Monday, August 29, 2016

Outrageous Empathy

What now strikes me most about trigger warnings is how small a request they are, in proportion to the backlash they incite. What is it about about this entirely free gesture of empathy that makes people so outraged?

- Kat Stoeffel, "Why I Stopped Rolling My Eyes at Trigger Warnings"

This week's featured posts are "Academic Freedom and Institutional Power at My Old School" about the University of Chicago's denunciation of trigger warnings and its affirmation of "controversial" speakers;  and "About the Foundation", which makes the case that the "scandal" of the Clinton Foundation has a lot less substance than you might think.

This week everybody was talking about immigration

Donald Trump appears to have finally found ten seconds to think about his immigration proposals. Wow, deporting 11 million people would be tough to do, wouldn't it? Who knew? (Well, just about everybody Trump debated in the primaries, to name a dozen or so.) Maybe he's rethinking it. Or maybe not. Watch this space.

You know who should be paying attention to this? Not just the people who voted for Trump in a primary because they wanted 11 million brown people rounded up and tossed out on their ears, but also the mainstream Republicans who were placated when Trump said he would appoint Supreme Court justices from a list of judges with sound conservative credentials. When it gets to be decision time, that promise won't mean anything either.

Slate's Jamelle Bouie makes an even stronger statement about Trump "outreach" to black voters than I did last week: It's really a dog whistle to white supremacists.

and trigger warnings

The University of Chicago, where I did my graduate work in the late 70s and early 80s, made the news this week when the Dean of Students sent a somewhat adversarial welcome-letter to the incoming freshman class, warning them not to expect any safe spaces on campus.

This whole notion of academic freedom threatened by over-sensitive students, who want to be educated without ever being challenged, and of brave U of C administrators standing up to them, is bogus. I challenge the Dean's underlying assumptions and relate some of my own experiences in "Academic Freedom and Institutional Power at My Old School".

and the national anthem

49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has kind of a complicated racial heritage: He's a mixed race child (African/European) who was adopted and raised by white parents alongside their white children. In my judgment, he could pass for a white guy with a good tan.

Footballwise, he's a huge talent whose career has been relatively disappointing so far, kind of like Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton until he broke out last year. Five years from now, he could be in the Super Bowl or he could be selling insurance somewhere.

But none of that is why he made headlines this week. Friday night, before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, he refused to stand for the national anthem. Unlike Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, who raised a furor by failing to appear sufficiently focused and respectful while the anthem played during a medal-award ceremony, Kaepernick actually intended to protest, saying afterward:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.

This aroused a bunch of anger against him, like fans burning his jersey. It's a fundamentally convoluted response: We hate this guy for speaking his mind because Freedom.

I doubt Kaepernick's disapproval will induce America to change its ways with regard to race, but maybe it will start a much-needed discussion about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the flag-worshipping rituals at sporting events.

To my mind, beginning a sporting contest with the anthem (or with two anthems if a U.S.-based team plays one from Toronto or Vancouver) is a strange practice we would never start today if it weren't already traditional. We don't begin movies or plays or concerts with the national anthem, so why sports? There's nothing particularly patriotic about playing or watching sports. And if some terrorists or revolutionaries want to take time off from their plotting to root for the Cubs, I don't see the harm.

Personally, I stand respectfully when the anthem is played before a Nashua Silver Knights baseball game, but I'm doing it to avoid calling attention to myself, and I resent being forced to make a political statement before I can watch the game.

The Kaepernick controversy has also sparked some discussion about the anthem itself, particularly these lines from its third verse

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

which refer to the fact that the British encouraged American slaves to run away during the War of 1812, when the anthem was written. But Francis Scott Key is cheered by the fact that a lot of them died anyway. Go, USA!

Maybe we could just play ball, and skip all this nonsense.

and you might also be interested in

Incredibly, the WSJ could find no living member of any president's Council of Economic Advisers who supports Trump.

Last week's discussion of private prisons caused one of the commenters to point out an amazing article "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard", which appeared a few months ago in Mother Jones. It's long and horrifying, but well worth the time and discomfort.

The article is a combination of an expose with a personalized Stanford prison experiment. Being a guard really does start to change the writer.

The other thing that comes through is the complete absence of any notion of rehabilitation. Literally no one in the story cares about the prisoners as people, or about returning them to society.

