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The American Abyss

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. 

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.

Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts, is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics. For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished. 

The American Abyss 
A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next.
By Timothy Snyder

Birthday bouquet from the front garden


Reading, Beginner's Mind


This Was the Coup

There will not be a peaceful transition of power between the 45th and 46thAmerican presidents. The country’s leaders and its leading institutions—the traditional ones, not the Trump ones—spent four years promising that transition, despite everything Donald Trump might say to the contrary. It was the safe, secure alternative to other, more confrontational courses of action, the fallback plan when congressional subpoenas, judicial oversight, and even impeachment turned out to be toothless: Let the voters decide, trust the Constitution, and this will pass.


And then the doors broke down and the glass shattered and the power that their president kept invoking was loose in the halls of Congress. The Constitution was on the run, and the armed forces had a decision to make. The answer to a coup was a countercoup. Inauguration Day may still come on time, and the voters may see Joe Biden sworn in as president. But it won’t be because the system survived.

This Was the Coup

Tom Scocca . Slate

Birthday Card from Jude


I Am Greta

The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary about a young girl who has become the voice of a generation.

Starting with her one-person school strike for climate justice outside the Swedish Parliament, the film follows Greta - a shy student with Asperger’s - as she rises to prominence, and her galvanising global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world.

The film culminates with her gruelling wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. En route, in an intensely emotional moment, Greta reflects on the enormous toll her mission has exacted.

I Am Greta . BBC

Kings Cross


Ride A Bike


Scrambled Egg


Brexit Is Done

The world has changed radically since June 2016, when a narrow majority of people in Britain voted to leave the European Union, tempted by an argument that the country would prosper by throwing off the bureaucratic shackles of Brussels.

That was before the anti-immigrant and anti-globalist-fuelled rise of President Trump and other populist leaders who erected barriers to trade and immigration and countries turned inward. It was before the coronavirus pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of far-flung supply chains, fuelling calls to bring strategic industries back home and throwing globalism into retreat.

The Brexit agreement with the European Union comes at the very moment that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is replacing Mr. Trump’s “America First” credo with a message of mending alliances and collaborating to tackle issues like global health and climate change.

Brexit Is Finally Done, but It Already Seems Out of Date 

Mark Landler . New York Times

The 200 million year old Ginkgo

The ginkgo is the oldest surviving tree species, having remained on the planet for some 200 million years.

The Secret That Helps Some Trees Live More Than 1,000 Years

Frosty in Goldhurst Terrace


Magnum’s moment of reckoning

In the nearly three years since the #MeToo movement transformed journalism, Magnum Photos, the world’s most prestigious photo agency, has portrayed itself as an industry leader. Magnum issued a code of conduct for its members in 2018, and its CEO boasted the same year it had not received a single complaint against any of its photographers. The agency chose women as both president and CEO, added more female photographers, and insisted it was taking harassment and abuse seriously.

But even as Magnum touted its efforts to confront the industry’s abuses, women who worked with one of the agency’s best-known photographers were telling a different story. Eleven women have described to CJR inappropriate behavior from David Alan Harvey over a span of thirteen years, ranging from suggestive comments to unwanted sexual advances to masturbating without their consent on video calls. His behavior was reported to Magnum as early as 2009, but the agency sat on the information for more than a decade. It finally took action in August of this year, but only after the allegations spilled into public: a story published on the website Fstoppers reported that Magnum was selling explicit photographs of sexually exploited minors on its website, including photographs from a series taken by Harvey in Bangkok in 1989. That led photojournalist Amanda Mustard to write a Twitter thread about Harvey, alleging that sexual misconduct allegations against him were an open secret in the industry.

Magnum’s moment of reckoning

Columbia Journalism Review 

Kristen Chick

Fairhazel Gardens


Harben Road


Belsize Road


Belsize Road


Cronyism and waste in Britain’s pandemic spending

As Britain scrambled for protective gear and other equipment, select companies — many of which had close connections to the governing Conservative Party or no previous experience — reaped billions, according to a New York Times analysis of more than 2,500 contracts.

In some cases, more qualified companies lost out to those with better political connections, which were granted access to a secretive V.I.P. lane that made them about 10 times more likely to be approved for a contract.

Conclusions: While there is no evidence of illegal conduct, there is ample evidence of cronyism, waste and poor due diligence, with officials ignoring or missing red flags, including histories of fraud, human rights abuses, tax evasion and other serious controversies. 

Waste, Negligence and Cronyism: Inside Britain’s Pandemic Spending

By Jane Bradley, Selam Gebrekidan and Allison McCann

On Vaccine Immunity

Q. Which produces a stronger immune response: a natural infection or a vaccine?

A. We don’t know, but early evidence suggests that Covid-19 vaccines may induce better immunity than natural infection. Volunteers who received the Moderna shot had more antibodies — one marker of immune response — in their blood than did people who had been sick with Covid-19. While natural immunity from the coronavirus is strong, it varies widely among people and can wane within a few months in those who had only a mild infection.

Q. I’m young, healthy and at low risk of Covid. Why not take my chances with that rather than get a rushed vaccine?

A. The experts were unanimous in their answer: Covid-19 is by far the more dangerous option. On average, the virus seems to be less risky for younger people, but that is a broad generalization. For example, in a study of more than 3,000 people, ages 18 to 34, who were hospitalized for Covid, 20 percent required intensive care and 3 percent died. Covid vaccines, in contrast, carry little known risk. They have been tested in tens of thousands of people with no serious side effects — at least so far.

Q. I had Covid. Is it safe for me to get a vaccine? If so, when can I get one?

A. Experts said that it’s safe, and probably even beneficial, for anyone who has had Covid to get the vaccine at some point. But if you’ve already had Covid-19, you can afford to wait awhile for the vaccine. Studies have shown that people who have had Covid have some level of protection during the first few months after infection. Because there is so little vaccine available at the moment, some experts think that those who have had Covid should not be in the front of the line.

Apoorva Mandavilli . New York Times