February 19, 2018

How Superhero Movies Became Escapist Fun Again

Christopher Orr—The Atlantic:

we appear to be in the midst of a new, and altogether different, shift in the genre—you might even call it a backlash—which may well provide a more sustainable model for superhero movies to come. As the saying goes: first time tragedy, second time farce. Experiments in supercomedy are taking place with increasing frequency, and meeting with considerable success. The various studios currently churning out stories of flying heroes and masked vigilantes are at different points in their evolution from drama to comedy. But in the steadily growing genre, they are all trending in that direction.

Not all. Black Panther, though not without its humorous moments, was no Deadpool, or even a Thor: Ragnarok.

That said, these screenplays appear to come in two variants; high-brow a la the Dark Knight trilogy and its like, and low-brow: Deadpool, Suicide Squad, and arguably Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. Check that. Deadpool was basically no-brow.

How the viewer responds is a function of whether he or she drank the Cool-Aid, in which case all are near-equally terrific, or has a taste for one of the brows. Sometimes there’s a pleasant surprise for fans of the more grim variety of superhero story, like Ant-Man and Guardians.

Color me high-brow. I’d rather one epic Dark Knight trilogy and no more comic-world films than suffer through stories trending toward potty humor for audience titillation.

If you’re a comics-derived film fan, this article was a good read on the state of the industry, regardless of how you take your humor.

#comicBookMovies

Mitt Romney's Run for Senate Champions the Utah Alternative

McKay Coppins—The Atlantic:

“I always laugh when people say we’re the reddest of red states,” said Rod Arquette, a popular conservative talk-radio host in Utah. “I don’t believe we are as conservative as people say we are. On some of the moral issues, we’re conservative. But I also think we’re willing to listen and try to solve problems. We have a culture of collaboration here.”

Listening is good. It can get people from problem to solution. Who will Mr. Romney be listening to?

What Utah lacks is a diverse population, many of them living way too close to the poverty line with little help or hope of doing better. Utah is, in a word, very white, and knows little of the problems faced by people of color and the poor white class. It’s those unpleasant factors, income and ethnicity, that keep folks in their place in America. Utah is not a proving ground for how Mr. Romney would help these folks. Maybe he doesn’t need to, though.

The fact is, people who look and earn like Mitt, and like a lot of Utahans, don’t need much help. So maybe Mitt is the right man for Utah … but if he’s gonna be all that for America he needs to do a Bobby Kennedy walk through a poor man’s home and come out shaken, weeping, and tell the cameras what he’s going to do about it. He’s gotta show us he feels it.

#MittRomney #Utah #USSenate #Republicans #GOP

February 16, 2018

∴ Black Panther

Movie poster for Black PantherMy group of friends went to the debut showing of Black Panther last night. It’s been one of the most anticipated films of 2018, and the first stand-alone comic genre film featuring not only a black lead, but a mostly black cast. Initial reviews of the film have been very positive.

I’d been looking forward to last night for two years, since the Black Panther character was revealed. Some folks have been waiting for last night much longer.

There is one specific spoiler in this article, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know what’s in it, stop reading now.

Overall, Black Panther turned out to be a good film, but not great. The acting, story, costuming, music, and effects were very good. The direction, though, meandered. A two-and-a-quarter-hour run time felt like three, yet I wondered more than once how co-writer and director Ryan Coogler could bring the story to a close before the end credits, right up until it was actually over. Though the film possesses plenty of action scenes, and these are among the best scenes in the film, it feels less like an action flick and more like straight drama. And many of the dramatic scenes go on.

That’s a minor quibble, though. Superhero films are rarely of Academy Award level stature. Where this film shines is in its depiction of a proud, advanced culture bearing technologies and social mores beyond our own, peopled entirely by African black men and women. The story incorporates more than enough empowered women and positivity to overcome sluggish direction. It was, if nothing else, a good story well-acted and well-photographed.

***

One thematic element bugged me, though. I’ve since come to a reasonably positive conclusion about it, but I was stunned when it joined the overall theme of empowerment, and still wonder about its placement in what is otherwise a very ethnic-positive character story.

In a flashback it’s revealed that T’Chaka, the now-dead king of Wakanda, left behind a nephew in America after killing his brother, N’Jobu. It’d been discovered that N’Jobu had stolen Wakanda’s precious vibranium, and planned selling it to arm people of color with this powerful weapon, helping them fight oppression.

Since this scene was set in 1992 Oakland, California, and all of the characters are black, we know the referenced oppression was American racism. Later reference was made to the “two billion people who looked like us,” so the underlying theme is both contemporary and historical global oppression of people of color.

In order to keep their kingdom and its advanced, vibranium-based technology and culture secret from western colonialists, Wakandans had long portrayed theirs as a poor, third-world African country. The king would tolerate no-one violating that defense. N’Jobu dies.

N’Jobu’s son, N’Jadaka, grows up to become a US soldier, and later an elite, mercenary-like CIA paramilitary known as Killmonger. His life goal becomes reaching back to the culture responsible for his father’s death and his own abandonment, and further, the abandonment of people of color around the world. He aims to continue what his father set out to do: arm the oppressed.

Killmonger lays blame for the toleration of oppression at the feet of Wakanda, the fictional African nation that could have stopped it; this film’s screenwriting therefore blames the continued oppression of blacks on … fictional black Africans.

My mind boggled at that, to the degree that I was pulled out of my storytelling-induced state of disbelief and out of the film entirely for a few minutes, thinking it over.

Film critic Eric Willis puts the ensuing confrontation between T’Challa and Killmonger well at The Movie Waffler:

Of course, this is the origin story of how Black Panther realises the error of his society’s narcissistic ways, but we’re left to ask the uncomfortable question of why it took this long. Assuming the Wakandans refused to intervene during the AIDS and famine crises that rocked their continent makes it incredibly difficult not to fall in line with Stevens [Killmonger], who plans to take over Wakanda and use its technology to actually better the lot of the African diaspora.

My thought during the drive home was that this played like a white guy’s idea of a black superhero origin story: blame the victim, then have him make amends. In doing so he is cleansed of his sins. That clash of fiction and reality would be, of course, an utter betrayal of basically every black and brown person walking the Earth, if only a fictional one.

Why would Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, both black, incorporate such an element in what is entirely a story about strong, smart, empowered people of color? Even if this thematic device were “true to the comic,” as defense of the occasionally indefensible usually goes, why carry it on?

On my way into work next morning, I recalled that the story had ended on a very positive note. T’Challa, the new Wakandan king and son of T’Chaka, begins revealing Wakanda, its people, technology, and culture to the world. That’s when I made the connection between “the blame” in mid-story and T’Challa’s eventual response which will, presumably, help lift people of color out of oppression and poverty.

That ties up in a neat bow Wakanda’s change of heart, redeeming T’Chaka’s egregious error. The story comes clean in the end and T’Challa is revealed as a wise king, after all.

Still, the scripted lines about Wakandans hiding from and ignoring two billion people who “looked like us” spoken by a strong black character are jarring. It appears a road the story simultaneously had to go down—how else to explain an unknown Earthly culture so alien-like in its advancement—and shouldn’t go down. Do we really need to hear continued oppression of people of color blamed on other people of color for the sake of entertainment?

The cognitive dissonance remains uncomfortable. It’d play better, and truer, if Wakandans were white. But then it wouldn’t be Black Panther.

#BlackPanther #T’Challa #T’Chaka #N’Jobu #N’Jadaka #Killmonger #MCU #Marvel

VSB: Whiteness Means It’s Never Your Fault

Damon Young—Very Smart Brothas:

One of the few somewhat positive aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency (and really, Donald Trump’s entire stint as a political figure) is that he’s an easy example and a synopsis of America’s patent-pending brand of white supremacy—a concept that, even for those who regularly study and speak about it, can be difficult to articulate in an easily digestible way.

Short read. Worth the two minutes, because Damon;s describing whiteness, a concept that flummoxes, insults, and generally vexes a lot of white people. Not all white people, but enough to keep it happening.

#whiteness #AmericanCulture #racism #ethnicStruggle

February 12, 2018

An Interview With Bryan Stevenson on Institutional Racism and Changing the Narrative

This interview touched on so many themes I’ve been reading and writing about lately. There’s no single item that stands out for quotation.

