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31.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Users come and go Permalink to this item

Jack Nicas, for the NYT: Does Facebook Really Know How Many Fake Accounts It Has? Seems like they ought to. The number of users isn't quite astronomical, but it's very, very large. A couple million seems like a lot; says there they have 2,320 millions, a third of the population of Earth, give or take.

“Duplicate and false accounts are very difficult to measure at our scale,” it said in a securities filing in October, and the actual numbers “may vary significantly from our estimates.”

The charted reporting has "oscillated," and has currently swung up to 116 million, which would be a suspiciously round 5.00%.

Facebook arrives at its estimates by analyzing a sample of accounts, looking “for names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic,” the company said in securities filings. “We apply significant judgment in making this determination.”

You know that latest, easy-peasy CAPTCHA for web forms, the checkbox that says "I am not a robot"? That's a behavioral measurement, in units of time. How long is it between page load and box check? Robots are quicker than humans, no doubt. (Take your time. Also, if you're programming a robot, add a minimum, and randomized delay.)

Facebook is all about measuring user behavior, to better serve its customers, and bottom line, so there's a lot more going on than "we think 5% of our accounts are (still) fake." They've been reporting how many fake accounts they take down, and in the 12 months ending last September, it adds up to 2.8 billion, which is a very big number; one that's more than 20% larger than their reported number of users. The flow in fake accounts works out to be "about 7.7 million a day."

Facebook’s figures also imply that over the past year, it has caught and taken down roughly 90 percent of fake accounts that are created on its site — most, it said, “within minutes of registration.” Facebook said it also stopped millions of fake accounts from registering each day.

90% success is plausible... and not very good. Especially if, as the VP of Analytics says, most are "extremely naïve adversaries." They're being careful not to "over-enforce." "So what we actually focus on is the harmful behavior."

Your mileage may vary.

30.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gyroscopic Permalink to this item

One of my friends has expressed the most remarkably insouciant attitude toward location tracking I know: essentially, he's fine with having it turned on, all the time. He's an honest person and has nothing in particular to hide. My first thought is inevitably "yeah, but..." that doesn't mean I can't imagine the downside of a miscreant having easy access to knowing where I am, and where I have been, and the periodicity of my peregrination. My base preference for privacy is greater than that. As for my current expectation of privacy... I have to guess it exceeds how much I actually have.

May, 2018 photo

Jen King is the Director of Consumer Privacy at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, and her take on privacy policies is that "it's usually not too far-fetched to say that the company can basically do whatever it wants with your personal information, as long as it has informed you about it," where "informed" means put somewhere deep in a multipage, fine-print document that you didn't actually read, did you? Her "how to" headline on The Conversation got me reading this: Change your phone settings so Apple, Google can’t track your movements, even though I do know how to turn off location tracking (and generally keep it off, never mind some apps' insistence that I should turn it on). I've had occasion to use the device's location awareness, and tracking for my benefit, as I imagine most any smartphone user has by now, and the sense of magic that gave me, somewhere around... here, when I used Google Maps to help pick which road less bicycled one afternoon, out in the wilds of the Palouse, has stuck with me..

The link to another Conversation at the end of this sentence also caught my eye: "...both companies’ mobile operating systems let users turn off location services, such as GPS tracking. Ideally, this should prevent most apps from collecting your location – but it doesn’t always."

As in, Your mobile phone can give away your location, even if you tell it not to. That year-old story says this about the broad category of "mobile devices":

"They are stuffed with sensors, usually including at least one accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a barometer, up to four microphones, one or two cameras, a thermometer, a pedometer, a light sensor and a humidity sensor."

The gyroscope part of that surprised me, as did the list as a whole. Magnetometer, really? Barometer, and humidity sensor? Certainly the Android sensor types list anticipates all those, and some devices have some or maybe all. A not-exactly-leading-edge model does confirm the "stuffed" statement, between its "integrated components" of rear and front-facing cameras, doesn't say how many microphones, "heart rate sensor, navigation," and "miscellaneous" "RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, proximity sensor" with at least 3 or 4 datacomm antennae and more protocols, that essential touch-sensitive display, all ticking to the beat of a half-nanosecond drum.

While my hoary notion of the basic gyroscope design involving a spinning rotor mounted on gimbals, the new thing, "gyro sensor" is really about sensing angular velocity, and it's a piezoelectric transducer, implemented with silicon and integrated circuitry. Of course. Isn't everything these days?

Keep looking Permalink to this item

My usual habit is to check the various information feeds coming my way and queue up far more than I can read by the end of the day. It might be fun to see what I do get through, and why... but too much trouble to undertake that self-monitoring. The advertising industry, currently making the world go 'round, would be happy to do that monitoring for me 'm sure it's doing what it can), but just my thing, I try to thwart them through Firefox's NoScript, and mostly, inattention. (Occam's check on whether subliminal messages to buy, buy, buy are getting through says... nope.)

Thus, I may not finish all 5 of the items Stanford prompted me to spin up, but one, at least: Is mindfulness worthy of all the hype? Questions bubble up, starting with, what's the alternative? Mindlessness doesn't seem like a positive thing, but who's to say? Researchers? Don't we have to answer these questions for ourselves?

"...While some claim that these reviews refute mindfulness’ benefits, that claim is up for debate. If meditation’s benefits are equivalent to that of other treatments, then it’s a great option: Some people would prefer to sit in meditation every day than use medication or attend therapy sessions...."

Objectively, I can't say I prefer any of those things, unless you count my morning coffee and daily beer as medication, in which case, door no. 2.

"If you’ve tried mindfulness and felt it isn't for you, it’s important to remember that there are many ways of calming your mind and feeling at ease — mindfulness is just one of them. Breathing is another."

I'm definitely in favor of breathing, and every time I see it mentioned, I inevitably take a breath (slowly, thoughtfully) before returning to my regularly scheduled autonomic breathing.

"Research shows that other methods such as practicing gratitude, spending time in nature, exercising, yoga, and leading a life that involves meaning and service all will benefit mental (and physical) health and bring greater stillness into your otherwise hectic life. You just need to find the shoe that fits. But do keep looking until you find it!"

Cold enough for you? Permalink to this item

Everybody's talking about the weather, but are they doing anything about it? Stay tuned for that, but for the moment, talk of the town is how frigid polar vortex blasts are connected to global warming. The temperature forecast map near the top of that story, shows the familiar, once or twice a winter continental polar air mass coming down into the states through Canada, with a little extra kick. Minus 20, 30, 40 in Wisconsin and Minnesota, freezing temperatures right on down to the deep south.

We're no strangers to a sharp cold snap in January or February, but this time around, our luck in the SW corner of Idaho leaves us... oddly just about normal, which is nice. 30°F, you say? Plus 30? Delightful. (It was down to +24 overnight, as compared to -24°F reported by my sister in Chicago. Forecast high for Boise today, 43°.)

NOAA’s Global Forecast System model, Pivotal Weather image

Just because it's cold (or about normal) where you are doesn't mean things aren't heating up overall. (Pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain in the office with no corners.)

