Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Staring into the abyss

The New Yorker’s Ian Parker wrote an exceptional profile of Glenn Greenwald for the September 3 issue. The full title of the profile is “The Bane of Their Resistance: a leftist journalist’s bruising crusade against establishment Democrats—and their Russia obsession.” Greenwald is a smart guy who doesn’t buy into the conspiracy theories of Russian election interference and collusion between the spies and the Trump campaign. For a long time, he seemed to reject the idea that Russia had done anything to the 2016 election; in this profile, it sometimes appears he thinks Russia didn’t do anything wrong.

“We have, all the time, different levels of evidentiary certainty based on the context, based on the role that we’re playing,” Greenwald said. To allege Russian interference in 2016 was to levy a charge against “a longtime adversary of the United States, one that is still in possession of thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at American cities.” He continued, “Before we all accuse that country of having done something so grave as have its leader order the hacking of these e-mails in order to interfere in an election, I think the evidence we demand ought to be pretty high.”

Was the charge “grave”? He had just called it the stuff of everyday international relations. “I personally don’t think it’s grave,” he said. “But there are millions of Americans who believe the election of Trump is this grave threat. So if you convince them that what has endangered them is Putin—you hear Democrats comparing this to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor—that’s really dangerous rhetoric. I don’t think it’s particularly grave at all, even if it’s true. I think it’s a very pedestrian event.” The risk, then—one also identified by President Trump—was that unfounded American hysteria could set off a nuclear war. Put another way: the choice is between Greenwald and the end of the world.

He later said, “If there was evidence inside the U.S. government that genuinely proved collusion—an intercepted call, an e-mail—it would have been leaked by now.” (He seemed to be disregarding the discipline displayed by Mueller’s investigation.) He added that, even if Putin himself had ordered the hacking, “and worked with WikiLeaks and Michael Cohen and Jared Kushner to distribute the e-mails,” then this was still just “standard shit.”

Now, I really do understand the disdain for the newfound liberal pastime of finding Russian machinations at the center of everything. The market for red yarn has never been better on this side of the political spectrum. And Greenwald quite correctly spends a bit of this profile pointing out how unhinged those theories can get.

But that section quoted above is just an incomprehensible argument! ‘The specter of Russian election interference or Trump campaign collusion is such a grave accusation that we need lots of evidence. However, even in the worst case scenario, The Russia Stuff is still just “standard shit.” Further, there can’t be any real evidence to support the grave accusation, because if there was lots of evidence we’d have seen it already. Therefore, we can safely assume the grave accusations are simply not true.

Maybe for Greenwald the gravest stuff is the unhinged theories like “The Marshall of the Supreme Court has put Melania into witness protection because Russian special forces are going to Die Hard all the various Trump Towers to steal the deed to Mar-a-Lago and also Putin personally filmed the pee tape.” But from where I’m sitting, the standard shit looks like an unprecedented international conspiracy to defraud the United States. (The kind in 18 U.S.C. § 371, not the red yarn kind.) The evidence is in the form of two-plus years of dissembling and contradictory cover stories from a range of campaign and administration staffers, not least the President himself.

Published on under Stranger Things

Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill on what happens When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life. This is the story of a real estate agent named Monika Glennon who was the subject of a years-long harassment campaign after getting into a disagreement with a stranger on a local newspaper’s Facebook page:

There is a constellation of sites on the internet that exist solely as places for people to exorcise their demons, and more importantly, their grudges; She’s A Homewrecker is one of them. It offers the opportunity to publicize a person’s misdeeds so that they are available not just to an inner circle with access to relevant gossip but to anyone who Googles that person’s name. The terms of service specify that posts must be factually true, but if they’re not, it’s not a problem for the site. It’s protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from being sued for the things their users say. […]

Glennon wrote repeatedly to all the sites that had posted the story telling them it was false but none of them would take it down. Her only option was to go to court, so she filed a lawsuit in 2016 against John Does, alleging libel and copyright infringement, because the post used her professional headshot, which she had ownership of.

Through the suit, Glennon was able to subpoena She’s A Homewrecker and Facebook for IP addresses, as well as Internet Service Providers to find out the identities of the people behind the IP addresses. A couple of months after she filed the suit, yet another post appeared on yet another site, “Report My Ex,” written by a man claiming to be the husband who had cheated with Glennon, again luridly detailing a sex act that never happened.

Firstly, thank goodness for Facebook and its mission to connect the world more than ever before. I mean, in 1990, if you wanted to destroy a stranger’s life, you’d have to look them up in the phone book and then go make some flyers or something. Clearly, connecting more people together is an objectively benign goal, and nothing bad comes from this.

Secondly, it’s remarkable that there’s a network of sites devoted to facilitating this kind of gossip. I’m struck by the fact that the most effective legal remedy people like Glennon have is a copyright claim. What if the harassers hadn’t used her headshot?

Published on under This of course kills the democracy

Friend of the blog James Grimmelmann on Emotional Mobilization (or Old Man Yells at Death…), which he starts by wondering whether the basic architecture of participatory democracy is broken beyond repair. The culprit isn’t necessarily Twitter or even mass media, but the forces that have learned how to get us to feel instead of think. As he puts it, “The way to build mass political power is to get something emotionally powerful and politically activating go viral among people who agree with you.”

But this new mode of political engagement is profoundly exhausting. Keeping up with the news requires struggling through a firehose of attempts to activate your passions. They’re pretty effective attempts, too, since the people making them share your values, goals, and premises. They know how to hit you where it hurts, and you count on them to. People who you disagree with are activating too. Deliberately or not, they make you mad at their stupidity and immorality – and the people who agree with you are great at digging up and highlighting the things most likely to make you mad.

Add another emotion: guilt. Every encounter with politics on social media makes me feel guilty if I sit it out: I’m not helping with a worthy cause. It makes me feel guilty if I join in: I’m degrading public discourse. And don’t even get me started on trying to post with nuance: I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve deleted a post because I expected to be yelled at or because I didn’t want to distract from useful yelling.

We are living in a crisis. Hugely consequential things are being fought over and settled daily. The most important election of anyone’s lifetime is probably the one coming up in November. This is the time to act; this is the time when it matters most. But it has never hurt like this.

I haphazardly danced around the periphery of this sentiment with my post on Lady Doritos earlier this year, but this puts the hammer firmly onto the flat part of the nail.

Published on under That episode with the cop though

I can’t decide which is the best part of Laurie Penny’s endlessly quotable essay in The Baffler about Netflix’s Queer Eye series:

Queer Eye is wonderful and terrible and probably the last significant statement to be made in reality television. The show, a Netflix-produced reboot of the original, squealsome mid-aughts judge-your-jeans extravaganza, instantly launched a thousand memes when it premiered in February, and the new second season has been a huger hit than anyone expected. In a culture awash in both mawkish reality vehicles dripping with kitsch and nostalgic reboots of shows from a softer world, Queer Eye is both. It manages to exceed the sum of its parts by not actually being about what we’re told it’s about. It’s not about queerness at all. It’s actually about the disaster of heterosexuality—and what, if anything, can be salvaged from its ruins.

On the surface of things, it’s a straightforward quest for “acceptance,” supposedly of homosexuality, dramatized via the no-longer-so-outlandish vehicle of sending five gay men on an outreach mission to small-town Georgia with a vast interior design budget and a vanload of affirmations. What it turns out to be, though, is a forensic study of the rampaging crisis of American masculinity. In each new installment of the reboot, queerness is gently suggested as an antidote to the hot mess of toxic masculinity under late-stage capitalism.

Name a more iconic duo than toxic masculinity and late-stage capitalism. I’ll wait, right over here while I watch billionaires self-fund humanity’s second space race.

Oh right. Queer Eye:

The gimmick is that heterosexuality is a disaster, toxic masculinity is killing the world, and there are ways out of it aside from fascism or festering away in a lonely bedroom until you are eaten by your starving pitbull or your own insecurities. The men typically featured as the show’s reclamation projects remind me of some of the men who I see on Tinder, sitting on that touring reproduction of the Iron Throne, staring into the middle distance, while in their real lives, and certainly on Queer Eye, they sit on ugly, painful furniture, faux-leather recliners that damage their backs, couches soaked in cat urine.

Look, I have like seven paragraphs I marked to blockquote here, which might be a new record for “things that aren’t federal indictments.” I’m going to leave this last bit here and call it quits.

There is a reason straight women love this show. It’s the pornography of emotional labor.

There’s an old, bad joke where “porn for women” is supposed to involve soothing images of men doing the washing up and running around with a vacuum cleaner—the joke being, presumably, that women don’t like sex, and men don’t like cleaning, so our fantasies like theirs must also involve watching the so-called opposite sex pretend to enjoy something for our benefit. But let’s be clear: nobody is actually getting off on Queer Eye. In fact, the whole show is curiously unerotic, despite the constant on-screen presence of beautiful, charismatic men explicitly and relentlessly defined by their sexuality. The original series was far more explicit about making straight guys hotter—but the new series does exactly the same, from the inside out, there being nothing more off-putting than a man who can’t or won’t take basic care of himself, at least not for anyone who’s been down that particular road before.

There’s little I love more in life than consuming some book or movie or (gasp!) episode of reality TV, taking away some kind of meaning from it, and then learning what I could have taken away from it by reading what people who are smarter than me took away from it. I can’t say enough good things about this essay.

Published on under Hey Siri how do I say retweet in Russian

FiveThirtyEight Oliver Roeder reviews a new academic paper from two professors at Clemson analyzing the tweets which were part of the Russian election interference. The findings are impressive, but I worry that real headline is buried at the end of the article:

Russia’s attempts to distract, divide, and demoralize has been called a form of political war,” the authors conclude in their paper. “This analysis has given insight into the methods the IRA used to engage in this war.” This war may or may not have had an effect on the 2016 election, but it certainly wreaked havoc. The man who would be named national security adviser followed and pushed the message of Russian troll accounts, according to the Daily Beast, and Trump’s eldest son, campaign manager and digital director each retweeted a Russian troll in the month before the election. Twitter itself informed 1.4 million people that they’d interacted with Russian trolls.

But the researchers emphasized that the Russian disinformation and discord campaign on Twitter extends well beyond even that. “There were more tweets in the year after the election than there were in the year before the election,” Warren said. “I want to shout this from the rooftops. This is not just an election thing. It’s a continuing intervention in the political conversation in America.”

​Hoo boy.

Published on under The Mueller Chronicles

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein created the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) on May 17, 2017 and named Bob Mueller to run it. Upon its creation, the SCO inherited the counterintelligence investigation of the Russian election interference from the FBI. That investigation had been going on since well before the election, at least as early as July 2016, and perhaps as early as April 2016, when a Trump Campaign staffer famously got drunk and bragged about Russia sharing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton with the Trump Campaign.

I’m going to sum up the documents that Mueller’s team has publicly filed, what they mean, and what they can tell us about where the investigation might head next. We’re going to go in chronological order.