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Archive for January 4th, 2018

It’s been an open secret all along

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James Fallows has a powerful column in the Atlantic:

Three months ago, when Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Timesunloaded their first big report about Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of sexual aggressiveness and abuse, the depth of detail made the story unforgettable—and as it turned out, historic. Real women went on the record, using their real names, giving specific dates and times and circumstances of what Weinstein had said or done to them.

Of the reactions that flowed from this and parallel revelations—about Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly in the Fox empire, or Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose in mainstream TV, or Kevin Spacey and Louis CK in the film world, or Michael Oreskes and John Hockenberry in public radio, or Mark Halperin and Leon Weiseltier in print and political media, and down the rest of the list—one response was particularly revealing. It was that the behavior in question had been an “open secret.”

In the very short term, a few people reflexively offered “open secret” as an explanation, even a rationalization. Of course everybody knew that Harvey/Roger/Kevin was this way (the reasoning went). If you were smart, you kept your distance, and you’d never take the bait of going for “a meeting” up in the hotel room. Want to give, or get, a “massage”? No way!

But you rarely hear rationalizations of that sort any more. Now the open-secret premise usually leads to a follow-up question. If “everyone” knew what was going on, why didn’t anyone do more to stop it? And this in turn has led to institutional and personal self-examinations.

In the best circumstances, organizations have asked: How could we have failed that badly? What should we do differently? Individuals have asked: What should I have known, that I merely suspected (or willfully ignored)? What more could I have done, based on what I actually knew? For powerful illustrations in this last category from members of the Atlantic family, involving episodes at The New Republic, see this by Michelle Cottle, this by Peter Beinart, and this by Franklin Foer.

In the worst circumstances, details have piled up about organizations that made deals, payoffs, or threats to keep ugly specifics of what they knew from getting in the way of their business plans. Thus the tens of millions of dollars in harassment settlements while Bill O’Reilly was still a Fox cash cow; thus the payoffs and investigations by the Weinstein organization to placate or intimidate women who might otherwise go public with their complaints against Harvey Weinstein.

In all these cases, the malefactor remains most to blame. But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.

***

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

But what Wolff is describing is an open secret.

Based on the excerpts now available, Fire and Fury presents a man in the White House who is profoundly ignorant of politics, policy, and anything resembling the substance of perhaps the world’s most demanding job. He is temperamentally unstable. Most of what he says in public is at odds with provable fact, from “biggest inaugural crowd in history” onward. Whether he is aware of it or not, much of what he asserts is a lie. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants; his White House staff operations have more in common with an episode of The Apprentice than with any real-world counterpart. He has a shallower reserve of historical or functional information than previous presidents, and a more restricted supply of ongoing information than many citizens. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

And, as Wolff emphasizes, everyone around him considers him unfit for the duties of this office. From the account in The Hollywood Reporter: . . .

Continue reading.

And definitely read Is Something Neurologically Wrong With Donald Trump?.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 9:49 pm

Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump’s Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation

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Michael Schmidt reports in the NY Times:

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House’s top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.

Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside. But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president’s orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer, who had been Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s and died in 1986.

The lobbying of Mr. Sessions is one of several previously unreported episodes that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has learned about as he investigates whether Mr. Trump obstructed the F.B.I.’s Russia inquiry. The events occurred during a two-month period — from when Mr. Sessions recused himself in March until the appointment of Mr. Mueller in May — when Mr. Trump believed he was losing control over the investigation.

Among the other episodes, Mr. Trump described the Russia investigation as “fabricated and politically motivated” in a letter that he intended to send to the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, but that White House aides stopped him from sending. Mr. Mueller has also substantiated claims that Mr. Comey made in a series of memos describing troubling interactions with the president before he was fired in May.

The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation. The president’s determination to fire Mr. Comey even led one White House lawyer to take the extraordinary step of misleading Mr. Trump about whether he had the authority to remove him.

The New York Times has also learned that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions’s aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director. It was not clear whether Mr. Mueller’s investigators knew about this episode.

Mr. Mueller has also been examining a false statement that the president reportedly dictated on Air Force One in July in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 9:25 pm

Reprise on pepper grinder and a good 5-point (or less) recipe

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The recipe is for a black-eyed pea salad, which was IMO excellent.