In Newsweek Kurt Eichenwald explores "Donald Trump's God Problem". Though more accurately, the problem doesn't belong to Trump, it belongs to the evangelical leaders -- like James Dobson   -- who not only support Trump, but who claim that their support is based on their Christianity.

The primary issue here is the credibility of evangelicalism, particularly as it relates to politics. For years, there has been a logic to the evangelists’ support of the Republican Party: Both held similar views on most social issues, and there was more public discussion by conservative candidates about how faith informed their policies. This year, that is not true. Instead, you have a man whose positions on important social issues have changed, whose faith is obviously shallow and who seems to know nothing about even the basics of evangelicalism, Christianity or the Bible. Mr. Dobson, if Donald Trump represents Christian values, those values mean nothing. By endorsing him, evangelists are creating the image that what matters to them is political influence, not the word of God.

Eichenwald could just as validly be addressing Jerry Falwell Jr., who called Trump "God's man to lead our great nation at this crucial crossroads in our history" and hallucinated "I’ve seen a man who honors his fiduciary responsibilities through his corporations." Or the lesser known but still influential theologian Wayne Grudem, who promotes Trump not as the lesser of evils, but as "a morally good choice" (setting off Amy Gannett, who I linked to two weeks ago).

I would argue that these power-corrupted leaders are not just "creating the image" that politics drives them, they are exposing the truth about themselves: Conservative politics is now a demonic spirit that possesses the body of evangelical Christianity. It needs to be cast out.

Van Jones explains the incarceration problem very simply and directly:

A lot of times people say, "If you don't want to do the time, don't do the crime." Really? Have you ever committed a crime? You've got more people who are doing drugs on college campuses, in yacht clubs, country clubs -- we all know that's going on. But the SWAT team never shows up there. The SWAT team shows up in the housing projects, where you've got poorer people doing fewer drugs, and those people go to prison.

But think about it: What if one of the times when you were breaking the law, when you had something illegal in your pocket, in your car, at your party, the police had kicked in those doors. Would you want to be known for the rest of your life based on what happened that night? That is what is happening to millions of people.

If rich folks kids get in trouble, they go to rehab. Poor folks kids get in trouble, they go to prison.

and let's close with a time trip

Take a flight over Rome during the reign of Constantine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Unexplored Terrain

The current presidential race, however, is something special. It takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.

- Scientific American "Donald Trump’s Lack of Respect for Science Is Alarming"

This week's featured post is "What's a 21st-Century Equivalent of the Homestead Act?" It's an essay question. I don't have an answer, but I'm hoping you do.

This week everybody was talking about the Olympics

But I don't think you need me to tell you more about Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

Personally, I got frustrated watching NBC's Olympic coverage, because they always seemed to have something better to do than show us athletic competition.

The women's 5000 meter finals Friday night summed up my experience: Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana had already won the 10,000 meters in record time, and she moved out to a seemingly insurmountable lead in the 5000. So the announcers got bored and cut away to show us clips from the heartwarming story that happened in one of the qualifying heats, when New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin and America's Abbey D'Agostino, helped and encouraged each other to finish after a collision. Then they showed us close-ups of Hamblin running in the finals (she finished 17th and was never near the front of the pack) and D'Agostino watching from the stands with a torn ACL.

By the time the announcers found their way out of the time passages and back to the race they were supposedly covering, Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot had erased Ayana's lead and was whizzing past her. We did get to see the finish, with Cheruiyot far ahead on her way to an Olympic record. But imagine how exciting it must have been, when Cheruiyot began to make her move and everyone suddenly realized this race wasn't over yet. I had to imagine it, though, because I didn't see it. Thanks, NBC.

ThinkProgress's Lindsey Gibbs tells the fascinating story of South African runner Caster Semenya, whose right to compete as a woman has been challenged because she has unusually high testosterone levels. This isn't about doping or sex-change surgery or some other artificial method for acquiring an advantage; she was just born that way.

Unlike drug tests, gender tests (or testosterone tests, if you will) are not carried out at random. And Semenya happens to be tall, muscular, flat-chested, and black. This is not a coincidence. According to Katrina Karkazis, a senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, in the past, IAAF specifically singled out female athletes who “display masculine traits” for testosterone tests, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has encouraged its national charters to “actively investigate” any “perceived deviation” in gender.

