Posted: April 28, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Anthony Fauci, climate change and viruses, coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, fasciism, nuclear weapons, Ron DeSantis, Victor Orban, Vladimir Putin, White House Correspondents' Dinner
Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson
For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.
I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.
Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.
The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.
The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.
“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.
Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.
Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over?
Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet
His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.
These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.
The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:
Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.
The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.
More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.
Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.
The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter
Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.
Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”
In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.
“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”
What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?
The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.
Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.
Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.
“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.
To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.
As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.
Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947
To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.
Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.
The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.
In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.
About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.
“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]
It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.
Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin
This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.
Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….
DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.
There’s much more at the Vox link.
Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.
Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.
Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.
In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.
Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky
If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”
The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.
One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.
Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.
Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.
On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.
On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”
That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.
Posted: March 8, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: anti-lynching bill, coronavirus pandemic, invasive species, Joro spider, Morgan Stanley, Russia, Russian default, SCOTUS, Ukraine, voting rights
The war in Ukraine continues to be the top story in the news, but there are plenty of other things happening, so I hope you’ll forgive me if also I highlight non-Ukraine stories today.
The New York Times: As Russia’s Military Stumbles, Its Adversaries Take Note.
CONSTANTA, Romania — When it comes to war, generals say that “mass matters.”
But nearly two weeks into President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — Europe’s largest land war since 1945 — the image of a Russian military as one that other countries should fear, let alone emulate, has been shattered.
Ukraine’s military, which is dwarfed by the Russian force in most ways, has somehow managed to stymie its opponent. Ukrainian soldiers have killed more than 3,000 Russian troops, according to conservative estimates by American officials.
Ukraine has shot down military transport planes carrying Russian paratroopers, downed helicopters and blown holes in Russia’s convoys using American anti-tank missiles and armed drones supplied by Turkey, these officials said, citing confidential U.S. intelligence assessments.
The Russian soldiers have been plagued by poor morale as well as fuel and food shortages. Some troops have crossed the border with MREs (meals ready to eat) that expired in 2002, U.S. and other Western officials said, and others have surrendered and sabotaged their own vehicles to avoid fighting.
To be sure, most military experts say that Russia will eventually subdue Ukraine’s army. Russia’s military, at 900,000 active duty troops and two million reservists, is eight times the size of Ukraine’s. Russia has advanced fighter planes, a formidable navy and marines capable of multiple amphibious landings, as they proved early in the invasion when they launched from the Black Sea and headed toward the city of Mariupol.
And the Western governments that have spoken openly about Russia’s military failings are eager to spread the word to help damage Russian morale and bolster the Ukrainians.
But with each day that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky holds out, the scenes of a frustrated Russia pounding, but not managing to finish off, a smaller opponent dominate screens around the world.
The result: Militaries in Europe that once feared Russia say they are not as intimidated by Russian ground forces as they were in the past.
Read all about it at the NYT.
Bloomberg: Morgan Stanley Says Russia’s Set for Venezuela-Style Default.
The odds of Russia making its foreign debt payments are diminishing as bond prices fall, recession in the nation looms and various payment restrictions pile up after the invasion of Ukraine, according to Morgan Stanley & Co.
“We see a default as the most likely scenario,” Simon Waever, the firm’s global head of emerging-market sovereign credit strategy, wrote in a Monday note. “In case of default, it is unlikely to be like a normal one, with Venezuela instead perhaps the most relevant comparison.”
The default may come as soon as April 15, which will mark the end of a 30-day grace period on coupon payments the Russian government owes on dollar bonds due in 2023 and 2043, he said.
Indicative pricing show investors value the 2023 bonds at around 29 cents on the U.S. dollar, the lowest ever, according to data collected by Bloomberg, though there appears to have been no trades at that level. In the days before Russia invaded Ukraine last month, the debt was trading above par.
While it is rare for sovereign debt to tumble to the single digits, Morgan Stanley said Russia’s bonds “could get close.” Lebanon and Venezuela are the only recent examples of a country’s debt slipping so low…..
JPMorgan Chase & Co. said on Monday it will remove Russian bonds from all of its widely-tracked indexes, further isolating the nation’s assets from global investors. Venezuela’s dollar bonds were also removed from the bank’s benchmark indexes in 2019 after sanctions curbed trading.
More stories to check out, links only
The Guardian: Focus on Kyiv deadlock obscures Russia’s success in south Ukraine.
Isabelle Khurshudyan at The Washington Post: I always dreamed of visiting my ancestral home of Odessa. But not like this.
AP: People flee embattled Ukraine city, supplies head to another.
NPR: What the war in Syria tells us about Russia’s use of humanitarian corridors.
Bloomberg: U.S. and U.K. Poised for Ban on Imports of Russian Oil Today.
The Guardian: Ukraine-Russia crisis: ‘I left my husband behind at the border. My heart is broken’
The Guardian: Where in Europe are Ukraine’s refugees going?
