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The ideological battle dividing the world is perfectly illustrated by this fight over a Polish museum

Sat, 2017-08-19 03:00

Following last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, where a confrontation between a march of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and counter-protesters turned violent, a long-standing debate surfaced over the difference between history and memory. Is tearing down Confederate monuments erasing history, like US president Donald Trump says? Or is it changing “how we remember history,” as one historian put it in the New York Times? A version of this debate is happening in other countries in democracies that are going through similar battles over the shape of their identity. Memory easily becomes a weapon, wielded by two camps that are beyond the point of attempting dialogue.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Poland, where a heated political debate centers around not a monument, but a museum.

The Museum of World War II opened in March 2017 in Gdańsk, a seaside city where the first shots of the war were fired. Work on the structure and exhibits lasted nearly a decade. In the meantime, the country’s political situation was upended. Some Poles became politically apathetic, others disillusioned with the centrist government of Donald Tusk, who now serves as the president of the European Council. This allowed Law and Justice, a right-wing populist party boosted by the support of the Catholic church, to sweep in and win the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections. The new political guard is not happy with the museum’s main exhibition, a comprehensive view of the war that focuses on the life and suffering of civilians all around the world. Law and Justice doesn’t think that the exhibit, which was commissioned by the previous government—its arch enemy—shows the most important aspect of the war: the unique quality of Polish martyrdom and heroism.

In many ways, the battle over the museum is just another front of a larger global ideological war. On one side, you have the universalists, armed with their globalism, liberalism, and concerns for human rights. On the other, you have the nationalists, wielding their exceptionalism, isolationism, and often conservative religious values. These two narratives clash as they try to define polarized nations and their place in the world.

In Poland, these visions are roughly represented by two groups: city-dwelling EU loyals versus the largely small-town “patriotic” crowds that enthusiastically greeted Donald Trump during a recent visit to the country. World War II was an unavoidable, inescapable presence in the country where it started, and it thoroughly devastated the nation. Both of these groups aim to make the war’s history their own, interpreting it in vastly different ways, and taking from it completely opposite lessons.

A global war…

The museum is massive. From the outside, it’s a lop-sided structure, jutting out of an

Propaganda posters from both sides.

otherwise sparse square at a dramatic angle, designed to evoke a crumbling house. To enter, you descend below ground. The exhibition is centered on an axis that runs through the building, a high-vaulted hallway of sorts, lit by a stark stream of daylight down the middle.

How the paths of totalitarian movements around the world co-existed and converged becomes evident through propaganda posters that scream at you from the first rooms of the exhibit, country by country: Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain. The graphics, colors, and content are often strikingly similar, reminding the viewer about the uniformity of supremacist and authoritarian ideas.

Later on in the exhibit, you’ll see photographic evidence of how lines to get strictly rationed food were long in both France and Russia, and you’ll be able to listen to the

War on the other side of the world.

upbeat music that helped people keep their spirits up in different countries. A list of pogroms and massacres of civilians shows not only the ones that are well known in Poland, but also of tragic events in Greece and the former Czechoslovakia.

The war affected everyone, from Croatians to Koreans. Even the Soviet Union, Poland’s number one enemy throughout the centuries, is shown with compassion in a chilling room about the siege of Leningrad, through which the eerie chants of Russian monks waft.

…or a globalist one?

Even before the museum opened, minister of culture Piotr Gliński, likely basing his criticisms on the opinions of two right-wing historians and a pundit that he commissioned, said that its character is too universalist (link in Polish), and that it does not highlight Polish suffering enough. Gliński’s experts, who only saw a 90-page description of the exhibit, complained that the Warsaw Uprising, the biggest single resistance effort against the Nazis during the war (which has its own massive museum in Warsaw), was virtually absent, as were the pogroms of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists. Historian and Law and Justice senator Jan Żaryn, in his critique, described on Gdańsk’s official city website, said that creators of the exhibit introduced a “leftist-liberal narrative.” He unabashedly went after the gut-wrenching section on hunger in Jewish ghettos, seemingly trying to say it wasn’t anything unique—that Poles experienced hunger as well.

A reconstruction of a Polish street before the war and during its course.

It’s difficult to see this criticism as valid. The museum is filled with examples of Polish suffering and the nation’s valiant spirit. You can learn both about the Uprising and the pogroms. There’s a powerful room on the Katyń massacre, where the Soviet secret service murdered thousands of Polish military officers, and there’s a separate section for the Nazi Enigma coding machine that the Poles helped crack. The museum is, after all, in Poland, and it’s from a Polish perspective—it’s just not in your face.

Gliński wanted to merge the museum with another institution he was planning, which would focus on the first days of the war and on the plight of the Poles. This sparked widespread outcry, including from top foreign historians who collaborated on the museum’s exhibit, who said the merger was simply a ploy to gain control of the project. Despite this, a court sided with the government in April (paywall).

Many are concerned about potential censorship in the museum, changes that would comply with a politicized version of history embraced by the right-wing government, the so-called “politics of memory (paywall).” The way this policy now functions in Poland often enters whitewashing territory.

One example is a decision from the Polish state-run television to precede the broadcast of the Oscar-winning film Ida with a 12-minute program that warns about historical “inaccuracies,” including an overly critical portrayal of Poles in relation to the country’s Jewish population during the Nazi occupation. Norman Davies, one of the most preeminent historians studying Poland abroad, calls current-day “politics of memory” in Poland “a xenophobic attempt to re-write history” in an interview with The Observer.

Averting one’s eyes from a global and multicultural point of view is of course a theme du jour among the world’s populists—this is, in part, how the US got Trump and Charlottesville, the UK got Brexit, and France came close to getting Marine LePen as president. (The latter has used very similar “politics of memory” tactics by denying the French role in the infamous Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews who were later sent to their deaths.)

An attempt to quash a narrative of World War II that puts emphasis on its international character is in a way just another proxy for standing against the forces of globalization. In Poland those forces are most immediately represented by the European Union, whose sanction mechanisms have become virtually the only threat to Law and Justice’s power.

If you look away from the global character of war, you can’t make connections between the war in Syria and what happened to Poland during World War II—which the museum quite literally attempts, showing images of Syrian refugees in a film that concludes the exhibit. It recounts the post-war history of the world, still filled with armed conflict. Once you decide to ignore these links, it’s much easier to refuse letting in refugees to the country, something the Polish government has been adamant about. The Museum’s current director, appointed by Law and Justice, is not a fan of this film, which he says is confusing (link in Polish).

War is bad—or not?

A large space in the museum is devoted to the military, where history nerds of a certain

1940s condoms.

kind lean over glass cases to scrutinize models of ships and planes. A huge, life-size aircraft hangs from the ceiling, creating the impression that you’re about to get hit by Nazi fire. But while the museum has two actual tanks, you’d be hard-pressed to find extensive discussion of strategy or tactics, battle plans and maps. It’s not the institution’s focus. Even the military exhibit homes in on the individual, human experience of being a soldier, displaying tiny treasures such as 1940s condoms, covered by innocent illustrations that look quaint today, and the meticulous engravings on privates’ metal canteens.

The parachute wedding dress.

The museum is full of such small examples of coping with the overwhelming reality of war. There are recipes that helped people make the best of the ersatz products available in war-ravaged stores, and my favorite object was a wedding dress made out of a Japanese parachute that an American army engineer brought back for his bride at a time when silk was a rare commodity. Human resilience is an important part of the exhibit—but so is the war’s tragedy. The wedding dress is in the museum’s central hallway, at the exit of a room that features a documentary about Korean comfort women, and at the entrance of a space dominated by a replica of a cattle-train car that was used to transport Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Another conservative historian who reviewed plans of the museum said that the “most appropriate summary of the [museum’s] message is a phrase used in Poland during communism: ‘War—never again!’” His statement is meant to be derogatory because of its association with a dark period in Polish history. War, he continues, “hardens man, shows his most noble intentions, patriotism, civic duty, and sacrifice for others.” In other words—he believes it’s just not right that the main message of a World War II museum should be: “War is bad.”

For some, this sentiment will be astonishing. It did raise controversy among some Polish observers. But it will be perfectly on point for others. It’s hard to imagine that the master ideologue and architect behind Donald Trump’s populist appeal, the just-deposed Steve Bannon, would disagree, considering his obsession with war. After all, in a documentary that Bannon directed and wrote, the generation that was shaped by the hardships of World War II and the Great Depression emerges as far superior to the one of its children, baby boomers who eschewed traditional American values and destroyed the country.