"Undoubtedly this new polar vortex attack will unleash fresh claims that global warming is a hoax. But this ridiculous notion can be quickly dispelled with a look at predicted temperature departures around the globe for early this week. The lobe of cold air over North America is far outweighed by areas elsewhere in the United States and worldwide that are warmer than normal."

This is from a week ago, when temps in Australia were hitting the 100-teens, and the place was on fire (again): Across Australia, Yet Another Scorching Summer

28.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Squabbling in the cave Permalink to this item

While catching up on comedy (SNL, Seth Myers, just before the cave-man), the latest CHQ daily rolled into the inbox, in a rather comedic light.

The editor, George Rasley, leads with a pushback for Ann Coulter. She just couldn't be more wrong: Trump Is No Wimp On The Wall and you all should be calling your Senators and Representative to tell them "if Congress remains in political gridlock you agree the President should use his Article II authority to declare a national emergency and have the Pentagon build the Wall."

This "wimp" thing really stings. Also, they have some people they do want to blame for "this post-election funding mess" (forgetting the primary talking point for a moment, it's a National Emergy, remember?): Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the usually suspected "establishment Republican leaders in the House who blew the 2018 midterm election and lost the majority to Nancy Pelosi and her Far-Left Democrats."

From John Tenniel's classic illustration of Alice in Wonderland

Trump is playing the bad hand he was dealt, masterfully? Yeah, that's it. Also, he cares so much about "taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown," that he's granted a 3 week respite, after which "if no deal is done," he'll take care of them some more. It'll be "off to the races!" he tweeted. Such a caring individual 1.

But the 2nd item was the one that caught my eye, with the headline We Could All Be Roger Stone, by the CHQ Staff. Sometimes candor creeps out.

"The news that our friend and former colleague Roger Stone was indicted by witch-hunter-in-chief Robert Mueller was on one level no big surprise, given that Roger had predicted it several times over the past few months."

The "crimes" (as they put it) "were all process crimes," so NBD. Nothing whatsoever to do with "the thoroughly debunked fabrication" that there's been fishy goings on between Trump and the Russians right along, from the other Junior meeting in Trump Tower, to Senior writing his "adoption" excuse letter on AF1, on down to yesterday's news that the further lifting of sanctions turned out to be a better deal for oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska than expected. (Remember that the Senate failed to muster the required 60 votes to keep the sanctions in force: it was 57-42, with 11 Republicans in favor of overriding the president.)

So let me see if I have this right: any one of us who launches a career in ratfucking* could find ourselves on the wrong end of a visit from an FBI battering ram and a seven-charge indictment for obstruction, lying and witness tampering? Makes you wonder what all the CHQ staff have been up to.

Stone's "only crimes" the way they see it "are being friends with Donald Trump and using his considerable skills at manipulating the media to keep the story of Hillary Clinton’s many real crimes alive – and pissing-off Robert Mueller and his band of Democrat witch hunters in the process." All those campaign shenanigans were just "two guys exchanging political gossip, or perhaps two B.S. artists blowing smoke up each other's skirts," oo la la.

The purpose of the piece is not a cautionary tale, however, because really, how many Roger J. Stone Jr.'s could there ever be? It is a plea for contributions to the "Roger Stone Legal Defense Fund," to which they all say they've contributed.

* I use the Watergate-era term of art advisedly, although I understand from Wikipedia that it's still considered an obscenity by the FCC, at least when broadcast on the radio. If there is a suitable non-obscenity that could serve, do let me know.

26.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The end of the beginning of the end Permalink to this item

Maybe. It sure ought to be, right? Having perpetrated a 5-week long cruel joke on the country, and sputtering out the usual dog's breakfast of fake arguments about the "crisis" his sabotage is attempting to create, and threatened most of all with denial of an audience for a State of the Union speech, the president* caved, and caviled and pretended this was more of the "winning" he promised we'd get tired of.

Screen cap from NYT interactive

We are tired of it, that's true enough.

Consider this moment, with news organizations providing updated interactive diagrams of everyone who's been charged, and found (or pleaded) guilty, so far, and how they're connected to Donald J. Trump. One of his myriad former lawyers (a.k.a. "fixers"), a former national security advisor, campaign chairman, campaign advisors, a dozen Russian intelligence officers, a baker's dozen of "Russian nationals," and after yesterday's visit from the FBI, his "longtime informal advisor" Roger J. Stone Jr.

And another updated interactive, of the more than 100 contacts with Russians before the inauguration, with a dozen members of the crime family who will be listening for the sound of Mueller's shoes dropping. Trump himself, of course, his daughter, Junior, Dan Scavino, the recused and excused Jeff Sessions, court jester Carter Page, son-in-law (so to speak) Jared "back channel" Kushner, Rick Dearborn, Michael Caputo, J.D. Gordon, Avi Berkowitz, Erik Prince.

Screencap of NYT interactive

Give credit where due, the orange man has a remarkable aptitude for fakery, falsity, and fatuousness. Carefully examine his performance art, and you find a maze of twisty passages that are all wrong. Consider this half minute, for example:
"The State of the Union speech has been, uh, cancelled by Nancy Pelosi Not exactly cancelled, but changed venue.
"because she doesn't want to hear the truth. Um, are you sure you can handle the truth?
"She doesn't want the American public to hear what's going on As if... all we had was you?
"aaand she's afraid of the truth Tick tock. #MuellerTime
"and the super left Democrats, the...
radical Democrats
what's going on in that party is shocking
Not to mention the GOP, eh.
"so it's a sad thing for our country Actually, we're kind of overdosed on you as it is, so, no.
"we'll do something in the alternative
I'll be talking to you about that at a later ... date."

25.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry


A dozen agents showed up under the cover of darkness, and CNN reporters provide color commentary over the exclusive video of arrest and search warrants being served on "longtime Trump associate" Roger Stone in Fort Lauderdale.

For his part, was this after he made bail? he says into the mic, trying to be heard above the crowd booing and chanting "Lock Him Up!"

"As I have always said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

CNN's Jim Sciutto points out that the FIB agents, "like all the bureau's 35,000 employees - are not getting paid due to the shutdown."

Marc Johnson quotes Madame Speaker's pithy comment: “It is very interesting to see the kinds of people that the president of the United States has surrounded himself with.” And lots more questions and links in his Twitter feed, including his Occam's Razor theory.

Free tix for furloughed peeps Permalink to this item

This just in the inbox, from the Morrison Center, the wonderful performance space on the BSU campus: Free Family Four-Pack for Furloughed Government Employees. That's nicer than Wilbur Ross saying "you could just take out a bank loan" or Lara Trump saying "let them eat cake." Going to a show could take your mind off your troubles, right? (Free concessions at intermission would be nice, too.)