US News and Analysis
The Atlantic’s Ed Yong reminds us that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic: How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal?
The united states reported more deaths from COVID-19 last Friday than deaths from Hurricane Katrina, more on any two recent weekdays than deaths during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more last month than deaths from flu in a bad season, and more in two years than deaths from HIV during the four decades of the AIDS epidemic. At least 953,000 Americans have died from COVID, and the true toll is likely even higher because many deaths went uncounted. COVID is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after only heart disease and cancer, which are both catchall terms for many distinct diseases. The sheer scale of the tragedy strains the moral imagination. On May 24, 2020, as the United States passed 100,000 recorded deaths, The New York Times filled its front page with the names of the dead, describing their loss as “incalculable.” Now the nation hurtles toward a milestone of 1 million. What is 10 times incalculable?
Many countries have been pummeled by the coronavirus, but few have fared as poorly as the U.S. Its death rate surpassed that of any other large, wealthy nation—especially during the recent Omicron surge. The Biden administration placed all its bets on a vaccine-focused strategy, rather than the multilayered protections that many experts called for, even as America lagged behind other wealthy countries in vaccinating (and boosting) its citizens—especially elderly people, who are most vulnerable to the virus. In a study of 29 high-income countries, the U.S. experienced the largest decline in life expectancy in 2020 and, unlike much of Europe, did not bounce back in 2021. It was also the only country whose lowered life span was driven mainly by deaths among people under 60. Dying from COVID robbed each American of, on average, nine years of life at the lowest end of estimates and 17 at the highest. As a whole, U.S. life expectancy fell by two years—the largest such decline in almost a century. Neither World War II nor any of the flu pandemics that followed it dented American longevity so badly.
Every American who died of COVID left an average of nine close relatives bereaved. Roughly 9 million people—3 percent of the population—now have a permanent hole in their world that was once filled by a parent, child, sibling, spouse, or grandparent. An estimated 149,000 children have lost a parent or caregiver. Many people were denied the familiar rituals of mourning—bedside goodbyes, in-person funerals. Others are grieving raw and recent losses, their grief trampled amid the stampede toward normal. “I’ve known multiple people who didn’t get to bury their parents or be with their families, and now are expected to go back to the grind of work,” says Steven Thrasher, a journalist and the author of The Viral Underclass, which looks at the interplay between inequalities and infectious diseases. “We’re not giving people the space individually or societally to mourn this huge thing that’s happened.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
The Washington Post: Senate unanimously passes anti-lynching bill after century of failure.
The Senate on Monday unanimously passed legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime, in a historic first that comes after more than a century of failed efforts to pass such a measure.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which was introduced by Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) in the House and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the Senate, now goes to President Biden for his signature.
It is named for the 14-year-old Black boy whose brutal torture and murder in Mississippi in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement.
Booker said in a tweet Monday night that he was “overjoyed” by the legislation’s passage.
“The time is past due to reckon with this dark chapter in our history and I’m proud of the bipartisan support to pass this important piece of legislation,” he said.
In a statement, Rush called lynching “a long-standing and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy.”
“Perpetrators of lynching got away with murder time and time again — in most cases, they were never even brought to trial. … Today, we correct this historic and abhorrent injustice,” he said.
The legislation would amend the U.S. Code to designate lynching a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. More than 4,000 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, in all but a handful of states. Ninety-nine percent of perpetrators escaped state or local punishment, according to Rush’s office.
Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Supreme Court Just Came Perilously Close to Blowing Up Federal Elections.
The Supreme Court will not overturn a century of pro-democracy precedent and two centuries of historical practice to give state legislatures unlimited power over elections—yet.
That’s the upshot of the court’s orders on Monday in two huge redistricting cases out of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The court refused to block new congressional maps drawn by the high court of each state, declining—for now—to embrace a radical theory rejecting state courts’ authority over election law. In the process, however, four justices did endorse this theory, and three attempted to blow up North Carolina’s upcoming election in a dissent with terrifying implications for democracy. The court stepped back from the abyss, but the ensuing reprieve may not last for long.
Both of Monday’s orders involve this year’s redrawing of congressional maps. In Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled legislature drew a GOP gerrymander, which the Democratic governor vetoed. Because of this impasse, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in to draw new, fairer districts. In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature drew a GOP gerrymander, which the Democratic governor could not veto under state law. Voters challenged the map under the state constitution, and in February, the state Supreme Court struck it down. The legislature drew a new map, which a trial court rejected and replaced with its own, fairer version.
Republicans appealed both court-draw maps to SCOTUS. They claimed that these plans violated the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause, which says that the “manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed” by the “legislature.” For at least a century, SCOTUS has read this language to give other organs of state government a say in election law. But conservative scholars have devised a theory known as the “independent state legislature doctrine” that would give legislatures complete control over elections, including voting rules and redistricting. Under this theory, state constitutional provisions governing elections would be null and void, and state courts would have no power to intervene in election disputes. The legislature alone would set the rules—and, in extreme versions of the theory, even dictate the outcome of an election.