This one, though, encompasses a great deal of the contemporary problem of racism in America; that is, the notion that ethnicity determines class that leads to expectations and privilege, which in turn reinforce class and has produced America’s own caste system (James McWilliams—Pacific Standard):

[Stevenson:] Well, there is this burden in America that people of color bear. This presumption of dangerousness weighs on you. And when we don’t talk about it, when we don’t name it, the burden only gets heavier. People of color have to navigate around these presumptions, and it is exhausting.

[McWilliams:] And yet, so hard for so many white people to recognize, much less acknowledge.

But when somebody affirms that it exists, it can be really liberating. It can be really affirming to know that you are not crazy. As I get older, I am beginning to appreciate the weight of a lifetime lived navigating these presumptions. And so I want to affirm for young kids that the world will still do that to them, but they should know that the world is wrong, and that you have to not only endure, but you have to overcome. A lot of people of color applaud when I say this. They do so because they have never had anybody in a public space—in a mixed space—say it. And I think we have to say that, you know. But, yes, I do think that there’s an implicit bias that undermines how we interact with one another, and I do think that, in America, no one is free from the threat created by our history of racial inequality.

Whites included.

Yes. You can be very progressive, you can be very educated, and you can still be complicit in the kind of microaggression that takes place when you look at people through this lens of racial difference.

The entire interview is well worth a read.

Scanning around the site, which I’ve not done before, I found a handful of interesting reads. Pacific Standard joins my list of credible idea and news sources.

(Thanks, Marsha, for the pointer to this story.)

#BryanStevenson #EqualJusticeInitiative 

Unilever Threatens to Pull Ads From Facebook and Google

Julia College—The Guardian:

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” he plans to say. “We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

This could be terrific corporate stewardship, by a very large company, if it actually comes to pass. I’d love for this practice to spread among word corporations. Social media would be forced by market action to take responsibility for its content. An entire class of disinformation and dissension would evaporate from public discourse. People I personally know would become invisible online, based solely on their faux, privileged outrage.

#hateSpeech #corporateResponsibility #Unilever #Facebook #Google

How Humans Sank New Orleans

Richard Campanella—The Atlantic:

What was beginning to happen was anthropogenic soil subsidence—the sinking of the land by human action. When runoff is removed and artificial levees prevent the river from overtopping, the groundwater lowers, the soils dry out, and the organic matter decays. All this creates air pockets in the soil body, into which those sand, silt, and clay particles settle, consolidate—and drop below sea level.

Fascinating geologic history of how New Orleans became the city situated between the river and the sea, below sea level. What began as novel engineering projects resulted in the New Orleans of today; largely a sunken marsh that survives on levee and pump construction and operation.

As the article concludes, these projects can never end. That, or the city must shrink back to the two narrow strips of natural levee along the silt-conveying and -depositing Mississippi River.

#NewOrleans #MississippiRiver #humanEngineering #unintentdedConsequences

February 9, 2018

'Black Panther': It's Exhilarating, Groundbreaking and More Than Worth the Wait

Ann Hornaday—The Washington Post:

“Black Panther” may be grounded in the loops, beats, rhymes and hooks of contemporary film grammar, but it feels like a whole new language.

Feels like, but is not. The language is ancient, not of this continent, and four centuries overdue. Somehow, Ryan Coogler has managed to weave this story together with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther has “epic” written all over it.

Glad I snagged my opening-night ticket two weeks ago. I’ve not been this excited about a forthcoming, novel film since, well, ever.

#BlackPanther #MCU #Marvel

∴ SPLC Report: U.S. Education on American Slavery Sorely Lacking

Imagine a near-genocide played out over three-hundred ninety-nine years. One that seeks not to ethnically cleanse or eradicate, but rather to subjugate and abuse; to steal the humanity from a body of people. Now imagine that it happened, but that we’re forgetting that it happened, one generation at a time.

Southern Poverty Law Center:

“If we are to move past our racial differences, schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Maureen Costello, a former history teacher who is director of Teaching Tolerance. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice. Learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”

Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Most didn’t know an amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery. Fewer than half (44 percent) correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

Teaching America’s ethnic history during and beyond slavery is critical. Ending the discussion at 1865, or even 1877, leaves out the worst aspects of American racism, and worse, of American ethnic struggle. While the practice of chattel slavery left both master and slave brutally aware of their place, bigotry at the close of the nineteenth and all of the twentieth centuries left American people of color wondering what fresh hell they’d find next.

Yet at no point in my early education did I learn about the end of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow laws, or the plight of black Americans who escaped the South to find more insidious forms of discrimination in the North.

Redlining in housing and employment, predatory lending and lease agreements, segregated schools, eateries, rest rooms, and transportation, as well as rampant violence at the hands of white supremacists were routinely visited upon African-Americans throughout the twentieth century, throughout America. Richard Nixon rode his southern strategy to the White house, invoking fear of a resurgent black populace among white Americans in the wake of Civil Rights reforms in the 1960s.

During Nixon’s administration and after, white American politicians promoted getting tough on crime, a euphemism for locking up black men and women for violating laws purposely aimed at their communities. The disparity in prosecution and punishment for possession and sale of crack cocaine vs. that for the pricier powdered form more prevalent in white communities is but one of the more glaring examples. Recent attention to police brutality against people of color, and the deaths of unarmed young black men at their hands show that ethnic struggle and the idea of racism, legacies of slavery both, are still very much with us.

That ethnic struggle and racism are two very different things needs to be taught, as well.

Even today we’re assaulted by fools who claim, we’re all equal before the law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Laws are easy, hearts and minds much less so. Education is the key to furthering equality.

All of this should be taught in stages according to age, throughout elementary, middle, and high school. The result might be fewer white folks whining about handouts to people of color, fear of immigration, and more recognition of the racial atrocities visited upon men and women brought here against their wills, and their descendants. These folks were treated first as property, then with scorn, and at all times as the other.

(Thanks to Marsha for bringing the SPLC’s report to my attention.)

#ethnicity #race #bigotry #whiteness #otherness

February 7, 2018

John Perry Barlow, Internet Pioneer, 1947-2018

Cindy Cohn—Electronic Frontier Foundation:

With a broken heart I have to announce that EFF’s founder, visionary, and our ongoing inspiration, John Perry Barlow, passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. We will miss Barlow and his wisdom for decades to come, and he will always be an integral part of EFF.

If there are any for whose passing the internet might pause, even blink off for a moment, Barlow is surely one.

February 3, 2018

MoDo: This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry

Maureen Dowd—The New York Times:

But she had been led to believe by a teamster, she says, that the car, which had been reconfigured from a stick shift to an automatic, might not be working that well.

She says she insisted that she didn’t feel comfortable operating the car and would prefer a stunt person to do it. Producers say they do not recall her objecting.

“Quentin came in my trailer and didn’t like to hear no, like any director,” she says. “He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time. But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road.’” He persuaded her to do it, and instructed: “ ‘Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won’t blow the right way and I’ll make you do it again.’ But that was a deathbox that I was in. The seat wasn’t screwed down properly. It was a sand road and it was not a straight road.” (Tarantino did not respond to requests for comment.)

Thurman then shows me the footage that she says has taken her 15 years to get. “Solving my own Nancy Drew mystery,” she says.

It’s from the point of view of a camera mounted to the back of the Karmann Ghia. It’s frightening to watch Thurman wrestle with the car, as it drifts off the road and smashes into a palm tree, her contorted torso heaving helplessly until crew members appear in the frame to pull her out of the wreckage. Tarantino leans in and Thurman flashes a relieved smile when she realizes that she can briefly stand.

Reads like someone tried to have Thurman killed. And that’s not the worst of what Dowd learned from her.

#meToo #UmaThurman #HarveyWeinstein #QuentinTarantino

Omega-3 Supplements Don’t Protect Against Heart Disease

Nicholas Bakalar—The New York Times:

Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, the oils abundant in fatty fish, are ineffective for the prevention of heart disease, a large review of randomized trials has found.

No matter how the researchers looked at the data, they could find no association of the supplements with lowered risk for death from heart disease, or with nonfatal heart attacks or other major cardiovascular events.

