Other Miscellany
Abstract Trump by Marissa Johnson

What the Hell is Going on in the World? LINKS 02/24/18


U.S. secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest and undermine government: USAid started ZunZuneo, a social network built on texts, in hope it could be used to organize ‘smart mobs’ to trigger Cuban spring”:

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the US government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.


Curling Is the Closest the Olympics Ever Get to Anarchy: The culture of curling rejects appeals to authority and encourages civility even in the midst of intense competition. That’s a lesson for American politics.”

…the culture of curling offers a few lessons for an American political culture that has become toxic in so many ways.

Like curling, politics is a sport that requires players to call their own fouls and meet out the proper repercussions for them. Before that, though, both require good sportsmanship, and a mutual expectation that both sides will respect the unwritten rules of the game.

That doesn’t require agreement or cooperation, of course. Opposing skips in a curling match are not working towards a common goal. They won’t help sweep each others’ stones (or whatever the curling equivalent of empty cheers for bipartisanship would be). They are both trying to win the game, but competition doesn’t require tossing sportsmanship or civility out the window. This idea of civilized rivalries—of ambition counteracting ambition, without any need for a higher authority to restrain it—is a fundamental element of the American political system.


“China cracks down on funeral strippers hired to entertain mourners, attract larger crowds”:

Chinese authorities are cracking down on the practice of hiring strippers as funeral entertainment, a technique some rural families use to increase the turnout at a loved one’s final farewell.

The country’s Ministry of Culture said late last month it would be targeting “striptease” and other “obscene, pornographic and vulgar performances” at funerals and other gatherings across Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hebei provinces.

It has urged witnesses to call a special hotline to report any performances, with rewards on offer for informants, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.

“The crowd is pushed to climax, roaring with laughter, whistling, applauding and cursing,” state media said.

“As the performers saunter into the audience to jiggle their breasts and rub men’s crotches, a reminder of ‘no photographs allowed’ can occasionally be heard.”

Hiring entertainment for funerals is a longstanding practice in rural China, as ensuring a high number of mourners attend the ceremony is a way of showing respect to the dead…


Prime-Age Men May Never Return to U.S. Workforce”:

The participation rate of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — has steadily decreased in the last half century. As of January, 89 percent of prime-age men were in the labor force, down from around 97 percent following World War II, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes people who are working, or are unemployed and actively looking for a job.

International trade and weaker unions have also contributed to the departure of men from the labor force, particularly as manufacturing jobs have moved to countries with lower wages. The men who have left the work force are unlikely to return if labor conditions remain the same, possibly due to a lack of available jobs suitable for their skill set…


A Celebrity Philosopher Explains the Populist Insurgency: Peter Sloterdijk has spent decades railing against the pieties of liberal democracy. Now his ideas seem prophetic.”

In Germany, where academic philosophers still equate dryness with seriousness, Sloterdijk has a near-monopoly on irreverence. This is an important element of his wide appeal, as is his eagerness to offer an opinion on absolutely anything—from psychoanalysis to finance, Islam to Soviet modernism, the ozone layer to Neanderthal sexuality. An essay on anger can suddenly plunge into a history of smiling; a meditation on America may veer into a history of frivolity. His magnum opus, the “Spheres” trilogy, nearly three thousand pages long, includes a rhapsodic excursus on rituals of human-placenta disposal. He is almost farcically productive. As his editor told me, “The problem with Sloterdijk is that you are always eight thousand pages behind.”


The West’s war on itself: The hard truths of soft counterterrorism”:

Today, it is difficult to pin down even the healthy pretense of moral standards in Western foreign policy. Barack Obama, his motto of restraint notwithstanding, presided over not only the vast expansion of borderless warfare via killer drones, but also the redeployment of all-out aerial campaigns that have destroyed entire cities in Syria and Iraq. In the meantime, America and its allies have lied shamelessly about civilian casualties, thus denying victims even meager compensation; slammed shut their borders to refugees, and been complicit in the latter’s forced return to warzones; and broadcast almost satirically poisonous, jingoistic narratives regarding the “enemy.” In other words, Western societies have not only ceased to exert meaningful pressure on abusive regimes abroad—they have also, increasingly, emulated some of these regimes’ worst practices.

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