July 7, 2017 in 4,759 words

Trump and the cry-baby media

It used to be that the press knew how to take it in as well as how to dish it out.

That was then. This is now.

For more than a week the national press corps has been getting its collective shorts twisted into a knot over the fact that President Donald was rude to Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

The shorts-twisting began with a pair of offending presidential tweets that read: “I heard poorly rated @Morning Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came… to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

Crazy Mika and Psycho Joe, and their fellow ink-stained wretches, took this badly and responded by calling Trump, among other things, “crude,” “sexist,” “thin-skinned,” “un-presidential,” “a pig” and — above all — “mentally erratic,” “un-well” and “not normal.”

Mika and Joe had a piece in the Washington Post headlined “Donald Trump is not well.” Post columnist Kathleen Parker weighed in with a piece hopefully headlined “Is this it for Trump,” in which she suggested that maybe “President Trump isn’t quite right? Not in the correct sense but in the head sense.”

Right on cue a couple dozen Democratic Congressmen introduced legislation to form a commission with the power to determine if Trump is too mentally ill to hold office. (Say, this isn’t an example of that Democrat-media collusion we’ve heard so much about, is it?)

The Falsehood at the Core of Trump’s Warsaw Speech

The problem was not so much the speech as the speaker.

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a public speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, Poland July 6, 2017.

Sunday was “trivialize violence against the media” day for President Trump. Thursday was “fly to Warsaw and champion Western values day.”

As presidential speeches go, Trump’s address in Warsaw was fair. Ish. If you forget who is speaking and what that person has been saying and doing since Inauguration Day—since the opening of his campaign in 2015—and really through his career.

But if you remember those things, the speech jolted you to attention again and again.

“We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.” This must be an example of what the grammarians should rename the “disjunctive we”: a we that does not include the speaker of the words. Rule of law? Free speech? Shortly before boarding the plane to Europe, President Trump’s advisers were reportedly discussing a pending CNN merger with AT&T as leverage against the news network—a possibility that, if realized, would be a perversion of anti-trust law.

And so it went through the catalogue of effrontery. A president who has made lewd remarks about assaulting women said, “We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success.” A president who won’t read his briefing books declared, “We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.” A president who once seemed unsure whether the abolitionist Frederick Douglass is alive or dead congratulated himself: “We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs.” A president whose brand is notorious worldwide for gaudy hideousness preened: “We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art.”

This Is Trump’s Plan to Team Up With Putin in Syria—and Leave Assad in Power

Trump finally has a Syria strategy. It relies on Russian soldiers and a dictator who Trump said in April had to go.

For once, Rex Tillerson is not freelancing.

Late Wednesday, ahead of the first-ever meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the secretary of state suggested that the U.S. is willing to explore “joint mechanisms” with Russia to stabilize the vicious Syrian civil war.

After a dizzying series of policy shifts on Syria, administration and congressional sources tell The Daily Beast that Team Trump is introducing the beginnings of a new strategy for Syria—one that, in the short term at least:

  • leaves dictator Bashar al-Assad in power;
  • acquiesces to the idea of “safe zones” proposed by Russia and its allies;
  • leans on cooperation from Moscow, including the use of Russian troops to patrol parts of the country.
  • It’s the sort of plan that observers have long suspected would ultimately emerge as Trump’s approach—despite his pledge that Assad has “no role” in governing the Syrian people. Top Trump aides from Jared Kushner to former national security adviser Michael Flynn have pushed for closer coordination with Russia on Syria for months.

    A knowledgeable senior administration official discussed the emerging strategy with The Daily Beast on the condition that what the official said could only be paraphrased, not quoted, as the official was not cleared to discuss the issue publicly. The account was backed up by two White House sources and a congressional source.

    How Putin Made Political Corruption Great Again

    His brand of crony capitalism has come to define the status quo in Russia.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with journalist Megyn Kelly during an interview on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 3, 2017.

    As Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump prepare for their first face-to-face meeting in Germany, it’s easy to imagine the Russian president gloating over the disarray he’s sown across the world. He has upended the post-Cold War security order in Europe. His armies of cyber warriors have threatened democracy across the continent. His military has saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime, making a mockery of the America’s futile attempts to bring the war in Syria to an end. Putin has also challenged America’s global superiority, sending his planes harass U.S. warships in the Baltic and Black Seas, and undermining American democracy in last year’s presidential elections.

    Whether Trump will rebuke Putin for any of these actions is unclear. One could, however, easily imagine them bonding over their shared dislike for Hillary Clinton, whom Putin is accused of helping Trump defeat last November. In reality, the Russian president probably has much more in common with Clinton than is commonly believed.

