Apr. 11th, 2017

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For those who are struggling to keep up with the ever-growing clusterf**k in Washington and elsewhere, here's how I'm doing it:

First, on a daily basis, there is The Daily WTF. This is an irreverent but relatively straightforward summary of the major US political news stories. I've signed up for the mailing list, which sends out an update each afternoon. There's no in-depth perspective here, but it's a good way to stay up-to-date.

On a slower beat, there is Amy Siskind's Weekly Authoritarian News Watch. Siskind is a more-serious-than-average reporter, and her weekly braindumps are relatively long -- she typically covers 50 to 75 bullet points each week, keeping it all pretty factual, but organizing the news nicely and letting you draw your own conclusions. Her column is one of the reasons I've decided to bite the bullet and buy a Medium membership.

Then there is Kara Hurvitz' National News Roundup. Kara is more openly opinionated, and also more fun to read: she organizes each week into The Weird, The Bad and The Good, poking a little more humor into just how strange this nonsense is, and remembering to point out the wins when we get them.

And finally, there is The Economist. Yes, it costs real money to read the whole thing, but it provides a less navel-gazing perspective, and reminds you that there is a world out there beyond our borders. I read it for the wider view, and for analysis-after-the-fact of what's been happening. It's the most sensible news source I'm aware of, and well worth a subscription if you're willing to pay for quality.

All of the above are highly recommended. If you have the time and stomach for it, it's worth reading all of them, but any one or two will help keep track of the rapidly-mutating timeline we've found ourselves stuck in...
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Since I'm pretty sure some folks care, here are my findings on cross-posting.

Background: my journal is largely public, and I like to have it disseminated to where people want to read it -- Facebook (FB hereafter), Twitter (TW), whatever. (While I think DreamWidth (DW) is the best place for following one's friends, the reality is that most of my friends are only on FB.) LiveJournal (LJ) has had built-in cross-posting to those services for a long time now, and I've been using that; even after I moved to DW, I've been cross-posting from DW to LJ, and thence to FB and TW. But now that I'm thinking of dropping LJ entirely, the question is how I keep the other services in the loop.

After doing some research (and finding that most of the crosspost-to-FB services have gone away in the past two years), I came to the conclusion that the most robust option seems to be dlvr.it. We are not their primary target market: they are really focused on marketing people who want to be able to write something once and then spew it widely, and their Pro plan is oriented to that. But they do have a Free plan, and their service -- take RSS feeds and post them to social networks -- is more or less what we need. I've been using it for a few days, and it seems to work.

To get this up and running:

  • Go to the DreamWidth FAQ about RSS feeds, which should show the URLs of your feed.
  • Sign up for dlvr.it. I signed up using my Facebook account.
  • Once you're signed up, it will take you their "Automate" page. There, you set up an automation with a "Feed" (the URL of your DreamWidth RSS feed) connected to one or more "socials" (Facebook, Twitter, whatever). The Free plan allows you to take up to 5 Feeds as inputs and 3 Socials as outputs.

That's pretty much it, and it seems to work pretty well; I might even upgrade to Pro eventually, if I decide to use this for official Querki stuff.

That said, some caveats:

  • Most importantly, this is a third-party service, and they conspicuously indirect all links through themselves. This stuff is really only for public posts anyway, but keep in mind that they are probably doing traffic analysis on who clicks through to your DW page.
  • dlvr.it requires slightly more FB permissions than I love. I believe I understand why they require what they do, but basically you have to agree to all of the permissions required by all of their features, even if you aren't using all of those features.
  • dlvr.it is a commercial service, and they support themselves with subscriptions. They really want you to be buying their Pro service, which is expensive. ($10/month) They don't seem to be nasty about Free users, but be prepared to see "Try Pro Now -- Free Trial!" buttons on all the screens.
  • They provide a good deal of control over how cross-posts show up, and I had been quite encouraged that there was a "Status Update" option -- that is, cross-post the post in its entirety to Facebook. Sadly, though, it looks like links don't survive the process, so I've backed off to simply posting links.
  • The Free plan is explicitly a bit slow in its cross-post speed -- they only check for new posts every half hour. (Unsurprisingly, the plans that cost real money are quicker.)

