Bookmarked Was US failure in Afghanistan inevitable? (ABC Radio National)

The chaos of the American’s leaving and the associated logistical and humanitarian catastrophe that is now unfolding at Kabul airport, have produced two seemingly incommensurable conclusions:

  1. This proves that despite twenty years of “nation building”, international support, military training, and the expenditure of around US$2.3 trillion, the Afghan government was never going to be able to survive on its own. If the departure of US soldiers and diplomats was inevitably going to precipitate the collapse of the Afghan government, why stay?
  2. This proves that a tolerably small US presence in Afghanistan was enough to provide political and social stability (to say nothing of protection for women, girls, and vulnerable minorities), keep the Taliban “at bay”, and permit the Afghan government to find its feet. If the departure of US soldiers and diplomats was going to precipitate the collapse of the Afghan government, why not stay — at least for a little longer?

The fact that both conclusions can claim a degree of truth, and yet seem mutually exclusive, points to a deeper contradiction at the heart of the involvement of the United States and its allies in the affairs of the non-Western world.

If there is one thing that I learnt from the conversation between Stephen Wertheim, Scott Stephens and Waleed Aly and the Taliban’s retaking of Afghanistan it is that nothing is ever as simple as we might desire. Werheim sums up the situation with three problems:

The United States still faces two major problems in Afghanistan. The first is how to rescue vulnerable Afghans who wish to leave their country and settle in the United States or elsewhere. The second is how to drive a wedge between Afghanistan’s new government and al-Qaeda so as to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States. These are significant challenges, but they do not diminish the decision to withdraw.

For Americans, a third challenge may prove most important of all: coming to terms with defeat instead of indulging the fantasy that somehow, in some way, an unwinnable war could have been won.

As a Vietnamese refugee, Viet Thanh Nguyen makes the connection with the fall of Saigon in 1975, while Robin Wright wonders if it will serve as a ‘bookend for the era of U.S. global power’, an end of an era?

The fall of Kabul may serve as a bookend for the era of U.S. global power. In the nineteen-forties, the United States launched the Great Rescue to help liberate Western Europe from the powerful Nazi war machine. It then used its vast land, sea, and air power to defeat the formidable Japanese empire in East Asia. Eighty years later, the U.S. is engaged in what historians may someday call a Great Retreat from a ragtag militia that has no air power or significant armor and artillery, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

I cannot be helped but be reminded of the Old Italian Man speaking with Nately in Catch-22:

The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. “Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so.”

Nately squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, forever is a long time, I guess.”

Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit: How Donald Trump Wanted the End of History (Literary Hub)

A Hundred Days Into the New Era, Looking Back on the Old

Rebecca Solnit looks back on Donald Trump’s legacy and reflects on his effort to ‘end history’. I remember trying to make sense of Trump’s election win, thinking that it might be bad, but I never considered it would be this absurd. What I like about Solnit’s piece is that she is not naive enough to think that she can explain what happened simply. In some attempt to make sense of it all, Solnit instead turns to poetics:

The years felt like a constant barrage of insults to fact, truth, science, of attacks on laws, on rights, on targeted populations

Whether or not you were buying what he was selling, he was winning by making noise and getting away with it.

It was like living in the aftermath of an earthquake, when the aftershocks can come at any time, or in a place where explosions happen unpredictably, or with an unstable abuser, and in fact it was living with an unstable abuser, who was on one hand not in the house with us and on the other hand was our president and the most powerful person on earth.

In the first months of the Trump presidency, I saw a journalist joking on Twitter, “I went out to lunch. WHAT HAPPENED?” because the sheer unpredictability meant you might miss something dramatic if you took your eyes off the drama for even the length of a lunchtime.

[W]e were Sisyphus, forever pushing boulders of coherence up a slippery hill, and the supply of boulders seemed inexhaustible, and they had a tendency to roll down again.

We were forever discovering and forgetting and rediscovering this story, as though a kind of amnesia had seized us, and that was another way that time itself seemed disordered. It was as though we were living in a version of Groundhog Day in which, unlike the plot of that movie, we would never get the story right enough for it to escape the cycle.

It felt as if the United States was a woman who had filed for divorce from her abuser, and here he came in all his furious confusion, convinced he could terrorize her into patching things up.

Listened Hope is a discipline by Miriame Kaba in conversation with Brian Sonenstein and Kim Wilson from towardfreedom.org

In Episode 19 of Beyond Prisons, hosts Brian Sonenstein and Kim Wilson catch up with activist, writer, and educator Mariame Kaba.

Mariame shares her experiences advocating on behalf of Bresha Meadows, a teenage girl who killed her abusive father and was detained while facing the possibility of trial as an adult and a lifetime of incarceration. She recount’s Bresha’s story and explains how activists worked to make sure the family’s needs were met and help them navigate the collateral consequences of detention, including an enormous financial burden and the shame and stigma that makes people internalize their struggle.

