Friday, June 8, 2018

“Borne back ceaselessly into the past”

Fifty years ago today Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery under the glare of floodlights, his coffin carried by his sons and only surviving brother.  As we had less than five years before, the nation watched a family’s very private moment on television.

I have a vivid memory of watching that moment on TV because it was what greeted me that night as I came home, traveling from Newport, Rhode Island, bringing a merciful end to my ignominious tenure as a New England boarding school student.  June 8, 1968 was a long day.

I’ve written about that year at St. George’s here and elsewhere so I won’t go into all the details.  But today, fifty years later, I’m going back, just for a weekend, and in the company of a friend — one of the few — from that year.  We’re going to visit the old haunts and perhaps see and dispatch some ghosts.

The last line of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest bits of insight into the human mind: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  When I first read that, some fifty years ago, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but as I’ve gotten older I realize, both as a writer and as a human being, that not only is there more of the past, it becomes a beacon, like the light on the end of the dock across the bay, as both a warning and a welcome.

Watercolor by Richard Grosvenor

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

He’ll Believe It When He Sees It — Charles P. Pierce on Trump’s trip to Pyongyang.

Personally, I won’t believe it until he gets off the plane in Pyongyang. But, if the president*’s visit to North Korea actually comes off, my fondest hope is that they don’t throw him a huge parade with all the trimmings, because, in that case, he might sell them Rhode Island. From CNN:

The talks would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader and will take place by May, according to South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who delivered the invitation to Trump after a visit by his delegation to Pyongyang earlier this week. Chung said Kim had offered to put Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program on the table. The White House said Trump had agreed to the encounter. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Trump’s decision, after a year in which the two have repeatedly traded insults, is a remarkable breakthrough. It brings the North Korean regime close to its long-desired aim of recognition on the international stage, and offers Trump the tantalizing prospect of a historic diplomatic victory. But the consequences of such a high-stakes gamble remain hard to predict.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to explain how bringing the world’s most paranoid and dangerous one-man show closer to any of its long-desired aims is an historic diplomatic victory. Inviting Kim Jong-un and his country into the international community of nations without some whopping-big concessions on his part doesn’t sound altogether like winning. Apparently, one of the keys to getting Kim to move is to get sockless with him over dinner.

During the visit, Kim reportedly joked over dinners of Korean hotpot and cold noodles. At one meeting, he said previous missile tests had caused Moon to schedule early morning national security meetings. “I decided today (to freeze the tests) so he will not lose sleep anymore,” he said, according to a South Korean presidential official. Kim and the officials shared several bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju, the official said. “The bottles kept coming,” said another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting.

(An aside: during my brief time in South Korea in 1988, I had an encounter with soju, a kind of high-intensity Korean poitin. If these cats were drinking soju by the bottle, it’s a wonder that they all didn’t get up on the tables and dance 60-odd years of hostility away.)

Of course, we have taken a ride on this Tilt-A-Whirl before. Remember the Agreed Framework? That was the deal struck between the Clinton Administration and North Korea back in 1994, by which Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, agreed to freeze his nuclear program in exchange for being allowed to build two nuclear reactors capable only of providing power. The United States also agreed to sell North Korea some fuel oil. There was a picture of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toasting the deal with Kim that sent the heads of many conservative commentators to spinning.

That deal began to come a’cropper in 1998, when North Korea fired off a missile test. (They also copped to developing a uranium-enrichment program.) The Clinton Administration decided to pursue negotiations for further agreements under the Agreed Framework. Then, the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House and everything went to hell. Bush appointed noted Death Eater John Bolton as his arms-control czar and, as armscontrol.org points out, Bolton had his own plans for dealing with North Korea.

Rather than confront the North Koreans and demand they halt their efforts to create a uranium enrichment capability, the intelligence findings gave those in the Bush administration who opposed the Agreed Framework a reason to abandon it. John Bolton, then- undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, later wrote that “this was the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” At the behest of the Bush administration, KEDO announced Nov. 21, 2003 that it would suspend construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea for one year beginning Dec. 1. The suspension came in response to Pyongyang’s failure to meet “the conditions necessary for continuing” the project, according to the KEDO announcement.

KEDO further stated that the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by [its] Executive Board before the expiration of the suspension period.” But a Department of State spokesperson said several days earlier that there is “no future for the project.”

It is here where I point out that Bolton is under active consideration to replace General H. R. McMaster as the president*’s National Security Adviser. Nobody else wants the job, but almost anybody up to and including Zombie Cordell Hull would be a better choice. This also makes clear another perilous element to this sudden diplomatic coup—to wit: nobody knows anything, as the Voice of America points out.

Aaron David Miller, a senior analyst at the Wilson Center, has advised a number of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. Miller told VOA he believes if this recent offer of direct talks does represent a transformative change in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s position, then it is too valuable an opportunity to waste, and the U.S. should test it — first through discreet dialogue before any structured negotiations take place. Asked who in the Trump administration could prepare and conduct sensitive, complicated and grueling direct talks with North Korea, Miller drew a blank. “Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said. He added: “In this republic, you might have to reach for people who have had experience and who are part of another administration. This administration may not be willing to do that.”

So far, it seems to have been the South Koreans who’ve done most of the heavy-lifting, and most of the heavy elbow-bending, to bring us to this point. As I said, I’ll believe this when I see it, but, if the president* does make the trip, oh, what a parade they’re going to throw him. Look out, Providence.

Back To Reality — Emily Witt in The New Yorker on the MSD students’ return to partisanship.

Three weeks after a former student had shot seventeen pupils and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and three days after classes had resumed, the campus was settling into a routine again. A few patrol cars and a small squadron of sheriffs on motorcycles were all that remained of the police presence. The sign-waving supporters outside were gone, and the farm animals trained in emotional support had returned to their paddocks. By the time the school bell rang on Friday, at 7:40 A.M., the one television crew on site was breaking down its tripod. Outside the school fences were piles of rotting flowers, Teddy bears, deflated Mylar balloons, and pinwheels spinning in the sun. What had begun as an emergency was settling into finality.

In the days leading up to the Stoneman Douglas students’ return to school, the movement for gun control they had started had grown far beyond the city, out in the world. The teen-age activists had tolerated expressions of empathy from daytime talk-show hosts (Dr. Phil and Ellen DeGeneres) and lame jokes from the nighttime ones (Jordan Klepper and Bill Maher). John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities had made large donations for the upcoming march on Washington. As bereaved parents gave furious speeches at the Florida statehouse, where the legislature was considering a school-safety bill, a delegation of Stoneman Douglas students travelled to Washington, D.C. They met with the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, and the Florida congressional delegation, all of whom afterward posted photos on social media of themselves engaged in thoughtful conversation at conference tables. The students posted photos of themselves with Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, the civil-rights leader, and with the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Emma González, one of the student leaders, hadn’t joined the delegation to Washington, but had stayed at home to work on recruitment for the March for Our Lives, to be held on March 24th, in Washington. The afternoon of her third day back at school found her in the gymnasium of the recreation center at Pine Trails Park, preparing for an information session. Since her return to school, González had dedicated herself to selling the march to her fellow-students. This meant sharing Never Again’s platform about gun control, while also being sensitive to a wide range of political viewpoints. At a meeting the previous day, some students expressed worry that the march’s message was too partisan.