In practice, gender testing is far more about policing women’s bodies than protecting women’s sports. Testosterone tests tend to target women who don’t fit into the ideal Western standards of what a woman should look like — delicate and overtly feminine, white and lithe.

ESPN's Kate Fagen agrees with a tweet she saw:

I know Semenya is a woman because people are trying to control her body.

Semenya is allowed to compete because of a precedent-setting challenge by Indian sprinter Duttee Chand, who said:

I was born a woman, reared up as a woman, I identify as a woman and I believe I should be allowed to compete with other women, many of whom are either taller than me or come from more privileged backgrounds, things that most certainly give them an edge over me.

The idea that sport had a level playing field before women like Chand and Semenya arrived is a myth worth challenging. Gibbs concludes that naturally high testosterone is like a lot of other genetic differences that don't bother us:

Sports are supposed to reward freak-of-nature athletes. ... Every elite athlete has some sort of physical advantage they were born with.

538's Christie Aschwanden writes a more intellectually challenging account of the nebulous relationship between sex and gender, but comes to the same conclusion:

In the end, the real question to ask is: What is the purpose of sport? Is it more important to provide uncomplicated stories that make us feel uplifted, or to celebrate extraordinary human effort and performance? My vote goes to the latter. Participating in sports taught me to feel powerful in my body, and I’m glad that no one put limits on how strong I could be. When Semenya takes to the line on Saturday, I’ll be cheering for her every step of the way.

For me, this comes back to a point I made when the Caitlyn Jenner controversy was at its peak: Everything you thought was a category is actually a continuum. It's simple and in some ways comforting to think in binary terms like male/female, black/white, gay/straight, citizen/foreigner, and so on. But those clean categories are always something we impose on the world, not the way the world is.

Semenya won the gold medal in the 800 meters Saturday night.

As usually happens, women Olympians have had a harder time getting respect from the media than men. Liz Plank compiles the incidents in "The Wide World of Sexism".

Monday, August 15, 2016

From the Beginning

When asked when community distrust of Baltimore law enforcement began, a former top city official deadpanned to Justice Department officials, “1729” — the year of the City’s founding.

- U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (2016)

This week's featured posts are "Democracy Will Survive This, With Damage" about the even-darker turn in the Trump campaign, and "It's not just Freddie Gray" about the Department of Justice's report on the Baltimore Police Department.

This week everybody was talking about how far the Trump campaign will go

He's not just bullying Muslims and immigrants any more. He's telling people the whole election process is fraudulent and suggesting violence. I cover this in "Democracy Will Survive This, With Damage"

In other Trump campaign news, he's still not releasing his tax returns, even though Clinton just released her 2015 returns. According to CNN, 34 years worth of Clinton tax returns are now available, compared to none for Trump. The Daily Wire discounts Trump's I'm-under-audit excuse by pointing out that Richard Nixon released his 1973 returns despite an audit.

I've been laying off Melania Trump for the nude photos that are circulating online (which I am not linking to), because I believe all of us have the right to display or not display our bodies as we see fit (with a few exceptions like the ones that protect children from flashers). On the same principle, I also defend the right of Muslim women in France to wear burqas if they choose to.

But Melania's immigration controversy is fair game, I think, especially given her husband's insistence on harsh immigration enforcement for everybody else. There are two issues: By her own account, Melania came to the United States with a visa in 1996.

but the nude photo shoot places her in the United States in 1995, as does a biography published in February by Slovenian journalists.

Also, she reports going back to Europe periodically to have her visa renewed. This indicates she had the wrong kind of visa, not one that would allow her to work in the U.S., as she did. If she did that knowingly, it would constitute visa fraud.

Visa fraud would call into question a green card application and subsequent citizenship application, said immigration lawyers — thus raising questions about Melania Trump’s legal status, even today, despite her marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Melania and the Trump campaign have issued blanket denials that she did anything wrong, but they haven't released any paperwork to support that claim -- even though that could clear things up immediately.

