SocraticGadfly: 8/28/22 - 9/4/22

September 03, 2022

RIP Barbara Ehrenreich — the good, the semi-bad, the full bad, and the sad

Via Twitter, per son Ben, she died Thursday.

We'll start with the good, then get into the semi-bad, with the sad at the end of that, then into the full bad (and it is) based on some late Googling. TLDR? I realized, after I got done with this long piece, that what was the real issue to me is what I perceive as intellectual dishonesty. Details at bottom. Yes, Ehrenreich fanbois and fangrrlz.

If you want to cut to the chase? For the start of the “Wild God” review, go here to get there immediately. For the start of everything behind that book that I’ve learned in the past 24 hours, that led me to drop its review another star and add yet more thoughts, including the “intellectual dishonesty,” go here.

I read "Nickel and Dimed" long ago, but apparently didn't write a review. It was a very good description of how capitalism depends on exploiting poverty, and even more, on how capitalists as actual, and individual, people, depend on exploiting the poor as actual, and individual, people.

Even better, IMO, getting off neoliberal capitalism and into something else, was "Bright Sided," where she explicitly called out New Age bullshit about thinking yourself healthy, visualizing cancer cells disappearing, etc. The somewhat connected "Natural Causes," which looked at health faddism in general, but had bits of New Agey angles in it as well? Also very good.

Extracts from my review of it, more detailed than "Bright Sided," follow. (With it and the other extract, ellipsis points are not separating sections of the original reviews; since these are extracts, they're serving their normal functions as ellipsis points.)

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's plenty of punch in this slim volume, and it goes beyond what most reviews note. .....

Your own body may exacerbate many cancers.

Ehrenreich looks at how macrophages can be "bad guys" as well as "good gals." They can "encourage" cancer cells in the area of tumors to continue reproducing rather than killing them. They supply cancer cells with chemical growth factors. They build new blood vessels for them. They help them enter blood vessels they couldn't on their own. This all is best documented with breast cancer, but also shown with lung, bone, gastric and other cancers, she says.

In addition, the spread of arthritis and other inflammation-generated diseases, are also assisted by macrophages.

So, from this, riffing on her previous book "Bright-Sided," Ehrenreich says New Agey ideas of visualizing your body, or "your body," attacking cancer is nonsense. The "your body" goes in scare quotes, because she also documents other ways in which macrophages can be free agents of sorts. She goes back to Russian zoologist Elie Metchenikoff, who first talked about this a century and more ago, but was roundly rejected. Now, his ideas are gaining acceptance. Some other immunological cells have lesser, but not insignificant, degrees of free agency, Ehrenreich says.


We're still not done, though.

Next comes philosophy.

If these cells have that much independence, what does this mean for the idea of a unitary "self"? And, if they're not conscious, but seem to have some independence, what word do we use for that?


And, we're still not done.

Ehreinreich, paralleling somewhat Irvin Yalom, talks about "successful aging" next. That means accepting that aging will happen. Accepting that many blows of aging cannot be fully dodged, not even by rich anti-aging gurus. Accepting and embracing that aging has positive sides. With that, people can stop wasting money on gimmicks and brainwaves on stressing out. They can accept that aging is a normal evolutionary process, too. And, those macrophages that are quasi-free agents, along with other parts of "our" immune system? Just maybe their biggest job is to help kickstart the process of decomposition when each of us dies.

From here, back to philosophy.

Ehrenreich talks about the invention of the "self." In Europe, she says it probably started with the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, then took off in the Enlightenment. Rousseau, of course, majorly boosted the idea.


Ehrenreich's conclusion? Kill the self, or at least diminish the attachment to it. She mentions psychadelic drugs; on the other hand, many modern Americans who talk about using them seem to look at attaching more to a "self" afterward than before. But, there's potential there, along with long, distracted walks in nature and other things.

Don't rage against the dying of the light; accept that you don't control the sunset or the light switch.  

Sadly, she had a cropper with "Living with a Wild God." Given specifically her take on New Ageyness, and in general, given the appearance that she seemed to be some sort of non-metaphysical secularist, the fact that that wasn't the total case with her personal life, plus her hinting that there were things hidden behind a thick, heavy curtain that she wouldn't talk about, left this book well short of others.

Excerpts from my review will illustrate, along with observations about an interview she had with Harper's about the book.

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Call this book review "The deep loneliness of Barbara Ehrenreich" or maybe "The Tragedy of Barbara Ehrenreich."