The banner inside tells me the show they're offering these tickets for is The Phantom Tollbooth and it's on April 18th. Which... we hope the Trump shutdown won't still be going by then?! OMG. Anyway, tell us more about this show we've never heard of. It's recommended for all ages, there's a study guide, and it runs 60 minutes without intermission, so scratch the free treats. And the synopsis:

Excerpt of Jules Feiffer graphic

Milo, the boy "who didn't know what to do with himself," drives his toy car through a mysterious tollbooth that appears in his bedroom and soon finds himself on an eventful and dangerous quest rescuing the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, who, in the war between words and numbers, have been banished to the Castle in the Air. Milo travels through the Forest of Sight where he experiences different Points of View, accidentally leaps to the Island of Conclusions and travels through the Mountains of Ignorance, where he must escape its Demons in order to save the Princesses. With the help of his steadfast companions, he perseveres and brings Rhyme and Reason home, restoring peace to the realm. Along the way something magical happens to Milo; he discovers the delights of friendship, curiosity and knowledge, and that life - his own life - is filled with endless possibilities.

That is... too perfectly apt for April, 2019. We must all go. We must have Congress and the president attend. (But they have to pay for their own tickets.)

22.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In other Kentucky news Permalink to this item

From the home of our senator majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Lisa Desjardins tweet showing a billboard put up by the prison officers' union, part of the The American Federation of Government Employees.

From Twitter

Still simmering Permalink to this item

Fascinating deconstruction of the confrontation proceeds apace, recapitulating every possible partisan divide. Where to start? Caroline Orr:

Given that the Covington Catholic High School students think they're mature enough to understand pregnancy, abortion, childbirth, and parenting — and to tell women what we should do with our bodies — it'd be great if the media would stop coddling them like they're little boys.

— Caroline Orr (@RVAwonk) January 22, 2019

There's the video of ok, the drummer walked up to them, and ok, they were just a pack of rowdy boys bouncing up and down to the beat of a steady drum, there's the other scenes of harrassment of young women, the mother of one of the h.s. students who's got an alt-narrative and then there's Jake Tapper of CNN, who offered up a counter-narrative. Except... that narrative masquerading as "one of the boys" was actually cooked up by a conservative pundit?! That's dodgy.

So Jake Tapper pushed a “statement” supposedly written by a teenager that turns out to be actually from a PR firm run by...a fellow CNN commentator (!!!) who used his own media connections to spin this story. Tapper runs w the narrative and the ENTIRE MEDIA follows suit. Jesus

— Rebecca Rose (@auntbeckyrose) January 22, 2019

Martin Luther King Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

May, 2018 photo

19.Jan.19 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Early returns are mixed Permalink to this item

Lisa Desjardins noted ONE BIG PROBLEM with the president's offer (that I didn't watch him stumble through making): "DACA is currently in courts. 2 Fed. district courts blocked Trump admin from ending the program in Nov." It does seem the perfect Trumpian grift tactic, though: offering to give up something he doesn't have. (That's before you consider that the debacle over DACA was wholly of Trump's making.) Quick takes:

Glenn Kessler: Unless I missed it, Trump expressed no sympathy for federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay.

Tony Schwartz: This is the best Trump could do? Come on.

Brian Schatz: You don’t negotiate a compromise with your own Vice President and your son in law. That’s not how this works.

John Harwood: Trump claims a few hundred miles of additional border barriers along border with Mexico could cut America’s crime and drug problems in half

Garry Kasparov has a darker observation still:

Trump doesn't want an immigration solution. He needs a crisis and if there isn't one, he'll invent it. As I've said about Putin for 10 years now, confrontation itself is the goal. There's no negotiating with that, only winning or losing.

— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) January 19, 2019

Lord of the flies Permalink to this item

About the time I was ready to fire off a letter to the principal of Covington High School, and some Kentucky bishop, I see social media has done some heavy lifting in regard to their students' despicable behavior in the nation's capital.

Not that I have any standing with the Catholic church these days, but it's the culture I came out of, and I could share a piece of mind. "All boys" never sounded like something I wanted to do, but I went to parochial school for 9 years before deciding that it was a bit more insular than seemed like a good idea. I suppose that was close to the time my Catholicism had run its course, but we parted on decent terms. I still have some respect, and affection for the church as an institution (and sorrow for the trouble some of its leaders have made).

One acquaintance estimated that "if anyone from my Catholic, all-male high school did something like [that] on Saturday none of them would be enrolled on Monday. Jesuits don't play." My response was that even without Jesuits, this day will turn out to be a powerful milestone in those boys' lives.

Let's hope it's in a good way.

The awful part of the demonstration, was that they were acting out the larger immorality play we're in the midst of. Those in-your-face, privileged smirks, jiggling and chanting to disrespect an elder are the embodiment of the behavior they're seeing from the head of the Executive Branch right now, and the complicit remnant of the party he hijacked in 2016.

Speaking of Jesuits, Father James Martin weighed in as well, with a retweet showing a sound clip of Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Nation talking about what just happened.

With quiet dignity.

The Washington Post has more from an interview with Phillips, and from a statement from the organization that set up Friday's march, the Indigenous Peoples Movement, calling the incident “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America.”

“It clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns about the marginalization and disrespect of Indigenous peoples, and it shows that traditional knowledge is being ignored by those who should listen most closely,” Darren Thompson, an organizer for the group, said in the statement.

18.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Better than political news Permalink to this item

Here's a strange and wonderful fossilized insect inside a Javanese opal.

Turns out you can use everything but the bark from mustard seeds. Biodiesel, a natural pesticide, and animal feed, all-in-one.

Not exactly a timely weather forecast for June, 2016, but methane rain on the largest moon in the solar system is quite a thing. (Titan is the only place in the solar system outside of Earth where rain falls.)

Composite of images from the prepress paper

Synergy on a government level Permalink to this item

Looks like we should be all set to start the House Judiciary Committee hearings. Removing a criminal from office—even the highest office—isn't exactly "the revolution" and it appears it will be twitterfied. Here's what my feed looks like this morning:

If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.

— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) January 18, 2019

Here’s the real truth behind the Buzzfeed story.

Mueller knows everything.

— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) January 18, 2019

The first article of impeachment against Nixon was just this: obstruction by directing others to lie. This is not hysteria or hyperventilating. It’s history.

— Jon Meacham (@jmeacham) January 18, 2019

Congressman, pundit, historian, and... I guess I should go check out that Buzzfeed story, eh, helpfully pinned to the top of their Twitter page. Perhaps the headline suffices for a pull quote:

President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project

Well, ok, maybe the subhead, too: "Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin." And ok, let's keep going a few grafs in:

"This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

"But Cohen's testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia. ..."

Melissa Lyttle image

An attorney for one of Trump's parade of attorneys, Don McGahn, wants us to know it wasn't him. (He was just there to get Brent Kavanaugh on to the Supreme Court.) Beyond that, there's a whole lot of declined to comment from the supporting cast, and distancing themselves, including the president's favorite daughter, who was eager for some "synergy on a government level" offered by "a Russian athlete" (what?) or perhaps "even internally, was only minimally involved," depending on who you can believe.

