The panic over “COVID parties”

Look, it’s possible that teenagers are having parties where they try to give each other COVID-19 and then bet money on who contracts it first. My kid has shown me what teenagers do on TikTok, so all bets are off.

“China imposes security law on Hong Kong, Page A13”

Wired magazine is extremely skeptical that this is actually happening – and points out that, ironically, stories like this get the Trump Administration and State governments off the hook for their disastrous mishandling of the pandemic:

This is not the first reporting on the spread of Covid parties, which are, in fact, neither happening nor spreading. Back in March, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear announced during a daily public-health update that one case in the state had been tied to a “coronavirus party.” “We ought to be much better than that,” he said. “We should forgive that person, but no more of these—anywhere, statewide, ever, for any reason.” His one-sentence anecdote, presented without any further detail, was dutifully passed along as news by CNNNPRThe Washington Post, and other outlets.

Then in April, The New York Times ran an op-ed from epidemiologist Greta Bauer, offering “seven reasons your ‘coronavirus party’ is a bad idea.” She’d heard “rumblings” that these events were going on, the piece explains, because some people think they would be better off with antibodies.

Rumblings had developed into rumors by the start of May, when a public health official in Walla Walla, Washington, claimed to have discovered, via careful contact tracing, that at least two patients had indeed attended “Covid parties” so as to “get it over with.” The local police chief told reporters that he wouldn’t rule out criminal charges for any other such events, but assured them that “we’re not going to overreact.” Two days later, the same public health official admitted she’d been wrong: “We have discovered that there were not intentional Covid parties,” she said. “Just innocent endeavors.”

The latest version of the tale, from Alabama, follows the same pattern as the others. It appears to be the product of a weird game of telephone mixed with loose talk from public officials and disgracefully sloppy journalism. On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa fire chief Randy Smith told the city council that his department had heard about parties “where students or kids would come in with known positives.” It sounded like just a rumor, Smith said, but “not only did the doctors’ offices help confirm it, but the state also confirmed they had the same information.”

You’ll notice immediately that Smith didn’t say anything about people trying to get sick, let alone betting on who could do it first. So why is everyone saying that’s what happened? The notion seems to have originated with McKinstry, who shared it with ABC News after the meeting. It’s not clear whether McKinstry had a source for this idea, and she did not reply to WIRED’s request for comment. The Alabama Department of Health responded with a statement that it “has not been able to verify such parties have taken place.” It’s not even clear that the fire chief had it right about kids going to parties while knowing they were sick. (The Tuscaloosa Fire Department did not reply to a request for comment, either.) But that didn’t stop the dogpile of national media outlets repeating and amplifying the Covid betting-pot story as if it were fact.

The University of Alabama has investigated and found no evidence that “COVID parties are happening. Neither has the state Department of Public Health, according to Birmingham’s WBRC television.

But the toothpaste is out of the tube now. Next, news outlets may get their teenager moral panics mixed up and start reporting that the COVID partiers are also performing Satanic rituals and listening to back-masked messages on Judas Priest albums telling them to commit suicide.

Who needs Facebook and Twitter to spread viral misinformation when “mainstream” media outlets are doing the same thing?

“Unsolved Mysteries” in name only

The best thing about the reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, which debuted on Netflix yesterday, is the updated version of the iconic theme song. As the title appears on the screen, you can even see a shadowy outline of the late, great Robert Stack, who hosted the original program for several seasons on NBC.

After that, it’s basically just another crime documentary. A well-made crime documentary, but it’s just not the same as the series that captivated us during the eighties. Admittedly it’s hard to imagine a suitable replacement for Stack, but a host and narrator would make the stories move faster. (Dennis Farina, who hosted a short-lived revival, is sadly also no longer with us.)

The biggest problem is that each episode deals with only one case at a time. The disappearance and questionable “suicide” of Baltimore resident Rey Rivera, covered in episode one, is undeniably interesting. (Try watching it and tell me you don’t think his best friend/business partner has something to hide.)

