Reconstructing, repairing — recovering?

Do you remember reading about those Whitehouse officials whose job was to painstakingly tape back together all the fragments of paperwork Trump kept ripping up and throwing away? Well…

Piecing together the history of Stasi spyingThe New York Times
When pro-democracy protesters stormed the secret police precincts in 1989 and 1990, they found officers at work inside, shredding, pulping and tearing documents by hand. The Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, was trying desperately to destroy the surveillance records it had collected over four decades of spying on its own citizens. […]

In the 30 years since, so-called “puzzlers” have been working to reconstruct the torn documents by hand, laboriously sorting and matching fragments of paper by color and handwriting, before taping them back together and submitting them to the archives. … The historian Timothy Garton Ash described the process as an exercise in “extraordinary, but some would say a bit crazy, perfectionism.” Some 500 sacks have already been reconstructed, with 15,500 left to go. […]

Since 1992, the researchers have been offering former citizens of East Germany the opportunity to view their personal Stasi file, a complicated rite of passage that often reveals that family members, friends or neighbors had reported their activities to the Stasi. […]

Ms. Riemann, who wrote a book about the experience with her husband, the journalist Torsten Sasse, said that the knowledge gained from the files was worth the pain. “You could read something in these files that will disturb you forever,” she said, “but the question of course is: Could you live with a lie?”

Can’t get Adam Curtis out of my head

Heads up! A new documentary series from the BBC by the often parodied but never bettered Adam Curtis. Here’s the synopsis and creepy teaser trailer.

New six-film series from Adam CurtisBBC Media Centre
We are living through strange days. Across Britain, Europe and America societies have become split and polarised not just in politics but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and the ever growing corruption – and a widespread distrust of the elites. And into this has come the pandemic that has brutally dramatised those divisions. But despite the chaos there is a paralysis – a sense that no one knows how to escape from this. This new series of films by Adam Curtis tell the story of how we got to this place. And why both those in power – and we – find it so difficult to move on.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head review – Adam Curtis’s ‘emotional history’ is dazzlingThe Guardian
Carefully curated and obliquely but impeccably soundtracked archive footage is attended by a narrative that stops every few minutes to probe further an idea, a moment, a movement or perhaps a figure who habitually flies slightly under the radar of History-with-a-capital-H. Curtis swiftly anatomises the effects of said thing or person, before returning to the main thrust – the warp across which these many many wefts are skilfully woven – so we end up with a full, rich tapestry.

The reverse Marxism of Adam Curtis’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ArtReview
Adam Curtis, the poet of the Wikipedia binge: skimming over the surface of the superstructure, sparking sudden, otherwise hidden connections into perfect, blinding clarity. Sculpting the detritus of every news cycle he’s ever been subjected to, the whole of his adult life, into a sprawling rhizomatic narrative, endlessly exploding everywhere, of how and why It’s All Gone Wrong. […]

The narrative that Curtis presents spans the whole of the globe – although it is especially focused on America, the UK, China, and Russia. Its structure often feels like that of an epic postmodern novel: to tell his story, Curtis picks out certain strange, conflicted (anti-)heroes – individuals whose successes, failures, contradictions and ambiguities mirror the more general, global forces they exist within. Among the most prominent of these, whose stories run over several episodes, are Michael de Freitas, aka Michael X – slum landlord, gangster, radical black rights activist, and murderer; Jiang Qing – wife of Chairman Mao, architect of the Cultural Revolution, and fiercely ambitious radical individualist; and Eduard Limonov – trendy Soviet émigré novelist, punkish enemy of global financial capitalism, and fascist. Along the way, Curtis introduces us to a whole host of other histories and individuals – taking in everything from the rise of conspiratorialism, the collapse of the coal mining industry, the life story of Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni, the West German student movement, the Voynich Manuscript, and trans rights.

The poet of the Wikipedia binge, indeed.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head (TV series)Wikipedia
Like many of Curtis’s previous documentaries, it explores and links together various topics such as individualism, collectivism, conspiracy theories, national myths, American imperialism, the history of China, artificial intelligence, and the failure of technology to liberate society in the way that technological utopians once hoped it might.

