Thursday, August 31, 2017

Something to Know - 31 August

Disaster in Texas keeps coming and won't be going a away for a long time.  First is the torrential rain, the displacement of people, the rescues and deaths, and the flooding of the rescue centers.   Now we have the explosions of the unregulated chemical plants, and the toxins of industry leaking into the flood waters.  The questions are now coming up about the results of unregulated urban planning and sprawl allowed in defiance of scientific warnings.  The bad news is going to get worse when people return to what used to be their homes.  Homes are now gone, and the residents have no money to relocate or to rebuild, and FEMA probably will not be able to take on the burden of tens of thousands (or more).  Then, there are those who preach empty promises and stories built on falsehoods to help calm the storm.  And the gouging is now about to begin.

The Cheap Prosperity Gospel of Trump and Osteen

Before it began to rain in Houston last week, the spectacularly wealthy pastor Joel Osteen could have opened up his megachurch to serve as a logistics center. He could have announced that evacuees were welcome to take shelter there when Hurricane Harvey landed. Instead he wrote tweets like "God's got this" and "don't drift into doubt and fear … stay anchored to hope." Only a couple of his posts on Twitter offered "prayers."

On Sunday, Mr. Osteen's church announced that it was inaccessible because of "flooding." But intrepid journalists proved otherwise. After Mr. Osteen was humiliated on social media, he finally opened the 16,800-seat church to the public on Tuesday. When asked about the delay, Mr. Osteen said that "the city didn't ask us to become a shelter."

President Trump, too, revealed his morally bankrupt soul during the storm when he said that he timed his pardon of the racist former sheriff Joe Arpaio to coincide with the hurricane's landfall because he assumed that it would garner "far higher" TV ratings than usual. Mr. Trump did visit Texas, but there was apparently no mention of dead or displaced Texans, and no expressions of sympathy.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen are mirrors of each other. Both enjoy enormous support among evangelicals, yet they lack a command of biblical scripture. Both are among the 1 percent.

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There're people who live right and suffer, and there're people who live wrong and prosper. No one has figured that one out in thousands of...

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Natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey are the worst kind of crises for people like Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen, who purvey their own versions of the prosperity gospel. This is a belief that says if you think positively and make affirmations, God will reward you with financial success and good health. If you don't, you may face unemployment, poverty or sickness. (Mr. Trump in particular always speaks in laudatory terms about himself and his companies.)

But the problem is that it's hard to promote "Your Best Life Now" or "The Art of the Deal" to people whose houses have flooded or been blown away, or to evacuees who have only the clothes on their backs.

Mr. Trump's and Mr. Osteen's brands are rooted in success, not Scripture. Believers in prosperity like winners. Hurricanes and catastrophic floods do not provide the winning narratives crucial to keep adherents chained to prosperity gospel thinking. That is why it is easy for both men to issue platitudes devoid of empathy during natural disasters. They lack compassion for people who are not prosperous, because those people simply did not follow the rules.

This empathy-less prosperity gospel also permeates attitudes about the role of our government. Consider when Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said in March that poverty was a "state of mind." Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama echoed this in a May interview when he said that "people who lead good lives" don't have to deal with pre-existing medical conditions. This kind of thinking by the Republicans, that individual effort and religious faith are paramount, has desensitized them to poverty, disaster and the vagaries of disease. They have already cut millions from federal disaster aid, and if an uptick in disasters occurs, many more people will die.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen aren't the first to display such tone deafness. President George W. Bush, an evangelical known for his "compassionate conservatism," was crucial in promoting an individual ethic of compassion. "Government cannot solve every problem," Mr. Bush said in 2002, "but it can encourage people and communities to help themselves and to help one another." What that really meant was churches, rather than the government, needed to administer social aid programs. The self-reliance of individuals and communities would substitute for federal support.

So while the storm churns through Texas and Louisiana, causing floods, death and misery, it is time to consider the damage the prosperity gospel has done to America. Mr. Trump and Mr. Osteen unwittingly revealed its ugly underbelly: the smugness, the self-aggrandizing posturing. It has co-opted many in the Republican Party, readily visible in their relentless desire to strip Americans of health care, disaster relief and infrastructure funding.

Now Ted Cruz and Texas Republicans seek federal disaster aid, although they voted against the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Republicans in states affected by the disaster will find out soon enough what it feels like to come to Washington and relief organizations with their hat in their hands.

The survivors of Hurricane Harvey do not need empty tweets and platitudes from people like Donald Trump and Joel Osteen. They have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as we say in Texas, they are all hat and no cattle.

Anthea Butler (@AntheaButler) is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of "Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World."

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Something to Know - 31 August

After reading this story, I put it in the trash with great disgust.  Just reading the comments that NY Times readers wrote in was enough to convince me that there was overwhelming support against this idiotic stance.  The writer, Erik Prince, is the brother of Trump's Secretary of Education, and is the former ruler of Blackwater.  The idea of installing a mercenary force in Afghanistan in place of our own military troops is so contrary to our values.   Let me say that in no way am I endorsing having armed forces anywhere, but if we have to it is with our own people.  When bullets are shot, bombs dropped, artillery shells sent hurling - it is done with the official stamp of American Citizens under and executed by our chain of command of from the President on down the line.  Under no circumstances should we ever outsource this process to a "contractor".  My feeling about this as just as strong as I am about prisons-for-profit where we put employees of a hired company to carry out the process of incarceration and control and supervision of people that WE put behind bars.  See if you agree.  Unfortunately, the comments by readers cannot be accessed in the format of this email.

Erik Prince: Contractors, Not Troops, Will Save Afghanistan

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In 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II, a group of volunteer American aviators led by Gen. Claire Chennault known as the Flying Tigers fought Japanese aggression in China. They were so successful that many people believe they were decisive in holding back Japan, eventually leading to its defeat.

Although they were paid volunteers rather than members of the American military, they were not denigrated as "mercenaries." The Flying Tigers — who now would be called contractors — fought for China and the United States and, like paid American contractors in theaters of war today, fought as bravely and patriotically as American soldiers.