But the original series treated us to three or four cases – usually an unsolved murder, a disappearance, and for dessert, an “unexplained” segment about UFOs or hauntings – per hour. If one story didn’t grab you, at least there was a good chance something more interesting was on its way. Considering how TV has ruined our attention spans just like it ruined our ability to…um, uh, oh well, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stick to the old formula, with more mysteries packed into the show’s running time.

This IndieWire review gets it pretty much exactly right:

…This new version of “Unsolved Mysteries” certainly tries to pay tribute to the original series, starting with a shadow of Stack accompanying the opening credits. But there’s something off about this one, akin to when you go to visit your favorite restaurant now under new management. The food and decor is the same, but the fundamental reason for its existence — the memories — have been washed away.

The 12-episode series has each 45-50 minute episode focus on one individual mystery. Almost immediately, this is frustrating because numerous shows, like “Forensic Files” and this new series’ closest competitor, “Dateline,” already do this. This isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting; they are just as compelling as the original series, particularly the story of missing man/alleged murderer Xavier DuPont de Ligonnes or the disappearance of Liehnia Chapin. But of the six episodes provided for review, all but one focus on a missing or murdered person, the lone hold-out being an examination of a series of UFO sightings in the Berkshires in 1969. This can easily cause burnout to set in, with what feels like the same story being told in slightly different ways.

What made “Unsolved” so unique from “America’s Most Wanted” or “Dateline” was that everything unexplained was up for grabs. Elongating episodes only works if there is a story worth fitting into nearly an hour, and of course murder and missing persons cases often can. But it will be hard to see the series tackle something like lost loves to fit in an hour. Conversely, some cases suffer from filler, with the camera capturing moody shots of centipedes walking through a wooded floor or, in the pilot episode focused on the death of Rey Rivera, taking two minutes to detail the unrelated significance of the location he died in. There’s a greater sense of tightness and cohesion — as well as being able to pack in more stories — with a shorter runtime.

The lack of a host also leads to a feeling of repetition. Stack and Farina’s narration not only kept things moving, but were able to fill in blanks that didn’t need to be prodded from the subjects. Here, the emphasis is on having the family members lay out the story in its entirety, and what isn’t verbally explicated is presented in on-screen timelines. This become laughable at times because a subject will say a person has been missing X amount of days, only for the timeline to spell out that same number of days. (The use of a host also negates the need for excess graphics that aren’t accessible to blind viewers.)

I’m still glad they brought it back, and I will certainly check out all six episodes. But if there’s a season two, here’s hoping the producers (including Stranger Things‘ Shawn Levy) hear out fans of the original to go back to what worked so well.

Privatize the statues

In an age where there is no consensus on which historical figures should be honored by public monuments – except maybe Dolly Parton, and I’m sure someone will find a reason to cancel even her before long – J.D. Tucille of Reason says the state should get out of the statue business altogether and leave it to private organizations to honour whomever they wish:

What all of these statues had in common is that they offended members of the public at a time when everything is up for grabs and Americans agree on exactly nothing, including the proper balance of virtues and flaws in fallible human beings. The majority of statues torn down were erected at taxpayers’ expense, maintained on land paid for with money extracted from everybody’s pockets, and offended (rightly or wrongly) people who resent being represented by them.

Less controversial has been the decision by the American Museum of Natural History to remove a statue of Teddy Roosevelt from its front entrance. While the statue is officially on public land, it clearly is intended as part of the museum and is seen as such. The museum is a private entity and is no longer comfortable with the way the statue represents the organization—a decision it has the right to make.

Much the same is true of the statue in Seattle of Vladimir Lenin, the communist dictator of the Soviet Union. While Lenin was a totalitarian and a thug, the statue is located (hilariously, given the subject’s militant socialism) on private property, leaving its fate in the hands of its owners.

And that, in an age in which there are few shared values or heroes, is the best way to deal with monuments. We no longer agree—if we ever did—on which qualities should be celebrated and what failings should be overlooked. We’re increasingly vocal about such disagreements, to the point that people are willing to tear down statues that offend them, and any future images are bound to cause more offense.

