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Welcome back to The Review of Obscure Books, my occasional-but-long-running series of reviews of comics that could use some special attention. Having finally finished it last night, some thoughts on a story that is very much not obscure: Marvel's recent mega-crossover Secret Empire. No, I'm mostly not talking about fight scenes -- ultimately, this is about modern politics -- but there's a lot of superhero trope to wade through before I get to the interesting stuff. If that's a turn-off, just skip this one and move on to my next review. (Probably soon.)

A high-level overview of the main plot helps to explain why a lot of people freaked out really badly when this started:

  • Due to all the screwups in SHIELD in recent years, Steve Rogers (Captain America) is appointed as its head.
  • There occur a set of near-simultaneous crises, nationwide.
  • Congress gives him broad emergency powers.
  • He reveals himself to be a lifelong sleeper agent of Hydra, and begins immediately converting the country to fascism.

Okay, when you just see that, it's a huge WTF???!!!?? The reality is a lot more complicated, though, and the payoff fairly interesting.

Let's get the silly bits out of the way first. What's really going on here is that the Red Skull (Captain America's arch-nemesis) managed to lay hands on a Cosmic Cube (Marvel's official Uber-MacGuffin, capable of altering reality more or less however you like). Having finally twigged to, "If you can't beat 'em, get 'em to join you", he engineers a magnificently Kafkaesque rewrite of history:

  • Steve Rogers was traumatized by the death of his mother when he was young.
  • He swore to do whatever it took to protect the people.
  • He was taken in by Hydra, and during WWII was one of their greatest agents.
  • When Hydra was on the verge of winning WWII (I assume there are Germans involved here somewhere, but they mostly talk about Hydra), the sneaky Allies got their hands on a Cosmic Cube, and rewrote history themselves so that they were winning.
  • As part of that, they turned Steve into Captain America, but not before Hydra planted a sort of sleeper spell on him.

So to Steve's new POV, he has always been Hydra, and is essentially waking up from a bad dream of fighting for the wrong side. This person -- let's call him Hydra Steve -- is very much not our Steve Rogers.

The crossover as a whole is, at best, a mixed bag. There are some genuinely good stories in there: this is a "life in wartime" epic for Marvel, and has a lot to say about fascism and politics and stuff. But there was also a lot of Dumb, and wasn't entirely helped by being so earnest. I mean, Secret Wars was idiotic, but it reveled in its own ridiculousness, and managed to fit a lot of silly fun in its kitsch. This one would have been much stronger if they'd limited it to the writers and stories that had both the talent and enthusiasm to really tackle a harder tale.

Anyway: in the end, the various heroes manage to bring "our" Steve back to reality; he fights Hydra Steve (yeah, yeah -- Cosmic Cube lets you do nonsense like this) and wins; yay, freedom prevails. So much for the superhero bits.


But the payoff (and the reason it's worth talking about) is the final issue, Secret Wars: Omega. As so often, the best comics aren't fight scenes, they are issue-long conversations. This one is what happens when Good Steve confronts Hydra Steve in prison.

The beautiful hell of it is, Hydra Steve is not a villain. Quite the contrary: somewhere mid-story, he executed the Red Skull, his supposed ally, precisely because the Skull was very much a villain. By his own lights, Hydra Steve is, without the slightest doubt, the hero in this story.

The thing is, he's still Steve Rogers -- but he's a Steve Rogers whose life was slightly different, and thus whose priorities are different.

Since the 1980s, Marvel has been very clear that Captain America cares about people, and would give his life to protect them, but his highest priority is Freedom. (The original Civil War, much more clearly than the movie, was primarily about that.)

Hydra Steve doesn't oppose Freedom per se, all other things being equal -- but his highest priority is Protecting the People. And that little difference of priority, followed through, turns him into a true-believer Fascist (and, largely, Totalitarian). He is trying to build a world where the people are safe and happy, and he believes that requires imposition of Order. But he is quite sincere that Order is merely a means to an end, and to him the assumption of power is genuinely a burden (he spends a fair amount of Secret Empire agonizing over it) -- but it's what he needs to do in order to protect the country from itself, so he does it. He was groomed to be, essentially, a good King, and he's going to fulfill this responsibility.

Moreover, he is genuinely angry with Good Steve, and with the Avengers, for their weakness. He is more than happy to point out The Superhero Paradox: that if you aren't willing to stop the bad guys -- and by this, he means quite permanently -- then you are complicit in their later crimes. He lays the deaths of a lot of innocents on Good Steve's shoulders, because The Avengers Don't Kill.