A meta-study (a study of multiple study results) of supplement use produced similar results a few years ago. I stopped taking the not-inexpensive fish oil supplements recommended by my doctor shortly thereafter.

That meta-study had showed that as survey population sizes increased, the observed efficacy of fish oil supplements declined to the point where the average result for coronary health was neither positive nor negative. Gaining more study patients had caused edge cases and clusters of similar results to exert less influence.

This new study’s result fully dooms the first oil  recommendation:

There was no effect in people with prior coronary heart disease, those with diabetes, people with high lipid levels, or in people using statins. There was no evidence for an effect in either women or men considered separately.

“Carefully done trials provide no support for the hypothesis that fish oil supplements help,” said the senior author, Dr. Robert Clarke, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford.

The old phrase there is no magic bullet is apropos of these results. Some people are genetically predisposed to gradually occluding coronary arteries, and for them we have coronary catheterization and stents (for now).

For the rest of us the old advice is still the best: eat well and exercise. Find a population whose heart health is remarkably good despite a mix of sexes, ethnicities, and lifestyles, and adopt their diet while incorporating significant cardio-vascular exercise into your life. Ten to twenty miles of walking per week is a good start.

#cardioVascularHealth #study #fishOil #omega3FattyAcids

February 1, 2018

SF Will Wipe Thousands of Marijuana Convictions Off the Books

Evan Sernoffsky—SFGate:

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gasc√≥n said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades.

The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.

Proposition 64, which state voters passed in November 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California for those 21 and older and permitted the possession up to 1 ounce of cannabis. The legislation also allows those with past marijuana convictions that would have been lesser crimes — or no crime at all — under Prop. 64 to petition a court to recall or dismiss their cases.

This is good news. After all, it’d be hypocritical to keep incarcerated those guilty only of what is now legal. What’s worse, it’d by racist to keep incarcerated the over-proportion of black and brown prisoners whose only crime was possession of pot, when the burgeoning pot industry is so very white.

#legalized #marijuana #carceralState #convictions

January 29, 2018

Trump's National Security Team is Considering Nationalizing a Super-fast 5G Network

Steve Holland and Pete Schroeder—Reuters:

President Donald Trump’s national security team is looking at options to counter the threat of China spying on U.S. phone calls that include the government building a super-fast 5G wireless network, a senior administration official said on Sunday.

Axios published documents that it said were from a presentation from a National Security Council official about the 5G issue. If the government built the 5G network, it would rent access to carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, Axios said.

This is a very bad idea, masquerading as national security.

Imagine a US government run by the likes of Donald Trump owning the wireless network we use every day. Then imagine Trump declaring an emergency and shutting down that network. Maybe this emergency is declared after his conviction on articles of impeachment.

How many people get their news and other information via mobile devices? They’d be out in the cold, without news that their president had gone rogue.

This is when our FCC needs to stand up, and our representatives take note. Seizing the means of communication and news dissemination are the marks of a dictator.

#5G #Axios #governmentTakeover #ownership #FCC

January 28, 2018

∴ Tonight's TV

Soooooo … Grammys. Still waiting for a John Legend Glory moment.

#Grammys #TV

Umair: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse

Umair Haque:

Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.

Junk culture. Junk food. Junk. Rings true.

I used to follow Umair on Medium, but he got too extreme for my mind. I think, in retrospect, he was only speaking a truth I wasn’t ready to hear.

It’s going to take an awful lot of work to repair what we’ve taken for granted as “normalcy.” This, all, is not normal.

January 27, 2018

The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer's

Olga Khazan—The Atlantic:

In recent years, Alzheimer’s disease has occasionally been referred to as “type 3” diabetes, though that moniker doesn’t make much sense. After all, though they share a problem with insulin, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease caused by diet. Instead of another type of diabetes, it’s increasingly looking like Alzheimer’s is another potential side effect of a sugary, Western-style diet.

In some cases, the path from sugar to Alzheimer’s leads through type 2 diabetes, but as a new study and others show, that’s not always the case.

Fascinating short read on the not unheard-of connection between blood sugar levels and cognition.

This dovetails with a longer article in The New York Times Magazine from years ago, Is Sugar Toxic? Though an investment of, say, 45-minutes, that article goes a long way to explain the problem with our sugary American diet, and the disaster that is high fructose corn syrup. Thankfully, consumers have been pushing back against HFCS in the years since that article was published, and its presence in the food supply is diminishing.

Both reads are worth your time.

#sugar #AlzheimersDisease #toxicity #health

NYT: The Price I Paid for Taking On Larry Nassar

Rachael Denhollander—The New York Times:

And the effort it took to move this case forward — especially as some called me an “ambulance chaser” just “looking for a payday” — often felt crushing.

Yet all of it served as a reminder: These were the very cultural dynamics that had allowed Larry Nassar to remain in power.

We have made for ourselves a crappy culture.

Blame-the-victim is blood sport when the victim is a woman, and not only these women. And it always seems to revolve around sex, the denial of sex by women for men who demand it, and particularly women’s successes and advancement in sports, careers, and stature.

When was the last time you heard of a male victim being blamed for his victimhood? Oh yeah, young black men murdered by police. Crappy culture, times 2.

#LarryNassar #sexualAbuse #race

Blade Runner 2049's Director Thinks he Knows Why it Didn't Score a Best Picture Nomination

Alex McLevy—AVClub:

Villeneuve wasn’t complaining about the snub, to be clear. He was understandably proud of the film’s five nominations for technical achievements and cinematography (which, holy hell, Roger Deakins deserves a Oscar at the very least for his work), but expressed regret that Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch didn’t receive a nomination for the soundtrack. “I think what [the composers] did for the movie, the score of the movie, was by far one of the best this year,” Villeneuve said.

At least Roger Deakins is up for an Oscar, for his cinematography. Blade Runner 2049 was stunningly shot.

That said, the Academy Awards nominating process has been for shit for years. Far more relevant are the Critics’s Choice Awards, nominated and awarded by people who make a living doing professional criticism of the finished product.

How much bias (of all kinds; recall #OscarsSoWhite) goes into the nominating and awarding process for the Academy Awards, some of it conditioned into the voters? When you’re casting a vote for a movie or actor, how easy is it to lean toward your friends and favored genres, let alone do the lazy thing and vote according to box office returns?

I don’t know that this happened in Blade Runner’s case, but there’s a glaring single point of failure in the Academy’s process that diminishes their credibility.

#AcademyAwards #CriticsChoiceAwards #BladeRunner2049

January 25, 2018

The Guggenheim to Trump: Enjoy This Gold Toilet Instead

Paul Schwartzman—The Washington Post:

The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.

Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.

The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

The Guggenheim, of New York, knows its Trump. Response emailed, even.

Most presidents borrow from the Smithsonian museums, which maintain a massive collection of all  styles and periods. Leave it to Trump to step out of bounds.

#Trump #goldenToilet #vanGogh

The Kill Chain: Inside the Unit That Tracks Targets for US Drone Wars

Roy Wenzl—The Guardian:

In a dimly lit room at McConnell air force base in south central Kansas, analysts from a national guard intelligence reconnaissance surveillance group watch live drone surveillance video coming from war zones in the Middle East.

During combat, the analysts become part of a “kill chain” – analyzing live drone video, then communicating what they see – in instant-message chat with jet fighter pilots, operators of armed Predator and Reaper drones, and ground troops.

Fascinating read about the link least heard-of in US drone warfare’s “kill chain:” the analyst whose work product begins a process that ends in death. As the article makes clear and news reports tell us, not all of the end results are what was intended.

#droneWarfare #KansasAirNationalGuard #intelligence #US

January 24, 2018

The NCAA Will Investigate Michigan State’s Handling of Larry Nassar Scandal

Alex Kirshner—SBNation.com:

“The NCAA has sent a letter of inquiry to Michigan State University regarding potential NCAA rules violations related to the assaults Larry Nassar perpetrated against girls and young women, including some student-athletes at Michigan State,” the organization wrote in a statement when reached for comment by SB Nation. “We will have no further comment at this time.”

The NCAA’s written principles include that it is “the responsibility of each member institution to protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, each of its participating student-athletes.”