As policy makers in Washington decide what to do in Afghanistan, they should keep the Flying Tigers in mind. Such a force could be just the solution Afghanistan needs.

The reasons are as obvious as they are compelling: Last week, President Trump announced his "new strategy" to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. But in promising to add more dollars to the more than $800 billion already spent, not to mention more American troops to the thousands already dead or wounded, President Trump's strategy is sadly more old than new.

A United States Marine in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, this week. Credit Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press
Fortunately, it is not too late to alter the course.

This spring, as Afghanistan policy was debated in Washington, the president asked for fresh options to end the war honorably. Faced with two choices — pulling out entirely or staying the course — I argued strongly for a new approach, a third path that would put in place a light footprint of American Special Forces, as well as contractors to work with Afghans to focus on the goal that Americans really care about: denying America's enemies the sanctuary they used to plan the Sept. 11 attacks.

Unfortunately, serving or recently retired Pentagon generals monopolized the conversation, so a conventional outcome was assured.

The third path I'm talking about is not untested, even if it has been forgotten. When the United States first went into Afghanistan in 2001, it devastated the Taliban and Al Qaeda in a matter of weeks using only a few hundred C.I.A. and Special Operations personnel, backed by American air power. Later, when the United States transitioned to conventional Pentagon stability operations, this success was reversed. Since then, the Pentagon's biggest innovation has been to vary American and NATO troop levels from 9,000 to 140,000, and to increase civilian contractors to a peak level of 117,000 during President Obama's "surge."

But history shows clearly that sheer tonnage does not win insurgencies. In all of them, when a foreign "invader" dominates, the weaker indigenous forces wait and learn. The 20 or so terrorist organizations in Afghanistan have watched American troops rotate through the country every six to nine months, allowing the insurgents to learn our battlefield tactics, including how forces patrol, communicate, target and respond. These quick rotations give American troops less time to learn the insurgents' tactics.

The "new" strategy that the president adopted last week would reportedly increase authorized troop levels from 8,400 to around 12,400. This will merely continue the conflict. And no one can seriously argue that this strategy won't inevitably require more spending, more troops and more casualties. In a war that has already lasted twice as long as Vietnam, is this the "new" strategy we want?

Credit must be given where it's due. A bright spot in the Pentagon's approach has been its reliance on the Afghan Special Forces, a unit representing fewer than 10 percent of total Afghan forces that conducts 70 to 80 percent of all offensive combat operations in the country. American Special Forces train and mentor those troops effectively.

My proposal is for a sustainable footprint of 2,000 American Special Operations and support personnel, as well as a contractor force of less than 6,000 (far less than the 26,000 in country now). This team would provide a support structure for the Afghans, allowing the United States' conventional forces to return home.

This plan would use former Special Operations veterans as contractors who would live, train and patrol alongside their Afghan counterparts at the lowest company and battalion levels — where it matters most. American veterans, whose extraordinary knowledge and experience could be vital to Afghan success on the ground, would serve as adjuncts to the Afghan Army and would perform in strict conformity with Afghan rules of engagement, eliminating the stigma of a foreign occupying force. Supplemental Afghan air power, flown with Afghan markings, would include a contractor safety pilot, but only the onboard Afghan officer would make weapons decisions. All contracted personnel would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, just as active-duty American troops are now.

If the president pursues this third path, I, too, would vigorously compete to implement a plan that saves American lives, costs less than 20 percent of current spending and saves American taxpayers more than $40 billion a year. Just as no one criticizes Elon Musk because his company SpaceX helps supply American astronauts, no one should criticize a private company — mine or anyone else's — for helping us end this ugly multigenerational war.

It's not too late to find a new path and give a new band of Flying Tigers a chance to serve America as valiantly as their predecessors did.

Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, is the chairman of Frontier Services Group. He founded the company formerly known as Blackwater, a security contractor.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Something to Know - 29 August

David Brooks, of the NY Times, gets to the nitty-gritty of what ails us right now; RACiSM.   It is the ugly thing in the room that not all concerned want to admit.   Read his reasoning, and you will see that it is the GeeOpie that needs to clean up its act and be a responsible Republican Party, or dissolve into something that no one wants.

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST

How Trump Kills the G.O.P.
 David Brooks

Trump supporters, foreground, and protesters, background, last week outside the Phoenix Convention Center, where President Trump later spoke. Credit Conor E. Ralph for The New York Times

It's ironic that race was the issue that created the Republican Party and that race could very well be the issue that destroys it.

The G.O.P. was founded to fight slavery, and through most of its history it had a decent record on civil rights. A greater percentage of congressional Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats.

It's become more of a white party in recent years, of course, and adopted some wrongheaded positions on civil rights enforcement, but it was still possible to be a Republican without feeling like you were violating basic decency on matters of race. Most of the Republican establishment, from the Bushes to McCain and Romney, fought bigotry, and racism was not a common feature in the conservative moment.

Between 1984 and 2003 I worked at National Review, The Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Weekly Standard. Most of my friends were Republicans.

In that time, I never heard blatantly racist comments at dinner parties, and there were probably fewer than a dozen times I heard some veiled comment that could have suggested racism. To be honest, I heard more racial condescension in progressive circles than in conservative ones.

But the Republican Party has changed since 2005. It has become the vehicle for white identity politics. In 2005 only six percent of Republicans felt that whites faced "a great deal" of discrimination, the same number of Democrats who felt this. By 2016, the percentage of Republicans who felt this had tripled.

Recent surveys suggest that roughly 47 percent of Republicans are what you might call conservative universalists and maybe 40 percent are what you might call conservative white identitarians. White universalists believe in conservative principles and think they apply to all people and their white identity is not particularly salient to them. White identitarians are conservative, but their white identity is quite important to them, sometimes even more important than their conservatism.