“These are my opinions,” González said to Jeffrey Foster, her A.P. Government teacher, who was there to answer questions from parents. “I’m, like, you can say whatever you want about whatever topic, I’m not telling you what to say there, but make sure the message is cohesive. Here’s how I feel, and here is what goes through my head. You don’t have to listen to me on this, but if you want to help this is a really important way to help.”

The gym had been stocked with pizzas, boxes of tissues, and coolers of drinks. Students arrived, many of them accompanied by their parents, and took their seats. González checked to make sure that bottles of water and paper plates had been put out. She wore a maroon sundress and pink sneakers. Less than two weeks before, I had watched as she sat at a picnic table and chose a Twitter handle. Now she had more than a million followers on Twitter—more, as many pointed out, than the N.R.A. But all of this had happened outside of school. I asked how it was to be back.

“It’s pretty good,” she said. “And if news developments happen in the day—like today, when we found out about the shooting, my friend got upset, and I was immediately able to talk to her. I didn’t have to drive over to her house or run over there, like, she walked down the hallway and we were able to talk to each other. That’s nice. And the support dogs—have you heard about the support dogs?”

The shooting that day had happened at Central Michigan University, where a nineteen-year-old named James Eric Davis, Jr., had killed his parents, who had arrived to pick him up for spring break. For González and the other students, the news of yet another act of gun violence on a campus had renewed their sense of purpose but also their feeling of powerlessness.

“It feels like we’re not getting anything done,” González said. “The wheels of bureaucracy turn so slowly that, no matter what we say and how many people we get to sign petitions, we can’t vote anybody out until midterm elections, which are so far away.” As February gave way to March, two points were proved about the gun-control debate: first, that cynicism about it was not unfounded; second, that, even as the students advocated, the violence would not stop.

To insure that students would be comfortable asking questions, the media were not allowed to remain in the gym for the lecture, so, as González dimmed the lights and began her presentation, I stepped outside. Near the entrance of the rec center, Ryan Deitsch and Delaney Tarr, who had been among the students who went to Washington, D.C., earlier in the week, sat at a table. Never Again had developed a platform, the main tenets of which Tarr read out to me from a yellow notebook with the words “Anything Is Possible!” embossed on the cover in gold.

“Of course, the assault-weapons ban is the most difficult, and that’s the longest-term thing,” she said, flipping pages until she found her list. “But now what we’re really getting into is universal background checks. That would also entail closing the gun-show loopholes, closing straw purchases, and instilling the red-flag system. We also want to get rid of high-capacity magazines, and we want to raise the age from eighteen to twenty-one.” In Washington, particularly when talking to pro-gun politicians, the students focussed their arguments on narrower problems: the law that forbids the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from creating a searchable database; the Dickey Amendment, which prevents research that advocates or promotes gun control; bump stocks, which allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire at a rapid clip. The students became increasingly adept at identifying political obfuscation: the congressman who might discuss “extensive background checks” rather than universal ones; the congresswoman who brings up mental illness to change the subject from gun control. With Senator Charles Schumer, of New York, they discussed the flaws of the background-check system, and how to improve the original assault-weapons ban, from 1994, which Schumer co-authored, and which the students think could be more effective with the addition of a gun-buy-back program.

I asked what it was like to go back to school. “Boring,” Deitsch said. “It’s been coloring and Play-Doh.” Classrooms had been supplied with games and something called “kinetic sand” to ease the students’ reëentry. “When you sit down with the Speaker of the House and then you’re told to just play with a lump of clay, it’s not really stimulating.”

The Speaker of the House, it turned out, had given the students some pushback on their critique of the Dickey Amendment, and a hallway encounter with Congressman Darrell Issa, of California, had turned downright contentious. The Democrats had been more amenable, but, after speaking to them, the movement added another message. “We also wanted to tell them, ‘Listen, we’re so grateful for the help and everything, but we’re not your pawns,’ ” Chris Grady, a Stoneman Douglas senior who went on the trip, said later, after the meeting in the gymnasium. “Make no mistake about it: we’re our own movement.”

The following evening, the second annual Obama Roosevelt Legacy Dinner, advertised as one of the “premier events for the Broward County Democratic Party,” was held at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel, in Fort Lauderdale. Valets waved attendees into parking lots that overlooked a marina filled with gleaming white yachts. The dinner, tickets to which cost a hundred and seventy-five dollars or more, had been planned long in advance of the shooting, but the agenda had shifted. Bowls of ribbons in Stoneman Douglas colors were available for guests to pin to suit lapels and sequinned cardigans. The crowd was friendly, mostly over the age of forty, and clad in sensible shoes. The yachts outside likely belonged to other people; Mar-a-Lago was a county away. Several Stoneman Douglas students had come to the fund-raiser, too, although not, they emphasized, to endorse a particular candidate. If anything, it was the politicians who wanted their photos taken with the students. In their cocktail-hour soapbox speeches, the Democratic candidates for Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race emphasized their records and sentiments on gun control. Afterward, a host encouraged guests to proceed to dinner in a “blue wave.”

The national anthem was sung and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and then the ceremony began. The focus of the night was the violent act that had happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and what to do about it, as if the students had woken the politicians from a long enchanted slumber. There were only perfunctory mentions of health care, climate change, or the tax cut that Republicans had passed earlier that year. There was no mention of the resignations and allegations plaguing the Trump Administration, which had shared the headlines with the shooting and its aftermath for the past two weeks.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke of “the three-legged stool on which future generations can build and thrive: faith, hope, and courage.” Congressman Ted Deutch, at whose behest the students had visited Washington, said “Never again can we fail to take action.” Philip Levine, a candidate for governor, referred to to the students in attendance as “a new greatest generation right here.” Cynthia Busch, the county chairwoman, said that the Broward County e-mail list had tripled in the last week.

“No more deals, no more compromises,” she promised. “We are here to fight.”

The keynote speaker was Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, of Massachusetts. Kennedy is a ginger who speaks in the short staccato bursts of his great-uncle and grandfather. At thirty-seven, he has been tapped by the Party as a rising star, not only because of his dynastic connections and his relative youth but because of his ability to speak about important things without sounding phony. Earlier in the year, he was selected to give the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Now he issued a statement on an issue that, thanks to the relentless activism of the students, was going to be decisive in the midterm elections.