In 2007, Trump sued reporter Timothy O'Brien for the claims he made in his book Trump Nation, mainly the charge that Trump was not nearly as rich as he purported to be. As a result, Trump had to submit to a deposition under oath, where lawyers forced him to admit to 30 public lies.

and another attempt at a Clinton email scandal

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released some emails they got through a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails are supposed to demonstrate an improper relationship between the Clinton State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

Here's what I'm not seeing: A case where somebody at the State Department sacrificed the interests of the United States in favor of the interests of the Clinton Foundation. Instead, what the emails reveal looks more like networking: Clinton Foundation people suggest other people for jobs (which we don't know whether they got), try to get their donors introductions with movers and shakers (apparently unsuccessfully, in the example given), and so on.

To me, it falls well short of scandalous. The New Yorker's Benjamin Wallace-Wells has looked at all this closer than I have.

In the e-mails around Clinton, there is a constant, low-amplitude, transactional scurry: of older people for an audience, and of younger people for a position.

Wallace-Wells finds this swirl "unsavory", but sees it as the way the world works, not something unique about the Clintons.

What [the emails] have revealed is not some new hidden system of levers beneath the capital but, rather, the same old system that we’ve more or less tolerated all along. Access to governmental power depends too much on personal relationships; rich friends of politicians have too easy a time gaining an audience. “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal,” the journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, during the George H. W. Bush Administration.

As with so many of the other attempts to find a Clinton scandal, we are left with little to compare it to, because no other government official has ever been scrutinized this thoroughly. Would we find exactly the same kinds of interactions if we delved into any other government department or any other administration to the same depth? Far worse? We don't know.

The conservative press has tried to inflate the impression of scandal by claiming that investigations are being launched by the FBI, the IRS, and others, but it's not at all clear that is happening. (Naturally, no one can disprove that investigators are looking into something, and even if some are, it's a long, long way from there to the conclusion that there is something for them to find.)

One report of an "investigation", for example, comes from this Washington Examiner article, whose source seems to be Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who (along with other Republican congresspeople) had asked the IRS to investigate. Her evidence of an investigation appears to be this letter, which to me looks more like a brush-off: Her request has been forwarded to another office; the word investigation does not appear. But this questionable sourcing allows any other conservative website to say authoritatively that "the IRS is investigating", with a link to the WE article.

This follows the standard script for fanning Nothing into Something: You release what you claim is an indication of some nefarious activity. You interpret hints from anonymous or third-hand sources into a claim that an official investigation is underway. Then you start revving up your audiences' expectations about the horrifying crimes this investigation will reveal, and raising fantasies about how completely it will undo your enemies. How many times have we been through this?

In general, attacks on the work of the Clinton Foundation have proved baseless. looked into several charges a year ago and found nothing sinister. CharityWatch gives the Clinton Foundation its A rating. Among other virtues, the Foundation spends only 2% of its money on fund-raising. That helps keep its overhead down to 12%, leaving 88% to spend on programs.

For comparison, the Environmental Defense Fund -- also rated A; I just picked them at random -- spends 11% on fund-raising and 20% on overhead. And here's a comparison I didn't pick at random: Freedom Alliance, which Sean Hannity pushes. It gets a D rating, spends 37% on fund-raising and 48% on overhead.

The Clinton Foundation works on a wide variety of projects, including HIV/AIDS in the developing worldbuilding a viable economy in Haiti, and childhood obesity in the United States.

The Clinton Foundation's FAQ reports that Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton do not receive any income from the Foundation, including personal expense reimbursement. The flow of cash seems to be in the other direction: Many of the Clintons' speaking fees go to the Foundation.

but more people should be paying attention to the Justice Department's report on policing in Baltimore

That gets discussed in "It's not just Freddie Gray".

and you might also be interested in

When religion and politics mix too closely, both get corrupted. Christian blogger Amy Gannett points out how Evangelical Christian leaders are "losing a whole generation" by attaching so closely to conservative partisan politics that they construct arguments that make a moral imperative out of supporting Donald Trump.

My generation will not identify with this. We cannot call a candidate “good,” as Grudem does with Trump, who has made racist remarks. We will not call a candidate “good” who has demoralized and dehumanized women on national television.

and let's close with an endorsement of cosmic significance

Do you watch Donald Trump on TV and say, "Finally, somebody who agrees with me and will say all the things I've been thinking for years!"? Well, you're not alone: the Devil feels exactly the same way.