The conversation continues with Mariame’s view of abolition as a collective project that embraces people who sense there is a problem with American institutions and are interested in figuring out what to do about it. She explains what she means when she says hope is a discipline, not an emotion or sense of optimism, and how this informs her organizing. Self care is examined as a community project. Finally, Mariame shares what books are on her shelf and what she’s reading right now.

In this interview, Mariame Kaba talks about the prison industrial complex and the requirement to have ‘hope as a discipline’ to maintain the effort for the long haul:

I don’t also take a short-time view, I take a long view, understanding full well that I’m just a tiny, little part of a story that already has a huge antecedent and has something that is going to come after that, that I’m definitely not going to be even close to around for seeing the end of. So, that also puts me in the right frame of mind, that my little friggin’ thing I’m doing, is actually pretty insignificant in world history, but [if] it’s significant to one or two people, I feel good about that.

Continuing the conversation around hope, Kaba suggests that the care starts from where you are.

You don’t have to go anywhere to care for yourself.

” wiobyrne” in YOLO – Digitally Literate ()

Liked How Thomas Mann Turned against the German Right (daily.jstor.org)

A new edition of Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man and other writings offers an excellent opportunity to explore Thomas Mann’s political transformation. In a new introduction, Mark Lilla argues that Reflections advocated for the freedom of the artist outside of politics. But as the experience of the Weimar Republic showed, that can be hard to do. Thomas Mann, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929, had his books burned by the Nazis. There was a clear choice to be made.

Bookmarked Blokes Will Be Blokes (Meanjin)

The suggestion seems to be that at some level, Grimshaw—and all Australian women—should apologise for their experiences because it puts them at an advantage. How, these men might ask, are they meant to know this has been happening if they are not themselves subject to repeated acts of assault from the time they are children? Very unfair.

This is the evolution of ‘boys will be boys’. Society broadly excuses aggressive behaviour by young men as though it is biological impulse. Cisnormative gender stereotypes reinforce the notion that boys are only hitting girls because they like them. The same little boys who whack a girl with a toy truck become the young men who cat-call women on trams become the parliamentarians who smirk in the face of sexual assault allegations.

How dare women expect better from men? When were they supposed to learn how to treat us, between being on the rugby firsts and drinking middle-shelf whisky with their uni mates? It’s not their fault. They didn’t have time before now. This is the absolute first opportunity they have had in their whole lives to try to learn the absurd language women are speaking. It’s not their fault no-one has ever taught them otherwise. They’re just blokes doing bloke stuff!

Anna Spargo-Ryan discusses the current crisis unfolding in Federal politics. Some of the issues include Queensland MP Andrew Laming online harrassment,
Attorney-General Christian Porter’s historical rape allegation and
Brittany Higgins’ rape in Parliament House. In response, Scott Morrison has provided a swath of mixed messages, on the one hand recognising the place of women in his life and the fear and inequity lived out every day, while also suggesting that sometimes “blokes don’t get it right all the time” and that maybe women protesting need to be grateful that they are not “met with bullets” like other places in the world. Spargo-Ryan suggests that in the end, Morrison’s actions have been akin to “bringing home a bunch of flowers because you worked late again.” Ryan elaborates further, raising particular problems with parliament house being a “training group to learn about women”.

In neglecting to protect the women in his workplace, Morrison acts as though he has forgotten to take out the bins or pick up the kids from sport. The Prime Ministership cannot be a training ground to learn about women. Federal Government is not a postgraduate program for private school boys who never learned to take care of themselves. The men defending these allegations cannot be allowed to hold up their hands and say, ‘It’s my first day!’

Annabel Crabb explains how this current situation represents a change in power:

In this instance, there is opportunity for women to seek justice, to speak out, to demand restitution in this new environment which suddenly gives a damn about what’s happened to them. But there’s opportunity for strategically-minded blokes, too. For some, the emergence of a cool new way to bring down their enemies is exciting, a brand-new update to the first-person shooter game called Political Ratf**kery.

While on The Minefield podcast, Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens explore the difficulties of justice and change. Aly even wonders if Morrison’s failure to adequately respond to the situation is actually what is needed to achieve the change required?

Liked The GameStop Mess Shows That the Internet Is Rigged Too by Zeynep Tufekci (theatlantic.com)

The social contract is broken, and that’s why the game feels rigged. Right now, especially in countries like the United States, many of the largest, most profitable companies play the legal-tax-evasion game to the point that they are sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. (Apple alone has cash reserves that hover around $200 billion. Similarly, both Microsoft and Alphabet/Google have more than $100 billion in their cash pile.) These stockpiles are humongous and the companies are not productively investing them—by building something, or by paying people—so the money all goes back into the stock market. When there is such concentrated wealth, many assets—from stocks to Picasso paintings—appreciate. Such disproportionate investment in speculative or nonproductive assets, coupled with the lack of investment in things that make society work better for more people, like education and health care, further break the social contract.

Bookmarked Cory Doctorow: Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor (Locus Online)

To engage in data-collection in the wake of 2013 isn’t just an oversight, it’s an act of collaboration with the forces of surveillance. In 2020, Google has admitted that it is being required to respond to “reverse search warrants” that reveal the identities of every person who was present at a certain loca­tion at a certain time; and “search-term warrants” to reveal the identities of every person who used a specific search-term. These warrants are utterly foreseeable. Google collects this data, so governments will require them to turn it over – and not just the US government, either.

As with Apple, the best way for Google to avoid being ordered to turn over data on its users is to not collect or retain that data in the first place. And, as with Apple, the next best thing is to give users the power to turn off that data-collection and data-retention altogether, something Google’s gotten marginally better at in the past year.

Reflecting on Apple’s move to restrict which operating systems are able to run, Cory Doctorow discusses what Bruce Schneier has called ‘feudal security’. This is where we hand over power and trust to platform capitalism to keep us say.

The security researcher (and Hugo Award-nominee) Bruce Schneier has a name for this arrangement: he calls it feudal security. Here in the 21st century, we are beset by all manner of digital bandits, from identity thieves, to stalkers, to corporate and government spies, to harassers. There is no way for us to defend ourselves: even skilled technologists who administer their own networked services are no match for the bandits. To keep bandits out, you have to be perfect and perfectly vigilant, and never make a single mistake. For the bandits to get you, they need merely find a single mistake that you’ve made.

To be safe, then, you have to ally yourself with a warlord. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and a few others have built massive fortresses bristling with defenses, whose parapets are stalked by the most ferocious cybermerce­naries money can buy, and they will defend you from every attacker – except for their employers. If the warlord turns on you, you’re defenseless.

Going further, Doctorow ponders if in fact it is ‘manorial security’:

Schneier calls this “Feudal Security,” but as the medievalist Stephen Morillo wrote to me, the correct term for this is probably “Manorial Security” – while feudalism was based on land-grants to aristocrats who promised armed soldiers in return, manorialism referred to a system in which an elite owned all the property and the rest of the world had to work on that property on terms that the local lord set.

The problem is that we are then at the whims of somebody else’s choices or, in the case of Cambridge Analytica, abuses. In response, Doctorow posits that rather than a turn towards survellance, companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have an opportunity for a Ulysses Pact where in a position of strength these platforms decide to step away from shady data practices.

In his own commentary, Alan Jacobs suggests that this is why the open web is so important.

So let me bang this antique drum one more time: You need to own as much of your turf as you can. I explain why and how, in detail, in this essay. Avoid the walled gardens of social media, because at any moment they could appeal to digital eminent domain and move the walls somewhere else, and if they did you’d have zero recourse.

Liked Everything Is Different Now by Tom Junod (theatlantic.com)

The unsayable thing—the taboo thing—to say about 9/11 is that, while it might have provided an occasion for Americans to rediscover their patriotism, it was in the moment exactly what it felt like: a defeat. It is the same with January 6, 2021. This was the defeat of a police force, the defeat of a presumption, the defeat of naive faith in the native goodness of our fellow Americans—a defeat made all the more bitter for being an inside job.

Replied to Shocked, but not surprised by wiobyrne (digitallyliterate.net)

The mob that rampaged the halls of Congress included infamous white supremacists and conspiracy theorists.

Thousands invaded the highest centers of power, and the first thing they did was take selfies and videos. They were making content as spoils to take back to the digital empires where they dwell.

Members of the mob also used a site called Dlive to livestream while they rampaged.

A coup with no plot, no end to achieve, no plan but to pose.

Ian, I have been been thinking about the Gram piece and wondering if sharing events is in fact fuelling things, even more so from abroad.

I was left thinking of something Chris Gilliard ironically tweeted:

Liked “A Second Rabadash” — C.S. Lewis and Dangerous Leaders by Matt MikalatosMatt Mikalatos (tor.com)

here’s my hope for myself and all of us:

May we, like Susan, have the wisdom to recognize if we’ve been deceived by a leader who appears wonderful in one context but has “another face” when he gains power.

May we, like Edmund, remember our own failings and be generous with our enemies, and hopeful that true change is still a possibility even for a traitorous fool.

May we, like Lucy, see clearly into the hearts of our leaders.

May we, like King Lune, be kind-hearted and compassionate with our enemies.

May we, like the people of Calormen and Archenland and Narnia, find peace in the years to come.