    As Putin approaches the end of his third presidential term, he has become the embodiment of the status quo, just as much as Clinton was in last year’s U.S. presidential elections. Despite her liberal credentials and progressive agenda, she was cast as the candidate of the elite, corrupt, self-serving establishment that has run America for decades, a product of privilege who believed her time had come. This would prove a major vulnerability in the general elections, where she faced disgruntled voters from across the political spectrum, many of whom felt betrayed by previous administrations, and their unfulfilled promises of better times to come.

    Trump’s Hollywood star: fans polish it while haters take the piss

    The Hollywood Walk of Fame has become a zero-sum battleground as Trump supporters clean up dirt, graffiti, beer and urine left behind by angry citizens

    Steve Gonzales, a street artist, cleans Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood Boulevard.

    Steve Gonzales cast a wary eye around the boulevard as he got down on his hands and knees to scrub Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    “The last time I did this a guy dressed up as Darth Vader spat on me,” he said, dabbing water and soap on the star. “I’ve seen people pee on it. Pour beer on it. It’s disgusting. It’s a health hazard.”

    A small crowd gathered to watch as Gonzales dried the tile and brass with napkins and used vaseline to help seal the cracks. “It’s porous. Liquid filters down. You have to protect it.”

    The star’s pristine gleam lasted about seven seconds before a child, an 11-year-old called Mateo on vacation with his parents from Colombia, stomped on it and shouted “boo”.

    A tourist from New York followed up by slowly emptying her soda over the president’s star, choosing a political statement over hydration in the 87F (30.5C) heat.

    #SitInSaveLives: Arrests Nationwide as Groups Mobilize to Stop Trumpcare

    “Sometimes the consequences of legislation for real people can get lost. Nonviolent direct action can dramatize and clarify the reality.”

    “Thousands of lives are on the line if this barbaric bill passes,” said Kai Newkirk, mission director of Democracy Spring.

    Arrests were reported at sit-ins and protests outside the offices of U.S. lawmakers nationwide on Thursday as progressive groups mobilized in anticipation of a mid-July vote on the Senate GOP’s Trumpcare bill, which would strip health insurance from 22 million people, dismantle Medicaid, and potentially kill thousands per year.

    Democracy Spring, Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America, The Working Families Party, UltraViolet, and other organizations joined in what has been described as “a mass act of civil disobedience.” The groups made one simple demand of the senators whose offices they occupied: Vote ‘no’ on the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act.

    Hundreds of activists across the country joined the action. Some delivered speeches from inside their senators’ offices while others—like residents of Pennsylvania and Kentucky, home to Sens. Pat Toomey and Mitch McConnell—were forced to protest outside in the rain after being denied entry. Many arrests have been made, but the exact number is unknown.

    McConnell hints healthcare vote could fall short: ‘I’m a guy with a Rubik’s cube’

    Senate majority leader spoke to impasse over key aspects of Republican bill at an event Thursday, but said ‘no action was not an alternative’

    Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell … ‘If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action … must occur.’

    Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday hinted that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could fall short as conservatives and moderates in his conference remain at an impasse over key aspects of the bill.

    Before leaving Washington for a week-long Fourth of July recess, McConnell delayed a vote on the Republican healthcare bill after it was clear there was not enough support for the plan, which would leave 22 million fewer people without health insurance over the next decade, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

    “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell told constituents at a Rotary Club lunch on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

    “No action is not an alternative,” he added. “We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

    5 Viral Animal Videos That Are Super Dark In Hindsight

    It’s a popular cliche to say that the internet is mostly cat videos. And it’s entirely true. You’re watching a cat video right now. This article is a cat video. You’re just so super saturated with them that the words have lost all meaning to you. Cat cat cat cat cat. It’s like breathing.

    Now that we know where we stand, it’s worth looking under our feet, which is an awkward metaphor for suggesting that not all those adorable videos are what they seem! Or rather, there’s some weird shit going on in hilarious animal videos that you may not be pondering during the ten seconds it takes you to share them on Facebook. But I spent three hours on the toilet thinking about it for you.

    #5. Cussing Birds

    Ever seen a bird video? I know, right? “Birds? Yeah, I’ve seen birds. I live in a goddamn tree, son! Don’t you tell me what to do!” Calm down. Let’s just acknowledge that there’s a pretty substantial number of bird videos online featuring birds that cuss. And let’s be honest, if you for some reason drank so much that you thought owning a bird capable of speech was a good idea, you’d probably teach it to swear too, right? I’d have that bird screeching “twat!” all the time and love every second of it. But before we go too much further, let’s think about those seconds.