Nassar’s sentencing hearing has unfolded at a Michigan courthouse over the last week. So far, at least 190 of his victims have come forward at those hearings.

190 victims that we know of. Imagine how high that number might be if every one of Nassar’s victims felt compelled to safely speak out against him. How many are secretly cheering from the sidelines of this disgraceful spectacle?

Here’s a thought for the post-mortem of Nassar’s case. Once he’s behind bars, and the NCAA has concluded its investigation into Michigan State’s awareness and possible negligence letting Nassar practice on its athletes, if there exists evidence of negligence by the school they should suffer what Penn State should have after the revelations of Jerry Sandusky’s pedophelia: full suspension of all NCAA sports for a decade, no appeal.

That would destroy the school’s athletic program. It’d also let them concentrate more keenly on two things: the egregiousness of their potential willful ignorance, and academics. College is about learning, first. Sports is a sideshow, but not so at places like Penn State and Michigan. The NCAA failed to apply a harsh reminder of that after Sandusky.

#MichiganStateUniversity #PennStateUniversity #NCAA #collegeSports #abuse #LarryNassar

Mueller Seeks to Question Trump About Flynn and Comey Departures

Carol D. Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Josh Dawsey—The Washington Post:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seeking to question President Trump in the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with his plans.

Mueller’s interest in the events that led Trump to push out Flynn and Comey indicates that his investigation is aggressively scrutinizing possible efforts by the president or others to hamper the special counsel’s probe.

Justice, obstructed. Given most other presidents, you’d be right to argue Mr. Trump is above this. Not with this guy. Trump’s got the insecurities of Nixon with none of that president’s political skill and policy knowledge.

Trump isn’t above anything, because he’ll stoop to anything that furthers his aims.

#Trump #Mueller #obstructionOfJustice

Season 3 of Stranger Things Will Finally Give Poor Will Byers a Break

Sam Barsanto—AVClub:

Thankfully, it sounds like season three is going to be a little easier on poor Will Byers, with executive producer Shawn Levy telling Glamour that they’re “not going to put Will through hell for a third season in a row.”

That’s nice. Nicer still is that there will be a season three of Stranger Things. Hopefully it reaches up to the heights of season one.

#StrangerThings #TV #WillBiers #NoahSchnapp

January 22, 2018

∴ How Reversing Felony Disenfranchisement is Transforming Virginia

Vann R. Newkirk II—The Atlantic:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Virginia has historically been one of the most zealous states in the country in disenfranchising people with felonies, with even those who finish probation having what amounts to a lifelong severance of voting rights unless the governor reviews their case and restores their rights personally.

Also unsurprisingly—like dozens of similar laws in other states—that restriction was created with explicitly racist intent.

“I told the people of my county before they sent me here that I intended,” delegate R.L. Gordon said, “as far as in me lay, to disenfranchise every negro that I could disenfranchise under the Constitution of the United States, and as few white people as possible.”

I’ve heard friends complain mightily about former Governor McAuliffe’s act giving blanket restoration of voting rights to ex-convincts.

Many of these folks go on to vote for Democratic candidates. That provides a clue to my friends’ grievance.

So many ex-cons are people of color. As a newly re-enfranchised voter, wouldn’t you support candidates who sought to rectify past wrongs done to your people, or at least not support candidates who have done a 180 on civil rights? Do not R.L. Gordon’s own words provide enough evidence of the greater sin America continues to perpetrate against people of color?

Slavery has long been illegal in America, but that is not the same as non-existent. Slavery morphed into the Jim Crow laws after Democratic lawmakers dismantled Reconstruction. Jim Crow, struck down by Brown v. Board, gave way to the rise of “getting tough on crime,” a code phrase for locking up black and brown people.

White America has long held a fear of unfettered blackness. That fear, and the newly found political “toughness” on crime in the 1960s led inexorably to the carceral state in which we live: the proportion of black and brown prisoners in state penitentiaries far exceeds their proportion of the greater population.

Or does complaining about re-enfranchisement amount to willful ignorance, or a changing of the (unpleasant) subject to divert attention? If so, why are these folks so willful? What is that act of will that keeps race-based disenfranchisement a common practice?

These questions almost answer themselves. Not for everyone, though, and not nearly with enough force. Those willfully ignorant of issues like black disenfranchisement and minority voter suppression are the self-same who gave us our current president, yet who protest mightily against being labeled “bigot.” To a person they may not be bigots, but as a group they had no problem making one our president, and they have no problem keeping disproportionally black and brown ex-convicts off the voter rolls.

Restoration of the US Constitutional right to vote should be automatic for prisoners who have completed their conviction sentence in all US states and territories.

#bigotry #race #politics #disenfranchisement #Virginia #carceralState

∴ NYT: The Market Isn’t Bullish for Everyone

Steven Rattner — The New York Times:

To be sure, rising stock markets help many Americans in other ways. Perhaps most importantly, they secure pension benefits for those fortunate enough to participate in corporate or municipal plans.

However, the percentage of workers covered by these programs has been declining, from 62 percent in 1983 to 17 percent in 2016. Only about 22 percent of Americans below the median even have an individual retirement account.

These numbers will come back to haunt us not long into the future.

Corporate America did away with the defined benefit plan, aka a pension, years ago in favor of a market-based system including IRAs, 401(k)s, and the like. The effect transferred the financial, intellectual, and moral burden of securing retirement income to the employee. It was around this time that cooperate America relabeled their personnel departments “human resources,” marking their labor pool as akin to raw industrial materials and electricity to run their machinery. All became resources to use until expended. The last vestige of humanity fell away from capitalism.

These investment products require workers to become part-time money managers – a skill the eludes even some in the investment industry – to their detriment. Many don’t know where to begin, or simply don’t give it any thought. In times past these skills weren’t a worker’s concern. Payroll withholding into a pension plan happened without direct employee involvement. At the end of a career, retirement income was secured.

There were many, too, who were invested, but who walked away from their investments during the last recession. A lot of paper wealth evaporated between 2008 and 2013, as many amateur investors didn’t have the stomach to ride out the crash. They sold into the decline, or worse, near the bottom. Most of them haven’t returned to the markets.

We can’t blame these workers for turning their backs. It’s a rational short-term response to a problem they could not get a handle on. I do fear for their (and our) long-term financial future, though.

We all get to the point in our working years when it’d be nice to throttle back, leave the full-time rat race and go do something else, perhaps a labor of love that doesn’t pay much or a volunteer gig serving others. That’s not going to happen for workers who could have secured their retirement years, but who walked away from the markets. This problem will spread and worsen as more Americans reach what used to be considered “retirement age.” And with a live birth rate below the replacement rate there will be fewer young workers to fund increased need.

The plight of impoverished seniors who cannot work, and yet who cannot afford to stop working is going to have a ripple effect on the greater economy. There’s no safety net for them, no guaranteed income beyond Social Security, which will itself be strained. There’s no protection for the greater economy when their impoverishment raises the need for federal and state social benefit programs, and lowers our GDP. The markets will respond accordingly, lowering investment value here as money moves to foreign markets where labor and retiree stability is stronger. The greater financial benefit of the European-style social safety net will finally become evident to even the most fiscally conservative Americans.

And this doesn’t begin to address American workers whose income isn’t sufficient to cover their family living expenses, let alone make deposits to a retirement account they won’t be able to use for decades. Nor does it address the changed nature of employment itself, where a lifelong career has given way to the gig economy.

There will be a reckoning when uninvested workers are of a ripe age, health and age issues intervene, but they cannot afford to stop or slow working. That day isn’t so far off.

#economics #retirement #markets #equities #investing

January 19, 2018

∴ Cory's Podcast

We’re not quite yet into the run-up to the 2018 mid-term elections, but a handful of 2020 presidential hopefuls are already making obvious noises. Senator Cory Booker has started a podcast along the lines of David Axelrod’s podcast, called Lift Every Voice. In the first episode, published this week, Booker interviewed Congressman John Lewis. Booker fawned over Lewis, which isn’t entirely the wrong way to go, but on the whole he let Lewis speak. There’s gold in that man’s words.

