Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Reading

Blown Away — James Fallows in The Atlantic on ridding the nation’s capital of the leaf-blower.

For a long time I thought the problem was all in my head. When I was growing up, I knew that a certain kind of noise was one I needed to avoid. Food blenders in the kitchen, hair dryers in the bathroom, a vacuum cleaner whooshing around—all produced an intense whining sound that, given the specific wiring connections between my ears and my brain, kept me from thinking about anything but the sound itself while it was going on. Over the years I lived by this code: I used high-performance earplugs if I needed to write or otherwise concentrate while sitting in some place that was unusually loud. I added noise-canceling headphones on top of the earplugs in really tough cases.

As time went on, the earplugs-plus-headphones protection rig became standard writing gear. That was because the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood evolved from a few hours a week during the leafiest stretch of autumn to most days of the week, most weeks of the year, thanks to the advent of the “groomed” look that modern lawn crews are expected to achieve. One of my longest-running themes as a journalist has been how changes in technology force people to adapt their habits and livelihoods. I thought I was doing my part, with gear that let me attend to my work while others attended to theirs. There even turned out to be a bonus: As other parts of my body went into a predictable age-related descent, my hearing remained sharp.

Then I learned several things that changed my thinking both about leaf blowers and, up to a point, about politics.

One thing I learned has to do with the technology of leaf blowers. Their high volume, which I had long considered their most salient feature, is only their second-most-unusual aspect. The real marvel is the living-fossil nature of their technology. And because the technology is so crude and old, the level of pollution is off the charts.

When people encounter engines these days, they’re generally seeing the outcome of decades of intense work toward higher efficiency. The latest models of jet-turbine engines are up to 80 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts. While power plants burning natural gas obviously emit more carbon than wind or solar facilities, they emit about half as much as coal-fired plants. Today, the average car on America’s streets is almost 200 percent more efficient than in 1950, and smog-causing emissions from cars are about 99 percent lower.

The great outlier here is a piece of obsolete machinery Americans encounter mainly in lawn-care equipment: the humble “two-stroke engine.” It’s simpler, cheaper, and lighter than the four-stroke engines of most modern cars, and has a better power-to-weight ratio. But it is vastly dirtier and less fuel-efficient, because by design it sloshes together a mixture of gasoline and oil in the combustion chamber and then spews out as much as one-third of that fuel as an unburned aerosol. If you’ve seen a tuk‑tuk, one of the noisy tricycle-style taxis in places such as Bangkok and Jakarta, with purple smoke wafting out of its tailpipe, you’ve seen a two-stroke engine in action.

But you won’t see as many of them in those cities anymore, because governments in Asia and elsewhere have been banning and phasing out two-stroke engines on antipollution grounds. In 2014 a study published in Nature Communications found that VOC emissions (a variety of carbon gases that can produce smog and harm human beings) were on average 124 times higher from an idling two-stroke scooter than from a truck or a car. With respect to benzene, a carcinogenic pollutant, the group found that each cubic meter of exhaust from an idling two-stroke scooter contained 60,000 times the safe level of exposure. Two-stroke engines have largely disappeared from the scooter, moped, and trail-bike markets in America. Regulators around the world are pushing older two-stroke engines toward extinction.

Yet they remain the propulsive force behind the 200-mph winds coming out of many backpack leaf blowers. As a product category, this is a narrow one. But the impact of these little machines is significant. In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.

So that’s one thing I learned about gas-powered blowers. A second thing I discovered is the damage leaf blowers do to people’s hearing. The biggest worry of today’s public-health community is not, of course, leaf blowers—it’s the opioid disaster, plus addictions of other forms. The next-biggest worry is obesity, plus diabetes and the other ills that flow from it. But coming up fast on the list is hearing loss. According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of Americans ages 20 to 69 who reported good to excellent hearing actually had diminished hearing. This is largely caused by rising levels of ambient urban noise—sirens, traffic, construction, leaf blowers—which can lead to a range of disorders, from high blood pressure to depression to heart disease. “When I started out, I’d see people in their 60s with hearing problems,” says Robert Meyers, an ENT specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Now I’m seeing them in their 40s.”