I wrestled with exactly how to rate this book. Her alleged metaphysical experience as a teen, and her return to it at late-midlife crisis time? That part's a 1-star, and I knew that when I had read an excerpt online. She even admits that, as William James notes, the physical "symptoms" she had of her mystical experience are not uncommon. Yet, she wants to mystify them, rather than noting that hypoglycemia, sleep deprivation of a moderate sort and stress could easily have caused her own version of a common experience. (Update: With excerpts from two links at the bottom, it now IS a 1-star.)

That's especially true in light of her history of depersonalization and disassociation. There's fairly solid evidence that some people are by nature more susceptible to such things. Or -- by childhood. [As in, things like child abuse.]

And here we get to the reason I'll give the book a second star, and start talking about the title.

About 4/5 the way in, she says, (semi-exact quote), "If this were a biography, this is where it would begin."

But, the book IS a biography of sorts, a sad and tragic one. The fact that she doesn't seem to see it that way ties in with the very psychological tragedy that she seems to want to avoid discussing further, even in her 70s.

Here's the basics on her childhood:
1. Two alcoholic parents, with an emotionally manipulative father and an emotionally unavailable mother.
2. A physically abusive mother. (Yes, Barbara, that's what "slapping in the face" is, especially when done with some regularity.)
3. Frequent moves. (She notes that a stay of 18 months in Lowell, Mass., was longer than usual.)
4. Marital trauma that eventually led to divorce not too long after Barbara's "experience," both remarrying, dad divorcing a second time and mother near that point before her suicide.
5. Some history of mental health problems on her mom's side of the family.

Well, depersonalization/dissociation is a kind of common "defense mechanism" in such cases. And, perhaps she had some inherited susceptibility, too.

The "solipsism" she later on discovers in her teenage and college self is another defense mechanism. So, too, in all likelihood, are some of the ritual behaviors of her pre-teen life she describes but fleetingly. So, too, as an adult, is writing about your own life in a semi-detached, semi-third-person style.

And yet, she can be "hard" toward others who have as many, or more, depersonalization experiences than her, even referring mockingly to a self-help website for depersonalization.


I suspect her childhood was worse than she's told us, too.

The mystical attachments aside, the book isn't trash. But, it probably should not have been written. And, I think the disjointedness and sometimes poor style reflect the issues I mention above. Or, as part of professional help and other things, maybe it should have been written three years from now as an actual biography.

It's very hard to believe that the author of Bright-Sided could have written this. Unless, again, this is seen as cri de coeur first, paean to mysticism a distant second.

[Editorial addition: And, in hindsight, it's not just that she pulled punches as an autobiography or memoir. Assuming she was a child abuse victim, she could have done more for other victims and survivors by speaking out in detail. But, didn't.]

View all my reviews


And now, that Harper's interview.

She owns up to lifelong atheism, even telling her undergrad alma mater she was a "fourth generation" atheist, but yet takes her high school experience as not just "mystical," but, if you will, a "theophany." I quote:

After a night spent sleeping in a car, she went for a morning walk in the woods and felt the presence of another being — she later said she “saw God” — then spent the next several decades ignoring the experience and hoping it wouldn’t recur.

Somehow, I missed in my review that she actually said she had "seen God." I might have 1-starred the book instead (while still being sympathetic to her as a child abuse victim).

Harper's interviewer Ryann Lieberthal then asks her:

What would you attribute those experiences to now? If you saw something there in Lone Pine, what was that thing?

And, Ehrenreich simply refuses to give a straight-up answer.

The interview about the rest of her work, beyond and based on the previous books she had written? Very good stuff. This?  Even though the rest of the part of the interview that talks about "Wild God" only has her talking about consciousness of other animals, that's bad enough. A PhD scientist (she was, and in cellular immunology, a biological field, no less) strawmanning biologists as claiming that about all of them don't talk about, or even reject, consciousness in other animals. 

And, behind that, since she didn't answer Lieberthal straight up? I sense a hint at the same New Ageyness that she excoriated elsewhere. Even worse, since she read the old journals, that led to the book, while being treated for cancer — the sidebars to all of that treatment and other patients having led directly to the "Bright Sided" attack on New Ageyness.

Oh, but wait, Googling, or Duck Ducking, "Barbara Ehrenreich" + "mysticism" leads me to find out that she even had an interview with RELIGION NEWS SERVICE about this, and there claims MULTIPLE mystical experiences. 

