August 8, 2017 in 4,476 words

Trump’s victory and the price of cars


When I first saw the headline on strategy maven Edward Luttwak’s piece in the Times Literary Supplement — “Why The Trump Dynasty Will Last 16 Years” — I thought the guy had finally taken complete leave of his senses.

Then I read the whole thing.

The prediction of a Trump dynasty — Luttwak thinks not only will Trump be re-elected in 2020 but will be succeeded by Ivanka in 2024 — may be way over the top, but his take on why the 2016 election played out the way it did contains some of the more insightful analysis of the campaign to date.

Including this remarkable observation: The key to understanding why Trump won may be that half the families in the U.S. can no longer afford to buy a new car.

“None of the countless campaign reporters and commentators is on record as having noticed the car ‘affordability’ statistics distributed in June 2016 via www.thecarconnection.com,” Luttwak wrote.

“Had journalists studied the numbers and pondered even briefly their implications, they could have determined a priori that only two candidates could win the Presidential election — Sanders and Trump — because none of the others even recognized that there was a problem if median American households had been impoverished to the point that they could no longer afford a new car.

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the US for Istanbul – and began to realise that Americans will never understand their own country until they see it as the rest of the world does

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for one’s own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.

Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we don’t become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still don’t know myself.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

We have a political problem no one wants to talk about: very old politicians


The Senate Judiciary Committee is among the power centers in Washington dominated by people in their 70s and 80s.

In one of the most dramatic moments in the Senate in years, 80-year-old John McCain rallied from surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer to cast a 1 am vote that torpedoed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare — for now. The vote had been put on hold once already, to give him time to recuperate.

For all the drama, we shouldn’t be surprised that a medical emergency interfered with Senate business. The highest levels of American politics bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a gerontocracy. From the Senate to the presidency to — perhaps most strikingly — the Supreme Court, top positions are held more and more by people in their 70s or above.

Disruptive medical tragedies are an unavoidable statistical consequence of this trend, as is the risk that key political actors will develop cognitive impairment. There’s no easy solution to the problem, but it demands a frank conversation.

Reforms such as term appointments for justices could help with the problem, but it’s just as important to try to shift societal norms to take more seriously some elemental realities of human aging.

Tact and, perhaps, anxiety surrounding our own mortality too often short-circuit these conversations.

Sanders ‘litmus test’ alarms Democrats

Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan sparks fears of primary election challenges.


Sen. Bernie Sanders has decided the moment is right to launch his proposal for the single-payer health insurance system which helped formed the backbone of his presidential message.

House and Senate Democrats have wondered for months whether Bernie Sanders’ supporters might choose to focus their energy on launching primary challenges to party moderates in 2018. They’re about to get an answer.

Sanders has decided the moment is right to launch his proposal for the single-payer health insurance system that helped form the backbone of his presidential message. And Democrats who don’t get behind it could find themselves on the wrong side of the most energetic wing of the party — as well as the once and possibly future presidential candidate who serves as its figurehead.

The Vermont senator himself has not explicitly said he’ll support primary challenges to those who won’t support his push for a so-called Medicare-for-all health care plan. But there are plenty of signs that Sanders and his allies view the issue as a defining moment for Democratic lawmakers.

“Our view is that within the Democratic Party, this is fast-emerging as a litmus test,” said Ben Tulchin, the pollster for Sanders’ White House run.

The single-payer concept is increasingly popular in the party — high-profile senators like Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have expressed some support, and, for the first time, a majority of House Democrats have now signed on to the single-payer bill that Rep. John Conyers has been introducing regularly for more than a decade.

The curious case of ‘Nicole Mincey,’ the Trump fan who may actually be a bot

On Saturday, President Trump tweeted his gratitude to a social-media super-fan, ­Nicole Mincey, magnifying her praise of him to his 35 million followers.

Here’s the problem: There is no evidence the Twitter feed belongs to someone named Nicole Mincey. And the account, according to experts, bears a lot of signs of a Russia-backed disinformation campaign.