Adam Curtis knows why we all keep falling for conspiracy theoriesWIRED UK
“There’s a way of thinking that the internet has pushed in people’s minds,” Curtis says. “If you notice how people now think and behave, and you could also argue, how people like me make films, it’s through a great collage of patterns of images and stories, which is very much like the way what machine learning works. You’re not looking for meaning for logical meaning any longer. You’re looking for patterns, connections, which is how conspiracy theories work.” […]

While researching the film, Curtis interviewed conspiracy theorists in Birmingham, people who believed in “one of the great dream worlds of our time,” the idea that the CIA, Walt Disney and the Illuminati brainwash and control all the major stars. He soon learned that, when pressed, these people didn’t really believe the story. They just loved its epic magical dimensions – an alternative to this “dull, desiccated, grim, utilitarian world.”

Adam Curtis interviewed by Simon Mayo and Mark KermodeYouTube
Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode talk to director Adam Curtis about his new series of documentary films, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World.

As well as being on BBC iPlayer, this new series is also on YouTube, together with many of his other films, if you want to jump further down this rabbit hole.

Good riddance

So long, and thanks for all the insults.

The complete list of Trump’s Twitter insults (2015-2021)The New York Times
As a political figure, Donald J. Trump used Twitter to praise, to cajole, to entertain, to lobby, to establish his version of events — and, perhaps most notably, to amplify his scorn. This list documents the verbal attacks Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from when he declared his candidacy in June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter permanently barred him.

Let’s see how the new guy’s account gets used.

How Biden becomes @POTUS: A Twitter transition breakdownHollywood Reporter
The multi-step process will begin with the archiving of official tweets sent during the Trump administration.

When Joe Biden takes the White House, he’ll also take @WhiteHouseThe New York Times
The tweets on each current account will be archived under different names. The Trump administration’s tweets under @POTUS, for example, will be transferred to @POTUS45.

Biden Twitter account ‘starts from zero’ with no Trump followersBBC News
Donald Trump inherited the Potus account’s 13 million or so followers when it moved to him from Mr Obama – but that will not happen this time.

Update – 24/01/2021

Here’s an angle on this I hadn’t considered before.

‘I am not sad. I am really not sad’: Trump’s Twitter reply-guys reckon with a post-Trump eraOneZero
Many of Trump’s early reply-guys eventually burned out or changed tactics; others have long since been booted from Twitter themselves. But dozens of otherwise ordinary anti-Trumpers, like Guterman, still draw hundreds of thousands of followers to their online tilts, and they’re facing an unclear future without their archnemesis. “I guess I’ll go read a book,” tweeted Jeff Tiedrich, perhaps the king of the reply-guys and the publisher of a leftist politics blog, in the hours after Trump’s suspension.

“It’s a new era for Twitter now,” Guterman said. “I don’t think there’s any need anymore for me to do this.”

Reminders that art and politics often go hand in hand

Art shippers face ‘teething problems’ transporting works to Europe after BrexitThe Art Newspaper
Some air freight crates are being broken open by customs officials in EU, but UK lockdown is posing greater problems, members of the trade say.

US Capitol’s works of art survive amid right-wing rampage in WashingtonThe Art Newspaper
The authorities say that cleaning and conservation will be needed, however, after art was damaged by tear gas, pepper spray and fire extinguishers.

The Nazi art dealer who supplied Hermann Göring and operated in a shadowy art underworld after the warThe Art Newspaper
A new book by Jonathan Petropoulos explores Bruno Lohse’s devotion to Hitler’s number two.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

So, farewell then, Erasmus

My first post on this site about Brexit was in February 2016. I had found some articles from a university perspective, on why we should stay in the EU. Here we are, almost five years later, on the other side of all that, and the consequences for HE of our leaving are starting to show.

Britain mourns a cherished education exchange program ended by BrexitThe New York Times
Once able to study and work anywhere in the European Union without a visa, young Britons will now be treated like people from any other country outside the bloc when it comes to applying for educational programs — or jobs. The withdrawal is also a blow for Britain’s vaunted universities, a powerful symbol of its soft power in Europe and around the world, and an important source of income for the country.

But don’t worry though, the government has a cunning plan.