Kennedy began with acknowledgments and a joke about his family’s love of Florida. (“From what I can tell, President Kennedy didn’t get that winter tan ice fishing on Cape Cod.”) But he soon moved on to the heart of the matter.

“Our children wake up every morning in a country where nearly a hundred lives will be lost to guns by the time they go to bed, and they hear a Republican Party say that that is the price of freedom,” he said.

Kennedy recalled other instances of youth activism in American history: the mill girls of Lowell in the mid-nineteenth century; the Little Rock nine, in 1957; the children who marched for civil rights in the “children’s crusade” and were arrested in Birmingham, in 1963; the four students killed by the National Guard at Kent State, in 1970. “From Stonewall to Selma to Seneca Falls, America’s youth forces us to confront where we have fallen short,” he said.

He concluded with a promise that this time the adults would try harder. “Broward, have no doubt: our nation will follow you,” he said. “We will be better than we were in Little Rock, and in Birmingham, and in Kent. We will not force our kids to march alone. We will not tell them to do our government’s job.”

Was the government doing its job? In Florida, the state legislature passed a bill—which now awaits the signature of the Florida governor, Rick Scott—raising the age at which a person can buy an assault rifle to twenty-one. It also allotted sixty-seven million dollars to train and arm teachers, despite opposition from students and lawmakers who predicted that the policy would put more children, particularly African-American students, at risk. (There was also the opposition of Florida state representative Elizabeth Porter, who asked, “Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework?”) In the U.S. Senate, Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, co-sponsored another bill raising age limits. The President expressed support for the idea, saying at a meeting with lawmakers that “It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m twenty-one to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at eighteen.” I thought back to what Ryan Deitsch, the Never Again activist, had told me while sitting in the Pine Trails Park rec center the day before: “Until the politicians vote and pass something, all of their words mean nothing. As soon as they’re shot down, it just means that everything we talked about, everything we did in Washington, everything we did in Tallahassee amounts to nothing. And we choose to refuse that reality.”

Time For A Change — Jess Bidgood in the New York Times notes that Florida isn’t the only place where they’re looking at going to the Atlantic Time Zone.

DAMARISCOTTA, Me. — Several years ago, the owner of a sandwich shop on the main drag here grew so tired of turning the clocks back in the fall — and witnessing the early sunsets that followed — that he simply decided not to. That year, he kept his shop on daylight saving time all winter.

“We have such short days,” said Sumner Fernald Richards III, the owner. “It was very nice to get out in the afternoon and still have an hour or two of daylight.”

Changing the clocks brings grumbles around the country, and especially here, in the nation’s Easternmost region, where “falling back” in the wintertime means sunsets as early as 4 p.m. and sometimes earlier. But as the clocks once again were nudged ahead to daylight saving time in many parts of the nation over the weekend, foes of turning the clocks back in the first place saw a glimmer of hope in New England.

Efforts to alter time zones pop up around the country like spring tulips every year, and rarely get very far. But some in New England are trying a different tack this time: They want, in essence, to stay on daylight saving time throughout the year, and think that a concurrent regional approach could be the key. If multiple New England states make the jump at the same time, the thinking goes, it just might happen — even if that means taking the unusual step of splitting from the time zone of the rest of the East Coast, including New York City.

“We are a distinct region of the country,” said Tom Emswiler, a health care administrator in Boston who is part of a dedicated smattering of New Englanders pushing for the change. “If New York wants to join us on permanent Atlantic time: Come in, the water’s fine.”

The efforts to join Atlantic Standard Time would mean that, for about four months out of the year, some New England states would be an hour ahead of the rest of the Eastern time zone. Last year, Massachusetts created a commission to study the question. The states have not coordinated, but in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, proposals have been filed that could open the possibility for such a change, at the very least, if their powerful neighbor — home to Boston, an economic driver — does.

“Our markets and our businesses would be operating ahead of New York; I don’t know how they’d like that,” State Senator Eileen M. Donoghue of Massachusetts said. She is chairwoman of the state’s commission, which has a major public hearing this week.

The idea, the senator said, requires much more study and perhaps, down the line, will merit a summit meeting of the interested states.

“When you look at the geography, we certainly line up more with the Atlantic time zone,” Ms. Donoghue said. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Canada including Nova Scotia are on Atlantic Standard Time now.

Experts say the plan seems unlikely to come to fruition. Even if state legislatures passed these bills — and, so far, only New Hampshire’s House has — it would require either a regulatory action by the federal Department of Transportation, or an act of Congress. The governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have expressed reservations about making such a break.

But the debate has renewed musings about why, exactly, this part of the country is part of a time zone that may better serve cities to its west, and whether the region ought to boldly step away from its neighbors — maybe even on principle.

“Why do we essentially torture ourselves — in the spring in particular — and keep changing the clocks and messing everybody up?” asked Donna Bailey, a Democratic state representative from Saco, Me., who filed a bill on the matter this year. Under the current form of the bill, she said, Maine would have a referendum on the issue if both Massachusetts and New Hampshire made the switch.

“If we do it on a regional basis,” Ms. Bailey added, “you carve out a niche for yourself, that you don’t have to be so dependent on New York City.”

Any such switch would create a special complication for Connecticut since the northern part of the state is closely tied to Massachusetts, while many residents of the southern section commute to New York City.

The most frequently cited argument against a change is its effect on schoolchildren, who would most likely board buses in the dark on winter mornings. Proponents counter that the whole state of Maine, as well as communities including Boston, are considering pushing school start times back, too.

Plus, opponents say, such a change could create confusion for businesses and chaos for passengers taking Amtrak trains from New York to Boston and trying to figure out what time it is. Broadcast schedules — and with them, teams like the Patriots and the Bruins — could be affected as well.

“Once you start toying with the clocks, there are repercussions that people don’t bear in mind,” said Michael Downing, the author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

Time was kept locally in the United States until 1883, when railroad companies established the time zones. Daylight saving time began in Europe during World War I as an effort to save energy. It was adopted by the United States in 1918 but repealed the following year after strident objections from farmers, who preferred having more light in the morning, not in the evening.

But more cosmopolitan and some Eastern areas, like New York City and the state of Massachusetts, decided to keep it, opening up an inconsistent approach to timekeeping until Congress split the difference in 1966 and set the rule as six months of standard time and six months of daylight saving time. It is now observed between the middle of March and the beginning of November — except in Arizona and Hawaii, which have opted out.

If nothing else, the bills have sparked renewed rumination on time and light here in New England, and many people have their reasons for considering a change.

“Definitely it would mean a longer day of business,” said Lynn Archer, a chef who owns two restaurants in Rockland, Me., and groaned the other day as the harbor there glowed pink during an early evening sunset.