On Sunday, Twitter suspended the Mincey account, known as @ProTrump45, after several other users revealed that it was probably a fake, created to amplify pro-Trump content.

The incident highlights Trump’s penchant for off-the-cuff tweeting — and the potential consequences for doing so now that he holds the nation’s highest office. Even as the president has railed against multiple investigations into Russia’s meddling in U.S. politics, he may have become Exhibit A of the foreign government’s influence by elevating a suspected Russia-connected ­social-media user — part a sophisticated campaign to exacerbate disputes in U.S. politics and gain the attention of the most powerful tweeter in the world.

The conservatives turning against Donald Trump

After 200 days of Trump’s presidency, his awkward marriage of convenience with Republicans has increasingly come under severe stress

More Republicans will turn against Donald Trump and his politics of populism, a GOP senator and leading critic of the president has predicted, as the Guardian surveys the conservative landscape 200 days into the Trump presidency.

Jeff Flake of Arizona, among 17 conservative politicians, activists, officials and pundits interviewed over two months, revealed that while the president has given rightwing fringe groups a seat at the table, his alliance with his own party remains highly precarious.

“More of us will say, where does this lead, where are we and what happens when we get off this sugar high of populism?” said Flake, who believes the Republican party abandoned its core principles and struck “a Faustian bargain” by embracing Trump in last year’s election.

“What can we do on trade when supply chains get sent around us? Those have long-term ramifications,” added the senator. “This is not something that we can flirt with for four years and then quickly snap back, so I do think there needs to be more pushback.”

Trump, a former Democrat with no political experience, ran as an antiestablishment candidate effectively staging a hostile takeover of the Republican party. Indeed in July 2015 former Texas governor Rick Perry declared: “Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.” Perry is now Trump’s energy secretary.

But after months of facing criticism that they are too passive, lately congressional Republicans have flexed their muscles over threats from the White House directed at Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump and Russia, as well as fresh sanctions against Moscow that Trump reluctantly was obliged to sign.

The Chinese Are About to Take Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to the Cleaners

So Jared and Ivanka are going to China this fall in advance of the president’s visit. They’d better read up first or they’re going to be snookered.

For a good example of how our system of government is in danger of devolving into a quasi-monarchy, consider this: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s son-in-law and daughter, will be visiting China this fall to lay the groundwork for a subsequent visit by the president himself, who tweeted recently that he has become “very disappointed in China.”

Meanwhile, more than a half-year after the start of the Trump administration, the job of assistant secretary of state for East Asia still lies vacant.

Novices like Kushner and Ivanka Trump typically fall into traps when they try to deal with China. You might call this a form of guidance for them. Alternatively, you might instead call this essay a description of how Beijing will handle them and why their involvement is more likely to set back, rather than help, America’s interests.

I mention the job of assistant secretary of state for East Asia because, ordinarily, the person who holds that job helps to coordinate preparations for a presidential trip to China. Even when the White House runs China policy, as it often does, it’s still the bureaucracy that normally handles the paperwork and the necessary diplomacy that goes along with it.

5 Hilariously Ballsy Cons Pulled Off By Historical Figures

When you think about how celebrities spend their time, you picture them idling by a pool being served fancy cocktails all day, not counting cards or fixing horse races to make a living. But everyone has it rough sometimes, and it turns out that in order to make ends meet, some of history’s most revered figures could lie and con with the best of them.

#5. George Washington Won An Election By Getting Voters Shitfaced


For all the shit Trump is getting over how he possibly, maybe colluded with Russia during the last election, chances are we’d be having a similar conversation if he got himself elected using the same method that the nation’s most beloved president, George Washington, employed to bust his way into political office. In 1758, Washington was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses by bribing the electorate with shitloads of alcohol.

