Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Some Turkey Day thinkpieces

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“We heard the words they use in polite company …”

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So should I assume that the people that survived the Club Q shooting are Christian? Because that’s what Jenna Ellis’s logic might lead me to conclude. Or something.

Masha Gessen of The New Yorker suggests that mass shootings are only a part of a larger culture of terror that she is very familiar with.

The idea that you can explain a mass shooting by where it happened is silly. The idea that politics, including the politics of hate, can explain a mass shooting, is only slightly less silly. People need little inspiration for finding someone to hate, to render less than human—if they are into that type of thing. Panicked, we rush to attach history and meaning to mass shootings, so that we can assimilate them into our minds. But the meaning of terror is senselessness.

The day of the Club Q shooting, I saw a movie that purports to explain what made the Russian war in Ukraine possible. Called “Manifesto” and released pseudonymously, because the director fears repercussions, it is a montage of cell-phone footage shot by Russian schoolchildren and posted on social media. It begins, charmingly and mundanely, with kids documenting their waking-and-walking-to-school routines, and segues into a series of ever more terrifying episodes. There are teachers yelling at kids, berating and humiliating them. There is a long sequence on sirens, including school fire drills, citywide bomb drills, active-shooter drills at schools, bomb threats at schools, actual fires at schools. Sometimes the kids in the footage look and sound indifferent; sometimes they are terrified, hiding under a desk or running down snow-covered streets in frantic search of a bomb shelter. Then there is footage of actual school shootings: again, kids hiding under desks, and also kids jumping out of school windows—some of them, probably, to their deaths.

[…]

I saw the movie at a festival in Amsterdam, with a local friend. On a ferry back from the screening, my friend, sheepishly at first, brought up the possibility that Russian and American cultures are similar in some important ways. She was shocked by the footage of school shootings, but also by the rote violence of so much of the film—the yelling by teachers, the herding and the raids. I told her that all of this was familiar to me from my Soviet childhood, but also from my American adolescence and the experience of my kids in American schools. I told her about the bizarre carceral disciplinary practices in U.S. schools, such as detention and taking away recess, and about the peculiar routine of drills, the training that kids receive to expect not only fire but also school shootings.

FWIW, there has been an increasing frequency in the number of school shootings in Russia and Crimea.

OK, I’ll dip my toe into Charles Barkley’s comments on CNN and, more importantly, the reaction to those comments.

“Black people treat gay people the worst?” I don’t know about that and I don’t even know why Barkley brought it up. But the reaction on Twitter (including by the person who posted this tweet, snitch-tagging known homophobic people) was … something.

So a white man committing a mass shooting absolves Black people of anti-LGBTQ views and rhetoric? 

So I should be grateful that I was beaten to a pulp instead of killed? Gee, thanks.

Anti-gay rhetoric, like telling me that I should keep my dirty clothes separate from others’ dirty clothes because of fear of AIDS— which I heard from more than one close relative back in the mid-1980s— that’s not harmful at all, I guess. 

Black people don’t kill gay people in mass shootings … well, until they do.

A majority of Black people even say that they have “few things or nothing in common (60%)” with a person like myself, a gay Black man who came from the womb of a Black mother and the sperm of a Black father.

You know what? Whatever. Let’s move on to more punditry.

Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post report on tensions within the Jan. 6 Select Committee about the role of Rep. Liz Cheney in burying evidence not having anything to do with Number 45.

The feuding brings to the fore a level of public acrimony within the Jan. 6 committee that previously had largely played out behind the scenes, as public attention was focused on a series of blockbuster public hearings focused on Trump’s role fomenting the attack.

Several committee staff members were floored earlier this month when they were told that a draft report would focus almost entirely on Trump and the work of the committee’s Gold Team, excluding reams of other investigative work.

Potentially left on the cutting room floor, or relegated to an appendix, were many revelations from the Blue Team — the group that dug into the law enforcement and intelligence community’s failure to assess the looming threat and prepare for the well-forecast attack on the Capitol. The proposed report would also cut back on much of the work of the Green Team, which looked at financing for the Jan. 6 attack, and the Purple Team, which examined militia groups and extremism.