There's a nice atmospheric photo of Felix Sater, "a real estate developer, convicted stock swindler, and longtime asset for US government intelligence agencies."

And a reminder that Cohen is slated to testify before a different House Committee, the one on Oversight and Government Reform, early next month. (Trump's White House has shifted from suborning perjury to witness intimidation in that regard. Just like the good old days.)

Update: The chairmen of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees are ready to proceed.

17.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, SOME collusion Permalink to this item

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Posts on yet another gobsmacking admission by Rudy Giuliani, in the unfolding story of Russians and the Trump crime family:

"[T]he Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.

"The most likely explanation for that is the unfolding case against Paul Manafort. We learned recently that he shared polling data with an associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team has said had ties to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. They also discussed a pro-Russia Ukraine peace plan, which is conspicuous because the Republican National Committee’s platform was amended on that issue...."

We've come a long, long way from Hope Hicks insisting "it never happened," and "no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign."

16.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Look who just got disinvited Permalink to this item

Today's big headline is that the Speaker of the House (love her website's "heroine" image, by the way) sent a letter concerning the State of the Union, which, as you probably know, is partially "fouled" up. Perhaps we should reschedule, given that both the lead agency and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now, and as a result the coordinating, planning, exercising, and implementing security for National Special Security Events is a problem?

"Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th."

Or maybe he could sniff his way through the speech in the Oval Office.

15.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Meanwhile, in other news Permalink to this item

Individual 1's nominee for Attorney General is getting lightly toasted (you know, as opposed to grilled) by the Senate Judiciary Committee today. William Barr assures us that if his boss told him to fire the Special Counsel, "I would not carry out that instruction." So that's good, hmm? He had nice things to say about Bob Mueller. "I would say we're good friends," and that Mueller is "a man of integrity and a straight shooter."

One question I don't suppose any senator will get around to asking: "Do you have any concerns about having a boss who is utterly lacking in integrity, a man who's as crooked as the day is long?"

GOP Sen. John Cornyn "asked how strange it was" about that whole Comey-Clinton deal, starting summer of 2016, and ending with the election of you-know-who. Remember when a "tarmac meeting" between an AG and a former president was the height of "scandal."? Those were the days.

"It was weird at the time. That’s why I thought it was very strange," Barr said.

What else was strange was that this former A.G. saw fit to fire off an "unusual memo" last June, "Re: Mueller's 'Obstruction' Theory," addressed to DAG Rod Rosenstein and AAG Steve Engel, that was (a) unsolicited, and (b) 19 pages long, even though he acknowledged being "in the dark about many facts." He advances the theory that "Mueller's obstrution theory" (does he actually know what, if any theory Mueller has?) "is fatally misconceived."

Natasha Bertrand, writing in The Atlantic notes that Barr's putting a new spin on it as a former Attorney General ready to go again:

“I wrote the memo as a former Attorney General who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance” and did not intend to argue that a sitting president can never obstruct justice, he said.

Maybe his reported interview to be Trump's defense lawyer had something to do with his willingness to spend his free time writing advice to the current DOJ staff.

Speaking of hiring decisions, you know what else would be very strange? To have Ivanka Trump helping Steve Mnuchin and Mulvaney select the next World Bank president.

The bank's board of executive directors, 25 representatives chosen from among its 189 member countries would have to approve the choice. Some of the representatives are more equal than others. The US' "subscription" is worth 16% of the voting power. The top 10 countries have half the votes; the top 20 have 2/3rds.

One racist at a time Permalink to this item

The tipping point was apparently his puzzler question of "which one of these is not like the other?" in his interview with the NYT:

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Frame from a NYT video

It's not clear that anyone explained it to Steve King's satisfaction, but now the he won't have House Judiciary or Agriculture business to keep himself busy, he can give it some thought on his own. (I'm still trying to figure out why there's something wrong with weighing 130 pounds, or what the picture inside his head is like for "calves the size of cantaloupes.")

Funny/not funny thing is, the long-time Representative from Iowa has been an ur-Trump for years, and was an early and rabid supporter after we started sliding down the escalator of sociopathy. ("These days, the president's statements sound like echoes of things King said years earlier.")

It's almost like his fellow travelers in Congress want to put some distance between themselves and their party's hijacker, but all they came up with was a scapegoat, someone both Mitch McConnell (!) and Mitt Romney could deride without fear of repercussion.

The senate majority leader is another guy with time on his hands right now, enough to huff that “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

So, who's going to explain this concept to the president?

12.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The national crisis in plain sight Permalink to this item

Responding to a friend, and former US Attorney's comment on Facebook,

"Has DJT been secretly working for Russia against American interests?"

"Nope, it's been right out in the open."

One point sometimes lost in the murky swamp of the #TrumpCrimeFamily is that Russia and the US have long had common interests, and reason to work together. (They're still the only ride for humans to the ISS, for example.) After the Soviet Union came to an end, and the full-on madness of the Cold War eased up, we worked together on important elements of nuclear non-proliferation.

Just as with still-Communist China.

We're not at war with either one.

Each country is pursuing its own interests in various ways, some legitimate, and legal, and some not. We all benefit from peace and security and trade and natural gas moving around. (Well, except for the whole climate change problem, about which the US has currently left the field. This is likely a MUCH bigger deal than the actually petty corruption that Trump and his family are obsessed with.)

The theft of secrets and intellectual property, for example, financial manipulation, taking over territory in other countries (e.g. Ukraine) or disputed areas (South China Sea), influencing elections are the not-so-legitimate sides.

That's how a lot of the corrupt behavior of the Trump family managed to pass as... sort of reasonable? And in the context of the GOP's internal sabotage to our electoral system, outside malefactors are just one more ingredient in a toxic stew.

(The next item in my news feed as I typed that was one of those astounding images from the oval office meeting of Lavrov, Trump and Kislyak, yukking it up right after Trump had fired Comey, courtesy of the Russian news agency Tass, because US media was excluded from the meeting.)

From the Russian news agency, Tass

That was May 10, 2017. At this point, not quite 2 years into his career as an elected official, Trump has succeeded at a level of corruption and perfidy that would make Nixon, Kissinger, and Cheney blush. (Or at least it ought to.)

11.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Emperor's new wall is magnificent(ly expensive Permalink to this item

Philip Bump's recitation of Art O'Deal's shifty stories on our way to medieval insanity about building a monument to stupidity is fascinating, in a horrific way. One of the first utterances, before the down escalator was a thing, April 2015, had the action verb "I will take it," a quintessentially Trumpian underpinning for all the variations to come.

It's totally believable that he imagined he could take it some way or another. He's had a lot of people engineering finances and taking things on his behalf for his whole life.

Nobody's put up a clock about it yet, but the round number estimates (here's one from FORTUNE for example) are that three weeks in, the wall shutdown has cost us—that is, US taxpayers, which is everyone other than the #TrumpCrimeFamily, give or take—$tens of billions. For nothing.

