Weekend Good Reads and Quick Thoughts: Chelsea Manning, Gitmo, The Sinking East Coast, and More

This is the last weekend of the year you are legally allowed to listen to this song. 

I always want to do “Quick Hits” and such because I think they’ll be shorter, but they never are. Anyway, here are a few scatterings on some stories as well as things you should read, if you don’t have anything else going on during summer weekend, as summer blazes up once again to send us into the fall.

Let’s do this gossip column style.

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Bear Eras Update: It Turns Out People Like National Monuments


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Surprisingly, most people like the way this looks without oil derricks. 

Last week, we revisited our old friend Bear Ears National Monument, which is Patient Zero for the GOP’s attempt to destroy the Antiquities Act. They don’t like the idea that land can be set aside just for public use, and not for the gain of private extraction and logging concerns. It’s one of the driving motivations of the contemporary GOP: the idea that the government is an alien, and that if something can be sold and converted into capital, it should. It’s why the Sagebrush Rebellion is one of the primary events in modern Republican history.

But, it turns out, just as people don’t like being kicked off their health care in order to finance tax cuts for the rich, people also like the idea that we should have unspoiled land for everyone to enjoy, not just for the few to profit off of. And they let Ryan Zinke’s Department of Interior know just that.

Most regulations are subject to public comment, which lets lawmakers know where people tend to stand on things. The attempt to eliminate or reduce 27 national monuments is no different. They received an incredible 1.3 million comments. And the results? It was close!

Charlottesville, Virginia-based Key-Log Economics used an innovative combination of crowdsourcing and machine learning, to comb through and analyze every one of the 1.3 million comments that were publicly available by the end of the official comment period. They found that 99.2 percent of comments oppose the possible elimination of the national monument designations or a reduction in their size and protected status.

(That the study was conducted in Charlottesville is just a coincidence, but does provide nice harmony about who wants to unite the common good and the forces arrayed against it.)

This is unsurprising! Most people are in favor of national monuments. But that’s one of the more insidious things about the Republican Party. They simply don’t care what most people want. And they have always used the manipulation of language (government overreach, private land, etc) to convince people to support things that they don’t actually support.

Any Western GOP politician, from Chaffetz to Zinke, has the speech down pat. The government wants to take over this land! They’ve taken it over without actually setting foot in it, a bunch of Washington bureaucrats! We want to return it to the people.

“The people”, here, are of course private concerns, who would shoot your ass for trespassing on their newly fenced-off land. But it sounds seductive, and is part and parcel of their overall philosophy that the government is the enemy of the people, and not the expression of our politics. It is contempt for democracy at the most basic level.

But we can push back. Who knows if these comments will do any good. Zinke is already showing himself to be a good Trumpista by wildly spinning the results.

Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. 

Well-orchestrated national campaigns. You can almost hear him whispering “Soros” and “fake news.” They contrast this with locals, though at least they are honest enough not to hide the mercenary motivations.

Again, this is part of the GOP and right-wing emotional strategy. A bunch of elites want one thing, and are ramming it down the throats of the hard-working locals, simple folk, really, who just want Uncle Sam off their back. Never mind that they aren’t going to be doing much huntin’ or fishin’ on Amalagamted Strip-Top Mining land. It’s freedom is what it is.

Don’t ignore either the way that the “national” campaign is sneered at, as if we as Americans shouldn’t have a say in our national heritage. It is the politics of division, as if a few people in one area have the full rights over who we are as a nation. It’s really a funny sort of patriotism. The million comments are dismissed because they came from people who care enough to comment, which is, I guess, a bad thing.

Will it work? I don’t know. I kind of feel like this is one of those things that could go either way. It is so unpopular that in a normal system they’d have to back off, but it is also under the radar enough that it can slip under the constant deafening storm of nonsense. But if the Antiquities Act goes, our national heritage is up for sale. It’s something to keep fighting.


You can now comment on the Water of the United States Act, which the admin wants to roll back. I think it is a bad idea. If you have an opinion, comment. It actually does mean something.



With Bear Ears, We See The Fullness of the GOP (Bonus: The Worst Dude!)


Interior Secretary Zinke: This is nice. Could use some derricks.

In December, not knowing much about him, I tentatively declared Interior nominee Ryan Zinke to be potentially “not terrible?” It wasn’t exactly high praise, but even that most mild of optimism (or a lower level of dread) was misplaced.

BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah — Parts of this sprawling region of red-rock canyons, towering mesas and ancient Native American sites in southeastern Utah could lose their strict federal protection as a national monument, under a recommendation that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to issue on Thursday.

Shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument and reopening much of the land for possible mining and drilling would be widely seen as a direct blow to former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, and the first major test of a century-old conservation law.

Bear Ears is the opening for them. This was a piece of land set off almost entirely due to indigenous concerns, which in and of itself already goes against conservative philosophy. It’s not the Democrats really understand that there are multiple nations still on this continent, in different occupied territories, but conservatives want to entirely wipe that idea out, subsume it all under the guise of America.

And America, for them, is business. We’ve talked endlessly about the idea of how the modern GOP is set up in opposition to the idea of “the common good,” whether that is the shared responsibilities of public health or helping people not be trapped by the circumstances of their birth. But its apotheosis is in how it treats the sprawling and beautiful land that makes up this country, however it was gained.

They want to dig it up and convert it into wealth. Not for everyone, of course. For miners and loggers, mostly. For large companies. For those already wealthy. The argument is that the government shouldn’t control the “people’s land”, logic which is easily disproven, but very seductive on its face. Public land reverts to the states, which sells it to private companies, which tear it up.

The Trump admin has wanted to do this from Day 1, which really any GOP government would have done. He’s particularly eager to sell the country off, since he’s a cheap monster with no respect for anything but himself, but this would have happened with any Republican. It’s what they do.

Bear Ears has been at the top of their list since President Obama designated it last year. To them it was the ultimate in tyrannical over-reach, since it was just for Indians, and since there are precious, precious minerals under it. Jason Chaffetz even launched an investigation into how a staffer at Bryce Canyon could have made a mail slot for Bear Ears unless there was prior collusion (I’m not kidding).

Bear Ears was at the center of anti-Obama paranoia, fraudulent terror, anti-Native activism (of which DAPL is a huge part), and of course the assault on public land. This is the door they want to push through in order to break the Antiquities Act. Any action will be challenged in court, and challenged for years, and with hundreds of federal seats open, and the potential for more Supreme Court posts, they feel confident they’ll win.

They genuinely don’t think that the President should be able to protect land from capitalism. They don’t think anyone should. And they’re going to use Bear Ears as the first test case to erode the Act that has allowed us to celebrate the wild and impossible beauty of this still-forming continent. These are people who gaze into the vast western sunsets and say “Not bad. Could use some mines.”  Make sure you call your Senators and Reps and tell them to fight to protect the Antiquities Act.

Oh, and a bonus! Here’s the worst person.

Mike Noel, a Utah state representative, said that reducing or eliminating Bears Ears would be “a victory for our state.” Federal management of land in his state had constrained drilling, mining and grazing, he said, adding that Washington had no business setting aside so much land for the strict protection that monument status affords.

“When you turn the management over to the tree-huggers, the bird and bunny lovers and the rock lickers, you turn your heritage over,” Mr. Noel said.

Rock lickers?

“I’m Here”: The Radical Optimism of “The Leftovers” Series Finale



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(This post actually covers what happened in the episode, and presupposes knowledge of the show. It has spoilers.)

“So,” Allison asked, turning to me with tear-blurred eyes as the last sweet gasp of The Leftovers faded away, “was all this just a way of telling us to be thankful for what we have?”

Before the finale, it might have seemed like an absurd question. This was a bizarre and at time operatically-bleak show about loss and grief, about how what you love can be taken away at any moment due to sickness or accident, chance or fate, one misstep or maybe some kind of supernatural event like, in the show, 2% of the world’s population disappearing all at once. Indeed, I titled my review of the opener (also in the words of Allison) “You’re Alone In Your Beliefs.

The show was about (inasmuch as it could be reduced) somehow trying to find meaning in the face of that.  Some people tried to find religion, or more likely start their own. Some entered doomed relationships where pain was the only thing that worked. Some joined cults, so threw themselves deeper into sex and nihilism. But everyone was broken by that universal truth: we’re all going to die. As Woland said in The Master and Margarita, the problem isn’t that man is mortal. It’s that he’s so often unexpectedly mortal.

How do we live with that? How do we trudge on? How do we find solace? It’s a question this remarkable TV show, one of the most astonishing I have ever seen, dared to ask but didn’t presume to answer. It didn’t care to solve its mysteries. And that turned out to be the answer the whole time.

(Much more below the jump)

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“The Leftovers” Season 3: You’re Alone in Your Beliefs

(Note: This isn’t a “review” per se of Episode 1 of The Leftovers, nor is it a summary of what came before. We might do a mini-breakdown every week, but there are people far better at that, and at tying that into the big themes, than I am. This is just random thoughts. There are minor spoilers here, but nothing you wouldn’t know just from getting the general vibe. If you’ve never seen the show, the central driving plot point is not spoiler.)