New Turing scheme to support thousands of students to study and work abroadGOV.UK
The programme will provide similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad as the Erasmus+ programme but it will include countries across the world and aims to deliver greater value for money to taxpayers. The UK will reap the rewards from the investment, by boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers, and supporting Global Britain’s ties with international partners.

Is that to be our brand name now, ‘Global Britain’? 🙄

And the Brexit trade agreement itself doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence, does it?

Brexit deal mentions Netscape browser and Mozilla MailBBC News
Experts believe officials must have copied and pasted chunks of text from old legislation into the document. The references are on page 921 of the trade deal, in a section on encryption technology. It also recommends using systems that are now vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The text cites “modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x.” The latter two are now defunct – the last major release of Netscape Communicator was in 1997.

Some monumental women

A recently unveiled memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft, the “mother of feminism,” has raised many an eyebrow, though I think people are coming round now.

Mary Wollstonecraft statue: a provocative tribute for a radical womanThe Conversation
Ultimately, statues don’t represent people, they represent ideas. Ideas of how we choose to see the world. Hambling’s more abstract and representative form perhaps tries to do too much: to celebrate the life and contribution of one woman, whilst celebrating the life and possibilities of all women.

Of, or For Mary Wollstonecraft?History Workshop
Hambling asserts that it is a sculpture, rather than a statue, that is for Wollstonecraft, not of her. A video to mark the unveiling of the statue premiered on the Mary on the Green social media profile in which Hambling describes the design as ‘a tower of intermingling female forms, culminating in the figure of the woman at the top who is challenging, and ready to challenge, the world.’ The ‘intermingling’ forms are suggestive of a historic community of women, out of which the more detailed, lone female figure is born into the ‘now’. This design choice is intended to represent the legacy of Wollstonecraft’s feminist work.

But, as this piece from The Art Newspaper says, even backlashes get a backlash.

People see only ‘silver tits’ and ‘bouffant pubes’ now—but I predict Mary Wollstonecraft sculpture will become widely admiredThe Art Newspaper
If Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft does become more widely admired, then I claim my place among those who declared that “actually, they always quite liked it”. Certainly, the silvery colour takes getting used to—it looks as if Goldfinger has been experimenting with cheaper ways to kill—but a few years of London pollution will help it acquire some much-needed patina. […]

What I like about Hambling’s figure is that it is nude, but not erotic. Wollstonecraft would have recognised the honesty of Hambling’s focus. “For man and woman,” she wrote in The Vindications of the Rights of Women (1792), “truth… must be the same; yet the fanciful female character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea, having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience.” Naked, stripped of outward signs of wealth and privilege, we are all equal.

This status, for a very different woman, is also proving controversial, though for very different reasons.

Is Margaret Thatcher’s hometown ready to put her on a pedestal?The New York Times
[W]hile the unveiling of a statue is usually a festive occasion, few in Grantham expect Mrs. Thatcher’s homecoming to be celebrated as a hero’s return. “If you’re a Conservative,” said Graham Newton, the news editor of the weekly Grantham Journal, “you want a statue, and you want her recognized. But if you’re not, there’s a lot of people who — not to put a fine point on it — hated her.”

“She was never very fond of Grantham, and so Grantham was never very fond of her,” said John Campbell, a biographer, pointing out that Mrs. Thacher rarely visited the town as prime minister, and did not mention it in speeches. “She was happy to leave it behind,” he said.

Margaret Thatcher statue: More than 1,000 vow to attend ‘egg throwing contest’ at unveiling amid backlashSky News
Councillors say the sculpture will be a fitting tribute to the Iron Lady, who was born and brought up in the town, and that the local authority will seek to raise as much of the £100,000 as possible through donations from the public and local businesses. But the potential outlay sparked anger among critics who suggested it was excessive during a time of national hardship.

Meanwhile.

Provocative Marilyn Monroe sculpture to return to Palm Springs—permanentlyThe Art Newspaper
When it was first shown in the California desert town, from 2012 to 2014, Forever Marilyn was a popular tourist attraction, with many visitors posing for photographs between the statue’s feet. But its return is seen as an embarrassment to the feminist movement and the local art community, and the art museum’s director has spoken out against it.