The Supreme Court has never endorsed this doctrine, and has explicitly rejected it as recently as 2015. There is a good reason why: It contradicts the original meaning of the elections clause as well as historical practice reaching back to the early days of the republic. A mountain of evidence proves that framers never intended to give states lone authority over federal elections, and instead expected state constitutions to impose substantive limits on election law. Exhaustive research demonstrates that—aside from a few opportunistic arguments raised by congressional partisans in the 19th century—state legislatures, state courts, federal courts, and Congress have all rejected the doctrine for more than two centuries.
And yet, for nearly two decades, the conservative legal movement, working alongside Republican politicians, has pushed relentlessly to enshrine this theory into law.
Scientific American: Millions of Palm-Sized, Flying Spiders Could Invade the East Coast.
New research, published Feb. 17 in the journal Physiological Entomology, suggests that the palm-sized Joro spider, which swarmed North Georgia by the millions last September, has a special resilience to the cold.
This has led scientists to suggest that the 3-inch (7.6 centimeters) bright-yellow-striped spiders — whose hatchlings disperse by fashioning web parachutes to fly as far as 100 miles (161 kilometers) — could soon dominate the Eastern Seaboard.
“People should try to learn to live with them,” lead author Andy Davis, a research scientist at the University of Georgia, said in a statement. “If they‘re literally in your way, I can see taking a web down and moving them to the side, but they‘re just going to be back next year.”
Since the spider hitchhiked its way to the northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, inside a shipping container in 2014, its numbers and range have expanded steadily across Georgia, culminating in an astonishing population boom last year that saw millions of the arachnids drape porches, power lines, mailboxes and vegetable patches across more than 25 state counties with webs as thick as 10 feet (3 meters) deep, Live Science previously reported.
Common to China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, the Joro spider is part of a group of spiders known as “orb weavers” because of their highly symmetrical, circular webs. The spider gets its name from Jorōgumo, a Japanese spirit, or Yōkai, that is said to disguise itself as a beautiful woman to prey upon gullible men.
True to its mythical reputation, the Joro spider is stunning to look at, with a large, round, jet-black body cut across with bright yellow stripes, and flecked on its underside with intense red markings. But despite its threatening appearance and its fearsome standing in folklore, the Joro spider‘s bite is rarely strong enough to break through the skin, and its venom poses no threat to humans, dogs or cats unless they are allergic.
Well, that’s a relief. Read more at Scientific American.
That’s a sampling of today’s news. Have a nice Tuesday, Sky Dancers!
Posted: January 1, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: Bernard Kerik, Betty White, caturday, conflicts of interest, coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, Golden Girls, Happy New Year 2022, January 6 insurrection, Joe Biden, John Roberts, Major General Paul Eaton, Mary Tyler Moore Show, notable deaths 2021, SCOTUS, Ukraine, Unite the Right rally, Vladimir Putin
Well, 2021 is in the rearview mirror and 2022 lies ahead. Will this year be better than the last two? We can only hope. Every year, we look back at the notable people who have left us, and there were many of those last year. To cap a terrible year, the last living member of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls–Betty White–died yesterday.
The New York Times: Betty White, a Television Golden Girl From the Start, Is Dead at 99.
Betty White, who created two of the most memorable characters in sitcom history, the nymphomaniacal Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the sweet but dim Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” — and who capped her long career with a comeback that included a triumphant appearance as the host of “Saturday Night Live” at the age of 88 — died on Friday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99.
Her death, less than three weeks before her 100th birthday, was confirmed by Jeff Witjas, her longtime friend and agent.
Ms. White won five Primetime Emmys and one competitive Daytime Emmy — as well as a lifetime achievement Daytime Emmy in 2015 and a Los Angeles regional Emmy in 1952 — in a television career that spanned seven decades and that the 2014 edition of “Guinness World Records” certified as the longest ever for a female entertainer.
But her breakthrough came relatively late in life, with her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1973 to 1977, for which she won two of her Emmys.
As Sue Ann, the host of a household-hints show on the television station where Ms. Moore’s character worked, the bedimpled Ms. White was annoyingly positive and upbeat, but also manipulative and bawdy — the sexpot next door, who would have you believe she slept with entire Army brigades during World War II.
Once, when someone asked her how she was feeling, Sue Ann replied cheerfully: “I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I feel wonderful.”
She won another Emmy in 1986 for an entirely different kind of character: the naïve, scatterbrained Rose on “The Golden Girls,” which revolved around the lives of four older women sharing a house in Miami. Whereas Sue Ann knew everything there was to know about getting a man into bed, Rose got to the same place innocently, and by being just a wee bit off center.
