28 December 2023

Peace on Earth

And here we are with the traditional Christmas links:
• Mark Evanier's wonderful Mel Tormé story, and here's the man himself in duet with Judy Garland.
Joshua Held's Christmas card, with a little help from Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters. (And I've been charmed to see that most new covers of the song are using this arrangement, so thanks for that, Joshua!)
• Brian Brink's tour-de-force performance of "The Carol of the Bells"
• "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."
• Ron Tiner's one-page cartoon version of A Christmas Carol

"Jury Finds That Google Is a Monopolist [...] A jury in Northern California, after deliberating for just a few hours, found Google guilty of anti-competitive practices in the app market for Android phones. The suit was not brought by the FTC, but by Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite. Epic argued that Google forced app developers to use its Play Store for distribution, leveraging this power to charge fees on in-app purchases of up to 30 percent. When Epic tried to encourage users to pay them directly for their games instead, Google and Apple kicked them out of their respective app stores. A separate case against Apple resulted in a mostly negative verdict for Epic, but it's still on appeal. It says something that this jury (which maybe wasn't composed of New York magazine readers) rather quickly agreed that Google was exercising monopoly power, when the judges in the Apple case tied themselves in knots denying it."

The American Economic Liberties Project has a nice rundown of more good news on that front in "Morgan's Monopoly Digest – December 2023".

"Colorado Supreme Court bars Donald Trump from the state's ballot in 2024, ruling he's disqualified by Jan. 6 actions: Legal challenge, which alleges Trump engaged in insurrection, is likely headed to U.S. Supreme Court. [...] 'We conclude that because President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three (of the 14th Amendment), it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary to list President Trump as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot,' the court's majority opinion says. 'Therefore, the Secretary may not list President Trump's name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.'"

The Lever's "You Love To See It" list for the week links to some hopeful stories: "Good things are happening! Southwest gets fined for its 2022 holiday meltdown, and the EPA could institute a ban on the chemical that burned in the East Palestine derailment disaster. What's more, the Biden administration will stop most commercial logging in old-growth forests, and federal regulators demand that Starbucks reopen stores it closed after workers started organizing."

Atrios sees something funny about "Cop Budgets: A whole range of people - from centrist "good government" types to libertarians to "fiscal conservatives - are just completely silent on absurd cop budgets. Even if one buys into the "law and order nonsense, spending this kind of money on cop overtime to catch a few fare evaders is not a good use of tax money!" He quotes from an article that says, "NYPD overtime pay for extra officers in the subway went from $4 million in 2022 to $155 million this year, according to city records obtained by Gothamist." And he continues, "Almost all they did was arrest and ticket fare evaders. For some reason arresting people for skipping a subway fare makes sense to people while no one would consider doing so for the identical crime of not feeding a parking meter."

"Microsoft, Musk, and the Question of Unions: Suddenly, a leading American corporation appears to be OK with the idea of collective bargaining. Hint: It's not Tesla. Last week, Microsoft announced that it wouldn't oppose efforts by any of its roughly 100,000 employees to form or join a union. In other parts of the world, there'd be nothing earthshaking about such an announcement; it's actually common practice in Europe and elsewhere. In these United States, however, it makes Microsoft 'a unicorn' among its peers, as one union official put it. The last major American corporation to pledge it would let its employees decide whether to unionize free from corporate opposition was—well, I can't think of one, though I've been on this beat for roughly 45 years." Musk, on the other hand, is keeping to form.

"US, Venezuela swap prisoners: Maduro ally for 10 Americans, plus fugitive contractor 'Fat Leonard'" — or, as Anya Parampil put it, "The US swapped Alex Saab—a Venezuelan diplomat whom US authorities quite literally kidnapped in June 2020—for two ex Green Berets who participated in a failed plot to kill Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro."

"Tesla blamed drivers for failures of parts it long knew were defective: Wheels falling off cars at speed. Suspensions collapsing on brand-new vehicles. Axles breaking under acceleration. Tens of thousands of customers told Tesla about a host of part failures on low-mileage cars. The automaker sought to blame drivers for vehicle 'abuse,' but Tesla documents show it had tracked the chronic 'flaws' and 'failures' for years."