In this general view, war is defined not by the millions of murdered civilians and conscripts or by all-encompassing destruction—it’s defined by the tough, noble, patriotic ideal of a warrior.

Always fighting the enemy

There is, of course, a much more mundane explanation of the battle over the museum. Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Law and Justice and the puppet master behind its every political move, has said that the institution is “Donald Tusk’s gift for Angela Merkel, serving Germany’s politics of history.” Merkel is a stand in for the historical enemy, now a shining example of a European success story. Tusk, one of Gdańsk’s most famous sons, is his arch enemy, exemplifying the image of Poland that is the opposite of Kaczyński’s: European, liberal, with capitalist, elite values.

That’s a crucial reason for why Kaczyński and his party hate the museum so much: A certain fixation on the previous political guard is an indispensable ingredient of populist rule, one we see frequently in America: Trump can’t seem to stop talking about his former opponent Hillary Clinton, and he is obsessed with his predecessor Barack Obama. It’s always easier to function in campaign mode; it’s simpler to rally-up the crowd if there’s an enemy to point to, than to actually do the work of governing.

But the events in Charlottesville, and those images of Syrian refugees, projected on a wall of a museum in Poland, further remind us that politics of global history—or memory—are as important, perhaps more important, today, as have ever been before.

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Mark Zuckerberg’s own paternity-leave plans are a step toward a more fair workplace

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:49

As he did after the birth of his first child in 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking two months’ paternity leave from the company when his second daughter arrives. This time, Zuckerberg will break up the leave, spending one month at home with his children and wife Priscilla Chan right after the baby’s birth and taking the rest of the leave in December.

Zuckerberg is using only half of the four months of paid parental leave that Facebook allots male and female employees. It’s still far more time than the typical father takes off work for the birth of a child in the US, where only 15% of companies in a national survey last year offered paid paternity leave.

The lack of paid leave for men hurts parents who want to share the experience of caring for their babies, and contributes to the persistent lag in women’s wages and workforce participation. Fully paid paternity leave is key to breaking a vicious cycle in which employers pay women less and bypass them for promotions in anticipation that they’ll take time off to raise children, making the lower-earning female partner the natural choice to take unpaid or partially paid leave that’s ostensibly offered to both parents.

As Quartz’s Gwynn Guilford pointed out in a 2014 analysis of parental leave policies in Sweden and Japan, the more parental leave men take, the sooner women go back to work. A 2010 study in Sweden found that a woman’s future earnings rose 7% for every month her partner took under the country’s paid parental leave system, which incentivizes both parents to take time off. Sweden has one of the world’s highest rates of working women, and a nearly non-existent wage gap.

But it’s not enough for companies to offer paternity leave. Men have to actually take it, and this is where Zuckerberg’s decision to make his family plans public is significant. In a 2014 survey by the Working Mother Research Institute, men reported a significant gap between the availability of family-friendly, flexible working policies and the degree to which they were encouraged to take them. Those who did feel supported by their employers reported more satisfaction with the company, their careers, and their home lives.

“At Facebook, we offer four months of maternity and paternity leave because studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, it’s good for the entire family,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “And I’m pretty sure the office will still be standing when I get back.”

Meanwhile, there’s no better way to encourage employee behavior than to lead by example.

 

Read next: A year after the UK created near-equal parental leave, women still do almost all the parenting

Steve Bannon is more dangerous outside the Trump White House than in it

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:12

Steve Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist, has left the Trump administration that he helped put into power, after losing long-running feuds with the president’s economic and security advisors. “We are grateful for his service,” said the White House press secretary in a statement, “and wish him the best.”

They may wish him the best, but they should also fear the worst.

Bannon was often portrayed as the puppet-master behind Trump, manipulating his boss into extreme positions on issues as wide-ranging as Islam, climate change, and trade. That portrayal has become less convincing as rivals in the White House gained the president’s favor, weakening Bannon but making no difference to Trump’s pugnacity.

But leaving the White House does not make Bannon less powerful. If anything, becoming a free agent will make it easier for him to push his agenda. Ousting him unleashes a man who has championed white nationalism in America, has shown a thirst for revenge and a disregard for behavioral norms, and has a deep knowledge of the White House. Unfettered, he could undermine the Trump presidency, further radicalize and unify the disparate right-wing groups that helped bring Trump to power, and even expand hate-fueled nationalistic movements globally.

The Breitbart effect

Bannon is expected to return to Breitbart, the right-wing, white-nationalist-leaning website that he ran before he joined the campaign in August of 2016. The site, which he has called the “platform for the alt-right,” has a history of skewering people that Bannon personally dislikes as well as publishing anti-immigrant fake news and misogynistic commentary.

Breitbart’s star has waned since last year: In June, its traffic was less than half (paywall) what it had been the previous November. But it remains a major force in right-wing media, and with Breitbart alone, Bannon can do a lot of damage.

During the 2016 presidential election campaign Breitbart cemented its role as an agenda-setter not only for the right-wing media but for the mainstream as well, as Harvard professor Yochai Benkler and his colleagues showed in a study earlier this year. The site helped focus election coverage on Trump’s immigration and grandiose jobs-creation rhetoric—as opposed to, say, his alleged sexual assaults on women or his Trump University, which settled a civil fraud trial earlier this year—while diverting attention away from Clinton’s economic messages and towards her email scandal instead.

"Steve is now unchained," source close to Bannon tells me. "Fully unchained."

— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) August 18, 2017

As editor of Breitbart, Bannon would be a natural fit for the role of ideological unifier and leader of the alt-right, a fractured but growing movement in the United States. His dark vision of America—which eschews liberalism and globalization, claims that Islam is at war with Christianity, and believes a violent crisis is necessary to renew American values—cuts across many of the concerns shared by disparate right-leaning ideologies. It is part of a movement believes that white identity is under attack in the US, and attacks both traditional Republicans and Democrats. Bannon’s influence could spread far beyond US shores as well—he has reached out to far-right politicians in Europe in recent years, praising France’s Marine Le Pen, for example.

Waning in the White House

Trump’s relationship with Bannon started with the would-be president frequently appearing as a guest on Bannon’s popular Breitbart call-in radio show. Bannon masterminded the Trump campaign’s populist push, which decried big mergers, accused China of “raping” the US, and, perhaps above all, demonized Muslims and Islam.

The most significant aspect of this populism is Trump’s protectionist “America First” platform, of which Bannon was also a chief architect. He was the president’s top general in the battle against “globalists,” a bogeyman that Breitbart constantly invokes and sees as ascendant in the Trump administration. (On Breitbart.com, the names of supposed “globalists” are often portrayed with globes on either side of them, a sub rosa form of condemnation that also echoes the anti-Semitic signal of placing brackets on either side of Jewish names.)

But the primary target of “America First” was always immigration. Here again Bannon was the point man, designing policies to restrict movement into the US. He authored—along with White House advisor Stephen Miller—Trump’s early executive order limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries (which came to be known as the “Muslim ban”), and he believes that immigrants lack democratic “DNA.”

A Breitbart.com headline with “globalist” signage.

Inside the White House, however, other strong personalities hemmed Bannon in, and “America First” was frequently undercut by some of those same “globalists”—the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic aide. Bannon clashed with national security advisor H.R. McMaster and with Cohn in recent months as he argued for a less aggressive stance toward North Korea. The president was reportedly furious that Bannon publicly contradicted his position on North Korea in a bizarre interview this week. In that interview, Bannon went so far as to declare open war on Cohn.

Bannon is said to have resigned on amicable terms—an anonymous “source close to” him told several news outlets he had turned in his resignation on Aug. 7. (Other reports say it was Trump’s decision.) But even if this is true, the question is what Bannon will do when his to-do list diverges from Trump’s, as it inevitably will.

“He’s going nuclear. You have no idea,” a friend of his reportedly told the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray; Axios, similarly, reports that he plans to go “thermonuclear” against “globalists” and that Breitbart is a “killing machine.” Though he may not go after Trump himself, or at least not immediately, the threat of Bannon will loom over the Oval Office throughout the president’s tenure.