Rebecca Hellwell of Vox reports that with Elon Musk’s new job and difficulties as Twitter troll owner, the problems at Tesla are beginning to stack up.

Tesla has long benefited from a sterling reputation, both as a luxury EV maker and an investment opportunity. Yet issues at the company are racking up, and more customers and shareholders seem to be taking notice. In recent weeks, several posts critiquing Tesla’s build quality have caught attention on social media, and hundreds of thousands of Tesla cars have been hit with recalls. (Over-the-air updates will address problems with the vehicles’ tail lights and the front passenger airbag, two of the recent calls issued by the company.) So while Musk is busy putting out fires at Twitter — and running his other companies, SpaceX, the Boring Company, and Neuralink — Tesla’s reputation seems to be taking a hit.

Let’s start with Musk himself. In the wake of his Twitter acquisition, some experts and analysts are concerned that Musk’s new job might be undermining his responsibilities as CEO of Tesla and contributing to its cratering stock price. Keep in mind that Musk also financed much of his Twitter acquisition deal by selling off his own Tesla stock, and also reportedly authorized more than 50 engineers from Tesla to work at Twitter when he took over last month. At the same time, Tesla is currently facing a lawsuit that alleges that Musk’s compensation package in 2018 was inappropriately influenced by the Tesla board’s personal ties to Musk. (The lawsuit also calls Musk a “part-time CEO.”) Several lawsuits have been filed against the company related to its workplace, including lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, racism, and a “toxic” workplace culture, over the past year or so.

The cars themselves are having problems, too. Build quality has been a consistent criticism of Tesla, and a reliability study published by Consumer Reports this month found that the company continues to have issues with its body hardware and steering systems, among other issues. Repairing Teslas remains a major hurdle, as a Recode investigation illuminated this past summer. The challenge is so significant that GM claimed in a recent investor presentation that its dealers had apparently repaired more than 11,000 Tesla vehicles since last year. A TikTok video documenting the build quality of one Tesla, including a wobbling trunk lid, picked up more than 4 million views earlier this month.

Maximilian Popp of Der Spiegel reports on attempts by Russia to destabilize the government of Moldova.

Ever since declaring independence in 1991, Moldova has been almost continuously ruled by pro-Russian political forces. Then, in November 2020, voters elected Maia Sandu, a Harvard graduate and former World Bank economist. She removed pro-Russian officials from the state apparatus and, after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, she sided with Kyiv. This is likely one of the reasons the European Union moved in June to declare Moldova as a candidate country.

Moscow, on the other hand, is doing all it can to destabilize the country. Gazprom halved natural gas supplies to Moldova in November, according to Sandu. Meanwhile, Ukrainian intelligence reports  obtained by the Washington Post provide evidence that the Kremlin has thrown its support behind Sandu opponent Şor.

Without help from Europe, the Sandu government could fall this winter and be replaced by a pro-Russian regime, with consequences for the entire region.

Finally today, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post says that he is grateful for those who choose not to consumed in politics.

Those of us who believe passionately in democracy and the obligation of citizens to join the fray risk leading ourselves and others astray by acting as though we think that politics is all that matters — that attending meetings, knocking on doors, marching in demonstrations, voting and consuming political news are humanity’s highest callings.

I do not want to risk unfaithfulness to my own worldview here: I admire all these activities. I’m a political obsessive because I think politics matters. At a moment when democracy is under challenge, politics demands more of us than it might at other times.

It’s also important to recognize the habit of the privileged to urge everyone to savor private life without acknowledging that, for those left out of material abundance, those facing discrimination, oppression and violence, there is no alternative but to organize, demonstrate, unionize and fight back. The killings at Club Q in Colorado brought home how hatred married to readily available weapons can destroy any semblance of a private life insulated from prejudices and political decisions. We cannot escape politics, and we shouldn’t try to.

But between a flight from politics and a view that politics is everything lies not some soggy middle ground but a sturdy basis on which to live our lives with, if we’re lucky, some joy and fulfillment.

Even those who are “left out of material abundance” need to achieve some sort of life balance; in fact, I think that it’s even more critical for the non-privileged to do that from time to time. 

Have a good Turkey Day, everyone.

And Go Blue!

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