I really didn't expect this from him, or from any Senator from Connecticut, but, "Sen. Chris Murphy: 'This Party Has Not Made a Firm Break From Neoliberalism': Connecticut's junior senator launches a new interview series focused on monopoly power, part of his quest to understand American unhappiness. [...] To Murphy, the issue of corporate concentration runs deeper than just consumer pricing and equitable growth. It strikes at the core of why Americans feel powerless about the fate of the country. People have a palpable, though not always articulable, sense that the most crucial decisions governing their daily lives are now being made far away from their communities in corporate boardrooms, rather than by elected officials in the halls of government or by extension themselves. Many of the country's morbid symptoms, in Murphy's estimations, trace back to this friction between the public and their corporate overlords."

RIP: "Tom Smothers of sibling comedy duo the Smothers Brothers dies at age 86: Tom Smothers, half of the comedy group the Smothers Brothers, has died at the age of 86. Smothers was described as 'not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life', but as 'a one-of-a-kind creative partner', according to a statement by his brother Dick Smothers on Wednesday shared by the National Comedy Center. Dick also shared that Tom, who died after a battle with cancer, was at home with his family when he died." We knew they were going to get kicked off the air because they criticized the war, and they were our heroes. Tommy Smothers played guitar on "Give Peace A Chance" and he said, "It's hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war."

RIP: "André Braugher Dies: Star Of Homicide: Life On The Street, Brooklyn Nine-Nine & Other Series And Films Was 61 [...] While Braugher peppered his résumé with comedies, many will remember him for his ferocious portrayal of Detective Frank Pembleton in the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street. Put him in 'the box,' sweating out and outsmarting crime suspects in the interrogation room, and you were looking at a weekly dose of tour de force acting, as good as it got on television during that time. He won an Emmy for that show he starred in from 1992-98. His wife, Ami Brabson, recurred as Pembleton's wife on Homicide." He was a magnificent actor who brought intensity to the screen, and also could be downright hilarious.

RIP: Dale Spender, 80: "Dale Spender, who has died aged 80 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the author of the internationally acclaimed Man Made Language (1980), in which she argued that language is highly gendered and both reflects and perpetuates a male worldview. The book was an instant classic and is considered by scholars and feminists to be highly relevant today. As well as an accomplished author, Spender was a feminist activist, researcher, broadcaster and teacher in her native Australia and during a period of some 15 years in London. She edited more than 30 books and was involved in founding a number of publishing imprints, series and journals – most notably, in 1983, Pandora Press, a feminist imprint of Routledge, where she was editor-at-large."

"In a Major Snub to Obama, Biden Is Sticking With Trump When It Comes to Cuba Policy: One of Obama's most significant foreign policy achievements was his move toward normalizing relations with Cuba. Trump and Biden have torn that up." This was one of the few things Obama did that I actually approved of, and it broke my heart when Trump undid it, but you really can't justify this administration failing to get back to the Obama policy.

"Anti-Palestinian racism is inherent to Zionism and you're not allowed to talk about it [...] In his article, Charles Blow seems perplexed that anti-Zionists will not give a straight yes or no answer to the question, 'Does Israel have a right to exist?' The problem with the question is the subtext— what is it actually asking? Is it asking if you support a state that places the rights of Jews over the rights of Palestinians? Is it asking whether Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state by way of ethnic cleansing? If you can only have a Jewish state by expelling Palestinians, and you endorse that notion either openly or tacitly, then that is clearly racism, yet you are not supposed to say it. So the question here seems to be asked in bad faith."

Cory Doctorow reviews "Nathan J. Robinson's Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments: In "Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments," Current Affairs founder Nathan J. Robinson addresses himself in a serious, thoughtful way to the arguments advanced by right-wing figures, even when those arguments aren't themselves very serious"

If you're looking for a Substack you should probably subscribe to, Sy Hersh has one where he's still writing about what's going on around Israel, and also had a few things to say about Kissinger.

Lisa Tuttle rounds up "The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup: The Reformatory by Tananarive Due; The Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow; Him by Geoff Ryman; Audition by Pip Adam"

I missed this last year but it's nice to go back and enjoy "Rating Jonathan Turley's Wildest, Thirstiest, Most Embarrassing Bids For Attention In 2022." I can vaguely remember when he just seemed like a normal guy.

I can't believe I didn't know about this ad before: "Leonard Nimoy vs. Zachary Quinto - The Challenge"

"It's a Wonderful Life: How a festive classic helps a Glasgow cinema thrive: It is a much loved festive film - and for one cinema It's a Wonderful Life is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. The 1946 classic, which stars James Stewart as a put-upon everyman considering suicide one snowy Christmas Eve, is such a fixture at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) that it has been the venue's biggest earner for 12 of the last 15 years. Much like Stewart's character George Bailey, the impact of the film has far-reaching consequences, as it raises funds that support the GFT's remit to spotlight independent and alternative cinema."