Can Donald escape Steve?

Trump’s romp to the White House owes a great deal to the stories Bannon spun—particularly those demonizing illegal immigration, fanning paranoia about Islamic terrorism and urban crime waves, and fetishizing “law and order”—that appealed to the alt-right. The president’s bungling of the Charlottesville tragedy suggests how beholden he still is to that group.

Though their ranks are small, they’ve successfully pushed into the mainstream political conversation, giving credibility to the narratives that whites are held to an unfair double standard and that political correctness has made their cultural interests subsidiary to those of non-whites. These are the narratives that animate Trump’s base.

If Trump, in an attempt to restart his paralyzed legislative agenda, tries to broaden his appeal to moderate Republicans (and even, gasp, Democrats), he will have to repudiate many of these positions. Will Breitbart then turn on him? Trump knows full well that the site has helped destroy Republicans it deemed insufficiently conservative (see: Eric Cantor). And given how outraged the Breitbart crowd has been of late at Trump’s treatment of one of their heroes, attorney general Jeff Sessions, he can’t take their loyalty for granted.

In fact, there are already hints that the alt-right is ready to battle the Trump administration. A recent Breitbart article about reports that Trump was being pressured to oust Bannon said that Bannon’s critics were giving “Trump voters the middle finger”. Another demonized Republicans John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney for criticizing the president’s response to the Charlottesville protests, calling them the “enemy.” Yet another, published just after the news of Steve Bannon’s departure, warned that Trump risks becoming “Schwarzenegger 2.0”, in a reference to the former California governor, who campaigned as a populist outsider and ended his term with rock-bottom approval ratings. And the author of that article, Breitbart editor Joel Pollak, tweeted, simply, “#WAR.”

Bannon’s media empire

Perhaps turning Breitbart against Trump wouldn’t deal a death blow to the president. But Bannon’s media reach isn’t limited to that site. He’s proven himself masterful at injecting narratives into mainstream press coverage. Bannon’s research center, the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), produced the 2015 book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Released around the same time Clinton announced her candidacy, the stories from Clinton Cash grabbed headlines for months thanks to Bannon’s adroitly feeding parts of the story as exclusives to such “globalist” outlets as the New York Times, as Joshua Green explained in his 2015 profile of Bannon.

The puppet-master may soon have plenty other media in his arsenal. For one thing, he’s much better known than before he joined Trump’s campaign; if he resumes his role as a radio host, his reach will be vastly greater.

Whatever he does next, it will be well-financed. There are already rumors that far-right political donor Robert Mercer will fund Bannon’s next move, and conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson is another of his political patrons (paywall). Money like that could be used to build a media empire to rival Fox News, which has been losing credibility among the likes of Breitbart readers, who are often to the right of Fox’s stances. With Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer—who also sits on the board of GAI—Bannon also formed a film production company, Glittering Steel, that aims to make political advertisements as well as commercially successful Christian-themed movies, according to a new book by Green, Devil’s Bargain.

In short, Bannon’s ouster from the White House isn’t the end, but only the beginning.

Bye-bye Bannon, Barcelona manhunt continues, and eight other stories you might have missed

Fri, 2017-08-18 16:46
1. The suck stops here

Steve Bannon says he issued his resignation several days ago. President Trump said that he made the decision to push Bannon aside. It’s probably more likely that this was John Kelly’s decision. Either way, this is Steve Bannon’s last day in the administration. (Luckily, he was squeezed out before any of his white nationalist views could take hold in the White House.) Here’s a running list of the firings, resignations and withdrawn nominations of the Trump White House.

+ Ryan Lizza: Firing Steve Bannon Won’t Change Donald Trump. (Maybe not, but Sebastian Gorka now has five openings for lunch next week…)

+ Meanwhile, the fallout from the president’s comments on Charlottesville continues. Following the statements against hate and bigotry from the Joint Chiefs and all the top military leaders, secretary of state Tillerson also distanced himself from the president’s position.

+ Members of the president’s Arts and Humanities Commission have resigned.

+ Mitt Romney called on president Trump to apologize (can you imagine that and a full eclipse happening in the same week?) “The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize.” (How would that go? “Hey, sorry about the birther thing, the dog whistles, the campaign rhetoric, and my suggestion—over the course of three days, several comments, and a bunch of tweets—that those who oppose Nazis are just as much to blame as the Nazis. It just slipped out.”)

+ “I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.” That comment, along with a million dollar donation to the ADL, came from Fox CEO James Murdoch. (Oddly, there was no mention of Murdoch’s comments on Fox News’ site, either last night or today.)

+ In the spirit of full disclosure, and in an effort to break free of the echo chamber of my own media bubble, I should report that not everyone is breaking with Trump. From VP Mike Pence: “In president Donald Trump, the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy and can-do spirit is reminiscent of president Teddy Roosevelt.”

2. Barcelona manhunt

From the BBC: “The suspects in the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils were planning one or more bigger attacks than those that were carried out, police say. They said blasts on Wednesday in a town south of Barcelona deprived plotters of bomb material, so they executed simpler attacks using vehicles to ram crowds.”

+ Five terror suspects have been killed and four arrested. A manhunt continues for at least four more people. Here are the latest details from The Guardian.

3. Weekend whats

What to Shine: Trust me, what you need this weekend is to sit down and listen to Mondo Cozmo’s album Plastic Soul on Spotify (or your music service of choice). Mondo Cozmo is the alias of Josh Ostrander, a long time artist from Philly who recently hit it big with the song Shine. I was lucky enough to see Josh play in a room filled without about 25 people at Outside Lands in SF last week. Here’s my recording of an acoustic version of Shine.

+ What to Wear: Mondo Cozmo Josh and I bonded over the fact that we both wear the same hat brand (him, because they’re cool, me, because of the bald spot). Goorin really does make the best baseball caps.

+ What to Hear: Letterman talking to Stern for an hour and a half. What more do you want!?

+ What to Watch: Feel like you need a leader to give a good, level-headed, thoughtful speech about the Confederate statue issue? Well, here’s some good news. NOLA’s Mitch Landrieu already did it a couple months ago.

+ What to Dave: And if you missed it earlier, please give a quick read to the post I wrote about this week, my parents, and you: The Looking Glass.

4. Get your move on

In his most famous routine, comedian Sam Kinison used to advise starving people to “move to where the food is.” You can almost hear someone telling people in unemployment zones to move to where the jobs are. But there’s a problem with that advice. For most people, it’s too expensive to live where the jobs are. Vox with an interesting look at the real driver of regional inequality in America.

5. Joules for Jesus

“Right now the most desirable battery materials are ones we can’t use. For example, there are very desirable materials for lithium batteries that would give them more capacity, but they’re not safe in a liquid. Basically, all of a sudden maybe a half dozen things that people have been trying to do with lithium batteries that weren’t possible are possible. You can make better lithium batteries.” From Steven Levy in Backchannel: Bill Joy Finds The Jesus Battery.

6. Djibouti Call

“Analysts say Djibouti’s geostrategic location and its stability in a volatile region has made it an important playground for world powers.” From Quartz: How a tiny African country became the world’s key military base.

7. Bing’s cherry condition

“The company claims that fully one-third of searches in the US are powered by Bing, either directly or through Yahoo or AOL (both of which provide results generated by Microsoft).” From Ars Technica: Bing is bigger than you think. (It’s true, I googled it.)

8. Who turned out the lights?

“As for the eclipse, I’m honestly not sure what I think creates the eclipse or what it means, but I’m very interested to observe and contemplate and share theories. Actually, a bunch of us…are getting together this Sunday night to talk thoughts and theories about the eclipse.” I know, I know. You think you’ve read everything there is to read about Monday’s eclipse. But wait. You forgot to check in with the flat Earthers.

+ (Tangentially) Related: Total Eclipse of the Heart was almost a Meat Loaf Song.

9. Reading assignment

My kids: “Daddy, will you read us a bedtime story?” Me: “I have a better idea. Let’s ask George Guidall to do it.” From the NYT: Why George Guidall is the Undisputed King of Audiobooks. “I’m creating accidental intimacy. The people listening feel so close to me. I’m the furthest thing from a rock star, but I’m a rock star.” (I have zero clue why the NYT didn’t have Guidall provide an audio version of this article.)