And because of the way the story is structured, Good Steve and Hydra Steve literally cannot agree on history and facts. Hydra Steve knows perfectly well that he has lost (for now), and that he is living in Good Steve's reality, but he also knows to the core of his being that this reality is a corruption of the "real" one that he comes from.

Most damning, he points out (semi-accurately) that he has committed no crimes -- worse, the people welcomed him. He was handed power in full accordance with law, and when he rolled Hydra out as, essentially, a nationwide paramilitary political party, hordes of people flocked to him. He restored their pride, promised them protection, and gave them a sense of unity in something greater. He knows, and says quite explicitly, that this is his real victory: that Good Steve may have won for the moment, but the next time things go wrong, a lot of people will begin to remember the greater dream of Hydra. It is not at all clear that he is all that defeated, in the end.

Yes, it's ferociously creepy, and the metaphor is as dense as a fruitcake, but it's beautifully on-target. I often note that the silver lining of our current political moment is that at least we wound up with as inept a fascist as Trump in the White House: a greedy idiot whose ideals can be summarized as, "MineMineMine". But Secret Empire envisions the opposite: America being seduced by a brilliant, charismatic and idealistic fascist, who is far more effective. It's a story worth keeping in mind -- while we like to think that we are simply Good and they are simply Bad, it looks very different from the other perspective.

So -- despite all the above, I can't actually recommend reading Secret Empire. It's loose and sloppy, full of the stupid, with way too many threads and a story that is baroque even by Marvel standards. But there is a central spine in there that is utterly relevant to our times and very well-designed. I suspect that the same story, told in a tenth as many issues with a tenth as many plots, could have been truly great...

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Today's homework for Cognitive Studies --

Would Donald Trump pass the Turing Test?

Discuss.

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Mind, I largely agree with the decision, at least for now. But let's not lose sight of the obvious attempt to distract away from more contentious matters...

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In the wake of Charlottesville and the past week, I strongly recommend reading this article in the Guardian, which explores a bit of the ideology of this particular chunk of the far right. The heart of it is a reminder that Nazism is national socialism, and they are making hay with a philosophy that is basically a racist (and inegalitarian) corruption of classic socialism. It's bullshit, but seductive bullshit, now just as it was to Germany in the '30s.

It's a bit skin-crawling to think about (it's a bit hard to come up with a more exact opposite of my own worldview), but we're going to have to understand the enemy if we're going to fight them. And I think it's clear that we are going to have to fight them -- at the very least, this is a dangerous and rising memeset that needs to be opposed now, and vigorously...

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The Science Fictional Singularity is when Artificial Intelligence begins to create new ideas, and Science begins to advance faster than conventional biological humans can conceive.

The Political Singularity is when a Great Orange Artificial (lack of) Intelligence begins to create new scandals, faster than conventional media can conceive.

This commentary brought to you by both Amy Siskind and Jon Oliver remarking on a week incomprehensibly chock-full of scandals, any one of which would have undone a conventional President...

Staffing

May. 19th, 2017 08:12 am
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I am impressed by Rod Rosenstein, who is clearly managing to just do his freaking job, as honestly and transparently as possible, while the rest of Washington is collapsing in chaos. He has gone from Unknown to Important in a bit over a week.

And there's an amusing lesson here. While we have a long ways to go before this saga plays out, history may well decide that Trump's biggest mistake was his failure to deal with staffing. Everyone remarks on it -- the way that so few of the important seats in the federal government have been filled yet. It isn't at all clear whether this is due to a knee-jerk Bannon-esque dislike of the bureaucracy, or (more likely) simple incompetence, but the result is that Trump still has relatively few allies in the administration he notionally heads. As many have remarked, he could have fired Comey on Day 1 and only gotten a little grumbling -- this crisis is specifically because Trump waited to fire him only after it become publicly clear that Comey wasn't going to be a loyal yes-man.

That may (God willing) prove a fatal mistake. Because the thing is, if you want to set yourself up as a strongman dictator (and I no longer think it's controversial to say Trump does want that, given his outspoken admiration for people like Putin, Erdogan and Duterte), you need to fill the government with your own placemen. Fascism depends on everyone at the center following your orders. It's not easy to make that happen in the US, but Trump has barely even tried. And hopefully he's already spent so much political capital that it's just going to get harder from here.

We'll see where it goes. But it may well turn out that, in a year where it is hard to respect any of the elected politicians in Washington, it might yet be the civil servants who save the day...

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The Guardian is continuing to impress the heck out of me with their investigative journalism. Here is their followup story, this one considerably shorter and more comprehensible. It continues to point to evidence that Brexit happened because of a literal conspiracy -- and that it may well have been a deliberate dry run for the election of Trump.