Since millions of Theravada Buddhists are also atheists, not believing in a personal deity, I now wonder just what she meant by "atheism." Was she rather just more "irreligious," like many "Nones" of today?

And, oh fucking doorknob, this gets worse yet!!!!

The interviewer is Minnesota Nice Piety Brother Atheist Lite, or rather, Fake Atheist, Chris Stedman. And, her fuzziness level on responses goes WAY beyond the non-responsiveness to Lieberthal. Extended excerpt:

CS: You’re speaking at the third “Women in Secularism” conference this weekend. Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about sexism among nontheists, and this conference seeks to continue that. Why do you think the atheist community is struggling around issues of sexism and harassment? 
BE: I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time in what you might call the atheist community. It’s not a word that I think would adequately describe me—it’s just a starting point. I don’t believe, but that doesn’t exactly define a community, except in some circumstances when we’re up against real discrimination, which we often are. So I can’t say I know much about sexism in the atheist community. Certainly the very prominent atheists have been white men, and I don’t know what to do about that. We need to add some women to the list. 
CS: What will you be talking about at “Women in Secularism”? 
BE: I’ll base my remarks on Living with a Wild God, and I’ll talk about growing up as an atheist and coming to question some of the foundations of the science I had been taught. I hope to emphasize that atheism in itself is not a complete answer. That’s just where we start from—we don’t start with any belief. We’re still trying to figure things out. 
CS: You say that atheism is a starting point. What comes after? 
BE: Anything you like. As an atheist, you don’t start by saying, “There is a God and he or it has arranged everything as it is.” Every question is open once you put aside beliefs like that.

"Just wow." Or, since we're headed that way? To riff on an old cliché? "Oleaginous is as oleaginous does," for both of them. Or, "Oleaginous knows oleaginous."

Just one more. Fake nice Catholic Twitter evangelist Elizabeth Breunig pretended to semi-like it while largely hating it for not being explicitly religious, and thus showing years ago what a hater she is.

I hadn't meant for this to wind up becoming a "takedown" interview like I did on John McCain, Poppy Bush or semi-so on Madeleine Albright. I hadn't even meant for a semi-takedown, at least not as much as I did on Gorbachev earlier this week. 

But, the Harper's interview, revealing the mindset behind "Wild God," led me to all of Ehrenreich, not just her most famous class-based book, or class and sociology ones.

But, I didn't know all this about Ehrenreich. I don't go looking for atheist "heroes," but if any people perceived her as one? Tain't so.  

Maybe Laura Miller at Slate gets it right — as with Dostoyevsky (and St. Paul), we can blame temporal lobe epilepsy. Only problem? Ehrenreich has never said she had any type of epilepsy. 

And, with that, I've wasted enough time. To quote Jesus of Nazareth? "Let the dead bury their own dead."

No, one last note, since the hagiographic obits are focused on "Nickel and Dimed," barely touching "Bright Sided," and looking little at her other books.

On politics, she was, like Noam Chomsky and others, an ardent socialist who remained firmly ensconsed within the left hand of the duopoly, specifically as a DSA Rosey. With Noam and the others, she openly called for Green nominee Howie Hawkins to run a "safe states" campaign. Hawkins politely told her and the others to, in essence, STFU. Yeah, Wiki says she endorsed Nader in 2000, but that's yesterday's news and the last time she stepped outside the duopoly.

There. NOW we're in takedown obit territory. So sue me.

No, one "sad" item to add. In my focus on her bromance with mysticism, I forgot about the "sad" part of "Wild God." So did Lieberthal, Stedman and presumably many others. I can't believe nobody asked her to talk more about child abuse, especially since poverty is a contributing factor to parents becoming abusers. This would have squared the circle with "Nickel and Dimed."

So, intellectual dishonesty? Yes. First, on Ehrenreich's part for not offering straight answers to straight questions on mysticism and related metaphysical issues, and what got me started on "Wild God," for not being totally forthright on childhood history.

For those who claim that's unwarranted? She chose to include things that happened to her in childhood, then denied what they were. It's been a long time since I read it, and I can't remember if the denials were more of commission or omission. But, they were.

It's also intellectual dishonesty by interviewers. In the case of Minnesota Pi Brother Stedman on mysticism, no surprise. Given that I also think he's also a self-unidentified child abuse victim, no shocker he didn't ask Ehrenreich about that, either. But, Lieberthal, and others, who interviewed her and didn't ask more about the abuse, and the missed chance to square the circle? If you had any inkling what she didn't pursue, and didn't ask, you were intellectually dishonest, too.