Ms. White was the last surviving member of the show’s four stars. Estelle Getty died in 2008, Bea Arthur in 2009 and Rue McClanahan in 2010.
Read the rest at the NYT.
In 2021, we also lost Cloris Leachman (January 27, Gavin MacLeod (May 29), Ed Asner (August 29).
Read about more notable people who died in 2021 at The New York Times: Deaths in 2021: Headline Names Against the Backdrop of Pandemic.
In the news today, the pandemic rages on. CBS News: The world welcomes 2022 with muted celebrations as COVID-19 cases surge.
The world rang in 2022 with muted celebrations for another year, as the coronavirus pandemic — now fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant — continues to upset daily life across the globe. The new variant, which is now driving record case numbers in the U.S., forced many cities to tone down celebrations or cancel them altogether.
New York City’s Times Square still held an event, but it only allowed a small fraction of the typical crowd, and all attendees over the age of 5 who do not qualify for an exemption were required to be fully vaccinated and wear face masks. Cities such as Atlanta and San Francisco canceled typical celebrations.
In New Zealand, one of the first cities to kick off the new year, a light display replaced the traditional fireworks show. Australia proceeded with its seven-minute fireworks display over the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House, but limited access to downtown Sydney, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged Americans not to attend large gatherings on New Year’s Eve.
“What I would suggest people do not do, is to go to very large 50-to-60-person parties where people are blowing whistles and all that sort of thing, and celebrating, and you don’t know the vaccination status of the people in that environment,” Fauci said.
President Biden spoke to Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Thursday night. The Washington Post:
WILMINGTON, Del. — President Biden said Friday that he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a call that there would be “a heavy price to pay” if Russia invades Ukraine again.
Biden said he “made it clear” that any further military action by the Kremlin would result in “severe sanctions” but did not go as far as to say that Washington would respond to Russia’s continued military presence near the border with Ukraine.
“I’m not going to negotiate here in public,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., where he is spending New Year’s Eve. “But we made it clear he cannot, I’ll emphasize, cannot invade Ukraine.”
Following his call on Thursday with Putin, Biden plans to speak by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday amid growing alarm over Russia’s military buildup near its border with Ukraine.
Biden will “reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a White House official, previewing the call to reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House. Biden is also expected to review preparations with Zelensky for the upcoming diplomatic talks.
Senior U.S. and Russian officials will meet in Geneva on Jan. 9 and 10, before a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on Jan. 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Vienna on Jan. 13.
Biden told reporters Friday that ahead of those conferences, Putin “laid out some of his concerns about NATO and the United States and Europe, and we laid out ours. And we said we’d begin to negotiate some of those issues. But I made it clear that they only could work if, in fact, he de-escalated, not escalated, the situation there.”
Party Cat, by Cindy Thompson
Chief Justice John Roberts issued his laughable year-end report. The New York Times: Chief Justice Roberts Reflects on Conflicts, Harassment and Judicial Independence.
Amid a drop in public confidence in the Supreme Court and calls for increasing its membership, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. devoted his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary on Friday to a plea for judicial independence.
“The judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and coequal branch of government,” he wrote.
The report comes less than a month after a bipartisan commission appointed by President Biden finished its work studying changes to the federal judiciary. While that panel analyzed proposals like imposing 18-year term limits on justices and expanding, or “packing,” the court with additional justices, much of the chief justice’s report was focused on thwarting less contentious efforts by Congress to address financial conflicts and workplace misconduct in the judicial system. Both issues are the subject of proposed legislation that has drawn bipartisan support.
Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, a nonprofit group that has called for stricter ethics rules for the Supreme Court, said the chief justice faced an uphill battle.
“Chief Justice Roberts is taking a page from his old playbook: acknowledging institutional challenges in the judiciary but telling the public that only we judges can fix them,” Mr. Roth said. “Yet the problems of overlooked financial conflicts and sexual harassment are serious and endemic, and there’s no indication they’re going away. So Congress has every right to step in and, via legislation, hold the third branch to account, which I expect to happen in 2022.”
Chief Justice Roberts addressed at some length a recent series of articles in The Wall Street Journal that found that 131 federal judges had violated a federal law by hearing 685 lawsuits between 2010 and 2018 that involved companies in which they or their families owned shares of stock.
“Let me be crystal clear: The judiciary takes this matter seriously,” the chief justice wrote. “We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule. But I do want to put these lapses in context.”
Hahahahaha! I’ll take him seriously when he address the many conflicts of interest on the Supreme Court, beginning with Clarence Thomas and his wife.
We are approaching the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol insurrection. In the news today:
The latest Trump/Giuliani pal to release documents to the January 6 committee is Bernard Kerik. Politico: Bernard Kerik provides batch of documents to Jan. 6 select committee.
A key adviser to Donald Trump’s legal team in their post-election quest to unearth evidence of fraud has delivered a trove of documents to Jan. 6 investigators describing those efforts.
Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police commissioner and ally of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, also provided a “privilege log” describing materials he declined to provide to the committee.
Teatime Cats, A Celebration! by Isabelle Brent
Among the withheld documents is one titled “DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.” Kerik’s attorney Timothy Parlatore provided the privilege log to the panel, which said the file originated on Dec. 17, a day before Trump huddled in the Oval Office with advisers including former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, where they discussed the option of seizing election equipment in states whose results Trump was attempting to overturn.
Trump ultimately opted against that strategy, but his consideration of the option is one of the key questions the panel is probing as part of its broader investigation into attempts to overturn the election.
It’s unclear whether the letter is related to the same plan and if Trump knew of its existence. Kerik withheld it, describing it as privileged because of its classification as “attorney work product.”
Another document provided by Kerik to the panel included emails between Kerik and associates about paying for rooms at the Willard Hotel. Kerik had been subpoenaed by the panel on Nov. 8 as part of its investigation into the so-called war room at the Willard Hotel, where Trump allies met to strategize about preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory. The panel had originally sent a letter accompanying the subpoena that had incorrectly suggested Kerik was in the war room on Jan. 5, leading Kerik to demand an apology.
Read more at Politico.
More on Kerik from Raw Story: Trump’s Twitter and the Freedom Caucus were key to overturning the election: Bernie Kerik documents.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has obtained new documents showing how Donald Trump’s Twitter account and the far-right House Freedom Caucus could be used to help overturn the 2020 election.
“A key adviser to Donald Trump’s legal team in their post-election quest to unearth evidence of fraud has delivered a trove of documents to Jan. 6 investigators describing those efforts,” Politico reported Friday. “Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police commissioner and ally of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, also provided a “privilege log” describing materials he declined to provide to the committee.”
Kerik — who was pardoned by Trump 11 months before the insurrection — is not an attorney but has claimed his work under Giuliani was covered by attorney-client privilege. Giuliani has had his law license suspended in New York and Washington, D.C.
“Another 22-page document, titled “STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLAN – GIULIANI PRESIDENTIAL LEGAL DEFENSE TEAM,” describes a 10-day blitz aimed at Republican House and Senate members to pressure them to vote against certifying the 2020 election results,” Politico reported. “The document says its primary channels to disseminate messaging on these efforts included ‘presidential tweets’ as well as talk radio, conservative bloggers, social media influencers, Trump campaign volunteers and other media allies. A list of ‘key team members’ supporting the effort included ‘Freedom Caucus Members’ — a reference to the group of hardline House conservatives, some of whom backed Trump’s effort to overturn the election.”
Cats Birthday Party, by Andrew Osta
More January 6 news from Raw Story: ‘Unite the Right’ set the stage for Jan. 6 — and helped launch some of the biggest players in the Capitol riot.
Days after neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. murdered antiracist activist Heather Heyer in a horrific car-ramming attack in Charlottesville, Va., the Daily Caller, a website founded by Tucker Carlson, quietly removed articles by contributor Jason Kessler.
Kessler was the primary organizer of the Unite the Right rally, which saw neo-Nazis chant, “Jews will not replace us,” as they carried torches to the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017 and again the following day as they marched through Charlottesville.
More than four years later, the ideas that galvanized the Unite the Right rally are no longer considered too radioactive for mainstream conservative media. Carlson himself embraced the Great Replacement theory — responsible for fueling massacres in Pittsburgh; Christchurch, New Zealand; Poway, Calif.; and El Paso, Texas — on his Fox News show in April 2021. He accused Democrats of “trying to replace the current electorate” in the United States “with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.”
There are distinct differences in messaging between Unite the Right, in which white supremacists used Confederate symbols and neo-Nazi aesthetics to nakedly promote white nationalism, and the Jan. 6 insurrection, in which Trump supporters filtered similar aims through QAnon, paranoid anticommunism, and a perverted version of patriotism.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America — the nonprofit that won the civil lawsuit against the organizers of Unite the Right — is among those who see distinct similarities between the two events.
“The four years in between have shown us how much of this extremism has moved into the mainstream,” she said. “If you look at the tools and tactics, there are many, many parallels, from the use of social media to plan the violence to explicit discussion of the use of free speech instruments like flagpoles as weapons, to the immediate finger-pointing to ‘antifa, blaming them for the violence that far-right extremists were responsible for to even some of the ideology.
“While Charlottesville was explicitly white nationalist with holocaust imagery, and with KKK and Nazi paraphernalia like the tiki torches that are meant to evoke dark periods of our history, on January 6th when you think about ‘stopping the steal,’ it also speaks at its core to this same idea: There’s a plot to steal the country from largely white Christians,” Spitalnick continued. “That idea that Jews will not replace us is at the core of Unite the Right, but it’s also at the core of Jan. 6. We’ve seen how these ideas have been mainstreamed, from Tucker Carlson giving replacement theory a home on Fox News every night to Republican politicians talking about it.”