I'm immensely curious about how this plays out. I hope that this starts a real drumbeat for proper investigations into the Brexit vote, and the apparently illegal financing behind it. And the really interesting question is, if it turns out that the Leave campaign did break the law, allowing an American billionaire to illegally spend a lot of money to subvert British democracy -- what then? Everyone's been assuming that the referendum happened, and that the results must be adhered to, but if illegal means were used, that reasoning becomes a tad shaky.


As an entertaining counterpoint to all that, I'll add this delicious article-cum-memoir about Brexit from Dominic Cummings, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign. (Thanks to [personal profile] mindways for pointing me at it.) It's immensely long (I'm only halfway through), but a fun read if you enjoy politics. It's a (presumably enormously biased) account of what things were like inside the Leave campaign, redolent of the richest sour grapes -- this is the winner of the campaign describing in gory detail just what a fuckup the whole thing was, and how close they came to losing, not least because of just what a jackass Nigel Farage is.

But beyond that, it's a very readable treatise on practical politics, with a general thesis that anybody who says that anything in politics is certain is either lying or deluded. He repeatedly talks about "branching histories", to show just how essential both luck and a few key mistakes by David Cameron were to the victory of the Leave campaign.

Well worth reading, even if you just take it as a sort of primer in how on-the-ground campaigning really works. Regardless of the Guardian's reportage, and whether Cummings was in on this apparent conspiracy, he gives a good sense of what it takes to win in politics. It's not pretty, but it's kind of fascinating, and rather educational...

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Signal boost: the Republicans are once again trying to destroy Net Neutrality, with the new FCC Chair making the usual disingenuous BS arguments about it. And this time, they've made it ridiculously difficult to actually comment on it.

Fortunately, Jon Oliver and Last Week Tonight have jumped in to make life easier. If you go to GoFCCYourself.com, it cuts through most of the hoops -- just look for the "+ Express" link on the right-hand side, click on that, and you can enter your commentary.

This is important stuff: the big ISPs have shown themselves to be pretty untrustworthy, and willing to take undue advantage of their position. We need to stand up for Net Neutrality in force, immediately, if we're to have any hope of keeping it...

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Thanks to [personal profile] cvirtue for pointing me at this impressive piece of reportage from The Guardian, published a few days ago.

I won't kid you: this is long, dense, and hard to quite absorb. But it's one of the most important articles I've seen this year. In it, they dug into the details of why Britain voted to leave the EU, when all the polling had indicated a narrow win for the Remain side.

Slightly to my surprise, this story is not primarily about Russia, although there are hints of their involvement. Rather, this is the story of a couple of rather shadowy military-tied companies named Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, and an American billionaire named Robert Mercer, doing what appear to be some pragmatic experiments in just how far you can sway a populace simply by crunching the data and manipulating them directly. And yes, Steve Bannon is right at the heart of the whole thing, as the sometime VP of Cambridge Analytica.

This is a story about Brexit rather than Trump, but they don't shy away from drawing the connections there: indeed, this is one of the first times I've seen direct connections between those stories, rather than claims that they reflected some sort of zeitgeist.

I can't say I've digested all of it yet, but the general takeaway seems to be that this is an example of weaponized propaganda, being driven by the American corporate world as much as anywhere. And the evidence of last year is that, yes, it can tilt the playing field at least a few critical percent.

Of course, last week also had the comforting news of the French election, where these tactics (deployed late in the game) seem to have entirely failed. That suggests that this stuff can't entirely swing the game -- Le Pen was losing badly, and she still lost badly. But in a close election (which describes damned near everything at the national level in the US nowadays), it can be solidly effective.

Bookmark it, read it, and stick it in the back of your mind. We can't let it distract too much from the Russiagate scandal, but this is a strong indication that the Kremlin are by no means the only bad guys here. If we're going to be effective in fixing things, we need to understand the full scope of the battlefield...

Stance

Apr. 30th, 2017 10:57 am
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Signal boost from Jen Hofmann's Action Checklist (another of those useful weekly reminder lists to help stay aware of useful little things you can do) -- there's an interesting little app out now called Stance, which is specifically there to make it a little easier to call your congressional rep. It's nothing more than a smart message-forwarder, but that's still useful: you use the app to record a message for your rep, and Stance will, once a day, transfer those messages to the rep's voicemail system.

Pros:

  • If you're shy (as many of us are), you don't risk talking directly to a person on the phone.
  • No risk of busy signals, and Stance itself does retrying if the voicemail box is full.
  • You don't have to remember phone numbers.