The most persistent and believable thing about the claims was that someone else would pay for it, by which he meant, of course, someone other than him, but in his favorite venues (riling a mob, and selling one-on-one), given a conspiratorial spin, as if wink wink nudge nudge, you're in on this too. That old poker rule of thumb: after the first half hour, if you can't identify who the sucker in the group is, it's you.

If you're the group that took that "big, beautiful wall" and ran with it to the tune of "cover[ing] the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic," you would be the sucker.

The time series datagraphic shows in that WaPo piece shows's data for 180 public comments about Mexico paying, and how Mexico would pay. "They may even write us a check by the time they see what happens," he told Hannity on April 13, 2016. More recently (Jan. 11, 2018), he insisted “There are many forms of payment. I could name 10 right now. There are many forms of payment, I didn’t say how.”

Asked to name one such method, Trump cited the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation that led to USMCA.

Which kind of makes me wonder, asked to name one such method?! If we're playing make-believe, what the hell, ask him to go ahead and name 10 methods. We've got twenty people ready to write them down as you go. We'll even stipulate that "renegotiation that led to USMCA" half-ass counts as the first one.

But nobody did that. So we don't have a Rick Perry-esque deer in the headlights one-two-whoops video bite, all we have is Mr. Snuffleupagus and his garbly word salad, and here, now, January 2019, today's the day most of a million federal workers won't be getting their regular paychecks, several hundreds of thousands of them in spite of continuing to work for the last three weeks of debacle.

("Workers" don't include members of Congress or the president's retinue in this regard. Which is to say, he is not paying for anything. Most of the House and Senate punched out for the week on Thursday, as usual.)

This is, as sort of promised, him running the country just like he ran his businesses. Sketchy financing, money being siphoned off into gold toilets, portraits of stupidity, plane rides and golf outings, contractors getting stiffed, and, eventually, inevitably, bankruptcy.

As Greg Sargent opines about the raging, weakened Trump, we're down to "the optics of manly action," former Fox News exec Bill Shine, executive producer.

"Yet it’s increasingly obvious that Trump’s gestures of action are largely empty ones — and not just on the wall. This is evident on two of the biggest running stories right now — Trump’s flirtation with declaring a national emergency to build the border barrier without congressional authorization, and his legal team’s noisy public threats to try to quash public release of the special counsel’s findings."

The 3 week government shutdown has definitely become the lead story, even as that special counsel inquiry keeps nipping at his heels. It's a crisis! Maybe... a national emergency! (He keeps saying "I have the absolute right.") No matter how long it would drag on (2020, at least, probably),

"[T]he act of declaring of a national emergency to force the wall issue would itself likely drive his supporters into a state of delirium. Which, for Trump, would be the real point of it. This is also the real point of threatening to do it."

But in the non-delirium world, Trump's hijacked party is getting hinky.

As one GOP strategist puts it: “Republicans have pulled a gun and taken themselves hostage. When you’re mitigating the negative impacts against yourself, you have a political problem.”

Under "The grand illusion," Sargent highlights "the fascinating paradox" about the "imperial presidency" described by historians Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer:

He is shredding norms in a way that will damage our institutions, while also not getting a great deal of what he wants. Yet crucial to his grand illusion is creating the impression that his norm-shredding is producing results: "The imperial presidency is, in many ways, propped up by media partisans who insist that the naked emperor has glorious new clothes.”

If you can call the president's personal propaganda network "media."

beyond parody

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 10, 2019

Or as Donald Trump himself put it, with three stolen bars on his sleeves back in May, 2004 "never, ever give up." Go around the wall.

Oh man, once Trump gets his wall he better hope no one shows Mexico this old video we found.

— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) January 10, 2019

Must-append, for its title+subtitle alone. Jack Holmes, for Esquire: The Wall Fiasco Now Illustrates All the Most Essential Elements of Trumpism; "The utter disregard for reality, the hostility towards democracy, the lying, the chauvinism, the enablers, the cruelty, the vindictiveness. It's all there."

"Remember: the president shut down the government single-handedly. Senate Republicans passed a bill to keep government open in December, and Paul Ryan was ready to get it through the then-Republican House. But it didn't include Wall funding, and Rush Limbaugh started saying mean things about Trump on the television, so our president went nuclear and refused to sign anything without funding for the Big, Beautiful Middle Finger From White America Monument. Since Democrats took control of the House, they passed a bill similar to the Senate Republican bill. Mitch McConnell refuses to put a bill his caucus essentially already passed up for another vote, because that would put Trump in the position of having to veto a bill to reopen the government—thus illustrating the simple reality that it is the president who is holding the government hostage."

8.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The supporting cast of liars Permalink to this item

Maggie Haberman's short thread on the ghosts of presidents past:

The president falsely claimed his predecessors encouraged him on the border wall. Pence, w NBC this AM, tries shifting him away from the lie by calling it an "impression" about "border security:" 1/2

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 8, 2019

Not really sure that Pence intended this, but the implication is Trump couldn’t distinguish between his own impressions and objectively-held reality in the form of previous comments.

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 8, 2019

More than one wag has suggested that Trump is now talking to the portraits in the White House. He had a lot of "executive time" on his own over the holidays. Just him and the guys with automatic weapons out on the lawn.

Commander in chief

This is a national emergency Permalink to this item

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the NYU Brennan Center for Justice, is making the rounds on the news, here on NPR, last night on the Newshour, in the current issue of The Atlantic, and, if you want the 3m 40s tl;dr, this must-see explainer on YouTube:

"There are dozens of laws that give the president special powers to act in an emergency. ...

"Declaring the emergency is pretty easy," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "There aren't a lot of legal limits on his ability to do that, frankly, even if there isn't a real emergency happening."

"There's no legal definition of emergency, no requirement that Congress ratify the decision, and no judicial review."

It's hard to imagine the 94th Congress (or President Gerald Ford, for that matter), after Nixon's ignominious departure, could have imagined their body as supine as it is now, under Mitch McConnell's stranglehold. What Wikipedia tells us, my emphasis added:

"Emergency presidential powers are dramatic, and range from suspending all laws regulating chemical and biological weapons, including the ban on human testing (50 U.S.C. § 1515, 1969); to suspending any Clean Air Act implementation plan or excess emissions penalty upon petition of a state governor (42 U.S.C. § 7410(f) 1977); to authorizing and constructing any unauthorized construction (10 U.S.C. § 2808(a), 1982) using any existing defense appropriations for any military constructions ($10.4 billion in FY2018[11]); to drafting any retired Coast Guard officers (14 U.S.C. § 331, 1963) or enlisted members (14 U.S.C. § 359, 1949) into active duty."

Goitein said "the president has almost unlimited discretion to declare a national emergency," imagine that. "[M]any of these powers are really quite narrow, quite reasonable, but some of them seem like the stuff of authoritarian regimes," available with the spastic jittering of a Sharpie® marker.

The idea is that "a true crisis unfolding so quickly that Congress doesn't have time to react to it" and so on. This latest "crisis" has unfolded so quickly that the Republican-controlled 115th Congress could not respond to it over the last two years.