More indicative of where Booker is in his rhetoric was his dressing-down of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week. He was incensed. Though he got a few of his facts askew, there was righteous anger in his voice. The man has the fire, and I like that. What remains to be seen is whether he has full grasp of policy and whether he’s for-real or only playing the part. He makes the right sounds. I want to be convinced.

Next up, I’m tuning into Senator Kamala Harris. She’s gathered a lot of attention with her appointment to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I need to hear some fire from her, as well.

Those are my top two for now. Who rings the bell for you?

#CoryBooker #KamalaHarris #2020

January 18, 2018

Trump Pushes Back on Chief of Staff Claims That Border Wall Pledges ‘uninformed’

Ed O’Keefe — The Washington Post:

Trump amplified this stance Thursday in back-to-back tweets that called the North American Free Trade Agreement “a bad joke” and asserted that reworked trade deals with Mexico would somehow pay for the wall “directly or indirectly.”

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water,” Trump wrote.

“The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S.,” Trump continued. “The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!”

That didn’t take long. I wonder when castigation of John Kelly begins. Maybe he’s earned himself a Trump nickname.

#Trump #buffoon #JohnKelly #borderWall

John Kelly: Trump Was Not ‘Fully Informed’ in Campaign Vows on Wall

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and Thomas Kaplan — The New York Times:

President Trump’s chief of staff privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year, and said that he had persuaded the president it was not necessary.

Apparently not privately enough.

Maybe this is Gen. Kelly’s way out of the Trump White House. Revealing Mr. Trump’s campaign promise of a border wall paid for by Mexico as uninformed would likely be seen as disloyalty by Trump. We’ve seen where that goes.

If you read or hear negative comments from Trump about his chief of staff in the coming days, you’ll know this was Kelly’s goal all along.

#Trump #JohnKelly #WhiteHouseChaos

January 17, 2018

∴ AeroPress

AeroPress coffee stationI’ve been using an AeroPress coffeemaker for more than six years. Although I’ve been served with methods and equipment costing thousands of dollars more, I have yet to find one that makes a better cup.

The AeroPress arrived on the scene in 2005, invented and manufactured by the same people who brought you the Frisbee. It quickly gained attention from coffee geeks, and within a few years had found a place alongside pour-over and siphon coffeemakers at “artisanal” coffee shops.

The AeroPress consists of a pair of nested plastic tubes, the inner one capped with a rubber plunger. A twist-on filter holder, paper filters, a stirrer, a funnel, and a coffee scoop complete the kit. The plastic parts can be rinsed clean after each use, and once a month I throw them all in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning.

In terms of effort, operating an AeroPress falls somewhere between a pour-over setup and a French press. Freshly fine-ground coffee is added to the outer tube after the inner tube is removed and a filter is attached to the bottom. Hot water is added using marks along the side as a gauge, and the resulting slurry is stirred for about ten seconds to fully break up and immerse the grounds. The outer tube is then placed atop a coffee cup, and the plunger tube re-inserted.

Steeping is not necessary. The plunger is immediately pressed down to extrude finished coffee. The key to doing this right is letting the pocket of compressed air trapped under the plunger do the work. After gripping the top of the inner tube with both palms, lay on it the full weight of your arms, guiding the plunger straight down. There’s no need to push any harder. The plunger slowly descends, taking thirty to forty-five seconds before completing a press. Take care not to let the cup tip over.

Stop pressing when air begins escaping the filter. The result is rich in coffee flavor without the usual bitter aftertaste, and somewhat sweet depending on the bean employed. It’s similar to a single or double shot of espresso without the crema, depending on how much grounds and water you began with.

This isn’t espresso, though. Espresso is made by forcing live steam through compacted, finely-ground coffee. AeroPress uses hot water and a slightly coarser grind, somewhere between espresso and electric drip.

Drink it black, or add hot milk for something approximating a Starbucks Flat White.

Clean-up is quick and easy. Remove the filter holder and rinse. Holding the tubes over a trash can, plunge the grounds and filter out the bottom of the outer tube. Toss the filter if you’re composting grounds. The rubber plunger (mostly) cleans the inside of the outer tube as it moves downward. Rinse the tube bottom and plunger, and leave to air dry. Done. Try that with a French press.

Coffee bean oil lubricates the inside of the tube between washes, making it easier to press. An occasional ride in the dishwasher eliminates any rancidity from old oils.

AeroPress’s secret to delicious coffee is using the “front edge” of the grounds, extracting flavor and immediately extruding it. Less time in contact with hot water means less bitter coffee oil in your cup.

 

This method tends to use more grounds than other coffeemakers, though, and the expense of doubling your coffee purchases quickly adds up. One alternative technique steeps less grounds for a minute or so before pressing. Doing so balances cost against mild bitterness.

 

Here-in lies one of the joys of using an AeroPress: the variations of technique, beans, grind, and temperature can make it an ongoing experiment. Or, you can settle on one set of parameters and make the same delicious cup every time.

 

The AeroPress is fully portable. Stuff a baggie of pre-ground coffee inside the inner tube for travel, measure portions in your palm or with the scoop, and use a hotel room coffeemaker or microwave oven for heating water. Good coffee can be had anywhere.

The cost of this plastic gem is $30 on Amazon. An extra $4 adds a pack of replacement filters. Between what comes in the box and the extra pack, you’re set for about two years of daily use. Additional packs of 350 filters are also available from Amazon.

#AeroPress #coffee #FrenchPress #pourOver

January 16, 2018

AVClub: Blade Runner 2049 Brought Humanity to Today’s Most Artificial Movie Gimmick

There’s a scene near the end of Blade Runner 2049 where Rachael, who was played by Sean Young in the Blade Runner of 1982, walks out of the dark and back into Rick Deckard’s life, if briefly. The visual is stunning. It’s her, and yet it can’t be her. Rachael is dead, and Sean Young is thirty-five years older. Yet a near-perfect replica of that original character is walking and talking in that scene.

During my fourth time through the film this past weekend, I paused to freeze Rachael at the moment she approached Deckard closest and spoke to him. We took a long, close look at her image. Kelly mentioned CGI, but I wondered if it was a different, very similar-looking actress. IMDb gave us a small clue, crediting Loren Peta as “Rachael Performance Double.”

It turns out we were both correct. Here’s how Peta became a near-replica of Sean Young’s Rachael:

Sean O’Neal — AVClub:

Getting Rachael’s two minutes of screen time exactly right required an entire year of work from visual effects supervisor John Nelson, as well as the participation of both Young and her stand-in, British actress Loren Peta. Young, who leveraged her appearance into a production job for her son, was able to be present on set while still maintaining some outward secrecy while Peta acted opposite Ford and Leto, even helping the hairstylist recreate Rachael’s retro-’40s coif. Later, both actresses spent a day performing Rachael’s lines in facial capture rigs for the visual effects studio MPC, who also took a scan of Young’s head and used it to create an anatomically correct 3-D skull. (You can see photos of it in IndieWire, in case you don’t want to sleep tonight.) From there the team went back to pure hand animation in order to flesh out everything about Young’s memorable makeup and mannerisms, copying her sly smile and the subtle raise of her eyebrows, and even inserted three digital recreations of shots from the original film to make it all seamless. It also added some genuine flyaway hairs, for that authentic Replicant feel.

Four times through, the effect is still mesmerizing.

#BladeRunner2049 #film #CGI

January 15, 2018

∴ MLK Day

I confess that my ignorance of the long-run history of race in America continued until around the time Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri. The turmoil there, and later the murder of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police, led me to dig into work by black and brown American sources to understand what was going on in the time of our first black president.

That led me to Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. It takes no great effort – much information is literally at our fingertips – yet I’d never taken the time. So as Ferguson was occupied by the Missouri State Police, I read, and I was outraged. The timeliness of Dr. King’s writing, more than fifty years after the fact of his incarceration, was nearly as offensive as contemporary events. It angered me that the ethnic violence, injustice, and indignity of 1963 was still with us in 2014.

For the next few days I combed through the document, posting the more relevant passages as further news came from Ferguson. It helped me to understand what people of color struggle against every day, all of their lives here in our flawed culture, led by flawed politics, founded by flawed men who declared all are created equal even as they, themselves, owned men and women and children as property, enslaved. It taught me that by thinking through what I wanted to say about that struggle I could come to understand it better, and that my understanding then took up a more permanent home in my mind.

