Terry Jones (1942-2020)

The multi-talented Monty Python alum died yesterday at the age of 77. He had been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia is 2015.

After huge success with Python in the 1970s and early 80s, including the feature films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, Jones went on to work on a huge variety of projects. With Palin, he created the successful TV series Ripping Yarns and forged a post-Python directorial career with Personal Services, Erik the Viking and The Wind in the Willows. He made a series of TV documentaries (specialising in medieval history), wrote nearly 20 children’s books, and contributed a string of comment pieces for the Guardian and Observer denouncing the “war on terror”.
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Matt Taibbi on media stupidity

The utter failure of mainstream media in the US provides a source of never-ending articles as new debacles quickly follow the old. Matt Taibbi analyzes the role that the media played in aiding Donald Trump’s rise and that they are doing the same thing now to Bernie Sanders.

When prominent media voices compare the Trump and Sanders movements, it’s always the same insult: Trump sucks and is evil/wrong, and Sanders is like Trump. The establishment fantasy is that both are illegitimate opportunists.

The diagnosis of Trump is that he rode to power appealing to a collection of humanity’s darkest impulses, in particular racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Few other explanations, importantly even negative ones (like that Trump took cynical advantage of both racism and legitimate economic grievances), are accepted.

The explanation for Sanders is naiveté. Neither the politician nor his followers understand how the world works. They want expensive things for free and blame billionaires when their actual gripe is with reality. Oh, and theirs is also a movement for sexists and anti-Semites and people who refuse to accept the unique role of racism in America.

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New York Times endorses Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar

Let me say right off the bat that I don’t think newspaper endorsements matter that much anymore. Given the proliferation of sources of information, I don’t think that support of a newspaper, even one that has such a wide reach as the New York Times, carries much impact. What such endorsements give us is a window into the thinking of the political establishment. So the endorsements tell us more about the newspaper’s interests than the virtues of the candidates. They say that there are two visions being put forward by the Democratic party, the realist and the radical and that Klobuchar represents the former and Warren the latter.
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Matt Taibbi excoriates CNN for its debate performance

He describes how before, during, and after the debate CNN completely abandoned any pretense of objectivity and neutrality and single-mindedly went after Bernie Sanders, using commentators who all belonged to the political establishment that views Sanders with a mixture of alarm and disdain. He says that CNN ginned up the Sanders-Warren ‘controversy’ in a cynical ploy to boost ratings for the debate.
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Last night’s Democratic debate

Due to other commitments, I did not watch last night’s Democratic debate and so had to read reports of it. As I expected, much of the media attention on the debate was focused on the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren tension that CNN, the network that was airing the debate and which provided two of the moderators, did all it could to promote.

Jeet Heer of The Nation says that the blatant nature of CNN’s anti-Sanders bias was obvious and that it clearly has it in for him, a blatant example of which was where the moderator completely ignored Sanders’ denial of the charge made against him and asked Warren as if the charge were true.
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Facebook destroys everything it touches

It coaxes companies to switch to its platform using highly inflated metrics and then those companies go bankrupt when the viewership and ad revenues are nowhere near what was promised, throwing people out of work.

Adam Conover, host of the excellent show Adam Ruins Everything, and who used to be on the funny online comedy show College Humor that was one of Facebook’s victims, explains what happened in this Twitter thread and calls for Facebook to be shut down.
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William Greider (1936-2019)

This exceptional journalist, who towered above most of his contemporaries, died on Christmas day. Jon Schwarz explains why his was such an important voice in the political media world.

Greider pulled this off because he didn’t care about the daily political garbage tornado. Instead, his focus was always on the huge subterranean battles that actually determine our lives, i.e., capital vs. labor, creditors vs. debtors, marketing vs. people, and capitalism vs. democracy.

The message running through his work is that, for decades, one side in these fights has been absolutely beating the shit out of the other. But Greider didn’t spend his life diagnosing America’s disease to make us despair. It was the opposite — he did it because he believed we can develop the cure, if we put in the work. He thought that normal humans were capable of understanding the world, and governing ourselves.
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The fallout from the Ron Reagan atheist ad

In watching an earlier Democratic debate, I mentioned how surprised I was to see an ad featuring Ron Reagan, former president Reagan’s son, on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that argued for the separation of church and state. He began by describing himself as an “unabashed atheist” and ended with him declaring himself to be a ” lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”


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The internet can undermine one’s faith in humanity

In general, I tend to be optimistic about the human condition but on occasion, I come across stories that shake that sense of positivity. The radio program The World had a segment on December 12th about the trauma suffered by content moderators tasked by Facebook with viewing videos on the site to see if they should be removed. Having to watch video after video of the most appalling things in rapid succession resulted in many of them suffering psychologically and Facebook did not seem to have in place sufficient resources to help them deal with it. Some of the moderators, who are contractors and not Facebook employees, are now suing Facebook. One of them Chris Gray, who worked in its Dublin office, was interviewed on the program.
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