10. Bottom of the news

“Someone has to stand up and speak truth to power. I can’t stay silent because someday, I want my children to be able to look back at this moment and know that their father had the courage to stand on the shoulders of the great leaders in human history. I want my parents to know that their son lived his life with the steadfast courage and moral determination of the likes of Ghandi, Mandela, and MLK. I want my nephews and nieces to know that their uncle refused to say uncle.” At long last, a profile in courage: To My Fellow Americans

+ “Interestingly, there are a lot of fans that are actively theorizing and creating spaces for its adult fans to consider what this all means. While the mainstream has made it seem as if 1D only has teen fans, there have always been older fans—and, at this point in its ‘extended hiatus’ moment, there’s clearly an appetite for more like-minded dialogue.” Everything you need to know about the inner lives of adult One Direction fans.

+ “Adding a few drops of water would therefore continue to increase the concentration of guaiacol molecules at the surface, potentially improving the taste.” You should add a little water to your whiskey. Chemists say so.

+ Politico: The agonizing, 8-page memo on how to chauffeur a congressman.

Quartz now syndicates NextDraft, a daily roundup for the day’s most fascinating news curated by Dave Pell. Read the archive here. Sign up to get the newsletter or download the app here.

Classic cars aren’t such a racy investment any more

Fri, 2017-08-18 16:42

At this week’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, an elite annual car show, a 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 is set to sell for a cool $20 million. Not far behind is an orange-trim 1970 Porsche, valued at $16 million. Overall, auctions at the event are expected to bring in $290 million. (Gawk at the classic cars in this Bloomberg photoessay of the event.)

The projected proceeds are 14% lower than last year. The Hagerty Blue Chip Index, a measure of the 25 most “sought-after collectible automobiles of the post-war era,” fell 1% in the second half of 2016, after roughly doubling over the past five years. Ferrari valuations have dropped by 2%, on average, since January. That’s the largest decline in eight years for the red-hot segment of the classic-car market. An index measuring prices broadly in the collectible car market in North America has been slipping for the past two years.

One of the factors in the classic-car market’s deceleration is, as it happens, the Federal Reserve. As the central bank hikes interest rates, the relative value of risky assets falls as the return on safer assets, like US treasury bonds, rises. The Fed’s unwinding of its crisis-era stimulus program, which ballooned its balance sheet after it pumped cash into the economy by buying bonds, will also pull liquidity from the system. Until recently, some of this money found its way into high-end assets like classic cars.

Vintage cars are more than just fun to drive and beautiful to look at—they’re an investment, of sorts. A 1972 Ferrari 365 up for auction this weekend is set to sell for three times the price it last changed hands, in 2008. But there is a lot of risk, volatility, and luck involved in betting on the prices of luxury collectibles such as cars, art, wine, and the like.

If you still think classic cars are a wise place to park your cash, as Bloomberg points out, history suggests it’s best to avoid American brands.

Trump’s entire arts council resigned with a scathing letter containing a clever hidden message

Fri, 2017-08-18 15:46

After the backlash against his comments about the Charlottesville riots, US president Donald Trump this week closed down two of his CEO-packed advisory bodies—the manufacturing council and “strategic and policy forum”— and scrapped plans for a third, dealing with infrastructure. And now the members of a fourth body, the committee on the arts and the humanities, have resigned in unison.

The council, whose honorary chair is first lady Melania Trump, comprises personalities and intellectuals including actor Kal Penn, author Jhumpa Lahiri, artist Chuck Close, and journalist Richard Cohen. They announced their resignation through a strongly worded letter condemning the White House’s handling of white supremacy: “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions,” it reads.

Dear @realDonaldTrump, attached is our letter of resignation from the President's Committee on the Arts & the Humanities @PCAH_gov pic.twitter.com/eQI2HBTgXs

— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) August 18, 2017

But that wasn’t the final indignity. The letter also contains a hidden message. The first letter of each paragraph is part of an acrostic of the word “resist.”

Reproach

Elevating

Speaking

Ignoring

Supremacy

Thank

Evidently, they aren’t the arts council for nothing.

Donald Trump’s rapidly disappearing team, in one photo

Fri, 2017-08-18 15:17

Steve Bannon was fired from his role as top White House advisor today, after nearly a year steering both US president Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the administration’s early months.

His exit is yet another prominent departure for the Trump administration, which has lost multiple high ranking staffers since Trump took office.

The president was inaugurated on Jan. 20. Just a few days later, on Jan. 28, a White House photographer took this picture, unwittingly capturing a perfect scene of the turbulence to come. In it, the highest ranking staff huddle around Trump and vice president Mike Pence, the very image of a loyal inner circle.

L-R President Donald Trump, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Michael Flynn, the administration’s first National Security Advisor was the first to leave, on Feb. 13. Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced his resignation in July with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus departing the following week.

Now, the only individual in the photo who still reports to Trump is Pence.

Facebook is locking down the technology to help you see things that aren’t there

Fri, 2017-08-18 13:15

Today, Facebook is a dominant social network—that’s not enough for CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He wants to help us see things that aren’t there.

Facebook is working on designing augmented reality glasses that could display digital objects in the physical world, according to a patent application filed Aug. 17. Zuckerberg had previously shown photos of similar glasses, saying that they would be the future of augmented reality, but he didn’t reveal that Facebook was developing such a product. If the company creates its own AR hardware, it would have its own Apple-like computing platform, marrying both hardware and software.

Zuckerberg has been particularly vocal about stating that augmented reality will be the next big consumer tech platform after smartphones. “Think about how many of the things you use [that] don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg told Recode earlier this year. “You want to play a board game? You snap your fingers, and here’s the board game.”

The application for a “waveguide display with two-dimensional scanner” details a pair of glasses with transparent displays for lenses. Light would flow into the displays, which would distribute the light and refract it into a user’s eyes. It’s unclear whether the image displayed would also be visible to those looking at the glasses.

“The waveguide display may be included in an eye-wear comprising a frame and a display assembly that presents media to a user’s eyes,” the patent application says.

This technology is being developed at Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook acquired in 2014. One of the patent’s authors, a lead optical scientist at Oculus, previously helped build the optical system for Microsoft’s HoloLens, as noted by Business Insider. An executive at Oculus says the technology won’t really be viable until 2022.

The field for developing augmented devices is growing, but the technology is tricky. Microsoft’s HoloLens is the first available, but it’s aimed mainly at academia, developers, and a handful of professional uses that Microsoft has touted. Apple and Magic Leap (partially funded by Google) reportedly are working on similar technologies.

Foot Locker has a Nike problem

Fri, 2017-08-18 13:10

Foot Locker sells sneakers and clothes from many of the top brands in the sportswear industry, and Nike, including its Jordan brand, is by far the label that dominates its stores. Last year, about 68% (pdf, p. 26) of the products Foot Locker purchased came from Nike, according to the company’s annual report.

Often that arrangement has served Foot Locker well. At the moment, it’s dragging the chain down. The company reported earnings that sorely disappointed investors today (Aug. 18), including a 6% fall in sales at stores that have been open at least a year. The results prompted a drop of nearly 25% in its share price.

In a statement (pdf), CEO Richard Johnson pointed the finger at sneaker brands, citing “the limited availability of innovative new products” as part of the reason. He could have added to that his company’s reliance on Nike, which hasn’t been delivering on the main sneaker style consumers want.

Right now, shoppers in the US are in the market for fashion-focused casual sneakers, and not so much performance shoes. That’s been great for Adidas, which has been gobbling up US market share with huge sales of its retro sneakers and new styles such as the NMD, which has gathered momentum in fashion since its launch at the end of 2015. Nike, meanwhile, still has a heavy focus on performance basketball and running. According to market research firm NPD, Nike’s sales in athletic specialty and sporting goods stores were down 25% for the quarter.

Q2 Nike sales in Athletic specialty/sporting goods were down -25%

— Matt Powell (@NPDMattPowell) August 18, 2017

Nike is still a huge brand with a lot of customers, of course, but to add to Foot Locker’s problems, shoppers buying Nike are increasingly doing it directly through Nike’s website or its stores, which Nike is investing in to make them experiences as much as places to shop. Other brands, such as Adidas, are also ramping up direct-to-consumer sales.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how big a threat Amazon is. Adidas already sells through the site, and Nike has recently inked its own deal to sell through Amazon, though it may not have big consequences for Foot Locker. Nike products were already all over the site, and Nike will probably sell more moderately priced products there, whereas Foot Locker is focused on premium sneakers. Johnson said on a call with investors that he doesn’t see Amazon as an imminent threat.