    I’ve never trained a bird to speak before, and I’m aware that there’s over a dozen species that can learn human language. But just what goes into training a bird to talk? I had to look that one up and from what I’ve seen, you need to talk to this bird over and over again, numerous times a day, every single day, for months. Months. And this isn’t idle chit chat. This is you literally saying “fuck you!” to a bird 50 times a day for 60, 90, 120 days in a row. That’s the kind of shit that makes crazy people back out of a room.

    So when some Average Joe posts a video of him and his bird just relaxing, and suddenly the bird snaps like a bread stick and cusses like the unholy spawn of a convoy of truckers and a boatload of stevedores, don’t be suckered in by the “oh my goodness, what a little Dickens!” bullshit someone’s selling you. This borderline sociopath cursed that bird out until its brain was Swiss cheesed with f-bombs and a hunger for seeds. There’s nothing else going on up there.

    The Alt-Right Branding War Has Torn the Movement in Two

    Mike Cernovich speaking at the Rally Against Political Violence, which condemned both the Democrats and the alt-right.

    A few weeks ago, Colton Merwin, a nineteen-year-old from Maryland who recently dropped out of college, decided to organize a rally on the National Mall. “I got all the permits and stuff myself,” he said. “It was pretty easy, actually.” He called his event the Rally for Free Speech. It was intended as a kind of rebuttal to a series of events that took place in Berkeley, California, earlier this year. In February, on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, a violent group of left-wing protesters prevented the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking; in April, anarchists and “anti-Fascists” interrupted a right-wing event in a Berkeley park, sparking a day of street clashes that came to be known as the Battle of Berkeley. “I got tired of seeing the far left smashing people instead of letting them speak,” Merwin said. “My idea was that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.”

    He didn’t invite “everyone” to speak at his rally. Instead, via Facebook message, he invited some of his favorite right-wing Internet personalities. Most were young and new to politics; most were critics of mainstream conservatism, often on libertarian or nationalist grounds; most had gained attention during last year’s Presidential campaign, primarily through social media or alternative media; many had espoused anti-Muslim or anti-feminist views while accusing the left of incivility. In other words, they embodied a new wave of political protest and social commentary that is often called—by the outside world, if not by the commentators themselves—the alt-right.

    On June 16th, nine days before the rally, Merwin announced a surprise addition to his lineup: the white nationalist and anti-Semite Richard Spencer. Spencer believes that white Americans need their own homeland—“a sort of white Zionism,” he calls it. For years, he had been a marginal figure on the far right; last year, when the alt-right became an object of popular fascination, Spencer used the notoriety to his advantage. After the election, he experienced two moments of viral fame: one shortly after Trump’s victory, when Spencer cried “Hail Trump” during a speech and appeared to lead a crowd in a Nazi-esque salute; and the other on Inauguration Day, when a masked stranger punched him in the face. Spencer is a deliberately divisive figure, and, during the past few months, many on the right have worked to distance themselves from him and his views. Lucian Wintrich, of the pro-Trump tabloid the Gateway Pundit, told me that, last year, the term alt-right “was adopted by libertarians, anti-globalists, classical conservatives, and pretty much everyone else who was sick of what had become of establishment conservatism.” Wintrich counted himself among that group. “Then Richard Spencer came along, throwing up Nazi salutes and claiming that he was the leader of the alt-right,” Wintrich went on. “He effectively made the term toxic and then claimed it for himself. We all abandoned using it in droves.”

    Everyday Heroes: A Story of Self-Sacrifice & Bubonic Plague

    On 1 November 1666, a young farmer named Abraham Morten took one final, agonizing breath. He was the last of 260 people to die of bubonic plague in the remote village of Eyam in Derbyshire. His fate had been sealed four months earlier when villagers decided to shut themselves off from the rest of the world: a sacrifice they made in order to save the lives of their neighbors in surrounding villages.

    The nightmare began on an unremarkable day in September, 1665. George Viccars—a local tailor in Eyam—received a consignment of cloth from London for his shop. Upon inspection, Viccars noticed that the cloth was damp. He hung it before his fire to dry, not realizing that it was playing host to fleas that were carrying the bubonic plague.

    Viccars was dead within a week.

