Thursday, July 28, 2016

Russians Smrussians: A Follow-Up

Today at, Isaac Chotnier interviews journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has written many a story based on information revealed by Wikileaks – and provides evidence that while Slate may occasionally publish something that makes me roll my eyes, they are very aware of that increased rarity in national media: balance.

So to follow up on what I wrote yesterday about Slate’s pearl-clutching over revelations via Wikileaks that the Democratic National Committee worked hard to prevent a Bernie Sanders nomination, Slate offers this, via Greenwald:

[A]s a journalist, if there is material that is in the public interest that’s available to report on, I don’t think it should be a process that the journalist engages in to wonder whether or not the motives of the person who made it available are sufficiently pure to report on it, or whether the person who did it had some ulterior motive. If the material is in the public interest, and has been made available—regardless of how it has been made available, obviously once the authenticity is confirmed—the obligation of the journalist is to report on it, period.

Now, obviously, there are separate newsworthy questions about who did the [DNC] hack, and the reasons for it, and what the implications are that also ought to be journalistically examined. But in terms of the content of the material itself, whether it has been stolen by a whistleblower, or hacked by an adversarial government for nefarious ends, or for fun by some hacker, I ask one question: Is it in the public interest? And if the answer is yes, that’s the end of the inquiry.

Chotnier goes on with more traditional pearl-clutching, ironic in an industry that reveled in the leaks that brought the presidency of Richard Nixon to its knees, but Greenwald continuously and successfully knocks down Chotnier’s arguments. He also comes close to calling linking Trump to the Russians McCarthyism.

The entire piece is worth a read. Watch out for f-bombs, if that offends you.

(Again, I’m neither a Trump supporter nor a Clinton supporter. I’m just interested in this topic as it applies to my hobby of reading about Richard Nixon. That these modern claims so closely parallel Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and the fact that the national media is pearl-clutching because the Democrats are the victims this time around, is fascinating to me.)

Greenwald also chides the media for existing in their own echo chamber, a la Pauline Kael (‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.')

here’s what Greenwald says:

[I]f you are someone who wants to stop Trump or Brexit, your goal should be to communicate effectively with the people who believe it is in their interest to support Trump or Brexit. I think in general there is no effort on the part of media elites to communicate with those people and do anything other than tell them that they are primitive, racist, and stupid. And if the message being sent is that you are primitive, racist, and stupid, and not that you have been fucked over in ways that are really bad and need to be rectified, of course those people are not going to be receptive to the message coming from the people who view them with contempt and scorn. I think that is why Brexit won, and I think that is the real danger of Trump winning.

Greenwald rightly criticizes the national media for remaining squarely in the “you’re primitive, racist, and stupid” camp, without doing anything more to communicate with the “primitive, racist, and stupid” people who support Trump. I’ve only seen one major news outlet even attempt to do what Greenwald recommends. And that outlet is Buzzfeed. So goes the state of our national media.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Russians Smrussians

I have become an amateur dabbler into the history and minutae of Watergate. Every time I find a book on Watergate, Richard Nixon, or the politics of the 1960s, I read it. I drive my wife nuts with it. “Look!” I’ll shout. “Another Nixon book!” And she’ll roll her eyes and that’s about it.

So when I read Franklin Foer’s piece at, “The DNCHack is Watergate, but Worse,” I just had to laugh. Then I read it further. And I had to laugh out loud.

Foer does little more than clutch his pearls and call for the fainting couch to be brought out as he compares the hack and subsequent leak of Democratic National Committee emails showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders. And while he does compare it fairly to the seriousness of Watergate, he slips into the same arguments Nixon used to keep his tapes private in decrying the leak of these emails to the world.

Foer makes much of the fact that “the Russians” committed this leak as a “strike against our civic infrastructure.”

He goes on to say:

[I]t’s not really even the inner working of the Democrats that have been revealed; the documents don’t suggest new layers of corruption of detail any new conspiracies. They’re something closer to the embarrassing emails that fly across every office in America – griping, the testing of stupid ideas, the banal musings that take place in private correspondence. The emails don’t get us much beyond a fact every sentient political observer could already see: Officials at the DNC, hired to work hand in glove with a seemingly inevitable nominee, were actively making life easier for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t take these leaks to understand that Debbie Wasserman Shultz is a hack and that the DNC should be far more neutral in presidential primaries.

So in other words – this is just the DNC doing workaday spitballing. You know, trying ideas out and such. And we already knew they were corrupt as hell, so we didn’t need this leak, did we?

Or, in other words – and particularly to Bernie Sanders supporters and to those who still maintain faith in our nomination process – they are, to borrow another phrase from the Nixon era, the smoking gun. They are proof that the sneaky allegations of collusion between Clinton and the DNC are, in fact, not allegations, but fact.

That it was the Russians that leaked this – timed at a point to cause “maximum damage,” in Foer’s words – is immaterial. Had they been discovered by two young, intrepid journalists at the Washington Post, say, rather than by a foreign government, and released at the same time, why, put the fainting couch away and release the pearls, right? News organizations, working against politicians they abhor – rightly so, because even if they didn’t order the bugging of the Watergtate they sure as hell colluded to cover up the fact to protect their buddies – can sway elections. And, if not elections, sentiment. And sentiment swayed led to resignation, if I remember my Watergate history correctly.