Overall, sales at athletic-specialty and sporting-goods stores were down in the quarter, according to NPD, not just at Foot Locker. The tough news for Foot Locker is that these trends aren’t changing course. Johnson said Foot Locker expects sales at stores open at least a year to be down 3% to 4% over the rest of 2017.

Americans were polled about the violence in Charlottesville, and the answers are ugly

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:56

Which side—the white nationalists or the counter-protesters—bears greater responsibility for the Charlottesville violence, which directly resulted in the death of a 32-year-old counter-protester? It should be a factual question. And also a moral one, considering that the demonstrators had gathered in the spirit of a homegrown terror group that lynched thousands of blacks and a foreign one that murdered around 6 million Jews.

Yet in the America of the moment, the question is a political one.

Only 18% of Republicans blame the white-nationalist groups for the bulk of the Charlottesville violence, according to a SurveyMonkey poll with 2,181 respondents, via Axios. Some 64% think both sides share responsibility equally. Perhaps more alarmingly, only 46% of all Americans put the blame on the white nationalists, while four in 10 condemn both sides equally.

To be clear, people from both sides beat each other up. But if you want to get into who started it and who was the most violent, the answers seem pretty clear.

For starters, a 32-year-old woman is dead, crushed when, police say, a white supremacist mowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Heather Heyer and thousands of others—including antifascists armed with shields and sticks, but mainly local residents, civil-rights groups, and church groups—had been legally demonstrating against the white nationalists—neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederates, and alt-right supporters, flanked by gun-gripping militiamen—gathering to celebrate the statue of a seditious general who once fought to keep blacks enslaved. Brawling broke out after the white nationalists reversed course on a plan that would have separated them from the counter-protesters; a phalanx of white nationalists carrying big shields and truncheons charged a group of counter-protesters blocking their path, attacking with sticks, punches, and sprayed chemicals, according to the Charlottesville police chief.

Earlier in a parking garage in #Charlottesville – white supremacists beat this black kid w/poles. [Photo for by @zdroberts @NationofChange] pic.twitter.com/LLPBPjb8si

— Zach D Roberts (@zdroberts) August 12, 2017

What explains the parallel narratives of what happened in Charlottesville? As Axios’ Mike Allen put it, “These findings reflect the fact that, because of the nation’s partisan divide and fractured media, we no longer agree on basic facts. That makes civil debate impossible.”

Of course, it’s not hard to guess why the “both equally” narrative enjoys such perverse favor. The most prominent proponent of that logic happens to have the loudest voice in America.

In a press conference Aug. 15, president Donald Trump shrugged off the moral difference between agitating for institutionalized white supremacy and protesting those beliefs. Asked if the counter-protesters he described as “alt-left” are the equivalent of neo-Nazis, Trump ducked the question. This is how he described the violence in Charlottesville: “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

Nearly nine in 10 Republicans agrees with the president, according to the poll. Democrats and Independents disagree at rates of 83% and 59%, respectively.

Trump’s go-to news source is Fox News, which has been banging the moral-equivalency drum and frequently absorbs the narratives put forth by alt-right media. And the theme they’ve emphasized in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy is the double-standard to which white people are subjected when they try to assert their rights.

It’s not surprising this motif would disproportionately appeal to Republicans. A lot of whites—and 86% of Republicans are white, according to Pew—feel that their economic and cultural interests have taken a backseat to those of minorities and that they’ve been forced to celebrate “multiculturalism” at the expense of their own ethnic heritage.

The quest to find the perfect replacement for sugar is looking hopeless

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:31

For years, it’s been the Holy Grail for food companies. Yet intrepid scientists haven’t stumbled upon finding a natural replacement for sugar in food. And it doesn’t appear they’re likely to find one anytime soon.

Scientists have already found natural sources for sweetness—the ground-up powder from stevia leaves are actually about 300 times sweeter than table sugar. But they haven’t discovered a single replacement that also mimics sugar’s other properties. That’s because sugar is used not only for sweetness, but also for its functional qualities: It provides structure, texture, and moisture control. And when heat is applied to it in baked goods, the sugar browns to create additional flavor.

The Coca-Cola Company this month announced a $1 million prize to find a natural and safe low- or no-calorie compound that has the same sensation as sugar when mixed into drinks and foods. The natural sweeteners humans have discovered so far all have significant drawbacks. Stevia, for instance, works well in lemon-lime soft drinks but when applied to cola leaves a lingering licorice aftertaste. Others include:

  • Monk fruit has zero calories and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. But it’s difficult to grow, expensive to import, and can have an unpleasant aftertaste.
  • Monatin comes from the root bark of a spiky plant native to South Africa. It’s far sweeter than sugar, but there are food safety concerns that currently prevent it from going mass market, Fry says.
  • Brazzein is found in an African shrub and has a solid sweetness profile. But it takes about five seconds for its sweetness to kick in, which isn’t ideal for food.

“The sad thing is that the perfect sugar substitute probably doesn’t exist, and decades of research has failed to provide us with one,” says John Fry, a consultant who designs research for sweetener companies to explore the technological and consumer properties of sugar substitutes. “If such a thing existed, it would be extremely valuable.”

Fry says he expects it will take about a decade for researchers to find an acceptable, comparable substitute for sugar—whether it’s found in nature or developed in a laboratory.

In the meantime, companies will be hunting for the best ways to use what they have—including aspartame, sucralose, and stevia—amid onging pressure to satisfy consumer demand to reduce sugar content and eliminate artificial ingredients. That’s a result of sugar being linked as a “major contributor” to several health problems that plague populations in America, Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere. Those ailments include obesity, Type-2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Read this next: Researchers have finally discovered the key to naturally stripping sugar from all our foods

China and the US make nearly half the world’s books

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:21

Two years ago the world’s publishers collectively put out over 1.6 million books. About half of them came from just two countries.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) is a non-profit based in Geneva that studies and promotes global book publishing. Each year the association releases its global publishing stats, and for the past several years China and the US have dominated.

The IPA report released in October (pdf) shows just how big a slice of the pie the two countries hold in terms of new titles. Of the books released in 2015 by the 25 biggest book markets, China published 28% of the total, and the US 20%.

The counts include re-editions of older titles, but not self-published books. The IPA collects their data from a number of sources that count using different methodology, so the association admits it’s not a perfectly consistent dataset. Still, the data give a picture of book publishing powers today:

This shouldn’t come as a shock; China and the US are also the two countries with the most GDP. Another way of thinking about the data is to look at books per capita, which gives us a better sense of book culture within each country. By that measure China is much farther down the list of the top 25 book markets, with the US in the middle. The UK, Iceland, and Denmark are at the top.

country new titles per million people UK 2,710 Iceland 2,628 Denmark 2,326 France 1,643 Spain 1,552 Switzerland 1,482 Netherlands 1,405 Norway 1,268 Germany 1,084 Italy 1,078 USA 1,043 Georgia 969 South Korea 909 Saudi Arabia 765 Bosnia and Herz 731 Sweden 695 Argentina 687 Finland 640 Japan 603 Belgium 459 Brazil 435 China 335 Thailand 168 Philippines 93 Kenya 11

America’s neo-fascists have revived a tactic long abandoned by their counterparts in Europe

Fri, 2017-08-18 11:05

On August 13, 1977, roughly 500 neo-Nazis were planning to march through Lewisham, a London borough with a sizable black community. They were there to protest against a so-called black crime wave. In the end, the far right weren’t able to march, thanks to the arrival of 4,000 counter-protestors. Vastly outnumbered, the neo-Nazis, after furious clashes, were led away by police through the streets and onto waiting trains. It was an embarrassing defeat.

"They shall not pass" #BattleOfLewisham #1977 pic.twitter.com/RwcWLbTczF

— Lewisham LHAC (@LewishamHistory) August 13, 2017

By the 1980s, European neo-Nazis were keen to move on from street-protest activism. There was growing consensus that the route to power lay in electoral politics instead. Switching tactics, they rallied around the idea of “suits, not boots” to sow “respectability” in countries like the UK, France, and Sweden.