    The pestilence spread rapidly throughout the village. Panic broke out as villagers began making preparations to flee Eyam for contagion-free surroundings. It was then that two local clergymen, William Mompesson and Thomas Stanley, decided to intervene in order to stop the plague from spreading to neighboring villages. In a joint sermon, the two men pleaded with their fellow townspeople to recognize that it was their Christian duty to remain in Eyam until the scourge had played itself out, and to prevent the disease taking hold in other villages. Moved by the clergymen’s words, the villagers decided to make the ultimate sacrifice: they sealed themselves off from the rest of the world.

    The Machines Are Getting Ready to Play Doctor

    An algorithm that spots heart arrhythmia shows how AI will revolutionize medicine—but patients must trust machines with their lives.

    Researchers used portable ECG devices to collect 30,000 30-second clips from patients with varying forms of arrhythmia.

    It might not be long before algorithms routinely save lives—as long as doctors are willing to put ever more trust in machines.

    A team of researchers at Stanford University, led by Andrew Ng, a prominent AI researcher and an adjunct professor there, has shown that a machine-learning model can identify heart arrhythmias from an electrocardiogram (ECG) better than an expert.

    The automated approach could prove important to everyday medical treatment by making the diagnosis of potentially deadly heartbeat irregularities more reliable. It could also make quality care more readily available in areas where resources are scarce.

    The work is also just the latest sign of how machine learning seems likely to revolutionize medicine. In recent years, researchers have shown that machine-learning techniques can be used to spot all sorts of ailments, including, for example, breast cancer, skin cancer, and eye disease from medical images.


    Claude Monet used brushes, Jackson Pollock liked a trowel, and Cartier-Bresson toted a Leica. Mario Klingemann makes art using artificial neural networks.

    In the past few years this kind of software—loosely inspired by ideas from neuroscience—has enabled computers to rival humans at identifying objects in photos. Klingemann, who has worked part-time as an artist in residence at Google Cultural Institute in Paris since early 2016, is a prominent member of a new school of artists who are turning this technology inside out. He builds art-generating software by feeding photos, video, and line drawings into code borrowed from the cutting edge of machine learning research. Klingemann curates what spews out into collections of hauntingly distorted faces and figures, and abstracts. You can follow his work on a compelling Twitter feed.

    “A photographer goes out into the world and frames good spots, I go inside these neural networks, which are like their own multidimensional worlds, and say ‘Tell me how it looks at this coordinate, now how about over here?’” Klingemann says. With tongue in cheek, he describes himself as a “neurographer.”

    To improve AI, scientists may have to make it worse

    Forget It

    Too perfect.

    As annoying it is to forget something, it may be one of the qualities that makes you superior to robots.

    It can be incredibly frustrating or embarrassing when a detail you need to remember, like a project deadline, slips your mind. But recently, neuroscientists have been toying with the idea that the some sorts of forgetting—the way we subconsciously choose to keep and discard information—may be a functional advantage. And developers are realizing it’s one of the hardest things about the human brain to recreate in artificial intelligence.

    It’s not a bandwidth problem. Your brain could store memories from every moment in your life, says Blake Richards, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto in Canada. (Some people do—these individuals have a condition called “hyperthymesia” and can remember every detail from their lives.) But, as Richards and his colleague Paul Frankland argue in a review paper published (paywall) a review in the journal Neuron, ridding certain types of information from your brain is valuable for your functioning: it helps your brain make note of the most important things that happen to us.

    “It’s useful to engage in some degree of forgetting,” says Richards. “But in order for that forgetting to be useful, you need to be forgetting the right type of information.” What way our brains keep only the most important information, and we can to parse it more quickly and learn from it.

    All the Promises Automakers Have Made About the Future of Cars

    If you believe them, there will be a lot of self-driving cars on the road by 2020.

    VW’s concept self-driving car, Sedric.

    Yet another announcement came yesterday: Volvo, the Swedish slash Chinese car company, announced that it will only offer electric or hybrid vehicles by 2019. It was widely hailed as a bold move.

    Previously, the company had committed to selling 1 million hybrid and fully electric vehicles by 2025.

    Right now, hybrids have 2 percent of the passenger car market in the U.S., and completely electric vehicles are still a rarity. Even in EV-friendly California, battery-powered cars only hold 2.7 percent of the market.

    But in a car industry roiled by self-driving vehicles and self-promoting Tesla, which is now valued as highly as General Motors and far more highly than Ford, automakers have to sell more than cars to be seen as exciting by Wall Street. They’ve got to be technology companies, not manufacturers. And that means developing autonomous systems, rethinking the motive power under the hood, and figuring out the art of bold pronouncements.