1 lb dried black-eyed peas soaked for at least 4 hours
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 3-4 limes
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, cut into small chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, likewise
12 ounces ham, diced
5 ounces feta, crumbled (buy it whole, crumble it yourself: better feta)
[optional: minced jalapeño]
[optional: 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes]
[optional: 2 Tbsp smoked paprika]
[optional: 1 bunch cilantro, chopped]
salt
1-2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
[optional: 1.5 Tbsp ground cumin]

I add the olive oil first to make it easy to mix, and I stir after adding each ingredient.

And grinding pepper is now extremely easy. I don’t use pepper at the table because I use it as needed in my recipes, where generally I want a fair amount of pepper—a tablespoon, say. (I still do use my twist-top pepper grinder when I pepper cottage cheese or a salad, though normally I use this grinder and grind a tablespoon to add to the dressing I make:

In a small jar put:

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemons
big pinch of Maldon salt (or sea salt, though adjust pinch size down)
1-2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
[optional: 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard]
[optional: 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce]
[optional: cayenne, or dash of Tabsco, or whatever: something to spice it up]

Put all the ingredients in the jar, put on the lid, and shake it vigorously. Then pour it over the salad and toss.

Sometimes I do the spice-up by using Enzo‘s Fresno Pepper Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but that is only occasionally available.

More on the grinder: it is marked to show coffee-measure amounts. Since 1 coffee measure = 2 tablespoons, you can easily estimate how much pepper you’ve ground. And the crank arm with handle is so much easier to use than the twist top most grinders have (and the tops seem always to be smooth, so if your hands are wet/oily you can’t even use the grinder). And this grinder is extremely easy to refill, since the whole top is open, not just a hole in the side. Since the top (easily removed) is transparent, you can clearly see when you are running low. And the crank handle really does hang in place quite well, minimizing the grinder’s footprint.

Good purchase.

I think any of the manual coffee grinders would work, but this is the one I got, and I really like it. I would probably really like any of the others. But not all.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 9:20 pm

Interesting quotation from “The Amber Spyglass”

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The witch Serafina Pekkala is speaking:

. . . “She told me many things . . . She said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed. She gave me many examples from my world.” “

I can think of many from mine.”

“And for most of that time, wisdom has had to work in secret, whispering her words, moving like a spy through the humble places of the world while the courts and palaces are occupied by her enemies.”

I’m not drawing any parallels. Just sayin’.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Iceland is making companies pay women and men equally if they are doing the same job

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From a Vox email from Sarah Kliff:

  • Iceland just took a big step toward ending wage discrimination and making sure men and women are being paid the same amount. Iceland officials have estimated there’s currently a nearly 6 percent pay gap. [Associated Press]
  • The big change here is that Iceland’s new law is putting the onus on the company — not the workers — to demonstrate fair compensation. In many other countries, workers who aren’t being paid fairly usually have to fight for it. This system flips that on its head. [NPR / Camila Domonoske]
  • Specifically, companies that have more than 24 employees will have to submit paperwork to the government showing that male and female workers are being paid equally. The law comes after ones passed in previous years that failed to make a dent. [Washington Post / Rick Noack]
  • One US politician who took notice was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who tweeted his support for Iceland’s move and suggested the US should do the same thing. On average, women in the US earn 83 percent of what their male counterparts do, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center. [Pew Research Center / Anna Brown and Eileen Patten]

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 7:16 pm

The President Is Mentally Unwell — and Everyone Around Him Knows It

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Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine:

Until recently, the debate over our president’s mental health has focused on questions of psychological pathology: Do Donald Trump’s flamboyant narcissism, hedonism, and self-delusions add up to a malignant personality — or a malignant personality disorder?

Scores of psychiatric professionals say the latter. Some of their peers — and a large number of laymen — have insisted that the matter can only be settled by a psychiatrist who has personally, privately evaluated the president. That argument has always struck me as nuts.

There is no diagnostic blood test or brain scan for narcissistic personality disorder; there’s just a list of observable traits. A mental-health professional simply studies a patient’s modes of reasoning and patterns of behavior, and assesses whether they fit the checklist of symptoms for NPD. It’s absurd to believe that a psychiatrist who has spent a couple of hours talking to a patient in an office is qualified to make this diagnosis — but one with access to hundreds of hours of a patient’s interviews and improvisatory remarks, along with a small library’s worth of biographical information and testimonials from his closest confidants — is not. To insist otherwise is to mystify psychiatric practice; it’s to pretend that there is some shamanistic knowledge that mental-health professionals can only access once you provide them with a co-pay.