These white identitarians have taken the multicultural worldview taught in schools, universities and the culture and, rightly or wrongly, have applied it to themselves. As Marxism saw history through the lens of class conflict, multiculturalism sees history through the lens of racial conflict and group oppression.

According to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, for example, about 48 percent of Republicans believe there is "a lot of discrimination" against Christians in America and about 43 percent believe there is a lot of discrimination against whites.

I'd love to see more research on the relationship between white identity politics and simple racism. There's clear overlap, but I suspect they're not quite the same thing. Racism is about feeling others are inferior. White identitarianism is about feeling downtrodden and aggrieved yourself.

In the P.R.R.I. survey, for example, roughly as many Republicans believe Muslims, immigrants and trans people face a lot of discrimination as believe whites and Christians do. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 59 percent of those in the white working class believe white supremacist groups are a threat to the country.

But three things are clear: First, identity politics on the right is at least as corrosive as identity politics on the left, probably more so. If you reduce the complex array of identities that make up a human being into one crude ethno-political category, you're going to do violence to yourself and everything around you.

Second, it is wrong to try to make a parallel between Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. To pretend that these tendencies are somehow comparable is to ignore American history and current realities.

Third, white identity politics as it plays out in the political arena is completely noxious. Donald Trump is the maestro here. He established his political identity through birtherism, he won the Republican nomination on the Muslim ban, he campaigned on the Mexican wall, he governed by being neutral on Charlottesville and pardoning the racialist Joe Arpaio.

Each individual Republican is now compelled to embrace this garbage or not. The choice is unavoidable, and white resentment is bound to define Republicanism more and more in the months ahead. It's what Trump cares about. The identity warriors on the left will deface statues or whatever and set up mutually beneficial confrontations with the identity warriors on the right. Things will get uglier.

And this is where the dissolution of the G.O.P. comes in. Conservative universalists are coming to realize their party has become a vehicle for white identity and racial conflict. This faction is prior to and deeper than Trump.

When you have an intraparty fight about foreign or domestic issues, you think your rivals are wrong. When you have an intraparty fight on race, you think your rivals are disgusting. That's what's happening. Friendships are now ending across the right. People who supported Trump for partisan reasons now feel locked in to support him on race, and they are making themselves repellent.

It may someday be possible to reduce the influence of white identity politics, but probably not while Trump is in office. As long as he is in power the G.O.P. is a house viciously divided against itself, and cannot stand.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Monday, August 28, 2017

Something to Know - 28 August

Today's article is from the New Yorker. a magazine that I do pay full price for an annual subscription.   The subject matter concerns something that has always been on my mind, and that what I send out on this Internet platform is nothing more than the pilfering of other peoples' work and materials.   I do that by reading various sources of Internet and paper articles, and find things of interest to dress up into a format that might be of interest to you.   Where I differ with the usual pirating, is that I do not monetize what I do and receive no advertising revenue, and try and convince myself that all I have done is increase their audience and perhaps stirred some interest in their publications.   But, then again there is the matter of what I mail out is littered with whatever Google Mail or you browser has monetized in their transition.  Greed is everywhere.

Modern Times
August 28, 2017 Issue
Who Owns the Internet?
What Big Tech's monopoly powers mean for our culture.

By Elizabeth Kolbert

On the night of November 7, 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes's wife, Lucy, took to her bed with a headache. The returns from the Presidential election were trickling in, and the Hayeses, who had been spending the evening in their parlor, in Columbus, Ohio, were dismayed. Hayes himself remained up until midnight; then he, too, retired, convinced that his Democratic opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, would become the next President.
Hayes had indeed lost the popular vote, by more than two hundred and fifty thousand ballots. And he might have lost the Electoral College as well had it not been for the machinations of journalists working in the shady corners of what's been called "the Victorian Internet."

Chief among the plotters was an Ohioan named William Henry Smith. Smith ran the western arm of the Associated Press, and in this way controlled the bulk of the copy that ran in many small-town newspapers. The Western A.P. operated in tight affiliation—some would say collusion—with Western Union, which exercised a near-monopoly over the nation's telegraph lines. Early in the campaign, Smith decided that he would employ any means necessary to assure a victory for Hayes, who, at the time, was serving a third term as Ohio's governor. In the run-up to the Republican National Convention, Smith orchestrated the release of damaging information about the Governor's rivals. Then he had the Western A.P. blare Hayes's campaign statements and mute Tilden's. At one point, an unflattering piece about Hayes appeared in the Chicago Times, a Democratic paper. (The piece claimed that Hayes, who had been a general in the Union Army, had accepted money from a soldier to give to the man's family, but had failed to pass it on when the soldier died.) The A.P. flooded the wires with articles discrediting the story.
Once the votes had been counted, attention shifted to South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana—states where the results were disputed. Both parties dispatched emissaries to the three states to try to influence the Electoral College outcome. Telegrams sent by Tilden's representatives were passed on to Smith, courtesy of Western Union. Smith, in turn, shared the contents of these dispatches with the Hayes forces. This proto-hack of the Democrats' private communications gave the Republicans an obvious edge. Meanwhile, the A.P. sought and distributed legal opinions supporting Hayes. (Outraged Tilden supporters took to calling it the "Hayesociated Press.") As Democrats watched what they considered to be the theft of the election, they fell into a funk.
"They are full of passion and want to do something desperate but hardly know how to," one observer noted. Two days before Hayes was inaugurated, on March 5, 1877, the New York Sun appeared with a black border on the front page. "These are days of humiliation, shame and mourning for every patriotic American," the paper's editor wrote.
History, Mark Twain is supposed to have said, doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Once again, the President of the United States is a Republican who lost the popular vote. Once again, he was abetted by shadowy agents who manipulated the news. And once again Democrats are in a finger-pointing funk.