But on the 40th anniversary of the so-called “Battle of Lewisham,” on the other side of the Atlantic, a gathering by hundreds of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and the so-called “alt-right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, may have inspired a sharp break in that consensus. Across Europe, neo-Nazis have celebrated the US far-right’s return to the street.

Alexander Reid Ross, a lecturer at Portland State University in Oregon and the author of Against the Fascist Creep, says the events in Charlottesville marked “the rebirth of the US fascist street movement,” which “has come out into public with numbers for the first time since David Duke’s Knights of the [Ku Klux] Klan.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Duke started his KKK offshoot in 1975 and sought to “put a ‘kinder, gentler’ face on the Klan, courting media attention and attempting to portray itself as a modern ‘white civil rights’ organization.” Duke ran twice for US president in the 1980s. Back then, Ross says, members of US fascist groups were “far more concerned about maintaining the appearance of propriety.”

Those concerns were absent in Charlottesville, where demonstrators—Duke included—exhibited what Ross describes as a “new and ‘improved’ version” of the neo-Nazi street movement that Europeans know only too well.

The end of the ironic Nazi

For the last two decades, American neo-fascism, inspired by classical fascism from the 1930s with the ideas applied to modern social and economic circumstances, existed largely on the internet. In online communities hiding in plain sight, neo-Nazis were quick to weaponize irony and humor to spread their ideology. It was common to come across so-called “ironic Nazis” who shared jokes about the holocaust and genocide—and could insist, when called out on it, that it was all done in jest.

Meanwhile, the loose use of the term “alt-right” managed to clump together very different groups—from teenagers with Pepe avatars (the green frog that has become a symbol of the alt-right) but no real ideology to outright neo-Nazis. This, plus the irony defense, allowed more ardent elements of the alt-right to operate with a certain amount of ambiguity, says Angela Nagle, author of the new book Kill All Normies.

That ambiguity is now over after Charlottesville, Nagle says. “That argument about irony will never be made by a serious person ever again.”

The mask indeed has slipped. If previous, smaller marches by the alt-right and neo-Nazis were mobilized on the street under the banner of free speech—inspired by the riotous protests in February that shut down an event with right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California-Berkeley—the group that marched in Charlottesville was clear about its white nationalist goals and 1930s-style politics. The demonstrators in Virginia shouted neo-Nazi slogans (“blood and soil”), wore Nazi arm bands, carried fascist flags, and marched with tiki torches (another important piece of Nazi symbolism).

They were literally chanting “Heil Trump” in #Charlottesville. pic.twitter.com/TbmI8xmsaV

— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 12, 2017

And then there was the bloodshed. A counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed and dozens were injured after a car driven by a white supremacist plowed into a group of pedestrians.

“The events of Charlottesville have forced everyone to fully realize to what it is that they’re advocating,” Nagle says. “The reality is that the goals of the alt-right would necessitate violence on a massive scale.”

A uniquely American threat

In one particularly shocking video by Vice, a proud white supremacist is said to be inspired by Golden Dawn—a neo-Nazi party that has terrorized migrant communities in Greece.

This isn’t particularly surprising, says Ross. “The US fascist scene and the European fascist scene are historically intertwined.”

But there’s something that makes fascism a far more dangerous threat in the US than in Europe: gun laws.

In the US, “guns are part of the ball game,” says Mark Bray, a Dartmouth University lecturer and author of the forthcoming book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.

While protesting a speech by Yiannopoulos in Seattle in January, an anti-fascist activist was shot by a Trump supporter. During the protest at Charlottesville, many white supremacists openly bragged about carrying guns and were joined by the armed-militia movement. Bray notes that some anti-fascists are discussing arming themselves as well. “It has the potential for escalation,” he says.

While neo-Nazi marches and violent street brawls have largely dissipated in Europe, there are still attempts to have a presence on the streets. This weekend, 500 neo-Nazis are planning to march in Germany to commemorate the death of Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess. But per German law, they will be banned from shouting Nazi slogans or bearing swastikas. They also have to follow a strict code of conduct that includes a ban on media interviews, alcohol, and mobile phones.

Meanwhile, in the US, where no such restrictions exist, far-right groups have planned at least nine rallies around the country for this weekend alone. The largest are expected at the “March on Google” demonstrations planned for Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere, protesting the firing of Google employee James Damore over a controversial anti-diversity memo he wrote. (Damore has distanced himself from the alt-right and said he’s “likely not” to participate.)

The marches no doubt will have the attention of fascist-movement organizers in Europe. After Charlottesville, a British website for white nationalists posted a video of the clashes, with the note: “Good­night left side! Well done white nationalists.” The Nordic Resistance Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in Northern Europe, also offered up its congratulations to the protestors. Swedish far-right activist Simon Lindberg wrote that the rally was “something I had been waiting for—white Americans who are really fighting for our cause.”

Applebee’s rebrand has failed to attract younger, richer customers

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:59

American food chain Applebee’s is closing about 130 restaurants out of about 2,000 in the US by next year.

The retail slump is hitting New York City’s SoHo neighborhood

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:54

The share of empty storefronts in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood jumped from 4.7% in 2011 to 23.1% in 2017.

After attacking Rotten Tomatoes, Hollywood is now blaming YouTube fan reviews for its problems

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:47

It’s Hollywood against the Internet.

After a miserable summer at the US box-office, Hollywood producers and others in the industry blamed movie-review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes for destroying would-be blockbusters with its oversimplified scoring system and even withheld critics screenings for some films. Now, filmmakers are targeting humorous-albeit-nitpicky YouTube channels like CinemaSins for the “dumbing down of cinema.”

CinemaSins is known for its “Everything that’s wrong with…” series on the logical flaws of different movies. It’s not exactly Mystery Science Theater, but the inane critiques have attracted 7 million YouTube followers.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of Kong: Skull Island, wasn’t happy with their treatment of his film. He went on a two-day-long, 70-plus-tweet rant that was nearly as obnoxious as CinemaSins’s 20-minute video breakdown of his film.

In his electronic missive, Vogt-Roberts pointed out everything that’s wrong with CinemaSins’s “critiques,” which he says fail at being criticism or satire.

Things like this drive me crazy. This is meant to be absurd. Cinema Sins would ding pulp fiction for Jules and Vincent not getting shot… pic.twitter.com/Zzer9HpRM4

— Jordan Vogt-Roberts (@VogtRoberts) August 15, 2017

I make movies because I love film. These guys are just trolling the art form we love and profiting from it while dumbing the conversation.

— Jordan Vogt-Roberts (@VogtRoberts) August 15, 2017

It just makes me sad they get so many views / contribute to the dumbing down of cinema as they syphon other people's work for their own gain

— Jordan Vogt-Roberts (@VogtRoberts) August 15, 2017

It's like when trump lies on camera just because he can. It's infuriating and there are people out there who listen to him & cinema sins.

— Jordan Vogt-Roberts (@VogtRoberts) August 15, 2017

Comparing stupid riffs on Hollywood movies to the president of the US’s alleged lies is a leap. But there were a few good points buried in Vogt-Roberts’s sprawling reproach.

And NO, it's NOT satirizing nitpicking nerd culture. Regardless of how "self aware" they pretend to be…It IS nitpicking nerd culture.

— Jordan Vogt-Roberts (@VogtRoberts) August 16, 2017

It’s unclear why he chose to bring more attention to CinemaSins with his public tweetstorm. Even with 1.5 million views and counting, CinemaSins’s Kong: Skull Island takedown wouldn’t affect the film’s performance. It’s no longer in theaters, where it brought in a solid $567 million worldwide. Rotten Tomatoes actually called it “certified fresh.” Should it matter if a YouTube channel has a little fun with it?

Screenwriter Max Landis—whose equally long rants on social media have made him a target of scorn—was perplexed, too.

I already gave them directly to Jordan. Cinema sins is a formerly entertaining now kind of dumb channel not worthy of attention. https://t.co/KvldyYiyzq

— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) August 16, 2017

CinemaSins has made enemies of others in Hollywood before, like Lost and The Leftovers co-creator David Lindelof. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, who was peeved when CinemaSins posted a takedown of Looper in 2013.

