Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Short Takes

Otto Warmbier, sent home by North Korea after lapsing into a coma, dies.

Police identify London mosque attacker.

Russia not happy that U.S. downed Syrian jet.

Largest ever breach of U.S. voter data reported.

Supreme Court to rule on Wisconsin gerrymandering.

Tropical Update: Two storms form in the Gulf: PTC Three and TS Bret.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Potential Warning

The National Hurricane Center has a new product to help keep an eye on foul weather in the tropics.

The NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued its first-ever Potential Tropical Cyclone advisories Sunday afternoon, highlighting the threat from a strong tropical wave in the central Atlantic that is likely to affect the Windward Islands as a tropical storm. Another system in the northwest Caribbean remains on track to move into the Gulf of Mexico, where it could affect areas from Texas to Florida as a tropical storm later this week.

The new Potential Tropical Cyclone advisories will provide more detailed guidance on systems that are not yet at depression strength but that have a chance of intensifying and bringing tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours. In their announcement of this and other service changes for 2017, NHC said: “Under previous longstanding NWS policy, it has not been permitted to issue a hurricane or tropical storm watch or warning until after a tropical cyclone had formed.  Advances in forecasting over the past decade or so, however, now allow the confident prediction of tropical cyclone impacts while these systems are still in the developmental stage.  For these land-threatening ‘potential tropical cyclones’, NHC will now issue the full suite of text, graphical, and watch/warning products that previously has only been issued for ongoing tropical cyclones.”

Potential tropical cyclones will be assigned numbers as part of the same chronological list that includes tropical depressions. Thus, the current system is PTC 2, even though it is the first PTC ever to be classified, because it follows Subtropical Depression 1 (which later became Tropical Storm Arlene). A potential tropical cyclone will retain its PTC number should it intensify to TD strength.

So don’t say we haven’t been warned.

Is He Or Isn’t He?

Either Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice, or no he’s not.  That’s the view(s) of one of his minions/lawyers, Jay Sekulow.

During an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace, Sekulow defended Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

“He takes the action that [the Attorney General’s office] recommended and now he’s being investigated by the Department of Justice,” Sekulow complained. “He’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the terminations!”

“You’ve now said he is being investigated after saying [he isn’t],” Wallace observed.

“No, he’s not being investigated!” Sekulow shot back.

“You just said he’s being investigated,” Wallace noted.

Sekulow tried again to say that the president is not under investigation, but Wallace interrupted.

“Sir, you just said two times that he’s being investigated,” the Fox News host said. “And he’s not just being investigated for firing Comey, there’s also what he said to Comey when Comey was still the FBI director.”

“I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth,” Sekulow complained. “When I have been crystal clear that the president is not and has not been under investigation.”

“You do not know that he has not been under investigation, sir,” Wallace pointed out. “Actually, what I’m trying to get is a straight answer out of you.”

Sekulow argued that it would be impossible to indict the president for wrongdoing “because there is not an investigation.”

“Oh boy, this is weird,” Wallace interrupted. “You don’t know whether there is an investigation. You just told us that.”

Not to be outdone on the WTF trail, Newt Gingrich — remember him? — is telling everyone that the president can’t be indicted for obstructing justice because he’s the president.  But this is the same Newt Gingrich who led the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton for obstructing justice.

I think what they’re saying is that Trump is under investigation for not being under investigation and can’t be indicted for obstructing justice but can be impeached for it.  Got that?

More Sinned Against Than Sinning

There are some really stupid — and dangerous — people out there.  Via Raw Story:

According to the Boston Globe, theater companies across the country that perform Shakespeare are getting death threats over a New York Public Theater play in Central Park that depicts the death of Ceasar — but who looks like President Donald Trump.

The senders of these death threats are “outraged over the Public Theater’s controversial staging” of Shakespeare’s “Caesar” that features the infamous stabbing scene with a character inspired by Trump — but they appear to have gotten the locations a little off.

One such theater is Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, who have been “inundated with a flood of venomous e-mails, phone messages, and social media posts condemning them for the Central Park production.”

One sender told the management of the Lenox theater that they wish “the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die.” Another told them their “play depicting the murder of our President is nothing but pure hatred.”

The Lenox Shakespeare company is far from the only Shakespeare-performing theater who’ve gotten these kinds of threats. Raphael Parry, the director of Shakespeare Dallas in Texas, told the Globe that his theater “has received about 80 messages, including threats of rape, death, and wishes that the theater’s staff is ‘sent to ISIS to be killed with real knives.’” Theaters in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere in New York said they’ve received threats as well.