A statue on private property, erected with funds only from supporters, dragoons no unwilling parties into the message it expresses. Nobody need feel that they’re being forced to share in the celebration of people or ideals they oppose. A private construction can be left up as long as it pleases the owners or pulled down at their whim. And anybody who damages or destroys the monument without permission is an obvious vandal, subject to appropriate punishment.

[…]

If the confinement of monument construction to a private activity sounds like we’re giving up on the idea that we have much in common to celebrate, that’s probably true. But agreements of the past were overstated anyway. African-Americans didn’t just recently start resenting paying for statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest—they’ve had reason to loathe him from the beginning.

Now, the old disagreements are just more visible than ever and new ones set us ever-further at odds.

To give us less reason to fight, make all statues private projects, to be erected and maintained at the expense of the willing. Private funding of monuments won’t eliminate our disagreements, but it should help keep the resulting conflicts out of the streets.

I think this idea actually has a lot of merit, if you assume people are willing to respect your right to keep what you want on your private property.

If.

Biden’s brilliant campaign

The other day I responded to an anti-anti-Trump Facebook friend by pointing out that pretty much every criticism of Joe Biden – he mangles his words, he seems like he’s not all there sometimes, he’s a bit handsy with women, he’s in thrall to the most radical elements of his political party – apply at least double to Donald Trump.

As Jonathan Last and Sarah Longwell put in on The Bulwark Secret Podcast (which is absolutely worth sending a few bucks to The Bulwark to access it): every Trumpy criticism of Biden works only if you assume Biden’s opponent is not Donald Trump.

And right on cue, here’s the top story on Mediaite this morning:

Jonathan Chait says that contrary to popular belief, “Sleepy Joe” is actually running the perfect campaign for 2020:

It would obviously be a fallacy to attribute Biden’s current lead entirely, or even mostly, to his campaign strategy. The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.

For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.

Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy. Only one of them (his Breakfast Club interview) yielded a major gaffe.

And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.

[…]

…Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.

Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.

2016 was a choice between two deeply unpopular candidates. In the end, Democrats nominated the only person who could lose the election to Donald Trump, and Republicans nominated the only person who could lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In 2020 it’s between an incumbent Republican President who is still widely hated, and a Democrat whom no one (outside of the far-right and far-left fringe) really seems to mind all that much. And as long as Biden can keep this election campaign a referendum on Trump, he was win bigly.

I still have post-2016 stress disorder, so I won’t take anything for granted until Joe Biden is taking the oath of office. But if the election were held today, Trump would be struggling to hang on to Texas and Georgia, much less the rust belt seats in which he narrowly beat Clinton.

Biden’s opponents are making the same mistake the PC Party made while campaigning against Jean Chretien in 1993: they assumed he was yesterday’s man, out of step with the times and easy to beat.

That’s far from the only reason the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was routed – the PC vote was split badly by the emergence of the Bloc and Reform Parties, and the party was being led by a hopelessly incompetent future Twitter troll – but the fact is, Chretien didn’t last so long in politics without learning how to play the game skillfully. The same applies to Joe Biden in 2020.

Trump’s strongest allies

If Hans Christian Heg didn’t want people tearing down his statue, he shouldn’t have engaged in shameful behavior like (checks notes) giving his life in the fight against the institution of slavery:

Fury exploded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters smashed windows at the statehouse, attacked a state senator, and tore down two iconic statues — including one of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War.

The unrest began earlier Tuesday following the arrest of a Black man who was arrested after bringing a megaphone and a baseball bat into a Capitol square restaurant. It followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer.

[…]

In Madison, statues of Wisconsin’s motto “Forward” and of Col. Hans Christian Heg were dragged away from their spots guarding the statehouse.

Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into a Madison lake by protesters. 

The mob also attacked a Democratic state senator for the unforgivable crime of filming activity in a public place. Because, by and large, they’re neither Democrats nor democrats.

They reject electoral politics on principle and are at best indifferent to what happens this fall. On some level they probably prefer Trump to a moderate Democrat, because they think he is hastening the demise of the system. “After Hitler, our turn.”