Monday, August 8, 2016


Never interfere with an enemy while he's in the process of destroying himself. 

attributed to Napoleon

This week's featured post is "Sexism and the Clinton Candidacy". Short version: A man can misbehave and be an endearing rogue, but there's no stereotypic loophole for a woman's mistakes.

Last week the Sift had its two millionth page view since I moved the blog to in 2011. The push over the line came from "Why Bernie Backed Hillary", which got over 16K hits.

This week everybody was talking about Trump's downward spiral

Up until this week, Republicans were willing to rationalize Donald Trump's rhetorical excesses: It was a strategy, an act, a way to manipulate the media, and so on. He could turn it off and on as necessary to control the news cycle.

But when he went into a full-bore multi-day attack on gold-star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, raising stereotypes about Muslim women, describing his own wealthy lifestyle as "sacrifice", and even connecting the Khans to terrorism, it became hard to ignore what's really been going on: Trump has a character flaw that borders on a personality disorder. 

There is no strategy here: He kept his self-destructive argument with the Khans going because he simply cannot control himself. If he feels disrespected, he must strike back and keep striking back until he can convince himself that he has won.

In other words, he proved the truth of what Clinton said about him in her acceptance speech:

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Combined with Clinton's convention bounce, that put Trump's poll numbers into free fall. Between the conventions, the race was either tied or Trump might even have been a point or two ahead. But this morning both Nate Silver and the RCP average have Clinton up 7 points. BTW, Nate has a great graphic of how the national and state-by-state polling fits together. (If you find this a little hard to read, click it and scroll down.)

Here's how bad things are for Trump: He's already making plans for how he's going to soothe his ego after he loses: He's going to claim Clinton cheated. More and more, this campaign is reminding me of third grade.

and I thought I was on vacation when ...

... I was in Portland, Maine on Friday. I was on my way to my favorite Portland tea shop to read a book I hope to tell you about soon (Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance), when I noticed a big crowd in front of city hall about a block away.

I knew Trump had been in Portland on Thursday, and I had seen on TV that protesters silently holding up pocket copies of the Constitution had been removed from his rally.

In that rally, Trump promoted a local version of the immigrant-crime-wave lie I pointed out in his convention speech.

We’ve just seen many, many crimes, getting worse all the time. And as Maine knows – a major destination for Somali refugees. They’re coming from among the most dangerous territories or countries anywhere in the world. We have no idea of who they are … this could be the great Trojan horse of all time!

To which the Portland Press Herald responded:

Mr. Trump can relax. We know who they are. They are our neighbors and our friends. Some of them work in our schools and hospitals. Some are students. Some own businesses. They pay taxes, which are used for, among other things, maintaining the stage from which he spoke.

What I had stumbled into Friday afternoon was originally supposed to be the Portland Somali community's counter-demonstration, and it included some of the same Constitution-waving protesters. But when they had asked the mayor if they could hold their rally on the steps of City Hall, he asked if he could spread the word around, because "maybe some other people will want to join in."

By the time I got there, there were about 400 of us, of all races. (My estimate on the spot matched the one in the newspaper the next morning.) It was not a partisan thing; I didn't see any Clinton signs. People were there to support their neighbors and the unity of their city against outsiders peddling hate. The Press Herald quoted the police chiefs of Portland and nearby Lewiston, where many Somali refugees have settled. Both made the same points:

  • Crime is down, not up.
  • There is no special Somali-refugee crime problem.
  • Nobody from the Trump campaign had talked to them.

That third point is the one that most enrages me. Anybody can get a fact wrong. But Trump is not trying to get his facts right. He's going to American cities and raising fear against the immigrants who have settled there without even checking that those fears are based on anything real.

BTW, the Constitution thing is a big deal. Khizr Khan started it at the Democratic Convention when he offered to give Donald Trump his copy of the Constitution. And Trump made a huge blunder when his people ejected the silent protesters in Portland. They weren't disrupting anything, they were just holding up the Constitution, which Trump's people saw as a hostile act. The crowd booed them (and their Constitutions) as they were led away.

Up until now, waving the Constitution has been a conservative thing. I imagine Ted Cruz pulling his hair out and yelling at Trump as he watched this on TV: "You let the Democrats take the Constitution away from us?"

and my church is also in the news

First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Bedford, Massachusetts -- I know, I live in New Hampshire, but I go to a church 25 miles away in Massachusetts; it's a long story -- is in the middle of an expensive project to bring our carbon footprint as close to zero as we can. After new insulation and HVAC equipment, the last piece of that plan is to put solar panels on the roof of our early-19th-century building, carefully positioned so as not to be too striking from the road.