“We just got slammed,” Parry said. “It’s pretty amazing the vitriol, the wishing we would die and our family would die. A whole lot of them say that we should burn in hell.”

The directors of these two companies have differing theories about why their theaters have been targets. Dallas’s Parry blames “web analytics” that cause people searching for “Shakespeare in the Park” in Texas to see his company first, while Allyn Burrows of the Lenox, Massachusetts company has another explanation.

“What might be gurgling up for them is their ire around having to do Shakespeare in high school,” Burrows told the Globe. “They’re like, ‘you know what? I never realized I hated my English teacher as much as I did.’”

I don’t think these people are dangerous in terms that they’re a physical threat to the theatres or the directors.  They’re just dangerous to the point that they believe that even if they called the wrong number or attacked a theatre company that had absolutely nothing to do with the production in New York, they’re still justified in doing what they’re doing because they had to read “Othello” in high school.

Short Takes

Victims identified in deadly USS Fitzgerald collision.

Voters in France elect pro-Macron parliament.

Another traffic attack in London.

Casualties and deaths in forest fires in Portugal.

History: Memos show Watergate prosecutors had evidence Nixon plotted violence.

Six experts resign from White House HIV/AIDS panel.

Not a good week as the Tigers sink below .500.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Reading

Innocent Bystanders — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

You knew it was coming.

You felt it with a sickening certainty the instant news of a mass shooting flashed out from Alexandria, Virginia. So it was disheartening, but hardly surprising, to hear certain conservatives reflexively blame Democrats and their so-called “hate speech” for the carnage.

It happened Wednesday morning. The quiet camaraderie of Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game against their Democratic colleagues was shattered by rifle shots from one James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois. Police officers providing security returned fire.

When the shooting was done, five people were wounded, including two officers and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, whose injuries were critical. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old left winger and former supporter of Bernie Sanders who was apparently motivated by hatred for Donald Trump and the GOP, was mortally wounded.

There was still blood on the ground when conservatives began laying the shooting at liberals’ feet. Republican Rep. Chris Collins blamed “outrageous” Democratic rhetoric. (He later expressed regret for that comment.) The InfoWars website cited a “hysterical anti-Trump narrative.” Radio host Michael Savage spoke of a “constant drumbeat of hatred.”

It was predictable because it’s what we always do. Jerry Falwell blamed the ACLU for 9/11. Jane Fonda blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

At some point, you’d think we’d learn that rhetoric — excluding that which explicitly or implicitly calls for violence — does not “cause” people to shoot, stab, or bomb. By that logic, you’d have to blame Fox “News” and other organs of the right for the Planned Parenthood shooting and the Atlanta Olympics bombing.

It makes about as much sense. You know who’s to blame for this shooting? James Hodgkinson is.

Frankly, this sudden concern for the tenor of political discourse feels precious, even sanctimonious, given conservatives’ history of invective and lies. Where was all this fretting last year when Donald Trump said “Second Amendment people” might stop Hillary Clinton? Where was it week before last, when Eric Trump said Democrats are “not even people” to him?

The bottom line is that a president of unprecedented incompetence is being enabled by a Congress of criminal complicity in an agenda of frightful destructiveness. To see that and not say it loudly and emphatically would be an act of journalistic, political or civic malpractice. It would be un-American.

Not that liberals have any reason to feel smug about this. Taken in conjunction with a recent string of attacks on police officers, Wednesday’s shooting suggests something as startling as it is troubling. Namely, that left-wing terrorism might be making a comeback.

It has been 40 years since the likes of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weathermen disappeared from view, and in those years domestic terrorism has been exclusively a phenomenon of the political right. That may be changing now. It’s a deeply disturbing idea, suggesting as it does a nation ever faster pulling itself apart, a people riven by irreconcilable differences, a country that isn’t even sure it wants to be a country anymore.

These tired games of political one-upsmanship are too small for such a moment. This moment is for soul-searching, for considering who and what and even if we are, as Americans. It is for wondering what it means when baseball is not safe and being a Republican gets you shot. Nothing less than our national identity and ideals are at stake here.

A maniac shot up a ball field Wednesday morning. Five people were hit.

Three hundred and twenty-five million were wounded.

Propaganda Pros — Terry Heaton in Huffington Post on how the Religious Right pioneered right-wing propaganda.

So-called “fake news” took center stage on several occasions during former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. More than once, Comey pointed to specific articles by the New York Times as not true or completely false. However, he did validate others, including one in which he himself had been the Times’ source. The fake news meme has become one of the most troubling arguments in the history of contemporary journalism, ever since Donald Trump used the term to describe CNN at his first press conference as president.