Cons:

  • No chance of talking directly to a person, if you do like that. (I have mixed feelings, personally.)
  • Your phone calls are explicitly public: not personally identified as you, but they do put a selection of calls on their website.
  • The app is essentially advertising the phone-mail services of a little startup. (But seems to be a tasteful way for them to do so.)

Overall, not a world-shaker, but seems like a potentially useful tool, especially for the phone-shy. As Jen points out, calling your reps is one of the more useful things you can do, even if it is just an occasional "keep up the good fight, rah-rah-rah" so they don't feel drowned under all the negative calls...

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This week's been an interesting one. Not happy-making, by any means, but slightly less ulcer-inducing, not least for the omnipresent leaks that Steve Bannon may be out of favor with His Imperial Orangeness. So I shouldn't be surprised that Trump's core supporters are apparently beginning to freak out. From the sound of things, they are beginning to believe that -- the terrible truth dawns -- Donald Trump might not have been entirely honest with them!

The situation still sucks, and we need to keep the pressure up. But for now, I'm quietly enjoying the view of these assholes panicking because they aren't getting to destroy the country as efficiently as they want...

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A minor but amusing signal boost: The Daily WTF (one of those useful news sources I mentioned the other day) has just gotten its own Alexa skill. So you can apparently install this, ask "Alexa, WTF Just Happened?", and she'll read off the day's craziness.

(Not that I have any particular intention of installing Alexa, but for my friends who have done so...)

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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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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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Thanks to [personal profile] drwex for pointing out this fascinating and remarkably disturbing little article from a couple of months ago, titled Weaponized Narrative is the New Battlespace. It examines the current situation from essentially a military POV, and carries forward the previously-discussed logic: not only are we in a literal propaganda war, but the weapon being used is Narrative itself.

The article isn't very long, and it's a must-read -- it lays out the situation quite bluntly. It is, mind, not optimistic: the contention of the article is that there are assumptions about individual mental capacity built into the ideals of the Enlightenment and the democratic institutions that grew from it, and that Weaponized Narrative is all about overwhelming that capacity.

Note that there are some considerable differences from the traditional fears of propaganda-for-oppression that we're used to from 1984 and its ilk. First of all, in this discussion it's not just being used for internal oppression, it's being applied as a tool of conquest -- propaganda not just in support of a military advance, but as the military advance itself. Second, it's not about restricting the subject's available information to a single approved viewpoint; quite to the contrary, it's about overwhelming the subjects with so much contradictory information that they flee to a created narrative that is simpler and more comfortable than the complex reality. In the modern world, where information overload is a constant problem, that's a damned good tactic.

Seriously, read it. Thoughts welcomed...

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When I dubbed my current politics posts with the tag "wartime thoughts", that was not originally intended as a general statement about the political arena. I've wound up using it more generally, but it was originally planned (before the gush of events distracted me) to be a series of posts on a specific topic, to make a specific point: we are already at war, a propaganda war. And the enemy are way the bloody hell ahead of us.

This was inspired by a moment on the WBUR call-in show "On Point", shortly before the election. One caller started matter-of-factly talking about how the show was of course being controlled by Project Mockingbird, and Tom Ashbrook, the host, completely lost his shit -- it was the only time I've ever heard him out-of-control angry. Which made me curious, so I Googled "Project Mockingbird", and quickly found myself in this weird parallel dimension of websites parroting all sorts of insanity. It was the moment when I finally realized where the bloody hell the Trump phenomenon had come from: in this parallel universe, Trump is right. (Or at least, not so obviously crazy.)

I'm reminded of that original inspiration by this brilliant article by Kate Starbird, a professor at the University of Washington. It's long, but you should find the time to read it in detail, because it is describing one of the primary causes of what's going right now. It outlines how her lab originally set out to do some analysis of the way that "alternative narrative" rumors spread after crises, and wound up consequently delving into the structure of what I think of as the "alt-net" -- the collection of websites and feeds that are the backbone of the alt-right movement.

This is seriously scary shit: while she keeps things carefully factual, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that what looks like an agglomeration of kooks are in fact a very principled and organized project to undermine Americans' collective sense of reality. On the surface it all appears to be authentic and independent opinion and reportage, but the cross-links are too deep to put much credence into that. There's a lot of very clever psychology at work here, focused on convincing readers that there is a gigantic conspiracy composed of the mainstream media, conventional government, the Jews, and so on, and that these plucky little websites are the good guys who are just trying to expose the truth.