Someone sent me this link for "a new Swedish Christmas carol."

Maybe I can replace my now lost ancient midi of "Carol of the Bells" with Jamie Dupuis's version on harp guitar.

John Lennon, "So This Is Christmas, War Is Over"

11 December 2023

I'm convinced that I'd wind up burning, too

It's that time of year again, so let's start things off with Daveed Diggs and "Puppy for Hanukkah"! And, of course, "Carol of the Bells" (which was not originally written for Christmas, or even for winter, but now it means December to me). The ancient midi I've been posting for years at Advent finally succumbed to linkrot, so we'll just dive right into to the smashing Brian Brink version.

Remember back when MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue's show (their highest-rated show!) because they didn't like him opposing the invasion of Iraq? Well, right on time, they've canceled Mehdi Hasan: "No high-profile journalist has been more assertive about Palestinian rights than Mehdi Hasan, and MNSBC punished him on Thursday by taking away the TV shows he hosted on the network and on NBC's streaming service. Does this mean that standing up for Palestinians is a death sentence in the mainstream media – even at MSNBC? Hasan is also hands-down the best interviewer in American news right now. He confronts and enlightens. He should be on TV every night."

"Netanyahu's Goal for Gaza: 'Thin' Population 'to a Minimum': The White House requested billions to support refugee resettlement from Ukraine and Gaza in October. [...] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tasked his top adviser, Ron Dermer, the minister of strategic affairs, with designing plans to 'thin' the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip 'to a minimum,' according to a bombshell new report in an Israeli newspaper founded by the late Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The outlet, Israel Hayom, is considered to be something of an official organ for Netanyahu. It reported that the plan has two main elements: The first would use the pressure of the war and humanitarian crisis to persuade Egypt to allow refugees to flow to other Arab countries, and the second would open up sea routes so that Israel 'allows a mass escape to European and African countries.' Dermer, who is originally from Miami, is a Netanyahu confidante and was previously Israeli ambassador to the United States, and enjoys close relations with many members of Congress. [...] Israel Today and other Israeli media are also reporting on a plan being pushed with Congress that would condition aid to Arab nations on their willingness to accept Palestinian refugees. The plan even proposes specific numbers of refugees for each country: Egypt would take one million Palestinians, half a million would go to Turkey, and a quarter million each would go to Yemen and Iraq. The reporting relies heavily on the passive voice, declining to say who put the proposal together: 'The proposal was shown to key figures in the House and Senate from both parties. Longtime lawmaker, Rep. Joe Wilson, has even expressed open support for it while others who were privy to the details of the text have so far kept a low profile, saying that publicly coming out in favor of the program could derail it.' [...] Back on October 20, in a little-noticed message to Congress, the White House asked for $3.495 billion that would be used for refugees from both Ukraine and Gaza, referencing 'potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighboring countries.' 'This crisis could well result in displacement across border and higher regional humanitarian needs, and funding may be used to meet evolving programming requirements outside of Gaza,' the letter from the White House Office of Management and Budget reads. The letter came two days after Jordan and Egypt warned they would not open their borders to a mass exodus of Palestinians, arguing that past history shows they would never be able to return."

RIP: "Norman Lear, celebrated US TV writer and producer, dies aged 101 [...] Lear entered the zeitgeist in the 70s, with the production of television sitcoms such as All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons and Good Times."

RIP: "Denny Laine, co-founder of The Moody Blues and member of Wings, of lung disease at 79. He won my heart with his rendition of "Go Now".

ROT IN PERDIITION: I can't pick which headline I like better,
• "Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America's Ruling Class, Finally Dies: The infamy of Nixon's foreign-policy architect sits, eternally, beside that of history's worst mass murderers. A deeper shame attaches to the country that celebrates him," from Spencer Ackerman in Rolling Stone, or
• "Henry Kissinger, America's Most Notorious War Criminal, Dies At 100: The titan of American foreign policy was complicit in millions of deaths — and never showed remorse for his decisions," at HuffPo. Within an hour or so of the announcement of Kissinger's death, the entire front page of HuffPo was...accurate.

And, I don't know how well the Palestinians would have liked the idea, but once upon a time, "On Top of Everything Else, Henry Kissinger Prevented Peace in the Middle East: Let's not forget that Kissinger's crimes included the deaths of thousands of Arabs and Israelis." Not so much because he loved Israel but because he couldn't stand any idea that involved cooperating with the USSR.