I should be good humored about this, but it feels oddly nasty. Also it's almost all thoughtless & wrong. Ok I'll shush. http://t.co/B5O10Oe9

— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) January 15, 2013

“There’s a little bit of sour grapes there,” said Andy Signore, co-host of Screen Junkie’s Honest Trailers, an Emmy-nominated YouTube series that parodies movie trailers. Vogt-Roberts called Honest Trailers true satire in his tweets.

“At the same time,” Signore added, “there are certain audiences members that take it too to heart and that’s just an online community that I think is more of a detriment to the film society than the makers.”

Quartz could not immediately reach CinemaSins for comment.

Read next: Movie studios are blaming Rotten Tomatoes for killing movies no one wants to see

Watch Tina Fey return to “Weekend Update” to eat cake and bash Trump’s response to Charlottesville

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:41

Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update Summer Edition welcomed a lineup of heavy hitters back to the desk last night (Aug. 17) following an especially notable week in American politics. And Tina Fey’s 7-minute takedown of Donald Trump’s response to the violent protesters in Charlottesville was the bit that really hit home.

After Jimmy Fallon’s George Washington and Seth Meyers’ Thomas Jefferson stopped by to explain the difference between the founding fathers and Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Fey stepped up. A graduate of the University of Virginia, she talked about the pain she felt witnessing the horrible violence in Charlottesville.

“I’m feeling sick because, you know, I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and I wasn’t confused by it,” she said. “Nazis are always bad.”

Looking ahead to similar rallies planned for this weekend, Fey advised viewers to deal with their sadness and anxiety not with anger, but with “sheet caking”—binge eating a giant sheet cake with an American flag on it.

“When you want to yell, don’t yell it at the Klan. Yell it into the cake,” Fey urged. “Sheet caking is a grassroots movement. Most of the women I know have been doing it once a week since the election.”

Fey’s final piece of advice for “all good, sane Americans” is to treat the rallies this weekend “like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads. Don’t show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air.”

Watch the full clip below:

 

Read this next: SNL’s “Weekend Update” spinoff wants to reclaim the throne as political comedy’s king

Are stocks overvalued? Unusually strong earnings may justify sky-high valuations

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:23

Equity analysts are an optimistic bunch. When they forecast future corporate earnings, they tend to start out bullish. But as time goes on, and reality sets in, those estimates get more subdued.

Until this year.

For months, analysts have penciled in double-digit growth in earnings per share for the S&P 500 in 2017. Similarly bullish expectations for earlier years’ earnings were dashed by now. What’s more, of the 91% of S&P 500 companies that have reported profits for the second quarter thus far, more than 70% beat expectations.

Robust earnings is one of the main justifications for US stocks’ historically high valuations. That said, there are plenty of market players who fear that markets may be in bubble territory. Nearly half of fund managers recently surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch said that stocks are overvalued, the largest share since the poll began in the 1990s.

That said, there are fundamental economic reasons boosting corporate earnings this year (and beyond). Many S&P 500 companies are global, with a large share of their revenue generated outside the US. With a weakening US dollar and a strengthening global economy, companies with global exposure are set up well. In the second quarter, earnings growth for companies with less than 50% of sales in the US was 14%, almost double the growth of largely domestic companies, according to FactSet (pdf).

The Federal Reserve’s raising of interest rates also factors into earnings forecasts. Anxiety over when the Fed will hike rates can reduce expectations if analysts believe the economy isn’t ready for anything besides close-to-zero rates. This may have played into projections for earlier years. But now, with three rate hikes since late 2015, Fed chairman Janet Yellen has made it clear that future hikes will be gradual.

But one sign that markets may not rise much higher, despite strong earnings, is that the companies reporting better-than-expected profits this year saw an average 0.3% fall in their share prices immediately after, per FactSet. Over the past five years, companies with positive earnings reports saw, on average, a 1.4% gain in their share prices. Recent jitters on terrorism fears, geopolitical tensions, and turmoil in the Trump administration also suggest that earnings are not the only thing driving investment decisions these days.

The way that Taiwan, India, and other countries deal with statues that symbolize ugly pasts

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:16

After a protest against the removal a Confederate statue sparked deadly violence in the US, states around the country are mulling removing similar icons of history from parks and public spaces.

To families whose ancestors died during the Civil War, the statues are a tribute to lost lives. The memorials, though, are also symbols of Confederate America, a dark era of slave ownership. To families with ancestors who were slaves, they are relics of repression and concrete tributes to the white supremacist movement.

Below are examples of what other countries have done with monuments of oppression.

Just take them down

In South Africa, where roots of racism run deep, a group of students and activists called for a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes to be removed from the University of Cape Town campus.

Rhodes, in addition to serving as prime minister of Britain’s Cape Colony, founded the De Beers diamond business group. He also passed the Glen Grey Act, a law that limited voting and land ownership rights for black South Africans, paving the way for apartheid.

In March, activist Chumani Maxwele kicked off what became known as the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign after hurling a bucket of human excrement at the monument. Protests swelled, the university council conducted a vote, and the statue was placed for “safe keeping” by April.

Rhodes on his way out.

Put them in a museum or “memorial park”

Others countries wrestling with where to put monuments of oppression have simply rounded them up and deposited them in a park.

In Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek carried out a brutal authoritarian rule for decades, hundreds of statues of the dictator have been re-located to a park in Taoyuan, about 60km from Taipei. The current administration is also considering renaming Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a towering structure and popular tourist attraction, as well as removing the statue that sits atop its grand set of stairs. While Taiwan technically remains the same “Republic of China” that Chiang ruled and his party continues to wield power, he remains a symbol of mainland Chinese colonialism in an island where most identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese.

In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, various former Soviet bloc countries have exiled monuments of former USSR luminaries to museum-like settings. Hungary promptly removed all of its statues of Lenin, Engles, and puppet government leaders after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and in 1993 put them on display in Memento Park in Budapest. Poland has plans to do similar. Lithuania got slightly more creative—it moved its statues of Stalin to a Soviet-style theme park, where guests can get interrogated by secret police.

In India, meanwhile, after independence in 1947, statues of various British rulers who held power the colonial era were moved to Coronation Park in Delhi, originally the site of Queen Victoria was named Empress of India in 1877. The site and its monuments have since fallen into disrepair (paywall), and efforts to renovate it have stalled.

“Reconstitute” them

In 1991, efforts to remove a statue of Paraguayan Alfredo Stroessner led to its unexpected shattering. Later, Paraguayan artist Carlos Colombino reconstructed some of its remains, placing them inside two slabs of concrete.

Here's what Paraguayans did with a statue of dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-89). It's an interesting compromise. pic.twitter.com/gEtUPLseDz

— Laurence Blair (@LABlair1492) August 16, 2017

Of course, in many places where statues are removed, relocated, or remodeled, the remnants of their rule—both the good and the bad—remain. Much like how some Americans see positive symbolic or historic value in preserving Confederate monuments, many Taiwanese still hold dear Chiang’s vision for a reunion with the mainland, and many members of former Soviet states long for the order and social welfare that communism provided. While a statue from an ugly era of history can be relocated or demolished, the legacy from those dark stains can be monumental.

Linguistic data analysis of 3 billion Reddit comments shows the alt-right is getting stronger

Fri, 2017-08-18 09:05

You probably have a good idea of who the so-called “alt-right” are: a group of white supremacists and nationalists, bound up by a fiery loathing of “political correctness,” “cultural Marxism,” and those pesky “social-justice warriors.” You might have also seen the articles that tell us to stop using that term and call them out for the fascist, neo-Nazis they are. In the wake of the “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville last weekend, these calls have only become more urgent. The phrase has become a catch-all for people like Richard Spencer, the head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute, and Milo Yiannopoulos, the online troll and provocateur who recently fell from mainstream conservative grace. But there’s a lot more people it catches in its (inter)net.

The alt-right isn’t one group. They don’t have one coherent identity. Rather, they’re a loose collection of people from disparate backgrounds who would never normally interact: bored teenagers, gamers, men’s rights activists, conspiracy theorists and, yes, white nationalists and neo-Nazis. But thanks to the internet, they’re beginning to form a cohesive group identity. And I have the data to prove it.