“You come out of the museum and the first thing you’re going to see is a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe with her entire backside and underwear exposed,” Grachos pointed out. “We serve over 100,000 school-age children that come to our museum every single year. What message does that send to our young people, our visitors and community to present a statue that objectifies women, is sexually charged and disrespectful?”

Update 22 June 2021

Despite widespread opposition, ‘sexist’ Marilyn Monroe statue installed next to Palm Springs Art MuseumThe Art Newspaper
Both of these groups sent protestors to the dedication ceremony on Sunday, with chants that drowned out some of the speakers. “It was nonstop chanting, both pro and con—you couldn’t really hear the speakers,” said modernism connoisseur Chris Menrad, who co-founded Crema with the Palm Springs fashion designer Trina Turk. “The goal of us being there was basically to disrupt the event and communicate our displeasure.”

Stuck

I’m trying to cut down on the Trump posts, as the whole situation is so depressing, but I enjoyed this look at other crazy characters, historical and fictional, who have had trouble moving on — from ambassadors and governors to King Lear and Bartleby the Scrivener, amongst others.

When a leader just won’t goThe New York Times
Timothy Naftali, a history professor at New York University, said that one way to view Mr. Trump would be as a version of Miss Havisham, the jilted bride from “Great Expectations” who lives forever in the past, never taking off her tattered wedding gown even as her house decays around her.

“He’s wearing the cloak of the presidency and he’s stuck in his room, getting dusty, while everyone else has moved on,” Mr. Naftali said.

Gorbachev > Yelstin > Putin. Obama > Trump > ?

America’s next authoritarian will be much more competentThe Atlantic
The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024. A person without the eager Twitter fingers and greedy hotel chains, someone with a penchant for governing rather than golf. An individual who does not irritate everyone who doesn’t already like him, and someone whose wife looks at him adoringly instead of slapping his hand away too many times in public. Someone who isn’t on tape boasting about assaulting women, and who says the right things about military veterans. Someone who can send appropriate condolences about senators who die, instead of angering their state’s voters, as Trump did, perhaps to his detriment, in Arizona. A norm-subverting strongman who can create a durable majority and keep his coalition together to win more elections.

And yet, he’s still here

Well, they voted. And counted. And waited.

Amid post-election anxiety, the internet copes with memesHyperallergic
An entire genre of internet memes emerged in the past few days to parody the unbearable slowness of Nevada’s vote count. Final results in the Silver State might not be announced until Saturday or Sunday, according to election officials. Without offending the dedicated poll workers and volunteers who are counting the votes in Nevada, the memes flooding the internet are fair in their assessment that the state is taking its sweet time to announce its election results.

And waited.

Nation never wants to see color red or blue ever againThe Onion
Exhausted after 48 hours of following cable news coverage and continually refreshing their web browsers, Americans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia told reporters Thursday they do not want to see the color red or the color blue in any context or for any reason ever again.

And eventually —

Joe Biden captures the White HouseThe Economist
The Republican president falsely claims to have won the election, says it is rigged and has filed multiple lawsuits to try to disrupt the vote-count. But however he may rage he is only the fourth president in a century to have failed to win re-election. He is also the first president since Benjamin Harrison, in 1892, to have lost the popular vote twice. That underlines not only Mr Trump’s unpopularity but also the advantages his party draws from America’s electoral system.

At the moment Biden has 77,083,979 votes to Trump’s 72,159,215. You would think, given the last four years, that it would have been a landslide.

Lest we forget the horrors: A catalog of Trump’s worst cruelties, collusions, corruptions, and crimes: The complete listing (so far): Atrocities 1- 967McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
Early in President Trump’s term, McSweeney’s editors began to catalog the head-spinning number of misdeeds coming from his administration. We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten.

But I wonder how many of those 967 (!) misdeeds have simply been dismissed as fake news by his base.

What is the internet doing to boomers’ brains?HuffPost UK
It has become a familiar story: The older relative, the intensifying Fox News habit, the alarming Facebook posts, the inevitable detachment from reality. Losing a parent to the conservative cyber-swamp is such a common experience among millennials that it has produced an entire sub-genre of documentaries, books and online support groups. What it has not produced, however, is a satisfying answer to a simple question: What is the internet doing to our parents’ brains?