"And, frankly, even if there isn't a real emergency, there are very few judges who are going to actually try to look behind that determination."

They may have been busy worrying about the last cocked-up "national emergency," used as justification for starting trade wars with pretty much all comers, as we found out 10 months ago, but... did nothing about, because there were so many distractions happening. (Was there even an actual emergency declaration for that, or was just tweeting the lie a couple dozen times sufficient?)


You probably did not know that there are thirty states of emergency are in effect today (as Goitein wrote in The Atlantic, or perhaps 31 as she said on the Newshour), "including one ... that's been on the books since 1979." (CNN listed 28 active national emergencies a year ago August, before Trump had declared any.) This may have also slipped out of your mind 16½ years after 9/11:

"President George W. Bush took matters a giant step further after 9/11. His Executive Order 13224 prohibited transactions not just with any suspected foreign terrorists, but with any foreigner or any U.S. citizen suspected of providing them with support. Once a person is “designated” under the order, no American can legally give him a job, rent him an apartment, provide him with medical services, or even sell him a loaf of bread unless the government grants a license to allow the transaction. The patriot Act gave the order more muscle, allowing the government to trigger these consequences merely by opening an investigation into whether a person or group should be designated.

"Designations under Executive Order 13224 are opaque and extremely difficult to challenge. The government needs only a “reasonable basis” for believing that someone is involved with or supports terrorism in order to designate him...."

The road to autocracy turns out to be considerable shorter than we imagined. Read on down to 5. KINDLING AN EMERGENCY in The Atlantic piece, the part starting with "imagine it's late 2019" that reads more like current news than any stretch of imagination, and tell me you're not feeling a little queasy about now.

7.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Software as a disservice Permalink to this item

Notice to me as a "valued customer" about the most expensive software packages that I use, and have a license to (for a little while longer, at least), and that's built with Java will suffer as of this month from "a significant change to [the] support policies" or Oracle.

That software (license) was surprisingly hard to obtain, even with real money ready to spend, and... moderately hard to install. But it did what I needed, and maybe that's that, but if not:

"With Oracle’s policy changes, we are no longer able to provide this convenience. As a result, starting January 2019, [we] will no longer distribute Java (JDK/JRE) with any new product releases and will no longer ship Java updates, including security patches, except for free trial products. For products released prior to January 2019, [we] may continue to distribute a publicly-available version of Java with the product installer only."

"Starting January 2019, you need to plan to obtain and install Java as a prerequisite for installing or re-installing the [our] products that rely on Java and need to secure your own support contract with Oracle for updates to Java including security patches. Every customer should obtain a support contract with Oracle for updates and security patches to Java for [our] products that rely on Java even for those products where we did not provide JAVA as part of the installer or in updates."

Like the orange man said, trade wars are very easy to win. It's easy!

It's a long and sordid history, but last month's Slashdot thread will catch you up. When Oracle bought whatever was left of Sun Microsystems in 2010, Java came with it, but took their sweet time figuring out how to monetize the software platform. Now it seems they have a concept, and "20 individuals ... whose sole job is the pursuit of businesses in breach of their Java licences," as reported in The Register.

For your "general purpose computing" (desktop, notebook, smartphone and tablet) maybe it's still "free," but not free for... other stuff. How does... "$300 per named user with a support bill of $66" sound?

Slashdot reader rsilvergun writes, "Oracle had previously sued Google for the use of Java in Android but had lost that case. While that case is being appealed, it remains to be seen if the latest push to monetize Java is a response to that loss or part of a broader strategy on Oracle's part."

Two relevant comments modded up to 5 are my takeaway. "Insightful," from Anonymous Coward:

The overall story: Java is dead.
Java will die at a speed limited the by ability of large corporations to move away from using it.

And "Informative," from (another?) Anonymous Coward, responding to the hefty license fees (up to $15,000 per-processor) with "support" kickers:

"It has long been a standard practice with Oracle that they won't even sell you any of their 'Enterprise' products unless you also pay them for 'support' (i.e., their products are shit and after you buy them you have [to] pay extra if you want them to actually work)

"A while back, someone analyzed Oracle's financial reports and found that their licensing division, which also handles the support contracts, is responsible for nearly all of Oracle's profits.

"Larry must want to buy a new island."

The one thing that seems to be modest about megabillionaire Larry Ellison is his philanthropy, even though he's promised to give 95% of his wealth to charity "one day." (Thought question: why not today? If your net worth was $61B, do you think you could give 95% of it away and scrape by on a paltry $3 billion? If you kept your spending to a conservative 4% of that reduced nest egg, you would have to stay within a budget of about $329,000. Per day.)

But never mind all that, put yourself in the position of company X who just had to send all their customers an email saying, in essence, "as complicated as our products were to install and maintain, we're sorry, but they just got a lot more complicated, and you're going to have to do business with Oracle besides. Good luck!"

Epiphany, 2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wall ball Permalink to this item

The sociopathic narcissist wants 1,000 miles of monument, because that is such a nice, round number. Concrete, steel, solid, slats, whatever. So far... bupkis. About a third of the nearly 2,000 mile US-Mexico border has some kind of barrier already.

Nothing has been yet added during the Trump administration.

Congress has approved some new and replacement barriers. 124 miles' worth. Of that, 40 miles have been built or started, and the first extension of the current barriers, 14 miles' worth are scheduled to start next month. Unless the Department of Barriers is part of the government that's shut down, that would be ironic.

During the campaign, his savvy negotiating style was front and center, as he slyly told his salivating mobs, over and over, that Mexico would pay for the wall. "Believe me," he said. Two years ago today, two weeks before he was sworn in, the make-believe money-up-front shifted into a "reimbursement" we could count on. Like, we were going to send an invoice? No, it would be somehow rolled into the son of NAFTA.

"It’s going to be part of everything," Trump said. "We are going to be making a much better deal. It’s a deal that never should have been signed.” That taxpayers' money would just be "in order to speed up the process." There was a tweet, of course. Pre-presidential jibe at the "dishonest media" that wasn't reporting on how the money "will be paid back by Mexico later!"

Today's tweet announces, officially as anything the madman comes up with, that he's giving up on concrete, and now is behind a Steel Barrier. (One that's "made in the U.S.A.," no less.) Let's talk about transparent aluminum, I say.

Gfx from NYT interactive

What are we waiting for? Permalink to this item

David Leonhardt's op-ed lays out the case for removal: The People vs. Donald J. Trump. As the subtitle puts it, he is demonstrably unfit for office. Because...

Which leads to the obvious question, what now? Consider the most proximate example, that of Richard Nixon, the previous president who was an unindicted criminal co-conspirator. Yes, Trump's support among Republicans remains strong; absurdly strong. So did Nixon's. Leonhardt reminds us that "most Republicans — both voters and elites — stuck by [Nixon] until almost the very end. His approval rating among Republicans was still about 50 percent" when he acknowledged the inevitable and called it quits.