Journalists, congressional committees, and a special counsel are probing the details of what happened last fall. But two new books contend that the large lines of the problem are already clear. As in the eighteen-seventies, we are in the midst of a technological revolution that has altered the flow of information. Now, as then, just a few companies have taken control, and this concentration of power—which Americans have acquiesced to without ever really intending to, simply by clicking away—is subverting our democracy.
Thirty years ago, almost no one used the Internet for anything. Today, just about everybody uses it for everything. Even as the Web has grown, however, it has narrowed. Google now controls nearly ninety per cent of search advertising, Facebook almost eighty per cent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about seventy-five per cent of e-book sales. Such dominance, Jonathan Taplin argues, in "Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy" (Little, Brown), is essentially monopolistic. In his account, the new monopolies are even more powerful than the old ones, which tended to be limited to a single product or service. Carnegie, Taplin suggests, would have been envious of the reach of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Taplin, who until recently directed the Annenberg Innovation Lab, at the University of Southern California, started out as a tour manager. He worked with Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, and the Band, and also with George Harrison, on the Concert for Bangladesh. In "Move Fast and Break Things," Taplin draws extensively on this experience to illustrate the damage, both deliberate and collateral, that Big Tech is wreaking.

Consider the case of Levon Helm. He was the drummer for the Band, and, though he never got rich off his music, well into middle age he was supported by royalties. In 1999, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. That same year, Napster came along, followed by YouTube, in 2005. Helm's royalty income, which had run to about a hundred thousand dollars a year, according to Taplin, dropped "to almost nothing." When Helm died, in 2012, millions of people were still listening to the Band's music, but hardly any of them were paying for it. (In the years between the founding of Napster and Helm's death, total consumer spending on recorded music in the United States dropped by roughly seventy per cent.) Friends had to stage a benefit for Helm's widow so that she could hold on to their house.

Google entered and more or less immediately took over the music business when it acquired YouTube, in 2006, for $1.65 billion in stock. As Taplin notes, just about "every single tune in the world is available on YouTube as a simple audio file (most of them posted by users)." Many of these files are illegal, but to Google this is inconsequential. Under the Digital Media Copyright Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton shortly after Google went live, Internet service providers aren't liable for copyright infringement as long as they "expeditiously" take down or block access to the material once they're notified of a problem. Musicians are constantly filing "takedown" notices—in just the first twelve weeks of last year, Google received such notices for more than two hundred million links—but, often, after one link is taken down, the song goes right back up at another one. In the fall of 2011, legislation aimed at curbing online copyright infringement, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was introduced. It had bipartisan support in Congress, and backing from such disparate groups as the National District Attorneys Association, the National League of Cities, the Association of Talent Agencies, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In January, 2012, the bill seemed headed toward passage, when Google decided to flex its market-concentrated muscles. In place of its usual colorful logo, the company posted on its search page a black rectangle along with the message "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!" The resulting traffic overwhelmed congressional Web sites, and support for the bill evaporated. (Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, who had been one of the bill's co-sponsors, denounced it on Facebook.)
Google itself doesn't pirate music; it doesn't have to. It's selling the traffic—and, just as significant, the data about the traffic. Like the Koch brothers, Taplin observes, Google is "in the extraction industry." Its business model is "to extract as much personal data from as many people in the world at the lowest possible price and to resell that data to as many companies as possible at the highest possible price." And so Google profits from just about everything: cat videos, beheadings, alt-right rants, the Band performing "The Weight" at Woodstock, in 1969.
"I wasn't always so skeptical," Franklin Foer announces at the start of "World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech" (Penguin Press). Franklin, the eldest of the three famous Foer brothers, is a journalist, and he began his career, in the mid-nineties, working for Slate, which had then just been founded by Microsoft. The experience, Foer writes, was "exhilarating." Later, he became the editor of The New Republic. The magazine was on the brink of ruin when, in 2012, it was purchased by Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, whose personal fortune was estimated at half a billion dollars.

Foer saw Hughes as a "savior," who could provide, in addition to cash, "an insider's knowledge of social media" and "a millennial imprimatur." The two men set out to revitalize the magazine, hiring high-priced talent and redesigning the Web site. Foer recounts that he became so consumed with monitoring traffic to the magazine's site, using a tool called Chartbeat, that he checked it even while standing at the urinal.

The era of good feeling didn't last. In the fall of 2014, Foer heard that Hughes had hired someone to replace him, and that this shadow editor was "lunching around New York offering jobs at The New Republic." Before Hughes had a chance to fire him, Foer quit, and most of the magazine's editorial staff left with him. "World Without Mind" is a reflection on Foer's experiences and on the larger forces reshaping American arts and letters, or what's nowadays often called "content."

"I hope this book doesn't come across as fueled by anger, but I don't want to deny my anger either," he writes. "The tech companies are destroying something precious. . . . They have eroded the integrity of institutions—media, publishing—that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy. Their most precious asset is our most precious asset, our attention, and they have abused it."

"He's at that awkward age—too old to be cute, but not dead yet."

Much of Foer's anger, like Taplin's, is directed at piracy. "Once an underground, amateur pastime," he writes, "the bootlegging of intellectual property" has become "an accepted business practice." He points to the Huffington Post, since shortened to HuffPost, which rose to prominence largely by aggregating—or, if you prefer, pilfering—content from publications like the Times and the Washington Post. Then there's Google Books. Google set out to scan every book in creation and make the volumes available online, without bothering to consult the copyright holders. (The project has been hobbled by lawsuits.) Newspapers and magazines (including this one) have tried to disrupt the disrupters by placing articles behind paywalls, but, Foer contends, in the contest against Big Tech publishers can't win; the lineup is too lopsided. "When newspapers and magazines require subscriptions to access their pieces, Google and Facebook tend to bury them," he writes. "Articles protected by stringent paywalls almost never have the popularity that algorithms reward with prominence."

Foer acknowledges that prominence and popularity have always mattered in publishing. In every generation, the primary business of journalism has been to stay in business. In the nineteen-eighties, Dick Stolley, the founding editor of People, developed what might be thought of as an algorithm for the pre-digital age. It was a formula for picking cover images, and it ran as follows: Young is better than old. Pretty is better than ugly. Rich is better than poor. Movies are better than music. Music is better than television. Television is better than sports. And anything is better than politics.