The local historical commission blocked that, and now we're going to court. ThinkProgress picked up the story this week, noting that we're using the kind of religious-freedom legal argument that "is more often used by conservative faith groups". We're arguing that publicly fighting climate change is part of living our faith. It'll be interesting to see what a court does with that reasoning.

and you might also be interested in

No matter who wins in November, or what kind of Congress she gets, the new President will have to face the problem of slow growth. It's not just an American problem, so it probably doesn't have a purely American solution.

Both parties have been talking around that. There's a certain amount of genuine mystery about global growth, so the idea that we can ramp up growth locally by cutting taxes or building infrastructure is a little iffy.

For Obama's 55th birthday, USA Today put together this compilation of his most endearing moments.




There's Liberal vs. Conservative, and then there's Reality vs. Fantasy. Incumbent Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson made it clear which side he's on in an interview on a local radio show:

First of all, the climate hasn't warmed in quite a few years. I mean, that is proven scientifically.

After 2014 turned out to be the hottest year on record (until 2015 was hotter), the government's real scientists published this graph, showing that global warming has actually accelerated in recent years.

Senator Johnson went on to explain what really motivates climate change activists:

The reason they're doing it is it's such a great opportunity to control, you know, pretty much, government, and control your lives.

Yep, that's why I drive a hybrid and why my church is going to court for the right to put solar panels on its roof: It's all part of a nefarious plan to control everybody's lives. I can't remember exactly how the plot is supposed to work, but I'm sure somebody explained it to me once.

and let's close with some Trump songs

Here a busker redoes "The Boxer":




And Dennis Leary and James Corden put a Trump twist into Leary's "I'm an Asshole".



Monday, August 1, 2016

Resolve over Fear

At its core, discrimination is the result of fear. Those who think Americans scare easily enough to abandon our country’s ideals in exchange for a false sense of security underestimate our resolve.

- Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the 2016 Democratic Convention

This week's featured posts are "Why Bernie Backed Hillary" and "Disbanding NATO: Why Vlad Loves Donnie".

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic Convention

Nate Silver summarized it pretty well:

Each day of the Democratic National Convention had an overarching strategic goal. Monday was about uniting the party. Tuesday was about telling Hillary Clinton’s life story (and, by extension, improving her dismal favorability ratings). Wednesday was about articulating forceful contrasts for swing voters and reminding them of the consequences of a potential President Trump. Thursday, with a lot of flag-waving and representation from the military, along with Clinton’s own remarks, was about establishing her credentials as commander in chief.

Headliners. Each day's headliners came through with amazing speeches, which you should watch if you haven't already. Monday: In what some have called "a speech for the ages",  Michelle Obama subtly talked about the First Family as role models for children, reminded us of the class and dignity with which the Obamas have carried that responsibility, and left us imagining Donald Trump in that role. She also began what became a drumbeat in later speeches: defining a uniquely Democratic message of patriotism and optimism -- not that America has always been right, but that we constantly get better.

Bernie Sanders gave Clinton everything she could have wanted in an endorsement. (Details in the featured article.)

Tuesday's highlight was Bill Clinton playing a new role: the spouse who humanizes the candidate. This was an important moment in the convention. One comment I frequently see from Bernie-or-bust posters on Facebook is that no one is actually for Clinton, but we're just supposed to vote against Trump. Bill's 45-year love story (beginning with "In the spring of 1971, I met a girl.") set her in a context that many voters (especially younger ones) have probably never seen. Yes, there are a large number of people who have loved and admired Hillary Clinton for many years.

Wednesday was Joe Biden and Tim Kaine and President Obama. As Nate Silver said, this was the night for convincing swing voters, and they did it by claiming a lot of the up-with-America themes that usually belong to Republicans, but which Trump's convention abandoned. President Obama:

Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward. But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican -- and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems -- just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.

And that is not the America I know. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.