Season 3 of HBO’s The Leftovers, perhaps the most astonishing and awesome (in the literal sense) show I’ve ever seen, opens with colonial characters we’ve never seen in an unmentioned place, though it seems clear it is Australia (it is colder in August than January; the people look Australian; we know the show is going there eventually). But while you can look for Easter eggs, it doesn’t really matter: what matters is that these strange characters are wrapped up in the same mysteries our main characters are. Roughly: why do some things happen and others don’t?

The wordless cold open shows a family of three, a youngish married couple and their young son, enthusiastically following a preacher who divines through what we, on our couches, snicker at as snake-oil tomfoolery, what day a rapture-like event will occur. The family spends the night excitedly standing on the roof, waiting. They are still there the next morning, which sort of sucks, since they gave away their goat and other possessions. Ah, but the preacher gets another date! And the same thing happens.

The mother still believes, with a desperate yearning, when she gets the next date. The father has taken the son away. She climbs to roof on a cold night, a storm comes in, she looks at the lightning with hope and terror and despair…and climbs down the next night, sodden, broken. Laughed at and scorned. Of course nothing happened. Phonies have spent thousands of years convincing suckers that the end was here. And it never was.

But in the universe of The Leftovers, the End did come, of sorts, and that’s the driving tension. If you’ve never seen it (and again, this isn’t a spoiler), one day 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanishes. They might be eating breakfast or at school or driving a car or on TV. Just bam- gone. The show has resolved to never “solve” the mystery, because that’s beside the point. It is more interested in asking what would happen next?

What happens is much how you would expect. 2% is a perfect number, because the world could go on pretty normally, on the surface. But everything is different. Some religions take this as vindication; others have no idea what it means. Dozens, hundreds, probably thousands of new religions and cults spring up, showing finally that there is no difference between the two. Beauracracy tries to make sense of it, but there is a lingering and miasmatic dread everywhere. Every human interaction is changed. How do you become close when the person might disappear? How do you create bonds in the face of such awful mystery?

Those of you paying attention to life might ask: ok, but don’t we all wonder that? After all, we’re all going to die. We all have that looming and terrible mystery at the back of every interaction. Every meeting carries within it the seeds of tragedy. The law of conservation of matter hints that every cloud carries the memories of someone’s weeping goodbyes.

And that is part of the show, to me (I never want to say “that’s what it’s about”, because it is reductive and makes it a lesson). The show at many times seems like an enveloping manifestation of grief, filtered through terror, humor, and an outlandish sense of possibilities. It’s a far stranger and outright weird show than I am making it seem.

But it isn’t just grief. It isn’t “just” that we’re all going to die one day. If there is a central message of the show to me, it became clear in the first episode of this season, which took an incredible show to dizzying heights. As Allison and I discussed it, we came to realize that it was saying, in a way (or rather reminding us), that we’re all alone in our beliefs. Every single one human being has a different faith, because we all have a different way of looking at the world, even if it is just slightly.

Everyone in The Leftovers went through the same thing, ostensibly, to one degree or the other (some to horrifying ones. Carrie Coon’s Nora turned her back on her husband and two kids to grab something and then they were gone). Everyone is looking for answers or trying hard not to think about it. Everyone has an idea or an answer, but even the people in the same churches or the same cults filter what happened through the veils of their own experience. Everyone is broken in their own way, and removed from each other. No one can really know how the other person is handling this world.

Kevin, the primary character, was tormented by a ghost no one else could see. But aren’t we all?

And that’s sort of the point. None of us experience the world in the same way. We can’t. We’re ultimately all alone. You could be staring at the same sunset with the love of your life, the person with whom you share every experience, inseparable, and you can both be describing your inner monologue, but you can never really know what they are thinking, or how they are thinking, or the way the aching orange blabbers through their brain and tingles the nostalgic memory centers buried somehow in their toes. And you can never really know how they feel about dying.

And that’s ok. There are nearly 7.5 billion people experiencing the terrors and mysteries of the world all alone, but we find each other, and come together. The Leftovers shows the aftermath of these mysteries, but it is just an exaggerated look at what we go through just from being alive. It portrays this loneliness and fright as unmistakeable, instead of sublimated. It rips away the veil. But it leaves open the possibility that people still come together, and that there is still light and happiness and joy even in the face of unspeakable loss, which, really, all loss is.

And to me, love in the face of this is the whole point of life. It’s not how we get by. It’s why we get by. It’s the miracle for which we don’t have to wait.

Anyway, watch it. There’s never been anything like this on TV. It’s singularly great, brilliantly acted, beautifully directed, impossibly rich, often funny, difficult, wrenching, and bizarre.