But consider how members of the party in Congress or from the administration have already described the current president* (with Leonhardt's hyperlinks):

Terribly unfit;” “erratic;” “reckless;” “impetuous;” “unstable;” “a pathological liar;” “dangerous to a democracy;” a concern to “anyone who cares about our nation” ...

"They know. They know he is unfit for office. They do not need to be persuaded of the truth. They need to be persuaded to act on it."

You don't need an M.D. to confirm the diagnosis that is plain to see: a sociopathic narcissist utterly lacking in human compassion has stumbled into one of the most important jobs (if not the most important job) on the planet, and is utterly incapable of fulfilling the duties it entails. Leonhardt's prescription is not to impeach him (at least not straight away), because that would provide a rallying cause for his supporters, and pull focus away from the fundamental issue of his unfitness for office.

"A smarter approach is a series of sober-minded hearings to highlight Trump’s misconduct. Democrats should focus on easily understandable issues most likely to bother Trump’s supporters, like corruption."

Because there is a very deep swamp of corruption that needs draining.

5.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flyover country (cont'd) Permalink to this item

Continuing with the book (so many distractions), a bit more to say on that one essay, "The Millenial Parent," and the one after it, the last of Part II ("The Post Employment Economy"). I was able to find the last one, on Al Jazeera's English site, in its original form: Mothers are not 'opting out' – they are out of options. Never mind catchy cohort labels, these two essays are about where the world is coming to for this, and the next generation.

June 2018 photo

Just as "conservative" morality has proven to be completely malleable to serve the whims of oligarchs, the supposedly vaunted "family values" are not translating to the bottom line. Half a decade further from the bottom of the Great Recession, we're still in the hole Kendzior described.

"Between 2004 and 2010, the average out-of-pocket costs for delivering a baby rose fourfold, making it the costliest in the world. Two decades ago, insured American women, on average, paid nothing. Today the average out-of-pocket cost with insurance is $3,400, with many insured women paying much more, and uninsured mothers charged tens of thousands of dollars.

"The average American woman begins the journey of motherhood paying off mountains of debt. One could argue there is indeed a "choice" at play: the hospitals and health insurance companies can choose to stop inflating prices, charging for unwanted procedures, or refusing to cover necessary ones. ...

"[T]he politicians and corporations who hold power do have a choice in how they treat mothers and their children. Yet they act as if they are held hostage to intractable policies and market forces, excusing the incompetence and corporate malfeasance that drain our households dry."

Speaking of incompetence and malfeasance, how do you suppose flyover country is doing in the second week of the Trump shutdown? (In case you'd taken on the presidents'* point of view that it was the Democrats' fault, you should note he's gone back to bragging about his accomplishment. "I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing," he said on Friday.) From the New York Times:

"Mr. Trump is now crafting his own narrative of the confrontation that has come to consume his presidency. Rather than a failure of negotiation, the shutdown has become a test of political virility, one in which he insists he is receiving surreptitious support from unlikely quarters."

There's more to say about the crazy man in the Pennsylvania Ave mansion, but the larger economic picture is that most of a million federal workers are not working, or are working without being paid, and hundreds of thousands more contractors (government is getting outsourced too) are not working, not being paid, and are unlikely to ever make up the lost wages.

Don't call it a "plan," and don't bother waiting to see how much of "a month, a year, or even longer" the Toddler in Chief's tantrum might run, the economic cost to the economy will easily exceed the $5 billion monument to stupidity that Fox News talking heads (and his nasty gollum Stephen Miller) are telling him he must insist upon.

By one estimate, the Trump Shutdown's run rate is only half that of the 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days and cost the U.S. economy about $24 billion. At day 15, the math is not too difficult to work through in round numbers. We're up to about 2½ walls today.

Trump and his cabinet full of toadying grifters are not going to suffer. Not only are they still being paid, the shutdown conveniently ended an existing pay freeze, in force since 2013. As of today, "scores of senior Trump political appointees," Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, and top administrators have their pay boosted by about $10,000 a year. The Vice President's salary goes up $13,000. That's after Trump ordered a 2019 pay freeze for most federal workers, whether or not they're working.

4.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flyover country Permalink to this item

That title could've been a handy synopsis of my travel-laden 2018, but what's on my mind this morning is Sarah Kendzior's collection of essays from the gloomy, sort of jobless recovery from the Great Recession, written in 2012-2014, and put into print last spring as The View from Flyover Country. As she says in the introduction, she was writing about what she knew, which was

"the collapse of the U.S. economy, the abandonment of the American heartland, the loss of opportunities for youth, the rise of paranoia and the erosion of social trust, the soaring cost of living, and the transformation of industries like media and higher education into exploitation schemes for elites."

June, 2018 photo

From her perspective as "a journalist living in a decayed Midwestern city" (St. Louis) "waiting—and waiting and waiting—for the Great Recession to end." In 2018, the generally bleak collection takes on the weight of (partial, at least) explanation for the question of how did we get here? Then there was the book tour, and now there's the podcast, Gaslit Nation...

One essay in particular, originally published in May, 2013 "The Millennial Parent," is on my mind, and looking for its online version, I came to her eponymous site and blog, and a June 2016 update (I think), The myth of millennials. In any case, it's about the danger of generalizing generations (or generalizing, period), and starts with TIME magazine's cover story, once upon a time, called "The Me Me Me Generation—Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents," which figures in the book entry as well.

To be fair, I'd read the title as just "The ME ME ME Generation" and call the rest subtitle, AND she didn't include the next subtitle line after the overstated-for-irony part, which was Why they'll save us all, which should count for something, right? And she never did say anything about that, and I can't be seen reading TIME magazine to find out about salvation.

Anyway, Kendzior's mid-2016 take, about the time Donald Trump's joke of a candidacy was still mostly a laughing matter, and before there was any reason to mention his name, but it was clear that "millennials [were] now valued as an electoral prize and a revenue source" was mostly about where to draw the lines, and not so much about what I got out of the book-published essay, which is the buried lede of economic hardship:

"For most Americans under 40, life since 2008 has been a struggle to survive. But it is worth noting that plenty of older Americans share the same struggles as their younger peers. Many older people laid off in the recession were unable to regain good jobs. There are plenty of older people with few retirement savings, with their finances drained from paying for both elderly parents and jobless children. We need to acknowledge the way our struggles are intertwined, instead of allowing the media to stoke manufactured class and generational resentment."

I confess, I did take a peek at TIME, far enough to see that it opens by talking about the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder, which quite frankly did not matter to anyone in 2013, but now that we've put the most deranged case of it that anyone ever imagined in charge of the executive branch, it turns out that this was all mighty prescient.

And not about the personality defects of the millennial (or any other named) generation, but what a defective personality (and a defective economy) could do to it.

Checking in with Gaslit Nation, they're back from break and taking on the Cabinet of Horrors. "The government is gone, we have a lot of people in 'acting' positions now... Those who remain tend to share two traits: nepotistic ties, and complicity in a broad, international kleptocratic plot."