But the idea has left others — including the editorial board of The Bangor Daily News — aghast, saying it would isolate the state and hurt business. Plus, many Mainers are used to things as they are.

“You’re tough New Englanders, it’s just like — yeah, it’s cold and dark,” said Susan D’Amore, of Washington, Me. “So?”

Doonesbury — Job applicant.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Trolls of St. Petersburg — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

“Seen any of these before?” a headline blared on CNN’s Web site this week. “You may have been targeted by Russian ads on Facebook.” One half expected a toll-free number of a law firm to flash across the screen, or perhaps the name of a medicine to take post-exposure to Russian ads. Among other revelations of the past few days: Russian ads may have reached a third of Americans! And some of them were paid for with rubles! The very thought seemed to be enough to make Senator Al Franken cradle his head in distress on Tuesday, during congressional hearings in which representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter were questioned about Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

In the past few weeks, we have learned a fair amount about the Russian online presence during the election. What matters, though, is not that Russian interference reached a third of Americans—that, in fact, is a significant exaggeration of the testimony by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, who said that a hundred and twenty-six million people, not necessarily Americans, “may have been served” content associated with Russian accounts sometime between 2015 and 2017, with a majority of impressions landing after the election. He also mentioned that “this equals about four-thousandths of one per cent of content in News Feed, or approximately one out of twenty-three thousand pieces of content.” Nor is it significant that, as a “CNN exclusive” headline announced, “Russian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan and Wisconsin.” The story that followed actually said nothing of the sort. The real revelation is this: Russian online interference was a god-awful mess, a cacophony.

The Times published some of the ads that Facebook has traced to Russian accounts. Among them: a superhero figure with a green leg and a fuchsia leg, red trunks, and a head vaguely reminiscent of Bernie Sanders, all of which is apparently meant to read as pro-L.G.B.T.Q.; a Jesus figure arm-wrestling Satan, with a caption indicating that Satan is Hillary; an ad reminding us that “Black Panthers, group formed to protect black people from the KKK, was dismantled by us govt but the KKK exists today”; and an anti-immigrant ad featuring a sign that says “No invaders allowed!,” among others.

Several former staff members of a St. Petersburg company widely known as the Kremlin’s “troll factory” gave interviews to different Russian-language media outlets last month. One told TV Rain, an independent Web-based television channel, that hired trolls were obligated to watch “House of Cards,” presumably to gain an understanding of American politics. At the same time, trolls took English classes and classes on American politics. In the former, they learned the difference between the present-perfect and past-simple tenses (“I have done” versus “I did,” for example); in the latter they learned that if the subject concerned L.G.B.T. rights, then the troll should use religious rhetoric: “You should always write that sodomy is a sin, and that will bring you a couple of dozen ‘likes.’ ”

Another Russian outlet, RBC, published the most detailed investigative report yet on the “troll factory.” RBC found that the company had a budget of roughly $2.2 million and employed between eight hundred and nine hundred people, about ten per cent of whom worked on American politics. The trolls’ job was not so much to aid a particular Presidential candidate as to wreak havoc by posting on controversial subjects. Their success was measured by the number of times a post was shared, retweeted, or liked. RBC calculated that, at most, two dozen of the trolls’ posts scored audiences of a million or more; the vast majority had less than a thousand page views. On at least a couple of occasions, the trolls organized protests in the U.S. simply by strategically posting the dates and times on Facebook. In Charlotte, South Carolina, an entity calling itself BlackMattersUS scheduled a protest and reached out to an actual local activist who ended up organizing it—and a BlackMattersUS contact gave him a bank card to pay for sound equipment.

These reports don’t exactly support the assumption that the Russian effort was designed to get Donald Trump elected President. In fact, as The Hill reported on Tuesday, a Russian account announced plans for an anti-Trump march in New York City four days after the election—and thousands attended.

Why did Russian trolls, funded at least in part by the Kremlin, work to incite protests against Trump and an ersatz Black Lives Matter protest, and, at least in one offline case, work to pit American protesters against one another? “We were just having fun,” one of the troll-factory employees interviewed by RBC explained. They were also making money—not a lot, but more than most college students and recent graduates, who comprised most of the troll-factory staff, would have earned elsewhere. In exchange, they had to show that they could meddle effectively in American politics.

Russians have long been convinced that their own politics are infiltrated by Americans. During the mass protests of 2011 and 2012, Putin famously accused Hillary Clinton personally of inciting the unrest. At the time, I was involved in organizing the protests. In advance of a large protest in February, 2012, I helped a particularly generous donor, who had shown up out of the blue volunteering to provide snacks, to connect with the hot-tea coördinator. A few weeks later, state-controlled television aired a propaganda film that used footage of protesters eating donated cookies and drinking tea, which was intended to expose the U.S. State Department’s sponsorship of the Moscow protests; the voice-over claimed that America had lured protesters out with cookies. A few months later, we learned that the generous donor had been an undercover agent who had used Kremlin rubles to purchase the cookies. In the end, protesters got tea and cookies, and millions of Russians became convinced that the anti-Putin protests were an American conspiracy.

The cookie story is not a perfect analogy, but it is an antecedent of sorts to the narrative of Russian meddling in the American election, and it is instructive. Was the Moscow protest made any less real because a fake donor had brought cookies? Was the protest in New York in November of last year any less real, or any less opposed to Trump, because a Russia-linked account originally called for it? Is Trump any less President because Russians paid for some ads on Facebook? Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really.

The most interesting question is: What were the Russians doing? In the weeks leading up to the election, Putin made it clear that he expected Hillary Clinton to become President. There is every indication that Moscow was as surprised as New York when the vote results came in. Indeed, in Russia, where election results are always known ahead of time, the Trump victory might have been even more difficult to absorb. So what, then, was the point of Russian meddling—what was the vision behind the multicolored Bernie superhero and the “No invaders” ad?

All of us, including the trolls of St. Petersburg, want the world to make sense. Given the opportunity, we want to show that it works the way we think it does. Russians generally believe that politics are a cacophonous mess with foreign interference but a fixed outcome, so they invested in affirming that vision. In the aftermath, and following a perfectly symmetrical impulse, a great many Americans want to prove that the Russians elected Trump, and Americans did not.

Rainbows and Unicorns — Charles P. Pierce on the GOP tax plan.

With Sudden Sam Clovis suddenly cleared out, there was room for the House Republicans to uncrate their long-awaited tax plan and it was pretty much as disastrous as you thought it would be.

(And I should point out how stunned I am that the administration would not want a guy already under FBI investigation to go under oath in a completely separate proceeding in which would be examined his credentials to do a job for which he was completely unqualified. ‘Ees a puzzlement.)