This wasn’t Washington’s first attempt at getting into the House of Burgesses. In 1755, he campaigned and was roundly defeated, which he attributed to not “swilling the planters with bumbo” — “bumbo” being a word for rum used by people already drunk on bumbo. See, back then, election days were times to party. And if you wanted people to come over to your side, you had to be a good host. And what does a good host/politician provide? Economic reform. Wait, no, booze.

When the next election rolled around, Washington was ready. On voting day, his agents dispensed a whopping 47 gallons of beer, 70 gallons of rum, 35 gallons of wine, two gallons of cider, and three pints of brandy. But this wasn’t enough! Despite greasing the wheels with enough alcohol (and vomit) to become king of Boston, he had the sheer balls to admonish his chief of staff for being too sparing. Three pints of brandy? Don’t be that guy, guy.

Thankfully, the lack of brandy didn’t matter. Thanks to his newfound spirits of hospitality, Washington destroyed his rivals, receiving 310 votes — 70 more than the second-place candidate. And so the future first president of the United States finally got enough people drunk to think that voting for him was a good idea.

An Algorithm Trained on Emoji Knows When You’re Being Sarcastic on Twitter

Understanding sarcasm could help AI fight racism, abuse, and harassment.

Scroll through Twitter and you’ll find plenty of sarcastic comments—not to mention lots of cases where sarcasm apparently went straight over someone’s head.

Luckily, an algorithm MIT researchers developed to analyze tweets can now detect sarcasm, and emotional subtext in general, better than most people.

Detecting the sentiment of social-media posts is already useful for tracking attitudes toward brands and products, and for identifying signals that might indicate trends in the financial markets. But more accurately discerning the meaning of tweets and comments could help computers automatically spot and quash abuse and hate speech online. A deeper understanding of Twitter should also help academics understand how information and influence flows through the network. What’s more, as machines become smarter, the ability to sense emotion could become an important feature of human-to-machine communication.

The real problem with that Google employee’s viral anti-diversity memo is bigger than Silicon Valley

Fighting Words


Some people think Google’s lack of diversity is a good thing.

A Google employee created an uproar this weekend when his manifesto about criticizing the company’s diversity initiatives went viral among employees. The senior software engineer claimed the diversity programs discriminated against employees like himself by creating an “ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be discussed honestly.”

Google staff—and lots of other people—are peeved, and it’s not hard to see why. The author of the document (a full version of which was posted by Gizmodo) argued that the gender gap in software engineering in part boiled down to biological differences between men and women. The ideas aren’t particularly well-reasoned. For instance, he wrote, “Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.” Ultimately, he contends that efforts to boost racial and gender diversity were “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

While his comments were apparently roundly rejected by most employees and Google’s own diversity officer, some employees reportedly came to his defense. Vice’s Motherboard reported that other Google employees anonymously praised the employee’s views on an app called Blind, where tech employees can discuss workplace problems. “This is actually terrifying: if someone is not ideologically aligned with the majority then he’s labeled as a ‘poor cultural fit’ and would not be hired/promoted,” wrote one commenter. Another said: “The fella who posted that is extremely brave. We need more people standing up against the insanity. Otherwise ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ which is essentially a pipeline from Women’s and African Studies into Google, will ruin the company.”

Google’s response to its viral diversity memo is a classic conversation-avoidance technique

Management 101


Is Google suffering from its own echo-chamber problem?

Over the weekend, a 3,000-word internal memo that went viral inside Google went viral on the internet as well. Written by an unnamed but reportedly male Google engineer, the document—published in full by Gizmodo—criticizes the company’s measures to promote gender and racial diversity in the workforce.

The author says several times that he is in favor of gender and racial diversity at Google; his beef is about how the company’s diversity programs are designed. More broadly, he argues that it’s impossible to have a proper debate about their merits because, he says, the company lacks ideological diversity and views like his are too easily shut down. He writes (my emphasis):


I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology.

One could take issue, and many people have, with the engineer’s critiques of Google’s diversity programs and his arguments about ingrained differences between men and women. But in one respect at least he appears to be right: Google, just like most companies, does not handle unorthodox ideas well.