You can’t just blame Facebook or ‘the internet’ for this, though.

The misinformation media machine amplifying Trump’s election liesThe Guardian
Trump himself is the largest source of election misinformation; the president has barely addressed the public since Tuesday except to share lies and misinformation about the election. But his message attacking the electoral process is being amplified by a host of rightwing media outlets and pundits who appear to be jockeying to replace Fox News as the outlet of choice for Trumpists – and metastasizing on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

What a strange country. But should we have been surprised?

I guess I just expected a little more from this countryMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency
How can a nation capable of turning the simple act of revealing the gender of your child into a wildfire that burns down an entire state be so insistent on screwing things up? How could a country, one that birthed the timeless love story of 30 brown-haired white guys named Chad competing in an elimination contest for the chance to marry a woman, lack the emotional depth required to make the right decision for the future of all of us? How could a people that had to be explicitly told not to eat Tide Pods be so short-sighted? Or are some things simply beyond explanation?

Trump’s not taking this loss well, to say the least.

Trump is attempting a coup in plain sightVox
The Trump administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly rests on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”

Trump won’t accept defeat. Ever.The Atlantic
The Trump family being what it is, expect the illegitimacy myth to be exploited for commercial purposes too. Paradoxically, Trump’s loss may well increase the loyalty of his most ardent fans, who will be angry that he has been unfairly deprived of his rightful role. They will now become loyal purchasers of flags, ties, MAGA hats, maybe even degrees at a revived Trump University. They could become the customer base for Trump TV, a media company that will set itself up as the rival to his brand-new enemies on Fox. Maybe they will buy tickets to rallies and other public events where he plays familiar old hits such as “Lock Her Up” and “Stop the Count.”

He’ll be kept busy, when eventually he does go.

6 lawsuits Donald Trump is going to have to deal with when he leaves officeCNN
Aside from those half-dozen suits is the question of whether Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice for his attempts to impede and inhibit the investigation into the 2016 election and Russia’s role in it by special counsel Robert Mueller. In a back-and-forth during congressional testimony in July 2019, Mueller, a former FBI director, suggested that he believed Trump could be charged once he left office.

But will that really be the end of him?

Trump, who never admits defeat, mulls how to keep up fightAP News
Would Trump ever concede? “I doubt it,” said Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by Trump in July. Stone asserted that Biden, as a result, will have “a cloud over his presidency with half the people in the country believing that he was illegitimately elected.” Allies suggested that if Trump wants to launch a media empire in coming years, he has an incentive to prolong the drama. So, too, if he intends to keep the door open to a possible 2024 comeback — he would be only a year older than Biden is now.

What a horrid thought.

Update 26/11/2020

What if Trump won’t leave the White House? A hostage negotiator, an animal-control officer, and a toddler whisperer have adviceThe Boston Globe
Give him a five-minute warning, use food as a lure, remind him he has something to live for.

Voting, here and there

As we continue to wait for the final result of that election, here’s Liz Scheltens from Vox on why this can take so long.

How the US counts votesVox
In this video, we take a comprehensive deep dive into how states count votes. Each of the 3,141 counties in the US has its own rules, but there are some basic steps that are mostly the same across the country. Whether you’re voting in person early, on election day, by mail, or dropping off your ballot, we break down some of the differences and similarities in how and when states collect, verify, process, and count ballots.

Meanwhile, here’s Matt Webb in the UK.

What it’s like to vote in the UKInterconnected
I go to a booth and fill in the voting slip. There are always these fat, stubby pencils, tied to the inside of the booth. The booths are flimsy and made of wood. They’re tall and open on the back. It turns out that the main supplier of all this kit is Shaw’s Election Supplies and they’ve been trading continuously since 1750. They sell everything from ballot boxes to signage to vote counting trays. Here are the stubby pencils I’m talking about. 19 quid for a 100 pack.

Either way, it’s a day to remember

After a long build-up, the USA has finally reached election day.