One good way to understand what’s going on with this latest exercise in financial misdirection is to notice that this plan will tax the interest payment on one student’s loans, but that it may no longer tax another student’s multibillion-dollar inheritance. Of course, the estate tax will go away entirely in six years, probably when nobody’s watching. It also will cap the mortgage-interest deduction, probably in the interest of eliminating it entirely when nobody’s watching. So that’s what all that “middle-class” bafflegab is really all about.

Brownback’s catastrophic imbibing of straight supply-side Sterno crippled his state, and the Center for American Progress immediately pointed out the similarities between what Brownback did in his state and what the Republican plan proposes to do to the country. Otherwise, the Republican plan is pretty much the same thing as David Stockman long ago said the first Reagan budget was: a Trojan horse to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest among us. From The Washington Post:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and collapse the seven tax brackets paid by families and individuals down to four. It would create giant new benefits for the wealthy by cutting business taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and ending the alternative minimum tax.

The elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes seems to be based in an entirely new riff that’s become popular among congresscritters who are tired of seeing their laissez-faire hellholes called moochers because the hellholes take in more money from the federal government than they send back to it in taxes. Now, believe it or not, and you will believe it because these people will say anything, the argument is being made that the high-tax states are somehow luxuriating on the backs of Good Country People in places like Alabama and, yes, Kansas. In any event, this provision of the bill has put Republicans from places like New York and New Jersey in a considerable bind, so much so that insisting upon it may be enough to sink the bill entirely.

And, finally, of course, we have the most spavined old nag in this entire herd of unicorns.

The bill would add $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years, but Republicans believe the changes would trigger a surge in economic growth, higher wages, and job creation.

Clap as hard as you want, America. This is not going to happen because it never has happened in all the years that Republicans have been running this con on the country. It never has happened because it can’t happen. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel:

“But that trick never works.”

Time Was… Michael S. Rosenwald on the chaotic history of timekeeping in America.

One of the crazier facts about life in America is this: For roughly two decades, nobody had any clue what time it was.

In office buildings, it could be 4 p.m. on one floor and 5 p.m. on another — an important matter for several reasons, including who punched out first to get to happy hour. People would step off airplanes with no idea how to set their watches. Ponder this head-scratcher:

“A short trip from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia became a symbol of the deteriorating situation. A bus ride down this thirty-five-mile stretch of highway took less than an hour. But along that route, the local time changed seven times.”

That “deteriorating situation,” as historian Michael Downing put it in his book “Spring Forward,” is the reason millions of Americans will set their clocks back this weekend for Daylight Saving. (And it is daylight saving, not savings. You’re welcome.) Those who forget are going to be very early for Sunday brunch.

Before 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson solved the craziness over America’s clocks two years after passing the Civil Rights Act, time was essentially anything governments or businesses wanted it to be. Though laws mandating daylight saving — to save fuel, to give shoppers extra time in the light — passed in 1918, by the end of World War II the system had become fractured and was ultimately dismantled.

These were nutty times, Downing writes, with some localities observing daylight saving, some not:

Left to their own devices, private enterprise and local governments — which had repeatedly demanded the right not to alter their clocks — took to changing the time as often as they changed their socks, setting off a nationwide frenzy of time tampering …

Especially in Iowa, which had 23 different Daylight Saving dates. “If you wanted to get out of Iowa, you had to time your departure carefully,” Downing writes. “Motorists driving west through the 5 p.m. rush hour in Council Bluffs, Iowa, found themselves tied up in the 5 p.m. rush hour in Omaha, Nebraska, an hour later.”

The historian also offers this truly astonishing fact: “By 1963, no federal agency of commission was even attempting to keep track of timekeeping practices in the United States.”

When the government did finally get involved, a committee was, of course, established.

It was called, “The Committee for Time Uniformity.”

Congressional hearings were held. Legislation was proposed. Editorials were written.

The measure “is a bid for the termination of chaos,” this newspaper opined. To those who would oppose such a sensible idea, the Post editorial page said, “It is better for them to adjust to the will of the majority than to tolerate the Babel of contradictory clocks.”

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 — designed “to promote the observance of a uniform system of time throughout the United States” — was signed into law by Johnson on April 13, 1966.

Six months later it became the law of the land, though one wonders: Did it go into effect at the very same time in New York and Chicago, which is one hour behind?

Actually, never mind.

Doonesbury — Rhyme time.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day

Today is February 29, Leap Day. I’m not aware of any special celebrations planned; it’s just another Monday as far as work goes. But anyone who has a birthday today gets to celebrate it on the actual day instead of either February 28 or March 1.

So let’s all celebrate by watching The Pirates of Penzance; February 29 provides a pivotal plot point.

By the way, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence of the calendar that the presidential election occurs in a Leap Year just so we can cram one more day of ballyhoo and bullshit into an already over-packed Klown Kar.  Oh yip yah.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Short Takes

Droning on in Iraq: Political leaders are looking for someone to replace the current prime minister.

Syria: President Obama requests $500 million for rebels.

SCOTUS: The Court ruled against President Obama’s recess appointments and struck down abortion clinic buffer zones.

Arizona firefighter families sue over deaths.

End of the road for India’s iconic Ambassador automobile.

R.I.P. Howard Baker, 88, former Republican Senator from Tennessee.  Classy guy who couldn’t get nominated in the G.O.P. today.

The Tigers swept the Rangers 6-0 and extend their streak to seven wins.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tickle

I woke up yesterday with a little tickle in the back of my throat that is usually a precursor to a cold.  So I waited all day for it to descend and envelope me, making work miserable.  I resorted to drinking lots of fluids to at least make it tolerable and made a lot of trips across the hall to get rid of the excess.  But it never got beyond the tickle, and a day later, it is where it was… just that little annoyance.  Water helps, and it’s not enough to keep me from getting up and going to work.

That leads me to believe it’s something in the air that is roughing me up; after all, it’s that time of year here in Florida where the trees and stuff start turning their thoughts towards love by spreading their pollen.  A lot of people are bothered by what they call “hay fever,” and we get a lot of that here all year long.  Except that I have heretofore never been bothered by trees having sex… at least not in terms of allergies.  As far as I know, I’m not allergic to anything like that.  Or anything, really.

I wonder, though, as I get older, am I getting more sensitive to stuff like that?  Is it a sign of creeping old fogeyism that I’m now subject to ailments that never bothered me when I was a strong young man?

Or maybe I just need to change the filter in the air conditioning unit.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Appreciation

I want to take this time as I do just about every year to say thank you to the people in my life who have made this a good year in a lot of respects, all things considered.

I made it through with my health and sanity relatively unscathed, and I have my immediate family all in good condition and spirits, and we all got through 2012 with few complaints. At my nephew’s wedding in Indiana in October, I realized again how blessed I am to have both of my parents to guide and inspire me, my brothers and sister to remind me of the oneness of family, and extended family to share joy and sorrow with. At my 21st trip to the William Inge Festival, I renewed friendships with people who had been a part of my life for many years, and in some ways still are. This was a good year for renewal.