Read the rest at Raw Story.
Major General Paul Eaton issued a chilling warning in an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly: Retired general warns the U.S. military could lead a coup after the 2024 election. (Eaton co-authored an op-ed at The Washington Post with two other retired generals that warned the military to prepare for another insurrection in 2024). Some exerpts:
How could a coup play out in 2024?
The real question is does everybody understand who the duly elected president is? If that is not a clear-cut understanding, that can infect the rank and file or at any level in the U.S. military.
And we saw it when 124 retired generals and admirals signed a letter contesting the 2020 election. We’re concerned about that. And we’re interested in seeing mitigating measures applied to make sure that our military is better prepared for a contested election, should that happen in 2024.
How worried is he on a scale of 1 to 10?
I see it as low probability, high impact. I hesitate to put a number on it, but it’s an eventuality that we need to prepare for. In the military, we do a lot of war-gaming to ferret out what might happen. You may have heard of the Transition Integrity Project that occurred about six months before the last election. We played four scenarios. And what we did not play is a U.S. military compromised — not to the degree that the United States is compromised today, as far as 39% of the Republican Party refusing to accept President Biden as president — but a compromise nonetheless. So, we advocate that that particular scenario needs to be addressed in a future war game held well in advance of 2024….
What should the military do?
I had a conversation with somebody about my age, and we were talking about civics lessons, liberal arts education and the development of the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution. And I believe that bears a reteach to make sure that each and every 18-year-old American truly understands the Constitution of the United States, how we got there, how we developed it and what our forefathers wanted us to understand years down the road. That’s an important bit of education that I think that we need to readdress.
I believe that we need to war-game the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on Jan. 6 is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the U.S. and that is a position that we need to reinforce.
Sorry this post is so long and so late. I hope you all have a nice, relaxing weekend.
Posted: December 18, 2021 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: 2024 Elections, Ali Alexander, caturday, Civil War, coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, January 6 insurrection, Omicron variant, Rick Perry, U.S. Military
By Pat Matticchio
I’m beginning to accept that we are never going to return to “normal.” After 6 years of dealing with Trump and his domination of the Republican party, after 2 long years of Covid-19 and the loss of more than 800,000 lives, we now face the threat of losing our democracy as we deal with a new Covid variant that is already spreading rapidly and is likely to kill many more Americans. And I haven’t even touched on the dangers we face from climate change.
On the threats to U.S. democracy:
The Washington Post: Opinion: 3 retired generals: The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection, by Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba, and Steven M. Anderson
As we approach the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we — all of us former senior military officials — are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.
In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.
One of our military’s strengths is that it draws from our diverse population. It is a collection of individuals, all with different beliefs and backgrounds. But without constant maintenance, the potential for a military breakdown mirroring societal or political breakdown is very real.
Le Chat Van Gogh by Toni Goffe
The signs of potential turmoil in our armed forces are there. On Jan. 6, a disturbing number of veterans and active-duty members of the military took part in the attack on the Capitol. More than 1 in 10 of those charged in the attacks had a service record. A group of 124 retired military officials, under the name “Flag Officers 4 America,” released a letter echoing Donald Trump’s false attacks on the legitimacy of our elections.
Recently, and perhaps more worrying, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard, refused an order from President Biden mandating that all National Guard members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Mancino claimed that while the Oklahoma Guard is not federally mobilized, his commander in chief is the Republican governor of the state, not the president.
The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed.
Please go read the rest at the WaPo.
Molly Jong-Fast at The Atlantic: How Do You Get People to Care About Democracy? The preservation of Democracy shouldn’t be a partisan activity.
Every time the January 6 committee holds a hearing, it seems clearer and clearer that Donald Trump was trying to keep control over the government after losing reelection. The past week alone produced the “how to coup” PowerPoint, widely circulated in Trumpworld, and a slew of text messages, including this sorry we weren’t able to pull off a coup note from an unidentified lawmaker to Mark Meadows: “Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.” It’s pretty clear what Trump was up to: trying to reinstall himself as president and end American democracy as we know it.
Trump’s crew surely knew how bad the events of January 6 were even as they were unfolding. “The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home … he is destroying his legacy,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote to Mark Meadows in a text message read by Republican Representative Liz Cheney during the opening statements of the Jan 6 committee meeting on Monday night. A range of journalists sent similar messages. Actual reporter Jake Sherman—who had been stuck in the Capitol during the riot, and who released his texts with Meadows “out of transparency”—wrote, “Do something for us. We are under siege in the [Capitol].” Another “journalist” exchanging texts with Meadows at the time: Fox propagandist Sean Hannity, who wrote, “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
We are not alone, Greeting card by Alison Friend
It’s a long piece, but here’s the conclusion:
But how you safeguard democracy when only one party supports it is a riddle. How do Democrats permeate the Fox and Facebook anti-fact chamber, which paints Trump as the real victim of the insurrection he helped instigate?
I don’t know how you get Republicans to see past this election, to understand that losing democracy is about more than just a win for their guy. Some members of the mainstream media have been defensive, saying they aren’t covering the threat to democracy because lawmakers aren’t talking about it. But here’s the thing: It’s the media’s job to make people care, to highlight the stories that matter. We don’t look to elected officials to tell us what to write about. We journalists may be the bulwark that keeps America from resembling Hungary or Turkey in a few years. Keeping democracy shouldn’t be a partisan fight, but it is, and perhaps that’s the most damning thing of all.
Okay, then how do we get the most powerful newspaper–The New York Times–to care about democracy?
About that text to Meadows expressing sorrow that the coup failed? It appears to have come from Rick Perry’s phone. CNN: Exclusive: Jan 6 investigators believe Nov. 4 text pushing ‘strategy’ to undermine election came from Rick Perry.
Posted: December 16, 2021 Filed under: just because, morning reads | Tags: bell hooks, coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, feminism, January 6 investigation, Omicron variant
Yesterday we lost bell hooks (born Gloria Watkins), feminist theorist, poet, and activist.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read her work, but I was impressed by what I read about hooks this morning. Dakinikat was inspired by her, so perhaps she will share her thoughts today and/or tomorrow.
Lucy Knight at The Guardian: bell hooks, author and activist, dies aged 69.
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, has died aged 69.
Her niece Ebony Motley tweeted: “The family of @bellhooks is sad to announce the passing of our sister, aunt, great aunt and great great aunt.”
She also attached a statement, which said that “the family of Gloria Jean Watkins is deeply saddened at the passing of our beloved sister on December 15, 2021. The family honored her request to transition at home with family and friends by her side.”
The author, professor and activist was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952, and published more than 30 books in her lifetime, covering topics including race, feminism, capitalism and intersectionality.
She adopted her maternal great-grandmother’s name as a pen name, since she so admired her, but used lowercase letters to distinguish herself from her family member. hooks’ first major work, Ain’t I a Woman?, was published in 1981, and became widely recognised as an important feminist text. It was named one of the 20 most influential women’s books in the last 20 years by Publishers Weekly in 1992.
She went on to write Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center in 1984, All About Love: New Visions in 2000 and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity in 2004, continuing to draw on themes of feminism, race, love and gender.
Since 2004, she taught at Berea College in Kentucky, a liberal arts college that offers free tuition.
In 2016 hooks wrote in the Guardian that Beyoncé’s album Lemonade was “capitalist money-making at its best”, but criticised the notion of “freedom” depicted in the lyrics. “To truly be free,” wrote hooks, “we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal wellbeing and joy.”
“I want my work to be about healing,” she said in 2018 when she was inducted into the Kentucky Writers’ Hall of Fame. “I am a fortunate writer because every day of my life practically I get a letter, a phone call from someone who tells me how my work has transformed their life.”
From The Literary Hub:
hooks’s first published work of theory, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, was published when she was 29 but written when she was an undergraduate, launching a four-decade-long career of writing and teaching, with a focus on classroom accessibility. hooks’s extensive body of scholarship and poetry—that remains and will continue to remain relevant—was consistent in its generosity, emphasizing the importance of loving communities to challenging systemic inequalities. Hooks believed a “militant commitment to feminism” was not at all at odds with joy and humor; in fact, that love “is the necessary foundation enabling us to survive the wars, the hardships, the sickness, and the dying with our spirits intact.” As she told The New York Times in 2015,
“We cannot have a meaningful revolution without humor. Every time we see the left or any group trying to move forward politically in a radical way, when they’re humorless, they fail. Humor is essential to the integrative balance that we need to deal with diversity and difference and the building of community. For example, I love to be in conversation with Cornel West. We always go high and we go low, and we always bring the joyful humor in. The last talk he and I gave together, many people were upset because we were silly together. But I consider it a high holy calling that we can be humorous together. How many times do we see an African-American man and an African-American woman talking together, critiquing one another, and yet having delicious, humorous delight? It’s a miracle.”
hooks’s family said contributions and memorials can be made to the Christian County Literacy Council, which promotes reading for children, or the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville Christian County, where a biographical exhibit is on display.
From the New Yorker piece:
I came to her work in the mid-nineties, during a fertile era of Black cultural studies, when it felt like your typical alternative weekly or independent magazine was as rigorous as an academic monograph. For hooks, writing in the public sphere was just an application of her mind to a more immediate concern, whether her subject was Madonna, Spike Lee, or, in one memorably withering piece, Larry Clark’s “Kids.” She was writing at a time when the serious study of culture—mining for subtexts, sifting for clues—was still a scrappy undertaking. As an Asian American reader, I was enamored with how critics like hooks drew on their own backgrounds and friendships, not to flatten their lives into something relatably universal but to remind us how we all index a vast, often contradictory array of tastes and experiences. Her criticism suggested a pulsing, tireless brain trying to make sense of how a work of art made her feel. She modelled an intellect: following the distant echoes of white supremacy and Black resistance over time and pinpointing their legacies in the works of Quentin Tarantino or Forest Whitaker’s “Waiting to Exhale.”