But Stolley's Law is to Chartbeat what a Boy Scout's compass is to G.P.S. It is now possible to determine not just which covers sell magazines but which articles are getting the most traction, who's e-mailing and tweeting them, and how long individual readers are sticking with them before clicking away. This sort of detailed information, combined with the pressure to generate traffic, has resulted in what Foer sees as a golden age of banality. He cites the "memorable yet utterly forgettable example" of Cecil the lion. In 2015, Cecil was shot with an arrow outside Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe, by a dentist from Minnesota. For whatever reason, the killing went viral and, according to Foer, "every news organization" (including, once again, this one) rushed to get in on the story, "so it could scrape some traffic from it." He lists with evident scorn the titles of posts from Vox—"Eating Chicken Is Morally Worse Than Killing Cecil the Lion"—and The Atlantic's Web site: "From Cecil the Lion to Climate Change: A Perfect Storm of Outrage." (In July, Cecil's son, Xanda, was shot, prompting another digital outpouring.)
Donald Trump, Foer argues, represents "the culmination" of this trend. In the lead-up to the campaign, Trump's politics, such as they were, consisted of empty and outrageous claims. Although none deserved to be taken seriously, many had that coveted viral something. Trump's utterances as a candidate were equally appalling, but on the Internet apparently nobody knows you're a demagogue. "Trump began as Cecil the Lion, and then ended up president of the United States," Foer writes.

Both Taplin and Foer begin their books with a discussion of the early days of personal computers, when the Web was still a Pynchonesque fantasy and lots of smart people believed that connecting the world's PCs would lead to a more peaceful, just, and groovy society. Both cite Stewart Brand, who, after hanging out with Ken Kesey, dropping a lot of acid, and editing "The Whole Earth Catalog," went on to create one of the first virtual networks, the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, otherwise known as well.

In an influential piece that appeared in Rolling Stone in 1972, Brand prophesied that, when computers became widely available, everyone would become a "computer bum" and "more empowered as individuals and co-operators." This, he further predicted, could enhance "the richness and rigor of spontaneous creation and human interaction." No longer would it be the editors at the Times and the Washington Post and the producers at CBS News who decided what the public did (or didn't) learn. No longer would the suits at the entertainment companies determine what the public did (or didn't) hear.

"The Internet was supposed to be a boon for artists," Taplin observes. "It was supposed to eliminate the 'gatekeepers'—the big studios and record companies that decide which movies and music get widespread distribution." Silicon Valley, Foer writes, was supposed to be a liberating force—"the disruptive agent that shatters the grip of the sclerotic, self-perpetuating mediocrity that constitutes the American elite."

The Internet revolution has, indeed, sent heads rolling, as legions of bookstore owners, music critics, and cirrhotic editors can attest. But Brand's dream, Taplin and Foer argue, has not been realized. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple—Europeans refer to the group simply as gafa—didn't eliminate the gatekeepers; they took their place. Instead of becoming more egalitarian, the country has become less so: the gap between America's rich and poor grows ever wider. Meanwhile, politically, the nation has lurched to the right. In Foer's telling, it would be a lot easier to fix an election these days than it was in 1876, and a lot harder for anyone to know about it. All the Big Tech firms would have to do is tinker with some algorithms. They have become, Foer writes, "the most imposing gatekeepers in human history."

This is a simple, satisfying narrative, and it allows Taplin and Foer to focus their ire on GAFA gazillionaires, like Zuckerberg and Larry Page. But, as an account of the "unpresidented" world in which we live, it seems to miss the point. Say what you will about Silicon Valley, most of its major players backed Hillary Clinton. This is confirmed by campaign-finance filings and, as it happens, by the Russian hack of Democratic National Committee e-mails. "I hope you are well—thinking of all of you often and following every move!" Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote to Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, at one point.

It is troubling that Facebook, Google, and Amazon have managed to grab for themselves such a large share of online revenue while relying on content created by others. Quite possibly, it is also anti-competitive. Still, it seems a stretch to blame gafa for the popularity of listicles or fake news.

Last fall, some Times reporters went looking for the source of a stream of largely fabricated pro-Trump stories that had run on a Web site called Departed. They traced them to a twenty-two-year-old computer-science student in Tbilisi named Beqa Latsabidze. He told the Times that he had begun the election season by pumping out flattering stories about Hillary Clinton, but the site hadn't generated much interest. When he switched to pro-Trump nonsense, traffic had soared, and so had the site's revenues. "For me, this is all about income," Latsabidze said. Perhaps the real problem is not that Brand's prophecy failed but that it came true. A "computer bum" sitting in Tbilisi is now so "empowered" as an individual that he can help turn an election halfway around the world.

Either out of conviction or simply out of habit, the gatekeepers of yore set a certain tone. They waved through news about state budget deficits and arms-control talks, while impeding the flow of loony conspiracy theories. Now Chartbeat allows everyone to see just how many (or, more to the point, how few) readers there really are for that report on the drought in South Sudan or that article on monopoly power and the Internet. And so it follows that there will be fewer such reports and fewer such articles. The Web is designed to give people what they want, which, for better or worse, is also the function of democracy.

Post-Cecil, post-fact, and mid-Trump, is there anything to be done? Taplin proposes a few fixes. To start, he wants the federal government to treat companies like Google and Facebook as monopolies and regulate them accordingly. (Relying on similar thinking, regulators in the European Union recently slapped Google with a $2.7-billion fine.)
Taplin notes that, in the late nineteen-forties, the U.S. Department of Justice went after A.T. & T., the Google of its day, for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. The consent decree in the case, signed in 1956, compelled A.T. & T. to license all the patents owned by its research arm, Bell Labs, for a small fee. (One of the technologies affected by the decree was the transistor, which later proved essential to computers.) Google, he argues, could be similarly compelled to license its thousands of patents, including those for search algorithms, cell-phone operating systems, self-driving cars, smart thermostats, advertising exchanges, and virtual-reality platforms.