Americans find themselves drowning in this unseemly and childish battle for the soul of news and information purveyance, and the undiscussed problem is that the entire mess is built on the false narrative of “the liberal (elite) press.” I know, because I was among the people who advanced the concept and shaped the discussion in the early ‘80s, as senior and executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship television program The 700 Club.

Before Fox News, there was The 700 Club with CBN News and “TV Journalism With A Different Spirit.” We knew what we were doing in the exploitation of the word “liberal,” and truth-telling demands its deconstruction today. The all-or-nothing split between conflicting political narratives has reached its pinnacle with the election of Donald Trump, and it needs to be hacked into a million pieces.

William F. Buckley was among the first to give the word “liberal” a pejorative interpretation, but it was the wordsmith William Safire writing for Spiro Agnew who in 1969 elevated it to a political talking point in his famous speech that opened the war against the press during Richard Nixon’s secret battles in Vietnam. The word became the central weapon in a strategy that involved attacking the messenger instead of changing the message.

That political strategy has been so effective to date that it has given birth to the idea that mainstream news is actually “fake news” and not to be believed in the administration of President Donald Trump. The number of people who now believe this falsehood is staggering, and it poses a real threat to our democracy.

At The 700 Club, we exploited attacking the press in order to insert ourselves to the right of everybody else in presenting a Biblical, a.k.a. Republican perspective on current events. We offered a daily news program that expressed Republican party talking points that we marketed as a Christian worldview. Thus began the shifting of evangelicals to the GOP and the shifting of the GOP to the right. We served as the intellectual wing of the Moral Majority, although there was no theological love lost between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

So let’s look at these events closely, because it has a direct bearing on the conflict today. Let me be very clear: the right-wing “news” that we created was a political response to the progressive nature of news and information. It’s important to understand this, because “right-wing news” is oxymoronic. There is no such thing, because the right represents olds, not news. By definition, news is new, and new is progressive. That conservatives view this as a bias is fine, but elevating that to some evil command-and-control mechanism for political liberals is a false narrative. Rush Limbaugh has made a living off of this phony hegemony, as well as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and whole host of mostly broadcasting personalities. Why? Because it sells and has been selling for almost 50 years.

But it’s entirely false, for the press is not the purveyor of fake news. That title belongs with those who create stories for political gain and clickthroughs. It may be politically expedient to label the mainstream as fake, but in order to do so, one’s source must be propaganda and nothing else. To us in the early ‘80s, it was easy to stake our claim in the world of journalism without complaint, because the press thought us outside Hallin’s Sphere of Legitimate Controversy and therefore unnecessary to cover. In his 1986 book The Uncensored War, Daniel C. Hallin identified three spheres of coverage by the Washington press corps.

Ron Powers once said of us on CBS Sunday Morning that we were “so slanted as to be vertical,” but for the most part, we operated without notice, which gave us the time to write our playbook, the one borrowed in order to create Fox News.

The editorial commentators of media companies determine their political leanings, not the content of the news itself. To behave otherwise is a violation of journalistic ethics and tenets, and no self-respecting news outlet would deliberately compromise its relationship with viewers or readers for political gain. It’s just not their cultural role. Only political propagandists are permitted such luxury, and where that is disguised as news, it cannot be trusted. And yet many people do, because their ears have been trained by people such as myself to identify clever social engineering as information they need in order to get back what they feel has been taken from them or get what feel they deserve from life.

We need to grow out of childish ranting that “Billy started it” or “everybody is doing it too” and let our inner adults take over. Democracy doesn’t stand a chance without an independent Fourth Estate.

Class Act — Ben Brantley in the New York Times with an appreciation of playwright A.R. Gurney.

There have been many tributes to A. R. Gurney, a prolific playwright whose worldly elegance of style was matched by his ingenuous enthusiasm for his craft. But Mr. Gurney, who died on Tuesday at 86, wrote what was surely the most exultant of these eulogies himself, in a play performed in New York more than 10 years ago.

The play is appropriately named “Post Mortem.” Staged at the tiny Flea Theater in 2006, it is set in a very near future in which Mr. Gurney is now dead (assassinated — rumor has it — at the behest of Dick Cheney), and an ideologically oppressive, technology-dominated United States is hostile to the antiquated art form known as theater. (The American government, bankrupted by the war in Iraq, has turned all Broadway houses into casinos.)

But a graduate student and his professor at a “faith based” American university unearth a manuscript of an incendiary play that they are determined to bring to light. And though the all-seeing eyes of the surveillance state discover the work’s existence and have it destroyed, our determined academic heroes recreate it from memory.

