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Archive for January 12th, 2021

Where Journalism Fails

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Doc Searls blogged in July 2019:

“What’s the story?”

No question is asked more often by editors in newsrooms than that one. And for good reason: that’s what news is about: The Story.

Or, in the parlance of the moment, The Narrative. (Trend.)

I was just 22 when I wrote my first stories as a journalist, reporting for a daily newspaper in New Jersey. It was there that I first learned that all stories are built around three elements:

  1. Character
  2. Problem
  3. Movement toward resolution

Subtract one or more of those and all you’ll have is an item, or an incident. Not a story. Which won’t run. So let’s unpack those elements a bit.

The character can be a person, a group, a team, a cause—anything with a noun. Mainly the character needs to be worth caring about in some way. You can love the character, hate it (or him, or her or whatever). Mainly you have to care about the character enough to be interested.

The problem can be of any kind at all, so long as it causes conflict involving the character. All that matters is that the conflict keeps going, toward the possibility of resolution. If the conflict ends, the story is over. For example, if you’re at a sports event, and your team is up (or down) by forty points with five minutes left, the character you now care about is your own ass, and your problem is getting it out of the parking lot. If that struggle turns out to be interesting, it might be a story you tell later at a bar.)

Movement toward resolution is nothing more than that. Bear in mind that many stories never arrive at a conclusion. In fact, that may be part of the story itself. Soap operas work that way.

For a case-in-point of how this can go very wrong, we have the character now serving as President of the United States, creating problems and movement around them with nearly everything he says and does.

We have never seen Donald Trump’s like before, and may never again. His genius at working all three elements are without equal in our time—or perhaps any time. So please, if you can, set your politics aside and just look at the dude through the prism of Story.

Donald Trump spins up stories at least four ways:

  1. Through constant characterization of others, for example with nicknames (“Little Mario,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Failing New York Times”)
  2. By finding or creating problems, and characterizing those too: “witch hunt,” “fake news,” “illegal ballots,” “Dominion-izing the Vote.”
  3. By creating movement via the Roy Cohn and Roger Stone playbook: always attack or counter-attack, sue constantly, claim victory no matter what. (Roy Cohn was a lawyer Frank Rich felicitously called “The worst human being who ever lived … the most evil, twisted, vicious bastard ever to snort coke at Studio 54.” Talk about character: Cohn was absolutely interesting. As Politico puts it here, “Cohn imparted an M.O. that’s been on searing display throughout Trump’s ascent, his divisive, captivating campaign, and his fraught, unprecedented presidency. Deflect and distract, never give in, never admit fault, lie and attack, lie and attack, publicity no matter what, win no matter what, all underpinned by a deep, prove-me-wrong belief in the power of chaos and fear.”)
  4. By playing the ultimate alpha. That’s why he constantly calls himself the winner, no matter what.
  5. By de-legitimizing facts, truths, norms, and those who traffic in them. Key to this is accusing others of wrongs he commits himself. This is why he labels CNN and other news organizations “fake news” while turning the generation of it into an art form. Also why his accusations against others are a reliable tell of his own guilt for doing the same thing.
  6. As for movement, every new problem Trump creates or intensifies is meant to generate an emotional response, which is movement in itself.

Look closely: the news Trump makes is deliberate, theatrical and constant. All of it is staged and re-staged, so every unavoidably interesting thing he says or does pushes the last thing he said or did off the stage and into irrelevance, because whatever he’s saying or doing now demands full attention, no matter what he said or did yesterday.

There is true genius to this, and it requires understanding and respect—especially by those who report on it.

You can call this trolling, or earned media coverage, meaning the free kind. Both are true. So is comparing Trump to The Mule in Isaac Azimov’s Foundation and Empire. (The Mule was a mutant with exceptional influence over the emotions of whole populations. It was by noting this resemblance that I, along with Scott Adamsexpected Trump to win in 2016.)