Leaf blowers are especially insidious. Something about their sound had long attracted my attention. A study organized by Jamie Banks, a scientist and the founder of Quiet Communities, a Boston-area nonprofit, quantified what it was. Acoustic engineers from a firm called Arup compared gas- and battery-powered blowers with equal manufacturer-rated noise levels. Their analysis showed that gas-powered blowers produce far more “sound energy” in the low-frequency range. This may seem benign—who doesn’t like a nice basso profundo?—but it has a surprising consequence. High-frequency sound—a mosquito’s buzz, a dental drill—gets your attention, but it does not travel. It falls off rapidly with distance and struggles to penetrate barriers. If you’re in the next room, you may not hear it at all. By contrast, low-frequency noise has great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices. The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.

Hearing damage is cumulative. When the tiny, sound-sensing hairlike cells, called stereocilia, in the inner ear are damaged—usually by extended exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or above—they are generally gone for good. For the landscapers (and homeowners) who use gas-powered blowers—a foot away from their ears—the most powerful can produce sounds of 100 decibels or more. Meyers told me, “Each time I see these crews, I think to myself: 10 years from now, they’ll be on the path to premature deafness.

In the three decades since backpack blowers from Echo, Stihl, and other companies became popular, at least 100 U.S. cities have banned or restricted their use. Most of those cities are in California, because California is the only state whose jurisdictions have the authority to set their own air-pollution standards. With air-quality standards that were more aggressive than those in other states, California received special treatment under the Clean Air Act when it was passed in 1970. In the rest of the country, the law gives standard-setting authority to the federal government, which in practice means the Environmental Protection Agency.

Considering the current condition of the EPA, people wanting to regulate leaf blowers could be forgiven for throwing up their hands. But as it happens, there is another legally and scientifically legitimate line of attack: going after gas-powered blowers not because they pollute but because they make so much noise.

Starting in 2013, my wife, Deb, and I traveled around the country to report on local-improvement narratives, which always seemed to begin with “I wondered why my town didn’t do _______, so I decided to get involved.” We’d long been active at our kids’ schools and with their sports teams. But we wondered why our town—Washington, D.C.—wasn’t doing something about the leaf-blower menace, given that an obvious solution was at hand. We joined a small neighborhood group—barely 10 people at its peak—to try to get a regulatory or legislative change, using noise, not pollution, as the rationale.

In November 2015, we had our first success, when our Advisory Neighborhood Commission—the most local governmental unit in the District—voted 8–1 to support phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers. (The one no vote came from a libertarian who didn’t like regulation of anything.) In retrospect, the resulting request was amazingly timid. We simply asked that our city-council member, Mary Cheh, introduce legislation for a ban. She did so; the measure got nowhere by the end of the council’s term in 2016; she introduced a new measure in 2017. Over the next 18 months, we successfully encouraged more than a third of all ANCs in D.C., representing seven of the District’s eight wards, to endorse council action on the bill. Anyone aware of the racial, economic, and other dividing lines within Washington can imagine the level of organizing and explanation necessary to achieve such broad support.

In July 2018, the chair of the city council, Phil Mendelson, convened a hearing to consider the bill. Nearly 20 witnesses spoke in favor. They included members of our group as well as scientists, a former regulator, an acoustic engineer, representatives of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, ordinary citizens and residents, and landscapers who had switched to all-battery operation. On the other side were two industry lobbyists, who said that market innovation and “courteous” leaf-blower use were the answer. Council members listened to them with visible incredulity. In the fall, the full council approved the bill unanimously. In December, Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed it into law. On January 1, 2022, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal within city limits.