And what a profoundly influential play it turns out to be, as its performances spark rebellion against reactionary governments throughout the world. Its title? Also “Post Mortem.” Its author? One A.R. Gurney, described dismissively as a “minor late-20th-, early-21st-century” writer of the “middle-class comedy of manners,” who it now emerges had not only secretly written an earthshaking drama but also had affairs with Cameron Diaz and both Audrey and Katharine Hepburn.

 A playwright can dream, can’t he? Like most of his work — which includes classic anatomies of a vanishing patrician species of pale skin and inhibiting politeness (“The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour,” “The Perfect Party”), “Post Mortem” is steeped in a sardonic wistfulness. It was written as a futurist comedy that exaggerated its author’s hopes and fears for a world to come that in many ways already existed.

Mr. Gurney’s writing never brought him the fame and wealth of contemporaries like Edward Albee and Neil Simon. His only plays seen on Broadway in recent years were short-lived revivals of his charming “Sylvia” (1995), about a divisive family dog, and the lyrical two-hander “Love Letters” (1989), an epistolary work that charts the course of a relationship over many decades.

Yet Mr. Gurney adored the theater with a passion that spilled over the edges of even his most decorous comedies, and he feared for its survival. He was his generation’s greatest practitioner of that gentle paradox, the elegiac comedy, which considered the passing of the civilization he grew up in.

This sensibility is most pointed in the works that made his reputation, starting in the early 1980s with “The Dining Room.” The leading characters in these plays were members of an upper middle class of Anglo-Saxon descent and dwindling affluence and influence. Mr. Gurney regarded such folk, his spiritual and genetic kin, with a critical fondness that was too cleareyed to be nostalgic.

Some reviewers still felt that Mr. Gurney was terminally limited by the gentility that shaped his characters. But as he grew older, he increasingly chafed against such perceptions. He began to experiment with new subject matter — retelling the story of Shakespeare’s Shylock in “Overtime” (1996), probing the Middle East conflict in “O Jerusalem” (2003) and crossing the ocean to set his diffident alter ego to roam (and get lost) in Japan in his poignant, autobiographical “Far East” (1999).

Unlike many of his social stratum, Mr. Gurney’s political sympathies skewed left, and he was enraged by what he saw as the failings of the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. At the experimental Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan, overseen by his friend Jim Simpson, Mr. Gurney found an unlikely forum for expressing his grievances.

Writing in his 70s and 80s, he produced for the Flea a series of vigorous and fanciful satires about the state of his nation, which were written and produced quickly enough to feel as topical as the headlines on the days of their performances. They included “Screen Play” (2005), a prescient variation on the film “Casablanca,” in which American freedom fighters are smuggled into Canada.

My enduring favorite, though, is the wonderful “Mrs. Farnsworth” (2004), in which Sigourney Weaver played a socialite with a secret (it involved the sitting president) and John Lithgow her William F. Buckley-esque husband. Ms. Weaver’s character was ultimately too, well, well mannered to detonate the metaphorical bomb that might have brought down the Bush administration.

Mr. Gurney, though, had by that time shed many of his own inhibitions as a playwright. And he waged his own small but determined battle for the theater as a tool of resistance and enlightenment.

I can think of few artists who were reincarnated as angry young men in their old age as unexpectedly and vitally as Mr. Gurney was. And young is the right adjective. The last new work I saw by him, at the Flea last fall, was a double bill of short works that pondered the boundaries of classic theater (in the first) and gender (in the second) with an infectious excitement you associate with writers in their 20s.

Its title was “Two Class Acts,” referring to subversive intellectual exploration, theatrical performance and honorable behavior under siege. Those who would pigeonhole its creator should remember that all the meanings of “class act” apply to Mr. Gurney.

 Doonesbury — Who’s minding the kids?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

Three Score and Nine Years

June 16, 1948 was a Wednesday. It was a pleasant day in St. Louis, Missouri; the high was about 78 with a little haze left over from the morning fog along the river. It was a nice day for a wedding.

The young bride and groom came to the Church of St. Michael and St. George on Wydown Boulevard for the ceremony, with the two families and close friends gathering. The bride’s younger sister was the maid of honor and the groom’s twin brother was his best man. After the brief Episcopalian service, the bridal party went to the bride’s parents home for a small reception, and then the newlyweds left on their wedding trip to Chicago, staying at the Blackstone Hotel. Then they went on to their new home in Princeton where he was finishing up his studies before moving on to Houston, Texas, where he would take up a job in the bag business.