Regardless of what one calls it, we do have two big fails for journalism here:

  1. Its appetite for stories proves a weakness when it’s fed by a genius at hogging the stage.
  2. It avoids reporting what doesn’t fit the story format. This includes most of reality.

My favorite priest says “some truths are so deep only stories can tell them,” and I’m sure this is true. But stories by themselves are also inadequate ways to present essential facts people need to know, because by design they exclude what doesn’t fit “the narrative,” which is the modern way to talk about story—and to spin journalists. (My hairs of suspicion stand on end every time I hear the word “narrative.”)

So here’s the paradox: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 6:09 pm

When there is no accountability: New York City Paid an NBA Star Millions After an NYPD Officer Broke His Leg. The Officer Paid Little Price.

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Bad police act as they do because they know they have impunity: they know that it is extremely unlikely that they will pay any price for misconduct. Mike Hayes reports in ProPublica:

Five years ago, NBA guard Thabo Sefolosha was standing outside a nightclub when he was tackled by five New York Police Department officers, one of whom broke his leg with a baton.

Sefolosha sued, and the city paid its largest settlement for alleged police brutality in years, $4.5 million. After all, Sefolosha had to have surgery and couldn’t play basketball for a year. And a jury had acquitted Sefolosha of the charges against him for allegedly resisting arrest. The whole incident had been caught on tape.

But the payout — which didn’t cost the officers a dime — is where any accountability ended. The city had insisted during the case that the officers were blameless, and they ended up facing no significant punishment.

It’s left Sefolosha frustrated. “To get a settlement was a small victory. But big picture, it’s a small drop,” Sefolosha told ProPublica from his home in Vevey, Switzerland. “When are people going to be held accountable? You have to have repercussions. They’re going to do it over and over again.”

New York City has paid more than $1 billion over the past five years to settle lawsuits against the NYPD, according to data released by the city. ProPublica examined dozens of the biggest payouts in cases where civilians had also filed complaints with the city agency that reviews alleged police abuse. Again and again, the officers faced minimal or no discipline.

In one case, the city paid out $125,000 when officers allegedly fractured someone’s cheekbone with a flashlight. The officers were not disciplined. In another case, officers allegedly bashed in a man’s car window with a baton, then broke his ankle dragging him from the vehicle and charged him with resisting arrest. The charges were dropped and the city paid $460,000 to settle. The officers again faced no discipline.

In the 45 cases we examined, the harshest penalty any officer received was a loss of 15 vacation days — for punching a teenager and knocking him unconscious in an incident caught on tape that went viral. The city settled that case for $200,000.

The city has ended up paying out settlements for some officers’ alleged misconduct again and again. Over the past seven years, at least 800 officers have been named as defendants in five or more suits settled by the city. About 50 have been named in at least a dozen settlements.

The city has paid out more than $600,000 in settlements for one officer, nicknamed Bullethead, who has been sued dozens of times. The money in all these cases comes not from the officers or the NYPD itself, but from the city taxpayers.

report a few years ago by the New York City Bar put the issue succinctly: The city’s civil claim system is “failing in one of its principal purposes, to shape the actions of those officials on whose behalf damages are paid.”

While the Office of the New York City Comptroller — which cuts the settlement checks — tracks details of cases, the NYPD only recently agreed after a court order to incorporate some of the information into its monitoring of officers’ conduct.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has moved to limit payouts on what the mayor described early in his administration as “frivolous lawsuits” against the NYPD. While the city has kept settling cases at roughly the same pace it has for years, it has become more aggressive in its defense of the NYPD. In a few cases reviewed by ProPublica, the city has defended officers who seem to have lied or engaged in what was clearly misconduct.

Joe Berger, a New York City civil rights attorney who previously worked at the Law Department, told ProPublica that the Law Department “will say anything, no matter how ridiculous, to defend officers.”

Berger, who brought a recent case against the city in which he said an officer lied to arrest his client, wrote in a law review article last year that police misconduct victims are “mistreated twice these days, first by the misconduct itself and then by city attorneys who withhold or acquiesce in the destruction of vital discovery and abuse legitimate plaintiffs with unethical tactics.”

De Blasio’s office did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.

A spokesperson for the Law Department, which handles suits, told ProPublica that each case has a “unique fact pattern and is evaluated on its individual merits.” The spokesperson emphasized that settlements are “not an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the city or its police officers.”

The NYPD said in a statement that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 3:14 pm

Insurrection Timeline – First the Coup and Then the Cover-Up

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Steven Harper writes at Moyers on Democracy:

The Department of Defense’s January 8, 2021 press release purports to “memorialize the planning and execution timeline” of the deadly insurrection that it calls the “January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC.”*

The memo’s minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump’s central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Who is Christopher Miller?

By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller’s promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).

At such a late date in Trump’s presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.

Prior to the Attack

The department’s January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump’s central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard “to support law enforcement.”

Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with “(DoD Memo)” summarize items from the Defense Department’s January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.

Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: “I will be there. Historic day.”

Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.

January 6, 2021:

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.

  • “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
  • “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.”
  • “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump’s crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won’t intervene in Congress’s electoral count: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority.”

1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. “We’re going to the Capitol. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The Attack

If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.

(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.: The Capitol Police orders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.

1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy — who reports to Miller — for more federal help to deal with the mob.

Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.

(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.: The Capitol Police chief asks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.

2:15 p.m.: Trump’s mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.

(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.

They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It’s been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, “Hang Mike Pence.” Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.

2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.

“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund says. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”

The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.

(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser’s request.

(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.: Miller gives “verbal approval” to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).

It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn’t know the status of her request.

(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.: Pelosi and Schumer call Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser’s request has now been approved.

(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy calls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.

The Defense Department’s notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.

While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser’s request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.

3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia’s National Guard. But there’s a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state’s National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn’t come until almost two hours later.FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence

(DoD Memo) 3:47 p.m. Governor Hogan mobilizes his state’s National Guard and 200 state troopers.

The Defense Department “repeatedly denies” Hogan’s request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.

4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Also of interest: “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” a report in the Washington Post. Republicans in general, and particularly those who supported the Trump administration prior to the uprising (that is, almost all Republicans), are frantically trying to hide or minimize their involvement and support of the insurrection, including making the ludicrous claim that those storming the Capitol were not Trump supports but Antifa members disguised as Trump supporters.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 12:08 pm

The excellent Maggard V2 open-comb, with Phoenix and Beau Specialist

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Phoenix and Beau’s Specialist (a limited edition for West Coast Shaving) has a fragrance profile that fits my taste — or, perhaps, smell: “vanilla, vetiver, malt whiskey, hops, barley, & freshly picked tobacco leaf.” The lather was excellent, thanks to the Wet Shaving Products Baroness (a very nice little badger brush), the technique improvement I got from a few days of bowl lathering, the softness of the water here, and (of course) the soap itself, whose ingredients are:

Potassium Stearate, Glycerin, Potassium Tallowate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Potassium Safflower Seedate, Potassium Lanolate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Cocos Nucifera Fruit Juice, Potassium Cocoate, Aqua, Allantoin, Tocopherol Acetate, Stearic Acid, Adeps Bovis, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Seed) Oil, Lanolin, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Cocos Nucifera Oil, Parfum

I’m sort of tempted by P&B Spitfire (“notes of leather and tobacco. Add to those warming notes the crispness of juniper as well as bergamot and cedarwood”), named after the British fighter plane of WWII and in honor of the maker’s grandfather, who presumably piloted one.

Maggard’s Version 2 open-comb razor head (V2OC) is excellent is included in my list of recommended razors, and seems to be a clone of the Parker 24/26 (see this post). Once again, it did a superb job — very comfortable, very efficient.

A splash of Chatillon Lux’s Gratiot League Square aftershave toner, and the day is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 10:37 am

Posted in Shaving

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