So -- that appears to be a viable approach to cross-posting from here without LiveJournal in the middle. There are likely other possibilities. (It looks to me like IFTTT is possible, although I'm not sure how well that would work.)

Anybody have other suggestions?

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It's been a hell of a week in national events. Some thoughts about how all the pieces fit together.

I will admit, even I didn't expect Trump to play the Wag the Dog strategy (Wag the Dog = start a war to distract everybody) quite this soon, although I was certainly expecting it sooner or later. In this particular case, I have to say that it was actually a bit clever.

Trump's core problem at the moment is that a narrative has been brewing, that he is actively a pawn of Putin. Distractions entirely aside, I suspect that's the real motivation for the Syrian strikes: they're not just starting a war, they are starting a war with Russia on the other side. Memetically, this is all about showing that he is his own man, and thereby defusing the Russiagate controversy. The message is essentially, "So they got me elected. So what? I don't work for them." That's a fairly smart message for him to be sending to his wavering supporters right now, and plays cleverly into the general understanding that he's a changeable crook.

It might even be true. Let's assume for the moment that this isn't a truly Machiavellian plan on Putin's part, sacrificing the pawn of Assad in the name of broader strategic objectives. (I think it is entirely possible that that is what's going on, but a bit beside my point.)

There's an interesting question that not enough people are asking: what is the game here? What are Putin's strategic objectives?

I mean, sure -- you can assume that he's just a villain out of a Bond movie, sitting in the back and twirling his invisible Stalin mustache. But I suspect that's too simplistic.

My guess is that controlling the US would be a fine goodie for Putin (why not?), but his primary aim is to neutralize the US. To that extent, the goal of backing Trump was only secondarily getting him elected -- the primary objective was to hurt Hilary as much as possible, throw the US into chaos, and make it ineffectual on the international stage. Which, note -- Mission (largely) Accomplished.

What Putin mainly wants, I figure, is to be able to secure his borders, in the sense of turning everybody around Russia into client states again, as in the Good Old Days. And of course, for his murderous kleptocracy to be able to do what they want, with minimal interference.

To that end, we should be clear that it is quite possible that Trump is just a Useful Idiot, not actually being controlled by the Kremlin. It's possible that he is, of course, but don't delude yourself that it's a clear certainty. Even if that was true at the beginning, he's not a complete moron, and it's clear that he has figured out that that's a bad image for him. So he's going to focus for now on making clear that he's not a puppet. Which is good -- aside from raising the likelihood of Stupid Nuclear Holocaust a step higher.

But the other thing to keep in mind (and the cause of the title here) is, we shouldn't feel too comfortable in our own certainties. I was starting to think about this essay last week, and then hit the latest episode of Full Frontal -- with the interviews claiming that Sanders supporters were also being manipulated by the Russian alternative-media machine.

Which is entirely what I would expect: if their goal was to cause chaos and discredit American democracy, just manipulating one side is silly. Instead, you should be playing all of the sides against each other. I lack evidence, but would guess that they were trying to stir up the Clinton camp as well, simply because it fits the goals.

The point is, alternative narrative is a tool, and can be used in any and all directions. This crap is not just effective on the uneducated and credulous -- it works precisely because the world is complicated, and humans prefer to seek easier answers. (Heaven knows there is plenty of similarly silly nonsense that is believed by many wealthy, well-educated left-wingers.)

It's easy to get paranoid, and I'm not advocating that -- melting down into a puddle of helplessness is kind of what the Putinites want you to do. But it does mean that serious critical thinking is a necessity if you're not going to be easily manipulated. Facts aren't true or false simply because they come from the mass media, or the Internet, or your neighbor: you have to keep a well-balanced diet of information sources, always examining what their agendas are (because everybody has their own agendas -- that's just human) and keeping an open mind to the possibility that you're being misled.

It's a tricky game, and easier to just avoid altogether. But if you really care about civics and doing the best thing, it's going to be a part of modern daily life, I suspect...

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