The first child, a daughter, arrived the following year, followed the next year by a son. Then, after moving on to Dallas, a third child, the second son, arrived in 1952. Shortly thereafter they moved again, this time back to St. Louis, where in 1956 the fourth and last child, another son, completed the family.

Then in 1957 the family moved again, this time to Perrysburg, Ohio, and there they stayed, the kids growing up in a big house with a big yard, lots of friends and things to do, and the usual joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, that come along with any family. Dogs, cats, birds, bikes, camp, school, Little League, dancing school, tennis lessons, swim meets, all of the cacophony and organized chaos that fits in the wayback of the Ford Country Squire for trips to the lake and the ski slopes.

All too soon came the departures: college, weddings, new worlds for the kids to explore, new lives to lead, but always knowing they had a place to come home to, a phone number — TRinity 4-7824 — to call. Over the years there have been bright days and dark nights. There have been additions and losses, pain and laughter. After all, it has been life. And through it all Mom and Dad were there for us and for themselves.

Trying to put into words what a child feels when reflecting on the lives of the people who brought him to this world is not easy. And knowing that among many of my friends, the simple fact that both of my parents are still alive and well is a rare blessing. So I will make it very simple: on the sixty-eighth anniversary of the beginning of the journey that has brought me and my sister and brothers to life, I say thank you and I love you.

Nancy and Phil 2011

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If Only He Would Shut Up

One of the takeaways from the Washington Post piece about Trump now being under investigation for obstruction is that he probably wouldn’t be if he kept his mouth shut.

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

We know that Trump talks to a lot of people.  He’s on the record for telling the Russians in the Oval Office that he got rid of “that nutjob” Comey, and he picks up the phone and talks to just about anybody who will listen.  (He’s probably chatted with Rachel from Credit Card Services about this whole mess.)  We know he did this before he was elected and of course there’s the power-barf level of tweets that come forth every morning.

What’s important about that is that now that he’s in the White House, there are laws governing how those conversations are recorded such as the Presidential Records Act, basically making everything he does a piece of public property.  And anyone he talks to can be called as a witness.

It’s ironic that Trump accused Comey of being a leaker.  If Trump hadn’t gone on TV and told Lester Holt that he fired Comey over the Russian thing, we wouldn’t be here.

Nixon had his secret tapes and they were his undoing.  Trump has his big mouth, and that may be his.

Bonus Track: On another note, Trump’s big mouth may engender trouble for the Republicans’ stealth plan to repeal Obamacare.

House Republicans are angry with President Trump for blurting out an inconveniently candid view of their health-care bill, Politico reports today. Trump reportedly told a closed-door gathering of GOP senators that the House repeal-and-replace bill is “mean” and called on them to make it “more generous.” This promptly leaked, and a lot of people are noting that Trump undercut House Republicans politically and provided Democrats with ammo for a thousand attack ads.

You were saying?

People Shouldn’t Get Shot

Charles P. Pierce:

Violence doesn’t “intrude” on everyday life in America. Violence is a part of everyday life in America. A little more than a week ago, five people were shot to death in warehouse in Orlando. Is a warehouse in Orlando less innocent than a Virginia ballfield? Is a disgruntled worker taking his mad vengeance less of a demonstration of a country unhinged than a home-inspection specialist who fried his brain over politics? Is somebody who wounds over politics a worse murderer than someone who kills because he got fired? I admire the ability of anyone who can make that measured a moral choice.

On the whole, people shouldn’t get shot. They shouldn’t get shot in the streets. They shouldn’t get shot in school. They shouldn’t get shot in the workplace. They shouldn’t get shot while carrying snack food in the “wrong” neighborhood, and they shouldn’t get shot while they’re trying to surrender. They shouldn’t get shot while dancing in a nightclub. And they shouldn’t get shot on the ballfield on a spring morning.

In the main, one victim is not more “innocent”—and, thus, of more value—than any other one. Their occupation shouldn’t matter. Their politics shouldn’t matter. There is a violence inherent in the country’s history and there is a wildness present in its soul and, on occasion, both of these surface more clearly than is usual. Technology has made the violence more lethal and the wildness more general. The uniquely American conflation of innocence with hubris is a luxury we can no longer afford.

While cable news was live-covering the breaking news from Alexandria, there was another mass shooting in California at a UPS warehouse.  Four people died.  Another day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump Under Investigation For Obstruction

Via the Washington Post:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

The NSA said in statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel” and declined to comment further. The office of the director of national intelligence and Ledgett declined to comment.

Go ahead and fire him now.  I dare you.