NOW. "So sue me."


Updates: I'm going to add thoughts as I get any comments here, or responses on Blue Bird Satan, where I already have.

First, no, Ehrenreich didn't "owe" anybody anything, re being more forthright about child abuse. But, she had an opportunity, and passed on it. As I noted before, adult poverty correlates with child abuse. I'll add that, at least on sexual and emotional abuse, girls are much more the target than boys, so this ties to Ehrenreich's writings about feminism.

Related? I write a column every April about Child Abuse Prevention Month. I don't put my personal experiences in my columns, but close friends of mine know what they are. At some point, I may give a bare-bones description in the column, and note that it was abuse. (And more than what I have in the column.) Therefore, per the above paragraph and the body of the original post, I speak from experience. While my platform is much smaller than hers, me not being famous, I have used it. 

Related part 2, from my original review? I noted she seemed to be mocking other people who have had depersonalization or derealization. In today's "woke" world, that's a "microaggression." Or, pre-woke, that's being passive-aggressive or worse.

Second, in July, on vacation, I had what I have already called a "secular spiritual experience." That said, I found none of it mystical. Nor "ineffable," which is where I think Ehrenreich was headed, though weirdly, she never used that word. Nor did I find any of it "metaphysical."

Third, as far as the alleged inexplicability of such events? In a word, tosh. A better word to tackle? "Ineffable." In that RNS piece, especially, I think Ehrenreich was trying to insinuate her experience was "ineffable" but she didn't want to use that word because she was already standing on two stools.

Anyway, I'll take two angles on this.

The first part is from the actual science world, the world that Ehrenreich dissed in her strawmanning of biologists. (And, per feedback, that's part of her intellectual dishonesty.) Neither the quantum physics world nor the cosmology world knows which of the two, quantum mechanics or gravitation, wins out in the final shot at a "grand unified theory," let alone what's on the other side. But, nobody this side of Deepak Chopra claims that makes a claim that any of this is "ineffable."

DON'T even think about going Deepak on me. I'll kick you hard and after that, the conversation is over.

Second angle comes from philosophy of language, primarily Wittgenstein, but also a hat tip to ideas of self-referentiality from Kurt Gödel et al as explicated by Douglas Hofstadter in "Gödel, Escher, Bach."

To be blunt?

If a person were (note the subjunctive) to have an experience that they alleged was "ineffable," they could not use the word "ineffable" to make the claim that the experience was "ineffable." And, it's not just the word "ineffable" as a word, but as a signifier; plug in any close synonym and you'll fail again.

Per Gödel, there's the self-reference issue, but that's secondary.

Per Wittgenstein or related, there's the linguistic discourse issue. If the idea of "ineffable" / "ineffability" is that an experience cannot be described, then that apples to the two actual words (concepts). Ergo, one cannot talk about what it is to be "ineffable" as THAT would be indescribable. This takes us to Hofstadter and one of the GEB essays, where "GOD" is defined by the acronym of "God Over Demons." What we have, of course, is an infinite regress, a cousin of self-reference. And, trying to say something is indescribable when you can't describe what it means to be indescribable falls in the same class.

And, this is not just in public discourse.

Individuals cannot tell themselves that, in private mental languages. You cannot, not without remaining kiloparsecs away from knowledge as philosophically defined as justified true belief.

September 02, 2022

World Progressives: NATO watch, Palestine, Chinese economy, Gazprom, more

I've decided to, on my own, do a "world" version of Texas Progressives on occasion. Kuff rarely reaches beyond Texas and never goes beyond US borders for stories he adds, and sometimes, I find enough good stuff to add that it overweights it.

So, let's dig in and star here:

James Dorsey reminds us that Sweden and Finland joining NATO is still not a done deal. Turkey still threatens to veto it, and part of its ask is Swedish and Finnish expulsion of followers of Fethullah Gulen. That's part of a bigger piece on talks picking up on a possible renewal of the Obama-era Iran nuclear control deal. It's worth a read on those grounds as well, on how relations between Turkey and Israel, Turkish support for Palestinians, relations between Saudis and other Gulf states with Iran and more all are interplaying. 


Gazprom "somehow" is still still having technical difficulties with its Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Go suck it, warmongeGazprom ring Germans, including German Greens who didn't do more to get Germany using less fossil fuels. (Again, why is there so much AC use in Hamburg?)

