the parallels between Wednesday’s and Enid’s mother/daughter conflicts). She’s a secondary character rather than the protagonist, but she’s a prominent secondary character who is key to the series (where Lasaraleen is treated more as a combination joke and plot device). You can see Wednesday, however reluctant she is to admit it, coming to value the friendship as well.

Similar starting point, different character development.

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Why David Sometimes Wins

Posted by Sappho on January 16th, 2023 filed in Books


I spent my MLK Day holiday reading Why David Sometimes Wins by Marshall Ganz, about the groundbreaking victory of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and the lessons that we can draw from this story. It seemed a fitting book for the day, as Cesar Chavez, in his organizing, learned from the civil rights movement and from the work of Martin Luther King.

Marshall Ganz worked with Cesar Chavez, serving the United Farm Workers in a variety of positions. Marshall Ganz also returned to Harvard after a long absence in 1991, finishing first a BA in history and government, then a Masters in Public Administration, and finally a Ph.D. in sociology. If you were looking, in Why David Sometimes Wins, for a book that tells the dramatic tale of the rise of Chavez and the UFW from Ganz’s ringside seat, this isn’t that book. The story line has drama and twists enough, but it’s Ganz the academic speaking, full of footnotes and references, and interpreting his past organizing experience through the lens of his concept of “strategic capacity” – not Ganz who has worked as an organizer relating anecdotes and pithy sayings in the style of Saul Alinsky. As such, the book is neither an especially fast read nor an especially slow read, more of an in between speed read.

It is also an informative read, with plenty of interesting things to say both about the background of the struggle and about the man and the union that won the day.

An epilogue touches on the organizational decline of the UFWA – not, obviously, in the sense of ceasing to be an organization with influence – but in the sense that the UFW is no longer the strong union force that it was in its heyday.

MLK Day links:

Heather Cox Richardson on what it means to be a hero

Chuck Fager relates an experience with Martin Luther King when Dr. King was attempting to organize a night march.

Video footage of 1965 civil rights marches.

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Trump’s actions on Jan 6 are indefensible

Posted by Sappho on December 31st, 2022 filed in January 6 Select Committee


On January 6 2021, a mob professing support for then-President Trump violently attacked the United States Capitol in an effort to prevent a Joint Session of Congress from certifying the electoral college votes designating Joseph R. Biden the 46th President of the United States. The rampage left multiple people dead, injured more than 140 people, and inflicted millions of dollars in damage to the Capitol. Then-Vice President Pence, Senators, and Representatives were all forced to halt their constitutional duties and flee the House and Senate chambers for safety.

Benjamin Franklin said, at the founding, that we have “[a] Republic” – “if [we] can keep it.” The events of January 6th exposed the fragility of those democratic institutions and traditions that we had perhaps come to take for granted. In response, the President of the United States and Congress have each made the judgment that access to this subset of presidential communication records is necessary to address a matter of great constitutional moment for the Republic. Former President Trump has given this court no legal reason to cast aside President Biden’s assessment of the Executive Branch interests at stake, or to create a separation of powers conflict that the Political Branches have avoided.

Opinion of the D.C. Circuit, ruling on Trump’s attempt to block the Jan 6 Committee from accessing National Archives records, cited by the Jan 6 Committee in its executive summary of its final report

I just finished reading the Executive Summary of the Jan 6 committee report and the Table of Contents and recommendations from the full report (I intend to read more of the full report and accompanying materials, but it’s long).

Some links:

LawfareBlog collection of Jan. 6 Select Committee Documents

Chuck Fager at A Friendly Letter: Skimming the January 6 Report: Read the Contents & the Recommendations

As I started to talk on Facebook about the final hearing of the Jan 6 committee, at which they announced the criminal referrals, a Trump supporting cousin replied with a reference to Black Lives Matter. I had the usual weary feeling – I’ve gone over this before.

There’s useful discussion to be had about the Black Lives Matter movement, and there’s useful discussion to be had about January 6, but I don’t think dismissing concerns about an assault on the Capitol incited by a sore loser President who then refused for 187 minutes to call his people off by pointing to the much lesser violence that happened at a small minority of Black Lives Matter demonstrations qualifies as useful discussion. I also don’t want to have to compose the same response over and over, nor do I want to look as if I’m refusing to answer the question.

So I’m writing this post to save that response, and any other responses to common “but” and “what about” responses to events on January 6, 2021, so that I can just link it when anything comes up that I’ve already addressed. Then if we have any genuinely new disagreement, we can discuss that, but if we’re talking past each other with the same points, we can skip the rehashing of the argument. I’ll do this by dividing my argument into a couple of posts, so that I can link the most relevant one as needed.

Why Trump’s actions on January 6 are utterly disqualifying

On “stolen” elections and Capitol Hill “tourists”

“What about Hunter Biden’s laptop?”

“What about Black Lives Matter?”

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“What about Black Lives Matter?”

Posted by Sappho on December 30th, 2022 filed in January 6 Select Committee


I’m making a separate post for parallels drawn between Black Lives Matter and Trump’s incitement of an assault on the Capitol on January 6. I recognize that many of the people making this comparison may genuinely believe that Black Lives Matter protests, as a group, were overwhelmingly more violent than the assault on the Capitol on January 6, even though that’s flat out false and the opposite is in fact true. After all, overestimation of the degree to which Black Lives Matter protests were violent correlates strongly with support for Trump, and support for Trump is naturally tied to unwillingness to believe that his actions on January 6, or the violence they inspired, were as awful as they in fact were. But in fact there’s no comparison.

What about the violence of Black Lives Matter?

Let’s start by explaining the gravity of what happened on January 6:

“For the next few hours, an attack on our Capitol occurred, perpetrated by Trump supporters many of whom were present at the Ellipse for President Trump’s speech. More than 140 Capitol and Metropolitan police were injured, some very seriously.” from the Jan 6 committee executive summary.

Find me a Black Lives Matter protest where more than 140 police were injured, some very seriously. I dare you. I double dare you.

Second, let me point out that Black Lives Matter protests were in fact overwhelmingly peaceful, but have been misrepresented by critics as far more violent than they actually were, by taking instances that happened in a few blocks of particular cities and projecting them onto a broad nationwide movement.

93% of Black Lives Matter protests were completely peaceful even if you count the pulling down of Confederate statues among the things that qualify a demonstration as not being completely peaceful (the study that came to this finding explicitly included all property damage in the not peaceful category).

Nothing done in the summer of 2020 justified Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021.