"It would seem that such a licensing program would be totally in line with Google's stated 'Don't be evil' corporate philosophy," Taplin writes. At the same time, he urges musicians and filmmakers to take matters into their own hands by establishing their own distribution networks, along the lines of Magnum Photos, formed by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and others in 1947.

"What if artists ran a video and audio streaming site as a nonprofit cooperative (perhaps employing the technology in some of those free Google patents)?" he asks at one point. "I have no illusion that the existing business structures of cultural marketing will go away," he observes at another. "But my hope is that we can build a parallel structure that will benefit all creators."
Foer prefers the model of artisanal cheesemakers. ( "World Without Mind" apparently went to press before Amazon announced its intention to buy Whole Foods.) "The culture industries need to present themselves as the organic alternative, a symbol of status and aspiration," he writes. "Subscriptions are the route away from the aisles of clickbait." Just after the election, he notes, the Times added more than a hundred thousand new subscribers by marketing itself as a fake-news antidote. And, as an act of personal resistance, he suggests picking up a book. "If the tech companies hope to absorb the totality of human existence," he writes, "then reading on paper is one of the few slivers of life that they can't fully integrate."

These remedies are all backward-looking. They take as a point of reference a world that has vanished, or is about to. (If Amazon has its way, even artisanal cheese will soon be delivered by drone.) Depending on how you look at things, this is either a strange place for meditations about the future to end up or a predictable one. People who worry about the fate of democracy still write (and read) books. Those who are determining it prefer to tweet. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the August 28, 2017, issue, with the headline "The Content of No Content."

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Something to Know - 27 August

It is said that humor is the best medicine for whatever ails you.   The following is a funny story about something that is really ailing us.   The said part of this medical prescription is that it really is not funny, and the cure is not in the immediate future:


President Trump and the Baby-Sitters Club
Editorial Observer

President Trump pretending to drive a truck on the South Grounds of the White House in March. He was welcoming truckers and executives for a listening session on healthcare. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

"You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch TV and you talk to me?"

— Donald Trump to Paul Manafort in "Devil's Bargain," by Joshua Green.

Why does Mr. Trump's team treat him like a kid? He is the president of the United States and, as he says, "you're not." He lives in the White House, where he gets two scoops of ice cream instead of one for dessert. He is commander in chief, eating "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake" with the Chinese president while he fires missiles at Syria. As he told the Russians, "people brief me on great intel every day," with lots of pictures and "tweet-length sentences." He has a "beautiful Twitter account." Uh-oh!

Mr. Trump's staff can't control him, so they coddle him. They make sure he starts his day with a packet of good news about himself, compiled by Republicans who get up early to search for positive stories, headlines, tweets or, failing those, flattering photos. "Maybe it's good for the country that the president is in a good mood in the morning," one of the Republicans said.

Mr. Trump likes "unstructured time" to watch TV. His favorite station is Fox News Channel but he'll watch any show where they talk about him. If they say something bad about him, he tweets. That makes everyone nervous. His staffers try to limit his screen time during the day and keep him from "calling old friends and then tweeting about it." But then it's off to bed with his phone, and "once he goes upstairs, there's no managing him." Uh-oh!

Failing to pass any big legislation, tangling with the courts on his executive orders, worrying about the F.B.I. investigation into his team's contacts with Russia makes Mr. Trump grouchy. He screams at the television, at staffers, and at Republican legislators, demanding that somebody make it stop. But when Mr. Trump's advisers tell him what he might do, he likes doing the opposite — like when he fired James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., or stared at the solar eclipse. After he blurted out secrets to Russian officials in the Oval Office, his team worried about "leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders." H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, tries to correct the president and keep him out of trouble. The president calls General McMaster "a pain."

When Mr. Trump has one of those "moods where sometimes he wants to blow everything up," his staff takes him outside. He sat in an 18-wheeler in the White House driveway one time. "Honk, honk!" went the horn. He sat in a red fire truck, too. "Where's the fire?" Mr. Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence. "Put it out fast!" Mr. Trump went to Saudi Arabia, where they gave him steak and ketchup and put his photo on the side of a building. But most of all Mr. Trump likes when his staff plans field trips to rallies in red states, where he can campaign for president again.

Those rallies are fun, but back at the White House, nothing gets done and the president's worn-out minders are warring among themselves.

So they got John Kelly to be the White House chief of staff and enforce new house rules. Mr. Kelly makes sure the Oval Office door stays closed, keeping the president inside and the staff and random buddies out. No more visiting Mr. Trump without an appointment — that means you, too, Ivanka! No more back-stabbing. No more slipping the president goofy website stories that he confuses with facts. No more secretive executive orders, and no official phone calls without Mr. Kelly on the line. No more impromptu events. No more Mooch. And no more Bannon.

But Mr. Trump keeps getting into trouble. He says the wrong things about neo-Nazis, and threatens to shut down the government unless Congress gives him money for the border wall that he said Mexico would pay for. He is bullying his allies and stomping all over his agenda. And, oh, does he tweet and yell.

Mr. Kelly is a tough guy. He was a general in the Marine Corps and commanded American troops in Iraq. He has gotten the White House staff under control, but not the president. A few days ago, he said he wouldn't even try. Uh-oh!

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Something to Know - 26 August

Sheriff Joe gets pardoned.  That is a subject for another time and day.   In a related matter we have this op-ed from the NY Times about cash-bail for those who get arrested and await trial.   If you are a person of some means you can get bailed out right away.   If you have no money, you can't make bail (Stuck in the Tijuana Jail?).    Innocents languish in jail until the "system of justice" grants a "speedy" trial.   This op-ed takes to task the cash for your freedom system, and the Bail Bond industry is not happy.  Just like the Payday lenders are not happy, which are just two examples of systems that keep the downtrodden in perpetual destitution.   As for Joe, he has a friend in high places.