I still have a place to work and good people and friends to work with, doing good things for the hundreds of thousands of students and teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and in October I marked ten years there, the longest I’ve held a job at one place in my life. The last couple of years have been tough for all of us with cutbacks in the budget and added responsibilities for all of us. But we made it through in good stead and I’m happy and humbled to be a part of the effort. We have had our own shares of testing times — taking on new duties with less money to do it — but we made it through, and so to all of my colleagues and friends, thanks for everything. See you next week.

This past August marked the eleventh anniversary of my return to Miami. It hardly seems possible, but this is the longest I’ve stayed in one place since I graduated from high school, surpassing the eight years I lived in Colorado. Of course, helping me feel back at home has been the friendship and companionship of Bob and the Old Professor, who are still enjoying their retirements and the joys of volunteer work. Our regular Friday nights out to dinner and the wonderful meals on occasion are a great part of my life, not to mention the joy that Bob and I get out of using the OP as our straight man, so to speak. Never was there a better role model since George Burns or Margaret Dumont. And without Bob, my enthusiasm for cars and great humor would be sorely diminished.

There also the big wide world of the blogosphere out there that provides endless insight as well as maddening inanity. But it’s all a part of the mix. Bark Bark Woof Woof marked nine years back in November. This year was the most prolific (if not insightful) with over 2,00 posts — some of them even worth reading — and a new look and platform thanks to CLW and WordPress. I owe so much to so many people who have linked and promoted this little bit of the blogosphere, especially Rick at SFDB, and those who have included me in their effort: Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, and Michael J.W. Stickings at The Reaction. I have become a lot better at this largely because of them.

And then, of course, there’s you, dear Reader. Believe it or not, I don’t do this just because I love to write. Well, I do love to write, but it would seem to be a hollow effort if I didn’t think there was someone out there to read it and certainly keep me on my toes. You have made this blog a joy to write, and I am always thinking of you when I sit down here in the early morning to look at the world with dry bemusement and try not to bump into the furniture on my way to the coffee maker.

So here we go into 2013. What’s next?

PS: You can get a t-shirt with that cool picture of Mustang Bobby and Sam at the BBWW Shop. Get yours today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkie Defense

Paul Krugman notes the passing of the Twinkie and the era it represented.

The Twinkie, it turns out, was introduced way back in 1930. In our memories, however, the iconic snack will forever be identified with the 1950s, when Hostess popularized the brand by sponsoring “The Howdy Doody Show.” And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.

Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.

As he notes, tax rates were high — some as high as 91% — but people still made a lot of money and lived pretty well (including George Romney and his family).  Labor unions were very strong, and yet companies were still able to make money and crank out the things the consumer wanted, even if it was junk food, cigarettes, and Edsels.

The Twinkie was a harmless snack, all sweetness and light, but it also became symbolic of an era that looked good on the surface but covered up a lot of things we’d rather forget: segregation and paranoia, polio and Senator McCarthy, Sputnik and duck-and-cover.  We couldn’t survive on Twinkies alone; they were little sugar bombs just waiting to go off.  They even formed the basis of the defense of Dan White, the man who assassinated Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco in 1978: the junk food made him do it.

It may be just karmic that the demise of the Hostess Brands line of bland and poisonous foods like Ding-Dongs and Wonder Bread come to the end of their current life soon after the end of a presidential campaign that represented a backwards march to the era when the kind of food they sold was what America was all about.  We can be all nostalgic about those days, but as Dr. Krugman notes, “we are, morally, a much better nation than we were. Oh, and the food has improved a lot, too.”

Have some granola.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shiny Object

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the first compact disc.

It’s been three decades since the first CD went on sale in Japan. The shiny discs came to dominate music industry sales, but their popularity has faded in the digital age they helped unleash. The CD is just the latest musical format to rise and fall in roughly the same 30-year cycle.

Compact discs had been pressed before 1982, but the first CD to officially go on sale was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.

It would be a few years before I got my first CD player.  It was a Christmas gift from my parents in 1985, and I still have it.  I also have my first CD somewhere.

I also have a phonograph and a collection of vinyl albums, a collection of cassettes (I got my first cassette player in 1968), and I even have an 8-track player; it’s built into the radio in the kitchen.  Oh, and the Mustang has a hook-up for an MP3, so I’m ready for anything.

HT to JMG.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tales Of A Ninth Grade Nothing

By now you’ve heard this story:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

The article by Jason Horowitz in the Washington Post goes on to tell how Mr. Romney made his way through Cranbrook and how all the rituals and expectations at the school shaped him as a young man. I know the story well because I went through it, too. Except I, like a lot of other kids, was on the receiving end of the ritualistic bullying.

I don’t need to go into all the details about what I went through during my freshman — and only — year at the hands of my tormentors at about the same time — 1967 — at St. George’s. It’s not that it’s too painful to recall; I’m saving that for my novel. And it’s not that nearly fifty years later we need to bring it out to hold Mr. Romney responsible for what he did when he was eighteen. Frankly, I think we all did really terrible things when we were that age whether we went to an elite prep school or a public high school. It’s part of growing up. It’s horrible but it’s life.

So why am I even bringing it up? Here’s why:

“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade. Romney added: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”

Romney’s campaign hastily scheduled the radio interview for the candidate to call in from Omaha, where he is holding a campaign event later Wednesday, to respond to The Post’s report.

Romney said the incident involving cutting the hair of John Lauber, whom some students suspected was gay, occurred “a long time ago.”

“I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s the “I don’t remember” that resonates. That’s the part that we should look out for. As my brother noted in an e-mail, “either he’s A) lying and hoping we’ll buy it or B) he did this kind of shit so often it got lost in the pile.”

I’ll go with Option B. John Lauber was just one of many in a long line of boys that went through the mill, so perhaps it isn’t any wonder that Mr. Romney does not recall the specific incident. But he certainly recalls the mindset. It was expected of him that he, the scion of upper-class privilege and the heir to the fortune of his family, would be a leader of the ruthless and intolerant in holding up the strict unspoken patriarchy that is endemic in the courts of high school peerage. And that peerage and sense of entitlement is what still speaks from the campaign stump. His statements about enjoying firing people and counting Cadillacs may shock the folks who never went to places like Cranbrook, but those of us who did know it as a matter of course. We’ve heard it all before. It comes with the territory, along with the account at Brook Brothers and the Ford Country Squire.