Further, whether we choose to label any given psychological profile a “disorder” is always, on some level, a value judgement about what it means to function healthily in our society. If an inability to concentrate on tests can qualify one for psychological dysfunction, then it’s hard to see why Trump’s manifest incapacity to subordinate his hunger for affirmation and attention to basic social norms would not. If a middle-school boy displayed Donald Trump’s level of impulse control in the classroom, there is little question that he would be considered psychologically unhealthy.

Regardless, in recent weeks, concerns about the commander-in-chief’s cognition have turned to the more mundane, and objectively determinable, question of neurological decline. The president’s slurred speech when announcing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; the exceptional incoherence of his most recent interview with the New York Times; and increasingly erratic (and Freudian) tweets all brought our president’s frontal lobe to the forefront of public discourse.

And then Michael Wolff started telling us what he’d learned while hanging around the West Wing last year. Having won the administration’s trust (possibly with the aid of these horrendousanti-anti-Trump think pieces) the reporter was given extraordinary access to the president’s closest advisers. On Thursday in the Hollywood Reporter, he added a few new details to the emerging portrait of our president’s mental state:

Everybody [in the White House] was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn’t stop saying something.

… Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country’s future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.

The unanimous assessment of those in Trump’s immediate vicinity is shared by clinicians viewing him from afar. On Wednesday, in response to Trump’s tweet about the size and potency of his nuclear button, 100 mental-health professionals signed their names to a statement reading, “We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats … We urge that those around him, and our elected representatives in general, take urgent steps to restrain his behavior and head off the potential nuclear catastrophe that endangers not only Korea and the United States but all of humankind.”

On Wednesday, Politico revealed that one of the statement’s signatories recently briefed more than a dozen members of Congress last December (all Democrats, save one unnamed Republican senator), on the (grim) state of Trump’s mental health. Around that same time, Ford Vox, a physician who specializes in brain-injury medicine, provided the following diagnosis of Trump’s condition, in a Stat news column calling for the president to undergo neurological testing:

Language is closely tied with cognition, and the president’s speech patterns are increasingly repetitive, fragmented, devoid of content, and restricted in vocabulary. Trump’s overuse of superlatives like tremendous, fantastic, and incredible are not merely elements of personal style. These filler words reflect reduced verbal fluency … “You call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have.”

The president made that remark in response to a question about the ideal corporate tax rate, demonstrating the degree to which his thinking drifts … If I were to make a differential diagnosis based on what I have observed, it would include mild cognitive impairment, also known as mild neurocognitive disorder or predementia … The key distinguishing characteristic between mild cognitive impairment and dementia is whether the decline is starting to interfere with essential daily functioning. In a billionaire typically surrounded by assistants, who is now the president surrounded by more assistants, whether Trump can perform his necessary daily tasks on his own may be difficult to assess.

Wolff’s reporting establishes that Trump’s decline is very much interfering with his daily functioning — and thus, that his cognitive impairment is likely progressing toward dementia. Meanwhile, Vox’s claim that the president’s disjointed, superlative-suffused rhetorical style is no deliberate affectation — but rather, a product of cognitive decline — is readily apparent to anyone who watches decades-old interviews of Trump, in which he displays an equanimity, coherence, and (relative) eloquence wholly alien to his current persona.

For most of his presidency, the conversation about Trump’s mental well-being, and consequent capacity to perform the duties of his office, has been characterized by a willed naïvety. The president’s signs of senility aren’t subtle. His narcissistic self-regard is not mildly delusional; his impulse control is more than a little bit lacking. In October, a Republican senator likened the White House to an adult day-care center; said that he knew “for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him”; and insisted that, in private, most of his GOP colleagues shared this assessment. Wolff’s reporting suggests that virtually everyone in Trump’s inner circle has witnessed signs of his mental decline, and believes him to be unfit for office.