Thursday was Clinton herself, whose major challenge was not to be overshadowed by all the excellent oratory that had come before. She didn't attempt to compete with President Obama in terms of vision and inspiration, but presented herself as a steady hand with a lifelong record of public service and a progressive agenda. She left a very deft trap for Trump, which he proved unable to avoid blundering into:

He loses his cool at the slightest provocation – when he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter, when he’s challenged in a debate, when he sees a protestor at a rally. Imagine, if you dare imagine, imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Surprises. Wednesday also had an unusual endorsement from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had mulled his own third-party presidential run. Bloomberg is also the kind of business success Trump only pretends to be.

Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business. God help us. I'm a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!


But the big surprise came Thursday, with the speech by Khizr Khan (accompanied by his wife Ghazala), about his son Captain Humayun Khan, who died saving his soldiers in Iraq in 2004.

If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.

Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words "liberty" and "equal protection of law."

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

As Hillary had predicted, Trump couldn't just let that go. He couldn't say something like "While I disagree with much of what Khizr Khan had to say about me, I respect his family's sacrifice." Instead, he asked why Ghazala didn't say anything, invoking another stereotype of Muslims:

She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

And he defended his own "sacrifices".

I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot.

Ghazala Khan replied in The Washington Post:

When Donald Trump is talking about Islam, he is ignorant. If he studied the real Islam and Koran, all the ideas he gets from terrorists would change, because terrorism is a different religion.

Donald Trump said he has made a lot of sacrifices. He doesn’t know what the word sacrifice means.

Like so many of the damaging spats Trump gets into, this could have been over in a day. Fox News didn't even show the original speech, so many conservatives would never have noticed it. Instead, it's a multi-day story and could turn into one of the defining moments of the campaign.

Now that even conservatives are saying that the Democrats put on a much better convention, Donald Trump is ducking responsibility for the Republican Convention: "I didn’t produce our show — I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday." Though Trump's speech did get slightly more viewers than Hillary's -- 34.9 million compared to 33.7 -- overall the four-day Democratic Convention had a 16-million viewer lead in the ratings.

I guess viewers would rather hear from Meryl Streep and Katy Perry than Scott Baio and Willie Robertson, and would rather watch Kareem Abdul-Jabar than wonder why Tim Tebow decided not to come. In a rather pointed reference to the Melania plagiarism story, Trevor Noah observed that Republicans “don’t have a Michelle Obama. They just have a Michelle Obama tribute act."

and its result

Polls that came out last week showed Trump getting a bounce from his convention and pulling into the lead. There are still a number of polls to hear from, but the early ones indicate that the Democratic Convention has undone that bounce and then some.

Since Trump's own blunders are turning the post-convention news cycle against him, Clinton's convention bounce may solidify into a lasting advantage.

and the Trump/Putin connection

which I discuss in the other featured post.

but you should notice the victories against voter suppression

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals annihilated North Carolina's voter-suppression law:

Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.

... Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose. This is so even absent any evidence of race-based hatred and despite the obvious political dynamics. A state legislature acting on such a motivation engages in intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

ThinkProgress called this opinion "a beat-down" and chose to illustrate it with a GIF of Hulk pounding Loki into the pavement in the first Avengers movie.

In a separate case, a federal judge struck down a string of voter-suppression provisions of Wisconsin law, writing:

The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.

and you might also be interested in

The legal process against the yahoos who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for more than a month last winter is continuing to churn. Ryan Bundy is defending himself in court, which must be entertaining for the press, if frustrating for the judge. Ryan is claiming to be a sovereign citizen who is not subject to federal law, and is making a number of absurd motions that follow from that assumption. Meanwhile, the government is asserting that the armed occupation is not a legitimate assertion of First and Second Amendment rights: "Taking a gun into a government office is not First Amendment protected activity."

The Obama Presidential Library is going to be on the Chicago lakefront, about a mile from where I lived when I was a student at the University of Chicago.

and let's close with somebody who has far too much time

If you're feeling withdrawal during the Game of Thrones off-season, and you have hopelessly nerdy tendencies anyway, I've got a guy to introduce you to. Just as the Baker Street Irregulars take Sherlock Holmes way too seriously, Lyman Stone gives that kind of attention to Westeros. In particular, how big is it? In what ways do the demographic details in the novels fail basic rules of world-building? And how could you make it as realistic as any dragon-inhabited medieval world threatened by the undead could possibly be?