Here’s the difference, though. About a year ago I was contacted through Facebook by two men whom I knew in high school. Both of them reached out to me to make heartfelt apologies — with no qualifiers — for bullying me and asked forgiveness. One said that what he had done to me all those years ago had stayed with him and he felt he had to make amends. I forgave them; not because of what happened in 1967, but because of what they were doing now by reaching out to me. As opposed to “‘I don’t remember that incident,’ Romney said, laughing.” Nearly fifty years later, Mitt Romney is still the eighteen year old kid laughing about an incident he doesn’t recall, and his non-apology apology is couched in the disqualifying qualifiers of “If I offended, then I apologize.” That tells you a lot about his character. He’s never grown up. He’s still the son of privilege; he’s still the entitled one, and he still thinks the presidency is to be handed over to him as a matter of right. And that’s the most important part of this story.

HT to Judy Blume for a title to paraphrase.

Tales Of A Ninth Grade Nothing

By now you’ve heard this story:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

The article by Jason Horowitz in the Washington Post goes on to tell how Mr. Romney made his way through Cranbrook and how all the rituals and expectations at the school shaped him as a young man. I know the story well because I went through it, too. Except I, like a lot of other kids, was on the receiving end of the ritualistic bullying.

I don’t need to go into all the details about what I went through during my freshman — and only — year at the hands of my tormentors at about the same time — 1967 — at St. George’s. It’s not that it’s too painful to recall; I’m saving that for my novel. And it’s not that nearly fifty years later we need to bring it out to hold Mr. Romney responsible for what he did when he was eighteen. Frankly, I think we all did really terrible things when we were that age whether we went to an elite prep school or a public high school. It’s part of growing up. It’s horrible but it’s life.

So why am I even bringing it up? Here’s why:

“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade. Romney added: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”

Romney’s campaign hastily scheduled the radio interview for the candidate to call in from Omaha, where he is holding a campaign event later Wednesday, to respond to The Post’s report.

Romney said the incident involving cutting the hair of John Lauber, whom some students suspected was gay, occurred “a long time ago.”

“I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s the “I don’t remember” that resonates. That’s the part that we should look out for. As my brother noted in an e-mail, “either he’s A) lying and hoping we’ll buy it or B) he did this kind of shit so often it got lost in the pile.”

I’ll go with Option B. John Lauber was just one of many in a long line of boys that went through the mill, so perhaps it isn’t any wonder that Mr. Romney does not recall the specific incident. But he certainly recalls the mindset. It was expected of him that he, the scion of upper-class privilege and the heir to the fortune of his family, would be a leader of the ruthless and intolerant in holding up the strict unspoken patriarchy that is endemic in the courts of high school peerage. And that peerage and sense of entitlement is what still speaks from the campaign stump. His statements about enjoying firing people and counting Cadillacs may shock the folks who never went to places like Cranbrook, but those of us who did know it as a matter of course. We’ve heard it all before. It comes with the territory, along with the account at Brook Brothers and the Ford Country Squire.

Here’s the difference, though. About a year ago I was contacted through Facebook by two men whom I knew in high school. Both of them reached out to me to make heartfelt apologies — with no qualifiers — for bullying me and asked forgiveness. One said that what he had done to me all those years ago had stayed with him and he felt he had to make amends. I forgave them; not because of what happened in 1967, but because of what they were doing now by reaching out to me. As opposed to “‘I don’t remember that incident,’ Romney said, laughing.” Nearly fifty years later, Mitt Romney is still the eighteen year old kid laughing about an incident he doesn’t recall, and his non-apology apology is couched in the disqualifying qualifiers of “If I offended, then I apologize.” That tells you a lot about his character. He’s never grown up. He’s still the son of privilege; he’s still the entitled one, and he still thinks the presidency is to be handed over to him as a matter of right. And that’s the most important part of this story.

HT to Judy Blume for a title to paraphrase.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Short Takes

Egypt raided the offices of non-governmental agencies, including three from the U.S.

Same Old — North Korea dashes any thoughts of rapprochement with South Korea.

To Boldly Go — China plans to expand their role in the final frontier.

Jamaica’s opposition party has won election in a landslide.

Verizon ticks off the web with news of a new $2 fee for payment.

A Day Ahead — Samoa skips Friday, December 30, align itself with its neighbors on the International Date Line.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Short Takes

The volcano is still erupting in Indonesia.

The drones are back in the skies over Yemen.

Burma
held an election that nobody thought was legit.

In India, President Obama promises “mid-course corrections.”

Hawaii is on the verge of passing same-sex unions.

There was a data breach at the GSA, so if you work there, check your credit cards.

Did you reset your clocks if you were on daylight saving time?

Tropical Update: For its exit, the system known as Tomas turned into a hurricane again as it heads out to sea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Take A Walk, Man

Via TPM:

This is a little like hearing someone died but you’d already figured they’d been dead for a while. Sony has announced it’s ceasing production of the Sony Walkman, the once revolutionary cassette music player that debuted in 1979. There will still be MP3 ‘Walkman’ and the CD version. But for the original, real thing, the cassette player, that’s it, though a Chinese company has licensed the name to sell a similar product in Asia and the Middle East. Sony says they’ve sold over 200 million of the things over 31 years.

See, I told you cassettes were a fad.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Long Ago Was 1992?

Two of my former college classmates have kids going to the University of Miami; one is about to graduate, the other is entering as a freshman. In honor of that, Beloit College is out with their annual Mindset List.

Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this fall’s entering college class of 2014 have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow.

[…]

The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

Some samples:

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

Feel old yet?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here To See It

The buzz is that somewhere near five billion people will watch the inauguration of Barack Obama today. Not all of them will be in Washington, obviously (although the police and Secret Service seem to be ready for them), but the whole world will be watching on TV or over the internet; gathered in small homes in the middle of the Kenyan savanna, in public places on Jumbotrons, including in downtown Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center, and over the radio. I’ll be watching from my office, and like all historic events, this will be one of those good times that I will always remember where I was when I witnessed it, like the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

I hope that this will be a moment that we all share and remember. Regardless of our political beliefs, whether we voted for Barack Obama or someone else, we know that this is truly an event of history. If you’re old enough to remember past inaugurations that were considered historic, such as FDR’s in March 1933 or John F. Kennedy’s in 1961, you may not have thought — at the time — that they were meaningful; most thought they didn’t really mean that much at the moment except for great speeches of inspiration and bold new programs. But as we’re being told over and over again, nobody can deny that today we take the first step into a larger world.

Five billion people is a lot of people who will witness this day, including some people to whom today means a great deal, including the Little Rock Nine, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the next generation of African Americans to whom the torch is being passed. And there are some who won’t get to see it because they’re not here with us. As Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) noted last night on NBC News with Brian Williams, a lot of people who helped create this moment are no longer alive: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, A. Philip Randolph, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Shirley Chisholm, Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Viola Liuzzo, and the many people who sacrificed their fortunes or their lives for trying to achieve the self-evident truth promised to them and to us.