3.Jan.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Welcome to divided government Permalink to this item

Watched the pageantry in the House on the PBS Newshour video stream today, live tweeted what parts of it struck me over the course of two and a half hours. I remember the first time Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House, the first woman to do so, and it was a Big Deal. Today was another big deal, as she comes back into the job, at a pivotal moment in history.

As Ian Bremmer noted in a tweet that has been retweeted most of 7,000 times (including by me), Pelosi's return is compared to the last 4 Republicans who resigned their way out of the chair, more or less in disgrace.

All the attention on the House was almost too much for our president*. Trump did a surprise pop-in to the White House briefing room to promote his genuninely stupid insistence on the wall, and took no questions. "The point of the briefing room is to take questions!" one reporter yelled to his departing back. The #TrumpShutdown continues, as the president* shows us he can apply everything he learned from his failed businesses to his current job.

The stock markest went into "meltdown" mode, as Judy Woodruff put it on the Newshour. Another 2½ to 3% whack in ONE DAY for the major indices.

Perihelion Permanent URL to this day's entry

Story of the year (evergreen) Permalink to this item

David Leonhardt sent 2018 on its way with notice that its story was climate change. Let me make an easy prediction: the story of the year in 2019(, 2020, 2021, etc.) is going to be climate change, too. "Future generations may ask why we were distracted by lesser matters."

"The past year is on pace to be the earth’s fourth warmest on record, and the five warmest years have all occurred since 2010. This warming is now starting to cause a lot of damage."

Even without an administration with "a climate change agenda consist[ing] of making the problem worse," this will be the bad news story for years to come.

David Roberts makes a case of sorts for what he calls "conditional optimism" on climate change, which seems to boil down to the observation that when things get bad enough, we humans always seem to do something to mitigate the worst of it. When we really need to pull together, we have done so, mostly. (Also, look at all the shiny new gadgets we invented and mass produced in the last 120 years.)

Slightly less convincing is the idea that a 2° C threshold isn't absolute. Is this comforting?

"In a sense, we’re already screwed, at least to some extent. The climate is already changing and it’s already taking a measurable toll. Lots more change is “baked in” by recent and current emissions. One way or another, when it comes to the effects of climate change, we’re in for worse.

"But we have some choice in how screwed we are, and that choice will remain open to us no matter how hot it gets. ..."

The space between "some ability" and "some choice" may be vast. Roberts cites the "blunt and unsettling recent paper" from Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm of Delft University, Economic Growth and Carbon Emissions: The Road to ‘Hothouse Earth’ is Paved with Good Intentions:

“[T]he required degree and speed with which we have to decarbonize our economies and improve energy efficiency are quite difficult to imagine within the context of our present socioeconomic system. ... Prospects of political change favoring drastic de-carbonization are simply awful, not just in the U.S. but also in Brazil, Australia, and elsewhere.”

It's technically feasible to address the challenges, if we can just figure out how to "comprehensively overhaul" the "fossil-fuel capitalism" built over the last two and a half centuries in just 30 years, globally. Such an overhaul would require "disruptive system-wide re-engineering," with a planning horizon of half a century rather than the half a decade of typical market planning now.

New Year's Day, 2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Greatest Show(man) on Earth Permalink to this item

We stumbled into a movie that we hadn't heard of last night, because when I paged through the free holiday HBO offerings, I thought it was a documentary. What's this, Hugh Jackman, singing again?! Be still our hearts!

The Greatest Showman is barely a year old having premiered December 8, 2017, aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 according to Wikipedia. I guess the critics weren't all swooning, even though it had a raft of Golden Globe nominations and what-not.

Leaf picture

God help us, we all seem to be more riveted by a con man who is demonstrably not a nice person, and have some crazy notion that musical theater should be more true to life?

At least as far as the bottom line goes, it seems to have got along fine. Production budget of $84M, grossed $435M WW in a year, and a profit well into 8 figures. The soundtrack album did crazy good too, 11 weeks in a row at #1 in the UK. Never mind the film being "the butt of Twitter jokes," "roundly mocked for its anachronistic pop songs and largely fictionalized account," have they never seen a musical before? (Did I mention Hugh Jackman?)

Apparently the music did so well, there's an album sequel, "Reimagined" (Re-reimagined?), "which contains 13 covers by mainstream acts including Kesha, Missy Elliott, Sara Bareilles, Zac Brown Band, Ty Dolla $ign and Panic! at the Disco."

Does it go without saying that I've never heard of any of those 6 people/acts? Or that the president of Atlantic Records (I do have some vinyl from that label) had "very high expectations" because "Showman" trails only Drake's "Scorpion" and Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” in terms of total album consumption (sales and streams) in 2018?

Who knows. We enjoyed the show, the music, all the subtexts. Also, it was not a documentary. If you like that sort of thing.

The opening paragraphs of Wikipedia's entry for Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum describe an interesting, successful (mostly), generous, decent (mostly), and accomplished entrepreneur, before becoming a politician. He has a look about him, even if it's not Hugh Jackman's look. The Jenny Lind tour is covered in detail, and pretty much at odds with the treatment in the movie, oh well:

"Lind had become uncomfortable with Barnum's relentless marketing of the tour, and she invoked a contractual right to sever her ties with him. They parted amicably, and she continued the tour for nearly a year under her own management. Lind gave 93 concerts in America for Barnum, earning her about $350,000, while Barnum netted at least $500,000 (equivalent to $14,732,000 in 2017)."

We also don't see anything of P.T. as teetotaler (after he returned from Europe), or temperance lecturer. There's just too much to jam into a movie! "He organized flower shows, beauty contests, dog shows, poultry contests, but the most popular were baby contests (fattest baby, handsomest twins, etc.)." A weekly pictorial newspaper, a best-selling autobiography, and more. Yes, there were arsonists, and they eventually drove him out of the museum business. So he started his traveling circus, known as "the Greatest Show on Earth," among other things.

From my family's point of view, near Delavan, Wisconsin, where that was established, this mattered: "Barnum was one of the very first circus owners to move his circus by train (and probably the very first to buy his own train)."

A million years ago, I saw one of the last runs (I thought it was) of the circus train in Milwaukee, but see here, it was back in the gloomy, wet spring of 2017 (just about the time that RINGLING BROS. and BARNUM & BAILEY was calling it a day) that it finally ended.

At 22+ minutes, kind of a long video to watch if you're not a foamer, but if nothing else, the drone (?) footage of the train crossing the Besse Little bridge over the Great Miami River in Dayon, Ohio (12:50..15:05) Dayton is superb work by the train-chasing crew of Delay in Block Productions.

It wasn't just the weather that was dull, though: by the end of its running, all the "good stuff" was hidden inside containers of various sorts. The real circus train had all of the wagons visible on open flat cars, providing alluring marketing for itself. We have pictures of it in the house... somewhere, but in the meantime, this amateur video (said to be of the 1993 train, by a commenter) will give you the idea of what I remember.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007