All of which is preamble to today, the anniversary of Dr. King’s birthday. It’s when, not unlike donning the green of St. Patrick’s day, many put on the clothes of civil rights, of fighting justice delayed, and quote the good Reverend Doctor. After all, “it’s always the right time to do the right thing,” as the man said. And then they take off those clothes and go on with their lives. That’s damned well not good enough. When the struggle to be heard and understood, let alone arrive at justice is put back into the closet until next year, the promise that begins with “we hold these truths” is shattered.

What I’m saying is that that glorified promise has been broken since America’s founding. We collectively need to do better. We are collectively failing at basic humanity. Today’s a great day to wake up to that undeniable fact.

This, then, is what inspires me, what has inspired me since I took the time to educate myself, to open my eyes to life as lived by others. It holds close my outrage at the indecency and injustice of American culture – if we can’t enslave them, can’t segregate them, can’t keep them out of our neighborhoods, our schools, and our workforce, we’ll throw as many of them into prison as we can – and keeps the clothes of civil rights on my body, awareness of whiteness and otherness in my mind, where they should always be. It is repentance for an appalling silence:

Dr. King, Letter From Birmingham Jail:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

As Dr. King also wrote, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I’d add, if I may be so bold, that it requires, demands the hands of many to bend it that way. It can and has been bent the other way, too. Look up Emmett Till. Mary Turner. Dr. Ossian Sweet.

I know many white people, a few in whom even I can devine whiteness. Maybe today is the day one of them, reading Dr. King, opens his or her eyes. May the scales fall from those eyes.

Please do take part of an hour to read the “Letter …” Please let your anger flow at its continued relevance. Become a better person, make a better American from it.

#MLK

January 12, 2018

Trump Puts the Purpose of His Presidency Into Words

Adam Serwer — The Atlantic:

These remarks reflect scorn not only for those who wish to come here, but those who already have. It is a president of the United States expressing his contempt for the tens of millions of descendants of Africans, most of whose forefathers had no choice in crossing the Atlantic, American citizens whom any president is bound to serve. And it is a public admission of sorts that he is incapable of being a president for all Americans, the logic of his argument elevating not just white immigrants over brown ones, but white citizens over the people of color they share this country with.

Are you woke to this vile clown’s intent, yet? Or are you still hanging onto an excuse, a qualification?

#Trump #bigot #incompetent #unqualified

January 10, 2018

∴ The Republican Party Emerges From Decades of Court Supervision

Vann R. Newkirk II — The Atlantic:

the RNC had sent sample ballots to communities of color, and then had the names for each ballot returned as undeliverable removed from voter rolls. Democrats also alleged that the RNC hired off-duty cops to patrol majority-minority precincts, wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. These details were enough to secure a consent decree between the two party organizations and the court in 1982, stopping the GOP from engaging in such voter-intimidation practices.

Except, Democrats alleged, they didn’t stop. The consent decree was updated in 1987 after Republicans created a voter-challenge list of black voters from whom letters had been returned as undeliverable, with an RNC official saying that the list could “keep the black vote down considerably.” The decree was modified again in 1990 after a court ruled the RNC had violated it by not telling state parties about its provisions, which had led to the North Carolina GOP sending 150,000 postcards to potential voters listing voting regulations, in an apparent attempt at intimidation. The GOP violated the court order again in 2004 after yet another voter-challenge list targeted black voters.

With that history of behavior in full view, federal courts moved to allow the decree to expire in December 2017, a decision that was finalized Tuesday by a federal district court. For the first time in three decades, the RNC can pursue ballot-security measures without court preclearance.

(Emphasis mine.)

Keep the black vote down considerably. Keep the blacks down considerably. Keep the blacks down. Keep them down. Down. Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party USA in a nutshell. If every eligible black or brown American registered to vote, and every one of them then voted, in the absence of gerrymandered districts protecting that party’s favored candidates the GOP would be dead, and the world would be a better place for it. There is no reason to be pleasant about this.

Don’t go thinking the Republican party lost its collective mind in 2016 nominating Donald Trump. They had a long history of supporting racist policies before that shyster came along.

Now they’re free to pursue the same again.

These are the folks who like to remind us that theirs is the party of Lincoln, the party that championed civil rights. They’re right, up to a point. They were the party of Lincoln until Lincoln was dead and his avowedly racist vice president, Andrew Johnson, assumed the presidency. They haven’t been the party of Lincoln in word, deed, or spirit since that day.

As for supporting civil rights, well, maybe, right up until Brown v. Board struck down Jim Crow. The gloves came off after that.

Why any person with a conscience continues voting for candidates nominated and embraced by this morally corrupt organization is beyond me. Why don’t they just come right out and say, “we hate black people, because without slavery or Jim Crow laws we don’t know how to live with them?” That, at least, would be the truth.

#GOP #racist #bigoted #immoral #party

January 9, 2018

Judges: North Carolina Must Redo Map Skewed by Partisanship

Gary D. Robertson — The Washington Post:

At the time of the 2016 debate, according to the order, House redistricting chief Rep. David Lewis attempted to justify the criteria by saying “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

That’s beautiful. You stupid, stupid man. You’ve shot your dishonest party in the foot and now a Federal court will force your state to re-district before the upcoming elections.

#GOP #dishonest

January 8, 2018

∴ John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon

A bottle of JOhn J. Bowman single barrel bourbonWhat seems like a long time ago Kelly and I visited Smith Bowman’s Fredericksburg distillery, where John J. Bowman bourbon is made, with my mom during one of her last trips to Virginia. The tour revealed a true small batch, handmade whiskey process at work not far from our home. The bourbon was good, but not, on my palate, great.

Fast forward to 2017, when John J. Bowman was named “Best Whiskey in the World” by Whisky Magazine. Hmm. I filed that away at the back of my ‘try again’ list and moved on.

Feeling mildly disconcerted today, and hearing from a pal that a favorite rye whiskey selection was newly available at the Warrenton ABC, I stopped by to see what was on the shelf. Our favorite rye had been wiped out in less than a day. That’s not nearly as surprising as the ABC’s failure to make Rittenhouse Rye regular inventory stock, but whatever. I pulled that ‘try again’ out of my noggin and wandered back into the whiskeys. A bottle of John J. followed me home.

I’m utterly stunned. The first scent and flavor on my tongue is fruit, followed by a mild oakiness. The liquor is mellow and completely devoid of harshness, a sweet elixir despite its 100-proof strength and unblended, single barrel nature. What a lovely bourbon.

Though Bowman doesn’t divulge their bourbon’s pedigree, rumor claims that it comes from a double-distillation of their parent company Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace mash bill #1. If so, that makes it a close relative to Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace, two well-decorated bourbons.

The liquor is distilled once more in Virginia and laid up in American oak for nine to ten years. Despite their similar beginnings, Buffalo Trace and John J. Bowman are distinct in their finish. Must be the Virginia air.

Pappy, someday. Until then, Bowman has made the big time.

#JohnJBowman #bourbon #BuffaloTrace #whiskey

January 6, 2018

∴ Frum: Donald Trump Is a Real-Life Fredo Corleone

David Frum, noted conservative intellectual — The Atlantic:

Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades. Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist. Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host. Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate. Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn’s repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime. From the start, Donald Trump was a man of many secrets, but no mysteries. Inscribed indelibly on the public record were the reasons for responsible people to do everything in their power to bar him from the presidency.

Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.

The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates. 

(Emphasis mine.)

This is the Donald Trump I saw while growing up in New York. He was the playboy millionaire always on the evening news, and later the increasingly unlikeable miscreant who profited from his New Jersey casinos even as the Atlantic City neighborhood they fronted crumbled around them.

This is the insect who skittered away through the bankruptcy courts before his empire fell, leaving others holding debt and living among the wreckage of lost employment, crime, and substance abuse, a stone’s throw from the palaces where people had happily thrown their money at him for “entertainment.”

This is the racist who, years before, had been sued by the US Department of Justice for refusal to rent his real estate properties to people of color, and who settled out of court rather than let the truth emerge.

This man has never had any scruples, not ever.