As a practical matter, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 12:49 pm

Deadly ‘swatting’ hoaxes and the dangerous conditioning of cops

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Training police to act as an occupying force in a hostile country has its downsides, as Radley Balko points out in the Washington Post:

By now, most of you have probably seen this story:

Online gamers have said in multiple Twitter posts that the shooting of a man Thursday night by Wichita police was the result of a “swatting” prank involving two gamers.

Swatting is an internet prank where someone makes a call to a police department with a false story of an ongoing crime – often with killing or hostages involved – in an attempt to draw a large number of police officers to a particular address.

The prank has gained traction across the country with online gamers. Those who try to cause the swatting incident will use caller ID spoofing or other techniques to disguise their number as being local. Or they call local non-emergency numbers instead of 911, according to 911.gov. …

[Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy] Livingston said the department received a call that someone had an argument with their mother, that the father had been shot in the head and the shooter was holding his mother, brother and sister hostage.

“That was the information we were working off of,” he said.

Officers went to the 1000 block of McCormick, preparing for a hostage situation and they “got into position,” he said.

“A male came to the front door,” Livingston said. “As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon.”

That man was 28-year-old Andrew Finch. He was killed. He leaves behind two young children.

Finch was innocent and unarmed. Here’s some relevant commentary from defense attorney Scott Greenfield:

There’s body cam video of the shooting, but the cops were a good distance away from Finch and the video provides little insight. You can hear a cop yell “show your hands, walk this way.” To the cop, who knows why he’s taking charge, his commands make sense. To a good guy, who couldn’t possibly conceive of why a distant cop was yelling at him, it makes no sense.

There is a good chance he wasn’t sure they were yelling at him, and he was looking around to see who else they might be screaming at. The idea that police would command him to “show his hands,” not the clearest phrase to a good guy to begin with, must have seemed absurd. Why would a cop tell him to show his hands? He was in his home, with his family, having an ordinary evening.

Finch was unarmed. He didn’t have any object in his hand that might have been mistaken for a gun, even though there would have been nothing wrong, nothing even unusual, if he had. The cops saw no glint of steel. They weren’t open and exposed, but distant and protected. But the cops had it in their head that he was a killer, and so they saw his every move as a killer’s move.

In this case, the police, of course, had good reason to think Finch was dangerous. But he wasn’t. The police claim the officer fired when Finch reached for his waistband. But that wasn’t a reason to shoot him. Even if Finch had a gun in his waistband, it would have been understandable. There was a commotion outside. It would have been perfectly legal for him to do so. But he didn’t have a gun. Which means either the police are lying about Finch reaching for his waistband, they saw something that didn’t happen, Finch was struggling to figure out what to do with his hands in the midst of the confusion, or, simply, he was trying to pull up his pants. None of those things merits death.

The incident brings to mind the case of Daniel Shaver, the man killed by Mesa, Ariz., police in January 2016. In the terrifying, heartbreaking body-camera footage — among the worst I’ve ever seen — Shaver pleads for his life while crawling on the ground, struggling to comply with the confusing, often contradictory orders the police are barking at him. As Shaver crawls along, as instructed, his shorts begin to come down. He reaches down to pull them up. That act — that struggle to preserve some small bit of dignity — cost Shaver his life.

There, too, the police had good reason to suspect Shaver was dangerous. Someone had seen him point a gun out of a window. But like Finch, Shaver wasn’t a threat. Shaver worked in pest control. The gun was a pellet gun.

In a long and harrowing thread yesterday, Twitter user “Ziggy” described the fear and confusion one feels when clearly frightened police are shouting out conflicting commands. Ziggy was shopping for some hair conditioner while listening to headphones. Apparently, the shopkeeper had called in a report about shoplifting. At some point between the dispatcher and the responding officers, shoplifting turned into armed robbery.

“All I wanted to do was follow instructions. Last thing I wanted was some mild mistake to end my life,” Ziggy writes in one tweet. “What if I missed an instruction because of the K-Pop blaring in my ears? What if I reached for my ears and this rookie flinched?” he asks in another.

Ziggy survived the incident. Shaver and Finch didn’t. Neither did Ismael Lopez. He was shot and killed in his own home last July when Southaven, Miss., police served a domestic violence warrant at the wrong house.  . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more. American police are quite active. And it’s worth reading. And thinking about: Is this the America its citizens want?

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2018 at 11:58 am

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