Related to this? Every month or so, now, in Western mainstream media, you'll see the latest piece about "the Russian economy is about to collapse." The latest pieces usually say something like, "yeah, you heard this two months ago, but the Russian government and central bank have used the final arrows in their quiver so this time we mean it." Stop believing them. First, they're trading on triumphalism. Second, even if they don't say so, they're usually trading on Western governmental sources who figure that if they peddle the idea of triumphalism enough, it will come true.


The Chinese economy is officially headed into the crapper. If China-stanner Adam Tooze (see here) is admitting that, even if only hesitantly, partially and obliquely, you KNOW it's bad. Someone break the news to Rainier Shea in the People's Republic of Humboldt County.


Former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy told the UN Security Council last week that the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine is dead. As Mondoweiss notes, the NYT gave space to Peter Beinart on this issue; he became a disbeliever a couple of years ago, but he went beyond just that. Without using the word, Mondoweiss said he pretty much embraced the idea that Israel has become an apartheid state. As I noted on Twitter, somebody alert the Josh Marshalls of this world, who are either still in the AIPAC camp (pretty sure Josh is still) or else still too afraid of AIPAC to speak out. I've done searches on Talking Points Memo, so it's not just his Twitter feed. Marshall, as self-touted publisher, refuses to talk about Israel-Palestine issues.

But, it's not just AIPAC. As Mondoweiss ALSO notes, J Street, which has long portrayed itself as a real alternative to AIPAC, is also, like Marshall and others, radio silent.

Thirdly, Mondoweiss notes Beinart calling out Deborah Lipstadt for meeting with Saudi officials. Has J Street done that? I presume not. I'm sure AIPAC hasn't. And, AFAIK, the Josh Marshalls of the not-so-totally-liberal Zionists haven't.


But, apartheid South Africa isn't the same as apartheid Israel-Palestine. Another Mondoweiss piece notes a tougher slog for Palestinians, having far less leverage than Black South Africans.


AI to find hidden swimming pools? US municipalities probably aren't rich enough to do what France is doing. Great way to find property tax cheating if appraisers don't get on site.

September 01, 2022

Coronavirus Week 119B: Darth Cheney and Fauci; booster info

Long read for the wingnuts from Unherd: Dick Cheney "created" Anthony Fauci by, in his post 9/11 worries about biodefense, putting a number of fragmented agencies under the aegis of NIAID, led back then in 2003 as today by Fauci. That's also a long read for #TeamBlue and its own tribalism.

Omicron-focused, but pan-protecting, boosters will be here soon. The Atlantic discusses what you should do and when, depending on previous booster and/or infection. But, also at the Atlantic, Katharine J. Wu worries the feds will screw the pooch on rollout.

Coronavirus Week 119: Long COVID and medical stubbornness, tribalism and racism

Zeynep Tufekci, in her first Substack piece in some time, and linking to and extracting from a recent NYT column by her, talks about the medical stubbornness and tribalism. She begins by noting that something we could call "Long Spanish Flu" happened a century ago and got ignored by the medical establishment, somewhat similar to initial reaction to Long COVID.

I'll in turn extract from her:

(E)verywhere I looked, I saw hugely-important issues and dynamics that, to this day, are underappreciated. 
This particular piece focused on our response, especially our inadequate and even confusing and poorly-done research efforts. But there’s so much more to cover. 
To start with: how medicine dismisses things it doesn’t (yet) understand, and worse, refuses to learn from episodes that make the denial hard to maintain. Post-pandemic or post-epidemic discovery of complicated post-viral conditions occurs again and again in history, to be forgotten till the next time. 
Post-viral ailments pop up in so many areas: cancers, neurogenerative disorders, chronic complex conditions and who knows what else, and yet, while the dots are hard to connect, and not enough is properly researched to begin with.

It gets better. She then notes how, in the past, things like ulcers and even multiple sclerosis were once thought to be all in your head, to use the old cliché.

She finishes by calling for a National Institute for Postviral Conditions.

One place where she does NOT go, interestingly, beyond the "all in your head," is race-based biases in diagnosis. A century-plus ago, this happened with diabetes, when it was considered an upper-crust White person's disease.

Well, enough Black sufferers feel they've been excluded enough on Long COVID research that they have formed their own support groups.

August 31, 2022

Second woke semi-self own at High Country News in a week

This from American Indians, not Hispanics, unlike yesterday's, but another semi-self own, woke-related, this one also at HCN. Start here:
Biyáál is just one of many farmers in this part of northern New Mexico who recognize the importance of growing, harvesting and cooking as their ancestors did.

