Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Reading

An abbreviated version while I’m on vacation…

That Should Work — James Fallows on Donald Trump’s latest appeal to African-American voters.

Donald Trump’s comments [Friday] night in Dimondale, Michigan, have already received a lot of attention. They’re worth noting as part of his campaign’s evolution, and worth watching in the video below, for these reasons:

  • They come after, not before, the latest “pivot” to a more compassionate, more general-election-minded tone in the campaign. This is the nice Trump.
  • They resemble appeals with a long and sometimes honorable history. Some black conservatives, and more whites, have argued over the decades that the taken-for-granted status of black support for Democratic candidates leaves the African-American vote, well, taken for granted. The most heartfelt and appealing version of the argument that black voters should consider voting Republican came from the late Jack Kemp, due to his sunny bearing and his own bona fides from a career in the very integrated world of sports. It was different from the version Trump presented here.
  • Trump ostensibly made his argument to black voters, asking “what do you have to lose?” But if you watch the clip you’ll see that in context he is talking about black people, to an audience that was mainly white. (Audience composition is something you can control, or at least foresee and influence, if you’re running a national campaign. Where you hold the event, where you drum up attendance, whom you seat in the prominent on-camera places behind the candidate and in the front of the crowd—these all have an effect and can be tuned.)
  • Most remarkable was a tone that amounted to treating black America as a problem, rather than as a group that has some problems. The tension between statement and insinuation was similar to Trump’s inaugural statement last year about Mexicans: “they’re sending rapists.” He wasn’t explicitly saying, “Mexicans are rapists.” But the tone and insinuation were those you would never use about a group you cared about, or respected.

    Listen to the passage starting at time 1:05 of the clip below. To me the unavoidable tone is the same: What is wrong with “you people”?

  • Trump rounds out this appeal by saying that if he’s elected, he’ll get 95% black support for his re-election. “I guarantee it!” This will probably end up being classified in the “sarcastic” bin, given that not even Barack Obama got that large a share of the black vote in his re-election run. He got about 93% in 2012; Trump right now is running between 1% and 3% black support, depending on the polls.

Update Trump has said similar things, more clearly, on Fox News. It’s worth reading the report on  Think Progress. “Total catastrophe” is one of the terms he uses to describe the achievements and situation of black Americans.

Unruly Mob — James Folta in The New Yorker explains why the Mafia is in decline.


After extensive investigation, our specialized team, the F.B.I. New-Media Task Force, has determined that organized-crime syndicates are being increasingly hampered by an inability to communicate effectively through text messages and e-mails. Agents have found that the Mafia and other large criminal groups are having difficulty planning crimes as a result of overly long strings of messages that are derailed by unrelated jokes and GIFs. Our investigators are pleased to report that this pattern has led to a decrease in crime and an increase in criminal organizations’ cellular overage charges.

The bulk of this investigation involved the interception and analysis of Mafia members’ text messages. It was observed that poor texting habits led to many issues. For instance, unrecognized abbreviations often had to be explained (LOL = Lots of Larceny, CSP = Cement Shoes Please, BHK = Break His Knees, etc.). Mobsters who own different brands of phones were inadvertently left out of group texts, and as a result crimes were understaffed and failed. Winking emojis that were meant to subtly imply something illegal were often interpreted as flirtatious, and vice versa.

Combing through Mafia conversations has revealed an organization that is overly chatty, unable to make basic criminal decisions in fewer than fifty logistical messages. Consider this transcript from a group text chain labelled “Legitimate Businessmen”:

Joey Three Snaps: did you get it?
Hambone Harry: yah, where can I can hand it off?
Joey Three Snaps: Tito’s?
Hambone Harry: eh I don’t feel like that, had mexican last night
Gus Gus: we don’t have to eat for this meeting
Joey Three Snaps: wat do you feel like?
Hambone Harry: not Tito’s
Gus Gus: guys what about just Starbucks
Joey Three Snaps: nah I need to eat
Gus Gus: they have muffins n stuff
Hambone Harry: guys come on, pick something
Gus Gus: sidebar: where’s a good place to start with don delillo?

This particular text conversation continues for another sixty-four minutes until its participants decide to abandon the plan altogether, and to start with “White Noise.” We believe that, in this instance, inept texting combined with numerous long-winded tangents about what constitutes a “low-key date spot” prevented or delayed a serious crime.

E-mails provided another source of disorganization for criminals. We uncovered chains so long that mobsters were unable to locate vital information (the names of targets, bribery amounts, restaurant recommendations, etc.) among all the correspondence. Hundreds of unrelated comments, tips about how to slice garlic, and “Sad Mobcat Memes” (see attached appendix) time and again brought e-mail communication to an effective halt.

An undercover agent recorded this telling exchange during a game of medium-stakes poker:

[Unintelligible] God, this is getting really bad. We’re trying to plan a weekend trip to, uh, talk to that upstate judge, but Manny only just now, on Friday morning, replied that we can take his car. [Unintelligible] then Donny e-mailed that actually he had a thing with his cousin that he forgot about so he had to bail, and then Gerald chimed in that he’s feeling drained this week, so now we don’t have enough guys to make this happen before the trial. I’ve been suggesting a Doodle but—[cell-phone alert sound] O.K., jeez, I guess now we’re trying again for next weekend. For Christ’s sake, I said I couldn’t get away then.

This same undercover agent was able to increase confusion in group communications by interjecting flaky R.S.V.P.s, links to provocative Op-Eds, and the question “new phone, who’s on this thread?” This tactic proved so successful that we are now urging other F.B.I. agents to take similar steps to infiltrate criminal communication networks (Operation Rolling Tangent).

If this trend continues, we believe that we will be closer than ever to effectively stamping out organized crime. The New-Media Task Force will be holding briefing meetings to provide more detailed information. If you are interested in attending, please reply-all to this memo with the times that you are not available next week. We will be sending out coördinating e-mails as soon as enough agents respond.

Doonesbury — Such babies.