(And while she never quite comes out and says it, the connections to Russia are kind of screamingly obvious. It is likely over-simplistic to say that this is just a Russian plot, but they are almost certainly deeply involved.)

This stuff is dreadfully important background, because it goes a long ways towards explaining the apparently-incomprehensible mindset of many core Trump voters. It isn't that they are stupid or insane, it's that they have been very carefully converted to a view of reality that is deliberately at odds with everything you and I know to be true. Their reality has been hand-crafted by some talented artists to be at least moderately self-consistent, and provides easy answers to many problems that, in reality, are just plain complicated. It's a reality view that is comforting, and therefore easy to believe, not least in that it provides for nice clear Enemies.

And through all of it, I'm left horribly curious about one key question: I honestly can't tell if Donald Trump is in on the joke. I mean, this is being run by a bunch of master manipulators. And I have a nasty feeling, based on his outbursts, that Trump is the Manipulatee-in-Chief...

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If you're not already following Yonaton Zunger, you might want to consider doing so -- his Medium blog has been one of the more consistently interesting ones out there.

Particularly interesting is his post yesterday, From Russia With Oil, which provides a nicely clear summary of what is currently known about the Trump/Russia connection, spelling out explicitly what we have reasonably strong evidence of, and what is merely circumstantial but compelling.

I confess, I especially like the title of the post, which calls out just how much the whole mess feels like a James Bond story -- without Bond around to stop things before Spectre puts its fiendish plan into motion.

Part of me still feels like it's too outlandish to be true, that the Kremlin *literally* bought the US President -- but the story is compelling enough that I'm starting to feel that demanding an independent investigation may be the single highest priority right now. We can't take our eyes off all the other issues that need attending to, but this could yet prove to be the block that takes down the entire Jenga tower of corruption in this Administration...
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It occurs to me that not everyone has yet come across the Twitter feed of Donaeld the Unready and associated accounts. There is a growing collection of these, all interlinked from different viewpoints, and they are particularly perfect for the SCAdian -- of-the-moment political satire, all framed in terms of Anglo-Saxon England. I think my current faves are the political tapestries of Wulfgar the Bard. Check it out...

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Laurie Penny is a journalist who has, in recent months, been following the Milo Yiannopoulos National Crassness Tour. It's made for delicious reading: she is utterly unsympathetic to Milo, but as far as I can tell he's enjoyed having her around as a sparring partner, so she's gotten to see what the whole shit-show looks like from the inside.

Her most recent post (which I suspect may be the last in this particular series) is especially fascinating, and well worth a read. It follows the Milo story over the past few weeks -- from the Berkeley riot to Milo suddenly becoming a Conservative un-person due to finally crossing a bridge too far -- and reflects on it.

The bulk of the article is not about Milo, and that's part of what makes it so interesting. Rather, it focuses primarily on the idiot children who have been following him around -- the GamerGate-type alt-right groupies who've been treating him as some sort of prankster-god -- and how completely incapable they are of coping with a world in which their side has, for now, won. She gives a sense of who they are as people, without even slightly forgiving them for what they have done.

Along with that, she makes a point we should be remembering and echoing: that the sudden crushing of Milo lays bare the hypocrisy underneath the right wing's cloak of First Amendment rights.

Not a short article, but highly recommended. She's a fine writer and analyst, and this is a great corrective to our tendency to see the right wing as some monolithic and impregnable fortress of evil -- quite to the contrary, she shows just how fragile some of them are, and in the most terribly practical sense that's worth understanding from a tactical perspective...

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On the scarier side of things, here's an essay that nicely puts all the pieces together -- essentially arguing that the blizzard of chaos coming from the White House is largely a distraction while they set up far more dangerous plans. Once again, I can't say for certain that this *is* what's happening -- but it's very consistent with what we can see so far.

Read it, and pass it around: seriously, it's important for as many people as possible to be alert to the signs. With any luck, this will be a Y2K moment -- a disaster that never happens. But as with Y2K, I suspect the only reason it might not happen is because enough people know about it, are prepared for it, and are preventing it.

I also concur with the implication here, that the Problem increasingly appears to be Bannon. Trump still appears to be a chaotic moron, but he's likely being manipulated by someone with a far more coherent and dangerous agenda. Getting Trump out of the White House isn't as immediately critical as getting Bannon out. So the question becomes: how do we, the people, get the point across to Trump that he is being *manipulated* by Bannon? That seems like the most effective way to neutralize Bannon -- Trump's ego is a mighty force, and convincing him that he is perceived as *weak* because of Bannon seems like a potentially good tactic...

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