Yet her work—books such as “Reel to Real” or “Art on My Mind,” which have survived decades of rereadings and underlinings—also modelled how to simply live and breathe in the world. She was zealous in her praise—especially when it came to Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust,” a film referenced countless times in her work—and she never lost grasp of how it feels to be awestruck while standing before a stirring work of art. She couldn’t deny the excitement as the lights dim and we prepare to surrender to the performance. But she made demands on the world. She believed criticism came from a place of love, a desire for things worthy of losing ourselves to….
This has been a particularly trying time for critics who came of age in the eighties and nineties, as giants like hooks, Greg Tate, and Dave Hickey have passed. hooks was a brilliant, tough critic—no doubt her death will inspire many revisitations of works like “Ain’t I a Woman,” “Black Looks,” or “Outlaw Culture.” Yet she was also a dazzling memoirist and poet. In 1982, she published a poem titled “in the matter of the egyptians” in Hambone, a journal she worked on with her then partner, Nathaniel Mackey. It reads:
I enjoyed reading this piece from 2019 by Min Jin Lee in The New York Times: In Praise of bell hooks.
In 1987, I was a sophomore at Yale. I’d been in the United States for 11 years, and although I was a history major, I wanted to read novels again. I signed up for “Introduction to African-American Literature,” which was taught by Gloria Watkins, an assistant professor in the English department, and she was such a wonderful teacher that I signed up for her other class, “Black Women and Their Fiction.”
Gloria — as we were allowed to address her in the classroom — had a slight figure with elegant wrists that peeked out of her tunic sweater sleeves. She was soft-spoken with a faint Southern accent, which I attributed to her birthplace, Hopkinsville, Ky. She was in her mid-30s then but looked much younger. Large, horn-rimmed glasses framed the open gaze of her genuinely curious mind. You knew her classes were special. The temperature in the room seemed to change in her presence because everything felt so intense and crackling like the way the air can feel heavy before a long-awaited rain. It wasn’t just school then. No, I think, we were falling in love with thinking and imagining again….
I was 19 when I took hooks’s classes, and I was just becoming a young feminist myself. I had begun my study of feminism with Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Virginia Woolf, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, among other white women, and perhaps, because I was foreign-born — rightly or wrongly — I had not expected that people like me would be included in their vision of feminist liberation. Women and men of Asian ethnicities are so often neglected, excluded and marginalized in the Western academy, so as a college student I’d no doubt internalized my alleged insignificance. bell hooks changed my limited perception.
Her book of theory taught me to ask for more from art, literature, media, politics and history — and for me, a Korean girl who had been born in a divided nation once led by kings, colonizers, then a succession of presidents who were more or less dictators, and for millenniums, that had enforced rigid class systems with slaves and serfs until the early 20th century, and where women of all classes were deeply oppressed and brutalized, I needed to see that the movement had a space for me.
What else is in the news? January 6 and the never ending pandemic.
January 6: Could it be that the investigation is really heating up?
David Rohde at The New Yorker: Is There a Smoking Gun in the January 6th Investigation?
William Saletan at Slate: The Chilling Lesson of Mark Meadows’ Text Messages.
The New York Times: Meadows and the Band of Loyalists: How They Fought to Keep Trump in Power.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/15/us/politics/trump-meadows-republicans-congress-jan-6.html
Kyle Cheney at Politico: The Jan. 6 puzzle piece that’s going largely ignored.
Kyle Cheney at Politico: Jan. 6 investigators mull whether Trump violated obstruction law.
CNN: Jim Jordan sent one of the texts revealed by January 6 committee.
The Washington Post: Role as Trump’s gatekeeper puts Meadows in legal jeopardy — and at odds with Trump.
Georgia Public Radio: Exclusive: More Georgia Secretary of State’s office officials interviewed by Jan. 6 committee.
The never ending pandemic
CNBC: Omicron symptoms could seem like a cold — but don’t underestimate this variant, experts warn.
AP via KTLA: U.S. faces a double coronavirus surge as omicron variant advances.
Ian Bogost at The Atlantic: I’m Starting to Give Up on Post-pandemic Life.
Yasmin Tayag at The Atlantic: Don’t Be Surprised When You Get Omicron.
Ed Yong at The Atlantic: America Is Not Ready for Omicron. The new variant poses a far graver threat at the collective level than the individual one—the kind of test that the U.S. has repeatedly failed.
Have courage and enjoy the present moment. There’s no telling what will happen next.