    So, I compiled all the grand promises that the world’s traditional carmakers have made in the past two years or so, and one thing is clear: Either the automotive world is going to undergo a radical transformation around 2020, or these companies have seriously erred in their planning.


    George asks: Weird question, but do trees poop?

    A wise man once said, “Everybody poops.” Well that should probably be changed to everything poops, because all living things excrete waste. This brings us to a brilliant question posed by a reader whose head we’d love to crack open and see what’s going on inside- do trees poop? As it so happens, yes they do, though there is a bit of a semantic argument to be had over what one might consider “tree poop.” (A sentence I’ve never in my life thought I’d have need to write.)

    To begin with, all living things excrete things they no longer need or which otherwise might be harmful to them if allowed to build up in said being’s system- yes, everything from the lowliest single celled organisms to blue whales do this. In fact, a microbe known as Paramecium caudatum has been observed passing solid, liquid and gaseous waste, meaning it technically poops, pees and farts, despite its entire being consisting of a single cell. So what exactly do trees excrete?

    Well, although trees produce very little in terms of pure waste, due to tremendously efficient metabolic systems that convert most everything the plants take in into something they can make use of (and a generally good nutrient acquisition system that ensures many things that would otherwise be bad for the plants aren’t taken in at all), nothing is perfect and trees will invariably need to excrete a number of things to remain healthy- the most well known of course being oxygen.

    Video Goodnesses
    and not-so-goodnesses

    North Korea has a new missile, and it can reach the US.

    This video is an update to a previous version, published on April 26, 2017

    Rachel Maddow explains how an ostensible top secret NSA document submitted through the show’s inbox is likely a fake, and points out the perils of such forgeries to news organizations trying to report out important stories like the Trump Russia story.

    THANKS to MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show for making this program available on YouTube.

    Guardian India correspondent Michael Safi takes a journey along the Yamuna river. Stretching 855 miles (1,375km) across the north of the country, at its source in the Himalayas its water is crystal clear.

    Secretary of Energy Rick Perry attempts to explain how supply and demand works.

    THANKS to MSNBC and Morning Joe for making this program available on YouTube.

    Shaking hands is supposed to be easy. Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola, hosts of The Young Turks, discuss.

    Movie accents, like the ones featured in Braveheart and Star Wars Rogue One, are as important to the storytelling and world-building of a movie as the characters and the sets and the costumes are. Sometimes, in fact, even more so.

    Because you’ve forgotten how much you hated it last time…

    THANKS to Comedy Network and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

    A Max moment.

    FINALLY . . .

    3rd annual 101-word fiction contest

    Thanks to the many gifted writers among our readers, we are pleased to welcome you to Boulder Weekly’s 3rd Annual 101-Word Fiction Contest. Once again, this year’s competition grew significantly over last year’s — that’s to say that we had a lot more entries from considerably more writers this time around. And, as has been the case every year since we started this micro-fiction experiment, we were blown away by your imaginations and creativity.

    Now for the small print. As always, there was a five-entry limit on submissions a single writer could make and a lot of our submitters entered more than one piece. When it came to the judging, the number of submissions by a writer was not taken into consideration. In fact, all judging was done blind. Those of you who didn’t win may apply a different interpretation to that phrase but in this instance “blind” refers to the fact that we didn’t know who wrote what until after the final scoring was complete. As a result, you will notice that some writers have more than one piece published while others will have to try again next year to get their work into the final 20, which are published below.

    There were four judges who assigned each piece a score between 1 and 5. After the judging, the numbers were added together with the overall highest scores being the winners. In case of ties, which there were plenty of, the pieces which had originally received the same score from the judges, were rescored in a mini-competition just between those two or three entries in order to gain a final order.

    In the end, five winners were selected along with an additional five entries being chosen for honorable mentions. We have published those 10 stories along with the other 10 of our overall 20 finalists.

    So with that, please read and enjoy this year’s winners and finalists in our 101-word fiction contest. And as always, thanks most of all to these creative writers for sharing their amazing, all be it brief, work with all of us.

    Joel Dyer, editor

    101-Word Fiction Contest Winners

    First Place

    All Saints Day

    In the yard we gather the fallen into black plastic and tie off the yellow loops with neat bows, then arrange the bags in a respectful line under the porch. Winter threatens the sky with gray over white over gray, and we imagine those returning home on airport runways with the grain of foreign deserts nestled in their still boots. At least we have photographs.

    On Saturday we haul them to the landfill by the cemetery and dump the remains into wire cages, then save the plastic for another season.
    Timothy Hillmer

    Ed. More tomorrow. Probably. Possably. Maybe. Not?