Next, let’s address the “what about Biden” arguments, that try to suggest that Biden and other leading Democrats played a role in Black Lives Matter demonstrations that’s comparable to the actual role that Trump actually played in inciting, refusing to act on, and excusing the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Why didn’t Biden and Harris condemn the riots?

They did, on multiple occasions.

I challenge you to find any statement from Trump, at the time when his followers were putting up a noose for his Vice President, that condemned threats to hang Pence anywhere near as forcefully as this response to the riots, from Biden: “I want to be very clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction. It’s wrong in every way. “

But Biden could have told everyone to disperse and go home!

In the first place, why the hell should Biden have told everyone involved in the George Floyd protests, in cities all over the country, to go home because property was damaged in a distinct minority of locations? This argument tries to throw back at Biden the argument that’s made about Trump’s refusal for 187 minutes to tell people to disperse from the Capitol, and it doesn’t apply. Everyone who trespassed in the Capitol on January 6 was breaking the law, but most people who joined Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 were not only peacefully protesting, but peacefully and legally protesting. I myself attended Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that consisted of standing on public sidewalks holding signs, socially distanced and wearing masks – a Constitutionally protected activity.

In the second place, no Biden couldn’t have sent everyone home. In May, 2020, when the protests started, Biden was not even officially the Democratic nominee, let alone the President. He didn’t start the protests, and he couldn’t have stopped them even if he had wanted to.

What about the bail fund?

“According to one estimate by the Washington Post’s factchecker data unit,police have made 14,000 arrests in 49 cities since the protests began in late May, and the vast majority of them involved locals charged with low-level offenses such as violating curfew or blocking a roadway. “

ABC News (Australia), 6/27/2020, “Antifa, Boogaloo boys, white nationalists: Which extremists showed up to the US Black Lives Matter protests?”

With thousands of people being arrested for low level offenses, some of them unable to make bail, during a pandemic prior to the availability of vaccines where leaving people in jail awaiting trial for low level offenses had added risks for spreading disease, yes, some Democrats supported a bail fund.

There is a report, widely circulated in right of center media, that a bail fund sprung at least one person, while awaiting trial, who had been arrested for shooting someone. I don’t believe that bail funds should be used to release people suspected of shooting someone, even if such people are innocent until proven guilty and may in some cases eventually be acquitted, so, just as I think no donations should have been collected or applied to bail out Kyle Rittenhouse, I think also don’t think that the Louisville Community Bail Fund  should have posted $100,000, in 2022, for the release of Quintez Brown. On the other hand, I see that in May, 2022 a judge ordered Brown remanded from home detention, where his lawyers had argued he could receive mental health treatment, to jail awaiting trial, so it’s not clear to me that the Louisville Community Bail Fund did bail him out for any significant amount of time, and in any case I don’t see how the Louisville Community Bail fund’s actions in 2022 could reflect badly on Democratic support for bailing people out for mostly low level offenses like curfew violations in 2020.

There was another report, that was widely circulated on left Twitter in 2020 and that I doubt got much circulation among Trump supporters, of a person bailed out by a bail fund in 2020, where the facts were as follows: The man was in his house when some Black Lives Matter activists knocked on his door seeking shelter, who were trying to get to safety after their demonstration had been ordered to disperse and tear gassed. He let them in, and then later drove them to their car so that they could drive home, but was arrested because, to drive them to their car, he had gone out after curfew. I mention this to point out that the stories circulating among Democrats about the bail fund, in 2020, were very different from those circulating among Republicans.

What about the rejection of Trump’s sending police to Portland?

Let’s look at the timeline here:

June 1, 2020: Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Lafayette Square. This peaceful protest is cleared, before curfew, by the use of pepper balls. People affected by the pepper balls include a priest at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square, who had set up a first aid station just outside the church for any who might need first aid during the protest. After the square is cleared, Trump poses for a photo in front of St. John’s Church.

June 2020: Days after Lafayette Square is cleared, anonymous federal forces begin to appear in Washington, DC.

July 2020: Federal forces appear in Portland, Oregon, in unmarked cars and without clear identification badges. These are deployed as part of PACT, an executive order signed by Trump in response to a wave of monument and memorial removals across the country, and are deployed to Portland, officially, in response to the smashing of windows in a federal courthouse.

Now, a lot worse happened in Portland in 2020 than the smashing of windows in that federal courthouse, both in terms of property damage and in terms of violent clashes between opposing protesters, so from the point of view of Trump supporters, who as a group see Black Lives Matter demonstrations as violent, it’s easy to sell this rejection as an inexplicable rejection by Democrats of Trump’s attempt to rescue a burning city. But consider:

  1. Democrats already suspected that Trump was planning not to leave office if he lost the 2020 election, and that he might attempt to abuse his authority over federal police and the military to stay in office. The Jan 6 Select Committee executive summary relates that, by the time of the election, these concerns were shared by the military: “The Select Committee recognizes that some at the Department had genuine concerns, counseling caution, that President Trump might give an illegal order to use the military in support of his efforts to overturn the election.”
  2. A peaceful protest had in fact been cleared by federal forces from Lafayette Square, shortly before the deployment of federal forces to Portland, and, in the Lafayette Square case, Trump’s appearance for a photo op soon after the clearing roused suspicion that the protest was cleared for his personal benefit.
  3. Lafayette Square was seen as a possible dry run for actions after the election, and this suspicion was, at the time, widely discussed among Democrats.
  4. The federal forces deployed to Portland were in unmarked cars and were not requested by the city government of Portland.

Yes, Democrats feared giving too much leeway to a president whom they suspected of planning to abuse his power steal an election if he lost more than they feared broken windows in a Portland courthouse.

Given Trump’s actions leading up to and on the day of January 6, 2021, I don’t think Democrats were wrong in this fear.

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A blog and substack round up: COVID, Jan 6 Select Committee, and holidays

Posted by Sappho on December 29th, 2022 filed in Blogwatch


I’m taking a sick day today to care for my husband, so, though I remember that I have posts scheduled throughout the week that I wrote on the weekend, it’s a good time to do a round up.

COVID post round up:

Jeremy Faust MD, The best of Inside Medicine, 2022 (Covid-19 edition): A partial quote (more at the link)

When will one-way masking be safe enough for everyone? One-way masking is sufficiently safe for at-risk people when Covid cases are low enough. This piece highlighted two polarities. On one hand, individuals can indeed control most of their own risk via good masking. On the other, without help from the community at large, we force the medically vulnerable into dangerous situations, which we do not want to do.

The million US Covid dead are younger than you think. When I’m not in the ER or writing this newsletter, I’m doing public health research, primarily on excess mortality from all causes. That lens helps me (and hopefully you) understand what’s really happening. A surprisingly high number of deaths from all causes have occurred in non-geriatric adults during the pandemic, a hard fact we can’t ignore. A lot of this is Covid. A lot of this is unintentional overdoses. Almost all of these deaths are preventable.

Are repeat coronavirus infections really more dangerous than the first one? This article reconciled two simultaneous truths….

Here I’m going to note that the greater effectiveness of one-way masking now that N-95s are generally available is the reason that, this year, I was willing to join my company’s Christmas carol choir, even with high COVID transmission, indoors in a large and well ventilated, but crowded with mostly umasked people atrium (I am, after all, in Orange County, not Japan), given that I could keep my own N-95 mask on even while singing. Because I’m about harm mitigation, and am willing to take risks for things I care enough about, like singing. But the limitations of one-way masking are why I wouldn’t do that, even masked, if I was about to visit a nursing home two days later. And, as someone who needs to work in the office three days a week, I’m definitely not dropping my mask! I eat outdoors at work, even on rainy days (under cover).

Katelyn Jetelina from Your Local Epidemiologist, COVID in China, the U.S., and everything in-between

As expected, the COVID-19 situation in China is out of hand. In an interesting turn of events, China went from a “zero COVID” policy to a “let it rip” policy by dropping all mitigation measures without fully vaccinating the highest of risk or strengthening their healthcare system.

Egregiously, they stopped reporting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, too. This looks good for them on paper, but when we rely on epidemiology 101 and anecdotal reports, which are plentiful, the situation in China is beyond grim.

Jan 6 post round up:

I think I’ve linked this already, but LawfareBlog has a great one stop shop for Jan. 6 Select Committee Documents (I’ve now finished Chapter 2 of the full report, though that won’t be reflected in this week’s posts about the Capitol assault, which were written when I had only read the executive summary).

Timothy Snyder, in January 6: The Facts, has a very concise summary of the report.

Holiday related round up:

Framelab relates some advice from George Lakoff on dealing with conservative relatives (if you are not the conservative relative) – invite empathy:

“Don’t argue with your grandfather,” Dr. Lakoff answered. “Instead, ask him to tell you a story about a time he did something good for someone else. Listen, and then ask him to tell you another one.”

Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg, in Beware of Confident Women with Swords, tells the story of Judith.

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“What about Hunter Biden’s laptop?”

Posted by Sappho on December 29th, 2022 filed in January 6 Select Committee


Here’s where I collect defenses of Trump’s actions before and on January 6, 2021 that either claim that Democrats do the same thing (“What about Stacey Abrams?”) or that I should ignore Trump’s attempts to suborn the Department of Justice and to overthrow an election because Democrats are the really corrupt ones (“What about Hunter Biden’s laptop?”)

What about Stacey Abrams?

This is what I call the category of objections that says, “But Democrats object to election results, too!” No. No Democrat has incited a riot due to being a sore loser. If any Democrat ever does, well, screw him or her as well!

What these objections generally do is to compare apples and oranges. Democrats argued that the electoral college system was bad, when they won a majority vote and lost the electoral college. Well, so would Republicans have argued, if they had been the majority vote winners who lost the election. But Democrats accepted the election result and carried out a peaceful transition.

Democrats complained that Russia hacked the DNC (what Trump likes to call “the Russia hoax”). Well, Russia did hack the DNC, and Democrats are entitled to demand that Russia not be rewarded for that hack by removal of sanctions placed on them for attacking Ukraine. But Russia didn’t hack the vote, and Trump voters were entitled to, and got, their choice, since they won by the rules in place at the time (whatever you think about how the electoral college should work). Both Obama and HRC abided by that.

Some Democrats who held no official position cried fraud about election results that their leaders accepted. Well, so have Republicans done (see Nixon vs. Kennedy and the jokes about dead people voting in Chicago), but in neither case is that the same thing as the President himself inciting a riot.

Even Stacey Abrams, the prime example that Trump defenders like to cite here, did not incite her followers to forcibly attempt to overturn the election. No comparison.

What about Hunter Biden’s laptop?

This is how I characterize the set of objections that tries to argue that Obama, or Hillary, or Biden is somehow so corrupt and abusive of power that it outweighs Trump’s abuses. And no, that’s not the case.

  1. Trump tried repeatedly to suborn the DoJ against his opponents, and would do so were he ever POTUS again. Obama and Biden notably did not.
  2. While Trump’s inclination to abuse power to punish his opponents first appeared prior to the 2016 election, when his rallies regularly featured “lock her up” chants about Hillary Clinton (chants that would be repeated at Trump rallies after his election about an array of people who shared only opposition to Trump), it reached its peak in his attempt to suborn the DoJ to support his false claims of election fraud – up to and including an attempt to replace the acting head of the DoJ with one who would make those fraudulent claims, which was thwarted only when the leadership of the DoJ threatened simultaneous resignations if he carried out this action.
  3. Trump supporters’ claims that Obama did abuse his power are based on the false assertion that it was totally proven that Russia never hacked the DNC, and what about Seth Rich? In fact, Russia was far from exonerated here; every investigation concluded that they did in fact hack the DNC, and make other attempts to interfere in our election, and counterintelligence efforts by the FBI against Russia are not at all the same thing as attempts by Obama to direct the DoJ against his political opponents.
  4. This difference can be seen in the fact that Obama made no effort, in 2016, to get any announcement made that would reflect badly on Trump, while Trump did withhold aid to Ukraine (which was at war with Russia!) to request a “favor please” that would reflect badly on Biden.
  5. Trump’s attempts to abuse his powers against people who said things he didn’t like doesn’t even stop with people who chose to be his opponents; it extends, for example, to CrowdStrike (also part of that “favor” requested of Ukraine), a reputable computer security company that did nothing other than its job accurately tracing a hack to Russia. That could have been me, as an IT professional who had had CrowdStrike on my target list of companies for which I would like to work.
  6. If Trump ever gets office again, he will attempt to abuse power against his critics again.

If you want to argue that all presidents, even ones that I like, need their power checked sometimes, I’ll agree (but ask that you accept the same about presidents you like).

But first we need to agree that it’s the president’s job to stand down, once any relevant recounts and court hearings are done and the Electoral College has its say, and that inciting a riot after you lose is disqualifying.

Trump refused to accept an election result and incited violence because he was a sore loser, which no President in the history of our republic had ever done before.

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On “stolen” elections and Capitol Hill “tourists”

Posted by Sappho on December 28th, 2022 filed in January 6 Select Committee


One response to pointing out Trump’s appalling betrayal of his Constitutional responsibilities both leading up to and on January 6, 2021 is to make a series of arguments that are, let’s say, at odds with the reality of what happened.

“What about the election?”

This is the argument where people try to argue that the 2020 election really was stolen, and so Trump was somehow just exercising his legitimate right to protest the results. No. Just no.

1) Trump had all the information to know that he had lost. There was no election fraud to any degree that could remotely possibly have changed the result (I qualify this by degree only because if I say “no election fraud” then even a single fraudulent vote anywhere in the country on either side would falsify my statement). Before the election he started preparing the ground to cry fraud if he lost. He was informed by his own people that his claims of fraud had no basis, and he went ahead anyway, not just with court cases, but with attempts to dictate to state election officials, with the construction of fraudulent slates of electors, and with an attempt to order his Vice President to toss out the votes of whole states.

From the executive summary of the Jan 6 Select Committee report:

As the Committee’s hearings demonstrated, President Trump made a series of statements to White House staff and others during this time period indicating his understanding that he had lost. 50 President Trump also took consequential actions reflecting his understanding that he would be leaving office on January 20th. For example, President Trump personally signed a Memorandum and Order instructing his Department of Defense to withdraw all military forces from Somalia by December 31, 2020, and from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. 51 General Keith Kellogg (ret.), who had been appointed by President Trump as Chief of Staff for the National Security Council and was Vice President Pence’s National Security Advisor on January 6th, told the Select Committee that “[a]n immediate departure that that memo said would have been catastrophic. It’s the same thing what President Biden went through. It would have been a debacle.”

In the weeks that followed the election, President Trump’s campaign experts and his senior Justice Department officials were informing him and others in the White House that there was no genuine evidence of fraud sufficient to change the results of the election. For example, former Attorney General Bill Barr testified:

And I repeatedly told the President in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud, you know, that would have affected the outcome of the election. And, frankly, a year and a half later, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind on that.

2) It is a fundamental duty of the president to peacefully respect election results. It’s his job to know and recognize when he loses. That’s part of his oath of office, to respect the Constitution. People who aren’t the President have much less responsibility to know that he has lost, when he misleads them.
3) We have a system of laws to govern elections. If people have disputes about the rules, they can (and did) take those to court before the election; they don’t get to throw out the votes of whole states (for the presidential election, but keep those votes for the races they won), after people have honestly voted according to the rules, if they don’t like the result. And if they have evidence of fraud, they get to present it in court after the election. Trump lost his court cases. Telling the VP to toss the result is not rule of law, and no Republican would have said it was, had Gore applied that remedy when he lost.

But he said “peaceful”: 

Here I’ll refer to the executive summary of the Jan. 6 Select Committee Report:

Trump used the word “peacefully,” written by speech writers, one time. But he delivered many other scripted and unscripted comments that conveyed a very different message:

“Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. . . .

“And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore….” 437

Trump also was not the only rally speaker to do these things. Mayor Giuliani for instance also said that “Let’s have trial by combat.” 438 Likewise, John Eastman used his two 439 minutes on the Ellipse stage to make a claim already known to be false – that corrupted voted machines stole the election.

Characterizing people who were part of the assault on the Capitol Hill as some sort of “Capitol Hill tourists”:

Again, let’s look at what the executive summary of the Jan 6 Select Committee reports on what they found:

Just after 1:00 p.m., Vice President Pence, serving as President of the Senate under Article I of the Constitution, gaveled the Congress into its Joint Session. President Trump was giving a speech at the Ellipse, which he concluded at 1:10 pm. For the next few hours, an attack on our Capitol occurred, perpetrated by Trump supporters many of whom were present at the Ellipse for President Trump’s speech. More than 140 Capitol and Metropolitan police were injured, some very seriously. 455 A perimeter security line of Metropolitan Police intended to secure the Capitol against intrusion broke in the face of thousands of armed rioters – more than two thousand of whom gained access to the interior of the Capitol building. 456 A woman who attempted to forcibly enter the Chamber of the House of Representatives through a broken window while the House was in session was shot and killed by police guarding the chamber. Vice President Pence and his family were at risk, as were those Secret Service professionals protecting him. Congressional proceedings were halted, and legislators were rushed to secure locations.

From the outset of the violence and for several hours that followed, people at the Capitol, people inside President Trump’s Administration, elected officials of both parties, members of President Trump’s family, and Fox News commentators sympathetic to President Trump all tried to contact him to urge him to do one singular thing – one thing that all of these people immediately understood was required: Instruct his supporters to stand down and disperse – to leave the Capitol.

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Why Trump’s actions on January 6 are utterly disqualifying

Posted by Sappho on December 27th, 2022 filed in January 6 Select Committee


1) Trump started preparing the ground, even before the election had happened, to cry fraud in case he lost.
2) Once he lost, Trump exercised his legitimate right to request recounts (some even appropriate given the margin of results) and file court cases (even if these filings were generally in bad faith). But he went beyond that. Trump called the secretary of state of Georgia after the election and demanded that he find the exact number of votes Trump needed to flip the state. He was entitled to (and got) a recount; he wasn’t entitled to that demand, and it was an abuse of power. And this was not the only state where Trump tried to dictate to state officials that they, as members of his party, should toss out results he found inconvenient.
3) Election workers were subject to threats of violence because Trump lied and manufactured claims of fraud involving those specific election workers, honest, ordinary, working people who did nothing other than helping maintain our system by counting votes according to the rules.
4) Trump sicced a mob on the Capitol, knowing that many of them were armed – he is on record as saying that he didn’t want the metal detectors taking away their weapons, because they weren’t planning to use those weapons on him.
5) Trump sat on his ass watching TV for hours while people, including Republican leaders, begged him to do anything at all to help them as they were trapped sheltering from the angry mob. He would not send help. He would not even tweet for his people to go home, until hours had passed, and enough reinforcements had arrived, in spite of and not because of Trump, that the tide turned.
6) Trump still lies about the election, endorses only candidates who support his lie, and has tried to direct his followers’ wrath at the cop who shot Ashli Babbitt, a woman who, a) was at the head of an angry mob climbing through a broken window behind which were the people the Capitol policeman who shot her was bound to protect, b) had received direct orders to stop, c) under circumstances where the cop could not have been reasonably certain that she was unarmed, given that many in the crowd were armed and that it was a known fact that other cops had been gravely injured. Ashli Babbitt’s blood is on Trump, not the cop.

But it’s over now; why are you still on Trump’s case? Focus on the here and now.

Tell that to Trump.

1) Trump is planning to run for POTUS in 2024, and if he does, he will not accept defeat under any circumstances, so if he’s the nominee, there is once again a risk of violence.
2) Normally, a former POTUS isn’t our problem. This one is a threat to democracy. I’ll leave him to God’s judgment once he’s dead (of old age, presumably), but till then, it’s important that he never hold power again, and that we only have presidents who have a basic respect for rule of law. No president in my lifetime has shown less respect for rule of law than Trump, so keeping him from ever holding office again is vital. I hope he never again even gets a major party nomination; even that places us at a risk of post-election violence that no other likely candidate poses.

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On addressing racism and the problems of backlash and trust

Posted by Sappho on December 26th, 2022 filed in Race


As I was preparing to write a post about why “What About Black Lives Matter?” isn’t something I find persuasive as a rejoinder to concerns about Trump’s incitement of a violent assault on the Capitol, an email from Razib Khan’s substack showed up in my email box, which included a list of some of his favorite books, etc., including which of his substack posts he wanted to highlight.

Since my series reflecting on the assault on the Capitol is long, it probably makes sense to schedule this post first, rather than working it into the middle of that series.

Read the rest of this entry »

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On Doxxing

Posted by Sappho on December 17th, 2022 filed in News and Commentary


The question of whether the account by the college student that tracked the movements of Elon Musk’s jet “doxxed” Musk is in principle at least a little complicated:

  1. “Doxxing” generally refers to publishing private information on the Internet, not to publishing publicly available information about a public figure (and private jet movements are publicly available and Musk is a public figure).
  2. But there are some circumstances in which publishing public information about a public figure might reasonably be called “doxxing” – for instance, if you post to Twitter, under a hashtag designed to attract neo-Nazis, a list of prominent journalists who are Jewish, and their home addresses that you got from public property records, that would be a dox.
  3. It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a hypothetical (maybe a “crazy stalker of Elon Musk” subreddit) where sharing any information of his whereabouts in a particular context, even really public information like “Musk has announced that Twitter employees should see him for code review at such-and-such a place in Twitter headquarters at such-and-such a time,” would be, let’s say, unfriendly.
  4. There are reasons that private jet movements are public and, for example, the GPS coordinates of Musk’s cell phone aren’t. These include the fact that it’s actually not especially easy for someone to use the jet tracking account for “assassination coordinates” because crazy Elon Musk stalkers aren’t likely to have the means to shoot the jet out of the sky.
  5. Apparently legit news stories have come out of the public tracking of private jets (one of the banned reporters listed several such news stories on Mastodon).

Anyway, at least theoretically complicated.

What’s not complicated: Reporting on Musk’s decision to ban an account is not doxxing Musk. Questioning Musk’s story by reporting that a police report wasn’t filed for the alleged incident in which some crazy stalker went after his car while his two-year-old was in it isn’t doxxing Musk, nor is it revealing his real time coordinates at any time. (And given that Musk has, for example, lied about Yoel Roth, he shouldn’t be surprised if his claims are fact checked rather than being automatically believed.) Challenging Musk’s consistency by pointing to actions of his (requesting that his thundering horde of followers identify a particular car) that might be inconsistent with an anti-doxxing stand is not doxxing Musk. And saying that the banned journalists revealed Musk’s real time coordinates when the truth is that some but not all of the banned journalists reported the social media platform on which the ElonJet account can now be found is not doxxing Musk.

Before Musk purchased Twitter, I didn’t consider him any more or less honest than the next person (and did consider him a much more competent businessman than most, in fields that did some positive good). It appears, though, that he’s a liar.

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More on Lashon Hara and Gossip

Posted by Sappho on December 10th, 2022 filed in News and Commentary


Rich Puchalsky has a toot on Mastodon that’s a nice summary of the part of shel’s post that may be relevant outside the original shtetl context in which the concept “Lashon Hara” was defined:

Recently leftists around here have had a partial adoption of the Jewish phrase “lashon hara” that has 100% predictably (to me) been immediately misused.

A translation of the IMO relevant part of this phrase is “don’t casually talk shit about people in your social group.”

1. “casually” lets people make serious accusations, because they aren’t doing it casually

2. “in your social group” leaves out people like e.g. Elon Musk, who is a well known person who everyone wants to talk shit about

3. “talk shit about” leaves out friendly gossip, like “have you heard that X and Y became partners, they seem really happy”

Edited to add: this leaves out the part about how you should talk to them privately first, which there is no actual agreement on outside of the Jewish subcultures which this phrase emerged from

Some raise the question, in comments, of why non-Jews should even adopt the phrase and concept “lashon hara” at all. And indeed, maybe non-Jews would be better off with the principle “don’t casually talk shit about people in your social group.” After all, that phrase is clear enough and doesn’t require interpreting a phrase in another language that arises out of a particular history with which you may not be entirely familiar.

There’s a reason, though, why I think it’s worthwhile to understand the concept of “lashon hara.” And it’s this: Christian culture (and people who may not be Christian but grew up surrounded by Christian culture) already has a word that covers ground overlapping with “lashon hara,” and, IMO, the Christian word is actually less precise and therefore possibly less useful.

That word is “gossip.” “Gossip” is, in Christian terms, a sin. But most of what falls under “gossip” isn’t even hostile; there’s a lot more “have you heard that X and Y became partners, they seem really happy” gossip than there is “here’s the dirt on what X did to Y” gossip. At least, that’s the case in every circle I’ve spent much time in. There’s also a lot of “I’m worried about X, let’s organize help” gossip, if X is, say, elderly and declining in health, and that’s not any kind of “lashon hara” as I understand the term, and not a sin.

Meanwhile, anyone who would use the term “lashon hara” to suggest that people shouldn’t make serious accusations for good and protective reasons (such as reporting abuse) would make the same abuse of the term “gossip.”

Don’t casually talk shit about people in your social group. Other varieties of “gossip” may be just fine.

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Ehler-Danlos syndrome links

Posted by Sappho on December 10th, 2022 filed in Health and Medicine


Mayo Clinic Ehler-Danlos syndrome page

The Ehler-Danlos Society

The NHS in the UK on Ehler-Danlos syndrome

National Organization for Rare Disorders Ehler-Danlos Syndrome page

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“God may forgive you, but I don’t”: On Forgiveness

Posted by Sappho on December 7th, 2022 filed in Blogwatch


I think that conversation on forgiveness gets confused when people confound at least three different meanings of “forgiveness”:

The first form of “forgiveness” that people talk about is the “forgiveness” that means “stop ruminating about the wrong someone else did you.” It is, I think, what people mean when they talk about how not forgiving someone is “like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Because obviously, if you can stop ruminating about bad things, you’ll be better off!

For this reason, it’s the one kind of “forgiveness” that you may want to be capable of, even if the other person isn’t the least bit sorry and doesn’t deserve your forgiveness at all. It’s not about them; it’s about you.

OTOH, precisely because it’s not about them, but about you, it strikes me as a form of forgiveness that can’t possibly be owed anyone. Because even if, perhaps because of a past trauma, you’re ruminating way more than another person would, and way more than the other person perhaps deserves, feelings aren’t as much under our control as actions are.

The second form of “forgiveness” is the one that comes when you stop trying to get back at someone. That’s the kind of forgiveness that may indeed be owed, sometimes, to someone else. I, for instance, think I’d be churlish if I didn’t forgive the children who bullied me in grade school – they, like me, were only children then, and as long as they grew up no longer to be bullies, that’s all I ask of them. For this reason, I don’t, for example, name or identify these grade school bullies – they don’t deserve any shame for things done as small children.

There’s another form of “forgiveness” that goes farther. This final meaning of “forgiveness” is “trust again.” This is the one that the wayward husband is asking for, in the song “God may forgive you, but I won’t,” and this is the kind that the wife refuses to give. He wants her to take him back, because he is, he says, a new man. She’s not buying.

You say that you’re born again, cleansed of your former sins, say you want me to forgive and forget. But you’ve done too much to me.

Trust can’t be owed the minute someone apologizes or claims to be reformed – that way lies disaster. The wife, in this case, has every right to turn down her husband’s appeal for cheap grace.

And this is where I get to my links.

David French, in Remembering What Repentance Looks Like, talks about the problem of abusers who “repent” and, restored to their positions of trust, continue their abuse, and concludes

I’d like to suggest an alternative approach, one that doesn’t ask churches or pastors to peer into the hearts of men who’ve gone astray. Here’s the idea: Repentance doesn’t look like “restoration,” it looks like resignation. The best thing that a minister or a leader with a “changed heart” can do is to go away.

He gives an example of what that kind of repentance looks like: the actions of John Profumo after he resigned in disgrace.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, in her On Repentance Book Club, considers forgiveness.

What are a few different ways to understand what forgiveness is, or entails?

What does a good apology require?  Why do so many apologies fall short?  

What is the role of apology in the work of repentance?

Is the person who is harmed obligated to forgive the harmdoer? Even if they apologize multiple times, sincerely?

Do you agree with Maimonides that refusing forgiveness after multiple sincere apologies constitutes a sin or harm of its own?

How has cultural pressure to grant forgiveness affected your own interactions with people who caused you harm? With those you have harmed?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel responds to the question of forgiving a Nazi for Holocaust atrocities by saying that “no one can forgive crimes committed against other people.” How might we think about the work of repentance when the victim(s) of harm is/are no longer alive?

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On Free Speech

Posted by Sappho on December 4th, 2022 filed in Blogwatch, Democracy, News and Commentary


At the Atlantic, David French writes that Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson Don’t Understand the First Amendment

Taibbi’s documents provided further evidence demonstrating what Twitter’s critics (including me) have long argued—that the decision to suppress [discussion of the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop] was both incoherent and inconsistent. Twitter suppressed the information based on its so-called hacked-materials policy, but the application of that policy was hardly clear in this instance, especially given that the platform had, at the time, just permitted widespread sharing of New York Times stories about Donald Trump’s leaked tax information.

Musk and Carlson are both profoundly wrong; the documents released so far show no such thing. In October 2020, when the laptop story broke, Joe Biden was not president. The Democratic National Committee (which also asked for Twitter to review tweets) is not an arm of the government. It’s a private political party. Twitter is not an arm of the government; it is a private company.

French draws the line in the right place in judging Twitter’s decision – deleting pornographic pictures of Hunter Biden was the right call (as Marcy Wheeler explains further, while also reiterating the point that Biden was a private citizen at the time he made any requests of Twitter, while Trump was the one with governmental power), and that suppressing the New York Post story about the laptop was less defensible. But more important, as he says, “they were Twitter’s decisions to make, and no amount of misguided rhetoric can transform a Twitter story into a government scandal.”

The same thing is true now, when Elon Musk bans Chad Loder from Twitter at the request of Andy Ngo. Bad call? Yes! A reason to vote with your feet and head to Mastodon or Post? You decide. But a call that’s Musk’s right to make. Whether he’s banning Ye for posting a swastika (good call) or Chad Loder for who knows what (bad call), Musk gets to call the shots on Twitter’s content moderation policy. He can be consistent (ban all bots) or inconsistent (ban only the bots amplifying things he doesn’t want amplified), and either way, it’s his right.

But I want to talk more broadly about free speech, because this is an issue that goes beyond current Twitter drama or Hunter Biden’s troubled struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. It’s not just the case that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restraining speech and says nothing about private organizations doing so. It’s also the case that we should treat government actions constraining speech as different from decisions by private organizations, or social pressure of kinds that we may find illiberal. And that reason is the fact that there’s a huge difference between the use of force and other ways of constraining speech.

You can see the difference in the one case where private individuals actually do violate others’ freedom of speech or of worship or of association: when violent mobs or terrorist individuals act to constrain others.

Consider the fact that an armed fascist group terrorized a Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus, Ohio, forcing a drag queen story hour to shut down in the light of lackluster police involvement in security. I take this personally. My own Quaker meeting now rents space at a UU Church which, like many UU Churches, prominently displays a rainbow flag. I have no reason to believe that violent fascists who shut down drag queen story hours will stop with drag queen story hour. After all, this isn’t the first time someone who hates religious liberals has targeted a UU church for violence.

If I don’t like Musk’s moderation policies, I can go to Mastodon, or Counter.social, or Facebook, or Reddit, or Post when it opens up. And yes, I still care if a large public forum has a screwed up moderation policy, because that messes up public discourse. But it’s not at all the same thing as actually shutting down speech. If, on the other hand, someone shows up with guns at the place where I worship, where am I to run?

This is why we take actual mob violence seriously, and treat it as a very different thing from social pressure “mobs,” even bad ones. It’s why we should care if we have government leaders who actually incite mobs, or any prospect of selective law enforcement or weaponized pardons emboldening such mobs, seriously.

It’s also why, though the government is justified in acting narrowly against forms of speech that are actual imminent incitement of violence, or plotting of illegal acts, we don’t want the government’s authority to regulate speech to extend much beyond that – because the government has force at its command that no social media company, not even a very large one, has.

To support a former president who actually directed a mob at the Capitol that he knew had weapons, and refrained for hours from doing anything to call off his mob or assist the besieged legislators, and who now says that the Constitution should be suspended to bring him back, on grounds that a social media company made a bad moderation call – well, that’s nothing like freedom.

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Substack links: Repentance, news from Turkey, COVID-19 in China, Seditious Conspiracy

Posted by Sappho on December 1st, 2022 filed in Blogwatch, News and Commentary, Theology


Katelyn Jetelina at Your Local Epidemiologist on COVID-19 in China and global concern

Benjamin Wittes on the recent Seditious Conspiracy Conviction

Turkey Recap breaks down the Turkish news cycle in Tabula Masa

Not all heroes wear capes, but some wear takkes. Meet Kald?r?m Man, aka Syrian refugee Osama Shafie, who walks around Diyarbak?r with hand tools and fixes “nails, screws and other stuff protruding from pavements.” A friend of toes. The man of heel.

Thus begins a news round up that covers the travails of the Turkish Medical Association, the constitutional proposals of the Turkish opposition alliance, Turkey and Syria, and Turkey and Sweden.

Ottomans and Zionists applies The Spiderman Standard to the new Israeli government.

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Substack and blog links: DNA

Posted by Sappho on December 1st, 2022 filed in Blogwatch, DNA, Genealogy


DNA tests have long been part of cyber sales at this time of the year. Razib Khan discusses So you want to test your DNA , now not just direct-to-consumer genotyping, but much more affordable than they used to be whole genome tests. (No, still not affordable for me this year, because unexpectedly large dental and medical bills – I’m insured, and not at the GoFundMe level, but definitely at the “I can’t spare the money for a whole genome test this year” level. But they may be affordable for you.)

DNA Explained has a good introductory post on Chromosomes and Genealogy

23andMe’s blog: Five Tips for Talking with Relatives about Family History

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Substack links: David French on fundamentalism

Posted by Sappho on November 29th, 2022 filed in Blogwatch


I want to talk next about David French’s How Fundamentalism Fails

By “fundamentalism,” I’m not referring to any specific theology. Fundamentalism instead refers to a mindset, a kind of fierce existential certainty that’s echoed in the old religious maxim, “Error has no rights.” And as I’ve argued before, you can’t truly understand our contentious times unless you have experience with or knowledge of fundamentalist movements and fundamentalist faiths.

French is talking about the effects of that “fierce existential certainty” wherever it pops up, left or right. Now, obviously, for several reasons, I think that extremism on the right is a way bigger danger in the US, right now, than extremism on the left – there’s no left wing equivalent to the January 6 insurrection, no left wing equivalent to an ex-president so unwilling to show basic respect for democracy when he loses. (And no, it doesn’t even matter whether he somehow managed to gaslight himself into disbelieving the ample evidence he got, from his own advisors, that yes he had lost, or whether, as I think more likely, he knew and knows damn well that he lost.)

But the phenomenon of asymmetric polarization in the US is, I think, not so much about a difference in human nature among the left and right as about structural incentives that make it easier for Democrats to pick people who swing to the center (think Biden) and Republicans to pick people who satisfy their base’s desire to own the libs. This affects everything from presidential nominees (Biden vs. Trump) to who’s described as the “extreme” members in Congress (no, whatever you can say of Ilhan Omar, there’s no real equivalence between her and Marjorie Taylor Greene).

And so, when it comes to the human tendency to get sucked into the old religious maxim, “Error has no rights,” it’s good to have words to describe the phenomenon that don’t immediately announce that they’re talking about one side of the political spectrum and make it easy to pretend that what French calls “fundamentalism” only happens there. This is one of the things that I liked about Shel’s post on Lashon Hara which I linked yesterday. Lashon Hara, or “recreational shit-talking” can, as Shel points out, be part of “call-out culture” on the left (and she gives examples of the kinds of “recreational shit-talking” that serve no good purpose, and how it can hurt communities, such as her experience with “Paul” in the trans community). But Lashon Hara as a broader concept isn’t a left or right phenomenon, or necessarily bound to politics at all. Politics is just one of the ways that people can dress up bad and destructive personal relationships as good and righteous.

Now, French has another word, in one of his examples about fundamentalism, which I think has similar usefulness as a term that can be divorced from which group it’s happening in, because it’s one of the broader ways that humans of several stripes go wrong, when they decide that “error has no rights.”

When fundamentalism arises in your own community, it can be profoundly painful and disorienting. People who were friends will call you enemies. They’ll warn others not to associate with you. In the church tradition I grew up in, there was even a practice called “chain disfellowshipping.” It worked like this: If I believed the right things but did not end my friendship with an apostate in the church, then I could face my own church discipline.

“Chain disfellowshipping” may be the formal practice of specific churches, but it’s also something people do to each other more broadly. Obviously, as with “lashon hara” (which shouldn’t, as Shel points out, be taken to include needed warnings about people who are “beyond rebuke”), there are cases where one should demand a certain “disfellowshipping” and punish those who won’t break ties (think of a politician who publicly meets with, and solicits support from, a Holocaust denier). But ordinary folks who are friends with apostates from your faith shouldn’t face that sanction. So I’m glad to have a word for it.

French goes on to reflect about the value of compassion, grace, and humility. It’s a good post. And since I’ve written at length about this one, I’ll wait till tomorrow to give a shorter linky post about some of the other substacks that I have been reading.

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Links: China street protests, Lashon Hara, Ory Okolloh’s Sunday reads

Posted by Sappho on November 27th, 2022 filed in Blogwatch


I’m going to focus on link posts this week, as I’m checking out new blogs and substacks, and would prefer to talk about a few of them at a time, rather than all of them at once.

Filip Noubel at Global Voices on Rare street protests across China: Is Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy turning people against their government?

Following a fire on November 25 in a high-rise in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang in western China, that saw the death of several victims, possibly due to drastic lockdown of buildings and streets across China as a result of Xi Jinping’s ‘Zero-Covid” policy, residents of the city – both Uyghurs and Han Chinese, took to the streets to demand less crippling sanitary measures.

More at the link, including a lot of context from Vivian Wu, a native of Beijing who is currently based in New York.