In the meantime, friends, let us each be faithful in the things we are called to, despite what our leaders may do. Vote, speak up, and do what’s right. Aslan’s on the move—let’s keep our eyes open for him.

Bookmarked The Pro-Trump Mob Was Doing It For The Gram by Elamin Abdelmahmoud (BuzzFeed News)

As a coup, the actions of the mob were a failure. In the wee hours of the morning, Joe Biden was once again declared the winner of the 2020 election. They didn’t stop shit. But as fodder for content, Jan. 6 was a resounding success.

Elamin Abdelmahmoud argues that the coup was simply about capturing attention.

You can see this most clearly in this photo, where the man in the god-knows-what costume, Jake Angeli, the so-called QAnon Shaman, is posing on the dais of the Senate, his friends carefully framing him to get the perfect shot. It is the Trump supporter equivalent of an Instagram influencer getting a photo beside a perfect mural.

Mike Caulfield takes this further, wondering if this is more than just confirmation bias, but rather a case of brand building?

can we really say the motivation is as simple as “confirmation bias”? Or would we be better off thinking of these dynamics around issues of personal brand-building, its incentives and disincentives?

Replied to

Bookmarked #IStandWithDan vs #DictatorDan: how fringe accounts gamed Twitter during Melbourne’s lockdown by James Purtill (ABC News)

New research shows the #IStandWithDan and #DictatorDan warring Twitter hashtags were pushed by a small number of orchestrated and hyper-partisan accounts.

James Purtill reports on the influence of social media in regards to the messaging around Melbourne’s lockdown.

New research shows they were driven by a small number of fringe, hyper-partisan accounts — many of them anonymous “sockpuppet” accounts created specifically to support either side, but posting as an independent third party.

Although it is not clear if there was a central organisation behind the campaigns, but the ‘Dictator Dan’ message did align with the News Corp papers and Sky News.

On a side note, I think the War on 2020 team captured the absurdity of the ‘dictator’ movement in their skit:

Liked This was the year Australia restored trust in its politics – and that really is a miracle (theguardian.com)

When there are shared facts and values, and when governments are seen to be broadly competent and connected to the needs of citizenry, politicians lay the foundations of trust, because citizens are bound together rather than occupying detached alternative realities.

Rather than minimising the importance of moments of clarity like this – rather than pretending that government is about synchronising calendars – Morrison should make nurturing these conditions a project of his prime ministership.

Because the lesson of 2020 is democracies are in a larger fight than the transient scrabbles of partisan conflict that define our election cycles.

The crisis of 2020 will pick the world up and set it down in a different place, just as the global financial crisis did before it.

Liked Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway (Literary Hub)

If half of us believe the earth is flat, we do not make peace by settling on it being halfway between round and flat. Those of us who know it’s round will not recruit them through compromise. We all know that you do better bringing people out of delusion by being kind and inviting than by mocking them, but that’s inviting them to come over, which is not the same thing as heading in their direction.

This month, my feeds have been full of Trump. Here is a selection:

Although this is a significant decision for everybody in the world, I wonder if a part of the post-election actions have been as much about Trump’s effort to garner attention. I am reminded here of Doug Belshaw’s post from a few years ago, Curate or be Curated and the challenge that we face in regards to managing our feeds and thinking about who or what is filling our mental space.

After listening to a recent episode on corruption in politics on The Minefield podcast.

During this conversation Waleed Aly, Scott Stevens and Bruce Buchan discuss the current situation at home and abroad, I am left thinking whether people have simply become jaded by such discussions and how this all plays out.

Listened The Minefield from abc.net.au

In a world marked by wicked social problems, The Minefield helps you negotiate the ethical dilemmas, contradictory claims and unacknowledged complicities of modern life.

Started listening to Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens’ podcast on ‘wicked’ problems. I am always taken by Waleed Aly’s perspective on the world. I feel that the length of this medium allows more nuance than something like The Project.
Replied to This ‘BBQ Beer Freedom’ Meme Is Sending Us Right Now by Matt Moen (PAPER)

Experimental electronic artist, Holly Herndon, put an autotuned spin on the unhinged rant that has the internet in stitches.

I really enjoyed this remix:

Along with the Daft Punk version of Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV, this election has produced some creative responses.

Liked Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency has never made me laugh by Virginia Trioli (ABC News)

We are witnessing one of the most important battles of our times: not just the electoral one, but the battle between the power and importance of our institutions and of facts, and the self-interested misrepresentation of the truth.

The skirmishes are without precedent. Television networks actually took down and cut the feed of a US President as he gave a speech of countless untruths. Twitter now routinely deletes his tweets. Social media platforms suspend the accounts of his high-profile surrogates.

This is a moment of reckoning, the first time that a civil society has genuinely asserted itself over the jungle of social media and the ecosystem in which Trump has thrived and that he has so effectively used.