But there’s more. The American public at the time of Watergate – even its elected representatives in government – were swayed not by the fact that The Washington Post or the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times revealed the truth about Nixon and his malfeasance, but because of the malfeasance revealed about Richard Nixon and his administration. The truth could have been beamed to earth from the Martians, and it still would have been the truth.

There are many who, while aware of the provenance of the leak, seem to think the real damage being done is to the Democratic National Committee, not democracy itself.

And the Nixon tapes – that smoking gun – was there to be seen (except, of course, for that missing 18 ½ minutes, culled by Nixon as Foer accuses the Russians of culling DNC emails). It was there to be read. I’ve got a copy of it on my bookshelf. 

But that’s not the end of Foer’s poor reasoning. He also says this:

We should be appalled at the public broadcast of this minutiae. It will have a chilling effect—campaign staffers will now assume they no longer have the space to communicate honestly. This honest communication—even if it’s often trivial or dumb—is important for the process of arriving at sound strategy and sound ideas. (To be sure, the DNC shouldn’t need privacy to know that attacking a man for his faith is just plain gross.) Open conversation, conducted with the expectation of privacy, is the necessary precondition for the formation of collective wisdom and consensus. If we eviscerate the possibility of privacy in politics, we increase the likelihood of poor decision-making.

Sounds familiar, right? Nixon himself said much of the material subpoenaed by Judge John Sirica should not be made public for just the chilling effect that Foer defends in the DNC. Nixon was eviscerated – and rightly so – for trying to extend the right of spitballing, for honest conversation amongst he and his advisors to avoid the very chilling effect, to avoid the increased “likelihood of poor decision-making” that Foer wants to defend. Would Foer be willing to offer Nixon that loophole? Or Donald Trump*, for that matter, who tends to do his spitballing out loud for the entire world to hear?

*On the record: I support neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton in this election cycle. Nor am I a disgruntled Bernie Bro. My boy John Kasich crashed and burned in the primary, which I can only hope was done honestly; I’d love to see a Wikileaks examination of the Republican side as well.

Foer concludes by saying this leak is a hack job meant to bring down Clinton, a politician Russian President Vladimir Putin “abhors.” Foer conveniently forgets that hackers also released opposition reports from the DNC on Donald Trump. Maybe that’s just a carrot thrown in for the illusion of a balanced attack – but it’s still a carrot many are going to chew on. And chewing is a much better reaction to all of this than clutching at pearls.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Jocularity, Jocularity . . .

In this time of trouble and woe, we have to step back and look at the big picture: Which is the best Father Mulcahy story from MASH?

First, read the stories. Then vote in the comments below.

Story No. 1:

Father Mulcahy: [After being pulled out from the latrine when it collapsed on him] Sis and I picked up these apples from under the tree. I said you can't make a pie out of crabapples and she said, I learned how in the Girl Scouts.

Hawkeye: He's OK, just a little dazed.

Father Mulcahy: She used brown sugar and the crust was just so crispy and nice. Well, it was so good we ate it all before dinner.

Hawkeye: Get him back to his tent, let him rest.

Father Mulcahy: Mommy came in and said, 'What the hell is going on here?' [Looks at Klinger, who is in drag.] I remember, Mommy, you know that's the first time I ever heard you swear.

Analysis: I chuckle at this for the same reason most chuckle at it, as Father Mulcahy is simply continuing his conversation with Col. Blake from before the latrine collapse. In his dazed state, however, the story takes on a babbling form that even involves Klinger as his mother.

Story No. 2:

Frank Burns: Have you ever given a lecture about temperance, Father? About the evils of drink?

Father Mulcahy: Uh, no. On the troop ship, I was once asked to give a lecture on the, uh, sex thing.

Frank Burns: Oh, good.

Father Mulcahy: Well, being celibate, I didn't feel qualified. They brought in a Protestant. He had a film, about two sailors. One was from Cleveland ostensibly, the other from a small, rural area. The city boy decided to stay on the ship and write his high-school sweetheart. Lovely young girl, with a megaphone on her chest.

Frank Burns: Father, please. This is important.

Father Mulcahy: The country boy got mixed up with a young lady who lived in a trailer with three other young ladies and a man with a whip.

Frank Burns: Father?

Father Mulcahy: Broke his wristwatch and everything.

Analysis: Obviously it’s his wandering delivery mixed with curiosity that nails the one to the wall.

Friday, July 15, 2016

King of Nothing

My Dad didn't care much for pop music -- though he loved classical stuff. Once in a great while, however, a pop song appealed to him. This was one of them.

One of his nicknames was Kingzy. And after he heard this song a few times, he had a new one: King of Nothing.

The message of the song spoke to him, I guess -- when you're just a little kid, you don't ask why so-and-so likes a certain song; you just like it along with them. Now perhaps I can figure it out, because I'm a King of Nothing myself -- though like Dad, I have a lot in life: A wonderful wife, great children, a terriffic suit, and great henchmen. And I live in a place that's relatively peaceful, I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and two dogs that bug me while I sleep.

But no grandiose things. No palace.

But I'm a happy guy. Just like Dad.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Candidate -- or at Least A Defeatist Attitude -- to Get Behind

The Scariest Thing of All

We have lost count of the number of books in our house.

We could probably count them, but given the state of our childrens’ rooms, there’s no chance we’d get them all in a single count. We’d have to have some kind of system, say, little stickers, to put on each book as it was counted to make sure we could tell the counted from the uncounted.

But who wants to put stickers on books?

And the vast majority of these books are not new. We buy them used from thrift stores. We buy them used online. We buy them used at library sales, garage sales, the army surplus store. Sometimes I swear they’re smuggled into the house baked inside loaves of bread.

I have two paperback books in my work bag. The kids have books spilling out of the bags they’ve taken to scout camp for the summer. And they leave books all over the place: On the kitchen counter, on the floor in the bathroom, on the couch, under the couch, stuck in the couch cushions, piled high on my desk because they don’t want to bother with the alphabet to put them back on the shelves properly.

I can, however, account for every single gun in the house.

Because we don’t have any guns.

Because they don’t fall within our realm of interest.

Dad had a shotgun, propped up in the corner of his office.

As boys, my brother and I had bb guns that looked like real pistols. (And aside from my brother accidentally shooting a friend’s sister in the rear end, nothing bad ever happened with them. But we are not black.)

I’ve shot guns with the scouts, plinking away at targets with my youngest son, who has earned the Rifle Shooting Merit Badge.

I’ve seen both worlds, and books are more interesting.

So to hear President Obama say things like “We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. ... We know these things to be true,” disturbs me.

The author of this article was obviously disturbed. But maybe he or she is disturbed about the wrong thing.

I have not seen the kinds of neighborhoods he’s talking about. If there are guns flooding my neighbor4hood, we don’t see them. Though I know there are plenty about.
Conversely, we don’t see books flooding our neighborhood either. But every house I go into has them, often piled high to the sky.

But maybe it’s a case of what you see is what you get.

I won’t argue that guns may be flooding neighborhoods. I won’t argue that maybe some kids in those neighborhoods, because they see so many guns, decide they want one. And many get them. Maybe a gun has more cool factor than a book or a computer. Computers and books are for nerds. Guns, hell, they make you look cool, if the covers to what few rap albums I’ve seen are anything to go by. (Again, I don’t listen to rap music if I can help it. It’s not my thing. That it is the thing of others is outside my realm of experience.)

And maybe in my neighborhood there’s no peer pressure to get a gun rather than a computer or a book. I do know my wife and I spend what money we can to make sure books and computers are in the house.

I don't know how easy -- or how difficult -- guns are to get, legally or not. As they don't interest me, I don't have them in the house, so I have no experience buying them. But maybe I should pause for a moment to think what it would e like to live in a neighborhood where the mindset is get a gun and use one because they're cool, because you have to have one, because the gang wants you to have one. Just like I want my kids to have books.

But I don’t know what it’s like to live in that kind of neighborhood. So it's easy to get caught up in wooly thinking that scoffs at the idea of guns being easier to get than books. It's not a matter of cost, availability, or illegality -- it's maybe a matter of what's on the mind.

If the choice is between food and a book, well, it’s food. Certainly it’s food rather than a computer, if money is tight (as it is, we make do with ancient computers by most standards, though the kids do have their own Kindle Fires, so we’re not all that bad off).

We don’t have to make those kinds of choices.

We don’t live in a neighborhood where you’re scared of your neighbors, where you don’t leave your “stuff” out at night – though there have been a few bicycle thefts around, so we’ve got that tiny whiff of the unsavory around us. We’re not surrounded by poverty, shunned because of the color of our skin or mortally afraid of the police (in fact, we’ve had only one visit with a policeman at our home, and he was an animal control officer coming to help us get a marmot out of the engine compartment of our Honda; the marmot left before the officer arrived). Oh, and those warnings about speeding.

But the cops look at me and think “Huh. Middle aged fat white guy.” Or, when I was younger, “Punk fat kid.” But they never gave me any trouble, aside from a winger wag over that foot on the gas pedal. Because I’m whitey, Or not. I don’t know. It’s nothing I’ve ever had to think about.

So I don’t live in a world where guns are easier to get then books or computers. And I don’t want to. That some do live in such places, maybe it’s an exaggeration to say things like that. But living where I do, I don’t know. All I know about those neighborhoods is what they show me on TV – and that’s not a lot –and from a few trips through California.

Whitey here is very disconnected from this kind of thing. It’s not my world.

And we tend to accept the reality of the world we live in, even if that reality is distorted by the media, our faulty, rose-colored memories, our pallor, or the fact that for the rest of the folks out there, we don’t have room for empathy or even a whisper of understanding because our heads are firmly planted in the sandy soil of the universe we have crammed inside our skulls.

Maybe that’s the most disturbing thing of all.