***

Frum:

In 2016, there were voters who genuinely, in good faith, believed that Donald Trump was a capable business leader, moderate on social issues, who cared about the troubles of working class white America—and would do something to help.

Lovely. If you supported this charlatan you can bathe in the memory of your good intentions. Have you ever wondered why, though, conservatives are so concerned about “working class white America,” but don’t spare a word or a thought about not-white workers? Did Donald Trump ever address people of color, other than to speculate “what have you got to lose?”

***

People who knew Trump’s history raised a warning when he became the clown candidate among sixteen actual Republicans, referring to Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists” as he announced his candidacy. Some laughed. Few listened.

Which were you?

People again warned about Trump when he became the last candidate standing, and the GOP crowned him their nominee after some mild hand-wringing. I did. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine him actually being elected president, but there was always a chance.

And then it was early morning November 9, and news outlets (save one) went wall-to-wall with disbelief and stunned, muted reporting of the Trump victory. Victory.

The man never expected to win office. Possessing no political experience, no policy ideas, and no conception of how government works he was suddenly the most powerful man on Earth, heir to the office of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln. What a disgrace.

Were you stunned, horrified, somewhere among the five stages of grief? Or were you an “enabler” all along?

***

Here we are, today. Frum, again:

However crazy Trump may be, in one way he is indeed the “very stable genius” he claims to be: Trump understands how to mobilize hatred and resentment to his own advantage and profit. He has risen higher than Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh or Theodore Bilbo—and he has lasted already nearly a full year in office, holding the approval of one-third of the country, more than sufficient to keep him there for a full term.

That right there is the tragedy of the Trump presidency; that 62,984,825 Americans willingly voted for this guy despite what was known about him for decades, despite what he admitted to, despite what he said on the campaign trail.

Frum references “responsible people” in his piece. I was there at 5:45am, November 8, 2016, waiting for the polls to open. It was a very cold morning, but I was there to do the last thing I could to prevent this atrocity of an administration: vote for someone else.

What did you do?

***

There is no middle ground about Trump, or about GOP complicity in his presidency. There is no compromise.

Good intentions aside, people were either on the right side of humanity and history in November 2016, or they were on the wrong side of it.

If you were on the wrong side you can ignore all of us saying so, but you cannot ignore yourself. You did this. You will carry it with you, knowing your complicity in handing Donald Trump the presidency, until you are dead.

#Trump #unstable #incompetent #impeachment

January 5, 2018

GOP Senators Recommend Charges Against Author of Trump Dossier

Nicholas Fandos and Matthew Rosenberg — The New York Times:

More than a year after Republican leaders promised to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, two influential Republicans on Friday made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against one of the people who sought to expose it.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in the dossier, and they urged the department to investigate.

When it seems the Congressional majority can’t behave any worse, two of them say, ‘hold my beer.’

This is a transparent diversion from their party leader’s behavior, a man who every day slips further into self-worship, self-martyrdom, and cognitive impairment.

Chris Steele, the author of the “Trump Dossier,” has already spoken with the FBI. You’d think they would press charges on their own, if there are any reason to do so. I’m sure Sens. Grassley and Graham were just making sure.

Events are going to proceed very poorly for this crowd when Bob Mueller’s report is complete.

#GOP #politicalHacks #sinkingLowerSoYouDontHaveTo

January 4, 2018

Washington's Growing Obsession: The 25th Amendment

Annie Karni — POLITICO:

Lawmakers concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state summoned Yale University psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee to Capitol Hill last month for two days of briefings about his recent behavior.

In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, Lee briefed lawmakers — all Democrats except for one Republican senator, whom Lee declined to identify. Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”

One of these days, someone of stature in DC is going to grow a spine and say this stuff out loud, like so many of the rest of us have been doing for just about a year now. Why?

Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, tweeted on Tuesday of the president’s comments about North Korea, “This Tweet alone is grounds for removal from office under the 25th Amendment. This man should not have nukes.”

Wakey, wakey, America. You elected a narcissist of slowly declining cognition president. Maybe you were making a statement. Turns out to be not a very bright one, and we’re all going to pay for it.

#Trump #unfit #incompetent

It's Been an Open Secret All Along

James Fallows — The Atlantic:

They know. They could do something: hearings, investigations, demands for financial or health documents, subpoenas. Even the tool they used against the 42nd president, for failings one percent as grave as those of the 45th: impeachment.

They know. They could act. And they don’t. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret.

We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.

A particularly damning assessment by a respected journalist, and a good read.

But we knew all this, all along. Mr. Trump has never pretended to be anything other than what he is: a charlatan, a vane liar who is president of the United States, threatening a sovereign state with nuclear war, and slowly losing his mind.

#Trump #unfit #incompetent

Beast: DoJ ‘Looking Into’ Hillary Clinton’s Emails — Again

Betsy Woodruff — Daily Beast:

Justice Department officials are taking a fresh look at Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of State, The Daily Beast has learned.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

It’s an open question as to whether Justice Department officials would have the same level of interest in Clinton’s server without a political directive from the White House, the former official said.

When the chips are down, Mr. Trump uses the levers of government to screw with his enemies, and distract and obfuscate details of his own misdeeds. Kinda reminds me of Nixon in that way.

Maybe the DoJ should look into voter suppression, and ask for a full recount of the 2016 election results. I don’t expect change, but we haven’t gone down that road yet and we’ve already been through at least two full investigations of HRC’s email server. And she was cleared of wrongdoing both times. Trump can’t say that about himself.

#Trump #DoJ #HillaryClinton #emails

January 1, 2018

Eric(a). Garner.

Kirsten West Savali – ‘I’m in This Fight Forever’ – The Root:

This piece is powerful – there’s not a single paragraph I’d pull to quote; it’s monolithic – and deserves a wide read.

For anyone wondering about the race politics of the Garner family asking to be interviewed only by black journalists, this article is your answer. Erica Garner’s fury shines through, undiluted.

#EricaGarner #EricGarner #ICantBreathe

December 30, 2017

∴ Weekend Read: Excerpts From Trump’s Interview With The Times

The New York Times:

President Trump spoke on Thursday with a reporter from The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt. The interview took place in the Grill Room of his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla., whose noise made some portions at times hard to hear.

The following are excerpts from that conversation, transcribed by The Times. They have been lightly edited for content and clarity, and omit several off-the-record comments and asides.

This was ultimately a frustrating read for its rambling nature and repetition of self-serving non-sequiturs.

What it does well, though, is illustrate the chaotic, self-aggrandizing, and exculpatory mindset of the president. Over half of the electorate believes not a word he says, if his disapproval polling can be used as a metric, and early signs indicate our disbelief  will harm his party and his agenda in 2018. Yet he remains at war with the past.

Documented fact does not enter into his defensive calculus. His formula is I say it, therefore it is so. Let me repeat that to pave over unpleasant truths. Parallels to “the big lie” of past fascist dictators abound, yet this president appears unaware, or unconcerned.

That’s because the gist of his words is purposeful, if poorly executed. Imagine a more competent American politician using Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump’s false words will be his downfall.

We’ve already seen disenchantment among blue-collar workers who were used as stage props for Trump’s populism. Those jobs at Carrier, and the coal industry as a whole, aren’t going the way workers thought they would.

At the same time anti-Trump sentiment has brought out the vote in opposition to candidates he’s endorsesd.

Your president, in his own words. Maybe he was your candidate. This, then, is what America has done to itself.

#Trump #unhinged #unsound #NewYorkTimes #interview #MikeSchmidt

December 29, 2017

Axios: All 50 States Will Get Wireless Network For First Responders

Kim Hart – Axios:

All 50 states — and Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — have opted to join the first nationwide mobile broadband network specifically dedicated to first-responders, known as FirstNet. It will be built out next year.

Seems like a big deal. Emergency responders get their own network, and AT&T gets additional bandwidth when the network they’re contracted to build isn’t in use. Win-win.

#FirstNet #ATT

December 28, 2017

Cluchey: The Tragedy of Susan Collins

Dan Cluchey – Medium:

Herein lies the modus operandi of Susan Collins: partisan when it matters, and principled when it couldn’t matter less. And though she has become adept at picking moments here and there to demonstrate that she is capable of standing up for the people she serves — her short-lived healthcare heroism being the most notable example — her inability to imagine public service as a skin you wear rather than a costume you put on for the cameras has left her incapable of carrying on the legacy of her childhood hero. Once thought of as the center of our national politics, she has revealed herself to be little more than the vestigial tail of a Republican caucus bolting away from that center — well-distanced from its foaming mouth, but never really far behind.