Shel at Dog with a Blog on Lashon Hara — Director’s Cut HD Remaster

Lashon Hara is to speak ill of somebody in a way which is true and for no good reason. The classic example is to tell people about a misdeed someone had commit in the past for which they already atoned for; or to talk about something bad someone did with no intention of holding them accountable or causing them to change.

One good translation may be “recreational shit-talking.”

The Chofetz Chaim says that one is forbidden to speak publicly of another’s misdeeds until someone has tried to privately confront the person causing harm about their behavior, or implored someone closer to them to confront them. If, after being confronted, the person causing harm refuses to change, or if for some reason it is impossible to confront them (for instance, if they are a politician), then the Chofetz Chaim considers them “beyond rebuke” and the laws of Lashon Hara no longer apply. Specifically, it is that speaking publicly can be an effective way to protect others from danger, or to rally others to intervene. If they heed the confrontation and atone properly, then you are forbidden from bringing the incident up again so long as the person who has caused harm does not relapse into harmful behavior again. The matter is resolved, and they (and we) must be permitted to move on.

More at the link about lashon hara, how it differs from libel (false, so obviously worse), warning someone about a “broken stair” (not lashon hara in the case where it’s providing necessary protection from someone who is “beyond rebuke”), and why, in general, “recreational shit-talking” is bad and to be avoided, even when framed as righteous.

Ory Okolloh’s Sunday Reads

Ory Okolloh is a Kenyan activist, lawyer, and blogger. Among other things, she’d the co-creator of Ushahidi. One of her regular Substack posts is a weekly Sunday Reads. For instance, in the one that I linked, one of the Sunday Reads is:
Read #1. How Swahili became Africa’s most spoken language.

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“Let me tell you about the very rich.”

Posted by Sappho on November 12th, 2022 filed in News and Commentary


“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them …” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hemingway suggested that Fitzgerald glamourized the rich (“They have more money”); to me, though, neither this quote nor the portrayal of rich Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby are exactly glamourous. Not to be admired, anyway.

There’s another common view of the rich – that they are “different from you and me” in a way that we can envy and admire – smarter, more competent. After all, if they weren’t smarter, would they be so rich?

I’m reminded of the dangers of that mistake as I watch Elon Musk fumble his way through his acquisition of Twitter, laying off half the company on almost no notice, losing key executives with a cavalier attitude to the FTC, and making a wreck of the Twitter verification system with a botched roll out of the sale of blue checks that has led to impersonation of major corporations.

Chris Sacca, in a Twitter thread that moves between admiration of Musk and dismay at his current decisions, writes first “

“One of the biggest risks of wealth/power is no longer having anyone around you who can push back, give candid feedback, suggest alternatives, or just simply let you know you’re wrong.

“A shrinking worldview combined with intellectual isolation leads to out-of-touch shit.”

but then has to add

“I’ve known Elon a long time. I’ve admired his thinking & ambition. His ability to note and question the assumptions implicit in the rest of our thinking is a rare type of genius I’ve only seen in the greatest minds. His success to date is not an accident. Tesla is world positive.”

I suspect that Sacca is still overrating Musk. I’m not convinced that he’s “a rare type of genius” seen only “in the greatest minds.” He was, after all, like many very rich people, born in third base, in his case the son of an emerald miner. And besides, there are many brilliant people who aren’t all that rich because being super rich isn’t the goal to which they’ve applied their minds.

Still, Musk is probably smarter than he looks when he’s making his stupidest decisions. Compare him with other people who were born to a similar level of wealth, and he seems often (though not this week) to be good both at increasing that wealth as he wants, and at doing what he wants with the money (if less good at maintaining the family relationships he might have liked). And I haven’t heard that he had anyone else taking his tests, or any family donation buying his way, at the excellent schools to which he got admitted. So I think that Sacca may be onto something about the ways in which wealth/power make it harder to get the frank feedback you need when you’re making a wrong move.

There’s a story that circulates in the mental health community about Ted Turner and his bipolar disorder; Turner is said to have said that, when he was manic, people didn’t tend to check him, because, “I’m Ted Turner.” I can’t find a reference to prove the story, so take it as rumor, but whether it’s true or not about Turner, it does, I think, describe how rich people can be unmoored from checks on their bad decisions.

David Austin Walsh tweets

“Elon Musk isn’t managing Twitter any differently than any other company he’s managed.

“It’s just that the entire world has a front-row seat to his disastrously megalomaniacal management style in real time with Twitter.”

I’m not sure whether to believe this either – surely the effects of Musk’s management of Twitter are more rapidly unraveling than anything that has happened at Tesla; must that not mean, at the very least, that he’s leaning into the bad side of his management style more here? But there are stories from his other companies that at least point to some similar failings – this isn’t the first time he’s tried to overwork his employees, or fired people on short notice, or done a layoff in a way that treats employees as adversaries.

And that gets to the second problem, for me, of glamourizing the rich too much – it’s not just that people sometimes make the rich out to be more brilliant than they are, but that they sometimes speak as if the rich CEO or entrepreneur is the only Player Character in the story. He isn’t. The Twitter board who made the deal with Musk and held him to it are also player characters. The advertisers who stay or leave – also player characters. And all the employees – also player characters.

You tell me that, once Musk owns a company, he can do what he likes with it? True to a point, but only to a point. He doesn’t get to say whether developers can or will self-certify their FTC compliance. And a 40 hour week was a hard won victory. It can be won again.

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“I’m gonna punch him out.”

Posted by Sappho on October 14th, 2022 filed in News and Commentary


“I’m gonna punch him out, I’m gonna go to jail and I’m gonna be happy.”

We got a glimpse of what Nancy Pelosi looks like when she fears for her life, when she knows a mob is coming for her that may kill her. And part of what she looks like is: mad as hell at the man who sicced the mob on her. Mad enough that little Nancy Pelosi, all of 114 pounds, wants to punch out a man easily more than twice her weight.

Anger is fear, and clearly Nancy is someone who, when her life is in danger, can find her fight-or-flight response quickly turning to fight. That part of her response is simply ordinary and human.

It’s the rest of her response that’s impressive: the way she keeps calling to organize help. One moment she’s cajoling the governor of Virginia, and another moment she’s calling the bluff of someone who appears to be slow walking assistance:


“Just pretend for a moment that it was the Pentagon or the White House or some other entity that was under siege,” she says.

If that moment where she threatens to punch Trump out shows her emotion, her relentless effort to get the Capitol cleared, to organize help when the President refused to do his job, shows her cool under pressure. It turns out that what Nancy Pelosi looks like, when she fears for her life, is a woman who won’t quit till all her people are safe.

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