After spending decades writing about national politics, I’ve come away from this experience having learned some lessons about local politics—obvious lessons, maybe, but also vivid ones.

To begin with: Showing up matters. Our group met in person every two or three weeks over more than three and a half years. Perhaps our most indefatigable member, a lawyer, made presentations at dozens of ANC meetings. We got to know the legislative directors and schedulers for many of the District’s 13 council members.

Having facts also matters—yes, even in today’s America. At the beginning of the process, it felt as if 99 percent of the press coverage and online commentary was in the sneering “First World problem!” vein. That has changed. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Monthly, and other publications have called attention to the leaf-blower problem, often arguing that gas-powered blowers should be banned. Reflexive sneering is down to about 5 percent among people who have made time to hear the facts. Noise, they have come to understand, is the secondhand smoke of this era.

Technological momentum and timing matter. We worried all along that the lawn-care industry would mount a major lobbying effort against the bill. It never did. Nearly everyone in the industry knows that 10 years from now, practically all leaf blowers will be battery-powered. One of our arguments was that we were simply accelerating the inevitable.

Having a champion matters. At a “meet the council member” session on a rainy Saturday morning in the fall of 2015, Mary Cheh said she’d stay with the bill—if she could rely on us to keep showing up. We did our part, and she did hers—she stayed with it to the end.

Luck matters as well. In its first journey through the council, starting in 2016, Cheh’s bill was assigned to a committee whose chair was a council member whose approach to many bills seemed to boil down to: What’s in it for me? To widespread surprise, apparently including his own, a long-shot challenger upset him in the primaries for the 2016 election.

The final lesson is: Don’t get hung up on the conventional wisdom—it’s only wise until it isn’t. Everyone says nothing gets done in Washington. This one time, everyone was wrong.

Time-Shifting — Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post about the semi-annual argument about DST.

This weekend, Americans will once again navigate their complex relationship with the chronically confusing and arguably misnamed daylight saving time. In most of the United States, the clocks spring forward early Sunday when 2 a.m. suddenly becomes 3 a.m. People are advised to avoid scheduling anything important for 2:30 a.m. Sunday, since, by law, such a moment does not exist.

But the law may change. The national policy of switching from standard time to daylight saving time and back again is under legislative challenge from coast to coast. Multiple initiatives in Congress and in statehouses would terminate our current system of time toggling — a system that started a century ago and has been controversial ever since.

It’s not really daylight saving time that’s drawing fire: It’s standard time. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday reintroduced a bill to make daylight saving time a year-round reality across the country, with no more biannual time changes. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced matching legislation in the House. The moves come in the wake of a vote in the Florida legislature last year to adopt daylight saving time year-round.

If the Sunshine Protection Act became law, it would essentially end daylight saving time by making it the new, permanent, immutable standard time. (Just to be clear: Astronomically, nothing is new under the sun. The sun will remain a star, radiating light, and Earth will continue to orbit the sun while spinning on an axis. The amount of sunshine will remain the same.)

There are two issues here. One is whether changing the clock is inherently a bad idea, because of sleep disruption, negative health effects and the general confusion generated by a jumpy time system. The other issue is whether we need to favor the evening over the morning when trying to distribute our sunlight — not just during spring and summer and early fall but throughout the year.

Researchers have published a variety of studies that question the wisdom of changing the clock. A 2016 study found evidence that the switch back to standard time in the fall is associated with a spike in diagnoses of depression, for example. A study published in Europe in 2018 found a “modest” increase in heart attacks after the clocks change, with the effect more pronounced during the springtime shift. Certainly the time change can disrupt our sleep cycles, particularly in the spring, research shows.

Rubio and other advocates for year-round DST say it promotes public safety. A 2015 report published in the Review of Economics and Statistics found that extra daylight in the evening after the switch to DST led to a drop in crime that was not offset by increased crime during the darker morning hours. “[R]obbery rates didn’t increase in the morning, even though those hours were darker — apparently, criminals aren’t early risers,” researchers Jennifer Doleac and Nicholas Sanders wrote in a Brookings Institution article.