The_Donald is a Reddit community with over 450,000 subscribers. It’s the breeding ground for the alt-right, and the fermenting vat in which this identity is being formed. According to data analysis by FiveThirtyEight, it’s US president Donald Trump’s “most rabid online following,” and Reddit itself now claims it is the fourth most visited site in the US, behind only Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

As part of the Alt-Right Open Intelligence Initiative at the University of Amsterdam, I’ve been working to understand the language of the alt-right and what it can tell us about its members. Working with the UK Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit, I used Google’s BigQuery tool, which lets you trawl through massive datasets in seconds, to interrogate a collection of every Reddit comment ever made—all 3 billion of them.

Focusing on The_Donald, I used a script that lets you see which words are most likely to occur in the same comment. Combining this with a tool that allows you to look at the overlap in commenters between different parts of Reddit, I found that the alt-right isn’t just one voice: It’s made up by distinct constituencies that share different opinions and ways to express them, identifiable by the language they use and the other communities they post in.

In other words, there’s a taxonomy of trolls. So who are they, and what language do they use?

The taxonomy of trolls

The 4chan shitposters. These men and boys (and they are almost exclusively male) come from 4chan, an image board in the deepest bowels of the internet. You’re most likely to see them deliberately provoking offense and outrage, often using the most extreme racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic slurs, but without necessarily fully buying into racist ideology. They’re the people you can’t argue with, because any attempt to engage them in a serious conversation will provoke an “only joking!” plea. Other users of The_Donald affectionately refer to them as “weaponized autists,” named for the orchestration of numerous hacks and leaks through the hacker collective Anonymous. You’ll see them talking about memes such as Pepe the Frog, “Kekistan,” and the “normies” they despise. Elsewhere on Reddit, you’re most likely to find them on /r/ImGoingToHellForThis, /r/CringeAnarchy, or any other deliberately offensive subreddit.

  • Most common words: kek, Pepe, deus vult, tendies, God Emperor Trump
Comment from discussion KoolKoolWater’s comment from discussion "MISUNDERSTOOD. Meet Pepe The Frog. Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Attacked Him, The ADL Declared Him a Hate Symbol, and Liberals Think He’s Racist. But in Reality, Pepe Simply Loves Freedom, Our Constitution, and America!".

Anti-progressive gamers. Closely related to the above, these trolls were radicalized over the course of the #GamerGate hate movement. They really like video games, and they really hate social-justice warriors, gay people, and feminists, all of whom they’re pretty sure major movie and game studios are “pandering” to with things like all-female screenings of Wonder Woman. You’re likely to see them talking about the trans community a lot (and repeating the words “there are only two genders” constantly). Elsewhere on Reddit, you’ll find them in gaming subreddits, or /r/KotakuinAction, which was the home of GamerGate.

  • Most common words: SJW, snowflake, pandering, tumblr, feminist, triggering, GamerGate, virtue signalling
Comment from discussion PanMonium’s comment from discussion "The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond — "The author of the Google essay on issues related to diversity gets nearly all of the science and its implications exactly right."".

Men’s rights activists. This group consists of those who explicitly campaign for men’s rights (custody battles and workplace deaths are their favorite talking points) and also includes anti-feminists and misogynists of all stripes. You’ll find them at /r/Incels (short for “involuntary celibates,” who want to have sex or find a partner but can’t—and blame women for this), /r/MGTOW (“Men Going Their Own Way,” who believe that they can only find true liberation in a female-dominated world by refusing to interact with women completely), the infamous /r/TheRedPill, and a few less popular “Manosphere” subreddits as well as misogynistic sites like “Return of Kings. You’ll find them referring to women as “females,” and men they perceive as weak as “cucks” (more on that later).

Comment from discussion EffinWhiteMale’s comment from discussion "Feminist bake sale".

Anti-globalists. These people like Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, Sean Hannity, and conspiracy theories—and they talk about them an awful lot. They are far less enamored (yet still mildly obsessed) with George Soros, who funds everyone they hate, as well as Emmanuel Macron, John McCain, and Paul Ryan. Elsewhere, they can be seen on /r/uncensorednews (primarily news about bad things perpetrated by members of minority groups and left-wing people), and /r/conspiracy. Their hyperbolic conspiratorial language might sound absurd, but it’s become an increasingly coherent and important part of The_Donald since the subreddit began.

  • Most common words: globalist scum, the establishment, puppets, elites, masters, George Soros, cultural Marxist
Comment from discussion nyelian’s comment from discussion "IT’S HAPPENING – 2,576 FILES FROM GEORGE SOROS’ OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATION HAVE BEEN LEAKED".

White supremacists. It might seem surprising, but the language of white supremacy is actually quite uncommon in The_Donald. That’s because explicit racism is banned. Implicit or coded racism is very common, for example displaying Islamophobic sentiment and passing it off as criticizing Islamism, or claiming “Islam is not compatible with Western culture.” They also populate other subreddits like the now-banned /r/CoonTown and /r/GreatApes, as well as sites like Stormfront and the now defunct The Daily Stormer.

  • Most common words: Islam, (creeping) Sharia, “deus vult”, “western culture”, various racial slurs
Comment from discussion TheExSexOffender’s comment from discussion "Liberals will defend Islam all they want, but still don’t realize it’s true colors.".

For a long time, these people would have very limited reason to interact with one another. There wasn’t much in common between meme aficionados, gamers, sexists, conspiracy theorists, and racists. Because the very nature of Reddit is to subdivide and find your own specific corner of the internet, these communities didn’t tend to run into each other all that much. But that’s now changed.

The_Donald’s identity

Over the last year and a half, these types of trolls have formed a central identity around Trumpism and have started to coalesce. Bored teenagers and gamers are becoming indoctrinated into hard-line anti-globalism, conspiracy theories, and Islamophobia, and it’s happening right before our eyes, on a publicly accessible forum.

The_Donald contains all of these different groups, marked out by their overlapping community memberships and the words that they (and only they) use. They’ve created an in-group language consisting of words like “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) and “based,” a word appropriated from rap culture. The latter is taken to mean “being yourself” and originated in the crack era. Then there is “centipede” (usually shortened to “pede”), a self-referential term originating from the viral video series “Can’t Stump the Trump,” which was popularized when the linked video was tweeted by Trump himself.

But the keystone of this vernacular is “cuck.” A shortening of “cuckold,” an old word used to refer to men who allow their partners to sleep with other men (and often find sexual gratification in the humiliation of it), its use has become the sine qua non of alt-right group membership.

 The word “cuck” is everywhere, and its story can tell us a lot about the different groups described above. You’ll find cuck used in multiple senses. First, there’s “cuckservative,” used against conservatives who are seen as being too soft and allowing their countries (primarily European) to be “invaded” by Islam and Muslims. The racial connotations of the word were attached during a period when the word was incredibly popular in the now-banned /r/CoonTown, an explicitly racist subreddit.

Then, there’s the use of “cuck” in a more patriarchal sense. The GamerGate movement popularized the word on Reddit when they were banned from 4chan and migrated over to /r/KotakuInAction. They used it first to describe the jilted ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, a games developer they ran a hate campaign against, before turning it against Christopher “moot” Poole, the administrator of 4chan, when he kicked them off his site.

Thirdly, you have what might now be the most standard usage of the word, which is to refer to those seen as liberal. You can see this in the popularization of words like “libcuck,” “cuckbook,” “starcucks,” and “cuck Schumer” in The_Donald. In the wider digital world, you might see it in below-the-line comments of articles on Facebook.

This leads us to the final type of usage, which is when anyone who isn’t the alt-right uses it to mock those who do use it, flipping its meaning entirely. As a result, it’s everywhere, and its story can tell us a lot about the different groups described above.

Frequency of “cuck” across different subreddits, 2014 to 2015.

Frequency of “cuck” across different subreddits, January 2016 to May 2017.

The_Donald and other alt-right spaces are acting as meeting places for disaffected white men from all walks of life to share a communal hatred. They start out in different corners of the internet with different interests and different lexicons. They remain separate when they’re outside of The_Donald, but the more time they spend in there, the more pernicious views of the world they are likely to pick up by osmosis. They are forming a coherent group identity, represented in the language they have begun to speak, which coalesces around their common hatred of liberalism and their love of Donald Trump.

We’re witnessing the radicalization of young white men through the medium of frog memes. In order to see it, all you need to do is look at the words coming out of their mouths. The alt-right isn’t yet united, but it soon will be.

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