And in a way I’m sorry that there are some people who are not around to see this only for the fact that it would teach them that they were so wrong to stand in the way of history; people like the late governors of states in the South like Orval Faubus of Arkansas and George Wallace of Alabama. Both Mr. Faubus and Mr. Wallace later changed their views and expressed regret for their actions, so this would be a time for them to see that the bitterness they engendered has turned to good. Some, however, like Lester Maddox and Jesse Helms, went to their graves without repentance, and today would be a good day to have them here to show them that despite their best efforts, nothing they did could stop this day from coming. In fact, they may have even hastened it by reminding us in stark terms how their racism and intolerance made us resolve to banish it and prove them so wrong.

So I am grateful to be here today to see this, not just for the moment of history, but for knowing how long it has taken us to get here and the responsibility that we now have to make it worth the effort, the sacrifice, and the hope.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back / Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual review of the predictions and prognostications for the coming year.

A year ago I looked ahead to an election year and said:

– A Democrat will be elected president and the Democrats will increase their numbers in the House and Senate. Yeah, that’s an easy one; the trick is, which Democrat and by how many seats? If Hillary Clinton is the nominee (and the Iowa caucuses are three days away), then it will be a close race against whomever the GOP finally lands on and the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. If it’s not Hillary Clinton, the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. Which means that the GOP will go ballistic on anyone, even if they choose to nominate someone who isn’t a cross-dressing thrice-married adulterer, a sluggish and thuggish good ole boy from Tennessee by way of Law & Order and Curly Sue, a flip-flopping automaton with magic underwear and a rather odd way of packing a station wagon, a war hero who thinks being a maverick is sucking up to the current administration, or a folksy former governor from Arkansas who sells himself as a “Christian leader” and lumps gays in with pedophiles as “aberrant.”

So it’s time to go out on a limb here and predict that it will be President-elect Hillary Clinton when I write this piece a year from today, with a strong majority in the House, ten more Democratic senators, and a whole new cottage industry of right-wing nutsery in full bloom. George W. Bush will retire to Crawford to watch someone else clear his brush. He will grant interviews to fawning sycophants from Newsweek and Time and portray himself as the next LBJ without the charm.

I’d give myself a B on that one; I missed on the Democratic nominee (but then, Barack Obama was still behind in the polls), but I sure got the Republicans’ and the right-wing nutsery’s number.

As for Iraq:

– We won’t be any closer to getting out of Iraq, and at 12:01 on January 21, 2009, it will become the Democrats’ war.

True. And now we can add Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and — as always — the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Surprises: The Economy. The warning signs were out there about the economy a year ago. I certainly knew that the housing bubble had burst because my landlord was on the lam and I had to move out in June. But not being an economist, I didn’t see the rest of the dominoes lined up, and neither, apparently, did John McCain, the Bush administration, and Wall Street.

The silly stuff:

– We will continue our obsession with the trivial. Several more white women will disappear and get coverage on Larry King Live, while no one will notice when it happens to countless other people who aren’t beautiful or packing diapers in the back seat. More and more politicians will be caught with their pants down, literally and figuratively because they are human; the fun stuff is when it happens to people who have made a living demonizing those whose practice they are emulating.

That’s too easy; people are people, and our obsession with fools craving their fifteen minutes will always be with us, be it a plumber from Toledo or a governor from Alaska. The one surprise was that the politician caught with his pants down was John Edwards.

So it’s time to boldly go forward with my predictions, being careful to be general enough to get some right so I can do this post a year from now and call them good.

– President Obama will get a honeymoon for a few months where he will actually get some things done. He knows he has only eighteen months at the most to do his most effective work; by June 2010 Congress will be gearing up for the mid-terms, then before you know it, it will be 2012. So expect a big economic stimulus package like FDR’s New Deal and a middle-class tax cut, and expect a lot of blow-back from the GOP who will scream about socialism and boondoggles. There will be set-backs and issues taken off the front burner, including health care reform, and getting out of Iraq will be harder than we thought. Of course some foreign government will test the new administration — like they’re not already — and we will be surprised at how the new president handles it. The economy will show signs of recovery by September, thanks in part to the stimulus by the government but also from the ingenuity and resilience of the American people.

– In spite of setbacks like Prop 8 and Amendment 2, the march toward equality for the queer community will continue. I think we’ll see the repeal of DADT within the first year of the Obama administration and a continued shift in public attitudes about the treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. There will be bumps, bruises, hurt feelings, and setbacks, but the tide is turning.

– The rest of the world will welcome us back like the prodigal child, and we will reach out to them, recognizing that we have a lot of atonement to do. This will be in part to try to bring peace, but also to help get our economy back on track; you can’t sell things to people when you’re calling them part of the axis of evil. In that vein, the Obama administration will take steps to ease the travel and money restrictions on Cuba, which will infuriate a few loudmouths on Calle Ocho in Little Havana and make farmers and auto parts distributors very happy.

– Jeb Bush will run for the Senate here in Florida and win in 2010. But he will become the Ted Kennedy of the Bush family; the Senate is as far as he will ever go in national politics; the only way he would ever get beyond that is if he changed his name to John Ellis Obama.

– Meanwhile, Florida will still struggle with a lousy economy and the fall-off in the housing and tourist trade. The state legislature will refuse to consider raising taxes and will probably end up taking even more money from education, all the while wondering why test scores are falling. D’oh.

– The Detroit Lions will actually win a football game. And while I make no predictions about how the Tigers will do, they — along with the Yankees — proved that spending a lot of money on star players doesn’t buy you a winning season.

– 2009 marks some interesting anniversaries: the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon — where were you? — and the beginning of the Nixon administration and all that came with it, something that still captures our imagination today.

– I wish I could predict what new fads, obsessions, words, and trends will pop up to distract us for the next year or so, but trust me, they will be there, and just as we got tired of hearing about “game changer,” “lipstick on a pig,” “Joe the Plumber,” Twitter, and the rest of the words that should be banished, like “First Dude,” “maverick,” “bailout,” “carbon footprint,” and anything else that came and stayed too long, I hope a year from now we can dump them onto the ash-heap of history.

– Personal predictions. Last year I boldly predicted that I would finish writing Small Town Boys. Wrong; it’s on hiatus while I take care of some other business, including finishing another story. I promise to get back to it this winter. I also predicted that I would do some restoration work on the Pontiac, but that was before my physics experiment with the Mustang in downtown Coral Gables. In a sense, I have restored the Pontiac, but only to keep it running well as my only car. My job has had some interesting twists and turns, and last month came full circle, bringing me back to the same place I was at this time last year but with new responsibilities and an appreciation — on both sides — of finding out that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone (thank you, Joni Mitchell).

My final prediction from last year:

– One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

I’m sticking with that. Happy New Year and best wishes. I hope we’ll all be here to do this again a year from today.