Friday, July 31, 2015

More On Cecilicide And Public Shaming

Public shaming in the age of social media has created lynch mobs on a scale never before seen. Public shaming has always been terrible punishment for most people - so terrible that our legal system largely abandoned it. Global social media has multiplied its scope and impact immensely. Consider again the case of American Dentist Walter Palmer.

Via Kevin Drum, From Max Fisher in Vox.

When an American dentist named Walter Palmer killed a beloved lion named Cecil, the social media platforms that allowed outraged web users to spread the story also enabled them to do more than just fume. It gave them the power to act on their anger, to reach into Palmer's life and punish him for what he'd done, without having to wait for the wheels of more formal justice to turn.

Web users uncovered Palmer's personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The practice has since shut down. Users also went after professional websites that host his profile, leading the sites to remove his information. On Twitter and on his practice's public Facebook page, people made threats of physical violence.

This should look familiar: It is the same set of tactics that has been used in online harassment campaigns such as the "Gamergate" movement that targeted women in technology, or the seemingly endless online harassment conducted against female journalists. It is a growing trend of internet mob justice, one that often bleeds into real-world harassment with real-world consequences.

We as a society deemed campaigns such as Gamergate unacceptable and rejected their proponents as harassers who crossed the line. But because we all agree that we dislike Palmer, the campaign against him has so far been deemed acceptable, even funny or laudable.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

For Chris Matthews

I caught Chris Mathews inveighing against the Republicans who called Donald Trump "classless" the other day.

"What does that even mean?", he asked.

Uncouth. Lacking in education, manners, and refinement. Crude. Coarse. Rude. Boorish. Obnoxious. Uncivilized, uncultured, uncultivated, unrefined, Bush-league, common, plebeian, low, rough, loutish, oafish, churlish, uncivil, impolite, discourteous, disrespectful, unmannerly, bad-mannered, ill-bred, indecorous, crass, indelicate; vulgar, crude.

Chris probably doesn't know most of those words either, but if he gets stuck, he can look in the mirror and point at the reflection.


Catherine Thompson of TPM has a mini piece on New Hampshire Trump supporters.

I'm not sure what to make of it, except that they are pretty ignorant, very angry, and want somebody as pissed off as they are.

Pretty sure that's while people voted for Hitler.


I'm not a big fan of trophy hunting (or any kind of fan of trophy hunting, for that matter), but the fury against the dentist who poached the lion they call Cecil may be a bit of an overreach. Hunting is not only a basic human instinct, but it's also mainly legal.

Of course if he has some culpability in the poaching (luring a collared animal from the game preserve), then go ahead - throw the book at him. But leave his family alone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jonathan Pollard

After thirty years in the clink, Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard is getting out. I recall attending a bar mitzvah a decade or more ago where the rabbi interrupted the service to implore the audience to petition their politicians to work for his release, and he explained that Pollard had done nothing to harm the US. I barely restrained my impulse to stand up and shout "Bullshit!"

Pollard gave away key US secrets, and they made their way to Moscow as well as Tel Aviv - and whatever his religious motives he got paid for it.

Fred Kaplan has the story in Slate:

At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.

Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life.

We now know (and M.E. Bowman, a senior counterintelligence officer who was working the Pollard case, has since confirmed) that the item in question was a National Security Agency manual called the RASIN, short for “Radio Signal Notations.” The RASIN was a guide to the physical parameters of every radio signal that the NSA was intercepting—a guide on how the NSA was tracking military communications, not just Israel’s but any and every country’s, including the Soviet Union’s. The RASIN was 10 volumes, and Pollard gave his Israeli handlers every single page of it.

An article by Seymour Hersh, in the Jan. 18, 1999, issue of the New Yorker, titled “The Traitor,” listed some other beyond-top-secret documents—among the tens of thousands—that Pollard had stolen and sold. They included the “National SIGINT Requirements List” (SIGINT standing for Signals Intelligence), which revealed which communications channels of which military powers, in which regions, the NSA was intercepting in what order of priority. In other words, it would give the reader a heads up on where and what actions the U.S. military might take next.

I can think of a number of worse traitors, but he was bad enough.

Monday, July 27, 2015


"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself...........Joseph Campbell"

I saw that quote on the back of a Special Forces tee-shirt while waiting for a burger at the local Five Guys. It made me think of the dispute over Donald Trump's claim that John McCain was not a war hero. Hero is one of those words with lots of meanings, and the Special Forces/Joseph Campbell version is a pretty rigorous one, seemingly implying that there are no live heroes. In any case, John McCain is a man who repeatedly went into deadly danger for his country, and paid a huge price for it. It's good enough for the hero designation in a lot of vocabularies.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a guy who coasted through that war on deferments. So whether McCain makes that tough hero standard or not, Trump pretty clearly is utterly lacking in standing to make the critique - but he probably qualifies for the title of "war coward" himself.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Scoundrel Times

History supplies an endless list of scoundrels, pirates, thieves and murderers who subsequently prospered. Their opposites, if not necessarily less common, are less prominent, and apparently less influential.