Megan McArdle, no Trump supporter, says the President called it after Charlottesville:

…most of us have slowly forgotten about what else Trump said, although it was almost as controversial at the time: “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

This came in for much derision. In The Post, Princeton historian David Bell declared that the distinction between slavery-defending Vice President John C. Calhoun and George Washington “is not difficult to make.” Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, called the attempt to equate Confederates with Founding Fathers “absurd” and “unacceptable for the president of the United States,” while Douglas Blackmon of the University of Virginia said, “The most kind explanation of that can only be ignorance, and I don’t say that to insult the president.”

Three years later . . . can it be? Trump looks prescient, and his critics perhaps a touch naive. The iconoclasts, having largely defeated the rebel army, are turning on the Founding Fathers. It was supposed to be trivially easy to articulate those distinctions, yet I have not seen a flurry of commentary from historians eager to educate the protesters as they schooled Trump.

Even George Washington University, whose very name constitutes an endorsement of our first president, seems to have quietly removed a bust of Washington for safekeeping after it was toppled from its pedestal, rather than loudly condemn an attack on the father of our country.

[…]

What Trump understood, and his critics perhaps didn’t, was that you cannot credibly declare that some revolution in social affairs has a natural stopping point unless you personally commit to stopping it when it goes too far. It’s not enough to say that very clear distinctions can be drawn between allowing gays to marry and forcing people to cater weddings that conflict with their religious beliefs; between the father of our country and the traitor who led a rebel army in defense of slavocracy. When the moment arrives, you have to actually draw them.

If you don’t, you will cede issue after issue to the radicals. And if uou make those tacit concessions again and again and again, then however privately you may rue it, you will nonetheless end up with something very different from your idealistic vision. Something that looks like . . . well, like the Republicans who quietly ceded their party and their conscience to Trump, one outrage at a time.

Trump may be too far behind Biden to win this fall. (The latest New York Times poll has him at 36%, approximately Alf Landon’s percentage of the vote running against FDR in 1936.) But a lot can happen in 144 days, and Trump’s only real chance is if he has this kind of culture-war red meat to throw to his fanatical supporters.

If Joe Biden hasn’t loudly spoken out against this, he needs to get in front it immediately.

“Nineteen Eighty-Four” in Twenty-Twenty

A passage from George Orwell’s haunting masterpiece, when an imprisoned Winston Smith runs into an old comrade:

Why did that passage come back to me? Oh, no reason…

UBC has announced that former Board of Governors (BoG) Chair Michael Korenberg has resigned after he came under fire for liking tweets criticizing anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter protests.

The June 20 email from BoG Vice-Chair Sandra Cawley said that Korenberg’s resignation is effective immediately. Cawley will be assuming the role as interim chair.

“The Board of Governors and Mr. Korenberg would like to recognize that this has been deeply hurtful to members of our community and that UBC has zero tolerance for racism and recognizes that real harm is created from both overt and structural racism,” Cawley wrote.

After student group Students Against Bigotry tweeted screenshots of Korenberg’s liked tweets from Republican and American right-wing figures, faculty and community members were quick to criticize him on Twitter.

[…]

Korenberg said in an interview with The Ubyssey on June 19 that he liked the tweets to save them to look at later. He has since unliked all the offending tweets.

In a media statement sent to The Ubyssey on June 20, Korenberg acknowledged that the tweets he liked “supported regressive voices and took aim at thousands of brave individuals who are standing up against racism, discrimination and hatred.”

“While I do not support violence of any kind, I understand how my actions created questions about who I am and what I believe in. To be clear, I support Black Lives Matter and I support the de-racialization of our educational institutions and our country,” he wrote.

“But I accept that, in liking these social media posts, I damaged what I support and that I hurt people. I wholeheartedly apologize to them, particularly to the students, faculty and staff of UBC.”

Imagine how much easier Joe McCarthy’s job would have been, if he could have just found suspected Communists “liking” tweets from @JoeStalin1878.

The oldest hatred gets woke

Antisemitism is usually associated with the extreme right, for good reason: “alt-right” activists were literally chanting “Jews will not replace us!” in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia not too long ago. And while the current President may not be personally anti-semitic, he’s certainly shown no qualms about amplifying Jewish stereotypes and even neo-Nazis when he thinks it suits his purposes.