It's about time: "Clarence Thomas' Benefactors Finally Face the Music [...] This is not an abstract project: No fewer than four cases the court is to decide in this term alone could dramatically advance this agenda, including a case that would allow the justices to rewrite regulations that affect our air, water, labor practices, consumer finance, and a host of other questions. Known as the Chevron doctrine, the legal principle at issue in one of these cases has been the subject of years of criticism orchestrated by Leo and Crow. And Justice Thomas, who defended the doctrine in a 2005 opinion, has since become its primary critic on the court following years of unofficial and undisclosed gifts by these benefactors. He also failed (again) to disclose his participation in exclusive fundraisers and gatherings where the reversal of the Chevron doctrine was often a topic of discussion. For any official to accept undisclosed gifts of the magnitude reported this year would warrant a Senate investigation. The fact that these gifts came from people engaged in a covert effort to shape the court, its power, and its opinions makes an investigation into how these gifts may have influenced the justices all the more urgent. [...] For any official to accept undisclosed gifts of the magnitude reported this year would warrant a Senate investigation. The fact that these gifts came from people engaged in a covert effort to shape the court, its power, and its opinions makes an investigation into how these gifts may have influenced the justices all the more urgent." Seriously, Leonard Leo and his gang deserve to be in jail for bribery, and Thomas and Roberts for accepting bribes.

I watched this 18:35 interview with Ted Cruz and wanted to slap him so hard. I mean, sure, you have to know anyone who utters the phrase "cultural Marxism" with a straight face is a nitwit, but the more he talks, the more you wonder just how wrong it's possible for someone to be. (And no, Ted, "Never again" isn't just about Jews, it's about everyone.)

Doctorow: "'If buying isn't owning, piracy isn't stealing' [...] 20 years ago, Chris Anderson told me that it was unrealistic to expect tech companies to refuse demands for DRM from the entertainment companies whose media they hoped to play. My argument – then and now – was that any tech company that sells you a gadget that can have its features revoked is defrauding you. You're paying for x, y and z – and if they are contractually required to remove x and y on demand, they are selling you something that you can't rely on, without making that clear to you. But it's worse than that. When a tech company designs a device for remote, irreversible, nonconsensual downgrades, they invite both external and internal parties to demand those downgrades. Like Pavel Chekov says, a phaser on the bridge in Act I is going to go off by Act III. Selling a product that can be remotely, irreversibly, nonconsensually downgraded inevitably results in the worst person at the product-planning meeting proposing to do so. The fact that there are no penalties for doing so makes it impossible for the better people in that meeting to win the ensuing argument, leading to the moral injury of seeing a product you care about reduced to a pile of shit."

Greedflation Watch: "Republican Senate candidate's family egg company caught in price-fixing plot: Several food giants claimed that Rose Acre Farms – which John Rust chaired until recently – unlawfully fixed the prices of eggs" Something might actually be done about that one since the complaint came from the industry.

"Federal Agencies Can Disable Employer Debt TRAPs : Advocacy groups offer a road map for how agencies can use existing authority to ban contracts that force workers to pay employers if they leave their job. Nearly two dozen advocacy groups are urging the Biden administration to ban the spreading practice of 'stay-or-pay' contracts, which force workers to compensate employers, sometimes for tens of thousands of dollars, if they leave their job before a set time period. The New York Times Magazine recently reported on these provisions, an innovation of the private equity industry that can require workers to pay 'liquidated damages' for on-the-job training or use of equipment, or unspecified damages resulting from the cost of recruiting a replacement, or even 'lost profits' from a worker's departure. Seven detailed memos sent to federal agencies and the White House over the past two months and released this week argue that these provisions operate as 'de facto non-compete agreements' that lock workers into jobs and prevent them from speaking out about wages or working conditions. The contracts, the memos assert, violate numerous federal statutes that both protect workers from exploitation and more broadly protect health and safety. Therefore, federal agencies can use existing authorities to eliminate them from the workplace."

"Here's What Ethical AI Really Means" is about a lot more than AI, because AI is just all the existing systems and biases and existing effects sucked in and spat out.

"These magnificent purple and green lights aren't auroras. This is Steve."

"Sleeping polar bear and illuminated jellyfish in running for Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize"

"Charges Dismissed Against Wyoming Ranchers For Bleaching Penises Onto Cows: A Crook County, Wyoming, judge has dismissed property destruction charges against a pair of ranchers accused of bleaching penis shapes and other markings on their neighbor's cows."

Paul Williams, "The Hell Of It"