Of Monsters and Men
The Sociopath's Apprentices, Elon Determined to Ruin Twitter
Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.
Kurtz's final words in Heart of Darkness are, "The horror! The horror!" He was referring to the horror of what humans can do to each other when the society's gutter guards are removed. Maybe he repeated it twice because such horrors are humanity's most redundant storyline. Narcissistic sociopaths like the fictional Kurtz and the all too real Putin can't do it alone. They need an army of followers whose wanton violence begets increasingly wanton violence, as its perpetrators slide down evil's slippery slope at the pace of the Geneva Convention smashing bombs they drop on hospitals. That's the ugliness we see from above. But when the view moves down to street level, we see the horrors up close; the looting, the torture, the executions, the mass rape, the grown men in tanks taking on unarmed grandmothers and grandchildren in the streets. This is war, or whatever we call what Putin has unleashed on Ukraine. Like Assad and his father before him, in Syria Putin learned you can mass murder with no recourse. He saw the "red line" was a myth. So now it’s happening somewhere else. Biden says Putin should face war crimes trial for Bucha killings. The West is calling for more sanctions. But the dead must wonder why full sanctions weren’t there from the start. Or how a monster like Putin was allowed, like his sociopathy, to publicly flourish for so many years.
Of course, we get that part now, don't we? We have our own monsters and our own "functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions." We're starting with the small stuff like trying to overturn elections, dividing the public, banning books, taking away rights, squelching expertise, targeting the most vulnerable. Sure, it's not murder or war or invasions here. But it wasn't those things in Ukraine a few weeks ago either. Now, the Ukraine invasion is an ongoing war crime. And those don't just stop. Like smaller crimes, they need to be stopped by those who bear witness. Primo Levi wrote, "I am constantly amazed by man's inhumanity to man." In the end, one must be equally amazed at our ability to see that inhumanity and do nothing.
+ AP: "Bodies with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay scattered in a city on the outskirts of Kyiv after Russian soldiers withdrew from the area. Ukrainian authorities accused the departing forces on Sunday of committing war crimes and leaving behind a 'scene from a horror movie.'" Ukraine accuses Russia of massacre, city strewn with bodies.
+ "Children held at knife point; an old woman forced to drink alcohol as her occupiers watched and laughed; whispers of rape and forced disappearances; and an old man found toothless, beaten in a ditch and defecated on." NYT: ‘This Is True Barbarity’: Life and Death Under Russian Occupation.
+ "You are someone who has stolen a company in Russia. You are only rich because you're friends with Vladimir Putin. But look. Look what you've got. Look where you are. This is London's core industry. This is what we do. Transforming thugs into aristocrats 24 hours a day." A 60 Minutes segment worth your time: Britain under pressure to crack down on corrupt russian money that's infiltrated its economy. (Just be clear that there are plenty of oligarch-owned properties in NYC and Miami, too.)
+ And here's a very interesting interview with Andrei Soldatov, a guy who understands Russia's security services as well as any journalist. The Bear Breaks Down: Andrei Soldatov on Russia’s Self-Destruction.
2. What Elon Strange Grip It's Been
"The ultimate aim of Musk's 73.5 million share purchase worth $2.9 billion, based on the closing price Friday, is not clear. Yet in recent weeks Musk, who has 80 million Twitter followers and posts there often, has questioned free speech on Twitter and whether the platform is undermining democracy." Elon Musk just became Twitter's largest shareholder. The second I saw this news, I became an ex-shareholder of Twitter. The problem with a society dependent on the kindness of billionaires is that some of them are complete a-holes. Musk, who is ferociously wrongheaded when it comes to free speech and sees himself as the victim of a system in which he is thriving more than just about any other human, just went full oligarch on Twitter. This is worrisome.
3. Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Variants
"The compromise would reprogram billions in unused money from other coronavirus bills to deliver funding for therapeutics, testing and vaccine distribution. However, it does not include global pandemic aid sought by Democrats and a handful of Republicans, the people said, which could become a sticking point when the package comes before the House." (Anyone have any idea where all those Covid variants are coming from?)
+ Now that a second booster has been approved for those over 50, should you get one? I had one scheduled today, but then decided to delay it for about a month or so to optimize for a potential Fall surge. Does that make sense? I really don't know. Maybe no one does. How Long Do Boosters Last? Here’s The Deal On Whether You Need Another One.
+ Can one have too many boosters? We might want to pose that question to the 60-year-old man allegedly who had himself vaccinated against COVID-19 dozens of times in Germany in order to sell forged vaccination cards.
4. Children of the Warn
"It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world." UN warns Earth "firmly on track toward an unlivable world." (OK, guys. I'm pretty sure this is gonna be the warning that finally gets leaders to act.)
+ "As we hurtle toward an ever-hotter future, GQ spotlights eight places whose very identities depend on a simple calculation: If we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, these places could be saved. In a 2-degree scenario, they would be irredeemably lost." The Razor's Edge of A Warming World. It's gonna be a close shave.
+ The trouble with climate change is that it can harm efforts to reduce climate change. Example: "The droughts that swept across the western US in 2021 sparked wildfires and damaged crops. But the historic lack of water also had an impact on one of California’s key sources of renewable energy: hydropower." In California, the phrase, "I need a drink," is taking on a whole new meaning.
5. Extra, Extra
Texas Two Step "First, last October, J&J spun off a subsidiary in Texas called LTL. Then, using a wrinkle in Texas state law, J&J was able to transfer all of the potential liability linked to the tsunami of baby powder asbestos claims into the shell of the new company, while keeping valuable assets separate. LTL then quickly filed for bankruptcy in North Carolina. That move immediately halted the baby powder cases, which could remain on hold for months or years." Rich companies are using a quiet tactic to block lawsuits: bankruptcy.
+ Status Roe: "For many Americans, Roe already feels meaningless. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties lack a clinic that offers abortions." Jessica Bruder in The Atlantic: A Covert Network of Activists Is Preparing for the End of Roe.
+ Sonic Boom: Silk Sonic, Jon Batiste, and Olivia Rodrigo tallied up wins at the slapless Grammy awards, which is basically a 30 minute concert stretched over 3.5 hours. Here are the winners. Here are ten takeaways. Justin Bieber's oversized clothes seemed intended to motivate a slap of some sort. At the very least, someone in the front row should have channeled Will Smith and yelled, "You keep my tailor’s name out yo f--kin’ mouth!"
+ I Think I Conn: Coming into Sunday's game, UConn's women's basketball team was 11-0 in national championships. Now they're 11-1. South Carolina Blows Out UConn to Win NCAA Women’s National Title.
+ Known Ranger: "For years, Soskin was the oldest active ranger in the park service, leading public programs at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. That chapter of her rich life has finally come to a close: She retired on Thursday." The oldest park ranger, who told the stories of Black women in WWII, retires at 100.
6. Bottom of the News
Wow. This SNL monologue by Jerrod Carmichael was one of the most confident and most excellent I've seen. Perfect timing, great segues and flow.