US election: A wild three-year campaign in three minutesBBC News
Billions of dollars spent, dozens of candidates, two nominees, one pandemic. What started with a little-known congressman in the summer of 2017 ended as the most expensive US presidential election of all time. It featured 26 candidates for the Democratic Party nomination, the first black and Asian-American woman vice-presidential nominee, and some other historic firsts.

Now we just have to wait.

You’re waiting for election results. It’s agony. Here’s what to do.The New York Times
All elections elicit this feeling to some degree. But the 2020 contest has raised the stakes, adding looming threats of disinformation and interference, contested results and a president who has repeatedly antagonized a deeply polarized electorate. It is an extremely stressful moment. The best description I’ve seen of our collective anxiety was from Mother Jones editor in chief Clara Jeffery: “The entire country is awaiting a biopsy result.”

For posterity, here’s the latest forecast from The Economist.

Forecasting the US 2020 electionsThe Economist
Our final pre-election forecast is that Joe Biden is very likely to beat Donald Trump in the electoral college.

We’ll have to wait and see. Are you staying up?

US election 2020 guide: what time results are expected – and what to watch forThe Guardian
Just like that, things get exciting. The 7pm hour [midnight GMT] sees most polls close in the titanically important state of Florida, which counts votes quickly – except when it doesn’t. As results begin to come in, look for election wonks (here’s a Twitter list) to begin raising their eyebrows significantly at whether Trump is matching his 2016 margins in this county or that. This is when election night can really start to feel one way or the other, so, expect emotions.

I think I might stay away from the TV till it’s all over.

‘It’s not up to him’: how media outlets plan to sidestep any Trump ‘victory’ newsThe Guardian
The president’s reported intention to make a premature – and potentially false – victory speech by the end of Tuesday night, with large numbers of mail-in ballots yet to be counted, has provoked intense journalistic debate. TV channels would be under pressure to air such an event on grounds that it is “news”, while aware that it amounted to dangerous misinformation that could stir violence across the nation and undermine the democratic process.

And I don’t expect social media to be any better either.

What to expect from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on election dayThe New York Times
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were misused by Russians to inflame American voters with divisive messages before the 2016 presidential election. The companies have spent the past four years trying to ensure that this November isn’t a repeat. They have spent billions of dollars improving their sites’ security, policies and processes. In recent months, with fears rising that violence may break out after the election, the companies have taken numerous steps to clamp down on falsehoods and highlight accurate and verified information.

But will it be enough?

What social media companies have fixed since the 2016 electionOneZero
Over the past four years, the major social platforms have reluctantly acknowledged that they have a role to play in preventing blatant abuse and exploitation of their platform by obviously bad-faith actors, and they’ve taken real steps toward addressing that. Halting, often confusing, and in many ways unsatisfying steps, but real steps nonetheless. … But reining in the most obvious and clear-cut abuses does very little to change the overall impact of social media on political discourse.

Whoever wins, things are different now.

How Donald Trump changed the internetThe Atlantic
But even though online life has changed for the better in at least a few tangible ways, it still feels bad—and Trump has made sure of that. We know how to describe a deluge of disinformation, but generally we can’t personally stamp it out. We can recognize the absurdity of the president tweeting over and over, in all caps, from a hospital, but we can’t do anything but gesture at it with a weak “???” We expect to see politicians making gross jokes about one another now, which are usually not even funny. We’ll continue to live this way whether Trump wins or loses.

They can’t be more different, can they?

A big day in the USA, with the whole world watching, hoping they don’t mess it up again.

Trump and Biden pictured through the yearsBBC News
President Donald Trump, 74, and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, 77, each have more than seven decades of personal and professional experience behind them.

Experience of what, though? That’s the question.

Meanwhile.

Feeling nostalgic for polite politics

I couldn’t bring myself to watch much of that horrendous “presidential” “debate”. He seems so full of greed and hate it’s literally driven him insane. A show best left for others to endure.

“This is so unpresidential”: Notes from the worst debate in American historyThe New Yorker
It was a joke, a mess, a disaster. A “shit show,” a “dumpster fire,” a national humiliation. No matter how bad you thought the debate would be, it was worse. Way worse. Trump shouted, he bullied, he hectored, he lied, and he interrupted, over and over again.