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL
Cash Bail's Lonely Defender

Pretty much everyone who spends any time examining the American system of secured cash bail comes away with the same conclusion: It's unjust, expensive and ineffective, even counterproductive. People charged with crimes — all of whom are presumed innocent — get locked up for days, weeks or months not because they pose a risk of fleeing or endangering the public but simply because they're too poor to buy their freedom. 

The harm that even short-term detention can cause is profound. Jobs are lost, children are removed and lives fall apart, setting off even more of the instability that is itself a predictor of crime.

The growing consensus against cash bail cuts across party lines, and includes law enforcement leaders, prosecutors, defense lawyers, the courts and religious leaders.

The only defender of the system, it seems, is the industry that profits from it. States and localities around the country have begun imposing long overdue reforms to their bail systems. But the multibillion-dollar bail-bond industry, which charges defendants to guarantee their appearance in court, is pushing hard in the other direction. The Times reported Monday on two lawsuits filed in federal court in New Jersey over the summer challenging a new state law that essentially eliminates money bail. Another suit, in New Mexico, challenges that state's Supreme Court's new rules governing bail. The industry is also fighting federal bail reform legislation.

The industry's gripe is understandable: The shift from cash bail is bad for business. Of course, that's not how those in the industry frame their argument. They claim that public safety is the real concern. But secured money bail has never been about protecting the public; it is simply meant to ensure that a defendant shows up to court. And even in that case, money bail might be less effective than other methods, as a federal judge in Texas found in April when she struck down Harris County's bail system as unconstitutional.

But the profit motive can be a powerful bulwark against the truth. At a news conference announcing one of the New Jersey suits, Beth Chapman, president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, said that "people are not in jail because they're poor — they're in jail because they broke the law." That's as false as the claim made by the lawyer representing Harris County, who said that people stay in jail because they "want" to, especially in cold weather. In fact, as the judge in that case pointed out, three-quarters of the inmates in Texas jails are awaiting trial, up from less than one-third two decades ago.

The increase, largely during the 1990s and 2000s, happened as the politically influential bail-bond industry flexed its muscles and almost no one paid attention to the growing inequality and unfairness of the system.

Money bail isn't a categorically bad idea, and it can be an effective incentive. But when people are locked up simply for being poor, there is no incentive; only punishment. In that case, civil rights advocates argue, courts must follow the procedures that are required when depriving anyone of his or her liberty, including an adversarial hearing where the state must show evidence that the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Ms. Chapman and others in her industry characterize their fight against bail reform as an all-out war, and they see the New Jersey litigation as a crucial early battle with potentially national repercussions. But the momentum in favor of reform is already strong, as more people come to see how pointless and unfair the cash-bail system is. If the forces behind this morally tainted enterprise want to think of it as a war, they should go right ahead — they are going to lose.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Something to Know - 24 August

For those of you who have been waiting for something, here it is.  Many of you are some of my friends from Claremont, California, either from college days, or as my neighbors.   For others, this may not mean a whole lot, but it does concern the genesis of a political movement that shares in the name o "Claremont" and provides a look into a for right-wing movement:

How Steve Bannon became the face of a political movement with roots in Los Angeles
By Chris Keller and Thomas Suh Lauder

In the beginning
A native of Brentwood, the late conservative Andrew Breitbart cut his teeth in the news business on the Drudge Report , the news aggregation site started by fellow Westsider Matt Drudge. The two met in the mid-1990s"It's a one-man operation with a second guy," . Eventually Breitbart became Drudge's first assistant, finding and linking to stories online and crafting headlines. Breitbart told the Los Angeles Times in 2007.
Along the way, Breitbart met Arianna Huffington and contributed to the creation and launch of the Huffington Post in 2005.
After a 2007 trip to Israel with childhood friend and Los Angeles attorney Larry Solov, Breitbart went on to create the series of websites that would ultimately bear his name: . Breitbart would be the driving force, while Solov would be the president and chief operating officer .
The website got its start in Westwood, enlisting a group of young writers "determined to launch a news site that would shake up the world of conservative media."
"This is no exaggeration to say we were brothers," Solov told The Times in 2012 after Breitbart's death at 43. With that loss, Solov assumed Breitbart's role as chief executive. A member of the Breitbart News Network board would become executive chairman: Stephen K. Bannon .

Conservatism blooms in Upland
A conservative think tank in Upland, an hour east of L.A., has taken on the training of young conservatives in the "principles that will be necessary to defeat progressivism."
The Claremont Institute, not to be confused with the group of colleges in nearby Claremont, began in 1979 and offers a number of programs for students of conservative thought. The institute also publishes the right-leaning Claremont Review of Books. Through the institute's Lincoln Fellowship program in 2009 , Breitbart attended a weeklong training in conservative thought.
Another alum of the institute is Ben Shapiro , who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yeshiva University High School and later UCLA and Harvard Law School. Shapiro, a syndicated conservative columnist at the age of 17, went to work as an editor for in 2012.
But Shapiro resigned from Breitbart News in March 2016 after a colleague was grabbed by then-candidate Donald Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski , after a news conference. In announcing his departure, Shapiro foreshadowed on the coming shift in's coverage:
"Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew's legacy. In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew's mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump.