Peaches, not mentioned, but loved by Navajos, with orchards razed by Kit Carson? Old World crop. And, even after the Diné finished getting on the west side of the Rockies, it took longer to settle enough to grow peaches.

Other techniques? Yes, on the east coast, Squanto showed Pilgrims how to bury a fish head for fertilizer with corn. But, after they got enough livestock over from Europe, they used what Squanto and other Indians didn't have — manure. They also used those livestock with something else Squanto and others didn't have — a plow.

Then this:

On the Navajo Nation, Biyáál is likewise ensuring that future generations will have access to the same plants and crops as their predecessors. Biyáál identifies as a seedkeeper — one who maintains the seeds of plants from the traditional diet of their community and nation.

So, no Monsanto corn? Or even Pioneer or DeKalb corn?

Texas Progressives: monkeypox, voting, oil wells, more

Keller ISD has reported a monkeypox case

Rethuglican vote suppressors were at it again. This time, it was not minority or poor voters. Instead it was what it and Democraps both try to do regularly — kick third parties off the ballot. Their effort to block Libertarian candidates failed

Why does Ken Paxton hate Ken Paxton on ballot access? Maybe he's got dementia? Off the Kuff is gobsmacked by the contradictory opinions coming from Ken Paxton about public access to ballots. 

SocraticGadfly, this spring, was glad to see any non-Republican running for county judge in his very red area. But, based on the Democrat's initial flier, he expects to undervote the race.

I'm waiting for Wayne-o Christian and the rest of the RRC to bash Biden for not giving it enough bailout money to plug abandoned wells.

Uvalde parents are increasingly unhappy with Strangeabbott on gun control pushes or lack thereof. More at the Observer, specifically on raising the age to own assault rifles to 21. Meanwhile, Uvalde ISD fired chief Pete Arredondo, with him getting pissy the board wouldn't let him take his hogleg into the meeting, and then continuing to blame everybody else, claiming it was "a public lynching." Way to keep it classy and channel Clarence Thomas.

As the 15th CD race heats up, the Monthly wonders just how much Texas Hispanic support there is for pro-choice stances. It says the reality is complicated, not that the Valley, in particular, is ardently pro-life. For good measure, it notes that just as Democrats statewide under Gilberto Hinojosa have been saying "demographics is destiny" for more than a decade, Rethuglicans have been making similar claims about a coming Hispanic wave.

It's business as usual at ERCOT, and if we can talk about brand-new business as usual, it's just the same at the new State Energy Plan Advisory Committee, a PR Band-Aid created by Strangeabbott, Danny Goeb and semi-lackey Dale Phelan after Winter Storm Uri, which means Texans better hope there's not another big winter storm in six months.

The Texas Living Waters Project suggests that key solutions to Texas' water woes are simpler than we think. "Congrats" for what they didn't mention and Kuff didn't notice. Where's water conservation? Probably too much of an ask for White neoliberal Karens and Kens. 

Jef Rouner says we still need Congress to truly fix student loan debt.  

Reform Austin introduces us to the Arabic version of "In God We Trust."

Tom Bonier analyzes the recent trends in Texas voter registration.  

In The Pink Texas is back, baby. I have no idea what the fuck the site is, but I'm leaving the link up because I got not a 404 from my browser, but the equivalent of a 404 from the site's supposed host — after a Firefox warning message.

August 30, 2022

RIP Mikhail Gorbachev

The last leader of the old Soviet Union is dead at 91.

Was he a tragic figure, as Council on Foreign Relations lifer Mary Elise Sarotte talks about in "Not One Inch," a deep book about German reunification and the first round of NATO expansion? Yes, but "more and less" than that. Gorbachev was wedded to the USSR even as it became clear that ethnic and other centrifugal forces had doomed it, which Boris Yeltsin better grasped, even when deep in his cups. That's the less. The "more" is, of course, that he really hoped the USSR could be reformed. But, per Sarotte and others, Poppy Bush wasn't going to pay for that, and at some point, Helmut Kohl stopped paying, too. Even before the Soviet Union imploded, perestroika was also becoming mafiyyatroika, if I may invent a word in Russian. And glasnost was being turned inside out.

As part of the "more and worse," don't forget that wife Raisa, apparently love at first site, was herself a Communist apparatchik.

(Update: Related to that, read this Twitter thread by Kamil Galeev. He argues that Gorbachev in his first couple of years as as much a traditional USSR Communist "demand economy" guy as anybody else, including his mentor Andropov. It was only after oil prices started sagging, and the hits that gave to the Soviet economy, that he switched gears, Galeev argues. It's the source of the oil price graphic below.)

Keep that in mind for a couple of paragraphs down.

(Same update, continued. Many commenters reject Ganeev's take on both Gorby and Andropov, one claiming Andropov was a reformer play-acting a Stalinist. I'm not at all convinced by that claim. I'm not convinced by claims oil wasn't that important. Oil, wheat and heavy metals were all the USSR had, along with bits of gold and diamonds.)

That said, by early this year, Gorbachev so hated Vladimir Putin that he lied and claimed James Baker never said "not one inch further," and many of the Nat-Sec Nutsacks™ inside and outside the government parroted this. That's despite John Mearsheimer, in "The Great Delusion" and elsewhere also noting this was true. And, he, and even more Sarotte, notes this torpedoed nuclear arms talks while Yeltsin was still alive, which carried over to Putin.

The member states that emerged from the USSR would have been better off had Gorbachev recognized, and accepted, the same reality that Yeltsin did, and early on. The two Gorbachevs would have surely been far less tempted by corruption than Yeltsin's family. That, in turn, means that Gorbachev would have found a better successor than Putin. (Yeltsin tabbed him, Sarotte notes, precisely because he promised the Yeltsin family a clean slate.)

Well, Yeltsin faced trouble in both of his elections because oil remained in the pits, obviously. (That still doesn't excuse the graft.) And, while Clinton helped him as he could? 9/11, and likely its global exacerbation by Shrub Bush's invading Iraq, boosted oil prices and bailed out Putin. He might have been deemed a failure otherwise in four-five years.

The "love at first site" link, which Reuters calls "Gorbachev on Gorbachev," has this quote extract from his Dec. 25, 1991 "fare-thee-well" as USSR leader:

"For this reason, I never regretted that I did not use my position as General Secretary merely to 'reign' for a few years ..." 
"I leave my post with concern – but also with hope, with faith in you, your wisdom and spiritual strength. We are the heirs of a great civilization, and its revival and transformation to a modern and dignified life depend on all and everyone."

Makes it sound like he just casually decided to step down rather than rudely being elbowed out of the way, doesn't it? But, in reality, that's what happened. How much of that was Gorbachev seeking to preserve face, and how much of it was other things, who knows? If Yeltsin hadn't pushed, would he have moved on eventually on his own? Who knows? 

At Foreign Policy, Vladislav Zubok offers a detailed take on Gorbachev's legacy, starting with his ego. The title of the Reuters piece is no accident:

Gorbachev, who suffered from the sort of cheerful vanity that led him to speak of himself in the third person, told biographer William Taubman that “Gorbachev is hard to understand.”

Sounds about right, given the above.

At home? Even more tragic, beyond his possible self-delusion about holding the USSR together and other things. As the Yeltsin-era Russia faced catastrophic inflation, catastrophic grifting, and a fragile semi-democratic governance in which the West eventually bribed Yeltsin with money Gorbachev never got, just to get Yeltsin re-elected, Gorby regularly faced epithets of "traitor." Blamed by many for unleashing Yeltsin-era debauchery when that was actually all on Yeltsin, with an assist from the West. Sarotte is good on this, in her book. (UnHerd, meanwhile, has a simplistic hot take that omits Yeltsin being the primary cause of Putin's rise and tries to blame Gorbachev too much and the West not enough. Of course, this is of a piece with most of mainstream media, Gnu Media and Nat-Sec Nutsacks™ alike in the last 24 hours — performing a Joe Stalin "vanish the commissar" on Yeltsin and pretend there's a straight line in USSR-Russia history from Gorbachev to Putin.)

As far as Yeltsin shoving him aside? Per Zubak (it's paywalled, couldn't read all of it), it seems likely Gorbachev saw himself as the indispensible man. We know he kind of looked down on Yeltsin as a yokel. Probably couldn't believe that this drunken ass (Sarotte says that his alcoholism appears to have started as pain management after an accident) could outmaneuver him. But that's just what happened.

But, back to the West.

I found about his death by seeing his name trend on Twitter. And, then, it went back away and didn't pop up before I went to bed last night. For anybody much under my age in the West and not one of the Nat-Sec Nutsacks or close to them, he's probably most remembered by his Pizza Hut commercial if anything. Indeed, per Puff Hoes, THAT trended on Twitter.

Many Russians hated him for that too, and castigated him for the money he got. It never aired on Russian TV. Years and years later, having seen it and a certain movie more than once, I was reminded of the opening portion of "Cast Away."

That said, per all that I said above? If all politics is local, this cuts both ways. The Russia-Ukraine war of today connects both to Gorbachev's overestimation of his abilities to hold the USSR together and Poppy Bush's refusal to give him as much financial support as Clinton gave Yeltsin.


Interestingly, I had never had a "tag" or "label" for Gorbachev. No need to start now.

Update: In death, despite Putin trying to shunt him aside, Gorbachev became more popular than he had been in life inside Russia for most of the past 25 or more years, it appears.

Are there any Democrats left in Alabama? BUT? WHO is running the state AFL-CIO?

To put it another way, Democraps are running SO FEW (how few?) candidates for state House and Senate seats that the state AFL-CIO has felt compelled to endorse more than 25 Libertarians in hopes of cock-blocking some Rethuglicans. 

And, you of course guessed it; there's no Democraps in any of those races.

That said, this is also on the Bammy state AFL-CIO; Independent Political Report also notes that it's endorsing NINE Rethuglicans. Really? Is that just a circle jerking of thinking you have to endorse a candidate in every race, even if it's a craptacular Rethug vs an even worse, in this case, Libertarian-tard?

UNfortunately, and this IS a callout, the new and allegedly improve IPR, with an actual managing editor (paid?) writing this piece, didn't look behind the curtain at Ballotpedia.

Because (and I posted there last night) it would have told Jordan Willow-Evans that yes, the AFL-CIO is doing exactly such a circle jerk. In state Senate District 5, it's endorsing an unopposed Rethug. (And I see nothing in Greg Reed's background to mandate an endorsement, as far as AL Senate committees, etc.) BUT, in Districts 8-11, which also have no opposition, there's no endorsement. But, in Sen 14, another unopposed Rethug is endorsed. (Also, sidebar for Independent Political Report saying "LOOK, Libertarians," why didn't they recruit one for this race? Yes, Weaver was in the state House before, but still.)

S16? Unopposed Rethug.

Without bothering to link, they're endorsing multiple unopposed Rethugs in the state House as well. 


I actually halfway understand endorsing Libertarians over Rethugs. With their civil liberties angle, re freedom of assembly including the right to organize, they're more supportive of that than Rethugs. But, as far as supporting actual union activity? It may be closer to peas in a pod.

I tagged both the state AFL-CIO and A-list freelance labor reporter Mike Elk on Twitter, separately. Neither has responded.

A woke semi-self-own at High Country News

HCN dove deep into the wokeness with its most recent email, with a "Sunday comics" sized graphic mini-novella about white privilege and the outdoors with words by José González, a Chicano activist from Sacramento. He uses "Chicano" himself, and having grown up in the Southwest decades ago myself, I know that means activist. (Drawing is by Krystal Quilles.)

Look at Panel 3, about the use of sunscreen, its color as well as its protection, and "normatively white."

Well, I already knew that Hispanics, or Chicanos (where's LatinX?) don't have such high skin cancer rates.

But the CDC says they're not non-existent, either. One-sixth that of whites. (American Indians and Alaska Natives are at one-fifth of whites, even higher.)

Also, in response to another panel, I told him (and HCN) on Twitter that his own criollo ancestors exercised their own privilege against and over "pure" American Indians, too, so he shouldn't point so many fingers. In fact, his mestizo ancestors even did that.

As for the "LandBack" final line? I asked HCN rhetorically earlier this week how many American Indians have tagged Black-owned Starbucks or other businesses when they do such tagging.


Update? Speaking of American Indians, a second woke semi-self-own at HCN pops up right after the first.

August 29, 2022

Zombie ice means 10 inches of sea level rise minimum from Greenland

Specifically, zombie ice from Greenland, which the AP notes is ice still theoretically attached to a glacier but no longer being "charged" by it, will cause this.

The real issue is that this is at least twice as high as previous estimates, which should lead concerned people to wonder just how much other estimates of ocean rise due to the global warming portion of climate change may be off on the low side. Specifically, the IPCC, showing just how conservative many of its climate change prognostications are, sadly, last year predicted 2-5 inches.

And, the 10 inches is best-case scenario. William Colgan, a glaciologist at the University of Greenland and Denmark, said the worst case would be 30 inches.

In addition, if we stopped global warming right now, 3.3 percent of Greenland's current ice would still melt.