“Studies have shown many benefits of a year-round Daylight Saving Time, which is why Florida’s legislature overwhelmingly voted to make it permanent last year. Reflecting the will of the State of Florida, I’m proud to reintroduce this bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent nationally,” Rubio said in a statement.

California voters overwhelmingly approved a similar proposition in November. State Assembly member Kansen Chu (D), who represents San Jose and other communities in the heart of Silicon Valley, has introduced year-round DST legislation that is making its way through two committees.

Chu said he became interested in the time change issue when he heard about health risks associated with moving the clocks forward and back. He predicts his bill will easily pass both houses of the state legislature, but he believes Congress needs to lead the way to ensure that state action won’t run afoul of federal law.

“I guess it’s all depending on how fast the people on Capitol Hill can move on this issue. I know they have a lot of more important headaches,” Chu told The Washington Post.

Business interests have long supported the later daylight, he said. For example, the golf industry and the barbecue industry have been big promoters.

There’s one massive objection to the idea of year-round DST: The already dark, cold mornings of fall and winter under standard time would become even darker and colder, and potentially dangerous for kids walking to the bus stop or to school. “National PTA is opposed to daylight saving time during the winter months because of the safety factor,” said Heidi May Wilson, spokeswoman for the National Parent Teacher Association.

Daylight saving time was first implemented by Germany during World War I and was soon adopted in the United States. But it was always controversial, particularly among farmers, who liked early morning daylight in the summer. It became a cultural conflict between agrarian and metropolitan interests, said Michael Downing, an English professor at Tufts University and author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

DST was implemented haphazardly for decades, until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 to bring some order to the system. Some states and territories opted out, however. Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are among the places that still reject DST. Congress has extended the duration of DST twice, and it now covers two-thirds of the year. Since 2007, DST has begun on the second Sunday in March and ended on the first Sunday in November.

Critics say DST is an artifact of a different era. One of the purported virtues of the switch has been that it saves energy. But there’s no evidence that, in the modern world, shoving daylight into the evening hours saves significant amounts of energy, said Matthew Kotchen, a Yale professor of economics who co-wrote a study on energy usage in Indiana before and after the state adopted DST. Lighting is far more efficient now, he said. Moreover, when the sun remains in the sky into the “evening” hours, homes remain warmer and people are more likely to keep their air conditioners running. Heating and cooling are much bigger factors than lighting when it comes to energy consumption, he said.

“There may be a lot of reasons why we want daylight saving time and why we don’t, but the only thing I can say for sure is that daylight saving time should not be part of the Energy Policy Act,” Kotchen said.

A stylebook note: It’s not “daylight savings time.” That’s imprecise speech. Also, while we’re at it: Daylight saving time does not really save daylight. It should be called daylight shifting time.

“There continues to be the mythic idea that we are saving something by turning our clocks forward and backward,” Downing said. “It’s such a preposterous idea that we can gain or lose an hour by simply sticking our finger in the face of our clocks.”

Almighty Wrath — Andy Borowitz hears from God.

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (The Borowitz Report)—God has offered to give the people of Alabama brand new Bibles to replace the ones that Donald J. Trump signed during his visit to the state on Friday.

In a rare public statement from the famously mysterious deity, God said that He was furious at Trump “for defacing My book,” calling Trump’s signature “a wanton act of vandalism.”

“Where was Mike Pence in all of this?” God asked. “These people can’t do anything right.”

God added that He was “dumbfounded” that Trump had taken it upon himself to sign his name on a book to which he had “no relationship whatsoever.”

“I’ve got news for Trump: the Bible is not ‘The Art of the Deal,’ ” God said. “Of course, he didn’t write that book, either.”

Doonesbury — Gut instinct.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

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.