Landlord troubles: rich San Franciscans in uproar after their private street is sold

Residents in the highly exclusive Presidio Terrace neighborhood got a surprise taste of the city’s infamous housing woes after a private road was sold at auction


A home in the Presidio Terrace. The neighborhood is one of San Francisco’s most expensive and exclusive.

For most San Franciscans accustomed to being at the whims of speculators in a soaring real estate market, the arrival of a new landlord is a near certain harbinger of bad news.

But the residents of Presidio Terrace are not most San Franciscans, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be crafting desperate Facebook messages seeking an affordable room to rent in Oakland (dog friendly pleeeeease), making plans to move to Los Angeles or living in a box.

Still, in May of this year, the owners of 35 of San Francisco’s most exclusive and expensive homes became aware of a decidedly undesirable development: they no longer owned their private street.

Two upstart real estate investors from San Jose, Tina Lam and Michael Cheng, had snapped up the street, the sidewalks and the landscaped islands of Presidio Terrace at a public auction of tax-defaulted properties in April 2015. The pair shelled out $90,582.50 for the plot, and they’re how exploring ways to earn a return on that investment.

One option? Charging residents to park on the street they thought they owned.

Wanted man hands himself in after ‘unflattering’ mugshot

Wayne Esmonde was wanted by South Wales Police in connection with an assault

A man who asked police to take his mugshot off their wanted appeal because it was unflattering has been arrested.

Wayne Esmonde, 35, had his face put on South Wales Police’s Facebook appeal over an alleged assault.

But the picture shows shaven-headed Mr Esmonde posing for the camera looking wide-eyed and staring intently.

Mr Esmonde, who asked for officers to take the post down, handed himself in at Swansea Central police station on Thursday.

He had written on their Facebook page: “I am him. Not a very flattering mugshot.

In a Heartbeat: the story behind the animated gay love short that’s gone viral

The makers of the four-minute film, with 12m views in under a week, discuss the shock of their success and the importance of depicting same-sex romance


A still from In a Heartbeat, the animated short film by Esteban Bravo and Beth David

It’s not every day that a wordless, four-minute animated short about two young boys falling in love goes viral. But on Monday, when recent college graduates Esteban Bravo and Beth David posted their senior thesis film on YouTube, that’s exactly what happened.

The short, called In a Heartbeat, is a simple yet enduring story, a heartwarming fable of young love and all the irrepressible butterflies that come with it. It also just happens to be about two boys, which despite the ascent of LGBT characters in film and television is still rarefied in animated or children’s cinema.

Although Pixar hasn’t yet shown a gay character in a feature film, there’s evidence of progress – albeit very slow progress – in this year’s Beauty and the Beast reboot. The film has what director Bill Condon hyped up as a “nice, exclusively gay moment”: Josh Gad’s character, LeFou, shares a few-second dance with another man – which, for the optimist anticipating great strides from Disney, was a pretty insufficient form of progress. In a Heartbeat, though, unmoored from the prudence of Hollywood studios, is far more explicit.

In just about as long as it takes to microwave a cup of ramen noodles, Bravo and David’s film tells the sweet, intimate story of a boy named Sherwin, who has a crush on his classmate, Jonathan. His heart is, literally, jumping out of his chest when the object of his affection walks by, spinning an apple on his fingertips like a basketball, so Sherwin dashes behind a tree to try to contain it. Of course, Sherwin’s reluctance is about so much more than being nervous to profess young love; he’s also, as the film’s description says it, “at risk of being outed by his own heart”.


DISCOVERING THE CAVES OF XANADU

THE SCENE

One Saturday in 1974, two young men affiliated with Southern Arizona Grotto, a spelunking, or “caving,” group based in Tuscon, Arizona, were out exploring, looking for new caves near the Whetsone Mountains. Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen traveled about an hour outside of Tucson, where they were roommates at the University of Arizona. As they often did, Tufts and Tenen carried only the minimum amount of caving equipment they needed: two miners’ hard hats with gas carbine lanterns affixed to the top, some rope, hammers and chisels, and snacks.

Tufts had been introduced to spelunking by an uncle, and on this day he wanted to explore an area he’d first seen seven years earlier, when he was still in high school. He recalled a large sinkhole with a narrow crack descending into bedrock. On a recent walk, he’d rediscovered the sinkhole and also noticed that the U-shaped hill next to the sinkhole had what appeared to be a collapsed cave entrance. He wondered whether there was something interesting under the hill.

THE DISCOVERY

Tufts and Tenen found the spot and lowered themselves into the 15-foot-deep sinkhole, a dry and dusty space with a skull and crossbones carved in one wall. They found footprints, a couple of broken stalactites (mineral formations, or “dripstones,” that hang like icicles from the ceiling of a cave), and a 10-inch-wide crack. But most important, they noticed a breeze moving through the crack—a moist, warm breeze that carried the smell of bats, a sure sign of an interesting cave.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

But don’t take my word for it.

Actual footage of Trump’s working vacation shows him entertaining a bridal party on his golf course. For America!

Despite a strong denial of the recent ‘fake news,’ many have noticed signs pointing toward VP Mike Pence’s 2020 presidential campaign.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

After President Trump distances the U.S. from its allies at a NATO summit in Brussels, Jordan Klepper explains how this is actually a good thing for other world leaders.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Al Gore offers an updated warning on the dangers of a warming planet with an his new documentary, “Inconvenient Sequel”. After 10 years since Gore won a nobel peace prize for his climate activism, he addresses the recent changes in the climate and administration that call for an even greater need to take action. Michael Moynihan sits down with Gore in Los Angeles to discuss how Trump can indeed affect climate, but also how a technology revolution offers hope for climate change.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Kurt Andersen’s cover story “How America Lost Its Mind” argues that “being American means we can believe anything we want.” This is due to a combination of the new-age mentality born out of the 1960s that encouraged Americans to find their own truth and the internet age, which has allowed us to create communities that reinforce our beliefs. According to Andersen, the perfect manifestation of America’s journey away from reality is the election of Donald Trump.

Read more in The Atlantic’s September 2017 cover story: How America Lost Its Mind

Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Summerfest and other famous music festivals look cool on your friend’s Instagram feed but let’s be honest, they suck.

Simon’s Cat: Bed Head

A concerned cat practices his bedside manner!

Poor Simon is under the weather will a visit from the cat help him bounce back? Featuring Simon, the cat and a serious case of the sniffles.

Torrie tells us once and for all why we need to #buildthewall.

Did you know Canada technically has its own cuisine?

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

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on Goose vs Elephant.

Max has dismantled his cage door to play with.

FINALLY . . .

Eclipse Hunter David Baron: Solar Eclipse Is “the Closest Thing to Space Travel”


David Baron and friends awaiting the total eclipse of 2012 in Queensland, Australia.


Twenty-three years ago, an astronomer named Jay Pasachoff told David Baron that he owed it to himself to experience at least one total solar eclipse before he died. Baron, who was working as a science correspondent for National Public Radio at the time and preparing a piece about a partial eclipse, took the advice to heart.

In 1998 Baron traveled to Aruba to witness his first total eclipse. The difference was like, well, night and day: While a partial eclipse presents a black thumbnail obscuring a slice of the sun, in a total eclipse the moon covers the face of the sun and the sky plummets into darkness, exposing the spectacular silvery radiance of the corona and a celestial gathering of planets and stars.

“A partial solar eclipse is interesting,” Baron says. “A total solar eclipse is mind-blowing. It’s the closest thing to space travel that any of us will get to experience. It’s like standing on an alien world, looking at a sky you’ve never seen before. It gives you a whole new perspective on the solar system and our place in the universe.”

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