As Maine voters turn on her — and it has already begun — Collins will come to regret her swan dive into the depths of partisan depravity. Presented with a fresh McCarthy, she cowered where Smith stood tall. And as Democrats win elections and Trumpists tighten their grip on the GOP, the only one facing extinction now is her: the voice of the once-proud moderate, trembling into irrelevance.

Scathing.

#politics #GOP #SusanCollins

Cooper: How to Crush Trump

Ryan Cooper – The Week:

The only reliable way to stop Trump and the Republican Party that has stood firmly behind him for his entire presidency is through strategic political defeat.

Cooper’s thesis includes the firing of Special Counsel Bob Mueller, an act that would bring people into the streets in protest.

In another era such an act was swiftly followed by the appointment of a new investigator, but as Cooper points out, we’re far from those days now.

I doubt Trump will be impeached on the grounds of what Mueller finds. It’s not that I doubt Mueller’s effort, or that there is wrongdoing to be uncovered. I doubt the integrity of the majority political party to follow through on what’s found, the self-same party that not only adopted a confessed sexual predator as their candidate for the presidency, but also adopted and embraced an alleged child molester as candidate for the United States Senate. These people are as shameless as Mr. Trump.

I believe there will be a wave election for Democrats and independents in the coming year. If that pans out, I’m confident Trump will be shown the door by the electorate in 2020.

He won’t go quietly, though. His manner in the first year of his presidency predicts a refusal of election results, calls for investigation, and an ugly handover of power in January, 2021.

Unloading this jackass requires overwhelming electoral defeat, which begins with the 2018 mid-term elections. Voter turnout was the key in Alabama’s special election. I’m counting on it turning the tide of dysfunctional government in the coming year.

#Trump #elections #politics #US

December 21, 2017

∴ Hope

I see hope in the future of American politics. This article will no doubt draw derision from progressives and sneers from the Trumpists among us. Derision is expected; American politics have looked bleak since November 9, 2016. A sneer, though, is a welcome sign that the populist Right has reached a level of comfort that will lead to its undoing.

Barack Obama Hope posterRecall that hope was the undercurrent of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency. It summed into a word the aspirations not only of the black and left-leaning electorate, but allies worldwide who expected better from America.

In Obama we got the best from among us, a man of grace and intellect, as well as one comfortable in his own skin.

Today we live in the immediate aftermath of the Republican tax bill, and with a Republican party that’s lost its collective mind. The new tax law causes the greatest transfer of wealth into the pockets of already-wealthy Americans and corporations the republic has ever seen.

The benefits of the bill for the middle and working classes evaporate in a few short years. The tax treatment of pass-through corporations and the corporate tax rate are permanent.

Our national debt and deficit will needlessly balloon from decreased revenue and increased spending in a period of rising interest rates. At the same time, millions will lose health insurance coverage as certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act are repealed and CHiP is allowed to lapse.

Uncheckable by the political minority, the GOP-led Congress and president have repealed or replaced scores of regulations aimed at protecting Americans and improving the condition of our lives.

Yet, I have renewed hope.

There’s been an observable turn over the last few months. Election results in Virginia, Alabama, and elsewhere created a ripple on the horizon that, hopefully, will build into a wave election in 2018. Once in a generation America sees such an election, one that washes away the old order and alters the course of our culture and politics.

Ronald Reagan lead such a wave. Many had hoped Barack Obama would lead such a wave, and were crushed to witness the backlash to his presidency. A con artist and admitted sexual predator succeeded him.

I believe the Obama wave is still moving.

Mr. Trump’s approval rating has remained in the basement, descending from an early abysmal read to historic lows. The majority of the American polity have figured him out.

Bob Mueller’s investigation has produced two admissions of felony guilt and two indictments from among Trump’s circle. There is no indication that his work is nearing conclusion.

Citizens are taking a renewed interest in electoral politics. Women in particular are working to get themselves on the ballot in elections across America next November.

People of color are a rapidly growing minority. Census data trends tell us America will become majority non-white some time in the 2040s. These are the the people who defeated Roy Moore in Alabama. Their combined electoral effect is already being felt.

Trump and Moore have shown America its worst face. I’m taking to calling people of all ethnicities who vote progressive people of conscience, because voting your conscience is required to deny leadership roles to people like Trump and Moore. The Obama presidency and what followed contrasts the best of us with the worst. People of conscience chose the former.

This all gives me hope. I’m looking forward to our 2018 elections. If you’re a person of conscience, you should, too.

#politics #usElections #Trump #Moore #Republican

December 20, 2017

Bloomberg: Apple Has a Plan for Universal Apps Across iOS and macOS, Report Says

Samuel Axon – Ars Technica:

Citing people familiar with the matter, a Bloomberg report claims an internal Apple project seeks to make it possible for app developers to publish apps that work on both mobile iOS devices and Mac computers.

If true, this would appear to usher in an era of half-baked applications for both OS platforms. Who wants an application that runs everywhere, but nowhere well? Didn’t we get that from Java, to no good end?

iOS apps are fine-tuned for a phone- or tablet-sized multi-touch interface with modest power reserves, while macOS apps are created for a mouse- or trackpad-controlled interface with plenty of screen real estate and CPU horsepower backing it up.

I have a bad feeling about this.

#iOS #macOS #Marzipan #multiPlatformApps

December 19, 2017

AVClub: The Last Jedi's Best Moment vs. Fanboy Ire

William Hughes – AVClub:

the truth that Johnson teases out of Rey and Ren’s heart-to-heart carries neither Lucas nor Abrams’ fingerprints; is, in fact, a pretty glaring “Fuck you” to the storytelling styles of both of Rey’s off-screen daddies. As Ben says—and, as a dazzling bit of mirrored surrealism earlier in the film hints, Rey has always, on some level, known—she’s really just a nobody, parentally speaking. No secret lineage, none of Lucas’ love of monomythic, Harry Potter-style “unknown king growing up in the wilderness” tropes. No deeper Abrams-esque mystery. Just Occam’s Lightsaber, chopping through the bullshit, and leaving a powerful young woman with no lingering, grasping connections to the wider Star Wars universe.

This was a powerful scene, without precedent in any Star Wars film: the hero and villain having established a dialog spanning the film to this point briefly acted together, saving themselves. In the process of disagreeing to work together further they destroy Luke Skywalker’s blue lightsaber.

Rather than sitting through an elaborate exposition about who Snoke is, we saw him cut in half. Bye-bye.

We learn that Rey’s parents were, like almost everyone else in the galaxy, nobodies.

In the waning moment of the film, a stableboy is seen using the Force to sweep the floor.

This diminution of the Star Wars/Force magic is likely what has the fanboys’ panties in a twist. Well, suck it. It made for great story telling, just not the story they wanted to see.

As my pal Neal has written, Rian Johnson’s direction was likely not a “fuck you” to Abrams or Lucas. Both are reported to have loved the new film, as did I.

#StarWars #TheLastJedi #Rey #Ren #RianJohnson #controversy

December 17, 2017

Matt Damon Draws Rebukes for Comments on the #MeToo Movement

Christina Caron – The New York Times:

Those comments were met with anger and frustration online, where many women, including the actress Alyssa Milano, rejected attempts to categorize various forms of sexual misconduct.

“They all hurt,” Ms. Milano wrote on Twitter on Friday. “And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted — even welcomed — misogyny.”

I don’t believe there is a man alive who can understand what it’s like to live in a woman’s skin.

I don’t believe there’s a white man or woman alive who knows what it’s like to grow up black or brown.

I believe Damon was trying to express sympathy and at the same time draw distinctions. Nice try, but he didn’t know what he was talking about. Not really. Yes, a slap on the ass is different in degree than molestation. That’s a distinction to be made by a judge. Among the non-legal set, they’re both off-limits, full stop.

Rather than opining one’s way into the conversation, better to ask, and listen, and hear.

#MattDamon #notMeToo