But antisemitism is a slippery and adaptable beast, and it has a foothold even among those who insist they’re against all forms of bigotry and hatred. Two recent examples:

First, a heartwarming viral photo from a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London showed a kindly-looking elderly man speaking to a young activist. Turns out that lovely old man is a veteran Holocaust denier:

Britain’s ITV News has been forced to retract a report purportedly about two anti-racism campaigners, one a young black girl and the other an elderly white man, joining forces across the generational divide, after it emerged that the man in question was known to attend antisemitic meetings where Holocaust denial was commonplace.The story was supposed to be a heart-warming one.

A photograph of Rosie Grace and Jim Curran in conversation, snapped by a student at a recent Black Lives Matter protest in London, had quickly gone viral, lauded across the internet as an illustration of the power of the anti-racism protests to bring people together in unity. Curran was particularly praised for a sign he was wearing, which read: “Racism is the virus and we are the vaccine.”

[…]

A report published jointly earlier this year by the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity which protects British Jews against antisemitism, and anti-racism charitable trust Hope Not Hate named Curran as a regular attendee of “Keep Talking,” described in the report as a “conspiracy theory organization” that meets regularly in north London.

According to the report’s authors, a meeting they attended included “open and unchallenged Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories about Mossad and the Rothschild banking family.”

A March 5, 2019 meeting was titled: “The loss of freedom of speech on Israel, thanks to bogus antisemitism claims.”

Grace, in a series of since-deleted tweets, made it clear she agrees with Curran:

The difficulty with the photo appears to first have been brought to light by Joanne Bell, an activist against antisemitism, according to CAMERA UK, which tweeted its opposition to the image being lauded. Bell commented in her tweet: “Racists can also wear suits and kindly elderly faces.”

Bell then put Curran’s record to Grace on Twitter, but the latter was unapologetic, defending Curran and his record. In a return tweet, Grace commented “I spoke with Jim and judge him on our convo and from his vibe and his work. The Jews are not innocent.” That tweet appears to have since been deleted.

In a separate tweet Grace added: “He is an activist and a beautiful man. Spoke some real deep truths. His words brought me to tears. He said the genocide the news [sic] went through, was nothing on slavery and what black people endured and are still enduring.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood has apparently decided that veteran Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan is a voice worth amplifying:

Actress Chelsea Handler shared a video of Louis Farrakhan discussing racism on her Instagram page on June 14 and called it “powerful.”

The video is a clip of the nation of Islam leader taking questions from the audience during an appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show” on an unspecified date. During the clip, Farrakhan discusses issues of racism and white supremacy.

“I learned a lot from watching this powerful video,” Handler wrote on her Instagram page.

One Instagram user responded in the comments section, “Based on this logic, if you find a video of Hitler saying something positive and powerful, will you feel equally compelled to share it? You gave hate credibility and a large platform today.”

In the comments section, Handler defended posting the video.

“Hitler was responsible for killing millions of lives,” she replied. “Farrakhan is just responsible for his own promotion of anti-Semitic beliefs. They are very different.”

Another commenter praised Handler for posting the video, stating: “Truth is truth, regardless of who it comes from and whether you like them.”

Handler responded, “Agreed. The message should stand alone.”

[…]

Writer Hazel Cills noted on the feminist website Jezebel that actor Sean Hayes and actress Lisa Rinna also praised the video, and that actress Jessica Chastain may have posted it to her Instagram page before deleting it.

“While he has denied being anti-Semitic, Farrakhan has previously called Judaism a ‘gutter religion,’ has referred to Adolf Hitler as a ‘great man,’ and has spoken about ‘powerful’ and ‘Satanic’ Jews as being his enemy, among many other statements condemning Jewish people,” Cills wrote.

None of these people have access to the nuclear codes, Thank God. But every really bad idea starts out on the fringe and gains currency because more mainstream people adopt it. We should be trying to snuff them out before they get that far.

John-Paul Pagano, a veteran observer of antisemitic conspiracy culture, puts it best:

The Union of Soviet Social Media

Izabella Tabarovsky, writing in Tablet, says social media mobs remind her of what her family left behind in the USSR:

Collective demonizations of prominent cultural figures were an integral part of the Soviet culture of denunciation that pervaded every workplace and apartment building. Perhaps the most famous such episode began on Oct. 23, 1958, when the Nobel committee informed Soviet writer Boris Pasternak that he had been selected for the Nobel Prize in literature—and plunged the writer’s life into hell. Ever since Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago had been first published the previous year (in Italy, since the writer could not publish it at home) the Communist Party and the Soviet literary establishment had their knives out for him. To the establishment, the Nobel Prize added insult to grave injury.

Within days, Pasternak was a target of a massive public vilification campaign. The country’s prestigious Literary Newspaper launched the assault with an article titled “Unanimous Condemnation” and an official statement by the Soviet Writers’ Union—a powerful organization whose primary function was to exercise control over its members, including by giving access to exclusive benefits and basic material necessities unavailable to ordinary citizens. The two articles expressed the union’s sense that in view of Pasternak’s hostility and slander of the Soviet people, socialism, world peace, and all progressive and revolutionary movements, he no longer deserved the proud title of Soviet Writer. The union therefore expelled him from its ranks.

[…]

The mobs that perform the unanimous condemnation rituals of today do not follow orders from above. But that does not diminish their power to exert pressure on those under their influence. Those of us who came out of the collectivist Soviet culture understand these dynamics instinctively. You invoked the “didn’t read, but disapprove” mantra not only to protect yourself from suspicions about your reading choices but also to communicate an eagerness to be part of the kollektiv—no matter what destructive action was next on the kollektiv’s agenda. You preemptively surrendered your personal agency in order to be in unison with the group. And this is understandable in a way: Merging with the crowd feels much better than standing alone.

Those who remember the Soviet system understand the danger of letting the practice of collective denunciation run amok. But you don’t have to imagine an American Stalin in the White House to see where first the toleration, then the normalization, and now the legitimization and rewarding of this ugly practice is taking us.

Americans have discovered the way in which fear of collective disapproval breeds self-censorship and silence, which impoverish public life and creative work. The double life one ends up leading—one where there is a growing gap between one’s public and private selves—eventually begins to feel oppressive. For a significant portion of Soviet intelligentsia (artists, doctors, scientists), the burden of leading this double life played an important role in their deciding to emigrate.

Those who join in the hounding face their own hazards. The more loyalty you pledge to a group that expects you to participate in rituals of collective demonization, the more it will ask of you and the more you, too, will feel controlled. How much of your own autonomy as a thinking, feeling person are you willing to sacrifice to the collective? What inner compromises are you willing to make for the sake of being part of the group? Which personal relationships are you willing to give up?

In retrospect, the Justine Sacco incident – when we collectively decided to gang up on one person and destroy her for an ill-considered joke – was a turning point. When I saw that Sacco’s flight information was posted to the Google search page, I realized something had changed.

What do you do with a problematic statue?

Some good sense from Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe: some statues of controversial people really should come down from their places of prominence, while others deserve to stay up despite their subjects’ flaws. And either way, it’s not up to angry mobs (some of whom have been targeting monuments to anti-slavery activists, whether out of ignorance or sheer nihilism) to decide.

There are two issues here to contend with.

One ought to be straightforward: The disposition of public art and public spaces should not be settled by mob action. The wanton and malicious destruction of public property is a crime, and not prosecuting serious vandalism is tantamount to inviting more of it. The case for getting rid of a statue may be entirely compelling, but the issue shouldn’t be decided by the impulse of an angry crowd. Militant activism is a dangerous substitute for the democratic process, and almost inevitably goes too far.

But the deeper issue — when is it appropriate to purge statues and monuments that people find offensive? — is less clear-cut.

Plainly there will be instances where the case for removing a statue or other form of public acclaim (such as the name of a street or building) is compelling; there will be other instances where the case for not doing so is equally irresistible. A good example of the former is Leopold II, who was reviled even in his own day for his ghastly crimes against humanity in the Congo, and who is remembered today for almost nothing else. Good examples of the latter are the statues of Lincoln, Churchill, and Gandhi, who — however unenlightened some of their racial views by 21st-century standards — were towering figures of extraordinary importance who indisputably changed the world for the better.

But often the issue won’t be as easy, because there are strong arguments both ways.

[…]

How should we decide when it’s appropriate to remove a statue or monument to some person from a public place of honor? I argue for a two-part test: (1) Was that person honored for unworthy or indecent behavior? (2) Is that person known today primarily for unworthy or indecent behavior? When the answer to both is no, the statue or monument should stay.

Back home in St. John’s, a statue of Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real is in the crosshairs. This CBC article tells the strange tale of how it got to Newfoundland in the first place:

Erected in 1965, the statue — according to a plaque at the site — not so much celebrates Corte-Real himself as recognizes the connection between the province and Portugal, through their mutual fishing of the Grand Banks.

The statue has been notorious for years. In contemporary accounts, Corte-Real was said to have abducted around 57 Indigenous people on his 1501 arrival in Newfoundland or Labrador to sell as slaves.

That is enough for many to want the statue removed.

However, according to York University professor Gilberto Fernandes, the history of the statue is even more controversial than critics suspect.

[…]

One push of the propaganda wing of Portugal’s right-wing regime, the Estado Novo, was to clear up their image by promoting the Corte-Real brothers — Gaspar and Miguel — as important founding figures in the colonization of North America, thus making Portugal a more legitimate player in Canadian and American identity. 

During an official visit in 1963, the Portuguese ambassador suggested a Corte-Real statue to celebrate the connection between that country and Newfoundland. Premier Joseph Smallwood enthusiastically received the proposal.

The piece was sculpted by Martins Correia, an artist frequently used by the Estado Novo office of propaganda.

“Smallwood … promised to place it in front of the new legislative building in St. John’s and surround it with Portuguese soil and proclaim an annual Portugal day in the province,” said Fernandes.

Smallwood even invited dictator António Salazar to attend the unveiling.

Turns out it’s not just left-wing dictators with whom Smallwood was besotted.

Corte-Real’s connection to Newfoundland may have been tenuous in any event, and maybe it is indeed time to move his statue. But I also think its unusual history means it should be preserved somewhere.

Bring on Bolton’s Book

After months of delays, a book by Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton is about to be released. And according to Axios, the contents are damning:

In a memoir coming June 23 that the White House has tried to delay, former national security adviser Bolton will offer multiple revelations about Trump’s conduct in office, with direct quotes by the president and senior officials, according to a source familiar with the book.

Why it matters: Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush, is a lifelong conservative and longtime Fox News contributor who is well-known by the Trump base, the source pointed out.

In “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton will go beyond Ukraine, and argue there was “Trump misconduct with other countries,” the source said.

Axios agreed to grant anonymity to the source in order to give readers a window into the book ahead of publication.

Behind the scenes: People close to Trump have been worried about the book because Bolton was known as the most prolific note taker in high-level meetings, Jonathan Swan reports.

Mind you, there seems to be a damning Trump White House book out every week, so Bolton’s book may not have much shock value. But I still don’t understand why anti-Trumpers seem downright angry about a potentially damaging book coming out.

No. No, the Senate would not have done an additional goddamn thing if Bolton’s book had been out before impeachment. They can’t even bring themselves to condemn the President’s twitter conspiracy theories about an assault victim. What, in the past three years, would make you think that any Republican Senator not named Romney would do anything to offend the Dear Leader?

If The Room Where It Happened had come out before impeachment, it would be as forgotten as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and its sequel, Siege. Did you even know there was a sequel? Exactly my point.

I’m glad it’s coming out now, instead. If anything, I’d like the release to be delayed further and have it come out maybe a month before Election Day. If its contents are as shocking as we’re being told, it might still make a difference.

There is one person still in the Trump White House book whose book I really can’t wait to read someday. I’m so excited for it, I may even try to read it in the original Slovenian.