They're gonna put me in the movies
Bannon has his own ties to the Claremont Institute, though not as a participant in the fellowship program.
Spurred on in part by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bannon, a former Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker, began to move into documentary films .
The institute's current president and CEO, Michael Pack, enlisted Bannon to help promote two documentaries made through Pack's Manifold Productions : 2014's "Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power" and 2008's "The Last 600 Meters ."
Increasingly, Bannon's documentary work would bring him together with the conservative movement's power base. He'd go on to write and direct films for Citizens United , growing close to the conservative advocacy organization's president, David Bossie.
Another Bannon documentary brought him into Breitbart's orbit. It was at a 2004 screening in Beverly Hills of "In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed" that Bannon and Breitbart met. Eventually Bannon became involved in Breitbart News, home to several Southern Californians crafting their brand of journalism.
Alex Marlow, the current editor and also one of the website's first hires, graduated in 2004 from Harvard-Westlake School , the exclusive Los Angeles prep school. Class of 2009 graduate and Beverly Hills native Julia Hahn also joined the conservative website .
Bannon honed some of his worldview based on the writings of William Strauss and Santa Monica native Neil Howe. Their book "The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" postulates that America undergoes recurring cycles, each made up of four generations or "turnings," and that it's during the fourth turning that America faces crisis and tumult. The latest "fourth turning" was predicted to begin in 2005 and last two decades. In 2010, Bannon released a documentary based on the authors' theories, "Generation Zero."
With the death of Breitbart and the naming of Bannon as executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, the site's tone and voice shifted further to the right, according to former editor Shapiro.
"Andrew Breitbart despised racism. Truly despised it," Shapiro wrote after Trump named Bannon as his campaign chairman . "Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with ... the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers."
Even before being named campaign chairman, Bannon said as much to Sarah Posner of Mother Jones magazine : "We're the platform for the alt-right."

From L.A. to the West Wing
Fast-forward to Trump's White House, and roots formed in Southern California are hard to miss. The media platform Breitbart created and the philosophy honed by Bannon, who served as a special advisor to the president until last Friday, have been on full display in the new administration.
Hahn is a special assistant to the president , having left her position as a Breitbart News reporter.
Then there's Stephen Miller. As a student at Santa Monica High, he was a frequent guest on an L.A.-based radio show hosted by Larry Eldertea party Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) . Miller worked for former , which brought him into Bannon's orbit; Bannon profiled Bachmann in the 2010 Citizens United movie "Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman." Miller later ran communications for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Now a senior Trump advisor, he worked with Bannon on the order to suspend travel from several mostly Muslim countries .
Then there's Michael Anton, a senior Trump national security official. In September 2016, Anton wrote an anonymous essay in the Claremont Review of Books titled "The Flight 93 Election." Published under the pseudonym "Publius Decius Mu," it argued that "conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo."
Back in Los Angeles, where it all started, has grown to be the home for conservative news. What started in a basement in Westwood now has staff spread around the country, as well as in London and Jerusalem.
Solov, still CEO of Breitbart News, told The Times he didn't see an end to the website's popularity among conservatives, saying, "We think we are going to be the best place for coverage of Trump."

When news of Bannon's firing broke Friday, it was a tweet from Matt Drudge that sent news outlets racing to catch up.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Change of Pace with Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor. (photo: A Prairie Home Companion)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: A Prairie Home Companion)

We've Never Been Here Before
By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post
22 August 17

Anxious times in America. There was a news story a few weeks back, "Interrupted Sleep May Lead to Alzheimer's," and next to it, a wine review with the line "Vivacious and well balanced, with chewy tannins and flavors of fresh red fruits." You know and I know that a vivacious beverage will not compensate for losing your marbles. And now, driving to California, I find that I must enter a password in order to change the time zone on my laptop clock. Evidently, someone is out to mess up my schedule and my clock must be secured.

I go to concerts by old folk singers with long thin ponytails and see burly men in black, "SECURITY" on their shirts, protecting these oldsters from interaction with their aging fans. The only danger the fans present is that when they stand waving their iPhones and singing "We Shall Overcome," they might fall and break a hip. As the president would say, SAD.

I grew up in an America with no passwords and many fewer warning signs. Now we buy coffee in cups that say, "Caution: Hot Beverage." Someday I will drive by a sign: "Turn On Wipers In Event Of Rain."

Most anxiety is fairly harmless — my fear of water for example, which I inherited from my mother. If you needed a man to ride a horse leaping from a high platform into a water tank at the thrill show, I would not be that man, but I take a daily shower, I drink water, no problem.

We authors experience high anxiety as a book goes through proofreading: You imagine that somewhere in those 150,000 words are "insouscience" and "precosity" and "Her and me went through a lot of anxiaty together." We 75-year-olds feel the dread of dementia, especially in those moments when the name of the movie Warren Beatty starred in with Natalie Wood escapes us, the movie we saw in our teenage years, the title comes from a poem by somebody, a poem we read in 10th-grade English class — taught by Lois Melby? Helen Story? — and that, young people, is why we are wandering aimlessly through the produce section amongst the lettuce and tomatoes, because we're waiting for that dazzling moment when ("Splendor in the Grass"!) the name pops up in our brain.

And now, a new anxiety that our history has not prepared us for, a fear that we have elected George III to the presidency and we may not survive three and a half more years of his madness. For the first time in our history, we are looking to generals to save us from democracy.

We Democrats bear some responsibility. Hillary Clinton was a symbolic candidate with a nice résumé who lacked the ability to connect with voters. This is a fatal flaw. She was almost beaten in the primaries by an elderly Vermont socialist. The party, bitterly divided, stuck to symbolism and tried to elect the First Woman President, though most women were not enthused about her. The party apparatus assumed she had to win. Who could possibly lose to an invincibly ignorant blowhard New York developer with a peroxide ducktail? As it turned out, she could.

And now we think about the man picking up the red phone instead of Twitter and ordering fire and fury like the world has never seen and the death of 10 million people. We trust the order will be disobeyed, a de facto military coup, and the man will be packed off to Walter Reed and what then?

We've never been here before. A fourth of the population will approve of anything the king does, including my cousin, a godly man who believes the king will safeguard Christians against a liberal elite that is out to confiscate their Bibles. On the paranoia spectrum, this is just below the fear that invisible beams from the microwave may force you to eat toilet cleaner. Evidently my cousin is not getting the uninterrupted sleep he needs.

I hope I am wrong. On Monday I was in the midst of people with protective glasses all excited by the so-called solar eclipse, and what they actually saw was a brief celestial dimness. Any Midwestern thunderstorm is vastly more spectacular. Maybe George III is that sort of phenomenon. The mad king turns out to be the Queen of Hearts who is able to believe six impossible things before breakfast. The rabbit is there and a little girl named Alice. Enjoy the show.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson