December 8, 2018 in 2,316 words


To set my mood • • •


Mob mentality: how Mueller is working to turn Trump’s troops

As the special counsel ‘flips’ presidential allies one by one, prosecutors see parallels to efforts against organized crime


Before the curtain lifts on the final act of the Robert Mueller investigation – which is not necessarily to say the final act of the Donald Trump presidency – there has been a a scramble for seats as second-tier figures in the drama choose sides.

Some of the players have agreed to work with the special counsel as he investigates possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Others are standing by Trump. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort vowed never to work with Mueller, then agreed to work with Mueller, then allegedly tried to put one over Mueller.

Like the methodical prosecutor he is, Mueller has forced each target of his investigation, one by one, to pick a side, offering reduced penalties to cooperators such as Michael Flynn and hammering Manafort, whom Mueller accused Friday of lying to investigators about maintaining contacts inside the White House as recently as May.

Trump, for his part, has been trying to disrupt the process, praising former aides who “refused to break” and “still have guts” while slamming his former attack dog Michael Cohen, who has been cooperating with Mueller, as a “weak” liar and a bad lawyer to boot.

The secret of why, exactly, Trump appears to be growing so desperate in the face of his former aides’ mutiny – by midday Friday, the president had tweeted seven times about Mueller – promises to be revealed in the final act.


Controversy swirls around the group that backed a missionary’s fatal trip to Andaman

THE ENABLERS


Man on a mission.

Scrutiny is mounting against the organisation that helped prepare a Christian missionary for a trip that led to his death.

Around Nov. 17, John Allen Chau was reportedly killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands after he attempted to “declare Jesus” to them. The 26-year-old American has been widely criticised, including for potentially exposing the tribe to deadly pathogens and violating Indian law by trespassing on a prohibited island.
All Nations, a missionary organisation based in Kansas City, Missouri, supported Chau as he planned this fatal voyage. The website for All Nations claims that every year, its representatives train around 3,500 missionaries in 35 cities to learn “church planting,” so that “churches rapidly multiply through people groups” across the world.

Chau’s death has reignited a centuries-old debate within the Christian community about what constitutes responsible missionary work. In particular focus are organisations such as All Nations and their attempts to target isolated indigenous peoples, whom they often identify as “unreached people groups.”

Recent interviews with All Nations’ leadership also reveal its complicity in some of the mission’s key failures—for example, the fact that Chau was illegally trying to proselytise while on a tourist visa, and that the steps he took to protect the Sentinelese from disease seem to have been woefully inadequate.


America’s New Religions

BARELY UNINTERESTING TIMES


Political cults are filling the space left by the decline of organized faiths

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion. Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God, and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer. (There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)

In his highly entertaining book, The Seven Types of Atheism, released in October in the U.S., philosopher John Gray puts it this way: “Religion is an attempt to find meaning in events, not a theory that tries to explain the universe.” It exists because we humans are the only species, so far as we can know, who have evolved to know explicitly that, one day in the future, we will die. And this existential fact requires some way of reconciling us to it while we are alive.

This is why science cannot replace it. Science does not tell you how to live, or what life is about; it can provide hypotheses and tentative explanations, but no ultimate meaning. Art can provide an escape from the deadliness of our daily doing, but, again, appreciating great art or music is ultimately an act of wonder and contemplation, and has almost nothing to say about morality and life.

Ditto history.


5 Times People Found Treasures In Unexpected Ways

There are three major sources of hidden treasure: buried pirate gold, ancient tombs, and the “Because You Watched Miami Connection” section on Netflix. But those are only the major sources. We suppose there are other ways to find secret riches. Probably. We’ll defer to the following people. They seem to be the experts.

5. A Goodwill Sweater Turns Out To Be A Piece Of Sports History


Goodwill is great if you need to find a suit someone died in to wear to your court date. But even piles of ratty sweaters and mothballed slacks occasionally hide good stuff. More specifically, this hallowed NFL artifact:

Aw man, Vince is totally going to get grounded when his mom finds out his lost his sweater.

As sellers of vintage clothing, Tennessee couple Sean and Nikki McEvoy are always on the lookout for cheap clothes, preferably stuff that’s not been worn since the Carter administration. In 2014, they decided to swing by a North Carolina Goodwill store. There, Nikki spotted a “neat, high quality” college sweater from West Point Military Academy. And it was cheap! The duo only had to pay 58 cents for it. But maybe the people at Goodwill should’ve looked at that sweater more closely. They might have noticed that it used to belong to NFL coaching superstar Vince “The Bard” Lombardi.

“I should probably sew my name into this so it doesn’t accidentally get donated to Goodwill.”

Once back home, Nikki took a peek and found a name tag which read “LOMBARDI 46” sewed into the neckline. Unfortunately, that name didn’t ring a bell to her, so the sweater went into the pile of vintage clothes. It was only by sheer coincidence that a few months later, Sean was watching a documentary about Lombardi and saw the man wearing a familiar-looking sweater in an old picture. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had that exact sweater?” he wondered


Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

Draw me your map of utopia and I’ll tell you your tragic flaw. In 10 years of political reporting I’ve met a lot of intense, oddly dressed people with very specific ideas about what the perfect world would look like, some of them in elected office—but none quite so strange as the ideological soup of starry-eyed techno-utopians and sketchy-ass crypto-grifters on the 2018 CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise.

It happened like this.

Two months ago, an editor from BREAKER called and asked if I wanted to go on a four-day Mediterranean cruise with hundreds of crypto-crazed investors and evangelists. We’ll cover the travel, he said. Write something long about whatever you find, he said. It was 2 a.m. and I was over-caffeinated. I remember explaining that I know almost nothing about either cruises or blockchain, in the way that Sir Ian McKellen, in the criminally underrated series Extras, explains that he is not actually a wizard. Five days later I was at the port of Barcelona, boarding a ship. By which point it was way too late to wonder for the umpteenth time about my life choices.

I knew about bitcoin only as an investment vehicle favored by several essentially sweet nerds close to my heart—and I knew, too, that cryptocurrencies are the pet untraceable funding model of the far-right. I was told there would be an overall “Burning Man theme” to the adventure, guaranteed by the presence of Brock Pierce, the cryptocurrency mogul, former child actor, and one-man art installation about peer pressure. (More about him later.) I was anticipating evenings spent listening to crypto-hippies describe the angel-faced space elves they met when they took DMT. I was expecting to fetch water and painkillers for half-conscious corporate executives with dust in their perfect hair and no idea how to get home. I was expecting to get a bit carried away and end up shouting about the government and chalking poetry all over the walls. I was expecting to hear very rich men talk without blinking about tax planning and sacred geometry. I was expecting corporate-branded swimwear. I was expecting to meet smug Californian polyamorists, about whom smug European polyamorists like me are relentlessly judgy. Reader, all of these things transpired, but by the time they did they were a blessed relief.

Let’s step back a moment.


After a child’s dire diagnosis, hope and uncertainty at the frontiers of medicine

When a health journalist found out her 4-year-old son had a brain tumor, her family faced an urgent choice: proven but punishing rounds of chemotherapy, or a twice-a-day pill of a new “targeted” therapy with a scant track record.


SHOCKING ANSWER: For nearly a year, Reuters U.S. Health Editor Michele Gershberg’s son Natan experienced a cascade of increasingly frightening symptoms that stumped doctors — until they found he had a brain tumor.

I wish I didn’t have this hand anymore,” my 4-year-old son said as he woke one winter morning.

“Why, my love?”

“Because it’s no good,” he said, pulling at the nearly lifeless fingers of his left hand with its stronger partner.

Already weary from fear and worry over Natan’s cascade of symptoms, I was pained to hear him describe how his body was betraying him.

It was March 2017. Over the previous year, the signs had mounted that something was wrong. First, Natan’s voice weakened. He repeatedly fell ill with lung infections. Each passing week seemed to bring a new warning. He choked when eating or drinking. His left foot dragged. He would trip and fall at play. His eyes moved rapidly from side-to-side. When we spoke to our bright boy, it was harder to connect, as if a heavy fog had settled between him and the world.

Now, Natan was days away from a delicate surgery to remove part of the tumor that doctors had eventually found growing, weed-like, from his spinal cord. It had invaded his brainstem and beyond, slowly suffocating the nerves that control breathing, swallowing and movement. Left unchecked, it could kill him.

But even if successful, the surgery would be only a stop-gap measure, a starting point in a process that would propel our family to the forward edges of medical science.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Doomsday prep is bigger than ever, and it’s all thanks to the one percent. Thomas Morton reports.

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


The year’s highest-paid YouTube star is seven years old, Tumblr bans most nudity on the platform, and two police officers get in trouble for a racist Christmas tree.

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


Mike Pence was discussed at a recent 2020 strategy meeting between the President and his advisors. Which isn’t a good thing for Mike Pence.


Life-affirming, nurturing, and symbolizing optimism. That is Pantone’s characterization of 2019’s official color of the year: living coral.

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


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

If Frosty the Snowman existed like he does in the song, the implications would be pretty disturbing.


ペアで用意したのですが、はなには着てもらえませんでした。I prepared two bags. However, Hana refused matching outfits.


FINALLY . . .

What if you could walk to the airport?

As airports are reimagined for a world in which travelers arrive in robot-driven cars and flying Ubers, maybe they should instead be reimagined as urban spaces.

On a crisp and sunny autumn day, not long ago, I walked to LaGuardia Airport. I wasn’t one of those people you’ve seen on the news who get so panicked by gridlock on the Grand Central Parkway that they abandon their taxis and drag their wheelies across eight lanes of traffic and up the exit ramps to their terminals. I wasn’t even in a hurry. I didn’t have a plane to catch.

I wasn’t going anywhere except the airport.

Accompanied by Stanley Greenberg, a photographer whose primary interest is urban infrastructure, I walked to the airport simply to see if it could be done. It was an expedition, like Magellan circumnavigating the earth or Lewis and Clark trekking to the Pacific Ocean, except we were heading to a place that had already been thoroughly discovered—by some 30 million passengers a year—and is only five miles, as the crow flies, from midtown Manhattan.

The walk was partly motivated by curiosity and partly by principle. I had this theory that airports would be better—both as transportation facilities and civic spaces—if they were more intimately intertwined with the cities they serve. Jets taking off and landing require a lot of space, meaning there’s a limit to how centrally located an airport can be, but that doesn’t mean they need to be difficult to access.

LONGFORM: Prepare to spend a while.


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