The Spaniards who came to Mexico with Cortez came to steal the Native American's gold, and save their souls for Christianity, but the catastrophe they brought had little to do with either purpose. Nearly 90% of the population of pre-Columbian Mexico perished as a result, but the overwhelming majority of them seem to have been killed by the diseases that the Spaniards brought. Disease and villainy more or less totally exterminated the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Caribbean.

The immense Native American genocide was mainly accidental, though one will not have any trouble finding plenty of villainy as well.

Many other genocides have a similar character, possibly including those of Stalin and Mao, but deliberate class extermination was also a motive. The Great Bengal famine of 1770 almost certainly fits that pattern. The famine was caused, or at least considerably exacerbated, by the greed and folly of the British East India Company, a peculiar colonial institution which gradually took over India by a mixture of war and enlistment of Indian allies.

The company's greed and policies caused (at least in part) the deaths of ten million inhabitants of Bengal and vicinity, but extermination of the population was neither the purpose or intent of those policies. Killing off the population almost certainly had a bad effect on the bottom line of the company as well as upon its reputation.

Of course the premeditated genocides of history are also plentiful, from the Athenian slaughter of the Melians to the Twentieth century genocides of Turkey, Germany, Rwanda, Serbia and so many others. Germany's genocide still seems peculiarly repellent, not only because of its extreme cold-bloodedness, but also because the victims or their survivors were especially eloquent.

Of course your mileage may vary, depending on your point of view.


After a somewhat slow start, the Arctic melting season has picked up a lot of steam. Few Arctic watchers expect this year's melt to match or exceed 2012's extraordinary record (ice Area more than 2.5 x 10^6 km^2 below the 1979-2008 average), but it looks like the relative rebounds of 2013 and 2014 (both well over 10^6 million km^2 below the average, and both below anything seen before 2006) might be over.

Prediction in the Arctic is a highly inexact art, but there are six or more weeks left in the melt season.

Bad Vibrations

Paul Krugman explores the evolutionary psychology of tattoos, Italian Academic incompetence, and Heritage foundation economics.

Henry Farrell — who recently said some very interesting things about Very Serious People — writes me about my musings on hipster style, and refers me to a review of a book on codes of the underworld. The book notes that tattoos and such play a role as signals of criminal identity, which work precisely because they make it hard to participate in non-criminal society. But there’s more: criminals actively cultivate a reputation for incompetence at non-criminal business, designed to reassure both their colleagues and the victims of their extortion that they won’t break their implicit contracts by going legit. And the author, Diego Gambetta, adds a wonderful parallel: according to his account, Italian academics, who do a lot of horse-trading in appointments etc., cultivate a reputation for incompetence at actual research, again designed to reassure those with whom one deals:

“Being incompetent and displaying it,” he writes, “conveys the message I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else.

Haters Gonna Hate Hate Hate...

I was glancing at the work of a blogger I had once respected - not you, Lumo, I always knew you were as nuts as you are brilliant - and saw that it was frothing with racist and cultural hatred. It started me thinking about what makes a seemingly intelligent and reasonable person go off the rails. There are lots of reasons, I suppose - recent terrorist incidents point to a mix of mental illness and fanatical ideology.

One potent source of the latter is the cultural disruption caused by cultural globalization. The long history of civilization is strewn with the wreckage of cultures - most of them now lost to history - digested and absorbed by conquest or assimilation. The economic globalization which has transformed the world in the last few decades has a cultural counterpart as the internet, television, and video instantly transmits fashion and attitude to every part of the world.

There is a common thread that connects the nut jobs of the American religious right with the Mosque bombers of Nigeria and all their more or less outraged counterparts around the world. All see their culture under attack by the potent digestive juices of the global cultural annihilator.

The encroaching other is a natural target for every sort of disappointment and a convenient scapegoat for every catastrophe. It's interesting to me that women's rights has been a key focus of anger almost everywhere. Women have been a disadvantaged and often disenfranchised group in much or most of the world throughout much of history, and changing that has been profoundly disruptive. Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini was first provoked to speak out publicly when the proposal was made for women to be allowed to vote in the Iranian parliament.

Cultures usually fiercely resist digestion. Sometimes the rage that provokes takes its most destructive form in the immigrant who transported himself into an alien environment purely in search of economic opportunity. The stress of growing older in a culture that can't be accepted, especially if combined with other failures, can trigger descent into fanaticism, and, sometimes, terrorism.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chasing Utopia

Maddy Crowell has a long article on Auroville, India in Salon. It's called Trouble in Utopia, but I think my title is more accurate. A punchline:

When I arrived back in Pondicherry, I began talking with a bar owner there about Auroville. Originally from Delhi, he told me he’d spent some time in Auroville, mostly, he admitted, because he was chasing a girl.

I asked him what he thought of Auroville.

“That place,” he waved his hand at the ground. “They’re all looking to be cured. The ones who are cured, they leave. The rest, they’re stuck.”

“Cured of what?” I asked.

“That,” he responded, “is the question.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

It's So Sad

Just today, Taylor Swift was telling me that we used to have Mad Love, but now all we've got is Bad Blood. I should have appreciated her more during the good times.