Chris Wallace struggled to rein In an unruly Trump at first debate The New York Times
“The country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” Mr. Wallace said, directly asking Mr. Trump to yield a higher civic ideal. “I’m appealing to you, sir, to do it.” “And him, too?” the president replied defiantly, nodding at Mr. Biden. “Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Mr. Wallace replied.

Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” after being asked to condemn white supremacistsBuzzFeed News
Trump’s comments are part of his campaign’s pattern of dog whistles and overt appeals to violent groups, white supremacists, and his most fervent supporters to take matters into their own hands and defend him and his divisive ideologies at all costs.

Trump’s closing debate argument was a blizzard of lies about mail votingVice
There’s overwhelming evidence and widespread agreement from voting experts that widespread voting fraud is extremely rare. But Trump has spent months attacking the process — while his lawyers fight in the courts to make sure that more mail voters will be disenfranchised by fighting any rule changes that would make their votes count.

CNN fact-checked the presidential debate. It was almost all about Trump’s lies.Vox
The problem is not just that Trump lied a lot during the debate, or that he lies a lot in his public statements. It’s that Trump doesn’t seem to care at all for the truth. What he says is only meant to make him look good. And when the president repeats the sorts of lies he told Tuesday night, they begin to calcify, lingering despite fact-checks — making it perpetually difficult to say if he’s telling the truth or merely reciting self-serving bullshit.

But I enjoyed spending a little time watching a different debate from a more civilised, polite age. No, not the suave JFK/pasty Nixon one from 1960, but the one 20 years after that, with the first two US presidents I remember as a kid, Carter and Reagan.

Presidential Debate, Jimmy Carter and Ronald ReaganC-SPAN
This was the only presidential candidates debate with both major party candidates during the 1980 campaign. They responded to questions from a panel of journalists on issues including defense preparedness and the economy. The debate included remarks by President Jimmy Carter concerning the views of his daughter Amy on arms control, which were widely criticized following the debate.

It was interesting to see Reagan start as he meant to go on, with all that ‘Leader of the Free World’ stuff. It’s literally the first thing he talks about. Ah, those were the days.

Will he stay or will he go?

The election that could break AmericaThe Atlantic
The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power. […]

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

And this, from The New York Times, has been getting a great deal of attention today. But will it make a difference?

Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidanceThe New York Times
The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

Charting an empire: A timeline of Trump’s financesThe New York Times
Tax records provide a detailed history of President Trump’s business career, revealing huge losses, looming financial threats and a large, contested refund from the I.R.S.

And off we go

The US Presidential election is just around the corner, and here, via FlowingData, are a couple of links to get us started.

FiveThirtyEight launches 2020 election forecastFlowingData
The election is coming. FiveThirtyEight just launched their forecast with a look at the numbers from several angles. Maps, histograms, beeswarms, and line charts, oh my.

Who can vote by mailFlowingData
There’s going to be a lot more voting by mail this year. The New York Times shows what each state is doing. It’s a cartogram. So it must be election season.

Laughing at him, not with him

It’s hard to understand the guy’s appeal.

British writer pens the best description of Trump I’ve readLondon Daily
Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

That’s not to say he’s not a rich source of humour. He is funny, in a if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry/I-can’t-believe-he-actually-said-that/thank-god-he’s-over-there-not-over-here kind of way.

Hilarious video edit poses Trump bickering with himself about the virusBoing Boing
Justin T. Brown’s Donald Trump is the Dumbest Man in America² cleverly edits Trump’s catastrophic interview with Jonathan Swan so that Trump is arguing with himself.

He would do well to read this succinct summary.

Coronavirus epidemiology in a nutshellTYWKIWDBI
The spread of Corona virus is based on two factors.

1. How dense the population is.
2. How dense the population is.

Walk a mile in someone else’s screen

TheirTube – How do the recommended videos look on their Youtube home page?
This whole project started when I was in a heated discussion with a person who thought climate change was a hoax and 9/11 was a conspiracy. Through conversations with him, I was surprised to learn that he thought everyone’s YouTube feed had the same information as his own feed. When we showed each other our YouTube homepages, we were both shocked. They were radically different. And it got me thinking about the need for a tool to step outside of information bubbles.